Gelato Festival

Memorial Day weekend for all of you in the states was for us in Florence: a 4 day Gelato Festival. Which means tents were set up in most of the main piazzas in Florence and we made daily walks to visit the numerous vendors stationed under each tent.

There were videos and how-we-make-it lectures, kiddie areas and crafts and most importantly: a whole lot of gelato. Our goal was simple: try as many flavors as we could stomach.

We bought little 'tickets' and handed them in for little bowls of tasteful delight. In no particular order, and hoping I don't forget any, we tried:
  1. lime
  2. strawberry
  3. biscotti
  4. cookies
  5. creme caramel (tasted like creme brulee)
  6. melon (cantelope)
  7. lemon (always a winner!)
  8. cream
  9. cheesecake (we added some strawberry and 'complimentary' whipped cream... yum!)
  10. cuban (chocolate, rum, cherries)
  11. a combo of caramel, cookies, sambuca, cream (cannot remember name)
  12. strawberry shortcake (for lack of a better name)
  13. strattiatella (think vanilla with bits of chocolate, a long time fave of the boys)
  14. pear and pecorino
  15. pine nut
  16. macadamia nut
  17. orange and cream
  18. nutella
  19. raspberries and cream
  20. mint

And I am sure I am forgetting some. Of interest: one vendor (each vendor typically served 5 or so flavors) had 5 chocolate gelatos, from chocolate around the world (think costa rica, venezuala, etc.). Another: I confess the pear and pecorino were as far as I ventured into savory, I forgot to try the 'riso' which is rice/risotto and deliberately avoided the funghi (mushroom!).

To this day, my favorite gelato is still honey (not to be found at the festival); I enjoyed it at an artisan shop while we were hiking in Cinque Terre. Though the cuban chocolate, melon and strawberry---oh, and creme caramel---were fantastic. No doubt I will be picking up a book on gelato-making when we hit stateside.


frolicking friday fotos: light

Candles in church in Venice, Italy.

I love the actionable event of lighting a candle; sometimes a prayer and a candle is all we can do.

If you post a frolicking friday foto, please drop the link in the comments, below.


Top 5 for February

As I have been forced to write the top five for February and March, I give to you today the top 5 for February! These are listed in no particular order; although my favorite is Elba. Other than the Chocolate Festival, my top memories from February were all from our Tuscan road trip (proudly promoted in previous posts---wasn't that was a tongue twister?). Anyways, here are my top five:

1. The Chocolate Festival was the most amazing assortment of delicious treats I have ever tasted. The shapes varied from sunny side up eggs, soccer cleats and rusty-looking wrenches to fruit engulfed in quick drying liquid chocolate! We enjoyed these chocolaty wonders by spending more than €20 ($30)!

2. The Medici Fortress of Poggio a Caiano was one of the minor villas of the Medici, but it was like a wonderland. The Italians don't know how lucky they are to have families that have past down villas that nowadays cost well over a million dollars.

3. The mineral-infested city of Rio Marina: If I'm rich one day (who doesn't dream for that?), I would buy a house there. The city of Rio Marina is so abundant with minerals (specifically Hematite) that the gravel in the park is partly made of crushed minerals. The beach is made of sparkling black particles from the eroded mineral, and the mountainsides are a rich red soil 'growing zone' for the minerals (it takes more than a million years for some minerals to evolve).

4. The San Filippo Hot Springs of the Maremma region are unique. The steaming hot mountain side is a distilled white from large amounts of calcium, forming in horizontal layers to rounded pools.

5. The Saturnia Hot Springs. A five star hotel could be formed around this original, yet luxurious destination. I suggest this as the one must-see/bathe destination if you go to a sulfur bath and/or through Maremma.

I'll give you the top 5 for march sometime soon.



frolicking friday fotos (round 6)

Am now posting frolicking fotos on fridays (if you post a frolicking friday foto---put your link in the comments below). When we travel as much as we do, and aim to soak up adventure and memory-making as we are... there are a lot of moments---and visuals---things that make us think, places that we love, art that makes us smile... and on and on. Frolicking fotos are like putting mental push-pins on our map of family fun. They are reminders of good times, pause-able moments, artistic perspective. And so on:

Pair of macchiatos. Shared by: Aunt Janelle and Nephew Jack in Florence, Italy. We snuck a coffee break during a walk-about-town with Aunt Janelle and the four boys: Anthony, Caleb, Sam and Jack (while the cousins' folks blitzed the Uffizi Gallery).

Just a few special moments each day makes all the difference.


My Day in Florence (Anthony)

A day in my life in Florence, is still a routine...

The morning begins: we are woken up, Caleb gets up and showers, then I roll out of bed---trying not to hit my head on the beam in our bed room---and shower. Then the usual: get dressed, eat, and leave on our bikes for school.

For everyone out there, school is great, and we are learning more Italian by the minute. They still have class periods like in the US, and have the normal subjects: science, math, history, English, along with French---and of course Italian (functioning as grammar class). For me the hardest class is French, and easiest (other than English) is Math.

School here is definitely a bit different; they do not have all of the high tech stuff like smart boards, projectors, and other gizmos that have become standard in the upper end private schools of the US. Here in Italy we still use black boards, do not have lockers, and even remain in the same whitewashed room all day---with the teachers rotating for different periods.

We usually arrive home for an hour or two, from 1:15- 2:45. During this time, we usually check email/get online, maybe watch an episode of CSI, and get a snack. Then we leave for soccer at 2:45---on bike of course. We arrive back home at about 6:30... to an almost always sumptuous dinner, experiment or no. After dinner we finish our homework, and then relax (which nowadays means I am researching for my new blog: pickinachicken).

You may have noticed the anomaly that I allotted about 3.5 hours for soccer. First, this includes the time that it takes us to bike between our house and soccer---about 20 minutes each way---add in a shower in the locker room, and the length of the practice.

Italian soccer in a few words is simply... amazing. They play with grace, calmness, and fluidity that feels different than American soccer. They constantly utilize their defense for a 3rd man situation, and switching the ball. They handle the ball with skill and do not immediately boot the ball up the field at the first chance that they get. They also have an amazing skilled offense with playbacks and through balls constantly. It has been a great education---and as a keeper, I have a great vantage point!

All of this is our day in Florence, nearly every single day... a truly amazing experience with Italians, fun and a little bit of history all around us.


Italian Lapses!

I currently declare myself the worst blogger ever! I have not written a post in over a year (or close)! I must say I'm very sorry to everyone for not posting more of our family experience (I bet ten to one my parents still did an amazing job on that)---and my experience.

Now that I have gotten my self over that stiffened hurdle, I will commence the topic for today: Italian Lapses! I have realized over the past month my brain has absently been shifting to Italian [over small sentences, words, or even when I get freaked out by something (amazing my mind can translate that fast, eh?)]. For example: today while painting, a foot from my face an explosion of fire burst out from the greases of our delicious dinner (turkey = yum), and instead of saying something I would normally say, I said 'O Dio!' translating to 'O God!'

And the other day it smelled really bad like fennel and I was just like 'Eew, it smells like.....fin....finocchio......um, and in English, that means... oh yes! Fennel!'.

One problem: this side effect also sometimes feels like brain loss! I have forgotten how to spell some simple English words correctly (not that my grammar is any better)! Well, that will all get better in time.

More to be written....



food frolics in Florence

I have been a little lax in my posting as of late: I have been sick, which means most of the frolicking for the past two weeks has been inside my head---or inside my Florentine flat.

And it has been raining in Florence for two weeks. Really!

But that doesn't mean I have been entirely out of commission. On the contrary, I have still been writing and cooking, hanging out in my kitchen and going on walks with Anthony and Caleb. And since you might be more of a 'family frolics follower' than of [my other blog] Talk of Tomatoes, I figured it would be interesting to give you a quick summary of my food-frolics from over there.

Here is a round-up of my talkoftomatoes' food forays, some of which could quite easily count as frolicking-in-Florence:


frolicking friday fotos (round 5)

Time for another friday-frolicking-foto (read more about this new weekly event). Don't forget to post your frolicking foto and drop a link in the comments---below!

When we were hiking through-and-between the 5 cities of Cinque Terre, I tried to snap some cool signage that included the city names. This one: Corniglia (the middle of the 5 cities).

I actually have a larger Cinque Terre album on our Facebook page, in case you want to see more of our ocean-side, Italianesque frolics!


Happy Mother/Grandmother's Day!

I ran across this poem the other day, and instantly fell in love with it. While I am in the middle of being a mother---and loving every minute of it---my own mother and mother-in-law have a very special place in our lives. And they offer that one-of-a-kind-only-a-grandmother-can-give love to our sons (and all of their grandchildren!).

This year abroad has really pushed all four of us to grow in ways we never imagined. Although we cannot rush the kind of wisdom that only comes from years of experience---my hope is that we try.


I like to walk with Grandma,
Her steps are short like mine.
She doesn't say "Now Hurry Up,"
She always takes her time.

I like to walk with Grandma,
Her eyes see things like mine do -
Wee pebbles bright, a funny cloud,
Half hidden drops of dew.

Most people have to hurry,
They don't stop and see.
I'm glad that God made Grandma,
Unrushed, and young like me.

poem by Thena Smith.

Happy Mothers and Grandmother's Day! 


April with family.

April this year was all about time spent with our cousins (Janelle's brother Keith, his wife Cindy and their two sons Sam and Jack came for a 3 week visit in April).

The weeks leading up to it involved mapping tours and reserving tickets to museums, pre-making and freezing dinners (meat loaf, ragu, chicken stock for mushroom risotto, pizza sauce, tomato sauce etc.), borrowing mattresses from nearby friends and letting the school know: Anthony and Caleb will be taking off 2 1/2 weeks. Bummer for them, right?

What I loved about their visit was the experience of having well-laid plans, then just relaxing into them. By that I mean creating an over-arching itinerary, including: a mini road trip, Easter dinner, logistics to visit Venice and Cinque Terre, see a few key museums in Florence. But inside of those well-drafted plans (the 'skeleton') we created memories. We spent time together, relaxing and enjoying Italy and each other's company. We embraced 'one of the good parts of life.' And it is all the little moments strung together, the big smiles and cousins playing-while-waiting and 'lets just see what happens' that THAT is why we frolic.

Here are some of the teeny memorable moments, strung together and woven into this little window of time with family... that I want to smile about, years from now:
  • Jack laying flat on his back---ears under---floating in a foot of hot water from the Petriolo hot springs. I watched him, while he watched the sky.
  • The boys taking framed pictures off the wall, to deposit them safely in the kitchen---lest they break while they play dodge ball in the living room.
  • Going on a walk with just the four boys and 'Aunt Janelle;' I had the boys take turns with my big camera and told them to each take 5 pictures of things that made them think 'Florence.' 
  • Same walk: Jack and Janelle shared a pair of macchiatos at a nearby bar. And I bought the four boys all 'matching' leather bracelets from one of the many vendors. Last I checked: they all still have them on.
  • Easter Sunday: seeing the Easter cart, being one of thousands of people jammed into the streets leading to the Duomo. At one point we grabbed each others' hips (all 7 of us) and choo-choo'd our way through the crowds for a closer look.
  • Easter Sunday: Easter egg hunt. All 98 of them inside our flat. (Easter dinner was good too! Right down to the tiramisu and Rubruhm---dessert wine I had picked up at a TASTE event).
  • Helping Cindy garner a 2-for-1 deal on 2 gorgeous leather purses. 6 months of 'Buon Giorno' to the same vendor;).
  • Walking with Keith to get a pastry early one morning, while his family still slept. When do we ever get one on one time? Very cool.
  • Grappa. When I first tried it, I likened it to drinking Windex. During this 3 week stint---which included a few bottles of Grappa (Cinque Terre, Chianti Classico, Verrazzano)---it grew on me. I think it grew on all of us...
  • Riding our 2 junk bikes with Keith to get our car for (mini road trip) the first time; we biked through seas of people, crazy intersections and on massively uneven cobblestone. After one of the larger/busier intersections I turned around to see if he kept up: and found him on my tail smiling from ear to ear.
  • One night in Venice, Keith and Cindy went to dinner and Aunt Janelle stayed in with the boys: they watched the movie Sherlock Holmes and I made them steak and colorful pasta (first try for them all: BLACK pasta... cool!)
  • Taking the family to climb the Duomo... and finding no line! Very exciting.
  • Watching Anthony blow a glass candy in Murano---and him saying to me afterward that he was on cloud nine. So was I.
  • Gelato in Cognilia; possibly our favorite gelato from the whole 3 weeks (and we had a lot of gelato). I found my new favorite flavor: honey.
  • Falling in love with---and buying---a glass bracelet from Murano. Charcoal oval beads. My birthday present from James (grazie mi amore!)
  • the church in Murano; it had [appropriately] an all-glass crucifix and everyone loved the floor tiles and circled-glass windows. Even better: spending just 5 minutes in the church with Jack---we lit a candle for Grandpa & Grandma Velt to say 'hello'.
  • Cousins' arms. So often the four boys would put arms around one another. 
  • Sam saying thank you. He was so good at saying thank you whenever I made him a meal or a snack or took them somewhere for a walk. Made my heart swell with warmth. Its so nice to be able to say 'you are welcome.' And if you know Sam, you would do just about anything for him just to see his glorious, warm smile;).
  • Evening on the terrace of Keith and Cindy's apartment in Riomaggiore; one evening I joined them for wine and grappa and a night of chatter and laughter. It was lovely.
  • The red swim suit story. You had to be there. I was.
  • Caleb and Keith together enjoying the same-love-for-rocks-and-beach-combing. Especially: when Caleb wrapped and presented Keith with black hematite sand from Elba Island.

    frolicking friday fotos (round 4)

    When in Venice...

    By the way. Taking in a ride in the gondola while romantic, is quite pricey. A hundred euros a pop. If you are visiting Venice on a budget, take matters into your own hands: find a boat stop for Gondolas, look for the sign that says 'Traghetto' and wait there. This is a quick ride in a [stripped down] gondola from one side of Venice's main canal to the other. It costs half a euro. If you are really aiming for clever, throw a romantic tune on your ipod---insert into ears... maybe buy a sandwich or treat to eat while crossing. For 2 euros you can go back and forth 4 times;).


    Top 5 for April

    5. Sam, Jack, Caleb and my activities. While our cousins were here we enjoyed many games, including cards (chicago rummy, nerts, and presidents), army guys in one way or another, and various games with thes rubber bouncy balls that did not break anything somehow in our frontroom. We played ball tag: essentially peg the other person. These all lead to laughs in the end---whether it was a ricochet to the face, or a hard ball to the stomach. Lots of fun!!!

    4. Duomo. Our climb of the dome is what comes to mind when thinking of the Duomo. It had amazing views, and a beautiful lantern (big structure on the top of the dome). The climb between the domes, made me think of the book that I read "Brunelleschi's Dome". It explains the ingenious design, building, and mysteries of the dome. Truly amazing, this dome is the largest dome in the world made without using modern day steel. It has resisted cracks even through major earthquakes, and the cracks that show now are only in the plaster, or only caused by what it was not made for: traffic. The constant vibration has now been banned for mthe streets around the Duomo, and made a pedestrian area.

    3. Venice. Our trip to this sinking city, at least for me was very exhilarating. We walked around, and saw a ton of churches, squares and glass shops. We visited the island of Murano, where I got to help blow a little candy from glass. We also visited the Rialto bridge where I bought a goal keeper jersey, and we saw the markets. It was very interesting to see this peculiar city, with it's canals, various styles of boats, palazzos, and people. We saw the Peggy Guggenheim museum, along with various other sites unique to Venice.

    2. Cinque Terre. Our trip to this string of 5 cities was filled with fun, sun, and hiking. We stayed in Riomaggiore, and hiked, maybe a train or two... to all of the other cities. Riomaggiore with it's restaurants, and main stretch of shops. We also visited Manarola with it's recycled crucifixion scenes on the hill, and a pretty marina area. After Manarola was Corniglia, a city with many beautiful views, and terraces. Then there was Vernazza, with a tower and fort, along with a slightly larger marina area that many shops and restaurants. The last city was Monterosso, with a sandy beach, however not as rich in culture, and there was not a ton to it. Nearby was another city not in the five, called Fegina, which was similar to Monterosso. Overall, relaxing with beautiful views hikes, lizards, and cacti.

    1. Vander Griend family visit. For the first two thirds of the month our cousins, along with our aunt and uncle, were here. We went with them to Cinque Terre, and Venice, and spent time with them in Florence. Much of the month of April was centered around their visit, which was a lot of fun and full of games, and a lot of good weather.


    lol: facebook?

    Because we think laughing is... important.


    Its just... funny. Especially if you love, hate or otherwise avoid facebook.


    Venice, Italy

    One measly post won't do justice to our 4 day visit to Venice.

    We didn't see everything, but still feel like we gained a good feel for this famous sinking-year-by-year city. There are tiny little canals, tons of bridges, and boats are their transport for food, boxes, bags of cement, fish, UPS, you name it. Gondolas are the fanciful famous rides, but all the boats in and around Venice are their standard form of moving goods and transporting people and food.

    There is a road in, and trains. But the boats in all the little canals are busy doing their daily work, rebuilding the city and supplementing tourism.

    There is one larger canal that snakes through Venice, and 3 main bridges that pass over it. There are numerous islands just off the coast of Venice---we actually took a boat ride and visited Murano (where we bought souvenir bracelets and Anthony blew glass!).

    I have little blurbs describing numerous photos in our VENICE ALBUM. I keep falling in love with taking photos... and what better place to practice than an eye-candy laden city such as Venice?

    It was so worth going. We drove two cars from Cinque Terre, driving over mountain passes, paying tolls, testing our ability to drive European style. Keith, Cindy, Sam, Jack, myself, Anthony and Caleb soaked up: San Marco, boat rides on the canal and to Murano, visits to the Rialto Bridge and market, walks about town. Nice dinners out, new gelato flavors, the inside of various churches, countless souvenir shops and stations... picnic lunches, traghetto rides and more.

    My goal was to take my measly restaurant-supplied map and get to know the city. Here are a few of my favorite memories from Venice:

    • an early morning 2 hour walk around Venice. The city was still quiet, everyone else still in bed. It was beautiful weather, I walked through a huge church and had it all to myself, started to get to know the city streets and snapped some of my favorite-photos-of-Venice.
    • our day for 'boat rides.' One day we bought '12 hour boat passes' and managed to grab an early boat near the train station through Venice's main canal. It was amazing to catch the sites from water-side. Later that day we boated to Murano---an island off the coast of Venice. There we saw countless glass shops, windows and glass art. We managed to see one 'glass blowing demonstration' in a smallish shop. The gentleman even let Anthony blow a little blue glass candy for 'keeps.'
    • finding my favorites---for some reason this brings me joy. I don't know if it is me imagining a daily routine in a place, where I slide through for my favorite pastry, point out the 'best gelato shop in town' and shop at 'that really nice lady's food market.' Mostly it makes me feel good to go to new cities and discover the best of 'this' and determine my favorite restaurant. I feel like I have found gems in the rough when I find a street laden with boutique stores or a special little coffee shop off the beaten path. My favorite 'finds/experiences/discoveries' in Venice:
      • church: my favorite church I found on my early morning walk.
      • walking around Rialto food market: farmers markets to me are 'my happy place.' Walking around piles of fresh fruit and vegetables... soothes my soul.
      • traghetto: instead of spending hoards of cash on a gondola ride (which can be a nice option too;), you can grab a 'stripped down' gondola used as a canal-bus to bring folks from one side of the canal to the other. I loved discovering this budget-savvy tip.
      • the bakery (especially the almond pastries): just around the corner from Piazza San Margherita is this splendid little bakery---I visited daily for my morning coffee and pastry.
      • the street near the Guggenheim museum: the street near the Guggenheim was full of beautiful and artistic shops. The boys found recycled art in the windows, aliens aka modern art, upper end jewelry boutiques, scarf shops and coffee shops... a street I would choose to walk again and again.
      • the Guggenheim museum: unexpected hurray! I didn't realize Peggy Guggenheim lived part of her life in Venice. Her home-turned-museum had so many breathtaking pieces of art including her daughter Pageen. Pollock, Picasso, Dali and MORE. Art: full.
      • San Marco: the cathedral was stunning. a must-visit.
      • GROM: seriously impressive, food-mod artisan gelato. This is epic in the minds of touring adolescents... and trailing adults.
      • Murano: one of our favorite family memories, Anthony blew glass, we saw scads of glass creatures, objects and art AND I bought my birthday-present-from-James, a handmade glass-beaded bracelet. I love it!
      • lunch with the boys. The last day we were there, the boys and I snagged lunch together. We sampled a plate of local seafood (okay, not ALL to our liking... okay, mostly NOT to our liking;). Shared a half liter of vino (yeah---they do serve the kids here; when we return you can ask the boys their opinions on various Chiantis;)) and enjoyed perhaps the most memorable lasagna in Italy to date... and it was eggplant lasagna to boot!


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