Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Firenze Gelato Festival

I stumbled bleary eyed from my plane, arriving in Pisa at 2:45am. Affordable travel options to my hostel did not exist, so I made the perfectly rational decision to stay awake until my morning Florence train. Rational? Ha! The sun began to rise, so I meandered outside the airport to find this sight:
That is how you deal with 7am. You drink enough red wine so it fits into your .5 Liter water bottle. I was emboldened to stay awake. Finally, I made it to Florence  around 9:45am. I charged into Florence and found tents, gelato signs and smiling people.Welcome to the Firenze Gelato Festival.
They weren't open yet, but also looked too generic for my taste, so I traipsed more. My morning was a tease of tempting gelatarias (not open or too touristy looking) and restaurants (again, not open). Finally, I landed here, the Piazza de' Pitti.
As I read the gelato signs and saw some product, I knew I found my Firenze gelato home. Still, they wouldn't open until noon. What to do? I was determined to be first in line, so I started waiting at 10:45am. Fortunately, they had shaded seating and I had Beyond the Pale by Mark Anthony, a Colorado fantasy author. Finally, it was showtime. €7 got you a rechargeable card and 5 samples. Each additional €5 gets you 5 more samples.
Arriving early also allowed me to plan my first visit. Unusual flavors, dark green soy cones, a temaki ice special, sushi ice (did not try)... the eclecticism appealed.
To the left, we have rice and wasabi gelatos flavored with freshly cut strawberry, black  sesame, red beans, spicy asian trail mix in the back. To the right, we have sesamo croccante (toasted? sesame) and pineapple ginger with the same accompaniments. The wasabi heat was subtle (thank goodness), nice rice texture (grew up on rice ice cream), some chewiness to it almost like sticky rice. You could smell the ginger. It was slightly sweet and the heat lingered a bit. The sesame was slightly gritty, such a nice dark taste. Oh, and that soy cone was so tasty.
Next was the Ricotta di Bufala from L'Ancora. I love water buffalo cheese and can't get enough in Colorado. The gelato was dense, but the taste light. It was there and gone. Ephemeral.
I want to capture this woman's voice just so I could hear her lilting Italian again. This is the Mandorla from Il Procopio. It features almond's nuttiness with what tastes like caramelized orange.
Next up we had Greek Feta and Cetriola (cucumber) from Il Re Gelato. The cream was inconsistent and chunky. The cucumber was a peculiar taste and didn't seem to fit. I wanted more feta taste and consistent texture.
Meet La Pera Al Pepe Rosa from De Coltelli. Everyone was ordering it, so I bowed to peer pressure. It was sorbet-like with a slight peppery smell. The taste was initially sweet then moved to a peppery finish. It's lightness was appropriate as I was onto my 8th sampling.
My notes only say "Grom - gritty with orange peel? Dried fruit". Delicious, though.
Day 2, Sunday, brought Ice Bau, the dog friendly gelato. With my limited Italian, I think it is rice based. It looks delectable, I've eaten gourmet dog food before, why not? The vanilla flavor came out true. Dogs, don't worry, you'll taste the vanilla. It had a granular look, good texture. Something was slightly off of the flavor. I only wish I could read Italian.
Darn attractive gelato carts, friendly proprietors and tempting flavors.
I was back to double fisting. From Cassia Vetus, we have Le Picce on the left (dried figs with walnuts and almonds with orange and lemon zest - flavor profile from tasting: fig then orange then nuts), and La Castagna Perella del Pratomagno (natural chestnut ice cream, so no air. Dense, grainy with chestnuts, so good). We need more chestnuts in Colorado.
Cavini, home of Funghi Porcini. Mushroom ice cream with a cracker. You could smell the mushroom up close. It was slightly sweet with a mushroom finish. It was nice, certainly edible by one that isn't a mushroom fanatic, but it was almost too much. I ate 3/4 of my container.
Le Dame finished my Firenze Gelato Festival two day expedition. This is the Persiano. From what I overheard, it features rose water, saffron, almonds (certainly persian, but unsure) and some other spices. Amazing spice and rose finish.
After €17, 14 large gelato samples, I was finished at the Firenze Gelato Festival. Cheers to Florence and it's delightful gelato culture. Hats off to their wonderful organization and card system. Each booth swiped your card and gave a receipt of how many samples you used there along with your remainder (genius!). If you visit Florence, look up these establishments and others and experiment with their offerings. Be aware of mass-produced, generic offerings, though. Look for the artisanal products. Your stomach and taste buds will thank you.

Welcome to Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy is home to renowned museums and artwork, gelato, simply prepared food, breathtaking views, and more. I visited Florence for several reasons. I love Italian food, heard of the artwork and statues, and RyanAir flew cheaply into Pisa which is a 50-70 minute train ride from Florence. The benefits of traveling blind is that you discover treasure in the most unlikely places.
The first surprise was the Firenze Gelato Festival. How did they know I was visiting? Apparently, Florence (Firenze) is gelato's birthplace. Over the 2 days I visited, I enjoyed 15 different full-sized flavor samples. Yes, I came back fatter. More on this later.
Delectable pasta with Chianti will also tempt you at small neighborhood cafes tucked near scenic gardens. Read more about Chianti wine here.
You try to balance between the gelato and pasta, but then discover their cheeses, specifically burrata. Osteria Marco meet Osteria Il Cantinone. You got served mainly due to their extremely generous portions.
Mmmmm. Second dessert - meat candy. I tried to decide between my travel budget, the Cinta Senese Prosciutto (€120/kilo), or the Spagnolo Pata Negra Prosciutto (€150/kilo). I asked for 25 grams of each. From the gentleman's demeanor I thought he was irritated at my small request. I got two slices of each free. Thank you! Thank you! This picture depicts the Cinta Senese which tasted of spiced fruit, olive oil and a slight peppery finish. The unpictured Spagnolo was more buttery, some spice finish, and the fat was slightly oily in a good way.
All this food meant much walking. Here are statues at Loggia dei Lanzi.
 A selection of Florence's random religious art. When walking their streets, look up often. You might find unexpected gems.
I fell in love with the Tuscan colors, primarily this yellow. It's a gorgeous city and it's fun to hear Italian.
Florence has many museums. I chose to visit the Museo Galileo. It's home to the vast scientific collections of the Medici and Lorraine family. The ingenuity of our predecessors is extraordinary. Go there to witness their creativity, engineering feats, and art of their scientific pursuits. Galileo is around the corner from the famous Uffizi Gallery. If you want to visit Uffizi, reserve your tickets and bypass their intimidating line.
They also have a rabid bike culture. You must look out for bicycles, scooters, and cars when crossing the street (do you see the man sleeping on his?). They also have a bicycle only paths. Thumbs up to you, Florence.
Besides being a nice view, click for an enlarged image to notice the innovative sunbathers. When surrounded by buildings blocking your sun time, concrete across the River Arno provides the solution.
There is much fashion to be found here also, including Ferragamo and it's accompanying museum.
My Florence visit was brief but busy. I walked a lot, dined a lot, ate too much gelato, and enjoyed their landscapes. I found it a great city to visit and would like to visit again. There are more museums to explore, many more side streets, and they have hills that tempt my hiking needs. I will leave you with a final video filmed on the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Licor Dukerma

 35 years ago, this man did not take his doctor prescribed medicine, Licor Dukerma. Suffering from indigestion, the liqueur would be the perfect treatment. It's Formula No. 2 advertises: "This liquor, prepared with the roots and leaves of the stomach, is recommended for all people who want to have a good digestion."
Well he survived his stomach issues and I purchased that same bottle May 25, 2011. It reputedly is 70 years old, but two weeks ago he claimed it was 100. It's old, it's dusty, it's mine. Other bottle labels state the following:
Important Notices - The yellow liquor, formula 1, and for people not used to liquor. The green liquor, formula 2, prepared as a formula for the distillation of aromatic plants and medicinal roots, should be taken against digestions but to strengthen the digestive system.
Warranty - All bottles carry in our signature label.
Licor Dukerma : Porto, Portugal : Fabrica De Licores Ferreira Duque : Syrups Liqueurs - lid

The paper around the cap is gummy and making removal hard. It's slowly coming off. The bottle is so dusty. A previous facebook comment noted it's urine like color. That's certainly true. Piece by piece. I see the lid's top and it's a dusty white due to storage. The left side of my lip is curling in a slight grimace. Please don't put me in the hospital. It's corked. I should have anticipated this. I hope it's solid enough to pull out without any floaties (that's what he said?).
 Sure is a dusty bottle. I wonder how long it had been sitting in the restaurant? I also wonder how much direct sunlight it had. Tore off the cap, cork still inside. Floaties seem a reality now. I can smell it. There's must and spice. Mmmm.... wonderful combination, right? I feel like a doctor performing surgery on a favorite friend, hoping my knife won't slip and kill him. Gently now, pull it out gently. Emailing a wine friend for a new cork. It came out easily but is rotten, blackened at the bottom.
Sweet, spicy, herbal smell. Pouring enough for a good picture.
It does look like urine. Little specks are floating in my glass. Slightly sweet, spicy as it goes in, slightly coats the tongue, heat trickles down the throat. Tried breathing through my nose as I raised my glass the second attempt - fiery. I need to find a Colorado bartender (emailed Sean Kenyon and Colt and Gray for Kevin Burke) willing to experiment with this. The sweet flavor remains after a few minutes. It's as if you realized you had orange juice on your chin and you finally licked it off. It doesn't scream sweet, but you know it's there. Still slightly present 30 minutes later. The cork is gingerly back in. Still slightly dubious, I'm waiting until morning for the final verdict.

Capoue - Parkour Style

Unusual hobbies and peculiar food inclinations have a way of rewarding one in unusual ways. My Brussels wanderings brought me to a popular site, the pissing cherub near the Grand Palace. Denying my tourist instincts to snap that popular picture (I succumbed later), I focused on the green and red awning covering an Escargots stand instead. I was already full, but how many opportunities does a person have to sample 10 sea snails for €3.50? And the snail decor was so inviting.
While I was debating, the proprietor went inside a nearby restaurant. I waited and paced. I settled near the left front support next to another Belgian. "Do you do parkour", he asks. Perplexed, I reply affirmatively, "yes, in Colorado". This led to a discussion of DemonDrills (aka. Ryan Ford of Apex Movement), Colorado parkour, telltale signs of a traceur (backpack, camelbak, bashed shins - if you do this sport resign yourself to being injured 50% of the time [his quote]), serendipity, and that he's waiting for several Germans and a Japanese girl to arrive for a Saturday parkour jam.

Parkour versus snails? Duh! Parkour always wins out. And who wants to run and jump with snails in their stomach? The guy looking directly at the camera is Jo, the person who invited me.
First stop was SQUARE where we spotted two other traceurs training, Bastien and Rodolphe. It's a great area to work on wall runs, cat hangs, supports, climb ups, QM, rail balancing, striding and precisions.
Nearby are functional sculptures. This one was great for vault combinations. The trees near this long stone bench were fun for linking movements also.
Not only is this a great view of Brussels skyline, but also notice the walls, rails, steps, and skate box. Slightly past the above sculpture, this area presents different combo options and the rails are more open here than at the SQUARE. We were practicing wall run dyno combos among other movements. There's more to explore, but people were getting hungry. More specifically, Martin from ParkourOne was craving Capoue ice cream.
But he got distracted by a nearby art piece whose mesh acted as a trampoline. Not only is it great for practicing front flips (Martin above), side flips (Benji below), but if you're feeling good, try muscle ups (John of ParkourExchange.org).
To this sculpture's right, we had more wall run challenges, rail balances, climb ups.
One spot, so many options. Great views, fun challenges, new parkour buddies, there's even something for skaters.
Finally, we were all quite hungry and ready to move on. Capoue ice cream was calling. We were informed it was a 20 minute walk from this spot. Distance dictated 45 minutes which was okay since I saw more of Brussels than anticipated especially if I was on my own. I also learned if you want to pick up hot EU Parliament interns, go there on Thursdays.
We finally arrived to Capoue and I was desperately hoping it was worth it. It's an inviting spot, the orange enough to break through the gray monotony.
I wasn't the only hungry one. We were all craving the Glacier Artisanal goodies.
Fromage blanc and pistachio. The pistachio was pleasantly brown. Brown is typically not a pleasant color, but much less suspiciously colored than bright green pistachio ice cream. It was nicely nutty and the pistachio flavor carried through well. The fromage blanc was a delight, slightly sweet with a tang. Read more about it here. If Capoue was closer to Brussels centre, I would have readily returned for the fromage blanc.
Satisfaction after a hard day of parkour. But wait! We're not finished. We discovered a kids' playground without kids.
Meet Phil, king of the playground lache to precision.

Chaussée de Boondael 395A, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium