Livorno for Lunch: Take 2!

To start, I would like to thank those who commented on my ranting, raving post yesterday. It means a lot to know I have so much support. It wrote it for me, because I needed to get it out there. This growing up thing is hard!
To return to blog business, I had a relatively uneventful Thursday – except for a tour of a gelateria! Well, it wasn’t exactly a tour, and there were some snags hit, but in the end we got to watch a cute little old man make strawberry gelato and then eat it fresh from the ice cream machine! 
See those teeth it’s coming through? That’s how it gets to look so pretty!!
And pretty it is. Not to mention delicious.
Although strawberry isn’t always my first choice, it was cool to eat gelato you watched get made in matter of minutes! They had some flavors that we also wanted to try (dark chocolate sorbetto?! nutella mousse?!!), so expect to see more gelato from this place in the near future.
The most exciting part, though, was that he couldn’t give the tour in English, and even though we had a translator, I understood almost every word he said. So exciting!!!
Made some mean oats that morning, too:
Chocolate + banana. That’s true love, right there.
After my field trip, I was treated to some incredible eggplant parm made by Alaina (click for pictures!). We spent our train trip today in fact discussing how to incorporate spinach into it and decrease the amount of oil used. You know you’ve been living with someone for a while when you start having the same ideas about recipes!
I mentioned our train trip today. Alaina and I went to Livorno! Yes, I went again. Both of us were dying to try cacciucco, the local specialty seafood dish that I wasn’t able to have on my first trip there.
We went back to the same restaurant I went to because it was SO. GOOD. They didn’t let us down.
I had to have the antipasti platter again:
A lovely selection of seafood salad (shrimp, calamari, and octopus with some tomatoes in a very light vinegar-olive oil dressing), smoked salmon (YUM),delicious fresh anchovies, the BEST mussels I’ve ever had, and the most. amazing. crostini. ever. [I talked about it here too.] Seriously, I have no idea what’s on it, but my tastebuds didn’t care. Some kind of tapenade with mussels. And maybe a little magic.
Next, we moved on to cacciucco. Please prepare yourself for what you are about to see. This is not your grandma’s seafood stew like we expected.
Ready?
That would be a plate piled high with vast quanities of unidentifiable body parts of sea creatures. Tentacles, fins, and a whole shrimp – eyes included, all drowning in this earthy, spicy, salty sauce – almost wannabe bbq sauce? We could not figure it out. Actually, we were so in shock with this dish, we couldn’t really figure any of it out. I didn’t love it, but I definitely didn’t hate it. This dish encapsulates what I love most about food – it’s a true experience in and of itself. We laughed, we ate, we looked in awe at what was put before us. It definitely goes to show – when in Italy, expect the unexpected! We certainly had fun.
And just like last time, we were brought a very large shot limoncello to aid in digestion – we were definitely in need of some of that!
What I like about limoncello is that it is a nice way to end the meal. It’s suuuuuper strong and always leaves me a little tipsy and a few mere sips, but I really enjoy taking part in the ritual of it. What can I say – American girl, Italian heart!
Despite the fact that were stuffed to the gills – or perhaps, to the tentacles – we are firm believers that no city has truly been explored without sampling their gelato. And we are hard core explorers.
Melon (canteloupe) and dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate was alright, but nothing special – of course, now that we’ve discovered the best of the best in Florence, anywhere else becomes “less than.” Actually, Alaina hit the flavor right on the nose – it was just like Hershey’s dark chocolate! I use their dark chocolate powder a lot at home, and this was definitely that taste. Not bad, but not Vestri. The melon was lovely, though. Very sweet, as it should be. Gosh I love melon.
After a lot of walking, we made it back to the train station in good time. Another lovely afternoon spent in Livorno.
Off to paper-writingdom!
~Namaste~
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Livorno for Lunch

HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SPRING!!!

I only wish the Italian Mother Nature got the memo. This week through Thursday – all during mid-terms – was gorgeous. Sunny, warm, spring-like…and the spring break starts and BAM! back to grey skies. The temperature is still alright, but I would like to know where the sun went! It’s alright, though because I have been considering this and have concluded that in these situations one has 2 options:
1. Sit in the apartment staring out the window mournfully, moping around, and feel sorry for yourself because spring break is “supposed” to include sun
OR
2. Laugh at the little obstacles life throws you, get up, get out and HAVE FUN.
I think the option to choose is quite obvious, no?
Livorno is a town (small city) right on the coast, west and a little south of Florence. It’s not touristy at all and because of it’s seaside situation is known for seafood…hence it was at the top of my to-see list. So today, my roommate Sam and I hopped on a train [I won’t lie, there was some running involved as well…we like sleep] and were whisked off to the Tuscan coast!
First stop: food. We tried to find a restaurant I had heard about that specialized in the Livornese cacciucco, which is a tomato-based soup with seafood and bread…but, as we were wandering we noticed that pretty much every restaurant we had passed was closed. What to do? Walk toward the light!
…No, we weren’t that hungry – we literally walked toward the restaurant we saw with the lights on. This turned out to be a very good decision. It was clearly a local place, with seafood spread out on a table just inside the door. The waiter didn’t speak English, and I wanted to hug him! I did a pretty ok job of understanding. They were all out of the cacciucco, but I think they made up for it and then some…
Antipasti della casa: a homemade tartar sauce, a calamari salad, some octopus, crostini with anchovies mixed with some kind of veggies, mussels, and snails.
I don’t know where to begin. The anchovy crostini was the most amazing thing…sweet (from bell peppers I think) and rich, crunchy bread and the soft mix on top…oh man. Next up: the mussels. Now, being from Massachusetts, and being a serious Legal Seafoods junkie, I have experienced mussels many times. But not like this. If I’ve ever had better steamed mussels in my life before these, then I don’t remember. SO. FRESH.
The snails were in this really interesting sweet (balsamic vinegar? wine?) sauce, great for bread-dipping. This was definitely a very good way to meet Livorno!
Lobster pasta. Clean and simple. And oh, so, so good.
We had a GREAT time here – the little old man who clearly ran the place kept coming over and asking us how it was, and where we were from, and gave us a discount! And just in case we weren’t happy enough, they brought us each a glass of limoncello (lemon liqueur, served as an after-meal drink). Not gonna lie, I was a little buzzed. But happy!! Nothing like a wonderful meal to begin a day trip.
After that we just wandered. I got the sense that there isn’t much to do in Livorno other than enjoy the seafood and the lack of tourists, which sounded pretty perfect to me! On our wanderings, we found…

Tree-lined streets

Funky-shaped buildings. I wanted to go inside just to see what the rooms on the corner looked like!

Perty street lamps. I think these would make really cool earrings.

RENT in Livorno. This is clearly my kind of town.

A Greenpeace protest. Awesome.

A wedding party awaiting the bride – right across the street from the protest.

Lots and lots of boats!

I have no idea what these are – maybe for cleaning/chopping the fish?

Cute little bridges 🙂

Old walls around the port. And this is Italy – when I say old, I’m talkin medieval-era old.

Fisherman, laughing and generally loving life.
Water, water, everywhere…
Some abandoned art.
Poor pigeons didn’t even have a crumb of a chance.
He totally posed for this picture. After rolling around in the dirt.
 And check OUT this train station:

Would that they all were this pretty!

So, you’re probably thinking “so basically, you went to Livorno…to eat.” To that, I reply – YUP! And I’d do it again. Life is good.
The day was finished with online crossword puzzles, a salad, and Law & Order:SVU in Italian. Man, I love Spring Break.
~Namaste~

ZaZaZU!

Please look at my mutant produce.
PREGNANT PEPPER!
That would be a tiny ball of bell pepper I found inside the pepper when I sliced it. Someone didn’t use protection when this baby was planted…
I think my apple loves me!
It is absolutely amazing how much more awake I feel when the sun is up and shining. I made it all the way through the afternoon before I had to nap! This is a serious accomplishment.
But who has time to be serious? Let’s talk breakfast.
Chocolate-covered strawberry oats. I was actually a bit underwhelmed – maybe it needed more cocoa? Nevertheless, it was still delicious. Clearly it just means I need to continue perfecting it. Sounds like a job I’m up for, no?
I met with an Italian student this morning who I meet with once a week, me to practice Italian and her to practice English. Unfortunately the past few weeks have been full of miscommunication and schedule issues, so we haven’t been able to meet for a while. It’s great though, because she’s really cool and very into language. Us language geeks always get along 🙂 I just wish I had someone to do this with EVERY day. It would make such a huge difference!
I went to the market for peanut butter and wandered around a little, and debated wandering some more, but…not to put it too indelicately, my bladder wanted to go home. I made lunch:
Pretty colors!
 …and did some computery stuff with every intention of going out to a cafe to sit and stalk soak up some more Italian language goodness…but I ended up passing out on the couch. I’m talking some major unconscious dreamless napping. I probably needed it, but still…I don’t enjoy feeling productive. But it’s fine, listening to my body always takes priority. It keeps me sane. Well, mostly anyway.
After lots of indecisive debating, for this week’s Ethnic Tuesday we decided to go…Italian! We weren’t entirely sure where the Indian restaurant was (Internet issues) and we have list that gets longer by the day of restaurants we “need” to go to, so we just chose one nearby – ZaZa. We’ve heard lots of good things from multiple sources, always a good thing. Very cute little trattoria near the market. We even sat outside!
I got:
Fagioli (beans) all’uccelletto and crostini al mare (basically a big piece of bread topped with seafood). Note the hot animal-print dishware.
None of the pasta dishes were jumping out at me, and that bean dish was what we were served at Dino, the restaurant I went to for my cooking class (here); it was SO good I was dying to try it again! The crostini was quite tasty – I’m really becoming a calamari addict. It’s everywhere here…and it’s so yummmmmmy! I really liked the combination of a side dish (the beans) with an appetizer – perfect portion size.
And then the hunt for gelato began. The first place we tried was closed, as it always is when we try to go there. We decided that though it was a bit of a hike, tonight was a good night to hit up Vivoli, rumored to be the best gelato in Florence. Now, I have been to Grom multiple times, and I knew it would be hard to beat – so obviously, this place was at the top of our list. After turning around several times, we found it – and it was open!
Cioccolata Ricca + Riso + Tiramisu semifreddo
The cioccolata ricca was just as it said – rich chocolate. HUGE chunks of dark chocolate in there, which made me oh so happy. I tried the riso (rice) out of sheer curiosity – I think it was essentially rice pudding-flavored. I didn’t love it…but I definitely didn’t hate it! The tiramisu was…whoa. Whole other level of goodness. Semifreddo is basically like very cold mousse, very light and airy and, um, amazing. This had acutally pieces of tiramisu in it and…well, I’m just relieved that they don’t package this stuff in pints, because I would not be able to resist buying it, much less eating the entire thing. SO. GOOD.
The Vivoli verdict? I think I am still more impressed with Grom. I can really taste the higher quality of ingredients and it to me epitomizes what gelato should be. BUT…Grom does not have semifreddo. I think it’s less of a comparison issue, and more of a “see what you’re in the mood for” type of thing.
I am feeling rather ineloquent this week…mid-terms just take away brain cells. Speaking of mid-terms, I have one tomorrow. At 8 in the morning. Hmm…better get on that.
A domani!
~Namaste~

Love Notes, Cous Cous and Technical Difficulties

Oh, how I adore technology.
NOT.
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.
Giulietta
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.
~Namaste~

Singin in the rain…in Pisa!

Disclaimer: The vast majority of these photos were taken by my roommate Alaina, whose blog I highly recommend! (click her name to visit!) 🙂

Friday morning we woke up to some very scary looking skies, but we would NOT be deterred from our Pisan mission! Off we ventured to Stazione di Santa Maria Novella, about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, and bought train tickets for the first time.

It’s actually really easy with these self-service machines. You just have to go up to a little yellow box after the ticket prints out and get it stamped. Italian train system: conquered.

And off to Pisa we were! We arrived there about an hour later to pouring rain. We had a restaurant recommendation, but since none of us had a map or any desire to wander around in the rain, we took a taxi.

We were HUNGRY signorinas! We eventually found the restaurant, Vineria.

Don’t I look a little scared?!

Since it was supposedly a fish restaurant, most of us ordered the pasta with fresh tomatoes and calamari…

Oh dear me. BEST thing I have tasted so far. I pretty much inhaled this in a very un-European manner. Could have used a few more tomatoes, but really…It was amazing. The kind of food you can still remember the taste of years later. Needless to say, the end result was…

Yup. Mmmm, I had a happy belly!

So off to the tower we went! On our way we came across this totally random little building:

NO idea what it was. But you know, you see an old structure in ruins in Italy, you figure it had to be important to someone at some point in history. And therefore, you must take a picture of it.

The tower was soon in sight!

And yes, we did the stereotypical tourist poses. People stared, hilarity ensued. The usual.

You probably can’t quite see it, but I am in fact holding up the tower with a mere index finger. I told you yoga makes you stronger!

Marissa and I, at war!
RUN AWAY!
Leaning tower? Just call the ladies of Apartment 17!
Alaina and I attempted to stay dry.
After we felt that we had made sufficient fools of ourselves, we proceeded on to our next mission: the first gelato. I know, I’ve been here two weeks and I hadn’t had any yet, but it’s been COLD! Anyway, weather be damned, today was the day. We found a random restaurant – really, we just wanted somewhere to eat it inside and be warm! It wasn’t the most amazing gelato I’ve had, but it was quite tasty. Strawberry and coffee. Weird combo, but hey, so am I.
We eventually found the train station again and were on our way back home, anxiously awaiting some downtime. Being an obnoxious tourist really takes it out of you!
Once home, I needed to make a quick trip to the market for some water…on my way, I may or may not have gone into a store I’ve been dying to go in and I may or may not have bought 2 ponchos…Listen, I’m cold. And they were on sale. 21 euro for two. I feel much more stylish now 🙂
The roomies got kebabs, but I wasn’t all that hungry. I made dinner later…it was definitely an, um, Gillianasana original. Basically took random stuff out of the fridge and stir-fried it. Eggplant, zucchini, spinach, tomato, turkey and some pecorino (with balsamic vin, obviously):
Nothing world-shattering, but then again, after my lunch, nothing would have compared.
And tomorrow…the chocolate festival! Man, it’s tough here:)
~Namaste~