Friday, June 4

The smell of liver fresh from the oven...

Nothing like  the smell of liver on a hot day.  Cursed as I am by the desire to try everything without much planning, today they compulsion has been to make dehydrated treats for the dogs.  Dried chicken breast strips, banana chips and dehydrated liver treats... yum.  Now this is not simply from the quest to make all the dogs food from scratch.  No, this is certainly the type of thing I would much prefer to run to costco for, or my beloved Dexter's Deli.  Unfortunelty, the Italians do not seem to feel the same sort of desire to reward their poochies, nevermind with organic and natural treats.  So delicious.  Oh how I envy these dogs.

Monday, May 24

Dogs and food. Such is our life.

This is the man that waves to us every morning.  We do not know who he is, nor have we ever bothered to read the plaque.  You may be thinking "Stupid American, no respect for culture", the real reason is I am embarrassed to know who he is .  Each morning as he so gallantly greets us, Oliver says hello to him also.
In his very doggie way. 

And then we sheepishly sneek by, hoping he is not a national hero.  Better the statue than someone's vespa or bicycle which Ollie would prefer.  Then they really give us the dirty looks.

When we get home, we put our Moka maker :) on, and then the daily battle begins.  Who will eat first, us, pack leaders, or the dogs, greedy beasts... Often, we end up taking it in turns.  Who can resist such attention.
That tongue speaks volumes... And those eyes.....
Just to make sure we got the idea, a good woof is always appropriate in such situations. 

 They love their food, and the butcher loves us!  A few kilos of ground beef, and a couple chickens.  The dogs certainly eat better than we do!

For us, we make do:
Fresh fettucini, strips of asparagus and asparagus spears.  With some prosciutto sliced up for colour.  Turned out beautifully, with cream and cheese!

This is something very special, that I am willing to share with the ether:
A recipe for the most delicious S√Ľkerbole, my new favourite thing.  Moist on the inside, sugary crunch on the outside, and a caramelized bottom.  This was the best breakfast, lunch, and dinner I have ever had. Should I find the pearl sugar the recipe calls for, I am sure it will be even better, but until then.  Yum.  I mixed in some rosemary and dried strawberries and mushed up some fresh ginger, since I had no cinnamon, but I am fairly certain it will be delicious however it is made. I think I will have to make this again tonight!

Notes on Coffee... Mokaflor Roasting Company Class

This week I went to a coffee class.  There is a local roasting place that makes delicious coffee and offers a class on the origins of coffee, the differences in type of beans, and an espresso 101 class.  I went, and for two days shook head-to-toe with all the caffeine.  

Mokaflor is the name of the roasting company, they also have a coffee shop in the center of Florence called Chiaroscuro.  We had happened upon the coffee shop, when it was recommended by a nearby shopkeeper as being a great place for coffee.  And it was.  Filled with locals and tourists alike we had delicious coffees, at prices that can only exist here in Italy.  Where, you can sometimes pay 8 euros for a gelato, you can order an espresso for under 1 euro. Bizarre.

Here are the bags of unroasted beans, they get roasted in small batches:
By, only one man it seemed the days I was there, what a fabulous job:

He waits for the beans to match the colour of his control batch, and then voila! Out they come:

He looks very proud and happy, as I would be.  The smell was absolutely glorious.  I could died right then.  I wonder why it is, there are no warm coffee bean spa treatments... I would pay good money to be lowered into a bath of coffee beans and have my problems melt away.  Maybe there is... did I say good money?  Anyways, moving on.  Here they are being constantly moved so that they can cool down a bit. One they are cooler, they are sucked into the correct tube:

Where they are held in chambers for a few days while the gasses leave the coffee beans.  They are then, packaged as single origin coffees, or made into blends which can suit all tastes, and are sent all over the world. It seems this man does the packaging:

There were a few more people, one of whom I wish I had taken a picture of.  The "taster" was his title, and how I will always remember him.  Dressed all in coffee brown, he looked like the guy in the american version of "the office" Steve.... Carrel? Something like that... But a long-sleeved Lacoste brown polo (neck buttoned up) tucked into his matching brown dockers, with brown socks, brown loafers and a brown belt.  With brown hair and brown eyes.  He wore this both days.  Very sharp, but very brown.  He tastes the coffees to make sure their blends are consistant since the tastes and potency of the beans can vary slightly from batch to batch.

We were lucky enough to try multiple samples of their different coffees, and to actually taste the difference between arabica and robusta, between ethiopian and indonesian.  I loved it.  Then we made many cappuccinos, learning how to make the perfect froth and try to create some latte art.  I kept on expecting to make something that was picture worthy, but it never happened, so neither did a picture.

Our new pets.... and some Food of course.

Why does everything have to taste so good? Why does the produce have to look so beautiful? Why do I have to be cursed with such a ravenous appetite....

Even as I sit here typing, thinking about food, drinking my fourth delicious "American caffe", I cannot help but nibble on the most beautiful bunch of kale leaves I have ever seen.  Do they complement the coffee? No, of course not, they are simply within arm's reach and too gorgeous to resist.

 Let me introduce you to some of my new pets, yes, they are yeast starters, they are also very temperamental as I have since learned.  The feeding schedule of these things are like those Gia ? pets I had in elementary school.  If you forget to stir them or feed them, or cover them up too much, or not enough they die on you! Rude things.

The big one on the left became my very first attempt at bread.   So he is now only with us in spirit (and the small chuck of bread my overly-loving mother has decided we should keep forever-- it will one day be used as a paperweight by someone famous I am sure...) the smaller one is looking a bit sickly now, I accidently put the oven on a bit too high.  Hopefully, with my TLC he will soon recover-- other wise I have wasted almost four cups of flour on him....
This is what they make....

Which makes this:
And then my my Mum does this:

She loves bread!  We stayed up until one in the morning waiting for the bread to come out of the oven, and then I (meanly) made her wait for twenty minutes before cutting into the bread.  I need to work on my timing a little.  But over all it was delicious.  Sour and full of rosemary, best of all it was made by hand, so we would have eaten it even if it had been truly terrible! --Which my next attempt was, and which we did diligently eat, in its entirety.

On to our other pets.... When we take our actual pets out for their walkies, I love looking at the flora and fauna... of course there hasn't been much in the way of flora with all the rain and gray weather.  So I have been faun-ing over the fauna!  Cheesy, yes I am.  We walk past this park which gets prettier every time we go by (until you actually go in, where there are so many weeds, so much litter, and poop at every step... looks better from a distance)

Then we walk a bit further, to another weed-y spot that we love:

Where I stop to pose for my photo :) Then off we go, up and up to the top where we get to:

Ta-da! Not a weed in sight, but infested with tourists and cigarette butts! This is our walk that we manage to do almost everyday.  Oliver, manages quite well going up the hill and there are fewer people for Coco to try to knock down.  Why we do this is not to see poor David, rusty and covered in bird poop, but for the lovely views on the way up and to collect my pets :)

Can you see them? Can you guess what I have been filling my pockets with? Here's my Mum greedily planning how she can get into the fountain without getting wet... 
Fortunetely I talked her out of it.... But still every time we go past she looks longingly at the maidenhair ferns. 

While everyone else looks down into the beautiful city, here we are looking down, looking for things to sneak home and make our mini gardens!

Sadly, the poppy did not live through the night, but her memory lives on... The moss and ferns are doing quite well in their new environment, and are looking forward to their next spritzing. (Between these and the yeast starter we can barely do anything else, I am surprised I haven't sprinkled flour onto these and sprayed water onto the yeast!)

As for Florence, beyond our quirky little world, its doing just fine. Old cars came through the town, part of a much longer drive, but were fun to see.

 And everyone hid from the rain.  It seems the Italians wait out the rain under overhangs, while us tourists trudge through.  The same police duo were still standing there 45 minutes later... 

That's all from here.  From the sublime to the riddiculous-- from cold days with pouring rain, it is now 80 degrees and sunny.  Umbrellas away, sunglasses out! Today we will go to see if the Garden of the Irises is still open.

Friday, May 7

Rainy Days

A week of rain.  Everyday.  All day.  Not quite the weather I was expecting when we embarked on this journey.  

But, because of this weather I have found a few new passions.... Youtube, food blogs, baking without the right ingredients, and watching BBC's British Election coverage.... Nothing novel, or particularly impressive, but I've been having a lovely time.  I have watched days worth or cooking tutorials, funny cooking skits (the best is BBC's Posh Nosh, so funny), I've learnt how to sew a wedding dress and how to make my own Rockabilly bathing suit, my mind is so full of yummy and crafty ideas I can barely sleep at night.  As for the election coverage, after this minor setback of who wants to play Prime Minister, that will cease to be on, and my quest for new ideas will take over and lead me back to Youtube.  The food blogs are amazing, but not for the hungry, or for the weak of will: and Smittenkitchen being among my favourites. 

I, fortunently, did not bring anything with us to bake (except for some measuring spoons, a conversion chart, a very Dangerous Dessert cookook, and three Barefoot Contessa cookbooks-- maybe I should have left those at home so as not to be tempted!)  A few days ago the desire for freshly baked goods overwhelmed me, and I decided to attempt to bake a cake-- buying italian items... without my dictionary... without anything to bake it in... eek.   Here's a picture:

Yum :)  It ended up being delicious, even though it was erupting out of a cup.  Yum (it ended up taking 4 hours in total since I kept on trying to figure out if I had bought baking powder or yeast-- it was baking powder, with vanilla flavouring).

After this endeavour I convinced the Mum it was high time to do some necessary shopping!  Now we have been in Florence almost 6 weeks and the shops had yet to beckon to me, until I saw in a shop window some silecone baking mitts and was sold.  I dragged her from one to the next, comparison shopping, window shopping ooohing and aaaahing, making a bit of a spectacle of myself, imaging the yummy things our minimal kitchen could create with just the right whisk and baking dish.  This went on for two days, two trips of almost 4 hours a piece.. What can I say, I love kitchen equiptment.  I blame my Mum on dragging my into Williams Sonoma everytime we went to the mall and pouring over cooking catalogs.... Turns out she at one time had a yogurt maker and a bread maker!  I'm so jealous, maybe when we get back I will replace them in her life and we can make yogurt and toast daily.  But back to the shopping-- a tart pan, three brioche shells of varying sizes (for when I figure out where the yeast is hiding and attempt some bread), the most glorious measuing cup from Bodum (mouth blown glass), the before mentioned baking mitts (a pink cow and a yellow dinosaur), and a wonderful whisk.

Since the addition of the tart shell and the whisk to my life, I have made another cake, a savory bread and butter pudding and the most delicious granola.  I am definetly not doing enough walking to justify this.

Here are some of the veggies we picked up today at the market.  The Italians wouldn't consider these photo worthy, but to me, they are more beautiful than a painting.  

My Mum was upset that the only thing I have been taking pictures of is the produce, so here are a few of us too. :)

Also, the most bizarre way of moving I have ever seen, smart, but not exactly adhering to any safety standards:

*Sorry I don't know how to flip the photos in this program and can't be bothered to go into another, save as, etc.  Just turn your head a bit, they look fine that way :)

Till the urge strikes again....  Ciao!

Wednesday, April 7

Getting groceries. Barking dogs.

Of course before we had even left my Mum was on about the dogs' food nonstop.  All through the packing process and the plane ride she kept on asking what we were going to give the dogs.  We had packed enough Taste of the Wild kibble to last almost a week (which we failed to declare) so the fist night was no problem, or so we thought.   When we returned from dropping off the rental car to my dismay the ziploc baggie was on the floor, not a kibble or bit to be seen.  One might say (I tried), that they will probably not need to eat for a few days, but not my canine Crusader Mum.  First thing the next morning, with barely a thought for what we might eat, we were off, in search of a grocery store that would see an organic grain/ corn free kibble, with a high protein content.

First problem, I don't know how to speak or read Italian and cannot even pick out meat on a list of ingredients, never-mind make sure there are no filler!  Second problem, Italians don't seem to feel the same way about holistic/ organic dog food.  So backup plan was to find a grocer and a butcher.
We did-- closed.  And when we returned after their terribly long mandatory lunch, I proceeded to cluck like a chicken, and moo like a cow.  And the dogs did eat.

As for us, we returned once more to our neighborhood Pakistani restaurant.

Sunday, April 4

The journey.

We left Monday afternoon after a whirlwind two weeks of packing and cleaning-- putting off all the details I would have normally spent so much time going over and over again.  Thanks to Michael, we made it out  just in time, turned in our keys and said goodbye to the beach and to the place I have called home for the past four years.  We left at two made it up to L.A. by six and killed some time in the FedEx store, and giving TMobile a bit more money.

Then to the airport... normally we are dropped off by friend, or taxi, I have never tried to drop myself off, nor have I ever attempted to get so much stuff out and into the airport in a drop lane.  Between us there were five heavy suitcases, one large bike box, four carry-ons (all extra large), one purse, and two doggy carriers. Help?!? We ended up in the arrival level which annoyed all the lovely security people, and it took us a good ten minutes to get all of our things out and onto carts.  While I went off to park the rented car, my Mum went up to get us checked in with all our things.  The line was long, our things too many, and our three hour suggested lead, non-existent.

The airline lady made us a bit nervous, explaining that if something was wrong with our papers for the dogs they would either be shipped back to the US or else destroyed on-site. Very encouraging.  She also gave me a much higher figure for the additional baggage fees than the lady over the phone had the previous day.  Then we were told we needed to wait to check them in through security... which took forever for someone to find a security agent.  And as the minutes ticked by, the panic I was feeling increased, and my palms... so sweaty.  The dogs of course were fine, we decided not to sneak any contraband, as tempting as it would have been. (Joking) And we raced off to find out where to drop off the rental car, with the five heavy carry-ons in tow.

No one we asked knew where we needed to drop off the car, so I pulled out the trusty iphone and, while exhibiting some very unsafe driving practices-- very unlike me, but evidence of how panicky I was-- proceeded to look up the Enterprise drop spot.  We made it, remarkably, after some illegal u-turns and running a few barely yellow lights. After practically throwing the keys at the poor man, and some tense words directed at my Mum, we made it onto the shuttle to the Airport finally relaxing a bit.

The airport was fine, we were so late we were boarded almost immediately, and off we flew to JFK.  When we arrived in JFK, slightly rested, we thought we had better make sure the dogs were going to the VetPort as I had been told, and that our bags were not going round the carousel waiting for us during our twelve hour layover.  The bags did not appear, nor did the dogs.  It seemed good, but we thought we had better check to make sure they did not appear.  Of course no one knew anything, but as we explained more and more it appeared that the dogs are not transported anywhere, no matter how long the layover, but then even after hearing our predicament, since we were on a connecting flight it was against policy to  give us the dogs!  Fortunately, there were a few dog owners in the group, and we were given the dogs to let peep.

New York was very cold, and so, despite our best intentions of walking them the whole time, it was windy and intermittently raining-- and camp inside we did instead.  The dogs were wonderful, we sat, and read and fed them.

No howling from Coco, no barking from Ollie.  And then came the time to check them back in... as we were sent from one line to another, the now familiar frustration set in.  But again, they were finally checked through security, and us as well and off to Rome we went.

When we arrived, there was of course no one to ask about the dogs, or the bike.. and so it went on.
Another three hours at the airport dealing with a jumbo roll of red tape, and then off, to navigate the Italian roads, sans map, sans GPS.  Not my brightest idea.

But we made it, after hours of driving, a few stops for myself and the dogs and we arrived in Florence.  A few more major rental car issues, a quick wee for the dogs, a long over due shower, and then off to bed.