Culinary Post #6: Cultural Reflection

Who would’ve thought there was so much chemistry in the art of culinary especially in Italy. From the cutlureal wonders of the authentic Italian wine to the dark elixir of coffee beans straight from the venders themselves–I’ve expierenced the upmost culinary and cultural experience of italy in a month. Life living amongst the locales of Arezzo has

 

From the hilarious wine wheel of flavours:

aromawheel

All throughouFlorence-entral-Waste-Collectiont Italy, form Florence to Arezzo I’ve noticed that Europeans are very environmentally conscious. In Florence, they have underground trashcans/garbage cans! Never have I ever been so excited about trash cans before! It’s sanitary feats include the foot push lever located at the bottom right. Then when the trashcan/garbage disposal guy comes around to collect the trash, instead of dumping it by turning it upside down and risk dumping trash outside the truck, the truck lifts the trashcan up and the trashcan falls from the bottom reducing the dispersion of dust and other pollutants.

Furthermore, their attitude towards the environment doesn’t stop at trashcans. During our multiple winery visits, I’ve noticed that most of the workers there love to emphasize their ability to use environmentally friendly.

I’m an Italian pasta chef (I wish)! My souvenir to my parents will be displaying my pasta making skills. During pasta making, I learned how to  make authentic italian pastas (e.g. ravioli, spaghetti, gnocchi) from scratch. All that was needed was a rolling pin, flour, egg, and a fork. (We didn’t even use a bowl!) However, for the gnocchi it needed grounded potatoes and the ravioli–of course–called for a spinach artichoke filling.

The spaghetti  was easy. we just cracked an egg, stirred it in our makeshift flour bowl and kneaded it into a ball. Then we rolled it out and sliced it into strips of noodles. With our hands still caked in dough, we began making our ravioli. With the same steps as the spaghetti (minus the cutting it into strips part), we dropped a dollop of filling into a small area of the rolled out dough and then sliced it with a ravioli slicer. We then firmly pressed (maybe a better word to used is “pinched”) together the to sides to ensure the filling would not spill out. Typically one would see ravioli sliced into square pieces, but I’m no typical person–Bae (our instructor) told us to be creative–so with my asian abilities sliced the ravioli into dumpling/potsticker shapes and threw it in with the rest of the ravioli. I didn’t do it out of arrogance (well not entirely) but I also wanted to discern which ravioli was mine when it was time to eat. Even my professor spiced things up a bit; he made hexagonal shaped to prove that the hexagon would be able to fit the optimal amount filling ratio in the ravioli (the perks of making pasta with an ochem professor)!

Aside: Whilst we were making noodles, my culinary professor, Dr. Morvant took a picture:

13432163_1256190774414372_7742774853898285563_n

Finally, it was time to make the gnocchi. With the help of Bae’s mother, she made the potato and flour base to save us time. But we were there to cut the dough into tiny gnocchi sized pieces (unfortunately, i can’t be that creative with such limited options). When all was done, we indulged in three pasta dishes prepared with their superbly delectable sauces! Also another perk of taking ochem and culinary classes, we also had a glass of their house wine to pair with the pasta dishes.

Later my professor will email me the recipe and I’ll share with ya’ll! Till then, Ciao!

Italian word of the day: Pasta is pasta and it sounds like pah-stah. Okay so that was lame here’s a more useful word: pomodoro (sounds like pom-moh-dough-row) which means tomato.

Culinary Post #5: Second Winery Visit: Fattori La Vialla

As wine improves with age, so do I improve with wine.

This has been our second winery visit during ochem and boy it just keeps getting better. As always, the winery was located atop a resplendent chianti hill. When we first arrived, our breathes were taken away by the peacock that strutted across our path. After a short minute, we saw a quail waddling as fast as his little chicken legs could go after him. According to the Fattori La Vialla, the organic, family style winery, this was a rendition of their Romero and Juliet (but hopefully it doesn’t end as tragically).

13533153_1261715357195247_989154360931031516_n13507267_1261714230528693_3709624542791412488_n

Fattori La Vialla is a farm and wine estate that produces wine, live oil, and cheese from the sheep they raise. Inside their wine cellar, there were rows and rows of wooden barrels of wine. Wooden barrels are not easy to manage. The cellar is kept at a constant temperature of 11-18C without having to rely on artificial electricity.  Most of the wooden barrels were made to age the wine, in particular the white wine. These barrels were made of oak and can store up to 500L of grape juice. Against the left side of the wall, barrels are thicker (55mm) and larger; these were used to store red wine that was stored under  25-27C. However, wooden barrels were not the only medium for storing wine–they also used terracotta.

Image-5

One fascinating feat about this winery was that they have no filter. We were able to taste the wine straight out of the barrel without a filter to eliminate the sediments. Our wine tour guide stuck a clear glass pipet into the barrel and when he took it back out, we noticed the wine was clear–much like the wine you would see in a typical wine bottle. However our wine conossier told us that chiantis are always a bend,so he stirred the wine inside the barrel with a wooden stick. He then transferred the now mixed and foggy wine into our cups where we tasted less tart and a more flavourful blend of sweetness then the completely clear wine.

Image-4

Apparently they only transfer the wine from one barrel to other after everyone year and a half. It is also almost exclusively mad bout of yeast–cells function as a natural antioxidant and when the yeast cells die, they release sugar.

On top of each terracotta and red wine barrels was an hourglass like mechanism that was used to regulate the amount of oxygen in the barrel because if it gets too much oxygen, the wine will turn into vinegar.

202

The difference between terracotta and wooden barrels is that terracotta doesn’t breathe. Thus it doesn’t give the wine much flavour. nonetheless it’s more breathable than steel. It’s also much harder to wash wooden barrels. They can use any chemicals because the wood would absorb the chemicals and then let it out in the wine; whilst the terracotta doesn’t absorb anything–it’s much more clean. Usually the wooden barrels last for 25 years and as the wooden ages, less flavour is added into the wine.

After tasting the white wine, we tried a little red wine. But as we migrated over there, someone knocked my glass off the table and it shattered–so my reflections of the next wine was from eavesdropping. The red wine was more dry and not as transparent. It had a tarty flavour to it, too.  The yeast inside tasted very similar to the bread yeast yet it also made it more creamy.

Image-7

Like most wineries, Villia collected their first wines they sold. Some of their very first wine labels were handwritten!  But they said that was because they first began small and making wine for their own sake(like selling to they relatives) but then as they grew bigger they began industrialising.

13537504_1261714127195370_5771693961686946687_n

After a long while inside the cellar, we all conglomerated outside to talk about pop tarts. Obviously, we were all famished college students so instead of the initial plan to visit the cheese and the goat factory, we went directly to their dining table and ate lunch. Their lunch was grand–so much breuscheta and cheese, grape juice, and meat that were all made directly from their own farm (expect for the meat [e.g. salami]–they bought it from another locale). We were even served with pasta! And of course, going out as a class meant wine was served. We were given Vin Santa (which most of our group loved to indulge in dessert wine) and another white wine (which unfortunately I don’t remember the name.) For dessert we were given different assortments of sweet biscuits and biscotti to dip into our Vin Santo.

Italian word of the day: hungry = affamato (pronounced as Ah-fam-ah-toe)

Culinary Post #4: Coffee Roastery “The River”

I got into another taxi with three other girls. Not to worry, this time the taxi was legit and we knew where we were going. Our professors had already spoken with the taxi drivers to take us to the coffee roastery that was located on the outskirts of Arezzo. When we arrived at the roastery, we were welcomed by a freshly brewed cup of expresso– approximately 2 oz of straight expresso shot that came from freshly grounded coffee beans that were manufactured there on site.

It was nothing short of pure tarty and harsh Ethiopian bean taste in the coffee. Because I couldn’t get over the bitterness of the coffee in the initial taste, i decided to add some sugar—only a quarter of brown sugar was stirred into my cup but when I tried to stomach it didn’t seem to taste right anymore. In some ways the bitterness added to the genuinely of the coffee bean. Afterwards our tour around the roastery began. Our guide, Michael, first spoke about the tales of how he and his company first acquired the beans in 1958. It turns out coffee isn’t as old as you think. It first was introduced to the European countries during the 1600s.

Then he talked about how coffee is grown from berries. Inside the berry there should be two “twin”coffee beans. the problem for the coffee makers is getting out the seeds from inside the berries. Usually it is deemed that the bigger the berry the better the coffee. Some of the biggest exporters are Ethiopia and Mexico. According to Michael, the “Mexican beans are big but taste bad whilst Ethiopian beans are good but ugly”. Coffee trees stem from a (okay warning, my hearing is not the sharpest so the following word is my best discernment at the Italian accented word) roobica[?] trees.

When they import the beans, they check the humidity levels so that consumers aren’t just buying water when the bean is pressed to make coffee and look for defects. He showed us by showing us a coffee under a microscope. One of the most intriguing stories he told was about how monsoon beans were originated from. They were first produced by India when steam boats and faster transportation was not accessible. So the exporters from India traversed the long roads to reach the Europeans and by then the taste of the coffee beans they brought over were significantly different than the original taste form India. However, the Europeans enjoyed it immensely, so when the steam engine and other modes of transportation were invented, the Europeans wanted to maintain the taste. thus India’s company had to reproduce those same beans. They did so by growing the beans in the humid environment where it became the perfect environment for IMMORTAL bugs to thrive. these bugs were parasites that ate away at the beans but looked so much as the beans that most Europeans ate were probably mostly bugs!

Image-2

(Look closely and you’ll see the screen shows an unhealthy coffee bean that had been attacked by the parasite.)

Then we were taken into the giant coffee roastery room where coffee beans had just gone through the first phase of roasting. The instrument that spun the beans was heated up to 210 degrees Celsius.

Here’s a video of it:

trim.9F9D9A92-CADE-4D2D-80EC-23E670A57A0A (I apologise for the snap chat formatting)

Everywhere we went there were coffee beans. from the bags upon bags of beans freshly imported through the tubes of beans that had to be filtered then finally to the packaging system–the smell of coffee was always filled the air.

Finally when the tour was over, we settled down again at the coffee table for another round of expresso. This time my friend advised me that the more sugar you add, the better it’ll taste–so I poured the entire package of brown sugar into my cup and never once had I regret my decision as badly as this. It was downright disgusting–not bitter but more acrid. I gulped down the remaining tablespoon that was left and then chugged some water. Luckily, I was able to covertly hide my distain. I guess adding more sugar will amplified the taste of the bitterness.

Contrary to popular belief that the milk fat is what makes the foam on top of the drink, we learned that it was actually the protein in the milk that has that affect. Michael even proved it by doing an experiment. He used butter and water to represent the fattiness variable  and a bottle of protein “muscle milk” to test the protein hypothesis. when he poured the butter and water mixture in, it was apparent that the muscle milk mixture was the winner.

Italian word of the day: Caffè (cough-fay) – coffee

Nine and counting. Nine small (actually they’re abnormally larger than those typical teen acne) round bumps appeared on my face today. But one bite in particular was already apparent two days ago. Yet two days later, the size still never shrunk. This morning, I woke up to three fresh new bites on my forehead. Throughout the day more began to appear on my cheek, nose and eyebrow. I was terrified that I had contracted some odd west nile-like disease. When my roommate noticed me panicking she admitted that there was a mosquito that was trapped in our room last night that she wasn’t able to kill–that only attacked me. I maybe over reacting or maybe this is stress induced–or even an allergic reaction–but I’m patiently waiting for an Italian doctor to come visit me sometime this week. I take that back–the doctor here requires a 25 Euro co-pay. I had already paid for health insurance to be abroad–and the insurance is specifically designed for studying abroad because in the case that if I do (this may sound morbid) pass away, my body would be deported and brought back to the states at no cost to my parents.

Three days later. My face is slowly healing after applying topical hydrocortisone cream on it for a couple nights. Because the size of the mosquito bites has shrunk, it became harder for me to discern my acne with my bites so my face is now really oily. Yeah, one problem leads to another. The bites are undoubtably going to leave a scar on my face.

BOOM!

The first canon goes off. The day has come–it’s only 11:45am and everyone in the city of Arezzo is gearing up for game day. All throughout the week, they have been pounding their drums and tooting their horns down the streets of the historic Arezzo barricaded in the wall.

BOOM!

Second canon strikes at 7:45pm. It’s the call to the players to meet at the Grand Piazza to heat up. As we scramble to the streets to watch the parade.

13501798_1261717177195065_1480861076314964844_n

BOOM!

As the clock struck 8:30, it was like watching the NFL/NBA in the stands–crowds chanting, others chanting, and the smoke from cigarettes bellowing (okay that analogy may have been a little skewed–I’ve never been to an NFL or NBA game before, but I assume that’s what usually happens–sounds typical) . The arena was like no other–with a paved sandy pathway that stretched about 100 meters long.

BOOM!

Now the clock has stuck 9:30–it was finally time. The first to emerge through the gates were the magistrates. The noble families who (I honestly don’t know anything about the royals–its not a monarchy in Italy, but they exist [or maybe they were role playing] sorry back to the story) synchronising their walk in pairs down the trail. There were about 8 couples (if my memory didn’t fail me) and each were dressed in magnificently fine clothes, covering them from head to toe with coordinating colours.

“I have seen outriders roam your countryside, O Aretines, and seen raiding-parties charge, Tournaments clash and knights galloping…” Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno Canto XXII.

The Saracen Joust is an ancient game of the chivalry age, but dates further back to the Middle Ages and it was born as an exercise for military training.

The competition takes place every year in Piazza Grande on the last but one Saturday of June (in the night) and on the first Sunday of September (in the afternoon).

The town Quarters participating in the Joust are: Porta Santa Spitiro (yellow and blue colours), Porta S. Andrea (white and green colours); Porta Crucifera (red and green colours) and Porta del Foro (yellow and crimson colours).

On the day of the Joust the historical procession marches on parade through the center of the city, before entering Piazza Grande. Here the Herald reads the “Challenge to Buratto” (a poetic composition written in octaves), the Joust’s musicians (Musici della Giostra del Saracino) play the Saracen Hymn; there is the wonderful performance of the flag wavers (Sbandieratori di Arezzo). An hour of pre-game celebration passed until the finally the horsemen from each sector trotted in.

BOOM!

The show begins.

The first team was the pink and yellow. Then the green and white. Then us, green and red. Finally the yellow and blue.

The knights of the four quarters gallop their horses with lance in rest against the Saracen, an armor-plated dummy representing a Saracen (Buratto, King of the Indies). The competition, guided by the “Maestro di Campo”, is won by the couple of knights who hit the Saracen’s shield obtaining the higher scores (scores range from 1 to 5). The crowds only roared and cheered for their opponents’ team hoping to distract the horse whilst remaining deadly silent as their own representative charges into the dummy. In the event of a draw between two or more Quarters after the standard number of charges (two sets of charges for each knight) the prize is assigned with one or more deciding charges.

 

The quarter associated to the winning knight receives the coveted “Golden Lance”

Afterwards there was a large party dedicated in honor of the Santo Spirito inside a grand cathedral. I, who was wearing green and white colors, was eager to see what celebratory practices they would do. However, my group wanted to leave for they feared it would last too long.

13516366_1261713540528762_2929961745337820298_n

Well, they didn’t want to leave me behind, so we walked out. I, however, stopped following them and left with some of the JTI (Journey to Italy program) kids to attend my first (and my last) rave. When we arrived at Santa Spirito’s rave party (because we were told that the winner’s would host the largest party) we were swallowed by the largest mass of people grinding and drinking, singing and yelling at the rave. We managed to squeeze through people, trample over shards of beer bottles only to huddle together near the stage near the booming American (and a couple of Italian but mostly American) music. (At one point, to initiate the start of a new Italian song, we (the entire raving13494944_1261716583861791_357388580623837266_n population) counted from 1-30 in Italian!) Since I had never gone to a rave before (because A. I never had a life outside of academics and B. I wasn’t much of a dancer) I felt a little uncomfortable being around people who were dancing-really-closely (for lack of better words) all around me. I didn’t budge. I’ve never danced in public before. But with only two of my close friends dancing and laughing, I couldn’t help but to join in. I mean–they can ‘t judge me too harshly in the dark. Finally I let loose and flailed my arms a little. A coupled minutes passed and it was 2am. We (the couple of my JTI friends and an intern) left, and the moment I saw my bed, I passed out… only to be woken up to another BOOM of the canon at 11am the next morning for the post game parade.

 

Culinary Post #3: Florence

Florence is the epicenter for art and engineering. (Okay so this might be debatable but hear me out, I have a reason—or two). Florence can be described as the happy medium between the overcrowded city of Rome and the quite suburb of Arezzo. Yet it houses some of the finest painting in the world—works like the original da Vinci’s Annunciation, and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and even Titian’s Venus. From works of the early Renaissance done by Giotto to the later words during the Baroque done by Caravaggio, Uffici hosts them all. Furthermore, Florence is the city where Brunelleschi’s dome resides. One of the largest domes in the world and built during the Renaissance. Brunelleschi was bound to rebound from his lose to Lorenzo during a former sculpting contest for the doors to the baptistery. With the lack of the architectural knowledge, he conquered the task of building upon a dome (a daunting task that had never been done on such a large scale before especially with the technology–or lack thereof–they had). Nonetheless, when people asked him how he was going to conquer the task he asked “if you can get an egg to stand on its own, then you will understand.” No one could get it, so finally he showed them the answer by firmly placing the egg on the table, crushing the lower quarter of the egg but sustaining the shape of the egg for the upper three quarters of the egg. Thusly, the egg-shaped dome is now a prominent feature of Florence.

After stopping by Brunelleschi’s dome (or Duomo for short) we walked into the Uffici (art museum) and explored on our own. I, however, stuck with Halterman to see/hear what he had to say about the chemical background of the paintings and sculptures. Because this was my second time there, I desired to learn more in depth instead of the merely peering at the facades. So all around the museum and the city we ventured together through gelato shops, graveyards, churches, and even a short stop by the leather market. Seeing all these grand aspects of art and culture throughout Florence was truly eye opening. I gaped at all the fascinating architectures from the past–because even with the technology we have nowadays our buildings/monuments pale in comparison. The history and knowledge behind each element is truly worth learning.

My awing and gawking aside, Florence truly symbolizes the hard work and dedication into the making everything they do. Tempura on wood, which took hours to dry, or frescos that took days to complete, or even the dome which took years to construct are just some of the many feats that I truly yearn to emulate. The astounding features that make Italy so great lies within the heart of the people. How fitting; as I am currently traversing through a tough path learning organic chemistry, I hope to have the mindset of these Italian artists. Perseverance, patience and most importantly the drive to succeed.

Italian word of the day: excuse me/sorry – scusa

Culinary Post #2: La Buccianera Winery

Who would’ve thought that wine could be so temperamental. Our first winery visit during O-Chem was jaw-droppingly amazing. The moment we stepped inside the winery, towering industrialized stainless steel wine barrels welcomed us. Inside the gargantuan stainless steel barrels white and red wine are kept there to maintain the optimal condition for fermentation. White needs to be colder but red can be warmer. The white wine is contained in a more insulated and smaller barrel (small is still twice my height). However, the red is less insulated and thus in a larger tank. Though there were rows and rows of stainless steel tank of wine, they did not have a wooden barrel. I noticed this because this was not my first winery. Wooden barrels are usually used to “vary the color, flavor, tannin profile and texture of wine.” Additionally, they hand-picked their grapes—keep the fresh ones and throw away the bad ones.

When we stepped outside, after it had stopped pouring, we were in awe of the multitude of land that was made just for the grapes. Approximately each grape plant could juice a bottle of wine.

I couldn’t believe that I felt on top of the world when I stood upon the hills of acres of acres of land of grapes. The land was so vast. Unlike the common method of using pesticides, they’re more traditional and “natural” in using copper sulfide to spray down the entire field. Reflecting back on it, I didn’t feel like that was the most environmentally friendly way (especially not human friendly—we had to vacate the area when the copper sulfides were coming closer). Surely there is a more natural deterrent for bugs.

13391459_1009806159072958_297001934732341962_o

After the touring around the winery, we were escorted to the dinner room to taste wine and eat samples of bread, cheese and meat. We were served with four glasses of wine (a quarter full) and the owner gave us a light lecture of how to taste wine. The first wine that was served was white, Donna Patrizia. It was cool to the touch so I knew it was best drank if it was cold–so sip by sip, I drank the entire glass (which was only 5oz max) in under 10 min. The white wine had a golden tint, smelled of fruit and flowers, and tasted soft yet powerful that accompanied a warm feeling throughout my body–probably because the moment I was done all my blood flowed to the top of my skin, and my entire face glowed with the Asian flush. Every scar and pimple was accentuated, becoming redder and fatter. I knew at that moment my tolerance was not high. I gulped down 12 cups of water after my first cup. But only a couple minutes later, they poured us another glass, this time it was red called Syrah IGT. At first glance, the amber color is really nice to the eye. The scent of spices and dry fruit was apparent but mixed well with the enhanced sugar residue. It was potent yet relatively young. It was not heavy, but tasted a little bitter. We were then given a darker red wine called Sassocupo that had been set out for more than a couple hours beforehand and was also a year old. Thus the wine was more complex with a good concentration of vigorous tannins. As a result, it was much more dry and more tart and the smell was pungent. Saving the best for last, we were given the dessert wine, Vin Santa. It was very sweet but it contained the most alcohol content (13.5%) than any of the previous ones before. Unfortunately, I had only a sip of the rest of wines. But I’m slowly but surely learning to taste the differences in wine. In retrospect, I feel like I should’ve kept drinking a little more. the more experience i get from drinking wine, the better I can taste future wines. I want to train my taste buds and acquire a liking for wine–just enough to enjoy and savor the healthy impacts while fully indulge in the chemistry behind such art and history. Since my face was already completely tomato colored, I was too humiliated to drink anymore than a sip of each wine. I hope to train my liver too in drinking a little bit more at a time — much like doing push ups for my muscles. However, don’t expect me to become a connoisseur after this trip—if anything I think my throat is just going to become numb to the acidic content of alcohol.

I thought it’d be appropriate if the Italian word of the day was wine, which is Vino (sounds like: vee-no)

Culinary Post #1: Roman Culture

Coming to Rome, I knew I needed to ready myself for the boatload of carbs I would partake in especially pizza and pasta.When my roommate and I first arrived, we walked to the nearest pizzeria to buy the cheapest yet the most fulfilling meal on the menu: pizza. The pizza options were bizarre. As American’s we’re used to seeing pepperoni, sausage or supreme as the more prominent pizza choices but on the menu we had the peculiar options of choosing tuna with onion, salami (which is essentially pepperoni) with artichokes, and mushroom with sausage. (In case you were wondering, we picked the mushroom with sausage to share) Before the main course arrived, we were given a tall glass of water to share and a basket of sliced (what seemed like stale sourdough) bread. We emulated how the other Romans ate and dipped the bread (which is bruschetta just without the tomatoes) with the olive oil and red wine vinegar. However, the restaurant waiters did not bring us a plate to dip the bread in, instead they brought us a dish that looked like it was made for discarding cigarette butts. So, with an engineers mind, I dumped the water into my water bottle (which by the way is totally against the Italian virtues) and used my emptied glass for dipping bread — which looked as unappealing as it sounded. When the 33cm wide pizza finally arrived, we noticed the pizza was awfully oily (of which I presume is olive oil) but the crust was naturally thin and crispy.

After we were done eating, we waited a long while until I realized that we should be asking for our check instead of waiting for our check to arrive. This is probably because Italians thinks the check means that you’re ready to leave, so if they gave you the check it would symbolize that they were kicking you out. When the check arrived, we were astonished. It was scribbled on a piece of graphing paper but what was more astounding was the dramatic increase in the price of our pizza:
roman check

With the lack of understanding in the Italian vernacular were couldn’t decipher what we were charged for, but one other thing was for sure: we had to pay to sit down (yes sitting at a table is more expensive than standing at a bar). It’s the Italian’s way of paying for gratuity/service fee because the waiters had to serve us. Additionally, we were also paying for the tall glass of water we ordered earlier (American’s are nicer in this case because they care that water is a crucial source to sustain life and thus it should be free–but Italians well, not so much because their government is more laissez-faire so they can charge you for whatever they deem as necessary and profitable). Note to self: nothing here is free–Europeans charge for water, sitting and even using the bathroom (that’s a story for another day)!

Italian word of the day: Buonasera (sounds like bone-ah-sarah) = good evening