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…

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?

Of Music and Air

April? Is that you already?? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN???
Today was SO much better than yesterday! I ended up going to bed late because of the concert, so sleep was again seriously lacking in my life. I pretty much made a beeline from the classroom back to my bed and was gone until almost 1 PM! I swear, this is the effect pre-bedtime yoga has on me. It’s incredible. I’m still pretty tired even now though, so I don’t think the nap was a bad thing.
We got up and went to lunch at Mario’s, a Florentine institution right near the market. It was a bit of a wait, but we distracted ourselves with the pet store next door that had BUNNIES!! Aaaah, so freaking cute!! There was one on particular that I would totally get – he/she was lying on its back in the corner of the cage, paws in the air, just chillin’. 
I’m a little in love.
(photo credits to Alaina)
When we were finally called in, we quickly decided it was worth the wait. The restaurant is one little room crammed with tables where everyone sits with everyone else. The three of us were seated at a table for four, and the empty seat was quickly filled by one of their many regulars, a real estate guy named Stefano. He was really cool and chatted with us – and me in Italian a little, which always brightens my day! The atmosphere in this place was just so fun, so busy, so…Italian. Best word to describe it. And I haven’t even gotten to the food!
There were hand-written signs posted above the windows that let you see into the cooking area that stated
1) They never use frozen foods.
2) They never use cream or bouillon cubes.
3) Asking for ketchup is strictly forbidden.
Love it!
I ordered the ribollita, the traditional Tuscan bread-based soup (more like a thick stew). It was awesome; I really need to try to make this again with more success! I didn’t get a picture because a) I was hungry and b) I didn’t want to freak out the poor stranger sitting with us, but it looked pretty similar to my first bowl of ribollita, perhaps this time a little smoother. Either way it was perfect and delicious and we are SO going back. Hasn’t quite stolen my heart from Sergio’s, but we’re already regulars there! Mario’s, however, was staffed by some reaaally cute boys…hmm….what a dilemma!
After lunch we came back and chilled. The weather is still quit indecisive – it downpoured with lightning and some earth-shaking thunder for about 30 minutes, and a couple hours later the rain came back despite the sun shining…come on, Florence. We’ve talked about this.
After some lazing, lounging, and looking up things to do on our adventure planned for Saturday (to be revealed, all in good time), I threw – quite literally – a salad together:
Messy picture, but it tasted good! I just loooove veggies 🙂
And look at my pretty tomato color spectrum!
Alaina also made pasta all’amatriciana and I felt obligated to sample, you know, to build up my food critic skills *winkwink*. She did a maaahvelous job! It’s basically pasta tossed in tomato+olive oil+garlic+parsley +pancetta with parmesan cheese. She also added some sage, which [we think] added a nice hint of sweetness. Yes, it is as good as it sounds. [Click her name for pictures!]
Tonight was concert #2: Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons and his Gloria. The solo violinist for the Four Seasons was absolutely incredible. As in, I kept expecting to look up and see smoke coming off her bow. I also learned that in Italy they do not give standing ovations, they just clap. And clap. And clap. I think she gave 5 bows! But she very much deserved them! Plus, the Four Seasons is just a fun piece to hear. And it was easy to see that the musicians were enjoying performing it! The Gloria was good, but nothing jaw-dropping. The choir was a little sloppy with their entrances and diction, which gets to me a little because all the choirs I have been in have been intense about everyone singing perfectly together. But the alto soloist’s voice was amazing. It was so thick, rich and a little dark, like really good fudge (yes, I can and do compare everything to food.). I do love a good concert!
On my way back tonight, I decided it was gelato time. To Grom it was!
Caffe + “Crema di Grom”
Their caffe is suuuper strong and espresso-y, which I adore. Crema di Grom is basically a creamy, kind of vanilla base studded with dark chocolate slivers and some of kind amazing cornmeal shortcake biscuit. Gelato is always worth it.
Hearing concerts with singing always makes me yearn to sing myself! In case I haven’t mentioned it, I am a music minor and when I got to college I changed my instrument from flute to voice and never looked back. Singing is such a liberating activity for me, and always has been. In fact, when I get really worked up, the best way to let off some steam is belting out some Broadway tunes or some of my favorite Italian arias. I have noticed in the last half year or so that I have had trouble breathing; sometimes I feel like I have to remind myself to inhale. It’s quite odd. I do attribute a good bit of it to yoga, which I started practicing almost daily this fall. Yoga increases self-awareness like WHOA, especially where breath is concerned as it is such a major aspect of practice, so I know that my increased work in yoga has increased my own awareness of my body in general, which is definitely a good thing. What is not so good is that it has lead me to suspect that one of the big reasons I seem to have this breathing issue is my almost unconscious need to suck in my stomach, one of the many lingering side-effects of my brush with ED (eating disorder). It pisses me off that I am still so anxious about my physical appearance that I would subconsciously deprive myself of air to “look thinner.” Um, thinner may be considered more attractive, but turning blue from lack of oxygen? Not so hot. But to go back to singing (I swear, my ramble has a point), I was thinking tonight that I did not have this breath problem when I was practicing singing more often; it was more automatic to me to breath “correctly” because that is about 85% of what singing is. So, all this to say, I am going to start practicing again when I come home to see if my hypothesis that singing=better breathing in general is right. I hope my household likes my voice!
I’m very excited because tomorrow I am going to a farm in San Gimignano for my cooking class (hence the lack of class today)!!! We will be there for lunch, and you can bet that Frida will be coming along for the ride. Not entirely sure what to expect – but that makes it all the more exciting, no?!
 Too. Effing. Cute.

Exhaust Fumes

I hate to start out a post on a sour note, but I have to be honest – I am NOT doing so hot over here. I don’t feel sick, I just feel like I’ve been hit by a sledgehammer. Like someone drained every ounce of energy out of my body. Look at the weather today:

And all I can think about is bed. I’m hoping it’s just a travel hangover – Rome was rougher on me than I knew. It will be an early night.

Italian this morning was a little rough. I just could NOT get myself to focus. I deal with tiredness a LOT, but even this is rare for me. Our teacher told us the legend behind panettone, a sweet bread eaten at Christmas here. She even brought some for us to try – it helped. It was delicious, and I’m going to ask around for a good recipe. It’s very fluffy with a strong vanilla flavor and dotted with raisins. Even through my exhaustion haze, I could tell this was GOOD. Project: Panettone will soon be put into action.

I dragged myself back to the apartment and immediately went back to bed. I slept for a solid 2.5 hours straight, and the oddest thing is I slept fine last night, just not enough.

You don’t want to hear whining, you want to see some good eats! And as promised, here is my breakfast experiment:

Overnight CEREAL!

You see, I was totally the kid whose favorite part of the bowl of Cheerios was that last bite of completely milk-saturated Os. And, being a lover of oats, I figured, “hey, why not apply the overnight soak method to regular cereal?” The results: I’m a fan! It was a consistency very similar to oat bran, which I actually prefer to oats and miss very much 🙂 Very thick, almost pudding-like, especially after I added the yogurt. I sprinkled cinnamon over it before putting it in the fridge and it really seeped throughout and gave a great flavor boost. Now obviously if you like your cereal super crunchy, this is not for you – but it was a fun experiment and I’m definitely going to try it again!

I was still a little hungry (it was a small bowl – it was, after all, the first trial), and so I made b-fast #2:

Tea, toast & eggs. Quickly becoming my new favorite snack. And as you can see, I was much more successful with peeling this time…

Blogged a bit and did some emails while staring longingly at the beautiful blue sky, and then made some lunch:

Very light salad, just to keep my energy up for some errands.

I felt a little better once I was out and went for a short walk before yoga club. Did some window shopping…

Ooooh so perrrrty:)

 And had to snap some pics:

Oh Duomo, I’m going to miss you so in a few months!

Hit up the grocery store, came home, made coffee, went to yoga. I knew that if anything would help this exhaustion, yoga would. And it did – we held shoulder stand for a gloriously long time. There is something about seeing the world from upside down for a while that just makes a difference.

One of my favorite poses:)
Tonight was deemed Sushi Tuesday in our apartment after we tried to go last Monday, only to discover that essentially every single sushi place in Florence is closed on Mondays. I haven’t had it since the day I boarded my plane here – I was ready for some maki!
We went to a take-away place pretty close by. We ended up waiting for a good 25 minutes, which seemed a little excessive considering the phone didn’t ring once when we were in there and we were the only customers, and there were 4 of us. I just got a salmon roll and a cucumber roll, nothing special but I like the simple rolls more anyway. Sushi is one of my favorite meals because it involves fish and it never fails to leave me satisfied but not never heavy-full. Because we waited so long and then walked back to the apartment, I ripped into it before thinking to snap a picture! But I promise, it looked very similar to this:
(Pretend that tuna is salmon or cucumber.)
I reaaaally wanted some gelato, so I dragged a couple of my roomies out with me. The place we had in mind was some random recommendation and I didn’t think it would be particularly picture-worthy (which was silly – is gelato EVER not worthy of a photo? no. silly gilly!) But the place was closed, so we went to Grom in hopes that the March flavors would be there. It turned out that the March flavors are…the exact same as the February flavors, but Grom is pretty amazing in general, so I wasn’t complaining. I was sad that I forgot my camera, though 😦 I got pear and Bacio, which is essentially Italy’s Hershey Kiss – it’s a popular chocolate with a whole hazelnut in the middle. Trust me, it was GOOD. Hit the spot.
I definitely need to hit the sack soon, but I couldn’t resist the call of the blog:) Tomorrow I’m going to Mercato Centrale (I’m out of my beloved pecorino! The horror!) and out to lunch to my new Wednesday spot, Sergio’s. A domani!

La Mia Domenica

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in while – Blogger was being a pest and wouldn’t let me upload my photos! SO today I tried to do it on Google Chrome instead of Internet Explorer, and problem solved. For the time being anyway. And if you have no idea what any of that techno babble means…trust me, you don’t want to.

ANYWAY, backing up to Sunday: pretty lazy, as all Sundays should be. It was a beautiful day, which is of course due to the fact that all I needed to do was massive amounts of reading and Mother Nature enjoys mocking me. But we did go out a bit in a shopping attempt that was a bit of a failure, as most shops are closed on Sunday. It was good to get out. There were some other beautiful views:

OATMEAL! With bananas and pear confettura. Yummy 🙂
I have also discovered something:
Orange-carrot-lemon juice. Spiked with seltzer water. It’s the best mocktail ever! TRY IT.
And just to make sure you are awake…
EWWWW! Haha, I know, that was mean of me. Sorry. Note to all readers: NEVER give a lefty a bread knife. Bad things happen.
Now, for the most part, we have been enjoying our tiny apartment kitchen and cooking dinner alla casa:
Brussel sprouts! YUM!
BUT, as neither I nor 2 of my roommates had yet to actually go out to a ristorante for dinner, we decided that tonight was a good night. We asked some friends for a recommendation, I called and made a reservation (yes, in Italian…I think I amused the guy on the other end, but hey, I got the job done.). Off we went!
I ordered the tortelli freschi (fresh) with pine nuts, pear sage and pecorino:
It was good, but nothing superb. Missing a wow-factor. Never fear, we will find it!
Coincidentally (perhaps), this restaurant was located a street or two away from what is rumored to be one of the best gelaterias in Florence, and we couldn’t help but drop by – it would be rude not to, no?
GROM Gelato.
That would be a heavenly combination of EXTRA dark chocolate sorbetto and nougat gelato. Be still my heart! It was by and large the BEST gelato I have ever had. I don’t know where to begin to describe it…and therefore you (yes YOU!) must come to Firenze and experience it for yourself. 
Now, we have heard of another (supposedly) equally as good gelato place, and of course it would be unjust to crown Grom before giving the other contenders a shot. We also know where the World Champion Gelateria is (not in Florence, but we agreed that it’s worth a train ride to try it). So stay tuned, there is MUCH more creamy deliciousness to come…
You may be sitting there thinking “ok, this girl is eating bread, pasta, cheese, chocolate, gelato…how will she even fit on the plane ride home?!” I would like to point out that I am in Italy, not the U.S. Portion sizes are actually humanly feasible, ingredients are totally fresh, and my sole means of getting around this city is by foot. It makes a BIG difference.
Have you ever heard of the American paradox? A country full of unhealthy people obsessed with being healthy. Somewhere, around the time food became an industrial endeavor instead of a natural part of culture, that innate sense of how and what to eat got a little lost, and then completely forgotten. I mean, we as a race are here, right? Our ancestors somehow made it through without nutritionist, health specialist, and vitamin supplements. It’s so interesting to me how different cultures see and use food, such a basic building block of life and a common essential thing for everyone.
I hope I’m not boring you too much! Yes, part of this rant is a direct result of my Food and Culture class, but really all it is doing is putting words to how I have felt for a long time, but unsure of how to explain it. Food was a big enemy of mine for so long, and I pin a lot of my recent interest in food on my efforts to rebuild a positive, respectful relationship with it. Yes, humans need food to live, but it is so much more than that. It’s a symbolically and emotionally charged item that has a major, though often invisible, impact of daily life. So I hope you don’t mind if I take my blog occasionally into that direction. It is a passion and fascination of mine, and for me, writing has always been the best route of exploration because I am much more articulate and able to easily work through things in my head. I’d love to hear all your thoughts on it as well, so don’t be shy with those comments! (Plus, I really like seeing mail in my inbox. Makes me feel loved:)
Alright, I suppose I should go, do, see, etc. I have some apartment pictures to show off, so come back soon!