Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wonderful Wednesday

Oh, Wednesday in Florence. I will miss you.
Mostly because Wednesday=Sergio's. The only man in my life. At least he can cook!
This was fresh pasta alla carrettiera, which really just means in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. It wasn't even that spicy, just well-seasoned, and it was delicious. There is just nothing like a bowl of fresh pasta. Italian soul food at its finest.

I had some errands to run today - like pay ridiculous import taxes for a package (wherein lies my NEW camera!!!!!) - and whaddyaknow, a trip to Vestri for some gelato just popped onto the list...
Tiramisu + caffe.
It was good, but not near as blissful as last time. The coffee was lovely, just strong enough, but the tiramisu was not very, um, tiramisu-y. I thought it actually had hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, oddly enough. Not to say it was bad - I had NO problem devouring this cone - but Perche No still wins the tiramisu gelato competition. I think the dark chocolate at Vestri is just the way to go. Can't be beat.

Tonight's dinner theme was "going to Barcelona for the weekend and have to use up all my veggies" night!
A TON of green goodness - arugula, spinach, red bell pepper, cannellini beans, pecorino.
But no, I can't possibly eat this ENTIRE pan of veggies....right?
Well, after some quality time in the oven...

 Oh yes I can. And did. Veggieriffic.

Dessert was multi-coursed, of course:

A small chocolate-hazelnut biscotti. Would have been better with actual chocolate chips, but still was quite tasty.

My marzipan pear. Yumyumyum:)

Trying to get prepared for Barcelona this weekend - woohoo!! Although I'm rather sad that tomorrow is my last cooking class here (we have 2 finals). But I know what we're making, and it's exciting. Like, something I've been waiting for all semester. Are you on the edge of your seat yet?
A domani!


C'era una volta...

I found another yummy tea!
Rilassante=Relaxation=YES PLEASE!
It's minty but has hints of lavender and other earthy tastes. It has such a unique taste, different from other mint teas I've had. A box might just have to stow away in my suitcase...

Perhaps it's because my time here is nearing it's end, or maybe it's just that I'm at "that age", but I have really been noticing how much this semester has challenged me to figure out who I am. I feel like here I've had so many experiences that have made me say "well, that's just not me." Almost like a process of elimination thing? It's been interesting, a little painful, a lot fun. That's my thought for the day :)

Tuesday Alaina and I ventured by bus to Cascine Park to check out the market that sets up there once a week. We've never been and with our time here nearing it's end (which we are NOT talking about yet, thankyouverymuch), we figured it's now or never!
It's a serious haul to get there, so we bussed it. It's so pretty! And massive.

The market turned out to be really sweet. I got a shirt and a cute dress. The shirt ended up being, um, less than flattering, but I like the dress a lot! I'm hoping to break them on this weekend's adventure.

All my pictures of the market, of course, are of the furry friends we met...

Just chillin in one of the stalls. It's pretty obvious who's boss.

Dogpile....of BUNNIES!!! So fluffy and cute!

Lots and lots of boids.

PUPPIES. Oh man. I had to drag myself away from the babies. So. freaking. adorable.

And CHIPMUNKS! I have a special connection with chipmunks. When I was little, my grandfather would make up stories for each of us grandkids with our own personal sidekick - mine was Chester the Chipmunk. We visited Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty, obvz)'s castle many times together. So yeah, I have a thing for chipmunks ;)

After walking through the market, it was definitely lunch time. We are revving up the restaurant tour of Florence to high speed, and it was time to check Nerbone off the list.
Nerbone, like Mario's, is a true institution here. It's inside the market, and if you go arund 11 or so you will all the little hold men hanging around, sipping wine and eating sandwiches. It's been around just about since the market itself has, and a reputation for serving Florentine food as typical as you can get.
After much debate, I went with a classic: pasta e fagioli. I've had it at Sergio's, so they were up against some pretty intense competition, but I had faith.
Complete with an artful swirl of olive oil.
I'll be honest...I was unimpressed. Of course, it didn't help that a) I had this place built up pretty high and b) I am used to the amazingness that is Sergio's. It was liiittle too soupy for me, and I wasn't a huge fan of how tomatoey it was. I spent the majority of my young life despising tomatoes, and didn't like them until my first trip to Italy. They taste different here - SO fresh. But I think I have reached my tomato capacity for a bit and they just haven't been tasting all that great to me. This was by no means bad, but wasn't the incredible experience I was expected either. Perhaps I will try to go back and get a panino - maybe the sandwiches are more their thing. It was fun to eat inside the market though :)
Gather round kids...
It's story time!
Once upon a time...or c'era una volta, as they say in Italian...

There was a big old fortress. A tall, dark, menacing figure from the outside...but on the inside, oh the wonders it held...
A craft fair! Artisans from all over Italy (saw LOTS of Sicily, interestingly enough) came to show off their wares in one big convention. They had pretty much everything, from furniture to copper pots, to artworks and beads...and food. You know what I was there for.

Chocolate, cookies, and pastries, oh my!

I just love pretty chocolate :)

That would be some form of pasty dough STUFFED with chocolatey goodness. A sight for sore hungry eyes!

SO many drool-worthy cannoli to be had! I haven't actually had one since I've been here yet (not a big Tuscan thing), so Alaina and I decided to split one.
With chocolate chips, of course!
Ohsogood. The ricotta was unlike anything I've had before - you could definitely tell it was cheese, not just some sugary cream fakeness. The creamy, sweet ricotta with the chocolate and powdered sugar plus the crumbly pastry was just heaven. I'm glad I waited 'til now to try it!
We wandered around the entire room once, sampling breads, olive oils, LOTS of cheeses, some wine, a little chocolate, and several truffle stands. Basically, my idea of the perfect evening.
There were also a couple chocolate stands with marzipan in fruit shapes, which I have always loved because they're so pretty and colorful!
I got myself a pear and a strawberry. I love marzipan!

I also bought these 2 little plaques with the cutest drawings ever. I couldn't decide which I liked better, so I got both *blush*.
 They just make me smile. A lot.


So, you may be curious about this weekend's adventure...well, alright, I'll tell you. We're off to BARCELONA! My roommate from school is studying there, so she will be our lovely tour guide. We leave tomorrow evening and don't return til LATE Sunday (as in, almost Monday), so Gillianasana will be sadly postless until then. BUT fear not, my new yet-to-be-named camera will [hopefully] be accompanying me, and I intend to get to know her/him very well :) My last cooking class of the semester (*tear) is tomorrow, so I will do my best to update before we leave, but I can't be sure (there is a good possiblity I will be running around the apartment wildly throwing things into bags...don't you wish you were there to see). 
Ciao for now!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thoughts for Food

If you're wondering where the heck I've been for the past couple of days...well, to be honest, I've been right here. I've been a BUSY bee! Sunday was spent writing my massive research paper on food blogs. But not before breakfast happened! We're all starting to feel more or less ready to come home, and this weekend was the perfect opportunity to go to something we've been planning for a while - Sunday brunch! The notion of pancakes has never made me so excited.

Please notice that 1) this syrup is from the mythical land of VERTmont, not Vermont...hmm, I wonder if the Vertmont maple trees are better? and 2) that little bit of text on the bottom there says "Product of Canada." Well, wherever Vertmont, Canada is - Italy likes your syrup. I however was unimpressed. But I was so happy about pancakes & syrup, it wasn't all about taste.
And neither were the pancakes. Flimsy, flat, uninspired. I think they only made me crave real pancakes more...nevertheless, the brunch experience was fun. Under no other circumstances would paying $15 for 4 subpar pancakes be worth it, except for this particular one. Sometimes food isn't about the flavor, but more for the experience that comes with it. Which is really what I love about it--food is not just about staying alive and thriving. It has symbols and meanings attached to it, it's an event in and of itself. It's just so cool, once you start thinking about it.

Which I clearly do all the time, because then I come here and ramble on about to to you :)

I swear paper writing burns calories. It's like a marathon for your BRAIN. And my brain started to get hungry.

All things bright green and beautiful!
I bought some grapes at the grocery store because I needed a new fruit, and my salad was sadly lacking in color, so I figured, what the heck! Let's throw some grapes on there! I love strawberries in salad - with balsamic vinegar, they are to live for - so I figured grapes couldn't be too far off. They weren't but I think my allergies have stuffed me up enough to not be able to really taste things. The sweetness complimented the beans very nicely though. 

After several hours of slooooow-going research, I needed a break. No better excuse for gelato.
Sorbetto al cioccolato (chocolate sorbet - no milk), soia alla vaniglia (soy vanilla), and coffee crunch!
The chocolate sorbet was perfect. I like it better than regular ice cream because it tastes darker and more like rich cocoa powder - I'm a hard core dark chocolate girl. No milk for me - the darker the better! The soy vanilla was wonderful, as expected - such a unique, creamy and sweet flavor! The vanilla is very present but there is a nuttiness to it that just makes it fun to eat. The coffee crunch was phenomenal - good coffee ice cream, not too sweet or strong, with these wonderful little bits of chocolate-coated-crispy-cookie-something or other that was just....mmmmmmm. No words. Just the one letter.

And then, a couple more hours passed, and it was time for dessert #2. Don't judge.
I had one chocolate left from our trip to the Perugina store in Perugia, and it was calling to me...or maybe I just started hearing things after becoming absorbed into paperland. Either way, surrender to chocolate is always a good choice.

Does that say mousse??? Could this be true?

They can't possibly have put actual chocolate mousse into that little thing...
or could they?

A little bite of fluffy, cocoa-y heaven in the palm of my hand. A spoon full of sugar may help the medicine go down...but a truffle full of mousse helps the research paper get written!

Alright, so I've been talking about this paper a LOT. It wasn't so much hard to write as it was to organize. I was researching food blogs, their recent popularity and what it says about the role food plays in Western society. (Hence all the food rambling.) It didn't turn out as groundbreaking as I wanted it to, which is usually how most of my papers go, but it was finished. I pulled my first all-nighter on it, actually. I just kept going and then before I knew it was 6 AM, the birds were chirping and the sun was rising. 

I would stay up all night while I'm in Florence writing a paper. What can I say, I'm a geek. Don't hate.

I actually wasn't sleepy at all, until I got to class of course. But it was actually kind of nice. I did some yoga, made some oats:
Banana-cinnamon oats + pineapple yogurt. Wicked good. (Told you I was getting a little homesick!) 

Class was a little rough, but Food & Culture is always a fun class to go to, and I had the prospect of this guy to look forward to:
Finocchiona  (fennel-spiked salami) + pecorino. I think I actually closed my eyes eating this it was so good. 

It was definitely a day for nap in the sun at the park. And so I did.

Alaina and, being the [fabulous] control-freak foodies that we are scheduled out all the restaurants we have left to go to, and because of an event this Tuesday night preventing us from doing Ethnic Tuesday, we went out tonight! Ethnic Tuesday-->Italian Monday. We checked out a cute little trattoria on the street that our school is on that I have been dying to try. And my major advisor--the one who told us about Sergio's--also recommended it. Plus, we got to sit outside, and the weather is finally making that a very appealing option :)
I went with the spaghetti with fresh clams:
It was good, but HUGE - too much pasta! The clams were alright, I think it's just that they don't do much for me. I have no qualms eating them, but I always find them more or less flavorless. Mussels on the other hand rock my seafood-lovin socks:)
Tonight, however, was another instance of food as an experience. Sitting outside, sipping wine and chatting with friends over a meal made it a wonderful dinner, even if the food itself wasn't the best I've had (which is not to say I didn't enjoy it - it's a challenge to eat badly in Italy!). 
Isn't it cute? A very enjoyable meal.

Tuesday is looking to be more or less eventful, and I hope to be saner and write less scattered schizo post...stay tuned ;)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Livorno for Lunch: Take 2!

To start, I would like to thank those who commented on my ranting, raving post yesterday. It means a lot to know I have so much support. It wrote it for me, because I needed to get it out there. This growing up thing is hard!

To return to blog business, I had a relatively uneventful Thursday - except for a tour of a gelateria! Well, it wasn't exactly a tour, and there were some snags hit, but in the end we got to watch a cute little old man make strawberry gelato and then eat it fresh from the ice cream machine! 
See those teeth it's coming through? That's how it gets to look so pretty!!
And pretty it is. Not to mention delicious.
Although strawberry isn't always my first choice, it was cool to eat gelato you watched get made in matter of minutes! They had some flavors that we also wanted to try (dark chocolate sorbetto?! nutella mousse?!!), so expect to see more gelato from this place in the near future.

The most exciting part, though, was that he couldn't give the tour in English, and even though we had a translator, I understood almost every word he said. So exciting!!!

Made some mean oats that morning, too:
Chocolate + banana. That's true love, right there.

After my field trip, I was treated to some incredible eggplant parm made by Alaina (click for pictures!). We spent our train trip today in fact discussing how to incorporate spinach into it and decrease the amount of oil used. You know you've been living with someone for a while when you start having the same ideas about recipes!

I mentioned our train trip today. Alaina and I went to Livorno! Yes, I went again. Both of us were dying to try cacciucco, the local specialty seafood dish that I wasn't able to have on my first trip there.
We went back to the same restaurant I went to because it was SO. GOOD. They didn't let us down.
I had to have the antipasti platter again:
A lovely selection of seafood salad (shrimp, calamari, and octopus with some tomatoes in a very light vinegar-olive oil dressing), smoked salmon (YUM),delicious fresh anchovies, the BEST mussels I've ever had, and the most. amazing. crostini. ever. [I talked about it here too.] Seriously, I have no idea what's on it, but my tastebuds didn't care. Some kind of tapenade with mussels. And maybe a little magic.
Next, we moved on to cacciucco. Please prepare yourself for what you are about to see. This is not your grandma's seafood stew like we expected.
That would be a plate piled high with vast quanities of unidentifiable body parts of sea creatures. Tentacles, fins, and a whole shrimp - eyes included, all drowning in this earthy, spicy, salty sauce - almost wannabe bbq sauce? We could not figure it out. Actually, we were so in shock with this dish, we couldn't really figure any of it out. I didn't love it, but I definitely didn't hate it. This dish encapsulates what I love most about food - it's a true experience in and of itself. We laughed, we ate, we looked in awe at what was put before us. It definitely goes to show - when in Italy, expect the unexpected! We certainly had fun.
And just like last time, we were brought a very large shot limoncello to aid in digestion - we were definitely in need of some of that!
What I like about limoncello is that it is a nice way to end the meal. It's suuuuuper strong and always leaves me a little tipsy and a few mere sips, but I really enjoy taking part in the ritual of it. What can I say - American girl, Italian heart!

Despite the fact that were stuffed to the gills - or perhaps, to the tentacles - we are firm believers that no city has truly been explored without sampling their gelato. And we are hard core explorers.
Melon (canteloupe) and dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate was alright, but nothing special - of course, now that we've discovered the best of the best in Florence, anywhere else becomes "less than." Actually, Alaina hit the flavor right on the nose - it was just like Hershey's dark chocolate! I use their dark chocolate powder a lot at home, and this was definitely that taste. Not bad, but not Vestri. The melon was lovely, though. Very sweet, as it should be. Gosh I love melon.

After a lot of walking, we made it back to the train station in good time. Another lovely afternoon spent in Livorno.

Off to paper-writingdom!