Thursday, February 25, 2010

SuperSize THIS

I know I've said it before, but I really love my cooking class. Like, really really.

Today we watched the movie SuperSize Me, the documentary about (and made by) Morgan Spurlock who ate McDonald's food three times a day for 30 days in order to prove just how toxic fast food really is. This was my third time watching it, but I realized that each time I've seen it, I've been at a different place in my life in terms of my own eating habits and preferences. I first saw it when it first came out on video in my high school health class.  got it, it grossed me out, but I was never a Mickey D regular anyway, so I didn't put too much thought into it. The 2nd time I saw was the spring of my freshman year in college, a time when I was overly conscious of calories and fat - and really had no real concept of what those things actually are. Now, I am a bit more enlightened on the nutrition-front and less concerned with caloric value as I am with the quality and freshness of the ingredients. It was really interesting to see it from my newer perspective. There is a downside - that movie makes me incredibly angry with the U.S. food industry. Especially in the discussion of school food programs. It would be so simple to get more natural, healthily-prepared and nutrition-conscious foods in any and all schools, and yet nothing is done about it because of MONEY. WHAT are kids supposed to do when the french fries are a dollar and the turkey sandwich on whole grain bread is 4??? It really just infuriates me. Opinions/comments/thoughts?

Back to my class - to bring home the point that food can be delicious AND good for you, my teacher made (because we were watching the movie, he did the majority of the cooking) fresh burger, fresh fries, and homemade ice cream. And it was...well, a foodgasm, quite frankly. He made and baked the bread for the buns, the beef was bought and ground right in front of my teacher this very morning, and the fries were simply baked potato slices with rosemary, garlic and olive oil (which my mom makes a lot and I ADORE them!). We topped the burgers with fresh mozzarella and had sauteed spinach and mushrooms as a side.

1. Next time you make a cheeseburger, use fresh mozzarella (don't melt it on top, just throw it on). I don't even LIKE cheeseburgers, and this was amazing.
2. This bun was some of the best bread I've ever had. Yes, I will be emailing my teacher for the recipe. Holy. Yum. 
3. Never in my LIFE have I tasted ground beef like this. After giving up red meat for a year in 2008, I realized how much don't care for it...but clearly it's because I had never tasted this. I didn't eat all of it, because I still really can't eat it in large portions...but whoa. This burger blew my mind tastebuds.
(In case you are curious, he grilled the patties on a dry skillet and towards the end of cooking time poured white wine over them to dry up any excess fat in the burgers.)
4. Make these "fries." You will never feel the need to darken the doorway of the Golden Arches again.

Have I convinced you of the ridiculous deliciousness of my meal yet? No? Well, wait for the grand finale...
What my pictures lacks in aesthetic appeal, the contents made up for and then some with taste.
That would be homemade berry gelato, eaten within minutes of being ready. It was a mix of strawberries and some raspberries, and then a little orange thrown in, with just 2 eggs, a liiiiitle bit of sugar and skim milk.
In my ice cream rankings, it is currently tied with my grandfather's homemade peach ice cream (which is a SERIOUSLY difficult thing to even come close to, much less beat out). Yes, it was that good. *Tip*: The pink color means the berries are perfectly fresh; when the color is redder, it means artificial something-or-other has been added.

As you may imagine, I floated out of that class on quite the food high and took a walk. Really, I was in search of the Culinary Institute of Florence building, just because I know what street it's on and I just really want to see it. Ended up getting semi-lost, one of my favorite things to do in this city, and unfortunately didn't find it (I think I walked the wrong way down the street. It's a long street.) I made a trip to the grocery store and headed on home. I was makin dinner tonight!

One of my roommates wanted to make bruschetta, and did a lovely job:

Nothin like fresh bruschetta in Italy. So. Good.

I have heard several times from various sources about lasagna made with thinly sliced eggplant and zucchini instead of the noodles, and I figured there's no better place to try it out than in Italy! It turned into more of an "Italian pie", but hey, it was good. Needs some improvement, but here is what I did:
-Rub the bottom of a pan lightly with olive oil (or use PAM - they don't have it here).
-Place thin slices of eggplant on the bottom (I should have cooked it a teeny bit before I did this)
-Layer that with cannellini beans and pasta if desired (I threw probably under a half a cup of whole wheat penne in there, to add a little bean + grain perfect protein combo)
-Place fresh mozzarella slices and then layer with zucchini
-Cover with sauce (I would recommend layering the sauce more throughout, because I like more sauce. I just didn't have enough).
*For the sauce, I heated up a pan slightly drizzled with olive oil and garlic and added a can of crushed tomatoes, basil, salt and oregano.*
I topped it with the remainder of my pecorino sardo cheese (grated), which made a really yummy thin crust on top.
It was pretty good, but there is room for improvement. Difficult to cut - maybe I will cube the veggies next time and go for more of a pie effect.

No complaints = Good sign!
 I recommend serving it with some good Tuscan bread. But then, I recommend serving everything with good Tuscan bread...

Off to Rome very early tomorrow, and I have been procrastinating packing. I'm not over-the-moon excited about it, but I am bound and determined to see the Sistine Chapel, and that I am excited about. And restaurants. And gelato. Ok, I'm a little excited about it.

I will be back Sunday evening - with lots of pictures!


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.
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.

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!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carpe Diem Tuesday

Ciao a tutti! Smile - it's almost hump day!

I had a rather difficult morning. I barely slept, which is especially frustrating since I was exhausted and even got to bed at a reasonable hour. I walked to class in icky rain. My Italian class went pretty well today though - we had a subsitute teacher and there was something about her I really liked. She seemed to move at a faster pace, which helped energize me and get me out of my lack-of-sleep fog.

When I came home I was faced with a dilemma of dire proportions: go back to sleep or make breakfast? I attempted sleep first, but my stomach got the best of me. Oat-time it was!

Today I used this delectable comestible from the1- euro store:
Apple-blueberry sauce!
Add it to cinnamony oats...
Appley, blueberry-y, cinnamony goodness!

Not long after, I started crashing and gave in to the nap-urge. It was either that or do nothing productive and think about all day. Slept for about two hours, which got me up to a grand total of maybe 4 hours? Ick. I've dealt with worse though, I'm a tough cookie :)

I got up and made some coffee. Made a second breakfast that got a little messy...
I have resolved to turn myself into an egg person, at least while I am here, because it is a perfect protein, cheap, and protein is generally a bit lower for me. Carbs, though - noooo problemo. Got those covered. ANYway, I have been experimenting with soft-boiled eggs and I have yet to conquer the cracking skill. As you can quite clearly see. No matter...

It still tasted good! Those little toast things are all the rage in Europe. They are like little mini toast crackers, about the size of my palm. When I was at my homestay in France and lived with a little old French lady named Monique, I had these every morning with nutella and her homemade strawberry confiture. Mmmmm :)

I was determined to not let this Tuesday turn into another day of 'blah.' After breakfast #2, I worked on my scrapbook. I brought a journal with me, but since I started the blog, I haven't felt the need to write in it as often, so I have turned it into my study-abroad scrapbook. I've been holding on to various tickets, tags, business cards, etc. for this purpose and it's been piling up. It's gonna be a prettttty sweet scrapbook!

Then, I took a walk. I will NOT be in Florence sitting on my butt all day in the apartment because I'm tired. Nope. So out I went! The great thing about this city is that you can just walk anywhere and there is so much to look at. I really had no earthly idea where I was going or where I was, but it didn't matter. And my golden rule here is "all roads lead to the Duomo," which semi-true. After about 45 minutes it occurred to me that I was starving, and so I found my way to the Duomo and headed on home. I passed by our favorite bakery on our street and as usual noticed the interesting looking olive-studded rolls that I have been dying to try. I walked by, figuring I would just wait to go home, and then I stopped - if not now, WHEN? I turned right around and got me one:

I was expecting a crispy, crunchier bread, but this was light and fluffy and olivey. Yum! It felt GREAT too, to just do it and stop saying "oh, next time." Carpe diem was my theme today :)

I decided I needed something a little more substantial before yoga club, so I threw some spinach and parmeggiano reggiano in a pan, and put it over a little (we're talking half a cup max) whole wheat penne and tomato. It fit the bill quite nicely.

Yoga was really nice. The style is a little new to me, but it is a very relaxing, meditative class and I love it. The teacher is really cool too. And on my walk home, a little old man was playing the accordion in the street. It was like being in a movie. Made me smile.

As part of my 'carpe diem' day, I picked something up at the grocery store that I have been eyeing: SQUASH! I have wanted to make roasted squash for ages because I adore roasted sweet potatoes (SO far superior to french fries) and today was the day!
I cut some up into long wedges and some up into little, chunky wedges, just to see which one I liked better. I seasoned them with a little olive oil and sea salt, and then cinnamon + a sprinkle of cane sugar on some, cinnamon + honey  on some, and rosemary on some. I love playing with my food :)

I ended up liking the little wedges a little more - they got crispier and held the flavors better. The bigger ones didn't quite cook enough. I like a little char ;)

I have a good bit of reading to do, but I still feel good about today because I stopped thinking, planning, making excuses and started DOing. It's an awesome feeling.

Tomorrow I am wandering over to the other side of the river to check out a market there and see if I can find the restaurant the fam and I ate at when we visited Firenze a couple summers ago. And, hey, who knows what else will happen?!


Monday, February 22, 2010

The Blog Problem

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

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

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

Speaking of eats...
(My camera, like me, is NOT a morning person - had a liiiiiittle trouble focusing this AM)
Breakfast! Oats + peach yogurt and a pear. The yogurt here is super thin, and the oats not only add that yummy grainy flavor but also thicken up the yogurt. If you haven't tried raw oats and yogurt, put it on your list - mm mm mmmm!

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

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

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

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

Found a decent enough looking sandwich at a bar on the way back to my apartment. I'm not gonna lie; the main reason I chose this one is because the guy behind the counter is cuuuuuute. Sue me.
Vegetarian on schiacciata, which is a kind of bread (only called schiacciata in Firenze) a bit like focaccia. Salty, olive oil baked in the top, crispy but fluffy...mmm. I like. A little on the greasy side, but it was much more preferable to my arm, which was my next nearest option. It's not easy to find a bad sandwich in Italy; sometimes they are nothing special, but very rarely can they be classified as bad. Man, I love Italian bread. (P.S. those black spots are the result of me not paying attention to the pan...still tasted good.)

Most of my day was spent in a bit of a daze - didn't get much sleep last night and had a bit of a tummy ache from the night before. I lay down for a little, but mostly just dozed.

We wanted to go to a sushi place for dinner, but they were all either closed (Monday is NOT the night to go out to dinner) or too expensive, so we decided to go for aperitivo at the place across the street. All I really wanted was some Prosecco and bread anyway, so that worked for me! Aperitivo is an Italian pre-dinner tradition; you go to a bar or cafe and you play a flat rate for a drink and then there is a buffet - size and types of food vary from basic finger foods like bruschetta to full-on pasta dishes - that is unlimited. It's great for students as a cheap dinner out with a drink included. The place across the street from our apartment has a huge buffet with lots of options, so we just walked on over.

Mmmm, Prosecco. Might as well live it up while I can, no?!
I like aperitivo because I, as you know, will try anything, especially if it's bite-size. This style of eating fills me up from tasting many different bites, and it's very satisfying because of the flavor variety. It would be very easy to overeat, but it's more fun if you just take a little of this and a bite of that. I did have several pieces of bread, though - I was craving it tonight for some reason. Italy is a really good place to have that particular craving. They also had crab legs and shrimp, which were de-LISH. Seafood + bread = happy me.

I should start thinking about bed soon - 8 AM Italian kind of kills nightlife for me. Good thing it holds little appeal to me, I guess. I am going to sip my chamomile tea and hit they sack. Happy Monday/Lunedi!


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Imperfectly Perfect

It was a beautiful day in Firenze. I got to sleep in (didn't sleep so well last night, so I slept in a little later than planned :), awoke to a bright and sunny day, and got to try this for breakfast:

I saw the Fage brand on the side and without even looking at the rest of the label said "Oooh, vanilla greek yogurt, SCORE!" You may notice (unlike I did) that the label says Risolata. Well, yogurt in Italian is, um, yogurt, so that certainly wasn't what this was. It turned out to be vanilla rice pudding! I had never had rice pudding, but my mother adores it and I was anxious to see if this mistake was a sweet one.
Verdict: HOLY YUM! It tasted like whipped cream, and the rice added a nice texture contrast as well as a good grainy flavor. This was a little expensive for just one cup - around 1.24 euro - so it is only an occasional treat, but worth it. I have never seen it in U.S. stores (even my beloved Whole Foods), but if you see it, I would recommend giving it a try!

After some green tea and blogging, me and a couple roomies ventured out to Piazzale Michelangiolo, a point on a hill on the other side of the Arno River (called Oltrarno) that overlooks all of Florence. If you've seen pictures of Florence, chances are they were taken from this point. And as it was a gorgeous day and we in dire need of getting OUT, we decided no day but today! (RENT, anyone?)
Of course, the minute we stepped outside our building, the clouds started to roll in. Indeed, by the time we made it there, it was on the verge of pouring. But weather has yet to stop me, and so it shall remain!
On Sunday, Firenze is hoppin, especially in the historic center. Lots of people = LOTS of dog-walkers! I have resisted taking pictures lest I be labeled a creepy American tourist, but today I saw this baby and gave in:

Airedale! Almost a Wheaten, but nothing you can't beat MY baby:
Too precious!

After crossing the Ponte Vecchio, we stopped for some photo ops:

Oltrarno is so much calmer. I plan on wandering around there, especially to search for the wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurant my family and I found during our visit here. I am bound and determined to find it and go again!
Check out these funky trees!
See the cute couple through the gate? It was too perfect to not photograph.

Florence is nestled between many hills of the Tuscan countryside. And when I say hills I mean "watch out San Francisco, you've got some competition"-type hills.Our destination is located at the top of one, which meant climbing up some of these:
And a few of these:

It is beyond worth it in the end, though. The view is...incomparable.

It was SO cool to see the Duomo from above - it's fun to know we walk down there everyday!

TURQUOISE DOME! (Perhaps I should mention my favorite color in the world is turquoise, and I am a complete sucker for anything turquoise-colored. Hence, this church rocked my socks.)

Not my most flattering angle but hey, it was Sunday and I just hiked up a serious hill. Focus on the background, people!

We took our respective pictures and decided to head home before the sky opened up onto our heads.
Hit up the grocery store on the way, where I picked up some "insalata di mare" for my dinner. It is a very popular Italian appetizer, basically calamari and little shrimp marinated in lemon and a touch of olive oil. I got it everywhere on my first trip to Italy. I love me some squid!

Speaking of my dinner...
Sauteed spinach and zucchini with garlic, olive oil and a little pecorino. I used it to top a little whole wheat penne, and then threw some fresh tomatoes and my insalata on top. My kind of meal! The sweetness of the zucchini really balanced out the citrus from the lemony fish, and the pasta added great texture. Inexpensive, healthy, homemade - my ideal meal!

Let's sum up, shall we? This weekend I saw THE David, visited San Gimignano - Tuscany's "medieval Manhattan" and one of the most beautiful places on earth, saw Florence from it's best view, and ate everything from strawberry risotto to spelt soup to tiramisu gelato. A pretty successful weekend, I would say - perfect in its imperfections.

Alright, my Food & Culture textbook has been whispering in my ear all day "read me...stop procrastinating..." and now it has elevated to screaming, yelling, and generally throwing a tempter tantrum. I think it needs a cappuccino ;)


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:

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.