Monday, April 28, 2014

"Il Cibo è Vita"

    "Okay man, where are we? Because THIS is where we wanted to go.." John holds his phone up to the driver while gesturing to the google maps location of the Interspar we had intended upon visiting.

    "You want Interspar?"
    "Interspar...Yes!" John's frustrated at this point and I'm almost afraid. Fake taxi services are big in this country leading to all sorts of things for the victims like attacks, theft, etc. With you not being able to carry any sort of self defense weapon with you, a bad situation can turn worse in mere moments. Though, this cab has all of his credentials and is with a service, that doesn't mean he's a good person.

The man fakes surprise that we had wanted the Interspar closest to base, which would have resulted in half the cab fair and only been logical.
    "Interspar..." He trails off hissing the word through his teeth as if he were cursing but continues driving in the opposite direction of where we had intended, and he now recognizes, to go. He stops the car and points out the window, John and I are both fuming by this point.

    "Interspar!" He gestures to the building just outside. Sure enough we are sitting in front of our beloved Italian grocer...just not the location we wanted.

    "Two Interspar in Vicenza!" The man exclaims, while zeroing his toll meter.
    "Alright man, ten euro?" John replies. Completely annoyed with the man taking advantage of our inability to keep track of where we are what with being new. In short, we were ripped off. John pays and we get out heading for the building quickly.
    "That guy was an ass, and a horrible driver! Worst we've had yet!" I complain.
    "I know sweetie, but try to forget about it, we're shopping!" He flashes his gleaming Abercrombie model smile at me and I melt into his dimples. All worries completely faded.

    "You want a cart?!" He goes to get us one and I peek inside the entrance but he returns empty-handed.
    "No coin..." He shrugs as we hold hands and head in. Pretty much all of the grocery carts and luggage carriers, anything that wheels that lazy Americans tend to leave in hallways and parking lots?, Italy doesn't put up with that. You have to deposit coin like the popular American grocery chain Aldi, just to unlock a cart, which you get back when you return it to its proper place, of course. On this particular day, both John and I had forgotten to bring change, or as we've taken to saying, "coin".

We walk in and both breathe deeply, it's like the best scents on earth have congregated in this one place just for your smelling pleasure. Fresh warm baked breads, bright and dewy vegetables and fruits and something sweet I can't quite place, fill my lungs and make my head swim with excitement.

Walking down the aisle we walk all the way to the right and go in the entrance gate as if entering an amusement park ride. Once you enter you cannot get back out without passing directly in front of an employee, to ward off theft I'm sure. We grab a basket that rolls as if it were luggage and start down what seems to be a never-ending produce section.

You know that scene in "The Wizard of Oz"? The one where for the first time Dorothy sees the colors and wonders of Oz and your senses are bombarded with the fantastical colors after only seeing black and white for so long? That's the Interspar produce section. The moment where Alice from "Alice in Wonderland" where she wanders into the GIANT forest that is actually just an oversized garden of flowers the size of houses and the technicolor smoking caterpillar? That is also the Interspar produce section. Well, minus the caterpillar. It is a magical, fantastic world filled with things I had never seen before, and I made sure to comment on it.

Only a small selection of the
wonderful world of

Suppressing my urge to break into song I practically run over to a stack of melons, the likes on which I had never seen in my life. They were cantaloupe colored and textured roughly but had distinct stripes like a basketball.
    "Look at these!" I exclaim to John who is still trying to process it all.
    "Yeah.." He furrows his brows, "aren't they cantaloupe?"
    "No, they can't be, look at the stripes.."
    "Hmmm, very strange.."

We continue to wander as I touch and smell and inspect different fruits and vegetables. We spot a display of strawberries that could not have been more beautiful if they had been painted. Fragrant as if you were walking through a patch of them in your backyard and gleaming with ruby red color, they were irresistible. I grab a package of them and gently put them at the bottom of my rolling-tote type shoppers basket.

Me checking out some vegetables.

    "Honey, what do you need for your recipe?" John gets me on track as I try to remember the purpose of our trip. A restaurant copy-cat recipe I hope to create of one of my favorite dishes I miss and have been craving since we left Alaska; Snow City Cafe's stuffed french toast.

    "Oranges!" I say as we meander over to a display of at least ten different kinds of oranges.
    "How do we know what's what?" I ponder to John.
    "Just grab what looks good!" John laughs off my concern and heads over to look at seafood. I grab a bunch that look just the right size and fairly ripe.

Check out my groovy basket!

I catch up with John at the seafood. Yet again I am transported to some sort of fantasy world. We spot some delicious delicacies from the food we've been eating the past week at different amazing restaurantes. A particular favorite we've developed is anchovies drenched in lemon. I know, I know, but don't knock it until you try it. And when you do try it, make sure it's at Vecchia Fattoria. That particular meal changed my views on food, it was an experience.
 Vecchia Fattoria.

Highlights of our meal at Vecchia Fattoria.

As John is documenting the beautiful crustaceans and water-breathing produce alike, a woman stocking her case snaps at John that pictures are not allowed. We're pretty sure they were but that she just didn't want herself in the photos. Though John puts his Nikon away and gets out his phone to replace it, just to be safe. We round the corner and see a bakery across the building. Passing cheese and meat sections that would make even the most seasoned of foodies cry and finally make it to our destination. Pane.

Loaves and rolls and croissants, I briefly picture myself sitting in the corner tearing off hunks and shoving them into my mouth with abandon. Reluctantly I decide against introducing myself to the Italian police and spot a ciabatta loaf that will work perfectly. John slides it out of its drawer and then we see it. A very unfamiliar scale with a touch screen monitor that produces the sticker you must put on your baked good so that it can be purchased. John puts the ciabatta loaf on the scale and tries to punch in a number but nothing happens. We try this again roughly half a dozen times when an Italian woman rolls her cart up to our section and bags a few rolls. John quickly snatches our loaf off the machine and we awkwardly watch over her shoulder as she expertly weighs her goods and punches in the number from the drawer she took from. We follow her lead as she laughs at us and rolls her cart away to continue her shopping. Having filled our quota of overly American moments for the day we are now focused and determined.

We go up and down each aisle and pick up spices, (which I was able to locate correctly without translation assistance from John) cream cheese, and raspberry preserves that are too adorable for words. While hunting for eggs we realize we are standing in the middle of an aisle of literally only pasta and pasta dressings. Yes, these people take their most famous dishes very serious here.

The GIANT aisle of entirely
pasta products. The gnocchi was
calling my name!

We locate the an unrefrigerated section and John attempts to grab a carton when I protest;

    "Oh hell no! We could get diseases or something.."
    "Honey, it's just like farm fresh eggs. They're fine."
    "I don't eat those either! If I ever cracked an egg only for an underdeveloped baby chick fetus to pop out, I would be scarred so badly I would never be able to even look at eggs again...And that would make your life very difficult, my friend."

Eggs. Unrefridgerated. I know,

John laughs at me but agrees we can pick up eggs at the commissary along with a few other baking essentials I couldn't locate, when we get back to base and we keep moving.

We checkout with our groceries, surprised we are expected to bag them ourselves (another lazy American essential) and carry them out the exit gate and out the door.

After returning to base and picking up what else we needed we head back to the room. With only a pot and a small skillet cooking should prove quite the challenge but it is not long before I am in the zone. With the mindset of an "Iron Chef" and the determination to adapt of a "Chopped" chef I breeze through recreating my beloved french toast and though it turned out well, I have decided to tweak it a bit and try again soon.

My ingriedients including the 
scrumptious raspberry preserves
I used to make raspberry butter.

Also, the final product, 
a crispy cinnamon-nutmeg french toast
stuffed with an orange infused cream cheese,
garnished with toasted walnuts, raspberry
butter, and powdered sugar.

Entering the wonderful world of Italian cuisine has proved to be quite the feat. Though John and I both talk fondly of future times where we can grill fresh fish and boil real Italian gnocchi in our apartment. (We sign the lease tomorrow and hope to be in before the month of May is out!)

I would say that meals mean more than just fuel or indulgence or a gathering of people here, no, here... 

'il cibo è vita'.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Piccoli Piaceri della Vita"



    "Do you want to go out for dinner?" He asks, eyebrows raised.
    "Sure, but let's go somewhere casual." I'm not up for a four hour meal production tonight and John is always up for anything so I have to be specific.
    "What about Tony's Pizzeria? It's the eighth best restaurant in Vicenza!" He offers. We feel much more empowered now that we have cellphones and technology at our fingertips. Though I've grown used to not depending upon my phone and continuously leave it behind in the hotel lately (sorry familia!). John scrolls through 'Trip Advisor' and google maps and coordinates our bus route while I change for dinner.

    Tony's pizza is a small pizzeria tucked into south Vicenza, I suppose you could call it the 'slums' but nothing we've seen yet has been worn down enough to really warrant that title. The restaurant is clean and bright with paintings of Manhattan and New York on the walls and guests chattering away enjoying the natural warmth that the pizza ovens give off.
    "How funny!" I point out the paintings to John, "I bet if you go to a pizzeria in manhattan they would have paintings of Italy.." We both laugh at the irony and our waiter comes over to take our order. He is a sweet man who speaks little English. With laugh lines around his mouth and smile lines that crinkle by his eyes. His skin giving away signs of a happy life.
    I order margherita (basic cheese pizza with lots of basil) and John orders the carbonara (a pie that consists of bacon and egg layered with sauce and cheese). We make small talk and overhear the young men next to us discussing Alaska so John pipes in and asks if they're from AK. As it turns out one of the guys had transferred roughly a year ago and John and him had friends in common. They laugh at the coincidence and the waiter brings our drinks.
    I had ordered a large coke but wanted ice so the waiter retreats to fetch me some. Coke products are everywhere in Italy but I have yet to see Pepsi products anywhere. It's an odd realization I came upon while dining out one evening.

    I sip on my coke while John drinks his German beer,
    "Woah, that's a little strong.." He exclaims with a laugh.
    "Must be authentic." I tease with a smile. Soon the waiter has our pies in hand and sets them down for us.



Me being embarassing and preparing myself for this epic meal.

Massive, with the cheese still bubbling and sizzling, we are provided with a knife and a fork and no pizza cutter. We notice an elderly Italian gentleman eating across the room and take his lead cutting into the pizza and eating it with our cutlery instead of our hands. We are later thankful for this choice as the quality of this pizza demands the respect of using real silverwear and not pawing at it like the American culinary savages we are.

One of their pizza ovens I snapped a picture of as we were leaving.

John finishes his whole pie, and I leave what would probably be considered roughly two slices had it ben sliced, and we go pay the two men up front. I want gelato again but after a twenty minute fruitless search thanks to google, we come up empty handed and resign to the bus stop. John promising to take me later on in the week.


The next day John has no work appointments so we set off to go shopping in the city. It is a bright and sunny day, casting a humid yet light warmth over everything. I have been lusting after H&M since we we came to Italy over a week ago and today is the day I will get to explore. I've always loved H&M clothing from afar (the internet) but have never lived near enough to one to shop so stepping into the store was like a shopping dream coming to fruition. John weaves through racks with me, giving me advice on color and such when prompted. He really is great to shop with, despite his very male short attention span. I find three tops and a dress and we pay and leave. Of the two floors I could have easily purchased more but restrained myself.

Outside of H&M.

After H&M we continue on down the small street. It is the same street we found our restaurante at the past weekend and we window shop at the expensive leather and silk shops. We pass different lingerie boutiques and candy stores and odds and ends. I've nearly decided to turn around as I'm starting to get hungry when I spot Kiko. Kiko is a cosmetics company based out of Milan that does not sell their product in the US. I've been talking about them to John for weeks so when I squeal like a small child and run for the entrance he is not surprised in the least bit. Yet again I want to buy the whole store but am trying to save my money for the weekend so that I may buy some authentic Italian products from the weekend market we had seen before. Less than ten euro later I have a brand new gorgeous eyeshadow and we are back on track.

We begin seeing people with gelato coming from the direction we are traveling and we get excited. We finally come upon a gelateria and run in. John gets a scoop of 'kinder bueno' a flavor that has real kinder bueno candy bars in it. And I get a scoop of 'limone'. Mine is very tart yet still very creamy and John says his is to die for exclaiming that it tastes just like the candy. I don't like the bueno candies as they have hazelnut.

Outside of the gelato place who's name we cannot remember. 
Like most places in Vicenza it does not exist when googled,
we apologize.
Though, this gelato was much better than Venchi, and if you come to visit
us we will definately be taking you there.

We are done shopping for the day and as none of the food places will reopen for a couple of hours we walk a little looking at some of the historical architecture and then decide to head back to base and grab a bite to eat from one of the Greek street vendors (best gyro you'll ever have).

John in the little square by the Teatro Olympico,
which also happens to be the end of the street we
shopped on.

One of the historical buildings that is actually a govrnment building
of some type.
Check out those life-size statues up top!
(This country is a Who fan's worst nightmare, I swear.)


We have quite a few appointments on Thursday with housing and in-processing, but after completing them set out for town once again. This time by taxi, to a Chinese restaurant we've heard a lot about. I'll let you experience this one via pictures with minimal annotation as the food was not an incredibly memorable experience, though the decor made quite the impact.

This guy reminded me of Mushu from Disney's Mulan,
so of course I had to get a photo with him. 

The aquarium floor that housed multiple
species of fish including mini sharks. 

I was very impressed by the size of this coca-cola
can. Cans of soda are shaped long and skinny here
but this one was the size of a typical
american energy drink, aka; too big.

Our main dishes, orange and cashew chicken.
The orange chicken was made with blood oranges,
a product native to Sicily and therefore very common
in dishes John and I have had. They are absolutely amazing.

Our deserts, a gelato-type mousse and a lemon layer cake.
John said that the large dark berry-looking thing on the lemon cake
was actually a licorice-type candy. Weird.

Okay, so there were a few memorable moments. For instance, the fact that the entire dining room floor was actually an aquarium you were expected to trust enough to not only walk, but dine on. It was definately John's sort of thing but it lead to me being squeamish nearly the whole dinner. Also, I made John switch plates with me for both course's as I liked what he had ordered much better. I doubt he'll allow me to 'try a bite' of anything else he orders for quite some time.

On a rather personal note, this week my family suffered a great loss. My cousin, much too young was taken in a tragic accident leaving behind two sweet girls and his wife. This loss has made me stop and appreciate what's in front of me. Being able to sit on a warm day eating gelato with my best friend. Or watching his face light up as we walk into an Italian camera store. Being able to love and be loved with no rules against it and nothing standing in my way. All in all it has been a good week filled with laughter, love and enjoying our new home. In light of my families loss I have committed myself to trying to enjoy the very many small pleasures in life.

The 'piccoli piaceri della vita'.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"..Bella Notte"

    "Pleeeeease!" He begs, puppy dog eyes and all.
    "Fine! But..." I'm cut off as he jumps from the couch in excitement and runs to the bedroom to grab his computer. He's been pleading with me for the past hour to go out on the town to dinner with him and with my luggage finally returned to me, I agree. At least I'll be able to wear nice clothing and makeup for the first time in days.
    "Buuuut," I attempt again now that he's returned to the room, "you need to make sure we have a way to get there and back, make sure you know where we're going, and that we can even get is a Sunday evening you know!"
     He's grinning from ear to ear whilst half-listening to my demands. He shuts his laptop with a light 'smack' and starts for the door.
     "And when I say 'make sure', the internet DOES NOT COUNT!" I am pretty sure he heard me but the door clicks and he's undoubtedly on his way to talk to the front desk for suggestions.

     We are dressed up and on our way to the bus, the trip made much shorter by riding our brand new bikes. John swerves and hops and shows off while I guide my trike(yes, it is a tricycle) slowly and carefully through the street. The night is beautiful and though leaving base makes me apprehensive I find myself looking forward to our long dreamt about meal. The ideal is to find a place tucked away and small, ran by locals. We lock up our bikes and head for the stop.

    Our bus ride is short and uneventful. We hop off a few stops later than our choice from the day before and notice a street market of sorts. The square is absolutely packed with people. Locals and tourists alike. Shoppers with bags from H&M and suit shops that would give Armani a run for their money. Bags filled with breads and cheeses and wines and shoes and jewelry and hand made glass. You name it, their selling it. And all of it sparkles and glistens and fills your nostrils. We don't talk much as we meander through the crowds. But occasionally something will stick out and we'll laugh or gape.

These three dogs belonged to the man on the bicycle in front
of them and followed him wherever he went.

     We head toward the large catedral looking around and taking it in. We're both hungry though so John turns us around toward the piazza. As we're walking we observe the people. Everywhere you look people are greeting each other with kisses or lighting a cigarette. Some walk with a hurried purpose, almost seeming annoyed, most likely locals who are just trying to complete their weekly shopping. Others leisurely wander like us, just trying to stay out of peoples way.
     We hit the piazza and pick a street to go down. As we're walking I'm beginning to become more and more aware of my hunger. The word restaurante is now my target and I am a heat seeking missile. Despite my laser-focus, a menu catches John's eye first. It's on a small a-frame poster and printed on basic paper. I would have walked right by. We skip across the street toward it and skim the offer. A four course meal for only fifteen euro. Sold.

We scurry down the alleyway and come upon the restaurante and the courtyard it opens up to. A pleasant young woman greets us as we both do full circles taking in the gorgeous buildings it's tucked into.

    "Hi!" I say, not even attempting an Italian greeting.
    "Buongiorno!" John says with a smile. Proud of his retention of last nights Rosetta Stone lesson.
    "Hi." The young woman returns with a laugh. We roll our eyes at John and she seats us outside. The weather is perfection for eating as it's cool enough to ward off the bugs but warm enough that it's still comfortable.
    John and I quick look at the menu and decide we're going to do the deal advertised that brought us in. I order the gnocchi for my first course. Little potato-pasta-dumplings dressed in butter and herbs. As a self-proclaimed carb addict, my first course promises to be fabulous. John orders the bigoli, always going for the oddest thing on the menu, and the most authentic. We order our other courses and she brings us out our drinks and some fresh baked breads and nuts.
    "I'm never going to find good beer.." John makes a face after taking a drink out of his glass. I laugh,
    "You're just going to have to develop a taste for wine.".
He glares and I smirk and a few minutes later we receive our first course.

John's dish was a handmade pasta with
a sauce made of sardines.
The flavor was similar to that of a cesar salad dressing.

We gobble down our first course. Barely stopping to exclaim how absolutely delicious it is and exchange tastes of each others dishes. Soon enough, the waitress brings out our second course with both John and I ordering a fresh salad. Talk about a palate cleanser. The vegetables are so fresh they pop and crunch in your mouth, the bitterness of the tomato complimenting the sweetness of the carrots. We've dressed them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar brought out to us separately so we can use the exact amount we want.

After the salad comes our main course. I ordered the chicken "stew" expecting a bowl of something but receiving a plate instead, and John orders the grilled pork. I raise my eyebrows at my dish as it's served to me but go with it anyways and we dig in. By this point we are already pretty full, as the portions are not skimpy whatsoever. However, there is about twenty minutes between each course, allowing us to digest a bit.

Yet again we are amazed by the quality of our food. The chicken in my stew is very apparently slow-cooked as the meat is falling off the bone, and the sauce of onion and tomatoes absorbs into my grilled polenta, all together each bite is a whole spectrum of tastes and textures that consume me. John's dish is wonderful as well. You can tell that this family-run place is serving us what they would make for themselves at home.

Our amazing main course.

Finally, we have dessert, an apple pie type pastry with the texture of a pudding. It has nuts layered throughout it and a strawberry sauce for dipping, accenting. John devours his but I only taste mine, as I am holding out for gelato after dinner. The sweet young woman takes our plates away and allows us to pay, though she seems a bit confused by our rushed nature. We only have about half an hour left until the last bus comes through and we still have to find a gelato place.

A light dessert.

She gives us a suggestion on gelato that's close and we thank her again, leaving through the alleyway we came.

Following her directions we weave our way through the crowds toward the shopping and sure enough Venchi is on our right.

Note the bambina pouting in the lower left-hand
corner. It is a crime to be deprived of ice cream
no matter what country you're in.

We enter and wait our turn as we admire all of the brightly colored ice creams and chocolates. John points out that they have pistachio, and I point out a rich chocolate cream. Both of us in the interest of the others favorites. I get a cone and John a small paper bowl, we pay and depart. The gelato is delicious, the flavor much stronger than that of American ice cream. Mine is warm and nutty and creamy while John's is rich and bold. I think of a quote from the Lizzie McGuire movie that takes place in Italy, a childhood favorite of mine.

Miss Ungermeyer, Lizzie's high school tour guide and chaperone in response to one of the kids being upset while they are touring Rome;

"...Gelato! Now, remember Italian ice cream has about twice the sugar of American ice cream. So you want what? Two scoops?"

You got it, Miss Ungermeyer!

We make it to our bus with plenty of time to spare and enjoy our ride back, though I am anxious, as always that we will miss our stop, John hits the button just in time and we deboard and head back through the gate.

My tricycle, which has a basket on the back
big enough to carry all of our groceries
when I go shopping.

After a cool and serene ride back to our hotel we discuss our evening and I start humming a tune I've had stuck in my head all night. A tune from a movie that has always been synonymous with Italy and Italian food in my mind.

"This is the night,
What a beautiful night,
And we call it 'bella notte'"