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!