Thursday, April 29, 2010


I am off to the beautiful city of Barcelona until late, LATE Sunday night, so I obviously won't be updating over the weekend. I'll see you bright and early Monday morning with tons of photos and stories!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

trip to sicily.

Just a quickie, since I know that you all love my food pornography...

Today, the regions that we were focusing on were Sicily and Sardenia, which are the two largest islands off of Italy's coast. Sicily is the large island at the tip of Italy's "boot" toe, and Sardenia is due west of Tuscany. Obviously, being islands, they are well known for their seafood!

First up? Probably one of the best pasta dishes I have had in Italy to date:
penne alla norma.

The sauce was made by first sauteeing red onion in olive oil. Once it had carmelized a little, we tossed in garlic, tomatoes that had been boiled, peeled, and chopped, basil, and the usual salt&pepper. While the sauce was thickening, we deep fried strips of eggplant in oil, adding them in just before the sauce was done. Toss the al dente penne with the sauce, top with parmesan and extra strips of eggplant, and voila! Deliciousness. I may have gone back for seconds.

Next up was calamari imbottiti, which is stuffed squid. A lot of people in my class were real babies about trying this dish, but I sucked it up and gave it a try. I wasn't SUPER impressed; it was a bit "fishy" for my taste, but at least I tried it!

Since everyone was being a pansy about trying the imbottiti, the teacher deep fried some of the extra calamari bits, like we Americans like.

The calamari was stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley, and the chopped tentacles, lightly fried, then simmered in a tomato sauce made with white wine until tender.

Finally, my group was in charge of the dessert (how does that always happen?). We made a cassatta siciliana.

Sandwiched between layers of pre-made sponge cake soaked in liquer is a blend of ricotta, sugar, candied fruit, and chocolate chips. On top, we made a glaze with water, food coloring and powdered sugar, before finally topping with a berry puree and freshly diced strawberries. Honestly, there was just too much going on in this dessert. It was too sweet, and the combo of the chocolate chips AND the candied fruit was a little strange. It wasn't bad, but definitely a little intense for me (didn't stop me from polishing off my portion...)

Now that I'm back from class, I'm totally exhausted due to the pills I took earlier today for my ALLERGIES which have been acting up! Something about this Florentine pollen is really aggravating my nose; I've been having sneezing attacks and my eyes are constantly puffy and watery. I'm surprised that I haven't terrified the locals with my teary appearance. So today, I meandered down to the farmacia and demanded relief from the man at the counter, who handed me a box, took my eight euro, and gave me no directions on how often to take the pills, etc. Welcome to Italy.

culture > classes

Two whole days without posting? Who am I? What is wrong with me?

Oh, wait, as usual, it's not my fault, but that of my internet, which was darn determined to keep me from posting both of the past two days. Blah! So here is my past-two-days recap (and you'll get another entry tonight, after I get back from cooking....lucky you!)...

Monday I was feeling ambitious! I have no classes, so when I woke to a gorgeous day, I decided to take a walk down to all of the junk stores where Gillian and I went earlier in the month.

Look familiar?

Unfortunately, not only were they closed, but there was a locked gate keeping me from even walking between them! Boo :[ So I walked some more, and....HEY! Look what I found!

It was hot on Monday, so I felt no qualms about paying less than 2 euro for a gigantic cone of coolness. This one was cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) and cioccolato bianco con fragoline fresche (white chocolate with fresh, wild strawberries). I was less-than-impressed with the white chocolate, but the dark was to die for.

Oh, Grom, you have been bested, for sure.

I wandered a little more, passing the Ponte Vecchio. Long time no see!
Possibly my favorite of all Florentine landmarks, though the Duomo obviously gives it a run for its money...

Though I'm also a fan of the San Lorenzo market.

I just can't choose! Please don't make me!
If memory serves me, the temperature got up past 30 degrees Celsius (that's more than 86 degrees Farenheit!!) on Monday, so we trucked it down to the Piazza Independenza to do a little sunbathing...I got overheated pretty quickly and retired to the apartment. Ahhh, shade.

Tuesday morning I woke up and went to Italian like a good student...but then ditched writing to go to the flea market at Cascine park. It only happens on Tuesdays from 7 AM until 1 PM, so I absolutely had to skip class to see it! It was necessary for my cultural assimilation!
(That's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

It was definitely the LARGEST market I've seen to date, and stuffed to the gills with all kinds of interesting people and products. Gillian picked up a couple of clothing items and we spent the rest of the day perusing kitchenware, jewelry, food, what looked like used make-up (ew) and an assortment of other items.

[We interrupt your reguarly scheduled blogging to bring you these pictures of adorable animals.]



Guinea Piggies.

And, why yes, that is a chipmunk[ie]!

[Thank you for your patience. Regularly blogging and writing sans cutsie endings will now resume.]

We took a bus back to the city center, where we took advantage of a free afternoon to hit up a lunch spot we have been waiting to try...Nerbone!

This little piece of Florentine culture is actually located inside il Mercato Centrale, and is therefore only open until 2 PM. Due to our regular date with Sergio's and conflicting class schedules, we have been unable to make it...until yesterday!

In true Italian style, everyone sits at communal lunch tables to enjoy their meal, after fighting tooth and nail to reach the counter to place an order.

I had pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan tomato soup) but the picture was a little...unappetizing, so I decided to spare you. I wasn't totally impressed with it, but sometimes food isn't necessarily about the food but about the experience, and dining at Nerbone, elbow to elbow (or, in my case, back to back) with the locals was certainly an experience I was unwilling to miss.
Then, Tuesday night, API took us to the Mostra d'Artigianato, which is an international crafts and foods fair, where people from all over the world come to display their wares.

What would a fair be without a giant carousel?

And flowers pointing the way?

There were cars made of twine and polyester...

inspirational wall art....

But once we found the food section, it was all over. We spent the better part of the evening stealing samples from the people. I ate what probably constituted an entire meal made of samples of bread, cheese, wine, crackers, and the occasional piece of chocolate.

We saw this Sicilian stand first thing and knew that us buying a cannoli was not only likely, but an inevitability.

Mountains of dried tomato, olives, and oregano. Normal.

Marzipane fruit! (Gillian bought a couple pieces.)


What did I tell you? More cannoli. It was like they were calling our names.
[It's amazing how loudly one cannoli can yell!]

I split this gem with Gillian.

We walked out of the food fair with our pockets slightly lighter and our stomachs totally stuffed. I'm kind of bummed that I won't get to go back to explore the rest of it, since we leave tomorrow and the fair will be gone when we get back on Sunday night. The fair was HUGE and took place in this old fort. There were something like 8 buildings filled with all kinds of different crafts.

Anyway, the roomies and I are currently preparing for our weekend abroad in Barcelona! We leave tomorrow night around 8 PM and won't be back until late Sunday night...three whole days of Spanish fun! And with Gillian's roommate from home there to show us around, I'm certain that we will be kept plenty busy.

Like I said, look for another post tonight about my last cooking class of the semester!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

why not...indulge?

Life here in Italy runs at a different pace. People are constantly late, they close down their business at midday to take an extra-long lunch, and they have no qualms about finishing a phone call before serving a customer. Italians love a good glass of wine with their meal, eat pastry for breakfast, pasta at least once a day (according to my cooking teacher!), and routinely stop for gelato at random times of day. To summarize, these people live by what I'm going to call the "Perche no?" philosophy.

Translated, "perche no" means "'why not?" It is actually the name of a little gelateria near Palazzo Vecchio that we have recently fallen in love with, as well as the inspiration behind today's post.

People in America are constantly on the go, driving somewhere, always multi-tasking, never taking a moment to just stop, enjoy, and indulge. Shockingly, despite their indulgent eating habits, I have seen very, very few overweight Italians! Shocker! I feel like back home, I was either constantly indulging (eating sweets like there is no tomorrow) or cold-turkey depriving myself of the things (foods) that I love most. This unhealthy kind of attitude lead me personally to some unhealthy eating habits, and I know that I'm not alone. There is probably a reason that America ranks so high in obesity, cancer, and heart disease!

[Hope you're not tired of gelato pictures yet, because I forsee many cones in the upcoming weeks.]

One of the reasons I came to study abroad was to learn about myself. To figure out how well I would function in a foreign country, thousands of miles from everyone I know, on a budget, where I don't speak the language! Despite a lot of people's jealousy over this amazing opportunity, this experience has been a challenge. Fortunately, with all challenges, we are able to reap the benefits of the things that we learn.

What I've learned here is about balance. Balancing my work with pleasures, like traveling. Balancing my bank account, money I need with the money I want to spend. And easier things to balance...such as how many times a week to eat lunch at Sergio's versus Mario's! :D Anyway, the point is that life here has given me a different perspective not only on eating things like gelato (a couple of times a week won't hurt, with all the walking we do!) but also with life in general.

There is no need to rush, people. (Except of course, if you are rushing to a gelateria! Just kidding.) Slow down. Enjoy your life. And every now and then?


As the Italians would say...perche no?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

are you going to eat that tentacle?

I know you were all on the edge of your seats, waiting to see how I spent my Friday night. Marissa, Sam and I decided to go out and get some gelato (shocker) before heading to the Odeon Theater to see the only movie that was showing...The Fantastic Mr. Fox (with Italian subtitles)! It was...strange to say the last, but the roomies and I had a good time laughing at it. Plus, I didn't stay in on a Friday night and I got to pratice my Italian!

I did go to bed pretty early, though, because Gillian and I had a culinary extravaganza planned for today!
We took the train to Florida! Sorry, fam, no time to stop in and say hello.

Obviously kidding

But I did keep having deja vu all day! With all of the palm trees and the bipolar weather, I was sure that we must be in the Sunshine State. In reality, we were in Livorno, which is so much better than Florida (sorry).

Livorno is Tuscany's third largest city, behind Florence and some other unidentified city. It is a port town, and is actually well known for its population of immigrants! Way back in the 16th century, Ferdinando I de'Medici acquired Livorno and sent a whole bunch of exiles and immigrants to live there, including a whole lotta Muslims and Jews who were being ousted from their home countries at the time. It remains one of Tuscany's most diverse cities today!

Gillian and Sam actually went to Livorno over spring break, but since I missed the trip and really wanted to try cacciuco (you'll see what that is later...), Gillian agreed to go with me again (what a sport!).
After a slight train mishap (we missed both of the 11 o'clock trains and had to take the noon one instead), we rode for an hour before arriving in the beautiful palm-tree filled city. We went to one of the only restaurants that was open. Apparently the entire city of Livorno takes its siesta at 2 PM, which was exactly when we arrived. Whoops.

Fortunately, Gillian and Sam had declared this place a gem. White bread was obviously necessary, as we were starving.

We decided to go big and split an antipasto. Good call! This was the best antipasto in the history of antipastos. It included: mussels, smoked salmon, two kinds of frutti di mare (seafood salad), shrimp in a kind of tartar-y sauce, and the star of the show, crostini (bread) with some kind of mussel-seafood topping. WHOA!

The last time Gillian came to this place, they were unfortunately out of cacciuco, which is a typical Livornese dish. I thought that we had heard good things about it, but looking back, it seems like most people just wanted us to try it..not necessarily because it was delicious. Somewhere down the line I had gotten the idea that it was a soup (think Mario's and Sergio's). I was very, very, VERY wrong, and after they brought out this dish, I was in shock for the rest of the meal. Heck, I'm still in shock!

It turned out to be a kind seafood stew, if you will. But like mystery stew. You had no idea what you were getting when you pulled something out. And there was an entire, large shrimp sitting on top of the whole thing, staring at me. It still had its claws. The entire dish was coated in this thick, almost barbeque-y sauce.

Gillian performing surgery.

Why, yes, that is a tentacle! What, you never eat tentacles for lunch?

This dish was an experience. This is the kind of thing I came to Italy for: to experience the culture. And cacciuco is definitely full of cultural value (and octopus. I probably ate the entirety of Ursula from The Little Mermaid). Gillian and I could not stop laughing the entire time we were eating was the kind of meal you never forget. I really don't know what else to say about it, except that it wasn't is just something I'll probably never order again.
There are no words.

After we picked through, the waiter brough us each a GIANT shot of limoncello, which is typically served as an post-meal aperitif, to aid in digestion. I have tried limoncello several times before this, but I decided to give it one last shot. Plus, I kind of wanted to wash the taste of octopus out of my mouth. (Kidding.)
Turns out, I just don't like limoncello. We'll call this little montage The Faces of Limoncello.

Here I am, ready to give it one last good-faith try...

The initial shock of the super-sweet lemon...

And the bitter aftertaste of the alcohol.

After lunch, we were both EXTREMELY full (despite my ragging on the cacciuco, we did some serious damage). We walked toward the harbor, since, like I said, Livorno is a port city.

Note the clouds here.

And here.

More clouds (and sailboats).

Then, BOOM! Clear skies.
Are you sure we're not in Florida?

We probably walked around the city for a good hour and a half (there may or may not have been some gelato...) before heading back to the train station. Look how pretty!
We both slept most of the train ride home, the octopus weighing heavily in our stomachs. A successful day, methinks.