A Beautiful Blur

Have I mentioned that I was going on a trip to California?

Maybe once. Or twice.

Well, I did! From Thursday to Sunday, my roommate and I ran around northern California for real life/outside-the-college-bubble stuff and little bit of fun. Oh, and food. Always, always food.

15 minutes after our morning classes were out, we were on the road to the Charlotte airport. California adventure? Bring it on.

We stayed with my uncle and his family in the San Rafael area (thanks, family!!), and rented a car to get us around. After the 45 minutes from the airport to their house in which I bit my lips repeatedly, gripped the steering wheel like my life depended on it, and emitted the occasional profanity when someone 2 lanes over sped by at 90 mph, I got quite used to it.

PS, South Carolina drives way too slow.

Day 1: Getting down to business

My roommate is a music therapy major, and as part of her degree she has to do an internship after graduation. Her top choice was (yes, was) in Sacramento and when she started planning the trip so she could audition for them live, I jumped at the opportunity to visit the CIA Greystone campus. Plus – adventure tiiiime! [When you call a trip to the grocery store an adventure, a good reason to go to California in January looks like an epic journey. You understand.]

We dutifully bounded out of bed at 6 in the morning on Friday (is that sarcasm I hear?) to beat rush hour traffic into Sacramento. At least we got to see a pretty sunrise!

A big thank you to my navigator, who sleepily obliged my request to take these pictures 😉

After dropping her off, I zoomed to Napa Valley! The CIA is located in St. Helena, just down the road from Napa and across the street from a vineyard.

 

Culinary school….or castle??

mmmm, grapes 🙂

Turquoise lamp posts! If you are unfamiliar with my turquoise obsession…consider yourself warned.

The herb garden!

I have to admit, part of the pull of this school is its location. Not just wine country – M.F.K. Fisher lived in St. Helena with her 2 daughters at one point in her life. I’ve walked the same ground as M.F.K. Fisher. Whoa.

The town of St. Helena is as cute as it can be! Love at first drive-though.

 

Love the grapes on the street signs!

Note the G on the clock!! Omen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I waited for my 3 o’clock appointment with admissions, I spent the afternoon in – where else? – a bakery. A really cute, local organic bakery with incredible coffee.

I haven’t had coffee that wonderfully strong in a while!

I had to stay for lunch, of course. It’s just polite.

Well, that, and I found this sandwich of hummus, goat cheese, lots of veggies and balsamic on focaccia – all my favorite things on bread? Yes please.

After the tour of campus, during which I asked tons of questions and all my mother’s hopes of my liking the New York campus better flew out the proverbial window, I headed back to Sacramento to pick up my kid roommate. Not without about an hour and a half of rush hour traffic. But I did manage to get something out of it…

Tuscany? Is that you??

 

 

 

If anyone asks, I most certainly did not take these while driving/sitting in traffic. That would be dangerous.

Out of hunger and desperation, we chose a brewery on the same street as the internship location for dinner. It actually turned out to be a pretty good choice!

Spinach salad with feta, artichokes, crispy onions and little baby bay shrimp that I subbed for chicken. I’m on the west coast, people – seafood all the way! It was in a really delicious garlic-basil dressing that I am going to try to recreate – both flavors balanced so nicely! Paired with a glass of wine, I was a very happy – and exhausted – girl.

We slept in a bit til about 9 and I made us breakfast – oatmeal, of course!

2/3 c oats, 1 c. of water and 1/3 c. of low fat milk. Topped with a barely ripe banana (when they are not quite ripe, they are better on top – if you mix them in the pot, they are just to starchy and lose all the sweet flavor), peanut butter, and whipped cream. Because it was there. I recommend it heartily 🙂

We decided to have a low-key day because, well, we are pretty low-key people. We headed to Sausalito, a really cute little town (that was apparently the theme of the weekend!) on the other side of the bridge from San Francisco. We wandered, drank more amazing coffee while sitting on a bench and gazing at the water, and of course, we ate.

 

It was a blissful 60 degrees. I’m ready to go back now, please.

[twss?]

Loved the funky hydrant!

sooooo good.

 

 

 

Cheers!

We didn’t plan that…we swear.

 

The bus stop. Obviously.

We made a friend.

For lunch, we decided on the bakery where we found the wonderful coffee. I’ve decided that local bakeries are generally the best choice for dining when traveling. How can you go wrong with bread?

 

Cibo = ‘food’ in Italian. Good sign!

We ordered 2 panini for lunch and split them.

This was the veggie filled with beets, chard, pepper, other veggies and either mozzarella or fontina cheese – the bread was great and the veggies had a lovely sweet flavor that went well with the melty cheese.

We also ordered the prosciutto panini, which had spring greens, peppers and fontina – it was like a crispy, crunchy rainbow! It reminded me how much I love prosciutto. It just has such a wonderful smokey flavor, but it’s so thin. That’s saying a lot coming from an almost-vegetarian!

Dessert is, of course, a necessary thing.

Kona Coffee Fudge yogurt from the apparently famous Lappert’s. Such a good flavor combo!

We spent the late afternoon crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve been to San Fran a couple times, but I was way too young to remember if I’d even done this before, and this time I had a camera!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night night, sun!

It took 16 hours, 2 cars, 3 planes, 4 states and time zones, and a grande sub-par latte from Starbucks  to get us home. But it was worth it.

Well worth it.

Advertisements

Unexpected Austin

Wednesday, August 11th 2010: Wake up far too early for a sunny day in August. Eat some melon. Head to airport. 
Destination: Austin, Texas.
Purpose: Training as a Peer Mentor for Academic Programs International.
[Just wanted to set the scene for y’all. Why the James Bond writing style?…If I told you, I’d have to kill you.]
Once I passed through security – always a barrel of laughs, that process – I proclaimed it breakfast time. And whaddya know, but there was a UFood Grill in the American terminal. I have heard of this particular restaurant and have always wanted to go, but all its Massachusetts locations are in downtown Boston, and it’s not easy to just hop down there. (Mostly because I refuse to drive in Boston. I value the lives of myself and my car far too much.) It’s a super casual dining place that features all health-focused fresh foods – AND tart frozen yogurt. If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have a frozen yogurt, erm, problem. The problem being that I love it and will get it at pretty much anytime of the day or night, irregardless of actual hunger. It’s usually worth it.
But, I also saw they offered smoothies, and that sounded perfect so early on in the day. I grabbed a yogurt and the Mango Madness smoothie – mango, banana, and orange juice.
It was a little heavy on the OJ flavor, but it was pretty tasty. And it made me happy to see a substantial healthy breakfast option in the airport. It made me smile.
I had a layover at OHare in Chicago, and was equally as successful in finding a healthy lunch option!
It was lacking in the protein department, and was seriously screaming for some avocado, but it was really fresh and tasty. The cilantro made ALL the difference, and I was really impressed that it was even there! When I think of airports and herbs together, I see a flight attendant asking me if salt counts. Go OHare and cilantro!
Got to Austin and eventually found the other 3 Peer Mentors who were with me – we were on the same flight the whole time!
I’m just going to say it now: I have never, EVER in my life experiences humidity like I did in Texas. It was what I think rain forests and green houses are like. It was intense and inescapable. But I actually kind of liked it – the air conditioning never felt too cold! 
Despite all the heat, we still saw plenty of runners and bikers and strollers out and about, sweaty and smiling. It was impressive. Insane, but impressive.
After getting to the hotel, my roommate Gab and I chilled in the room and literally talked for 2.5 hours straight. She had studied with the API Toscania program, and it was absolutely incredible to share our mutual Italy experience/adventures. In fact, the entire time in Austin was like the best therapy I could have asked for in the transition back to home life. I loved hearing about everyone else’s experiences and even though we all went to different places, we all had the common ground of loving every minute of it and it was amazing to connect with that. It was just the coolest group of people. I kinda wish we got to work together more as Peer Mentors. But before I get too wish-washy…
On to the FOOD. We definitely ate well in Austin. The first night, we went to a Tex-Mex place. As we should have.
 
[Insert here bowls of some seriously delicious salsa, guacamole, and queso. I always thought queso was just glorified melted Veleveeta cheese….I was wrong. It’s amazing.]
I went with the fish tacos for my entree. It was a tough choice, but I’ve always wanted to try them, and I do love me some grilled tilapia. It was a good choice 🙂
The corn tortillas were soft (my fave!) and tasted homemade, and I never thought I would say this, but the best part of the dish was the Chipotle Ranch dressing drizzled on top. I usually opt for no dressing, because the plate typically arrives drowning under a cloying, bland, cheap-tasting white goo. But this was unlike no other ranch I’ve ever tasted. It was light but wonderfully creamy, well-spiced but not too hot, and accented the dish without taking any other flavor away. Basically, exactly what a sauce should be. One of the best tex-mex experiences I’ve ever had. (The only one that was better was a seafood enchilada in downtown Boston when I was around 9. It remains in my head as one of the tastiest seafood dishes yet to reach my mouth. I could eat one right now.)
After dinner, the group of us wandered around downtown Austin (ha! that rhymes with Boston!…maybe I need to get out more.). Austin is such a cool city! It reminded me a lot of Charlotte, North Carolina which I was totally not expecting. Most of our group ended up doing a bit of bar-hopping on the [in]famous 6th street, but my 20-year-old status and very tired self prevented me from doing the same. Luckily, my roommate and one other girl were also still 20, so I wasn’t alone. Yay for the youngin’s!
After a none-too-restful night, I awoke groggy but excited to get started. It was so great to actually meet the people I had emailed obsessively and see the building where that rather hefty check was sent to. The API Staff is just awesome. And a lot of them are Gillianasana readers, which just makes me grin like an idiot to know. [Hi everyone!!!] And the office decor is SO cool. The creative director Mark is, well, creative. It’s really colorful and fun, and I have plans to decorate my future apartment a la API. You’re all invited to my housewarming party. Bring chocolate.
We went out to lunch & I had my first one of these:
A fried pickle! And the consensus was that it tastes like…um, a fried pickle. Yep.
Dinner was really exciting. Like, really really exciting.
Italian! What else would get me so excited?
[That was some delicious focaccia. Nothing like the focaccia I had in Italy…but delicious nevertheless. Crispy, cheesy, chewy. God I love bread.]
Remember my first garganelli experience? I loved the shape, and when I saw it on the menu simply done with a tomato & basil sauce, my mind was made up quite quickly.
Simple is always a good way to go.
The dining experience in Austin was really fun. Great food + great conversation. It was, well, great!
And lo and behold, what was across the street from this Italian restaurant but a frozen yogurt shop. I was all over that like white on rice.
This was my first experience with pay-per-ounce fro yo, and I must say, I am jealous of those of you who have one nearby. Although my wallet sure is happy without them.
But who can say no to this??
Not I. 
I went the next night too.
The next and final day, we all gave our presentations about our personal study abroad experiences. It was so much fun to hear everyone’s, and made me want to go back. And then go everywhere they went. Global tour, anyone?
Earlier, we met with our program managers, aka the person I stalked via email for 3 months when I was dealing with the massive amount of paperwork involved. [Note to all those study-abroad hopefuls I just scared: most of it is now done online. I am jealous.]. Mine was absolutely awesome, despite the fact that I emailed her 3 times in a row in a period of 10 minutes, and it was so cool to meet her (and see a pic of her adorable son!). 
Another highlight was lunch.
Turkey+sprouts+lettuce+tomato+mustard+”avocado”. Apparently in Texas, when you see avocado on a menu, it means guacamole. Only one more reason I love Austin. More places should adopt that principle.
But dessert basically eclipsed everything else. There is a “cookie delivery service” nearby that the office orders from often, understandably. But the kicker? The cookes are delivered fresh from the oven.
In one word? GENIUS.
That was hands-down the best M&M cookie I’ve ever had. It was all gooey and melty and warm and if I didn’t have enough reasons to up and move to Austin, this would do it. I want to open a fresh-from-the-oven cookie delivery service. Seriously. Possibly one of the best business strategies I’ve ever heard of.
After our training was all over (*tear*), a small group of us decided to check out Barton Springs Pool, which is a public outdoor swimming area with natural water. (I don’t know how else to describe it; by “natural,” I mean not chlorinated. So before you start giggling about the concept of “unnatural water”…shutup.)
[I love that there is an award for “Best Swimming Hole.”]
We ran back to the hotel and I fought with the hotel printer, and before I knew it, it was dinner time! We met at a tapas bar (we were going for barbecue, but the was an hour-long wait, and it was already 8 o’clock. Not happening.).One of the group studied in Barcelona, so needless to say, we asked him for recommendations. I
went vegetarian.
It was some fresh bread with some of the best grilled veggies I’ve had – and I have had a lot! It was leeks, artichokes, and asparagus in smoked olive oil + sea salt. The leeks literally melted in my mouth. That romesco sauce on the side was none too shabby, either. I wanted to partake in the bottle of wine, but that pesky age limit and my conscience stopped me. Oh, to be in Italy again.

It was really a great trip. Even better than I expected, and I was pretty excited to begin with! The job will be a lot of work, but studying abroad is something I’m pretty passionate about & I think it will really be fun. 
That wasn’t the only surprise; the trip seemed to trigger a bit if reverse culture shock. Perhaps it was all the talking about living in our respective countries and how much we loved and grew from it, but either way, I came home happy but a little hurtin’. But what it really did was remind me of what a crazy, confusing, beautiful experience studying abroad is and, for me, was. And I’d do it all over again.
Thanks, Austin!
I think I’ll be back 😉
~Namaste~
[P.S. – if anyone read this earlier, my mouse clicked the “Publish” button of its own volition when I was halfway through writing it. Hate it when that happens.]

Being Back

WHOA! I’m home…how did that happen???
The flight(s) were actually pretty smooth. Being the [lovable] OCD control freak that I am, I got to the airport at 9…and couldn’t check my bags until 2 hours before my noon flight left. So, I dragged my heavy – but not so heavy that I had to pay extra fees! – luggage to the cafe and had a goodbye cappuccino. Well, maybe more of an until-next-time cappuccino.
I hate traveling. Ironic, considering how often I do it, but I always love being in the place I’m heading to – it’s the getting there that causes my blood pressure to rise to dangerous levels. You walk up to the attendant at the desk to check your baggage and hold your breath as she weighs them, praying that they are under the limit. Then you have to get in line for security. Ah, security. My favorite part.
You hand over your passport and ticket to that security agent. More breath-holding ensues as he looks from your passport photo to your face – “I swear that’s me, I was just having a bad hair day!” One time they must have been doubtful and asked me what my name was. Now, for a 13-year-old, my immediate reaction was “are you blind? did you not just look at my ticket? who hires these people????” And this is just the beginning.
Now you have to carefully place all your belongings in specific places and hope that you didn’t forget to throw that tube of lip gloss in your Ziploc baggie. If you’re lucky, you step up, calmly place your laptop in one of those plastic bins, shrug off your jacket and step through to the other side. If you’re me, you get out your 2 cell phones in preparation of putting the with your computer, one falls to the floor and the battery and flimsy piece of plastic that holds it in scatter on the floor, your jacket is still hanging off one arm, you’re frantically looking for that Ziploc baggie that you thought you had put in the most accessible part of your purse, and you’re struggling to get your laptop out of its velcro case and into that stupid bin before the security agent ushering everyone through ups his voice one decibel louder. Forget gyms – airport security is the ultimate workout.
Once I got to the gate, breakfast was thoroughly burned off and I reached for my treat. My last Casa del Vino panino.
Prosciutto, pecorino, love.
I think I am going to start a ‘Restaurant Reviews’ page as well and include Florence – just because Sergios & CdV are not to be missed!
An earlier flight to Frankfurt was canceled, which made me nervous, but my flight to Munich left on time with no problems, thankfully. Once I got through customs there, I deemed it snack time and found…
Fresh fruit juice!!! I have no idea what this was, but I’m thinking strawberry-raspberry-citrus something. Yes, specific, but give me a break – I had already been up and going for 6 hours. I was not exactly a pretty sight 😉
My layover wasn’t long at all, a comfortable hour-and-a-half or so – thanks to my very good travel agent, a.k.a dad. The flight itself was alright, the food was blah but I got to watch “It’s Complicated”, “Did You Hear About the Morgans”, and the pilot episode of Glee which, of course, I loved. I am a huge Broadway geek, so this show was made for peeps like me, but I didn’t want to get attached to a TV show and then go off to school so I waited. And then I discovered the magic of watching TV on the computer…and, well, let’s just say  I’m planning some major catch-up sessions this summer 😉
I apologize for being MIA – I woke up Sunday with the worst case of flu I can remember. Every inch of me was in pain, running fever…oy. Welcome home?
All worth it though, just to see this:
It’s good to be back.
~Namaste~

Stomaching It

There is nothing like walking the streets of Florence with a gelato in one hand and new shoes in the other. Not even the rain can bring me down.
Dark Chocolate + William Pear from Vestri.
Vestri’s dark chocolate goes beyond just ‘gelato’…it’s like another dessert within itself, it’s so good. 
I haven’t posted in a while because, well, there hasn’t been much to post about! I had two finals on Monday which I think went pretty well overall, I was pretty well-prepared and knew what to expect. To be honest, my semester here is about so much more than studying, I’m not too stressed. Don’t get me wrong, I studied and read and took my classes seriously, but in the grand scheme of things, my classes were only an iota of my time here. SO MUCH has happened these past few months! It is sad that it’s the end, but I am ready to start reflecting on it I think. It’s a lot to take in, for sure.
Monday night I had a date (gasp!) and we went to Pepo, a place right by the market that was on the to-go-to list but we never made it.We’ve done pretty well getting through it, though!
I ordered:
Tagliatelle vegeteriane – just pasta and veggies. Keepin’ it simple – hard to go wrong with that!
It was yummmmy (although it could have used a little parmesan). The pasta was perfectly al dente – mushy pasta is one of my biggest pet peeves. The veggies held up their texture as well. A little oily but overall very tasty!
Tuesday was a bit of a rough day. I spent most of the night swatting at the mosquito buzzing in my ear, but unfortunately my efforts did not keep the nasty little thing from eating me alive. I must have at least 8 bites in various places right now. Ick. I came home from Italian and went back to bed. Got up to eat something…and went back to sleep again. Whoops! I think I must have needed it though; my throat had been a little sore for a few days and I needed a little more rest to fight it off. I spent the remainder of the day staring out the window at the torrential monsoon-like downpour outside and telling myself to start packing…and then doing crossword puzzles instead. Just one of those days, I suppose. 
3 of us went to the farewell aperitivo API held for us at a nearby restaurant/bar. I wasn’t expecting much, but…ouch. It was just sad. It really wasn’t aperitivo – we had to pay for drinks if we wanted an alcoholic one. Diet Coke is not what you drink at aperitivo!!! The food was some over-oily pizza, which actually didn’t totally suck, but it only came out every 10 minutes or so and the 50 students that were there jumped on them like hawks when they came out. There was a rice-veggie salad type thing that had what I swear was chopped up hot dog. Seriously, I understand cooking for a large group is hard…but it’s not that hard. Fail.
Came back and attempted to study for Italian…aka, listened to Michael Buble and caught up on blogs & email. The final really wasn’t bad, and I was right to not be concerned about it, we had basically done everything on the final at some point in class before. I only wish we had had more listening assignments; that’s really my weakest point. Just don’t have a big enough vocabulary yet. I’m going to keep working on it, though; it’s such a pretty language and I’d love to be fully fluent!
After coming home and passing out – had another bad night sleep-wise – I woke up and got to the day’s activity: shopping. I don’t do much shopping at home (aside from food, of course), so I like to take advantage of having a city full of great shops while I can. Especially since the prices are usually so good – I can get birthdays and Christmas covered in a snap!
For lunch, Alaina and I had plans. Scary plans. What could be scary about lunch in Italy, you ask? One word: stomach. Cow stomach, to be precise. It’s crazy popular in Florence; their “fast food” comes in the form of lampredotto, a sandwich of boiled stomach (not tripe – that’s the 3rd stomach; lampredotto contains the cow’s 4th stomach…you hungry yet?) and served with a green, herby sauce on a roll.
Looks totally and completely innocent, no?
Ok, here’s my opinion: taste-wise, it was actually pretty good. Very much like roast beef, but the difference is really hard to explain. The texture, on the other hand…hmm. Slimy. Slimy, slick, and not at all pleasant. We both took two bites before giving up. We just couldn’t stomach the stomach!
I was in desperate need of something to take the slimy-meat memory out of my mouth – and it just so happened that we were right by Casa del Vino! Considering I hadn’t gone this week (Monday is my usual sandwich day but I had my last Sergio’s date planned for then), it was perfect. I got the very first sandwich I ever tried, waaaaay back in February:
Anchovies in a parsley-olive oil-garlic mix with fresh pecorino. And the reason why I fell in love with this place came rushing back. It was gone too fast, but I enjoyed every last bite.
Packing is an overwhelming act. I think I’ll go pour myself a glass of wine.
~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~

Barcelona or Bust


Bienvenido a…

Barcelona!
Be prepared for an epic photo post. I came. I saw. I clicked.
After my very first flight on RyanAir [which, by the way, Alaina hot on the nose when she called it the “Ikea of all airlines”], we arrived at our hostel around midnight and promptly passed out after some very unpleasant cold showers. We arose for a depressingly mediocre hostel breakfast, but it didn’t matter because we were in freaking SPAIN!
We met my roommate Monica, who is studying there this semester, at Plaza Catalunya. We may or may not have looked like crazy, confused tourists while trying to figure out the Metro on the way, but by the end of the trip we had that baby down!
Monica played tour guide and steered us all over the city and back! It was great because she could tell us what attractions weren’t worth spending the entrance fee to go in. It’s always fun to visit a city from a local’s point of view – I wish someone had visited me so I could show them my Florence! But aaaanyway…
We ventured down Las Ramblas, one loooooong strip that leads to the water.
Lots of people and green!
Monica knows me well and led us right to, what else, a market! Mercato St. Josep. It was SO colorful!
They had a whole bunch of fruit stands selling every different kind of juice combination you could imagine, and this I had to try. I went with Papaya-Mango:
We went back later and I got strawberry-pineapple. Both were SO good. I wish Florence would pick up on this juice trend! But, overall, my dear Mercato Centrale in Firenze wins. It feels more personal there, I think. Oh, how I will miss market-shopping!
Our tour continued and we eventually found ourselves in front of Gaudi’s Sagarada Familia, a church whose construction was started something like 140 years ago and they’re still working on it! None of us had much desire to go in – the looooong lines and one too many Italian churches did us in – but it’s a beautiful sight. I went in when I was here 8 years ago. I wish I could remember better how it looked then to see how much progress they’ve made!
Those crazy twisty tree branches in the front reminded me of Sleeping Beauty when Maleficent made all those thorn bushes grow in front of the castle to stop Prince Philip. Yes, I’m a Disney nerd. Don’t hate.
You can kind of see how the front looks a little like melted candle wax. It’s really such a cool structure!
Next stop: Parc Guell
Another Gaudi work! This I remembered well – it was my favorite part of Barcelona. I think it still is! It’s so colorful and funky. If I had a patio, I’d want Gaudi to decorate it.
One of the best views of the city.
See how crazy-cool the architecture is?!
Mosaic work everywhere!
LOVE.
You’re probably wondering by now – where’s the food?? I was a tad disappointed by the food this trip – Italy has it aaaaalll over Spain in that area. But we still ate pretty well!
We stopped for lunch at a little outdoor place across from the sea:
That would be a sculpture of a lobster. Hard to tell from this angle, but either way – wicked cool!
We started with some mandatory Sangria. I was a little concerned, my past experiences with it have NOT been pleasant – but it turns out I liked it a lot! Probably because I’ve learned to like wine so much here. Yum!
One of the prettiest sangrias we had this trip.
For lunch I was SO tempted to try their hummus & pita, but in the end I decided that I’m just going to wait until I go home to get my hummus fix – it will make it taste even better! I went with a hot sandwich with serrano ham & manchego cheese. Gotta eat local!
My family discovered Manchego cheese several years and got hooked! It’s mild but still has a real kick to it. I love how every culture seems to have their own version of ham and cheese. I’m still a prosciutto-pecorino girl, but this was very tasty in its own right 🙂
After lunch we decided to head back to the hostel for a siesta and to get ready for the night’s festivities. We made a quick stop back at Mercato San Josep for some snacks and I got some mango (yes, I’m obsessed. for good reason, mind you – it’s SO good!):
One euro of tropical juicy goodness. Mmmm.
We were amazed at how easily we slipped into the Spanish way of eating dinner so late – We didn’t finish until  after 11 PM! A far cry from the 5 PM dinner I eat at school. 
We had one mission tonight: paella. The national dish, I ate this a little too often on my first trip to Spain and got tired of it, but I was very eager to try it again. Say the word seafood and I’m there!
Monica took us to a place near the beach recommended by her program, La Fintora. It was a good sign when we were brought a glass of complementary champagne!
And bread. Not in a basket, but on individual plates – we were definitely not in Italy anymore!
And olives that were SO. GOOD. A bit different from Italian olives – a little spicier, I think. 
We ordered Cava sangria, which is made with sparkling white wine instead of the regular red wine. I like it, but I think I preferred the classic sangria.
Pretty color, though!
And then it arrived in a pan almost the size of the table. Oh yes, we were excited.
I only wished there had been more mussels! It was reaaaallly good though – in fact, I think paella is the sole rice-based dish that I truly enjoy. A little sweet from the seafood and spiced with the saffron. I ate a little too much, but honestly, how often do you eat paella by the sea in Spain for heaven’s sake!!
Before heading to the club to get our dance on, Monica took us to this really unique, cool bar, La Ovella Negra. It was like a huge open warehouse with wooden cafeteria-style tables and sangria on tap. It was really cool, very different. We went to Razzmatazz, the biggest club in Barcelona – and big it was! 4 floors of crazy booming music. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say – we had a really good time. 😉
We slept in and decided on a trip to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast! This city had SO many American chains, and when we stumbled upon Dunkies, it was immediately put on the list. If you’re from New England, Dunkies is where you go for iced coffee. Sam and I were feeling nostalgic and Alaina was sick of listening to us rave about it, so to Dunkies (called Dunkin Coffee here!) we went! Because it was so late, we went ahead and found a place for lunch after coffee. Dancing all night makes a girl hangry! We picked a random place on La Rambla and settled. Nothing fantastic, but everywhere here was touristy so it didn’t really matter. I actually was quite pleased with the salad I got:
Mushrooms, asparagus, and shards of parmeggiano reggiano. It was a really good combo!
[I have genuinely no idea why google refused to upload this right-side up. But you get the gist.]
We stumbled upon a gelato place that looked good, and felt that since we have become such gelato connoisseurs, it would be plain wrong to not sample it in another country. This place, Amorino, was actually pretty cool because when they put it on the cone they form it into a rose! You know me and pretty food. I swear it tastes better.
Mango + soy chocolate.
The soy chocolate was SO good and dark! The mango had a bit of an ‘off’ consistency and hard to eat, but my love for mango is enough to ignore such minute details.
Red shades, black dress, yellow gelato – I’m the Spanish flag!
That night we met Monica at Plaza Espanya for the “magic fountain”! There is a huge fountain in front of the national art museum and they play classical music while the fountain “dances” along. They actually played American 80s music for us…we found it incredibly entertaining. What fountain wouldn’t want to dance to Madonna?
We went out for tapas that night but sadly we had no idea that Saturday was Spain’s Labor Day and the best tapas bar was closed 😦 We settled for one nearby and it was pretty good but not a-ma-zing. No pictures, sorry! We were already dressed to go out and I didn’t want to bring my huge purse (and I was a little paranoid about stolen cameras…because mine is so new and pretty!). Just imagine some tomatoes and mozzarella in olive oil (they called it a greek salad…we were a bit skeptical but enjoyed it), an anchovy, a big slab of salted cod – which I liked at first but in the end it was too salty, and a “tortilla” which in Spain is basically a frittata. This one was stuffed with veggies and it was really pretty good. Not an incredible meal overall, but I love the tapas concept of getting a lot of little things and getting to taste a variety of foods. Always fun!
We went out to a different club, Apolo, after we went to an “Irish” pub and then this awesome shot bar! They had an entire wall of different shots and they were insane. The best was the boy scout – they pour alcohol on the bar after pouring the shots and give you a marshmallow to roast, then you dip it in the shot, eat it and then drink. It was really fun. They weren’t very alcoholic either, which I appreciated 🙂 It was a late night (perhaps I should say morning), but LOTS of fun. I actually felt like a normal 20 year old for once. 
Our last day was beach day. Hit up Starbucks for breakfast (the Dunkies didn’t have bagels and we were not feeling donuts for breakfast) and then were off to the beach. It was a little cool, but sunny for the most part. I didn’t bother with a suit, but got a little sun. I also got the roomies into collecting beach glass! On my search, a little boy saw me looking at the rocks and gave me this:
“La quieres?” Bah, of course I want it! So cute! Best souvenir ever.
Boats galore!
When I got bored, I started to play with my new camera…
SO FUN!
Finding a place for lunch turned out to be a rather difficult task – everywhere we wanted was packed to the gills. We eventually found somewhere – at that point our only requisite was that they served food. We got to sit outside, and got Sangria, so all was not lost. I ordered the pan con tomato, which is a Catalan specialty. It’s basically ciabatta-like bread with a tomato kind of rubbed/crushed on top. It was interesting…but made me long for bruschetta. It needed garlic and basil!
I also got a caesar salad which was…um, not caesar salad. The dressing was like some kind of ranch or something. It came with chicken though, which was unexpected but appreciated. 
I also stole several of Sam’s patas bravas, which is a typical tapas dish. Potatoes pan fried with spices and sprinkled with paprika and served with a tangy mayonnaisy sauce. I’m not much for the sauce but the potatoes are gooooood. Try them if you get the chance, I’ve seen them at random Mexican restaurants before.
It was a bit of a mad dash from hostel to metro to bus station – we were literally sprinting with all our bags out of the metro. But we made it. The train however that was supposed to take us to the Pisa train station from the Pisa airport never showed, and we ended up having to take a cab from Pisa back to Florence. That was a VERY unexpected and even more unpleasant little surprise – cabs are not cheap. But it was either that or sit in the incredibly sketchy Pisa train station until 4 AM, and that just wasn’t sitting right. Ah, traveling in Italy. Always a joy.
NOT.
The return trip put aside, it was a pretty fantastic weekend. Lots of fun, and I got to see MoMo, who I haven’t seen since we left school in December! Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip though was that I realized how perfect my choice to study in Florence was. I would have hated living in a huge overwhelming city like Barcelona. Not to mention the food – oh how Italy has spoiled me there! I had fun, but it was good to come home. Tiny shower, no dryer, and no peanut butter, but it works for me. American girl, Italian soul.
~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 😉

This Just In…

To start, an announcement:
Jamie Oliver, a chef with a couple shows on Food Network (who happens to be very attractive and has an adorable British accent), has started a campaign to bring healthy, nutritious foods to schools in the U.S. and to revive cooking within our communities. I think it’s hugely important – now is the time to start making changes in the way our country handles food! Read more about it here and sign the petition! Every single person gets it one step closer to reality – and I’m thinking the Obamas would dig it, too!
What have I been up to after this wonderful weekend? School, food, the usual. Although there is not much that is “usual” about taking a Food & Culture class or eating fresh pasta and gelato…oh, how my idea of what is ‘normal’ has shifted. Won’t make going home easy, that’s for sure.
Monday means sandwich day! To Casa del Vino I went, and today I took the plunge and tried a new one:
I promise, looks are deceiving – this was t-a-s-t-Y!
It was sausage (salsiccia) mixed with stracchino, a very soft creamy cheese that has the consistency of a kind of cottage cheese or yogurt. It was a really interesting combination – the sausage had a kind of cinnamony, spice-y sweetness that played off the slightly sour (not in a bad way) taste of the cheese. I likened this to the Italian take on a lox & cream cheese on a bagel – salsiccia e stracchino on schiacciata (the bread)! I did enjoy it, but it was by no means my favorite I’ve had there. What can I say, no cheese can compare to the all-mighty pecorino in my book. 
In my last post I mentioned the Bacio (‘kiss’ in Italian), a chocolate made by the Italian company Perugina from the city of Perugia I visited on Sunday. Well, here it is, up close and personal:
All wrapped up!
Notice the whole hazelnut lump…
And there you have it. I hope my first kiss is as good as this one!
Although it’s not my favorite combo in the world, the Italian obsession with chocolate + hazelnut is pretty amazing. I think mint still wins my heart, but this is nothing to shrug at. Good chocolate never is.
I tried another type of Perugina, called a perla (pearl):
It’s basically a Lindt Lindor truffle twin, but this was dark chocolate outside and had a strong hazelnutty hint to it that just led me to truffle heaven!
Chocolate = medicine.
Actually, that it was my presentation on Monday was all about – the ancient medicinal uses of cacao! It was really interesting and a lot of fun to learn about. It was only a beverage until the 1800s and believed to do everything from aiding digestion to curing infections. In fact, for a while it wasn’t even considered a “food” – there was a text from 1645 that said it was permissible to drink chocolate during a Christian fast, as long as it wasn’t mixed with “foods” like eggs or milk. Cool, right? I’m a chocolate fountain (ha!) of inspiration!
In other food news, tell me this isn’t some of the prettiest lettuce you’ve ever seen:
It’s called sorghino. I can’t make it to the market on Mondays because of classes and the grocery store was clean out of arugula, so I went for this kind because…well, it’s awfully perty. More or less tasteless, but makes  for some photogenic salads:
Mmmmm….veggies = love!
Unfortunately, I ended up going to bed very late on Sunday and the same happened Monday night, and all that plus the mild scratchy throat/cough led to my executive decision to sleep in today and skip class. It was really frustrating because I actually wanted to go to class – we’re starting a part of Italian that I learned but still find a little confusing – but somehow I was able to silence the perfectionist who wants perfect attendance and stay where I was. I may or may not regret, but I can’t help feeling a teeny bit proud that I listened to my body and put it’s health in front of class because when it’s all said and done, I won’t ever regret taking precautions against sickness. I feel SO much less worn down!
Yoga today was good – I got closer to headstand and was up for about a nanosecond before tumbling straight down. I will get there, slowly and surely. I did do a successful crow for a solid second and a half:
I was pretty excited!
[Just a disclaimer, I am by no means trying to brag or show off “what I can do” – I just thought if you don’t know yoga well, you probably want to know what the heck I am talking about!]
I’ve been working on it for several weeks and isn’t it just a fun feeling to accomplish something you’ve been inching towards?
For Ethnic Tuesday, we went for an old classic – Italian! My roommate found this jazz club-restaurant, Caruso, when another restaurant was too busy and raved about it, so we had to go! 
I got:
Tagliatelle (fresh pasta) with zucchini and tiny shrimp
It was delicious!!! A little too salty, but otherwise wonderful. The pasta was well-cooked – I can’t stand overcooked pasta – and the shrimp added a fishy taste that was not at all overwhelming but was juuuust the right touch. Plus, they were fun to eat – they’re so cute and little! They definitely pack a flavor punch, though. My roommate Alaina got a pizza and I may or may not have helped her out with the last large slice…it was thin crust and gooooood tomato sauce…just how I like my pizzas. I will be honest, pizza here is not a big thing, and I haven’t had any that I would say are better than what I can get at home. Bertucci’s has some of the best ever [New Englanders, take note!]! The jazz music playing on the stereo added a really nice atmosphere, and paired with a little wine, it was a very successful dinner.
But let’s be real, no dinner can be truly successful without…
The ubiquitous gelato.
I passed a place near our school that we’ve been to before, and this week I noticed they were offering GREEN TEA!!! I adore green tea ice cream (and the tea itself – I usually drink a cup a day!). The best I have ever had is at a place in Greenville, South Carolina (next city over from my college) called The Blueberry Frog. My cousin is good friends with the owner, who created the recipes all by himself! It is one of those “tart” frozen yogurt places a la pinkberry or Red Mango that are popping up right and left, but his place definitely takes a place above the rest. It is a non-negotiable stop when I am in Greenville. ANYway, clearly I had to try the gelato version of it! So I talked my roommates into going for dessert. [And by talked into, I mean I talked them into going to this particular place for gelato – gelato after dinner is pretty much a given with us!]
I got the green tea and a kind that was flavored with a brand of juice that is really popular here [my roommate drinks it all the time] called YOGA juice!!! I know, too perfect, right? The flavor is a mix of blueberry, apple, pomegranate, and a variety of other fruits. I loved it – it was very sherbet-y and mixed SO well with the green tea! The green tea itself was a little underwhelming – a little too creamy and didn’t have a strong enough tea flavor. I am not a tea-with-milk type of girl – I drink it straight up, pure and unadulterated! But the combo of the two was perfect!
So, I have a massive research paper due next Monday for my Food & Culture class, and we got to choose the topic. What could I possibly have picked? Food blogs, of course! That said, I am hoping to use Gillianasana as one of my research tools, so I hope you as a reader don’t mind if I ask some questions in the next few days? I don’t have the paper as well outlined as I’d like, so I have to get that down first. I’m excited to write it though, because I think it’s such a fascinating and novel entity in the gastronomic world!
Alrighty, bed time for this yogini. I may or may not be doing something incredibly exciting tomorrow and I may or may not be able to discuss it on here for a while…vague? Who, me?
Ciao ciao!
~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~

Back in Action

So, Spring break broke. But it was a good one! Lots of sleep, yoga, gelato, and gorgeous Tuscan landscapes. Perfetto!
Yesterday was mostly spent cleaning – swept the whole apartment! Eventually I got a little stircrazy and had to get OUT and enjoy the lovely spring weather! Had to complete the picture with some gelato:

Straciatella al caffe (coffe chocolate chip) + tiramisu. GREAT combo.

I went to Piazza Santa Croce and sat on a bench while I read the homework that I may or may not have forgotten about…It was so nice! The weather, the musicians playing, the CUTE dogs…wonderful way to get homework done. I took the long way home and walked by a church on my street and there must have been a wedding!
RAINBOW RICE!!! Sweet!
When I got back, my roommate wasn’t far behind! We decided to end Spring Break on a high note and go out to one of the many recommended restaurants nearby. We split a baby bottle of wine to go with our respective meals. I went with an appetizer + side dish, which I really like to do because the portion ends up being just right!
Crostini (toasted or grilled bread) with 3 different toppings

The one closest to the camera was a pate of sorts, not sure what animal, but sometimes I think it’s best to not ask questions. Above that was a tomato-onion something or other that included raisins – I wasn’t a big fan of that one, too sweet! At the top was an amazing smoked eggplant-garlic-oil thing that my roommate and I had NO problem polishing off. Mmmm, eggplant. I also ordered a side of cooked spinach – needed something to balance out the bread! I just love spinach. Especially in smoothies…it sounds weird, but you really can’t taste the spinach. It just turns the smoothie green and boosts the nutritional value. I miss those Green Monsters!
Today it was back to the grind. I got a solid A on my Food & Culture mid-term, yayayayay!! I love that class. And I better keep lovin it – I have a presentation and a 10-page research paper due for it this month! Eeek.
A good breakfast was definitely necessary to start back:

Banana yogoat float!
Sliced banana + raw oats + vanilla yogurt. Hard to go wrong when using good ingredients!

I went to the market after my Food & Culture class (my music class was canceled because we are going to 2 concerts this week) and picked up some necessities. 3 apples & 3 pears for 96 cents!!! So exciting. Also, yummy fresh bread:
Pane alla soia – soy bread? I like it a lot! It has an almost sweet(?) flavor…hard to describe. Other than…yum.
I picked up lunch (at Casa del Vino, of course):
Prosciutto and pecorino. Simple. Amazing.
Seriously, this took “ham and cheese” to a whole new level. It might even be my favorite, just because it was so simple yet soooo tasty.
I ate it on the steps of the Brancacci Chapel, on the other side of the Arno.

A lunch with a view!

I actually went in the Brancacci Chapel today! (I tried to go over Spring Break but it was closed.) It was lovely. So peaceful.

Frescoes surrounded the courtyard (you can see in the picture below this one).

A little sunny courtyard inside. I sat there forever, sunbathing and listening to the birds chirping. Made for a lovely afternoon.
Though the courtyard was my favorite part, the Chapel wasn’t bad either:

A pieta of sorts in the chapel entrance.

The chapel is currently being restored, so there wasn’t much space to walk around. That, and Frida was PMSing and losing battery power. Hence, the subpar pics. But it was pretty!

Yes, lots of camera frustration. What really bugs me is that I get so annoyed over the fact that ever single picture I get is blurry and unrecignizable, that I forget where I am — as in, I have to remind myself to step back and say “whoa. I’m in a centuries-old, beautifully painted chapel in Florence and I’m not even appreciating it. Put. The camera. DOWN.” And I did. Damned if I’ll let technology take away a what should be an enjoyable experience!

I walked home after that, enjoying the great spring weather – finally too warm for my coat!

I got hungry pretty early and whipped this baby up:

Lentils, a small onion, a couple cherry tomatoes, and a TON of spinach. I needed to use it up! Seasoned it with a little rosemary, sage, S&P and pecorino romano. A little boring I suppose, but I liked it! Especially after I added some dijon mustard for a little kick.
It’s harder for me to experiment a lot with cooking here because I don’t have many spices to work with – I adore trying different spice combos. It is so interesting to me how something so small can completely manipulate the flavor(s) of a dish!

I was very good last night about getting to bed. I am trying so hard to get in bed before midnight the nights before I have Italian because it makes getting up and getting through my day SO much easier. Unfortunately, very little actual sleep happened, so I’m pretty exhausted today. I came right back and took a quick nap before meeting the girl I practice Italian with, and then came home for breakfast/lunch. It’s grey and chilly today (I would love to know where that spring weather went!), but I felt quite accomplished yesterday, and so I’m okay with today being a little less active. I have yoga tonight and then it’s time for Ethnic Tuesday dinner with the roomies! I believe we are planning on Indian tonight – woohoo!!!

On my walk home yesterday, I had a moment where all of a sudden I thought “Whoa. I’m in Italy right now. Living here. How did this happen!!” It’s odd, I adapted to life here so quickly, I suppose it didn’t fully sink in. And maybe it won’t totally sink in until I am able to look at it in retrospect. I don’t know how exactly I got so lucky, but I do know that I am in total awe and gratitude that I did.
I’ve been asking myself a lot, “How do I leave this place?” I don’t just mean hopping on a plane; I’m talking about leaving the lifestyle here that I’ve become so happily accustomed to, the sights and sounds, the food. I’m so attached, I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to walk away. But, I know I will figure it out. And I suspect I will end up with a deeper respect for the cultures of both here and my home. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least.

I have a presentation (on CHOCOLATE!) due soon, so I think I will put my sleepy brain to work before yoga. A domani!

~Namaste~