Foodie Heaven! (Mercato Centrale)

Ciao Readers! (and Happy Halloween!) (and Happy Birthday Henry!)

Wow – I just got back from a trip across town to Mercato Central (the central market) – wow!  I can’t believe we’ve been here almost 3 months and I just “discovered” this (well-known) gem!

So here’s the scoop – in my effort to not be a tourist in my adopted home, I have been going to Sant’ Ambrogio market (which I have blogged about).  It is the “real” market for locals – and don’t get me wrong, it’s great and where we get most of our fruits and vegetables.  The Mercato Centrale, from what I had read, is where the tourists go (it’s right by the big outdoor leather market in the center of town) – so up until today I avoided it like the plaque.  Big mistake!  While some of the food is obviously geared towards tourists (fancy bags of multi-colored pastas at equally fancy prices), the market is a foodie dream and has lots of “normal” amazing food on offer.  (And, compared to the usual “tourists,”  the venders thought my Italian was “benissimo.”)

I actually went in search of yet another weird ingredient to replicate comfort foods (dried cranberries [for granola], which I found in the dried fruit stall pictured), but ended up discovering an entire new food-shopping haven (as an aside – I often write several posts on days when inspiration hits me – I wrote this one before I read the articles about culture shock – no more wild goose chases for now!).  Not only are there all of the beautiful prepared foods pictured below, there are numerous fresh-looking meat and fish stalls.  I had kinda given up hope finding any foodie markets as cool as the ones in Bologna, until today!  YAY!

Bon appetit!

10,000 Views (from 61+ countries)!

Ciao Readers!

Today I am being totally self-indulgent (like a blog focused on me and my adventures isn’t self-indulgent enough already).  This past week my blog past 10,000 all time views!  How cool is that?!?!  To be fair, “views” do not equate with visitors, let alone different visitors; “views” refers to how many times people click on pages, etc. on my blog – so for instance, if you have clicked through on half of the e-mail notifications you have received to individual posts, then clicked on more pages while you were visiting, you alone may be 100+ of those 10,000 views.  Some people land on my blog totally by accident – interestingly, the most popular search terms that get people here are things having to do with scarves – “why do Italians wear scarves” or “how to wear a scarf like an Italian.”

In addition to being tickled at the number of views (and by the way – THANK YOU ALL!!!), I am really tickled by how far my blog has traveled (way further than I have).  I think it’s cool, so I am sharing with you the country views report, below (fyi WordPress, Puerto Rico is actually a commonwealth).  Thanks for coming along for the ride and please stick around for the next 10,000!

Country Views
United States FlagUnited States 6,912
Italy FlagItaly 1,218
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom 810
Australia FlagAustralia 312
Sri Lanka FlagSri Lanka 145
Canada FlagCanada 93
Germany FlagGermany 89
Spain FlagSpain 69
Denmark FlagDenmark 39
New Zealand FlagNew Zealand 31
Japan FlagJapan 28
Singapore FlagSingapore 20
India FlagIndia 16
France FlagFrance 12
Belgium FlagBelgium 9
Slovenia FlagSlovenia 8
Philippines FlagPhilippines 8
Croatia FlagCroatia 8
Finland FlagFinland 7
Greece FlagGreece 7
Turkey FlagTurkey 7
Switzerland FlagSwitzerland 6
Egypt FlagEgypt 6
Serbia FlagSerbia 6
Brazil FlagBrazil 5
Malaysia FlagMalaysia 5
Korea, Republic of FlagRepublic of Korea 5
Russian Federation FlagRussian Federation 4
Indonesia FlagIndonesia 4
Lithuania FlagLithuania 4
Mexico FlagMexico 4
Netherlands FlagNetherlands 3
Bulgaria FlagBulgaria 3
Portugal FlagPortugal 3
Saudi Arabia FlagSaudi Arabia 3
Czech Republic FlagCzech Republic 3
South Africa FlagSouth Africa 3
Thailand FlagThailand 3
Hungary FlagHungary 2
Bosnia and Herzegovina FlagBosnia and Herzegovina 2
Austria FlagAustria 2
Sweden FlagSweden 2
Poland FlagPoland 2
Taiwan, Province of China FlagTaiwan 2
Ecuador FlagEcuador 2
Puerto Rico FlagPuerto Rico 2
Pakistan FlagPakistan 2
Israel FlagIsrael 2
Hong Kong FlagHong Kong 1
Montenegro FlagMontenegro 1
United Arab Emirates FlagUnited Arab Emirates 1
Lao People's Democratic Republic FlagLao People’s Democratic Republic 1
Estonia FlagEstonia 1
Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of FlagMacedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic 1
Ireland FlagIreland 1
Syrian Arab Republic FlagSyrian Arab Republic 1
Mauritius FlagMauritius 1
Tunisia FlagTunisia 1
Romania FlagRomania 1
Libya FlagLibya 1
Peru FlagPeru 1
Chile FlagChile 1

Texbook Case of “Culture Shock”

Ciao Readers!

So here I’ve been – thinking I am so unique and special and all that jazz.  I have witty observations about my new country and I go on wild quests to find ingredients to make comfort foods (or to join non-existent organizations).  I blog about it for your entertainment (and my need to vent).  And, unbeknownst to me, all this time I have just been experiencing a textbook case of culture shock.  Not even a scientific-journal worthy case, just a normal ol’ case.  There are like umpteen million articles out there on this, but I had never read one until today.

Apparently there are 5 stages of culture shock.  Depending on the source, some of the stages vary a bit.  However they all have the same first stage – the “honeymoon” phase.  Now, all I have to do is look back at my own blog and my adoration of the food and the culture when we first arrived to recognize that phase.

Phase two, depending on the source, is either “rejection” or “distress.”  This is where you feel isolated and start getting seriously annoyed by and judging your new culture (descriptions of trips to the post office, anyone?).  I think I am still partially in this phase (I’ve been grumpier than I let on as I realize no one likes a grumpy blog) – but now that I know I am just reacting “normally” I don’t feel quite as badly (though being “normal” has never really been appealing to me….).  Phase three involves regression – such as seeking out food or t.v. shows from home (am I really that predicable?!?!).  We don’t even need to discuss if I’m in this phase (yesterday I spent about 5 hours searching for ingredients and then making California sushi rolls; we already know I caved and got internet access to t.v. from the States)!  It’s weird having yourself described to a tee – especially by some list of common stages.  While having my uniqueness myth dispelled isn’t fun, I do appreciate one theme in all of the articles – “IT WILL PASS.”  And that’s a relief – because I was starting to wonder about whether I will ever adjust (and also because the lame sushi rolls were nowhere near worth the effort I put into them).  Hopefully, I will soon move on to stage 4:

Stage 4 has many variations – “recovery,” “acceptance,” “emergence,” “assimilation” (I like this one – it has a Borg ring to it), and so on.  The main point is that you are adapting and feeling okay about being in your new culture.  I’m glad to hear that that stage is next because the thought of packing everything and 2 cats back up and heading “home” sounds ridiculous (and tiring!).   I’ll worry about stage 5 (reverse culture shock) some other time.

But, have no fear readers, I am sure just enough of stages 2 and 3 will hang around that I will never run out of witty (i.e. smart-aleky) observations about which to blog!

Delicious dinner or cry for help?:

A Trip to Bologna

Ciao Readers!

As you may recall, I spent this past Spring in Bologna studying Italian and traveling to Florence via train to apartment-hunt.  While there I met a lovely couple from New York, pictured below (the husband was in my Italian class).  Not only do I have them to thank for looking out for me while I was in Bologna, but for turning me on to blogging with their own blog (here).   They had the good fortune of being able to travel back to Bologna recently (after a stay in France) and Steve and I went to Bologna to meet up with them (and eat, of course!).

Now, for those of you who thought the pictures of food in my “A day by the Sea” post looked good – truth be told the seafood, pictured below, from Michelemma leaves that lunch in the dust.  This was a restaurant I had eaten at with one of my Italian teachers and it is fantastic!   I had the appetizer of various raw/pickled seafood as well as the rissotto (photos below, though I had already eaten some of the appetizer!).  Steve devoured his salmon pasta before I had the sense to take a photo.  I also missed the opportunity to photograph his whole branzino before the waiter expertly de-boned it for him (pictured covered with tomatoes).  All in all, it was a lovely lunch with wonderful company and delicious food.

After lunch I was STUFFED.  But….everyone insisted that our day was not complete until we took a trip to our mutual favorite gelateria – La Sorbetteria!  (yes, of course I was not going to pass up gelato, I just thought I’d wait a few hours as our return train didn’t leave until 9:00 p.m.).  Below is a photo of my gelato – chocolate and “dolce di ‘mu'” (dolche de leche).

I also accomplished 2 more things while in Bologna (not that visiting, eating and drinking are “accomplishments”).  First, I have been trying to let my hair grow out.  But, as those of you who have known me for a while know, I usually give up every time I try (how is it I can change my home, my country, my language – EVERYTHING – except my hairstyle?!?).  So, when we walked by a cool-looking hair salon I thought “what the heck” and got my hair cut.  (Luckily, this was not a repeat of my experience in Barcelona a few years back where I ended up with a complete army-style buzz-cut, and I now look like me again.)  It also dawned on me that pharmacists can prescribe medicine and instead of having to wait until Monday to see a doctor about one of my eyes (which had been red for days), we popped into a pharmacy, the pharmacist asked me a few questions, prescribed some antibiotic drops, and voila – the next day it looked much better!  I finally found something easier and cheaper in Italy – dealing with minor ailments!

We ended the trip with a stroll around town to see Bologna’s (more “modern”) version of a Neptune statue as well as to admire the shops on the foodie street (pictured below).  After a quick 37 minute train ride we were back…into the throngs of tourists in Florence…

A: Huevos Rancheros, Faux Pho & Chocolate Chip Cookies

Q:  What are three things I made last week?

Ciao Readers!  After my unsuccessful attempts to do something productive, I thought I’d get back to something I know – cooking!   While we have been enjoying all of the wonderful Italian food here, I like the challenge of trying to “recreate” familiar dishes.  So, I set about making huevos rancheros, pho and chocolate chip cookies (not all in one day mind you).

In all fairness, I cheated a bit on the huevos rancheros (pictured in first row) as the New Mexican-made tortillas and green chile sauce arrived in a care package from my folks (thanks!).   The cheddar cheese came from Pegna, and of course potatoes and eggs are no problem.  They were missing the taste of freshly roasted green chiles (as opposed to jarred sauce), but they were pretty darn close!

I also made what I am calling “faux pho” – real pho being our favorite Vietnamese dish we would get back at May Cafe in Albuquerque.  I actually managed to create this dish (rows 2 into 3) entirely from ingredients sourced here (or grown on our roof terrace).  I got the pho paste and noodles (though I picked the wrong kind and these absorbed ALL the soup liquid) at Vivi Market, the small hot chili (was like a cross between a serrano and a jalapeno) and the Sriracha sauce from the lady at Sant’ Ambrogio market, and (surprisingly enough) accidentally came across the bean sprouts at Conad.  It definitely didn’t taste like the “real” thing, but was spicy and yummy nonetheless.

The most spot-on thing I made was chocolate chip cookies (balance of row 3, duh!).  Again, I cheated a bit with chips sent from home, though I have since seen a variety in the stores here.  The rest of the baking ingredients were sourced from various places (and I apologize for the atrocious photo on the vanilla extract, but this is THE only vanilla extract I could find and it took some hunting).  I wasn’t sure what kind of flour to buy and I had to play with ratios (and use walnuts as there are no pecans here, which I usually use), but they came out PERFECT.  They were yummy and delicious and warm and crispy but gooey and all the things chocolate chip cookies should be.  I was so proud I wanted to share, so Steve brought some downstairs to the guy who owns the Rosticceria (he’s always so nice and rounds down, so I wanted to say “thanks”).  When I passed by the next day he went on and on about how delicious they were; I asked him if he had ever had them or knew what they were and he hadn’t/didn’t.  Interesting to think that a regular ol’ chocolate chip cookie can be an exotic treat!

Next time we talk food….seafood and gelato in Bologna, then an Italian meal in at our neighborhood Osteria Cocotrippone (complete with photos)…  Bon Appetit!

A Trip (back) to Fiesole

Ciao Readers!

You may recall that a few weeks ago I attempted my first organized run in Italy and promptly got semi-lost in a little town called Fiesole.  As I was preoccupied at the time with finding my way back, I knew I’d need to return with Steve some other time in order to properly appreciate the town (and amazing views).  That time was last weekend.

I specifically chose last weekend because it coincided with the Festa de “schiacciata con l’uva” (which literally means “crushed” with grapes, but is a grape-covered pastry).  I had a slice of this cake at Cafe Serafini a couple of weeks ago (it is only made for a few weeks during grape-harvest season – i.e., now) and it was delicious!  (Steve is not as fond of it as the grapes, and thus the pastry, still have seeds inside).  I was looking forward to seeing the town, but especially eating cake (am I that one-dimensional?).   In any case, we walked to the north part of Florence where we caught a bus out to Fiesole.

Fiesole is such an adorable town!  It is very old, complete with Etruscan remains (pictured below) and a tiny town center with a few outdoor restaurants (ditto).  It was so relaxed compared to the hub-bub of Florence.  However, there did not seem to be grape cake anywhere!  In the center of town there was a quaint little flea-market (pictured), but still no grape cake.  We took a walk around the scenic outskirts for a phenomenal view (once again, it was hazy and my pictures are flat – arg!).  If you look carefully in the second picture you can see the Duomo (it’s like playing “Where’s Waldo”).   We were having a very nice time and could not get over the amazing view….but I was still holding out hope that I had not imagined reading about a grape cake festival (my Italian isn’t that bad!).

Finally we found the grape-cake festival part of town…it was basically a few sweet retired ladies having a grape-cake-only bake sale outside their church (pictured below).  We bought 2 different slices of schiacciata – the one pictured on the left was interesting because it included walnuts and rosemary (but you could patch a wall with the crust); the one on the right was less complex, but had lighter (and more edible) pastry.  To be entirely honest, the schiacciata at Serafini is much better, but we had a lovely mini-adventure none-the-less!  Thanks, as always, for coming along on our trip!

A Call from “House Hunters International”

Ciao Readers!

So, an interesting thing happened this past week…

As I may have mentioned in a much earlier post, Steve and I both love the show “House Hunters International.”  We used to watch it all the time – especially when the folks were moving to Europe and had a modest budget – we were curious to see what we could afford to rent if we actually moved here.  So, when Steve got the job here in Florence he suggested we apply for the show.  I sent an e-mail of interest the end of January.   We never heard a word.  Until last week…

It started with a series of e-mail exchanges.  The first one, from the Producer, asking if we’d be interested in talking with her (and could I answer a few questions).  I immediately replied something to the effect of “darn, we already found our place and have been living here for over 2 months….”  I should have listened to the little voice in my gut when she responded with neither surprise nor a drop in interest level, but even I got caught up in the excitement of possibly “starring” in a tv episode (gasp!).

To make the rest of the story short, the following day the Producer called and we talked for quite a while.  From this conversation I began to understand that House Hunters International is actually just a “reenactment” of the house-hunting process, with many details being “massaged.”  In any case, we thought we were still interested and planned to film the short video she wanted to make sure we were both t.v.-presentable.  I made the mistake of asking our realtor if she would be interested and if she thought the owners would let us film (both things I needed to find out).  She seems enthused about the prospect and I feel badly (can someone reading this break the news to her please).  However, we started thinking and talking…

AND….I started google-ing.  Instead of re-hashing what I found, you can check out the blog post here and follow the links to the stories in the newspapers, etc.  In a nutshell (and I have no idea why we believed otherwise) the show purposely picks folks who have already chosen their new homes for production sake and then films another 2 options which may or may not have been real options to begin with (and in at least one case were friends’ houses not even for sale).  Now we don’t think that anyone believes reality t.v. is REALITY, but I guess I thought that that shows like HHI are more real than they appear (now I feel really stupid, but I guess if a semi-intelligent person like me even fell for it…).  We had a long talk about the pros (possible exposure for me to potential employers/opportunities here), and the cons (being disingenuous on national t.v.) and we just could not get over the con (though others feel differently).  Even if no one else believes HHI is “true,” we just wouldn’t feel right going along with the ruse.   So, I am planning on e-mailing the producer back and am trying to come up with the right thing to say to our realtor (who is lovely and would be perfect for t.v.).

In the meantime, we decided to have some fun “reenacting” a smart-aleky version of an audition video for the show (still photo of it):

*Update – the Producer was very nice about our decision and she IS interested in our realtor and e-mailed her about possibly working together, so “YAY” all around!

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