Travel Tips by Carrie: What to Pack

travel_tips_by_CarrieWhat to pack…
This question seems to plague many even when taking a trip as short as two days. Imagine a month or even a semester in Italy! I, on the other hand, love to pack. If you don’t believe me, see my Top Ten Tips for Packing Luggage or my Favorite Things series. At the end of my last vacation, I spent the evening with a friend packing her suitcases.
 
One of my very favorite things is the PACK THIS Packing List (see image below). It really is the ultimate travel and packing list, leaving nothing out. Well, okay, I think it leaves a few important things out. There are some items that are rarely included on standard packing lists and that I believe can make all of the difference. The good news is that you likely have all of these items at home already and they are all also light as a feather (AKA won’t contribute to that critical weight limit).
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Sandwich Wars: Il Cernacchino

Battle No.5
The Challenger: Il Cernacchino
For rules, regulations, and a fascinating review of sandwich history, see here. For our current rankings, see this blog’s side bar.
 
Just when you thought I couldn’t eat another panino…Sandwich Wars returns!
Quick review: The ranks didn’t change much after last month’s battle with Gustapanino. All’Antico Vinaio is still in first place with their outright ridiculous Finocchiona panino. Da’Vinattieri remains close behind with their super salty, and downright addictive, porchetta sandwich. I think they’re getting a little cozy up there at the top, don’t you?
Florence_paninoThis month I needed something new to shake things up. I started asking my friends established in the gastronomic scene here in Florence where they were getting their panini these days. Someone mentioned a place called Il Cernacchino, on Via Condotta, right in the center of Florence, just off Piazza della Signoria. I had never heard of it and I was skeptical. My first thought was, it will be crazy crowed. Nope. Ok, well then it will definitely be overprized. Not at all. Alright then, get ready for a disappointment taste-wise. Wrong again.
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Photo of the Week: Spring in Italy!

Photo of the Week: Spring in Italy!

Wisteria. In Italian it is called glicine (GLY-she-ne) and it is one of the telltale signs of spring here in Italy. It starts blooming over walls, under gates, and around corners from inside hidden gardens you never knew existed. Even if you can’t see it, the streets are suddenly full of the fragrance of these delicate purple flowers, letting you know that it’s springtime again. Like most of the April and May blooms, they only last a few weeks, so I take every opportunity to hunt down the best and most fragrant examples. This particular display of sprawling branches all stem from a single trunk and spread out over the entirety of a large canopy covering a courtyard outside Pompeii. Apparently, it’s one of the wisteria plant’s particular abilities to grow quite far from its main source. The largest known example spreads over 43,560 square feet.

While I was researching wisteria to learn more about this amazing plant (technically in the pea family), one site described them thus: “Among their attributes are hardiness, vigor, longevity and the ability to climb high.” I think that is exactly the kind of plant we all need to see in spring. (For now we’ll just ignore this other little detail: “mature wisteria can become immensely strong with heavy wrist-thick trunks and stems. These will certainly rend latticework, crush thin wooden posts, and can even strangle large trees.”) Aw. They’re very pretty and don’t know their own strength. Sounds like a lot of people I know.

Happy Spring.

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What is in Season: Fava Beans

A few weeks ago I posted a photo of the week of some seasonal roman cauliflower and later some super fresh artichokes from the local market that – somewhat unintentionally – transformed into mini cooking adventures. It turns out that while I am by no means a “chef,” I can read a recipe and improvise reasonably well in the kitchen (who knew?). It also turns out that doing so is quite rewarding. More than that…it’s empowering! I used to avoid the fresh artichokes in my grocery store. I looked at them as foreign, unknown, and as a potential threat to my cooking confidence. I fear them no longer. As soon as I noticed this amazing transformation, I started to look around my grocery store and see veggies I had never tried before just waiting to be cooked, eaten, and conquered. So I made a deal with myself. I decided that I would try to always buy what is in season, find out the best way to eat it, and well…eat it. If I am feeling frisky I may even try a recipe of my own, but let’s not get too crazy. For a full list of what vegetables are in season when see this site. For my own simplified list of what is in season in Italy, scroll to the bottom of this blog. OK. Onto the first veggie victim.
This month I tackle: The Fava Bean.
 
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Photo of the Week: Chianti Countryside

Photo of the Week: Chianti Countryside

This is the breathtaking view looking out over the Tuscan hillside from the town of Panzano, located in the municipality of Greve, halfway between Florence and Siena. This quaint hilltop town is situated along the Chiantigiana, the famous road that runs through the heart of the Chianti Classico region. This particular image shows a rather unusual geological feature for this region: a wide, low valley, rather than what are more typically narrow and deep valleys. This particular example is the biggest and most famous of these features, known as the Conca d’Oro (The Golden Bowl). Aside from being maybe the most beautiful sight I have ever seen, the particular combination of soil, altitude, and temperature on these slopes are ideal for chianti grapes, making the Golden Bowl highly coveted wine territory.

Aside from its amazing wine and incredible views, Panzano has also been put on the map thanks to a certain local butcher. Yes, I said butcher. The Butcher of Panzano, Dario Cecchini. Think I’m joking? Ask Anthony Bourdain. I recently was lucky enough to take part in the weekly Sunday lunch at one of his three (yes, three) restaurants in Panzano. It was an unspeakable three-hour feast of all the most delicious cuts of meat you have ever tasted. Not to worry, I plan on blogging about that soon enough. I just have not recovered enough to talk about it yet.

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