A Sparkling Holiday

Thanksgiving is a magical time of year when families across the country join together to raise America’s obesity statistics. Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car.

– Stephen Colbert

I do love Thanksgiving. A holiday that revolves completely around gathering at the table, preparing a menu that seems to be inherently seasonal, and celebrating through food. That’s pretty much my ideal day.

Add Prosecco, and I’m sold.

And so we did! As I mentioned, we recently came into possession of one bottle of each kind of sparkling white wine: a Cava from Spain, a Prosecco from Italy, and a champagne from France. It seemed so perfect, we decided we simply had to have a blind taste test – and what better time than Thanksgiving, when there are enough people to drink 3 bottles of wine at once? Answer: none. (A Friday night in college SO does not count.)

Let the recap begin.

Bottle #1:


Not super bubbly, very grapey at first but mellowed after opening for a couple minutes & became one of the nicest.

Bottle #2:


This one felt like there were a million teeny tiny bubbles, with a crisper flavor. My favorite by a while, but I tend to think in a “bubblier = better” mindset with any beverage.

Bottle #3:


This one was everyone else’s favorite – the bubbles seemed “just right” (rather a la Goldilocks), and the flavor was more…mature? I don’t know quite how to describe it. It ended up being my least favorite, but everyone else’s top.

So, any guesses? I’ll give you a minute to review. In the meantime, drool over our little amuse bouche:


Figs stuffed with gorgonzola dolce + walnut. I’m not usually a big bleu cheese fan but hot damn this was good cheese. You must try it. Get thee to Whole Foods STAT.

Ok, ready?

Bottle #1: Champagne

Bottle #2: Prosecco

Bottle #3: Cava

I was not surprised in the least that the Prosecco was my fave. It was pretty much love at first aperitivo with that one, and I’ve never looked back. The Champagne vs. Cava surprised everyone – especially the champagne – but after it opened up, it was really lovely and much more champagne-y.

The meal was pretty traditional after that – my personal favorite? The stuffing. Oh, the stuffing. I think that is the only dish that actually makes me enjoy celery. I don’t mind it cooked in soups, I can’t really stand the stringyness raw – but in sausage stuffing it is such an oddly welcome addition. I have no idea why. Really, I could eat just stuffing, my mom’s sweet potatoes and a pumpkin dessert and be done with it.

And as for that particular pumpkin dessert…


I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow. I suggest you save room.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Eat. Sleep. Yoga. Repeat!

SPRING BREAK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now that that’s out of the way…
I apologize in advance for a lack of pictures – the eats were not too eventful. Mid-terms tend to suck my brain away. BUT it’s Spring Break – fun is to be had and food to be eaten. Let the culinary tour of Florence begin!
I got a 95 on my Italian mid-term, mostly just because of tiny mistakes that I didn’t realize were wrong, so I’m quite happy with it!
My last mid-term was for my cooking class. I have SO much info in my brain about nutrition basics now…it’s pretty cool! I really just love learning about how food works, inside and outside of the body. Studying for this was actually pretty enjoyable because I genuinely wanted to learn, not just memorize to spit back out on the test and then forget it. The test went alright. It was all short answers and 2 essays, so LOTS of writing. My approach for tests like this is just to write every. single. thing I know about the topic. I was the last person to leave, so I hope that means I know a lot! And our teacher made us coffee. I love Italy.
Foodage was random, but when dinner time rolled around, I felt the need to have some fun with…
Polenta! Aka, corn meal. 
It’s essentially like oats in that you throw some in a pot with water (3 parts water to 1 part polenta) and cook until it thickens. After that, I threw a teaspoon of oil and a garlic clove into a pan (best. smell. ever.) and then formed the polenta into little cakes and pan-fried them with a little fresh basil. They were really good but as a whole, needs some work. Maybe cook the garlic first, then make the polenta and add it in and then make the cakes? Hmm. Experiment time!
Being the official start of Spring Break and all, the roomies and I agreed that some celebratory gelato was definitely in order.
We tried a new place the school recommended. That fudgy goodness on the right would be chocolate. The other flavor was called “Ambrosia” – yogurt, honey, and cinnamon. This is pretty much exactly what I make at home, so obviously I had to try in gelato form! It was reeeaally good. I find it hard to compare gelato places though, mostly because they are all just wonderful in different ways! Grom is still a must-try for anyone who visits Florence though – you can just taste the high quality of the ingredients. Really though, gelato is just good. Get it.
After that ensued a scene of such utter goofiness, no words could possibly describe it sufficiently.
Today has been mostly grey outside, but that works for me because my plan was pretty much:
  1. Sleep late – check.
  2. Yoga – check.
  3. Do generally nothing because I can! – check.
There is a cool-looking bead store on our street and my roommate is in a jewelry-making course here, so she wanted to check it out. It was SO cool! I think I’m going to go back and make some presents for people. I love projects!!!
We went across the street later for aperitivo – fixed price for a drink and a buffet. This place is perfect because they always have so much food, you really make a meal out of it. They have this cous cous that I just love…maybe because I just in general love cous cous. Either way, it’s good food and a nice glass of prosecco in a funky atmosphere. I brought my camera with full intentions of using it, but it was super dark and they just wouldn’t have come out well 😦
Tomorrow I am taking a day trip to Livorno, which is a little town on the coast. You know what that means – SEAFOOD!! I promise, I will make up for the lack of pics!
Ok, off to catch up on my Office episodes…[Jim&Pam FOREVER!]

Love Notes, Cous Cous and Technical Difficulties

Oh, how I adore technology.
But we’ll get to that.
Friday morning this house was all abustle with four girls running around eating, packing, and getting ready for VERONA! Shakespeare quotes were in abundance. As well as the occasional swear when we realized we forgot something (like my toothbrush…oops.)
I hopped out of bed and knew that it was YOGA time. Have you ever gotten out of bed and just felt the need for some inteeeeense stretching? That’s the yen for yoga. Embrace it. DO IT.
Breakfast was unpictured, but I thought I would list it. I know SO many people (as I’m sure you do too) who run around every day, barely stopping to breath much less consider healthy food, and say that they are “too busy” or “too distracted” to think about eating well. I’m here to prove it CAN be done! As I cleaned and packed, I snacked on a yogurt (dairy+protein), a big yummy apple (fruit), some almonds (healthy fats), and an egg white (protein) on top of a spelt-rice cake (complex carbs). All the nutrient groups covered, and I could multitask while eating. I don’t generally recommend it – I’m a fan of the slow wake-up breakfast time – but when you are in a hurry, there’s no need for health to go down the drain.
Speaking of health, I decided that because we were facing a 3+ hour train ride, it would be a good idea to grab some lunch to go. Lunch of choice? Bagels.
I know, I know, what happened to my breakfast? Nothing. I just haven’t had a bagel in probably well over a year, and the lox was calling to me. They even put arugula on it and only put cream cheese on one side, so I could actually taste the amazingness that is smoked salmon+cream cheese+arugula+bagel. Mmm. I was a little underwhelmed by the bagel itself – nothin beats a toasted sesame seed from good ol’ Dunkies! – but man, I really love lox. A lot.
After stopping at the library to finish up our Permesso di Soggiorno – aka, we are now legally staying in Italy – we were off to our train. There was a transportation strike scheduled to start at 2, but we were doing ok with time. Yes, in Italy they specifically schedule their strikes and inform the public about them to plan accordingly. Way to stick it to the man, Italy.
We almost missed the train to Verona (we had to change in Bologna), and Sam almost didn’t make it on…but 3.5 hours and a lot of laughs later we arrived! 
I’m going to say it right now: I loved Verona. It was a city, but a smaller one and so cute. Great shopping, beautiful river, very picturesque streets. You know when someone says ‘Italy’ and all those narrow, vine-covered, brightly-colored streets with apartments and balconies come to mind? That would be Verona.
Alright, tech. difficulty #1: the camera spazzed. Not only does Frida eat batteries like I eat oatmeal, she only eats the expensive ones. Double As from the Euro store will simply not cut it. I suppose I can appreciate her high, if not snobbish, tastes. What I do NOT appreciate is having a breakdown when I am in the very city where one of the greatest love stories of all time takes place. Frida and I had a little chat. She’s a stubborn camera, and I really do think she has eternal PMS. But, I did get a couple. Enter dinner:
Spaghetti with shrimp (unpeeled – a serious pain), baby shrimp, octopus, calamari, and mussels. A classic, but oh so good. Seafood is such a wonderful thing.
The guy who runs our bed & breakfast gave us a recommendation for dinner, which we found after some lively aimless wandering. It was a really funky, kinda kitschy place (as in, fine china on a chest on one corner and a fake tree with blinking lights in another) – we loved it.
It was a gorgeous day when we arrived, but it was COLD by the time we left the restaurant. It called for espresso and a long hot shower. Check and check.
The B&B was great, a really cute little apartment with very funky decorations.
Can’t exactly say the same for breakfast. Would it kill you to put out a fruit bowl? Really? They had muesli and Twinings tea though, so I was somewhat consoled. It was nothing remarkable – and therefore, I will stop remarking upon it.
First stop as tourists in Verona: L’Arena, the local Roman ampitheatre:
Next up: Gelato. A wonderful midmorning snack. Mint chocolate is SO good!
On to La Casa di Giulietta – Juliet’s House:
(Pictures by Alaina due to aforementioned camera bullsh*t technical difficulties.)
The entrance is plastered with love notes! I was obliged to add to the collection:
The balcony.
It’s tradition to touch her right boob for good luck. Clearly created by a guy. Didn’t stop me though.
We didn’t go in to the actual house, mostly because it was 3 euro to see…um, a house with no actual historical significance. The play was fiction, people!
We also found Romeo’s house:
Can you say anticlimactic? Because it was.
Sinatra Cafe!!! Sinatra = LOVE.
He was window-shopping.
We wandered along the river…
And visited Verona’s duomo:
Bell tower.
I loved the white stone, but it’s certainly different from the Duomo.
And then got cappuccinos and headed to the train station. Verona is very easily done in a day. But I loved it; very relaxing and so pretty!
We returned pretty exhausted, but as usual, hunger prevailed. We went to Il Vegetariano, where two of us went last weekend. We were eager to show the other two our super-hippie-awesome restaurant find! I got the stufato di ceci e funghi con cus cus, peperoncino arrosto, e carote (chickpea-mushroom “stew” with roasted pepper, cous cous and shredded carrot).
LOVED it. Holy healthfood, this was tasty! The mushrooms and chickpeas really complemented each other well, and the cous cous was so simple but so perfect. I love cous cous. I really need to use it more often!
And then more techy problems hit. No. Internet.
Now, before you start thinking “oh these youngsters nowadays, can’t go a day without internet”, I will stop you: FIRST of all, I am perfectly capable of being without internet for long periods of time. In fact, sometimes it’s great to get away from it! This week, however, changed that. What week is this?
MIDTERMS. Oh yes. The internet dies on the day before I have a research paper (started but not finished) and two tests to study for. Love ya.
I worked it out (a.k.a, I went to an Internet cafe and spent two hours copying and pasting my source articles in word documents so I could read them as I wrote back at home) and it got done, but not without pain, suffering, and carbs. 
We all we desperate to leave the apartment and this weekend there just so happens to be a gastronomic festival going on (I missed the big events in Verona and while I was chained to my laptop in the Internet cafe…I was not happy about it, but c’est la vie). We ventured out to find a special aperitivo connected with the festival that was featuring an Italian biscuit-making company. That, and I really needed some Prosecco.
The textures were mostly similar to those cheese straws that are always at Christmas parties – thick and crumbly with heavy hints of cheese. These were really tasty though – two were rosemary, two were poppy and perhaps saffron?, and another was I believe sage, although it had a nutty taste I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The prosecco and company were lovely, but the buffet was, um, not so much. What to do? Get a crepe.
There is a crepe place not far from us that is ALWAYS closed but has bright neon posters that tempt us with thoughts of banana-nutella filled crepes, and lucky for us, tonight they were OPEN! I actually opted out of the crepe action (gasp!) because they also had soft-serve frozen yogurt which I love (almost as much as gelato – almost.) It was nothing too amazing, but it fit the bill and I didn’t want anything too heavy. Well, that and I stole a bite of Alaina’s crepe. Banana + nutella is a genius combo.
Came back and studied, studied, studied.Oh mid-terms, how I loathe thee.
To sum up: Battery-eating cameras and internet loss = bad. Verona, pasta, and chickpea stew = good.

The Blog Problem

Blog – a simple means of expressing ideas, thoughts, interests, passions, pictures, and anything else one’s heart desires to post in a public sphere to generate discussion and thoughts of others. A rough definition, but it’s subjective. So what’s all the fuss about?

Well, there is first the issue of how much info is too much. I mean, the internet is world wide, and it is important to be aware that anyone and everyone can see it, and will react and use the information you provide in an infinite variety of different ways. And then there is the concerns of the writer: will I write well enough to keep people interested? does anyone really care about what I have to say? It’s a constant challenge to say something a little wittier, a bit more eloquent, or to take a better, more aesthetically pleasing picture. This however I the very thing I love about the blog. It is such a great outlet for me to challenge myself and better my writing, and at the same time, I get to talk about my real passions (FOOD!). Don’t get me wrong, I actually semi-enjoyed writing a paper on the mystery of the structure of Milton’s Lycidas, and my music history listenening assignments were always interesting to write up. But here, I can write about my thoughts, my interests, in an accepting public forum. It’s so liberating to me, to just write. It’s true, I get judged by my readers like my teachers judge my papers, but on the blog, there is no grade to be concerned about. It’s more a free judgment, maybe?

Writing is, for me, the best means of expressing life experiences. And what I love about food blogs – and food in general – is that because of its status as a necessity for, um, human life, it is taken for granted. It has to make multiple everyday appearances in our life, and thus is often not given a second thought to. But it carries so much symbolic value, and is such an insightful vessel of self-expression. You are what you eat. And I’m showing who I am on this blog with just that – what I eat. And now, I am off my soapbox for the day.

Speaking of eats…

(My camera, like me, is NOT a morning person – had a liiiiiittle trouble focusing this AM)

Breakfast! Oats + peach yogurt and a pear. The yogurt here is super thin, and the oats not only add that yummy grainy flavor but also thicken up the yogurt. If you haven’t tried raw oats and yogurt, put it on your list – mm mm mmmm!

Food & Culture was awesome, as usual. That class is just too cool. I have been craving a class like this, that finally pinpoints my exact interest combining women’s studies + language + food. I always leave happy. AND my teacher brought me this to borrow:

We read a couple chapters out of it for homework. Carole Counihan is pretty freakin cool. If you have any interest in anthropology + food, definitely seek it out. Her studies are fascinating.

Also had my music class. I made a brilliant new discovery today – there is a minimarket on my way to that class, and so today instead of going to the school cafeteria, I stopped in and got my big water and banana for 80 eurocents. Woohoo for money-saving discoveries!

After class I was starving. But my camera was dying and so I had to go on Mission: AA Batteries before I found a sandwich. I was successful, but they were hella expensive, which does not make me happy – my camera eats batteries like I eat Italian bread. There probably is a better place to find them. I will seek it out. I just went to a music store, but maybe a Tabacchi (convenience store)? Study abroad = LOTS of trial-and-error.

Found a decent enough looking sandwich at a bar on the way back to my apartment. I’m not gonna lie; the main reason I chose this one is because the guy behind the counter is cuuuuuute. Sue me.

Vegetarian on schiacciata, which is a kind of bread (only called schiacciata in Firenze) a bit like focaccia. Salty, olive oil baked in the top, crispy but fluffy…mmm. I like. A little on the greasy side, but it was much more preferable to my arm, which was my next nearest option. It’s not easy to find a bad sandwich in Italy; sometimes they are nothing special, but very rarely can they be classified as bad. Man, I love Italian bread. (P.S. those black spots are the result of me not paying attention to the pan…still tasted good.)
Most of my day was spent in a bit of a daze – didn’t get much sleep last night and had a bit of a tummy ache from the night before. I lay down for a little, but mostly just dozed.
We wanted to go to a sushi place for dinner, but they were all either closed (Monday is NOT the night to go out to dinner) or too expensive, so we decided to go for aperitivo at the place across the street. All I really wanted was some Prosecco and bread anyway, so that worked for me! Aperitivo is an Italian pre-dinner tradition; you go to a bar or cafe and you play a flat rate for a drink and then there is a buffet – size and types of food vary from basic finger foods like bruschetta to full-on pasta dishes – that is unlimited. It’s great for students as a cheap dinner out with a drink included. The place across the street from our apartment has a huge buffet with lots of options, so we just walked on over.
Mmmm, Prosecco. Might as well live it up while I can, no?!
I like aperitivo because I, as you know, will try anything, especially if it’s bite-size. This style of eating fills me up from tasting many different bites, and it’s very satisfying because of the flavor variety. It would be very easy to overeat, but it’s more fun if you just take a little of this and a bite of that. I did have several pieces of bread, though – I was craving it tonight for some reason. Italy is a really good place to have that particular craving. They also had crab legs and shrimp, which were de-LISH. Seafood + bread = happy me.
I should start thinking about bed soon – 8 AM Italian kind of kills nightlife for me. Good thing it holds little appeal to me, I guess. I am going to sip my chamomile tea and hit they sack. Happy Monday/Lunedi!

Nevica in Firenze!

It is ICKY outside today. It’s raining right now, the hardest I’ve seen it come down since we got here. Hence, I am inside, in our teeny warm kitchen, blogging.

I am feeling MUCH better today – I made a concerted effort to get my butt in bed by 11:30, and I swear just being in a horizontal restful state for 8 hours makes a HUGE difference in my energy levels. My 8 AM Italian class is a little rough, and the past few days have been pretty brutal. I got about 2 hours yesterday and had to come home and go right back to bed, which bothers me – when I get up, I like to stay up and keep my day going, but there was no “going” in my state. Today was quite a horse of a different color, thankfully.
***We interrupt this blog post to report…it is snowing! Not pretty snow though, just wet, heavy-looking stuff. Good thing I have no reason to be outside for the rest of the day!…Now back to your regularly scheduled blogging.***
After a rather frustrating Italian class, I stopped at the grocery store and went home to make my oats & green tea, which has become my habit from Tuesday to Thursday after Italiano. Today was chocolate-banana oats:
Clearly, I didn’t like it at all…
Bowl-licking may have ensued. We don’t talk about it.
Then it was off to my cooking class! I just adore this class. The teacher is awesome. In fact, as we were eating today, he was talking about how he came into this job (which I totally want.). He has been cooking since he was 12, went to culinary school, then got a degree in English & Film Studies, and quickly realized that it is not possible in Italy to make any money in the film industry. He turned back to cooking, but was frustrated by the restaurant/cooking industry – no time off ever, endless working days, mediocre pay, and you work under a chef who tells you what to do. He loves teaching because “there are no secrets” – chefs like to maintain their stash of secret recipes, but as a teacher he doesn’t have any secrets. He learns from his students, and vice versa, and loves it. Amen.
MMM, and we made some GOOD STUFF today. It was in the theme of aperitivo, which is a popular Italian custom. It’s basically a pre-dinner drink/snack to “whet your appetite” – or as my teacher said, the Italian Happy Hour. I have done it twice so far. Most bars/cafes in Florence offer it, and it’s great for students; they charge you a set price and you get a drink and as food as you want for about 7 or 8 euro. The first time I did it, I randomly got red wine (which I’m still just not into at all) and the food was very appetizer-like. My roommate and I tried a place across from our apartment Tuesday night though, and it was really good. HUGE buffet with lots of variety, and this time I ordered my newfound favorite…
(Pretty picture, right?! I discovered the “close-up” setting on my camera. Makes quite a difference.)
ANYway, to get back to my class we split up into groups to make different Italian finger foods (the best kind, trust me). 
One group was in charge of involtini di melanzane alla mozzarella, which involved super thinly-sliced eggplant briefly in a salted (prevents sticking) pan. Then they placed a thin slice of mozzarrella and basil on each eggplant slice, rolled it lightly in breadcrumbs + parmesan cheese, and baked it.
Another group was in charge of the Spanish omelette – basically, you cook tomatoes + bell pepper in one pan, potatoes in another, combine it with eggs in a baking pan and bake it just til its done (sprinkle a little parm on top to make a nice crust).
I’m regretting not taking a picture of the middle – the vegetables made a kind of mosaic in the middle and it was perrrty. Sorry, I’m a beginner with this food blog thing – live and learn!
Another group was in charge of the bruschette, which I’m sure you’re familiar with – zucchini, bell pepper, tomato, basil cooked together and piled on bread drizzled with olive oil and toasted in the oven. But really, I have never tasted bruschette like this. It was a serious flavorgasm.
A different group made almond biscotti. They were probably the best I’ve ever had, because the flavor was spot on, not too sweet, and the texture was perrrfect – not doughy but not break-your-jaw crunchy like biscotti often is.
I and another girl was in charge of the “Mediterranean doughnuts.” Now, before you start getting any crazy ideas and yelling at the screen “hey, I thought this was supposed to be a nutrition class!”…let me explain. They’re not really donuts – in fact, they are not even sweet. My teacher simply called them that because they are in a circle-with-a-hole-in-the-middle shape. They are meant to be eaten as a kind of “cracker” with the Spanish omelette. It’s basically flour, a liiiiittle sugar, olive oil, yeast, and then cinnamon and fennel, poppy and sesame seeds. The recipe only calls for fennel but we added seeds to up the fiber and nutritional profile of them. I had so much fun making these – kneading dough is a very zen activity. As for the taste? HOLY COW! This was my favorite part of the meal. The fascinating flavor combo of the doughnut with the texture and flavor of the omelette was to die for. Don’t worry family, I’m making this when I come home!
Fresh from the oven!
The spread.
Now, this is an Italian cooking class, and no Italian meal is truly complete without wine. Much to my surprise and delight, it turns out that the classic drink served with aperitivo is…Prosecco! Twice in one week! I’m doing rather well, no? He also explained how to tell if it is a high quality prosecco – the more bubbly, the better the quality of the wine is. MMMMMM!
Sorry it’s a bit out of focus – as I was clicking my teacher started talking and I turned around right as the picture took. Like I said…I’m a beginner.
Here is my plate:
It doesn’t look nearly as appetizing as it did in person. Guess I’ll just have to make it for you when I get back…
[P.S., I had another biscotti and another bruschetta after this. SO. GOOD.]
Another reason I love this class is that the meals we make never leave you feeling heavy or stuffed to the gills. I always leave perfectly satisfied, knowing I have enough food in my body to last me a while but I will also be hungry for dinner. It is truly the best way to eat.
After class I went to a little clothing store that I love and bought a wintery jacket, and just in time – it was only a few minutes after I came back to the apartment that the rain turned into sleet which turned into snow! My Floridian roommate was overjoyed…whereas the other 3 of us Northerners were, er, less than thrilled. I am READY for some spring weather, Florence!
Made dinner, another crazy Gillianasana concoction – chickpeas, garlic, balsamic vin, olive oil, tomatoes and pepper cooked together and thrown on top of some arugula. With some of my new obsession grated on top – pecorino cheese. Yes, Mom, I am willingly and happily eating cheese. Italy does crazy things to a person, I’m telling ya. But it is so goooooooood
Actually, this random concoction was pretty tasty. I am definitely, however, a baker at heart. Hopefully my cooking class will help me a little bit though. I’m loving the book:
It’s really interesting, for a nutrition geek anyway. I’m loving it!
Oh, I did a baaad thing. I looked into that Apicius, the Culinary Institute of Florence…they have a baking/pastry one year certificate program…uh oh, the idea has sprouted…
Ok, I reaaaalllly have to do homework. I’m “facilitating class discussion” on the readings for Monday’s Food & Culture class. Actually, it’s completely and totally fascinating, about female identity and how food affects it, and how “food rules” are evident in different cultures…ok, I’ll stop before I even start. This post is long enough.
Oops, one more thing – you may notice that on the right of the screen there is a list of links called the “Blog Roll” – it’s just some of my favoritest blogs, not all the ones I read, but it’s a start. Just in case anyone has been bitten by the food blog bug *wink wink*.