Blog’s First Thanksgiving

*knockknockknock*
Did you hear that?
*KNOCKknockKNOCK*
What is that????

Why, it’s Lulu, begging me to use the photos of Thanksgiving she still has in a blog post!
Sheesh. Even my camera gives me grief.
My blog’s 1st Thanksgiving – this calls for celebration!
And hors d’ouvres, of course.
We had a very small gathering, which was really really nice – made for a very fun and relaxed holiday.
They brought crostini (in my honor :), which is just good toasted bread with a topping.
They made an herbed ricotta to go with!
 It had scallions, dill, and other herby goodness. I had to remind myself not to eat to much before the main event – but it was hard!
 They also brought these amazing spiced nuts – recipe to come! I know there was orange juice and maple syrup involved. They totally had that sweet-salty-crunchy thing going on. I was very happy to see these leftover the next day.
While the master carver was at his station…
with the ever-faithful turkey lurker never far from the action…
*must. get. turkey.*
…we brought out the side dishes.
 Some holiday greenery, simply steamed.
 Mom’s spoonbread.
It’s basically a cornbread souffle, and tasted like….um, cornbread! I really liked it, and Mom hadn’t made it for Thanksgiving before. A welcome addition!
You know that dish that is so darn good that you wait all year long for, but know better than to request it earlier in the year because then it would lose some specialness? That is my mother’s sweet potatoes for me. I don’t remember a single year I haven’t had them and loved every buttery, brown-sugary bite. She always makes one section without nuts for my brother and I – but in the last few years, I’ve come around to the bourbon-praline-pecan topping too. 
It’s even better than it sounds.
[There were also mashed potatoes that apparently went unphotographed. The sweet potatoes usually distract me. You understand.]
  
And finally, the bird was ready.
And so was my stomach! 
 The evening was capped off with a classic:
Pumpkin pie, made from scratch. Oh yes, I was one happy foodie.
I’m all for going all out and making crazy experimental dishes, but there is something to be said for sticking to tradition. And sweet potatoes. Man, those things are good.
I will return soon to celebrate vacation, sleep, the end of my ridiculous semester…and food, of course.
 In the spirit of this post, I wish you all happy holidays…and good digestion!
~Namaste!

My Bologna has a first name…

Let’s talk bologna – and I do not mean the lunch meat. That was the destination of our adventure on Saturday; once I heard that it is the gastronomic capital of Italy, it got priority on my must-see list!
We got up waaay too early to catch a specific train because the only trains to Bologna are the super-fast [read: super-expensive] trains, but we being the wily, financially clever college students that we are found the one cheaper train at 8:35 AM and planned accordingly…only to arrive at the station to discover that it was already sold out. ‘Sall good, we at least got the cheaper one on the way back…but we had a mourn a little the sleep time we sacrificed in vain. 
We got to Bologna and had no idea where to go, so started wandering in hopes of eventually running into the center. We found this sweet used book fair:
We bought a little present for Sam and I got a restaurant guide for Northern Italy for ONE EURO!! Sure, it’s the 2002 edition, but it has a glossary of terms for the typical dishes of the areas and we found lots of restaurants we had already been to in the Florence section, so I would say it was well worth the price!
On our way towards the center (we hoped!), we came upon a park:

There was a huuuuge flea market too! Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, so it is a major city for students. Even if I hadn’t known that before, I could have guessed judging from the vast amounts of bongs being sold.
Next stop: coffeeeeeee. After obtaining a horribly overpriced map, we sat down and planned out our route for the day. I came prepared with, as always, a list of good restaurants/gelaterias to hit, and Bologna being the gastronomic capital and all, good food was the main mission for our day.
We wanted to check out the Mercato delle Erbe, Bologna’s food market, and compare it to our beloved Mercato Centrale a Firenze!
Tuscany does bread, Bologna does fresh-made tortellini. (Not gonna lie, bread wins in my book…but it’s definitely a hard decision.)

Note the large inflatable banana hanging from the ceiling.

Rose-like lettuce!

Easter in Italy = Chocolate eggs GALORE!

It was nice and all, but Mercato Centrale is still #1 in my book. Nicer atmosphere and less rushed, I think.
I’m really loving these trips specifically geared towards food. This really is the way to live.
We started getting a little hungry, so we decided to wander in the general direction of one of the restaurants.
The restaurant I had written down was, of course, closed for lunch 😦 Because of our train schedule, we planned to go big for lunch and then have a light dinner, but unfortunately this restaurant was not cooperating. No matter, we found another little trattoria nearby. We saw a hand-written menu on the outside, which we have learned is usually a very good omen.
We split 2 pasta dishes:
Tagliatelle alla bolognese (of course!)
Tortellini con panna (cream) e prosciutto
The bolognese was alright; certainly authentic, but I think I am just not much for meat sauce. The tortellini were incredible. I didn’t think I would like it; I connect the cream-and-ham combo to dishes that have peas (my mom & brother adore mac & cheese with ham and peas)…and my abhorrence of peas knows no bounds. ICK. BUT, this was perfectly pealess! The cream wasn’t too heavy, either – just light enough to add the rich taste without being goopy or overwhelming. And as I have mentioned, prosciutto is just wonderful. The little tortellini were filled with a kind of sharp cheese, probably parmeggiano (it originates in this region of Italy) and a meat which we both were guessing was also a pig-product. We were happy girls!
But, just in case we weren’t happy enough, we stopped at a chocolate store we had passed for some amazing-looking gelato. However, you can’t judge a book by its cover – this was even better than it looked. And let me tell you, it looked absolutely drool-worthy.

(Post-1st lick)

“Cuor di cacao” e frutti di bosco
The “cuor di cacao” (heart of cacao) was 75% dark chocolate dotted through with teeny chips of dark chocolate. Might be the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever tasted. And it was perfect with the sorbetto, which is also probably some of the best I’ve ever had – the texture was not too icey or too sherbert-like, it was just smooth enough to please the palate.[Frutti di bosco, literally fruits of the forest, is basically mixed berry.] It was so fresh and fruity and…oy. If I was happy before, this was just pure uninhibited joy.
We continued to stroll/windowshop for a bit. I really like the architecture here, pretty brightly colored buildings and lots of archways.

And I like any city that colors the buildings with turquoise!
Ran into some nice piazzas too…
Spring is trying to come…just not quick enough!
Italy really likes their leaning towers.

It also likes its ruins. Seriously, give me a building and I promise I have seen it thousands of years later.
 We eventually felt the need to sit and chill, so we found a caffe and people-watched for a bit. People are just…interesting. Particularly the ones who feel that cutting slits in the back of their jeans juuust below their butt cheeks is a necessary fashion statement. No picture – you’re welcome.
We got up and did some more aimless wandering before eventually deciding to try and find a place for a glass of wine and a snack. We found a place that I had heard about and it looked perfect. Very nice red wine. I also got two crostini:
Vegetarian (eggplant-zucchini-onions-peppers) and another with mortadella, a deli-type meat that is a speciality of Bologna, and some kind of very creamy cheese, almost like cottage cheese. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but fit the bill. And we really liked the chill, local feel of this place 🙂
All in all, Bologna was fun – a nice mix of a big city feel and the Italian culture. As a “gastronomic capital” I was a little underwhelmed, but it’s probably something to discover with the help of a guide. I really like day trips – at the end, I’m always ready to come back to Florence. Home sweet home.
~Namaste~

Back in Action

So, Spring break broke. But it was a good one! Lots of sleep, yoga, gelato, and gorgeous Tuscan landscapes. Perfetto!
Yesterday was mostly spent cleaning – swept the whole apartment! Eventually I got a little stircrazy and had to get OUT and enjoy the lovely spring weather! Had to complete the picture with some gelato:

Straciatella al caffe (coffe chocolate chip) + tiramisu. GREAT combo.

I went to Piazza Santa Croce and sat on a bench while I read the homework that I may or may not have forgotten about…It was so nice! The weather, the musicians playing, the CUTE dogs…wonderful way to get homework done. I took the long way home and walked by a church on my street and there must have been a wedding!
RAINBOW RICE!!! Sweet!
When I got back, my roommate wasn’t far behind! We decided to end Spring Break on a high note and go out to one of the many recommended restaurants nearby. We split a baby bottle of wine to go with our respective meals. I went with an appetizer + side dish, which I really like to do because the portion ends up being just right!
Crostini (toasted or grilled bread) with 3 different toppings

The one closest to the camera was a pate of sorts, not sure what animal, but sometimes I think it’s best to not ask questions. Above that was a tomato-onion something or other that included raisins – I wasn’t a big fan of that one, too sweet! At the top was an amazing smoked eggplant-garlic-oil thing that my roommate and I had NO problem polishing off. Mmmm, eggplant. I also ordered a side of cooked spinach – needed something to balance out the bread! I just love spinach. Especially in smoothies…it sounds weird, but you really can’t taste the spinach. It just turns the smoothie green and boosts the nutritional value. I miss those Green Monsters!
Today it was back to the grind. I got a solid A on my Food & Culture mid-term, yayayayay!! I love that class. And I better keep lovin it – I have a presentation and a 10-page research paper due for it this month! Eeek.
A good breakfast was definitely necessary to start back:

Banana yogoat float!
Sliced banana + raw oats + vanilla yogurt. Hard to go wrong when using good ingredients!

I went to the market after my Food & Culture class (my music class was canceled because we are going to 2 concerts this week) and picked up some necessities. 3 apples & 3 pears for 96 cents!!! So exciting. Also, yummy fresh bread:
Pane alla soia – soy bread? I like it a lot! It has an almost sweet(?) flavor…hard to describe. Other than…yum.
I picked up lunch (at Casa del Vino, of course):
Prosciutto and pecorino. Simple. Amazing.
Seriously, this took “ham and cheese” to a whole new level. It might even be my favorite, just because it was so simple yet soooo tasty.
I ate it on the steps of the Brancacci Chapel, on the other side of the Arno.

A lunch with a view!

I actually went in the Brancacci Chapel today! (I tried to go over Spring Break but it was closed.) It was lovely. So peaceful.

Frescoes surrounded the courtyard (you can see in the picture below this one).

A little sunny courtyard inside. I sat there forever, sunbathing and listening to the birds chirping. Made for a lovely afternoon.
Though the courtyard was my favorite part, the Chapel wasn’t bad either:

A pieta of sorts in the chapel entrance.

The chapel is currently being restored, so there wasn’t much space to walk around. That, and Frida was PMSing and losing battery power. Hence, the subpar pics. But it was pretty!

Yes, lots of camera frustration. What really bugs me is that I get so annoyed over the fact that ever single picture I get is blurry and unrecignizable, that I forget where I am — as in, I have to remind myself to step back and say “whoa. I’m in a centuries-old, beautifully painted chapel in Florence and I’m not even appreciating it. Put. The camera. DOWN.” And I did. Damned if I’ll let technology take away a what should be an enjoyable experience!

I walked home after that, enjoying the great spring weather – finally too warm for my coat!

I got hungry pretty early and whipped this baby up:

Lentils, a small onion, a couple cherry tomatoes, and a TON of spinach. I needed to use it up! Seasoned it with a little rosemary, sage, S&P and pecorino romano. A little boring I suppose, but I liked it! Especially after I added some dijon mustard for a little kick.
It’s harder for me to experiment a lot with cooking here because I don’t have many spices to work with – I adore trying different spice combos. It is so interesting to me how something so small can completely manipulate the flavor(s) of a dish!

I was very good last night about getting to bed. I am trying so hard to get in bed before midnight the nights before I have Italian because it makes getting up and getting through my day SO much easier. Unfortunately, very little actual sleep happened, so I’m pretty exhausted today. I came right back and took a quick nap before meeting the girl I practice Italian with, and then came home for breakfast/lunch. It’s grey and chilly today (I would love to know where that spring weather went!), but I felt quite accomplished yesterday, and so I’m okay with today being a little less active. I have yoga tonight and then it’s time for Ethnic Tuesday dinner with the roomies! I believe we are planning on Indian tonight – woohoo!!!

On my walk home yesterday, I had a moment where all of a sudden I thought “Whoa. I’m in Italy right now. Living here. How did this happen!!” It’s odd, I adapted to life here so quickly, I suppose it didn’t fully sink in. And maybe it won’t totally sink in until I am able to look at it in retrospect. I don’t know how exactly I got so lucky, but I do know that I am in total awe and gratitude that I did.
I’ve been asking myself a lot, “How do I leave this place?” I don’t just mean hopping on a plane; I’m talking about leaving the lifestyle here that I’ve become so happily accustomed to, the sights and sounds, the food. I’m so attached, I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to walk away. But, I know I will figure it out. And I suspect I will end up with a deeper respect for the cultures of both here and my home. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

I have a presentation (on CHOCOLATE!) due soon, so I think I will put my sleepy brain to work before yoga. A domani!

~Namaste~

ZaZaZU!

Please look at my mutant produce.
PREGNANT PEPPER!
That would be a tiny ball of bell pepper I found inside the pepper when I sliced it. Someone didn’t use protection when this baby was planted…
I think my apple loves me!
It is absolutely amazing how much more awake I feel when the sun is up and shining. I made it all the way through the afternoon before I had to nap! This is a serious accomplishment.
But who has time to be serious? Let’s talk breakfast.
Chocolate-covered strawberry oats. I was actually a bit underwhelmed – maybe it needed more cocoa? Nevertheless, it was still delicious. Clearly it just means I need to continue perfecting it. Sounds like a job I’m up for, no?
I met with an Italian student this morning who I meet with once a week, me to practice Italian and her to practice English. Unfortunately the past few weeks have been full of miscommunication and schedule issues, so we haven’t been able to meet for a while. It’s great though, because she’s really cool and very into language. Us language geeks always get along 🙂 I just wish I had someone to do this with EVERY day. It would make such a huge difference!
I went to the market for peanut butter and wandered around a little, and debated wandering some more, but…not to put it too indelicately, my bladder wanted to go home. I made lunch:
Pretty colors!
 …and did some computery stuff with every intention of going out to a cafe to sit and stalk soak up some more Italian language goodness…but I ended up passing out on the couch. I’m talking some major unconscious dreamless napping. I probably needed it, but still…I don’t enjoy feeling productive. But it’s fine, listening to my body always takes priority. It keeps me sane. Well, mostly anyway.
After lots of indecisive debating, for this week’s Ethnic Tuesday we decided to go…Italian! We weren’t entirely sure where the Indian restaurant was (Internet issues) and we have list that gets longer by the day of restaurants we “need” to go to, so we just chose one nearby – ZaZa. We’ve heard lots of good things from multiple sources, always a good thing. Very cute little trattoria near the market. We even sat outside!
I got:
Fagioli (beans) all’uccelletto and crostini al mare (basically a big piece of bread topped with seafood). Note the hot animal-print dishware.
None of the pasta dishes were jumping out at me, and that bean dish was what we were served at Dino, the restaurant I went to for my cooking class (here); it was SO good I was dying to try it again! The crostini was quite tasty – I’m really becoming a calamari addict. It’s everywhere here…and it’s so yummmmmmy! I really liked the combination of a side dish (the beans) with an appetizer – perfect portion size.
And then the hunt for gelato began. The first place we tried was closed, as it always is when we try to go there. We decided that though it was a bit of a hike, tonight was a good night to hit up Vivoli, rumored to be the best gelato in Florence. Now, I have been to Grom multiple times, and I knew it would be hard to beat – so obviously, this place was at the top of our list. After turning around several times, we found it – and it was open!
Cioccolata Ricca + Riso + Tiramisu semifreddo
The cioccolata ricca was just as it said – rich chocolate. HUGE chunks of dark chocolate in there, which made me oh so happy. I tried the riso (rice) out of sheer curiosity – I think it was essentially rice pudding-flavored. I didn’t love it…but I definitely didn’t hate it! The tiramisu was…whoa. Whole other level of goodness. Semifreddo is basically like very cold mousse, very light and airy and, um, amazing. This had acutally pieces of tiramisu in it and…well, I’m just relieved that they don’t package this stuff in pints, because I would not be able to resist buying it, much less eating the entire thing. SO. GOOD.
The Vivoli verdict? I think I am still more impressed with Grom. I can really taste the higher quality of ingredients and it to me epitomizes what gelato should be. BUT…Grom does not have semifreddo. I think it’s less of a comparison issue, and more of a “see what you’re in the mood for” type of thing.
I am feeling rather ineloquent this week…mid-terms just take away brain cells. Speaking of mid-terms, I have one tomorrow. At 8 in the morning. Hmm…better get on that.
A domani!
~Namaste~