Thursday, December 31, 2009


Yesterday was our trip to Firenze!! We accidentally slept in a little bit (whoops) but after our rough start, the day only got better! We stopped first at a local bar in town and got some paste- 2 croissants and these amazing pastries filled on one side with Nutella and the other with a creamy Éclair-like filling, SO GOOD! Got some cappuccinos as well. Firenze wasn't a bad drive as we are learning the roads with each day we spend here. When we were almost into the city, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a road about 2 feet wider than the width of our van. We had to pull the rearview mirrors in to fit through the tighter spots! Mom and I were shielding our eyes while everyone else kept lookout and assisted dad in navigating the incredibly tight streets. We were stuck for nearly 15 minutes before we could make our way out of the tiny maze. Everyone was giddy after that as the adrenaline was still pumping through our veins. Dad did an amazing job!!! We parked in Piazza Michelangelo which boasts incredible views over all of Firenze. After taking some pictures of the beautiful scenery, we headed down the hill and into the city. We walked to the Ponte Vecchio and it was especially fun being the leader of the pack for me! I know the city quite well after my 6 weeks there and the familiarities were not only helpful but very exciting. It was like being back home! Before we crossed the Ponte Vecchio, we stopped in a ceramic shop where my parents continued their search for the seemingly lost work of Parini. They only had one piece left and my parents used their self control to resist buying the plate. We have so much already! They did buy a wine pitcher which we have been needing at our home. We took the short walk to the Pitti Palace just to show everyone the outside. Then we crossed the Ponte Vecchio which was as always crowded. We took our time strolling across and viewing all the beautiful jewelry. Then we headed to the Piazza Vecchio and spent some time there. I got to show my whole family the face carved into the side of the building which Michelangelo supposedly carved there in order to remember a face in the crowd of a man who owed me money. Thank you, Professor Nero!! We headed to the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, home of the famous boar whose snout you stroke. We followed the tradition of placing a coin in his mouth in the hopes it will fall out and into the grate below. I failed entirely-- guess that's why my suitcase still hasn't arrived? Yes, I'm serious. We spent a brief time in the market and then moved on to the Piazza della Repubblica- the piazza I walked through every day to get to class!! Great memories! We headed down the street FSU is on and I got to show my parents the campus a little bit. We peeked through the windows in the back and they got to see the classroom and the library. Pretty cool!! I also showed them the nearby ristoranti we were frequent diners of. We found a small little ristorante to eat at. It was one of our best meals in Firenze!! I started with Zuppa di Porri- a leek soup. I was a little nervous because I have never had anything like it but it was delicious!! Nice and creamy with plenty of leek flavor and served with a toasted piece of bread. Heather and Dad opted for the zuppa di fagioli, yum! And David had a risotto di mare which was great. Fresh mussels, clams and a white fish. Per secondo, I had a white pizza with braesola (one of my favorite things in Italy, cured beef) and arugula. One of my favorite appetizers in Italy was always the braesola con burrata served with arugula and this was the epitome of that appetizer served on a crispy pizza crust.. heavenly! Heather had a pizza with zucchini flowers and anchovies, Alan had a cheese pizza with tomatoes, Dad had ossobucco, Mom and David has pesche di giorno, a grilled fish which was lovely and served with spinach. Alan and David got HUGE mugs of Italian beer along with their meal and the rest of us drank some delicious Chianti :) After lunch we split up... the boys headed to a museum and the girls and Dad went to do some shopping. It's Florence, it was necessary!! We first headed to Ethic, a store right down the street from FSU's campus that Carlina, Aleksa and I went to at least once a week because they had such beautiful clothes. Heather and I both lucked out! I got 2 beautiful sweaters. We walked around for a bit in search of some boots for me and I was lucky in finding a beautiful pair of brown boots with a short heel- very Italian!! Then we went back to the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo where Heather purchased a beautiful purse, gloves and scarves which were all haggled down from their original price. Go Heather!! I purchased a leather jacket. Originally marked at 220 euro (more than 350 dollars), I haggled it down to 110 with the help of my dad. We were giddy after we finished, go me!! My mom bought a beautiful purple embroidered scarf. After quite a successful shopping trip, we headed back to the Piazza Vecchio where we had some drinks and people watched. The boys met up with us after visiting the Museo Accademia and we decided to walk around a bit as we needed to grow our appetite before we could eat again! We went to the duomo and Heather, David and Alan climbed the torre which unfortunately was the only thing left open. Mom, Dad, and I stuck to the bottom where we people watched some more. Never gets old in a city! We all rejoined and made the long walk back across the Arno. We decided on a quaint restaurant just inside the city walls that was in a garden. (Carlina and Aleksa-- we always wanted to eat here!!). Everyone was tired and cranky but the night was salvaged by a great meal and great wine. I started with a burrata appetizer which Alan also ordered. It included not only burrata but grilled vegetables, a salad, tomato bruschetta, and marinated sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes. YUM! Dad and David got a bean soup with clams. Mom and Heather were wusses and only ordered one course but it ended up coming with our appetizer. A seafood pasta with shrimp and clams. For our secondo, I got gnudi which are deemed "ravioli without the pasta." I wasn't sure what to expect but when it arrived it was exactly as described. Huge balls of rich ricotta and herbs in a traditional burro e salvia sauce (butter and sage). The dish was good but very rich.. I had trouble eating 4 of the 6 gnudi. Alan, Dad, and David all ordered the mare fritti which was an AMAZING plate of tempura fried fish and veggies. When the waiters delivered the plates we were all giggling because of their hugeness but as always, the boys nearly cleaned their plates. After dinner we still had the walk back to Piazza Michaelangelo... a long walk uphill! It was strenuous and when we got to the top we were thoroughly looking forward to some long awaited gelato. We stepped up to the counter but no one served us. After a few "ahem's" we decided to leave... we refuse to beg to pay someone. But I was disappointed :( Still no gelato yet this trip! Guess it's good for my waistline after all the pasta I have been eating!! We will save the gelato for Roma. We made it home and everyone was pretty exhausted from such a long day so we all went to sleep. Quite a great day in Firenze and I think we managed to see a lot of things for a limited time in such a big, wonderful city. It was great to visit again. As I always say, Firenze has my heart and I hope to one day end up living there. I'll see you soon, Firenze! xxo.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Butcher, wine tasting and Chinta Senese farm

It's been a while since I wrote but a lot has happened!! Yesterday we woke up early and headed to the butcher to get the primest cuts of meat before the other Italians. Alan, David, Dad and I drove to the nearest town and found the macelleria-- They had a couple cases full of amazing meats! Huge steaks, different involtini, chickens, cow tongues, rabbits, and also a selection of salume and formaggi. We asked for two bistecce fiorentina and they pulled out a whole rack of meat and asked how thick we wanted them cut- the female butcher cut us 2 HUGE steaks about 2 inches thick. Pictures are coming!!! We also got a whole rabbit for dinner one night and a whole chicken (head and feet included- whole means whole!) to make homemade chicken broth with. While we were there a girl came in, said something to one of the butchers, and he went outside only to come back in with a huge lamb!! It was beautiful and just another example of the amazing food in Italy. Everything is grown, raised, harvested, butchered and prepared locally which is something we definitely lack in America. It is one of the many, many fantastic things about this beautiful country. We made it home in time for a quick breakfast- frittata, salume, and mozarella di bufalo. Our driver, Sylvia, arrived and we hit the road in a classy Mercedes van (way better than ours!). She drove us to a winery, Castellare, where we tried a few different Chiantis of different years. It always amazes me how the wines can vary so much from year to year although they come from the same winery, contain the same blends, and are grown in the exact same vineyard. We even got a chance to try the 2008 Chianti which, although young, tasted wonderful. Dad purchased a bottle and we were on our way again! After another hour long drive we reached the farm where we would be receiving our tour. As we pulled up we saw the pigs on the side of the road- they were huge and black with a white collar around their stomach, front legs and neck. We later learned this is a sign of their pure breed and the pigs with the perfect markings are kept for breeding. We walked up to the house where we were greeted by 2 beautiful weimeraners (one of which is a truffle hunter!!!!). The owner of the farm, Danielo, came out to greet us. He led us through his back yard, full of olive trees, to where the pigs were kept. While we were walking, 2 cats began to follow us. David leaned down to scratch one and when he stood up to walk away, it attempted to claw its way up his back!!!! Danielo laughed and told us (rather told Sylvia who translated for us) that he likes to ride on shoulders. He then picked the cat up, set him on his shoulders and continued on his way. What did I say about shoulder cats??? Kaya needs more intense training is all. The cats followed us all around the farm. Anyway, as soon as we exited the yard through a gate Danielo started yelling diamo(his version of andiamo, let's go- a drawn out version "dee-yaaa-mooo"). The pigs actually starting running towards him!!!! It was quite a sight to see. He led us to a small shack where he pulled out a bucket of food. By this time, after all Danielo's "diamos," 13 or so pigs had crowded by the fence, snorting up a storm. He proceeded to scoop some feed and throw it into the crowd of pigs who instantly began fighting. Then he told us all about Chinta Senese. They are a certain breed of pig that almost died out from existence. The government then sanctioned the raising of the pigs but with very high standards- there are regulations regarding the amount of acres allotted to pigs and the food they are given. The pigs mostly eat free range but can also be given food which can only be organically grown plants like corn, svelte, wheat etc. The pigs aren't given any soy. They must be raised humanely. Such a difference from the US where the pigs are kept in kennels and fed corn and animal byproducts, and loaded up with antibiotics and hormones. And boy were those pigs happy!! On the farm they had about 300 pigs. There was a part allotted for the breeding pigs which are about 13 females to one male. They are only allowed to reproduce twice a year. The pigs are sent off to a "laboratory," where they are butchered and the meat is then cured for various periods of time. During the explanation, Danielo suddenly was distracted by something. We all turned around to see an ENORMOUS pig waddling (literally) his way over to us. It was the male!!! Danielo took special care to bring food over to him and made sure none of the other pigs ate it. Gotta keep the big man happy- he's a busy pig with 13 ladies to attend to! After that we went to a pen where the babies were kept. They had just been separated from their parents and when Danielo picked one up it's shrieking instantly alerted the mother who came up to their dividing fence. How cute! Danielo says the chinta senese are a very smart breed. The babies were soooo cute! There were probably about 50 of them in the pen and they all came running out when we walked up. I got the best pictures :) We then went and saw the "sausage" pigs. Not nearly all of them came running when Danielo called but it still seemed like an amazing amount. Time to eat!!! Danielo took us into his home- so cool- and we sat down at his kitchen table in front of an incredible spread of salume. On our plate we had ghanciale, which Danielo referred to as poesia, poetry, salume, and salume with fennel. Danielo's son Niccolo toasted us some bread on their open kitchen fire, poured rich olive oil on top, and we all sat down to enjoy the meal together with a bottle of chianti. The salume was HEAVENLY. Poesia, indeed. They also served us some homemade ribollita which was fantastic and interestingly enough varied from the ribollita we made 2 days previously. Just as Giovennella taught us, ribollita can be made with anything on hand or whatever is preferred. We ended up enjoying ourselves so much that we sat at that table for a couple of hours, conversing in Italian and English and just enjoying the great food, wine and company. Danielo's sons were both very friendly and we were astonished to hear they were 15 and 19- they were huge!!!! Niccolo and David talked about wrestling and Niccolo asked "is it like WWF?" Very cute :) It is fun to see the cultural differences but also to see that we are all very similar in the end. We had a really great day and left with well wishes and promises to meet again. We got home early in the afternoon and all had a chance to relax for a nice change. Alan and David started the chicken broth. What a sight to see, a chicken head floating among the celery and carrots!! The boys went outside and threw around some frisbee discs while the ladies cuddled under blankets to catch up on some reading. It wasn't long before we cracked open some wine and started the fire! We started our dinner with caprese, roasted peppers, and huge, green olives. Then we grilled our gigantic bisteccas, some zucchini and raddichio and enjoyed it with a nice green salad. The evening was thoroughly enjoyable and the wine kept flowing. After dinner we headed back out by the fire and enjoyed the beautiful evening. We busted out the Vin Santo and Montenegro and started a game of Monopoly which of course was not finished by the night's end. That game lasts forever!! Alan was of course winning by the time we all went to bed. Another wonderful day in Italia. Today was Firenze-- returing home :) Ma, sono stanco. I will write tomorrow!! xxo.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Facts about Toscano & Chianti + Cooking tips from Giovanella

The region of Chianti is famous for its incredible wine. They were once a part of Florence but are now considered part of Sienna which creates some rivalry in the region. They have been producing wine for centuries and are well known for the gallo nero (black rooster) sometimes pictured on their bottles. The region contains government agencies which control the production of all Chianti under DOCG's, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. To retain the Chianti name, a wine must follow certain standards which include the rule that Chianti's must contain at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. The other grapes blended into the wine may be chosen on an individual basis.
In Toscano, the food is seasonal and based on local ingredients. Cured meats found in Tuscany are much saltier then elsewhere because farmhouse bread was baked only once a week. In order to keep the bread from getting moldy, no salt was added to the dough. They compensated for this lack of salt by making the ham and salami saltier then most. This tradition lives on today. Tuscany is famous for its pork, beef, and lamb and the wines are the perfect accompaniment for these.

At our cooking class, I learned some awesome cooking tips from Giovannella:
-When cooking kale, it is best to freeze it for 30 minutes to an hour to "crisp" it so that it retains its texture during cooking.
-Ribollita is a dish always made in winter because of the components that make up the dish. It is always made with dry beans because "that's the way it's done." I love typical phrases like this which were quite common during our cooking lesson!
-When you cook the dry beans, they must be simmered, not boiled, overnight so the skin is soft.
-You must use Tuscan bread, not ciabatta, in the ribollita so that the bread doesn't get mushy. It's also best to use day old bread for the same reason.
-It is always better to use canned tomatoes in winter because they are only in season during the summer!!
-When cooking mushrooms, always add salt at the end because it extracts the water from them.
-When cutting endive, cut it down the middle, then cut the rest right side up so you can see the core and keep it attached.
-When you are cooking a frittata, simply turn the eggs over onto the lid to flip it.
-When making batters, always add alcohol (wine, beer, even port) to ensure that the fried result does not turn out mushy- our batter consisted simply of flour, wine, sugar and a bit of Vin Santo. Giovennella informed us we could use this for anything! Another key to crispy fried food is to keep the batter cold until you use it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 2: Voltaia and San Gimignano

My second suitcase still hasn't arrived and the word is "they have not found it yet," but I haven't let it bring me down. Although wearing the same shoes and lacking toiletries is getting old. Good thing I packed my toothbrush in my carry on! Today was fantastic!! We had to wake up a little early and we were all pretty tired but we had a wonderful breakfast of omelette, fresh pancetta, toast and espresso. We hopped in the van and headed to Castello di Volpaia in Radda in Chianti. Known as "the heart of Chianti," this historical town is owned by a husband and wife who were lucky enough to receive the property, including the vineyards, olive trees and most of the buildings, as a wedding gift. Giovannella is the proud owner of 2/3 of Volpaia and is also the one who gave us our cooking lesson and who we shared a wonderful meal with. We stopped in a town just below Volpaia and had some delicious cappuccinos with the locals then made it up to the town. After wandering a bit and finally asking for help from some citizens, we found Giovannella and Roberta who shared their beautiful town with us. We started off in an amazing kitchen with two parallel counters including 2 gas ranges and plenty of counter space to chop on. On the end of one counter was a stunning spread of fresh cavolo nero, fagioli, funghi, and herbs. All of the vegetables used were grown organically very locally in Volpaia. In fact, we saw the garden just on the outskirts of the city! Our menu included mushroom crostini, ribollita, Tuscan veal rolls, indivia stufata (stewed endive) and mele fritte (fried apples). Our family, Giovenella and 3 assistants barely crowded the kitchen as we began to prepare the meal. We started by preparing the vegetables- celery, carrots, and onion- by chopping them with a traditional mezza luna, a half moon shaped knife that you rock back and forth to easily mince ingredients. I want one of these for my kitchen! We went on to chop garlic and herbs for our other recipes. The lesson was extra special because we all got to help with each component of every dish! After cooking for a bit we relocated downstairs and enjoyed our crostini di funghi with our choice of red or white wine from the Volpaia vineyards. I chose the white wine, a Chardonnay, which was light, fruity and very delicious! The mushroom crostini was absolutely scrumptious and was served with some Pecorino, a sheep's milk cheese that was of course delectable. We headed back up to the kitchen with some vino rosso. The Chianti we drank was typical of the region, including 90% Sangiovese grapes and 10% Syrah and Merlot grapes. It was wonderful! We finished preparing the ribollita and let it cook on while we made the veal. The veal was a very flat, wide piece and was absolutely beautiful!! We first seasoned the meat and then made a fritatta which was simply two eggs cooked in olive oil. When we told Giovannella we used butter in the States she simply replied "it's the same thing," which gave us all quite a laugh! We topped the veal with the frittata and then layered that with some Mortadella. Then we rolled the meat, and tied it with a super cool tying technique which we will all be using in the future. We put the meat into a pan filled with olive oil, garlic and rosemary sprigs to cook. After that we made the endive which was simply blanched endive stewed with garlic, anchovies and tomatoes. Then we cored, peeled, and sliced apples, and created a delicious batter of flour, wine, sugar and Vin Santo for the mele fritte. To finish off, we completed the ribollita. In large pots, we first ladled soup and then topped it with day old bread, sliced very thinly. We continued layering until the pot was full and then put the ribollita in the oven to finish off. While our meal continued cooking, Roberta gave us a tour of the town. We began the tour by seeing where the olive oil is produced. Each batch produces around 4000 litres of olive oil which Roberta referred to as "a small amount." The Castello also rents the press out to locals who wish to press their own oil. Then on to the wine... She showed us first where all the grapes are transported and dumped. Apparently, when the grapes are harvested, all the tourists get excited because the tractors used to transport the grapes are made by Lamborghini. Silly American tourists :) The grapes then fall to a lower holding cell where they are pressed. The liquid is transported through underground pipes (which flow underneath the entire city) into the vats- steel or oak- which they are fermented and aged in. Seeing the underground holding and fermentation area was amazing as the casks were HUGE! The bigger casks hold up to 9000 bottles! The smaller casks produce a much different wine as the taste of wood is much stronger in the wine. They are used for longer aging. The oak casks are made from different areas which are shown on the front using symbols. Some of the ones we saw came from Sylvania and France. The crest of Castello di Volpaia was also pressed into each cask. Roberta then brought us to an aboveground room used to create Vin Santo. From the ceiling hung rows and rows of beautiful, small green and red grapes used for producing the Vin Santo. Unlike wine, Vin Santo is fermented and aged in the same cask. It was very, very cool to see the process behind the making of wine and olive oil and definitely made me appreciate the taste of both even more! After the tour we headed back and sat down at a beautiful table to eat our lunch. We were served two different types of Chianti, the traditional and a SuperTuscan which does not follow DOCG standards but can sometimes taste even better! The ribollita was absolutely amazing but Giovanella informed us that we were actually eating Minestra di pane. In order to be ribollita, the soup must rest overnight so that the bread entirely soaks up the flavor of the soup. Even so, I enjoyed the dish very much! The veal and endive followed which were both delicious! The veal rolls were thinly sliced and covered with the pan juices. I am typically not a huge fan of endive but it was so tender and juicy, without any of the usual bitterness of endive. We enjoyed our mele fritte, which were amazing, with the Castello's Vin Santo. The Vin Santo was very good, some of the best I have ever tried. We enjoyed fantastic conversation with Giovanella. We laughed about the usual tourists who visit and heard her tales of traveling the world. When I asked her where her favorite place to visit, she surprised me with the answer, AMERICA!! We also discussed the state of the food in America and what a shame the mass production and processing our food goes through is. Nothing like the beauty and freshness you experience all over Italy. After we said goodbye to Giovannella, with promises to meet again, we hopped down to the wine store where we purchased a Magnum of Chianti, a bottle of Vin Santo, and multiple bottles of the rich, fruity olive oil. What a wonderful day! We giggled the entire drive home and all took short siestas in our lovely beds when we arrived. I could get used to this explore, eat, drink, sleep routine!! After we woke up and got refreshed, we hit the road again, this time headed to San Gimignano. The drive was only about an hour and we managed to not get lost! We explored the town end to end for about an hour. The entire city is laden with beautiful, white Christmas lights and looks very festive and welcoming! It has been a bit rainy but with the season comes less tourists and it makes exploring much more enjoyable. Wandering the streets surrounded by Italians just has a certain charm to it :) We dined at a restaurant recommended by our concierge called Pino. After requesting a "tavolo per sei," we were seated and served complimentary champagne. After checking out the menus, we weren't shy- most of us went all out and ordered a 3 course meal. I started with a potato soup with pancetta, topped with a poached egg and shaved truffles (I can't resist...). The soup was very good. The poached egg was absolutely beautiful! When I pierced it, the dark yellow, almost orange yolk gushed out ever so slightly. Others enjoyed the tomato soup con polpetta (octopus) which was spicy and full of flavor! For our second course, half of us ordered a Pecorina raviolini with pumpkin puree and... you guessed it- shaved truffles! The pasta seemed almost fried but was very soft and blended perfectly with the puree. YUM! H and D both ordered the garganelli with duck and served with a slice of slightly cooked lardo. All aspects combined, the dish was delightful! Dad ordered the Cici Chingiale. Honestly, the boar never fails. It is rich, bold and tender and is just fantastic! For our secondo, most of ordered the lamb topped with foie gras and served with cavolo nero. Also on the table was a guinea hen, served with cavolo ferza, salmone with olives (which was something new for me, but went quite well when mixed with the mysterious underlying sauce), and chingiale stewed with tomatoes and olives- obviously a traditional Tuscano dish. We also ordered sides of white beans, a timbale of porcini e patate, green beans (gross!)stewed in tomatoes, and arugula salad which when dressed with the local olive oil and vinegar was fresh, light and wonderful. We enjoyed some Brunello di Montalcino (always delicious) and followed our meal with Montenegro e Vin Santo. Personally, I enjoyed the Castello's Vin Santo I drank earlier in the day much more. After our meal we took the long, but pleasant, walk back to the car and headed home. We got a little lost but finally navigated our way through the countryside and made it home. All of us are loving the signs lining the streets every 10 feet in Italy with symbols like deer "2m", and arrows which point at obvious things like the road, curbs, and intersections. As always, the erratic Italian driving is a little nervewracking but I must say I am getting used to it! I am off to bed now as it is late!! I fear that if I don't blog every night I will forget the days events and I would love to have a detailed account of my trip! Tomorrow, we are journeying to another vineyard and a sausage making factory. Yum, yum and yum!! Not to mention we are getting picked up by a driver so we can enjoy the vino as much as we please, even dad :) In the morning we are heading to the butcher and the grocery store to prepare for a homemade dinner tomorrow night. I will also be posting some fun random facts about Tuscany and Chianti and some fantastic cooking tips we received from Giovannella tomorrow as well! Also look forward to some pictures!! Ciao for now. xxo

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Voi primo giorno!

Ciao from Italia!! Us kiddies departed Orlando around 12:30 for our flight to NYC, then nearly missed our 8 hour flight to Roma. The flights were, as expected, hellish! Shrieking children on both and stuck taxiing in NYC for over an hour because of the weather... but WE MADE IT!! The free alcohol on our international flight definitely helped ease the pain of travel. We struggled to find mom and dad but after we finally met up with them we got in our huge Mercedes 9-seater van and hit the road! After making it out of the city, which apparently has seen a lot of growth according to my parents, we stopped at the first AGIP we saw. We loaded up on paninis (the bufalino had buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula, and the porchetta had an incredible roasted pork on a beautiful, hearty bread) and hit the road once again! We tried to stay up for the sake of dad but since none of us got any sleep we all ended up passing out. Dad navigated on his own for a bit, quite impressively, then we all woke up again as we passed by the towering town of Sienna (where we will be spending New Year's Eve). After a couple of missed turns, we made it to a small, quaint town on top of a hill called Montereggiano. I remember this town from trips past and returning to it was a pleasant surprise. The town is surrounded by walls and at its center is a small square lined with shops, ristoranti, and gelaterias. Other then the main square, there isn't much to see besides a few streets surrounding it, but it really is a memorable place to visit. Through its walls entrances you can overlook the Tuscan countryside and it's easy to fall in love with the quiet little town. We asked for a table of 6 at a restaurant my parents frequent and the waitress answered with the typical "no" and shake of the head. After a bit more persistence, and my dad's mad Italian speaking skills we managed to put our name in- they really struggled with Ganssle so we settled for DiPasqua. We walked around the town a little, exploring the streets and peeking into some of the stores. When we sat down to eat, everyone was immediately drawn to all the plates containing tartufo. Oh tartufo, how I have missed you!! I started out with l'antipasto tartufo which included bread with a mushroom puree and shaved tartufo on top, prosciutto filled with the same, cannelini beans with shaved truffles and chingiali, wild boar sausage, all presented on beautiful radicchio leaves. There is nothing like the smell of a fresh plate of delicious food where every component includes tartufo!! Alan and Dad both got the same primo piatti as me but mom got a melanzane soufflé served over a bright red tomato coulis which was very delicious! For my secondo, I ordered bistecca con funghi porcini. The porcini mushrooms were unreal! Tender, huge, and delicious!! The steak was ok though- I don't think I will be ordering bistecca for the rest of my trip. I'll stick to chingiale which Alan and Dad both enjoyed with a rustic tomato sauce stewed with olives. It was amazingly tender and flavorful. Mom ordered pasta con tartufo which was served over a freshly baked pastry and took my breath away. Heather ordered pasta con poricini and David ordered bistecca con tartufo. On top of that, we drank two great bottles of Brunello!! Dad and I finished off a great first meal with a glass of Montenegro and Moscato D'asti. We strolled back down to the car where I realized I left my purse sitting at the restaurant. I luckily retrieved it quite easily. I even used my Italian skills with the waiter, "dimentico la mia borsa!" After the meal we were all a little sleepy but with the excitement of reaching our villa and the beautiful Tuscan countryside rushing by, we all managed to stay awake! Mom and Dad somehow were able to find the small road that leads up into the terra federale that our villa and others reside on quite easily since they have been here before. We met up with our concierge and took the bumpy ride up to our villa, "Monterotondo". There is a lot of wildlife around and on the ride up I saw a pheasant! We made it to the villa and... WOW!!! It is SO BEAUTIFUL. It sits on the top of a hill so it boasts incredible views of the Tuscan countryside. The place is huge and rustic, with beautiful tile floors, brick ceilings, marble, marble, marble and huge windows which allow the beautiful Tuscan sun to shine in! The house is a main building including the kitchen (which is SO great), the living room, and dining room. Upstairs is the master bedroom and another bedroom, where I am staying. And then there are 2 "casitas" outside the house with their own sitting areas, bathrooms and bedrooms. The house even has a beautiful infinity pool which, unfortunately, is much too cold to venture into. Our concierge had already stocked our fridge with beautiful food- proscuitti, chingiali sausage, formaggi, and verdure. We settled in, unpacked and took showers and then our pizza dough that was freshly handmade was delivered!! After most of us conked out for short naps, we woke up and made fantastic pizzas! Outside the villa, there is a huge pizza oven. Dad filled it with logs then pushed the burning embers into the back to create the perfect atmosphere for the crusty, cheesy pizzas we produced. We added prosciutto, mushrooms, garlic, buffalo mozzarella and oregano onto our pizzas laden with homemade tomato sauce and enjoyed them with yet more bottles of great wine. It was so delicious and quite enjoyable. Mom and dad passed out while the kiddies did the dishes. We ventured outside into the freezing 30 degree weather and explored the property a bit. Heather, David and Alan got to see a huge jackrabbit enjoying our back yard! Everyone is exhausted now so we are all heading to bed. Tomorrow, we are taking a tour of a vineyard and receiving cooking classes! I will be sure to post about it and will be posting pictures, which I'm taking tons of, on Facebook ASAP. xxo