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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Two Lines in the East Village Worth Waiting In

Last night I returned to my Belgian roots at Pomme Frites (123 2nd Ave.), where East Villagers’ go to get their french-fry fix.  The line was out the door, but as usual, worth the wait. The frites are truly authentic, and come served in a paper cone, just as they are in Belgium or France.  There are three sizes (regular, large, and double) and my two friends and I split a large – believe me, these frites are meant for sharing!  A few of the dipping sauces are free (such as Ketchup and Frites Sauce, which is traditional European Mayo –what Europeans dip their fries in instead of ketchup) or else you can opt for some of the special sauces, which cost $1.50 each. We opted for cheddar cheese, which was melted and slightly sharp-tasting.  In the past, I’ve tried the Rosemary Garlic Mayo, which I also recommend.  Some sauces on my list for future frites trips:  Sweet Mango Chutney Mayo, Peanut Satay, Organic Black Truffle Mayo, and Smoked Eggplant Mayo.  The fries themselves are thick, but not too thick, and perfectly salted: the quintessential European frites! 

                      Pomme Frites!

                      The Line

For dessert we headed a couple blocks over to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (125 E. 7th Street), which started as the “Big Gay Ice Cream Truck” in 2009, and opened as a store last year.  There was a line here too, but I’m always willing to wait for ice cream!  This ice cream shop is like a gourmet, East Village-ified Dairy Queen, because they make traditional soft-serve ice cream, and then add zany, creative toppings.  I ordered the Salty Pimp (yes, it’s really called the Salty Pimp), which is vanilla ice cream with dulche de leche and sea salt, all dipped in chocolate.  When I bit in, the hard chocolate covering melted slightly, and combined with the creamy vanilla, the gooey clumps of dulche de leche, and the hint of salt.  I can’t wait to return for the Monday Sundae (vanilla ice cream, Nutella lined cone, dulche de leche, sea salt, and whipped cream) and  the American Globs (vanilla ice cream, pretzels, sea salt, chocolate dip.) 

                      Making the Salty Pimp

                                    The Salty Pimp 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Great Friends, Great Food – A Weekend in Bologna

Last weekend I took my first solo trip of the semester. I went to Bologna, the food capital of Italy and a lively university town, but more importantly, where a couple of my friends from Barnard, Suzannah and Jackie, are studying. 

I almost didn’t go because Bologna was hit by a pretty bad snowstorm.  Even though Florence and Bologna are a half-hour train ride apart, Bologna had been getting snow for the past few weeks while in Florence we’d just been getting flurries.  Ten minutes out of Florence and the world was already completely white, the snow falling down in gusts. Uh-oh, I thought – what had I gotten myself into?! 

The first thing we did was eat lunch at a French & Italian restaurant, Colazione da Bianco.  We all ordered croque monsieur.  The bright and warm atmosphere provided a pleasant contrast to the weather; the walls were painted cheery shades of orange and yellow.  It was an idyllic place to sit, warm up, eat great food, and catch up with my friends, while watching the snow fall outside.

    Watching the snow fall from inside Colazione da Bianco

    Jackie and Suzannah

    Suzannah and me

    Me and Jackie

    We split a strawberry tart 

After lunch we took a passeggiata (walk) around the city, stopping in Piazza Maggiore, the main piazza, and wandering into a beautiful church, San Petronio.    

There was something about Bologna that resonated with me.  Perhaps it was its youthfulness; it seemed most of the people walking around were college-aged.  Or else it could have been the overall feel of the city.  It was a little darker, edgier than Florence…an almost New York feel – yet, still intensely European.     

    The Fountain of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore 

    Piazza Maggiore

    Snow graffiti!

My favorite part of the day was going to Eataly, Mario Batali’s restaurant that has locations in Italy, Japan, and New York City.  In Bologna it is not just a restaurant, but a bookstore as well. Gourmet Italian food plus floor after floor of books equals my kind of a store!

At the wine bar on the top floor Jackie said something along the lines of, “It would be so much fun to come here someday.” 

“Why not today?”  I replied.  We sat down and ordered prosecco.  Mamma mia, they gave generous portions!  (By the way, Italians really do say “mamma mia.” Just a little interesting fact!)  It was the first time in my life getting tipsy in a bookstore.  

    The Wine Bar at Eataly

Another highlight of the day was trying the only kind of salami I will ever eat.  I’ll give you a hint, I got it from a pasticceria, not a salumeria.  If you’re thinking chocolate, you’re correct!  This dessert could easily be mistaken for real salami, but doesn’t contain any meat.  Instead it’s made from dark chocolate, butter, eggs and chopped nuts, and tastes similar to fudge.  

After the pasticceria, we loaded up on groceries, and bought mozzarella from a famous cheese shop, La Baita Formaggi.  We walked to Suzannah’s dorm and cooked a feast!  (It was mainly Suzannah who cooked, while her Italian roommates offered suggestions.)  For an appertivo we snacked on mozzarella and tomatoes.  The main course was tagliatelle with melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. Kinder chocolates (the Hershey’s of Italy – except, it’s a thousand times better than Hershey’s) and fragolina (strawberry wine) topped off a great meal.  

    One of the oldest streets in Bologna, Via delle Pescherie Vecchie. La Baita Formaggi is on this street.  

La Baita Formaggi, where we picked up some mozzarella

At around midnight we all headed to the hotel I found (for just 18 euros a person!) because Suz and Jackie, being the ridiculously nice people they are, didn’t want me to stay there by myself.  The next morning I left after breakfast – it was still snowing and I was afraid if I waited much longer that the trains back to Florence would get canceled.  I would have loved to have stayed all day. Nonetheless, it was the perfect weekend trip! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Un Viaggo a Roma

Another busy week!  Once again, I’ll focus on the most memorable events. 

Wednesday afternoon I went with my friend Hannah to Piazzale Michelangelo, a famous square with a panoramic view of Firenze.  To get there we climbed up a steep zigzagging road.  Hmm…steep climbs & rewarding views:  this seems to be the story of my life nowadays!  Literally and figuratively.  At the top we stumbled upon a beautiful wooded trail, surrounded by rolling hills.  It was one of those moments when the colors seem more intense than usual, when life feels cinematic. 

   The view from Piazzale Michelangelo

    The view from another direction.  On the right side of the river is my neighborhood, Gavinana.

     A beautiful trail

Saturday morning my school group (20 students and two of our professors) took the Eurostar to Rome for the weekend.  We got there in just an hour and half! We somehow saw all the most important touristy places in about 30 hours: the Vatican museum (including the Sistine Chapel), St. Peter’s Basilica, the Villa Borghese, the Colosseum, Campidoglio, Fori Imperiali, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, etc.  While I’d seen many of these sites on a previous trip to Rome, some were new to me.  I most enjoyed seeing Bernini’s sculpture, Apollo and Daphne at the Villa Borghese.  It shows the scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses when Daphne turns into a tree as she tries to escape Apollo, who has been hit by Cupid’s arrow.  I’d learned about it in art history, however, this is one work that you can’t feel the full effect of until you see it in person, until you notice how her toenails are turning into roots! So cool!

We stayed in a 4-star hotel called Homs, ( located in the historical heart of Rome.  I roomed with the other new students on the program:  Sarah, Rebecca and Hannah.  A memorable  part of the evening was our hour long conversation about whether or not to raid the mini-fridge!  In the end we decided against it, figuring that the program directors wouldn't be too happy with us.

                  The Vatican Museum

    Taken from near St. Peter's Basilica 

    Castel Sant'Angelo

     Most of the students in my school, standing in front of the Trevi Fountain. 

    Sarah, Rebecca and me infront of the Colosseum

On our lunch break Sunday I went with a few friends to Giolitti, the gelateria that set my standard for what gelato should taste like. I’d been there once before on the recommendation of my cousin Beatrice, who lives in Rome, and I’d dreamed of going back ever since!  At Giolitti, you choose three flavors for a small cone.  The serving size is huge, and they put a dollop of homemade whipped cream on top.  I chose gianduija, bacio, and nutella – all combinations of chocolate and hazelnut.  The nutella was the best, and tasted more nutella-y than Nutella itself! It had a lighter density than the other flavors, but the flavor was more intense. 

Before we left Rome we had an hour of free time to wander around, and Rebecca, Hannah and I accidentally (I swear, it really was accidental) stumbled upon Giolitti again!  We took it as a sign that we were meant to return.  This time we ordered hot chocolate.  You know the hot chocolate I wrote about in my last post, that I said was amazing?  Well that might as well be water compared to this.  We ate it standing at the bar, like true Italians. This cioccolato-caldo tasted like a really good dark chocolate bar (think, some fancy European brand…Lindt or Perugina perhaps) melted – but not completely.  At first I thought they’d accidentally forgotten the whipped cream, but then I realized it came with a separate cup piled high with whipped cream, for the three of us to share.  We ate it wordlessly – it was that good. “Grazie mille!!!”  I enthusiastically told the barista. (Literally translated:  thank you a thousand times…it’s actually a pretty common phrase though; I’ve noticed Italian have a tendency towards the dramatic.)

    Gelato at Giolitti 

    Hot chocolate and whipped cream at Giolitti

One more food story:  At breakfast Friday I mentioned to my host mom, Giovanna, that I had a cold.  She asked me if I wanted orange juice, and I replied “si.”  I expected her to open the refrigerator and pull out a container, but instead, she grabbed a few oranges sitting in a bowl on the kitchen table, and made freshly squeezed orange juice!  Everyday this week I’ve had homemade o.j. (called “spremuta” in Italian.) Spremuta is so delicious that  I’m almost sad my cold is going away!

Better go fare i miei compiti (do homework).  Lately I’ve been forgetting about the “studying” part of “studying abroad.”  But perhaps this is a good thing!  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Low Blood Pressure or Stendhal Syndrome? Una Settimana Interessante - An Interesting Week

I don’t want this blog to be only descriptions of spaghetti and walks along the Ponte Vecchio (that’s not to say there won’t be plenty such descriptions) but relate everything about my life abroad, good and bad.
This past week I’ve learned that in NYC I took transportation for granted.  There was once a time when all I had to do was put up my hand, and a taxi would magically appear.  Or, I could take the subway, which came every 5 minutes!  And ran 24 hours a day! 

Here, in contrast, buses, the only form of public transportation, stop running at around 11:00 p.m.  I live in the southeast part of the city, a forty-minute walk from the center.  On Friday night I went to a pub near Santa Croce with a few of my new friends and left around 1:30 a.m.  I knew that there would be no buses, but I did not know that there would be no taxis!  Yes, my first night out in Firenze happened to coincide with a taxi strike.  I had not choice but to walk home, along the Arno, which let me tell you is CREEPY AT 2:00 a.m.  I have an over-active imagination so of course spent the whole walk wondering if the person who murdered me would dump my lifeless body in the Arno, or alternatively, chop me up, and then dump me in the Arno. 

Another not so great part of my week…fainting in the Palazzo Strozzi.  On Wednesday I took a tour of this palace, now a museum, with my History and Anthropology class.  Within a five-minute timespan, the room began to spin, and I had no choice but to plop on the floor, where I’d been standing!  Before I left the museum, I fainted again, and fainted twice the next day. 

But I am quite the optimist.  Yes, it was terrifying, but my mysterious illness (which would not remain mysterious for long) was not without its perks: 

1.     My signora called the doctor, who made a house call!  Yes, a house call! I felt as if I was a heroine in a nineteenth century novel.  (In case you’re wondering, the doctor told me the cause was low blood pressure and after taking medicine I felt completely better.  But what caused the low blood pressure in the first place remains a mystery.)   
2.     Speaking of novels, I fainted about five minutes from Piazza della Signoria, where Lucy Honeychurch faints in A Room With A View!
3.     The Doctor is probably right that I have low blood pressure, but I like to think it was Florence’s own Stendhal Syndrome, which is much more interesting…

I promised in my last entry to discuss my host family, Giovanna and Piero.  They are a retired couple in their late sixties/early seventies, and are the sweetest people!  They’ve been hosting students for fifteen years, and host three students every year (so I suppose I’m their forty-fifth host daughter.  I have a lot to live up to!)  Because they hardly speak a word of English, my Italian has improved a lot since I’ve been at their house. 

My room has a lot of character (i.e. a painting of Madonna and child over my bed!) and while my window does not have a gorgeous view, the view from the living room and kitchen is of rolling Tuscan hills, sprinkled with villas.  (Apparently one of these villas belongs to Sting!) 

   I don't think I'll be able to go back to Barnard housing after this

The food is AMAZING.  Everything is homemade, and there are always three or four courses.  We start off with pasta or soup, then have a meat dish along with some sort of vegetable or salad, and finish with dessert (which has either been cake or clementines and chocolate.)  The clementines are the most delicious I’ve ever had – five times as sweet as they are in the U.S., and never any seeds.  Giovanna often gives me a clementine or two to take to school to have for una merenda, an afternoon snack.  (Do I feel as if I’m in kindergarten?  Yes.  Do I love it?  Yes.) 

Dinners last about an hour to an hour and a half.  We talk about American movies and actors (Giovanna’s celebrity crush is Marlon Brando, Piero’s is Sharon Stone) travel, and Italian food.  Giovanna and Piero are always recommending gelaterias, telling us what Italian city we must visit on the next nice weekend, or explaining the different kinds of Italian cheese.  They call us bambini (children).  By the way, us refers to my housemates and I.  Nicole and Michelle share the room next to mine, go to Syracuse University in Florence, and are very nice!

The neighborhood is all Italians and no tourists.  While being near the center of the city would have been convenient, here, far away from the city center (although still in the city, not the suburbs) I can talk to shopkeepers in Italian and they will respond in Italian, which does not happen in the city center, where they often respond in English.
Yesterday I took a walk and discovered that I live a block away an amazing gelato shop, Sorriso Gelato (Sorriso, appropriately, means "smile.)  While exploring the neighborhood I came across a street called “Via del Paradiso,” Street of Paradise.  With a name like that, I had to investigate.  The steep street is bordered by a stone wall that looks as if it is (and very well might be) Roman ruins.  The street was quiet, except for the occasional old lady ambling by, (think, Strega Nona) or the sound of a rooster.  The view from the top was incredible!  I turned around after twenty minutes but plan to return. 

The view from Via del Paradiso

                      A house on Via del Paradiso

Today after class I stopped with a few friends at Mehkadeh LiberiaCafe for hot chocolate so rich you needed a spoon for the pieces of dark chocolate that had sunk to the bottom.  I can see this becoming an after-school tradition!  (Except for the fact that it was 3 euros, or a little over $4.00 - yikes.) I ordered the Fondente, but will be returning to try the other three flavours:  gianduja, orange, and mint.  

    Mehkadeh LiberiaCafe

    Making the hot chocolate

    Hot Chocolate Fondente

Ciao for now! Below are a few more pictures of what I did this week.  

   The Teatro della Pergola, where I saw a classical music concert last night.

 The Biblioteca Laurenziana, which I visited Saturday as part of an art history tour of Firenze.

    The Ponte Vecchio                       

Monday, January 16, 2012

L'avventura Comincia - The Adventure Begins!

Four days in Italia and I’ve already done so much!

I traveled with another student on the program, Sarah.  The adventure truly started when the taxi driver dropped us off at the gate of our school.  It was locked.  There we were, jet lagged, dragging fifty-pound suitcases, unsure of what to do.  "Buongiorno?"  We called, but no one answered.  While Sarah watched our bags, I walked up the gray, dusty steps to what appeared to be deserted apartments.  It took us fifteen minutes to figure out that there was a buzzer, which we’d both somehow missed seeing. 

"Ciao! Piacere!"  The directors of the program greeted us, unlocking the gate.  I soon realized that they take the immersion thing seriously; they speak to us only in Italian!

Two Universita di Firenze students, Cecilia and Georgo, showed us around Firenze.  They took us to lunch at a small trattoria, called Trattoria da Marco.  It was so tiny that there was no place to walk.  Every table had its own door; you pull open the door, and slide into the booth.  Waiters walk through one narrow aisle, which is blocked off to customers.  We all ordered orecchiette, a kind of homemade pasta.  In truth, it was too rich for me!  There was so much olive oil I felt sick, and had to force myself to eat half…my stomach will surely be expanding over the next four months!

At around 6:00 the three new students (there are sixteen other students on the program who have been in Firenze since the Fall) and myself took a van to Lucca, which a Professor on the program described to as “the Martha’s Vineyard of Italy,” the perfect analogy.  Lucca, which I visited once before, is jewel, a bellismo little city an hour drive from Firenze.  We stayed in a charming, cozy hotel, Albergo San Martino. 

The hotel room I stayed in.

A few highlights of orientation: 

A tour of Lucca led by Fabrizio Ricciardelli (the program’s professor of History and Anthopology).  Yes, I now know someone named Fabrizio.  (How cool is that?!)  My favorite part of the tour was the Torre Guinigi.  After a frightening climb up a narrow stairway, we were rewarded with a jaw-dropping view of Lucca and the meandering hills of Tuscany.  We also visited the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi, a Museum-Residence, and an example of a Luccan Merchant’s mansion.  We were the only ones there, which is what made it so special.  Artwork and ornate Baroque decorations covered room after room.  The mansion was time-warp still.  Standing in the empty ballroom it was easy to imagine the sound of violins, the swish of dresses moving across the dance floor. 

Taken from the top of Torre Guinigi

A statue in the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi

Dinner too was memorable.  We all ordered enormous personal pizzas (in America they would not have been personal pizzas, but “medium”) at a restaurant called Antica Drogheria.  Melanzana (eggplant) for me! One of the program directors brought their adorable five year old daughter, Vittoria (Veet-or-eey-uh).  Turns out five year olds are great to practice a language with, since they don’t have a large vocabulary!  (Although Vittoria knows much more Italian than me!) 

 Antica Drogheria has a pizza with lard and cinnamon....non per me...

 La Pizza Melanzana 

 Il Tiramisu

Il ristorante, Antica Drogheria

Lunch on Sunday was also amazing.  At “Trattoria da Leo” I ordered Minestra di Farro Lucchese, a local specialty made from spelt (a kind of wheat) and red beans.  This soup was hearty, satisfying, and tasted as if all the ingredients had been picked from the earth that morning.  For dessert, la torta cioccolato – it was made from a rich, dark chocolate, but the crust was lacking – or perhaps it’s just that I’m not used to what was basically a chocolate cake with crust!    

After lunch we went back to Firenze, where our host families picked us up.  But I can’t give everything away today…to be continued! 

 Minestra di Farro Lucchese

 La Torta Cioccolato

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pizza, Ice Cream, and Time Travel in Carroll Gardens

The pizza at Lucali is worth the lengthy trip on the F train.  The restaurant, dimly lit, with faded yellow walls, feels like a Tuscan trattoria.  Mismatched wine bottles bedeck the walls and windowsills, and wooden tables give the place a rustic charm.  Squint a little, ignore the American patrons, and you’re in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. 

All the pizzas boast eight oozing slices, and cost $24.00 (including tax).  My friends and I split a cheese pizza, opting for no toppings.  Simple, but excellent, was what we craved, and what we received.  The pie consisted of thin, charred crust, slightly sweet tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil for garnish.  The blobs of mozzarella had melted unevenly across the tomato sauce, as if painted by an impressionistic artist. 

It’s probably not the best pizza in the city, but it came pretty darn close.

Next we journeyed back in time to the golden age of ice cream; the age of the soda fountain.  This was a surprisingly short trip!  Turn right out of Lucali, continue a few blocks down Henry Street, enter Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, and you’ve successfully time traveled!  

This place is as close to the real deal as you’re going to get.  They’ve thought of everything from the long counter lined with stools, to the old-fashioned memorabilia lining the walls (ranging from typewriters to old jars of medicine).  A mix of oldies and Motown hits (think “Dancing in the Street” and “All You Need is love”) completed the time warp effect; truly, they were the cherry on top.  And speaking of cherries on top…yes, they actually do that!  I ordered an “Any Day Sundae” with vanilla ice cream, which came with thick hot fudge sauce, homemade whipped cream, and, of course, a cherry on top.  I asked for toasted pecans, to add a little crunch.  The Sundae of Broken Dreams also sounded scrumptious; vanilla ice cream, warm caramel sauce, broken pretzels, and whipped cream.  "You can cry over it," the menu jokes.  Asides from sundaes, the menu includes a wide variety of ice cream sodas, shakes, and egg creams, many with intriguing names such as The Pink Poodle (hibiscus soda and a scoop of vanilla ice cream).

The only thing not from the sixties?  The prices.  The sundae cost about $8.00, $10.00 with tip.  It’s okay.  I’ll think of the $10.00 as not just purchasing ice cream, but time travel. And $10.00 to travel back in time?  I think that’s a pretty good deal. 

Lucali is located at 575 Henry Street, and Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain is located at 513 Henry Street.