Volume 11. “Mangia!”- Meeting My Italian Family

Growing up, I always thought we lived an Italian lifestyle. We had a big family and ate spaghetti with meatballs. We put emphasis on both family and food. These were my thoughts of ‘Italian values’ before arriving in Italy. Here, I have discovered that food is a huge part of the culture and families are close. However, there are huge differences from my initial thoughts. For example, I have discovered spaghetti with meatballs is NOT a dish found on the menu. Also, when you think of a ‘close family’, it does not necessarily mean ‘big’. Most Italian families have no more than two kids. When I talk about close families, it is in proximity. Many times families live in the same building on different floors or on the same street. What I thought made me Italian, in reality was was nowhere near the authentic Italian life.

This past weekend, I decided to retrace my roots. I traveled to Sicily where my grandpa’s family is from to meet my relatives and truly experience the authentic Italian lifestyle.

Before I go into any details, here are a few lessons I learned…
1. ‘Mangia!’ means eat in Italian
2. Thou must not refuse to eat food
3. Thou must eat all of the food on your plate
4. Thou must pace yourself when eating
5. Life revolves around food

It was a wonderful experience to meet all of my other family, I had always dreamed of doing this and now I cannot believed it happened.

Flying was gorgeous, we flew from Torino to Trapani on an hour and half flight, the entire way had blue skies. Looking down on Sicily we could see the mountains and countryside farms. Some of my family picked us up from the airport and drove us into the city center to have espresso and a quick bite for lunch. My family kept saying ‘mangia mangia!’ but I had just ate on the airplane so I opted for a light meringue cookie. They interrogated me to know exactly when and what I last ate before letting me off of the hook!

Expecting them to just drop us off at the Airbnb and meeting up later for dinner, they came with us to check into the room and befriended the front desk man. To my surprise, they paraded behind us to the room and made themselves at home. They told us we must join them at their house. So we dropped our bags and went to their house in a tiny Fiat. Their house was conveniently located right next to their brother and sister. After entering any of these houses, they would immediately give us a tour… even showing us the closets! Keep in mind, none of these people spoke English. I believe they did not even speak Italian, they spoke the Sicilian dialect with their hands constantly moving. I only understood 30% of what they said but I used google translate and hand motions communicate.

The next day, we went to their house for a big lunch with appetizers, first, second, third courses and dessert with espresso. I honestly would have stopped eating after the first course but I was encouraged to ‘mangia mangia!’. After the second course, I thought I could not possibly eat more. I left the rest of the food on my plate but received a very negative response from my family. I have no idea what they were saying but she said ‘bravo’ to everyone with clean plates, then turned to me with a stern look saying, ‘mangia mangia!’. Although I felt like I was going to explode, I kept eating. The food was wonderful but I am a tiny person and probably ate my weight in potatoes, lasagna, artichokes, olives, beef patties, salad, cake, and cookies. It was insane!
Every meal after this was the same, but I learned I must always have food on my plate or else I would have to eat more!

My favorite part of the weekend was visiting the little house my great grandpa was actually born in. We also got to walk through his 200 olive trees. One of my great grandpa’s brother’s sons still makes olive oil and tends a beautiful garden with pomegranate, persimmon, cauliflower, tons of artichokes, garlic, peas, tomatoes, pears, lemons, oranges, and so many more crops. My family picked a five gallon bucket full of lemons and gave it to us to take home but I had only brought my backpack and was afraid I could not take all of them. (What would I do with five gallons of lemons!) I mean I really love lemons, I even enjoy eating them (yeah I know it’s weird but they are really good) but I was much happier when they transferred about 4 kilos to a bag. My family told me as I was leaving, “A lemon a day keeps the doctor away.” So that is my plan and I could not be more proud to eat lemons from my great grandpa’s trees. After this experience, I have the goal of having a lemon tree when I am older. If I live in an area that is too cold, I will have to build a greenhouse! This experience was priceless and I plan on staying in touch with them so they can one day visit me in America!

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Buenosera 🙂

Volume 10. The Biggest Food Fight in Italy

Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnivale… all of these are different names for the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Depending where you are from, depends how you celebrate the holiday. This year, I traveled to the little town of Ivrea to participate in their Carnevale celebration, ‘Battaglia delle Arance’ (battle of the oranges).

Yes. You heard that right, this town devotes an entire day to have a food fight… A dream come true for me (if you don’t know me, you should know I have an obsession with food). I arrived two hours before the battle and visited each square where the battles would take place. The potential energy was real, countless pallets of oranges lined the squares but no one touched an orange until 2pm. It has always been my dream to have Sicilian oranges flying around me so, I could reach out to catch one (or five) and eat them!

The battle, although sounds and looks unorganized, I learned was very strategic. Rules and specific teams existed, including two different types of teams. Teams on foot and teams in horse drawn carriages. The teams on foot were stationed in different squares through the the town. The battle began after a carriage entered the square. The carriage would travel through the crowded square, while pummeling oranges at their opposing team (and vice versa). Once the carriage made its way around the square the battle was over and would leave to the next square as a different carriage team entered so the battle started again. Judges were present to determine the winning cart and the winning square. I have no idea how the teams actually scored points, but it was very fun to watch and participate in!

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At 2pm, the first oranges were thrown. From this point forward, there was a consistent battle throughout the town. The sweet citrus aroma filled the streets. As a bystander, you had to wear a red hat or else someone would yell ‘capelli’ and throw oranges at your head. I saw many black eyes so, I opted to wear the red hat.

Two hours into the battle, I could not believe it was still happening. The streets started to disappear, replaced by orange mush.

Wanting to get in on the action, I headed toward the center of a square to see the battle up close. I had my red hat on so no one threw oranges at me on purpose however, I did get hit a few times. When you are so close to the action, it is nearly impossible to not get hit! After watching so many people toss oranges I ditched my red hat so I could participate, throwing oranges at the carriage. Wading in six inches of orange slush, my boots were covered with orange. My jacket, previously navy blue, looked brown. It was a glorious mess! I caught oranges out of the air to then rip them open and eat the juice before discarding the rest of the fruit on the street.

An hour before the end, I was surprised to see a few pallets of oranges still left, I had stepped on so many oranges and felt like I ate so many more, I thought they would have run out by now! I looked around to see numerous black eyes, bloody faces and completely wrecked clothing. Everyone was having fun and was super happy to be in Ivera celebrating Carnevale. This type of event would never work in the United States! It was a wonderful experience, I would love to be a part of it again. When I get back in the States and am asked what is something I did not expect about Italy, this event will be number one in my mind. I never expected to participate in a huge food fight. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Buenosera xoxo

Volume 9. ‘Lunch’ in the Italian Countryside

Ciao! As may of you know I have some Italian roots through my dad’s side of the family. I have always known that there were people I am related to living in Italy, but did not believe I would meet them. After some heavy ‘Facebook researching’ I found some of my relatives. 

I was surprised to learn one of these relatives works in the city where I am studying abroad!  My excitement could not be contained…Torino, of all of the places in the world! I have always thought the world was small, but now more than ever, I believe it. After contacting my relative, we set a date to meet for lunch.

As an American, I think of lunch as having a sandwich or maybe a small entree. Lunch in America isn’t too extravagant. I was excited to meet my family for ‘lunch’.

I innocently did not realize what Sunday lunch meant in Italy. My apartment buzzer beeped and I immediately became nervous thinking, “What do I do?”… I did not want to buzz them in and I did not know the Italian words for ‘be right there’, so I decided to sprint down the stairs from the 6th floor. I arrived outside and immediately received hugs and kisses on my cheeks. I couldn’t believe it, I barely had met these people and they were already kissing my cheeks. I realized my uncomfortable feeling was just a culture difference. 

We piled into their tiny Fiat and within the first ten minutes, I spoke all of the Italian I knew. They told me we were headed to the country side. I could just barely understand the Italian they spoke. I sat there silently for a few minutes, then did my best using Google translate to speak Italian as they spoke in broken English. They claimed their English was bad but they could hold conversations, so I thought their English was great! I said I speak very little Italian and actually mean it! For example, I know how to say I’m American, my age, what day of the week it is and how to order an espresso… that is it!
Another 30 minutes went by and we pulled onto a dirt road. Through the fog, I saw fields and chickens running around. There was no doubt we were in the country. We parked next to a little simple red house and walked inside. To my surprise, it was a restaurant!

There were only a few tables and as soon as we sat down, I knew I was the only English speaker in the place. Who needs language when you can relate over food??? The wine was first to arrive; white and not too sweet or acidic, one of my favorites! 

The first plate served was a traditional Piemontese dish. It consisting of raw meat with lemon juice. At first, I did not realize the dish was raw meat (who serves meat raw??) However, it was very tasty!  The next course was a chicken salad made with small pieces of fresh chicken with olives and celery mixed with a bit of olive oil. American chicken salad with mayonnaise, cannot even compare to this savory dish. The olives and oil never overpowered, instead they added different dimensions of taste to the combination. I am still not sure the name of the next plate we were served, but the best way I can describe it is a mini quiche or vegetable flan, very delicious. 

The waitress came over with new plates and started serving risotto with prosciutto. Well, welcome to the awkward life of Caroline, I was the first served. The waitress had a huge dish of risotto and spooned rice on my plate…. and she kept scooping… after the third and half scoop, everyone was looking at tiny me and then at the filled plate. 

I gave the waitress a concerned and nervous look, trying to ask, Why are you giving me so much food? I believe she understood my look because she finally stopped scooping. I watched my family tell her how many scoops they wanted and also telling her when to stop. (Ahhhhh!) How come I did not think of that??? Now I know for next time. 

The following course I opted-out because I continued to eat the mound of risotto on my plate. The course was also not gluten free; it was a meat filled pasta, like ravioli. It was another traditional Piemontesse dish, it looked homemade and wonderful. 

The waitress gave us new plates…again. we were served potatoes and herbs with pork and beef slices. This time I knew exactly what to say telling the waitress when to stop. Everything was mouth watering, but I was so full I thought I could not eat anymore! When I thought the dinner was over, the waitress came back to the table and took dessert orders. I decided on berries with chocolate. 

Seven courses and over three hours later, I realized my initial thought of a simple lunch was way off. My family was so generous and welcoming. I was so happy I finally met them. This was a crazy opportunity that helped me understand Italian culture within the family. Meeting my family was priceless, and learning the italian word for ‘stop’, Basta, is only going to help me in the future!!

Buonasera 🙂

Volume 8. Kissed by the Tuscan Sun

Ciao! This past weekend I fell in love with a city.
After the long haul of a 6 hour bus trip from Torino, we arrived to Florence in the pouring rain. The old sunken cobble stones, on the side walk, created pools of water. Despite the unhappy weather, we were still able to trek about the city avoiding puddles.

I quickly realized Florence is a huge tourist city. It was only the end of February, and I found the streets were packed with people! Although, tourist filled, there were so many different things to do and see. In this moment, the sky was gray, but lights were reflecting off of the river, I fell in love. No wonder why people love Florence so much, there is an irresistible charm that fills the street.

That night our Airbnb host had a huge party with all of her closest friends and invited us to the party as well. Only speaking a bit of Italian, it was great to meet and drink wine with native Florentines! Everyone was so nice and welcoming.

The next morning we woke up super early and were the first people in line to the Uffizi gallery. We spent over 4 hours in the gallery and even saw works by Leonardo! A few of the more popular works I have studied or seen in pictures before, caught me off guard due to their massive size. I mean, it seems like a miracle, one person could produce such enormous paintings!

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The building next door was the Museo Galileo. With my engineering background, I completely nerded out in this museum. It was so neat to see prototypes of cranes, pulley systems and the tools needed for mathematics. It made me appreciate my calculator and how I can use my phone as a leveling device. However, I love learning about the history and Galileo’s contributions. When you think of technology, one does not link an hourglass to the word. This museum made me realize at one point an hourglass was revolutionary technology.

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After 6 hours of museums, we headed to Piazzale Michelangelo. The view of the city was incredible. Then, we walked to Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. Every church in Italy is decorated as if it is the last church on earth. They have paintings, gold, marble, etc I cannot see enough of them!
The famous bridge Ponte Vecchio, home to a dozen gold shops was interesting. At first, I did not even realize I was on a bridge! The shops line the street, so you cannot see the water until the middle of the bridge. It was so cool. I found out it was the only bridge left across the Arno river after World War two. We noticed the sun was setting so we grabbed a bottle of wine and watched the sun set at Piazza Pitti. The wine was a red sparkling wine. I have only had sparkling white wine or champagne in America but have to say the sparkling red wine was delicious.


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The next morning, we visited the Accademia Gallery. I have noticed it is better to get up early to be one of the first in line or else pay for a fast pass or wait forever. The museum itself was smaller than the Uffizi but the unfinished works of Michelangelo were in the collection! I was surprised how large the David statue is by Michelangelo! It truly looked as if the men Michelangelo was carving were really trapped in the marble. It was a bit expensive but worth it to see Michelangelo’s works.
Since it was Sunday we decided to go to Mass at the Duomo. The inside of the church was incredible, the dome is unquestionably an incredible engineering accomplishment. I believe the man that designed and built the dome was buried in the church. The Mass service was beautiful, it was interesting how the acoustics echoed throughout the entire building. Overall, it was an amazing trip. I highly recommend to others, just stay clear of the massive tour groups!!

Buonasera 😊

Volume 7. Gluten Free Girl in Italy

Ciao!!

As many of you know, I have food allergies including the protein gluten. Although, I have completely converted my kitchen at home, I stress about traveling. I find myself thinking to the extreme, when will I eat next? I have never had the issue of going hungry but, I have had the problem of getting sick. As expected, sick plus traveling does not equal a fun time. 

After I made the decision to study abroad in Italy, many other Americans were very confused. Why would a gluten free girl choose to travel to the land of pasta and bread??? Honestly, I was not sure of the gluten free accommodation. After doing a bit of research, I knew I would have an apartment with a kitchen and could survive. 

So, I jumped on the plane and arrived in Torino. The first night at a restaurant, I felt embarrassed trying to explain I was gluten free without knowing Italian. Expecting an eye roll, to my surprise, the waiter knew everything gluten free on the menu… without asking the cook. It was odd to me the waiter knew what he was talking about. I did not believe him at first but after a few minutes of reassurance, I ordered. The food was delicious! The waiter taught me that many of the traditional Piemontesse dishes and other options on the menu were naturally gluten free. For example: risotto, polenta, gnocchi, any of the grilled meat dishes, etc. 

I decided to search gluten free Torino, Italy on line and found a few ENTIRELY gluten free places!!  Completely excited, I hopped on bus to a gluten free cafe in hopes of having my first croissant!!!!! Better yet, I found out I can eat anything they serve in the café! I now get my bread from this bakery every week and could not be happier. 

Back home I am one of ‘those’ people who doesn’t eat gluten. But in Italy, I feel welcomed. I would never get an eye roll for ordering gluten free in this country. Contrary to the belief that the US is excelling and is the goal for the future, I’d say Italy is winning in the gluten free food category. I decided to look up why there is so much gluten free food in Italy and discovered something interesting….

Italians do not view gluten free as an inconvenience; it is a disability people take seriously. The government actually compensates gluten free people over 100€ a month to help balance out the food price difference. It is wonderful to go into any grocery store and walk out with all of the gnocchi, pasta, and fresh ingredients for dinner. 

In Italy, I am not embarrassed to ask for ‘senza glutine’ nor do I feel like I’m eating a lower grade meal. So next time you think of Italy as the land of pasta and bread, do a bit of research and come visit! Every region has their own specialty  (there are twenty regions!) and in every place you will find delicious food EVERYONE can enjoy.

Buenosera ☺️

Volume 6. To the Mountains!

A few weekends ago, I spent three days in Bardonecchia. This beautiful town which held the Winter Olympics in 2006, is located less than an hour and half west of Torino. I traveled by train for the first time out of Torino, the ride was so nice. The town is small but the mountains are huge. We passed many different mountains, some that had snow and others that did not. Starting at zero in Torino, after going through each tunnel, we noticed there was more and more snow on the ground. Once we arrived, we ran into the information center to get lift passes and continue to the hill using the conveniently free bus system. 

One of my goals for my study abroad is to try as many new things as possible. Usually, I go to a hill to snow board, because I already own all of the equipment and it is expensive to rent gear in the US. This particular weekend, I decided to try skiing for the first time. For a half day rentals were only 12€! Luckily, I was with someone that knew how to ski and instructed me how to stop and how to turn. From there I hopped on the lift. 

The lift kept going, and going… I am not even joking, it was at least a 20 minute ride. Once we got off, I realized there wasn’t a bunny hill and just had to ‘go for it’. Fortunately, I quickly caught on, making my s-curves down the very steep mountain. I fell a few times but nothing catosrophic occured, thank gosh. I took it slow and just relaxed and felt like I was on the hill for a year! The run took me an hour and half to complete. I couldn’t believe the height we started or how big the hill was. To make the entire experience more thrilling, the view was exceptional because it was a clear day.

After a few more runs, we took the lift up and stopped at the restraunt in the middle of the hill. You ski up to the building and take your skis off to go inside. We both had espresso and I had a lemon vodka. One thing I have noticed in Italy is that nothing is ever too sweet. The lemon vodka drink had the perfect ratio, only a few ice cubes and used freshly squeezed lemons (va  bene!). We sat outside relaxing, taking in the view. 

From the middle of the hill we took another lift that took us up even further, and then another one. At this point I realized how massive the mountain was and that I would probably only see 25℅ of it. We were exhausted after the last run so we dropped all of our equipment off at the Airbnb and headed to dinner. Dinner was cooked perfectly. The restraunt even had gluten free bread! We got a half liter of house wine for 4€. I had a traditional Piemontesse dish of polenta and a stew with veal and sausage.  Of course dinner would not be complete without dessert so I had some very lemony sorbet. The next few days I spent exploring the town, skiing and relaxing in the mountains. 

I think it is so nice that taking a weekend trip skiing in the Italian alps was not expensive at all!. It probably cost as much as one day of skiing with rentals in the US. I know I hope to revisit every place that I have been so far, but I hope to get better at skiing so I can spend more time on the mountain in the future.

I hope you are enjoying my adventure stories as much as I am enjoying telling them! If you ever have any travel suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Volume 5. The ‘Italian’ Bidet

Ciao! As many of you know this is my first month living in Italy. I figured it was about time to address the additional fixture in my Italian bathroom. 

This particular fixture was the first thing I noticed walking into the hotel bathroom. Everything seemed normal… a shower, a sink, heated towel rack, a toilet… But then there was an additional bowl in the corner.

 The certain fixture I am referring to looks very simple: a mini sink with faucet at seat level. At first, I was not sure what an additional mini sink was doing in the bathroom. The bathroom was already very small. Why would they add another sink if space is limited?

The next day, a native Italian helped me move into my cozy apartment and yet again I discovered the additional mini sink in the bathroom. It seemed no matter the amount of space, the additional feature was present. Why??? So I asked the Italian (who laughed) shaking his head. He explained it’s use and that it was a bidet. Before this, I thought I knew what a bidet was, I was wrong. I now know there are different types… ones that are installed on the toilet and others, like the one in my appartment, that are separate fixtures. He also informed me that everyone in Italy has a bidet. No matter how tiny or cluttered the small bathroom, space is made. 

As an American, I did not grow up with a bidet. I cannot seem to wrap my head around using it ‘as needed’ (I’m not explaining that one). But, I have done some extensive research on why everyone has a bidet in Italy… especially because I knew the word bidet is French. I won’t bore you with those details, but if your interested, you should look it up! 

Personally, I have not been able to use the bidet for it’s traditional use, however it’s taking up space on my tiny bathroom so I thought I might as well find a use for it. 

Some of the practical uses I determined include:

#1. If I had a pet, it would be wonderful to use as a water fountain. It seems as if dogs like drinking toilet water, now they just have their own fountain. Better yet, if the dog is small enough, use the bidet as a tub to wash him! However, I don’t have a dog so, on to the next one…

#2. A place to keep my plants… super convenient actually. Instead of needing to fetch water to quench its thirst, all you do is turn the bidet on. With this method, there is no need to worry about over watering, water spilling out of the pot or accidentally knocking over the plant (I’m such a klutz). 

#3. It’s convenient height makes it perfect for washing your feet. I would always get yelled at home for walking outside barefoot as a kid. I would then have to turn the shower on to wash my feet before going anywhere else in my house. While I tried to only get water on my feet, it seemed impossible because I would many times just end up taking a shower.

#4. Ladies, tired of trying to stand in the shower while shaving your legs and when finished, you realized you missed an entire section? Then put a bidet in your bathroom! The close proxemity to the toilet allows one to sit on the closed toilet seat with their legs in the bowl of the bidet so one can easily shave. The faucet of the bidet allows the legs to be rinsed after shaving. There will be no more struggling to be flexible, trying putting your leg in the sink if you decided to shave your legs outside of the shower or take care of missed spots.

#5. This alternative use I believe to be the most useful. Use the bowl of the bidet as a bucket to hold soapy water to wash your floors. When finished, just release the stopper and all of the gross water disappears. Also, use this method to clean the head of your mop! 

If you have any other suggestions on alternative uses for the bidet, I’d love to hear them. 

Buonasera!