Carnivale Kick-off

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only just finished my first week of studies at LdM. Every day has held a new wonder, from walking into Italian on Monday and being fully immersed into the language, to my two separate tours (and tastings) of the Central Market of Florence. I’ve had more food than I could write about in a reasonable amount of words (I’m still trying not to make this ENTIRELY a food blog).

I guess I’ll begin with Thursday evening. I’d finished all of my classes for the week and my roommates, a few other friends, and I decided to go out. We found an underground Jazz Club that had a 6 euro membership fee. Such a cool place! We got a free drink upon entering, and were greeted by a small, albeit extremely talented, live band. They seemed just like a group of friends having a jam session. The vibe was causal and cozy. And now that we have memberships, I know we’ll be back as soon as we can.

The morning after, my roommates and I boarded a train to Venice. Our first weekend exploration. I was ready to get lost in this city that I’ve read so much about. Adam found an almost-too-cheap-to-be-true apartment for two nights that was on the small Venetian island of Murano, the one know for the unmatched skill of its glass blowers. After getting settled (and calling the company we were renting from to come and clean it please and thank you…) we took a water taxi to the main island.

Now, every travel blogpost I’d read about Venice said that the best way to see the city was to avoid the crowds as much as possible and to get lost in the maze of narrow walkways and mesmerizing canals. We wandered for the majority of that first day. I asked one of my culinary professors for some good eats. She let me know that Venice is not an Italian city necessary known for its food. The major tourists destinations are surrounded by tourist trap restaurants, catering to those who probably won’t be back, and therefor won’t pay as much attention to quality and pricings. She said that the best places were the easiest to miss and the most Venician way to eat was Cicchetti-style. This is a local custom of eating finger food and sipping the local wine (prosecco is the go-to as this is the region it’s from).

Cantinone gia Schiavi

This led us to Cantinone gia Schiavi, an extremely unassuming place found under a duo green awning that could be easily passed by without a second look. Here I had one of the best plates of food I’d eaten since landing in Italy. From right to left: pumpkin, ricotta, and parmigiano – octopus – smoked swordfish – and tuna and leak – all on top of a slightly toasted baguette slice. I asked the chef behind the counter for his favorite and he picked out the tuna and leak one. This is my kind of eating, so many different combinations of flavors in tiny little bites. I could have spent my entire visit in Venice solely eating cicchetti. Plus this entire plate only cost me around 6 euro (including the prosecco).

*still drooling

For dinner that night our main goal was to find a seafood place where I could get some risotto (two things that Venice are known for). This was no problem after a little aimless wandering. Since the place we found didn’t open until 6:30, we killed some time by drinking a bottle of prosecco next to a canal at the end of an alleyway. One of my roommates and I split a mound of tuna tartar, a bowl of steamed clams and mussels, and we each got our own bowl of seafood risotto. Now here is where Venice surprised me. Everyone, and everywhere I read, was telling me not to get my hopes too high for the food in Venice. Yet, these two meals, I have to say, matched any food expectation I had of Italy in general and then some. The tartar, small raw cubes of raw tuna, was lightly seasoned with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and on top a nest of peppery arugula. I was immediately transported to the sea, which probably wasn’t much of a stretch considering we were less than a kilometer away from the Aegean. The bowl of mollusks was served with a thin tomato and seafood broth and a slice of lemon. Exactly how I believe mussels and clams should be served. They tasted like they were cooked right in the sea with minimal additives. Then came the risotto. Risotto is a rice dish, that’s slowly cooked with wine and some sort of broth, and this one had shrimp and calamari. It was creamy and an absolute comfort with every forkful.

The Fierce Firenze Five take Venezia

I went to bed early and very happy that night. Getting a surprising 15 hours of much needed sleep.

The next day was a pleasant blur of exploring the glass shops on Murano, a quick trip to Saint Mark’s square, more crowd-less wandering, and of course, the first night of Carnival. Now, I’m no expert, but my understanding is that Carnival is the near month long celebration leading up to Lent. It’s the Italian Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras is the Americanize Carnival – eh not totally sure, and too lazy to google it. The big kick-off event was a canal parade of extravagant lights. There were fire dancers and eaters, a woman suspended by a huge glowing balloon, dancers with (what looked like) wacky-inflatable-tube-dancer-esque appendages, and women with glowing capes seemingly dancing on the water. The entire day we were surrounded by masqueraded crowds and little kids in Star Wars or Spider-Man costumes (yeah I’m not sure why either).

And this was just night one of an entire month of events. I’m currently riding the train back to my new home, Firenze. I thought I’d finally take some time to record a bit more of my adventures. I refuse to edit these posts (too much) partly because I’m just lazy, but also because I want to remember this as raw as I possibly can. As always, thanks for reading – you da best! I’ve only been here for, what? not even two weeks? And my eyes, and taste buds, have been exposed to more than I thought possible. Well, here’s to the more that’s yet to come.



Benvenuti a Firenze!

The two days leading up to Firenze, Emma and I were in Amsterdam. What a busy and beautiful city. Maybe I’ll write a full post about it at some point. Maybe I won’t. I’m still getting used to this whole blog thing, so who really knows? What I do know, is that I plan on making my way back to the Venice of the North.

Now onto Firenze! Well that’s what the plan was, but the weather thought differently. We had to touch down on Pisa. I honestly didn’t mind. I wasn’t in any huge rush. Plus I got to see an hour of Italian countryside that I’d never been able to see without that little detour. Didn’t get to see the leaning tower, but I’m sure that’s still to come.

After arriving in Florence I had to go straight to a short orientation. At this point I hadn’t met any of my roommates, and had only been able to contact one on Facebook. Wolfgang just happened to be standing right behind me in line. I know, how freakin cool is it to have a roommate named Wolfgang? Anyway, I had the great idea of trying to find our own way to our apartment and bypassing the taxis. Now, Florence’s streets remind me a little of the cracks of a broken mirror. No nice and easy, structured city blocks. These narrow cobblestone streets are going to take a little getting used to. Wolf and I tried our best, but after about 15 sweaty minutes and figuring out that we were walking in the wrong direction, we decided to hail a cab. At least we could feel a tad accomplished about that.

We were the last two to arrive. Five guys living in the middle of Florence. And what do you do on your first night with new people in Italia? Drink wine! And explore the city a little. But mostly, drink wine! We stopped at a tiny restaurant tucked away in the city. I panicked due to not understanding/knowing how to speak much Italian, so I ordered one of the first things I recognized, pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans). But, honestly, I don’t think it matters what you order most places in Italy, because it’s going to be delicious. The main components of this soup were square cut pasta pieces and chick peas. The warmth of the soup and the familiar onion and garlic flavors seemed to welcome me home.

Then came the wine, of course, and a chance to connect a bit with the roomies, or as I coined on WhatsApp, the “Fierce Firenze Five”.

The next morning I stopped at a cafe that is right next door to our apartment that I’d failed to notice the day before. For breakfast I like to have something soft, crunchy, sweet, and something strong to give me a kick start to the day. And the apple tart I had gave me the first three and looked like a piece of art with the thinly sliced apple fanned out on top. The cappuccino gave me my kick.

After some more orientation and whatnot/who’s who stuff, my roommate, Adam, and I went grocery shopping. I’ve never really been in a place where I’ve had to constantly cook for myself, and I was in heaven walking into that market. For lunch we just made ourselves a very simple bruschetta with a baguette topped with pesto, fresh mozzarella, and a balsamic glaze. The perfect thing to tide us over until dinner.

There is nothing more calming then standing over a stove and having the starchy smell of boiling pasta fill the room. This is what I came here for. Food, and also the sense of peace it brings me. We made a very simple pesto pici. Pici is a type of pasta similar to spaghetti, but thicker. I poached some eggs to throw on top, as well as some parmigiano reggiano. The egg yolk oozes over the pasta, thickening the sauce, giving it a bit more body. There’s nothing like a perfectly runny yolk. The basil pesto, even though we didn’t make it ourselves, tasted so fresh and was absorbed wonderfully by the pici. Oh, and of course there was a bit of red wine throughout the cooking/eating process.

First home cooked meal in Firenze

Gelato was an obvious after dinner go-to. Oh, and we were right outside the Duomo (see featured image) while we indulged.

Even though it’s only been a day and a half living in Firenze, I really think I’m going to like it here. It’s going to be a pretty delicious semester to say the least.

Alla Prossima! Ciao!

Amsterdam to Bielefeld + Doggo

Airplane food is way better than I remember it to be. It wasn’t anything spectacular, just a grilled chicken salad, an assortment of fresh fruit, shrimp with cocktail sauce, and a fudge brownie. You do good things Delta. And on top of that, we got breakfast. Some greek yogurt, orange juice, and a roll with some creamy orange marmalade. The food wasn’t technically “free”, but I didn’t have to pay for it on the plane, so I’ll take it.

I landed in Amsterdam at around 11am. Or what felt like 4am to my midwestern mind. My cousin’s father picked me up and immediately brought me to lunch at a Dutch sandwich shop that couldn’t have sat more than fifteen people. This is where I heard spoken Dutch for the first time. I’m sure its development has some sort of rich history, but to me it sounds like mix between German and English. And a little goofy. Like, goofy in a good way.

The three hour drive to Bielefeld, Germany was probably gorgeous,  but I wouldn’t know. I was asleep for its entirety.

I was greeted by my cousin Emma and her younger brother Richie. We’ve all know each other for just over half my life. Then, my senior year of high school Emma lived with us for the first half of it. She became one of my closest friends and stayed so even when we were an ocean and a few countries away. Our plan was to meet up again within five years of her moving back to Germany. We’ve actually been quite fortunate as her family has come over to the states a few times since then, and we were able to meet up in San Francisco this past Summer. Though, this is the first time the roles have been reversed and where I’ve been the visitor.

She showed me around her neighborhood as we walked their dog, Gigi. Tomorrow I’ll be able to see more of the city.

After dinner (goulash and spaetzle), we walked a few blocks to a traditional german restaurant, Vahle Einmalig Anders, so I could have my first taste of real German beer. I’m still not a huge beer person, but I will say that I was a huge fan of the amber ale I got, especially the inch worth of foam on top that reminded me of some sort of foamy, hoppy, whip cream. I also ordered a Bavarian cream with raspberry coulis. Bavarian cream is similar in texture to a mousse, but it is thickened with gelatin to give it a little more of a spongy texture while still keeping it light and airy. It was so smooth and the coulis’ acidity cut the sweetness perfectly. The only thing that made my experience in Vahle better was the fact that there were so many dogs inside. I guess it’s common in Germany for restaurants to allow dogs inside with their owners.

After that, I thought our night was coming to a close when a large dog with a beautiful white coat made an appearance on our walk home. Their owner was nowhere to be found and it’s collar lacked any sort of tag. Emma, Richie, and I made quick friends with the doggo. After asking anyone on the street if they’d seen the dog before, I realized that I know almost no German, and that we probably weren’t going to find this poocher’s home like this. We walked back to my cousins’ house and they took the dog to the nearest animal shelter. I didn’t go with them, so I don’t know all of what happened, but I do know that the pooch was happily returned home.

Thank you for reading all these random thoughts of mine. Like I said in my last post, I don’t really know where this blog is going, but now I think it’s really just going to be an unedited travel journal of sorts. You’re all the greatest and I hope you get to pet a super cute dog in your near future.



Check-in Before Checking Out

Wow. It’s finally here. For about the past year and a half, this is what has helped keep my sights set forward and my feet moving. I remember hanging up the “Sights of Italy” calendar my mom got me before moving back to Gustavus this Fall. A picture of the Piazza della Signoria in the center of Firenze looked me in the face every morning this past September. I’m in a surreal state of mind that after tomorrow everything will be very different for me.

Tomorrow, I take off to Europe. I’ll start my trip by visiting my cousin and her family in Bielefeld, Germany, and spending a little time in Amsterdam with her. Then, on the 31st I fly to Florence, where I will be studying at Lorenzo de’ Medici. I’ll be taking Italian Language courses (doing my Italian roots proud), an Italian Crime Fiction course, and two different culinary classes, one on Mediterranean vegetarian cuisine and another on Italian nutrition and cooking.

Yeah, I still don’t believe all of that either. I’ve wanted to run away to Italy to become a chef since I first heard Giada de Laurentiis pronounce rigatoni “ree-gah-TOH-neh”. That was around the time I fell in love with food in general. Toss in an Italian family and memories of visiting our nonni’s sausage factory, and I’m hooked to the idea. I promise, I’m not going to go too ham gushing over how cool I think food is on this blog (my roommate gets enough during random 1am outbursts). What I am going to say though, is that food is an art. It utilizes all of the five senses throughout the culinary process. Food is also the best way I know how to exhibit love. My mother’s favorite artist, Brian Andreas, has a quotation that reads:

There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.

To love and to eat. Di amare e di mangiare. I’d say that’s a fairly sound way to live.

Even writing all of this down right now, I find it difficult to imagine what tomorrow will be like. I feel like I’m about to finish letting out a two and a half year long breath, and that I am about to take another one. A new life’s about to begin.

So, as you can probably tell by reading this, I have no idea where this blog is going. But, it’s going to be here. I’m just putting it all out there, wanting to share, and also wanting to document. Thanks for taking the time to read – and feel free to comment. I’d love to hear back from some of you.

Also, let me know if I’m doing this whole blog thing right.