Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oh Yeah.....

Sometimes I forget to mention Big News. Lately a few friends have been asking what I’m up to in January, and I realized that I never blogged about having my school internship sorted. I'm going to India!

I’ll be in the southern part of the country (about 10 hours west of Bangalore), interning for three months with an agriculture/seed-saving collective called Vanastree. It was founded by a woman named Sunita and supports local women in their work to maintain biodiversity. I’ll be living and working with Sunita on her farm, spending time in Vanastree’s office helping with their communications, and on weekends will be visiting other farmers and producers to learn about what they do.

Interns will include myself and two American students whom I’ve been in touch with and am looking forward to meeting. Currently, I’m staring down an endless list on my wall entitled Things To Do, Buy and Pack Before India. Number 1: Get an Indian visa. I dropped off my completed application forms a few days ago in Milan and am really hoping to have my passport - in one piece and newly adorned with an “Entry Permitted” sticker - back in my hands again soon.

I’m terrified and excited at the same time, and you can expect more blog posts of the “I’m-in-a- new-country-and-frequently-embarrassing-myself” variety starting January 2011. Whatever this next adventure brings, I know I won’t be under-stimulated. Nor will my digestive system, so sorry ahead of time dear stomach.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hungry Hungry Planet.

A friend of mine sent me the link to this fascinating series of photos from the book Hungry Planet. Photos are taken of families surrounded by the total amount of food they consume in a as well as the amount it cost them. The visual differences between various cultures' consumption patterns are fascinating and rather shocking. You can have a look at Time's photo essay of the project here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grab My Hands and Tiramisu!

Eight months have disappeared since school began, and I’m not entirely sure where they’re hidden. We just finished our sixth (sixth!) and final school trip, closing up our travelling schedule with a journey to Tuscany. We drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of food, then drank more wine and finished up with some vino.

My favourite stop on our tour wasn't a vineyard, however. It was Spannocchia, a farm and agriturismo that runs an amazing educational program and hosts up to 24 interns each year. One of the current interns is a UNISG student named Chris, and part of his work includes chasing after Cinta Senese pigs, a rare black breed unique to the area. Unlike the pigs bred for Prosciutto di Parma, these swine roam freely in the forests around Spannocchia and use their snouts to forage food from the ground. I bet these pigs eat more truffles each year than the average person eats in a lifetime, and I'd envy them if it wasn't for the fact that they eventually become salumi.

After the trip I stayed in Tuscany a few more days to visit Elisa and Gabrielle, my old hosts from Podere Le Fornace where I wwoofed last year. They’ve sinced moved off the farm but welcomed me into their new home, a hill-top farmhouse with vineyard views out of each window. On Saturday afternoon we picked up Gabrielle from his grandparent’s land, where he is helping with the olive harvest. Though their grandson now runs the operation, at 84 and 80 Nonno and Nonna still work long days to relieve the hundreds of trees of their ripe fruit. We drove to the frantoio (mill) to pick up the first batch: 52 litres of bright green olio nuovo that we struggled to lift into the trunk. In the evening, Elisa toasted slices of bread for us to rub with garlic, sprinkle with salt, and eat drenched in the spicy new oil.

While playing outside with their 4 ½ year old daughter Priscilla, I had another of my Italian Linguistic Moments. As she jumped up and down on the yard's mattress-turned-trampoline, I held her hands and lifted her up on every third jump. I stopped when my arms became tired, causing her to exclaim “Tiramisu! Tiramisu!” and me to wonder why she was suddenly shouting a dessert at me. I was tempted to shout “chocolate cake!” back at her, but then realized what she was saying; tiramisu literally means “lift me up,” a fact I’ve heard many times before but have never applied to my life beyond the dessert buffet. After figuring this out I summoned what strength was left in my arms (the only exercise I've had lately is raising wine glasses to my mouth), and lifted her up as high as I could. She laughed and laughed and I was a hero.

The moral of this story: an obsessive love of all things sweet can be useful in the real world.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Spruced Up.

Happy November to all. Here's my latest entry to the UNISG student blog......

This summer I needed to get out of Parma. Desperately. A girl can only sweat so much before she sits down, books a trip to she can’t afford, and flies off to Norway.

I landed in Bergen, mercifully cold enough to warrant a sweater, and walked through its medieval wooden quarters on the harbour. Further south in Preikestolen, I hiked to the imposing Pulpit Rock and peered over its edge to the Lysefjord below. At the tip of this fjord I chased BASE-jumpers up to the famous Kjerag Boulder, which I climbed upon for a picture (but didn’t jump off). Norway’s landscapes were wild, unpredictable, and already I long to return.

Norway tasted wild, too; one night we had dinner at Hanne på Høyden, a restaurant in Bergen owned by chef Hanne Frosta. They source or forage nearly every ingredient from Norway, and even make their own wines from a variety of local fruits.

I ordered the beef filet, butchered from a peculiarly small breed of Norwegian cow and served with spruce-tip butter. This topping was simple, just butter smashed up with the supple ends of spruce branches, and like lavender, the spruce tasted just as it smells: woodsy, earthy and green. It complimented the beef beautifully, and oddly enough, tasted familiar.

When we had the chance to meet Hanne, I told her a story: every summer when I was a child, my father took us camping on an island in the middle of a lake. When we weren’t upsetting nature’s equilibrium by digging wells or damning creeks, one of our many projects was to harvest spruce tips. We’d stick them in a can of water and leave it on the campfire to boil. With enough sugar stirred in, this tea-of-the-forest was drunk without qualms, though my mother, happy to abstain from these trips, would have had a heart-attack if she knew what we were cooking up in rusty metal.

I couldn’t have guessed that seventeen years later I’d be eating spruce-tips again, this time melted over beef and served on a plate rather than in a can. It is a rare and curious moment when taste elicits such a memory, and I love Norway all the more because of it.