Beautiful Thing

Today was a good day.

It started out with Italian, which because of my “sick day” yesterday, was relatively easy to get out of bed for. And lucky for me, today we took a field trip – to a cafe! Our teacher ordered pastry and cappuccinos for the 10 of us and we each had to ask the waiter a question about espresso. If I learned anything, it was that field trips in Italy are SO much better than home!! The capp was delicious, too 🙂

It only got better from there. After some food shopping (the best kind!) at the market, we went to Sergio’s. The main man in my life! I ordered the ribollita…second week in a row. Addicted? Me? Naaaaah…..

It’s a beautiful thing.
Speaking of which, check out this gorgeous (and massive) pear:
Doesn’t it kind of look like it’s floating? Frida wants to be Salvador Dali when she grows up 😉
Most of the day was spent working on the blog paper – I have a very rough outline and sources, but I’m still a little nervous about it. I have the tendency to get over-ambitious with my papers and then end up disappointed, and this one has so much potential…well, I’ll stop neurosing about it.
Alaina and I took a trip to a new gelateria that is *supposedly* better than Grom…and this we had to see taste.
Dark chocolate + crema di vin santo
The second flavor is based on the traditional Tuscan dessert wine vin santo, which is frequently had after dinner with little almond biscotti. I’ve had it before and really liked it, but the past few times it’s just been a little too strong on the alcohol-side – but this was perrrfect! Had the nice biting taste of the wine that was perfectly balanced with the sweetness of gelato. I loved it! 
We agreed that this place was on par with Grom – no better or worse, very similar. Interesting variety of flavors and high quality ingredients. Oh gelato, how I love thee!
I have nothing profound or particularly interesting to say in this post, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Simple works. Simple is a beautiful thing.
~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~

Reality Check

I did not sleep all that great last night – my neck muscles are super tight and that always causes a massive headache. Needless to say, first stop when I woke up was the MAT!
Mmmm…yoga is yummy.
As is cinnamon pear oats:
I have been struggling with the fact that I only have 2 months left here and still am not where I would like to be with my Italian language skills. Had I gone to Spain, I would have become pretty fluent pretty fast – of course, I’ve been studying that for a good 7 years, and Italian for about a year and a half. BIG difference, but it’s still a little frustrating to me, because becoming more or less fluent in another language has been a major life goal I set for myself years and years ago. And here I am, in a country where I do know the language and feel sooo close to getting good…but it’s not going very far. I understand really well, but I’m just not at the point where it rolls off my tongue – I still have to think about it.
Um, hello Gillian, you are LIVING IN FLORENCE. Seriously, shut up. There is no other place I could have taken classes like Food & Culture or a nutrition-centric cooking class (a.k.a., exactly what I want to with my life), and I adore everything about the culture here. The language is beautiful, the pace is relaxed, and the food and the standards demanded of it is incredible and right up my alley. I get to hop on a train and whisk myself away to beautiful Tuscan hill towns on a dime. I walk by Brunelleschi’s Duomo on my way to class. As important to me as my language development is, the opportunities open to me here are so incredible, I couldn’t be happier. Really, I’ve tried to think about where else might have been better for me, and I draw a complete blank. I belong here. So, reality check, Gillian: You. live. in. Florence. Whoa.
It was another gorgeous, cloudless day here. Spring? Is that you? Bring on the warmth!
I also mastered soft-boiled eggs. 4 minutes, no more. Gosh, I was so productive today I can’t stand it.
Eventually we got off our butts and walked the oh-so-very-long path to the grocery store (is 5 minutes considered long under any circumstance? 5 minutes of watching grass grow, perhaps…). It was Roommate Project time! Tonight, we endeavored to make ribollita, the classic winter Tuscan bread-based soup that I first sampled this Wednesday. One of our lovely program directors from API sent us her mama’s recipe, and we decided that tonight was a perfect night to try our hand(s) at it.
Our lurrvely bread basket.
I’ll be perfectly honest: since arriving here and having soup multiple times and loving it, I was beginning to forget my passionate distaste for soup. This bowl brought the memory screaming back. I’m pretty sure the bean-to-cabbage ratio was off, and we had to use green instead of black cabbage. To offer a contrasting opinion, my roommates had second helpings. I had that baby bowl…and promptly made a salad. We have another recipe, and will try it again – I loved it when I had it at Sergio’s, and I really want to know how to make it…um, palatable. For my palate, in particular.
For dessert, I ripped open one of my NaturaSi (Italian Whole Foods) finds:
Milk chocolate-covered amaranth! Amaranth is a grain used by the Aztecs way back when and is full of good protein, iron and lysine (an amino acid). It’s also gluten-free, and becoming increasingly more popular as the organic/natural food scene has risen.
It tasted like…milk chocolate-covered amaranth. The texture is akin to those little tiny styrofoam balls, but they didn’t taste like styrofoam – in fact, they didn’t really taste like anything. It was kind of like a new-age Rice Krispie treat. I bought a dark chocolate one too, and I’m glad – this was a great way to get a chocolate fix without, say, downing half a jar of nutella, while getting the benefits of the grain. Rock on, amaranth.
Pretty much just doing homework (so. much. reading.) and…well, blogging. This neck muscle is still driving me crazy. I need a massage!
Feeling a tad homesick recently, but not in a bad way. More of a wistful “gee, I wish I could see the people I miss” kind of way. I miss the fam and my Converse ladies!!!
Got some exciting stuff coming up this week…but you’ll just have to come back and read about them.;) Ciao!
~Namaste~

Happy Omega-3 Awareness Day!

Have you had your omega-3s today? Get on that 😉

Ok, I did a bad thing. Well, not really bad…semi-bad, if you will. I was unable to go to bed early as planned last night (long story), and when I did finally get there, sleep was not happening. I can not even begin to articulate how frustrating it is to be beyond exhausted and NOT be able to fall asleep. Ever happened to you? GRR!

ANYway, my alarm went off at the usual 6:50 AM (yes, you see where this is going), and I debated for a good half hour whether or not I should go to Italian. I could have gotten up, forced myself out the door, struggled to keep my head off the desk and been generally miserable for the stupid 50 minutes of class…but it just wasn’t worth the fight. I knew I would only prolong the exhaustion for another day and only feel worse, which often leads to sickness, and that is even more inconvenient than missing one class. Sorry, but health has to take priority over perfect attendance. Not even my perfectionism can go so far as that. So, I closed the shutters, reset my alarm for 10, and fell into a sleep coma. Totally worth it.

I ended up getting up at 11 and having a light breakfast before heading out for some errands – most notably Mercato Centrale and LUNCH (of course).

I will admit, I find the mercato rather intimidating. I often find myself disappointed because the vendor sees me and immediately switches to English, or just nervous in general about how much to ask for, where to go, etc. It’s very confrontational and I am…well, not. BUT, I refuse to buy my cheese anywhere else, and the produce is generally better and cheaper. It’s such a Florentine institution, and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m just not part of the club yet. Well Florence, I got news for you – I’m here for the next few months, and I WILL be a card-carrying member by the time I leave. Now get me some spinach!

After our shopping, we went to lunch at Sergio’s, the same place as last Wednesday. I have deemed it my Wednesday lunch place. They will know me well there. I ordered soup again, this time ribollita! I have been waiting for the perfect place to try this because it is a staple Florentine winter dish and I wanted my first time to be authentic, not touristy-fake. And BOY, this was worth the wait:

No, soup does not make for the most aesthetically pleasing food photography, but the smell and taste more than compensate.

Ribollita is a thick soup made with white beans, various veggies and stale Tuscan bread, which makes it thick and amazing. Olive oil is drizzled on top to finish. Forget Campbells – THIS was the definition of mm, mm BUONO!

In complete contrast to yesterday, it was rainy, cold and generally dreary today, so not much more went on other than computering and various bouts of snacking.

I was not sure what to do about dinner; all I knew was that it needed to involve the spinach, tomatoes, and pecorino I bought at the market today. I turned to one of my old stand-bys I make almost daily when I am home, which is essentially a crustless pizza. I take a piece of foil or parchment paper and throw spinach, tomatoes, a little olive oil, and whatever else I want – tonight it was a garlic clove, fresh(ish) basil, oregano, white beans and my pecorino – throw it in the oven, and bake it until the spinach is wilty and the cheese melted. I made some toast with it, because no meal in Italy is completely without good bread. Piled it into a bowl and got…bruschetta? Yep. And oh MAN was it good.

Pre-oven baked.
Plated!

As my inner foodie has come to take me over, I have often pondered what my favorite recipe is. Not just individual food or ingredient, but what recipe I could make any given day and be instantly brightened. Tonight, it hit me: I. Love. Bruschetta.

I mean, what’s not to love? Fresh vegetables (and fruit – tomato!), good bread, yummy herbs. Pretty poi-fect in my book. I have had it SO much since coming here (the best so far in my cooking class), and I have every intention of making it. Think of the possibilities: so many veggies, so many spice combos! And then there is the dessert potential…fruit, nutella, jam…oh man. I have a feeling Summer 2010 = Summer of Bruschetta. Bring. It. On.

Speaking of dessert…

Chocolate makes any rainy day better. I promise.

By the way, if you want to see more/all of the pictures I have been taking, you can check out my Photobucket account here –> http://s32.photobucket.com/home/NorbertsShiksa. Just thought I’d mention it!

Ok, shower time for this signorina. Buona notte!

~Namaste~