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.

Italy Breaks Your Heart

Lord-Byron-Italy-Quote-1 When I saw this quote from Lord Byron (from the early 19th century, mind you) I had to smile. It reminded me -- in good ways and bad -- of the op-ed in this past weekend's New York Times from Frank Bruni, Italy Breaks Your Heart.

Did my Italy-obsessed readers see the article? If not, I strongly suggest that you read it. As an American living in Italy, I must admit that I totally agree with just about every point Bruni makes -- about Italy being stuck, about the parallels between Italy and America, about the ways both countries can potentially fix or respond to their problems.

Like most NYT articles, some of the best discussion is happening in the comments. There are lots of folks talking through solutions or, unfortunately, bringing up even more issues that Bruni glosses over or doesn't discuss. So, when you check out the article be sure to read the top rated comments, too.

I think it's important to share articles like this on my blog. I try to keep things as positive as possible here, but I think that a lot of people have a pretty convoluted sense of what life -- real life -- is like here in Italy. Ask any expat that is probably seeing a huge portion of their friends roll out of town (mostly back to North America) and you'll get a bit of a more honest look at how things are going here.

Rob and I are fortunate in that our work (aka being self-employed) keeps us a wee bit isolated from some of the more serious problems related to the job market, but there is no denying that in the three full years we've been here that the mood seems to be shifting a bit. Has anyone else noticed this?

I'd love to hear from other expats on our Facebook page.

Pinners I Love: All About Italy

Anyone that follows me online knows that I'm a wee bit obsessed with Pinterest. I used it for work and for fun -- as a visual person it's a dream for me to collect my design ideas and thoughts into one place. I'm starting a new little series on this blog to share pinners that I love so that my wonderful readers can start following them, too! This week I'm sharing my three favorite pinners that have a big focus on Italy.

My love of Birgitte and her amazing photography is no secret. The boards that she curates on Pinterest are just as lovely. Travel lovers rejoice -- she groups her photos by city, which makes browsing even more amazing. Sometimes when I browse the Florence photos I have to pinch myself that I live here!

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Elise's Italy Life board is a wonderful collection of glory shots of landscapes and vistas, as well as classic photos and snaps of everyday life. The rest of her boards range from fashion to travel to food.

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La Valiana is a villa here in Tuscany that has (very smartly) started pinning all things Italy. All of their boards are charming, but it's the vintage Italy board that's my favorite. Movie stars, piazzas, food and more.

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!

An afternoon in Bologna, Italy

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Earlier this week we took a quick trip to Bologna with my parents. They've now visited Florence enough times that branching out and seeing new cities is a must!

We were on a time crunch -- trying to leave and get back during the hours Livia is at asilo nido -- so we only had about four full hours in the city, but it was great time. We had an amazing lunch that I'll write about next week, but the city itself is also worth talking about.

For me, Bologna feels so different than cities like Florence, Venice or even Rome to some extent. Sure, there is a lot of historical stuff to see, but it feels very much like a modern, lived-in city. Bustling, a little gritty, full. No tourists really, which was a nice change of pace.

We popped into Eataly for a quick cafe and to browse. The Bologna outpost is a fraction of the size of the Rome or NYC, but still had some neat items. My absolute favorite thing was all of the cookbooks available in both English and Italian. If you are in need of cookbooks for very particular regional types of cooking, it was an awesome resource.