C’era una volta…

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

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

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

Lots and lots of boids.

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

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

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

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

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

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?

*Insert awesome quote from The Office here*

I have resurfaced from a massive Office marathon to say: I heart Spring Break! And also Jim and Pam.
Best couple since Ross & Rachel.
Yesterday was uneventful [hence the lack of post], but nevertheless satisfying. All days such as this begin with…OATS!
Remember my Candy Land addition? Here’s a new one – cinnamon oat shore + vanilla yogurt sea. Great for spoonboarding! (Get it?? surfboarding, spoonboarding….wow. Stop now Gillian. Just stop.)
Took my roomie to my Monday sandwich place – no photo, we had to walk-and-eat because we were busy shopping for…
The most beautiful handmade leather sandals ever.
And they’re all mine. Spring can start now – time to get these babies broken in!
Lunch, by the way, was as wonderful as usual – tuna with olive oil, fresh tomatoes, and “salsa verde” (literally green sauce – very similar to pesto, different in different places – basically a blend of green herby goodness and olive oil). Lots of people were in there (all locals!), and most of the just ordered whatever they wanted on the sandwich (not off the menu), so maybe I will try that next week!
Dinner was my own random little creation:
Lentils, yellow bell pepper, parsley, spinach. Topped with pecorino that got all melty and yummy…mmm.
Today was just lovely. The sun was out [mostly] and the temperature was up. I had the windows to the kitchen wide open all day.
1st stop was to the market for some necessities! I thought you might like to see the goods:
The best almonds ever.
Semi-whole grain bread (funky shape!)
I’ve seen this several times and finally decided to try it today – it’s called “Procorn”. I don’t what exactly it is, but it is a thick brown bread filled with different seeds. Here’s a close-up:
It’s incredible! Kind of buttery on it’s own, with a really hearty flavor…I’m in love.
Yellow apples – my current fruit obsession.
Pecorino Romano
Spinach + arugula
Dried strawberries/white grapes – YUM!
This is more than I usually get; I only need the cheese and the dried fruits/almonds every 3 weeks or so. The market is just a fun place to wander around – great people-watching.  
Came back and sat on the little walkway that leads to another apartment. I haven’t been able to sit out here yet because it’s usually taken over by the girls across the hall who, um…well, let’s just say, we don’t “mesh” well. Interpret as you will. BUT everyone is off exploring Europe (or at least its bars), and this little spot is all mine! Took advantage of a new sandal break-in opportunity:
[Please disregard the mostly-chipped-off nail polish]
Frida the camera came out to sunbathe with me:
I eventually got hungry and came in to make…seitan burgers!
Seitan falls into a similar category as tofu and tempeh as a vegetarian protein – I think it’s fermented wheat, but please don’t quote me on it. I will look it up and get back to you. Whatever it is, I LOVED it! Maybe not quite as much as tempeh (but I reaaaalllly love tempeh), but it was delicious. Very much like Morningstar Farm veggie burgers, which I also adore. Can’t wait to find more and experiment with it when I go home!
It was definitely a day for a passeggiata in Firenze! I walked for a looong time. 
Oh how I will miss these streets!!
First I found the street of the apartment that my parents are renting for their week here in April:
(No idea what number their building is)
Then I crossed the Arno…
I took this because if you squint you can see the sun beams through the clouds…it looked better in person 🙂
I was searching for the Bracacci Chapel. My wonderful major advisor said it was a must-see, and that is what  my spring break is for! Funny story – I followed my directions and knew exactly where I was, but I couldn’t find it. I did find some church-like building that was getting restored in the front, but no chapel. I walked around in a BIG square and when I came back to where I started…I found the chapel. It is part of the church getting restored. Clearly, I was expecting the chapel to come to life and formally introduce itself. Nope. Slight setback done with, I went up to the door…and read the sign that said “Tuesday–Closed.” Figures. It was a great walk though!
I chilled for a while just soaking in the feeling of being in my apartment in Florence with the windows wide open, letting the breeze and sunlight in…it’s a nice feeling.
My poor roommate is sick! She just returned from Ireland and feels awful. Send her feel-better vibes! I considered going out to dinner alone, but kind of chickened-out. Lunch I have no problem with, but dinner is harder. However, I have a looooong list (Excel spreadsheet, actually – don’t hate!) of places I “need” to eat at, so I picked one of the other places rumored to have the “best sandwiches in town” and was off! On my way, I passed a gelateria that I have heard highly recommended, but whenever we try to go, it’s closed. We have seriously tried 3 different times. Quite frustrating. And I’ve always been a supporter of eating dessert first, so…
Almond gelato. MMM.
This place has “Sicilian-style” gelato – I honestly have no idea what that means/why it is different from the rest of gelato in Italy. It was good, but I didn’t find it anything more special than others – Perche No! still has my heart.
I found the sandwich place, “I Fratellini” (The Brothers) – it’s actually a teeny wine bar, a literal hole in the wall. I got the vegetariano:
There’s a hole in my bread! Actually, I really liked it, made it easier to eat I think.
Light on the vegetables – mostly just eggplant & olive oil.
It was good, but not amazing – I’m not sure anyone will beat my beloved Casa del Vino. I did love this roll though, nice and crunchy like french bread. Man I love bread.
–We interrupt this post for a random rant from the author–
Wanna hear something funny? I don’t gain a BIT of weight eating the “Italian way” – oats and fruit for breakfast, and either a light lunch if I’m going out for dinner, or vice versa – all washed down with some gelato and extra fruit here and there. It’s a fantastic way to eat – completely satisfying and no deprivation at all. It’s when I fall back into “bad habits” such as making my meals smaller to “reduce calories” – the funny thing is, making smaller meals sends a message to my brain that I “can” snack more, and it’s when I get into snack after mindless snack that my pants start feeling a little smaller. It’s a sick cycle, really. And I’ve been falling back into my snacking rut and feeling it, and I don’t like it (even though most of the pants I brought are STILL too big!) SO, all that to say with all you wonderful blog readers as my witness – I am going to become a more mindful eater. Gelato, wonderful bread, and amazing pasta will NOT be excluded, and this is NOT a “diet.” I am simply going to focus on eating what my body wants and needs – more paying attention to actual hunger, less snacking on crackers because “they’re there.” The other problem with snacking, for me, is that I enjoy the food so much less – I’m not eating it for fuel or flavor, just for something else to do. And that is taking all the fun out of food! Really, this rant is my way of holding myself accountable – if any would like to join me, feel free to comment and join the fun!
In case your eyes started to glaze over and drool got dangerously close to the keyboard when you started reading this, I will sum up: Eat real food mindfully and be happy.
Only an English major takes a huge paragraph to say 7 words.
–Now back to your regularly scheduled post–
I am planning on a trip to the Uffizi tomorrow…and other than that, who knows?

Going Multi-sensory

Buona sera! Come stai? Sto piu bene d’ieri – molto meno blah.
P.S. – It is my goal that by the end of my semester, I can write an entire blog post in italiano. Be prepared.
Today was significantly more productive than yesterday. Although I’m relatively certain that most of my Italian class doesn’t like me because I’m a “know-it-all”…to which I reply “Vattene!” (and they wouldn’t even know what that means, anyway.)
It was a beautiful morning and I couldn’t help whipping out my camera on my way to class:
Just a 574-year old architectural and artistic masterpiece. No big.
I got to test out my new oat bowl, and I would say it was a very successful trial-run:
Yogurt-Oat Parfait:
Layer yogurt-banana slices-oatmeal twice. Decorate top as desired. Mangia!
I also made my first attempt at a poached egg. It was…um, a failure, but I really just wanted to do it to see what mistake(s) I made and therefore how to improve next time. I’ll keep you updated on my poaching skill. I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat.
Ventured to San Lorenzo/Mercato Centrale today. Not only is it the best palce ever to buy fresh fruits, veggies, cheese, and the best balsamic vinegar EVER, many of the vendors only speak Italian. I feel so let down when I walk into a store and they immediately start speaking English to me. I gotta try to learn people! Mercato Centrale is also one of the most colorful places in Firenze:
Dried fruit & nuts GALORE!
Check out those tomatoes in the middle – they look like pumpkins!
Love me some fresh fruit.
LOTS of meat vendors. LOTS of dead animal flesh. Not so much a fan.
Mmm, cow stomach…
Quite a successful trip. I walked out with some tomatoes, spinach and arugula, almonds, and a couple apples. I also bought this sweatshirt outside:
Pretty sweet! That’s the Florentine coat-of-arms symbol on the front. Yes, I am wearing it right now. It’s very soft and cuddly. Just the way I like it. (That’s what she said?)
I was a serious bottomless pit today. I could NOT get full until dinner. But I tried–btw, pecorino makes an excellent grilled cheese. Try it NOW. Thank me later.
My problem really is that I try to have little things that will tide me over, but they never fill me quite enough, and so I have another small little something, and the cycle continues. Quite frustrating in retrospect. But that’s how you learn, no?

Of the several munchies I consumed, these were particularly tasty:
German crackers, part of my revenge-on-Venice loot from the hotel. They are kind of a cross between Ak-Maks and Wasa crackers, and somehow remind me of potato chips. In the words of Rachel Ray, Yum-O!
Have you ever tasted chocolate? No, I mean really tasted it. My favorite way to eat chocolate – and really anything, come to think of it – is to turn it into a multi-sensory experience. You eat with your eyes and nose before your mouth! Really, one of my favorite things about Italian culture is their respect for food and eating as a kind of ceremonious event, something that nourishes your body and your mind. Try this sometime: before scarfing down a meal in 5 minutes so you can be out the door, in your car and on to the next tick on the to-do list, sit down. Look at the food in front of you – the shapes, the colors. Notice the different smells, how they combine and complement each other. When you taste it, focus on the different feels and flavors. Appreciate it.
Maybe you read that and said “Oy. This girl is off her rocker. What happened?!” Between being immersed in this culture, taking two classes that focus on food – especially the social and symbolic aspects of it, and getting deeper into my own passion for the subject, the way I look at food/eating is changing completely and much for the better. It is such an endlessly interesting subject! And one so frequently taken for granted. So, expect more talk about it!
All that, to show you this:
I discovered Ritter chocolate on my first trip to Germany, and could only find it in Europe until recently – randomly, Target and WalMart sell them! It is basically really good chocolate with different fillings – nougat, yogurt, marzipan, biscuit, nuts, etc. If you ever see them, give them a try – they are an amazing fix when you need some higher quality chocolate than, say, a Reese’s cup or some Hershey Kisses (not that there is anything wrong with those – I’ve eaten plenty of those too in times of need!!)
I at long last filled the black hole formerly known as my stomach with dinner:
My take on pasta e fagioli
Spelt penne with cannellini beans, eggplant, tomatoes, garlic and spinach.
I really loved the spelt pasta – great texture. A little less grainy than whole wheat pasta, I think. Quinoa pasta is another great option, and perfect for those who want to go whole grain but can’t stand the texture of wheat pasta. I highly recommend trying both!
Probably should consider doing some homework. I have my first Italian quiz tomorrow morning, but I’m not particularly concerned. Also have my cooking class tomorrow, YAY! Stay tuned for pics!