Friday, August 27, 2010

On The Road Again

I completely forgot to mention that as of Wednesday, mia mama and I hit the road. We are driving to Georgia, were most of my material life is residing all packed away in boxes at my grandparents' house. On Sunday, we're driving up to South Carolina to move me in! I'm SO excited to reunite with all my friends - haven't seen them since December!

That said, it will be a bit more difficult to blog for the next few days. 

BUT, I went and missed yesterday's Over-the-Humpday Challenge, and feel the need to make up for it...with a restaurant review!

Mom & I rolled into Charlotte after a very long day of driving. We were hungry, exhausted, and just wanted a nice, rejuvenating sit-down dinner. Charlotte did not let us down.

At the concierge's recommendation, we walked down the corner from the hotel to LaVecchia's, a seafood/steak restaurant.
[The pictures aren't super clear; in LuLu's defense, the lighting was not exactly food-blogger friendly.]

They had really funky decor - I love it when restaurants use the industrial look of the space to their advantage. I think it looks really modern & fun!
Lots & lots of metal fishies hanging from the ceiling. As true fish-lovers, we took this as a good sign.

Things only got better from there:
Bread baskets just make me happy. This arrived warm with a light but doughy interior and a perfectly crispy crust. Never mind the basket - bread alone is enough to make me grin like an idiot. I had 2.5 pieces, and I'm not ashamed to say it.

Mom ordered a salad as an appetizer:
Arugula with beets, blue cheese, and candied walnuts in a lemon-y dressing. It was delicious - she all but licked her plate! I helped her out a little ;) Although it would have been better with goat cheese...but I'm getting to that.

For dinner, I ordered exactly what I was craving: a big bowl of spinach.
Well, alright. Spinach with goat cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, pancetta & spicy grilled shrimp. The shrimp was actually a little too hot for me, but I'm a big fat baby when it comes to hot-spicy. I'm also a big fan of shrimp, so I still ate every single bite.
I was not expecting the pancetta - I don't think the menu mentioned it - but much to my surprise, it was perfect on this salad! I'm not much of  bacon person at all and since basically giving up red meat, I haven't really had it in years - and when I have, I always remember why I don't like it. But on this salad....holy pork.  (I think it was pancetta because it both looked & tasted more like it than bacon, but I could be wrong.) It was diced into teeny tiny pieces and was absolutely drool-worthy when combined with the caramelized onions. It totally had that sweet-salty thing going on. I am a little in love with this salad, actually. Spinach + goat cheese is one of those to-live-for combos in my book. If you haven't tried it, please do. You can thank me later ;)

Mom's entree was beautiful, in more ways than one!
Almond-crusted tilapia with blue crab beurre blanc and mashed potatoes over roasted corn, baby asparagus and red peppers.
It was in a cute little edible tower with the veggies hidden on the bottom, the taters, the crab, and the fish on top.
Ok, I was one of those kids who ate everything on her plate separately and freaked.out if one section of my plate touched another. Woe to anyone within ear range if my baby carrots began mingling with the ketchup for my hot dog. Thus, I was a bit skeptical about this stacking situation currently going on on my mother's plate. 
But damn if it didn't meld perfectly! I would never have put mashed potatoes with tilapia, but they actually complemented each other quite well. It definitely helped that the fish was super fresh and delicious. The crab beurre blanc...well, put it this way: I only got one bite. The vegetables underneath also went well with the potatoes (which weren't in and of themselves amazing per se, but they tasted like my mom's mashed potatoes, and there is certainly something to be said for keeping it simple and comforting!). It was just a great dish overall.

I will add that my mom ordered 3 different white wines, all of which were rather disappointing. But it's hard to tell if that was just due to bad luck on her part or something else. Either way, the food made up for it.

And of course, I can't not have some form of dessert. It's simply a must.
Yep. Definitely a must.
That is mango sorbet - and downright delicious at that. I think sorbet is actually the perfect summer dessert. It's cold, light, and refreshing, and satisfies a sweet tooth without causing that pushing over the edge into too-stuffed-to-move land. Although it didn't have a smooth and creamy texture like, say, a certain gelato place, I could definitely taste how fresh the mango was and I think that's more important anyway. It was exactly what I wanted. Don't you love it when that happens?!

A lovely meal in a lovely city.
Now that is delicious.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Unexpected Austin

Wednesday, August 11th 2010: Wake up far too early for a sunny day in August. Eat some melon. Head to airport. 

Destination: Austin, Texas.
Purpose: Training as a Peer Mentor for Academic Programs International.

[Just wanted to set the scene for y'all. Why the James Bond writing style?...If I told you, I'd have to kill you.]

Once I passed through security - always a barrel of laughs, that process - I proclaimed it breakfast time. And whaddya know, but there was a UFood Grill in the American terminal. I have heard of this particular restaurant and have always wanted to go, but all its Massachusetts locations are in downtown Boston, and it's not easy to just hop down there. (Mostly because I refuse to drive in Boston. I value the lives of myself and my car far too much.) It's a super casual dining place that features all health-focused fresh foods - AND tart frozen yogurt. If I haven't mentioned it before, I have a frozen yogurt, erm, problem. The problem being that I love it and will get it at pretty much anytime of the day or night, irregardless of actual hunger. It's usually worth it.

But, I also saw they offered smoothies, and that sounded perfect so early on in the day. I grabbed a yogurt and the Mango Madness smoothie - mango, banana, and orange juice.
It was a little heavy on the OJ flavor, but it was pretty tasty. And it made me happy to see a substantial healthy breakfast option in the airport. It made me smile.

I had a layover at OHare in Chicago, and was equally as successful in finding a healthy lunch option!

It was lacking in the protein department, and was seriously screaming for some avocado, but it was really fresh and tasty. The cilantro made ALL the difference, and I was really impressed that it was even there! When I think of airports and herbs together, I see a flight attendant asking me if salt counts. Go OHare and cilantro!

Got to Austin and eventually found the other 3 Peer Mentors who were with me - we were on the same flight the whole time!

I'm just going to say it now: I have never, EVER in my life experiences humidity like I did in Texas. It was what I think rain forests and green houses are like. It was intense and inescapable. But I actually kind of liked it - the air conditioning never felt too cold! 

Despite all the heat, we still saw plenty of runners and bikers and strollers out and about, sweaty and smiling. It was impressive. Insane, but impressive.

After getting to the hotel, my roommate Gab and I chilled in the room and literally talked for 2.5 hours straight. She had studied with the API Toscania program, and it was absolutely incredible to share our mutual Italy experience/adventures. In fact, the entire time in Austin was like the best therapy I could have asked for in the transition back to home life. I loved hearing about everyone else's experiences and even though we all went to different places, we all had the common ground of loving every minute of it and it was amazing to connect with that. It was just the coolest group of people. I kinda wish we got to work together more as Peer Mentors. But before I get too wish-washy...

On to the FOOD. We definitely ate well in Austin. The first night, we went to a Tex-Mex place. As we should have.

[Insert here bowls of some seriously delicious salsa, guacamole, and queso. I always thought queso was just glorified melted Veleveeta cheese....I was wrong. It's amazing.]

I went with the fish tacos for my entree. It was a tough choice, but I've always wanted to try them, and I do love me some grilled tilapia. It was a good choice :)
The corn tortillas were soft (my fave!) and tasted homemade, and I never thought I would say this, but the best part of the dish was the Chipotle Ranch dressing drizzled on top. I usually opt for no dressing, because the plate typically arrives drowning under a cloying, bland, cheap-tasting white goo. But this was unlike no other ranch I've ever tasted. It was light but wonderfully creamy, well-spiced but not too hot, and accented the dish without taking any other flavor away. Basically, exactly what a sauce should be. One of the best tex-mex experiences I've ever had. (The only one that was better was a seafood enchilada in downtown Boston when I was around 9. It remains in my head as one of the tastiest seafood dishes yet to reach my mouth. I could eat one right now.)

After dinner, the group of us wandered around downtown Austin (ha! that rhymes with Boston!...maybe I need to get out more.). Austin is such a cool city! It reminded me a lot of Charlotte, North Carolina which I was totally not expecting. Most of our group ended up doing a bit of bar-hopping on the [in]famous 6th street, but my 20-year-old status and very tired self prevented me from doing the same. Luckily, my roommate and one other girl were also still 20, so I wasn't alone. Yay for the youngin's!

After a none-too-restful night, I awoke groggy but excited to get started. It was so great to actually meet the people I had emailed obsessively and see the building where that rather hefty check was sent to. The API Staff is just awesome. And a lot of them are Gillianasana readers, which just makes me grin like an idiot to know. [Hi everyone!!!] And the office decor is SO cool. The creative director Mark is, well, creative. It's really colorful and fun, and I have plans to decorate my future apartment a la API. You're all invited to my housewarming party. Bring chocolate.

We went out to lunch & I had my first one of these:
A fried pickle! And the consensus was that it tastes, a fried pickle. Yep.

Dinner was really exciting. Like, really really exciting.
Italian! What else would get me so excited?

[That was some delicious focaccia. Nothing like the focaccia I had in Italy...but delicious nevertheless. Crispy, cheesy, chewy. God I love bread.]

Remember my first garganelli experience? I loved the shape, and when I saw it on the menu simply done with a tomato & basil sauce, my mind was made up quite quickly.
Simple is always a good way to go.

The dining experience in Austin was really fun. Great food + great conversation. It was, well, great!

And lo and behold, what was across the street from this Italian restaurant but a frozen yogurt shop. I was all over that like white on rice.
This was my first experience with pay-per-ounce fro yo, and I must say, I am jealous of those of you who have one nearby. Although my wallet sure is happy without them.

But who can say no to this??
Not I. 
I went the next night too.

The next and final day, we all gave our presentations about our personal study abroad experiences. It was so much fun to hear everyone's, and made me want to go back. And then go everywhere they went. Global tour, anyone?

Earlier, we met with our program managers, aka the person I stalked via email for 3 months when I was dealing with the massive amount of paperwork involved. [Note to all those study-abroad hopefuls I just scared: most of it is now done online. I am jealous.]. Mine was absolutely awesome, despite the fact that I emailed her 3 times in a row in a period of 10 minutes, and it was so cool to meet her (and see a pic of her adorable son!). 
Another highlight was lunch.
Turkey+sprouts+lettuce+tomato+mustard+"avocado". Apparently in Texas, when you see avocado on a menu, it means guacamole. Only one more reason I love Austin. More places should adopt that principle.

But dessert basically eclipsed everything else. There is a "cookie delivery service" nearby that the office orders from often, understandably. But the kicker? The cookes are delivered fresh from the oven.
In one word? GENIUS.
That was hands-down the best M&M cookie I've ever had. It was all gooey and melty and warm and if I didn't have enough reasons to up and move to Austin, this would do it. I want to open a fresh-from-the-oven cookie delivery service. Seriously. Possibly one of the best business strategies I've ever heard of.

After our training was all over (*tear*), a small group of us decided to check out Barton Springs Pool, which is a public outdoor swimming area with natural water. (I don't know how else to describe it; by "natural," I mean not chlorinated. So before you start giggling about the concept of "unnatural water"...shutup.)

[I love that there is an award for "Best Swimming Hole."]

We ran back to the hotel and I fought with the hotel printer, and before I knew it, it was dinner time! We met at a tapas bar (we were going for barbecue, but the was an hour-long wait, and it was already 8 o'clock. Not happening.).One of the group studied in Barcelona, so needless to say, we asked him for recommendations. I
went vegetarian.
It was some fresh bread with some of the best grilled veggies I've had - and I have had a lot! It was leeks, artichokes, and asparagus in smoked olive oil + sea salt. The leeks literally melted in my mouth. That romesco sauce on the side was none too shabby, either. I wanted to partake in the bottle of wine, but that pesky age limit and my conscience stopped me. Oh, to be in Italy again.

It was really a great trip. Even better than I expected, and I was pretty excited to begin with! The job will be a lot of work, but studying abroad is something I'm pretty passionate about & I think it will really be fun. 

That wasn't the only surprise; the trip seemed to trigger a bit if reverse culture shock. Perhaps it was all the talking about living in our respective countries and how much we loved and grew from it, but either way, I came home happy but a little hurtin'. But what it really did was remind me of what a crazy, confusing, beautiful experience studying abroad is and, for me, was. And I'd do it all over again.

Thanks, Austin!
I think I'll be back ;)


[P.S. - if anyone read this earlier, my mouse clicked the "Publish" button of its own volition when I was halfway through writing it. Hate it when that happens.]

Spiced Up:...with Laundry?

Whoa. The past 2 weeks have been a blur of conferences, information, new people, endless to dos, and some pretty kickass food. All of which are soon to be covered on this blog. soon as I dig my computer out from under the pile of laundry that needs to be packed along with the rest of my life by Wednesday when my mother and I begin the drive down to move me in. For my senior year of college.

Yup. Blur is definitely the right word.


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Healthy Choice

Have you ever taken a bite of something and suddenly understood what is meant by "the flavor exploded on the tongue"?

I did tonight.

It wasn't an apple picked from a local orchard. It wasn't basil from my backyard. It wasn't a tomato from the farmer's market or bread fresh from the oven.

No, I'm talking about pizza.
Hot, greasy pizza from the local pizza house. The crust is oddly chewy with crispy edges, the cheese is questionably thick, and pools of oil collect in the dip of the pepperoni slices. But that first bite, when the melty, sweet-salty mozzarella combines with the yeasty crust and sweet tomato sauce is an irreplaceable moment of bliss.

Why, you may ask, am I writing about cheap pizza? Because it is moments of total tastebud heaven such as this that explains my passion for food and appreciation of its power and presence in daily life. 

It wasn't the healthiest choice. In fact, I had just finished a lovely dinner of tempeh + BBQ kale chips when I met that slice of [heart]burnin' love. But after that first taste, it simply had to be done. And that decision, ignoring every fiber that told me to deprive myself, was in fact one of the healthiest things I've done today.

I enjoyed every. single. bite.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Another Challenge

What? Another challenge?? But it's not Wednesday!

I know. I am referring to the Real Food Challenge, a conference being held just 20 minutes away from me in Stoughton, MA! It's the Northeast Summer Leadership Training for for college students. I'm going to learn all about corporate food policy, food justice, and all that good stuff - and hopefully make some changes on my own lovely campus. My head exploded with excitement when my new friend Nicole told me about this when we met in Austin - I have been whining nonstop for the past 3 years about the food on my campus and how frustrated I am with it. I really don't feel like it is supportive for anyone with food allergies or preferences like vegetarian/vegans, and even just trying to promote healthy eating overall. More often than not, the salad bar is only half full - but the dessert table is loaded. They veg options for protein are often seriously lacking as well, and I have often felt like screaming "iceberg lettuce is NOT a protein!!!!" And the local/seasonal food issue is no different. We have canteloupe & honeydew melon year round - don't try to tell me we picked those up from the farm down the road in mid-January. My problem was, I honestly have no idea where to begin trying to make changes, and that is where this training comes in. I'm crazyyyy excited to learn more about food policy and how I can help make changes for the better. And Lulu the camera is comin' with, of course. 

[Just as a disclaimer, I love my school dearly and wouldn't ever have gone anywhere else. This problem is common to many, if not most, schools around the country - hence this conference exists!]

Wow, I don't think I've ever written a post so fast - but like I said, mere minutes! Can't wait to tell yall all about it :)


Over-The-Humpday Challenge: An Unintentional Two

I had to work the opening shift at the coffee house, 6 am - noon. Because of this, I had to wake up at the unconscionable hour of 5:30. I've always secretly wanted to be one of those people who wakes up at insane hours to exercise, so I decided that today OTHd Challenge would be to actually do that.

And I did. Alarm went off at 5 and 5:30, I popped up & got dressed, had a temper tantrum when I couldn't find my iPod, and rushed out the door for a calming walk to work. (I don't always trust myself to drive that early. Telephone poles tend to move to the middle of the street. I swear.)

It was a great walk, and I worked off some frustration, but it also gave me some serious thinking time. Remember the marathon-running thoughts? Well, today they all crossed the finish line at the same time in a big, tangled, confused mass. But, if there's anything I'm good at, it's sorting. Yeah, I was the kid whose favorite game was to sort and re-sort her Beanie Babies into various different categories....hey, it kept me happy. Sshhh.

Lately, I have been feeling a bit out of sorts. I had a GREAT time in Austin at the API Office (don't worry - that post is coming tomorrow!), and it was SO much fun to hear about everyone's study abroad experiences and exchange stories. But it also reminded me about every wonderful minute of my spring in Florence, and it seemed to have trigger something I thought maybe I had escaped. Reverse culture shock.

We were all warned about culture shock - you get to a new country, it scares the crap out of you at first, then you love every single inch of it...but eventually, it starts going sour, and you just want to go home. I'll will be completely, totally, 100% honest - I didn't experience it. I definitely had "I wanna go home" moments, but they had nothing to do with Italian culture. In fact, the biggest shock was how quickly Florence became my home & how comfortable I was! But I expected reverse culture shock. I knew it would be hard to go from living this incredible life in my favorite place in the world to right back home in a small town where the only Italian people know is latte. It didn't really ever hit me hard, though - I definitely slept a LOT when I got home, but I felt like I slipped back into home-for-the-summer life pretty easily. 

Until now. It is all of a sudden SO hard to be here. And at home, there really isn't anyone to talk to about who seems to 'get it'. That was what was so great about meeting all the Peer Mentors - our experiences were different, but we all had the experience itself in common!

What is hard is the reaction I know I will get. I'm sure there are plenty who say, "Oh please. You didn't live like an Italian, almost broke and trying to find an apartment in one of the most unorganized countries in the world. You lived like an American in Italy - spoiled." Ok, yes, I was spoiled. I know that, and I'm offended by people who think I live in a dreamworld where every Italian owns a prepaid apartment in the middle of Florence and the hardest decision of the day is what kind of bread to buy. (There are over 250 kinds; it's not an easy decision. ;)

No, I am perfectly realistic about that. What I miss is the way of life. People just seem more content with life, naturally happy. Life is hard, but that's life - roll with it. Here, it feels like everyone refuses to be happy until they lose another 10 pounds or make another 10 thousand dollars. We have Starbucks with drive-thru lines tossing out massive paper cups filled with nonfat cappuccinos. In Italy, you go to a bar, you sip your 4 oz or so cup of cappuccino - made with whole milk, thankyouverymuch - and *god forbid* talk to the person who made it and the people around you. What?? Stopping for coffee? No no, that's why I bought the SUV with extra cupholders! ....Oy. 

Now please don't get me wrong - American culture is just as beautiful & interesting as any other in its own unique ways - another post for another time, I promise. But I'm not sure I've ever felt more comfortable in a place before Florence. It just felt right, and perhaps it's because all of a sudden I'm understanding that I'm not going back tomorrow and I have to readjust to a place I love just a little less that these feelings are coming up.  

And of course, all this thinking has lead to yet another very painful realization - I'm ready to leave my house. The only one I've ever known. And it feels like one of my limbs is longer than its opposite. Off balance. I think this is what they call growing up?

So, today's OTHd Challenge was two-fold. Get up early to exercise before work? Check. Deal with reverse culture shock?....This one might be a work in progress. But, I am a work in progress. And that's okay with me.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010


So.many.thoughts. It's like they laced up their Nikes and are running super-marathons through my brain like a Kenyan in the Boston Marathon. 

[For the record, yes, I am aware that the past 2 Mondays have not been Spiced Up, for which I do apologize. Blame the Kenyan thoughts.]

Where to begin. Austin is the COOLEST city. API is the COOLEST company. I love study-abroad. I miss Florence. More on this later.

While I am waiting for the race to finish and for my thoughts to round themselves up in a nice, neat list (or Excel spreadsheet), I've decided to focus on one such thought for now: body-image.

After reading the lovely Angela's post about "happy weights" during Change-The-Way-You-See, Not-The-Way-You-Look Week, the concept has been on my mind. It's an interesting one, because the definition of happy weight is completely subjective to the definer. So I was faced with the question, what is my happy weight? Is it a number, or a feeling? I think I've been at it before, although it didn't last long.
My personal happy weight has nothing to do with a scale. In fact, I haven't weighed myself since I don't know when and do not intend to. When I did weight myself, the number I saw dictated my mood for the rest of the day, and that was not just healthy for me. I just don't feel like a silly little 3-digit combination should have such control over me. So, in thinking about my happy weight, I thought about when I have been, well, happy

Before Italy, the only time I could think of was my trip to India. I didn't give a second thought (even if I gave a first) to calories, exercise, or "fat" when I was there; I was so determined to live in every single moment, and I did. The result? I was simply happy. No little voice in my head telling me I'm fat or I shouldn't eat that. But, I came home and those old habits started creeping back subtly but surely.

Fast forward to this spring in Florence. Apparently, there is something about me in a different country that puts me on top of the world. Even on my bad days - and I did have them - I would take a walk, grab a cappuccino or gelato, and always found myself smiling again. A big part of it I know was gratitude. I was and am still so unspeakably grateful to the forces of the universe that allowed me to live in the best city in the world - my parents, API, even myself. When I think of my "happy place", I go back to the bench in Piazza Santa Croce or a table inside Sergio's for lunch and I get the most complex mix of emotions - nostalgia, bliss, longing. I was happier than I had been in a long time, and that happiness translated over to my body image. I was beginning to feel very comfortable in my skin. It, to say the least.

Austin has this awesome public swimming area, Barton Springs. It's a natural pool, like a lake, a spring. Sssh, I'm tired. I'm not big on swimming and didn't plan on going, but a group of others were going and my new Italian self was not about to miss out on a fun experience, so off I went. And as I was sitting there, clicking pictures and thoughtfully munching on a granola bar, I thought about my ever-present self-consciousness about wearing a bikini. Now, when I lost my first 30, I remember the feeling of buying & wearing my first bikini ever - it was pretty sweet. But since then, with who knows how many pounds lost and gained, I've kinda lost that confidence. And these were probably the main reason why.
Those are my stretch-marks. Mine. And I've had them since middle school. I hated them. I thought pregnant women were the only ones who had them. Then, I learned that models often get them as well because of binge dieting and stretching skin back and forth. It was a little comforting...but they have airbrushing. Us mortals, not so much.

Why, you may ask, am I showing off one of my so-called flaws on the world wide web? To oppose the idea that they are flaws. I only have love, and lots of it, for every inch of me, stretch marks included. It is beyond frustrating to me that 10-year-old me was already hating my body because it wasn't rivaling what I saw in movies & magazines. I don't really care how many times I've talked about this already or how cliche it may be; it hasn't ended yet, so there's still a need to discuss it. 

It may be a struggle, but I am determined to find my happy weight again - even if I can't go back to Italy right now (unless anyone has a free ticket lying around....anyone?????), I will bring what I learned and what I gained there back with me. I will return to my happy weight. 

How do you define your "happy weight"? Do you have a part of your body you would like to stop feeling insecure about?
Well, there's one big ole thought down....a gajillion more to go. Sweet dreams!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When In _______, Eat Like the _______-ans.

Due to my impending trip to my study abroad program's offices to be trained in all things Peer Mentor-y, I've had my time in Florence on the brain quite a bit lately.

Ok, that's a lie, I think about my 3.5 months on the greatest city on earth on a hourly daily basis. But roll with me on this one.

I thought I would compile a definitive list - according to me, at least - of the absolute must-dos while abroad...and the other stuff that if you somehow fail to fit in to your packed, globe-trekking schedule, you won't be in tears about once you're home. And then I started typing the first item on my list....and it became a post in and of itself. If you haven't guessed already, it's about food.

You had to have seen that one coming. Yes, number one for me is *drum roll* I know you're sitting there saying "well duh, this coming from the food writer wannabe/culinary-school-student-to-be." But hear me out.
Well, wipe that drool off the keyboard and then hear me out.

Food is a pretty important part of experiencing a culture. And by pretty important, I'm talking in the Top 3.
It usually goes by unnoticed, and perhaps that's as it should be, but the way one goes about eating has a lot to do with his/her culture. Why, for example, are there millions of take-out & delivery services available from restaurants in the U.S.? Because we the people keep up a go-go-go lifestyle, and convenience is often a top priority. We may enjoy a PB&J sandwich, but it's probably while also replying to 50 emails, holding a conference call, and/or making plans with friends concerning what to play during recess in a couple minutes. Further more, the ubiquitous PB&J - arguably a truly 'American' recipe - is ideal because it's cheap & quick to prepare.
On the other hand, we have bella Italia, where places to dine specifically and exclusively for lunch abound. Their hours are usually somewhere between 11 & 2, give or take, but this is not to cater to a wide variety of schedules - it is so for people to enjoy a 2 hour lunch. Unlike the U.S.of A., where food accompanies conversation - and the quicker, the better -  the conversation accompanies the food in Italy, which is afforded several reverent hours. The pace of life is slower, the meal times truly appreciated. Yes, sandwich shops exist where you can drop in and get a quick bite to go - but you will usually find such establishments double as a wine bar, where as early as 11 AM little old men are enjoying a deep red glass of Chianti and chatting with the owner behind the counter. Merely by stepping into such a place, you are observing - and partaking in! - the culture. And I haven't even started on the food itself yet. 
This part is somewhat obvious - what people eat is, of course, part of who they are. And their culture is also [duh] an important part of who they are, so it's a double dose of cultural immersion. But, let's face it, the real fun is on the menu. While back home, your younger brother is chowing down on turkey & swiss on rye, you are about to dig your fork in to a hearty plate of fresh pasta, doused artfully with homemade tomato sauce and crowned with real parmeggiano-reggiano
And don't forget the bread on the side! Or maybe it's a big steaming bowl of my very favorite ribollita (the presence of bread goes without saying). 
Either way, a far cry from that little Wonderbread-clad sandwich on the other side of the Atlantic.

Call it a bunch of rambling, but all of this is to prove a point. Yes, eating in a new place can be scary. (Cacciucco, anyone?) But it's an important part of getting to know that new place so everything else in it can be, well, less new & scary! I learned a lot more than just what the best kind of cheese is when I ate in Italy. (It's fresh pecorino, by the way. At least I think so.) So please, before you throw up your hands and spend whatever precious little time you have abroad consuming a steady diet of ham & cheese sandwiches (don't get me wrong, they have their place - just not 24/7!) - try something new. Even if you have no idea what you just ordered. Even if the waiter tries to translate and you think it might be something with a a beak, 3 legs and a dorsal fin. You might discover a new favorite I-must-eat-this-every-day food! You might also discover a new I-will-never-touch-that-foodlike-thing-ever-again food, but that's okay too. What I can guarantee is that you won't regret your choice of going out on a limb and trying something brand new. I do recommend bringing a friend - for fun photo ops and, if that second scenario turns out to be the case, to share her inevitably delicious plate of whatever-it-is. 

Now, I've given a great deal of time to explaining all this. And yes, it is because I love nothing more than talking about food and Florence, but it is also because I've been there, too afraid of new food to enjoy the whole cultural experience of dining. The regret I had about my first trip to Italy - spent hungry - was tangibly painful, and this time around, I was not depriving myself of that again. I learned a lot the second time around, but I'm lucky I got a second time! Heed these words, and you won't regret a single minute of your trip. You'll just live each and every one.
Buon Appetito.


P.S. - See you in Austin!!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Strength of Smell

The human olfactory sense is known to be the strongest of the 5. And I must say, my nose and I are inclined to agree.

Something about scent, no matter how faint, has the ability to transport me right back to a very specific moment in time. It's a pretty powerful thing.

My obsession with melon of all kinds leads to 2 things: 1) a component of my breakfast that I bound out of bed for, and 2) a vast build-up of melon rinds in the trash can which, a day or two later, creates an odor so nastily nauseous that I am forced to tie up the trash bag and drag it out to the outdoor trash, all while taking great pains to breathe solely through my mouth.

Upon stepping outside on this 90+ degree day in August, something happens. I'm free to open my nose after the offending bag is safely stowed in the huge gray bin that lives for every other Monday when the trash pick-up truck arrives. I breathe in, blink, and find myself standing on my grandparents' cement driveway in a late summer Atlanta suburb. Standing in my swimsuit, impatiently waiting for my brother and cousins to put their shoes on and for my grandmother to pee one final time, I'm completely unaware that my memory is taking marked notice of the smell of sun-soaked stone and dirt, with the rare sweet breeze blowing by every so often. I can almost smell the heavily chlorinated pool with its blissfully cool water awaiting me. I can feel the slap of my sandals against my feet as I race with others on the steamy blacktop, and the rough, rutted surface of the white diving board.

And then I blink again, and I'm back on my own stone patio, in a Massachusetts suburb, in August. 

Have you ever felt the "strength of smell"?

I know this is a little different than what I usually write; I've been reading MFK Fisher nonstop and it seems to be rubbing off on me, for better or worse. More on that later.

In other news...I'm going to Austin, Texas on Wednesday! It's to train for my job as Peer Mentor with my study abroad program, API. I'm really excited - about the job and the travel. I've never been to Texas! I'll update tomorrow, but I do intend to bring my laptop & Lulu with me. New places means new food! (And less lofty writing ;)


Friday, August 6, 2010

The Maine Thing

Um, yeah, remember a few weekends ago when I went to Maine? Well, remember how I promised to return with pictures? Yeah, blogger fail. Better late then never, though!

Family friends/former neighbors of ours bought a little cottage just a couple hours out of Mass. around Ogunquitt, Maine. The cottage was super cute - small, but cozy rather than claustrophia-inducing, with lots of light and they've decorated beautifully. Look how cute!

Our hostess called this her "Martha Stewart moment." Love it.

We arrived just in time for lunch - and a lovely lunch it was!

Pasta salad, FULL of veggies. This was absolutely delicious! It is originally from the Silver Palate cookbook; I am planning on making it again (and again, and again....) and probably tweaking it here and there. I do love me a good pasta salad.

And fruit! 

Including these gorgeous local raspberries:
Even better than they look.

Now, why on earth would anyone go to Maine in July? 
The BEACH, of course!

It was a perfect beach day. Just look at this sky:

To get to the beach, you have to walk over some beautiful marshland. It made LuLu very happy - she is a much more cooperative camera when there is beauty to be documented!

Chillin :)

See the sailboat?

This struck me as very....biblical. The light, the tree...I don't know. 

After lazing in the sun, we took a quick drive to Perkin's Cove, a.k.a, the tourist haven. But it sure is perty!

I could not get over the restaurants there. I wanted to go to so many! We passed a French bistro located inside an adorable little cottage that could have easily been a B&B...or Snow White's house. Forget eating there, can I work there????

We went to a really wonderful place for breakfast, Roost Cafe.

In an old barn, they created a quirky, fun ambience!

They even bake their own bread & pastries! I must have seen this bread basket get changed 3 times or so as we ate. And if I wasn't in love already...

Check the menu.
Honey lavender granola????

And then, I saw the pancakes...
It was over. One order of the blue corn pancakes with Maine blueberry compote, comin up!

They were SO tasty and unique. Delicately crispy, and the corn meal gave it a great mouth feel and rich flavor. Actually, the chef came out and asked me how they were - the high humidity was apparently really messing with the pancakes' rising. It took all of my composure to not follow him back into the kitchen and learn more. I was fascinated. I wanted to ask for a job. They have a great location, it's a super fun space, they make their own bread and have amazing pancakes. After I graduate from culinary school, can I call you? 
Should you ever find yourself in the York area on US Route 1, you MUST stop. It was a great dining experience.

Brunch (it was around noon when we left) was followed by some serious antique shopping. In 90 degree weather. With humidity. But there was some cute stuff!

Our visit ended in the best way possible.
Peppermint soft-serve ice cream - with the necessary chocolate jimmies.

And I didn't even mention the lobster we had for dinner....oh yes. We lived well in Maine.