Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cooking Fiascoes

I was in the grocery store staring at a wall of 10 different types of butter.  Dana had again run off to go get a store employee to help me find the ingredient I was looking for.  I needed "burro sensa salle" (butter without salt) for the chocolate cupcakes she, Elena and I were baking that afternoon.  After looking for 5 minutes I had given up on finding it by myself, so we had again called the very patient store employee to our aid.  It turns out in Italy, all butter is without salt unless expressly stated otherwise (I need to learn to read the list of ingredients better) which is the opposite of the U.S., we like our food salty!  This process was repeated again with buttermilk and baking soda (which it turns out don't exist here).  I struggle with cooking here because I have a hard time with English to Italian translations of ingredient names, and I'm very literal with recipes (which doesn't work so well when the measurements are different and not all of the ingredients can be found here!).  However, what I love about grocery shopping here is that all the ingredients are so fresh and appear to be far less processed than their American counterparts (you can't beat Italian meats and cheeses!).
Anna had gone away for the weekend so it was just Dana, Elena, Alexandra and I. Saturday we had gone to the seaside, made a pasta dish with a tomato and speck sauce and made a music video (which will never see the light of day).  Sunday was our baking and cooking day.  The plan was for chocolate cupcakes and fresh pasta with Bolognese sauce.  Despite the substituted ingredients and a temporary problem with the oven, the cupcakes were quite a success with the girls.  The fresh pasta however was a completely different matter.

Me still somewhat optimistic
After three hours of struggle, I again rolled the pasta dough back into a ball, and covered head to toe in flour, dropped it on the table in frustration.  No matter how much flour we had added (and believe me the girls had added plenty, they loved adding flour, much more than the recipe called for) the ball of dough stuck to the table every time we tried to roll it out.  This final attempt took with it the last of my patience and so I sighed "I give up".  The Bolognese sauce was absolutely delicious and meaty but was eaten with store bought dried penne. 

Fresh pasta with tomatoes and peas
The next day, Monday, I decided to make one final attempt on my own, as the saying goes, on Sunday, there had been "too many cooks in the kitchen".  I rolled out the dough somewhat successfully and after letting it dry, now attempted to slice it into noodles; for my troubles I got a log of clumped together dough.  About 45 minutes later and with only half the dough edible, I had a plateful of misshapen, individually cut noodles, which I cooked with a tomato, thyme and pea sauce.  Too bad it turns out the girls don't like thyme.

Other than the cooking fiascoes, the last few days have been quiet.  I have taken to walking by the seaside in the afternoons and stopping for a gelato and coffee at what are now my usual gelataria and cafe.  However, with tomorrow being Halloween in the states (it isn't as big here), I plan to go to a Halloween/Autumn market in the afternoon in Pesaro and then possibly Corinaldo at night for their big village Halloween party!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Appreciating the Roots

As soon as my train pulled into Pesaro at 10:30pm on Saturday night, I rushed off to meet Iris at the Centro per le Arti Visive Pescheria, where an art show was being held focusing on comic drawings.  As I don't speak Italian well, I didn't understand all the comics but it was interesting seeing all of the drawings, some of which were very good.  They also had an activity for attendees where you could write a story and have it turned into a comic strip; although I didn't participate, the group I was with wrote a story about a stuffed animal in a nightmare.  The majority of the time I spent outside chatting with various friends of my friends.  People tend to speak English with me which is very nice of them, but on Saturday I told them to speak Italian so that hopefully by listening I could absorb some of it through osmosis. 

On Sunday afternoon I was yet again off on another journey by bike.  I have discovered I am not the best bike rider, and I had several near misses navigating the bike paths.  However, 45 minutes later David, Fiona and I arrived in Fano, a city about 10km from Pesaro.  My first view of the city was from a small walking path that jutted out into the Adriatic; with the waves crashing onto the nearby rocks I could see through the haze the colorful houses and shops.  The city center was filled with activity, kids were competing in basketball and volleyball games, and there was even a karate demonstration going on.  After lunch we biked along the ancient city walls and saw a statue of Caesar Augustus.  Unfortunately I was unable to take pictures as I hadn't realized my camera was dead until we arrived!
Pesaro Seaside Visit
 Tuesday, David, Fiona and I headed to the Tuesday morning market.  Our only purchase was some clementines from a local farmer however it was nice wandering around the various tents and window shopping.  Some of the vendors have beautiful, soft sweaters embellished with a sprinkling of gems.  Also in fashion here are embellished high top sneakers with studs in various shapes (of which I would like to own a pair!).  The market was also a great place for David, Fiona and I to teach each other new words through describing an item or asking what the Italian or English equivalent was.

Makeover by Elena
Sorry to my American friends but you will not be receiving snail mail!  I went to the post office with Iris on Wednesday and it is 2 euros per letter to the U.S.!  Then in the afternoon, Anna's previous workawayer, Alexandra and I wandered down to the seaside.  She has been traveling for the last year and a half so she has all sorts of stories to share!  Trips to Polynesia, Australia, all over Italy.  I can imagine how exhausting it must be to be constantly traveling however all the experiences you can have!

The Ancient Mill
In Santa Maria dell' Azilla about 25 minutes drive from Pesaro is an ancient stone mill where corn is ground into fine, soft flour for baking and polenta.  The owners were super friendly and explained to David, Fiona and I that the mill had been in their family for over 270 years during our visit yesterday.  I really enjoy that they are continuing to do things in the traditional way in order to maintain the highest quality.  Since there is no modern technology or electronics involved it is a process that takes a lot of skill and time so their mill produces only about 20 tons a year.  Phillipo, one of the owners, was a very intelligent man who talked to us at length about Italian culture and cuisine.  His mother, the other owner, gave us each a gift of some of the Polenta they had ground at the mill.  We plan to return next Sunday to visit their restaurant!

Church in Candelara

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Experiencing Homemade Italian Cusine and Bologna

Grass and Hay Stacks of Pasta 
The flour coated my hands as I kneaded the dough that would soon be cut into thin strips for tagliatelle.  I had created a well for the egg to rest in as I incorporated flour into the bright orange yolk (in Italy there are pasta eggs and flour meant especially for making pasta), and was now kneading more flour into the egg until it reached the consistency of play-dough.  Then with light pressure and a rolling pin, my balls of dough began to take shape as a thin semi-rectangular sheets perfect for creating tagliatelle, green and traditional yellow.  While the pasta sheets were drying, meat for a traditional Bolognese ragu began to simmer temptingly on the stove, and prosciutto crudo with tomato sauce simmered as well, the aroma making me even hungrier.  Three hours from the start time, I sat down to consume the thin noodles with the tender meat and delicious sauce, all the more gratifying because of my hard work.

I had arrived in Bologna at 1:30 in the afternoon for a pasta making course with the Taste of Italy cooking company (  I could not have asked for a better teacher than Alex for the cooking lesson; she knew how to adjust the lesson to my skill level and kept me entertained with stories throughout.  She also went above and beyond her duty by walking me to the Hotel Panorama where I was staying in Bologna and helping me check-in, giving me a brief tour of Bologna at night along the way. I would highly recommend Taste of Italy to anyone interested in learning to cook authentic fresh Italian pasta.

Statue of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore
After Alex left me at the hotel which was only three blocks from Piazza Maggiore I went to explore Bologna.  Bologna is a city that comes alive at night.  It is bustling with people and a variety of trattorias, pizzerias, and bars open, including a raw bar that Alex showed me.  Alex had told me that it is impossible to get lost in Bologna due to the way the streets are laid out, and I found she was right when I wandered around looking for a gelateria; no matter which way I turned I always ended up somewhere I knew.  After exploring the area thoroughly and finally locating my gelato, two types of chocolate, I headed back to the hotel in order to get enough sleep to climb the 500 steps of the Torre degli Asinelli.  For the price of 40 euros a night, I was incredibly close to the main piazza and had a beautiful panoramic view of the city as the hotel's name suggests. 

At 8am the next morning I awoke ready to explore the tourist sites of Bologna and was out the door by 9am.  One of my first stops was the famous open food market on Via delle Pescherie Vecchie and Via Drapperie.  Fresh vegetables of every variety filled the vendors stalls with bursts of color and an array of texture.  While in storefront windows fresh cuts of meat in shades of red as well as tantalizing fresh rolls beckoned to passerby.  My next stop was the Basilica di San Petronio, which remained elegant even its enormity, and the tableau in the center was hypnotizing in its beauty. Unfortunately I could not take photos and the postcards did not do it justice.  Then I visited the Salaborsa library where ancient Roman ruins can be seen through the floor, while the ruins were small, the library itself was impressive and an architectural work of art.  

Torre degli Asinelli
The Torre degli Asinelli is one of the most well-known sites in Bologna and Bologna's tallest tower.  Despite my fear of heights I was determined to reach the top. Upon entering the tower I realized that the 500 steps were narrow, wooden steps with gaps between each step and that throughout the journey up I would be able to see almost all the way down immediately to my right.  After contemplating this for a few minutes, I realized that I would be unable to reach the top.  As disappointed as I was in myself for not completing the trip up, I realized it is important to know what your limits are.  Instead I climbed the scaffold of the Basilica di San Petronio and was able to get a somewhat lower but still beautiful panoramic view of the city, and from there also got a bird's eye view of the band Rumba de Bodas playing.

Before lunch I visited the church of San Domenico where some of Michelangelo's works are held. Unfortunately I was unable to locate his sculptures in the church until after that portion of the church was closed.  However I managed to get pictures of that part of the church without even realizing that is where they were! (I think they need to add a better sign!).  For lunch I went to the Trattoria Anna Maria for a delicious small lunch of tortellini with butter and sage sauce where I meant to finish my trip to Bologna.  However I stayed awhile longer wandering around the city, seeing the park and some of the non-touristy sites, so I did not arrive back into Pesaro until 10:30pm last night where my adventures continued.  To be described at a later date!

Where Michelangelo's sculptures are held

Friday, October 18, 2013

Adriatic Adventures

Tuesday Market

The last few days have been filled with new experiences as well as some practical, living in Italy experiences as well.

I finally got a phone that works in Italy! This is exciting news because now I can actually call my Italian friends for less than $1.50/minute.  I had to buy an entirely new phone although the one I originally bought was supposed to work in Italy (the saleswoman called those salespeople "Pinocchio's").  Anyway David and Fiona helped me set up a Wind Mobile phone where for 9 euros a month I have 550 minutes of talk. (A little practical knowledge for anyone moving to Italy)

Bufalina Pizza
In less than one week I managed to totally destroy the flats I brought from home, so I headed on Tuesday to a market that is held past the city center every Tuesday morning.  Hundreds of vendors set up tents there to sell all kinds of wares; clothes, shoes, household goods etc.  The prices are also very reasonable, you can buy clothes for around 10 euros at most of the vendors, and although shoes are more pricey, generally 25-40 euros, I managed to purchase an adorable pair of flats for 5 euros.  However, I need to start thinking about what the equivalent is in american dollars because one euro is about 1.4 american dollars!  Also on Tuesday, I braved my first solo trip to a restaurant here by the seashore.  I am still learning to be comfortable alone, it takes some getting used to not having anyone to talk to during a meal, especially since I do not even have a smartphone here to look busy with!  I ordered a pizza Bufalina, the pizza is much less dense here, with a thin crust, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto.

Pesaro from afar
Wednesday was a gorgeous day out.  David and Fiona took me to the university to play basketball and then they offered to take me sailing! The view was beautiful....

At one point a fishing boat passed by causing the waves to swell up and turn our boat almost on its side, David and "A" tumbled towards Fiona and I but they were able to right the boat quickly.  After that the waves smoothed out and we were able to have a tranquil trip along the coast bobbing up and down on the waves.  I am happiest on the water feeling the breeze on my face and the wind ruffling my hair.

Circolo Mengaroni
Yesterday, I met a new friend for lunch at C'Era Volta, Iris, she and I also met on  We both ordered pizza for lunch; I ordered the Mediterranean pizza which I thought meant mozzarella, basil and tomato, however I obviously need to improve my Italian since I ended up with only tomatoes, capers and olives.  My mistake was delicious though!  Then in the evening, she and I as well as David, Fiona and another friend Catherine, headed to the Pesaro language exchange which happens every Thursday night at the Circolo Mengaroni bar which used to be a hospital for those with mental illness.  It is a little intimidating on the outside but very cozy and pretty on the inside with comfy seating areas and games to play.  There was quite a large group of people and I met some very friendly people who also offered to set me up with people to show me around on my upcoming weekend trip.

Today I head to Bologna for a pasta making class and to tour the city!  More details to come!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Molto Bagnato (Very Wet)

So much to update on!

The Adriatic Sea
Friday I had a few hours to myself and explored Pesaro for the first time since I arrived.  I walked into the center of town along Via Le Cialdini which is almost a straight path from one end of town to the other. I was afraid to go down any side streets because here the streets are winding and I may never have found my way home (especially since I am challenged with directions).  It was also very intimidating not knowing the language, I stopped in a "libreria" (bookstore) to buy a notebook and didn't even know how much the cashier was telling me it cost.  I continued my journey down Via Le Cialdini until I reached the train tracks near the edge of town and was able to view from there beautiful houses on the hillside, at which point I started my journey home.  On my way back I took a right turn at Piazza de Popolo and found myself facing the sea.  Although the sea was similar to others I have been to, in that moment I realized that wherever I am, water is a tranquil, reassuring presence that can make me feel at home even thousands of miles away.

Flower Market in Piazza de Popolo
Yesterday the children and I visited a flower market in the Piazza de Popolo.  Dana and Elena were so fascinated by the carnivorous flowers, the Venus fly trap and  California Pitcher Plant.  They cleverly figured out that by poking the center of the Venus fly trap with a stick they could trick it into "eating" the stick, and amused themselves with this at every vendor in the market.  They were also my interpreters in the marketplace!

Walking around Pesaro
Today was my day of adventures.  My host family introduced me to some of their previous workawayer's friends, David and Fiona.  We spent the morning walking around Pesaro practicing English and Italian and I learned a few new words and phrases, such as "como si dice" (how do you say?).  Then they offered to take me canoeing at 3 in the afternoon!  We rode bikes through Pesaro and then along a bike path halfway to Fano (a nearby city) where we parked our bikes and got canoes.  They thought I was crazy for not bringing a change of clothes but I only have 3 pairs of pants with me!  I am definitely going to be sore in the morning though as we rowed from that point to Pomodoro's ball officially known as "la palla di Pomodoro", a well known site in Pesaro, and back (a total of about 2 hours).  This was when I learned another of my new words, "bagnare" (wet), as we ended up soaked head to toe, including my electronics!  It was a beautiful trip along the Adriatic coast and the towering Ardizio hill, and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, it was the experience of a lifetime!
Ardizio Hill

The Fashion Show
After I returned from canoeing, I quickly showered and then met my new friend Elena to go to a show.  I met Elena on; I can't say enough about this website, it is a fantastic way to meet people in your city.  The show we ended up going to was a "sfilata di moda", a fashion show!  The show was fantastic, they had ballerinas as the opening act and had amazing concept art being done by painters during the runway portion of the show.  They also had live musicians and singers who performed during the show not to mention the clothes!

With that, I am exhausted, and will be calling it a night so I can wake up bright and early for more adventures!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Is This a Dream?

After 11 hours in planes, 30 minutes in a bus and 2 hours on a train I finally arrived in Pesaro, Italy yesterday afternoon at 4pm Italian time.  Although it was a long journey, things have much improved since the last time I traveled abroad.  The plane offered 45 different in-flight movies to watch in English, plus others in at least 10 other languages, compared to my last trip where 3 movies were on repeat.  I ill advisedly watched movies instead of sleeping during my flight which I regretted today when I was completely jet lagged (I slept from 9pm until noon today).

In London making my connecting flight to Bologna, I made my first friend in Italy! Thank goodness Paulina decided to interject when she overheard my travel plans and share that she too was traveling alone for a few months.  Meeting someone at the beginning of my trip who is doing something so similar to me was really reassuring that maybe I'm not alone in this after all.  We didn't have the best of luck with buses and trains; first having to walk in the middle of the road to locate the bus to the Bologna Central Train Station, then her train ticket printed out in a way that was completely unintelligible to us tourists.  However, helping each other out definitely made it easier.

P and I about to catch our trains
From the airport in Bologna we took a bus to the Central City train station which was approximately a 30 minute ride through the city.  We didn't see much from the bus, however I can't wait to go back and tour!  At the train station we each purchased train tickets from the fast ticket kiosks which were very simple to use, I just had to choose at which speed and class I wanted to travel.  Finding our trains was a bit harder, especially as Paulina's ticket printed out without a train number or time of departure!  I finally made it onto my train and took a peaceful train ride through the Italian countryside, passing hillside villages, rolling valleys and vineyards.  

Anna picked me up at the Pesaro Station; it was a very small station however I still managed to go to the wrong exit and it took a few minutes to find each other.  Then we picked Elena and Dana up from school; it was so great finally meeting them after months of planning and they both greeted me with big hugs.  We had fun playing games for a few hours and then I called it a night, all that traveling wore me out! 

The Library
One of the best things about where I'm staying is that it is within walking distance to the library (anyone who knows me, knows that I am a total bookworm).  I walked by there today to sign up for their tandem language exchange program.  I'm embarrassed to say I didn't learn much Italian before my trip and although it is very similar to Spanish so I can understand a bit, I am very much in need of some lessons!  In the language exchange program you learn by engaging in conversation for half an hour in each language, so both people have an opportunity to learn the other language.  I also found a cultural exchange group located in Pesaro which is having a meeting tonight at a place nearby which I plan on attending.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Today is the Day

By this time tomorrow (in Italian time and 8am here) I will be in Pesaro, Italy! My flight leaves at 6:30pm today so I am leaving for the airport now.  The nerves are finally setting in, but I can be sure at least that I have prepared all I can, as my very safety conscious boyfriend looked everything over 10 times.  Writing next time from Italy!
All Ready To Go!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Steak, Apples and Mud

It is crazy that I only have 5 days including today and the day my flight leaves left in the U.S.!  Things are in crunch time but I am almost completely ready!  One of the hardest things about being gone for 90 days (90! I just realized how long that is) is that I will be away from my friends, family and my loving boyfriend.  These last few days I am definitely trying to get as much time in as possible with them.  Tomorrow I have the Run For Your Lives, zombie inspired 5k (wish me luck that I don't get infected!) with my friend Cari who will be visiting me in Italy.  Also tomorrow my Papa from GA is coming to visit to see me off, definitely excited to see him as I haven't seen him since my graduation in December, too long! And Wednesday and Thursday, the boyfriend and I headed to Harrisonburg, VA the home of my Alma mater JMU for some fall adventures.
Picture from a previous visit

 On our way to Harrisonburg we stopped in Luray, VA at Dan's Steakhouse, where we are repeat visitors (as is one of the men from the reality show Moonshiners on the Discovery Channel).  Every time we are near Luray we stop here because for $30 you can get approximately half a cow's worth of delicious steak plus sides.

One of the ones I could actually reach
Then Thursday morning we engaged in a quintessential fall activity, picking apples at Carter's Mountain in Charlottesville.  It was a beautiful quiet day in the orchard overlooking the blue rolling hills of the Shenandoah valley; every time I visit I envision the scene in a painting.  The golden apples hung just out of reach of my grasping fingers so Joe picked me by the waist so I could twist the apples from their hanging stems. These apples will end up in an apple cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream this afternoon, yum!  The last time I went apple picking at this same orchard I ended up getting stuck in a tree, getting hit in the eye with a falling apple, and falling halfway through the floor of an abandoned house on the property, so this trip was relatively unadventurous!

Then in the afternoon we went mudding in Joe's Chevy.  We revved through deep puddles, mud holes and climbed up steep muddy embankments.  The truck jostled and jolted through every dip but we made it through all the obstacles.  I may have gotten his truck a little dirty...

Nothing a little cleaning won't fix