Caprese Risotto

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You know risotto, right? That creamy Italian rice dish, usually cooked with a splash of wine? And you also know Caprese salad, the traditional Italian salad consisting of just tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil? (I gave you a nice preface to today’s recipe by sharing the recipe for Insalata Caprese Tradizionale last month on the blog.) Do you know what happens when you combine these two ideas into one dish?

You get a delicious creamy, rice dish with flavors of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil! Risotto is usually a pretty hearty, comforting dish, better for cooler months, but this one has delicate summer flavors so you can have a risotto for every season. Because It’s mid September, my family back home in Michigan has been wearing jackets and pants for weeks, meanwhile it’s still in the mid 30’sC / 90’sF here in Florence. I’m dreaming of cooler weather, breaking out the sweaters and cozy socks, lighting candles, and making hearty chilis, soups, and everything pumpkin spice and nice. And risotto. So I compromise with a taste of summer, the remnants of summer Italian produce, and a comforting cooler month recipe.

This Caprese Risotto is a bit of a mix between Italian and American cuisines. It’s a risotto and involves all the ingredients from Caprese, but that doesn’t necessarily make it Italian. It’s one of those dishes stuck in the in between, and that’s ok. If it’s anything, it’s American. And I thought I should let you know that, so I don’t give you the false impression that I’m giving you some nonna’s recipe passed down for generations. Nope, this is me being American, taking one thing and combining it with another to create something that doesn’t fall into any category really. That’s one of my pet peeves actually, when I see recipes labeled Italian this or Tuscan that…just because something has oregano, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, or parmesan, does not make it Italian. Especially if it’s a meat, usually chicken is what I see, mixed with pasta. That’s a big no-no in Italy. Pasta is a primo piatto, or first course, and chicken and proteins are always a secondo piatto. You will also never find chicken on pizza. Or pineapple. This doesn’t mean to say you can’t do these things, of course you can, but just keep in mind that it is not Italian. After that, call it as you wish. Oh, and hand me a nice slice of pizza with pineapple, ya? Thanks.

Back to this summery risotto. When I first was making this I wanted to make sure the tomato flavor was closer to a fresh, sun-ripened tomato as it would be for Caprese, and not pungent and salty/sweet like we associate with a lot of canned tomato soups. I love tomato soup, just not the flavor that I was going for here. By using fresh tomatoes and getting saltiness from just the low-sodium broth, this turned out quite nicely. Add the creamy, pull-apart cheesiness from the mozzarella and the sweet, nutty basil, you’ve got a winner summer dinner! If you like, although not traditional to the Italian Caprese salad, add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar at the end. This dish isn’t traditional, so I feel ok about adding it. ;)

Bonus, this dish is also effortlessly gluten-free.

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Caprese Risotto

Serves 4-6

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Ingredients:

  • 6 cups / 1,422g low-sodium vegetable broth

  • 2 Tbsp / 28g olive oil

  • 1/2 onion, diced

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 1/2 cups / 278g arborio rice, uncooked

  • 1/2 cup / 119g white wine, optional

  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped

  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried

  • about 16 fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons

  • 1/2 cup / 50g grated parmigiano reggiano

  • 200g fresh mozzarella, sliced into chunks

  • extra virgin olive oil, more cherry tomatoes, basil leaves for garnishing, and balsamic vinegar if desired

Directions:

  1. Heat broth in a pan over low heat.

  2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and simmer for a few minutes, until starting to turn translucent.

  3. Add garlic and rice, stirring occasionally, until rice is toasted and just starting to turn translucent on the edges; about 3-4 minutes.

  4. Add the wine slowly, stirring all the while, until mostly absorbed by the rice.

  5. Add all of the tomatoes, stir until heated through.

  6. Begin adding heated broth to the rice mixture, 1/2 cup / 119g at a time, stirring and allowing broth to be mostly absorbed before adding the next bit. As you near the end of the broth, start checking the rice every minute or two. When it looks cooked and is al dente when tasted, remove from heat. You may not need all the broth, but make sure it’s not too dry or thick. You’ll want to pull it from the heat when it still looks a bit soupy, as it will continue to cook and absorb liquid. (Thick, moundable risotto is a technically overcooked risotto. It should lazily settle back into the plate if you try and mound it.)

  7. Add oregano, basil, parmigiano, and mozzarella. Stir until parmigiano is melted and mozzarella is stringy.

  8. Spoon risotto into plates, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. Drizzle with a bit of balsamic, if desired. Serve immediately.


Jenny’s Notes:

  • In a pinch you can use a 14.5oz / 411g can of diced tomatoes instead of the 3 medium tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes will always be better but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!

  • If using wine, try using a dry white wine, nothing too aged or overpowering, as this is a risotto with more delicate, summery flavors. Think Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, a young Riesling, etc. Whichever wine you use in your cooking should ideally be served with the meal. Because of this, it is mistaken to use the “cheap” wines in cooking and then bring out the nice stuff for the meal. Remember, you’re cooking out (most of) the alcohol, not the flavor.

    In fact, because of the delicate flavors of this risotto I don’t add wine, but it’s up to you if you do! Wine is traditional in risotto so you may think me odd that I don’t add it. :)

  • If you have only bouillon cubes or normal-sodium broth on hand, you can substitute part water for the broth to keep the sodium levels down. I recommend using 4 cups / 948g worth of broth/bouillon broth and 2 cups / 474g water.

  • Using heated broth speeds up the cooking time so you’re not waiting for the broth to simmer and be absorbed between each addition. I have, however, made risotto many a time before I learned this trick, and although it takes a bit longer to cook when adding cold or room temp broth, it won’t in any way ruin your risotto.

  • Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese) is another ingredient typically used in risotto. It’s not used in caprese but it lends a cheesy hand to the mozzarella which is quite mild.

  • Another idea I’m drooling over right now, would be to add a nice portion of burrata on top of the plated risotto right before serving. Burrata is very similar to mozzarella, except it’s softer. It usually comes in round form, and the moment you cut into it the super soft, creamy center oozes out. Oh yes. Oh yes please.

    If you don’t live in Italy chances are burrata and even fresh mozzarella will cost you, so you may opt for one or the other in this recipe. If your budget allows, go for both!! Here in Italy fresh mozzarella can be found easily for 2-3euro a pound.

gluten-free caprese, risotto, rice, tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, parmesan cheese, parmigiano reggiano, burrata, Italian recipe, oregano, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine, which wine to use in risotto
dinner, vegetarian
Italian, American
Yield: 4-6 servings
Author:

Caprese Risotto

Creamy risotto playing off the classic Italian summer dish of caprese; tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, parmesan cheese and a hint of oregano.
prep time: 45 Mcook time: total time: 45 M

ingredients:

  • 6 cups / 1,422g low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp / 28g olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups / 278g arborio rice, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup / 119g white wine, optional
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh oregano, or 1/2 tsp dried
  • about 16 fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
  • 1/2 cup / 50g grated parmigiano reggiano
  • 200g fresh mozzarella, sliced into chunks
  • extra virgin olive oil, more cherry tomatoes, basil leaves for garnishing, and balsamic vinegar if desired

instructions:

How to cook Caprese Risotto

  1. Heat broth in a pan over low heat.
  2. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and simmer for a few minutes, until starting to turn translucent.
  3. Add garlic and rice, stirring occasionally, until rice is toasted and just starting to turn translucent on the edges; about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add the wine slowly, stirring all the while, until mostly absorbed by the rice.
  5. Add all of the tomatoes, stir until heated through.
  6. Begin adding heated broth to the rice mixture, 1/2 cup / 119g at a time, stirring and allowing the broth to be mostly absorbed before adding the next bit. Keep an eye on the rice; when it starts to look cooked and is al dente when tasted, remove from the heat. You may or may not need all the broth, but make sure it’s not too dry or thick. You’ll want to pull it from the heat when it still looks a bit soupy, as it will continue to cook and absorb liquid. (A thick, moundable risotto is a technically overcooked risotto. A correctly cooked risotto should lazily settle back into the plate if you try and mound it.)
  7. Add oregano, basil, parmigiano, and mozzarella. Stir until parmigiano is melted and mozzarella is stringy.
  8. Spoon risotto into plates, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. Drizzle with a bit of balsamic, if desired. Serve immediately.

NOTES:

In a pinch you can use a 14.5oz / 411g can of diced tomatoes instead of the 3 medium tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes will always be better but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do! If using wine, try using a light white wine, nothing too aged or overpowering, as this is a risotto with more delicate, summery flavors. Think Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, a young Riesling, etc. Whichever wine you use in your cooking should ideally be served with the meal. Because of this, it is mistaken to use the “cheap” wines in cooking and then bring out the nice stuff for the meal. Remember, you’re cooking out (most of) the alcohol, not the flavor. In fact, because of the delicate flavors of this risotto I don’t add wine, but it’s up to you if you do! Wine is traditional in risotto so you may think me odd that I don’t add it. :) If you have only bouillon cubes or normal-sodium broth on hand, you can substitute part water for the broth to keep the sodium levels down. I recommend using 4 cups / 948g worth of broth/bouillon broth and 2 cups / 474g water. Using heated broth speeds up the cooking time so you’re not waiting for the broth to simmer and be absorbed between each addition. I have, however, made risotto many a time before I learned this trick, and although it takes a bit longer to cook when adding cold or room temp broth, it won’t in any way ruin your risotto. Another idea would be to add a nice portion of burrata on top of the plated risotto right before serving. Burrata is very similar to mozzarella, except it’s softer. It usually comes in round form, and the moment you cut into it the super soft, creamy center oozes out.

Calories

423.93

Fat (grams)

21.69

Sat. Fat (grams)

8.54

Carbs (grams)

36.34

Fiber (grams)

2.31

Net carbs

34.03

Sugar (grams)

7.25

Protein (grams)

16.20

Sodium (milligrams)

714.71

Cholesterol (grams)

42.80
Nutritional information is approximate and based on 4 servings.
Created using The Recipes Generator
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Food in Florence: Great Aperitivo

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Aperitivo. You either love it or…don’t know what it is?

Aperitivo in Italy refers to a period in the evening, usually between 6pm - 8pm where people gather to drink cocktails, wine, or non-alcoholic drinks and eat some light snacks and food. You usually pay between 7-10euro for a drink and includes all the food they have set out in a buffet-like style. It’s a bit like happy hour, except the point isn’t to take advantage of the cheap drinks, but to stimulate your digestion before dinner. Ya know, science, heheh.

Plate of random food from buffet at O Bar

Plate of random food from buffet at O Bar

In my personal experience, if I actually want to be able to eat dinner afterwards, I just get a drink without going for the actual “aperitivo” price which includes the snackies. But. Also in my experience, if you plan on going out for aperitivo, especially with a group of students, people on a budget, or people with light appetites, that actually means you’ll linger so long you basically eat a meal of the hors d’oeuvres, or end up ordering a couple plates to share because everyone is too full to eat their own but felt bad that their party wiped clean the buffet bar. The larger your group I think the more likely the latter is to happen, but it’s not uncommon, and either way is highly enjoyable. Either way you look at it you’re with good food, drinks, and company.

A Quick History of the Aperitivo

The Italian word “Aperitivo” comes from the Latin “Aperitivus” which means “che apre” or “which tends to open the bowels.” (Do I sound like the dad on My Big Fat Greek Wedding?) Namely, a drink that is able to stimulate or “open” your digestion from the forthcoming onslaught of food. That thing we normally call dinner.

Apparently, in the 5th century the Greek physician Hippocrates discovered that a drink based on white wine, flowers of dittany, absinthe, and rue could help his patients who complained of loss of appetite. This concoction was then passed down through time until it reached the medicinal doctors of Medieval times. These doctors found that it wasn’t so much these particular ingredients that had this effect, but rather the bitterness of them. For this reason, the principal drinks served during aperitivo hour are based on bitter components.

The actual aperitivo as it is known in Italy today was born in Torino in the late 1700’s by one Antonio Benedetto Carpano, who invented vermouth. It was tasted by the then King of Italy, Vittorio Emanule II, who enjoyed this bitter drink so much he made it an official drink of court. It became a must drink for many famous people to come, such as Cavour and Garibaldi. Entering the 1800’s others eventually invented their own bitter drinks for the aperitivo to be drunk before a meal, with amaro, Campani, and Martini becoming particularly popular and are still the main stays of aperitivo today.

Which brings us to the question, what are the cocktails you can expect to find in Florence and around Italy?

Typical Cocktails in Italy

  • Spritz - prosecco, club soda, and either Aperol or Campari. Born in Italy, this is probably the most famous aperitivo here. There are two main versions, the Aperol Spritz, with Aperol, and the Campari Spritz, with Campari.

  • Negroni - gin, vermouth rosso, Campari. Invented in Florence in the 1920’s.

  • Negroni Sbagliato - vermouth rosso, Campari, prosecco. Created by accident in the 1960’s when a barman went to make a Negroni and instead of gin found in his hand prosecco…the rest is history.

  • Americano - Campari, sweet vermouth, club soda. Created in the latter half of the 19th century in either Torino or Milan.

  • Martini Dry - gin, dry vermouth. Another Italian cocktail born in the 19th century.

These are the typical Italian aperitivi, although be sure to check out the menus or ask wherever you go to see the creations and offerings of that particular place, including all the classics such as mojito, Moscow mule, gin and tonic, etc.

If for whatever reason you don’t want to partake in an alcoholic beverage, you can usually get a tonic with lemon or various other flavors of Schweppes they might have on hand, fruit juice, Crudino (a sweet and bitter non-alcoholic drink similar in taste to the alcoholic ones, I love it), soft drinks, or ask if the barman can make you a special non-alcoholic drink of his or your choice!


Great Aperitivo

In no particular order

Non-alcoholic cocktail invented by the barman.

Non-alcoholic cocktail invented by the barman.

  1. ARTS INN

    Via del Porcellana, 63r, close to the church of Santa Maria Novella.

    A very cool little place specializing in cocktails, two floors and various nooks and crannies where you’re bound to find a cozy little corner to chat with friends.

  2. La Cité

    Borgo S. Frediano, 20, south of the river not far from the church of Santo Spirito.

    This place is also featured on my list for the best coffee in Florence (as is Caffetteria delle Oblate below), because it is such a great and versatile place. Great for meeting friends, studying, going for cocktails or coffee. Like ARTS INN, it has an up and downstairs and much more exciting seating options than your typical place.

  3. La Pescatoria

    Via Palazzuolo 80r, not far from the train station SMN.

    This is the aperitivo for fish lovers. Most of their buffet has something to do with some kind of fish, dips, crostini, salads etc. I think my favorite part was the fried fish, so good! Nice atmosphere as well.

  4. Caffetteria delle Oblate

    Via dell’Oriuolo, 26, in the center not far from the Duomo.

    An aperitivo on the third floor of an old convent. It has views of the Duomo without paying the higher prices of aperitivos usually on hotel rooftops. This place is very popular with students and at times it can be hard to find seating, but sitting on the steps or floor around the terrace is always an option if your bones can take it.

  5. Quelo Bar

    Borgo Santa Croce, 15r, two steps from the church of Santa Croce.

    Very chic place with nice offerings in a relatively quiet street leading straight to Santa Croce. Limited outdoor seating, nice seating inside.

  6. O Bar

    Via de’ bardi, 54, just a few steps from Ponte Vecchio.

    Nice wines and buffet with a great view of Ponte Vecchio and the river! Prices aren’t bad either considering, I believe it’s 10euro for drink and buffet, which is pretty standard.

  7. Gallery

    Via dei Benci, 30, close to the church of Santa Croce.

    This for me is the quintessential aperitivo in Italy. Something about the type of place and their offerings make them appealing to many and accessible, but not super special. This was one of the more frequented places for meeting with friends when I first came to Florence. There are quite a few aperitivo places on the street, and it has quite the night life.

  8. Kitsch

    Two locations: Viale Antonio Gramsci 1/5r on the east edge of the city center, and Via San Gallo, 22r, close to San Marco.

    An eclectic place with a decent offering of drinks and buffet food. Usually one of the first places suggested when trying to meet for aperitivo, as it’s known to most and has two convenient locations.

Seasonal summer pop-ups:

Because these are seasonal places they don’t usually have an actual address, but you can find it on Googlemaps by typing in the name. These places don’t include the buffet but you can choose to order some small plates or meals along with your drinks.

  1. Utopiko

    Lots of unique and hand crafted seating in a park along the river, outside the city center. They have some delicious cocktails, but their non-alcoholic options are limited.

  2. Lungarno del Tempio

    Food truck style food kiosks and bars appear for the summer in this park along the river just outside the crazy city center. Great to finally catch the breeze off the river while sipping on a cold drink after a hot day walking around the city. Note: Typing in Lungarno del Tempio will get you a pin on the map actually across the street, for more accuracy type in La Toraia Lungarno del Tempio which is one of the food kiosks.

  3. Molo Firenze

    Outdoor and great summery aperitivo on the river, just past Lungarno del Tempio. They can get the music going so best if you want more of club vibe than a quiet, chat with my friends type feel.

For a classy aperitivo experience try:

  1. The Fusion Bar & Restaurant

    Vicolo dell’Oro, 3, a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio.

    A part of a hotel, this place is a local institution with competent barmen and original cocktails. The food is Asian fusion cuisine, so don’t forget the sushi! Higher end prices.

  2. Harry’s Bar Firenze

    Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci, 22r, just a 6 minute walk from the American Consulate.

    Elegant ambience in a historic Florentine locale with nice views and elevated prices.

  3. Locale Firenze

    Via delle Seggiole, 12r, between the Duomo and Santa Croce.

    A historic restaurant with a notable bar and aperitivo smack dab in the center of the center. If you decide to stay and dine you’ll find well-thought out Italian dishes. You’ll want to dress up a bit for this place for sure.


If you have any questions or have suggestions to add to the list, leave a comment below! I always love hearing from you guys!

Food in Florence: A Complete Guide to the Best Gelato

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March is coming to a close, the weather has taken a turn for the warmer, the sun is making a regular appearance and so are the tourists, and most importantly, the gelato shops have reawakened from their winter slumber. I ate my first gelato of the season/2019 a couple weeks ago, and it was…good. I mean, it was amazing to eat gelato again, but it only ranked “good” because the actual gelato was a bit on the icy side. I’ve had gelato from that shop before and it was really good, we’ll just say they were having an off day. It’s possible my tongue is out of practice of eating gelato, I mean, you don’t become a sommelier by drinking wine “occasionally.” In the few weeks that have passed since that first gelato, I think it’s safe to say my tongue is back in practice.

In celebration of gelato and sunshine, I have compiled a list of some of the best gelaterie (gelato shops) in and around the Florence city center. The list is quite extensive but includes all of the gelato shops worth eating at. I’ll name some of my favorites, as well as favorites from various expat friends and locals, which will be noted with an asterisk (*). As you will see, taste in gelato can vary and very few people will nominate the same gelato shop as “Best in Florence,” hence the inclusive list with pointers to help you locate gelato that sounds interesting to you, whether it’s your first gelato ever or you are just looking to expand your gelato resumé! If you’ve had great gelato in Florence and think it should be on this list, let me know in the comments below!

Nota Bene: Anytime you see mountains of colorful gelato in the display case it is TO BE AVOIDED. At all costs. These places are meant to fool poor, unsuspecting tourists and line their owners’ pockets with money when they are essentially selling you sugary, artificially colored ice, lies, and sadness. You will find them grouped mainly around main attraction points; in Florence there are many near the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio and in between. This bears repeating because these shops are still open, which means people are buying their “gelato,” and this makes me very sad. Also to avoid is the overpriced gelato, again, usually found near tourist areas. Even if the gelato is decent, I wouldn’t pay more than 3ish euro for the smallest size, no matter the city. At that point they are just capitalizing on your naiveté. The only gelato above 3euro on this list is Venchi, starting at 3.20, but they are a well known chocolatier and can get away with it I guess. Good gelato is often, but not always, in metal tubs with lids so that you can’t see any of the flavors, just the little signs placed by each lid. I say not all because just less than half of the gelaterie listed below keep their gelato in these tubs.

First Things First

Cup or cone? Small or extra large? Milkshake? All good things to have decided before hand so you can walk in and focus on what flavors you would like. A standard small cup or cone will get you 2 flavors, and sometimes you can choose up to 5 for extra large sizes! You can ask to try the flavors, if you are feeling absolutely stumped. I almost always go for a cone, and I will tell you why, besides being delicious. There is nothing to throw away at the end except for a napkin, therefore being more economically-friendly. You save using a cup and the little plastic spoon, although some places will stick a spoon in your cone, too. You could always tell them a spoon isn’t necessary, if you catch them in time. Bonus: If you sample a flavor, keep your spoon to use with your cone or cup! Also, if you don’t eat gluten, ask about the cones as some places use gluten-free cones. At the bottom you can find a glossary for gelato shop lingo and common flavors.

The best gelato in Florence in no particular order:

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  1. Gelateria dei Neri*

    One of my all time favorites, if you’ve read about any gelato in any guidebooks or blogs, you’ve probably seen Gelateria dei Neri pop up. And for good reason, it’s one of the best! They have a wide variety of flavors and also granita. There can be a line out the door at busy times, but no worries, it moves fast.

    Price: Starting at 1.80 for cup or cone

    Location: Via dei Neri 9, - City center, very close to the Church of Santa Croce

    Flavor to Try: Cremino alla nocciola (Think vanilla gelato with copious amounts of Nutella swirled in, a very rich flavor), Cremino al Pistacchio (similar to the Cremino alla Nocciola, but with a pistachio cream), Limone (lemon), or Burro di Caramello Salato (salted caramel).

  2. MySugar*

    Winner of the Gelato Festival in Florence in 2016, this is the new kid on the block, only open since 2015 and quickly winning over hearts. This is also one of my favorites and the favorite of my friend Madeline. I would say that they have the absolute best consistency of all gelato I have tried in Florence. Their assortment of flavors is somewhat modest, but what they do, they do with excellence.

    Price: Starting at 2.00 for a cup, 2.50 for a cone

    Location: Via de’ Ginori 49r, - City center, around the corner from the Mercato Centrale

    Flavor to try: Arachidi (peanut) or Limone

  3. La Carraia*

    I was introduced to this gelateria by my language partner as one of her favorites, and it quickly became one of mine as well. They have a great assortment of flavors.

    Price: Starting at 1.00 for a “taste” cone, standard cup or cone from 1.80

    Locations: Piazza Nazario Sauro 25r, at the end of the Carraia bridge, and Via de’ Benci 24r, very close to the Church of Santa Croce.

  4. Sangelato*

    This is the gelateria I go to most because it’s in my neighborhood! Still a 30 minute walk there, but that way you earn it, right? They have a selection of vegan flavors. Also to try are the crepes or Sicilian brioche stuffed with gelato! They have a great stracciatella (chocolate chip) and pistacchio!!

    Price: Starting at 1.90 for cup or cone

    Location: Via Marco Minghetti 17r, a bit out of the way on the east side of the city center, about a 15 minute bus ride from the center. Take the number 14A or 14B bus. This is very convenient if you have an airbnb on this side of town or staying at the Firenze Camping in Town, it’s on the way!

  5. Perché No*

    All-natural gelato and to boot they have several mousse flavors. Need I say more? This was the gelato shop of choice for my friend Hannah and I during our 2015 trip.

    Price: Starting at 2.50 for cup or cone

    Location: Via dei Tavolini 19r, between Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo, right by the church of Orsanmichele.

  6. Grom

    By now Grom has become a recognizable international gelateria with locations well beyond its origin of Italy, including the USA, France, Japan, China, and more. I prefer to support small businesses when I can, not to mention the extra touch of love and care when the founder of a small business is present, but hey, Grom is delicious!

    Price: Starting at 2.60 for cup or cone

    Location: Via del Campanile 2, two steps away from the Duomo

  7. Cantina del Gelato

    This is the only gelateria where I have found a successful pumpkin flavor. A seasonal flavor to be sure, but their other flavors are often creative and delicious as well!

    Price: Starting at 1.00 for a one-flavor kiddy cone, 2.00 for standard cup or cone

    Location: There are two locations, one in Via de’ Bardi 31 on the south side of the Arno river very close to Ponte Vecchio, and the other near Piazza Beccaria in Borgo La Croce 30r on the east side of the city center.

  8. La Strega Nocciola

    I wasn’t originally a fan of this gelateria because their name means the hazelnut witch and their prices are on the more expensive end of gelato, 2.80 for a small. But good gelato is good gelato, and La Strega Nocciola has very good gelato, not to mention some unusual flavors: lavendar, white chocolate and cinnamon, etc.

    Price: Starting at 2.80 for cup or cone

    Location: There are 4 locations, the first in Via Ricasoli 16r, near the Duomo, the second in Via de’ Bardi 51r, on the south side of the Arno river very near to Ponte Vecchio, the third in Via dell’Olivuzzo 118, southwest of the city center near the Isolotto neighborhood, and the fourth in Piazza Giuseppe di Vittorio 3, even further southwest in Scandicci.

  9. Il Gelato di Filo*

    This gelateria will always hold a dear spot in my memory. It is conveniently located at the bottom of Piazzale Michelangelo, ya know, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Florence with its stunning vista of the city and also a sweat-inducing hike up to it? Yes. That one. This became the favorite gelato of my family and I when we visited in 2014, frequenting the shop multiple times in our 6 day tenure in Florence. We even had nicknames for the brother and sister who worked there. (We don’t actually know if they were related, but hey, it is part of our working theory.) We recommend either getting a gelato as an energy boost before you go up, or as a reward when you make it back down. Or, both before and after, because even that view will take it out of you. They also have some of the cheapest cones in Florence!

    Price: Starting at 1.50 for a cone, 2.00 for a cup.

    Location: Via San Miniato 5r, at the bottom of the side stairs (not the zig zag way up the front) up to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato.

  10. Badiani*

    Badiani won the title in 2015 for the best gelato in Europe, and a year after opened a shop in London. Favorite shop of my friends the Pethtels, and lucky them, they live nearby! For the location being outside the city center I’d say they are a bit expensive, but they have a larger shop and indoor/outdoor seating, which is always a bonus.

    Price: Starting at 2.00 for a cup, 3.00 for a cone

    Location: Viale dei Mille 20r, outside the city center in the Campo di Marte neighborhood; about a 5 minute walk from the stadium or 10 minutes from the Campo di Marte train station.

  11. Venchi

    One of the best known Italian chocolate stores in Florence also has really yummy gelato! Their stores are generally a bit hectic, but busy because they are known and conveniently located. Their gelato is expensive, but worth the splurge for special occasions.

    Price: Starting at 3.20 for cup or cone. Prices may vary by location.

    Location: There are three locations, one at Piazza della Stazione 1 in the Santa Maria Novella train station, the second in Via Calzaiuoli 65r near the Duomo, and the third in Via Calimaruzza 18 near to Piazza della Signoria.

  12. Gelateria de’ Medici

    This gelateria has a wide selection of flavors and is open late, until midnight or 12:30am on Friday and Saturday.

    Price: Starting at 2.00 for a cone, 3.00 for a cup

    Location: There are two locations, one in Piazza Cesare Beccaria 7r on the eastern outskirts of the city center, and the second in Via dello Statuto 3/5r northwest of the city center.

  13. Il Procopio*

    This place is best suited to those who like “fantastic” flavors; those with lots of condiments such as chocolate and sauces and chunks of cake/cookies, etc. They have very few “pure” flavors, but I always see people walking around with the mango flavor, so it must be good! One of the favorites of the American blogger GirlinFlorence.

    Price: Starting from 2.20 for cup or cone

    Location: Via Pietrapiana 60/62r, not too far from the Church of Santa Croce; across from the Loggia del Pesce.

  14. Il Gelato di Cristian Beduschi

    On the first floor of the Mercato Centrale there is a wonderful gelato. They don’t have the widest selection of flavors, but you can also get chocolates, other desserts like tiramisù, and hot chocolate.

    Price: Starting at 2.80 for cup or cone

    Location: First floor ( aka second floor for Americans) of the Mercato Centrale on the same side as the pizza and pasta booths.

  15. Edoardo*

    Famous for their homemade cones and the scent that drifts well beyond their doors, Edoardo is the favorite gelateria of my friend Rachel. They are on the expensive side, but their gelato is organic and they have a good selection of vegan gelato and sorbet. Most of their flavors are beyond delicious, even if sometimes their menu can seem simple, but they have on occasion missed the mark with flavors and iciness. Beware, they often have a line, and in recent days they have implemented a number system. If you forget or don’t know to take a number, as was my experience, they may refuse to serve you. I waited 10 minutes in line and then they told me they can’t serve me unless I have a number, I wanted to make a humiliated beeline to the exit but my husband stood up for me and the customer whose turn it was graciously let me order anyway. I heard from other people after this incident that they still didn’t know about taking a number, so it very well may depend on if there’s a line and who’s working that day if they decide to implement the number system. Which is very…Italian. Anyway, you can find the numbers outside the door.

    Price: Starting from 2.80 for a cup, 3.50 for a cone, cash only

    Location: Piazza del Duomo 45r, two steps from the Duomo

    Flavor to try: Zabaione

  16. Vivoli

    Heralded as a historic gelateria and one of the most famous in Florence, Vivoli delivers delicious gelato and a cute locale. However, because of their fame they tend to have lines and are on the expensive side, not to mention no cones.

    Price: Starting at 2.00 for cup

    Location: Via Isole delle Stinche 7r, near to the Church of Santa Croce

  17. Sottozero

    Gelato places like these won’t usually find themselves in guidebooks or on blog reviews because they are not in the city center and don’t get the foot traffic of tourists. This one is popular with students because it’s very near the university and dorm housing, and should be with you too if you have an airbnb nearby!

    Price: Starting from 1.80 for cup or cone

    Location: Via Anton Francesco Doni 47r, west of the city center in the neighborhood of Novoli

    Flavor to try: Yogurt (sweetened with stevia!)

  18. Rivareno

    Gelato sourced from all-natural ingredients with interesting flavor combos.

    Price: Starting at 2.30 for cup or cone

    Location: Via Borgo degli Albizi 46r, not to far from the Duomo.

  19. Carapina

    This used to be one of my regular locations when I lived nearby, alas, no more.

    Price: Starting at 2.00 for a cone with one flavor, 2.50 for cup or cone with two flavors

    Location: Piazza Oberdan 2r, just east of the city center, but in the summer they also have a food truck down by the Arno!

  20. La Gelateria Il Sorriso

    Generous portions and lots of flavors, I believe this is also one of the few places that lets you put 3 flavors even in the smallest size cone or cup! Win.

    Price: Starting at 2.20 for cup or cone

    Location: Via Erbosa 70, a bit out of the way in the neighborhood of Gavinana southeast of the city center, but if you are staying in the area or just want to experience an Italian neighborhood with zero tourists, head on down there. Take the bus numbers 8, 23, 31, or 32 to get there from Piazza San Marco, about 20 minutes.

  21. La Caminia

    This gelateria really surprised me with their gelato. I walk by every once in awhile but had never gone in due to the generally bright color themes that usually denote a tourist trap. Then they made a special flavor in honor of the 200th(?) anniversary of the US consulate mission to Florence and I had to go try it. In doing so I discovered a wonderful new gelato stop with many flavors to choose from with even the simplest bursting with creamy flavor.

    Price: Starting at around 2.00 for cup or cone (I need to double check this)

    Location: Like Gelateria Il Sorriso above, La Caminia is found in the Gavinana neighborhood not far from the large Coop supermarket.

  22. Gelateria Santa Trinita

    Due to its location and overall appearance this place can sometimes be mistaken for “tourist” gelato. Fret not, not only is it uber-creamy, but it is decently priced with generous portions!

    Price: Starting at 2.20 for cup or cone

    Location: Piazza dei Frescobaldi, 8r, at the end of the Ponte Santa Trinita; one bridge over from Ponte Vecchio.

    Flavor to Try: They are known for their Sesamo Nero (Black Sesame), it’s subtle and nutty and mysterious.

  23. Gelateria della Passera

    Recommended especially for those who love fruit flavors!

    Price: Starting at 2.00 for two-flavor cup or cone

    Location: Via Toscanella 15r, on the south side of the Arno in the Santo Spirito neighborhood; very close to the Palazzo Pitti.

  24. Donamalina Cure Cioccolateria - Gelateria

    Another place a bit outside of the city center, but we have to cover all bases, don’t we? They have chocolate and confections, too!

    Price: Starting at 2.00 for cup or cone

    Location: Via Antonio Pacinotti 30r, bit north of the city center in the neighborhood of Le Cure.

  25. Le Botteghe di Leonardo*

    Natural gelato with a good selection of dairy-free, but their milk-based flavors are pretty great! Some even use latte di bufala, that is, water buffalo milk, and it’s extra creamy. Favorite of my friend, Brianna!

    Price: Starting at 2.60 for cup or cone

    Location: Via de’ Ginori 21r, very close to the Mercato Centrale.

    Flavor to try: Kabana (kiwi and banana), stracciatella

Gelato Lingo

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Alright, here is a simple formula for you if you’re feeling adventerous. First, pick what you would like, the size, and then decide which flavors you want. Most people working in gelato shops speak English, so if you have further questions feel free to ask! In fact, you might order in Italian but they will often reply back in English.

“I would like a…” “vorrei un/a…”

Cono = cone Coppetta = cup Frappé = milkshake Granita = type of slushy

Piccolo/a = small Medio/a = medium Grande = large

“With…and…” “Con…e…”

Cioccolato = chocolate Fondente = dark chocolate Stracciatella = chocolate chip

Nocciola = hazelnut Pistacchio = pistachio Arachidi = peanut

Gianduja = chocolate/hazelnut Crema = cream with eggs, similar to a custard

Fior di Latte = A creamy gelato base, the equivalent of vanilla in America, except it’s no vanilla

Zabaione = custard with wine, usually sweet marsala

Caffé = coffee Cocco = coconut Cocomero = watermelon Fragola = strawberry Limone = lemon

Arancia = orange Lampone = raspberry Melone = melon Mora = blackberry Pesca = peach

Pera = pear Pompelmo = grapefruit Amarena = sour cherry Frutti di Bosco = mixed berry

Example: “Buongiorno! Vorrei un cono piccolo con nocciola e pistacchio, grazie.” (Good morning/afternoon! I would like a small cone with hazelnut and pistachio, thank you.)

Or, “Buonasera, vorrei una coppetta media con limone e fragola.” (Good evening, I would like a medium cup with lemon and strawberry.)

Happy Gelato-ing!!!

A Beginner's Guide to Italy: 20 1/2 Things the Guide Books Might Not Tell You

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Welcome to my first "All Things Italy" post!  I'm glad you're here.  I'm glad to be here, too.  In fact, let's take a moment and be thankful to be on this earth.  Great.  It's good for the soul to be able to talk or write about things, and in this instance, hopefully helpful to whomever may come across this blog!  Whether you have been, are planning to, or are still dreaming of traveling to Italy, I hope my trial/error, observances, and gleanings from friends both national and international will be of use to you; or if nothing else, an insight into what the folks on the other side of the globe are up to, more than just the politics on the news.  

If you're anything like my mom and I while planning trips, you've probably read every edition from the last decade of The Backpacker's Guide, Rick Steves, Planet Earth, and Forbes, exhausted every airline website for cheap tickets, booked all your airbnb's, and compiled endless lists of what and how to pack, language cheat sheets, top sights to see in each city, foods not to miss, directions for the subway/train/bus to get from A to B, what NOT to wear, what souvenirs to buy, and a list of the local emergency phone numbers and services.  And if this not how you plan your travel experiences, well, let's just say you probably save a lot of time, spend more money, are less stressed, and might miss out on some of the little experiences.  But that's why I'm writing this, to share some of the things learned with endless hours of research, reading, traveling, and now living in Italy.  So if your brain is spinning with information and Rick Steves left you with more questions than he answered, hopefully this list will help you navigate smoothly in Italia by pointing out some of the little, albeit important things. 


1. First things first: 911 won't work in an emergency

You're in a foreign country and someone just stole your purse or you tripped down some stairs while staring at some ancient building.  What do you do?  

Call 112.  The European Union has a universal number of emergency (this is a great idea) however, it's taken some countries longer to adopt it than others, and in some provinces in Italy it still isn't completely integrated.  In these instances, it will connect you to the police emergency line, which in theory should be just as effective.  Thankfully I've never needed to call.  Listed below are all the emergency numbers in Italy that will connect you to specific departments:

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  • 112 for the general number of emergency or carabinieri (para-military) - for all emergencies or cases of danger, criminal activity, etc.

  • 113 for polizia di stato (state police) - crime, neighbors are making too much noise, the stoplight is broken, etc. (I know everyone keeps their eyes peeled for malfunctioning stoplights while on vacation.)

  • 114 emergenza infanzia (child emergency) - for young people until the age of 29 in peril, bullying, kidnap, etc. (I know, you had pictured a 2 year-old who accidentally drank some bleach, but instead it's a 29 year-old who says somebody's picking on him at the bar.)

  • 115 vigili del fuoco (Firefighters) - for FIRE!

  • 116 soccorso stradale/carro attrezzi (road rescue/tow truck) - for car troubles

  • 118 emergenza sanitaria/ambulanza (health emergency/ambulance) - for yes, any health emergency.

2. Theft is common

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You've read it once, you've read it a million times.  Because it's true, and it does not discriminate.  It's happened to friends while I was with them, famous celebrities, and people I know have prevented it from happening.  Stay vigilant and smart about your belongings at all times and you should be fine.   

Women, across the body purses are wonderful, although be thoughtful of your strap.  If someone could tug your purse hard and break the strap, consider wearing something different.  The backpack purses are nice, too.  Men, wherever it is that you keep your wallet that's hard to get.  

And those flesh colored under-the-clothes purses for your most preciouses and extra cash?  Don't bother.  Uncomfortable, lumpy, hot.  What if you don't want to leave valuables or cash in your hotel or apartment?  Let's put it this way:  You should really only have as much cash on you as you're going to use in a day or two, a credit card, and your passport, and all those things should stay on you.  Everything else probably shouldn't be with you on vacation, anyway.  

Be extra vigilant on buses, while dining (no purses on chairs), busy areas, and wherever there are begging gypsies, the more correct term being the Roma people.  They are easy to spot, dark skin and hair, usually have bright colors on, the women with long skirts and often heels, and layered shirts.  They have various tactics for getting money, shaking cups at you, laying on the street or feigning handicaps to evoke sympathy, or sometimes, downright stealing.  The Italians in general (around 80%) are unfavorable towards them, but they are humans and should be treated as such, even if they have lamentable habits.  But don't we all?

Keep these tips in mind and again, you should be fine! 

3. Those bracelets and trinkets offered to you for free are never free

Speaking of theft, the cons are not alway so obvious as purse snatching.  The tactics or objects vary by city, but a common one has to do with a bracelet. 

My first experience was in Rome, in Piazza del Popolo, where a seemingly friendly man approached me and insisted on tying a thread bracelet around my wrist.  I said no, thinking I would have to pay, but after he repeatedly insisted and wouldn't leave me alone, smiling all the while, I finally allowed him, partly so he would go away.  I told him numerous times I didn't want to pay for it, I didn't have coins to pay him, etc., but he continued to tie the bracelet, taking his sweet ol' time and complimenting me and my mom the whole time.  As soon as he finished I thanked him sincerely but he wasn't about to let us go.  He started out quietly, asking for anything, just a coin, 50 cents, 1 euro, but we repeatedly told him no, he had told us it was free.  Then he got angry and insisted I give the bracelet back, cursing and insulting us all the time it took me to unknot it. (Why did it have to be a TIE bracelet?!?) Then he sulked away.  

Similar things happen in Florence, but usually the bracelets are beads, and the person will be very cordial, shake your hand (in fact, they often grab your hand and won't let go) and ask you all kinds of information making small talk, but ending in asking for money: they need to eat, have to feed their babies, etc.  Of course, you feel bad taking the bracelet off and it makes it harder when they don't want to accept it back while pleading with you, so then you feel pressured to give them a euro or two.  All part of a tactic, and I'll tell you this from experience, it's usually best to avoid them if you don't want to give money and don't like saying no a million times.  

It's not fun to refuse, I feel bad for the situation so many of the immigrants are in, but I also don't like some of the tactics they use.  I know several people who have tried to help, stopped and talked long whiles with some of the people begging on the streets.  Then, the next day, they see them again, shaking their cup or sitting on the street, but they act like they don't know them.  Or, sitting by signs that say "Help, I'm hungry" and they refuse perfectly delicious food.  Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol play a big part and a few will even be up front about it if you ask them.  

4. Don't trust a restaurant that has "greeters" standing outside 

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You're tired, feet hurt, sunburned, and starving after spending the day sightseeing.  All you want is a nice sit down restaurant with a giant bowl of pasta and a glass of wine.  A smiling man in black with a red bow tie and apron smiles and greets you with a "Buonasera!" as you pass, then continues to offer you something to drink, pizza, pasta, or anything else you might like in fluent English, gesturing to the menu written neatly on a blackboard next to him, also in English with choice Italian words anyone would understand.  If anything like this happens to you, simply reply with "no grazie" or "no thank you" and walk away.  This is not a place that will give you authentic or even good Italian food.  If the greeter proceeds to advertise that none of their food is frozen or microwaved, please turn your walk into a sprint.  If the restaurant is in full view of a major landmark of that city, there's a good chance it's tourist food and the high prices reflect that.  You want to take your time strolling in some smaller streets, often away from the historic city centers and crowds, and find the places that have mostly Italians at them and might not seat a lot of people.  Stay away from catch phrases such as "authentic," "cucina Italiana," or anything that tries to indicate its Italian-ness; Authenticity doesn't need advertising.  

5. Water is not free

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I'm not just talking about that bottle of water to carry around with you, any restaurant you go to you're going to have to pay for water.  Italians don't drink tap water or serve it in restaurants, and with good reason.  The water here is hard, very much so in Tuscany; I've seen the pebbles of calcium and who knows what else stuck in a friend's kitchen sink water filter after just a few hours and heard how the water will run gunky and brown at times.  Then think how old some of the pipes are under these ancient cities, and you can understand why the Italians consume so much bottled water.  If the idea of paying for water in restaurants seems ridiculous, as it did to me for so long, just make sure to drink plenty of (cheaper) water before and after the restaurant, and order a bottle of wine with your meal instead. :)

An exception to the rule would be the taps around the city, the water is usually pretty tasty from there and great to fill up water bottles.  Some are quite deluxe because they are connected to underground springs.  There's one in Piazza della Signoria where you can choose from natural or sparkling water.  ("Wis gas")

6. Expect a cover charge at most restaurants

Known as "Il coperto," this fee usually hovers between 1.50-2.50 euros per person, and covers that "free" bread they brought you at the beginning of the meal, napkins, silverware, and tablecloth.  If you notice on your bill that the "pane" or bread is listed separately from Il coperto, as I once noticed indignantly, that often happens when the bread is made in house, or "produzione propria."  Nothing is free in Italy, and if someone insists on giving you a gift, you should be highly suspicious.  (see #3 above) 

6 1/2. Really, it's not necessary to tip

I know, I know, if you're American, you're going to feel like a real jerk not leaving a tip.  Honestly, no one is going to think you are a tight wad.  There just isn't a tip culture here.  You can think of the money that went toward paying for the water and cover charge as your tip, if that makes you feel better.  If you really want to leave a tip because of exceptional service, leave a couple euros.  But don't feel guilty if you don't!

7. "To Go" and Doggy-bags aren't common  

Taking away and eating in are two very separate categories for the Italians.  Either you eat at a restaurant without taking home a doggy bag, or, for certain places, like bakeries and pizza places, you can get your food to go.  Even when the portions are large, like when one pizza is considered one serving, they don't ask for to-go boxes.  They eat the whole pizza.  Their dinners are usually long and sociable, with plenty of time for eating and digesting.  It always impresses me how even the kids and petite women can pack away a whole pizza.  Those who are watching their figure, however, usually leave the crust.  Of course, if you want a to-go box, go ahead and ask for it, just expect some weird looks and tinfoil instead of a box.  And coffee to go?  Better not, unless you're at Arnold's Coffee, the "American" coffee experience.   

8. Coffee = Espresso

Espresso, or as they more commonly call it, "caffé normale," is the most common coffee beverage here, usually drunk at the counter in a matter of minutes.  If you prefer a touch of steamed milk in your espresso, order a "caffé macchiato." Don't forget to try a cappuccino in the country where it was christened, or my favorite sweet coffee, caffé al ginseng.  Really, it's sweet and delicious and nutty and ginseng supposedly has some health benefits.  If you really miss American coffee, order the americano, which is just water added to an espresso.  Drip coffee is becoming more of a thing here, and a select few places do a pretty decent Chemex or V60.  

Most of the typical coffee choices come unsweetened (I'm a fan).  Oh, and remember if you order a latte, you're just going to get a glass of milk.  (Latte means milk.)

9.  Ice? What's that? 

Ice isn't a given here, so if you can't stand drinking a soda without ice, you might want to request it.  If you are in a place used to dealing with tourists, then they might ask.  Otherwise, your soda/drink will *probably* come cold, but no ice.  Or maybe just cool.  Italians think abrupt temperature changes are unhealthy, so an ice cold beverage on a hot day? That's a no-no.  You might come down with a cold.  

10. The bar is not just a place for alcohol and adults

The word "bar" in Italian means much more than a place to congregate later in the evening and throw back a few drinks.  My friends and family may think I've turned into a lush for as often as I talk about "going to the bar."  It's true they serve alcohol any time of day, no one ever has to say "It's 5 O'clock somewhere," but bars are so much more than beer and mixed drinks. 

The bar is an integral way of life here.  You can find one just about on every corner, open from 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning where the Italians linger a few minutes to throw back an espresso, eat breakfast and sometimes their lunch break, discuss the latest soccer (calcio) match, read the newspaper, talk about the weather, gossip about the neighbors, and people-watch.  They might return several times throughout the day to the bar nearest their home or workplace, or the elderly generation might just sit and watch passers-by for hours.  Then, somewhere around 6:00pm, the bars magically turn into what I grew up knowing as a bar and they no longer serve coffee.  All around, bars are quite magical.  

11. Sitting down at a bar or cafe may double the price of your hot chocolate

There are three types of caffès here: The type that charges more if you sit down to enjoy your beverage, the type that charges more only if you order sitting down instead of first ordering at the bar, and the type that charges the same no matter what you do.  

If you're not sure, order at the bar and then, ideally after you've paid, ask if you may sit down.  That way they won't surprise charge you 5 euro for the hot chocolate you thought was 2.5.  This usually happens in more upscale locales rather than your humble local bar, but nevertheless, it's always better to ask and be safe than sorry.   

Another thing to note is that some bars and caffès don't care whether you pay as you order or after you've enjoyed your treats, while others require you to pay first and then show your receipt to the barista.  If the latter is the case, there will probably be a sign, so keep your eyes open, or, just ask.  (I'm a big fan of drawing as little attention to myself as I can, and prefer to observe how the locals do it or read signs before proceeding.)  

12. Italians will faint if you drink cappuccino after 12:00pm. Or will they?

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After reading in just about every guide book and blog that Italians will all but have a heart attack if you drink a cappuccino after noon, you can imagine my shock when one time my Italian language partner ordered a big ol' cappuccino at 4:00pm.  After scraping my eyebrows off the ceiling I asked her how she could betray her country like that (I'm sure I didn't phrase it that way) and she kindly explained to me the logistics. 

You see, drinking coffee with milk in it together with food is wonderful for breakfast, but for lunch and dinner, espresso is what you drink after the meal to help aid digestion.  Milk would upset your digestion with any meal heavier than breakfast, so that's why you should stay clear "after 12:00pm," or the usual cutoff for breakfast hours.  But.  If you are drinking the cappuccino in the afternoon at say, 4:00pm, or any time you're not eating food, you're in the clear.  At that point there is no food digesting to be messed up.  You'll only see the Italians fainting and throwing evil glares if you order a cappuccino with that pasta and truffles.  Seriously, they don't go together.  

13. You can drink anytime, anywhere

If you exit early in the morning, the evidence of last night's partying might not be swept away yet. Boxed wine, how classy.

If you exit early in the morning, the evidence of last night's partying might not be swept away yet. Boxed wine, how classy.

Yes, I'm talking about alcohol.  Due to open-container laws in the States, you have to think twice about where to pop open that beer.  There is no such law here, and you can take along that bottle of wine and wine glasses to any piazza, park, or romantic spot you'd like.  As I mentioned above, there is no 5 O'clock social rule here, and have seen people drinking beers before 9:00am while I'm still finishing my cappuccino, or opening bottles of wine at 11:00am for a little pre-lunch.

Drunkenness is frowned upon here, and so even while the land may be flowing with Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, all but the younger generations know how to drink responsibly.  Drunkenness usually occurs on special occasions such as soccer matches and holidays.  If you stay out later at night, the sloshed you see are probably American students and the younger generation of Italians out partying and clubbing. 

14. Kids' menus aren't common

This one was brought to my attention by friends with kids.  After it was brought up, I realized how right they were.  It's rare that I've ever seen a kid's menu.  Children here usually eat whatever the parents eat, and once they are older, get their own plate.  Makes a lot of sense to me, rather than getting some completely non nutritious mac n' cheese or chicken tenders that they probably won't end up eating anyway.  

15. Don't touch the fruit!

Or a nonna might scold you.  My mom and I wouldn't know that by experience, nope.  Really, they're very touchy about their fruit.  Plastic gloves are provided in every grocery store and at markets, where the person at the stand might not let you touch the fruit at all but put the fruit and vegetables in bags himself as you point out what you want.  

One time while at the grocery store, I didn't want to waste a plastic glove to get just one apple, so I decided to sneak over and snatch an apple sans glove before a nonna saw me.  While I was standing there a woman came up next to me to get some peaches, and actually apologized to me that she wasn't using a glove.  She obviously hadn't noticed that I was in no place to judge, also without a glove.  Two rebels touching the fruit, lalala.   

16. Use free bathrooms when they are available to you

The free services of a restroom in your hotel, the bar where you just drank a cappuccino, or the restaurant you just ate in should all be utilized when possible.  The moment you step out the door of your hotel you will be at the mercy of the Italian city centers, where there are fewer public bathrooms than you'd like, hard to find when you need one, and consequently, if easily found or advertised, probably not free and more likely not sparkling clean.  Train stations and near popular tourist sites there are bound to be some but almost always at cost.  It will depend on which city you are in how much you might pay, I believe I've seen the bathrooms near the Florence train station cost 0.70-1.00 euro and smaller Tuscan cities such as Siena 0.50, whereas Rome will be 1.00 or 1.50, and Venice, the only place I was desperate enough to pay, and ended up paying 2. whole. euros.  I think it's low to make people pay for bathrooms, and as a rule, will suffer until seconds before wetting my pants until giving in to paying for a bathroom.  But Venice got the best of me.  Not to mention constantly looking at water.  Yikes.  

Refusing to pay for a toilet has led me to know where the nearest free bathrooms are around Florence.  As I mentioned above, you could just pop in the nearest bar or caffè, check to make sure they have a bathroom, and then order something so you can make use of their services.  However, if you weren't already planning on buying anything, well, it's basically the same thing as paying for the bathroom, now, isn't it?  So, for free bathrooms around Florence, go to

  1. Mercato Centrale, second floor (primo piano). Attention, the bathrooms on the ground floor are NOT free, but go up one flight and tada, free.

  2. Biblioteca Oblate in Via dell'Oriuolo (it's a bit of a maze in there, so after "browsing" for a few minutes, you might want to ask)

  3. Coin in Via dei Calzaiuoli, just south of the Duomo. I know for sure there are bathrooms on the top floor in the lingerie section, but I'm sure there are others if men don't want to pass through there.

  4. La Rinascente, off of Piazza della Reppublica. Again, I can vouch for the bathrooms on the top (home goods) floor, but not sure where the others in the building are located.

  5. Most of the larger grocery stores outside of the city center, such as Coop and Esselunga

Note: Because of the lack of free public restrooms many of the people who have lost some inhibition from alcohol after a certain time at night take to peeing on the streets.  If it hasn't rained recently, don't step in the puddles.  It's probably man or dog-made.  

Also note: European toilets frequently have two buttons, one big and one small.  If you're a man and only went #1, press the smaller.  It's a less potent flush, saving energy.  But if you went #2 or used toilet paper, please press the larger button.  Thank you and have a great day.

17. Public Transportation

I get conflicting feelings on this subject.  Speaking of Florence, the public transportation here is plentiful, but somewhat unreliable.  You can rent a car, take a bus, take a train, or rent a bike.  I mean, the buses are Mercedes Benz.  The only problem is they frequently don't come on time, at least judging by the paper schedules at each stop, and especially on Sunday or holidays.  Unless you're at a bus stop with an electronic screen, and then those are 85% of the time correct on predicting when the buses will show up.  But here's what you really need to know about buses and trains in Florence:

  • bus tickets as of July 1, 2018 cost 1.50 if bought ahead of time (available at any tabacchi, some pasticcerie, and train stations) and is valid 90 minutes. If you plan on traveling by bus frequently, you might consider getting a "carnet" of tickets for a slightly better deal. Check at the train station to see what your options are. There are usually machines and some teller windows dedicated to the bus line.

  • bus tickets can also be acquired by SMS for 1.80 if you have an Italian SIM card. Write "ataf" and send to 4880105.

  • as a last resort bus tickets can *usually* be bought aboard for 2.50. Sometimes the drivers run out.

  • once aboard any bus or before getting on your train, you must validate your ticket. There will be a yellow machine near the front of the bus to stamp it or the green machine near the front door if you have a bus pass to scan. For trains there are machines on the wall or posts, usually not on the platforms. This is important, because having an unvalidated ticket will result in a fine. It varies on the train, but the bus almost always results in a 50 euro fine.

18. Road rules are more like...guidelines

IMG_8535.jpg

This goes for driving, biking, or walking.  The lane lines are to be driven on, the blinker is all but nonexistent, and there are way too many one ways.  I have never driven here, only been passenger, and that's about the maximum of my ambitions.  Biking is also hazardous, because you can never predict what the cars will do, and even when the cars are stopped in traffic or at a light, the vespas are weaving in and out of the lanes to get to the front.  Compared to the US, driving in most other countries I've been to feels like Nascar.  

Thankfully I adore walking, but even as pedestrian your life is in peril wherever cars or bikes are present.  Just because it's a crosswalk doesn't mean the cars are going to stop and let you pass!  Just when you think you're safe on the sidewalk, there's a big van driving up onto the sidewalk to park.  Cars park on sidewalks, the sidewalks are full of tourists, and then you're forced to walk on the road.  Whatever it is you are doing, just be sure to have all senses on high alert! 

19. Either the weather or the weather app is very unreliable

This is mostly applicable to rain and bad weather.  All the days it says it's going to rain, sun.  And the days it's supposed to be sunny, random rainstorms.  You just can't win.  So, carry on with your vacation, learn to sing in the rain, and keep that umbrella nearby, just in case.  

20. Souvenirs

You probably don't need much help with this one, take one step into any city and you'll see a million things you want to take back with you.  (Will this city fit in my suitcase? How about this restaurant? No? I'll settle for the chef.)  But in case you're wondering, here are some things you shouldn't forget:

  • Wine - Chianti Classico, Super Chianti, Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Vin Santo, and so on and so forth)

  • Olive Oil - Tuscany is known for its oil with spicy notes. Honestly, the good stuff is like wine tasting, you can pull out all the different notes and flavor profile! If you come in October/November, lucky you! Be sure to grab a bottle of Nuovo Raccolto, the fresh harvest...sooooo goooood. If you want the king of Tuscan olive oils, grab a bottle of Laudemio.

  • Cheese - You want to get your hands on some Parmigiano Reggiano, aged anywhere between 8-120 months (the older it is the more crumbly and pronounced the taste will be, and also costly), Pecorino (sheep's milk cheese; there are many different varieties with various names but always starting with "pecorino", young, aged, aged in oak leaves, etc., but don't get too young or TSA won't let you bring it into the States), Caciocavallo young or aged, Gorgonzola for the blue cheese fans, Asiago young or aged, Provolone young or aged, or Taleggio. Indulge the younger varieties during your trip, take the aged back with you. Others to be enjoyed during your stay include fresh ricotta, mascarpone, mozzarella di bufala (on your pizza or just eat a big ball of it; yolo Italian edition!), and stracchino. There are many more, but those are some of the staples and favorites!

  • Truffles - Watch out for fake ones or oil that's just "essence." The real ones will be expensive, but if you don't want to spend 10-20 euros for a few tiny truffles try some truffle honey or the truffles in a jar that's mostly mushrooms, but still delicious.

  • Honey - There are many different varieties here, ranging from acacia to sunflower, chestnut to million flower. You can find smaller bottles at some markets, great for gifts! Just remember to pack in your checked bag.

  • Cookingware - For those who love to cook and bake, enter in any kitchen store and you'll be sure to find fun new gadgets to play with at home! Wander around some of the outdoor markets and you'll find fun things too, looong rolling pins for cheap, and beautiful artigianally crafted olive wood pieces.

  • Leather - So many leather stores around Florence! If you go around the San Lorenzo leather booths or near the bronze warthog, you can haggle the prices down. I recommend the purses, but you might want to splurge on that leather jacket you've been dreaming of for awhile, or maybe just a nice journal. Probably a more ethical option would be the leather school just behind the church of Santa Croce, "Scuola del cuoio", where you can not only buy leather goods but see the craft in process as the traditional methods are being handed down. Prices will be higher here, but so will the quality.

  • Scarves - Always a nice gift, and in Florence you can find copious quantities for good prices in the same area as all the leather booths. I love the wool ones for winter. You'll be great at haggling by the end of your trip!

  • Stationary - Florence has beautiful stationary if you or someone you know enjoys sending mail the good old fashioned way! Not to mention calendars, journals, booklets, bookmarks, etc. Pair it off with a feather quill and ink (can be found for 16 euro), and wax and stamps!


Whew, feel ready for Italy yet?  If you don't, that's ok.  Visiting any new country is always filled with adventure and mishap, but the more reading and researching you can do, the better.  You'll not only be prepared, but you'll probably save some money and enjoy things you otherwise might not have noticed!  

Until next time, fellow adventurers, I hope you found this article helpful!  And as always, if you have any questions, I would love to help!  You can find my contact by clicking on "contact" above.

Burgundy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

September 24 feels like a very significant day.  You know, one of those days where you feel like it's someone's birthday (well, that's always true, even if you don't know them), a holiday, or something significant happened for you on that day.  But, I have nothing.  Except, this day last year Hannah Kelsey and I got off our first and hopefully last overnight train in Europe...terror....nope, not that.  Oh, it's the third day of autumn.  OH YEAH.  That's significant, we'll roll with that.  If you still have a nagging feeling like you're forgetting something, best wish everyone you meet a happy birthday, just in case...

...and make these cookies so it really didn't look like you forgot....worst case scenario it's no one's birthday and you have to eat them yourself...

...actually, it's always a good idea to have cookies on hand, whatever the occasion, if even just to say "Happy September 24!" Especially these ones.  Let me list some reasons for you.  Wine, chocolate, very chocolate, cherries, super chocolatey, and very chocolatey.  In fact, the batter is so chocolatey it makes the semi-sweet chocolate chips look like light milk chocolate.  But they are not.  So chocolatey. 

Burgundy Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries

Directions:

Oven 375 Fahrenheit. 

In a medium bowl whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.

In another large bowl combine oil, sugar, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla.  Carefully stir in wine.  Stir in dry ingredients until fully incorporated, then add chocolate chips and cherries.  Batter will be soft, but shouldn't be too soupy.  If it is, just add a touch more flour.

Spoon little mounds onto a baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes, until edges look set but center still looks wet.  Allow to cool for several minutes on baking sheet before removing to cool completely.

Pairs wonderfully with...the remainder of the bottle of wine you used to make these...

Jenny's Notes:

Feel free to use any kind of red wine you like for these!  I have used the an Italian red, Savini Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva with great success, and the cookies in the photos I used a French red, Côtes du Rhône.  I chose to call these Burgundy because of the Burgundy wine region, which I think would be lovely in these, (the wine, not the region) and saying "Burgundy Cookies" is a whole lot easier than "Côtes du Rhône Cookies," no?  And, red (wine) plus brown (chocolate) makes burgundy.  Yes.  Maybe.   

July Newsletter

Buon Agosto/Happy August! 

July was a good month.  A hot month.  And so much has happened!  Here are some snippets:

Say hello to my little friend, Cornetto con Nutella. McKayla's calling it like it is.

Say hello to my little friend, Cornetto con Nutella. McKayla's calling it like it is.

June 27th Rachel moved back home.  At the end of June Rachel and her parents departed and moved all of her stuff back to the States.  Goodbyes are never fun.  But we made a fun night of her last night here, going out to a secret bakery at 3 am (bakeries that open only during the night and make the morning bake for some caffes, and if you know where to find them they will sell you piping hot cornetti, croissants, or sometimes donuts with your choice of jam, chocolate, creme, or Nutella filling, for only 1 euro each!), then stayed up until 5 am when they took a taxi to the airport. 

Then proceeded the long process of cleaning and organizing the apartment, and going through all of the items left by previous tenants.  I got to inherit some good household stuff, so that will help for when I move into my long-term apartment in October! (Dishes, silverware, and bedding? Yes please! 4 purses, numerous pillows, and a shelf of random medication? No thanks!)

Beth and Cyndie from Mississippi came for a week on July 14th.  They are friends of Paul and Melinda, and they were here here during the perfect time to help us prepare for the Gallery Opening!

July 20th I moved out of Iacopo Nardi and into the Hand's second apartment. Sniff sniff.  Paul and Melinda have 2 apartments right next door to each other, one for them and one for their 2 college-age daughters, Baleigh and McKayla, when they stay during the summers and holidays.  Paul and Melinda are kind enough to let me stay in their girls' apartment for the next two months until I go home for Jeffrey and Rachel's wedding in October.  Paul and I made numerous trips moving my stuff and all the Gallery 4 equipment that had been stored at Iacopo Nardi.  Said goodbye to the gorgeous views from Iacopo Nardi's terrace, see below.

Bailey Shoemaker arrived July 19th and is visiting Gallery 4.  Bailey is a graphic design artist, recent seminary graduate, and friend of Paul and Melinda who is staying in the girls' apartment also.  We had a very cozy week with 4 girls in a technically 1 bedroom apartment before Baleigh and McKayla left to head back to college.  Bailey and I got to share a trundle bed that first week, we got to be close friends fast. (Literally, hahaha) She's very cool.

See that knob on the left? Yes. I'll have to adjust my recipes to say, "turn your oven on to two bars..."

See that knob on the left? Yes. I'll have to adjust my recipes to say, "turn your oven on to two bars..."

July 22nd we had our first Gallery Opening!  Amongst all the packing up and moving, we were getting ready for our first gallery opening.  I volunteered to bake mini brownies, cookies, and mini cupcakes...that was a bit ambitious of me in the midst of moving apartments and having no idea what the oven or baking conditions would be in my new living space!  What was the first thing I unpacked? Not clothes, not a toothbrush, not my computer, but baking pans.  I managed to fit in some baking and prep while still in Iacopo Nardi, where although not an ideal baking space, still familiar and comfortable!  Ovens, baking ware, and kitchens are like people, you have to get to know them and their personalities.  Little did I know that the oven in my new apartment has no numerical temperature gauge.  Just a dial and your best guess.  Porca Miseria, if I didn't love you so much, Italia, I would be shaking my fists in the air.  So that was an entertaining ordeal trying to figure how far to turn the dial to get an approximate 350 Fahrenheit.  My poor cupcakes were not amused and they let me know.  The oven and I are getting on better terms, but let's just say we still give each other the wary eye.  Hahaha.

Artwork by Jerrod Partridge

Artwork by Jerrod Partridge

The Gallery opening went over very well!  The Russian Art Academy let us use their dance studio to exhibit the art.  We had a turnout of around 40 people, which we were pleasantly surprised and thankful for!  Being in the heat of the summer, July and August are prime times for everyone to leave and head on holidays and to the sea, so we really didn't know if we should even expect anybody to show up, but we went forward trusting the Lord would bring people, and He did!  We had refreshments and beverages and people got to mingle and talk with us and the artist, Jerrod Partridge.  At 8:00 Paul spoke with the help of our translator, Natalie, sharing what Gallery 4 is about, the vision, the Gospel, and introduced Jerrod, who also spoke.  I danced a short piece, and afterwards people got to mingle and eat some more, and ask questions!  It was a success.  The next two nights the Gallery was open for anyone who wanted to come and view the art or purchase it.  We had good feedback from people, and some who wanted to know more about the Gospel and ask questions!  For more pictures go to media

Baleigh (Hand), Melinda, Paul, and I in Montefioralle, Chianti, Italia

Baleigh (Hand), Melinda, Paul, and I in Montefioralle, Chianti, Italia

Baleigh and McKayla Hand left July 26th.  It was sad to see two friends leave, but nice to have more space in the apartment.  After the gallery opening things calmed back down and I could start re-settling in, unpack the necessities, and recoup after a crazy week.  

And all the other things:

Getting to meet new friends and catch up with old ones, and see my Mosaico church family!  I've started helping out in Sunday School, it's such a fascinatingly international church with people from the States, Italy, Australia, Canada, England, and all over. 

Language learning is still a part of the everyday routine.  Melinda, Bailey, and I have all started meeting with tandem language partners, where you meet with someone and "exchange" languages.  It's very helpful, forces me to speak and get over the embarrassment factor, and listen and comprehend, which is hardest for me.  We also use books for studying, I try and always think to myself in Italian, listen to and sing along with Italian music, and eavesdrop on any and all conversations I can get my ears on.  My brain is constantly fatigued, but it is so fun and I enjoy it so much...most days.  Some days I just want to curl into a ball and wish and pray myself into being fluent.  Or receive the gift of tongues.  Whichever. 

The battle of finding a gallery space of our very own is still being fought.  Paul is on the hunt and has looked at every space he can find.  Between our budget, finding a space large enough, in a decent neighborhood and with a room big enough to teach ballet, the pickings are slim.  Not to mention the spaces we have found and liked and bid on, even getting as far as about to sign the contracts, something has always gone wrong, changed, or fallen through.  It's discouraging to say the least, but I can only hope that it is the Lord's sovereign design keeping us from getting any less than what He has for His purposes here.  It is all a very complicated process, some spaces needed to be re-zoned and/or have bathrooms and showers added to be up to code for a dance studio, all ac units replaced, and other things costing several thousand euros or more.  We have had a "commercialista" (business consultant) and an architect aside from our realtor helping us try and figure out the bureaucracy of things.  Not everything here is sipping Chianti wine while eating pasta in the rolling hills of Tuscany with only the worry of where are you going to get gas for your vespa.

I now have my official paperwork from the Russian Art Academy to be able to apply for a student visa when I return to Michigan in September!  The good news is that it was relatively simple to obtain, the bad news is that it cost more than I was expecting with commission fees.  

Prayer:

  • That I would be able to find an apartment for my two roommates and I for when we arrive back in October. August is upon us, which also means everyone is going on vacation and I am having a hard time getting a hold of anyone at the immobiliare (real estate).

  • That the Lord would provide a Gallery Space. We have been looking long and hard, please pray for direction and encouragement and tranquillity while we wait on the Lord to show the way.

  • Praise! The Gallery Opening helped make very clear the intentions of Gallery 4, and more people are asking questions about what we are doing, are excited for the vision of using the arts to share the Gospel, and are asking questions about the Gospel!

  • Praise! I was able to buy my round-trip ticket from Traverse City to Florence for when I head back in October. And it was a very reasonable price! A round-trip ticket is another "document" I will need to show to the Italian consulate when I apply for my visa.

  • And always for the people, our friends and everyone we come into contact with, for their hearts, and for the love of Christ to be made known!

Thanks for reading, thanks for praying, thanks for supporting, it's a privilege to partner with you to pursue Christ and His Kingdom in Florence, Italy!