Happiness Is

1. Reaching the end of a very long and tedious task. I.e., categorizing 471 drink recipes in 2 days. Boom.

recipe categorizing

2. Nonfat peppermint lattes.

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3. Playing with a puppy. Instant mood-lifter.

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4. New shoes.

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5. Chocolate. Always and forever.

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Have a happy evening!

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Bake It Away

I am very sorry that you have had to witness Gillian’s Stress Fest 2011.

But I have a way to make it up to you. Chocolate is involved.

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I thought that might get your attention.

I tend to try to bake my stress away. That may or may not explain the two batches of brownies and dozen muffins currently lurking in our freezer. Whether or not it works, I can’t be sure – but you can bet I’m not thinking about all those emails I have to write when I’m busy measuring out flour and considering what the addition of cinnamon would taste like in that cookie. I’m not much for multitasking.

These brownies are made extra stress-free by the addition of butterscotch chips, because I happened to have them and need to find ways of using them up other than pouring the bag straight in my mouth.

I like to eat these warm with a healthy dollop of whipped cream on top. They are cakier than your average brownie, but the intensity of the dark chocolate counteracts it. Make these because they will probably make you happy. I’m not much for gambling, but when it comes to chocolate, I can quite confidently with my gut.

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Dark Chocolate-Butterscotch Brownies

adapted from Mama Pea’s brownies from Peas and Thank You

Serves 12

You will need:

  • 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry or all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c. Hershey’s Extra Dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 t espresso powder (optional…but not really.)
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/4 – 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin
  • 1/2 c. nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/4 c. butterscotch chips + 1/4 c. vegan chocolate chips*

*I use vegan chocolate chips because I think they taste richer and more chocolatey. Even my burger-loving brother eats them happily. I recommend them – a lot.

Preheat to 350.

In a medium-large bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, espresso, baking powder & soda, and salt.

In another smaller bowl, mix the pumpkin, yogurt, sugar and vanilla. And no, your brownies will not explode in the oven if you mix it all in one bowl; all those recipes recommend you do this so that the baking soda/powder will mix in evenly throughout the flour and you will have to mix less – gluten forms when you mix flour with wet ingredients, and you want as little of that happening as possible (unless you enjoy eating rocks masquerading as brownies. personal choice.). See. I know things.

Ahem.

Add wet to dry. Fold in chips (they don’t have to be measured exactly; I just eyeballed equal portions and poured them into a half-cup.).

Bake for 21-24 minutes.

See if you can get a picture of one before they all disappear and send it to me. I was not so lucky.

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The Overwhelmeds

Sometimes, I make bad decisions. I am generally a pretty obsessive, manic person, moreso when it comes to making decisions, so it doesn’t happen often – but when it does, you can bet I remember it.

I volunteered to be an Orientation Leader during the summer going into my junior year of college. My friends and I decided to do it together, and it did let us move back on campus 2 weeks earlier. I was pretty excited about introducing the freshwomen and transfer students to our beautiful campus and school. I’m a proud alum of Converse College, a women’s college with a strong enough liberal arts program to make me highly resent the little red misspelling squiggle under the word freshwomen above. But I digress.

Well, it turned out the OL position was not a healthy activity for me. For an extreme introvert who has trouble with transitions, a job that required 6 hours of sleep & the other 18 hours surrounded by large groups of people, a constant supply of extroverted energy, and NO rest period before classes started again…it wasn’t exactly ideal. Actually, that experience preceded one of the most trying and painful three-month-period in my twenty-one years and, I suspect, the rest of my life. Suffice it to say: bad decision.

Every year the OL team puts on a play of sorts that covers all of the major issues college fresh[wo]men need to be prepared to face – sexual orientation, time management (read: anti-procrastination campaigning), roommate problems, eating disorders, etc etc etc. It’s taken very seriously, and it’s always a lot of hard work, but fun. In one scene, the student is starting to go into total panic mode because of that particular combination of intimidation, exploration, and the aforementioned procrastination. Each of her problems is personified and all of them circle around the poor frantic student and yell together, “Overwhelmed Overwhelmed OVERWHELMED! For the rest of the year – and probably, our lives – whenever anyone says the word “overwhelmed,” this scene pops into our heads.

This scene has been in my head a LOT recently. It’s not so much the two internships, or the three separate writing projects – it’s the stuff piled on top of that. Every new idea for an article or post that pops into my head when I have no way of writing it down to remember it. The fact that none of my friends are living at home or dealing with “next step after college” dilemmas. The waiting for replies from other internships. The article out in TIME discussing how unpaid internships are no longer leading to paying jobs and companies are using them for slave labor. The thought that that will be my life. The exhaustion. The frustration. The cover letters to write and resumes to send and emails to compose and books to read and rooms to clean and people to please and phone calls to make and – well, I’ll stop before I start to raise your blood pressure.

I know that all of this is “normal.” But the ratio between the number of people who assure me of my normalcy and my stress level are not proportionate, and quite honestly, if this is normal I’d like to learn how to be as weird as possible.

I can very easily internalize my stress, but I have learned that that is not the healthiest decision I can make (see anecdote above). So I’m writing about it, because I don’t really feel like I have anyone to talk about with who I won’t put to sleep within thirty seconds.

Although if you need a nap, give me a call.

I’m writing about it to ask this: would you please eat an extra piece of chocolate for me, or hit the snooze button an extra time, or read an extra chapter in your book today? If I can somehow decrease your stress, even just a tiny bit, it might give me a little more hope that I can & will dig myself out from under the “overwhelmeds.” Other than driving me crazy, they are taking up brain space usually occupied by new muffin recipes and daydreams about nutella truffles and such, and that simply will not do.

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The BIG Move: Part II

From this…

to this:

From this…

To this:

And this:

To this:

We have arrived.

During my freshman year, it was announced that my class – 2011, holla! – would be the first senior class to live in the senior apartments. If there was no other reason to stay, this was it (but there were plenty others – I ❤ my college!).

Ready for the grand tour??

 

My room looks out at that fountain. I will never need one of those “gentle sound-making machines” – I have the real thing!

 

Welcome to our house!

First things first:

Please meet Otis, the house plant. He says hello. (He gets whiney when he’s not introduced to the guests.)

The living room, where one of my roommates got another one and me addicted to Alias. We’ve almost watched the entire first season in 2 days. It’s a problem.

The kitchen – obviously, my favorite part. And yes, that apron hanging in the corner is mine.

Now walk with me down the hall…

To my room 🙂

Desk,

Closet,

And a view. Not too shabby, no?

Of course, the necessities:

Bathroom – note the 2 sinks. I have never, ever, EVER had my own sink. After about a week, I highly recommend it.

The amazing hotel-like shower that I have used every night. Because I can.

I promise a more in depth tour of the kitchen is to come! But now, let’s get to the good stuff: food.

The inaugural bowl of oats:

Espresso-spiked chocolate banana scottish oats. Oh yes.

1/4 c. scottish oats

3/4 c. almond milk

1 T cocoa

1/4-1/2 tsp. instant espresso

dash of sea salt

1 banana, sliced

Espresso really brings out the richness of the cocoa – I use it in ever chocolate thing I bake! But for the love of all things caffeinated, do not drink instant espresso. That is just not what it’s for.

My first apartment-cooked meal involved one of my bulk bin purchases from Whole Foods:

French lentils. Aren’t they pretty?!

A quarter cup of those into a pot with:

About 1/3 of a zucchini, half of a carrot, some white onion, and

a cup of frozen kale. Add some sea salt, pepper, and herbes de provence, and bam!

Lentil stew with a side of whole grain toast. So blissfully far from the limp salad I ate daily in the dining hall, I could cry with happiness.

I am slowly gathering all my necessary baking supplies together. My reusable silicon cupcake lines arrived in the mail today.

Time to go preheat the oven. It. is. ON.

Restaurant Review: Red Lentil

When my aunt and uncle left to go home to Atlanta, they took my brother with them so he could have a vacation down there. My anti-fish/anti-“health food” brother. What’s the big deal, you ask? My parents and I can go out to fun, interesting restaurants the doorways of which my brother couldn’t be paid to darken. Naturally, the first on the my must-go-to list was a relatively new vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Watertown, near Cambridge, Mass: The Red Lentil.
My mom and I met my dad there, who arrived before us and much to our relief and delight (we were starving), had already ordered the eggplant caponata appetizer and was sipping on a ginger brew – like ginger ale, only with much fresher ginger and very refreshing. I’d never tasted anything quite like it; I stole several sips! 
[Word to future diners – no wine list!]
First of all, I really liked the feel of this place. It wasn’t too loud, despite the fact that every table in the small dining area was packed. The walls were a funky lime green that gave it a hip – not 1970s nightmare – aura. The clientele were, well, as expected in Cambridge – in every size, shape & color! For any non Mass readers, Cambridge is where Harvard is located. ‘Nuf said.
So, about that appetizer…
One of the best things about this place hands down is their presentation. Every single dish we saw was beautifully and artfully placed on the plate. You eat first with your nose & eyes before your mouth, and it was lovely that the chefs take this into consideration.
As for taste? Well, I really enjoyed this. The sundried tomato spread was tangy (although a tad pasty, like it had been spread on too soon) and the crusty slice of bread was wonderful. The eggplant was mixed with tomatoes, capers and olives and went perfectly with the sundried tomato spread. My parents felt it was good but still missing something; I agreed, it wasn’t the most amazing thing to pass my lips, but it was tasty and made my empty tummy happy.
After LOTS of deliberation (so much looked good!), my mom chose an appetizer & salad:


Beet-potato latkes

Arugula salad w. beets & golden beets, walnuts, and herbed goat cheese.
The latkes were very interesting, and enjoyable, but perhaps not to die for. It was also a lot of food! It was a little too big; by the time you get to the middle, we found our tastebuds a bit bored. The salad was great, very fresh, and a delicious combo of flavors. And the goat cheese was de-LISH!
My dad got the special:
Tamale filled with tropical fruits, black beans, and spiced soy chorizo
Again, a bit underwhelming. And again, we couldn’t put our finger on why! Tasty but nothing particularly *wow*.
I ordered the Macrobiotic Platter – a choice of tofu, tempeh, or seitan with pinto beans, fresh veggies (broc, squash, zucchini, sweet potato) and a brown rice-sea vegetable mixture.
I really enjoyed this. The tempeh was perfectly cooked and had that great grainy texture I adore so much, even if it was a tad on the salty side for my taste. The pinto beans were, well, pinto beans, but what I was really impressed with was the sea vegetables! They had the coolest flavor – I’ve had & love seaweed salad at sushi places, but never had this particular kind of sea veggie before. It tasted like, um, the sea? I know, specific; I suppose it was salty with a pleasant bitterness not completely unlike kale, but with a hint of vinegar in there. (Is that better? 😉 It was nothing life-changing, but I did very much like my entree.
We were debating dessert…and then the table next to us ordered. And then my dad reminded me of the “always judge a restaurant by its dessert” rule set forth by my beloved Italian cooking professor. And it was done.

All the desserts at The Red Lentil are vegan, gluten-free, and made in house. Gotta love that! We obviously went with chocolate – if nothing else, for comparison’s sake!


This was…a disappointment. The cake was super dry – I think the chef needs to meet Dreena’s blog! The ganache was lovely, and as for those peanut-butter-looking bits in there, I have no idea what they were, perhaps pieces of cake that got tiedyed? It was good, but not great. Of course, they could just hire me as their pastry chef and all their problems would be solved. Sounds like a plan to me.


And, another mark against them – my mother went to the bathroom before we left and, well, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Dirty bathrooms in a restaurant? Come on, guys, that’s TOO easy to fix!

Overall though, it was a fun dinner. It was new and different, and I am so excited that vegetarian/vegan cuisine is gaining in popularity. I wish one would open up close to me! The biggest issue (food-wise) here is that the dishes themselves won’t make you say “whoa.” A lot of it would be very simple to make at home. I would, however, recommend it to everyone from strict vegan to the veg-curious. My parents & I truly enjoyed The Red Lentil, and I am more than happy to support veg-conscious places like this.
 Rock on, Red Lentil. Rock on.

~Namaste~

She’s Baaaccck…

Didja miss me??!! 
So, instead of attempting to put the past 6 days into words, I will do it with pictures. They’re worth a thousand, right?
Stop #1: Ursinus College, Collegeville PA
P.F. Chang’s – loved how they served the wine flight!
The Collegeville Diner
Campus
Stop #2: Haverford College, Haverford PA
Love it.
Stop #3: Lancaster Art Hotel, Lancaster PA
The restaurant used all local, organic food! I was a happy foodie 🙂
Amouse bouche: Gazpacho
lettuce+cauliflower+zucchini+beans+snap peas+ fennel+goat cheese = YUM.
One of the best pizzas…ever.
Chocolate cake w. raw almond butter filling. I all but licked the plate.
!!!
Stop #4: Goucher College, Towson MD
[Pit stop in Pittsburgh!]
Baskin-Robbins kiddie cone soft-serve 🙂
This salad had some of the tastiest roasted tofu EVER. I want to know what they did to it!
Stop #6: Oberlin College, Oberlin OH
Solar energy panels power their entire environmental studies building – too cool, right?!
Dinner at the Black River Cafe:
Homemade raspberry-lavender sorbet. Amazing doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Our last stop was to Hyde Park, NY to check out the Culinary Institute of America for me. They didn’t allow pictures inside the school and I was so focused on the tour, I didn’t take pics of the campus – but it was gorgeous. To sum up, I was in love with it. And if it hadn’t been sealed earlier, when we passed by one of the baking classes that focuses on gluten-free/vegan-friendly baking, one of the students brought out biscotti they had just made for our tour to try. I am a little superstitious about talking about the possibility of my going there, just because, um, let’s just say I had a truly awful, scarring experience with the undergrad college application process and now I’m totally scared of jinxing this next upcoming process. Stupid maybe, but…I can’t help it.
We ate lunch in the school’s student-staffed cafe. Mom got a pesto-white bean soup:
It wasn’t, perhaps, amazing, but it was most definitely delicious and worth the price. I had a chopped veggie salad:
Now this reached amazing-status. Radish, beets, green beans, carrot, zucchini, fennel, potatoes in a champagne vinaigrette. So simple but so good. And I had a roll because I was not about to leave without trying the bread:
Oh, this is up there on my favorite-breads list. Yes, I have one – it also includes the rolls at Legal Seafoods, the bread from our local Italian specialty food store, and the Tuscan bread at Sergio’s. This was a perfect little piece of carb heaven. Crispy-crunchy on the outside, doughy and fluffy on the inside. If I learn how to recreate these, my life could be complete.
The drive home was brutal beyond belief – what should have been a 2 1/2 hour zip turned into a traffic-laden 5 1/2 hour nightmare. Despite a downright blissful yoga class this morning, I’m still exhausted. BUT, it was a very successful and pretty fun trip. My brother has a better idea of what he wants in a school, and I had some seriously delicious eats.
I think I’m going to sleep for a veeerrrrrry long time tomorrow. I can’t wait!
~Namaste~

The Case of “The Lasts”

Ugh, I hate this part. You know, the one where everything you do is “the last.” Last load of laundry in our crazy machine [it secretly wishes it were a rocket ship – you should hear it on spin cycle). Last shopping trip in the market. Last time I have to climb the never-ending stairs to Italian class…ok, maybe I don’t hate every part. Those stairs at 8 in the morning were not exactly a treat.
After I got my grade on my Italian final – all good 🙂 – I came home for some overnight oats!
Before you go to bed, put oats in a bowl and pour an equal amount of liquid (I’m a fan of almond milk) over them, and maybe add a dash of cinnamon. Let them sleep in the refigerator and when you are both awake, the oats will have absorbed the liquid and be soft – voila, no-cook oatmeal!

(There are different ways of preparing them; some people add more stuff to it the night before. That’s why they’re so fun – lots of different ways to experiment!)
Before…
After: all mixed up with some vanilla yogurt.
This was exceptionally good today – it tasted like snickerdoodle cookie dough! The perfect way to prepare for my cooking practical, the second half of my final for that class where we actually have to cook for and be judged by our professor.
We set his table up all pretty:
We were split up into teams to tackle 3 courses of 4 dishes.
Course 1: BREAD
Not just bread – stuffed focaccia and pizza.
This was the focaccia we made a couple weeks ago for our “green class.” It’s amazing, and this time it was even better. The spinach is sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic to add flavor and it worked – the spinach-garlic combo sang through the bread. The mozzarella (use fresh buffala mozzarella – it’s a little fattier but you can use less to get a powerful punch of flavor) was perfectly stretchy, and the dough was juuuust dense enough to hold up it’s filling but fluffy enough to be like eating yummy, doughy, pillows. 
Another team made pizza margherita – tomatoes, mozzarella, basil. This was very probably the.best.pizza. I’ve ever had. The flavors was perfectly balanced and so fresh. The crust was the right thickness – not cracker like but not like you were getting more crust than ingredients in your mouth at once either. The sauteed the tomatoes in garlic and olive before topping the dough to bake – this is essential for non-soggy pizza, because if you just throw the raw ingredients on the top, the water (that makes up most of the veggie) will release and make your pizza WAY to heavy to eat. The cheese was golden but not gummy or too crispy and with the basil was SO good. Yup, will be making this when I come home.
Next course: Pear-filled ravioli in a walnut-herb sauce with pecorino.
PEAR!
This was very tasty. The pasta was a little undercooked, but I actually like overly-al dente pasta (yes, I’m odd). I wish the pear had been blended with the pecorino and then filled, the ravioli with just chopped pear felt a little sparse to me. But the walnut sauce was SO good – walnuts, parsley, and basil. You couldn’t really taste the walnuts, at least not unless you looked for it, but that is actually kind of the goal. Like pesto – it’s not ALL about the pine nuts that you add to it, but if you took them out you would know. It really did work well the sweetness of the pears. As my professor commented – “amazing”.
Dessert: MY TEAM!
[Thanks again blogger for the sideways picture. It’s not funny anymore.] 
Crema di amaretti – I also made it here.
Gosh, I love pretty food.
The filling is very similar to tiramisu – we used the double boiler method to kill any salmonella ickiness in the eggs as we beat the. Here’s what we did: Separate the whites from the yolks of your eggs (it’s one egg for every 2 people you are serving). Get your double -boiler going; when the water is simmering (NOT full-on boiling!), use a hand-mixer (or one of those fancy-schmancy Kitchen Aid mixers that I can only dream about owning) beat the yolks with cane sugar (tablespoons=number of eggs used) until it’s nice and creamy. Set it aside to cool. Get your water a-simmerin’ again, and repeat the process with egg whites (no sugar) until they form stiff peaks. Not sure what that means? I didn’t either. Get them to the point where if you turn the bowl upside down, the egg whites don’t move (and please use a second bowl underneath when testing this…). Let those cool as well. Fold in marscapone cheese with yolk-sugar mixture gently. Then add the egg whites. 
This is where I added a couple teaspoons of cinnamon. I remember thinking it would be good the first time we made it, and I wanted to do it for the final. My teacher loved it! Yay! Nothing like feeling innovative in the kitchen to make me smile:)
Now, look at the consistency you have. You want something tiramisu-filling-like, very light and creamy. We made the call to add a liiiiittle bit of whipping cream (whipped with a little lemon juice and a pinch of salt to get it fluffy!), and that really made a huge difference. We used about 125 grams of cream, and we were making for 14 people – so you really don’t need much.
To plate, dip two amaretti cookies (they’re like little almond biscuits, I will have to consciously search for them in the States when I come home – I’ll keep you updated!) in strong coffee mixed with just a few drops of milk and sugar. Sprinkle the top with coffee (instant here is fine), chocolate chips and cocoa powder. Voila! better-than-tiramisu goodness.
Our professor’s comment? “Delizioso!”
He gave me a big hug when I left and that was when this whole “I’m actually leaving” business hit me. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! DON’T MAKE ME GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ahem.
SO, after class I wandered over to the Ponte Vecchio to do some window shopping. I have been searching for a necklace with the Florentine fleur-de-lis crest, and I knew if I would find it anywhere, that’s where it would be. The Ponte Vecchio is known for its jewlery, specifically marble and gold. Honestly, I really can’t stand gold, but I was still hopeful. It was looking pretty dim at first; all I could find were charms the size of my pinky fingernail at the low, low price of 122 euro – which is, what, maybe 150 dollars? Ugh. I was feeling like giving up, when I crossed to the other side and found it.
Yay! 6 euro, and I already have a chain 🙂 Ain’t it perty?
For the first time this week, the sun was out! I have been planning on returning to Piazzale Michelangiolo to get some better pictures because a) the day we went it was cloudy, b) I have a new camera!!, and c) the combination of my carberrific lunch + the joy of finding my jewelry left me with some newfound energy to burn!
The walk there is lovely.
[Ponte Vecchio]
Remember the funky trees?
It’s quite a hike to get there…
And just when you think it’s over…
But it’s worth it.
Even though I’ve only been here for 4 teeny months, I still call it ‘mine.’ Not that it only belongs to me; more in the way that it has made such an impact on me. It’s home.
Dinner tonight was long-anticipated. We planned to go to Cibreino – “the poor man’s Cibreo.” Cibreo is one of the most important (and most expensive) restaurants in Florence. The chef is world-reknowned for his take on Italian food. Simply put, it’s a big deal.
Cibreino is a little trattoria around the corner from Cibreo that offers a limited menu for a MUCH smaller price. Same kitchen – fewer options.
I was excited.
We got there at 7, when it opens, and all breathed sighs of relief when there was a table for 4 ready and waiting. The trattoria is a very small room with only 8 or so tables, so we were a little worried. It was also mostly tourists – and we were treated as such, which was a little annoying but to be expected considering the fame of this place.
After much debate and some help from our very entertaining waiter, I ordered:
It was a veggie-fish soup. Very well spiced and I loved the fish that was in it – no idea what it was called, a kind of white fish that looked a little bit like tuna (different taste though). It was a little brothy for me, but it was so well-seasoned that it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it. They also brought us a “surprise” bowl of the minestra di pane – bread soup – that is very similar to ribollita. That was awesome – tasted just like Thanksgiving stuffing! Ah, the wonders of sage.
At the end of our class today, my cooking professor was talking about going to restaurants. He said the best way to judge a restaurant is by its appetizers and dessert – how they start and end a meal. He emphasized the great importance of dessert and ending a meal on a sweet note, because there’s always room for sweet! (You understand now why I enjoyed this class so much?) I was feeling inspired and so Alaina and I split the flourless chocolate cake.
Best. Decision. Ever.
This was one of the best chocolate cakes EVER. Very thin but SO dense and moist. I could have eaten an entire cake’s worth of it. But, aside from the phenomenal flavor, I also appreciated the portion size – it was a perfect dessert. Wonderful taste but not overwhelmingly huge so as to make you waddle out of the restaurant. Well done, Cibreino. Well done.
What fabulous plans do we have on our last day in Firenze? Pack, pack, pack – print boarding passes – and then pack some more. Ah, the glamour of life abroad.
And I loved every second.
~Namaste~

C’era una volta…

I found another yummy tea!
Rilassante=Relaxation=YES PLEASE!
It’s minty but has hints of lavender and other earthy tastes. It has such a unique taste, different from other mint teas I’ve had. A box might just have to stow away in my suitcase…
Perhaps it’s because my time here is nearing it’s end, or maybe it’s just that I’m at “that age”, but I have really been noticing how much this semester has challenged me to figure out who I am. I feel like here I’ve had so many experiences that have made me say “well, that’s just not me.” Almost like a process of elimination thing? It’s been interesting, a little painful, a lot fun. That’s my thought for the day 🙂
Tuesday Alaina and I ventured by bus to Cascine Park to check out the market that sets up there once a week. We’ve never been and with our time here nearing it’s end (which we are NOT talking about yet, thankyouverymuch), we figured it’s now or never!
It’s a serious haul to get there, so we bussed it. It’s so pretty! And massive.

The market turned out to be really sweet. I got a shirt and a cute dress. The shirt ended up being, um, less than flattering, but I like the dress a lot! I’m hoping to break them on this weekend’s adventure.
All my pictures of the market, of course, are of the furry friends we met…

Just chillin in one of the stalls. It’s pretty obvious who’s boss.
Dogpile….of BUNNIES!!! So fluffy and cute!

Lots and lots of boids.

PUPPIES. Oh man. I had to drag myself away from the babies. So. freaking. adorable.

And CHIPMUNKS! I have a special connection with chipmunks. When I was little, my grandfather would make up stories for each of us grandkids with our own personal sidekick – mine was Chester the Chipmunk. We visited Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty, obvz)’s castle many times together. So yeah, I have a thing for chipmunks 😉
After walking through the market, it was definitely lunch time. We are revving up the restaurant tour of Florence to high speed, and it was time to check Nerbone off the list.
Nerbone, like Mario’s, is a true institution here. It’s inside the market, and if you go arund 11 or so you will all the little hold men hanging around, sipping wine and eating sandwiches. It’s been around just about since the market itself has, and a reputation for serving Florentine food as typical as you can get.
After much debate, I went with a classic: pasta e fagioli. I’ve had it at Sergio’s, so they were up against some pretty intense competition, but I had faith.
Complete with an artful swirl of olive oil.
I’ll be honest…I was unimpressed. Of course, it didn’t help that a) I had this place built up pretty high and b) I am used to the amazingness that is Sergio’s. It was liiittle too soupy for me, and I wasn’t a huge fan of how tomatoey it was. I spent the majority of my young life despising tomatoes, and didn’t like them until my first trip to Italy. They taste different here – SO fresh. But I think I have reached my tomato capacity for a bit and they just haven’t been tasting all that great to me. This was by no means bad, but wasn’t the incredible experience I was expected either. Perhaps I will try to go back and get a panino – maybe the sandwiches are more their thing. It was fun to eat inside the market though 🙂
~~~
Gather round kids…
It’s story time!
Once upon a time…or c’era una volta, as they say in Italian…

There was a big old fortress. A tall, dark, menacing figure from the outside…but on the inside, oh the wonders it held…
A craft fair! Artisans from all over Italy (saw LOTS of Sicily, interestingly enough) came to show off their wares in one big convention. They had pretty much everything, from furniture to copper pots, to artworks and beads…and food. You know what I was there for.

Chocolate, cookies, and pastries, oh my!
I just love pretty chocolate 🙂
That would be some form of pasty dough STUFFED with chocolatey goodness. A sight for sore hungry eyes!
SO many drool-worthy cannoli to be had! I haven’t actually had one since I’ve been here yet (not a big Tuscan thing), so Alaina and I decided to split one.
With chocolate chips, of course!
Ohsogood. The ricotta was unlike anything I’ve had before – you could definitely tell it was cheese, not just some sugary cream fakeness. The creamy, sweet ricotta with the chocolate and powdered sugar plus the crumbly pastry was just heaven. I’m glad I waited ’til now to try it!
We wandered around the entire room once, sampling breads, olive oils, LOTS of cheeses, some wine, a little chocolate, and several truffle stands. Basically, my idea of the perfect evening.
There were also a couple chocolate stands with marzipan in fruit shapes, which I have always loved because they’re so pretty and colorful!
I got myself a pear and a strawberry. I love marzipan!
Yummmm.
I also bought these 2 little plaques with the cutest drawings ever. I couldn’t decide which I liked better, so I got both *blush*.
 They just make me smile. A lot.

LOVE.
So, you may be curious about this weekend’s adventure…well, alright, I’ll tell you. We’re off to BARCELONA! My roommate from school is studying there, so she will be our lovely tour guide. We leave tomorrow evening and don’t return til LATE Sunday (as in, almost Monday), so Gillianasana will be sadly postless until then. BUT fear not, my new yet-to-be-named camera will [hopefully] be accompanying me, and I intend to get to know her/him very well 🙂 My last cooking class of the semester (*tear) is tomorrow, so I will do my best to update before we leave, but I can’t be sure (there is a good possiblity I will be running around the apartment wildly throwing things into bags…don’t you wish you were there to see). 
Ciao for now!

Thoughts for Food

If you’re wondering where the heck I’ve been for the past couple of days…well, to be honest, I’ve been right here. I’ve been a BUSY bee! Sunday was spent writing my massive research paper on food blogs. But not before breakfast happened! We’re all starting to feel more or less ready to come home, and this weekend was the perfect opportunity to go to something we’ve been planning for a while – Sunday brunch! The notion of pancakes has never made me so excited.

Please notice that 1) this syrup is from the mythical land of VERTmont, not Vermont…hmm, I wonder if the Vertmont maple trees are better? and 2) that little bit of text on the bottom there says “Product of Canada.” Well, wherever Vertmont, Canada is – Italy likes your syrup. I however was unimpressed. But I was so happy about pancakes & syrup, it wasn’t all about taste.
And neither were the pancakes. Flimsy, flat, uninspired. I think they only made me crave real pancakes more…nevertheless, the brunch experience was fun. Under no other circumstances would paying $15 for 4 subpar pancakes be worth it, except for this particular one. Sometimes food isn’t about the flavor, but more for the experience that comes with it. Which is really what I love about it–food is not just about staying alive and thriving. It has symbols and meanings attached to it, it’s an event in and of itself. It’s just so cool, once you start thinking about it.
Which I clearly do all the time, because then I come here and ramble on about to to you 🙂
I swear paper writing burns calories. It’s like a marathon for your BRAIN. And my brain started to get hungry.

All things bright green and beautiful!
I bought some grapes at the grocery store because I needed a new fruit, and my salad was sadly lacking in color, so I figured, what the heck! Let’s throw some grapes on there! I love strawberries in salad – with balsamic vinegar, they are to live for – so I figured grapes couldn’t be too far off. They weren’t but I think my allergies have stuffed me up enough to not be able to really taste things. The sweetness complimented the beans very nicely though. 
After several hours of slooooow-going research, I needed a break. No better excuse for gelato.
Sorbetto al cioccolato (chocolate sorbet – no milk), soia alla vaniglia (soy vanilla), and coffee crunch!
The chocolate sorbet was perfect. I like it better than regular ice cream because it tastes darker and more like rich cocoa powder – I’m a hard core dark chocolate girl. No milk for me – the darker the better! The soy vanilla was wonderful, as expected – such a unique, creamy and sweet flavor! The vanilla is very present but there is a nuttiness to it that just makes it fun to eat. The coffee crunch was phenomenal – good coffee ice cream, not too sweet or strong, with these wonderful little bits of chocolate-coated-crispy-cookie-something or other that was just….mmmmmmm. No words. Just the one letter.
And then, a couple more hours passed, and it was time for dessert #2. Don’t judge.
I had one chocolate left from our trip to the Perugina store in Perugia, and it was calling to me…or maybe I just started hearing things after becoming absorbed into paperland. Either way, surrender to chocolate is always a good choice.

Does that say mousse??? Could this be true?

They can’t possibly have put actual chocolate mousse into that little thing…
or could they?

…OH YES THEY COULD!!
A little bite of fluffy, cocoa-y heaven in the palm of my hand. A spoon full of sugar may help the medicine go down…but a truffle full of mousse helps the research paper get written!
Alright, so I’ve been talking about this paper a LOT. It wasn’t so much hard to write as it was to organize. I was researching food blogs, their recent popularity and what it says about the role food plays in Western society. (Hence all the food rambling.) It didn’t turn out as groundbreaking as I wanted it to, which is usually how most of my papers go, but it was finished. I pulled my first all-nighter on it, actually. I just kept going and then before I knew it was 6 AM, the birds were chirping and the sun was rising. 
I would stay up all night while I’m in Florence writing a paper. What can I say, I’m a geek. Don’t hate.
I actually wasn’t sleepy at all, until I got to class of course. But it was actually kind of nice. I did some yoga, made some oats:
Banana-cinnamon oats + pineapple yogurt. Wicked good. (Told you I was getting a little homesick!) 
Class was a little rough, but Food & Culture is always a fun class to go to, and I had the prospect of this guy to look forward to:
Finocchiona  (fennel-spiked salami) + pecorino. I think I actually closed my eyes eating this it was so good. 
It was definitely a day for nap in the sun at the park. And so I did.
Alaina and, being the [fabulous] control-freak foodies that we are scheduled out all the restaurants we have left to go to, and because of an event this Tuesday night preventing us from doing Ethnic Tuesday, we went out tonight! Ethnic Tuesday–>Italian Monday. We checked out a cute little trattoria on the street that our school is on that I have been dying to try. And my major advisor–the one who told us about Sergio’s–also recommended it. Plus, we got to sit outside, and the weather is finally making that a very appealing option 🙂
I went with the spaghetti with fresh clams:
It was good, but HUGE – too much pasta! The clams were alright, I think it’s just that they don’t do much for me. I have no qualms eating them, but I always find them more or less flavorless. Mussels on the other hand rock my seafood-lovin socks:)
Tonight, however, was another instance of food as an experience. Sitting outside, sipping wine and chatting with friends over a meal made it a wonderful dinner, even if the food itself wasn’t the best I’ve had (which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it – it’s a challenge to eat badly in Italy!). 
Isn’t it cute? A very enjoyable meal.
Tuesday is looking to be more or less eventful, and I hope to be saner and write less scattered schizo post…stay tuned 😉

This Just In…

To start, an announcement:
Jamie Oliver, a chef with a couple shows on Food Network (who happens to be very attractive and has an adorable British accent), has started a campaign to bring healthy, nutritious foods to schools in the U.S. and to revive cooking within our communities. I think it’s hugely important – now is the time to start making changes in the way our country handles food! Read more about it here and sign the petition! Every single person gets it one step closer to reality – and I’m thinking the Obamas would dig it, too!
What have I been up to after this wonderful weekend? School, food, the usual. Although there is not much that is “usual” about taking a Food & Culture class or eating fresh pasta and gelato…oh, how my idea of what is ‘normal’ has shifted. Won’t make going home easy, that’s for sure.
Monday means sandwich day! To Casa del Vino I went, and today I took the plunge and tried a new one:
I promise, looks are deceiving – this was t-a-s-t-Y!
It was sausage (salsiccia) mixed with stracchino, a very soft creamy cheese that has the consistency of a kind of cottage cheese or yogurt. It was a really interesting combination – the sausage had a kind of cinnamony, spice-y sweetness that played off the slightly sour (not in a bad way) taste of the cheese. I likened this to the Italian take on a lox & cream cheese on a bagel – salsiccia e stracchino on schiacciata (the bread)! I did enjoy it, but it was by no means my favorite I’ve had there. What can I say, no cheese can compare to the all-mighty pecorino in my book. 
In my last post I mentioned the Bacio (‘kiss’ in Italian), a chocolate made by the Italian company Perugina from the city of Perugia I visited on Sunday. Well, here it is, up close and personal:
All wrapped up!
Notice the whole hazelnut lump…
And there you have it. I hope my first kiss is as good as this one!
Although it’s not my favorite combo in the world, the Italian obsession with chocolate + hazelnut is pretty amazing. I think mint still wins my heart, but this is nothing to shrug at. Good chocolate never is.
I tried another type of Perugina, called a perla (pearl):
It’s basically a Lindt Lindor truffle twin, but this was dark chocolate outside and had a strong hazelnutty hint to it that just led me to truffle heaven!
Chocolate = medicine.
Actually, that it was my presentation on Monday was all about – the ancient medicinal uses of cacao! It was really interesting and a lot of fun to learn about. It was only a beverage until the 1800s and believed to do everything from aiding digestion to curing infections. In fact, for a while it wasn’t even considered a “food” – there was a text from 1645 that said it was permissible to drink chocolate during a Christian fast, as long as it wasn’t mixed with “foods” like eggs or milk. Cool, right? I’m a chocolate fountain (ha!) of inspiration!
In other food news, tell me this isn’t some of the prettiest lettuce you’ve ever seen:
It’s called sorghino. I can’t make it to the market on Mondays because of classes and the grocery store was clean out of arugula, so I went for this kind because…well, it’s awfully perty. More or less tasteless, but makes  for some photogenic salads:
Mmmmm….veggies = love!
Unfortunately, I ended up going to bed very late on Sunday and the same happened Monday night, and all that plus the mild scratchy throat/cough led to my executive decision to sleep in today and skip class. It was really frustrating because I actually wanted to go to class – we’re starting a part of Italian that I learned but still find a little confusing – but somehow I was able to silence the perfectionist who wants perfect attendance and stay where I was. I may or may not regret, but I can’t help feeling a teeny bit proud that I listened to my body and put it’s health in front of class because when it’s all said and done, I won’t ever regret taking precautions against sickness. I feel SO much less worn down!
Yoga today was good – I got closer to headstand and was up for about a nanosecond before tumbling straight down. I will get there, slowly and surely. I did do a successful crow for a solid second and a half:
I was pretty excited!
[Just a disclaimer, I am by no means trying to brag or show off “what I can do” – I just thought if you don’t know yoga well, you probably want to know what the heck I am talking about!]
I’ve been working on it for several weeks and isn’t it just a fun feeling to accomplish something you’ve been inching towards?
For Ethnic Tuesday, we went for an old classic – Italian! My roommate found this jazz club-restaurant, Caruso, when another restaurant was too busy and raved about it, so we had to go! 
I got:
Tagliatelle (fresh pasta) with zucchini and tiny shrimp
It was delicious!!! A little too salty, but otherwise wonderful. The pasta was well-cooked – I can’t stand overcooked pasta – and the shrimp added a fishy taste that was not at all overwhelming but was juuuust the right touch. Plus, they were fun to eat – they’re so cute and little! They definitely pack a flavor punch, though. My roommate Alaina got a pizza and I may or may not have helped her out with the last large slice…it was thin crust and gooooood tomato sauce…just how I like my pizzas. I will be honest, pizza here is not a big thing, and I haven’t had any that I would say are better than what I can get at home. Bertucci’s has some of the best ever [New Englanders, take note!]! The jazz music playing on the stereo added a really nice atmosphere, and paired with a little wine, it was a very successful dinner.
But let’s be real, no dinner can be truly successful without…
The ubiquitous gelato.
I passed a place near our school that we’ve been to before, and this week I noticed they were offering GREEN TEA!!! I adore green tea ice cream (and the tea itself – I usually drink a cup a day!). The best I have ever had is at a place in Greenville, South Carolina (next city over from my college) called The Blueberry Frog. My cousin is good friends with the owner, who created the recipes all by himself! It is one of those “tart” frozen yogurt places a la pinkberry or Red Mango that are popping up right and left, but his place definitely takes a place above the rest. It is a non-negotiable stop when I am in Greenville. ANYway, clearly I had to try the gelato version of it! So I talked my roommates into going for dessert. [And by talked into, I mean I talked them into going to this particular place for gelato – gelato after dinner is pretty much a given with us!]
I got the green tea and a kind that was flavored with a brand of juice that is really popular here [my roommate drinks it all the time] called YOGA juice!!! I know, too perfect, right? The flavor is a mix of blueberry, apple, pomegranate, and a variety of other fruits. I loved it – it was very sherbet-y and mixed SO well with the green tea! The green tea itself was a little underwhelming – a little too creamy and didn’t have a strong enough tea flavor. I am not a tea-with-milk type of girl – I drink it straight up, pure and unadulterated! But the combo of the two was perfect!
So, I have a massive research paper due next Monday for my Food & Culture class, and we got to choose the topic. What could I possibly have picked? Food blogs, of course! That said, I am hoping to use Gillianasana as one of my research tools, so I hope you as a reader don’t mind if I ask some questions in the next few days? I don’t have the paper as well outlined as I’d like, so I have to get that down first. I’m excited to write it though, because I think it’s such a fascinating and novel entity in the gastronomic world!
Alrighty, bed time for this yogini. I may or may not be doing something incredibly exciting tomorrow and I may or may not be able to discuss it on here for a while…vague? Who, me?
Ciao ciao!
~Namaste~