That Darn Swing and the Return of OTHdC

It’s official. My “to-do today” list is 9 items long, I’ve had to fit in 2 short-notice meetings today, and I made lunch while talking on the phone and checking my email.ย The semester is, without a doubt, back in full-swing.

Really, it’s a good thing. I need to-do lists – they make me feel efficient – and I like have a variety of things to do. Too much free time is dangerous for me; I get into ruts and am easily frustrated.

That is, at least, what I keep telling myself.

I’d really like to say that I’m an old pro. That balancing school, 3 jobs and 2 blogs is a cinch for a near-compulsive organizer like me and just a matter of having the right day planner. But I would be lying, and that’s just lame. In all acutality, I live via the post-it note on my computer that lists everything I need to do just today, and I generally drink lots of tea and spend some quality time with Tastespotting. PS – Cookie-dough stuffed cupcakes. I can’t make this stuff up. Already on my devo fare list. (That’s “I must make” in Italian.)

As a general rule, I write things like little notes and my grocery list in Italian. Mostly to keep it in my head. Well, that….and I’m really just a huge geek.

BUT – this is a food blog, not an I-need-to-whine-about-growing-up blog, so let’s get to it.

For those of you who followed my previous blog, I started a Wednesday post called Over-the-HumpDay Challenge. I’d pick a recipe or certain goal for the day and report back. Recipes are probably the most fun ๐Ÿ™‚ SO, today, I had every intention of bringing that back while making use of the buttermilk left in the fridge from these lovely cupcakes.

With images of warm and flaky buttermilk biscuits danced in my head, I opened the fridge…and saw this:

Now, I realize that buttermilk has some staying power, but I draw the line at 10 days. One sniff and my mind was made up: mission aborted.

So I made some tea and went back to reading about food in Florence post-WWII. It’s for class, I swear! A class I designed myself actually, syllabus and all, about the role food plays in the lives of women of the Mediterranean region in the 20th century. Man, I love going to a liberal arts college. More on that later.

And as a fresh wave of homemade tomato sauce and thick crusty bread flooded my brain, a new challenge came to mind:

Anchovies.

Now, don’t judge. It took going to Florence and finding the best sandwich shop in the whole world (ignoring the fact that I have not been to every sandwich shop in the whole word, that is not an exaggeration) to get me to fall in love with these salty little slivers of goodness.

Anchovies + herbs + pecorino + schiacciata = true sandwich love.

I like to think of anchovies like bacon. I could eat it by itself, but it’s so much better when it’s used for flavor. I looked at the use-by date and was all the more inspired – I will NOT be foiled by expiration dates twice in one day!!! I also had the end of a bag of frozen brussel sprouts and some arugula that was begging to be eaten quickly, and was seriously craving some olive oil. And thus, dinner was born.

I chopped up about half of the tin of fishies small and a clove of garlic after blanching the frozen sprouts. Blanching is just a fancy word for plunging (yes, plunging) uncooked veggies into boiling water and cooking it for about ONE minute. They turn a really vibrant green color, and they are easy to cut in half after.

I mixed everything together in a bowl and doused it with salt and pepper, herbs (rosemary-oregano-sage-basil-parsley) and olive oil. I was craving olive oil after reading about Florentine diet & culture. Normal? Probably not. But that’s how I roll.

I broiled this mix for, um, 10 minutes? on high. I don’t know, I just kind of watched it until it started to brown a bit. While I waited, I tossed some arugula (my FAVORITE green!) in a little balsamic and sea salt in the same bowl I used to mix the veggies & fishies. Out of the broiler, onto the arugula and top with some parmigiana.

Dinner.

Don’t forget the bread!

This was delicious! I love when my meals are successful. There’s nothin like that feeling, right?

Mission Use-Up-Anchovies: Accomplished.

I guess those biscuits will just have to wait…

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Stomaching It

There is nothing like walking the streets of Florence with a gelato in one hand and new shoes in the other. Not even the rain can bring me down.
Dark Chocolate + William Pear from Vestri.
Vestri’s dark chocolate goes beyond just ‘gelato’…it’s like another dessert within itself, it’s so good. 
I haven’t posted in a while because, well, there hasn’t been much to post about! I had two finals on Monday which I think went pretty well overall, I was pretty well-prepared and knew what to expect. To be honest, my semester here is about so much more than studying, I’m not too stressed. Don’t get me wrong, I studied and read and took my classes seriously, but in the grand scheme of things, my classes were only an iota of my time here. SO MUCH has happened these past few months! It is sad that it’s the end, but I am ready to start reflecting on it I think. It’s a lot to take in, for sure.
Monday night I had a date (gasp!) and we went to Pepo, a place right by the market that was on the to-go-to list but we never made it.We’ve done pretty well getting through it, though!
I ordered:
Tagliatelle vegeteriane – just pasta and veggies. Keepin’ it simple – hard to go wrong with that!
It was yummmmy (although it could have used a little parmesan). The pasta was perfectly al dente – mushy pasta is one of my biggest pet peeves. The veggies held up their texture as well. A little oily but overall very tasty!
Tuesday was a bit of a rough day. I spent most of the night swatting at the mosquito buzzing in my ear, but unfortunately my efforts did not keep the nasty little thing from eating me alive. I must have at least 8 bites in various places right now. Ick. I came home from Italian and went back to bed. Got up to eat something…and went back to sleep again. Whoops! I think I must have needed it though; my throat had been a little sore for a few days and I needed a little more rest to fight it off. I spent the remainder of the day staring out the window at the torrential monsoon-like downpour outside and telling myself to start packing…and then doing crossword puzzles instead. Just one of those days, I suppose. 
3 of us went to the farewell aperitivo API held for us at a nearby restaurant/bar. I wasn’t expecting much, but…ouch. It was just sad. It really wasn’t aperitivo – we had to pay for drinks if we wanted an alcoholic one. Diet Coke is not what you drink at aperitivo!!! The food was some over-oily pizza, which actually didn’t totally suck, but it only came out every 10 minutes or so and the 50 students that were there jumped on them like hawks when they came out. There was a rice-veggie salad type thing that had what I swear was chopped up hot dog. Seriously, I understand cooking for a large group is hard…but it’s not that hard. Fail.
Came back and attempted to study for Italian…aka, listened to Michael Buble and caught up on blogs & email. The final really wasn’t bad, and I was right to not be concerned about it, we had basically done everything on the final at some point in class before. I only wish we had had more listening assignments; that’s really my weakest point. Just don’t have a big enough vocabulary yet. I’m going to keep working on it, though; it’s such a pretty language and I’d love to be fully fluent!
After coming home and passing out – had another bad night sleep-wise – I woke up and got to the day’s activity: shopping. I don’t do much shopping at home (aside from food, of course), so I like to take advantage of having a city full of great shops while I can. Especially since the prices are usually so good – I can get birthdays and Christmas covered in a snap!
For lunch, Alaina and I had plans. Scary plans. What could be scary about lunch in Italy, you ask? One word: stomach. Cow stomach, to be precise. It’s crazy popular in Florence; their “fast food” comes in the form of lampredotto, a sandwich of boiled stomach (not tripe – that’s the 3rd stomach; lampredotto contains the cow’s 4th stomach…you hungry yet?) and served with a green, herby sauce on a roll.
Looks totally and completely innocent, no?
Ok, here’s my opinion: taste-wise, it was actually pretty good. Very much like roast beef, but the difference is really hard to explain. The texture, on the other hand…hmm. Slimy. Slimy, slick, and not at all pleasant. We both took two bites before giving up. We just couldn’t stomach the stomach!
I was in desperate need of something to take the slimy-meat memory out of my mouth – and it just so happened that we were right by Casa del Vino! Considering I hadn’t gone this week (Monday is my usual sandwich day but I had my last Sergio’s date planned for then), it was perfect. I got the very first sandwich I ever tried, waaaaay back in February:
Anchovies in a parsley-olive oil-garlic mix with fresh pecorino. And the reason why I fell in love with this place came rushing back. It was gone too fast, but I enjoyed every last bite.
Packing is an overwhelming act. I think I’ll go pour myself a glass of wine.
~Namaste~

Unreal

On Sunday, my weekend adventures took me to Cinque Terre, five little hill towns on the Mediterranean coast on the northwestern side of Italy that are connected by a loooong trail. We went with Florence For Fun, a local travel agency that arranges spring break, long-weekend, and day trips for students in Florence. It was a great deal, too! Cinque Terre (literally, ‘five lands’) is world-renowned for its incredible natural beauty–it’s on UNESCO’s World Heritage List–and it has a fantastic hiking trail with some drop-dead gorgeous sites. It really felt like we were walking around inside a postcard. It was almost too beautiful to be real.
We arose at the obscene hour of 6 AM; well, my travel companions did…I fell back asleep and they jostled me awake at quarter to 7. Whoops! I also awoke to find my puffy face had returned; a mosquito must have bitten me last night. Grrr! It wasn’t as bad as last time, and faded by the time we got off the train in the first town, Riomaggiore. It seems that it’s not just Florentine weather that likes to trick us more than treat us, but all of Italy – it was cloudy and freezing when we got there! (Don’t worry, we sang “Oh Mr. Sun” in Italian and he eventually came out to de-thaw us!)
The big deal history-wise with Cinque Terre is its muretti, “little walls.” Despite its terrain being incredibly steep, rocky, and generally difficult to farm, its people have thrived as farmers from the first centuries AD. They propped up their farms and vineyards by building little stone walls – a lot of them. 11,000 kilometers (6836 miles), in fact, which is similar in length to the Great Wall of China. I know, crazy, right?? The craziest part is they did it completely by manual labor. SAY WHAT???
This mural was painted in recognition of those who built the walls. They deserve this and more! 11,000 KM!!!!
We didn’t actually go in to Riomaggiore; we pretty much got off the train, went to the bathroom and started hiking! Didn’t stop me from snapping away, of course:
The bar where we used the bathroom listed the ingredients used in the breads/pastries they sold. TOO COOL!! Look at all that real food – no artificial unpronouncable chemical ingredients here! This made me happy. [coughfoodgeekcoughcough]
The first trail, from Riomaggiore to Manarola, is called Via dell’Amore – The Lovers’ Walk. It was actually named by a journalist who was writing a story was walking on the path and found a note left by two young lovers. Awwwwwww!!!
Doesn’t everyone proclaim their love on a cactus leaf? I would.
When couples come to Cinque Terre they bring a lock and put it on rails, plants, nets, anything, then lock it and throw the key into the ocean. So sweet!
Ok, get ready for some serious picture overload. I’ll try to let the pictures speak for themselves and narrate only where necessary ๐Ÿ™‚
Town #2: Manarola

Follow the “Indiana Jones” bridge to…
Town #3: Corniglia

LUNCH BREAK!!!
After all that walking + 382 stairs to get to Corniglia, our collective blood sugar was very low. BUT we were determined not to let our stomachs take us to the first (or second or third) touristy restaurant we found and wandered to find the “right” place. Jackpot!!!! We found a wine bar with a restaurant upstairs. Quiet, music in the background…and some seriously incredible eats & drinks.
We started with a necessary bottle of wine:
Cute label, right?! 
They only produce white wine in Cinque Terre, and I am not complaining – this was delicious! A little fizzy, a little sweet & sour. Very tasty. (and for 16 euro, I should hope so!)
I also split an appetizer with Alaina:
Anchovies!!! They are the specialty fish here, and I see why – these were amazing. Soft, tender, almost silky in texture, and they were drizzled in a garlic-infused olive oil with I think a bit of pesto on top. I need to find anchovies at home.
For our main course, we all ordered the same thing and it was brought on one big platter:
Pasta in a tomato sauce & pesto
Cinque Terre is in Liguria, where basil is grown and hence is the region from whence comes the holy pesto sauce. And I must say, this pasta was a downright divine experience. The pesto was a beautiful, vibrant green color and the basil used was sooo fresh. Mixed with the slightly sweet tomato sauce, I was sad when my plate was empty and there was no more sauce to sop up with bread. We were happy little hikers!
After lunch, the trek continued to…
Town #4: Vernazza

^Corniglia from the trail^
Vernazza from the trail
This trail called for some serious hiking & rock-scrambling! It was a little rough at first, what with that big lunch sitting not fully digested in my tummy, but after a quick breather I was good to go, and by the time we got to Vernazza, it was definitely gelato time!
Frutti di bosco (mixed berry yogurt), mint chocolate chip, dark chocolate
It was amazing gelato, but the dark chocolate was quite good. We had more chill time in this town and we got to walk and shop a bit – I found one store with some faaaabulous turquoise jewelry and I wanted to wrap the whole shop up and put it in my pocket!
We also, as usual, made some furry friends:
The hike from the 4th town to the final 5th is the longest and most difficult, and because we were quickly running out of time before out train left in the last town at 6:30, we took the very fast 5 min. train ride to…
Town #5: Monterosso
Loved the turquoise/coral colors of this house!
What a charming little beach town! We have been planning to go to a beach in May before we leave, and we are thinking about coming here to explore it more and do the last hike we missed out on (it’s also supposed to be the prettiest).
Before leaving, I had to try the limoncino, which is Liguria’s take on the southern Italian limoncello (basically lemons, sugar, and alcohol – it’s a very typical after-dinner drink). The only difference between the two is the lemons; limoncino uses lemons from the north.
I could definitely taste a difference between the ‘cino and ‘cello – the lemons had a distinctly different flavor, more mellow and sweet maybe? I liked it well enough but just like limoncello, I can only handle a few sips and after that my tastebuds just get bored. Even though it’s poured in a small dessert-wine glass, it still seems like a little too much to enjoy. But I’m still happy to have satisfied my curiosity!
[More gelato may or may not have been consumed at this point. I am powerless to anything melon-flavored.]
We also bought some focaccia for dinner on the rather long train ride home. Focaccia is the bread specialty of Liguria, and my cooking teacher expressly specified that focaccia con formaggio (with cheese) must be tried in Cinque Terre. No arguments here! I got some with cheese, tomatoes, and more anchovies (so amazingly good here!), and swapped half for some of Alaina’s cheese and tomato piece. It was really good, especially with the anchovies. Very light, airy and buttery (well, olive oil-y, in a good way). Although I think I prefer the focaccia we made in class last week for being denser and doughier, both have their own place in my carb-loving heart.
A long, glorious day of walking, eating, oohing and aahing. Now it just seems like a dream! Every moment was like stepping inside a picture on a postcard. It was breath-taking, awe-inspiring, mouth-watering, exhausting, rewarding, and above all…
Unreal.
~Namaste~

Monday with Verdi

I did NOT want to go to class this morning. Well, that’s not true. I’m always excited for my Food & Culture class. What I was not excited for was the 9:30 AM to 2:30 PM straight. I think Rome left me more exhausted than I thought.

I did, however, have another pretty strong motivation to get out of bed, in the form of OVERNITE OATS!

Soak one part oats in one part liquid of choice (water, milk, or a little of both) overnight in the fridge.

Top as desired (in this case, strawberry yogurt & kiwi).

Mix & devour!
 Folgers Oats = the BEST part of waking up!
Our Food & Culture class was on race & ethnic stereotypes supported by different types of food. For example, fried chicken is often associated with African Americans, as are potatoes with the Irish.We also talked about how socioeconomic status affects food choices and health issues, and how food has been used throughout history as a marker of power. It’s really fascinating; in times where food is scarce and famine is not, it is more en vogue to be heavier/overweight, because it shows that you are privileged to eat as much as you please. Nowadays, with food in more or less abundance, it is stylish to be thin because it shows self-control and reason. Variety is another big deal; in the Renaissance, the use of different spices showed high status because the spices had to be imported from the East. White truffles are currently a huge deal in China right now and convey major high status – they are called “white gold.” For being something frequently given so little thought towards, food is certainly a potent symbol. I could talk about this all day long! But I’ll give your ears a break and your eyes a feast:

 I have been looking for this sandwich place called Casa del Vino for a while, as my study abroad program recommended it as some of the best sandwiches in town. Now, in Italy, that’s a pretty major statement  – and I decided I was the foodie to verify this outlandish claim. It’s only a street over from my music class, and I wanted to get some lunch before my second class, so I made it my mission to scope this Casa out today. Clearly, I did. It’s not obviously a sandwich shop, because they make it to order (always a good sign), and the menu only has about 5 choices (another good sign – trust me). I couldn’t really read the menu (the handwriting, not the Italian), but I saw one that was something in aglio con pecorino fresco – in garlic with fresh pecorino – and, well, my choice was made.
Holy Panino, Batman – this was the BEST sandwich I think I’ve ever had. I’m really thinking hard back to all the sandwiches I’ve consumed over my 2 decades of living, and I’m struggling to find something that beats this out. The first word that I couldn’t read was acciuga – anchovies!

It was SUPER salty but also a little sweet and very familiar-tasting, so anchovies was my guess. My culinary skills must be improving, because I was RIGHT! The salty fish + crunchy bread + fresh cheese + garlic and herbs was just wonderful. And gone in about 8 minutes.
I was a bit disappointed in myself, though – when I went to order the sandwich, because I couldn’t read that first word I had communication issues with the cute little old lady behind the counter who didn’t speak English (yet another good sign about this store!). Normally I would have gotten really excited that I could practice, but I could not for the life of me remember how to say ‘last’ (ultimo, if you’re wondering) and another woman in the shop helped me out. Actually, she could read the acciuga, which is how I figured out how to spell it and look it up, so it was a good thing…but I still felt like the stupid American student. Blah.
I was, however, redeemed during my music class. We visited the Teatro della Pergola, one of many theatres here in Firenze built in 1652. The librarian was our tour guide, but didn’t speak English well enough to give the tour so she talked and then our teacher translated. After listening to her for a little while, I started to understand her well, and by the end got almost every word and at least the gist of what she said before the translation. I was SO excited. I still need to work on my speaking, but it’s quite heartening to know that my comprehension is getting better!
The teatro was really cool, for many reasons – this being a BIG one:

You think I’m crazy, right? She’s flipping out over a stupid old stool. But that is NOT just any [very] old stool. Oh no. That is the stool upon which, during the premiere of his opera MacBeth, sat…
VERDI!
As in, Aida Verdi. I actually stepped on the exact ground that Giuseppe Verdi stepped on.
Whoa.
This was pretty cool too:

This was a device used to raise the stage to create a large ballroom used for masquerades. The women’s dresses were so large (all that crinolin!), they needed more room to dance and socialize and whatnot. It is not used anymore – the 1966 Arno flood took a major toll on the theatre and they had to install iron support beams (you can see it in that picture – that orange arch to the right).
Stimlating conversation, amazing sandwiches, and getting one degree closer to some of the greatest composers of all time – Monday is starting to look up!
I made a semi-impulse purchase at the grocery store and got some polenta, because I’m dying to try new things and new recipes.
I ended up added a tad too much water and it was more like cornmeal soup, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I cooked it with an egg and then salt, garlic, parsley, and tomatoes and put it over some arugula. It was screaming for cheese, but I used all mine up before leaving for Rome. To be improved upon. I’m welcome to suggestions!
I’m trying something a little crazy for b-fast tomorrow morning – get ready!
~Namaste~