Fly Me to the Moon

 

photo1(12)Ciao Ciao!

Today was a very calm and relaxing day. I woke up and watched a little tube and got ready for brunch with Jen. Which I guess my “brunch” is technically a late breakfast because I can only wait so long. For those of you who don’t know, I usually wake up very early for my age group. We went to the cutest little tapas/bar(coffee) place. Jen had the pancakes and I had scrambled eggs and bacon–with a muffin. I didn’t want to short myself. I give a grade A for effort from the Italians for bacon but it wasn’t like the good ole US of A. However, it was still good and I even had a latte made with love! Well, the barista made a heart into the foam which was pretty cool.

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After breakfast Jen and I wondered down to the grocery store and got stuff for lunch. I was browsing around and decided I was going to make a pizza, by god. So, I used my Italian language and culinary skills and I grabbed some supplies. The language skills were used for the butcher if you were wondering. So here are the before and after pictures of my pizza. Not to toot my own horn here but it turned out GREAT. Call me if you ever want a pizza. I told Jen prior to the pizza making that she shouldn’t expect to open a pizzeria after my first try. SIKE! I may stay over here and open up my own shop. I put cheese, mushrooms and arugula on it. Top notch, my friends, top notch.

Once I stepped off of my victory pedestal, I got to FaceTime with good ole Johnny! Probably the highlight of my day because I’ve missed him quite a bit. He’s been on west coast time, so I couldn’t really talk to him until about 8 o’clock at night. I can say that the time difference is definitely a buzz kill. Anyways chatting with him was great and I even snapped a candid of him. 

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Tomorrow Jen and I are heading to Pistoia to see Jack Johnson at the Blues Festival. It is supposed to be 75 degrees up there–pefection. I am SO excited!! Concert in Europe will be checked off of my bucket list!

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XOXO,

Wesley

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I call it magic.

IMG_1469Ciao!

Well, these past few days have been pretty interesting! On Thursday I made pappa al pomodoro and a bean soup recipe in my class. I also went to the Conad grocery store for the first time. One thing that is weird is that if you pick up produce you have to wear gloves. You also have to weigh it and put a label on it. When you check out all of the cashiers are sitting down. It’s a very weird process but the grocery store is SO cool.

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Lattes and a view!

Today(Saturday), I went to Montepulciano and Pienza to a vineyard and a cheese tasting. We arrived at Montepulciano at around 9 a.m. It was a pretty overcast morning but as we were leaving the sun started to come out. Go figure. Jen and I stopped in for a quick latte at this cute little caffe and soaked up the view. I can say the views there were so beautiful. You just saw the Tuscan country side all around you everywhere you turned. I think I annoyed Jen from telling her how pretty everything was  every five minutes.

photo2(5)We left Montepulciano at 10:15 and arrived at Pienza at 11. Pienza is famous for two things: The second pope who influenced the Renaissance architecture and peccorino cheese. We sampled three types of aged cheese a three, six and nine month. The first was aged three months with tomatoes on top of them. In the olden days they had to figure out a way to keep stuff out of the cheese, so I guess they decided to use tomatoes. The second was for six months with ash on top of it. The last one was rolled in hay. All methods were used to keep bugs and stuff out of them. Also, for those of you who don’t know, Peccorino cheese is made from goat’s milk.

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Mr. Cheese man.

Once we left Pienza, we headed back towards Montepulciano but this time we went to a vineyard. What was cool about this vineyard was they used a type of skylight that was able to take the sunlight and use it for light throughout the entire cellar. Our guide told us that it cut down on over 50% of the energy they used. The vineyard that we toured produced over 5 different types of wine. Some of the wines were 100% Sangiovese grape as well as organic. After we toured the cellar it was time for the tasting. Jen and I got separated from one another and I was placed at the end of the table with two Asian girls and our bus driver who didn’t speak English. Needless to say the conversation was kept at a minimum with the exception of a few molto benes.

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Hangin’ with some future friends. Only a few more years!

I think one of the coolest things about this vineyard was seeing the energy efficiency being used within the cellar. During our visit our guide was constantly explaining to us the ways that they have been able to conserve energy. Today was a pretty great day to say the least!

photo6XOXO,

Wesley

P.S. I decided to stay another term so everyone watch after ole Johnny while I’m gone!

Red Red Wine Go To My Head

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Ciao bellas!

Today was a day full of one of my favorite beverages–wine! I had my first glass at about 10:30 this morning. I guess wine is the new coffee. Our lesson in class today was over the different types of wine throughout Italy. The focus was on the Tuscan region. We tried a white, rose and a red wine. The red had a very unique cherry taste to it. Honestly, I never really knew much about the different types of wine, but after I leave here I may be an expert.

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Just a casual lesson in class.

 

After my lecture class, I went to my wine tasting course. Today we focused on pairing wine with food. I was given the 13 wine commandments of pairing. I was telling my professoressa about my course earlier and what we had tasted. She asked me which wines we had tried and I told her about the Castello di Volagnano(red wine) and she said that’s from my vineyard! She was so casual about it like no big deal I own my own vineyard. Anyways, she told me her vineyard produces four reds, one sparkling wine and grappa. She also informed me how a rose is made. She said a typical red is produced with the skin of the red grape for 18 days, but a Rose only has the red grape skin for one day. This process gives the rose its actual color. She also told me the most tragic thing about wine is that sparkling wine could be the most neutral wine, but it is mostly used for only celebratory purposes.

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Wine pairing part due.

From my wine class, I went down the street to my vegetarian culinary class. Today’s lesson was focused on carrots. We made a carrot gnocchi with two different sauces: walnut and olive oil with rosemary. The walnut sauce was the bomb.com. I literally ate the whole plate. I had never made gnocchi before, and I was shocked at how easy the process was. We took one potato with two carrots and it made enough for three people. Next we had a carrot type individual casserole deal. I can’t really describe it without it sounding weird. Basically we took shredded carrots with cream and put gorganzola cheese on top and baked them. The cheese made a nice little crispy layer on top. For dessert we made carrot cake which was awesome. Maybe we went a little overboard on the carrots? I don’t know. It was a pretty good meal though.

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Carrot gnocchi

I met back up with Jen at the apartment and chatted with her about our days. She told me that she met a 70 year old artist that told her he would trade her painting lessons for italian lessons. Is it sketchy? possibly. She was surprised that I had been drinking wine since 10:30 in the morning. I can’t say that isn’t an abnormal reaction, I was quite surprised myself. We decided to go out for some desert. We had heard that the Secret Bakery was top notch, so we whipped out our map and off we went.

Now, before I tell y’all this, you should know that Jen and I both love a good desert therefore we should not be judged for our actions. As we were reading our map and calling our roommates trying to find this place, we found ourselves in the sketchiest ally way possible. Jen and I put our nose in the air and were walking around in a big square because we could smell the sweets but we couldn’t find the entrance. Thirty minutes later and three attempted italian conversations later, I found myself trying to open every door on the block. In a buckled over laughing state, I asked jen “What has Italy done to us?! We’re animals!” We found a man that told us that the bakery doesn’t open until midnight. It was 10 o’clock. So as we slowly walked away with our heads in our hands we went to the nearest restaurant we could. A split cheesecake and decaf lattes later, we were walking our 15 blocks back to the apartment. I can say that after that experience I have GOT to go back to the Secret Bakery. Even if I have to drink coffee to stay awake to get me there.

 

XOXO,

Wesley

Daydreamer

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 Ciao!

So I have been kind of under the weather here lately therefore I haven’t gone to any cool museums. However I have done my fair share of my own culinary adventure. On Monday, in my Food, Culture and Society class we learned about the slow food movement. Which in sum just means that Italians tried to slow the process down of fast food chains moving into Italy. We also did a bread and honey tasting. We tasted breads from Firenze all the way down to Puglia. I was shocked at the difference in bread texture and taste. The honey was a whole new ball game. She served us a honey that was almost crunchy, it had so much sugar in it. I found that the orange blossom was my favorite honey though.

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Sicilian gelato: Almond mixed with Sicilian Soul

On Monday afternoon I took a Classic Italian culinary course. We made a zuppa with cabbage, cheese and bread all baked together. Delicioso. We also made veal stuffed with cheese and covered in bread crumbs. I’m telling yall, if I don’t gain thirty pounds it will be a miracle.

Today I went to class and we learned about pasta and gelato. AKA the keys to my Italian heart. Did you know there are over 400 types of pasta throughout Italy? Let that sink in a little bit. 4-0-0. Sadly we didn’t have a pasta tasting, but we did go to two different gelaterias. The first was a Sicilian shop, which Sicilian flavors are mostly nuts and citrus fruits. They also use organic products and not a creme base. Florentine gelaterias use more creme based and are known for chocolate and plain creme tastes.

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Now to the interesting part, dinner. By recommendation from my cousin, Jen, Maddie and I went to Acqua Al’ 2. She told me that I had to try the blueberry filet. So, I suggested this to my roommates and we decided to do a sampling. We sampled five pastas which included: meat sauce with rigatoni, broccoli sauce with a shell pasta, spinach sauce with a spiral noodle, gnocchi with a sweet pepper sauce, and a bowtie pasta with a mushroom sauce. My favorite had to be the spinach pasta.

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From left to right: balsamic filet, sirloin and the blueberry filet.

Now for the real deal–the steaks. The samplings were blueberry filet, balsamic filet and a sirloin over faccacia(pardon the spelling) bread. Holy smokes, I think I died and went to heaven. The blueberry sauce was Ah-mazing. I would almost say life changing but I don’t know if it would do it justice. After that it was all down hill with desserts, because OF COURSE we had a desert sampling that included: cheesecake, chocolate cake, strawberry tart and tiramisu. Let me just say that I was waddling out of the restaurant. I don’t know what it is about Italy but all I want to do is eat.

The Hike

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(See that mountain, yeah I climbed all of the way around it.) 

Buon Giorno!

Today was a day that I will never forget. The day that I climbed something as close to Mt. Kilimanjaro that I ever want to get. It was actually just through the hills of Cinque Terre but it was still intense. The morning started off with a 7 a.m. departure from the bus stop. It took us two and a half hours to get to Cinque Terre and then we took a train to go to the different towns. Well, I was informed that it was a “leisure” hike. HA. At one point it was completely vertical. I was hiking in my converse because I didn’t think to pack any reliable tennis shoes. The hike took us approximately an hour and a half to power through. Needless to say it was brutal and I have no guilt whatsoever about eating pasta now. Once we arrived to Vernazza, the town was just amazing. It basically looked like a post card when I first saw it. Maybe it was because I was delusional from all of my abrupt physical activity, I don’t know. I do know that water and a caprese salad have never tasted so good.

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(This is the town of Vernazza, which I thought was a mirage after my hike.)

After Jen and I relaxed for a while we decided to take a water taxi to the town where we were supposed to meet our group. I’m glad that we did it instead of taking the train only because we saw things from the water that we wouldn’t have seen. Once we arrived, we waited for like 30 minutes for our guide to arrive and then we just decided to get on the train. Fortunately he just so happened to be on said train. Luckily everything worked out and everyone made it back to the bus/train on time.

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Jen and I in Riomaggiore

Anyways, today was an awesome day and I am really loving Italy still. I honestly don’t want to leave. Tomorrow marks the start of my second week here which is pretty crazy, if ya think about it. I think tomorrow Jen and I are checking out a leather market. I’ve learned that ya never know what you will discover here in Italy!

XOXO,

Wesley

Parma e Modena

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Buona Sera!

Today was a very long day to say the least! I had to be up and at the bus stop at 5 a.m. The walk isn’t too bad but it takes about 15 minutes. In the mix of trying to get ready and out the door I left my eye mask, pillow and blanket for the bus. I can tell you that I will never forget that again! It took us about three hours to get to Parma where we visited a parmigiano reggianno farm and a farm that produced prosciutto!

Our first stop was the cheese farm where we were greeted by the cheese master, Silvia. Her family has been cheese masters for over three generations. To become a cheese master you learn more from experience than you do a textbook. The way DOP parm. cheese is made is by all ingredients coming from the region where it is produced. Italy has four certified DOP regions which Parma and Modena are two of the four. The process starts with part skim milk that is taken from milking the cows at night and letting it sit throughout the night in order for it to naturally separate. Next, they milk the cows in the morning to get the whole milk. Then they combine both milks in copper tub type things. Then they heat the milk until it is curdled and they whisk that around with a spino. After that is pulled from the copper tub and is put into a plastic mold for 24 hours. After that it is placed in a metal mold with a sort of ream of plastic that has a tag of the farm and the products name on it. Once it has sat there for 24 hours it is sat into a pool of water and sea salt for two weeks. Finally once it has been cured in a sense it is placed on a shelf for a minimum of two years. That would be considered fresh. Usually the Italians prefer 24-36 month old cheese.

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  (Copper tubs that the milk is placed into and heated)                                  (The spino and a large wooden spoon)

I mentioned earlier that in order to be DOP all products have to be produced from the region that are used. This includes the cows so Silvia took us to her family’s farm where the cows were located. I should have mentioned this earlier that it is a big deal for Silvia to be a cheese master. Usually the males in the family are cheese masters. However her brothers maintain the cows and such.

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(Silvia and her team lifting the finished cheese out of the tub.)

After I became a cheese master myself it was off to the pig farm. We were greeted by a man named Carlos who did not speak a lick of english. His family’s farm is one of only 160 farms in Italy that produce GOP prosciutto. All members of his family are involved in the production of the prosciutto. I have learned that pretty much all farm type trades are usually passed down through generations. Anyways, so the use the back legs of the pig to make prosciutto. It is passed around through four different types of freezers for a minimum of two months. After this process it is put in a warehouse type place and hangs for 14 months. Carlos and his family at the time of our visit had 56,000 hams hanging all around us. I can tell you that I have never smelled a more pungent salt room in my life.

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(My friend Bessie and I)                                                                                                                      (Voila, cheese)

Once we finished with the tour, Carlos invited us to his family’s caffe for some lunch. Now, I consider myself to be a trooper but after smelling the ham and seeing it all, I had to take a break on the ham. Lunch was pretty awesome and I ended up eating myself into what seemed like a vegetative state. My teacher told me that I may want to go walk around before I got on the bus. This is probably one of the more lower points in my life. So I walked outside and I saw four para-sailors going down the valley. I can’t help but say that I instantly wanted to do it. My teacher told me that Parma was the perfect place for it because there are so many valleys that it is easy to just jump off and cruise on down.

 IMG_1410(Just hangin’ with the hams)

After I regained my composure we were off to Modena to see how real balsamic vinegar is made. We arrived and were greeted by a woman named Paula. She and her family have been in the vinegar business for FIVE generations. Isn’t that nuts? Anyways, she took us upstairs to the attic where the vinegar was sitting. For a balsamic vinegar to be DOP certified it cannot have any additives therefore the only thing they put into their vinegar is white and red grapes. These grapes are grown in Modena and are cooked for two days. Then they are placed in five different barrels made of different types of wood. She said they never throw away these barrels because of the taste they can produce. Her oldest barrel is from 1882 and is worth 70,000 euro. Once the vinegar is placed in the barrels they sit up there for 12 to 25 years. The minimum is 12 years for it to be “tradizionale” balsamic vinegar from Modena. Each bottle that is produced and is certified from here is given an individual number given by the government after production. After she explained everything to us it was time for a tasting of all of the vinegars she produces. I ended up getting the white grape aged five years because it was the twangy/sweetest. I also grabbed the balsamic with sapphron which you can put on omelets and things.

  IMG_1420(Vinegar is never sealed, it has a towel over it to keep the bugs out.)

In sum, I basically learned two things from my trip. 1. Know your limits on your eating abilities and 2. Italy produces some of the greatest products and takes great pride in making sure they are up to par.

 

XOXO,

From a very full American

 

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Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance!

 

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Ciao!

First of all, I would like to say sorry for the delayed posts to those who have been keeping up with me. On the third I was feeling a little under the weather so I didn’t do anything too exciting. I did however make bruschette and frittatas in my class.

I spent my Fourth of July knocking a few things off of my Firenze bucket list. I had breakfast at caffe Gilli which was molto bene. Then I set out to find the Santa Novella Pharmacy. I ended up at the Piazza de Santa Novella and decided to go in the basilica while I was there. It is amazing to me how much detail sculptors, painters, and artisans put into these buildings. Everywhere I turned there was something new to look at. I can only imagine what the Duomo looks like.

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After that I finally found the Ufficio Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Novella which for those of you who don’t know it is like the first pharmacy that was built in Firenze. When you walk in it is like a beautiful museum full of old apothecary things as well as new products. They make their own body and hair care as well as perfumes and vitamins. You pick out the products that you would like from their menu and they put it on a card for you, and at checkout you hand the card to the cashier and she gives you your products. Probably one of the coolest things I have done thus far.

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The beautiful ceiling in the Ufficio Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Novella

Once I left there I had lunch at Il Pizzauolo which was delicious. I seriously feel like my life revolves around food here. After I finished my pizza I had to head back for a quick siesta. Then Jen and I decided to go to the Scoula di Cuolo aka School of Leather. We got to see all of the students working on all types of leather. They even had all of their products for sale. The animals that they used were calf, lamb, crocodile and ostrich. The bags were not too expensive but I have a feeling they would last forever. After Jen and I closed that place down we went shopping and decided to pose for a photo op in front of the Ponte Vecchio(thanks for the tip Jane Anne). P.S. You didn’t tell me about having to climb over the bridge. Anyways after it was all said and done we had a great dinner and shared many laughs at the end of the day! Off to Parma and Modena tomorrow!

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XOXO,

Wesley

Just Another Fish in the Sea

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Ciao!

So today I woke up and found an international breakfast caffe on my way to class. I hate to say I was craving an omelette and a coffee so I found just that! Class was very interesting today. We learned about the different types of truffles and where they are harvested. The white truffle is the best, most potent truffle. The black is found in central Italy and is less expensive. We took a field trip to a place that sells all things truffles. We tried a panini with truffle cream spread in the middle. It was so delicious. I might have left the shop with some truffle honey. Which sounds completely gross but it is actually life changing. My lunch was a chocolate crescent with an espresso. Diet starts the first day I get back, I promise. HA.

The truffle bar

 

Once I finished my crescent it was off to my wine tasting class. I learned so much about wine in such a short period of time. My instructor had her doctorate from the University of Florence in Wine Studies. Next week we are learning about different foods to pair the wines with. After my wine course, I called Jen and we decided to get a nice pedicure from some fish. Dropping my feet into a tank full of eager beaver fish was freaky to say the least. They were literally swimming around the top of the tank like piranhas. After about five minutes they cooled down and I was able to take a breather.

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After Jen and I finished with the fish we met the roomies for dinner. We found a restaurant that had a 15 euro deal which included wine, water, four appetizers, three pastas and a little limoncello. It was really cool having everyone at dinner at the same time. Usually we all kind of do our own thing. After dinner we almost made it back home until I mentioned dessert then off we went. They may end up rolling me back onto the plane once this thing is over, but at least I can say I had a good time.

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From left to right: Meg, Maddie, Camille, Jen, and Jamie!

 

That time I took a tuscany cooking class with a New Zealander and a Turkish Girl.

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Ciao!

So today was my first day of class and I love my professor Cicci! I left my apartment around 8 for my class at 9. I figured that I could grab an espresso before I headed that way. Well, an hour and 20 minutes later I was lost in some neighborhood and didn’t have the slightest idea where the school was. The language barrier hasn’t been too tough, but trying to ask for directions with minimal italian skills was difficult. So whats a girl supposed to do when shes stuck in an area that’s not on her map of Florence? Google maps–sorry johnny. Anyways, I somehow stumble into the school and show up 20 minutes late for my class. We took an espresso break midway through class, just because. Is anyone else thinking that italy is the place for me or is it just me?

So after class I found the bookstore by the duomo. Yes, I might have bought a few cookbooks. I mean when in Florence, right? I had my first real italian pizza. Can you say delicious? Holy smokes I may eat one every day. While having my lunch I met an older woman that was from London. She told me that she was still on her “year long trip” that started in 1968. She was quite funny but she had a rather dark beard.

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After I had my lunch it was time for my first italian culinary course. This time when I made the trek down there I didn’t get lost. In my class I was accompanied by Mirrin and Asli (pronounced marian and ashley). Mirrin came over from New Zealand and has been traveling for 3 months with 3 more months to go. Asli is just getting the cultural experience. The chef that taught us currently works at the Four Seasons here and he is married to a woman from San Antonio. Small world. Anyways we made pappa al pomodorro which is a tomato soup with bread whisked in it. We made a zuchinni ripieni aka stuffed squash with veal and bread crumbs and fresh parmigiano cheese. I was in charge of making cicci or cookies which were THE bomb. The squash as pictured below were what they called apple squash. They had such a great flavor about them. I may have to throw them in my garden next summer. Also, I had veal for the first time–definitely wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I can’t say that I would order that over a bolognese sauce though.

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After my class, I walked home and finally rested at about 6 p.m. I’m practically crippled at this point. Jen updated her step count and it wasn’t 11,000 steps it was actually 19,000 yesterday. I’m pretty sure these cobblestones are turning my legs into mush. Anyways, its a brand new day tomorrow and I can’t wait to try some more new things!

XOXO,

 

Wesley