Monday, May 10, 2010

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 d├ęcor 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?!!!


1 comment:

  1. Ah the wonders of institutional food or food served to large groups. How often I have gone to meeting where we have dinner for more than about 10 people and the food has been totally unremarkable despite rave reviews for the restaurant by others. Just happened in New Orleans at a 4 star restaurant. These group dinners are to be avoided if one seeks food and not the company! Good to hear the other recent meals have been remarkable.