A few quick notes before the post:
1) Trip was great, thanks for asking. We flew directly to Rome and spent two nights there, then three nights outside Siena, three nights in Cinque Terre, and two nights in Florence.
2) I don’t really consider any of the food that I ate to be that weird because they were all common food items in Italy. But they were a little different from standard U.S. fare.
3) I know nothing about music. My taste in music is similar to my general pool of knowledge; I know a little bit about a lot of things. Meaning that my itunes probably has 3,000 songs from 2,000 bands across all genres. And I like those songs, but see no need to have the whole albums.
4) I am 30 and my lifelong love affair with mixes is as strong as ever. It started with mix tapes, then mix CDs, and now we’re in the evolved world of mix “playlists”. Instead of the dates and seasons that used to serve as titles for my old mixes, I now have playlists with titles like “bachelor party”, “Tahiti”, and, my current favorite, “Hangin”.
With those details out of the way, I decided to do something a little different with this blog post. After two nights in Rome, we picked up our Fiat Panda rental car and spent the next 6 days driving around the Tuscan countryside and on the coast near Cinque Terre. The radio stations were miserable, and after hearing Haddaway’s “What is Love” for the third time in 24 hours I decided to make three CDs to relieve us from the radio for the rest of the trip. A total of 55 songs fit onto those CDs, and this post will attempt to relate individual dishes I ate on the trip to a few of the songs on those CDs. Let’s give this a try.
Por Ti Volare – Andrea Bocelli
Our first day in the car took us to Spannocchia, an organic farm just outside Siena that we stayed at for three nights. The next morning we hopped in the car and loaded the first CD in as we drove to San Giminano via small country roads. The first song was this one, my favorite aria (what?). The combination of the Italian opera and the rolling hills gave me one of those “holy sh*t, Italy is beautiful” moments that nearly brought me to tears. Similar emotions to those caused by this:
After landing in Rome at 9AM and immediately sightseeing on foot for 8 hours, we finally paused to eat something substantial. For me it was a simple, warm pizza rustica stuffed with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. Crispy outside, salty meat, buttery cheese, and a borderline emotionally-moved DB. Definitely a pure happiness moment.
Sundown – Gordon Lighhtfoot
No matter how many times I hear this song, it always has a knack for relaxing me and never seems to get old. Kinda like limoncello in Italy.
A great way to end our first day and Rome and ensure that I would sleep well for the following 10 hours. I love limoncello but it never tastes as good in the U.S. as it does in Italy so I generally only have it when I am there. Also, Kristi hates that picture.
Touch the Sky – Kanye West
Early in our relationship, Kristi was getting used to my (awful) taste in music and I was surprised when she particularly enjoyed Kanye West. Basically, I underestimated her and she surprised me. Six years later I was similarly surprised when she adventurously tasted pretty much every odd food item I ordered in Italy. Starting with fried anchovy cakes our last night in Rome.
Since each cake was a stack of 10+ fresh anchovy filets, not the salted or oil-packed version we get in the states, the flavor was very fresh and the texture was most similar to whitefish. Really light and tasty.
Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) – Looking Glass
When I added this song to the Italy playlist, it really seemed like a good idea. It reminds me of bad radio on LBI, and generally makes me happy when I hear it randomly. But every time it popped up on the CDs I had the overwhelming urge to skip it. I would describe fried, meat-stuffed olives as the food equivalent to this song.
I got these as we dined on the campo in Siena. The place was a tourist trap, and this item was the most unusual sounding one on the menu so it had to be fresh, right? Wrong. The fried coating was rock solid, the olives were bland, and the “meat” filling was creamy and unappetizing. Clearly came out of some sort of Italian TGIFridays frozen foods box. The 4 I had sat like a stone in my stomach for the next few hours.
Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – Hub Hollow
This song, as performed by my brother and friends’ bluegrass band, has to be listened to and enjoyed any time it shows up on shuffle or on a random playlist. Its that good and it always puts me in a happy mood. When traveling in Tuscany, the same rule applies for any time cinghiale pasta shows up on a menu as it did at a restaurant in Sovicille.
Cinghiale is wild boar, and it’s flavor and texture are like pork crossed with beef in the best possible way. Kristi and I ordered it a combined three times in 36 hours while we were staying at Spannocchia. I will likely attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of the dish with pork shoulder some time in the next few months.
The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash
When I hear this song I am always impressed by what a badass Johnny Cash could sound like when he was in the final year of his life. He consistently made you believe he was planning to drink a fifth of scotch, smoke a pack of cigarettes, and beat the crap out of someone as soon as he finished singing. Then wash it all down with some rare steak smothered in cheese. Me, I’m only man enough to handle that last part.
Beef carpaccio smothered with a warm gorgonzola cream, sage, and black pepper. So freaking good. Thanks again for the restaurant recommendation Anne-Marie, I am glad I quietly obeyed your instructions without debate for the first time in my life.
Sweet Virginia – Rolling Stones
Though not my favorite Rolling Stones song, I love how simple and amateur this song sounds; just a few DBish 20-something brits playing around in a basement studio somewhere. It’s a little dirty and uniquely enjoyable. Very similar to the first squid ink pasta I had on the trip at the same restaurant in Sovicille as the night before.
Tagliatale made with squid ink then dressed in a sauce of chopped squid braised in its own ink. It tasted the way a pot full of steaming clams or mussels smells when you take the lid off. I thoroughly enjoyed every single mouth blackening and grimey bite. Probably my favorite pasta dish of the trip.
Arms of a Woman – Hub Hollow
Tim Ryan and the Hub Hollow gang learned this song for Kristi and my wedding and have dedicated it to us at a few additional performances as well. I dedicate my performance on the following pile of food (my last before heading to Cinque Terre) to Tim Ryan. Fried sardines:
Sardines are a staple of the Ryan family diet along with liverwurst, butter, and Jesus Christ Superstar song lyrics. In related news, none of us are good at sports. Back to the sardines, they were very good but way too many of them. The heads had a nice fatty crunch, the body was light, and the tails were like fish potato chips. I could have made it through the whole plate with a dipping sauce of some sort, but I was outmatched with only lemon to work with.
Georgia On My Mind – Ray Charles (live)
In complete contrast to Sweet Virginia, this is the aging musician who has done the song a million times and made it better with each performance. You got an orchestra, an applauding Radio City crowd, and the raspy, aged voice of Ray Charles. The second squid ink pasta I had on the trip (in Cinque Terre) was equally different from the first one.
The simple tomato sauce let the rich seafood flavor of the pasta be the primary flavor. None of the strong shellfishy flavor of the first squid ink pasta. Although I liked the first one more, I could eat this one every night for dinner because it was delicious without being overwhelming. I ended up having it twice in three days.
Bad Romance – Lady Gaga
At this point my love of this song is indefensible, and every time I hear it I enjoy it more than I should. When it comes on, Kristi looks at me the same way that she looked at me when I marched out of the Mercato Centrale in Florence with a tub of chicken liver pate from one vendor and a fresh hunk of focaccia from a different vendor.
Rich and greasy with a fluffy and heavily salted focaccia for dipping. I love this stuff.
Sleeping With a Broken Heart – Alicia Keys
This song was first presented to me by my friend Marshall on the camping trip that featured a buried hogs head. He has a knack for playing a song 4-5 times an hour when he thinks it is important for it to be stuck in everyone’s head. When I told him I was heading to Florence where he had studied abroad with his wife 10 years ago, he used a similar approach to pushing the tripe sandwiches by the mercato.
Boiled tripe sitting in a liquid heavy with chili oil before it is chopped and stuffed in a bun with chili sauce, parsley salsa verde and salt. Thank you for making it the only requirement I set for myself on the trip, Mooman.
Whatever You Like – Anya Marina
I know that the entire musical movement of quirky covers to pop, hip-hop, and classic rock songs is quickly becoming really, really stupid. But I can’t help myself, and this sweet female voice singing nasty T.I. lyrics is very enjoyable even if its bad for me. Like lardo and head cheese at Giostra.
Lardo is basically just the cured fat of a prosciutto ham. It spreads like butter once it hits room temperature. Butter that tastes like great ham or bacon. I am appalled at how much I ate of that pile. The head cheese was one of the best I’ve had in my life. The flavor and texture had none of the unappetizing notes that you usually associate with head cheese.
November Rain – Guns & Roses
When I was in middle school we requested this song at dances so that we would have a solid 8+ minutes to work up the nerve to smooch with the braces-heavy gal you were dancing with. That hyphen could have easily been replaced by a comma for me. Anyway, while I still love the song it does run a little long. Too much of a good thing, like white truffle carbonara.
I love the flavor of truffles but the raw almond texture is not that enjoyable when its mixed with rich, creamy pasta. Plus, I ate this at around 11PM and then woke up to fly back to the U.S. at 4AM the next morning. Not a pleasant morning belch, for me or Kristi.
And with that the trip was over. Thank god this post is over. It was the type of idea that sounds great because you have 2-3 songs/dishes in mind and then you realize how awful its going to be after you’ve spent too much time to give up on it.
My apologies to anyone who put in the time to read this whole thing, I will steer clear of music moving forward. Will also try to get back on a 1-2 posts a week schedule.