The Case of “The Lasts”

Ugh, I hate this part. You know, the one where everything you do is “the last.” Last load of laundry in our crazy machine [it secretly wishes it were a rocket ship – you should hear it on spin cycle). Last shopping trip in the market. Last time I have to climb the never-ending stairs to Italian class…ok, maybe I don’t hate every part. Those stairs at 8 in the morning were not exactly a treat.
After I got my grade on my Italian final – all good 🙂 – I came home for some overnight oats!
Before you go to bed, put oats in a bowl and pour an equal amount of liquid (I’m a fan of almond milk) over them, and maybe add a dash of cinnamon. Let them sleep in the refigerator and when you are both awake, the oats will have absorbed the liquid and be soft – voila, no-cook oatmeal!

(There are different ways of preparing them; some people add more stuff to it the night before. That’s why they’re so fun – lots of different ways to experiment!)
Before…
After: all mixed up with some vanilla yogurt.
This was exceptionally good today – it tasted like snickerdoodle cookie dough! The perfect way to prepare for my cooking practical, the second half of my final for that class where we actually have to cook for and be judged by our professor.
We set his table up all pretty:
We were split up into teams to tackle 3 courses of 4 dishes.
Course 1: BREAD
Not just bread – stuffed focaccia and pizza.
This was the focaccia we made a couple weeks ago for our “green class.” It’s amazing, and this time it was even better. The spinach is sauteed in a little olive oil and garlic to add flavor and it worked – the spinach-garlic combo sang through the bread. The mozzarella (use fresh buffala mozzarella – it’s a little fattier but you can use less to get a powerful punch of flavor) was perfectly stretchy, and the dough was juuuust dense enough to hold up it’s filling but fluffy enough to be like eating yummy, doughy, pillows. 
Another team made pizza margherita – tomatoes, mozzarella, basil. This was very probably the.best.pizza. I’ve ever had. The flavors was perfectly balanced and so fresh. The crust was the right thickness – not cracker like but not like you were getting more crust than ingredients in your mouth at once either. The sauteed the tomatoes in garlic and olive before topping the dough to bake – this is essential for non-soggy pizza, because if you just throw the raw ingredients on the top, the water (that makes up most of the veggie) will release and make your pizza WAY to heavy to eat. The cheese was golden but not gummy or too crispy and with the basil was SO good. Yup, will be making this when I come home.
Next course: Pear-filled ravioli in a walnut-herb sauce with pecorino.
PEAR!
This was very tasty. The pasta was a little undercooked, but I actually like overly-al dente pasta (yes, I’m odd). I wish the pear had been blended with the pecorino and then filled, the ravioli with just chopped pear felt a little sparse to me. But the walnut sauce was SO good – walnuts, parsley, and basil. You couldn’t really taste the walnuts, at least not unless you looked for it, but that is actually kind of the goal. Like pesto – it’s not ALL about the pine nuts that you add to it, but if you took them out you would know. It really did work well the sweetness of the pears. As my professor commented – “amazing”.
Dessert: MY TEAM!
[Thanks again blogger for the sideways picture. It’s not funny anymore.] 
Crema di amaretti – I also made it here.
Gosh, I love pretty food.
The filling is very similar to tiramisu – we used the double boiler method to kill any salmonella ickiness in the eggs as we beat the. Here’s what we did: Separate the whites from the yolks of your eggs (it’s one egg for every 2 people you are serving). Get your double -boiler going; when the water is simmering (NOT full-on boiling!), use a hand-mixer (or one of those fancy-schmancy Kitchen Aid mixers that I can only dream about owning) beat the yolks with cane sugar (tablespoons=number of eggs used) until it’s nice and creamy. Set it aside to cool. Get your water a-simmerin’ again, and repeat the process with egg whites (no sugar) until they form stiff peaks. Not sure what that means? I didn’t either. Get them to the point where if you turn the bowl upside down, the egg whites don’t move (and please use a second bowl underneath when testing this…). Let those cool as well. Fold in marscapone cheese with yolk-sugar mixture gently. Then add the egg whites. 
This is where I added a couple teaspoons of cinnamon. I remember thinking it would be good the first time we made it, and I wanted to do it for the final. My teacher loved it! Yay! Nothing like feeling innovative in the kitchen to make me smile:)
Now, look at the consistency you have. You want something tiramisu-filling-like, very light and creamy. We made the call to add a liiiiittle bit of whipping cream (whipped with a little lemon juice and a pinch of salt to get it fluffy!), and that really made a huge difference. We used about 125 grams of cream, and we were making for 14 people – so you really don’t need much.
To plate, dip two amaretti cookies (they’re like little almond biscuits, I will have to consciously search for them in the States when I come home – I’ll keep you updated!) in strong coffee mixed with just a few drops of milk and sugar. Sprinkle the top with coffee (instant here is fine), chocolate chips and cocoa powder. Voila! better-than-tiramisu goodness.
Our professor’s comment? “Delizioso!”
He gave me a big hug when I left and that was when this whole “I’m actually leaving” business hit me. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! DON’T MAKE ME GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ahem.
SO, after class I wandered over to the Ponte Vecchio to do some window shopping. I have been searching for a necklace with the Florentine fleur-de-lis crest, and I knew if I would find it anywhere, that’s where it would be. The Ponte Vecchio is known for its jewlery, specifically marble and gold. Honestly, I really can’t stand gold, but I was still hopeful. It was looking pretty dim at first; all I could find were charms the size of my pinky fingernail at the low, low price of 122 euro – which is, what, maybe 150 dollars? Ugh. I was feeling like giving up, when I crossed to the other side and found it.
Yay! 6 euro, and I already have a chain 🙂 Ain’t it perty?
For the first time this week, the sun was out! I have been planning on returning to Piazzale Michelangiolo to get some better pictures because a) the day we went it was cloudy, b) I have a new camera!!, and c) the combination of my carberrific lunch + the joy of finding my jewelry left me with some newfound energy to burn!
The walk there is lovely.
[Ponte Vecchio]
Remember the funky trees?
It’s quite a hike to get there…
And just when you think it’s over…
But it’s worth it.
Even though I’ve only been here for 4 teeny months, I still call it ‘mine.’ Not that it only belongs to me; more in the way that it has made such an impact on me. It’s home.
Dinner tonight was long-anticipated. We planned to go to Cibreino – “the poor man’s Cibreo.” Cibreo is one of the most important (and most expensive) restaurants in Florence. The chef is world-reknowned for his take on Italian food. Simply put, it’s a big deal.
Cibreino is a little trattoria around the corner from Cibreo that offers a limited menu for a MUCH smaller price. Same kitchen – fewer options.
I was excited.
We got there at 7, when it opens, and all breathed sighs of relief when there was a table for 4 ready and waiting. The trattoria is a very small room with only 8 or so tables, so we were a little worried. It was also mostly tourists – and we were treated as such, which was a little annoying but to be expected considering the fame of this place.
After much debate and some help from our very entertaining waiter, I ordered:
It was a veggie-fish soup. Very well spiced and I loved the fish that was in it – no idea what it was called, a kind of white fish that looked a little bit like tuna (different taste though). It was a little brothy for me, but it was so well-seasoned that it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of it. They also brought us a “surprise” bowl of the minestra di pane – bread soup – that is very similar to ribollita. That was awesome – tasted just like Thanksgiving stuffing! Ah, the wonders of sage.
At the end of our class today, my cooking professor was talking about going to restaurants. He said the best way to judge a restaurant is by its appetizers and dessert – how they start and end a meal. He emphasized the great importance of dessert and ending a meal on a sweet note, because there’s always room for sweet! (You understand now why I enjoyed this class so much?) I was feeling inspired and so Alaina and I split the flourless chocolate cake.
Best. Decision. Ever.
This was one of the best chocolate cakes EVER. Very thin but SO dense and moist. I could have eaten an entire cake’s worth of it. But, aside from the phenomenal flavor, I also appreciated the portion size – it was a perfect dessert. Wonderful taste but not overwhelmingly huge so as to make you waddle out of the restaurant. Well done, Cibreino. Well done.
What fabulous plans do we have on our last day in Firenze? Pack, pack, pack – print boarding passes – and then pack some more. Ah, the glamour of life abroad.
And I loved every second.
~Namaste~
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The Last Soup

A moment of silence is in order.
My last meal at Sergio’s. Well, for the semester anyway…
I will be back.
[Thank you Blogger for uploading this picture sideways and making this as anticlimactic as possible. Love ya.]
~Namaste~

To Miss…and Not to Miss

I love watching the sky go from this…
to this.
I also love having a camera that can capture it. *insert heavenly choir here*
You know, I’m going to seriously miss Florence. The Duomo, Sergio’s, Mercato Centrale. The internet here, on the other hand…not so much. I promise regular updates will happen as soon as I have internet that stays connected for longer than 20 seconds. [And oh, how I wish that were an exaggeration.]
Not too much has been going on since Wednesday. That evening was the Farewell Dinner from our school, Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici. Now, I’ll be honest, where food is concerned the words “free” and “high quality” do not often go hand in hand. But I thought, “hey, I’m in Italy, how bad can it be?” Whoops. Silly Gilly.
It didn’t help that we got stuck at the forgotten table. I had to get up and ask our advisor to remind them to bring us bread. (C’mon, it’s me – I was getting my bread.) They did, but it made me question what country I was in – what is usually a beautiful basket of soft, crusty Tuscan bread came as a couple of semi-stale pieces of unpleasantly chewy sourdough and some completely stale breadsticks. At this point, a waiter came over and poured us all very large glasses of wine, for which we were all incredibly grateful. Perhaps the culinary highlight of the evening.
The first course arrived and I was skeptical, but still hopeful – wine will do that.
Penne in tomato sauce and a square of veggie lasagna.
Hmm, where to begin. The penne was…perfectly edible. It was just in basic tomato sauce with a pathetic-looking piece of basil thrown in there and sprinkled with some subpar parmesan. I like simple, and this was certainly no culinary challenge, but I enjoyed it mostly. The lasagna, however, I’m quite sure could have been served in any school cafeteria or hospital tray without a second thought. First of all, there were peas. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before or not, but I hate peas. No, that is not too strong a word. They mushy and unattractive and I truly cannot stand their “flavor” (if you can even call it that). I know many people are of the opposite opinion, and that’s perfectly fine. All the less for me to eat. ANYway, this was not a welcome addition to this limp, lukewarm square of overcooked noodles and cheap cheese. I will say that it had a kidney-like bean in it and I liked that, but the two beans my portion had did not make up for the overwhelming mediocrity of the dish. NEXT.
Chicken with tomato sauce, potatoes, and…peas.
I won’t comment further on the peas; suffice it to say, this course was already taken down a notch by their presence on my plate.
Ok, once again – what country am I in again? Whoever decided that throwing the extra tomato sauce from the penne on top of the chicken and calling it “Italian” has no business in the kitchen. It was, again, edible – the chicken was only mildly rubbery and the completely underseasoned tomatoes at least gave it an ounce of flavor. The potatoes were…well, potatoes. If they had screwed up pan-fried potatoes, I might have just left; but these were fine. I like potatoes. That’s what these were, and no more.
So at this point, I was holding on by a thread and praying for a big, decadent dessert. And then reality was served. In a paper cup.
Do you remember Hoodsies, those little ice cream cups made by Hood that you ate with a wooden stick and were served at basically every school event ever? Well, apparently they’re an international phenomenon.
Actually, this wasn’t bad. The chocolate was nice and cocoa-y and the vanilla was suuuper creamy. A little artificial tasting, but really pretty good.
Ok, I bashed this dinner pretty harshly. It is important to consider that they were cooking for a LOT of kids that had completely taken over their restaurant and all wanted their food “NOW.” So to an extent, mediocrity in a meal is to be expected. But even this was low. I mean, we’re in Italy – even a big ball of fresh mozzarella with some tomato would have been fine. This meal was not Italian. In fact, it reminds me of eating at school…perhaps it was meant to make us nostalgic and prepare us to go home? Yes. We’ll go with that.
Thursday and Friday were more or less uneventful. Took the written portion of my cooking final, and while every last bit of knowledge my brain could hold about antioxidants, homocysteine, and bread-making spilled out off my pen as fast as it could go, our teacher made us post-test snacks. We’re not talking milk and cookies, people. Toast with goat cheese and fresh pear drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with nutmeg, followed by the most amazing shortbread cookies I have ever tasted with a chocolate sauce and a strawberry sauce for dipping. Have I mentioned I love this class? A million times? Make it a million and one. I love this class!!! [Sorry, no pictures – it was an eat-and-keep-writing situation!]
To keep things interesting, we decided to go to Fiesole for dinner. Fiesole is a hill town above Florence that was a big deal in the Etruscan age – they were actually more powerful than Florence. It’s a charming little town with incredible views. We have been, but none of us had eaten there—and you haven’t really been somewhere if you haven’t dined there, no?
We went to Ristorante Perseus, right in the central piazza. If the garlic cloves adorning every doorway didn’t make me love it, the plates did the trick:
I love restaurants with funky dishes. It’s just more fun to eat off fun plates! Oh, and check out the size of this pepper mill:
Holy whoa, this baby was longer than my arm! More fun décor J
Aside from the inevitable bread basket, they also brought a plate of flat bread-cracker-looking things:
Basically very flat focaccia, sprinkled with oregano and salt on top. YUM! They made for handy spoons for my meal:
Zuppa di gran farro – Spelt Soup!
I have had this a couple times before and have really liked it – this was no exception! A lovely drizzle of good olive oil with bread for soaking made this an absolutely delicious dish. Very soul-satisfying J And perfect for this ugly, damp, cold, un-May weather we’ve been suffering. Florence, we have one week left – get it together.
Friday we had planned to go to the beach in Cinque Terre, but the combination of dangerous-looking overcast skies and a very late night made those plans float away. No matter, we’re in Florence – there is always something to do! We took advantage of a free day to do some serious shopping. I got assorted presents, some jewelry, souvenir stuff that’s been on my list for ages, a watercolor print that I adore from a street artist, and a Moka coffee-maker. Mokas are an Italian household staple – it’s quite similar to a French press. You put water in the bottom part, then put ground coffee (we’ve been using espresso and I love it!) in a filter over the bottom part, and then screw on the top and put it over the stove to boil the water. It makes an amazing cup of coffee, and they are really affordable. I got one with polka dots 😉 I can’t wait to use it at home!
I put my chef hat on and made the roomies homemade bean burgers for dinner! The basic recipe is from Kath Eats Real Food, my favorite food blogger and an all-around cool chica;) Click here for her recipe page. Basically, you take beans (like kidney or cannellini – higher liquid content is better) with some whole wheat flour, mash them together and add whatever seasonings you want. For mine, I added chopped tomatoes, fresh garlic, sage, oregano, S + P, and a little olive oil. Form a patty with your hands (take your rings off!) and throw it on a pan. Leave it for a couple minutes—resist the urge to poke & prod!—and flip it when you shake the pan and the burger moves. They usually end up a little mushy but I adore them. I think they liked it 😉 I was supposed to make “fries” with the burgers with roasted potatoes, but I of course forgot to buy potatoes at the store. That made it considerably more difficult to make them. Oh well, the burgers were yummy! I was not in presence of mind and LuLu did not make an appearance.
Yup, the new camera has been christened – and it’s a girl! LuLu did accompany me on my Saturday adventure – San Gimignano, take 2! World Champion Gelato? Where do I sign?!!!
~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~

Roughing It

Ah, the weekend. What everyone looks forward to. This weekend was especially exciting though – for our last excursion, API took us to Siena and Perugia for a weekend of thorough relaxation. I would have to say this mission was most certainly accomplished.
We boarded the bus on Saturday morning  [for once not at the butt crack of dawn!] and headed to Siena, an idyllic Tuscan town a bit south of Florence. It is world-renowned for its natural beauty; in fact, if you google Tuscan landscapes, there’s a pretty good chance that one of the first pictures to pop up will be in Siena. I gave Frida a firm talking to before we left – this was not the trip to be without a camera, and her best behavior was mandatory. She grudgingly complied.
Siena’s Duomo.
Fun fact: The word ‘duomo’ has nothing to do with domes! It was taken from the German word for house and in Italy a “Duomo” is the “house of God”, meaning it is the most important church in its city.
Siena and Florence were HUGE rivals, and Siena began constructing their Duomo with plans to make it greater than Brunelleschi’s creation for Florence. They didn’t succeed, but this is nevertheless an immensely impressive structure. Just look at the detail!
InTENSE.
Main piazza – can you see the seashell shape?
Siena is also known for its horse race, a tradition dating waaaaaay back that draws thousands upon thousands of people into this small city. Siena is divided into sections called contrade, and each contrada has its own symbol and horse. Most of the symbols represent strength, including a rhinoceros, a griffin, and the tower on top of the elephant that you see above^. A horse representing each contrada gathers in the main piazza and in 75 seconds, it’s over and done with. The prize is pretty much the ability to say “hey, we won!”, but the loyalty to one’s contrada is fierce and quite endearing. Being the good little tourists that we are, we each bought a banner with the symbol of a different contrada on each.
I got the porcupine. Duh.
After our walking tour we went on a lunch-hunt. After a failed search for a recommended restaurant, we settled for another one, which turned out to be slightly mediocre, but fit the bill.
I was feelin the veggies today, and definitely made the right choices!
Melanzane alla griglia fatte in casa – Grilled eggplant made in-house
This was quite amazing, I will say. Very garlickly and tender. Perfect for this veggie-loving soul.
And bruschetta:
Certainly not the best I’ve had, but when in Italy it’s hard to find “bad” bruschetta. Olive oil, bread, fresh basil + tomatoes. Simply amazing…or amazingly simple?
After doing some souvenir shopping, we made sure to get some of the Sienese specialty called panforte, a kind of sweet whose recipe dates back to the Middle Ages when it was eaten as a kind of “trail mix” for the Crusaders.
Panforte al cioccolato
It’s a very dense mix of dried fruit, nuts (mostly almonds and pistachios), honey, and various spices. It was heavy on the cinnamon and cocoa – which I loved, and also on the orange rind – which I was not so much a fan of.Overall though, the cakey texture mixed with the variety of other textures and the complex flavors made this a very enjoyable treat for my tastebuds – those Crusaders had good taste!
Now, prepare to be jealous. The main event of the day was a trip to a thermal spa, located in the Rapolano area just outside of Siena. This area is located above thermal waters that have been enriched by the minerals of the soil deep within the earth. The Etruscans discovered that the minerals in the water were amazingly beneficial for the body both inside and out, helping everything from smoothing skin to cleansing the internal organs. There are many spas in this area that have tapped into the thermal waters and constructed pools for people to sit in and soak up the minerals to receive their many health benefits. 
Oh man, this was incredible. The water was like a warm, comforting bath, and it was so relaxing to just sit and soak and chat for a couple hours. I left feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and all-around happy.
Rough weekend so far, no?
After our perfectly lovely afternoon at the spa, we went to our hotel – the Grand Hotel Boston! They must have known I was coming (well, me and the hundred other kids with API from Mass…). In case we hadn’t been pampered enough just yet, API had planned a four-course dinner for us at the hotel. It was nothing more than your average hotel food, but we were excited for a free meal and to be waited on regardless!
They even had menus on the table for us:
The obligatory bread and wine:
First antipasto: CHEESE!
The upper one was tomino, a very soft creamy cheese that is exactly like brie in its consistency but has none of brie’s pungency. I enjoyed it, but it paled in comparison to this guy:
Maybe I was just starving, maybe I don’t eat fresh mozzarella plain often enough, but this tasted absolutely incredible. Soft, milky, with a rich mouth-feel but a light flavor. This was the most delicious bite of the entire meal.
Second antipasto: Fritture
This was an assortment of fried veggies and rice balls. I took a taste, but nothing more. When I was on my weight-loss diet, I completely cut out all things fried and ever since then, I can’t eat it without getting horribly sick. I can’t ever taste what has actually been fried, it all tastes like the same cheap, greasy lump to me. I also think I’ve developed a conditioned taste aversion – I immediately connect the taste of deep-fried food to the unbearable nausea that I’m always stuck with after, and I just can’t do it. Alas and alack, I simply cannot appreciate it. Perhaps some day…
First primi: Zuppa di verdure – Vegetable soup
Well, the name pretty much says it all. Soup of vegetables. It was a bit too salty, and not much more impressive than something that I can get out of a can. But, I’m always happy to have some fresh vegetables, and it was perfectly edible – just nothing more.
Second primi: Lasagna vegetariana
Apparently this hotel defines ‘vegetarian lasagna’ as regular ol’ lasagna without the ground meat; the only vegetables in here were the tomatoes in the sauce. It had a hint of what I thought was nutmeg, and I did appreciate that surprisingly little tough of sweetness. The crunchy outer noodles were also a nice contrast to the soft, melty middle. Not bad, just unremarkable. I probably ate about 3/4 of it.
Secondi: Roasted Chicken
This was actually pretty decent. Very simple salt+pepper+rosemary seasoning (although a little too heavy on the salt). Too much dark meat for my taste, and I will admit for the amount of work that goes into picking the meat of the bone, the acutal amount of edible chicken I was left with was not worth it. But, I enjoyed the few bites I had. Again, nothing special. It did get me excited for summer at home though – my dad makes a mean lemon-pepper bbq chicken!
Dessert
You know me; this was what I was waiting for. Unfortunately, it followed suite with the previous courses in its overwhelming mediocrity. It was kind of like a tiramisu cake; something like angel food cake with a whipped topping drizzled with a coffee-chocolate sauce and a light chocolate cream layer. The cake was only slightly better than tasteless, and the filling was more like a pastry cream with a hint of cocoa than a chocolate filling which I found disappointing. The whipped topping was like Cool Whip in texture (thankfully without the artificial chemically taste) with a coffee-cocoa drizzle that was clearly trying to imitate tiramisu, My main complaint is WHY did they not just make tiramisu (very hard to screw up) instead of producing this subpar impostor? But, it was dessert, and I of course had no problem lapping it up within minutes.
Ok, I kind of bashed the dinner a little bit; but I promise, it was a truly wonderful evening! It was the perfect end to a long, luxurious day and the company of my sweet roommates made the dinner a success. We had laughter, wine, and plenty to talk about – luckily for me, they like talking about food, so we discussed the dinner as we ate!
Morning brings my favorite part of staying in hotels: the free breakfast. Most important meal of day, right?
Tea, yogurt, muesli, a roll [which went uneaten], and MELON! If you had only seen my face when I saw that platter piled with infinite melon…like a kid on Christmas morning. I am a full-on melon addict, and could (and when I’m at school, do) eat it every day and never get sick of it. I must have gone back 4 or five times, probably at least half a melon’s worth! It was exactly what I wanted after that heavy meal the night before. I’m so excited for summer fruits!!!
After breakfast we boarded the bus and zoomed off to…
PERUGIA!
We entered the city through what was the residential area of the city in the Middle Ages. It was a huge labyrinth of arches where people used to live under one big roof, and was really cool to see.
I was too amused with this scene: the escalator leading down into the medieval residences. I am endlessly fascinated by past-meets-present collisions! *NERDALERT*
Perugia is located in the region of Umbria, just under Tuscany, known as the “Green Heart of Italy.”
Give you one guess why:
Those Etruscans looooved their aqueducts!
There were these little yellow flowers sprouting up out of the most random spots! Frida thought it was poetic.
Ca-RAZY church!

If ‘Perugia’ sounds familiar to you, it might be because it is the birthplace of the chocolate company Perugina. They produce Bacio (literally, ‘kiss’ – we have Hershey’s, Italy has Perugina!). A Bacio is a dark chocolate shell with a chocolate truffle filling dotted with chopped hazelnut and one whole hazelnut in the middle! Don’t worry, I have pictures coming tomorrow…patience, grasshopper.
This was our non-negotiable first stop.
Perugia is also home to one of the world’s most famous chocolate festivals! Every October, thousands of people flood the streets – they say you can smell chocolate everywhere! Fall Break trip to Italy, anyone?
LOOK at the Hedgehog cakes!!! Iwantonenow.
You may have noticed a key element missing from our trip so far…
GELATO! We quickly made up for its absence.
Raspberry + Bacio, because, well, when in Rome Perugia!
After a walking tour and an espresso in the sun, we were off to today’s main event: a wine tasting in Chianti!
Like I said…rough weekend.
It took place at Castillo di Verrazzano, as in the Verrazzano who discovered New York. I guess it’s not too surprising that his family has a castle, huh? We were welcomed by the owner, who was a very charming Italian man. He may have been a little too charming, because I couldn’t even dislike him despite the fact that I was absolutely green with jealousy over his “house”:
And I thought I had it rough.
He talked for a while about how wonderful it is to walk around a vineyard and take in every sight and smell it has to offer, because then when you taste its wine, you can appreciate it all the more. You can taste the cherries from the cherry tree, and the lemons growing on the lemon trees. Wine is not for “getting drunk”; as he said, a baby could get drunk! Wine is about respect. AMEN! To be honest, I only really like wine when I sip it slowly and only have a couple small glasses; I find I get bored with the flavor and forget to really ‘taste’ it if I just mindlessly pour and drink. And that takes all the fun away!
We proceeded with a tour of the castle & its cellars:

Their reserve bottles – check out that layer of dust!

We were all ushered in to a big room for the sit-down tasting. Just as I had hoped, the owner walked us through the first sip, explaining how to hold the glass, look at the color, check the alcohol content, and even how to smell it correctly! What I learned in Italy…
We started with a simple table wine, red of course:

Then proceeded to the Chianti Classico – this was my favorite:
What a fox, that Verrazzano.
Just like the other tastings, we were served lots of “snacks” with the wine that turned into a perfect dinner! Tuscan bread, olive oil, toasted garlic bread (my favorite), salami and prosciutto, pecorino (my love!), salad, white beans…the works. Oh, but I was happy.
We also got to taste one of the Reserve wines; I could definitely taste the difference in its age and quality, but to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite. It was too strong for my underdeveloped palate 😉 But it was such a fun experience!
We ended with the traditional cantucci (Tuscan biscotti) to dip in Vin Santo, the classic dessert wine.
Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. I liked this vin santo better than the last I had – less strong/bitter. I really like the two together! Really, I just love cantucci. A lot.
Before we left this beautiful trip behind and traveled back to the semi-reality of Florence, I took some pics of the castle’s “back yard”:
Now that’s rough.
~Namaste~

From Puccini to Pasqual

Oof, what an action-packed weekend! Lots was done, seen, and eaten – and plenty of fun was had to boot!
We started out Saturday on a day-trip with our study-abroad program API to the city of Lucca and an olive oil tasting. Lucca is a bit to the north of Florence, only about an hour or so away. I had actually been here several times already because the summer before my freshman year in college, my family rented a villa for a week just outside of Lucca. It was a great vacation, and I was happy to return! [Have I mentioned I love Tuscany? Cause I do. A lot.]
We began, as most of our API trips often do, with a guided walking tour of the city. It was a bit on the long side, but our guide was a little whacky, which always makes things more interesting! I do wish that the tour had been shorter so we could wander around more, but alas, it was not to be. I did learn some stuff though! The city is surrounded by a big old wall built (medieval era, I think – don’t quote me) to protect the city from the warring larger city-states nearby (like Firenze!). They even built a moat around the city and got all prepared for a HUGE battle, but on the day that the battle was set for, their opponents never showed up because they decided Lucca was too small to bother with! All dressed up and nowhere to go and no one to fight, they just kept the wall as is, and now it’s what Lucca is known for. I thought that was cute!
The amphitheatre (anfiteatro) here is actually one huge elliptical-shaped piazza! It was built in 2 AD and did look like a traditional amphitheatre (think small-scale Colosseum); in the Middle Ages, houses were built over the ruins that remained. You can still see a lot of the original wall layers here and there. How cool would it be to live over a Roman amphitheatre???

We also got to see the musical school that Puccini, who was also born in Lucca, studied at!! He went to the Boccherini Institute of Music, Boccherini being the dude that statue is of. I looove me some Puccini – my favorite Broadway musical ever is RENT, which is based on his opera La Boheme, but he also wrote Madame Butterfly and Tosca, to name a few. This may have been the coolest thing I saw in Lucca [music nerd alert!] 😉
This tower has a pretty cool story too. Those trees you can see on the roof are in fact growing out of the building – if you climb to the top room, you can see the roots in the ceiling! Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do it. Next time, right?
For a small town, Lucca sure has plenty of churches!
Actually, in the 2nd-to-last church we visited, I got rather angry. Just inside the church–a beautiful, centuries-old place of worship–were racks and tables of souvenirs and postcards. Inside the church. Really??????? Aaaargh, it was just so outlandishly wrong to me, I couldn’t handle it. That just seems beyond inappropriate and downright offensive. At that point, I was ready for the tour to end. And what better to turn my mood around than food?!
I ordered, of course, one of the local specialties:
Minestra di farro (spelt soup)
I actually had this first on our little day trip to San Gimignano, and adored it! This one, however, was a bit too “soupy” for me – I only like soup that is suuuper thick, otherwise I just feel like I’m eating water and it’s just not as fun for me. The flavor was good, and the bread helped (what doesn’t bread help, really?), but I think I will stick to Sergio’s & Mario’s for my Italian soup fix.
It wouldn’t be a complete trip without gelato!
Raspberry + soy vanilla
The raspberry was just ok – a little artificial-y tasting, but the soy vanilla was really good! It was without sugar, which I think hlped because it let the nautral sweetness of the vanilla flavor to really sing. Not quite as good as Perche No in Florence, but that would be near-impossible to beat. I have been noticing soy vanilla/chocolate gelato flavors more and more, and I think it’s great! Eating too much processed soy is something to be aware of, but in general it has a lot of benefits. And I really like the flavor of soy ice cream – creamy with a really nice nutty taste. I was content.
After our [short] afternoon in the city, we hopped back on the bus and headed for Fattoria il Poggio, a nearby  farm we were visiting for an olive oil tasting!
Though this would be my second olive oil tasting, at the first one we didn’t get much guidance as to how to go about tasting the oil or what to look for in the taste. At this one, our guide explained that the best way is to take some oil on a spoon and let it go directly to the back of your mouth/tongue, then roooooaaarrr like a lion! The roaring will send the oil closer to your nose and you can feel/taste/smell the fresh aroma of the olive oil. It was, needless to say, a very amusing day at the farm.
These are the machines used to make the olive oil! [Below is the cold press the squeeeeezes the olivey goodness right out!]
Olive trees galore!
Much like my first tasting, we were served bread and other little snacks to enjoy with our oil. No complaints here!
Olive oil with a dash of balsamic in it, sundried tomatoes, olives, and some the best Tuscan bread I’ve had yet. And I have had a loooot of it. I will admit, I liked the olives/oil from the San Gimignano farm better, but this bread was whoa-so-good.
Salami! Took me back to when I was little and would go to a little Italian specialty shop in my town with my mom and they would give my slices of cheese and salami over the counter. Food memories are the best kind 🙂
This is a kind of salami specific to Tuscany called finocchiona because it is dotted with fennel seeds. Now while I am generally at all interested in any kind of meat except seafood and the occasional turkey or chicken bite, this was delicious. I made a mental note to seek this out in Florence–it would make a phenomenal sandwich!!! I need to describe it as I eat it because the flavor is so different and complex I can’t find the words, but just trust me – it’s good.
We finished with the classic Tuscan dessert of cantucci (basically Tuscany’s biscotti) and vin santo, a sweet dessert wine.
These are little bites of almondy sweet wonderfulness. They are not obnoxiously break-your-tooth crunchy but juuust soft enough to really bite into and then crumble in your mouth. 
This vin santo I actually really didn’t like very much; too alcoholic-acidic and not very sweet. I have had vin santo before and really enjoyed it, but this was meh. Blame my underdeveloped palate, I guess.
I am planning on trying this again in Florence [pretty much any restaurant you go to in Tuscany will have this on their dessert menu], just because I know I’ve had it before and liked it. And those cantucci rock!
We returned to Florence for a few hours and then went right back out – to our first soccer match!!! I was SO excited. Soccer is the sport here, and Florence’s team Fiorentina is like the Red Sox to Boston. They were playing Milan’s team Inter, who have been doing reaaaallly well and if they beat us tonight they would go on to  play for the championships. All donning our purple Fiorentina gear (I wore my Firenze sweatshirt), we took the bus to the stadium and let the games begin! I didn’t bring my camera because they warned us about the intense security checkpoints and I was afraid they wouldn’t let me in with it or something [you just never know in Italy], but it was lots of fun! I forgot how much I love soccer, both watching and playing. I guess a lot of people find it boring to watch because it takes a lot longer for a team to score than in football or basketball, but that is what I love about it! It’s so tense and keeps you on the edge of your seat, but not for too long, and I really like the fact that they have to work so hard for just one goal. It makes it all the more exciting when it happens! It was so fun to be in the stadium surrounded by the Italian fans and feel the atmosphere (and learn Italian swearwords). The game ended in a 2-2 tie. I also developed a major crush on defenseman Manuel Pasqual- #23, because he was reaaallly good and wore neon yellow cleats. 
It was the neon cleats that really did it for me.
My weekend adventures took me even further north on Sunday…stay tuned!
~Namaste~

Just…Odd.

Today was…odd. Specific, I know, but I can’t quite use any other words to describe it.
Last night was, um, not so good. I walked out of yoga into an intense rain storm, thunder and lightning to boot, and returned home soaked. It stopped pretty quickly (after I was inside, of course), and we headed out in the spirit of Ethnic Tuesday to find a recommended Indian restaurant somewhat nearby. I guess I didn’t eat enough yesterday, but between trying to go to yoga with a mostly-empty stomach (in general  it’s just NOT a good idea to do yoga on any kind of a full stomach…just trust me) and then waiting for everyone to get ready, well, my roommates got to meet Hypoglycemic Gillian. She’s not a very pleasant person to be around; in fact, she’s mean, nasty and just generally someone to avoid. However, I have had enough experience with her cameo appearances in my years that I have trained her to, instead of “speaking her mind” (her vocabulary is pretty small – lots of 4-letter words), become very very quiet. Not only did we get lost a couple times on the way, but it took about an hour for the server to bring us our dinner. It was not exactly the fun time I had planned, because I ADORE Indian food! And after my trip to India, it’s really fun for me to relive my amazing experience there through the cuisine. This restaurant was quite good, though – I ordered my favoritest dish aloo gobhi (although they called it something else, I think gobi sulemani…but really, it’s all the same thing). It’s basically potatoes and cauliflower cooked and spiced and I love it. Unfortunately because of the aforementioned low blood sugar, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture before wolfing it down, but it looked a little something like this:
Try it!!!
I wasn’t able to go to bed early last night for reasons out of my control, and I can feel the dark circles under my eyes today. Ick, hate that feeling! Italian was….well, where the oddness began. We played a game with the other class and their teacher is quite a character! I mean that in the best possible way – he was hilarious. I was so energized after that class I almost didn’t go back to bed when I came home…almost. The grocery store refuses to restock the oats, and so I pretty much had nothing to stay awake for. Woke up a couple hours later, and it was off to Sergio’s for lunch! Truly one of the highlights of my week. I just love it.
Zuppa di verdure (vegetable soup)
I ordered this warily, a little worried that it would be too “soupy” – I have a serious problem with brothy soups. In fact, until I came here, I pretty much refused to eat them! But here they are more stew-like which I love, and I trusted Sergio’s to deliver. And oh boy, did they. This was great! Just brothy enough to soak up with the bread but I didn’t feel like I had to slurp my lunch. It was a big bowl of zucchini, carrots, potatoes, black cabbage, beans…and probably more. We left very happy!
It was on to the market for some fresh veggies & fruit after that! I know I’ve said it intimidates me, but I think I’m getting more comfortable. I really love going and wandering around – it’s just a really interesting place to be.
And then something EXCITING happened – I got an email that said a package for me had arrived!!!
Valentine’s PEZ, Chocolate Mousse Bunny Peeps (!), Jelly Bellies, a super cute card, a perfume sample, an article of the hottest-man-alive-aka Michael Buble, and my food scale. My family loves me:)
And my roommates will love me because I am about to put that food scale to good use – baking time!!!
I got hungry early again and made an easy dinner:
Whole wheat penne, arugula, cherry tomatoes, cucumber (which I haven’t had in forever!! my fave veggie), with pecorino in a mustard-balsamic vinaigrette. It fit the bill, but was missing a certain something…I think some bell pepper, more cheese, and a protein (beans?) would help. I’ll work on it.
I think today’s oddness was mostly a kind of “blah” feeling. Very much like the weather today actually – it was sunny, but when you looked up you only saw clouds. Odd. Felt a little homesick, but then a little heartsick when I thought about leaving here…lots of things whirling around in my head.
Tonight I had a concert to attend for my music class. Mauro Pagani is a singer/guitarist/violinist/flautist, and this particular concert was in the theme of World Sacred Music Week. It was really eclectic, some songs reminded me of Billy Joel, others of Santana, and others of Irish jigs! It was Pagani and then a guy on drum set and another on keyboards/accordion. I really loved it, and I hope I can find a CD. It was in one of many churches here, near the Ponte Vecchio, which really gave it a cool sound. It was so fun and so unique! You could really see how much the musicians were enjoying themselves too, which is just an awesome thing to witness. Lots of improvising!! And it was really relaxed – Pagani came on stage in a sweatshirt and khakis! It was such a cool night. I definitely encourage looking this guy up – this was some wicked cool music.
I considered getting gelato on the way home, but decided I was too cold. But I was ravenous when I came home and, um….well, a liiiittle too much food was just consumed. Whoops. Just goes to show how important to is to listen to cravings – a gelato would have caused a lot less damage than I just did. I’m still not quite ready for bed, I can tell I will just lie there for a while, so I think I will go do some yoga.
What a day.
~Namaste~

Studying in Candy Land

Did you ever play the board game Candy Land? You know, the one with the gum drop path, and your favorite character was Queen Frostine because she was the prettiest? Well, somewhere between Candy Cane Forest and Gum Drop Mountain, I think Hasbro forgot to add something…
Cinnilla-date VolcanOats!
Oats + almond milk + cinnamon + a chopped date. The date is soft enough that when you throw it in the pot it melts in with the oats. Make a hole in the middle of the bowl and pour in your vanilla lava, add some extra cinnamon “ash”, and BAM! Flavor eruption! 
…Wow, sometimes I cheese even myself out. But come on. I had to say it.
Even though dates have a much higher glycemic load – meaning the sugar in them releases into your blood faster and spike your blood sugar – the oats are full of slow-releasing carbs that balance out your blood sugar level and keep you happy. Just in case you were wondering if I’ve been studying for my nutrition mid-term…I have. And you lucky duck, are reaping the benefits of my studiousness!
I had another rough night sleep-wise and today was hard to get through – but I didn’t take a nap! Wednesday means a trip to the market – which still intimidates me. I just feel like my “Americanness” is even more blatantly obvious there. Kinda the “oh gee. another english-speaking student. here we go” sense from the vendors. And then others that are perfectly sweet. No matter, I have been reading aaaalll about why it’s important to buy local produce, and that’s more important than “bad vibes.”
Wednesday also means lunch at Sergio’s:
Minestra di farina gialla (soup made with maize flour).
This was super yummy, if not particularly aesthetically pleasing. I could really taste the maize and it was full of veggies which of course, I loved. Oh Italian soups, how will I face another winter without thee?
I also met a new man today. He’s an Earl!
You got all excited there for a minute, didntcha?
This was really great tea! The floral taste from the bergamot in the earl grey went really well with the earthiness of green tea. I’d highly recommend!
I talked my roomie into going to a cafe with me to study – it’s dangerous to be around computers sometimes. So much procrastination material at our fingertips. So we stopped by the cafe on our street that happens to be a chocolate store for cappuccinos. No chocolate…but I’ve got another 2 months here. Don’t you worry.
Mid-terms has definitely fried my brain a little. I definitely feel more scattered and I apologize if the blog is reflecting it! Spring break’s a comin…mmmm sleeeeepp.
I did some yoga when we got back – just some nice, gentle flows. It really is the best medicine. And I knew I would be happier doing that than taking a nap. I was right.
Dinner.
Whole wheat pasta + veggies.
I love how yellow bell peppers brighten up a plate! Pretty food tastes better.
More studying commenced…I am a walking encyclopedia of basic nutrition. But I will be completely honest – I love studying this stuff. It’s absolutely fascinating. I love that I can explain the breakdown of fats, and slow versus fast-release carbs and glycemic load…I’m a geek. And PROUD of it!
It didn’t take long for my brain to start yelling “bed time NOW.” There was more studying to be done and a blog post to be written…but health comes first. And sleep won. So until tomorrow…
~Namaste~

Night & Day

Did that get your attention?
I didn’t in all honesty know how to start this post, but i figured a picture is worth a thousand words – that’s a good way to start, no?
Apple-cinnamon vanilla YOGOATS (yogurt + oatmeal)!
I diced an apple and threw it in the oat pot to let it cook and soak in the cinnamon, and then layered my yogurt and oats because, well, it’s pretty!
After my delicious parfait, my roommate Alaina and I wandered out to see if we could find the great hole-in-the-wall restaurant the fam and I discovered during our day trip here. No luck yet, but I keep remembering little details – I’m pretty sure there was a statue of a pig outside – and the area looked really familiar, so it will just take a bit more exploring hopefully.
We checked out the Santa Spirito market, a kind of flea market across the Arno…
I love the trees on top of the building.
Ducks & gulls!
The Arno certainly doesn’t have the, ahem, prettiest water, but it has beauty in its own right [IMO].
This is the Santo Spirito piazza. It’s a charming little piazza. And clearly the cool place for pigeons.
The market was quite small, but it was a nice walk.It was about then that we realized we had been walking for a loooong time, and our stomach were starting to ask for lunch!
My major advisor (and Florentine aficionado) who I adore sent me a list of places to go here, and upon reviewing the list yesterday, I was thrilled because I actually knew where all the places were! I decided that today was the perfect day to try one of the lunch places he recommended, very nearby to our apartment in Piazza San Lorenzo. When my professor first went, there were no tables, no cash register, and no plastic – just FOOD. It has gotten an upgrade since then, but I loved the atmosphere. Quaint and simple. And great prices!
I ordered passato dei fagioli e cavolonero – bean and black cabbage soup. I am totally digging the thick Italian bean soup + tuscan bread combo. I could eat it every day.
YUM!
My friend got fresh spaghetti that also rocked. There is no doubt that I will most certainly be back. Multiple times.
I wandered home after that and did some errands. At around 5 I decided it was mocktail time…
Orange-lemon-carrot juice with seltzer (aka fizzy water). Makes me want to get a juicer!
I had completely forgotten that tonight I had tickets (via my study abroad program API) to the OPERA! Thank goodness my roommate reminded me – opera in Italy? Yes, please.
I threw together a simple salad – just spinach, tomatoes, and pecorino. The real star of the show was SQUASH! Yes, more squash. It was yummy! 
Batch #1: Olive oil, garlic powder, sea salt, rosemary, fresh(ish) basil
For some reason tonight  they took forever to roast, and after an hour of oven-time, I got impatient and pan-roasted them. Not as crispy as I like, but still good.
Batch #2: Olive oil, rosemary, cinnamon, sea salt
These weren’t as good as last night’s, although after I took them out the idea popped into my head to throw some of my pear jelly on them, and it was quite tasty!
Off to the opera! 
Because it was an API activity, we met at the Piazza della Reppublica to go as a group. It was so pretty at night!
Yes, that is a working carousel. Yes, it’s on my to-do list.
Bellisima!
The opera was at the Teatro Comunale, very near the Arno:
Nosebleed seats. Can’t complain!
The opera was Adriana Lecouvrer, a four-act Italian opera by Francesco Cilea (didn’t ring any bells for me – anyone know of him?) with a libretto by Arturo Colautti. It is actually based on a play by Eugene Scribe and Ernest Legouve. It’s about, as you may have guessed, Adriana Lecouvrer who was a major stage actress in France in the late 17th-early 18th century. Classic tragedy, lots of confusion, deception and adultery – the usual. I very much enjoyed it. I totally want to play the role of the villainess – she has the best entrance song and the best costumes. Don’t they always?
Case in point.
(Yes, I was a deranged child who idolized Maleficent and the Wicked Witch of the West. What can I say, I liked the women with power!)
The soprano had a completely amazing voice, and one of the male leads was really fantastic. They showed the subtitles in Italian, for which I was very grateful (I can hardly understand opera when it’s in English, much less another more foreign language), and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I understood them.
I had a general idea of where I was and how to get home, but because it was dark and I was alone, I called home and talked on my cell phone while I walked, just for an extra sense of security. No worries, I made it home fine. The map of Florence is really starting to click in my head – even if I get lost, I eventually find a street I recognize. Even a lefty can learn directions!
A lovely night indeed. Getting up at 7 AM for class…not so lovely. This, however, made my morning considerably more exciting:
Opposites attract: Choco-oats + vanilla yogurt.
This was even better than it looks. I think it’s the cocoa powder here, it seems a little finer and a bit richer maybe? This was up there with brownies fresh from the oven. Make this now.
I am getting ready to go to my cooking class, and I will return with pictures…see you soon!

Bad Umbrellas in Poggibonsi

The title will make sense, all in good time.

Today was a very exciting day: visit to the World Champion of gelato within the walls of a beautiful Tuscan medieval hill town? Yes please.

As usual, our travel day was a rather gray one, but we were prepared and have come to expect it. Got up and whipped up some oats to hold me over through the various modes of transportation we would be taking to reach the coveted gelato:

I made this morning’s bowl with this:
Pear sauce! Mott’s makes some but it’s not unsweetened and tastes rather syrupy to me. Yes, I am an applesauce snob.
It tastes just like cobbler, which is funny because I’m really not a cobbler/fruit pie fan at all, but I like this because the flavors are simple and I love the texture of the oats. Try it sometime!
We cut it a bit close getting to the train station, but we made it with only a few seconds of jogging involved. The train system here is super easy and pretty cheap, and it’s fun. I like trains because you can get on and just chill out. In Tuscany there is never a lack of beautiful views! But even if you’re on a train going into Boston or anywhere where the outside is not so picturesque, it’s a great place to people-watch. You can tell a lot about someone based on how they act on a train ride. And if you’re an anthropology geek like me, it’s great!
Once at the Poggibonsi (a.k.a best town name EVER) train station, we had to take a bus to San Gimignano. Buses here are also easy – you can get the tickets at pretty much any tabaccheria, which is just a general convience store. There are usual multiple on a single street.
The bus ride gave us a taste of the beautiful landscapes:
(I will try not to overload you with pictures, but if you want to see more, just go to my photobucket album: http://s32.photobucket.com/home/NorbertsShiksa)
We arrived to this:
Btw, San Gimignano is often called the “Tuscan Medieval Manhattan.” Love it.
After that tempting bus ride, the first thing we did before entering the town was hop off and snap some pictures:
San Gimignano is in the Chianti region, best known for its – you guessed it – wine! We passed SO many pretty vineyards.They make for gorgeous landscapes.
After the photo-op, our next mission was, of course, food. It’s just over an hour-long train ride and the bus is about 20 minutes long, but that doesn’t include the “hurry up and wait” time in between. We were hungry signorinas!
We walked into the city walls and did a bit of window shopping…
We stumbled upon a cute little taverna nestled in a corner of the wall and decided it looked good enough.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? When in Chianti…order some wine with lunch! And we did.
Even I wouldn’t say no to a taste. I’m certainly no connoisseur (yet?), but this was notably tastier than any other wine I’ve tasted. Sorry I can’t be more helpful on that front – I’m working on it. I decided several years ago that I would not drink, mostly because there’s a bit of family history that shows it as being a tad, er, over-used, and also because I’m just not a fan of the taste (with the notable exception of Prosecco!). But, I do like and understand the concept of wine as a complement to a certain type of flavor on food and I would like to learn how to “taste” it, because it is very interesting. So, hold the Green Apple Martini and the kegger – bring me the sommelier!
I have so far really enjoyed choosing the most interesting thing on the menu, because even if it’s not good, it always makes for an interesting story (and none of them have yet to disappoint). So today, I chose zuppa di farro – literally translated ‘soup of spelt.’ Many who know me also know that I am not a big fan of soups, but in the past year or so I have been able to specify that I love thick, stew-like soups, which are quite popular in Italian/Tuscan cuisine. And like I said, I’m having fun ordering the weird stuff!
It is full of black-eyed peas and another kind of bean (not white enough to be cannellini, around the size of kidney beans) with (what I assume were) gnocchi-like balls of spelt pasta. Topped with good olive oil. It was so tasty! Especially with good Tuscan bread as a spoon 🙂
After we got some “real food” in our bellies, it was gelato time. Out we wandered to find the central piazza…
And there it was. The sign, the door…right in front of us.
You might notice a small white sign on the door. Spelling our doom.
Closed for work/vacation until March 7th. Yup.
Now, I thought this was hilarious. I mean, I was doubled over and crying I was laughing so hard! We came to this gorgeous medieval hill town for ONE thing…and it’s closed! My companions were, er, less than amused. But come on, you gotta laugh at these things people!
We turned around (literally, pivoted in our spot) and there was a gelateria in front of us, waiting with the consolation prize:
Maybe it’s not the world’s best. But it is very difficult to go wrong with tiramisu gelato. I also got the yogurt flavor, and together it was like tiramisu cheesecake…mmmm. 2nd best ain’t so bad!
After our let-down and pick-me-up, we decided to just wander. It was a cold and blustery day! It is such a beautiful place to be, I enjoyed trying to catch my breath from the landscapes all around:
I loved this completely random stop light. We saw maybe one car actually driving through the streets. I was amused.
[These 2 pictures courtesy of Alaina]
Roomie love!
Lunging back up the street. Gotta get that work-out in somehow!
We followed a sign pointing to a “panoramic point” down a secret passageway!
Alright, maybe not so secret, but I can pretend.
More beautiful views ensued…
At this point, those threatening grey skies started to spit on our camera screens, and we decided it was time to do our shopping and head on home. Hand-painted pottery is BIG in San Gimignana (if you’ve ever been to Lucca, you see very similar stuff there), and it was fun to walk around the shops looking at all the pretty dishes and olive oil carafes and what-not. Someone’s getting a present from me – but sshh, it’s a secret 🙂
We also stopped into an artist’s store who does watercolors of San Gimignano & Tuscan scenery. I fell in love with one of the original, but 25 euro was a little too steep for me. No worries, I fell just as hard for another print:
SO pretty. It’s just like a photo on first glance. I could stare at it forever!
By the time we walked out, it was, well, rather miserable. Cold, almost hurricane-like winds and raining. So, I finally broke down and spent the lousy 3 euro on an umbrella. Red, of course! It took about 5 minutes outside  for this to happen…
Yes, that would be a couple of inside-out umbrellas. But, it was probably worth it for the laughs!
Cold and wind-blown (and ripped-off by an umbrella store), we stopped into a cafe for cappuccinos while waiting for the bus. Good espresso + foam  makes everything better!
We hopped back on the bus happily, and on the scenic route back, mostly decided that we could live here, like, tomorrow. Start a farm, sell some wine. Sounds good to me.
Our train was, of course, delayed, so we got back a little later than hoped for. Dinner was an egg thrown on top of some veggies and various munching afterwards. Nothing too photo-worthy.
Some might say our day was less than spectacular, but I had a great time. Beautiful scenery, good food, lots of laughs. And it may or may not have ended with me translating Josh Groban’s Italian songs. Sometimes I’m such a geek, even I laugh at me. But it was fun 🙂
Oh, and if I didn’t make it clear in this post…go to San Gimignano when you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed.
~Namaste~