First Days as an Italian

Other than waking up at 12:30pm (and feeling like a bum), my first days as an Italian were quite stressful, but in a “this will be ok” kind of way. My stomach and sleeping schedule were still left in confusion, as I woke up and still felt no desire to eat. Now, let me break it down for you, I’m in Italy and I’m obsessed with food.

Something must be done about this situation.

So, I decided to venture off to a small market before orientation at my new school. There, I found a strange looking banana yogurt type product and orange, and an apple. They all looked promising and both seemed to be something I could recognize (even without translation). I placed the fruit on the belt, hoping the man wouldn’t try to ask me how my day was going in Italian, and I then be forced to mumble some blasphemously American sounded version of some Italian phrase that I thought I could pronounce.

All that he did is point. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to tell me about a sale on fruit, pretending to be a statue, or doing some rendition of a Michael Jackson song.

But, after he showed me how to place the apple in the bag, weigh it, and press the number on the scale that is listed on the price tag of the fruit….I felt like I had just failed preschool.

Yet another cultural lesson. Just because America weighs fruit for you, doesn’t mean that everyone else will.

However, I still think he was trying to perfect his thriller dance moves.

I ate that yogurt, tried to read the nutritional contents and realized something: Not only was I not going to be able to count my calories in Italy (because I can’t understand anything..yet), I was probably not going to NEED to. Everything in Italy is so less preserved, so much more fresh, and lasts so little (which is quite a good thing). Food isn’t meant to last forever. Cheeseburger Happy Meals are not supposed to last three months (and look like it did when you first bought it).

Trust me. I did the experiment.

So after this strange tasting yogurt and this profound realization, I went to orientation (Jared was off climbing a mountain…it’s what he does). Orientation lasted a LONG LONG time. They taught us many things that aren’t typical in the United States. The only one I thought was very interesting is this: If you are a single lady and take a cab after 10pm at night, you get a 10% discount. Pretty cool, huh?

Then, we walked half way across the city to the place where I will be having all of my classes. I was so thrilled that the main building was 6 min. walking from my apartment, that I failed to realize the fact that I will not be having ANY classes there. No, my building is far far away.

Like, I have to exert more energy than I had ever even planned on exerting…just to get there!

Then, after I get there and I’m done for the day…I have to walk back! Do these people know who I am!!??

Unfortunately, they do. An American who is completely capable of walking 20 minutes to class every day.

I just don’t like to admit that.

Here, I was immediately in awe at the sights that my eyes beheld. A stainless steel kitchen area where the Italian “Master Chef” degree seakers where tossing pasta, cutting vegetables, and sporting stylish chef hats and pristine white jackets.

Had I died of over-walking and gone to heaven?

We were then divided up into our separate sections and I met the 10-15 other Baking and Pastry majors. We went to the “Pastry Lab,” complete with blast freezer, multiple mixers, large ovens, and smelling of buttermilk. There, the other pastry majors and I would spend hour after hour slaving over beautiful and mystifying culinary treasures.

It would be our kitchen prison, as we would soon come to realize.

We received our class schedule, which consists of:

  • Italian Classical Cakes and Tarts: Students will study the history and background of various national and regional cakes and tarts. The course will cover the origin of classical cakes, variations from classical methods, and customer-driver deviations from traditional preparations. Students will study a variety of dough, batters, fillings, and glazes, with an emphasis on a thorough understanding of techniques and proper skill execution for Italian cakes. Special attention will be paid to advanced creaming methods (separated creaming methods, creaming without leavening agents) and combination methods. Piping skills are practiced.
  • Baking Techniques: Introduces the functions of baking ingredients (such as yeast, flour, and shortening), mixing methods for doughs, fermentation techniques, heat transfer methods. Focus on basic elements such as pastry dough, sponge cake, pate a choux, puff pastry, plunder, danesi, croissant, egg/butter based basic cream, production and conservation of fruit conserves and meringues. In this course, students taste and test the products they create as well as complete a research assignment.
  • Breads of Italy and Specialty Breads: Building on previous knowledge, students learn to mix, shape, bake, store, and distribute breads and rolls. Emphasis will be placed on increased use of traditional fermentation methods, equipment, and methods that emphasize flavor, texture, and appearance as well as techniques that increase shelf life. This course offers the opportunity to learn the principles and techniques of preparing multi-grain breads, sourdoughs, holiday or seasonal breads, and flat breads. Special emphasis will be placed on Italian regional breads: handling grains (such as soakers) for specialty breads; mixing shaping, and finishing specialty breads; and learning innovative baking methods.
  • Pastry Shop (aka Early Morning Death at Fedora): A study of classical desserts, French, Italian, and international pastries, hot and cold desserts. Emphasis on advanced techniques, as well as the safe and sanitary handling of equipment and food supplies. Emphasis will be placed on the production of high quality, handcrafted desserts for retail, commercial and food service bakeries.
  • Fedora: This is the part of being a pastry major that I can’t say I’m looking forward to. Every three weeks, myself and a group of 3 others take part in running the pastry shop on campus, called Fedora. I like to refer to it as cheap labor, but technically I’m paying to work. So, I guess it would be more like labor profit. So, in two weeks, it will be me, trudging across the 294 blocks to get to Fedora…at 6am. Not. cool. Yet, I’m strangely looking forward to it. Plus, I kind of enjoy the fact that I can complain about something.
  • Cookies and Petit Fours: This course provides students with a fundamental working knowledge of the traditional methods of producing cookies and petit fours. The course will explore the preparation ad design of unfilled and filled cookies and mignardises. Topics covered include the creaming method, depositing cookies (sliced, dropped, spritz, rolled, and bar), as well as methods of mixing, shaping, baking, filling, finishing, storing, packaging, pricing, and distributing cookies.
  • Italian Language for Hospitality Majors: Pretty self explanatory. This translates to: Making Lauren not feel like an idiot when communication with Italians is necessary.
  • Weekend Seminar: Food Safety and Sanitation: This course introduces food production practices. Topics covered include prevention of food borne illness through proper handling of potentially hazardous foods, legal guidelines, kitchen safety, facility sanitation, safe practices of food preparation, storing, and reheating guidelines.
  • Weekend Seminar: Local Restaurants and Wine Bars: Signature Chefs and Sommeliers: Industry professional come together in a series of seminars covering their personal and professsional experiences as well as offering insight and advice to participating students.
  • Weekend Seminar: The Art of Gelato and Italian Ice: This seminar introcues to the art of making gelato, Italian-style sorbet and Ice. Seminar includes history, nutrient composition of gelato, and how to formulate flavors, displays case techniques and decorations, and recipes.
  • Weekend Seminar: Italian Celebrating Desserts: This survey and workshop course examines the Italian peninsula through regional desserts. Italian desserts, like its cuisine, vary from region to region and often play a central role in historic festivities, regional fairs and festivals, religious celebrations, etc, such as the fried cenci fritters during Carnevale or panettone and pandoro during the Christmas and New Year season. The lessons will conduct the student through a sweet journey through Italy by focusing on specific desserts and their historical and folkloristic contexts. The workshop portion of this course will offer hands practice in the preparation and presentation of regional desserts.
  • Weekend Seminar: Introduction to Nutrition: This course introduces students to the basic nutrition concepts such as calories, nutrient density and dietary reference intake. Through the course the characteristics and the role of the basic nutrients (Protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, and minerals) Will be closely examined and different food combinations analyzed and discussed. The concept of food pyramid will be extensively analyzed and different food pyramids and their cultural and scientific backgrounds compared: the Mediterranean, the USDA, the traditional Latin American, the Asian and the Vegetarian. Menu composition and meal planning will be discussed from the nutritionists point of view.

Plus, for the first time in my entire life, I was FORCED to buy a cookbook. I liked it….I liked it alot.

Behold…On Baking. I was even blessed with the opportunity to visit an English bookstore and feel at home, for about 15 minutes before shoved back into Italian culture.

We were also given our very very expensive “kits,” which included a long spatula (when wrapped, looks like a butcher knife), two rubber spatulas, a chef’s hat, and two embroidered chef jackets. Also, I purchased two black pants to go with my jackets, and some very very ugly steel toes crocks.

The things I do to be a Baking and Pastry Major.

Along the way, I met some pretty amazing people in my major. Jessica, who is from Australia…and is a CPA. I almost feel like she is me and I am her. Yesterday, she told me something that caused me to have a slight convulsion.

“Lauren, sometimes when I eat a meal that doesn’t taste great, I get really upset because I know I can’t eat for 5 more hours)”

Wow. Is she inside me?

I also met, Litel, who is from Israel and is as cute as a button! I’m so excited to make pastries with these girls and meet the others! I mean, we are living in kitchen prison together, we will form some type of everlasting bond, I’m sure.

After all of this rift-raft, Jared and I stumbled back into the apartment and we were ready for Italian food night number two, it was still hard imagining that I would be eating Italian food every day…because I’M IN ITALY!

We decided to walk across the River to a place that we just bumped into. It was a gem.

I started off with a delicious deconstructed salad, consisting of greens, walnuts, pear, Tuscan cheese, and the most delicious honey that I have ever beheld.

Then, to keep with the pear theme and to attend to order creatively, I spotted something on the menu that I have never seen: Pear Ravioli in a savory alfredo sauce.

I’ve been in Italy only a few moments, but this pasta has broken my heart. The sweet and semi-crunchy nature of the

pear filling was the perfect compliment to the savory alfredo sauce.

I want it in my mouth again.

Right now. Close up?


Then, I ended the evening with yet another taste of gelato. It seems to be a recurring theme with me.

Jared’s chocolate chip was one of note. It was creamy with very thin crunchy chocolate shreds ribboned inside.

I ate a lot of it.

Yeah, yeah, the mooch things is something I AM aware of.

I fell asleep after dreaming of being at home in my bed. Every day, however, is getting a bit easier. Florence is beautiful and I am in it, the task I now have before me is to juice every drop of culture out of it that I physically can. Before I know it, all this will be gone, and back in my bed I WILL be.

Ciao for now!