Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Foggy Days

For the past 4 or 5 days, I have been in a fog.  Of course, I'm not the only one in a fog around here, because the entire area has been under a thick blanket of fog!

Fog tends to happen quite a bit in the wintertime here.  I remember last winter that we had several days of dense fog and the trend continues.  Usually, it's not too bad and will clear up around midday, but sometimes it will last from dawn until dusk without a reprieve!  That's the way it's been lately around here.  The other day, even the airport was closed due to the extreme fog!

Fog on Saturday, 7 December, 2013...
...compared to a clear, sunny day on Thursday, 5 December, 2013

I was able to get out on Saturday for a little while despite the fog.  I took a walk out to the cemetery in Signa, which is about a 15 minute or so walk from where I'm staying.

Memorial to those who fell during WWI

The cemetery was extra eerie with all the fog.  I always notice how quiet cemeteries are, but with this heavy fog, it seemed extra silent.  At one point a flock of birds flew overhead and I could hear - quiet loudly - the sound of their flapping wings.

 I did get some neat pictures out of the visit, though!


Walkway along the top of the cemetery wall

Stained glass window at the back of a family crypt


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

In about a week and a half, I'll be back home in Italy.  My time spent back in the US has been fun, and actually has gone by fairly quickly this time!  I've made some new friends and I've even learned a thing or two.  The weather here hasn't been too terrible, but it is starting to get colder, so I am definitely eager to get back to the Mediterranean before winter really hits!

Here's a few pictures from previous flights I've taken this year:

Dulles Airport, Washington DC,  April 2013

Munich Airport, January 2013

Waiting to take off on Lufthansa

Lufthansa dinner, April 2013

Flying above the Alps, July 2013

Over Germany, July 2013

Air Dolomiti, Munich Airport, July 2013

Air Dolomiti, Munich Airport, July 2013

And...I couldn't resist to post a couple songs that I always think of when I get ready to fly:




Stay tuned!  See you in a couple weeks!

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Tuscan Transformation

For most of this blog, I've written about places I've gone in Italy, things I've seen, recipes I've gathered, but today I'm writing about something very personal.

Simone at the Vatican Museums this past July

I met my Tuscan, Simone, 3 years ago this month. When we first met, I was intrigued by him. The way he spoke seemed almost poetic. His point of view and way of thinking was quite different from anyone I had ever encountered before. His cheeky sense of humor was incredibly appealing and his playful nature drew me in. Within the first couple weeks of our initial daily conversations, I realized that talking to him was the highlight of my day, and that I was looking forward to hearing from him each afternoon. When he declared to me on an afternoon in late November that he had fallen in love with me, it was one of the best days of my life. I had fallen in love – really and truly in love – for the first time in my life. Any “love” I had experienced before fell very short of what I felt (and continue to feel) for Simone.

Simone and I on the beach this past June

Many people have told me that they see my life as an incredible story...that I should write a book about it.  They see the romance, but despite the romantic part, our relationship has not been easy. The extremely long-distance between us, the 6 hour time difference, the language and cultural differences have been hurdles that we have had to face and overcome. Spending time with him in his country made me realize how different our backgrounds actually are. He has taught me a lot over the last 3 years, and he has learned a bit from me too. Sharing our cultures – the good and the bad...accepting and adapting as we have needed to do...has helped us stay together and as our understanding of each other has deepened, so has our love.

Simone and I under an olive tree

During my time spent in Tuscany, I noticed that I have undergone a transformation of sorts. I had never thought of myself as a “spoiled American”, but I was. In some ways, I still can exhibit signs of being spoiled, but I try to squash those tendencies when I recognize them rearing their ugly head. Now, I must clarify – no one ever told me that I was spoiled or anything along those lines. I came to realize it completely on my own. It's true, my ethnocentrism was not that bad, but it was there. It would show up every so often and make me behave like a spoiled brat at times. When I think about those times, I'm surprised Simone didn't shove me on a plane back to America and tell me not to come back!

I'm not sure what happened to cause me to finally “get it” about my Tuscan's culture and his ways, but it finally happened this summer. I “got it” and I accepted it. Finally.

I'm a lucky gal.  I've got a great man who loves me and I get to spend time in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.  The last 3 years have been amazing...and I'm excited to see what the years to come will bring!



Monday, September 23, 2013

Ribollita

Now that it's officially autumn and the temperatures are finally getting to be cooler, it's time to start making those warm, delicious, hearty, comfort foods again.  Yay!  I absolutely love the heartier foods that are made in Tuscany and I look forward each year to be able to whip up all the yummy soups, stews, and roasts that come to mind around this time!  One of my favorite dishes (and a favorite of my Toscano) is ribollita.

Ribollita is "peasant food" at its best.  The name comes from the fact that originally it was basically minestrone soup that was "re-boiled" the next day with the addition of leftover bread.  Today's recipes for ribollita rarely call for it to be "re-boiled", but it is still a very inexpensive, yet hearty and delicious meal!

To make ribollita, you need a big pot, a lot of vegetables and some bread.

Start out by chopping up your vegetables.  You'll need some onions (I used red onions here, but you can use yellow onions if you prefer), garlic, carrots, celery and parsley at this point.


After you get done chopping these vegetables, pour some extra-virgin olive oil in a big, deep pot and add your chopped veggies.  Stir them around so they don't stick and season with some salt and pepper.  


Let it cook for 20 minutes and be sure to stir it often.  You really don't want this to stick to the bottom of your pan.  (If you need to, add a little water.)

Your vegetables are going to end up nice and soft with a slight golden color.


At this point, you'll need to add some crushed tomatoes.


Did I mention that this is going to start smelling amazing?  Mmmm!  

Stir the tomatoes in and let them cook for about 5 minutes or so.  They just need to lose that "raw tomato" scent.

While that's cooking, drain your cannellini beans.  Take 1 cup of the beans and set them aside.  When the your 5 minutes are up after adding the tomatoes, dump in the beans (minus the cup you set aside).  


Give them a stir and while they start cooking, place into a food processor the 1 cup of beans that you saved, along with 1 cup of water.  


Whiz them around until it becomes nice and smooth.  


Then add it to your soup, along with a couple liters/quarts of water, and stir it up.  

Next, it's time for the cavolo nero.  Cavolo nero is an Italian variety of kale.  In the US, look for an "Italian kale" or "Lacinato kale".  You'll want to cut out the stems and then chop up the leaves.


Stir in the chopped kale and bring the soup to a boil.  Next, stir in about 1/2 pound of crumbled up bread.  (Please, please, PLEASE do not even THINK about using a soft sandwich bread for this!  You need to find a good Tuscan bread or a hearty, dense, rustic type loaf.)  Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and let it simmer for about 2-3 hours.  Stir it every once in awhile and monitor the consistency (which should be thick, but not dry...sort of like a porridge).  You may need to add more water along the way, or - if it's looking too thin and runny - you may need to remove the lid and let it cook until it thickens up.  

This was taken right after the bread was added.  The finished
product will be very thick. (I forgot to take a picture of the finished
product...I got too hungry!)

Serve the ribollita hot, drizzled with a little extra-virgin olive oil.  

Ribollita

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling 
2-3 red onions or (3-4 medium yellow onions), minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced parsley
2 large carrots, minced
2 large celery stalks, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
8 cups (2 quarts or almost 2 liters) water
2 bunches (about a pound or 1/2 kg) cavolo nero (Lacinato kale), stems removed, leaves chopped
1/2 pound (about 1/2 kg) bread, crumbled (day-old bread is best)

Place 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil into a deep pot.  Add the onions, garlic, parsley, carrots and celery.  Stir.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring often.  Add a little water if needed, to prevent sticking.  When vegetables are soft, add the tomatoes and stir.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  

Reserve 1 cup of the beans, and stir the rest into the soup.  Puree the 1 cup of beans with 1 cup of water in a food processor or blender until smooth, then add to the soup, along with the 8 cups water.  Stir well.  Add in the cavolo nero and bring to a boil.  Stir in the bread, cover and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring every so often.  Add a little water if needed in order to maintain the porridge-like consistency.  If the soup is too thin, remove the lid and cook until it is thickened.  

Adjust the seasoning before serving and drizzle each bowl of ribollita with a little extra-virgin olive oil.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Estate 2012 (Summer 2012)

I realize that it's September now, but it still feels like summer to me!  Temperatures in Italy are still quite hot (today it hit up to 93 degrees in Signa), so I thought that it would be a good time to do a summertime wrap-up post.

MUSICA (Music)

As usual, summertime provided us with some great music to use as a seasonal soundtrack.  Here are some of the ones that I gravitated towards:

JOVANOTTI - Ti Porto Via Con Me

I absolutely love this song.  Every time I hear it, it reminds me of all the little trips that Simone and I took this summer.  "Ti porto via con me", translates into "I'll take you away with me".  We heard it a lot this summer and it continues to put a smile on my face every time I hear it.  Jovanotti tends to have that effect on me though!


JOVANOTTI - Estate

Yep, another one from Jovanotti.  I can't help it!  His songs are usually so cheerful, and "Estate" doesn't disappoint!  "Estate" is Italian for "Summer", and  you can definitely get the "summer" feel from this song.


MAX GAZZE' - Sotto Casa

I can never not like a Max Gazze' song.  I think it's impossible.  He was the first Italian artist that I really started to follow more than 3 years ago.  His "Sotto Casa" is such a catchy, up-beat tune.  It was a no-brainer to include this in my personal summertime soundtrack!


CHIARA (Feat. FIORELLA MANNOIA) - Passi

Two of my favorite female artists in one song.  "Passi" was one of my 'chill out' songs of the summer.  (Note, this isn't an official video, but one I found on YouTube.)


CIBO (Food)

Summertime is when we enjoy fresh, in-season vegetables as much as possible, and foods that are not so "heavy".

PANZANELLA

Nothing says summer to me more than a nice, cool salad.  In Italy, that means panzanella.  Tuscan bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, parsley, white wine vinegar, and olive oil combine to make an amazingly refreshing lunch!


GRILLED FOOD

Hot summers mean grilling meat in most parts of the world.  Italy is no exception!  Steak, fish, chicken, vegetables and pork all make an appearance on local grills.  We grilled some lovely pork chops earlier this summer, rubbed with fresh sage and rosemary, and accompanied with fresh asparagus cooked in a wonderful olive oil and some cooked apples.  Our neighbors asked what it was we were cooking because it all smelled so delicious!


SAGRE (Food Festivals)

Summertime sagre are everywhere in Italy.  Not a weekend goes by without at least two or three being held somewhere within an hour's drive.  We visited a few this summer: chinghiale (wild boar), porcini (mushrooms), and ranocchi (frog legs).

Fried ranocchi!  Delicious!

FRUTTI DI MARE (Seafood)

Summer means lighter foods, which in my book means fish and seafood.  We at a LOT of mussels this summer.  We would buy them at the supermarket which had them for less than 4 euro per kilogram.  We'd get a kilogram and split them between two meals.  They were super delicious and a great bargain!  We got several different fish over the course of the summer as well, frying some and poaching others.  



GELATO

It's not summer (or fall, or winter, or spring) without gelato!  We enjoy eating gelato year-round (obviously), but in the summer, it's extra fabulous.  Whether visiting a gelateria or buying a tub at the supermarket and eating it at home, it's a summertime staple.

caffè, fior di latte e nocciola gelato
coffee, sweet cream and hazelnut ice cream

VIAGGI (Travels)

It wouldn't be summer without taking a few day-trips!  We hit the road several times this summer.  Here are a few of the places we visited:

LA SPIAGGIA (The Beach)

The summer started out rather cool, but by mid to late June, it was getting rather warm, so we hit the beach.  The Mediterranean is absolutely gorgeous.  I'm not a real beach-lover, but even I really enjoyed digging my feet in the sand or wading out a little and letting the waves lap up against my legs.  The beaches we have gone to have all been extremely clean...and free!  Crowded, but not too bad.  If we lived closer, I'm sure we would have gone more often!

video

SIENA

We visited Siena twice this summer.  We both really love that town and enjoy spending time wandering around it's ancient streets.  The folks there are friendly and there is a real sense of community there.  The hilly streets can be a bit of a challenge on super-hot summer days though!


ROMA

This was the first time that either of us had ever been to Rome!  It was a short, whirlwind trip, but we saw a lot of really great things.  Unfortunately, not nearly as much as we had hoped to see.  Guess that means we'll need to go down again and see the things we missed!  Next time, I think we will try to go when it isn't the busy summer tourist season.  There were a LOT of tourists there!


LE MONTAGNE (The Mountains)

Another good way to beat the heat is to take a drive up to the mountains!  We visited Abetone once and climbed up to the top of the mountain, which rewarded us with spectacular views.  We visited lower mountains near Pistoia on several occasions.  The temperatures are cool and refreshing...and the views are amazing.

The mountains of Pistoia

FESTE (Festivals)

Italy knows how to put on a great festival!  There always seem to be some sort of festival going on every weekend & I've not been disappointed yet!

FESTA MEDIOEVALE MALMANTILE (Medieval Festival in Malmantile)

A medieval festival in an actual fortified medieval village.  It doesn't get much better than this!  Craftsmen demonstrating their skills, vendors displaying their wares, medieval goodies and treats...and did I mention that people still actually LIVE in this castle-like village?

Candle making demonstration at Malmantile

LA FESTA DI SAN GIOVANNI (The Feast of St. John the Baptist)

St. John the Baptist is a pretty big deal in Florence, since he is the city's patron saint.  So what else do they do but throw a huge bash on his birthday!  The day starts with mass, continues with the final of the Calcio Storico (except for this year...it was postponed due to a thunderstorm that passed through the area in the afternoon), and ends with a spectacular fireworks display over the Arno.



FESTA DEL PANE DI PRATO (Festival of the Bread of Prato)

Prato's Piazza del Duomo transformed into a carb-lover's dream this past June with it's Bread Festival!  They put up some ovens and baked fresh schiacciata (and handed out pieces for free).  There were several booths from bakeries and flour mills present, selling and displaying their wares.  I tried so many baked goodies, I ended up skipping lunch!



These are just a handful of things that we did this summer.  Of course, we did more than just the above.  We spent a lot of time walking in Cascine or around other parks and areas around the neighborhood.  We enjoyed the good weather and tried to avoid the bad weather (one day when it was raining buckets in the Florence area, we headed down to Empoli and Vinci just because it wasn't raining there!).  We worked a lot and we played a lot.  That's what I love about Italy!  There is always something exciting going on!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Visit to the Duomo di Siena

For our second trip to Siena, we decided to take a tour the Duomo, so Simone bought us an all-inclusive ticket that got us into the duomo, the baptistery, the crypt, the museum, and allowed us to climb up to the terrace of the Facciatone (the unfinished facade to the "New Duomo", a huge project that was abandoned after plague hit the city).



Siena's duomo is gorgeous, and that's putting it mildly.  They started building it way back in 1196, it was consecrated in 1215, and the front facade was finished sometime between 1360 and 1370, although some additions were made over the ages.  The intricately carved marble and brilliant mosaics are absolutely stunning.  Both the exterior and interior boast the beautiful white and black/green marble in horizontal stripes.


A close-up view of the center mosaic

Upon entering the duomo, I was struck by the fact that I really didn't know where to look first!  The soaring gothic interior, rising up to the gorgeous dome?  The incredible mosaic floors?  The countless works of art?  It was actually a bit overwhelming!  


The inlaid marble mosaic floor is incredible.  When we were there, much of it was covered with rugs (probably to keep it safe from the millions of visitors walking around), but right now, between 18 August until 27 October, if you are in Siena, you can see the entire mosaic floor without any of the carpeting.  They uncover the floor each year around this time for a few weeks, so if you're thinking of taking a trip out there someday, keep that in mind!  These magnificent mosaics were laid beginning in 1372, a section (or panel) and a time.  The last panel was added in 1547.  There are 56 total panels on the floor, covering pretty much the entire floor of the duomo.  




The striped walls and pillars reaching up toward the gorgeous ceiling are spectacular.  The vaulted ceiling is blue with gold stars, emulating the heavens.  The large golden decorated dome takes its place in the center of the church, making it impossible to miss.



There is beauty absolutely everywhere you turn in this cathedral.  There are works by Michelangelo, Bernini, and Donatello, among others.


The main altar

Looking toward the front entrance from in front
of the main altar

The pulpit



Part of the library room
After we toured the duomo, we headed over to the museum (no photos were permitted) and then climbed up to the Duomo Nuovo to view a gorgeous panorama of Siena and the countryside surrounding it.  The Duomo Nuovo (translated "new duomo"), was supposed to be a huge addition onto the cathedral.  Building started in 1339, but was halted in 1357 due to the devastating Black Plague.  What remains today is Facciatone (facade) and what was to be part of the nave, which is now where the museum is located, and a wall opposite which was used to build the Palazzo Reale.  

The views are stunning to say the least.

Looking down on the Piazza Jacopo della Quercia and the Duomo

Looking down toward the Piazza del Campo and the Torre di Mangia

Looking out over the countryside of Siena
The baptistry was next on our agenda.  Siena's baptistry was built between 1316 and 1325 by Camiano di Crescentino.  It's a rectangular building, located right next to the duomo.  Funny thing about the history of the baptistry, it was built in this location because back in 1317, it was decided to lengthen the choir of the cathedral.  The cathedral, however, was already built near the edge of a hill, so they needed to build something that would support the expanded choir from below.  So, they decided to build a new baptistry in order to do so.  



The baptismal font is absolutely exquisite.  It's made of marble, bronze and enamel and was created by several famous sculptors:  Donatello, Ghiberti, Giovanni di Turino, Neroccio, and Jacopo della Quercia.  

The ciborium in the center of the font

The hexagonal basin of the font with its bronze panels

 The ceilings are covered with beautiful, brightly-colored frescoes depicting Apostles, Articles of the Creed, and various biblical stories.  These were painted by Agostino di Marsiglio, Vecchietta (who also sculpted the ciborium that is placed on the high alter in the Duomo), Michele di Matteo Lambertini, Benvenuto di Giovanni, and Pietro degli Orioli.



On the wall to the left, there is a gorgeous i Brescianini painting titled "Battesimo di Cristo".


Above the side alter on the left, there is this statue of Christ that I got a kick out of.  To me, it appeared that he was there, just hanging out.


The main altar, located directly behind the baptismal font, is made of beautiful marble.  Above it is a fabulous painting by Alessandro Franchi, titled "il Battesimo di Gesu" (The Baptism of Jesus).  


After we left the baptistry, we stopped by the Oratories of San Bernadino.  We weren't allowed to take pictures there, or at the crypt where you can see the ancient frescoes that were a part of the original church that was on that site.  

Touring all of these sites took a few hours to complete.  I believe they say that the fastest you can possibly get through all of the sites that are on the Opa Si Pass (the multipass that we bought - only 12 euro!) would be around 2 hours.  We took our time though, and it took us quite a bit more time than that, but then we also stopped for a cold drink at one point, and took our time walking from site to site.  

If you visit Siena, this is a must-see.  There is so much to see - I could fill a book with the photos that I took (the ones I posted here are a tiny fraction of what I have)!  Really, though, photos are nice, but to see it with your own eyes is much, much better.