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!)
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 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.
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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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.

To Miss…and Not to Miss

I love watching the sky go from this…
to this.
I also love having a camera that can capture it. *insert heavenly choir here*
You know, I’m going to seriously miss Florence. The Duomo, Sergio’s, Mercato Centrale. The internet here, on the other hand…not so much. I promise regular updates will happen as soon as I have internet that stays connected for longer than 20 seconds. [And oh, how I wish that were an exaggeration.]
Not too much has been going on since Wednesday. That evening was the Farewell Dinner from our school, Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici. Now, I’ll be honest, where food is concerned the words “free” and “high quality” do not often go hand in hand. But I thought, “hey, I’m in Italy, how bad can it be?” Whoops. Silly Gilly.
It didn’t help that we got stuck at the forgotten table. I had to get up and ask our advisor to remind them to bring us bread. (C’mon, it’s me – I was getting my bread.) They did, but it made me question what country I was in – what is usually a beautiful basket of soft, crusty Tuscan bread came as a couple of semi-stale pieces of unpleasantly chewy sourdough and some completely stale breadsticks. At this point, a waiter came over and poured us all very large glasses of wine, for which we were all incredibly grateful. Perhaps the culinary highlight of the evening.
The first course arrived and I was skeptical, but still hopeful – wine will do that.
Penne in tomato sauce and a square of veggie lasagna.
Hmm, where to begin. The penne was…perfectly edible. It was just in basic tomato sauce with a pathetic-looking piece of basil thrown in there and sprinkled with some subpar parmesan. I like simple, and this was certainly no culinary challenge, but I enjoyed it mostly. The lasagna, however, I’m quite sure could have been served in any school cafeteria or hospital tray without a second thought. First of all, there were peas. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before or not, but I hate peas. No, that is not too strong a word. They mushy and unattractive and I truly cannot stand their “flavor” (if you can even call it that). I know many people are of the opposite opinion, and that’s perfectly fine. All the less for me to eat. ANYway, this was not a welcome addition to this limp, lukewarm square of overcooked noodles and cheap cheese. I will say that it had a kidney-like bean in it and I liked that, but the two beans my portion had did not make up for the overwhelming mediocrity of the dish. NEXT.
Chicken with tomato sauce, potatoes, and…peas.
I won’t comment further on the peas; suffice it to say, this course was already taken down a notch by their presence on my plate.
Ok, once again – what country am I in again? Whoever decided that throwing the extra tomato sauce from the penne on top of the chicken and calling it “Italian” has no business in the kitchen. It was, again, edible – the chicken was only mildly rubbery and the completely underseasoned tomatoes at least gave it an ounce of flavor. The potatoes were…well, potatoes. If they had screwed up pan-fried potatoes, I might have just left; but these were fine. I like potatoes. That’s what these were, and no more.
So at this point, I was holding on by a thread and praying for a big, decadent dessert. And then reality was served. In a paper cup.
Do you remember Hoodsies, those little ice cream cups made by Hood that you ate with a wooden stick and were served at basically every school event ever? Well, apparently they’re an international phenomenon.
Actually, this wasn’t bad. The chocolate was nice and cocoa-y and the vanilla was suuuper creamy. A little artificial tasting, but really pretty good.
Ok, I bashed this dinner pretty harshly. It is important to consider that they were cooking for a LOT of kids that had completely taken over their restaurant and all wanted their food “NOW.” So to an extent, mediocrity in a meal is to be expected. But even this was low. I mean, we’re in Italy – even a big ball of fresh mozzarella with some tomato would have been fine. This meal was not Italian. In fact, it reminds me of eating at school…perhaps it was meant to make us nostalgic and prepare us to go home? Yes. We’ll go with that.
Thursday and Friday were more or less uneventful. Took the written portion of my cooking final, and while every last bit of knowledge my brain could hold about antioxidants, homocysteine, and bread-making spilled out off my pen as fast as it could go, our teacher made us post-test snacks. We’re not talking milk and cookies, people. Toast with goat cheese and fresh pear drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with nutmeg, followed by the most amazing shortbread cookies I have ever tasted with a chocolate sauce and a strawberry sauce for dipping. Have I mentioned I love this class? A million times? Make it a million and one. I love this class!!! [Sorry, no pictures – it was an eat-and-keep-writing situation!]
To keep things interesting, we decided to go to Fiesole for dinner. Fiesole is a hill town above Florence that was a big deal in the Etruscan age – they were actually more powerful than Florence. It’s a charming little town with incredible views. We have been, but none of us had eaten there—and you haven’t really been somewhere if you haven’t dined there, no?
We went to Ristorante Perseus, right in the central piazza. If the garlic cloves adorning every doorway didn’t make me love it, the plates did the trick:
I love restaurants with funky dishes. It’s just more fun to eat off fun plates! Oh, and check out the size of this pepper mill:
Holy whoa, this baby was longer than my arm! More fun décor J
Aside from the inevitable bread basket, they also brought a plate of flat bread-cracker-looking things:
Basically very flat focaccia, sprinkled with oregano and salt on top. YUM! They made for handy spoons for my meal:
Zuppa di gran farro – Spelt Soup!
I have had this a couple times before and have really liked it – this was no exception! A lovely drizzle of good olive oil with bread for soaking made this an absolutely delicious dish. Very soul-satisfying J And perfect for this ugly, damp, cold, un-May weather we’ve been suffering. Florence, we have one week left – get it together.
Friday we had planned to go to the beach in Cinque Terre, but the combination of dangerous-looking overcast skies and a very late night made those plans float away. No matter, we’re in Florence – there is always something to do! We took advantage of a free day to do some serious shopping. I got assorted presents, some jewelry, souvenir stuff that’s been on my list for ages, a watercolor print that I adore from a street artist, and a Moka coffee-maker. Mokas are an Italian household staple – it’s quite similar to a French press. You put water in the bottom part, then put ground coffee (we’ve been using espresso and I love it!) in a filter over the bottom part, and then screw on the top and put it over the stove to boil the water. It makes an amazing cup of coffee, and they are really affordable. I got one with polka dots 😉 I can’t wait to use it at home!
I put my chef hat on and made the roomies homemade bean burgers for dinner! The basic recipe is from Kath Eats Real Food, my favorite food blogger and an all-around cool chica;) Click here for her recipe page. Basically, you take beans (like kidney or cannellini – higher liquid content is better) with some whole wheat flour, mash them together and add whatever seasonings you want. For mine, I added chopped tomatoes, fresh garlic, sage, oregano, S + P, and a little olive oil. Form a patty with your hands (take your rings off!) and throw it on a pan. Leave it for a couple minutes—resist the urge to poke & prod!—and flip it when you shake the pan and the burger moves. They usually end up a little mushy but I adore them. I think they liked it 😉 I was supposed to make “fries” with the burgers with roasted potatoes, but I of course forgot to buy potatoes at the store. That made it considerably more difficult to make them. Oh well, the burgers were yummy! I was not in presence of mind and LuLu did not make an appearance.
Yup, the new camera has been christened – and it’s a girl! LuLu did accompany me on my Saturday adventure – San Gimignano, take 2! World Champion Gelato? Where do I sign?!!!

Puffy Pizza and Planes

Gah, no update in so long! Didja miss me? Barcelona was SO FUN!!! But more on that later. When we last left Gillianasana…
I’ll be honest, Thursday did not begin well. You may remember my Easter morning surprise when I woke up to find my face swollen to 10 times its normal size. I suspect it’s either a reaction to Italian mosquitoes or something else like bed bugs….EW. Whatever it is, it got me again, and my eyes were swollen shut. As in, I could barely see to walk around the apartment. Thank goodness I had one Italian class left that I could miss. I have pictures…but I’ll spare you. I’d hate to spoil anyone’s appetite.
What upset me most about this little obstacle was that not only was today my last cooking class (*tear*), but it was the class focused on my true carb love, bread. And not just any bread….pizza dough!!!! Yes, today we made pizza from scratch. I was not about to miss this, swollen eyes or not. By the time class rolled around it had gone done a little, so I threw on my big sunglasses and was out the door. 
We all split up into 5 groups – 4 pizzas and 1 dessert. My group went with a veggie pizza – eggplant, zucchini, and mozzarella with garlic and tomato sauce. It was fantastically easy, too – my family better be ready for some pizza a la ME!
We started with the basic bread recipe – flour, water, yeast, a little salt and a pinch of sugar. *Tip*: you always use half the amount of flour for the water. Like, if you have 300 grams of flour, you use 150 ml of water. You melt the yeast in the water first and add the pinch of sugar – the sugar helps activate the yeast to move things along quicker. Mix the flour and salt together and form what I call the flour volcano – bascially make a hole in the middle of the flour pile so the flour forms a kind of wall . Pour some of the water/yeast mixture into the hole and start gently working them together – we used a fork to do this, kind of making a whipping/beating motion. Eventually it will be juuust well-mixed enough to start kneading with your hands.  Add a little olive oil, white wine, and vinegar as you knead to keep the bread from drying out. After about 10 minutes, form the dough into a ball and make an X in the top; let it rest for about 2 more minutes, then work it a liiittle bit more, then reform the ball, remark the X, and let it rest again under a damp paper towel for about 10 minutes. When your 10 minutes are up, roll it out with a rolling pin on both sides – it will probably be a funky shape, not a perfect circle. Personally, I think that makes it more interesting. Just sayin.
For veggie pizzas, the veggies MUST be sauteed at least a little before being put on the pizza and baked. Veggies are mostly made of water, and if you throw em on there raw, they will release their water onto the pizza while baking and the end result is heavy and very hard to eat – no wimpy pizzas!!! We sauteed our eggplant and zucchini in some olive oil and garlic (hard to go wrong with that combo). For the sauce, we just used pureed tomatoes and heated it up, adding a little (what else?) olive oil. Ladel it in small amount in the middle of the rolled out pizza dough and swirl it around with the bottom of the ladel. Repeat this just until it’s covered – don’t oversauce! I promise, there will be enough, even if you like sauce. Just put the ladel down.
Add your sauteed veggies and cheeeeeeese:
And throw it in the oven for baby and me about 20 minutes-ish at 215 Celsius, about 415 degrees Fahrenheit. E voila!
Have you ever seen such a beautiful sight?
Ours was my favorite I think. The crust was the perfect thick/thinness, there was just enough sauce, not too much cheese and the veggies gave texture and taste that made this probably some of the best pizza ever.
Another group made a Margherita pizza, which is fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. I liked it, but I think I prefer tomato sauce to straight tomatoes.
Then there was a [mostly] white pizza with mozzarella, parmesan, prosciutto and I believe mushrooms. I LOVE parmesan on pizza. It gives it such a good bite. This was probably my second fave.
The last group topped theirs with potatoes and rosemary. I liked it, but I didn’t love it; the textures of the bread and potatoes didn’t work as well together for me. I would rather have them separate, I suppose. 
We kept it simple with dessert – stuffed peaches. They’re finally in season here, and they were cut open, de-pitted and stuffed with a mixture of chopped almonds, brown sugar, egg yolk, cocoa powder
It was a very tasty little bite. The peaches were a little too underripe I think, but the filling was AWESOME. Like a really good biscotti – crumbly, sweet, almondy. Would actually be really good on oatmeal, methinks…
And no pizza is complete without wine, right? A very light white. My puffy self was grateful.
[I kept my sunglasses on the entire class. I’m sure everyone thinks I’m insane. Don’t care.]
After that, it was a mad rush to GET OUT of the house and get our butts to Barcelona!! My roommate from school is studying there this semester and I was soo excited to see her 🙂 After that the day started getting better (even though the puffiness didn’t fully reside until late the next day…eek). I won’t go into details about the rest of my Thursday, because, um, OY VEH. 
Barcelona – get ready. The ladies of The Palace are coming.

Deja Vino

Does this look familiar?
It turns out that my cooking class field trip to a wine tasting on a farm in Lucca was at the exact same farm that API took us for the olive oil tasting. I now know Fattoria Il Poggio quite well, I think!
Despite some of us from API feeling a little disappointed at not going somewhere new, the fact that we were here this time for a wine tasting did make a considerable difference in our second experience here. New tour guide, new sights…

A pine nut tree! Mmmm – a great addition to salads 🙂

See those odd-looking spindly stick cluster things? Those are what grow capers (those tiny, salty green balls that pack a wallop of flavor). Also good on salads 🙂

And of course, there were new tastes!
The white.
Very dry, but I really liked it – so much that a bottle came home with me!
The red.
Once this opened up, I really liked this too. In fact, I couldn’t decide which I liked more, the white or the red! Brought a bottle of this home to, so the roomies may offer up their opinions!
The wonderful thing about going to farms is that the wine they produce is always tasty and super cheap. I could so live on a Tuscan farm. The views alone would make it worth it.
The food was equally as delish. And there was plenty to be had! Before the standard wine tasting snacks were brought out (bread, olive oil, cheese, salamis), they served us fresh-made maccheroni pasta in meat sauce:
Now I am not much for meat sauce, but the amazingness that is fresh pasta pretty much balances out everything else. I can’t even describe it; it’s got the perfect texture and bite to it, and you can taste the how the egg, flour and water combine to produce such a wonderful thing. 
Just a note – you can buy fresh pasta in the States! It’s usually in [one of] the freezer sections. If there’s a specialty cheese aisle, it may be around there. It’s not quite fresh off the slicer, but it’s still far and beyond the dried stuff. Or you could get ambitious and make your own…*wink wink*
After this and some bread, delicious olives and pecorino (seriously, best cheese ever. and this is coming from someone who usually doesn’t like cheese.), we had the traditional Tuscan dessert of cantuccini (basically little baby almond biscotti) dipped in Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine:
Last time I mentioned I didn’t like their Vin Santo – it’s suuuper strong! But today, I actually quite enjoyed my tiny sip. And it is nice with the cantucci. As they say, when in Rome Tuscany!
Despite it pouring down rain for most of the day, it was a really fun field trip. In fact, it’s a little unreal to me that I went to a wine tasting on a Tuscan farm for SCHOOL. If this is a dream – don’t wake me up!

A Wonderful World

Pick a day of the week, any day, and I’ll give an example of why I’d rather spend it in Florence. Wednesday, for instance:

Lunch at Sergio’s. I think we are official regulars.
I got their ribollita for the second time because I wanted to re-try it after I had it at Mario’s. For comparison’s sake, of course. Sergio’s version is chunkier, you can see the pieces of vegetables and soaked bread, whereas Mario’s was smoother, almost like it was pureed. Sergio’s uses better olive oil, but also tastes a bit more cabbage-y than Mario’s (I’m not much for cabbage)…I think it’s a toss-up. They are each amazingly delicious and soul-satisfying in their own right. This is one love triangle I hope is never resolved 😉
Unfortunately, a large part of my day was spent sleeping. One nap after Italian in the morning, and another in the late afternoon. Sleep and I have a very interesting, ever-changing relationship, and right now we are having some schedule difficulties. It will work itself out eventually; right now, I’m just taking it when I can get it and focusing on getting work done and erasing stress.
I started to get antsy after an all-too sedentary day last night while working and decided that a walk was just the medicine I needed. It was nice to just get out and get some air and do some thinking. And get gelato.
I walked by Carabe, one of the places nearby which seems to have mysterious opening hours that are always ‘just wrong’, and when I saw it open, I took it as a sign. Who am I to mess with fate?
I have gone once before and got the almond, but was a bit underwhelmed by it. My roommate went recently and raved about the tiramisu, so obviously I had to give them another chance! There was also kiwi on that cone – not because it’s the perfect compliment to tiramisu, but really because it looked good and I wanted to try it. I gobbled it down before Frida came out, but it looked like what you might imagine kiwi gelato does – pale green with little black seeds. It was deeelicious. The tiramisu was a semifreddo, not gelato, which basically means it’s a kind of cold mousse instead of frozen. It was heavy on the coffee flavor–but that’s a good thing! It was good. Tiramisu gelato is one of the funnest flavors to try because you never know what it’s going to be like; some are more coffee-y, some are more rum-y, some are blended smooth and others have actual pieces of tiramisu in them. It’s a wonderful world.
The sky looked so cool, I couldn’t resist taking Frida out again. She was in one of her moods and it’s a little blurry, but doesn’t this picture make it look like the bell tower is fake? Like one of those little models architects use. I swear it’s real!
I didn’t really sleep and have a neck/head ache that would stagger a horse, but I’m doing just fine because it’s Thursday, and that means one thing…
Not until I’ve had my oats, of course:
Doesn’t it look like the vanilla is giving the cocoats a big hug? …Well, I thought so. I swear I’m not crazy…just, um, creative.

But back to the show.
Today’s class was focused on cooking with FRUIT! Quite possibly my favorite food category. I don’t take pictures of everything I eat, mostly because it’s just not all that interesting or photogenic, but if I did – you would be very sick of apples and pears. I think I eat at least one of each a day. Can’t wait for summer berries!!
NEEDless to say, I was quite excited about today. We started with a salad:

Spinach, artichoke hearts, chickpeas, red onion, pears, fresh buffalo mozzarella, dressed with lemon juice + olive oil + few drops of good aged balsamic vin.
Now, I grew up with the reigning queen of salads. My mother makes wonderful and creative salads not unlike this one, and I’m actually pretty envious of her ability to whip up the right dressing that complements the salad ingredients. That said, this salad blew my tastebuds away! The pears just made it. Although I would recommend using a more pungent cheese like a goat or bleu, would have been even better with the sweetness of the pear.
We also made some fresh rosemary focaccia to go with it (and by made, I mean actually hand-made it from ingredients-up, not just took it out of some plastic and threw it in the oven):

Oooh, this made me so happy. 
I’ve found I’m not such a fan of the oily, airy focaccia found in the bakeries here, but the focaccia we make in class (see our first here) is amazing. Dense and doughy but thin and chewy, with juuust the right saltiness. I had 4 small palm-sized pieces…I have no ability to resist when it comes to fresh bread. And yes, I know how to make it. Expect to see a lot of this rolling out of my kitchen when I’m home.
My 1st portion of salad + focaccia:
I had a large second helping of this stuff! I can’t wait to make it again!
Next up was my team’s dish:
Risotto alle fragole (strawberry risotto)!
Sounds weird, right? Well, it was. I have had it before, at a restaurant, and liked it a lot, but my tastebuds remained a bit confuzzled. It’s something like mac & cheese in its creaminess, but then there is the surprising sweetness of the strawberry. We made parmesan crisps to top it and finished it with a drizzle of balsamic. The crisps could not be easier – literally take a palm-ful (or however much you like) of grated parmesan cheese, put it in little circular piles on a baking sheet, and bake it for 5-10 (just watch it, it will turn golden-brown when done). Easy and quite pretty! Added a nice extra kick of cheesy flavor, too. I enjoyed the dish as a whole, but I’m not hankering to have it again. To be honest though, I think that has a lot more to do with the fact that I really just don’t like rice very much; it just does absolutely nothing for me. Perhaps I should try this with pasta? Hmm, experiment time…
Next dish:
Chicken with porcini mushrooms and green apple
This dish was fine. Acceptable. Perfectly edible. But I was unimpressed. We took a chicken breast and fried it in olive oil (about 5 minutes on each side), then covered it with the simmered porcini mushrooms and apples with some parsley and baked it for about 10 minutes covered with tin foil. It’s not that it was bad, it just didn’t appeal to me. I’m not a big meat eater anyway (fish, however, is a horse of a different color!), and the texture of the chicken was quite nice (not to chewy and slightly crispy), but overall…meh. Could have done without it happily. The mushroom-apple combo was not as striking as I expected, even with the saffron added (which I love!). Good, but not more than that.
I can’t say the same for the dessert…

Chocolate souffle.
This is, I believe, my first-ever experience with a souffle…and now I am wondering why. This. was. so. good. It had the light, fluffy texture of mousse that I adore but was warm and moist like cake fresh out of the oven. The chocolate was dark but not too heavy and all in all, this was a little ramekin of heaven. We did not alter this recipe, and the only fruit added was that raspberry that you seeon top, but I think it makes an important statement nutrition-wise: it’s perfectly healthy to eat indulgent foods! It’s all about the portion size. And what better an end to a meal than chocolate? Especially in carb-form. I left perfectly satisfied.
This class was the first that I didn’t go ga-ga over every single dish we made, but the salad, focaccia and dessert more than make up for the other two (which weren’t even bad, just not something I personally enjoyed as much as the others).

The rest of the day was spent in a nearby piazza with a nap in the sun and bit of dog-watching. Lovely.

I am not sure that I have formally discussed this other than maybe some lines here or there, but I am as of now looking into culinary school after next year’s graduation (aaah! senior year…how did this happen???). I have no idea what exact career I want–and by no idea, I mean I have about 30 different ones–but I do know that my passion for and fascination with food only seems to increase, and I’m following what I love. I would go for Baking/Pastry because that’s really what I love and where I feel I’m more creative, and, well, I’d much rather deal with finicky pate a choux than learn how to de-bone a duck. It’s something I’ve been putting off announcing mostly because whenever I ‘announce’ something like this, I end up going in a completely different direction. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as long as I love it, but right now I’m so into the food world that the thought of me suddenly not going into it is too scary and sad for me to think of.
Just throwing it out there.

The British weekend is coming!


This, That, and Gelato

Having class on Friday completely threw me off. I had no idea what day it was. But regardless of the day’s name, it was a pretty good one.
My Food & Culture class was taken outside of the classroom and into Mercato Centrale for a little taste of some on-field research! We all were sent off to walk around the market and surrounding streets and take note of what the market is selling, who is shopping, who is selling, how they are marketed, what ethnicity products are of, etc. We had to interview a vendor, which made me sooo nervous. I’m such an introvert. BUT, I interviewed a fresh produce guy who did NOT speak English and I conducted the whole thing (um, all 2 minutes of it…I couldn’t think of many interesting questions) in Italian. Woohoo! It was a really interesting experience, and I really enjoyed the time to just walk around the market expressly to study it closely. Such a fascinating place. SO touristy. It’s really a shame, it gets treated essentially like a museum – just another site to see for tourists. Because of Florence’s traffic situation, getting to the market for non-locals is a huge pain and often just too inconvenient. It’s so sad, because supporting local businesses & farms is SO important, but convenience prevails. It’s definitely an issue in the U.S., but awareness seems to be growing bit by bit. It’s quite the money-saver too; the amount of produce I can get at the market for about $5 is enough for most of the week for me. And I think it’s so much cooler to be able to buy an apple from the person who grew it–just takes the experience of eating to a different, more personal level.
In between classes, I stopped at my favorite cafe for the best cappuccino EVER. The perfect between-class activity!
My music class also took a field trip! We went to the Accademia (home to the David) to see their special exhibit of musical instruments collected by the Medici (Ferdinando specifically, I think). It was pretty cool; there was an elderly gentleman playing one of the harpsichords! It was nice to go with my professor to, who is so knowledgeable about everything music! But, about 3/4s of the way through my body started whining at me for having 2 classes mostly on-foot and no food. Being the clever gal that I am, I went to my sandwich place between classes and snagged a sandwich, which I scarfed down the minute I got home from the museum (which is literally 2 blocks away from the apartment). No picture – it disappeared before Frida could get a word snap in edgewise, but it was the same thing as last week (with some added arugula…mmm!)
It was another BEAUTiful spring day!! ‘Bout time, too. Alaina and I did a bit of shopping around town – I needed some batteries before our weekend travels! When she gets hungry, Frida shuts down. Literally. And a shut-down camera is just no good in Tuscany.
Dinner was pretty basic, mostly because it was what I had on hand:
Lentils + some kind of leafy green I bought at the market + garlic + pecorino. Simple and delish. The bread was wonderful as well – a kind of whole wheat sourdough we found at the market. Perfect paired with the lentils+cheese!
Later, after a long struggle with flakey internet, I got restless and talked my roommates into a gelato field trip! (It usually doesn’t take much talking 😉 I was dying to try Grom’s new grapefruit sorbetto, and I was definitely in the mood. To Grom we went!
Pompelmo rosso (red grapefruit) + Limone
The grapefruit was…well, grapefruit! Grom’s fruit flavors are incredible because it tastes like the exact fruit and nothing else. I looooved the lemon – like a tastier version of those Minute Maid push-up pops (which I also quite like ;)! Hit the spot.
Bit of an uneventful and low-photo post – but I promise, it is just in preparation for the weekend to come! Lucca for an olive oil tasting on Saturday followed by a soccer game back here in Florence (VAI FIORENTINA!!!!), and then a hiking tour of Cinque Terre on Sunday. Good thing I happen to be in love with Tuscany, no?

Chocolate Anger, Green Contentment

 I mentioned a slight kink to my lovely day in the sun yesterday – a sudden cloud cover, if you will. Downright stormy in fact. But this was not a storm of hurricane winds or torrential rain. This was a technological cloud of doom – my internet was gone. Now, you might say “oh, kids these day, they  lose their precious internet for an hour and think the apocalypse has come” – but I am NOT finished. My internet was gone because there was supposedly another person using my internet account, and of course that sent me into a tailspin of questions, like “if they got my internet password, what other passwords could they have??!!” My dad later explained that it was probably just a router reboot issue, and the “other user” was probably me, it just hadn’t logged me out correctly – but this was not something I knew to consider. Angry and powerless, I turned to the one thing that always helps: baking.
Some people run when they get angry. Others listen to loud music. I make cookies.
These were the cookies we made in my first cooking class and they were so incredible, I’ve been craving them ever since. We had all the ingredients on hand, and thanks to my mom who sent me my food scale, I was all set. A little too much flour (they were a little bread-y), but I halved the recipe so I think the proportion may have been off. Instead of dark chocolate chips, I chopped up some of my egg left over from Easter. Delicious, brownie-like, and not even very damaging from a nutritional standpoint. I felt quite a bit better.
I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on the internet issue anyway because tonight we had tickets (thanks to my study abroad program) to MoMix, a modern dance company performance! We had heard that it was awesome, and very much like Cirque Du Soleil (which I adore), so I was pretty excited! It was a very interesting performance – modern dance goes a little over my head, but I can usually get it for the most part. It was just such a cool experience to see it! The music was really good, and the dancers really did a beautiful job. I think I like Cirque a liiiittle bit more, but this was really cool. Such a fun way to spend a Wednesday night!!
After that, I convinced the roomies to get gelato because they had yet to try Perche No!, which is where my other roommate and I went over Spring Break and declared it our favorite Florentine gelato so far (although Vestri may tie up the competition…).
After falling in love with their soy vanilla flavor, I tried the soy chocolate – and was not disappointed! It was very cocoa-y, which I love. Sometimes when I’m having a chocolate craving, I just have a little spoonful of cocoa powder. It sounds weird, but it works – my theory with chocolate is, the darker the better! I also got mango because, well, I’m pretty much obsessed with all things mango. SO good!
We came home and sampled my cookies (I think they were approved of…), and then my internet issue came flying back at me. I was not in the best of moods. And it only got worse when I broke my tea mug, and then seconds later remembered I had a report for my cooking class due tomorrow, which was actually today as it was already past midnight. Not gonna lie, I had a bit of a breakdown. I pulled it together (although another cookie may have been eaten), cleaned up the mug shards, wrote the paper, and got to bed. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave me much pillow time, and I am feeling it today.

BUT, Italian was more or less painless. I left actually pretty excited because yesterday we gave oral presentation about our favorite books and I chose:

Ruth Reichl is one of my very favorite authors. This book is about her time as The New York Times’ food critic, and it is just a completely charming, funny book. I’ve read her others, which I like almost as much as this, and just started her newest one, Not Becoming My Mother. ANYway, my Italian teacher went out and bought it after she heard me talk about it! I love spreading the foodie love 🙂

Today continued to make up for last night’s ick-factor when I came home, made a big cup of coffee, and discovered my internet to be restored. And all was well again. Honestly, I think my issue last night was lack of sleep more than anything else. It’s just been a bit of a tough week sleep-wise. And really, when I look back on my semester here, I am not going to remember the internet-less nights of stress; my trip is going to be marked by my sunny afternoons spent lazing in Piazza Indipendenza, making fun of the pigeons and talking to the dogs.

The ladies who lunch sit.

Lazing in the piazza is exactly what I did today – after my cooking class, of course! Today was a “green class”   – lots of antioxidant/fiber-filled goodness!

Patate agli spinaci
This was very interesting. We took boiled potatoes and peeled them–you want to boil vegetables with skins on because if you peel them first, the water will take and dissolve all the nutrients! Of course, you can do this to create a vegetable stock – all the nutrients seep into the water. But for this purpose, boil-and-peel! The potatoes were then riced (I am pretty sure it was a ricer?) –you could probably grate them too– and mixed with spinach that had been sauteed shortly with olive oil and garlic. This mix was put in a pastry bag and squeezed onto a baking sheet into perty potato-spinach flowers and sprinkled with parmesan cheese (which got all crunchy and golden and delicious!), and baked. They were pretty tasty, although I feel like they could have used a bit more oomph. More salt maybe? I feel like potatoes and spinach are two more or less bland-flavored veggies (don’t get me wrong, though, I love eating both!) and they needed more than just the herbs and cheese to make these really *pop.* Ok, I just talked about potato-spinach flowers for about five minutes, NEXT plate…

Trofie al pescatrice e pesto
Holy WHOA this was SO yummmmmmy!! We used trofie, a type of pasta that looks like it’s been stretched and then twisted, and is popular in Liguria which is near Genova where basil is grown for pesto! Nice little linkage there, no? We made the pesto, but instead of using water like last time, we used some ricotta cheese to make it creamier. Normally I don’t like super creamy pesto, but it went so perfectly with this dish! Into the pasta also went cubed pieces of fresh swordfish…oh dear, how I love fish. I’m pretty sure my eyes lit up when he said we would be making fish! The fish taste was not at all overwhelming and was perfectly balanced by the sweet and creaminess of the ricotta-pesto, and the pasta choice of trofie worked really welll. Something about the thin shape and soft denseness really seemed to accentuate the pesto flavor and the alternate texture of the fish. Definitely had 2 servings of this! Could have happily drowned in it.

Foccacia agli spinaci
They made the foccacia from scratch, of course, so the chances of this being amazing were pretty good from the start. We used mozzarella instead of the usual scamorza, because the mozzarella is fresh and less fatty. They sauteed the spinach in olive oil and garlic and then stuffed it inside the foccacia (btw – that is not an easy to word to spell) and baked it. Towards the end of baking, Marco (our teacher) brushed olive oil and white wine on the top so that it would turn a nice golden color. The secret to making foccacia in under an hour? Use a pinch of sugar in the dough. The yeast loooves sugar and will grow faster with the addition of the sugar.
This was out-of-this world good!! It was just salty enough and suuuper doughy (a very good thing!). I had extras on the crust because it was just. so. good. I just love bread. You start with yeast, flour and water and yet the variety of different results you can get from those simple ingredients is infinite. So cool.

Finally, my team’s dish:

Bet you can’t guess!

Sfogliatine di pomodori verdi (con sorbetto di limone)
This is basically a jam made of green tomatoes, lemon juice, and cane sugar inside puff pastry. We de-seeded and cubed the tomatoes and cooked them in a pan with the sugar and juice of half a lemon, and towards the end of cooking added crumbled pieces of panbrioche (a sweet bun, basically) to thicken it. We brushed milk (instead of egg yolk) on top of the sealed pastry triangles and sprinkled them with a little more cane sugar. Pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or so, and you’re good to go. We served them with a “dollop” (my teacher was very proud he remembered that word) of lemon sorbetto, which put these over the edge! It may sound very odd, but it worked so well. The green tomatoes are higher in acidity, and paired with the sweetness of the sugar and the sweet-sour sorbet (plus that hot/cold contrast), this was one of the most uniquely tasty dishes I’ve ever had. The jam was SO easy to make; definitely worth a try on my own! (Or your own – if you want the recipe, just leave a comment!)

After class & said-park lounging, the roomies and I decided on aperitivo for dinner. I have given up trying to takes pictures in Kitsch because it’s just too dark, but just image a nice glass of prosecco and various little appetizer tastings. Always lots of food and nice prosecco for the low low price of 8euro. Hard to beat.

We have make-up classes tomorrow  – whatever classes we didn’t have on Monday (we got it off for Easter). I know I am going to the market for my Food & Culture class to walk around and talk to the vendors. Should prove to be quite interesting at the least!


San GimignanOMG!

Sorry for no post yesterday – my internet was not being cooperative. Sometimes it’s like a small child; it gets cranky if it doesn’t get a nap in the afternoon.
Friday was super exciting because it was my cooking class field trip to an organic farm in San Gimignano, a town made of little hills in Siena and what I think is one of the most beautiful places in the world. 
Exhibit A (and then some):
The farm, San Donato, dates back to 1001!!! How cool is that??? They mostly produce wine, olive oil, saffron and spelt, but they grow other crops as well, and just a couple years ago became an organic farm. In fact, they recently bottled their first organic wine product in 2009. We were there to taste the wine and the olive oil, and taste we did! They produce Vernaccia wine, which comes from a grape introduced to the San Gimignano area dating back to the thirteenth century. The Pope’s cellarmaster declared it the finest white wine in Italy! It was also the first Italian wine to be given DOC classification and was later upgraded to the higher DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) , which is basically the highest award of quality insurance possible for a wine to receive. 
We got off the bus, the farm owner gave us a brief history of the farm and the vineyards, and then it was on to the eat/drinks!!
There was a spread of olives (of course), picked peppers, Tuscan bread topped with salami or prosciutto, and garlic bread bathing in olive oil. And wine. Lots and lots of wine.
I swear I was not in any way inebriated when I took this picture. But I think Frida may have been…
I started with the white – the Vernaccia (you are supposed to start with white – see, I’m learning!) OH MY GOD even I could tell this was good freaking wine. I actually had seconds! (And by seconds, I mean I poured myself a 2nd tasting portion, so like 2 oz) It was delicious. And because we were at the farm it was produced at, they sold it there for 5 Euros a bottle. I bought 2 and a half! Cha-ching!!
There was also a blush wine and a red wine, which were nice. I liked the blush a little more than the red. I wish I could use sommelier terms to describe them, but all I can tell you is I liked them. Baby steps, people.
On to the food! 
Salami isn’t really my thing, but I’ve been feeling like I’ve not been getting enough protein, and I wanted to try at least a bite of everything. I have, however, discovered my love for prosciutto….
Italy just knows how to do food right.
There were also bite-sized pieces of bread spread with fresh ricotta cheese mixed with the farm’s saffron (hence the yellow color) – I was a little disappointed, I really couldn’t taste much after 2 or 3 tries. I love saffron; perhaps ricotta is just the wrong vehicle for it? Or maybe my tastebuds just weren’t awake yet. 
These other pieces were spread with a very soft and creamy cheese, and I think it was bleu cheese – this I adored. Usually bleu cheese is too stinky for me and I really don’t like it, but this was incredible! Very mellow, but with just enough bite to it to satisfy. I kept thinking my mother (bleu cheese’s #1 fan) would have died. I’ll have to ask my teacher what it was! 
Ok, these olives are probably the best. I’ve. ever. tasted. And I am quite the olive connoisseur – when I was a tyke I ate an entire can (and then some) of black olives for breakfast. It was unreal how good these were. I left quite a little collection of pits behind.
With olives that good, the olive oil must be drop-dead amazing, right? 
They brought plate after plate of toasted Tuscan bread slices that had been salted and baked with garlic, drowning in pools of liquid gold, aka the best olive oil my taste-buds have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The aroma was so fruity and fresh and the flavor was just out of this world!! I just…I can’t….no words. Ohsogood.
After our “light lunch” (HA!), we wandered around the farm. What a life. I could so live here.
My kind of stone lion – napping in the sun.
And vineyards=wine cellar:
And get a load of their backyard:
The wine I drank at lunch came from these exact vines. It is pretty cool to see the actual vines that went into my glass. Pretty freakin cool.
I  got back around 2:30 to pouring rain in Florence. The sun came out bright and shiny not 10 minutes after I had gotten back to the apartment….love ya Florentine weather. I went to the grocery store and got OATS!!! because they finally restocked them, and then Alaina and I ventured off to a chocolate store I had heard about to look at the Easter goods!
Benvenuti a Vestri!
In Italy, instead of baskets, each child gets a BIG hollow chocolate egg that has a little present inside. I considered it necessary for my cultural assimilation here to partake in this tradition…and bought myself a big ole dark chocolate egg. Don’t worry, you’ll see it…I can’t wait to open it!!!
Alaina and I had planned on getting some gelato after our chocolate quest, and whoda thunk that the chocolate store would have gelato? This we had to try!
Mango + dark chocolate
OH.EM.GEE. This is quite possibly the best gelato I’ve had here yet – the mango was just perfect (I’m a little mango obsessed – it’s just so dang delicious!), and the dark chocolate was so…so…completely satisfying. Rich  and dark, but not overwhelmingly so. I enjoyed every last bite.
Quite a gastronomically successful day, I would say. My favorite kind of day.

A Most Gratifying Day

Anyone who can tell me what my title is quoting gets a goodie!!!
I’m currently struggling to write a paper on the role of the Tarantella and tarantism in Italian society. I can’t take the mental strain anymore…so it’s blog time!!
It is Thursday. And Thursday means…COOKING!! Thursday is the one day that I don’t feel the desperate need for a morning nap after Italian because I get so jazzed about going to class. It’s really great. And speaking of great…
Blueberry-chocolate oats. I hope I’m not boring you too much with all my oat pictures – ’cause I sure ain’t getting tired of eating them!
On to the real show. We had our first quiz today on the film Super Size Me, which was relatively easy. And when we finished, our teacher had coffee made for us. I’m pretty sure that’s what all quizzes & tests should finish with, don’t you agree?
*sizzle sizzle*
What could that be?
The menu today was:
Home-made ravioli with a ricotta-spinach filling in homemade pesto (Yes, we made the ravioli dough in class.) I can’t even begin to describe how much better fresh pasta is than the regular old out-of-a-box stuff. It’s just something everyone should experience. Holy yum. And the pesto sauce was wonderful – so fresh but not overpowering! And very easy. As with all our recipes, our teacher showed us how to reduce the calorie-count without taking away any of the flavor – in fact, it probably tastes better than the super-high-fat kind! A lot of people are very judgmental I think about recipes that are “lightened”, but it is my experience that those people have usually never given it a real chance. I’m not talking about sugar-free fat-free “food-like” things mostly made up of chemicals just edible enough for the FDA to let pass – I’m talking about REAL. FOOD. It tastes good. If you don’t believe me – invite me over to cook for you sometime!
Next up: 
Penne alle Vesuviana.
The penne wasn’t fresh but MAN this was so good! Very simple, but that is so often what tastes best, ya know? It was all about the sauce – garlic browned in olive oil and then added with 3 colors of bell pepper (SO pretty!), cherry tomatoes, olives, and basil. You can also add capers if you like; our teacher advised against it because he finds the saltiness of the capers to add too much complexity to the dish. We trust him.
I was in the dessert group – I was a little sad I didn’t get to make the ravioli, but I’m pretty this was just as much if not MORE fun to make:
Oh yes. It was good.
It is kind of like tiramisu, but not quite. We wanted to avoid the use of raw eggs (used in the traditional tiramisu recipe), and the thick, sogginess of the soaked lady fingers to create something with a similar flavor but lighter. We put some water in a double-boiler and when it was simmering, we took it off and beat egg yolks and cane sugar together. Doing this over the almost-boiling water heats the yolks enough to kill any bacteria in the raw egg without cooking the egg itself. When it was beaten into a very creamy pudding-like texture, we set that to cool and brought the water in the double-boiler back to simmering. We then beat the egg whites over the double-boiler (for the same reason – no salmonella in this baby!) until it formed peaks and set it to cool. We next folded marscapone cheese into the yolk/sugar cream – called zabaione – and then folded in the egg whites. We also whipped up some cream and folded that in, but you don’t necessarily need to do this step. We poured this creamy amazingness into ramekins, topped with 2 amaretti (little cookies with intense and wonderful almond flavor) that had been soaked in coffee, sprinkled them with mini chocolate chips and coffee powder, and then set it in the fridge to chill.
HOLY WHOA this was SO GOOD. It was kind of like a cross between vanilla ice cream and vanilla mousse. Next time I make this I think I am going to add a little cinnamon and perhaps some coffee to the cream. I really wanted the coffee flavor to penetrate a bit more – really gave it that good tiramisu feel. I’d probably also sprinkle it with cocoa powder instead of chocolate chips; I really think the cocoa would make the chocolate flavor more present. The chocolate chips added nice texture but the flavor wasn’t as good because you have to bite into them to get to the chocolate and let’s face it, this is dessert – instant gratification is what it’s about!
Came home and have been “writing” this paper since then. There have been countless bouts of procrastination, frustration, and eating. Dinner was a mish mosh of snackiness, nothing particularly photo-worthy. But…
Tomorrow me and the roomies are off to VERONA!!! As in, fair Verona. As in, ‘deny thy father and refuse thy name’ Verona. The four English majors are going to a holy land. So. Freaking. Excited.
The paper seems to be beckoning me back…blast. I will return in a couple days with pictures – and maybe if I get lucky, a Romeo?

SuperSize THIS

I know I’ve said it before, but I really love my cooking class. Like, really really.

Today we watched the movie SuperSize Me, the documentary about (and made by) Morgan Spurlock who ate McDonald’s food three times a day for 30 days in order to prove just how toxic fast food really is. This was my third time watching it, but I realized that each time I’ve seen it, I’ve been at a different place in my life in terms of my own eating habits and preferences. I first saw it when it first came out on video in my high school health class.  got it, it grossed me out, but I was never a Mickey D regular anyway, so I didn’t put too much thought into it. The 2nd time I saw was the spring of my freshman year in college, a time when I was overly conscious of calories and fat – and really had no real concept of what those things actually are. Now, I am a bit more enlightened on the nutrition-front and less concerned with caloric value as I am with the quality and freshness of the ingredients. It was really interesting to see it from my newer perspective. There is a downside – that movie makes me incredibly angry with the U.S. food industry. Especially in the discussion of school food programs. It would be so simple to get more natural, healthily-prepared and nutrition-conscious foods in any and all schools, and yet nothing is done about it because of MONEY. WHAT are kids supposed to do when the french fries are a dollar and the turkey sandwich on whole grain bread is 4??? It really just infuriates me. Opinions/comments/thoughts?
Back to my class – to bring home the point that food can be delicious AND good for you, my teacher made (because we were watching the movie, he did the majority of the cooking) fresh burger, fresh fries, and homemade ice cream. And it was…well, a foodgasm, quite frankly. He made and baked the bread for the buns, the beef was bought and ground right in front of my teacher this very morning, and the fries were simply baked potato slices with rosemary, garlic and olive oil (which my mom makes a lot and I ADORE them!). We topped the burgers with fresh mozzarella and had sauteed spinach and mushrooms as a side.
1. Next time you make a cheeseburger, use fresh mozzarella (don’t melt it on top, just throw it on). I don’t even LIKE cheeseburgers, and this was amazing.
2. This bun was some of the best bread I’ve ever had. Yes, I will be emailing my teacher for the recipe. Holy. Yum. 
3. Never in my LIFE have I tasted ground beef like this. After giving up red meat for a year in 2008, I realized how much don’t care for it…but clearly it’s because I had never tasted this. I didn’t eat all of it, because I still really can’t eat it in large portions…but whoa. This burger blew my mind tastebuds.
(In case you are curious, he grilled the patties on a dry skillet and towards the end of cooking time poured white wine over them to dry up any excess fat in the burgers.)
4. Make these “fries.” You will never feel the need to darken the doorway of the Golden Arches again.
Have I convinced you of the ridiculous deliciousness of my meal yet? No? Well, wait for the grand finale…

What my pictures lacks in aesthetic appeal, the contents made up for and then some with taste.
That would be homemade berry gelato, eaten within minutes of being ready. It was a mix of strawberries and some raspberries, and then a little orange thrown in, with just 2 eggs, a liiiiitle bit of sugar and skim milk.
In my ice cream rankings, it is currently tied with my grandfather’s homemade peach ice cream (which is a SERIOUSLY difficult thing to even come close to, much less beat out). Yes, it was that good. *Tip*: The pink color means the berries are perfectly fresh; when the color is redder, it means artificial something-or-other has been added.
As you may imagine, I floated out of that class on quite the food high and took a walk. Really, I was in search of the Culinary Institute of Florence building, just because I know what street it’s on and I just really want to see it. Ended up getting semi-lost, one of my favorite things to do in this city, and unfortunately didn’t find it (I think I walked the wrong way down the street. It’s a long street.) I made a trip to the grocery store and headed on home. I was makin dinner tonight!
One of my roommates wanted to make bruschetta, and did a lovely job:
Nothin like fresh bruschetta in Italy. So. Good.
I have heard several times from various sources about lasagna made with thinly sliced eggplant and zucchini instead of the noodles, and I figured there’s no better place to try it out than in Italy! It turned into more of an “Italian pie”, but hey, it was good. Needs some improvement, but here is what I did:
-Rub the bottom of a pan lightly with olive oil (or use PAM – they don’t have it here).
-Place thin slices of eggplant on the bottom (I should have cooked it a teeny bit before I did this)
-Layer that with cannellini beans and pasta if desired (I threw probably under a half a cup of whole wheat penne in there, to add a little bean + grain perfect protein combo)
-Place fresh mozzarella slices and then layer with zucchini
-Cover with sauce (I would recommend layering the sauce more throughout, because I like more sauce. I just didn’t have enough).
*For the sauce, I heated up a pan slightly drizzled with olive oil and garlic and added a can of crushed tomatoes, basil, salt and oregano.*
I topped it with the remainder of my pecorino sardo cheese (grated), which made a really yummy thin crust on top.
It was pretty good, but there is room for improvement. Difficult to cut – maybe I will cube the veggies next time and go for more of a pie effect.
No complaints = Good sign!

 I recommend serving it with some good Tuscan bread. But then, I recommend serving everything with good Tuscan bread…

Off to Rome very early tomorrow, and I have been procrastinating packing. I’m not over-the-moon excited about it, but I am bound and determined to see the Sistine Chapel, and that I am excited about. And restaurants. And gelato. Ok, I’m a little excited about it.

I will be back Sunday evening – with lots of pictures!