You all know that I was in Italy for a couple weeks this summer. Starting months before we left, Mama began speaking to me in a new way. “Are you thirsty? Hai sete?” “Here is your milk. Ecco il tuo latte.” “Where is your book? Dov’e il suo libro?” “Under the bed. Sotto il letto.” You get the idea. She and Papa kept telling me about the big airplane we would take and all the trains we would ride. (I love trains!) Did you know that we ate dinner on the airplane? And that we slept on it too? The plane was where I was introduced to my first succo di frutta (fruit juice), specifically succo di pesca (peach juice). As I don’t get to drink juice at home, I started to think I was going to like Italy!
We flew into Rome then took a train to Florence. Right away I noticed that things were different. I didn’t understand anything anyone said–even Mama, when she spoke to other people! There were so many people everywhere we went, and all kinds of crazy traffic. I’ve never seen so many cars, scooters, buses, and bicycles in one place–often crammed into the same street. Even the police sirens sounded different.
Papa had to work while we were in Florence, so Mama and I did a lot of sightseeing together. She had been there before, so that freed us up to just walk all over without an agenda, play in parks, go swimming, chase piccioni (pigeons), and eat whatever we wanted. (But boy, let me tell you how awful those cobblestones are when you’re riding in a stroller. Nearly two months later, I still think I could use a chiropractic adjustment!) We shopped at the Mercato Centrale, a large indoor market chock-full of produce, meats, flowers, and dry goods. Mama bought us lots of albicocche (apricots), mele (apples), lamponi (raspberries), banane (you know this one), and frutta secca (dried fruit).
It was very hot during the day, so the gelato was plentiful. Some people think gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream,
but that’s not so. I’ve had a taste or two of ice cream in the past, and I can tell you it doesn’t even come close to the soft, creamy, lightness that is gelato. Every flavor we ate tasted just like what it was supposed to. I can’t even remember all the lovely flavors we ate because we ate that many of them. We had them in the morning, after lunch, during our evening passeggiata (stroll). Between all the little bottles of succhi di frutta and the various stops for cups of gelati, I think Mama had convinced herself that sugar was somehow less of an issue while on foreign soil. She would have me point out, however, that the fruit juice was quite different over there; it was very nearly just pureed fruit poured into a bottle.
Another thing I found different in Italian cuisine was the breakfast. For starters, the yogurt is much thinner, like kefir, but it still tastes pretty much like the yogurt I eat at home. But let me tell you, it’s a whole lot more difficult to eat with a spoon when you’re just learning how to use one. I liked feeding myself the tangy flavors of yogurt while Mama gathered the rest of our breakfast at the hotel–including fried prosciutto. Oh. My. Goodness. I’ve had bacon before, and I’ve had prosciutto, but whatever I ate in Italy was a revelation. It was slightly crispy and slightly salty and tasted of perfection. How can something so simple taste so different? The other really great thing about Italian breakfasts is the cornetti, which are something like crossaints. They’re flaky and buttery and usually there’s a tasty filling inside!
Because of the change in time zone, my usual naptime was right around the time Mama and Papa would go to dinner. They found this to be a winning combination, as Italian meals take a really long time. The waiters aren’t pushing to get you fed and out the door so the next diners can take your place. Obviously, this poses a slight problem for parents of toddlers…unless the timing happens to be in your favor. As it often was for us. Sometimes I would eat my antipasti then fall asleep in time for Mama and Papa to enjoy their meals.
Other times, I fell asleep on the walk over and woke sometime during the meal so that I could get a few bites in my tummy.
My best meal, however, was on our last night in Florence, at a trattoria called Za-Za. I made it through my delicious antipasti before drifting off into a slumber. And what an antipasti plate! You might recall that I enjoy pâté, and the chicken pâté here was the best I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Mama). I just couldn’t eat enough. Then there was the omelette with truffles–oh my yum. Italain omelettes are different from what you might make at home or get at a diner here in the States. They’re very thin and almost oily, and cooked just enough. And there were plentiful olives (which Papa doesn’t like) and fresh mozzarella. I wish I could remember everything on that plate because it was all so delicious. My brown-butter gnocchetti arrived just as my eyes closed. Not a bad last meal in this birthplace of the Renaissance. Next stop, Sorrento!