The BIG Move: Part II

From this…

to this:

From this…

To this:

And this:

To this:

We have arrived.

During my freshman year, it was announced that my class – 2011, holla! – would be the first senior class to live in the senior apartments. If there was no other reason to stay, this was it (but there were plenty others – I ❤ my college!).

Ready for the grand tour??

 

My room looks out at that fountain. I will never need one of those “gentle sound-making machines” – I have the real thing!

 

Welcome to our house!

First things first:

Please meet Otis, the house plant. He says hello. (He gets whiney when he’s not introduced to the guests.)

The living room, where one of my roommates got another one and me addicted to Alias. We’ve almost watched the entire first season in 2 days. It’s a problem.

The kitchen – obviously, my favorite part. And yes, that apron hanging in the corner is mine.

Now walk with me down the hall…

To my room 🙂

Desk,

Closet,

And a view. Not too shabby, no?

Of course, the necessities:

Bathroom – note the 2 sinks. I have never, ever, EVER had my own sink. After about a week, I highly recommend it.

The amazing hotel-like shower that I have used every night. Because I can.

I promise a more in depth tour of the kitchen is to come! But now, let’s get to the good stuff: food.

The inaugural bowl of oats:

Espresso-spiked chocolate banana scottish oats. Oh yes.

1/4 c. scottish oats

3/4 c. almond milk

1 T cocoa

1/4-1/2 tsp. instant espresso

dash of sea salt

1 banana, sliced

Espresso really brings out the richness of the cocoa – I use it in ever chocolate thing I bake! But for the love of all things caffeinated, do not drink instant espresso. That is just not what it’s for.

My first apartment-cooked meal involved one of my bulk bin purchases from Whole Foods:

French lentils. Aren’t they pretty?!

A quarter cup of those into a pot with:

About 1/3 of a zucchini, half of a carrot, some white onion, and

a cup of frozen kale. Add some sea salt, pepper, and herbes de provence, and bam!

Lentil stew with a side of whole grain toast. So blissfully far from the limp salad I ate daily in the dining hall, I could cry with happiness.

I am slowly gathering all my necessary baking supplies together. My reusable silicon cupcake lines arrived in the mail today.

Time to go preheat the oven. It. is. ON.

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The Case of “The Lasts”

Ugh, I hate this part. You know, the one where everything you do is “the last.” Last load of laundry in our crazy machine [it secretly wishes it were a rocket ship – you should hear it on spin cycle). Last shopping trip in the market. Last time I have to climb the never-ending stairs to Italian class…ok, maybe I don’t hate every part. Those stairs at 8 in the morning were not exactly a treat.
After I got my grade on my Italian final – all good 🙂 – I came home for some overnight oats!
Before you go to bed, put oats in a bowl and pour an equal amount of liquid (I’m a fan of almond milk) over them, and maybe add a dash of cinnamon. Let them sleep in the refigerator and when you are both awake, the oats will have absorbed the liquid and be soft – voila, no-cook oatmeal!

(There are different ways of preparing them; some people add more stuff to it the night before. That’s why they’re so fun – lots of different ways to experiment!)
Before…
After: all mixed up with some vanilla yogurt.
This was exceptionally good today – it tasted like snickerdoodle cookie dough! The perfect way to prepare for my cooking practical, the second half of my final for that class where we actually have to cook for and be judged by our professor.
We set his table up all pretty:
We were split up into teams to tackle 3 courses of 4 dishes.
Course 1: BREAD
Not just bread – stuffed focaccia and pizza.
This was the focaccia we made a couple weeks ago for our “green class.” It’s amazing, and this time it was even better. The spinach is sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic to add flavor and it worked – the spinach-garlic combo sang through the bread. The mozzarella (use fresh buffala mozzarella – it’s a little fattier but you can use less to get a powerful punch of flavor) was perfectly stretchy, and the dough was juuuust dense enough to hold up it’s filling but fluffy enough to be like eating yummy, doughy, pillows. 
Another team made pizza margherita – tomatoes, mozzarella, basil. This was very probably the.best.pizza. I’ve ever had. The flavors was perfectly balanced and so fresh. The crust was the right thickness – not cracker like but not like you were getting more crust than ingredients in your mouth at once either. The sauteed the tomatoes in garlic and olive before topping the dough to bake – this is essential for non-soggy pizza, because if you just throw the raw ingredients on the top, the water (that makes up most of the veggie) will release and make your pizza WAY to heavy to eat. The cheese was golden but not gummy or too crispy and with the basil was SO good. Yup, will be making this when I come home.
Next course: Pear-filled ravioli in a walnut-herb sauce with pecorino.
PEAR!
This was very tasty. The pasta was a little undercooked, but I actually like overly-al dente pasta (yes, I’m odd). I wish the pear had been blended with the pecorino and then filled, the ravioli with just chopped pear felt a little sparse to me. But the walnut sauce was SO good – walnuts, parsley, and basil. You couldn’t really taste the walnuts, at least not unless you looked for it, but that is actually kind of the goal. Like pesto – it’s not ALL about the pine nuts that you add to it, but if you took them out you would know. It really did work well the sweetness of the pears. As my professor commented – “amazing”.
Dessert: MY TEAM!
[Thanks again blogger for the sideways picture. It’s not funny anymore.] 
Crema di amaretti – I also made it here.
Gosh, I love pretty food.
The filling is very similar to tiramisu – we used the double boiler method to kill any salmonella ickiness in the eggs as we beat the. Here’s what we did: Separate the whites from the yolks of your eggs (it’s one egg for every 2 people you are serving). Get your double -boiler going; when the water is simmering (NOT full-on boiling!), use a hand-mixer (or one of those fancy-schmancy Kitchen Aid mixers that I can only dream about owning) beat the yolks with cane sugar (tablespoons=number of eggs used) until it’s nice and creamy. Set it aside to cool. Get your water a-simmerin’ again, and repeat the process with egg whites (no sugar) until they form stiff peaks. Not sure what that means? I didn’t either. Get them to the point where if you turn the bowl upside down, the egg whites don’t move (and please use a second bowl underneath when testing this…). Let those cool as well. Fold in marscapone cheese with yolk-sugar mixture gently. Then add the egg whites. 
This is where I added a couple teaspoons of cinnamon. I remember thinking it would be good the first time we made it, and I wanted to do it for the final. My teacher loved it! Yay! Nothing like feeling innovative in the kitchen to make me smile:)
Now, look at the consistency you have. You want something tiramisu-filling-like, very light and creamy. We made the call to add a liiiiittle bit of whipping cream (whipped with a little lemon juice and a pinch of salt to get it fluffy!), and that really made a huge difference. We used about 125 grams of cream, and we were making for 14 people – so you really don’t need much.
To plate, dip two amaretti cookies (they’re like little almond biscuits, I will have to consciously search for them in the States when I come home – I’ll keep you updated!) in strong coffee mixed with just a few drops of milk and sugar. Sprinkle the top with coffee (instant here is fine), chocolate chips and cocoa powder. Voila! better-than-tiramisu goodness.
Our professor’s comment? “Delizioso!”
He gave me a big hug when I left and that was when this whole “I’m actually leaving” business hit me. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! DON’T MAKE ME GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ahem.
SO, after class I wandered over to the Ponte Vecchio to do some window shopping. I have been searching for a necklace with the Florentine fleur-de-lis crest, and I knew if I would find it anywhere, that’s where it would be. The Ponte Vecchio is known for its jewlery, specifically marble and gold. Honestly, I really can’t stand gold, but I was still hopeful. It was looking pretty dim at first; all I could find were charms the size of my pinky fingernail at the low, low price of 122 euro – which is, what, maybe 150 dollars? Ugh. I was feeling like giving up, when I crossed to the other side and found it.
Yay! 6 euro, and I already have a chain 🙂 Ain’t it perty?
For the first time this week, the sun was out! I have been planning on returning to Piazzale Michelangiolo to get some better pictures because a) the day we went it was cloudy, b) I have a new camera!!, and c) the combination of my carberrific lunch + the joy of finding my jewelry left me with some newfound energy to burn!
The walk there is lovely.
[Ponte Vecchio]
Remember the funky trees?
It’s quite a hike to get there…
And just when you think it’s over…
But it’s worth it.
Even though I’ve only been here for 4 teeny months, I still call it ‘mine.’ Not that it only belongs to me; more in the way that it has made such an impact on me. It’s home.
Dinner tonight was long-anticipated. We planned to go to Cibreino – “the poor man’s Cibreo.” Cibreo is one of the most important (and most expensive) restaurants in Florence. The chef is world-reknowned for his take on Italian food. Simply put, it’s a big deal.
Cibreino is a little trattoria around the corner from Cibreo that offers a limited menu for a MUCH smaller price. Same kitchen – fewer options.
I was excited.
We got there at 7, when it opens, and all breathed sighs of relief when there was a table for 4 ready and waiting. The trattoria is a very small room with only 8 or so tables, so we were a little worried. It was also mostly tourists – and we were treated as such, which was a little annoying but to be expected considering the fame of this place.
After much debate and some help from our very entertaining waiter, I ordered:
It was a veggie-fish soup. Very well spiced and I loved the fish that was in it – no idea what it was called, a kind of white fish that looked a little bit like tuna (different taste though). It was a little brothy for me, but it was so well-seasoned that it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it. They also brought us a “surprise” bowl of the minestra di pane – bread soup – that is very similar to ribollita. That was awesome – tasted just like Thanksgiving stuffing! Ah, the wonders of sage.
At the end of our class today, my cooking professor was talking about going to restaurants. He said the best way to judge a restaurant is by its appetizers and dessert – how they start and end a meal. He emphasized the great importance of dessert and ending a meal on a sweet note, because there’s always room for sweet! (You understand now why I enjoyed this class so much?) I was feeling inspired and so Alaina and I split the flourless chocolate cake.
Best. Decision. Ever.
This was one of the best chocolate cakes EVER. Very thin but SO dense and moist. I could have eaten an entire cake’s worth of it. But, aside from the phenomenal flavor, I also appreciated the portion size – it was a perfect dessert. Wonderful taste but not overwhelmingly huge so as to make you waddle out of the restaurant. Well done, Cibreino. Well done.
What fabulous plans do we have on our last day in Firenze? Pack, pack, pack – print boarding passes – and then pack some more. Ah, the glamour of life abroad.
And I loved every second.
~Namaste~

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…
~Namaste~

Rain, Rain, Vattene!

Monday was a generally unpleasant day, with one notable exception…
Prosciutto, pecorino, and arugula. Worth staying awake through my classes for.
That, however, was an exceptionally difficult task considering we got back to Florence via taxi from Pisa at 2:30. More than once I had to physically struggle to keep my eyelids up. 
But enough of my whining. THE END IS NEAR!!! It is our last week of classes, then exams and then home! I’m still in a state of semi-denial about this whole’ leaving Florence’ situation. Let’s not talk about it.
Let’s talk about oats!
Mmm, chocolate-pineapple oats to be exact. Maybe it sounds weird, but really it makes sense – every chocolate fountain I’ve encountered is usually accompanied by strawberries, pound cake chunks, and pineapple! If you haven’t tried this combo, you must – whip out that fondue pot collecting dust in your basement and get to it! Heck, just nuke some chocolate chips in a bowl and dip some pineapple in there. I am a chocolate+fruit fiend. Especially in terms of gelato combos…mmmmm….
It has yet to cease raining here since we’ve returned from our Spanish vacation. We’re thinking Florence is sad we’re leaving soon. Yup, that’s definitely it.
Last night was our LAST Ethnic Tuesday! Che peccato! And what better way to do up our last one than with…pizza?
We actually discussed the interesting nature of pizza recently in my Food & Culture class. It has become an “archetype food,” meaning a food with no specific identity and neutral characteristics. Think about it – we have Thai Chicken pizza, Hawaiian pizza, Mexican pizza…it crosses every ethnic boundary line! So really, it’s the perfect choice for our final Ethnic Tuesday. It covers every ground!
We’ve had Gusta Pizza on the list for a while (and yes, I have an actual Excel spreadsheet of restaurants to go to) because it is rumored to be the best pizza in Florence. That certainly sounds like a challenge made for the ladies of The Palace! It was pouring down rain, and the restaurant was across the Arno – but we do not let Mother Nature stand in the way of pizza. We called a cab. Totally worth it.
There are only 7 different pizzas made (and a couple daily specials), which we all agreed was kind of nice – sometimes looong menus are just too overwhelming! After much debate, I went with the Napoli – tomato, mozzarella, capers, and anchovies. It was the anchovies that did it – Italy has made me an addict 😉
Melty mozzarella deliciousness 🙂
It was saltier than I would have liked – and before you say it, yes I know anchovies are capers are salty, but actually the anchovies I’ve had here haven’t been overwhelmingly so. I still enjoyed it. How can you tell? I ate the entire thing. Crust and all. Yes, it was that good. And I don’t regret a single bite.
Today the weather matched our mood…our LAST Wednesday lunch at Sergio’s!!! WAAAAAH!!
Alaina’s parents are coming next week and Alaina is taking them there on Monday for lunch and I’m tagging along (for blatantly obvious reasons), so it’s not our true last lunch there, but it is the end of our Wednesday lunch date tradition, and that is sad. We all sat around with our pasta e fagioli with mournful looks on our faces between bites.
From this…
To this. No better tribute could be paid than that of an empty plate.
Tonight, LdM is hosting a farewell sit-down dinner for us – and where free food beckons, we follow. Until then, I’m getting my study on for the written part of my cooking final tomorrow. Antioxidants, phytochemicals, and homocysteine, oh my!
~Namaste~

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?

…OH YES THEY COULD!!
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.
Ready?
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!
~Namaste~

A Wonderful World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The British weekend is coming!

~Namaste~

Yogalicious

As well as I am doing, I cannot say the same about our Internet. It’s flakier than pastry. And I am not much for pastry.
On the other hand, there is not a whole lot to update about. April is not only a crazy month travel-wise, but school-wise as well – I have 2 presentations and a paper due next Monday and a massive research paper due the next Monday, and with my parents’ arrival next week and an impending trip to Siena this weekend, I’m a bit overwhelmed. Please forgive me if my posts are rather less prolific this week!
It occurred to, in thinking about all my to-dos, that during the school year all I say to myself is “just get through this week, month, assignment, etc” and I started thinking that here – but I had to stop myself. I want every minute here to last as looong as possible and I will not let looming schoolwork take away any of the fun and happiness this trip has left in store for me. Yes, I do want to do well because a lot of these assignments are actually very interesting (a presentation on chocolate? yes please!), but I don’t want their enormity to stress me out to a point where I forget where I am. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I plan on continuing to treat it as such. So there, perfectionist-me!
Ok, back to FOOD. Remember the yummy fennel-spiked salami I had at the olive oil tasting in Lucca? Well, I found it at none other than Casa del Vino, my Monday sandwich spot! I almost tried a new sandwich, but I saw ‘finocchiona’ on the list and had to have it. With pecorino, of course. 
Yup, just as amazing as I thought it would be. 
I promise, I will get it again and describe it as I eat it to try to nail the flavor a little more. Gosh, ordering this again–now that’s a challenge. NOT.
After classes, most of my day was spent battling with the Internet to try and get some of the mountain of research I have to do done [it didn’t end well for the research]. Dinner was a salad and soft-boiled egg on toast, unpictured because, well, they’re not exactly the most thrilling things to photograph.
Speaking of photography, I’m getting a new camera!!!!! My dad is bringing Frida’s replacement when they come next week. I’m so excited! Expect lots of “I have a new camera omg” pictures.
I think the all that intense hiking on Sunday followed by a mostly-sedentary Monday really took a toll on my body, and I was really feeling it last night. Though it was late, I decided to do a little yoga before hitting the sack. I need to do this more often! Though I didn’t get much sleep at all, I have a ton more energy today than usual and waking up was a lot easier! It felt sooo good, too. I know I have had a lot of good food, but yoga may be the yummiest thing ever.
After Italian and a quick trip to the market, I headed home for some much-needed oats:
Hide-and-seek eat!
And here’s lunch:
Fresh arugula + cukes + pecorino and good balsamic vin + olive oil. Sooooo yummy 🙂
The weather has gone a bit downhill since last week’s perfect spring warmth, but honestly I’m not too upset because I need every excuse to stay in and get work done before the weekend whisks me away! I would very much appreciate warmer weather though. Sitting in the kitchen with the windows wide open is such a wonderful feeling. *insert sigh of contentment here*
Yoga was actually a bit intense tonight, but that’s generally a good thing. We tried head stand for the first time. I have tried it before but have yet to get all the way up. The end result looks something like this:
Was certainly not going to happen on my first shot, but I got farther than expected. It takes a lot of balance. I am slowly improving my crow, though:
It’s actually really fun to try! I can stay up for at most one second, but one of my favorite things about yoga is that it doesn’t matter how well you able to physically execute a pose so much as that you are trying and slowly working up to it. And this is surprisingly easier than it looks! One of the best things about this yoga class here is that it has taught me new poses I probably would have been too hesitant to try on my own–yoga is all about the individual journey, but I do think it’s important to start out with a teacher because injuries can happen if the pose isn’t done correctly. 
After yoga, it was Ethnic Tuesday time! Tonight the roomies and I set our culinary sights on Ruth’s Kosher Vegetarian Food, a Jewish restaurant near the synagogue. The main reason for our going here was 1 thing: hummus. All 4 of us love it and miss it terribly (we can’t find it sold anywhere!), and we were pretty excited about getting reacquainted with this chickpea-tahini delight.
This place was so cute! Quite small inside, with a cute little old man as the owner/waiter. We got hummus to share:
[Excuse the blur!]
Eaten with Tuscan bread. Fusion food at its finest!
I ordered tabbouleh, which is a kind of grain salad made with bulgar, parsley, onion, bell pepper, and olive oil.
It was delicious – especially mixed with hummus! I happily devoured it.
Alright, back to work – I’m giving a presentation on chocolate in my Food & Culture class next Monday! The research is actually pretty interesting. There have been a lot of cool studies done on chocolate! I wanted to take my presentation in a sociological direction & talk about chocolate as a comfort food, but I’m having surprising difficulty finding good solid stuff about it, and it is starting to feel a bit overambitious with everything else going on, so we shall see…I’ll report with some fun facts that I find!
~Namaste~

Nothin But Blue Skies, Blue Skies Do I See!

Despite yesterday feeling a little blue, this morning I woke up to a very different kind of blue:
There is nothing in the world like opening the window in an apartment in Italy and letting the breeze and sunshine soak in. Definitely a cure-all for blah moods.
While walking to Italian this morning, I remembered my epiphany from earlier in the semester. Why bother mumbling and grumbling about what isn’t perfect in life (now there‘s an exhaustive list) when you can slow down, take a deep breath and just enjoy where you are in that very moment. No “I’m going to be late”, no “if I don’t get home right now I’ll starve and die”, no have-tos or should’ves. It was with that thought in mind that I went to the market right after class. Because I was up, I was out, and because there is no rush. There is something about the personableness, the conviviality of the market that just leaves me feeling more content and calm than when I entered. It should probably be studied or something.
Blue skies calls for more blue, and what better way to do it than with…
Blueberry yogoats! If these don’t chill you out, nothing will 😉
I mentioned yesterday being a bit off. I’m never quite sure how to approach “off” days on the blog. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to bring everyone down! I was just feeling very…unsatisfied, I suppose. Maybe it was just a bit of homesickness in disguise. Or maybe it was the shopping trip on Monday – there is nothing like walking around an upscale Italian department store to make me feel unstylish, unattractive, and “un” everything else that I “should” be. And that got me a little angry. Why should I let some impersonal hoity-toity store dictate my self-esteem? How stupid. I happen to like my style; it’s not hot off the runway, and doesn’t fit any stereotype. It just fits me. I don’t like jeans, never have, and I think I do a darn good job of making myself presentable. If someone can explain to me why wearing yoga pants everyday is any weirder than wearing leggings that look like they’ve been sprayed on or wearing low-rise jeans that dip so low you wonder where exactly the “rise” is, then I will happily listen. But I can’t be anyone else, and I am determined that no one or thing will tell me otherwise or give me a guilt trip about it. So there.

And yes, I realize that society still judges and there are forces out there that even the greatest self-esteem can’t conquer, but in my experience, being comfortable in your own skin gives a kind of confidence that makes other people look past, or even not see, the outside. Easier said than done, of course. But it can be!

I tried to turn my day around:

Chocolate-raspberry yogoats. Not sure they helped my mood, but my tastebuds sure were grateful 🙂

Ethnic Tuesday: Sushi, take-2
tuna roll + seaweed salad
Quite depressing sushi, actually. The tuna was unimpressive and the salad was too sweet and too spicy. And it was overpriced in general. BUT, this place delivered and the rumored “good” sushi places here are sit-down restaurants and a little pricey, so subpar sushi it was.

Ok, no more crappy Tuesday talk, let’s get back to the present!

 I’ve been meaning to check out the San’ Ambrogio market, another big food market in Florence. It is not quite as old or big as Mercato Centrale, but you know, variety is the spice of life and all. And it’s such a beauuuuutiful day!!!

Funky angles, no?

This market had all of their produce stands outside – it went on forever!

Beautiful South African pears. I had to get some. I loved it! Very nice cinnamony-sweet taste. And so perty!

This market was fun; the old man at one of the cheese stands liked me and gave us lots of samples 🙂 I also bought this monster:

This pepper was 1,50 euro. That’s like 2 dollars of BELL. PEPPER. Did NOT see that coming. Whoops.

I liked this market a lot, but Mercato Centrale remains my favorite. More to see there, I think. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong with markets in Italy!

We did a bit of shopping in San Lorenzo and stopped for what remains to be the best cappuccino I’ve ever had before lunch at Sergios! My Wednesdays will be just a little empty when I can’t come here for lunch.
Although I woke up thinking about their wonderful soups, I ended going a different route once I took a look a the daily menu…

Melanzane alla parmigiana – Eggplant parm!
What I love about the eggplant parm I’ve had here is that it is nothing like the breaded, buttered, deep-fried, cheap-cheese-covered American version. The eggplant has a melt-in-your-mouth texture on the inside, but the skin gets crispy and crunchy in the oven, and paired with wonderful parmeggiano and provolone cheese and fresh tomato sauce, it tastes like nothing you’d ever expect to come from just an eggplant and some cheese. It’s really a toss-up between my first eggplant parm  at Dino and today’s…mm, yummylicious. And it was a perfect little lunch portion too. Cute food is more fun to eat 😉

Because of the gorgeous weather, the roomies and I grabbed a blanket and headed to a piazza nearby to do some much-needed sunbathing. I took my book…but ended up napping in the sun instead. I almost wish everyday were this wonderful, but then that would make it less special, and what’s the fun in that?

Taking pictures lying down is fun!

[That would be Alaina’s foot.]
Spring has sprung!

I came home on sunshine and nap high, fixed myself an enormous salad…and that’s about when my lovely day in the sun got cloudy. But this is such a happy post, I’m not bringing it down! Let’s just say – to be continued.

Wonderful food, warm spring weather, and a nap in the middle of a piazza. Life is good.

~Namaste~

A Very Unique Easter

Buona Pasqua…err, 2 days late! The internet has been a serious downer, but I can only get so low before I remember I’m living in Florence. That makes everything so much better.
Easter was…certainly unique. Oh, where to begin. 
I woke up and knew something was off. My head was pounding and I just felt weird. I figured out the problem pretty quickly…
No, I did not get beaten up in the middle of the night. Well, actually, I guess I kind of did…by a MOSQUITO. Mosquitoes are bad all year round in Florence, and the one buzzing around our room last night got me good. Really good. 
I had planned on doing some Easter morning yoga, but I was a little distracted, for obvious reasons. I needed chocolate, and I needed it immediately. Lucky for me, chocolate is how Italians celebrate Easter, in the form of eggs:
All wrapped up perty!

Vestri, a wonderful chocolate company here in Firenze (with excellent gelato!)
300 grams of dark chocolate. Yep, this helped the puffy-face situation.
For comparison 😉
I sought further consolation in my good ole stand-by – oats!
I used raisins for the first time in my oats – I loved it! Added a really nice sweetness.
I also added blackberries and strawberries my roommate bought for pancakes. I LOVE berries in my oats, but they’re not quite in season and Italians are big on eating on in-season fruits, so they’re not as easy to find. Don’t worry – come summer, you will see a LOT of berrylicious oat bowls around here!
Raisins, berries, cinnamon, oh my!
The puffiness slowly receded throughout the day, but I was still quite comical-looking when we ventured out into the torrential downpour for a nice Easter dinner. We went to Dante’s, recommended by many students because they offer free, unlimited wine. And puffy face + pouring rain = definitely a good day for wine. 
I ordered my first pizza in Italy!
Foccaccia al salmone
Suuuper thin foccaccia (very much like naan) with mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula, and smoked salmon. Basically, the perfect bagel, with mozzarella instead of cream cheese and a different carb on the bottom. Smoked salmon + arugula is a match made in heaven.
I pretty much demolished this massive pizza, but the thinness of the crust made it lighter than it looked. The wine was nice too…but then they brought a second bottle. And then a free shot of limoncello. And then I was a liiiiittle bit tipsy.
We gave up on the idea of walking home when we looked outside and it was raining even harder, so we called a cab. Alaina generously made a crostata for our dessert that was awaiting us patiently in the refrigerator:
So perty! And quite yummy also!
However, Alaina got upset that Sam and I ate “all” of the fruit (her accusation, not my admission), and things escalated quite quickly into a full-out berry/crostata WAR. Berries in our hair, on the floor, on our clothes, and basically every other surface in our apartment was at some point or other covered in berry juice. True, not so fun to clean up…but totally worth it.
Our Easter Monday was pretty uneventful. Slept in, did a bit of shopping, and sent angry vibes to Mother Nature for not giving us spring weather. I did make a pretty sweet bowl of oats though:
KINDEREGG OATS!!!
If you have never had a Kinderegg before, please find one now. They look like this:
Made in Germany, they are milk chocolate.white chocolate on the inside with a little toy inside.
When I was little, I had several au pairs and two of them were from Germany (in fact, one of them is pregnant with twins!! SO exciting!!! Hi Tina!!) and they gave these to me and my brother a bunch – SO fun. They are huge in Europe and one of my roommates here has discovered them and is full-on addicted, and so she bought us each one for Easter. My first thought when I saw it was to add it to oats. We all have our addictions, I suppose.
So, there you have it. My Easter in Florence. Crazy, weird…and definitely one-of-a-kind.