Student Blog: Food Science Course in Italy
Katie Haeuser '11 - theatre arts
"I love getting to go to a new place and see through the eyes of a different culture, because acceptance and understanding come from knowledge, and I hope I never stop learning as long as I live."
Andiamo! Let's go: The Tales of an Extremely Hungry Traveler.
It takes a lot of people to organize a trip of this magnitude, and this was a small group for all intensive purposes. Even more so, it takes a lot of people to get one person across the ocean and into a culturally and educationally intensive experience. This was certainly the case with me. Even though I worked three jobs over the summer to pay for this trip in its entirety, which gave me huge a sense of pride in the fact that this trip was the first thing, I could not have made this trip possible without the help of a few very important people.
First off, I would like to mention my parents, Bob and Jamie Haeuser; without their emotional and logistical support, I would not have even dreamt of coming on the trip. In the first stages of the planning process, I was unsure if I could make it because I was going to participate in the South Eastern Theater Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. The dates for the conference conflicted for one day with the trip. Luckily, I managed to secure an audition spot on Friday March 5, the day before we left. This meant that I had to drive with friends to Lexington on Wednesday, attend the conference workshops and audition on Thursday and Friday, and fly from Lexington to Charlotte to meet up with the rest of the group. I would not have been able to navigate the logistics if my parents had not been willing to look and pay for plane tickets. I thank them gratefully for taking care of this small hiccough. I also thank them for their
unending support in whatever endeavor I wish to pursue.
I would also like to acknowledge certain members of the Catawba staff. First, I would like to thank Mrs. Delores Imblum. Throughout the process, she has been patient and flexible. There was a few times when I could not get my deposits in at the prescribed dates because I signed up later than everyone else did. She allowed me to turn in different amounts according to what I could pay at the moment. I really enjoyed getting to know her, and she made the process very easy and stress-free. Her administration and organizational work got us to Italy, without her diligence this trip would not have gone as smoothly as it did.
Another Catawba faculty member I would like to mention is Dr. Sheila Brownlow. As head of the Honors Department, she was able to grant each member of the class an amount of money that cut the cost of the trip by a drastic amount. Her support of this trip, and the time and energy she put into this class and trip allowed for members of the class to go to Italy for a fraction of the cost.
Two people who helped the class are Mr. Dyke and Mrs. Debra Messenger. Without their philanthropic contributions to this gastronomical endeavor gave us the tools needed to create a tour and a class successfully.
ithout the contributions of these people, this class never would have happened. The time and effort given by the members of the Catawba College faculty and Staff enabled the class to take off without a hitch, and the logistical help of my parents allowed me to take this trip without difficulty. I am grateful to each person who gave something to this class and this trip. This trip is a once and a lifetime opportunity, and I am exquisitely lucky to have been able to go. I love to travel, and having an outlet that enables me to travel internationally for a fraction of the normal costs makes me feel exceptionally gifted. I wish to convey gratitude, humility, and extreme happiness to those who made it possible for me to go on such a culturally impacting trip. I am truly blessed, and I hope am as lucky in the future.
Day 1: Travel Day - March 6, 2010
The plane ride was uneventful at best. I watched a couple of movies and was unable to fall asleep; no surprise there. The first film I watched was called Pope Joan, which is a film based on the possible life of Johanna Anglicus, who may or may not have been a pope. Interesting concept, but I am not certain of the validity of the film. The second film I watched was An Education, which is a good film about a young woman's struggle between perceived love and an Oxford education in the 1960's.
We met Giorgio in the Milan airport around 4-ish. The first thing I noticed about Giorgio was that his accent was a blend of Italian and British. For some reason this struck me as odd, but I realized that it is probably much easier for an Italian person to learn English from a British person than from an American person. It took me a moment to realize how much sense it makes. Our coach driver's name is Claudio, and I am convinced he is a werewolf.
Our coach looked really nice. We had a seventy something passenger bus, and there were only nineteen of us. Talk about spacious. Each person got their own couple of seats, which was really nice because we did not feel as though we had been shoved into a sardine tin. I tried my best to stay awake during the bus ride to Parma, but I unfortunately could not stay awake. We did, however stop at an Autogrill! I remember great things about Autogrills from my last trip to Italy, and I was not disappointed. I had some ham and cheese, and a bit of bread. Even the fast rest-stop food is good in Italy. After my snack, I had my first cup of Italian Cappuccino.
Let me tell you something about Italian Cappuccino. Nothing compares to the delectable tastes that swirl around in your mouth in incandescent spirals of pure delight. First you get a mouthful of the foam, sweet and smooth like decadent perfection. It is like jumping into a tub filled to the brim with bubbles, or surfing on freshly laundered pillow cases. Then, like lightening, the sharp kick of the espresso hits your tongue like liquid fire, and you are surprised by the incendiary bitterness that shakes you to your core, and makes your spine tingle. I really like Italian Cappuccino, there exists nothing in the world quite like it. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly and how much better Italians make their cappuccino compared with American Cappuccino. It makes me sad, and gives me yet another reason to return to Italy.
After traveling for about twenty-four hours we arrived at our first hotel around five pm. We had our first official meeting as a group, we discussed that dinner would be held at 8, and that our wake up call was for seven am the next day. Beat me over the head with a stick! After our meeting, I found out that I was rooming with Vanessa Malanga and Carrie Foster; both of whom are in the theater department with me. Despite the rule against sleeping we took a nap until dinner.
Our first meal in Italy consisted of four courses, and a bottle of wine. Our first course was prosciutto ham, which made me ecstatic. I love to eat meat, and if I could, I would be a carnivore. Then again, I do like fruits and vegetables, so I guess that would not work too well. I ended up having a lot more ham than everyone else did, which does not surprise me at all. The second course was Penne Bolognese, which is a basic pasta and meat sauce dish. It was decent, but I felt that this meal was more for sustenance than food quality. I did not fret, because I knew that extremely good food was yet to come. Third course was veal cutlets with potatoes. Again, I was not impressed; I have made better veal dishes at home. The fourth and final course was apple pie, this was good, and I really liked the dessert because the crust was a flaky and sweet pastry that did not overpower the flavor of the apples. Not the best of days,
but then again it was a day of travel. The best is yet to come, as that old Italian-American singer would say.
Day 2: Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto, and Balsamic Vinegar - March 7, 2010
This morning was a very early day. I took a shower, packed up, and rolled out to the bus to give Claudio my bag. I only had a few minutes for breakfast, but it was still good. I had a bit of ham and cheese, yogurt, blood orange juice, and, of course, Cappuccino. Then we all piled into the bus to take the forty-five minute trip to the factory. We picked up Melanie, our tour guide for the day, and then we made our way to the cheese factory.
While driving to the factory, Melanie made us say ParmiGiano RreGGiano over and over again until we pronounced it correctly. At the factory, we had to don these ridiculous looking garments used to keep the environment clean. We pretty much looked liked a tour group of mad scientists. The outfits consisted of a white plastic overcoat, blue footies, white hair caps, and a white surgical mask. Yeah, mad scientists, where's Igor when you need him.
Once we got into the factory, the first thing that struck me was the odor; not bad, not good, but most assuredly pungent. It smelled like milk curds, and other various dairy products. With good reason too, because when we got to the main room, we saw three men working around these huge vats. The process goes as follows, the dairy farmers bring in milk at four in the morning, or thereabouts, and pour the milk into these stainless steel troughs. The skimmed milk from the night before was left in the troughs to make a mixture of part skimmed milk. The milk is then poured into huge copper lined vats where whey is added, and made. The whey is left to settle for a while, and then the workers collect the whey in large pieces of muslin. They tie the muslin to wooden crossbeams, and hang the whey above the liquid to cool. They then place the fifty-pound blocks of whey into round stainless steel shapers with a weight on top. The
weight both shapes the whey, and allows the water to escape more quickly, and the shapers have a metal strap that can be tightened as the water escapes.
After a day, the cheese is taken out of the metal shapers and is wrapped in a plastic imprint that stamps the cheese with the Parmigiano Reggiano stamp, the serial number of the factory, the month and year that the cheese was made. The cheese is then placed into a wooden form, and is stamped yet again with an ink stamp on the top that denotes the manufacturer. A day later, the cheese is placed into deep stainless steel troughs that contain brine; the cheese soaks for three weeks and is then placed onto wooden shelves.
At twelve months, the Consortium inspects the cheese. The inspector uses a hammer to listen to the sound the cheese makes. If the cheese has a uniform sound around the entire wheel, then the cheese passes the inspection and is branded with the letters DOP, which is a group that inspects and protects certain kinds of foods that are produced in specific ways to specific regions in Italy. If the cheese does not pass inspection a line is slashed through the Parmigiano Reggiano indention. At thirty-six months, the cheese no longer has any lactic acid, which means a lactose intolerant person can eat it.
You cannot cut this cheese; it must be crumbled. The texture is fascinating. It is unlike any cheese I have ever had. It is crumbly, but it retains its moisture without seeming too damp. The taste is sharp, and has a strange tendency to taste like pineapples, which seemed strange to me. I ended up buying a half-kilo to bring back to my friend Cassie Bell because she is lactose intolerant. The cheese was amazing, and so fresh that I ended up having about five or six pieces of the proffered samples. I found the process as fascinating as the taste, I had never known exactly how cheese is made, and now I feel as though I am better informed to the process.
We then traveled a few miles to the Prosciutto di Parma factory. When we first got to the factory, I was astonished to discover that the hilltops were covered in snow. I had never thought I would leave North Carolina, go to Italy and find snow. Strange. Prosciutto di Parma is a specific kind of prosciutto that can only come from the Parma region of Italy from specific pigs raised in that region. We entered the factory and my olfactory senses were assaulted by the most pungent aroma I have ever smelled in my entire life. It took me a moment to get used to the smell, and I almost vomited. I was able to curb this desire, with a few deep breaths, which allowed my sense of smell to get used to the odor.
The factory workers had racks and racks of aging ham hanging around. When we entered they were cutting off bits of fat off of the shanks of meat. When it comes to making prosciutto, they clean it and salt it, and let it hang around for about two months. Then they clean the salt off in the ham showers. I though this was really funny. For some reason I loved the idea of giving ham a shower. Anyway, they then add this salty mixture paste called sugna to the exposed part of the ham to give it flavor, and then they let the ham age. As we went from room to room, I noticed that the fragrance went from noxious to smoky to yummy. It went from the smell of dead flesh to the scent of what I consider the way ham should smell like. Like the Parmigiano Reggiano factory, the ham gets inspected by the DOP. They inspect the ham by inserting a horse bone into the ham, and if the bone does not have any residue on it, then it is ready to
After we toured the factory, we went upstairs to the restaurant where we sampled various types of prosciutto. We ate the regular form of prosciutto, salami, neck, and other types of meat. Each meat was prepared on a small piece of bread that offset the salty flavor of the ham perfectly. As I said before, I found this particularly wonderful, and I ate multiple samples of everything. I love eating prosciutto, and getting to eat the real thing made me ecstatic. I could eat prosciutto all day long, and that is basically what I ended up doing.
We then left the factory, and drove a short distance to the place where we were going to eat lunch. As we drove, I could not help noticing the beauty of the scenery. The landscape, in a finite and ineffable way, yielded house-peppered hills, which gave way to breathtaking valleys and awe-inspiring vistas. I could almost taste the green in the air as I looked out the bus window. I have to admit I was barely paying attention to Melanie because I was completely absorbed in looking at the magnificence around me.
We reached our destination, which was a beautiful winery, fairly quickly, and they sat us down to lunch in a room with an exquisite view. We sampled two wines, a white and a red called malvasia. The white was distilled from the lambrusco grape, and the red was distilled from the monticello grape. Both wines were very good sparkling wines, but neither were exactly to my taste. I enjoyed the refreshing taste of the white, but I prefer my reds to be more robust than a sparkling red can ever bring.
Lunch consisted of, you guessed it, more ham, which suited me just fine. We also had sides of marinated artichokes and red peppers. Melanie suggested, just before she left, to try the cheese with the different jams they provided on the table. The jams were fig, strawberry, and blackberry. The combination of the sharp cheese with the sweetness of the jam made for a delectable treat. I preferred the blackberry jam to the other two. For some reason the mixture of the flavors really intrigued me.
After lunch, we took a tour of the bottling plant downstairs. We walked through the wine cellar, which held bottles of wine waiting to ferment entirely. We saw the large stainless steel tanks they held the fermenting wine in. We then saw the bottling process. They take bottles and sterilize them thoroughly, and then they fill the bottles up with wine. After the bottle is filled, they use nitrogen to freeze the wine really quickly in order to get rid of the sediment. After they freeze the wine, they cork the bottle, and cap the cork with foil wine hats.
At one point in my life, I wanted to be an oenologist or a vintner. I later found out that this would not be possible due to the amount of chemistry involved in the process of making wine. Sorry, Dr. Sabo. This particular part of the tour really fascinated me because I caught a glimpse into a process in which I am very interested. I found the machinery intriguing because I new their must be an automated system that goes along with bottling wine, I simply had never witnessed the process.
After the brief tour of the bottling plant, we moved on to our next stop, the Balsamic vinegar plant. I have to admit, I took a nap during this part of the trip. Jetlag always takes a toll out of any traveler, and I felt as though I needed a bit of a rest. I am sure I looked really good while I slept on the bus.
We reached the vinegar factory to discover that the factory is less of a factory, and more of a villa. This guy's family's house serves as their vinegar factory, which blows my mind a little bit because I found out later that this business has been in his family for three generations. We mounted the stairs to his attic, and as we crossed the threshold, a strong, sweet aroma hit our nostrils in a wave of awesome.
Another member of the Consortium, this manufacturer only makes pure natural balsamic vinegar. He adds no preservatives or any other ingredients. To make the vinegar he picks the grapes, and squeezes the juice out of them. The difference between wine and vinegar lies in the fact that they cook the juice for a minimum of twenty-four hours directly after they squeeze the grapes. They then place the cooked juice into large barrels. Over the course of the first few years, they transfer small amounts the liquids form one barrel to the next smaller barrels and the next smaller, and the next smaller. This continues six times, until the vinegar has aged for a minimum of twelve years. The oldest produced is thirty years old. The barrels were not sealed, instead they handkerchiefs with wooden weights.
The natural balsamic vinegar tastes nothing like what we know it to be. It is sweeter, and much thicker. The consistency reminds me of molasses, and it taste vaguely of raisins, which makes sense because raisins are aged grapes. I am astonished by the fact that the only ingredient was grape juice. He added nothing else to the mixture, which shows how much more devoted the Italians are to the idea of fresh ingredients. The maker then blew my mind further, by putting the balsamic vinegar on top of ice cream! This combination is pure perfection. I wish I had good enough balsamic vinegar to recreate this beautiful blend of taste.
After the Balsamic Vinegar tour, we made our way to Florence, a city that I have visited and enjoyed thoroughly before this trip. During our ride, I saw more breathtaking countryside and enjoyed a detailed discussion of various Italian political and economical topics most likely spurred by Crystal. After about an hour, we reached Florence, which is an old and beautiful city. We reached our hotel, and I found out that I was staying with Carrie Foster, Crystal, and Danielle. Unfortunately, I had a trundle bed, the end of which kept falling down every time I would sit on it.
After our meeting about wake-up and breakfast location, Giorgio gave us maps of the city. We walked as a group from our hotel to the Duomo, or the large Renaissance-ish Church in the middle of Florence. From there we were given free time to wander around the city. I went with Vanessa, Carrie, and Ryan to the Ponte Vecchio, which is this awesome bridge. Across the bridge we found a restaurant that Ryan had eaten at when he had visited before.
The restaurant looked nice, they had white tablecloths, and we had a table near a window. Our waiter was attentive, but not overly so. We ordered a bottle of wine to split, to have with our dinner. I ordered a traditional Italian dish called Osso Bucco, which is a veal shank that has been marinated in stew. It was so delicious that I even ate the marrow. After our meal, which lasted for a while, we wondered around Florence for a little bit, and eventually made it back to the hotel. Not before we purchased some gelato.
Much like cappuccino, there exists nothing in the world like Italian gelato. The way they create the complexity of flavor and richness of texture makes you want to burn the Blue Bell factory to the ground in hopes that when they rebuild they will take a page out of the Italian's book. I love gelato, not as much as cappuccino, but I love it enough to brave the cold Italian night air to eat some. Good does not describe the delicious awesomeness that is gelato; in fact there are no words that truly describe the taste and texture of gelato. It is ineffable, and it makes me very happy.
Anyway, we get back to the hotel and have a nightcap of wine before we head off to bed. All in all, this was a very good day. There is something to be said for simply being in another country. It is good to learn all you can about the cultural aspects of the country by going on tours and things like we did today, but nothing compares to simply experiencing the feel a country. You can feel the energy and the atmosphere change when you enter a different region of the world it cannot be described unless you have experienced it yourself. I love this feeling of differentness, and I love the realization that while we may come from different places, speak different languages, and have lived different lives human beings are essentially the same throughout the world. Those traits keep humanity alive and together throughout war, disease, famine, and hardship. Humanity keeps us from tearing the world apart, and that is an extremely hopeful thought.
Day 3: Walking Tour and Free time in Firenze - March 8, 2010
Another early morning this morning, we woke up around 7:30. Breakfast consisted of ham and cheese with yogurt and cappuccino. Simple, but effective. We then set off across the road to the underground mall/train station. Unfortunately, the whether was dismal and the temperature was freezing, but we did not let a tiny detail like the whether stop us from having a good time in Italy. We got the Duomo a bit early, and thus had some time to wander a bit before the guide for the day showed up. A bunch of us immediately went in search of some sustenance! We found this cute little shop off the square that had wonderful cheap pastries. I had a baby cannoli for seventy cents euro, and yet again some excellent cappuccino.
At roughly nine o'clock, we met up with out walking tour guide, a tiny woman wrapped in a huge beige overcoat. She seemed extremely excited about taking us on this tour which made the experience that much more enjoyable. First, we toured the Duomo, which I had missed the first time I had traveled to Florence. This church was fantastic, old, and beautiful. As we toured around the church we found the Medici symbol everywhere, and we had also learned that it had taken nearly two hundred years to complete the structure of the church.
The Medici Crest
The Clock in the Duomo
The Interior of the Duomo
The most astounding thing, besides the painting of Dante's divine comedy, was the dome, which Filippo Brunelleschi designed and constructed. The frescos on the interior of the dome depicted the scenes from the last judgment, and were astonishingly beautiful.
The Last Judgment frescos
The exterior of the Duomo Dome
After the tour of the Duomo, we walked from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio the bridge that a group of us had crossed the night before. The Ponte Vecchio stands as a unique structure in that buildings and shops are located on the bridge. While other bridges like this existed in the past, the Ponte Vecchio is one of the few remaining bridges of this nature in the world. As we walked through we took a right, and we made our way to the square next to the Uffizi and the Accadamia.
A picture of everyone taking pictures
on the Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Vecchio from the Window
of the Uffizi Gallery
Outside on this square stood both replicas and original works of sculpture, including a life size replica of the Michelangelo's David. While Michelangelo was an artistic genius, I prefer Bernini's David, because Michelangelo's David stands sizing his opponent up with a look of arrogance. Bernini's David, however, looks like a moment frozen in time as David swings his slingshot. The look on his face is one of pure determination and struggle. Rival David's aside, a replica of one of my favorite statues is the Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giovanni da Bologna. This sculpture depicts a scene from Roman history where Roman men who were looking
for women to take as their wives abducted Sabine women. The woman depicted in Bologna's piece reaches up in desperation as a Roman man tries to hold her in his arms. Another man kneels between the legs of the man, as though he had just been tripped over. The remarkable thing about this sculpture is that when you walk around it you see the complexity of the piece from three-hundred and sixty degrees. Another remarkable thing lies in the fact that when you walk around it you can see straight through a gap in the marble between the man's chest and the arch of the woman's back. Having a hole in the marble would have been a very tricky thing to accomplish, and makes this work of art a true masterpiece.
The Rape of the Sabine Woman
After we hung around the square for a little bit we made our way through the streets of Florence to a leather molding demonstration where a young man showed us the process of making a Florentine Jewelry box, and how to tell fake leather from the real thing. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot tell the difference between real and fake from the look or smell, instead you tell by feeling the leather. If the leather has suede on the opposite side then it is real, and you can tell the difference by rubbing the leather on itself. If the leather catches, and does not slip then the leather is real. If it is slick then it is not real leather. I found this very useful later in the day when shopping for leather things in the open-air market.
After the presentation, we were allowed to wander around the shop for a little bit, and then we walked as a group to a large grocery market in the middle of the open market. I love going to markets like this because you can really get a taste of what foods the local people buy. There is nothing touristy about this kind of market, and the food sold is extremely fresh. The fruits and vegetables were grown locally, the meat was probably slaughtered only a few days before, and the fish was most likely caught that day. Nothing can replace the value, flavor, and all around goodness that comes out of truly fresh ingredients.
After walking around for a little bit, a group of us found a small pizza place and ate lunch. I had a sausage and ham pizza. A very good pizza, but I did not realize how huge the pizza was going to be, and unfortunately, I did not finish the entire thing. The meal was both good and cheap, but it did not blow my mind.
Two Views of Firenze
After we ate, we walked through the markets for a little bit to buy souvenirs and other fun things. I bought my mother and me Italian silk scarves for five Euros apiece, which I consider a very good price. We slowly made our way to the Uffizi gallery, where we stood in line for about an hour. Morale was high so standing in line was not nearly as boring as it sounds. Once we got in, room after room of magnificent art unfolded itself before us. As we strolled along, we began to notice a patter; there seemed to be an excess of Madonna and child paintings that featured various saints, one of which being the extremely scruffy-looking John the Baptist. We abbreviated his name to J the B, and we kept noting the awful-looking slobbery of J the B. I feel like all he needed was a hot meal and a shower, but he probably would have turned me down, I understand that he preferred to be scruffy and starving.
The view from and of The Accademia and Uffizi
the Uffizi Gallery
We eventually made it to the room I was looking forward to, which was the Botticelli room. Famous paintings like The Birth of Venus and Primavera hung in this gallery, and it was amazing to get to see paintings that I have only seen online or in books. They were breathtaking. Sometimes I feel that other senses feel need, and my eyes were hungry before this trip. Witnessing these paintings allowed me to see beauty through subjectivity. I was able to project my own emotions upon the paintings, and I could formulate my own opinions without having someone tell me what to think.
Unfortunately, much like the gastronomic organ, the eyes get tired of looking at such wonderful compositions. They call it sensory overload. When this unfortunate pattern hits I start doing silly things like play the subtext game. The subtext game is played by looking at certain figures in different pieces of art and say what they are actually thinking at that moment in time.
If you look at the guy on the right it looks like he's thinking, “Did I leave the gas on? Nope ‘cause I'm in a painting right now” and so on. It continued like this for about half and hour, and only stopped when we decided that it was getting a little ridiculous.
After the Uffizi, we wandered around Florence, and I made a pit stop at a stand where I bought the purple cloche hat that accompanied me for the rest of the trip. We eventually made our way to the hotel, where we freshened up, and waited for Giorgio to take us to the place where we were going to eat.
My cute new purple Cloche hat!
Oh yeah...and Zach!
We started off to the restaurant that was going to serve us “slow dinner” as Giorgio called it. Soon after we began walking, we noticed that Giorgio talked on his phone a lot, we doubled back a few times, and it eventually dawned on us that Giorgio did not know where he was taking us. We made fun of him relentlessly for this, and he sassed us right back. We eventually made our way to the restaurant with a few minutes to spare.
During dinner, we had many courses consisting of an appetizer, a pasta course, soup, different kinds of vegetables, including artichoke hearts, and a huge platter of different kinds of meat, ending in dessert. The meat was my favorite part because of the variety. They served beef, veal, rabbit, and other types. I was in heaven and tasted a bit of everything. During dinner, we had Chianti that was served in a kind of straw holder called a fiasco. I learned from Giorgio that the English meaning of that word derives its origin from the holder. We also had an after dinner drink called vino santo in which we dipped our biscotti. This was quite good, except the alcohol proved a bit harsh, but it was not bad. One of my favorite Italian desserts, called panna cotta or cooked cream, which is this pudding mixed with gelatin and cream dish coated in dark chocolate. It was divine! They served panna cotta along with several other kinds
Dinner was quite lovely, and the walk back to the hotel was very refreshing after such a decadent feast. A group of us bought a bottle of wine on the walk back, and we drank it in the lounge part of the hotel with the rest of the group. The group stayed in the lounge area of the hotel for a little while after we got back to the hotel to hang out and shoot the breeze. It was nice to get to hang out with the rest of the group and share experiences. Even though each of us experienced just about the same thing, we all had different views and things we noticed it was nice to exchange those bits of information. After a while, however, everyone got tired enough and went to bed.
A very looking strange Giorgio! A very happy Sabo!
A very happy group! A very happy Katie!
Hanging out at the hotel!
I really enjoyed this day, because we were able to have different and individual experiences as we roamed around the city. I also got see and do things I did not do the first time I was in Florence. I really enjoyed getting to have a completely new encounter with the city that I had not had before. Each city in the world possess a unique complexity, and I love being able to peel back layers that I missed. I do not think I will ever be truly done with any given city in the world, and I am certainly not done with Firenze. I have only just begun to realize the depth of this city, and I only want to know more. The next time I go, I think I will go without a tour group so that I can truly get to live the life of a local, to the minimal extent that I can achieve. I love getting to go to a new place and see through the eyes of a different culture, because acceptance and understanding come from knowledge, and I hope I never stop
learning as long as I live.
Day 4: A day in Tuscany. - March 9, 2010
After a 7:30 wake-up call, and a breakfast of the same things I ate before. We set off walking to meet our hosts for the day. We walked to the Ponte Vecchio, but did not cross; instead we walked a few blocks to the next bridge. As we were crossing I was able to snap a few shots of the Ponte Vecchio and a few of the city in general.
We walked a short distance to our meeting place, where two vans were waiting to pick us up. After a short drive on twisting roads through the beautiful country side, we made it to a villa that was our tour site. Our guide, who was originally from North Carolina, even though he had a bit of a British accent, gave us a tour of the olive oil factory.
A large number of the land around the villa was cultivated with olives and grapes. During the picking months, they hire workers to harvest the olives. After they harvest the olives, they clean and press the olives to extract the oils. After going through many different machines that refine, and clean the oil, they placed the oil into large clay vats to age. When the oil has reached full maturity, they bottle it. He then explained the process that goes into the winery. They use three different grapes in the region, I unfortunately only wrote down two, the Sangiovese and the Malvasia grapes. I cannot remember the other grape. Unlike the first winery that we visited, this winery ages their wines in oak barrels. They do this to qualify for the consortium controlled by the DOP, which means that they made a specific kind of Chianti and oil specific to that region of Italy. Something that I found interesting was that
they only distribute the oil and wine to the workers, local people, and to a few local places around the area. We were able to purchase some oil and wine.
So much Wine! Steve and his machine Olive Oil vats
Lots of wine barrels!
Shh...don't tell....I don't think they'll notice.
After a bit, they drove us to the second location where we had a wine tasting. We tasted five different wines. Four of them were Chianti and one was real vino santo. The Chiantis were very good; I enjoyed each of them to the fullest. They served the best wines for last, and as we tasted each one, I could identify individual tastes within each wine. The final Chianti had a wonderful smoky flavor that came from the barrel in which it was aged. The vino santo tasted nothing like the vino santo we had the night before, this wine was exquisite, and infinitely better than the harsh alcohol. With each wine, they served us a sample of bread with olive oil on it. I loved the flavors so much that I bought a bottle of oil and a bottle of vino santo for my parents. While we tasted, our guide, Steve went into the other room and sang a song from the eleven hundreds; he possesses an amazing singing voice.
Chianti and Olive Oil! Vino Santo! Double Yummy!
All the WINE Quintuple YUMMY! Yay! Happy People!
After the tasting, a small group of us left with Alex, the son of our guide, to go to this beautiful house on a Tuscan hillside. I learned later that parts of this house dated back to the thirteenth century when it served as a sanctuary for religious pilgrims. In the house they set up a table in a room that had a roaring fire. Various ingredients littered a table in the corner, and Alex instructed us to don aprons. From there, we began to make ravioli. In order to make pasta you must have a certain kind of flour called semolina.
Working the Semolina Using the press! The finished Product
A very happy group of pasta makers!
Using an egg, we swirled the egg around the semolina to make a well in which we cracked our egg. With our bare hands, we mixed the egg into the flour. Then we began to work the dough with flour until it became the right consistency, which is not sticky. We rolled the dough into two balls and wrapped one in plastic. The other we began to press through the pasta presser. After putting the dough through the press twice on each setting, the dough was ready to cut into five circles. We did this twice. After we made enough circles, we put the filling into the ravioli. The filling consisted of ricotta cheese and spinach. After we filled the ravioli, we folded them, pressed the sides together, and used a fork on the sides to seal them completely. I must say, I would make an excellent ravioli maker. We put the leftover dough through a different setting of the pasta maker, which turned the dough into strips of pasta.
After we had finished we sat down with Alex to lunch.
Lunch consisted of two different kinds of quiche, regular and spinach, our pasta in a red sauce, and our ravioli. The meal ended with the best tiramisu I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was so flavorful and light, I could tell it was homemade. During lunch we had a nice bottle of Chianti, and I was able to have a conversation with Alex about various topics. This was an interesting look into the Italian way of life, because it gave us new insight to how the Italian people really eat. For the first time on the trip I felt like a traveler and not a tourist. We were able to have a home-cooked meal in a very home like atmosphere. I felt as though I had been invited to lunch by an old friend, and I had known and lived that way my entire life. The conversation was stimulating and the food was extraordinary. This, without a doubt, was one of my favorite days. It felt true, and it felt real.
First course of lunch THE BEST TIRIMISU IN THE WORLD!!!!
The view from the bus.
After lunch we returned to Florence, and were given free time. A group of us hurried to the Duomo to climb the tower, which unfortunately had closed by the time we got there. So, we went shopping in the open-air market for a little bit. I bought a very nice pair of leather gloves with rabbit lining; I made sure that they were real by using the tricks I had learned the day before. While in the market, something suddenly struck me; the first time I had gone to Florence, I visited this shoe shop. We had passed it the day before, and I had made it my mission to find the shop and buy a pair of shoes. So, with my group in tow, we tore through the streets of Florence and I was able to find the shop and buy shoes. In a strange way, I felt as though I had completed some kind of cycle.
After the shoe shop debacle, we made our way back through the streets of Firenze for the last time. Unfortunately, we had to leave the next day. We stopped in a shop to buy gelato, wine, and a sandwich. I love that you can buy all three in one place, and their fast food is ten times better than our fast food. We went back to the hotel and hung out in a room for a while, shooting the breeze and exchanging stories. All in all, this was a wonderful day because we caught a glimpse of truth in how Italians eat, and I was able to satisfy my need for shoes. We made some really nice connections that day, tasted some exquisite wine, and ate some really extraordinarily good food; the day left me with a very satisfied feeling which made me feel utterly happy.
Day 5: The Hill Towns of Tuscany - March 10, 2010
We awoke around 7:30 yet again, and I had the same exact thing for breakfast. We reunited with Claudio, and boarded the bus. I did not even try to stay awake; in fact, I slept the entire bus ride. We reached Siena soon, however, and I discovered much to my dismay that it was wet, cold, and snowing. I wore the wrong shoes for this day, and due to the hole the sole of my boots my feet were soaked through within minutes. To me there is nothing more miserable than wet feet. This set the day up for disaster. I made the best of it as we met our guide for the day. We took refuge in a beautiful old church as she told us of the finer points about Siena, which mainly consisted of the Palio or the medieval horse race. Every summer, once in July and once in August, they hold the famous Siena Palio. They clear the main square, but a track down, and hold a free-for-all race. She seemed to emphasize the existence of betting and bribery
although both of those things are illegal. The horse race was featured in the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. As we walked through the city, I became aware of how beautiful the town was, but the only thing I could think about was my poor feet.
An exterior of Siena in the snow. The Piazza del Campo where the Palio is held.
We reached the cathedral of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Siena, and we were able to take shelter in the warmth. The Church proved magnificent, with its large dome and beautiful architecture. The most remarkable thing was a room that held beautiful tapestries depicting different scenes from the bible. They also displayed huge music books, which I found absolutely fascinating.
The exterior of the Cathedral Mosaics of pilgrims on the floor of St. Catherine's
After our tour of St. Catherine's Church, we had some free time in Siena. A group of us went to a small restaurant where I made a feeble attempt to thaw my feet out in the bathroom. I had a nice meal of wild boar stew, which succeeded in warming me up, and being completely mind blowing. As a small respite from the cold, we also bought hot chocolate, which is made from dark chocolate, and is bitterer than the hot chocolate found in the States. This suited my tastes perfectly because I find that I enjoy dark chocolate much more that milk chocolate. There is so much more flavor to enjoy in dark chocolate.
After our lunch, we wandered around a bit and found this magnificent ingredient store off the Piazza. They sold pastas, teas, chocolates, candies, spices, liqueurs, and wine. The store smelled absolutely delicious and I wanted to buy everything I laid my eyes on. Instead, I bought a small bag of tea for my friend and a chocolate bar for me. We then exited the shop, and made our way to our meeting point where we met up with Giorgio.
We boarded the bus, and we all slept again as we traveled to the tiny medieval town called San Gimignano. We left the bus at the bottom of the hill, and we hiked a bit up to the top into the town. The town was beautiful and extremely old. We walked as a group to the main square, from there we split up for free time. Vanessa, Ryan, and I found a café and bought cappuccinos; just the thing to warm the cockles of my heart. After that we wandered around the city, and made it to the outer wall that at one point protected the city from outside invaders.
Two different parts of San Gimignano.
A view from the outer wall of San Gimignano.
The view was breathtaking. We continued to wander and explore this tiny little town, looking for all the little nooks and crannies. Eventually we made it to the torture museum, being the cheery upbeat folks that we are we went inside. We toured the death penalties exhibit, and even I found some of the exhibits a bit stomach churning. I did get to see how my patron saint was martyred. St. Katherine of Alexandria was bound to a spiked wheel where she was going to be beaten and impaled. Instead of being impaled by her spikes, the wheel exploded and killed all of her captors and accusers. Unfortunately, she was also killed in the blast. That is why she is the patron saint of fireworks, and why the Katherine Wheel firework is named after her.
After the delightful torture museum, we visited a shop and I purchased some sheep cheese called pecorino, and some wine for dinner. We then hiked back down the hill to the supermarket, where we purchased some bread, prosciutto, pears, more cheese, and a wine key. Then we boarded the bus, and most of us napped while we made our way to our final destination. There seemed to be some discrepancy as to where our hotel was exactly. Giorgio did not know exactly where we were going, and Claudio seemed to be getting a bit frustrated. We finally arrived at a wonderful resort that used to be an entire village of farmers. We settled into our rooms, I took off my shoes and socks, put on some dry ones, and went to Ryan, Zach, and Quinn's room, which had a kitchenette. We then prepared our feast to be eaten, and the feast consisted of bread, cheese, boar sausage and prosciutto, and of course wine. We had a jolly good time of it,
simply enjoying each others company. Later on in the evening, Dr. Sabo put up twenty Euros for the first two people to jump into the pool; no one had the guts to jump into the freezing pool. All around a very good time was had by everyone involved.
Day 6: Chocolate and Civita - March 11, 2010
After another early morning, and just about the same breakfast, we left the beautiful resort, which was even more beautiful in the early morning light. We boarded the bus yet again, and made our way to the Perugina chocolate factory. Again, I slept on the bus.
We watched a short video about chocolate production, which is refined from the Cacao bean, which is a lot bigger than I had originally thought. We made our way from the projection room to the small museum and learned about the history of Perugina. We learned that their number one selling product was Baci, which is a small chocolate truffle topped with a whole hazelnut. Each Baci has a love message in the wrapper because Baci in Italian means kiss. They also make cherry Baci, which is not as good. Perugina also makes dark chocolate bars called Nero chocolate. We also learned that they entered the Guinness book of world records by making the largest Baci in the world. After touring the museum, we saw the factory in progress. Unfortunately, a transportation strike occurred that day so the factory was not as lively as it would have been otherwise.
I really like Baci ... can't you tell?
After the tour, we visited the store, where I purchased many chocolate bars, including chili and raspberry flavored chocolate, along with 80% cacao chocolate. To me nothing beats European chocolate. The chocolate we have in the States does not hold a candle to the chocolate produced in Europe. It seems better, more flavorful, and fresher, which is why I bought so many chocolates.
We loaded onto the bus, yet again to travel to the small town of Civita. Luckily, this was the first day of truly outstanding whether; the sun shown down like a beacon from the heavens. We hiked through this small, more modern town in order to get to Civita.
The modern town A view from the hill.
Civita is not an easy place to get to; it lies perched on top of a lone hill surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. Pictures cannot capture it, and words cannot describe the awesomeness of the surrounding landscape. I tried to document the beauty and failed utterly. The town itself is only accessible by a tiny expansion bridge that connects it to the mainland. Civita is a landlocked island.
Two views of the island of Civita
I'm not sure what the twins are doing,
but I like this picture.
We did not do anything particularly educational in Civita, but we wandered around this fascinating little town in awe of its beauty. I will let some of the pictures that I took do the talking for me. I took some of the best pictures I have ever taken in my life in this exquisite little town.
After wandering around, we had lunch at this tiny restaurant in town. We watched as the proprietress and her husband sliced, plated, and served our meal. I have to say that I never ate so well, as when I ate in Italy. The simplicity of this meal astounds me, and yet it was still so good. Prosciutto was becoming comfort food, and I miss it terribly. It never ceases to amaze me how old things can be. As I was walking around this town, it was as if the town itself was alive, and was breathing. It invited us to wander through its veins, and amongst its heartbeat. The town was a wise old woman who imparted her beauty and sagacity upon us simply because we had taken the time to appreciate the wonder of her age. She taught us reverence, and we taught her vivacity. Like all things, however, we had to say goodbye to the old woman, but I will never forget the beauty and subtle majesty of this sacred place.
As we made our way back down and up the hill to the bus, I was able to chat with Giorgio about the educational system in Italy. I learned that kids choose a profession by the time they are thirteen years old. This astounded me because I cannot imagine having to make a decision about my life at such a young age. They leave primary school, and go to a trade school for high school where they learn the specific aspects of the track they have chosen. From there they continue to university to become certified in their field. I found this absolutely fascinating, and it serves as a complete contrast to the American educational system in that we teach our children everything, and they decide in college what career they wish to pursue. I did not expect to learn such and interesting lesson, but it threw into contrast the differences between the countries.
I actually ended up staying awake for most of this bus ride because I wanted a last glimpse of the countryside before we got into Rome, and I also wanted to listen to an interesting conversation Giorgio was conducting in the front of the bus concerning Italian politics. I found out that Italy has a lot of different political parties, and that if we wanted to we could form our own group, and run for office. We could elect Claudio as our leader, and he could be voted president of Italy, if we raised enough votes. The conversation also turned to issues like gypsies, healthcare, and education. Really interesting topics, but unfortunately I did not write down any of it, but I am glad I participated.
We arrived in Rome in the early evening, and got to the hotel. When receiving our room assignments, Dr. Sabo asked us if anyone wanted a single room. Either people were too polite to take it, or they were too embarrassed to volunteer, whatever the reason my hand shot up like a rocket, and I was able to spend my last two nights in Italy in this adorable little corner room. I had a desk, bathroom, and full bed all to myself, and I savored every moment of it!
That night we were on our own for dinner, and Giorgio gave us a map and oriented us to the city a little bit, after that we were on our own. I went out with Vanessa, Ryan, Danielle, and Carrie. We first strolled through the park that led to the Coliseum, which looked fantastically cool lit up in the dark.
We then strolled to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, and tossed our coins in. Legend has it that whatever you toss into the fountain you will receive tenfold. I saw the Trevi fountain the first time I visited Italy, but that was during the day. This time I saw it at night, I felt a bit like I was taking the vampire tour of Rome.
The Trevi Fountain by itself Me in front of the Trevi Fountain
After that, we ambled through the city looking for a place to eat, there were too many places with English names on their awnings, so we searched a little bit deeper into the city for a non-tourist restaurant. Before we found a restaurant, I found out, much to my dismay that my bankcard no longer worked properly. Note to self: tell your bank that you are leaving the country that way they will not freeze your account...oops. The other people in my group paid for some of my dinner, which was very nice of them. As we were walking, we ran into this random obelisk. This random thing started a new game called the OLD! game. As we walked around the city every time I saw something old, I pointed it out and said OLD! The game got old after a while, because I kept having to point stuff out.
We soon found a very nice restaurant in a deserted piazza somewhere in Rome. I ate risotto for the first time in my life; it was cooked with pears and had a light drizzling of real balsamic vinegar on it. The risotto was glorious. I mean it when I said I did not have a bad meal the entire time I was in Italy. We split a bottle of Chianti, and I ended up sharing a tiramisu with Danielle. The meal proved splendid, and a wonderful end to the evening.
After dinner, we walked a little ways to a square called the Piazza Navona. Here we found a couple of women performing tricks with fire ropes; they were both very skilled and it seemed like an interesting way to make ones living. The square was beautiful at night, because the only other time I had seen the piazza was during the day. It only was a short distance to the hotel after we visited the piazza, and as we returned to the hotel we got a good view of the Forum at night, as well as the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. An eventful day, that lasted well into the night. It was a pleasure to return to the hotel, and my beautiful little room. I was quite content and fell asleep as soon as my head it the pillow.
Day 7: Roma! - March 12, 2010
The final day in Italy did not feel as though it was the last day. I felt like I had been there forever, and still had tons of time to spare. After an early breakfast, we took a short bus ride to the Vatican. We were told that we would not have a guide, but we would have audio guides. This ended up not being the case, and we ended up have this funny little woman as our guide. She often called us family, and often pushed people out of the way so that we could get a better look at whatever she was pointing out.
I had been to the Vatican before this trip, but I had entered the Sistine Chapel from a different direction, so I had not seen some of the galleries that we passed through. I took pictures of the statues, and other various things. I was extremely pleased to find that we got to see the School of Athens by Raphael.
A hallway in the Vatican with Random statue...OLD!
our guide's green hanky
The Sistine Chapel, in its resplendent beauty, brought tears to my eyes. The work as a whole serves as the greatest work of art done by a single artist. Michelangelo spent nine years of his life painting the ceiling and the last judgment. I cannot even imagine the time, energy, and devotion that it took to paint such a wonderful masterpiece. It left me breath and speechless, yet again, and let me tell you that does not happen very often.
After the Sistine Chapel we walked to St. Peter's Basilica, which is a wonder of renaissance architecture. The cavernous interior knocks the wind out of you as you enter the gargantuan front doors. The sight you see inside is almost too great for you to comprehend, there is so much to look at and witness that your eyes do not know exactly where to look. The main Alter and the shrine to St. Peter form the center focus of the Basilica, and off to the sides each nook has its own exquisite architecture and art. Getting to see the Pieta again was another joyous event. The craftsmanship and artistry in the mosaics and the tombs stood out against the splendor of the rest of the church making the senses explode with information.
Interiors and one exterior of St. Peter's Basilica
After we visited the Vatican, we had a bit of time to wander through the gift shop. I bought a Pope mug for my boyfriend because I thought he would get a big kick out of it. Later we went to this Panini shop next to the gift shop. I was surprised to find out that the woman behind the counter did not speak a word of English, but I was able, with much linguistic agility, that I could converse with her on a minimal level. My Panino was very good. A funny thing happened as I walked with Zach and Jarrett through the street in front of the Vatican. We walked back toward the group, and we heard the sounds of street performers with a guitar and an accordion. As I walked by they started play “When the Saints go Marching in” I found this to be extremely funny considering I am from New Orleans. This was like the cherry on top of a wonderful trip.
After the Vatican, we boarded the bus for the last ride with Claudio; it was a very sad day to have to say goodbye to that good-natured werewolf. After we said farewell to Claudio, we made our way to the Coliseum, at this point, I had already taken a tour of the Coliseum, but it was really fun to watch Jarrett's face as we entered because he loves everything and anything to do with Roman history. Our tour guide was very good-looking, which made the tour that much more interesting. I did find out that the reason why the Coliseum looks run down is not because of its age, but because after the fall of the Roman Empire architects used the materials in the Coliseum to build other things, which I found interesting. One of these days I want to take a tour of the basement of the Coliseum so that I can see what it would have been like to be a gladiator. Then we left for the Forum, which I find to be remarkably interesting.
Much like Jarrett, I am also a Roman history nut, so it was really cool to get to see place of the beginnings of western civilization. I was surprised to find out that Caesar did not die in that place, but rather he died in a different location, the Theatro Pompeii. Being in a place with such history gives you chills as you walk though the streets. Goosebumps raised on my arms as I made the realization that a human being, famous human beings, walked the very streets upon which I tread. It was an awe-inspiring experience.
The Coliseum with Triumphal Arch The interior of the Coliseum
Various buildings in the Forum
The Senate House The Forum, and my last picture
Started by Julius and before my camera died
Finished by Augustus
After the Forum, Giorgio told us the location of the restaurant we were to visit. Claire, Vanessa, Danielle, and I took a different route from the rest of the group, and as we walked together, we found a tiny garden in the middle of Rome. Naturally, we stopped to walk around a bit. This tiny respite from walking around the city all day felt very refreshing.
We made it to the restaurant only a few minutes after the rest of the group. We began to make our pizzas, and after a few other people went, Michelle and I got up and donned the cap and apron. We rolled our dough just like the guy showed us, and I even attempted to toss it in the air. Unfortunately, I was not as proficient as the pizza maker was, but I gave it my best shot. I had pizza with peppers, sausage, ham, and the spicy chili peppers. It was very tasty if I do say so myself. I am really glad I got to make pizza because we found out a few minutes that not everyone would get to make the pizza themselves. We still had a fun dinner, and many half-liters of wine were imbibed by all.
At this point, we had traveled with each other long enough to know each other well, and we were able to joke and laugh around with each other, which made the experience that much better. If you want to get to know a person, travel with them. I was happy to say that everyone got along well, and no unnecessary drama occurred. I really enjoyed traveling with this group, and I feel closer to them now that we have traveled together.
After dinner, we walked to a square with Giorgio, who gave us some good hints as to where we should go for some Roman Night life. After that, a group of us went out for a night on the town. First, we went to the train station, which had a mall in it. I bought coffee for my bother and my boyfriend (to go with his Pope mug). Then we went looking for a bar, and we found a shoddy looking Irish pub/restaurant. We soon left that place in search of another joint. After much strolling in the direction of our hotel, we found a bar that had Druid in the name. We stopped in and found seats up in the balcony where a couple of guys played pool. After a few minutes, a live band started playing, and we soon found out that it was some kind of open mike night. I had a couple of pints of my favorite beer in the world called Carlsberg. I have not yet been able to find it in the States so it was a treat to get to have it in Italy.
Around midnight we strolled through Rome one last time, and I said goodbye to the city. We found our hotel with ease, I said goodnight to my fellow bar hoppers, and retired to my little room. I did not sleep very well because I was afraid that I was going to miss our dreadfully early wake-up call.
The day in Rome was wonderful and magnificent. I enjoyed feasting my eyes on the art of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, I loved getting to roam around monuments of the ancient world such as the Coliseum and the Forum, and I loved eating the pizza that I made. Most of all, however, I loved getting to spend so much time with this great group of people, and getting to share so many great experiences with them. That is what made the trip worth while, and I would not trade this trip for the world.
Day 8: Goodbye Italy- March 13, 2010
At 3:15 in the morning, we arose to get on the bus to go home. I did not sleep on the bus because I could not miss the final moments I had in Italy. I always feel deep-seeded twinge of sorrow when I leave a place that has affected me as much as Italy. I realize that nothing lasts forever, and that inevitably I must return to the real world, and the real life that I lead there. The moment is bittersweet because I am sad to go, but I must also be joyful that I was able to take this trip. I must also know how lucky I am to have experienced so much. I got to go to Italy, and this trip will remain with me for the rest of my life, even if I go to Italy a hundred more times, I will always remember this trip with fondness, and joy because I was there, I lived in that moment, and I would not have it any other way.
We said our farewells to Giorgio, who seemed really torn up that we were leaving. That was true sadness, he had been our director, teacher, and friend for only seven days, but in those seven days we impacted each others lives in such a profound way, that I am sure we will never forget each other. He showed us a new way of living, and a new culture, which is an invaluable education that you cannot buy, but instead must experience. I will miss Giorgio terribly, and I hope that one day our paths may cross again.
Later on, I had my last cappuccino, sat at the bar, and said my final farewells to Italy. “See you later Italia, I am sure you will be here waiting for me to have yet another adventure.” Until next time, this is Katie Haeuser of Catawba College, Salisbury, North Carolina saying; Take nothing for granted, live life to the fullest, and don't be afraid to get out there and do something bold; you might just learn something about yourself and your world that you never knew before.
The Portrait of Pope Leo X with two Cardinals. Raphael. 1518-1519. Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. March 24, 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Pope_Leo_X_ (Raphael).
Food Science Essay: Strawberries ... Yum!
There exists nothing better in this world then biting into a fresh strawberry. They have an exquisitely balanced flavor that matches perfectly with their texture. Not to be biased, but my home state of Louisiana possess the best strawberries in the world. We grow them on the side of the road, and sell them in huge flats. It recently came to my attention that a local farmer also sells strawberries in this way, which is why I have chosen to make my momma's famous strawberry shortcake.
In the spring and summer months in Louisiana, the only thing you can do is eat, drink, and hope the heat does not kill you. One thing my momma and I would do is go down the road and pick up a flat of strawberries. Momma used most of the strawberries to make strawberry preserves, but of what strawberries she had left she would make strawberry shortcake.
I am not exactly sure when this tradition started, but both of my parents love to cook. I am certain that my momma needed a dessert for some occasion, so she experimented with shortcake. Due to the outstanding reviews she received from the rest of the family, she probably decided that this dessert was quick and easy enough to cook on a regular basis. Every summer, shortcake became the fallback dessert if we ever wanted one. She could whip up a batch in no time, as long as she had all of the ingredients.
First she would slice the strawberries and put sugar on them, then she would get flour, salt, eggs, milk, and baking powder to make the batter, then she would mix it all up, put the batter onto cookie sheets and put it in the oven. While that was baking, she would make whipped cream, add vanilla, and sugar. Then, once the shortcakes were ready, she would top them with strawberries and cream.
This taste reminds me of home, and of summertime. The sweetness of the strawberries coupled with the bitterness of the cake makes a perfect combination. Unlike some shortcake, my momma's cakes are served individually, and they have a thicker consistency. They are denser than most, which offsets the fluid nature of the strawberries perfectly.
I love this recipe because it brings me back to summertime in Louisiana. I miss so many things about my home, and food has the transcendent power to evoke memories and feelings about a place. Strawberry shortcake takes me back to where I want to be, and gives me a little slice of Louisiana, momma, and home all in one bite.
Momma's famous strawberry shortcake
Note: I will be doubling this recipe
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2cup milk
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter or margarine,
- Melted ½ cup whipping cream
- 1quart (4 cups) strawberries, sliced
- ¼ cup sugar
- .Heat oven to 425°F. In large bowl, mix strawberries and 1/4 cup sugar; set aside.
- In medium bowl, stir flour, baking powder, salt, and milk,
tablespoons sugar and the butter until soft dough forms. On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by 6 spoonfuls.
- Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile, in small bowl, beat whipping cream with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form.
- Split warm shortcakes; fill and top with strawberries and whipped cream.High Altitude (3500-6500 ft): Heat oven to 450°F. Decrease sugar in shortcakes to 1 tablespoon.
PHOTOS: Food Science Course in Italy