Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I just met a rat on the street!

So, I know that it was bound to happen at some point this year. I know that they exist in every big city and then eventually, everyone gets to see one. This year though, I have been extremely lucky, that is until this morning. Today, I was up early, since I am trying to prepare for the arrivals of Tim, my mom, and my sister and finish paperwork for this school year. So, I'm in that "getting things done" mode that seems to overcome me every six months or so! After working a couple of hours this morning, I decided to take a break and go get a cappuccino and a pastry (the breakfast of champions here in Italy) at my local bar.

It's actually a nice morning outside, considering how rainy it's been lately. It's one of those overcast mornings in Florence, when you can tell it could be really warm and sunny later, if only the rain would hold off. Instead, it will probably be humid, then wet and gross. Perfect weather for the breeding and populating of rodents! So, as I was walking to the bar (only a block away) and considering the possibilities of today's weather, I saw IT. THE RAT. It looked me straight in the eyes and immediately the hair on my head began to reach new heights. It didn't move, but just kept looking at me...straight in the eyes. The situation seemed odd, given that the sun was already up. A rat shouldn't be on the street at that time. They are creatures that should always be left in the dark. I know they exist. I accept that fact as part of "city life", but I do not EVER want to see them! As soon as I could, I broke off eye contact with the damned thing, crossed the street, and practically ran to the bar.

It was all I could do not to shriek out loud on the street, as that is my normal reaction when confronted with any type of rodent, gross bug, or snake. Once I reached the bar, I wanted to tell the barista immediately of my discovery, but there were other clients inside and I thought it best to wait. So, patiently, I ate my pastry trying to forget the look of THOSE eyes and the knowledge that THAT thing was out there on the sidewalk!

As soon as the other customers were gone, I was able to share my encounter with the barista and thus began a conversation on creatures you don't want in or near your house/workplace...EVER! We talked of mice, rats, birds, and bats. What wonderful morning conversation!

As I was leaving, an older Signora entered the bar, begging the men inside for help. She spoke with a thick accent and she wasn't exactly enunciating, but I understood the following words perfectly: Mi aiutate? = Help me?; la mia bottega = my shop; ferito = hurt; alla mia porta = at my door; and TOPONE = giant rat! hahahah

Apparently, this rat was hurt and lying in front of the door to her shop. I listened further as she explained that the rat had an injury and was bleeding. She thought it was still alive, but was afraid to open up her shop because it might attack her in the process. She was probably right. In Italy, most shops, including hers, have a big metal garage door in front of the glass fronts. The garage doors close all the way to the ground and have to be locked with a padlock either where the door hits the sidewalk or on the side of the building. Her lock was sadly, on the ground. These locks must be unlocked with a key. Frankly, I wouldn't have put my hand near that THING either!

Here's the funny thing. In the bar, there were only a bunch of guys and me. This old woman needed help. None of the guys would help her. (Well I wasn't going to help either...I have to draw the line at rats.) It was unbelievable. They weren't saying no to be jerks; they were saying no because they were genuinely afraid of the rat. I have actually never seen anything like that. They all scattered as soon as she explained the situation. The barista though, realizing her dilemma, made it his business to find someone from the city - the garbage people or vigili or someone - to come help her. When I left, they were still searching for proper someone. Knowing how things go in Italy though, her shop will probably remain closed half of the day while somebody does something to remedy the situation...which could take hours...all because of the rat on the street!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Yesterday, I ate raw sausage. Yes, I said RAW! It was the most delicious sausage that I have ever eaten. I was of course skeptical to give it a try, but in the past, I have eaten cured and almost raw sausage, so I decided to give this new option a try.

My friend Alessio purchased the sausage from a guy who he deemed to be knowledgeable on the subject because he was a very large man, who had wrists three times the normal size. He was selling his wares at the same fair where Alessio and I were selling chocolate and sweets. So, what you must understand is that all these products are "artiginale" or homemade, for lack of a better translation. In this case, the sausage would be considered "fresh of the farm."

Another thing you must understand is that in Italy, there are much stricter regulations than in the United States about food products, especially those labeled artiginale. When making sausage, one cannot just stuff anything that wasn't used for meat processing into the casing. Here, everything is regulated and that's a good thing. Food here is infinitely more healthy, hygenic, as well as unfiltered and fresh. Most foods in Italy can be eaten raw, including all sorts of meat.

I am now inclined to believe that in some cases, such as the raw sausage from yesterday that cooking may actually ruin the flavor of food. The sausage was flavored with just the basics: salt, pepper, and I think some garlic. It was fantastic.

Today, sadly, I am sick with a cold, otherwise I would go back to the fair and buy some sausage for tomorrow! In any case...I think I need to take another look at uncooked food, at least in Italy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why I love Trattoria Anita so much!

It is not surprising that I love food. I always have. Much of my love for food comes from being raised in a family where my Sicilian-American grandmother specialized in typical old-country dishes. My non-Italian side of the family was also known for making good old-fashioned comfort food. And of course, my mom makes some dishes that I cannot live without: cheesecake and chicken croquettes being two of my favorites.
However, it was always my Grandma Melita's Italian food that brought with it a strong emotional attachment and has left me with memories that I am sure will stay with me forever.

So, what does this have to do with Trattoria Anita? Everything. Here in Florence I have found a place that feels like home. In this restaurant the food is cooked and served with love, much in the same way that my grandmother prepared her own food. The highest compliment that I can give Trattoria Anita is this: the food there reminds me of my grandmother's.

When I eat there, I am transported back to a time in my life when everything was easy and my biggest dilemma in a day was usually trying to avoid the Super-Soaker that one or the other of my cousins had brought with them to Grandma and Grandpa's house.

Yes, the food at Trattoria Anita is so close to what I ate as a child that I am eternally grateful for this place!

My grandmother has been gone now for 5 years. I think of her often, but I might think of her food even more, especially now while living in Italy. Every so often, a smell will waft down the street or I will taste something that just brings those memories flooding back and I have to take a moment and think of her. She was always so concerned that we all ate well. She would actually count the number of meatballs that we ate, to make sure we had eaten enough, according to her standards!

Growing up, Sundays were always so boring. This I remember distinctly. First, we had to go to church and second we had to do homework. The only thing that ever made a Sunday afternoon bearable were those special ones when we went to my Italian grandparents' house to eat ziti with Grandma's sauce and meatballs. On occasion we might even have been lucky enough to have bracciole.

Today, at Trattoria Anita, it was the meatballs that sent me into sensory overload. They were so close to my grandmother's that I wanted to run into the kitchen and see if by some miracle, she was in there making them. What makes Trattoria Anita doubly-special for me is not just the quality of the food, but the quality and the personalities of the people that work there.

Nicola, Gianni, and Maurizio truly embody the spirit of Italy and Italian tradition that was so much of my own grandmother's personality and cooking! They always tell me that the trattoria is "casa mia" (my house). Honestly, they don't know how true that statement is for me, because when I'm there, I feel surrounded by the same love that I felt from my grandmother growing up!

RIP: Annie Melita - April 2, 2005

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring has Sprung!

Oh, I know, it has been months since I have written. I have no good excuse other than I have been thoroughly enjoying myself in Italy. Last time I wrote, I was in Slovenia. Then it was Thanksgiving and after that, Tim came here for Christmas, as well as our good friend Sydney. In January, I went home to the States for three weeks. After I returned, Tim's lovely mother come to visit for two more weeks and somehow, now, it's March. Last week was Spring Break here and I celebrated by staying in Florence! It was wonderful to just be here with no pressures, no agenda, and such a beautiful apartment to call home!

So much has happened since last I wrote. First, my friend Andriana and her husband welcomed their first child, a son, a couple of weeks ago. As well, 3 other couples I know are now expecting their first child, including Joe and Donna who are hopefully reading this! My friend Doug was married in November and my friends in Pozzo are soon to be married (May 8th). Congratulations to everyone! What a year!

The weather and the food continue to get better with every day that passes. (Not that either were bad to begin with.) And each day here, I still find something that is new to me or just makes me smile and be thankful for this experience!

So, why am I writing today? Because spring has sprung in Florence and I just feel like doing a dance or something and sharing it with all of you. It is only 8:30 a.m. here and I've already been up for almost three hours. In that time I have scrubbed the bathroom floor, put the laundry in, done the dishes, gone to the market, and made what could be considered my best omelet yet! It was very simple, but using only the freshest ingredients from the market: eggs, pecorino cheese, and scallions; it was also incredible. I topped it off with slices of tomatoes (uncooked!) and some fresh Tuscan (unsalted) bread. YUMMY! Today I was also fortunate enough to find strawberries ready to eat! I am saving these babies for later on today though, when I need a break from work. Boy, I love the food here!

If you have never been to a European market of any kind, you are really missing out. It is a place full of action, tantalizing smells and a world of color! I usually go late in the day, but thanks to whatever is going on with my sleep cycle, I was able to get there very early this morning and what a difference it made. Instead of being a frantic atmosphere where all the farmers are trying to get you to buy something, while all the clients are pushing their way to the front of the stands; this morning it was a pleasant place to stroll through. Before 8 am, the market at S. Ambrogio (and maybe also at S. Lorenzo) is just for those with a plan. It is for residents and citizens, not tourists. You could tell the difference. Those of us there this morning, knew what we wanted and from which vendor we wanted it. It was the time that folks come to chat with their favorite vendors, who have somehow also become friends. It is also the time to get what you need and peek at the those items that you might consider for tomorrow's meals. After this morning's experience I am now hoping that I can get myself up and out early from now, just so I can take advantage of the market as much as possible before I find myself on a plane back to the states in August, which I am sure will be here before I know it. :(