Recap

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

Chocolate Anger, Green Contentment

 I mentioned a slight kink to my lovely day in the sun yesterday – a sudden cloud cover, if you will. Downright stormy in fact. But this was not a storm of hurricane winds or torrential rain. This was a technological cloud of doom – my internet was gone. Now, you might say “oh, kids these day, they  lose their precious internet for an hour and think the apocalypse has come” – but I am NOT finished. My internet was gone because there was supposedly another person using my internet account, and of course that sent me into a tailspin of questions, like “if they got my internet password, what other passwords could they have??!!” My dad later explained that it was probably just a router reboot issue, and the “other user” was probably me, it just hadn’t logged me out correctly – but this was not something I knew to consider. Angry and powerless, I turned to the one thing that always helps: baking.
Some people run when they get angry. Others listen to loud music. I make cookies.
These were the cookies we made in my first cooking class and they were so incredible, I’ve been craving them ever since. We had all the ingredients on hand, and thanks to my mom who sent me my food scale, I was all set. A little too much flour (they were a little bread-y), but I halved the recipe so I think the proportion may have been off. Instead of dark chocolate chips, I chopped up some of my egg left over from Easter. Delicious, brownie-like, and not even very damaging from a nutritional standpoint. I felt quite a bit better.
I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on the internet issue anyway because tonight we had tickets (thanks to my study abroad program) to MoMix, a modern dance company performance! We had heard that it was awesome, and very much like Cirque Du Soleil (which I adore), so I was pretty excited! It was a very interesting performance – modern dance goes a little over my head, but I can usually get it for the most part. It was just such a cool experience to see it! The music was really good, and the dancers really did a beautiful job. I think I like Cirque a liiiittle bit more, but this was really cool. Such a fun way to spend a Wednesday night!!
After that, I convinced the roomies to get gelato because they had yet to try Perche No!, which is where my other roommate and I went over Spring Break and declared it our favorite Florentine gelato so far (although Vestri may tie up the competition…).
After falling in love with their soy vanilla flavor, I tried the soy chocolate – and was not disappointed! It was very cocoa-y, which I love. Sometimes when I’m having a chocolate craving, I just have a little spoonful of cocoa powder. It sounds weird, but it works – my theory with chocolate is, the darker the better! I also got mango because, well, I’m pretty much obsessed with all things mango. SO good!
We came home and sampled my cookies (I think they were approved of…), and then my internet issue came flying back at me. I was not in the best of moods. And it only got worse when I broke my tea mug, and then seconds later remembered I had a report for my cooking class due tomorrow, which was actually today as it was already past midnight. Not gonna lie, I had a bit of a breakdown. I pulled it together (although another cookie may have been eaten), cleaned up the mug shards, wrote the paper, and got to bed. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave me much pillow time, and I am feeling it today.

BUT, Italian was more or less painless. I left actually pretty excited because yesterday we gave oral presentation about our favorite books and I chose:

Ruth Reichl is one of my very favorite authors. This book is about her time as The New York Times’ food critic, and it is just a completely charming, funny book. I’ve read her others, which I like almost as much as this, and just started her newest one, Not Becoming My Mother. ANYway, my Italian teacher went out and bought it after she heard me talk about it! I love spreading the foodie love 🙂

Today continued to make up for last night’s ick-factor when I came home, made a big cup of coffee, and discovered my internet to be restored. And all was well again. Honestly, I think my issue last night was lack of sleep more than anything else. It’s just been a bit of a tough week sleep-wise. And really, when I look back on my semester here, I am not going to remember the internet-less nights of stress; my trip is going to be marked by my sunny afternoons spent lazing in Piazza Indipendenza, making fun of the pigeons and talking to the dogs.

The ladies who lunch sit.

Lazing in the piazza is exactly what I did today – after my cooking class, of course! Today was a “green class”   – lots of antioxidant/fiber-filled goodness!

Patate agli spinaci
This was very interesting. We took boiled potatoes and peeled them–you want to boil vegetables with skins on because if you peel them first, the water will take and dissolve all the nutrients! Of course, you can do this to create a vegetable stock – all the nutrients seep into the water. But for this purpose, boil-and-peel! The potatoes were then riced (I am pretty sure it was a ricer?) –you could probably grate them too– and mixed with spinach that had been sauteed shortly with olive oil and garlic. This mix was put in a pastry bag and squeezed onto a baking sheet into perty potato-spinach flowers and sprinkled with parmesan cheese (which got all crunchy and golden and delicious!), and baked. They were pretty tasty, although I feel like they could have used a bit more oomph. More salt maybe? I feel like potatoes and spinach are two more or less bland-flavored veggies (don’t get me wrong, though, I love eating both!) and they needed more than just the herbs and cheese to make these really *pop.* Ok, I just talked about potato-spinach flowers for about five minutes, NEXT plate…

Trofie al pescatrice e pesto
Holy WHOA this was SO yummmmmmy!! We used trofie, a type of pasta that looks like it’s been stretched and then twisted, and is popular in Liguria which is near Genova where basil is grown for pesto! Nice little linkage there, no? We made the pesto, but instead of using water like last time, we used some ricotta cheese to make it creamier. Normally I don’t like super creamy pesto, but it went so perfectly with this dish! Into the pasta also went cubed pieces of fresh swordfish…oh dear, how I love fish. I’m pretty sure my eyes lit up when he said we would be making fish! The fish taste was not at all overwhelming and was perfectly balanced by the sweet and creaminess of the ricotta-pesto, and the pasta choice of trofie worked really welll. Something about the thin shape and soft denseness really seemed to accentuate the pesto flavor and the alternate texture of the fish. Definitely had 2 servings of this! Could have happily drowned in it.

Foccacia agli spinaci
They made the foccacia from scratch, of course, so the chances of this being amazing were pretty good from the start. We used mozzarella instead of the usual scamorza, because the mozzarella is fresh and less fatty. They sauteed the spinach in olive oil and garlic and then stuffed it inside the foccacia (btw – that is not an easy to word to spell) and baked it. Towards the end of baking, Marco (our teacher) brushed olive oil and white wine on the top so that it would turn a nice golden color. The secret to making foccacia in under an hour? Use a pinch of sugar in the dough. The yeast loooves sugar and will grow faster with the addition of the sugar.
This was out-of-this world good!! It was just salty enough and suuuper doughy (a very good thing!). I had extras on the crust because it was just. so. good. I just love bread. You start with yeast, flour and water and yet the variety of different results you can get from those simple ingredients is infinite. So cool.

Finally, my team’s dish:

Bet you can’t guess!

Sfogliatine di pomodori verdi (con sorbetto di limone)
This is basically a jam made of green tomatoes, lemon juice, and cane sugar inside puff pastry. We de-seeded and cubed the tomatoes and cooked them in a pan with the sugar and juice of half a lemon, and towards the end of cooking added crumbled pieces of panbrioche (a sweet bun, basically) to thicken it. We brushed milk (instead of egg yolk) on top of the sealed pastry triangles and sprinkled them with a little more cane sugar. Pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or so, and you’re good to go. We served them with a “dollop” (my teacher was very proud he remembered that word) of lemon sorbetto, which put these over the edge! It may sound very odd, but it worked so well. The green tomatoes are higher in acidity, and paired with the sweetness of the sugar and the sweet-sour sorbet (plus that hot/cold contrast), this was one of the most uniquely tasty dishes I’ve ever had. The jam was SO easy to make; definitely worth a try on my own! (Or your own – if you want the recipe, just leave a comment!)

After class & said-park lounging, the roomies and I decided on aperitivo for dinner. I have given up trying to takes pictures in Kitsch because it’s just too dark, but just image a nice glass of prosecco and various little appetizer tastings. Always lots of food and nice prosecco for the low low price of 8euro. Hard to beat.

We have make-up classes tomorrow  – whatever classes we didn’t have on Monday (we got it off for Easter). I know I am going to the market for my Food & Culture class to walk around and talk to the vendors. Should prove to be quite interesting at the least!

~Namaste~

Saved by the Gelato

It’s still very grey. Give me my spring weather back!
Had a reunion with Minerva the yoga mat this morning, and it was lovely. We have several dates planned this week. One of my favorite parts of vacations is that I can get up and do yoga for as long as I want! I had NO balance whatsoever on my right side today – I fell out of poses multiple times :(. I guess I’m just out of shape (yoga-wise). All the more reason to up the mat-time this week!
And after that I went to a cafe and met a cute Italian guy who whisked me off to an island and….ok, who am I kidding. I blogged, drank tea, and bummed around. BUT…there were some good eats had in between!
I went for an oat parfait…
But the layering kind of failed. The flavor sure didn’t though!
CocOats (cocoa + oats!) with vanilla “frosting” (yogurt).
I was sad when it ended.
My version of formaggio alla griglia (grilled cheese) – pecorino on grilled whole wheat baguette with wilted arugula. My tastebuds were quite content.
What happens when a food blogger gets bored [and hungry]?
We play with our food.
Arugula + the BEST cherry tomatoes I’ve ever tasted…I love Italy.
Speaking of eating, that was exactly our sole purpose of getting out tonight – finding dinner! After a couple hours of research on my part – someone needs to hire me right now to research restaurants; I’m so good at it and it’s too fun!…anyway, we decided on a place a dear professor of mine had recommended, “I Che C’e C’e”. It was super cute on the outside, on this random little side street. Much to my surprise, there was not a single Italian patron in there. It was 100% loud, obnoxious American tourists. The bread was cold and they did NOT bring us the complementary prosecco I know they usually do (I told you I research well!). We were first brought this:
Coccoli – fried balls of bread. Literally. They were not bad, but I’m really just not a fried-food person. Even when it’s good, it just does not appeal to me at all. I would have loved the bread senza the fried outer layer, though – SO doughy and delicious!
For dinner I ordered:
Spaghetti sciacca – tomatoes, capers and anchovies
Not inedible, but certainly less than unremarkable. The spaghetti was way overcooked – I need my pasta very al dente. The sauce was just kind of blah – not bad, but nothin special. As for the anchovies, I am confused – what this had was pretty big chunks of what looked more like sardines, and it was definitely not as salty as I know anchovies usually are. I could (and have) made better dishes than this. In their defence, I will say that my roommate ordered fish-stuffed pasta with baby shrimp and it was good, but again, not thrilling, and not worth the 12 euro price tag. And just when it couldn’t get more touristy, 2 accordion players came in. The little old ladies with their cameras permanently attached to their hands were thrilled; me, not so much. 
What to do when you have a mediocre meal while listening to American tourist promote the “ugly American” stereotype? Get amazing gelato. And we did.
Tiramisu semifreddo (like mousse – semi cold), menta bianca (natural white mint), & vaniglia alla soia (soy vanilla)
We finally found Perche No!, a gelato place that is rumored to be incredible  – as in, some have said it’s better than Grom. Quite a statement! And I do believe I have to agree. This is probably my favorite gelato place thus far. I say the soy vanilla and had to try it, because I have had soy ice cream at home and have had mixed reactions – some I adore, some not so much. This was AMAZING. It tasted like a rich but light cream,  and I could definitely not taste the soy. It went reeaaaallly well with both the mint and the tiramisu flavors. I’m sorry I can’t describe it better…I guess I will just have to go back. HA! Like that was even a question. This MORE than made up for dinner.
Something interesting did happen at dinner, though. About halfway through eating, I decided that I was full enough and just stopped. That may sound like the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, but for me, it’s big. It’s really hard for me to not keep eating just to eat, and I will admit I have problems with binge eating. Especially when eating out, it’s like I feel obligated to “indulge” even if I don’t even like what I’m eating. But all of a sudden, I got it: you don’t have to eat it all. The chef does not know you personally; he has no idea how much of your plate you will want/need. I decide what I want. It was pretty cool. And I’m not saying that anyone should deprive themselves of eating a whole plate – if the food is worth it, go for it! Enjoy every bite. That’s the joy of food! But I was not enjoying it so much tonight, and I wanted to be hungry enough for some good gelato, and it was perfect. This whole “listen to my body” thing is amazing. Forget Mom – your body really knows best!
And another success tonight: despite the fact that both the gelato guy and our waitress tonight spoke and understood English perfectly well, and even though we were obviously americane, I insisted on speaking Italian. And I think (hope) they appreciated it? I’m bound and determined to get this language in my mouth and brain, and if that means I have to be a little insistent, then so be it. I can’t even remember how old I was when I decided that one of my major life goals was to be fluent in a second language – couldn’t have been much less than 10 (yes, I know, a born geek – and proud of it!). I almost made it with Spanish, but I’m here now and frankly, I like Italian better. So – fluency? Bring it on.
Tomorrow I promise something more exciting! And nice weather? Maybe? PLEASE???!!!
~Namaste~