12 cities, 2 classes and 5 weeks.

Venice, San Martino, Trento, Ascoli Piceno, St. Benedetto, Rome, Offida, Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Pompeii, and Grottammare. (Out of breath? Yeah, me too.)

After 12 cities, 2 classes, and 5 weeks my summer in Italia has unfortuantely come to an end.  The studying, the travel,, and all the culture has created a whirlwind of an adventure I will never forget.  Every single moment of my experience here has been absolutely amazing.  I knew I would have a blast, but I never thought I would take away so much from the trip.  Not only did I see some of the most beautiful and inspiring places in the world, I learned so much about this country and myself. In the beginning I was worried about not being able to see everything I wanted because my top priority was schoolwork. Granted I did spent a lot of time in the classroom and studying, it turned out the program helped me see Italy for all it is worth.  My professors introduced me to the Italian language and culture, allowing me to participate in their lifestyle right from the beginning.  Learning about their diet and where it came from influenced to incorporate many of their customs.  For my other class, I was assigned to sit down and sketch different scenes around me, which forced me to observe everything from social interactions to the beautiful architecture. My choice to study abroad was the best addition to my undergraduate experience I could have asked for.  I traveled around a gorgeous country expanded my nutrition knowledge of an foreign culture, learned about my strengths as a person, and took A LOT of selfies- what more can you ask for?

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To learn more about traveling Italy- click here!

Grottammare

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On the second to last day of class the Mediterranean Diet and Culture class to a field trip to Grottammare.  After about a 30 minute bus ride up the windy roads we arrived at a local vineyard named Le Caniette. On our personal town by the owner we learned why wine is stored in oak barrels and saw the vineyard’s very own wine storage.  We learned that his philosophy was to focus on the growing of the grapes instead of the wine making process itself.   The tour also included a wine tasting of the vineyard’s homemade wine.   We were brought to an open room that overlooked the valley of the vineyard and were given a taste of four different wines.  The owner himself poured each glass for each and every one of us.  As each wine was poured, we tasted as a group and then discussed how each one was made and the expected flavors.  Obviously the wine was delicious, but my favorite part was the authenticity of the experience.  My professors, my classmates and I all were basically the only people at the vineyard and we were extremely welcomed by the workers. The owner was excited for us to be there and wanted to share everything about Le Caniette.

Following the Italian Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is difficult to define because it is found in many different countries, meaning there are many eating styles that follow a general diet.  The Mediterranean Diet can be outlined by the following 9 components, which are written based on the MedDiet food pyramid.

1. An abundance of plant-based foods.

2. Emphasis on minimally processed fresh foods.

3. Olive oil is the principle fat.

4. Daily, but small amounts of dairy.

5. Fish, poultry, and eggs are consumed in low to moderate amounts.

6. Low intake of red meat.

7. Incorporate regular physical activity.

8. Drink wine in moderation.

9. Enjoy the food and share meals with others.

Now with an idea about what to eat to follow the Mediterranean Diet, you’re probably wondering “so… they eat everything plain!?” Absolutely not!  In addition to the nine components that what to eat, the Italian cuisine focuses on six main tasty flavors.  The flavors include garlic, onion, basil, rosemary, oregano, tomato, and olive oil.

Ok so you’re right, the Italian Mediterranean cuisine seems like it could be a lot of work, but thats why I’m here to help! Some of these guidelines are reasonable, but the idea of adhering to all nine can be overwhelming. I am a very busy person, so I understand that taking the time to find healthy recipes and preparing them is not always easy.  Below are a few recipes I recommend that represent the Mediterranean diet and incorporate Italian cuisine flavors!

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Salmon Zucchini and Red Pepper Sauce

Incorporates fish (salmon), plant-based foods (red peppers, tomatoes, zucchini), Italian cuisine flavor (garlic) and olive oil.

Eggplant and Barley Salad

Incorporates plant-based foods (eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes), Italian cuisine flavors (garlic, onion) and olive oil.

Stuffed Chicken Thighs Braised in Tomato Sauce

Incorporates low intake of poultry (chicken thighs), plant based foods (spinach, tomatoes, fennel, shallots, carrots), italian cuisine flavors (onion, garlic, basil), and of course olive oil!

Remember, the only way to show off your cooking is to sit down and share meals with friends and family!

 

My Happy Place

 

 

“Vorrei un cappuccino, per favore?” translates to “Can I have a cappuccino, please?”

Pretty sure I got that question down perfectly after the first week of living here. About four weeks into my trip I can say that I have tried my fair share of cappuccinos, but it is always the best at my favorite place in Ascoli Piceno, Club Kave. The sweet waitress makes my roommates and I delectable cappuccinos as we sit outside under the big white umbrellas in the beautiful Piazza del Arringo. Whether working on class assignments or hanging out and relaxing, I love being in the center of town watching people pass by going about their day. Right next to the café is the coldest, most refreshing drinking water that splashes out of two fountains in the middle of the Piazza. It is by far the best water I have had in Italy-even better than bottled water! At the café, and all over Italy, I noticed that the pigeons are very friendly. They walk and fly all over the place, including right underneath your chair and directly above your head. While sitting down relaxing I have had to duck from one flying right at my face! I know even once my trip has ended the smell of fresh coffee and Nutella filled croissants will always bring me back to my happy place in Ascoli, Club Kave.

Olive Oil for everyone

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Where does Olive Oil come from? Olive trees! The Mediterranean region’s climate is ideal for the growth of olive trees because of its long, warm, dry summers, and low temperature (but not freezing) in the winter. The more production, the more consumption! Italia is third in the world’s ranking of the highest consumption rates of olive oil!

Italy uses the “I.O.C” olive oil classification to distinguish levels of quality. For example, the highest level of extra-virgin olive oils characteristics include cold pressing of the olives, it contains <0.8% acidity, it may not contain refined oil, and it has a superior taste. The following categories are virgin-olive oil, pure olive oil, and olive-pomace oil. (Learn more here).

How can you tell the difference? Well, for my Mediterranean Diet course we took a field trip to the nearby town of Offida to learn how to officially taste olive oil. There is a three-step process that is used to taste olive oil….

  1. Nasal- place the tasting cup underneath each nostril and identify “fruitiness, bitterness, pepperiness, acidity, etc”
  2. Tasting- take a small sip of oil and gently move it around your mouth for taste
  3. While the oil is still in your mouth inhale sharply to aerate it in the back of your throat.

If you feel a burning sensation in your throat you are aerating the oil correctly!

Characteristics of the oil observed during the tasting can help determine which classification it falls under. The two oils I tasted in Offida were both extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), which is the highest quality and healthiest olive oil available. EVOO has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels and in turn decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and the development of blood clots. So basically, EAT UP! ‘Cause it’s good for you!

When in Rome

When you picture Italy in your head, what do you see? Rome? The Colosseum? All of the different arches, temples, etc? Well here I am! Just me and….

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The Arch of Constantine/The Colosseum, Temple of Antonius, The Spanish Steps and The Vatican!

I can imagine that the majority of you, if you haven’t already visited Rome, then it is probably on your bucket list. This being said, Rome is a desirable destination and in addition to the 2.5 million residents (approximately), the city is filled with tourists. The historical sights were more impressive than I ever expected, but the city beyond the ruins was a bit of a surprise to me.  Just walking down the streets I noticed all of the Irish Pubs, American burger places, McDonalds, Burger King, and Subways. I expected Rome to be more commercialized than the other places I have seen in Italy, but I was honestly a little disappointed.

Luckily, a little authentic restaurant was there to save the day.

After touring the streets for countless hours I was very tired and hungry and all I wanted was something edible for dinner. We went to a restaurant only 15 feet away from our hostel because no extra walking was acceptable at this point. In a rush to get food, I told the server to bring me his favorite item on the menu. Little did I know, I had made the best decision ever. The thick homemade fresh pasta mixed with a peppered tomato olive oil sauce with shaved Parmesan was to die for. It got to the point where I had to remind myself to breath between bites- you all know the feeling.  For awhile now I have never been a huge pasta fanatic, but this unbelievable experience has changed me!  My weekend in Rome proved to me that it is an authentic Italian city and so much more!

PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA

You know how in Boston you pass by a Dunkin Donuts every block? Well in Italy, it’s the same exact way here, but with Pizza places! Most sit down pizzerias expect each person to order his or her own pizza. The one-size pizzas offered here are about 14 inches, thin crust, and have a million different topping combinations! Many of the options on the menu were unexpectedly delicious. The thin but soft crust I have experienced at every pizza location is the perfect base for any recipe. My favorite pizza thus far was a salami and arugula white pizza topped with shaved parmesan cheese. Skeptical at first, I ordered it anyways and was blown away.

In my opinion, you haven’t tasted real pizza unless you’ve tasted an Italian hand-tossed pizza. The irregular shaped outline is an immediate sign of authenticity.  Here’s a few pictures to give you a virtual taste:

Not only have I tasted my fair share of pizza here, I also hand tossed my very own! As a class we went to a local restaurant in Ascoli where the chefs shared a couple of their qualified secrets. With the use of 00′ flour and my expert tossing skills I have to say I make a pretty good pizza dough! Take a look at the newest professional pizza maker in action-

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MAKE YOUR OWN AUTHENTIC PIZZA DOUGH

Food & Friends in the Kitchen

In the apartment in Ascoli, a couple of my classmates and I have taken on the challenge to cook for our selves. The first couple nights were a bit of a struggle to make exactly what we were planning for, but practice makes perfect right? To start we all took a trip to the town markets and local cheese store in Ascoli. Between five of us girls we combined our groceries and got in the kitchen together. For appetizers we sliced the amazing gouda cheese and paired it with fresh bread from a bakery downtown. Using our own creativity we put together our own basic recipe of a veggie-loaded pasta dish. The mixture of sautéed veggies consisted of garden-fresh tomatoes, spinach, snap peas, and red peppers. We then combined the assortment to cooked penne and also threw in chicken for some protein! Our basil flavored, nutrition-packed success was simply delicious.

Here’s some proof!
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As delicious as our final product was, there were definitely some bumps along the way. The majority of us have never really cooked on a gas stove before. Getting used to the way the pan heats was hard in the beginning. But, with some test runs and teamwork, we ultimately got the hang of it! Usually I choose to cook solo, but with everyone involved in the process, it was great to exchange cooking skills and tips. Like one big happy Italia family, we sat around the table and enjoyed each other’s company!

My Home in Italia

The majority of these 5 weeks I will be spending my time in the small town of Ascoli Piceno, which is located in central Italy, about 45 minutes from the Adriatic coast.

Welcome

Every day when I walk  into my apartment, I am speechless. The 10 foot tall ceilings, marble floors, chandeliers, and walk around balcony create a simple but sophisticated style I am now obsessed with.

Very few people in the town speak English and we all stick out like sore thumbs. To be honest, before I came here I thought I was decently tan and somewhat stylish. Boy was I wrong. Shades of tan aside, all of the people are genuinely friendly and helpful. Smiles and laughs are constantly exchanged, even after my very poor attempts to speak the language.

Similar to my own family, traditions are highly valued here. For example, this past week I experienced a taste of the annual competition between the six neighborhoods, known as La Quintana. In the morning or after dusk the represented groups assemble for flag throwing and jousting competitions in the piazzas, as their spirited family and friends flood the streets after them. While La Quintana is a competition that divides the town into neighborhoods, the sense of unity is evident. Even on a quiet day in town you can feel the harmony of the community.
Although I continue to catch my jaw dropping to the floor at the beautiful piazzas and I am still working on not twisting my ankles as I walk on the cobblestone streets, Ascoli feels like a second home already.

The journey

Day 6.  San Martino di Catrozza.

The first day in the alps I woke up barely able to open my eyes.  I rolled out of bed dragging the blanket with me as I walked over and squinted out the window…

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Yep, right from the hotel room!  The dolomites stretched high into the sky and the air was cool and crisp. I quickly changed my clothes and went down to breakfast with the group to begin the day with a hike up the mountain. My roommate and I had made a pact that we would make it to the top and there was no other option. After the class made a couple group stops along the way to catch our breath, enjoy the view and take an infinite amount of pictures – I was ready to get moving. We had a goal to meet, no exceptions! I found myself standing in the mountains about… m high in ITALY more worried about getting to the top instead of taking in the beautiful country around me.

I have now come to realize, I have adopted the needy feeling to go-go-go like many other goal-oriented Americans. Although this mind set can be an advantage, it is important to not miss out on the journey.   While here in Italy one of my goals is to learn from the relaxed Italian lifestyle and remember to “stop and smell the roses”.

 

Hiking routes in San Martino