Amsterdam

Amsterdam had to be the most international city I’ve ever visited. It was also the busiest in terms of nightlife and general tourism, not that this is surprising given the reputation that city has picked up over the years. That being said, the weekend after Easter, two friends and I got ourselves on a plane and headed out to this magnificent city to spend a long weekend enjoying ourselves. That weekend was probably the most relaxing trip I took during the Spring semester. While we got a lot done, saw what we wanted to see, I never felt rushed.

Getting to Amsterdam was something of an adventure, (un)fortunately. We literally got to the airport via taxi (the bus was taking too damn long to show up) a half-hour before the gate closed, and while I had checked in online the night previously, Michelle and Francesca had not. Francesca managed to get her boarding pass just fine but, for whatever reason, the machine refused to read Michelle’s passport and didn’t give her the boarding pass. Arguments with most unhelpful ticket ladies led to the threat of tears and finally one saint of an attendent made some calls and got Michelle her boarding pass. We booked it through security and to the gate, fairly throwing ourselves onto the plane in sheer relief. Too say we started off like nutters would not be an understatement. It’s a good thing that none of us really put much stock in our public image (not that anyone was ever going to see us ever again) because we looked ridiculous.

Our first day in Amsterdam was spent on the free walking tour that took us through the main part of the city, including part of the infamous red light district. I won’t elaborate too much on that portion of the tour, even though we took a specialized red-light tour later that evening, because we learned that a lot of the stereotypes and “common” knowledge is in fact false. However, I’m not entirely sure on the actuality of the situations, whether the girls in the RLD are under madams or essentially freelancers, so don’t quote me on any of that! That being said, the city was definitely more picturesque than I expected. I had heard that Amsterdam was very clean, beautiful, and the people friendly but I was blown away by the buildings and canals and the people were great! Food was pretty good, too, though we were a bit more international in our food choices than usual, going for Chinese and Thai rather than typical Dutch food.

Oh dear, I’m looking through my photos now and of course, I’ve put them all up on FaceBook but they aren’t in my iPhotos albums. Naturally. Hopefully they’re of the same quality.

We had three target locations that we wanted to visit this weekend: Anne Frank’s House, the Heineken Factory, and the House of Bols. Unfortunately, we were forbidden from taking photos in Anne Frank’s House, so all I have to offer you is the sign outside of the building:

Having been to Auschwitz in my fall semester, it was interesting to see the living situation of a family that had been subjected to the horrors of the Holocaust, and being able to see original copies of Anne’s diary, short stories, and novel was bittersweet. Apparently she’d wanted to be a famous author, and it’s ironic that her trauma and death ultimately made that dream come true. Horrible irony, but true.

Our experiences with the House of Bols and the Heineken Factory were somewhat similar, though I enjoyed the prior more than the latter. I’ve become more partial to liquor over the year, and I still can’t stand beer in any shape or form (though I spent a bit of time in Dublin recently trying to get over that with my friend Guinness). However, we spent more time in the Heineken Factory due to it being massive and more historically based than the House of Bols. We were taken through the entire process of brewing, getting tastes along the way that ended in two “free” pints of Heineken at the end of our tour. Apparently hops is what makes the beer bitter, but before that’s added, it’s actually relatively sweet. I’d drink beer if it tasted like that!

There was also one of those 4D rides that put us in the perspective of the beer as it went from grain and hops to the can. Of course, our expectations for this ride had been built up by other friends visiting previously, so I was thinking that we were in for a beer-can rollert coaster. It was a bit of a let down to be sprayed in the face with a bit of water and “boiled” under infrared lights.

Going to the House of Bols was something like entering a fun house that could kill epileptics. There were so many multicolored lights everywhere! Our entrance fee gained us two shots and a cocktail at the end of the tour, and the innovative part of the House of Bols is the number of liquor flavors they boast, over 300 developed and counting. One of the rooms had bottles lined up, stripped of their labels, and you were supposed to try and identify them by smell alone. That was the trippy room. It looked like a mad scientist’s lab met gay pride parade. I was pretty impressed.

At the tasting bar, I decided on a Pomegranate Collins as my cocktail of choice, given the option between nearly thirty different kinds of drinks from the automated machines. We were provided with a recipe for every drink we were interested in trying, but since all of them have Bols liquor in them (it’s frustratingly difficult to find in the States, only in NYC or San Fran), I don’t foresee making any of them in the near future. I also picked the blood orange and butterscotch liquor taster shots. Butterscotch was definitely my favorite. It tasted like candy!

I had a fantastic time in Amsterdam. The city was beautiful and even though we stayed out late every night, I never felt unsafe. There were so many people around all the time and no one begrudged us asking for directions, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. Our tours were informative and entertaining, and the red-light district was not nearly as sordid as everyone makes it out to be. In fact, I think every woman could do with a glow-in-the-dark lingerie set at one point in her life! Christmas present, anyone? It’d be a riot. In any case, my time spent in Amsterdam has put it at in the list of my favorite cities, and I would love to go back one day. I certainly wouldn’t mind living there, if given the opportunity!

PS: You notice I don’t mention another major aspect of the Amsterdam reputation. Don’t worry. It was around and definitely . . . interesting. ;D

Easter with Tita Sue and Uncle Frank

I’d been looking forward to seeing some family members since my dad had come and gone back in February, so having my Tita Sue and Uncle Frank in Florence for the long Easter weekend was definitely an uplifting part of the semester. All of my roommates had left to go to the Amalfi Coast and I would’ve been alone in the apartment had I not been given the opportunity to run out and about with my aunt and uncle and their choir group, come all the way from Seattle to participate in the International Verona Choir Competition (probably not the actual title, but you get the idea).

Though the main reason for coming to Florence was to allow the students to experience Italian culture, I was allowed to tag along to some of their performances as well as a few day-excursions. The kids sang beautifully at every gig, especially when we went to a cozy little chapel in Bango Rippoli, a little suburb outside the city. I can’t remember the name of the chapel, so if Tita Sue or Uncle Frank could let me know in the comments section, that’d be great. Anyway, since I was just finishing up my midterms, I didn’t miss out on much in terms of day trips. We visited Cortona, sight of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, though we never did manage to find “Brama Sole” (the villa Francis bought and fixed up). I think it was outside the actual city, which was walled and built up on top of a hillside so as to afford protection in medieval time as well as a great view of Florence.

Unfortunately Tita Sue wasn’t able to join us in Cortona, as a student in the group had come down with some sort of illness, so Uncle Frank and I had a delicious lunch with the teacher chaperones, Beth, Erin, and Mark. The little restaurant we ate at was hidden in an alcove off one of the small streets that run through the town, and the food was fresh, excellent, and beautifully prepared. (I’m spamming you with photos.)

As appetizers, we had a mix of traditional Tuscan pickings, including salame, proscuitto, fagioli, cheeses, tomato, cured beef, truffle shavings, and pesto spreads:

As entrees we all ended up ordering similar dishes, and pasta was included in every one of them, save for the gnocchi dish. Of course, I have a hard time saying no to pasta nowadays, even after eating it for the past year at almost every meal. Hell, I had pasta for dinner last night, and I’m in Spain!

One evening, Tita Sue, Uncle Frank, and I went to my favorite restaurant, “Acqua al 2″ for a little family dinner by ourselves. I was most excited about this dinner because the restaurant had been established after my relatives had moved away from Florence (where they’d lived for some years while my uncle reigned as headmaster at the local American school). It was something about the city that I knew and could share with them. I didn’t take any pictures of the food that are worthy of sharing, due to the lighting being more atmospheric in nature than accommodating to photography, but rest assured that it was all phenomenal. I’ve already made reservations for my upcoming 21st birthday this June to go with my mom, dad, and brother when we visit Florence again. Can you say “blueberry steak”? Be excited.

I have to say, I knew I’d eat well the weekend that my aunt and uncle were here, and the fact that Easter happened to coincide promised a bit of entertainment as well. Every Easter morning, Florence holds a sort of procession through the major piazze in the city, specifically Piazza della Republica and Piazza del Duomo, complete with an exploding cart with fireworks at 11:30 to commemorate St. John. I chose to chase after this parade instead of going to church and listening to the kids sing, and to be honest (no offense), this parade was way more interesting than church. There were flag tossers, white oxen with gold-painted hooves, and a procession of era-dressed men, women, and children. I took so many pictures so here’s a few of them. Despite my majoring in English, I’m finding it more interesting to show you the photos than actually write about it!!

I have some video footage about the actual fireworks and explosions but I have no idea how long it’ll take for me to upload that, seeing as this post is very nearly at maximum capacity with the photos already. I can tell you that the whole piazza was packed tight with tourists and locals alike, and while I was pretty close, I still envy the people who were right up against the barriers. Having my camera with super zoom was great and all, but it would’ve been better to be closer to the action, even if that action could very well have singed my eyebrows off and given me a serious case of black lung. The amount of smoke had me convinced that the wooden cart had actually caught fire from the amount of combustion going on, but once it all cleared with the help of some rain, the cart appeared to have remained intact.

After this event, I returned to my apartment to get dressed for our Easter lunch, which my relatives, the teachers, and I would take at another favorite restaurant of mine, ZaZa’s. We were pretty lucky to get a reservation, I think, but apparently the restaurant grows every year because we were seated in a section that I’d never seen before. That’s not to say I go to ZaZa’s every other week, but I thought I’d seen all their surprises! I was first to arrive due to my lack of car. It’s way easier to walk through Florence than it is to drive, especially on such a big holiday, rain not withstanding. People mobbed the streets and it was a hassle to arrive on time even on foot. I was wearing my white blazer at the time, too, so paranoia of getting knocked into, splashed, or stained in any way, shape, or form gave me both speed and agility that even a ninja would admire.

The lighting in ZaZa’s wasn’t terribly good either, and given the number of photos I’ve already spammed you with, I’ll spare you only three more since I think they’re awesome. We all ended up having the whole nine-yards lunch of appetizer, first, and second courses, though few of us attempted dessert. I had a fagioli-bruscheta, pappa al pomodoro, and lamb chops with rustic potatoes, in that order. I had no idea that lamb was a traditional Easter dish but I suppose it makes sense. Morbid sense. I ate Jesus on Easter. Awkward.

The madness of the weekend ended with one last day trip up to Antella, a tiny town on the outskirts of Florence in the mountains, where we visited some of Tita Sue and Uncle Frank’s friends from when they lived here. In fact, the little bed-and-breakfast their friends owned gave a clear view of the American school and the house my relatives used to live in nearby. It was a beautiful area, full of flowers and green, not to mention the spare donkey. We enjoyed lunch there and the kids and faculty spent some time sharing thoughts and thanks about their experiences while in in Italy. I think it must’ve been something, coming to Florence on a trip like theirs, a real bonding experience. I remember my first band trip in high school, to the Caribbean on a cruise, but that was more novel-filled than friendship-securing. Sure, we were a tight-knit group, but I don’t think we came together exactly like these kids did.

I had  a great time that weekend and I’m pretty grateful Tita Sue and Uncle Frank came around when they did. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my immediate family, Dad’s visit in February notwithstanding. Even then, it’s been, what?, four months since I’ve seen him? At least ten since seeing my mom and brother. People always ask me how I can do it. Well, they don’t exactly ask. It’s more of a “I can’t believe you’ve managed it” type of comment. I dunno. I hate to say that it’s not debilitating, and maybe that’s a good thing, seeing as I plan on coming right back to Europe after my graduation next May (and isn’t that a thought??). My parents understand, I think. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing them once they get here in June! Won’t that be a reunion?

Christmas in Florence

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Buon Natale, etc everyone!!!

I’ve been pretty busy since our last update, getting everyone moved out of our Via Giusti apartment and moving into my new Borgo Oggnisanti apartment, traveling to various countries (or country as is the case), and making sure there’s food on sale during Christmas Eve day. You never know in a religious country like Italy. In any case, I’m spending Christmas away from the family here in Florence, but my cousin Danielle has come out for her winter break. We’re taking the country by storm (and eating more than our weight in delicious food of course). Before I get to Christmas celebrations, I should probably give you a run-down on everything that’s happened in the past few weeks.

The move-out of the fall semester Palazzo Ruccelai students was something of a nightmare. We had to get the apartment cleaned up, furniture returned to original rooms, and garbage removed in entirety. Nightmare. Not to mention the tension between housemates leading up to the actual date. I swear, girls are vicious. I realize that the last time I wrote about my roommates, I got in “trouble” with school administration (because heaven forbid I tell the truth on an obscure blog easily lost in the catacombs of the Internets), but I’m sincerely glad I’m not living in that environment anymore. Passive aggressive behavior pisses me off. Problems should be addressed promptly and with honesty, but apparently this is beyond certain persons. Never mind the fact that we’re unlikely to ever see each other again, some students not even attending the same universities as each other. Even the girls who attend ASU are unlikely to ever see me, unless they’re interested in 400-level English lit classes (which they aren’t) or have a sudden urge to grace Barrett with their presences.

It’s astonishing, the growth rate of maturity. As in, stagnation seems disgustingly prominent.

Anyway, with the leaving of my former roommates came the arrival of Danielle and our trip to Reit im Winkl. We were set up for our very first White Christmas in Pension Louise with Rudi, Kornelia, Alexandra, and Mikel. Behold the view from the second floor!

Very Winter-Wonderland isn’t it? This was my first time I’d been in snow, and man, was it cold! Of course, with the proper attire, there wasn’t much of a problem, but I don’t think my face has ever been quite so freezing. Wearing a ski mask all the time wasn’t exactly prudent. Not to mention it’s creepy.

Rudi and Kornelia stuffed us stupid. Italian food culture and German food culture are drastically different, the latter more like the American mentality of “eat a lot.” That being said, after eating relatively balanced meals here in Florence, going to Germany and gorging on heavy comfort foods like potatoes, goulasch, schnitzel, and hot wine probably dropped about ten pounds on every part of my body. I can’t even bring myself to step on a scale. Ugh, I’m looking at a new pants size, I know it.

You'd get fat if you ate stuff like this, too. This is Kaiserschmarrn.

Coming back to Florence meant getting ready for our meagre Christmas away from family and friends. We had no Christmas tree aside from the six-inch tall decoration sitting on our kitchen table, but luckily I’d made a reservation at a cute, Tuscan restaurant called “Acqua al 2″ for actual Christmas dinner. Unfortunately, we had to figure out what to do with ourselves on Christmas Eve. With the heating out in the apartment (and still not functioning btw), we were so cold that we didn’t even bother with a conventional dinner and just made soup from a packet. I slept hard that night. Travel in any form is tiring, and even though the flight from Germany only took a collective three hours, I was ready to sleep well into the next day.

Christmas Day was as satisfying as it could be. Sitting and opening presents by ourselves at noon couldn’t really compare to our home traditions. Apparently my brother woke up at 4AM raring to go and my parents finally obliged him at 7:30 before going to our neighbor’s place for Christmas breakfast. I missed that. I’m certainly not sorry to be here, but I’m glad for the advancement of technology. FaceTime has never been used for such a long period of time. I think my parents called me four times that day and Danielle and I definitely presided over whole-family-clan-Christmas-activities for nearly four hours. It was almost like being home again. This wasn’t my first time missing a big family gathering. I spent the Easter of my high school junior year in Japan, and I can say with certainty that I might miss a few more holidays in the coming years. Maybe Apple will invent hologram technology by then?

Dinner at Acqua al 2 was splendid. I’d only been there with my friend Daniel once before, but I’m glad we went again. Danielle and I indulged in three course meals, but we skipped dessert. I couldn’t find room anywhere to fit it! I don’t have any pictures for you. The lighting is kept low in the dining rooms, and taking photos with my camera at 1/2 second or even slower is incredibly difficult without a tripod. You’ll have to do with my description. I started with a carrot salad (just carrots), primi piatti was farfalline (bowtie) con zucca (pumpkin), which was to die for, primi secondi was fillet mignon with reduction of balsamic vinegar. Previously, I’d had fillet mignon with blueberry sauce, and I can’t make a comparison of the two. Both were absolutely delicious. I’ll just have to have them again. Oh well.

Danielle and I have also done a bit of post-Christmas shopping. We hit H&M with all the combined might of our credit cards (not really) and picked up a few things for New Years, which we’re spending in Venice this year. I bought a cute little black dress, a champagne scarf, and a new pair of high heels. I won’t be going shopping for a while. It’s so hard to resist, though! Fashion’s so accesible here.

Now that the Holiday craze is settling down a bit, we’re not doing much by means of site-seeing. We’ll hopefully be able to drag ourselves out of bed to climb the Duomo tomorrow. Hopefully. We haven’t been doing a good job of getting up early. I don’t have the best track record for being an early riser, but this is just ridiculous.

Hope you enjoy these Christmas lights! I definitely do.

Fall Break: Vienna, Austria

This may take a while . . .

Okay, the long-awaited discourse on my fall break: The Best of the East. Daniel and I decided to take advantage of tour-company, Euroadventures, during our fall break to explore some countries neither of us had encountered before. The trip spanned Austria, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in only 10 days, so we were definitely in for some fast-paced travel. Packing for this was definitely an issue. For one, I’ve never really been in a “winter” country. You know, where it snows. It snows in Eastern Europe. Luckily not while I was there, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. My fingers would’ve fallen off. Anyway, while it never snowed, temperatures flirted with freezing, so thanks Mom for that down jacket. I used it every day.

Vienna, Austria was our first stop and it’s the one I remember least. I’d heard prior that it was a very beautiful city with plenty of culture and opera and ballet and beautiful museums. The people weren’t terribly friendly, though. Then again, we were 40+ screaming American college students. It’s hard to find anyone anywhere that would look at us with anything other than disdain. A wild pack of students on break is often akin to a manic tribe of monkeys, and students abroad are one hell of a monkey mania. Once we managed to break off of the group, though, we were able to m eet some pretty cool people, namely the “Clique.” We’ll get to that.

We were only there for a day and a night (we really hit the ground running for this trip), so we didn’t have much time to see anything outside of the walking tours we were provided. Daniel and I became friends with two girls from the group, Monica and Tara, both studying in Florence though not at Palazzo Ruccelai. Together we had lunch at a tiny hole-in-the-wall off the main strip near the cathedral and then hunted down the Belvedere Palace to see the art museum, mainly for the famous “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. Unfortunately photos weren’t allowed and I hadn’t thought to be sneaky about getting one. Sorry guys. It was beautiful though, very sparkly.

What I remember best from Vienna is the food. You’ll find that’s a common theme for this trip. Food, food, food. I didn’t do much shopping, so photos really take up the majority of my memory cache. Vienna’s food was pretty familiar: bratwursts and potatoes and heavy gravies. Very homey food.

Next stop: Bratislava, Slovakia!

Fresco and Cooking 2

This Wednesday we finally got started on actually painting frescos in my fresco class. The first couple of weeks were filled with theory study and a visit to the Santa Croce church, which contains some of the oldest frescos in Florence, done by Giotto (a contemporary and friend of Dante) and his students. The theory was quite interesting and covered your basic art history as well as extending into chemistry and a bit of anthropology. Granted, fresco emerged from the brightest the world had to offer, so it’s no surprise that we jumped from subject to subject when discussing its history. Apparently, the oldest discovered frescos occurred in Greece, though few remain due to some chemical composition or another. I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details.

In any case, I was terrified to start. Fresco kinda does this thing. Once you put paint on the plaster, it stays there. Like, forever. There’s a reason all those Egyptian tombs still have crap on the walls. It’s because the pigment is literally absorbed into the walls. You mess up, you scrape a hole in your wall and start again. No pressure. Oh, and you have to finish whatever plaster you put up, otherwise it dries with nothing on it and it doesn’t come down. Again, don’t worry about it.

Luckily, we’re not graded on masterful ability or genius renditions. Just simple, “Replicate this as well as you can with the time you’re given.” I think our professor would’ve been pleased with us if we’d just spread our plaster flat and that’s it. We all managed to get pretty far along, but with only four students, Titziano (my prof) didn’t have any difficulty getting around to help us when we had questions.

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Food class was just as scrumptious as the last one with a brand new menu and a whole bunch of neat little tricks. Granted, I can’t remember many of them now (it’s been a few days) but I wrote them down somewhere and I’ll find those notes…eventually. Anyway, despite having come prepared (read: having eaten prior to class to prevent fainting from starvation), I still got a little light-headed and had to sit down for a little while so I wouldn’t pass out. Must’ve been heat or low blood sugar or something. Regardless, I felt much better after we got started with the eating part of the class.

For our antipasti, we made Schiacciata al Olio, which is a form of focaccia, and I didn’t know that this particular dough is the same used in pizza. We’re essentially given a bundle of different recipes every time we learn something in this class, since a lot of things cross over in different recipes. (All pictures are up in the slide show) We made two versions, a stuffed focaccia con cipolle (focaccia with onions) and a simple focaccia with toppings. Mixing everything up was fun, since we did it straight on the table as opposed to in a bowl. You know how on food shows, the really “skilled” guys use their fingers to mix an egg into a volcano pile of flour on a flat surface? Yeah, I can do that now. Not that it’s phenomenally difficult. Just cool.

Primi piatti was Pasta e Ceci (thick soup with chickpeas and pasta). To be perfectly honest, I had no idea that chick peas and garbanzo were one and the same. I thought they were completely different. Goes to show you how having international experience can actually embarrass you in front of people. By far, though, this has been my favorite dish that we’ve made. I love garbanzos and this soup was absolutely delicious with puree and chunks of the beans threaded with rosemary, garlic, and spicy peperoncino flakes. I could have done without the pasta, but it was a nice addition, something extra to chew on hidden in the goop. Delicious goop, mind.

Here comes the more interesting part of the meal: secondo. There’s nothing exciting about petto di pollo al limone (chicken in lemon sauce), but there’s something to be said about the infamous Melanzane all Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan). Up until this past Wednesday, I’d never had eggplant before and heard horror stories from both my parents about slimy textures and a bizarrely bland taste. All in all, it didn’t sound very appetizing, and while the plant itself was pretty cool to look at, I wasn’t exactly impressed once the dish came out of the oven. The lemon chicken was very good, breaded somewhat like the chicken we had last year in Bracciano during the summer (Mom, you’ll remember), but I simply couldn’t bring myself to think anything other than, “Weird,” after trying the eggplant parm. My parents were right: it’s slimy.

Dessert definitely came as a surprise in the form of Salame Dolce, a sort of trick desert that looks exactly like an actual log of salame once rolled. Granted, it’s like the worst thing for you with straight up sugar, cocoa powder, butter, and dessert wine composing the majority of the “filling,” then you have some animal crackers thrown in just for fun. After dousing it in powdered sugar, you have a genuine false salame roll. Apparently it’s very popular come Mardi Gras time, so I’ll be looking forward to loads of it next spring!

Again, if anyone’s interested in the recipes, let me know and give my your email addresses! I can’t send it if I don’t know where to send it to!

On the way back to my apartment post-food coma, my friend Daniel and I ran into a crowd of people watching a street performer dressed like Charlie Chaplin. I have to say that if he’d done many of the things in his performance back in the States, he’d have been strung up for harassment. Of course, that made it all the more entertaining! Video footage up shortly!

Cooking Classes – Round 1

This is a long time coming, but, finally, I had my first cooking class with the lovely Mrs. F!! Granted, this happened last Wednesday and as usual, I’m horrible about updating on time, but let’s just get into the nitty-gritty. Mrs. F is an American woman from Iowa who’s been living here in Florence for the past 35 years, having married an Italian man (named Fabio) and settled in the city where she’d studied abroad for a semester. Actually, she just never left once that semester was done. Funny how I’m meeting all these women who just dropped everything to live out the rest of their lives here . . . Sign, anybody?

In any case, the cooking classes include five three-hour sessions encompassing the Tuscan meal, meaning four courses: antipasti, primi piatti, secondo, and dolce. After we learn about the respective history of each dish we happen to make that day, we get to eat. Of course, this all comes at a price and after factoring in the cost of the ingredients, time, and such, we all had to shell out 170€ to enjoy this little course. Not too bad, considering we’re going to be using these skills for a while, but I definitely haven’t been as frivolous with my money since dropping that cash.

Mrs. F. also provided us with a cookbook of our lesson-meals that she wrote herself entitled: Cucina Italiana: From Scratch. Appropriate, since we are literally building from the most basic up. I think we’re going to start every lesson with flour, water, butter, and eggs. She wants us to be able to use everything we come into contact with in a versatile manner.

Our antipasti assigned was meant to be Polenta piastra con pecorino (grilled polenta with cheese), but since Wednesday topped the charts at a whopping 92˚, we went for a cooler dish instead, a broken-down version of bruschetta whose name for the life of me I cannot remember. Basically, it consisted of hardened bread nubs watered down into crummy bits, cuts of fresh onion and tomato, and copious amounts of olive oil. Yes, Mom, I ate everything, even the raw onion.

Bread, tomato, onion, olive oil mush thing = good

Accordingly, the primi piatti was supposed to be Pappa al Pomodoro (tomato-bread soup), but it was way too hot so that was shunted down the line of alternative recipes to Polenta Pasticciata, which is essentially a lasagna with cold polenta slices instead of noodles. It came out of the oven bubbling like a pit of hell, but it tasted divine (haha, oh, sooo corny . . . points for puns). I’m pretty sure that the two boys in my class and I finished off half of the dish to ourselves. Mrs. F keeps talking about how she often has to cook more for the boys in her class, but I’m pretty bent on convincing her that she has to cook more for me too.

Polenta Pasticciata

Secondo was the frittata di porri e patate (leek-and-potato frittata), and those of my family should know this because of that one time we did Iron Chef for Easter some four or five years ago (maybe more?). I think Dad and Marc were the pair with potato as the secret ingredient and they threw together a frittata. This one more resembled the Spanish tortilla, though there was definitely more egg than I’m used to. Granted, it tasted delicious and it was quick and easy to make. The only qualms I’d have about doing this at home would be the flipping part. Not sure how well that’d go. This was served with a side of fagiolini in umido (stew green beans) which were a bit soggy, but I like my green beans with lots of crunch. I pigged out.

Frittata di Porri e Patate

Fagiolini in Umido

Finally for dessert was the crostata di more (blackberry torte). If you’ve ever seen Paula Dean on the Food Network, you know that she loves butter. Apparently, so does Mrs. F. We put half a stick of butter into the dough, and boy could you taste it in the AIR when that torte came out of the oven. She told us that the torte could be made with a variety of jams in it, and as proof, we used a plum jam she’d made herself from the seasonal plums on sale at the market this month. The dough could also be used for cookies. Imma have to get me some flour next time I go to the supermarket. And some jam. This thing was delicious. I felt fat rolling myself home after that class was finished.

Crostata di More

All in all, I’m excited to be cooking again this coming Wednesday. I’ve taken a look at the menu, and we’ll be having focaccia, pasta soup, lemon chicken and eggplant parmesan, and some sort of sweet fake salame? Not sure about that one. Of course, I’ll try everything, even though eggplant has a funny texture. Slimy. Yay. I can hear thunder out my window now, and the clouds are booking it across the sky. I wonder if that means rain for tomorrow? Joy. Anyway, hope you’ve enjoyed the photos! If you’re interested in the recipes of my weekly classes, shoot me an email at via.firenze.sa@gmail.com or write a comment down below!

IMPORTANT: I have a History of Food class paper to write, and I have a couple of ideas for the topic, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on my choices. Let me know in the poll below, and I’ll announce on Wednesday what I’ve decided to do! Thanks!

Chianti

We all know what immediately comes to mind when thinking of Chianti and all its trappings: wine. Delicious, full, leggy red wine from the Chianti Classico region outside of Florence, bathed in Tuscan sunlight and fed from the rivers diverted by the Romans over two thousand years ago in a show of power and wealth. Yes. How can I describe last Friday in any other context? On our mandatory post-orientation outing, Palazzo Rucellai staff dragged us out to the Chianti region for a wine tasting and traditional Tuscan luncheon. We were dragging our feet. I’m sure you can relate.

We met at the train station in Piazzo della Stazione around 9:30 AM, and people struggled in droves to get there on time. Some looked like they hadn’t slept at all. Eventually, once everyone arrived, we all piled onto the buses and headed out through the gorgeous countryside. If you’ve ever seen “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “Letters to Juliet,” that’s exactly what everything looks like. Picturesque was defined by Tuscany.

Once arriving at the vineyard and villa-hotel Vignamaggio (google that), we were taken on a tour of the winery facilities and given in-depth explanations about the wine processes, including the distillation and bottling of various wines. It’s all very scientific, and I suddenly understood why CalPoly dedicated an entire major to this artform. After all, these people have been making wine for hundreds of years, this particular vineyard the product of over six hundred years of work. People need preparation to go into this sort of profession.

Of course, the information was fascinating and the cellars equally mysterious, but we were really there for the food. And wine. But the food was more important in my opinion. I’m all for a glass every once in a while, but I’m finding that being in a country where it’s legal to drink, I’m not very interested in doing so. That’s not to say that I’m a wild child back home (I’m not) but I think there’s a sense of maturity here in regards to alcohol that eventually rubs off on you. Italians just don’t drink as Americans do. There’s a finesse to it, a sense of refinement and elegance from sharing an aperitif or bottle of Chianti between friends that’s absent back at home. I really like it. I want to bring it back with me.

Food: As you can see from the pictures, we benefitted from the hotel-villa’s hospitality in the form of a traditional Tuscan luncheon. Unfortunately we only had two courses, the aperitivo and primi piatti, but both were delicious and accompanied by two glasses sumptuous red wine cut from the same vines but aged differently. I wasn’t surprised to find the sweeter one more appetizing. Even as I’m writing this, I’m eyeing up the chocolate bar I just bought from the local supermarket. Mmm, sweets…

The aperitivo was incredibly like what my family and I would have in Spain for a snack after siesta. Various cuts of proscuitto and salami, some sort of cheese which I think was Pecorino, and toasted bread soaked in olive oil pressed from the olives on the vineyard groves. Primi piatti was a meatless lasagna with fresh rosemary and tomato sauce. Live vicariously through me in the following photos because that food was delicious.

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Shortly after we were released to explore the grounds, a couple of us banded together to investigate the vineyards. The grapes looked just as I imagine a Roman lord might have found them on his silver dessert platter. It’s somewhat overwhelming to know that this land was once walked by the greats like Caesar and Marcus Aurelius, that they drank wine grown from the same hills. That’s serious history. We sampled a few bunches from the vine, both red/purple and green grapes, and it was the perfect ending to that day. We ate from the earth after tasting what man can do to the materials given to him. That’s pretty inspiring.

First Home-Cooked Meal!

Two posts in one day! Had to show everyone this. We stayed in tonight and made dinner for the first time on our little stove! A roommate and I made dinner together, Jillian having wanted pasta and pasta being part of my dish to begin with. She made this great tomato and onion sauce to go over her penne, just a bit of water and veggies simmering over the fire until gooey, and it was really great. The tomato was succulent and bursting with flavor (I think she bought it from the farmers market going on in Piazza della Anunziata), and I might just start to like tomato while I’m here . . . The onion was biting and a perfect foil to the smooth red sauce.

Penne with tomato-onion sauce!

I seared some chicken pieces that I cut up from a breast I bought at the supermarket with a simple rub of salt and pepper. Fried up in butter and olive oil, it was paired with penne pasta doused in olive oil, cream raspberry-balsamic vinegar and salt/pepper. I also indulged in a little white wine. If that was the wrong color someone please tell me!!!

Chicken, pasta with balsamic/olive oil/salt and pepper!

Finally in Florence

So I’ve been in Florence since Wednesday, and I can’t even describe how busy I’ve been. Even at ASU, orientation didn’t take three days. Then again, we spoke the same language in Arizona (if not the same slang), usually ate the same food, and couldn’t get arrested for making a bunch of noise in our dorm rooms at three o’clock in the morning. Florence is a big cultural shift from college life at Barrett. I expected no less, but I think my roommates are still reeling from the differences. I can’t say how often I hear the word “America” or “American.” They miss home. Rather, they miss the fixings of home.

Orientation covered a lot more than I thought it would. Aside from the copious amounts of paperwork to fill out, we were introduced to all of the professors, administration, and locations for classes. We got our books, schedules, and signed up for some September extra-curricular activities. All in all, it seems a lot like school. Nothing’s terribly different, save for the fact that we’re in Florence. We have three day weekends with the promise of attendance the other four days of class. I’m looking forward to the routine of classes. Honestly, this floating around with no set plan is starting to get old. I’m not sure what to do with myself. Definitely glad that classes start tomorrow.

My door on Via Giusti!

Anyway, I’m living in Via Giuseppi Giusti, 30 for this semester with six other girls. They’re good fun, though a little more interested in the bottle than I am. I don’t think they’ve done a lot of traveling outside of the US, so I sometimes feel like I’m imposing my knowledge on them. I do mean well, but I can see how my interest in helping could be taken as condescending or patronizing. Not that it matters, I’m sure we’ll all know the city equally well by the time they leave. Oh, I’m the only student staying for the academic year, by the way. As a result, the entire administrative staff knows who I am. Awkward.

Today was our first free day and I was the only one up at a reasonable hour. I decided to take a little stroll through the city, and since I had to buy an umbrella, it was a great opportunity to do a bit of shopping. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on it raining before I could get to a shop with a reasonably priced umbrella. Luckily, though, I’d just ducked into a little cafe to have a drink and snack when the downpour started. I had a front-row seat to the Duomo’s piazza emptying as people scurried for cover under massive stone eaves and the awnings of pizzarias. A bellini and chocolate bigné and I was set.

After the rain let up, I did a bit of shopping at Zara and H&M. I bought some perfume, my umbrella, a pair of black flats, and some nail polish to cover my horrendous fingernails. I’m flattered (and kind of embarrassed) to say that I got a lot of looks/whistles from various men, thereby disproving that only blonde ladies get catcalls here in Florence, but it definitely brightened the overcast day. Every girl could use a self-esteem boost in the form of a hot whistling Italian man. On the way home I went to the San Lorenzo marketplace, where all of the leather goods are sold, to pick up some wine toppers since the corks never seem to fit back into their bottles once we open them. I really hope they don’t break. We’ll see. If they do, I know the stall where I can get them cheap.

Tomorrow classes start, and Palazzo Rucellai is a fair walk from Via Giusti. Add to that my first class starts at 9:30, and I have to be up freakin’ early. Ugh. My dad got a kick out of that, though. Back at ASU, I’ve made an effort to schedule my classes as close to noon as possible. I’m not a morning person at all. Anyway, class update on Tuesday after I’ve been to all five of them! Hope everyone’s having a good day. Bye!