A Weekend in Florence

Five years ago…

I raised my hand to block the May sun’s glaring rays. Across the street from the train station, I saw a church, decorated in contrasting black stripes and rectangles, a remnant of the past that survived the Italian Renaissance.

Was I dreaming? Did I really make it?

There was a million mistakes I made on that trip that I swore not to repeat. This time, I would have lighter luggage. Working Internet. Close-toed shoes. Enough Italian words to get me by. Enough euros to get me by.

After I left Italy, despite how frustrating it had been at some times (or like, the entire time), I began to think about it daily. I was obsessed with the old country. I daydreamed about strolling down cobblestones through narrow alleyways. The church bell ringing at the strike of noon. The chocolate, metallic aroma of espresso, and the clink of a spoon as I stirred in my sugar. I missed it. I wanted it. And I promised myself I’d be back again.

Coming out of Switzerland, the snow began to dissipate as we entered northern Italy. Wintery Swiss wonderland transitioned into a fairytale mountain paradise. There were waterfalls, there were palm trees, there were mountains that reached high above the clouds. We switched trains in Milan, and then to Florence, my home away from home, we went.

Italy is a country that’s stuck in time.

The Roman Empire and its gods forever captured in stone.

Roman Catholic power still towering over everything and everyone.

Hundreds-of-years-old castles and estates in the Tuscan distance.

Farmers making the same movements (but with improvements) that their ancestors did, producing meat and cheese and wine from the land and undergoing whatever means necessary that ensure that it’s perfect every. single. time.

Who needs a time machine when you can have Italy?

There’s a million reasons why this country’s special to me, but I think the two main reasons are it’s 1. where I found my appetite and 2. realized there was power in my words. I used to think I wasn’t a good writer, even though I’ve been writing stories since I was seven years old. I remember the first time I read my words out loud to my teacher and my classmates, feeling the weight lift off my shoulders as I spoke my truth. I remember biting into a piece of prosciutto and melon, the sweet and saltiness mingling in my mouth, and thinking, “Damn. This is actually really good” and not feel the self-loathing as I ate another then another. I ate and drank and wrote freely during my time there despite my demons. It was only right to return to the place I found my yellow brick road. Italy was the first place that I finally felt like I was in control.

The Boboli Gardens

The Uffizi Gallery

And last, but not least:

Il Cibo

Food remedies soothe aches

FLORENCE, Italy — The room smelled like spoiled milk. Vats bubbled with liquid whey as cheese curdled. Marco Cavani demonstrated the art of making Parmigiano-Reggiano, casually dipping his fingers in the boiling mixture to make sure everything was perfect.

Nothing goes to waste at the San Michele Parmigiano Reggiano factory. Cavani poured a gallon’s worth of whey into a plastic jug and gave it to an elderly man who patiently waited against the wall.

Whey, Cavani explained, is good for arthritis. For the next week, the man was to soak his hands in the whey to ease aches.

It is easy to forget that food has more uses than to fill our stomachs. Food has doubled as medicine for thousands of years, tracing back to the Sumerians, ancient Egyptians, Indians, American Indians and more. Sometime in the 19th century, food bases and components were duplicated with synthetic counterparts. Pharmaceuticals replaced old-time methods, and the connection between food and medicine has lost importance along the way.

Medicinal properties of certain foods can save trips to the doctor or pharmacy. Time, knowledge and resources are key ingredients to finding alternatives.

In Florence, Italy, Florentines can acquire fresh produce and herbs for at-home remedies because natural food sources are readily available all over the city. Mercato Centrale spans four blocks in Florence and resembles a food mall. Florentines come to purchase ingredients for dinner while tourists find souvenirs to take home. Aromas of garlic, salami and fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano linger in the air as rows of vendors sell everything from cow parts to sun-dried tomatoes. If you ask where the food came from, some will say from their home somewhere outside of Florence or that they know the guy who brought it in this morning.

Eataly employee Simona Tucci said that people come to the market because Italians trust them not to tamper with products by using pesticides or additives. Her job is to help customers make better eating choices, which will lead to a better quality of life.

The Italian way of eating is a holistic art of its own. Cuisine is balanced and fresh. Plus, in the last year, Tucci said that drinking herbal teas and smoothies have become a more popular trend for Italians. Love Life, Veggie Bar and Tutti Frutti are examples of smoothie and juice shops that have started to pop up in storefronts around Florence.

In Columbia, Clovers Natural Market employee Jessie Brown has also noticed a rising interest in including natural foods in smoothies and juices. Smoothie shops such as Smoothie King, Blenders and Jamba Juice have opened up in Columbia within the past year.

Brown said people use smoothies for protein boosts for workout regimens. She references the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” The documentary highlights Joe Cross, who eventually lost 100 pounds and cleared up an autoimmune disease after a 60-day fruit and vegetable juice fast.

“It’s much easier to drink eight ounces of juice than to tackle a massive plate full of vegetables,” Brown said.

Customers also use smoothies and freshly juiced produce for breakfast or snacks. They can add garlic, ginger and turmeric to help with inflammation and digestion. Spinach is high in vitamin C and can be added in large quantities without altering flavor. Tart cherry juice can be added to smoothies to ease joint pain.

“The increased importance that consumers are placing on healthy eating” is “expected to continue and be reflected across the grocery landscape,” according to a 2014 U.S. grocery retail report cited by euromonitor.com. Health-oriented supermarkets are catching consumer attention and are forecasted to be among the fastest-growing companies in the future.

Saturday morning farmers markets and natural food stores, such as Clovers and Lucky’s Market, offer personal interaction in Columbia.

Brown has been a Clovers employee for the past eight years. She enjoys working with customers who have diet restrictions, food allergies or have specific goals, like weight loss. She has acquired food knowledge through research and personal experience and advises that research is crucial when it comes to looking for alternative solutions.

Customers should consult with a doctor and do extensive research before trying a new approach.

In the past, Brown said she has chewed on a garlic clove when she starts to feel sick. Brown recommended that garlic cloves be crushed with a knife or chewed up to activate the allicin, an immune-boosting component of garlic.

“It was the worst 30 seconds ever, but I did feel better quickly,” she said.

Sometimes, customers prefer holistic methods. Brown said that a customer at Clovers was able to take her son off of his Ritalin prescription for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by using fish oil instead. Fish oil is high in DHA. The customer has a standing order for fish oil at Clovers.

Elderberries grow wild in Missouri and are considered a pest. However, Brown said elderberry juice is useful during cold and flu season, and she keeps a bottle at the store for employees. According to herbwisdom.com, elderberries have been used in folk medicine in different parts of the world, such as Europe and North Africa.

Apple cider vinegar is another popular remedy available at Clovers. It can be used to treat heartburn and leg cramps by adding a tablespoon to eight ounces of water and drinking it before meals. Apple cider vinegar can also be added to baths to ease sore muscles.

According to lifeinitaly.com, herbal remedies are passed down in the family. One contributor’s grandmother treated warts by going to her garden on the fullest moon and picking the fattest dandelion. She would squeeze dandelion milk onto the wart.

“When people are looking for a holistic approach, they may be trying to avoid pharmaceuticals, which can have some nasty side effects,” Brown said.

“Herbs and minerals can have their own set of side effects, especially if taken carelessly or with some prescriptions, but people put trust in home remedies. If something works and you can avoid a potentially damaging or expensive prescription, people are very willing to give holistic medicine a shot,” she said.

Some ideas to try at home:

  • Arthritis — Soak hands in whey.
  • Canker sores — Add three to four dried sage leaves to hot water and steep for 10 minutes. Add half a teaspoon of lemon and gargle with the mixture.
  • Coughs — Boil two cups of water. Add two sliced lemons, half a teaspoon of dried ginger or mint and two tablespoons of honey until it reaches the consistency of syrup. Add an ounce of liquor or brandy and mix. Take two tablespoons.
  • Flu — Drink elderberry juice when you start to feel cold and flu symptoms.
  • Illness — Crush garlic clove with the flat end of a knife and chew for at least 30 seconds.
  • Body aches: Drink tart cherry juice; Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to eight ounces of water and drink daily.
  • Stomachaches — Boil water, add two teaspoons of dried basil and dried chamomile and steep for 10 minutes. Drink.
  • Warts — Squeeze milk from cut stem of large dandelion directly onto wart.


Capri, Italy


After a nauseating ferry ride from Naples to Capri (what a way to learn that you’re prone to sea sickness), we finally arrived at the base of the famed Mediterranean island. We noticed that everyone was jumping into white vans that shuttled them off, but we opted to walk instead.

Four flights of stairs in, the city was still nowhere in sight. We trampled through makeshift rock steps that trailed up Capri, surrounded by white artsy beach houses (owned by the rich and famous, no doubt) with views of baby blue skies and cerulean waters. We emerged from another flight of stairs and came out into a road, where I spotted a local man. Centro? I asked, out of breath. He pointed up.

Hundreds of steps later, hungry and ready to give up, we were almost to the top when we smelled it. Warm sugary scents wafted down the stairs toward us and instantly, we picked up the pace. What was that smell? we wondered. Was it fresh baked chocolate croissants? Was there some new Italian delicacy waiting for us at the top of the stairs? We finally broke out into the centro of Capri and sped walked past the high-end boutique shops and restaurants when we saw it.

The source of those delicious aromas came from piping hot waffle irons, conveniently placed by an open window, churning out just-baked waffle cones for Buonocore Gelateria. In awe, I watched as they took those thin crepe-like waffles and rolled them into a perfect shape of an ice cream cone. It was the most memorable welcome to Capri.

5 tips for taking a train in Italy


By Claire Lardizabal

FLORENCE, Italy – Getting to the food stories I would write in Florence meant I had to make it there on the Rome-Firenza train after my international flight. Mostly, the only time trains are used in Missouri are to get to Chicago so venturing from Florence to Rome by train was a new concept for me. Now, equipped with the right information, it seems much easier.

Here are five tips for your first Italian train:

Travel Do’s and Don’ts
TrenItalia is Italy’s train system. The website (www.trenitalia.com) displays in Italian but can be translated to English by clicking on the upper right-hand button that says Italiano, then clicking English. The website offers a plethora of services, such as booking train tickets in advance, how to access the train through the airport, and customer assistance for more information.

Tip 1. Follow signs. When arriving at Rome Fiucimino airport…

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For the love of cheese


By Claire Lardizabal

FLORENCE, Italy – Marco Cavani began the San Michele Parmigiano Reggiano factory eight years ago with his wife, Samuela. Samuela grew up making cheese and brought her knowledge to the table when they began their business.

The Cavani’s Parmigiano Reggiano products are labeled DOP (protected designation of origin). The label represents authenticity and distinguishes it from imitators. In Parma, an inspector comes to businesses like the Cavani’s, and inspects every wheel to ensure quality product true to the region.

When we entered the facility, we were asked to cover our feet with electric blue shower caps to prevent dragging in contaminants. Steam was already rising from 1,000 liters of milk in each of three deep, copper vats. After reaching 17°C, rennet, an enzyme that causes milk to become cheese, was added and contined to heat the milk until it reached 27°C. Even though the Cavani’s used modern…

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