Food = Love = Italy

If it hasn't been made blaringly obvious through my recipe choices, I like Italian food.  Shocking, I know.  I apologize for springing that fact on you like that.

I'm not Italian nor do I have Italian friends (but I'd really love to have some - any takers?).  I didn't grow up in Italy.  I actually didn't even grow up eating much Italian food beyond spaghetti and meatballs with the "parmesan" in a green can.  Who thought of that horrendous stuff anyways?  Is it even real cheese?  Anyways, I bring it up because I feel the need to divulge on my food background.  I may also have selfish motives because I love to talk about Italy.  Plus, I have no recipe to post. Win-win-win, right?

So, it all started with mom and dad.  My dad's work sent him on a business trip to Florence several years ago, and my mom decided to go with him and make a vacation out of it by doing some extra traveling when his work there was done.  When they came home, they were hooked on Italy: the food, the culture, the language... everything.  We started eating more Italian food and experimenting with different recipes.  Mom bought a pasta roller, began making her own pasta sauces, brought home more Chianti, started using fresh mozzarella, grew basil/thyme/oregano... you get the picture.  She became the Italian mother I never thought I'd have.  Here's a fact: when parents become cuisine stalkers, their kids automatically become guilty by association.  And when the food is that good - like, Italy good - I'd do the crime and pay the time any day.  Enter yours truly, the learned-to-bake/cook-the-day-she-learned-to-walk child.  I may or may not have been proposed to once or twice over my chocolate chip cookies.  Food really became my life when I decided to study Dietetics.  Now, not only do I love to cook food and eat food, I talk about food all day long and love to teach people about choosing healthy food.  Food=life.
Another wonderful new habit: grilled pizzas. Seriously the best. 
Seeing how passionate my parents had become about this country and everything about it was contagious, and I wanted to go so, so, so, so, so, so bad.  Not only have I always loved to cook, but I have also always loved to travel.  I was homeschooled in grade school, and Dad's government job allowed us to travel a lot in the States.  Went to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales without my family when I was 12.  So when I got the chance to go to Italy for 3 weeks and - not kidding - study the Mediterranean diet by taking a cooking class at Apicius International School of Hospitality in Tuscany and traveling around to processing facilities (Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, Bindella winery, pasta-making), I jumped on it.  Threw myself on it, actually.  More debt added to my student loans?  Who cares!

So I went.  It was a dream.  The Duomo in Florence really exists.  I could try to explain how massive it is just like other people tried to explain it to me, but when you see it, it is way more massive than anything I pictured in my mind.  It's beautiful.  I'm slightly obsessed with it.
On top of the Duomo.  That nearest street, via Ricasoli, is where I lived. Sigh.
Home base for the 3 weeks was Florence, but I got to go to Rome, Venice, Lucca, Parma, Montepulciano, Pienza, the Cinque Terre, Siena, and Fiesole.  Florence is my true love, though.  By the end of the 3 weeks, she had become my home, and I know her streets better than the streets of my college town.  The piazzas, the gelato, the sunsets, the statues, the history...

I'm drooling.  Let's just look at pictures.
Ponte Vecchio
Yeah. This really happened. Poppies were my mission this trip. Mission accomplished.
Glorious meal + wine tasting at Bindella winery.
Bindella winery. Literally in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. 
This picture sums up so much. We had just toured an incredible vineyard and seen the process Bindella does to make their wine, had an amazing lunch with the most A-MAZ-ING olive oil on incredible bread, had a few glasses of wine (they were very generous with their "tastings"), and now... sitting looking out over the hills never wanting to leave.
Fiesole - a little town on a hill just north of Florence.  Took a bus up for 2 euros and walked down/got lost. So great.
In Florence, there's this magical place called Piazzale Michelangelo. There are steps. There are sunsets. Bring your own wine. 
Cinque Terre

Reason #479 why Italy is better than America: Backyards are smaller than your garage, but they use them to grow veggies. And lemon trees. Beat that. 
This man literally sat outside my window and played the accordion every day. I'd just sit there with my big shutters open and listen. It was perfect. 
Mercado Centrale: the most amazing market you will ever see. Go immediately.
Warehouses FULL of Parmigiano Reggiano. If you've never had any, get some. I know it's about $20/pound. It's worth it. Trust me. If you currently use the green stuff in a can, throw it out and promise yourself you will never be so foolish again. Once you have this cheese in your hand, smell its salty sweet cheesy goodness and picture what it must have smelled like to stand in this barn. Yeah. Heavenly.  

Lunch in Parma. Hand-made gnocchi.  
After 3 courses of pasta, we got this meat tray, roasted veggies, and fried bread. We were already stuffed after the pasta. 
Espresso after the fabulous Parma lunch.  This is another picture that in my mind is worth an hour of talking.

Hopefully this gives some insight into why I am so passionate about Italy and its food and culture.  It can't be beat.  It just can't.  Go ahead and try to beat it.  But actually don't because it won't work.  Thats all I have... look at the pictures again, drool a little, and book yourself a flight.