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Report 678: Italia - Umbria, Lago di Garda, Lago di Como & Visits with Friends in Empoli and Coccaglio

By girasoli from Hawaii, Spring 2005

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Page 10 of 24: Weekend in Empoli

photo by girasoli

caffè in Empoli

Saturday morning, I started my day by having breakfast with Marusca, Francesco's mother. I had yogurt, a little torta, and some cereal. She asked me what kind of coffee I liked. I told her that I used to have a cappuccino but now I usually order an espresso macchiato because the cappuccino has too much milk for my taste (an espresso macchiato has just a tiny bit of foam/milk). She told me about another type of coffee called a cappuccino scuro which has more coffee than an espresso and a little more milk but not too much milk like a regular cappuccino. She made me a cup which was quite good!

After breakfast, I went with Irene, Francesco, & Sara for a walk into the center of the town of Empoli. Empoli has many little shops (food, clothing, shoes, as well as many other types of shops). We visited a church, stopped to purchase some fish for lunch on Sunday, and also stopped in a bar to have a drink. The bar was very elegant with many little pastries, but unfortunately I was full from breakfast and my previous dinner and did not have any room for any pastries but I did have some wonderful fresh peach juice.

After returning home, Francesco and I went to a computer store to see if I could find an iTunes card so that I could purchase songs from the Italian iTunes store when I return home but we did not have any luck. We returned to Francesco's house and we looked on the internet to see if we could find information about where to purchse the card. We printed out some stores in Brescia where I may have some luck finding this iTunes card when I go to visit Katia later in my trip.

We went to Irene's parents' house for lunch. Irene's mother served a huge and delicious meal and this was only lunchtime! We had a pasta with pesto sauce, a pasta with pomodoro sauce, salad, bread and there also was some sliced meat. For dessert, we had a wonderful bowl of fresh fruit and then a bowl of gelato! This was also the first time Irene's brother brought his girlfriend home for lunch, which is a significant thing meaning that the relationship could be serious.

When we returned to Irene & Francesco's house, Sara took a nap and Irene and I went to watch a wedding ceremony of some friends of hers. We stood in the back of the church by the entrance for a about an hour. The wedding was very long, it was hot outside, and so finally we left after they exchanged rings as Irene could not tell how much longer it would last. It was very interesting to watch.

We returned to Francesco & Irene's house to make Butter Mochi. Irene had asked me if I could send her a typical Hawaiian dessert recipe in the spring. I sent her a recipe for Haupia which I thought was most typical but also told her that we could try to make butter mochi when I arrived as it was one of my favorite local desserts and very different than any desserts that I have had in Italy.

I read in advance information on Slow Travel as to how to translate recipes and finally decided it would be easier if Irene had the "American" measuring cups/spoons instead of trying to do the translations as it seemed from the information that I read that different dry ingrediants weighed differently and it was much too confusing. I mailed the measuring cups/spoons along with a package of Mochiko flour (which I thought would probably be difficult if not impossible to find in Empoli or nearby in Firenze) in advance and I brought the vanilla with me as it is stated on the post office list that you cannot mail vanilla to Italy.

This was my first time making this delicous dessert and so it was an adventure for both of us. I explained the difference between the teaspoon and the tablespoon (tsp and tbs) for future recipes. It was pretty easy to make the mochi. The only thing I was not sure of was the butter as usually I just look at the numbers on the package to figure out the amount and forgot that it would not have the same measurements in Italy. I was also not completely sure about the size of the pan (translation between inches and meters) but tried to figure it out using a piece of paper to judge the size. I had to remember though that the size of paper in Italy is also different.

Once we put the mochi in the oven, we waited. At first it was starting to brown on top and looked fine, but then one side of the mochi started to come out of the pan! It kept getting higher and higher and then 2 big mounds started to grow in the middle! We laughed and laughed. We waited the hour and hoped that it would turn out ok. We took it out of the oven after one hous and watched as it finally flattened out. After returning to Hawaii, I found out that perhaps we used too much butter and that was probably why it was coming out of the pan on one side. I also found out that mounds in the middle were normal. I guess I should have tried to make it first before going to Italy, but it ended up being quite a memorable experience!

After making the butter mochi, we got ready to go to Giacomo & Francesca's house for dinner. Francesca studies genes in the area of heart disease and Giacomo is an engineer at a famous ice cream factory called Sammontana. They would be traveling to Boston next week. I told them some information about interesting things to see while they were there and answered many of their questions that they had (as I grew up near Boston). We had a wonderful meal of various antipasti, pesto pasta, salad, and a potato and octopus dish. I was so full that I could only have a taste of the gelato and butter mochi (which was a hit with all).

The ice cream that we had for dessert was made at tha factory where Giacomo worked. He told me a story about how the ice cream factory was started. A man (who is now old and very rich) met some American soldiers during or after WWII in Empoli and found a recipe for gelato. He started this factory after discovering the gelato recipe and today the factory is very famous all over Italy. I had another WONDERFUL day and evening in Empoli!

Sunday morning, I woke up to another sunny and warm day. I had a wonderful breakfast (a cappuccino scuro, some yogurt, a wonderful little pastry and some cereal) with both of Francesco's parents. After breakfast, I went with Francesco to see the church where they were married and then we hung out at their house.

Irene prepared a wonderful lunch of a fish with the same name as a frog (rana) and a delicious homemade Crema for dessert. After lunch, Irene and I went to Montelupo and walked around at the Festa della Ceramica while Sara napped. I bought two little spoons for my coffee for one euro! A great buy.

We also stopped to get some gelato at Malagigi (a famous and very delicious gelateria). The gelateria was packed!! Because it was so hot outside, I decided on fruit flavors instead of creme flavors. I could not decide and ended up getting three flavors! I had pesca (the best I have ever had), frutti di bosco, and fragola. Delicious!!! Later we walked through the big COOP store on the way back to the car which was like a mini mall.

My Sunday ended with a delicious meal at Francesco's parents' house. Marusca made an amazing pasta with cherry tomatoes and mozarella cheese. We also had roasted vegetables - all my favorites! For dessert, we had butter mochi. Francesco's father, Enzo, the only one who liked the li hing mui I brought last time, thought that the butter mochi was even better! It was a hit with all. After dinner, she showed me her pictures of her trip to Cambodia and Laos. What a different world!

I sadly said goodbye to Irene, Francesco, and Sara and went upstairs to pack. It has been wonderful spending time with everyone here in Empoli. Hopefully I will be able to return again soon and someday, Irene & Francesco will finally come to Hawaii to visit!

photo - bar in Empoli with many delicious pastries

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