What I Learned About Food in Italy: Eat What's in Season

When people learn that you lived abroad in Italy for three years, they typically like to ask you about some fairly predictable things. After getting the basics, the conversation usually turns to food and wine. In regard to the former, it's amazing how quickly this question comes up: do you miss all the fresh food and produce? The answer is yes, but it's not quite that simple.

The fact of the matter is that fresh, amazing produce is available here, too. Particularly in Chapel Hill, between farmer's markets and local grocery co-ops, it's easy to find food grown and/or produced within a 100 mile radius that is delicious*.

What I really miss, however, is essentially being forced to eat seasonally.

I can't tell you how many times I would walk into a grocery store or the local veggie stand in Italy and mumble obscenities under my breath about just wanting an avocado or a pineapple or a decent eggplant -- damn the season! But, I would quickly get over it, buy whatever looked good (out-of-season produce in Italy could look scary-bad) and go on my merry way. We ate what was in season because it's what was primarily available to us.

And, you want to know something? We typically felt pretty darn good. We slept well, our skin looked great and we were rarely affected by the change-of-season cold and flus that are so common around here. We ate hearty foods in the fall and winter, and lighter fare in the spring and summer. We used our stale bread for pappa al pomodoro in the winter and for panzanella in the summer. It was the way of things.

So, when I find myself feeling sluggish or tired these days, I start to wonder if my return to all-season eating has gotten the better of me. Today, I grabbed out our stack of Mangiare di Stagione cookbooks -- a fantastic collection of recipes based on what's in season. Reading through the recipes immediately transported me back to Florence...shopping for myself and also indulging at local eateries. A lot of seasonal dishes (particularly sweets) have tradition and history wrapped in them and I loved learning more about these regional-seasonal specialties.

Things will quiet down here ever so slightly in a few weeks around the holidays and I may set out on a mission to get us back on the seasonal eating path. A tall order, perhaps, but one worth trying.

*side note: I'm fairly convinced that eating North Carolina's Holly Grove Farms Jalapeno Goat cheese is part of the reason I was put on this planet.

36 Hours in Lawrence, KS

For 36 hours last week we found ourselves in Lawrence, Kansas. Now, I know what you're thinking...Kansas? What could possible be there? Well, let me be the first to tell you this surprising news: Lawrence, Kansas is awesome. The town is fantastic. The restaurants and food are out of this world (think local, sustainable, farm-to-table). The people are so, so friendly.

I'll talk more about why we were visiting later, but in the meantime I just needed to fill you in on this fun, hipster-friendly town that I'm a little embarrassed wasn't even close to on my radar until very recently. First, lets talk about where we ate...

Merchants Pub and Plate

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Located at 746 Mass Street, Merchants Pub and Plate place has amazing pub fare. To call it pub food seem a bit unfair -- it's much more creative, adventurous and downright tasty than what you'll find in a normal pub. Most, if not all, of the menu is sourced from nearby vendors and farms. The beer list is insane with something around 30+ on tap (Rob was in heaven). We split the Chipotle Chicken Sandwich and the Sloppy Joe. Both outrageously good. Plus, we showed up at 3pm after a long trip into town and had the place to ourselves. Lord, I love being back in America where I can get a meal any time of the day. FYI: I really meant to take pictures of the food, but we ate it embarrassingly fast.

715

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For anyone out there that thinks you can't get delicious, "fancy" food in small town America, please think again and visit 715 on Mass Street. I simply couldn't ignore everything that I was reading about this place online and insisted that we do a date night. We were not disappointed. From the cheese plate to the drinks to the main dishes, everything was exceptional. All of the dishes were so thoughtful and the flavors so simple, yet tasty. The decor was also wonderful.

Where I got my coffee: Z's Divine

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Lawrence reminded me so much of Louisville with it's plethora of locally-owned coffee shops. There were so many to choose from (and I really wanted to try about 10 of the ones that I skipped), but I found myself go back to Z's Divine three times during our stay. It was just so good and I like my coffee reliably tasty. They have a ton of outdoor seating and I imagine how it must be fun in the summer to sip an iced coffee and people watch!

Can you tell that I loved Lawrence? I guess that I expected Kansas to feel somehow foreign or crazy different -- and maybe other parts of Kansas would -- but Lawrence was so neat and fun and reminded me so much of the vibe of the Highlands neighborhood in Louisville. So, in a sense it felt a bit like home.

FYI: Lawrence is only a 40 minute drive from Kansas City, so if you find yourself on a layover or randomly in the city, I recommend making the drive to check out this fun town.

 

Best Italian Food Blogs - Kate's Favorites

Searching for Italian food blogs? That is, bloggers with a penchant for posting delicious and authentic Italian food recipes? Look no further! I've selected five of my favorites to share with you today. These five ladies know their Italian food. Whenever I'm on the hunt for a delicious recipe, I head over to their blogs for inspiration.

What I love so much about each of these bloggers is that they write often about the history of a recipe, their relationship to food and why these recipes are important to them. They aren't just "recipe dumpers" that churn out tons of dishes for SEO or traffic purposes. You really get the sense reading these blogs that they simply love Italian food and sharing it with others.

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Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving On Saturday we had a fun Thanksgiving party at our house. It was potluck-style (everyone brought a few dishes), the amazing turkey was ordered from a local rosticceria, and lots of vino was consumed. It was an fantastic, no-stress day.

I've been thinking a lot about these littles families that we expats create for ourselves abroad. When I looked at the group of 15 people we had the pleasure of sharing our Thanksgiving with, I saw a table full of people that were either very far from home or the loving partners of people very far from home. It's a lot of work no matter which category you fall into and I feel fortunate to be surrounded by people that make the distance from "home" a little easier.

This year hasn't been the easiest, but as I sat at that table full of great people I was reminded just how lucky we are to call each and every one of these people our friends. They have and continue to enrich our lives in wonderful ways.

This year, I am thankful for my Florence family. 

 

Where to Eat in Bologna: Lunch at Tamburini

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During our 4-hour trip to Bologna we ate lunch at Tamburini, located smack in the center of the city. A friend and the New York Times 36 Hours in... column both recommended this place so we figured it was worth a try. The verdict? Delicious.

There are lots of ways to get and eat your food at Tamburini: you can get pre-made main and sides dishes to go, grab a tray and sample what's available from the specials of the day, and/or also grab fresh pastas and meats ready to be cooked in that night's dinner. Like I said, lots of options! I loved that you could order half portions of the day's specialties because between four of us we really got to taste just about everything they had on offer.

My one word of caution is actually in regard to the large array of options. If you look at the Trip Advisor reviews you'll see tourists (mostly American) complaining about how they got handed menus, seated and "tricked" into higher priced food, particularly around dinner time. My suggestion would be to stick to the lunch hour and know that grabbing and tray and sampling the menu del giorno is probably the best option.

All in all, highly recommend this yummy spot in Bologna!