I’m slowly resurfacing from my death flu – I can sit up for longer than 5 minutes, good sign!! I knew I was sick when all I wanted to eat yesterday was white bread and mint chip ice cream, because the thought of spinach made me want to gag. Something is definitely wrong with that picture.
All semester long, I was trying to brainstorm how to solidify Gillianasana as a food blog – not just a short-term study abroad blog. It’s too much fun to give up!!! But, of course, the best way to do that is to…uh, keep writing it? Doh! So yes, here I am–to stay.
But before I really step back into reality, let’s recap my last day in Firenze!
Sunset from our kitchen. Aka, Florence telling us it loves us 😉
Last trip to Casa del Vino…
Tried a new gelato place, Gelateria dei Neri. Passion fruit and soy hazelnut. SO good! The passion fruit was creamy, not sorbetto, but the flavor was really strong. The hazelnut almost tasted cocoa-y?! Loved it.
Ciao ciao, Duomo!
For our arrivederci dinner, the 4 of us went across the street to our favorite place for aperitivo – 8 euro for a drink and buffet with really decent food. Not amazing, but really good (again, Italy = hard to eat badly). I normally get prosecco, but it was our last night, so I branched out–
My first cosmopolitan!
It was alright. I’m less of a liquor fan, I guess. But give me sparkling wine with my Italian buffet any day!
And then, the time had come. The air was filled with a mixture of sadness, anticipation, nostalgia. 
Our last gelato.
Perche No – the best of the best. Soy chocolate and coffee crunch. It was…bittersweet.
It’s hard to gauge how I’m dealing with being home so far because this evil flu attacked me and threw me way off, but so far: the strawberries don’t taste as good, the toilet seats are lower, and the people have funny accents. I’ll keep you updated; I know you’re on the edge of your seat.
I have some product reviews coming up, and will get to work on that restaurant page pronto!

Stomaching It

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

Brain Food

Whoever said “absence makes the heart grow fonder” must have known what it’s like to be without internet for 3 days. I never realized how much I love writing this blog until it was taken away! Which I suppose would be the cloud’s silver lining. [I swear, I’m not trying to jam as many adages into one post as I can.]
Sunday was spent sleeping and studying. Yup, finals week in Italy ain’t so different from finals week at home! Except for at Converse I don’t walk by the Duomo on my way to take it or go to Sergio’s for lunch afterwards…alright, so it’s a little different.
All that studying required some serious brain food:
 Chocolate-orange yogoats
Arugula + cannellini beans + pecorino + balsamic.
My brain felt better.
My roommate Alaina’s parents got here (on Mother’s Day – che carina!) and generously invited all of us out to dinner with them! We went to Ristorante Aqua al 2, recommended by API and my roommate Sam who went here early on in the semester. They are known for their “samplers” – of salads, pastas, meats, and dessert. If you order a sampler, they bring you 3 different dishes, chosen at random. I split a salad sampler and a pasta sampler with my roommate. I snapped a picture of the salads, but even my beloved LuLu couldn’t quite get a clear shot (stupid restaurant lighting…):
From left to right: corn with cherry tomatoes, mixed greens with tuna and capers, and fennel with chicken and radicchio. I think the fennel one was my favorite – I liked how it was hard to tell the chicken apart from the fennel, it made for an interesting presentation.
The pasta samplers were not in any way photogenic or pretty, and they were passed so quickly it wasn’t worth the picture. The first pasta was fusilli (the spiral pasta) in a creamy green sauce (probably pesto) with what we think was tuna. It was good, probably my favorite of the 3. The second was farfalline (little bow ties) in a tomato sauce with mushrooms – good, but kind of blah and unimaginative. The third was a little hard to tell – it was rigatoni in a sauce that I thought was sun-dried tomatoes and eggplant but we couldn’t tell if there was meat in it. I checked the menu again online and I’m pretty sure it was just veggies, but it’s Italy – chi sa? (who knows?) Either way, it was very tasty – definitely had red wine in the sauce. You know that rich, deep flavor that you get when you cook with wine? Mmmm. Not just for drinking! There was a cannelloni (big tube pasta) stuffed with ricotta and spinach which was good, but again, nothing special. Not bad – but nothing I couldn’t find at home pretty easily.
The meal itself was not fantabulous perse, but this was one of those instances where the atmosphere and company was so nice, it was a truly pleasant dining experience. Thank you Alaina’s parents!!!
Afterwards, we went to Grom. No explanation necessary.
Melone + fiordilatte di menta (basically, creamy mint)
New May flavors!!!
I LOVED this combo!!! I’ve had melon with mint leaves sprinkled on top, and this was the perfect recreation of that in gelato form. I have no idea why they work so well – they are both really sweet, but I think it’s something about the cool mint and the fruity melon that just…works.
Study, study, study…

Happiness in a Cone

I’ve lived here for 3 months. You might think I’m sick of Tuscany and it’s rolling hills and vineyards and awe-inspiring landscapes…all that beauty must get overwhelming and old, right?
Nope. Loved every single second. And I’ll love all the seconds that are yet to come.
You might recall our first pilgrimage to San Gimignano, a medieval hill town in the Siena province. We went for one reason, and one reason only: gelato. And not just any gelato. Oh no. We’re talking the World Champion gelateria. Oh yes.
Our first trip in February was a huge disappointment when we, with tastebuds fully prepared for some cold, creamy amazingness, were met with a closed door and a sign that read: Closed until March 7th. ‘Let down’ doesn’t even begin to describe what we felt. [It certainly didn’t stop us from having a great time anyway!]
Now obviously, having developed into full-blown gelato connoisseurs during our semester here, this was not something Alaina and I were missing out on. Armed with a restaurant recommendation for lunch and 3 euro umbrellas, we ventured off…and got on the wrong train. Whoops! That’s the first time this has happened, which is pretty darn good for 3 months, right? [Humor us.] We did not miss a beat, hopped off at the next stop, and got cappuccinos while awaiting the right train to come along. One [correct] train + bus ride later, we were back in San Gimignano:
We found the restaurant relatively quickly, which our stomachs were greatly appreciative of 😉 It was a little fancy-schmancier than we expected – the guide book that recommended said it was a “local favorite” and it seemed more like a hotel restaurant with nice tablecloths and multiple forks and all that high class business, but hey, we were up for anything.
I ordered bruschette miste, mixed bruschettas (toasted Tuscan bread with different toppings):
From left to right: Prosciutto (a darker kind than usual?) and melted cheese — I’m 90% sure it was pecorino, roasted pepper/zucchini on melted mozzarella, and the classic tomatoes with olive oil, garlic and basil. The prosciutto-pecorino one was my fave (I know, you’re shocked). I really just love bruschette – it’s like pizza but more fun 🙂
I also got a side dish of roasted veggies – I was feeling like some fiber, I guess 😉
A tad heavy on the oil, but it’s Italy, so at least it’s really good olive oil they’re bathing in. Roasted eggplant is one of my favorite foods. If you haven’t  tried it, you must! It’s perfect in the summer – just throw some on the grill, drizzle with a little balsamic, S + P, and you’re good to go. I especially like the burned pieces, which is BAD because (as I learned in my cooking class) burnt foods contain free radicals that can cause really icky stuff in your body. So, if you’re like me, up your antioxidant intake – they pretty much kick free radicals’ cancer-causing butts!
After a lovely lunch, it was time. You know what for.
On our first attempt, the gelateria looked like this:
Ah, the fruits of tourist season.
After we elbowed and kneed our way into the teeny tiny store, we tried our best to scope out all the flavors – and there were a lot! Typical ones, like nocciola (hazelnut) and fondente (dark chocolate), but fun creative ones too, like raspberry with rosemary and pink grapefruit-champagne! After much rushed internal debate, I made my selection. I was not disappointed.
Dark chocolate, mint, and zabaione al vin santo 
That last one was an egg nog flavor spiked with Vin Santo, the sweet Tuscan dessert wine traditionally served with little biscotti. I had a Vin Santo gelato before and really liked it, and when I saw the eggnog flavor added, my choice was made. Mint and chocolate for me are no-brainers; when I was little my hardest decision at the candy store was between Junior Mints and York Peppermint Patties. Definitely one of the most wonderful flavor combos ever.
Now, as for the gelato? It was good. Even great. One of the best I’ve had in my almost-4-months here. The cone itself was wonderful – made with almond extract that went perfectly with the eggnog flavor. Come to think of it, they make pumpkin egg nog – I think almond egg nog would be to die for! Culinary innovations aside, this was good, but I must say my gelato-lovin heart still belongs to Perche No. Vestri has by far the best dark chocolate – the rich flavor and creamy texture is exactly what gelato should be; but Perche No has more flavors, uses all-natural ingredients that you can taste, and have the best soy gelato ever. But, this vin santo-egg nog was definitely one of the best flavors I’ve tasted. We were happy, happy ragazze
We did some shopping – San Gimignano has some great pottery places that are perfect for gifts! We made it back a liiiittle later than planned due to finicky train schedules, but we’re pretty used to that.
We made reservations at Trattoria 4 Leoni, a restaurant recommended to my mom by one of her real estate clients as their “favorite restaurant in Florence.” (Clearly they have not been to Sergio’s.) Because my parents were held hostage in America in April because of that evil Icelandic volcano, they took my roommates and I out to dinner from across the Atlantic! Being the good college kids we are and always up for free food, we were pretty excited.
The restaurant is on the other side of the Arno River (Oltrarno), where I almost wish I lived just because the minute you get to that side it becomes so much quieter. Fewer tourist attractions. 
4 Leoni was in a little piazza off a main road. The decor was very cute – teal stucco with uncovered bricks artistically placed. Very upscale, too. So far, so good!
We started with an antipasto plate of – what else? – mixed pecorino!
Pecorini misti
There were 3 different types of pecorino with a little bowl of honey for drizzling and pear slices. Pear and pecorino is another stellar flavor combo – and honey just puts it over the edge! The fruitiness works with the softness of the cheese and the honey accents the strong taste that I can only describe is cheesy – it’s Finals week, give me a break 🙂 All I have to say is, I better be able to find pecorino at home. I might cry…or just move back here.
And then, dinner was served…
Insalata 4 Leoni
This salad, served in a huge cabbage leaf, was arugula, emmenthal cheese (a kind of mild swiss), avocado, and pine nuts drizzled with arugula pesto. Yes, you read that right – pesto made with arugula instead of basil! I saw that and had to try it. I think I have mentioned my arugula obsession – I never tire of it. It just makes such a flavorful salad! It’s got a very strong, peppery flavor that’s perfect with balsamic vinegar. The pesto was good, but a little too salty – I wish they had offered a pasta dish with it, I think the fact that the salad itself was arugula-based made the pesto’s flavor get a little lost. But really, I adored this – the pine nuts were a great addition, and the mild emmenthal matched the strong arugula really nicely. Might have to recreate this at home.
Since we had already had gelato, we went a different direction for dessert…
Tiramisu. Can’t go wrong with a classic.
I think the best I’ve had was the one we made waaaaay back during our orientation week here (pre-blog – say what??), but really, tiramisu is hard to screw up. It’s just such a good combo – coffee, cocoa, marscapone; creamy, cakey…mmm. Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts in general; it’s hard to for me to speak badly of it, ever.
All in all, a very culinarily-satisfying day. Aren’t those the best?
Thanks Mom & Dad!!!

Barcelona or Bust

Bienvenido a…

Be prepared for an epic photo post. I came. I saw. I clicked.
After my very first flight on RyanAir [which, by the way, Alaina hot on the nose when she called it the “Ikea of all airlines”], we arrived at our hostel around midnight and promptly passed out after some very unpleasant cold showers. We arose for a depressingly mediocre hostel breakfast, but it didn’t matter because we were in freaking SPAIN!
We met my roommate Monica, who is studying there this semester, at Plaza Catalunya. We may or may not have looked like crazy, confused tourists while trying to figure out the Metro on the way, but by the end of the trip we had that baby down!
Monica played tour guide and steered us all over the city and back! It was great because she could tell us what attractions weren’t worth spending the entrance fee to go in. It’s always fun to visit a city from a local’s point of view – I wish someone had visited me so I could show them my Florence! But aaaanyway…
We ventured down Las Ramblas, one loooooong strip that leads to the water.
Lots of people and green!
Monica knows me well and led us right to, what else, a market! Mercato St. Josep. It was SO colorful!
They had a whole bunch of fruit stands selling every different kind of juice combination you could imagine, and this I had to try. I went with Papaya-Mango:
We went back later and I got strawberry-pineapple. Both were SO good. I wish Florence would pick up on this juice trend! But, overall, my dear Mercato Centrale in Firenze wins. It feels more personal there, I think. Oh, how I will miss market-shopping!
Our tour continued and we eventually found ourselves in front of Gaudi’s Sagarada Familia, a church whose construction was started something like 140 years ago and they’re still working on it! None of us had much desire to go in – the looooong lines and one too many Italian churches did us in – but it’s a beautiful sight. I went in when I was here 8 years ago. I wish I could remember better how it looked then to see how much progress they’ve made!
Those crazy twisty tree branches in the front reminded me of Sleeping Beauty when Maleficent made all those thorn bushes grow in front of the castle to stop Prince Philip. Yes, I’m a Disney nerd. Don’t hate.
You can kind of see how the front looks a little like melted candle wax. It’s really such a cool structure!
Next stop: Parc Guell
Another Gaudi work! This I remembered well – it was my favorite part of Barcelona. I think it still is! It’s so colorful and funky. If I had a patio, I’d want Gaudi to decorate it.
One of the best views of the city.
See how crazy-cool the architecture is?!
Mosaic work everywhere!
You’re probably wondering by now – where’s the food?? I was a tad disappointed by the food this trip – Italy has it aaaaalll over Spain in that area. But we still ate pretty well!
We stopped for lunch at a little outdoor place across from the sea:
That would be a sculpture of a lobster. Hard to tell from this angle, but either way – wicked cool!
We started with some mandatory Sangria. I was a little concerned, my past experiences with it have NOT been pleasant – but it turns out I liked it a lot! Probably because I’ve learned to like wine so much here. Yum!
One of the prettiest sangrias we had this trip.
For lunch I was SO tempted to try their hummus & pita, but in the end I decided that I’m just going to wait until I go home to get my hummus fix – it will make it taste even better! I went with a hot sandwich with serrano ham & manchego cheese. Gotta eat local!
My family discovered Manchego cheese several years and got hooked! It’s mild but still has a real kick to it. I love how every culture seems to have their own version of ham and cheese. I’m still a prosciutto-pecorino girl, but this was very tasty in its own right 🙂
After lunch we decided to head back to the hostel for a siesta and to get ready for the night’s festivities. We made a quick stop back at Mercato San Josep for some snacks and I got some mango (yes, I’m obsessed. for good reason, mind you – it’s SO good!):
One euro of tropical juicy goodness. Mmmm.
We were amazed at how easily we slipped into the Spanish way of eating dinner so late – We didn’t finish until  after 11 PM! A far cry from the 5 PM dinner I eat at school. 
We had one mission tonight: paella. The national dish, I ate this a little too often on my first trip to Spain and got tired of it, but I was very eager to try it again. Say the word seafood and I’m there!
Monica took us to a place near the beach recommended by her program, La Fintora. It was a good sign when we were brought a glass of complementary champagne!
And bread. Not in a basket, but on individual plates – we were definitely not in Italy anymore!
And olives that were SO. GOOD. A bit different from Italian olives – a little spicier, I think. 
We ordered Cava sangria, which is made with sparkling white wine instead of the regular red wine. I like it, but I think I preferred the classic sangria.
Pretty color, though!
And then it arrived in a pan almost the size of the table. Oh yes, we were excited.
I only wished there had been more mussels! It was reaaaallly good though – in fact, I think paella is the sole rice-based dish that I truly enjoy. A little sweet from the seafood and spiced with the saffron. I ate a little too much, but honestly, how often do you eat paella by the sea in Spain for heaven’s sake!!
Before heading to the club to get our dance on, Monica took us to this really unique, cool bar, La Ovella Negra. It was like a huge open warehouse with wooden cafeteria-style tables and sangria on tap. It was really cool, very different. We went to Razzmatazz, the biggest club in Barcelona – and big it was! 4 floors of crazy booming music. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say – we had a really good time. 😉
We slept in and decided on a trip to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast! This city had SO many American chains, and when we stumbled upon Dunkies, it was immediately put on the list. If you’re from New England, Dunkies is where you go for iced coffee. Sam and I were feeling nostalgic and Alaina was sick of listening to us rave about it, so to Dunkies (called Dunkin Coffee here!) we went! Because it was so late, we went ahead and found a place for lunch after coffee. Dancing all night makes a girl hangry! We picked a random place on La Rambla and settled. Nothing fantastic, but everywhere here was touristy so it didn’t really matter. I actually was quite pleased with the salad I got:
Mushrooms, asparagus, and shards of parmeggiano reggiano. It was a really good combo!
[I have genuinely no idea why google refused to upload this right-side up. But you get the gist.]
We stumbled upon a gelato place that looked good, and felt that since we have become such gelato connoisseurs, it would be plain wrong to not sample it in another country. This place, Amorino, was actually pretty cool because when they put it on the cone they form it into a rose! You know me and pretty food. I swear it tastes better.
Mango + soy chocolate.
The soy chocolate was SO good and dark! The mango had a bit of an ‘off’ consistency and hard to eat, but my love for mango is enough to ignore such minute details.
Red shades, black dress, yellow gelato – I’m the Spanish flag!
That night we met Monica at Plaza Espanya for the “magic fountain”! There is a huge fountain in front of the national art museum and they play classical music while the fountain “dances” along. They actually played American 80s music for us…we found it incredibly entertaining. What fountain wouldn’t want to dance to Madonna?
We went out for tapas that night but sadly we had no idea that Saturday was Spain’s Labor Day and the best tapas bar was closed 😦 We settled for one nearby and it was pretty good but not a-ma-zing. No pictures, sorry! We were already dressed to go out and I didn’t want to bring my huge purse (and I was a little paranoid about stolen cameras…because mine is so new and pretty!). Just imagine some tomatoes and mozzarella in olive oil (they called it a greek salad…we were a bit skeptical but enjoyed it), an anchovy, a big slab of salted cod – which I liked at first but in the end it was too salty, and a “tortilla” which in Spain is basically a frittata. This one was stuffed with veggies and it was really pretty good. Not an incredible meal overall, but I love the tapas concept of getting a lot of little things and getting to taste a variety of foods. Always fun!
We went out to a different club, Apolo, after we went to an “Irish” pub and then this awesome shot bar! They had an entire wall of different shots and they were insane. The best was the boy scout – they pour alcohol on the bar after pouring the shots and give you a marshmallow to roast, then you dip it in the shot, eat it and then drink. It was really fun. They weren’t very alcoholic either, which I appreciated 🙂 It was a late night (perhaps I should say morning), but LOTS of fun. I actually felt like a normal 20 year old for once. 
Our last day was beach day. Hit up Starbucks for breakfast (the Dunkies didn’t have bagels and we were not feeling donuts for breakfast) and then were off to the beach. It was a little cool, but sunny for the most part. I didn’t bother with a suit, but got a little sun. I also got the roomies into collecting beach glass! On my search, a little boy saw me looking at the rocks and gave me this:
“La quieres?” Bah, of course I want it! So cute! Best souvenir ever.
Boats galore!
When I got bored, I started to play with my new camera…
Finding a place for lunch turned out to be a rather difficult task – everywhere we wanted was packed to the gills. We eventually found somewhere – at that point our only requisite was that they served food. We got to sit outside, and got Sangria, so all was not lost. I ordered the pan con tomato, which is a Catalan specialty. It’s basically ciabatta-like bread with a tomato kind of rubbed/crushed on top. It was interesting…but made me long for bruschetta. It needed garlic and basil!
I also got a caesar salad which was…um, not caesar salad. The dressing was like some kind of ranch or something. It came with chicken though, which was unexpected but appreciated. 
I also stole several of Sam’s patas bravas, which is a typical tapas dish. Potatoes pan fried with spices and sprinkled with paprika and served with a tangy mayonnaisy sauce. I’m not much for the sauce but the potatoes are gooooood. Try them if you get the chance, I’ve seen them at random Mexican restaurants before.
It was a bit of a mad dash from hostel to metro to bus station – we were literally sprinting with all our bags out of the metro. But we made it. The train however that was supposed to take us to the Pisa train station from the Pisa airport never showed, and we ended up having to take a cab from Pisa back to Florence. That was a VERY unexpected and even more unpleasant little surprise – cabs are not cheap. But it was either that or sit in the incredibly sketchy Pisa train station until 4 AM, and that just wasn’t sitting right. Ah, traveling in Italy. Always a joy.
The return trip put aside, it was a pretty fantastic weekend. Lots of fun, and I got to see MoMo, who I haven’t seen since we left school in December! Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip though was that I realized how perfect my choice to study in Florence was. I would have hated living in a huge overwhelming city like Barcelona. Not to mention the food – oh how Italy has spoiled me there! I had fun, but it was good to come home. Tiny shower, no dryer, and no peanut butter, but it works for me. American girl, Italian soul.

Wonderful Wednesday

Oh, Wednesday in Florence. I will miss you.
Mostly because Wednesday=Sergio’s. The only man in my life. At least he can cook!
This was fresh pasta alla carrettiera, which really just means in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. It wasn’t even that spicy, just well-seasoned, and it was delicious. There is just nothing like a bowl of fresh pasta. Italian soul food at its finest.
I had some errands to run today – like pay ridiculous import taxes for a package (wherein lies my NEW camera!!!!!) – and whaddyaknow, a trip to Vestri for some gelato just popped onto the list…
Tiramisu + caffe.
It was good, but not near as blissful as last time. The coffee was lovely, just strong enough, but the tiramisu was not very, um, tiramisu-y. I thought it actually had hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, oddly enough. Not to say it was bad – I had NO problem devouring this cone – but Perche No still wins the tiramisu gelato competition. I think the dark chocolate at Vestri is just the way to go. Can’t be beat.
Tonight’s dinner theme was “going to Barcelona for the weekend and have to use up all my veggies” night!
A TON of green goodness – arugula, spinach, red bell pepper, cannellini beans, pecorino.
But no, I can’t possibly eat this ENTIRE pan of veggies….right?
Well, after some quality time in the oven…
 Oh yes I can. And did. Veggieriffic.
Dessert was multi-coursed, of course:
A small chocolate-hazelnut biscotti. Would have been better with actual chocolate chips, but still was quite tasty.
My marzipan pear. Yumyumyum:)
Trying to get prepared for Barcelona this weekend – woohoo!! Although I’m rather sad that tomorrow is my last cooking class here (we have 2 finals). But I know what we’re making, and it’s exciting. Like, something I’ve been waiting for all semester. Are you on the edge of your seat yet?
A domani!

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?

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 😉

Livorno for Lunch: Take 2!

To start, I would like to thank those who commented on my ranting, raving post yesterday. It means a lot to know I have so much support. It wrote it for me, because I needed to get it out there. This growing up thing is hard!
To return to blog business, I had a relatively uneventful Thursday – except for a tour of a gelateria! Well, it wasn’t exactly a tour, and there were some snags hit, but in the end we got to watch a cute little old man make strawberry gelato and then eat it fresh from the ice cream machine! 
See those teeth it’s coming through? That’s how it gets to look so pretty!!
And pretty it is. Not to mention delicious.
Although strawberry isn’t always my first choice, it was cool to eat gelato you watched get made in matter of minutes! They had some flavors that we also wanted to try (dark chocolate sorbetto?! nutella mousse?!!), so expect to see more gelato from this place in the near future.
The most exciting part, though, was that he couldn’t give the tour in English, and even though we had a translator, I understood almost every word he said. So exciting!!!
Made some mean oats that morning, too:
Chocolate + banana. That’s true love, right there.
After my field trip, I was treated to some incredible eggplant parm made by Alaina (click for pictures!). We spent our train trip today in fact discussing how to incorporate spinach into it and decrease the amount of oil used. You know you’ve been living with someone for a while when you start having the same ideas about recipes!
I mentioned our train trip today. Alaina and I went to Livorno! Yes, I went again. Both of us were dying to try cacciucco, the local specialty seafood dish that I wasn’t able to have on my first trip there.
We went back to the same restaurant I went to because it was SO. GOOD. They didn’t let us down.
I had to have the antipasti platter again:
A lovely selection of seafood salad (shrimp, calamari, and octopus with some tomatoes in a very light vinegar-olive oil dressing), smoked salmon (YUM),delicious fresh anchovies, the BEST mussels I’ve ever had, and the most. amazing. crostini. ever. [I talked about it here too.] Seriously, I have no idea what’s on it, but my tastebuds didn’t care. Some kind of tapenade with mussels. And maybe a little magic.
Next, we moved on to cacciucco. Please prepare yourself for what you are about to see. This is not your grandma’s seafood stew like we expected.
That would be a plate piled high with vast quanities of unidentifiable body parts of sea creatures. Tentacles, fins, and a whole shrimp – eyes included, all drowning in this earthy, spicy, salty sauce – almost wannabe bbq sauce? We could not figure it out. Actually, we were so in shock with this dish, we couldn’t really figure any of it out. I didn’t love it, but I definitely didn’t hate it. This dish encapsulates what I love most about food – it’s a true experience in and of itself. We laughed, we ate, we looked in awe at what was put before us. It definitely goes to show – when in Italy, expect the unexpected! We certainly had fun.
And just like last time, we were brought a very large shot limoncello to aid in digestion – we were definitely in need of some of that!
What I like about limoncello is that it is a nice way to end the meal. It’s suuuuuper strong and always leaves me a little tipsy and a few mere sips, but I really enjoy taking part in the ritual of it. What can I say – American girl, Italian heart!
Despite the fact that were stuffed to the gills – or perhaps, to the tentacles – we are firm believers that no city has truly been explored without sampling their gelato. And we are hard core explorers.
Melon (canteloupe) and dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate was alright, but nothing special – of course, now that we’ve discovered the best of the best in Florence, anywhere else becomes “less than.” Actually, Alaina hit the flavor right on the nose – it was just like Hershey’s dark chocolate! I use their dark chocolate powder a lot at home, and this was definitely that taste. Not bad, but not Vestri. The melon was lovely, though. Very sweet, as it should be. Gosh I love melon.
After a lot of walking, we made it back to the train station in good time. Another lovely afternoon spent in Livorno.
Off to paper-writingdom!

Beautiful Thing

Today was a good day.

It started out with Italian, which because of my “sick day” yesterday, was relatively easy to get out of bed for. And lucky for me, today we took a field trip – to a cafe! Our teacher ordered pastry and cappuccinos for the 10 of us and we each had to ask the waiter a question about espresso. If I learned anything, it was that field trips in Italy are SO much better than home!! The capp was delicious, too 🙂

It only got better from there. After some food shopping (the best kind!) at the market, we went to Sergio’s. The main man in my life! I ordered the ribollita…second week in a row. Addicted? Me? Naaaaah…..

It’s a beautiful thing.
Speaking of which, check out this gorgeous (and massive) pear:
Doesn’t it kind of look like it’s floating? Frida wants to be Salvador Dali when she grows up 😉
Most of the day was spent working on the blog paper – I have a very rough outline and sources, but I’m still a little nervous about it. I have the tendency to get over-ambitious with my papers and then end up disappointed, and this one has so much potential…well, I’ll stop neurosing about it.
Alaina and I took a trip to a new gelateria that is *supposedly* better than Grom…and this we had to see taste.
Dark chocolate + crema di vin santo
The second flavor is based on the traditional Tuscan dessert wine vin santo, which is frequently had after dinner with little almond biscotti. I’ve had it before and really liked it, but the past few times it’s just been a little too strong on the alcohol-side – but this was perrrfect! Had the nice biting taste of the wine that was perfectly balanced with the sweetness of gelato. I loved it! 
We agreed that this place was on par with Grom – no better or worse, very similar. Interesting variety of flavors and high quality ingredients. Oh gelato, how I love thee!
I have nothing profound or particularly interesting to say in this post, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Simple works. Simple is a beautiful thing.

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!