Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Tavolo

In Tavola

When I tell people that I have taken cooking classes in Florence I'm sure a pasta making class is what they imagine. I've taken half a dozen cooking classes, only one fits the bill. The rest have been Indian and Thai classes with The Spice Lab in the basement of the American church. The class that fits the bill, pasta making at In Tavola.

Unlike the Spice Lab classes, In Tavola's class was made up entirely of tourists, seventeen people, Australians, Brits, Americans, and some, I think, from Latin American. The instructor, an Italian and his Japanese sous-chef efficiently moved us through making a several different pastas:

a flour based sea shell type, labor intensive but yummy, called conchiglie covered with sugo al pomodoro, basilico e aglio

a couple of egg pasta based dishes:
Ravioli di Ricotta e Melanzane with Ragu' Toscano,
Tortelli di Patate with a simple sage and butter sauce

and for dessert, panna cotta.

It was a fabulous exercise in Tuscan cooking, simple flavors, good produce to create great food. The amount of dough required to make so much pasta was miniscule. Those little flour & egg delivery packets for cheese and veg were really impressive. To top it off, at the end we sat down with our classmates to consume the products of our labor. A bottle of wine, some fabulous conversation with Maggie and Elizabeth, our cooking classmates, a perfect ending.

What did I actually learn? Ball up parsley to chop it up. How to core tomatoes and cut onions, although I may have forgotten how to do that and that those who support healthcare reform come from all walks of life and from many different groups. Thanks Elizabeth.
Pasta we made!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Now when an individual with a medical history like me gets consistent chest pains it is not so unreasonable to be just a tad bit worried. Okay, I totally leaped to the worse case scenario. After figuring out what I'd need to do in the middle of this holiday period (Getting into a GP that speaks English to explain I'd like a 12 lead and blood work done would be difficult right now and explaining in Italian near impossible)other than going immediately to the ER* (did I mention how I hate hospitals?) I called a few of the medical professionals I deal with in the US. Now, with a history like mine they're always going to say go to the hospital, but I explained, this doesn't feel bad, or like the other times, just a little discomfort relatively frequently. My pulse feels as normal as it ever gets and I don't feel nauseous like when I'm having lots of PVCs.

Hmmmm, could it be heartburn? Have you tried a little mylanta?

Ummm no.

So I did and I charted when I had discomfort and it is almost entirely after eating. The Maalox doesn't seem to be an immediate relief, but it certainly seems to help.
The question is why? So I look up trigger foods ... for heartburn: Tomatoes, wine, cheese/fatty foods (aka gelato), garlic, chocolate: check, check, check, check, check. Lets just call this a little retribution for 6 months of indulgence.

*My friend W says she finds the ER here miles better than back in the US

Shoe Love

It is our last week here. I admit I had grand plans for this weeks of blog posts, grand plans that didn't accommodate for packing, fabulous family visits, last minute must go do things, and of course the first week of school back in AZ and a rather steady stream of emails and virtual meetings. Needless to say the blog posts haven't happened. More disappointing is not having caught up this week with the two women and their children who Ila and I have made friends with. I'm hopeful that we will before we leave. I'm also hopeful that if I keep these short I'll get the last little bits of experience down.

Image shamelessly borrowed from the Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe Museum
We did pop into the Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe Museum, that our friend B recommended, with my Aunt and Uncle (Happy Anniversary to them). The very sharply dressed man at the front desk looked decidedly non-plussed at our attire and the wild two and half year old tugging at my arm. Despite his frosty welcome, we thoroughly enjoyed the shoe love. From bizarre to exsquite this museum is a very polished and appealing display to lovers of shoes and even for those of us not so into heels etc. Ila actually had a glorious time picking out the shoes she liked and the colors. I'd definitely recommend a visit. For five euros it is worth a stop.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Galileo's Figs

We've had a spectacular day today. A trip to Boboli exploring areas we hadn't investigated before. Yes, there are still areas we haven't been in. A cooking class at In Tavola (I'll tell you more once I've digested it a little...) and tonight we're off to Cavolo Nero while my mum babysits Ila for a dinner not spent chasing a 2.5 year old.

My head is still buzzing from the half bottle of wine or so that I consumed at the cooking class. I'm not up to writing about the cooking class, which certainly is worth writing about, but I did want to share our geeky, celebrity connection, something that makes me absolutely tingle with excitement.

A couple of days ago, Doug had the opportunity to go on a private tour of Galileo's last home, the one he was held in house arrest at for the last years of his life. At the end of the tour, he was offered figs from the garden. Now, I'm pretty sure that life span of a fig tree is not 400 years, but still the idea that these figs have been nurtured and grown on the same ground as the father of modern science stood on, that they might be the descendents of figs that once were appreciated by!

I'm embarrassed to admit that my envy of Doug's tour was significant, but easily addressed as on Tuesday, Ila and I get to go too! Until then...

Galileo's Figs

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bonbons and the rest...

Oh, yes this is the life. I spend all day lounging sipping a fine Chianti while Italian gods feed me bonbons and waft me with large palm fronds. Yeah, not so much.

Life here has tumbled into this less than ideal routine the past few weeks or months as the semester gears up and various work related problems arise that were unexpected. I'm not quite sure how to rectify it or if it can be rectified. Suggestions gladly accepted.

A quick run down of our routine:
We wake at 6-7am with the girl

9am Get out of the house for a few hours while it isn't so cloyingly uncomfortable. This is when the good stuff happens. Today we got to go play with Z and C and introduce them to the Park at Villa Strozzi. Yesterday, it was Mercado Centrale for some present buying.

Return for She, Who Must be Obeyed's siesta around noon until about 2 or 2:30pm (during which I work) although today I worked in the morning, while Doug worked with Ila.

Then packing/cleaning/doing laundry in a semi cooled apartment while trying to keep Ila entertained.

Around 4 or 5pm we brave the heat and humidity to find boxes or buy groceries (remember this is without a car). Did I mention the high yesterday was 102 degrees F, it is already up to 100 degrees today and average humidity for August is 66%?

We eat dinner, I go back to work and Doug gets Ila off to sleep. It seems I am rarely off work and in bed before 1am, and even more rarely getting to sleep before 2am. I'm not getting a hell of a lot of sleep.

Those few hours in the morning, those are what I look forward to each day. A chance to explore this great city, although I do it alongside throngs of hot, sticky tourists. Oh wait, I guess I'm a hot sticky tourist.

For our last week I feel I need a goal each day, something that makes me feel like I've experienced something that I wouldn't in the US. But what to do?

A few days ago, as we explored a warren of streets West of Santa Croce we stumbled upon the gelatari that is listed everywhere as the must go to, Vivoli. It is rather an unassuming place, with no outward display of its renown. I hadn't bothered to find it before, quite happy with our local gelatari, plus I assumed it would be heaving with tourists and very expensive. It was effectively empty, the prices more reasonable than those at Grom, the other big name gelatari, so what the heck! By the time I'd decided to go try their take on a couple of my favorites (noccolia and pistacchio) Ila had fallen asleep, so she didn't get any. My intentions were honorable, there are two spoons there!

I just couldn't wake would have been cruel, plus I would have had to share!

I took the smallest little cup out into the piazza ....a sweet, quiet little piazza that might become my favorite, and took my sweet time over some of the creamiest, most scrumptious gelato ever! Their name and position as number one is well deserved. While I savored my little indulgence I decided that perhaps the goal/challenge/experience that could be done easily and would bring me great try a new gelato flavor every day. It doesn't have to be from Vivoli, but somewhere with gelato made specifically for that gelatari. I take my duties very seriously.

She gets her own Frutta di Bosco and Pesche

Yesterday from Vivoli: 1/2 a scoop of Fichi (Fig) and 1/2 a scoop of Riso (Rice)
It supplemented for breakfast. I know, rice gelato. It seems like a very bizarre choice, but imagine the richest, creamiest rice pudding and you can begin to conceive of its delightful flavor. The fig was my favorite though, little seeds along a refreshing fruity flavor. I am convinced that our yard in Tucson is not complete without an Italian Honey Fig Tree. And of course have fantasies of harvesting and making fabulous fig preserves that would be eaten along with a slice of apple and some Parmigiano-Reggiano. Oh God, I think that might be heaven especially if topped off with some homemade fig gelato. Think of all the fiber. It has to be good for you, right? Our rainwater harvesting efforts maybe able to provide for the initial water investment. Maybe while I'm waiting for a first fruit I could explore the use of Mission Figs, I'm reliably informed they do exceedingly well in our climate, certainly the ones on campus that are now gone were very yummy. I digress...

Today we stopped by another gelateria in the San Frediano neighbourhood on our way back from the park at Villa Strozzi and Gelateria Damiani did not disappoint. The choices were spectacular. I had a little taste of pompelmo rosa (pink grapefruit) which even tempted my anti grapefruit taste-buds, but settled on 1/2 a scoop of Pinola (pine nut) and 1/2 a scoop of Boreo (?) which was a rich chocolate and cherry. I'll be honest, despite my chocolate addiction I'm not keen on chocolate ice-cream and while this was rich and creamy, I preferred the pinola.

Not sure about tomorrow, but for now there is a short period of the day where I feel like I'm sipping Chianti, being fanned by Italian gods, and being fed the sweetest fruits of human creation. Let's just call it Gelato Time and hope it gets me through the next week.

Monday, August 17, 2009


This evening trundling along to the store Ila and I saw this old geezer, leaning out of his third floor apartment window. Resplendent in all his white undershirt glory, reverse serenading the street full of tourists. I guess for a true serenade he should have been at ground level and us at the window, but details details...He couldn't really sing, but could he project! It seemed so, Italian.

I thought about taking a photo, but it just seemed wrong to meet such a gift by taking without we waved and shouted bravo.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Getting What You Pay For...


Made in Italy! Not made in China.

I can't tell you how many times I've been told that since we've arrived. From the little Antica Merceria which sells yarn to bras, to the craft, fruit and veg stalls in the market in Santo Spirito, sellers are emphatic and passionate (it is Italy after all)about the Italian origin of their wares. The buy local and slow food movements are at a whole other level compared to those in the US. The participants in the movement do not seem to be restricted to any particular group of society, but a much larger cross section of the population appears to be involved. It isn't just pride in what they make, but there also seems to be a greater comprehension of the environmental and quality impacts when you transport your food and goods long distances from countries where enforcement of labor and environmental laws may be sorely lacking.

Several months back, over dinner, we got into an interesting conversation with an Italian friend who lives in the US about the cost of shoes. Every few years, when he is home in Firenze, he goes to a place around the corner from us and picks up a pair of handmade Italian shoes.

(Like the furniture restoration stores the area also has a fair number of cobblers. Now some cobblers strictly just repair shoes, others make and mend and there are a few who 'design' and create. The prices for handmade shoes where you can see the individuals making the shoes right there, varies widely. At one shoe store on the other side of the river well heeled young men and women work exquisite shoes that hang delicately in the window. I stopped once and asked how much a pair of shoes would cost.

Oh, all our shoes are custom made, but these (a gorgeous pair of red flats were a basic pair) start at 900 Euros.

Don't think about it too much, it hurts. The lady was very nice as I spluttered. Anyway, back to our friend, who I assure you isn't spending 900 Euros on his shoes.)

Wow, are they that much better? I asked. Surely they are expensive?

Yes, they are that much better.

Our friend buys a pair of shoes designed by his friend Stefano every couple of years. He wears them practically every day and, he was emphatic about this, not only do they last, but they are infinitely more comfortable.

But the price...
said I.

our friend said, better to pay for one pair that is comfortable and lasts several years than 6 cheaper pairs that are not comfortable and do not last.


But that wasn't the end of it. Our friend continued to talk about the value of knowing the working conditions of those who made what you buy and questioning whether saving a little money was really worth the karma points. Well, he didn't say it exactly like that, but that sums it up. Now, if you don't have the money to lay out anyway and you're scrimping to buy one pair of shoes, or you're buying them second hand (both of which I've done, the second more recently than the first) then this argument is null and void.

All this got me to thinking. So after dinner I rushed home and dug out all my shoes. Well all the shoes that I brought with me.** Where were they made? Did it matter how much I paid for them?

Shoes are the one item that I'll actually spend money on, well relatively speaking. Shoes don't know that I've put on a crap load of weight, they still fit me and don't add insult to injury when I try them on in the store.

The answer? China.
To a pair. The boots, the Ariats that are so damn comfortable, the MILFS (oh such a bad phrase), the red pumps, the flats, my sandals...all China.
Now, I don't have a problem with the Chinese and, other than the wish to invest in my local economy and to keep transport impacts down, no problem buying from another country. I know that it is the Big Corporations who add to the labor and environmental issues, the plight of the Chinese worker and their low wages is what keeps wages and conditions low elsewhere. In Tucson, I'm not sure I can be discerning, other than maintaining with new soles/ heels and buying second hand, but here in Italy I have a chance to buy something made from a person I can shake hands with, in a place less than 100 meters from our front door.

This is the window display at Francesco's

and this is Francesco:

Francesco making someone else's shoes

So I did. I've eyed these shoes everyday for the past six months. They're not exactly glamorous, rather they're classic in that 'I can wear them when I'm an old lady' way. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they're something that my Granny H. use to wear. Okay, maybe they are old lady shoes, but they're very work friendly and after a little stretching they fit me perfectly and I love them. So I bought them. If they'd had them in my size in the aubergine color I would have got those instead. They cost a tiny, minuscule fraction of those over on the fancy side of the river, but it was really nice to purchase something from the family that made the product and who seem to be doing just fine.


**My unsolicited assvice for the day: Packing for a trip to somewhere that oozes Old World charm? Skip the heels and the pumps. Forget trying to impress the locals, you can't. Wear something comfortable and flat. The roads and sidewalks can only be navigated in any kind of heel by some other species. Definitely not me, probably the same species that can wear white linen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chiuso per Ferie

Wahoo! Surfs up. We're out of here! Summer Hols.

Actually, we're not, but everybody else seems to be. The local Magi Market, my favorite greengrocers, both of them, the farmicia, the doctor's (hell, he has been gone since July 24th and will be gone until the end of August), all 'chiuso per ferie'.

Hey, but today I made a new discovery...a little mini grater in the nutmeg jar. Do they have these in the US as a regular part of nutmeg spice jars? I've never seen them before, but then I'm rather uncouth. I'll load a picture up as soon as the internet gets a move on. Gosh, it is painfully slow today, probably because near everyone has left for 'ferie'. Why not the little electrons involved in my wireless transmissions?

Oh, I've signed myself up for a pasta class this Saturday. I haven't heard back from them yet, but hopefully I'll be able to regale you with tales Saturday evening.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blackberries, fishing and relaxation

Out the back window

There are few advantages to be had from living so far from our parents. However, one advantage is the appreciation of how much sheer joy our daughter brings to my mum and N which is matched only by her squeals of delight at seeing them again. Likewise, for her Granddad and Babushka and Grandma & Grandpa. I'm not sure how it would be if we lived in the same place. Would we recognize how sweet each others company is?

We're having a glorious time. Listening to tales spun over a few (?) stiff whiskeys; indulging in hearty breakfasts and pies with homegrown or foraged blackberries and apples; foraging for berries; fishing (with no success) and getting to take long naps. Oh, if it didn't have to end.

Back to Florence tomorrow, hope RyanAir doesn't screw us over like they did on the way here!

IMG_4256BlackberriesIMG_4312Fishing with Granny

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cool, green, and a tad wet

Cootehill Park Lake

We're in Ireland. At my mum and N's. The sun pokes out occasionally, but just occasionally and it is cool, green, a tad wet and we love it.

The view from the breakfast table:
View from the breakfast table. Not too shabby

Cootehill town park

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Doug says this is probably the best Italian beer he has had. Not very hoppy. We thought you might like it.

Beer for Julie

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What to do?


Puff! Up in a cloud of smoke. I typed out this witty, sharp little post and it just disappeared. Alright, it wasn't witty or sharp, or even remotely funny, but I did type out a post just to have it vanish from all sight. Sigh. So now you're getting the abridged version. Its probably preferable anyway.

We have less than a month until we return to the US. We don't want to be like those inhabitants of a city who never have seen or experienced some of the city's sights, but at the same time not wanting to run through a list of items briefly glanced at then checked off. So what would you do? If you had say 20 days in Florence, or in any gloriously rich city what would you try to experience, to capture?

I have some ideas, but can't pursue all of them. Please tell me what you would do and suggest others:

1. Take an Italian cooking class
2. Check out one of the operas at a local church
3. Take a trip to Cinque Terre (our Italian friends say it is hot and you can't escape from the sun at this time of year)
4. Survey more gelato stores
5. Official walking tour
6. Sight seeing bus (eh.)
7. Tuscan wine tasting

Or perhaps just soaked up a little more of the Firenze we've come to know?

On the way to Bardini on Sunday





Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dearest Desert Dame,

This post goes out to Desert Dame:

What do you think this is for? I'll give you one guess.

M, do you know what this is going to be used for?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Vegetarians Avert Your Eyes. Gratuitous Cow Flesh Image Ahead

Hello Sunshine

To both to the South and to the North of Florence are these amazing, seemingly endless fields of sunflowers. It makes for a spectacular sight. D informs me that they are probably used for oil. I guess I never thought too much about how sunflower oil might be harvested before. Pamela of Red, White and Grew gave me the heads up to look out for this. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We had a fabulous time this evening. On Thursday we found out that one of D's colleagues who arrived from Spain in April, happened to be accompanied by his partner and their 2.5 year old child. How D & J managed to go for 3 months without mentioning their toddler children to each other is beyond me, but wahoooooooooooooooooo! You know, just a month before we leave, but still. Cool people. In fact, this weekend has been pretty much a social whirlwind relatively. Last night, we went to a lovely birthday party for a terrific two year old, the same one we had a playdate with last weekend and D & I got to meet and talk with really interesting people to boot! Sometimes it just takes a little time to meet people you connect with. Six months is a difficult length of time. It's a long time to be away from dear friends and perhaps too short a time to connect to many people here. I'm thankful for those friends we have met here though.

We've been fortunate to have plenty of visitors to save us from loneliness though. Last week it was my dad, Auntie C and Tio Pepe. Fabulous to see all. A little birthday celebration for my dad at Quattro Leoni. A bit of a stroll to the bridge my father describes as heaving with pubescent hormones because of the abundance of Italian teenagers making out on it. At least they have good taste with regards to the view. And, because it was a birthday after all, a little gelato.

Ponte dell'ormone

Bistecca Florentina
This is THE dish. Every restaurant offers it and no it isn't really cooked at all. I'm purposefully making this a small image as it might be a little much for some.I will share that it was extremely tasty and we had difficulty stopping Ila from reaching over and grapping it. She has become a serious meat fiend.
Vegetarians avert your eyes. Bistecca Florentina