Friday, September 10, 2010

my favorite reading spot

This spot is one of my favorite places in Siena. It is just outside Porta San Marco on the south side of the city. There is a little playground that kids are always running around and benches that nonnas are sitting on, watching the kids play and chatting. Surrounding this area is a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside. The valleys and hills around this area are filled with silvery olive trees that seem to almost shine in the sunlight. It is such a relaxing place to sit and do some thinking or to sit and read a book.
I have been coming here lately in the afternoons to do either of those things. I usually go with the intention of reading, but easily get distracted by the olive trees and the laughter of bambini.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lots of fun things to look forward to

For the last while, we have been trying to figure out what exactly our plan is for the upcoming few months. While this plan is still being worked on, we have come to the conclusion that we will probably, most definitely be in Siena until the end of October. After that, we are hoping to spend some time in Germany before moving back to the states in December, sometime before Christmas.
So, being here through October gives us an extra month to do lots of fun things in Italy. Tonight we did some internet searching for events that might interest us, and found a lot to keep us busy!
Here's what we have coming up: (0r at least all of the things we found that we would like to do)
Alghero, Sardegna- September 17-20
Impruneta grape festival - September 26
Barcolana Regatta, Trieste - October 9-10
EuroChocolate festival, Perugia - October 16-17
Fiera Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco d'Alba - October 23-24

This next month and a half is going to go by way too quickly. I really can't believe that our time here is almost over!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Figs are delicious!

Figs are one of my favorite fruits. This is something that I have discovered only in the last few years. When I was working at Gratzi in Ann Arbor, we had a pizza one week on the menu that had fresh figs, ricotta, walnuts and honey. After having that pizza, I have been hooked on figs.

Lately, we have been seeing fresh figs at the fruit stands and in the markets. We bought some last week that were absolutely perfect. They were almost bursting out of their skins; they were so juicy and ripe. We ate some of them just plain, but for a few others I dressed up a little bit. The resulting dressing up was pretty high up there with some of the best things I have ever eaten.

I quartered the figs, placed them in a baking dish, put a tiny piece of gorgonzola on top, then a piece of prosciutto over the cheese. Then, it all got drizzled with balsamic and a little bit of honey. It all went into our little toaster oven to warm up, melt the cheese, and crisp up the prosciutto. It was pretty much anything you could ask for in a food. Sweet, juicy, salty, cheesy, and delicious!

We were going to make this again tonight, but by the time we decided to, all of the fruit stands were closed for the night and the grocery store was out of figs. I have all of the other ingredients here waiting for the perfect figs to be found again.

Friday, September 3, 2010

One year later and we are still here!

So I really meant to write this post yesterday because on September 2, 2009, we arrived in Siena on our year long (plus!) italian adventure. In some ways, it seems like the year went by at an incredible speed, but other ways, it seems like we have been here for quite awhile. Either way, this past year has been amazing in so many ways.
The first thing is, I am so proud of myself for actually doing this. Moving to Italy has been a dream of mine for the past 7 years. There were many times when I thought it would always remain a dream and never actually be more than that. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful husband who will support me and push me to follow my dreams, and be willing to move across an ocean with me. This year abroad has not always been easy. In the beginning, actually, it was pretty hard for me. I am so glad I stuck it out through the hard times and have come to a point where I really enjoy my life here.
So, now, this is where I am. I really like living here, and can't imagine leaving soon. I can't imagine not being able to go across the street for a gelato on my way home from work, or stopping at my favorite bar in the morning for an espresso and pastry, or laying in the piazza on a sunny day, or taking an evening passegiata.

la vita e' bella in italia, sempre.

These pictures are from our first night here a year ago.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A day at the beach

I have been wanting to go to the beach for quite awhile. I have been talking about it and planning on going, but just hadn't actually gone yet. Today, I set my alarm to get up early, got on an early train to Viareggio, and spent the day at the beach.
Viareggio happens to be the same seaside town that Justin and I went to back in February for Carnevale. It is completely different in the summer. Also, while Nadine and Simon were visiting in May, we spent a day at the beach here.
I had such a nice relaxing day at the beach today. I should have done this much sooner. Now the summer is winding down, and I don't know how many more chances I will have for beach days as the weather cools down.
Going to the beach in Viareggio is much different than going to an American beach. Here, almost all of the beaches are private. You can't just lay down your towel where ever you feel like it. You have to rent a beach chair for the day from one of the many private beach clubs. In Viareggio, there is a tiny area sectioned off for a public beach, but it is literally only about 20 feet wide, and people are packed in. It is a much nicer beach experience to pay 5 euros for a chair and umbrella and a little bit of personal space.
So, I spent the day sitting in my beach lounger, reading a book, listening to music, and watching the waves. I took a few breaks to go swimming in the sea, which was just the right temperature to be refreshing and cool you off, but not too cold that you don't want to jump right in. I also had the perfect lunch at one of the beach clubs of spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams, one of my favorite pasta dishes) with a nice glass of white wine followed by an ice cream sandwich back on the beach. (It's kind of funny, whenever I go to the beach in California, I ALWAYS want a hot dog, but here, I always want fresh seafood with garlicky, spicy pasta. Italy wins, sorry hot dogs.) After lunch, more swimming, reading, and relaxing.
Another thing about the beach going experience here, there are always people walking around trying to sell things. There are guys selling sunglasses (reasonable at the beach) but I also saw another guy selling puffy, down winter jackets (and a few ladies interested in buying them. I guess they were a good deal?) At the beach you can buy knock-off designer bags, clothing, shoes, food, jewelry, beach toys, and even massages. Yep, a nice Asian lady was walking around offering her masseuse services, so I thought why not? So for 15 Euro, I got a full body 30 minute massage right on my beach chair in front of the Mediterranean Sea.
Life is good here. :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010


This morning, we did a cooking lesson off-site. This particular place was a villa/agri-tourismo/winery right in the middle of the Chianti area of Tuscany. It is called Stomennano. It was beautiful. I wanted to spend the entire day just sitting in the garden enjoying the beautiful surrounding views. The entire estate looked like something that you would see on a postcard or in a romantic movie. There were little tables and chairs set up in their own private gardens, overlooking olive groves or vines of grapes. There were rows of lemon trees, fountains, statues, rose framed windows, and views of Monteriggioni. It was SO nice. I just keep thinking of this lovely place and how I would love to spend much more time there.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

market day in Siena

Every Wednesday morning, there is a huge market in Siena. Before today, I had never been to it. Usually if I don't have to get up for work, I am sleeping in. But Lella and Livia are always talking about how nice of a market it is, so I figured I should get myself out of bed early one of these days and check it out. Today was the day.

There was a little bit of everything at this market, from clothes, to shoes, to tablecloths, to plants, to food, to knives, mixed in with a lot of junk. It was huge! Justin and I wandered around for at least a couple of hours, looking at everything. We didn't really buy anything (like I said, a lot of it was junk), but it was still fun to walk around and see everything that there was.

Really pretty plums!

Sausages and cured meats.

Baccala and sardines.


I'm not sure what kind of plant these are, but I thought they looked really neat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Over the summer and throughout the seasons, the menus seem to change around here. Instead of seeing so many hearty soups such as pappa col pomodoro or ribollita, they are replaced with summery salads. Many of these salads still are based on the poor cuisine of Tuscan farm families, but are a little bit better suited to the hot summer days. Believe me, when it is so hot here, you do not want to be eating a heavy, hot soup. But on these summer days, a salad such as panzanella is perfect! We have been making this salad quite often in the cooking school, and a couple of nights ago, Justin and I decided to try it at home as well.

Here's what you need:
- stale bread (really stale, rock hard is perfect)
- red wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- tomatoes (I like cherry tomatoes because they are a little sweeter)
- red onion
- cucumber
- basil

Cut the bread into thick pieces or chunks. These can even be an inch or so thick. Place the pieces in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Also add a few dashes of red wine vinegar. Put something over the bread to weight it down into the water. Let the water soak into the bread until when you touch the bread, it is almost falling apart. The amount of time will depend on the bread, but it shouldn't be more than 30 minutes. When the bread has reached this point, take handfuls out of the water, squeezing as much water out of it as possible. You can even use a salad spinner, after squeezing, to get even more moisture out of the bread. The bread should be kind of the consistency of cous cous. Add to the bread the tomatoes, which should be halfed or quartered, depending on their size, sliced red onion, peeled and sliced cucumber, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Mix everything together and dress with olive oil and vinegar. Cover lightly and let chill until cool. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Wow, this blog started off with such good intentions. I guess I have been neglecting it lately. We have just been doing way too much lately and once I had gotten behind on writing, it felt like there was no way to ever catch up. So, instead of trying to catch up on everything, I am just going to try to restart with where I am now. August 3, 2010. I am also going to try to do shorter posts, or maybe even just a few pictures every more frequently. If I feel like I have to write a lot about one particular place, I think I will be less likely to do it. And I am getting to the point where I just want to start using this to keep track of what we have been doing, so I will remember everything in the future.

So tonight, we had a cooking lesson with Darren McGrady. That name might not strike anyone as familiar, but he was a pretty neat guy. He was the head chef at Buckingham palace for the Royal family and also the personal chef of Princess Diana for the 7 years leading up to her death. I can't imagine what it would be like to have such a job. I guess the royals are people just same as everyone else and probably like to eat some of the same things, but just to think that he was cooking for the Queen of England every night!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Our next stop was Rome, the eternal city. There was so much to see and do in Rome, and it seems like you could spend weeks there and still not see everything there is. Definitely one of the highlights of Rome was Katie joining us in our adventure.
Early Saturday morning, I headed to the airport to meet Katie and bring her back into the city. I was afraid that I would be late and that she would be already waiting for me at the airport, but when I got there, I saw that her flight was delayed over 3 hours! After what seemed like forever, she finally came through the gate and after lots of hugs, we headed back into the city to meet up with the rest of the family for a full day of sightseeing.
Our first stop was the Vatican, where we went through the Vatican museums. The Vatican museums have everything from Egyptian antiquities to Etruscan collections to works from Raphael to modern art, finishing with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel always seems surprisingly small to me. It is just a chapel, that happens to be painted by one of the most famous artists of all time. Pictures were not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, and there were guards walking around stopping people with cameras, but I was extra sneaky, and got a couple of pictures.
After the museums, we went into St. Peter's Basilica just as mass was starting. You can't help but be impressed by this magnificent church. It is huge- the largest church in Christianity. It is also very ornately decorated. Pictures don't really do it justice, but here is my best attempt.
After our tour through the Vatican, we headed out on foot to explore the city. We crossed the Tiber at Castel Sant'Angelo and then walked through Piazza Navona, and then saw the Trevi Fountain. We all threw coins into the Trevi Fountain over our shoulders, which means that we will all be returning to Rome someday. The Trevi Fountain is huge, and you can hear the rushing water before you can see it.
Near the Trevi Fountain is the Pantheon, so that was our next stop. The Pantheon was originally built over 2000 years ago as a temple for the Roman gods. Today, it is one of the best preserved buildings of ancient Rome. One of the reasons that the Pantheon is so impressive is the mathematics of it. The height from the floor to the open oculus is exactly the same as the diameter of the circle. Still today, the dome of the Pantheon is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.
After a nice dinner, we decided to walk to the Colosseum to see it lit up at night. It was quite a site to see.
The next day was another full day of sightseeing. We spent some time walking around the Spanish Steps, and then walked past the Pantheon and stopped at the Trevi Fountain for a gelato. The main portion of our day was spent around the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. For me, it is incredible to think that you are walking in the same places that Caesar once ruled. There is so much history in this area, and the feeling is hard to describe.
I have so many more pictures of Rome, and I can't post them all on here, so if you are interested in seeing more, you can check out my picasa web album at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A pit stop in Orvieto

The next part of our adventure with my family had us heading to Rome. We left Siena early Friday afternoon with the intention of taking our time and stopping along the way to see a few places. It was another cold and rainy day, so we decided on just one stop in Orvieto.
In Tuscany, there are many hill top towns. Orvieto is just south of Tuscany in the region of Umbria. And it is not on a hill, but a large rock.
We headed up the giant rock that Orvieto sits on and proceeded to explore the city. We walked around for a while, and then found the main cathedral. The cathedral of Orvieto is considered one of the best romanesque gothic churches in Italy. To me, the exterior looks very similar to the cathedral in Siena.
After exploring the church, we were hungry for some lunch. By that time, it was well past lunch time, so our options were limited. We found a small cantina in the main piazza right next to the church that seemed to be open, although quiet. We shared a bottle of the local Orvieto Classico wine and had sandwiches of prosciutto and pecorino. During our lunch, the owner brought us a plate of pasta to share. It was something that she had made for herself to take home for dinner. She wanted to share with us and we were certainly glad she did. It was penne pasta with an artichoke sauce; very simple, but very good.
After our
delicious lunch, the owner's son brought us downstairs to show us the old wine cellar. It was filled with huge barrels and dust covered bottles. He told us that it had been his grandfather's and that most of the bottles were over 50 years old. The wine was no longer drinkable, but every once in awhile they would open a bottle just for the fun of it. It was really neat to see all of the old bottles and barrels.
Even though it was a quick stop in Orvieto on the way to Rome, I was very glad that we stopped. It is a very nice quiet town with really nice people. It was nice to experience a real town not on the usual tourist track of stops where people will gladly share their pasta and their family history with you over a simple lunch.

Sorry the pictures are so weird in this post, I can't figure out how to change them.

Hello, I am still here

Wow, I guess it has been awhile since I have updated anything on here, and I am so far behind now! We have been traveling all over Europe the last couple of months, that it just seems like I have so much to write about, and it is so overwhelming that I just haven't done it yet.
Still coming up are my accounts of Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Paris, Madrid, Toledo, and then Cinque Terre again. And then in a couple of weeks, we are going to Germany for a week to visit my friend, Nadine.
On top of all of this traveling, I have been busy helping Lella out at the cooking school. As the weather is getting nicer and it is getting closer to summer, Siena is becoming more and more of a tourist city. There have been many more groups of foreigners coming to learn how to cook. I want to share some of the things that we have been making because I have been eating very well!
So, to catch up on all of these recent travels and adventures, I am going to try and post something every night until I am caught up. So, here goes for lots of postings! Next up, Orvieto and Rome.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rain and wine in Tuscany

After having a lovely day seeing a few cities north of Siena, the next couple of days, we headed south to explore more of Tuscany. We weren't as fortunate with the weather these days, as it turned cold and rainy. Despite the weather, we still had a nice time visiting Buonconvento, Montalcino, Abbia di Sant'Antimo, Pienza, and Montepulciano. The day before, our landlord, Paolo, had come by to pick up our rent for the month when we told him we were planning on driving to Montepulciano. He was very excited, and told us all of the other cities to stop at on the way. With his recommendation, we were able to see a lot of small sites that we would have otherwise missed out on.

We ended up stretching this southern Tuscany sightseeing trip into two days. Our first stop was Buonconvento. This is a very small town just south of Siena that was originally part of the Republic of Siena. There is not much to see here but an idyllic, quiet medieval village. This town seems less touched by tourists than some of the other Tuscan villages.

Our next stop was Montalcino, farther south from Buonconvento. Montalcino is situated on top of a hill, looking out over vineyards producing some of the world's greatest wine, Brunello di Montalcino. As it turned out, we arrived there just in time for panini for lunch with a glass of Brunello. One of the things that I love about Italian food, and more specifically, Tuscan food, is the simplicity of it. The panini that we ate were delicious; simply some salumi toscani between two pieces of bread that were slightly crunchy and warm. Paired with a glass of Brunello, and we had an excellent lunch! After lunch, we walked around for a bit, explored the fortezza, then headed back to the car for our next stop.

After following some small winding roads south for a little ways, we came across the Abbia di Sant'Antimo. There is record of this abbey as early as 813 AD, although a new abbey replaced the original structure in 1117. There are still monks who live and work here today. It is a very calm place, located in a beautiful valley.

Our final stop for the day was Pienza, a city rebuilt for Pope Pius II in the 1400's. He was originally from this area in Tuscany, and wanted a retreat from Rome. He had his hometown rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. It is located in the Val d'Orcia, a UNESCO world cultural landscape. These rolling green hills studded with cypress trees are exactly the type of scenery that you would expect from Tuscany. Here, we walked around, bought some cheese (Pienza is famous for its pecorino), checked out the cathedral, and then headed home.

The next day, we decided to take it a little slower, after seeing so many places the day before. As we headed to Montepulciano, we drove through the Crete Senese, the rolling clay hills south of Siena. Montepulciano is another town that is situated on top of a hill surrounded by vineyards. Here, they produce vino nobile di Montepulciano, another well-known red wine. Once there, we checked out some shops, saw an Etruscan tomb, and of course, had some wine with lunch, this time pizza. After lunch, we headed to the main piazza to check out the cathedral and the Palazzo Comunale. Parts of this city looked very familiar, as it was used as a backdrop for movies such as Under the Tuscan Sun, and more recently, New Moon. After taking in the vistas of Montepulciano, we headed home to get ready to leave for Rome in the morning.

To see more of my pictures from these days of traveling around Tuscany, check out my online album here: