It’s Simple.

After having a serious talk with one of my roommates the other day about living in a completely unknown environment for three months, I realized something. Had I not been pushed into a group of 10 other students, forced to wear un-flattering pastry apparel, and condemned to arrive at the bakery at 6:30am on some days, my life here in Florence would have been completely different.

Yes, I tend to complain that I can’t always get my daily recommended hours of sleep, I grumble about the fact that by the time I get home I’m too exhausted to explore Florence, and I occasionally get angry when I have to redo something 4 times because I didn’t get it right the 1st time.

But, I’ve made a family. I’ve made a family of roommates, who hail from all over the United States and world and I’ve made a family of pastry-prison mates, who are in my presence 40 hours per week. I’ve been introduced to individuals who are astonishingly just like me and have connected with them on such a personal level, planning trips, jumping up and down at the site of brown butter ravioli, and salivating over the prospect of truffle hunting.

I love these people.

And to be completely honest, my life here would be miserable without them.

Not because Florence isn’t one of the most beautiful places on earth (because it is), but because I believe that no matter where you are it is the people who make your experience what it is. And since I’ve been here, I feel as if those people have engulfed me into their arms as a part of them, like we have known each other for years.

And, I want to talk about the impact of 4 individuals. (Yet there are MANY more)

Jessica Barton: The girl I befriended because I liked her accent and wanted to visit Australia. Little did I know, she was my kangaroo-riding twin, complete with accounting degree, food obsession, a tendency to stress too much, an over-achieving disorder, and an “on a whim” purchaser of cruises.

I feel like she has been my friend forever. The number of serious conversations we have had about our future, our career, our self-esteem, and our desire to succeed have been innumerable. She is completely honest with me and has literally told me to “get over myself.”

Which, my dad will tell you, is exactly what I need…and sadly, it is. But, I just love her for that.

And I love being able to make fun of the way she says certain things. Which may not be nice, but its real fun…I mean…real fun.

And it was in that little moment where Jessica hit me on the street one afternoon while we were walking somewhere that I knew she was family.

Because, she didn’t say anything.

She felt that comfortable with me that she knew we were ok, she didn’t need to rationalize her reason for the spur of the moment body swaying. And that little gesture changed everything for me.

We were family.

And then there is Colleen Brennan, the girl who I needed to fly half way across the world to find. The girl who attends college in State College, PA which is 50 minutes from my house. The girl who has a Ralph Lauren obsession and who delights in overly extravagant recipe combinations.

Has the Lord created a double of me and placed in it someone else’s body?

Her personality is completely unique, yet addicting. When cooking, you leave Colleen ALONE. She focused, she ready. You no mess with her. I love it. Then, the next minute, you give her a jar of seasoned salt and she will start laughing uncontrollably until you take it away from her or she huffs it all.

She has introduced me to brown-butter sage sauce and

She has changed my life forever, and made me feel a part of HER family.

And dear Suzy Q, Susan Tuberville, my southern belle roommate from Tennessee. The cutest thing you’ll ever find, she has a heart the size of Texas. Her passion for human-kind is something to be envied. Susan has a tendency to slowly open my door and pop herself in just to say hello. She gracefully maneuvers herself to my bed, sits down, and we just talk….for hours.

I love how she feels comfortable enough to share her feelings about God, her love life triumphs, and her big disappointments. With her willingness to share her information, she helps me feel desired and needed. She makes me feel that I am just one of her family. Those moments are so special.

Simone de Castro, the head pastry chef of Apicuis is another one of those individuals who have lavished their support on me without knowing it. Being the sarcastic, over energetic, loud mouthed individual that I’m known to be, when I’m in a foreign place or a foreign group, I tend to be the quiet one. It’s not until I’m comfortable with my surroundings that my true self shows itself, be that good or bad.

Some would say that’s bad ( aka Dad ;) )

But Simone has been able to put his finger on my personality and help it radiate throughout the entire classroom. I have found myself rationalizing why we had extra dough or deviously convincing the man that class should end early. I have witnessed myself being myself. And his personality has allowed mine to shine through. I feel welcome in the lab. I feel like what I do matters. Even though today I burnt simple syrup, I got my spatula caught in the industrial mixer, and cut chocolate crooked. But, we will just forget about that.

And like I said, I truly believe that people effect how you experience something. And so far, my experience has been simply indescribable. And actually, I have found that involving myself in the simple things with those people that make me feel so welcome are the things that affect me the most.

With those people in those simple environments, I find myself having those moments. Simple things like petting a cat, talking to an old man about his wine, gazing at the countryside of Tuscany, or eating citrus pasta and riding a carousel. I’m not sure if those things SHOULD be as enjoyable as they are because those things in themselves are nothing until you have an eye-opening moment with those you love.

I have these experiences at home too: Like playing soccer with my dad on the field, watching a sappy movie with my family, ordering take-out and eating it in our family room, enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, taking 4 hours to open our Christmas gifts, and seeing the expression on Blake’s face when I bought him a Nerf gun. Those are the things in my life that I remember the most. It’s not what I was doing; it was who I was doing them with.

Relationships are simply the most important things in life, and yet we tend to keep our heads down while walking, go to work, make money, come home, watch TV, and do it all over again the next day. Shouldn’t we be MAKING time for people? Shouldn’t we be focusing more on the human relationships and less on trying to woo them with lavishness? For to me, a simple visit to the park with a peanut butter sandwich and my daddy would mean more to me than any elaborate restaurant he could take me too. The simple things are an excuse to experience a true relationship and not worry about the frills.

I think that may be why simple prayers are always the most effective. Not effective for God, but effective for our sanity. When we complicate and sugar coat things, the simplicity is lost, the point may be too.

So maybe spending time with God can be focused on simplicity and not focused on something that we simply can’t understand. I don’t think fancy Bible study books with gold pages and confusing questions are the only way to spend time with our heavenly Father.

Spend time with God in the car, listening to the radio. Spend time with God while you are eating pasta. Spend time with God when you are sitting.

Spend time with God eating a peanut butter sandwich while having picnic in the park. Because the simplicity of your heart will lend yourself to hear what God wants to tell you.

You don’t need to go to a fancy restaurant to have a good meal with your father.

And some of my simple family moments here, I want to share with you:

It all started with a simple visit to Piazza Del Republica, which is home to an artisan market that runs several times a month. When I enter said markets, I either convince myself to walk the other way, or let all my self-control go to rubbish.

I let myself lose and entered the rubbish stage. And, might I add, going to one of these things with Jessica just means that we are basically rubbish PILES of self-control. But besides that fact, we were pleasantly surprised to see our favorite little agriturismo in Chianti, San Leo, selling their amazing honey and olive oil products.

And we saw the stand from Greve that had the BEST pesto, made with several different ingredients.

And the truffle man that we met in Greve was there too, but this time it was his son. He was so friendly to us and treated us like family just because we had met his father.

Jessica and I decided to have a simple dinner get together and purchase some of the organic pastas that one of the stands had. And truly, it was quite a treat. The woman who sold it to us was so proud of her products, which was actually quite inspiring. All of her goods were organic  and pasta was whole wheat.

And then, we got caught. Caught by the lure of biscotti. Not just any normal double-baked, almond filled, crunchy crunch biscotti, these were soft AND filled with chocolate.

Really big chunks of chocolate.

These people were brilliant for letting innocent walk-byers sample their product. It was a devious plan to force all those who sampled into buying their devishly delicious cookies.

It worked for me anyway. I purchased 4 flavors: Vanilla with chocolate chunks (personal favorite), chocolate with white chocolate chunks, classic crunchy almond biscotti, and coconut macaroon morphed into a biscotti.

They were literally the best biscotti I’ve ever had.

And I was able to share them with Jessica (and Colleen, who we invited over for our simple pasta dinner). And sharing them with someone else who appreciates the same things is such a blessing.

Although that did leave less for me.

You can get a closer look at their products and where they are located on this website,

So we started with several simple ingredients and friends who have quickly become my family. It was literally a “picnic in the park” scene.

We started with pear slices, fresh pecorino cheese, and Whinny the Pooh honey (Side note: I bought that because it was cute and am not ashamed). We also picked up a loaf of (still warm) freshly baked French bread from our local grocery store.

And to those pureed tomatoes and whole wheat handmade pasta, we added fresh basil and buffalo mozzerella.

And it was like, oh my gosh, this stuff is so whole and healthy, I don’t even know what to do right now.

So all that we did was eat and enjoy and talk and laugh and bask in the relationships that we had made.

Oh, but Colleen, she was up to it again. She is one incredible girl who makes amazing food, like this dish she surprised us with that night.

Simple refrigerated gnocchi, cooked, drained, then dumped into an incredible sauce made of browned butter, fresh sage, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

I’m serious. I have been in Italy for 7 weeks, have dined at some pretty phenomenal restaurants, had the best food of my life, and this…..this might have been the best thing that I’ve ever eaten, or at least the best pasta. And you know what she said…

It’s really good with sweet potato.

She said the SP word. Now she speaking my language.

I didn’t even know what to do with myself.

I teared up when it was gone and practically fell to Colleen’s feet begging her to teach me her ways.

And then after that was done and our biscotti was demolished, we just talked. We talked for hours. We talked about the bakery, our future, what we want out of life, our goals and dreams.

And there is was again. We were in a simple situation, eating simple food, not spending an extravagant amount of money, we weren’t dressed up, nor had we any plans of going anywhere. We were sitting at an old wooden table, drinking water, and having bonding time. We were just chatting. It was comfortable, easy, and SIMPLE. And we built a better relationship.

I’m also drawn to the meal that Jessica, Colleen, and I prepared for all of the roommates one evening.

I was in my element and yet it was still in a comfortable situation where we all felt like we could be ourselves, eat as  much as we wanted, and say whatever came to our mind.

I even bought white Truffle cream sauce. Yeah, I know…that’s pretty cool.

And sweet Susan left a note on my bed telling me how excited she was for the dinner and bestowed upon me the gift of Venus.

And so I cooked and laughed and ate and made one of my signature salads (greens, apples, sweet potato hash, caramelized onions, and honey olive oil). We were then treated to an amazing date cake, compliments of Jessica. And again, it BLEW my mind. Combined with a simple flavor of caramel and cream flavored gelato, this dessert literally hits my top 5 desserts that I have ever consumed.

And how can all of this be right? How can I enjoy something so much in such a simple environment?

It’s because simplicity is where your mind can be opened to real feelings, where you can experience real moments, and where relationships grow and flourish.

So, maybe its time to take a picnic and spend time with those you love.

Eat a peanut butter and jelly with your Daddy.  

We are told in the scriptures to “become like children,” which is why striving for simplicity makes so much sense. Children aren’t overwhelmed by paying the bills, they aren’t fretting about saying the wrong thing to their boss, they would rather eat sprinkles than steak. Children are simple. Children enjoy peanut butter and jelly in the park.

Matthew 18:2-3, “He called a little child to him, and place the child among him. And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The road may not be easy, but the decision to believe in something greater than us is freeing and simple. And when relationships are based in simplicity, they are pure, honest, and provide you with strength to face any circumstance.

God, help me to continue to bask in the simplicity of situations. Help me come to you as a child, with a clear mind, an open heart, and a willingness to follow your plan. Continue to mature me in your ultimate plan and give me sereneity when “planning” my future. For in you, I should never be afraid. Your ultimate plan is holy and just. All that I have to do is trust you.

It’s that simple.

Ciao for now, American friends.