a Jovial trip to Tuscany

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You might want to plop down in that chair near the table and sit a spell. This one’s going to take awhile.

But look at that light. Why would you want to go anywhere else?

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Danny, Lu, and I returned from Italy over a week ago. Ever since, smy mind has been a blur of images: beautiful morning light, ripe tomatoes, laughter in the communal kitchen late in the evening, driving through the lush vineyards of Chianti, a spoonful of pistachio gelato, and mostly the faces of the open-hearted, generous people with whom we spent a week in a large villa just outside of Lucca.

This week — I just wrote “magic week” and erased it because it felt like a cliché, but really, it was magic somehow — was sponsored by the good folks who run Jovial Foods. As you might remember, Jovial is one of the sponsors of this website. When Danny and I began the sponsorship program on this website, we decided to work only with companies whose food and businesses practices we like. That means we turn down a lot of companies — and money — but it also means we truly feel like partners with the companies you see on the right-hand side of this site. That’s what we wanted — to work together.

So, when Jovial asked us if they could have a contest for a week-long trip to Tuscany, and make us and our cooking classes the prize? We kind of fainted. We couldn’t wait to see this place where the pasta is made, meet the people who make up the company with whom we work, and experience this place that seemed like a dream.

It’s real, this villa in Tuscany, on a steep road 15 minutes outside of Lucca. But that week, even from this brief distance, still feels like a dream.

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I mean, look at this place. Walking up to it, I kind of felt like I was in Downtown Abbey. Except, with people who were less prim and far more open. More gesticulating, to be sure.

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And this is the kitchen where we taught three classes, where people sat around the table and talked with us, where dozens of hands shucked beans and and plucked leaves of basil from the stem, sliced tomatoes, and toasted gluten-free bread for crostini. These classes were not intended to feel like Danny and me at the head of the class and everyone else taking notes. They were communal gatherings, around the table.

We became friends around that table.

And we made chestnut-buckwheat crepes with honeyed apricots. A frittata with fresh English peas and fava beans and dollops of local Garfagnana cheese. Whole-grain pizza with that same cheese, caramelized onions, and kale. Pasta with roasted eggplant and all the fresh vegetables we found at the wholesale produce market that morning. Grilled local lamb with rosemary and basil. Roasted vegetables with Tuscan olive oil and Sicilian sea salt. Cherry crostadas with fresh marjoram and honey.

We ate well around that table.

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This vivid-blue imagining of a pool is where Lu spent much of her time. She always wanted more time in that cool water, brought in from springs high up in the hills, heated by solar panels. The passel of kids who were staying at the villa — sons and daughters of the owners, guests, and the photographer for the trip — played at the swings near the vineyard, kicking their feet high toward the sunlight. And then they would run, with their parents close behind, to dive into that pool. Lu doesn’t know how to swim yet, but she’s close. She spent hours dancing in the shallow end, dreaming of being a bigger kid someday.

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Mostly, I just wanted to sit here, at a faded blue metal table, just outside the kitchen at the small villa where our family stayed. (It looked almost exactly like the one you see across the way.) When we woke up, we three walked downstairs, threw open all the windows, and let in the light. Danny made a French press full of dark coffee. Lu danced around outside, waiting for breakfast and looking for the other kids. I sat at that table, taking in this view. I tried to memorize the warmth of the air on my skin, the stretch of those cypress trees toward the sky, the riot of birdsong that surrounded us in those early morning hours.

I never wanted to leave.

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We sat at many a table that week in Italy. As soon as we returned, people began asking, “What was your favorite meal of the trip?” I don’t mind the question. It’s the kind of question I would ask. But I don’t know the answer.

Was it the quiet meal at a restaurant in Lucca, the three of us the only ones there because Italians eat dinner at 8 and we had a tuckered kiddo who needed food at 6:30? It was my first time eating pigeon. I’m sold. Or the lunch we had our last day there, on the walls of Lucca, sun out, seated on a patio on green grass, two Italian kids befriending Lu, so the two of us had an almost-date, eating salumi and beautiful eggs. Maybe it was the lunch in Panzano we shared with our friend Judy, where they brought us a tasting menu of meat, and Lu ate all the pork cooked like tuna before we could try a bite. (That day in Chianti merits its own post. Next week.)

If you forced me to choose one, I know what I’d choose, though. The first night we stayed in the villa, we walked to the other house for dinner. Carla and Rudolfo, their darling daughters, and Danny, Lucy, and I were invited to dinner. Lorenzo, who helps to run the pasta factory where Jovial pasta is made — more on that in a moment — had spent all day cooking us dinner, along with the help of his sister, Paola. To our amazement, he seemed a little nervous. Jet-lagged and bedraggled, we were hungry and happy to be at that table. I think Lorenzo was a bit intimidated to cook for a chef.

And of course, he needn’t have been intimidated at all.

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This was the pasta he cooked for us, the Jovial gluten-free penne with a rabbit sauce that had been simmering all day. Delicate and barely clinging to the pasta, this sauce appeared with a whisper, not a bang. It hinted at the life, the simmer, the seasonings. It was perfect.

There was also a roasted lamb, slaughtered the day before, served with tiny roasted potatoes with crisped brown edges. And a cake I have not been able to stop thinking about, mostly because I have never tasted its like in America. It was made with chestnut flour, which has its own inherent sweetness, olive oil, salt, and fresh rosemary. It was flat and crackled, nothing like an airy inflated American cake. It looked like a brownie, without any fudgy interior or cloying sweetness. Utterly wonderful. Sort of haunting.

Mostly, though, we sat around the table, the light spilling in, and talked. We began to know each other, this group of people.

We were well fed and grateful.

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The next morning, still slightly full from the meal the night before, we sat outside our kitchen and ate handfuls of fresh cherries.

They were so sweet. They were all we needed.

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That’s the thing about food in Italy. It’s all good. In the two times I have visited Italy, and eating many, many meals, I have never eaten a mediocre meal.

In Italy, ingredients matter. The preparations are simple. If the ingredients aren’t the very best they can be? There’s not much to that meal.

This salumi plate? Yes. This was good.

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The waiter in this restaurant called these “mountain eggs.” I wish I had taken a photo of the yolks. They were like a small child’s dramatic scrawl in outrageous orange crayon or bright-orange poppies just opened to the sun. Those eggs were enough. The fresh vegetable and tomato sauce in which they had been slowly simmered was lovely too. But really, those eggs.

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Here’s how easy it is to eat gluten-free in Italy.

We were in a tiny town called Pietrasanta. It’s known for all the marble in the area, plus it’s near the coast. But mostly, we wanted a small town where tourists don’t seem to go as often. We wanted to wander for the afternoon. Our ever-present GPS male voice (whom we nicknamed Colin) guided us there, around roundabouts and a minimum of fuss. (Have you ever noticed how huffy the GPS guy sounds when you make a wrong turn. There’s a long pause, and then, “Recalculating.” As though he’s saying, “Fine. You don’t get it, do you?”) And there we were, in a lovely small town in the hills, the only Americans there all day.

Lu was hungry so we stopped at the first place with food. Pizza. Pasta. It was tiny, this place. There was a mama, whose baby was sleeping in his stroller in the broom closet while we were there. She took our order, with a lot of hand gestures between us. Her mama, who looked to be nearly 80, was cleaning off the tables outside when people left. The kitchen had to have been small as well.

When I said to her the magic words for someone who needs to be gluten-free — “Io sono celiaco. Senza glutine?” — she pointed at the salads. “Insalata.” Okay. I’ve done this before. A salad will work.

Instead of the tired white-green lettuce with a handful of vegetables and dressing I’ve come to expect in the States, she brought me this beautiful plate. Artichoke hearts, endive, thin slices of ricotta salata, and blood-red bresaola. This was a real salad.

This place wasn’t any place special. They didn’t have a gluten-free menu. They certainly didn’t look at me funny when they asked. The Italians just get it.

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Of course, gelato.

We promised Lucy gelato every day. We keep our promises.

She ate her strawberry gelato (fragola) with meticulous attention. The tiniest of bites. She savored every one.

Here’s a tip for those of you who are celiac. In each gelato place, I said I was celiac. Which are gluten-free? All of them, you might think. Ah, but gelato is often made in the same place as pastries. (Many employees called those kitchens laboratories.) Cross-contamination. The Italians we met understood it in detail. Often, the woman at the gelato place would point me to the first flavor made that day, before the pastries were created, and then she reached for a clean scoop. Vanilla. Pistachio. I didn’t care which one. They all tasted even more delicious for being safe.

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When we were in Italy in 2007, on our honeymoon, I took a lot of photos of Danny walking on narrow, cobblestoned streets, between buildings with arches and windows made hundreds of years ago.

This time, Lu is by his side in our photos.

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And this time, we put our feet into the Mediterranean. The water was warm. We were alone on the beach, standing in the surf in front of hundreds of green-and-white striped lawn chairs, waiting for the crowds to descend. That day, we were the only ones there. Danny swung Lu out over the water and back again.

I can still hear her giggling.

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Even with all the adventuring, one of my favorite experiences of the trip (and Danny’s, perhaps even more) was going to the wholesale produce market in Lucca. Because we were brought there by a local chef, we had the chance to buy crates of purple artichokes, enormous lemons, tender squash blossoms, ripe fava beans, English peas in the shells, and fuzzy soft apricots that glowed in that morning light. It was heaven for someone who has been mouldering in rain and perpetual winter vegetables in the Pacific Northwest.

More than satisfying my hunger for spring and summer, that morning in the market confirmed what Danny and I had been noticing. People in Italy don’t eat vegetables or fruit out of season. When did we come to accept strawberries that are white on the inside, flavorless at best, sour at the worst? Just because we want them in January? Perhaps this is the reason most Americans come home from Italy in a daze, saying, “The food. The food!”

Maybe it’s just that Italians insist on eating great food every day. Not just on feast days. But every day.

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This is Aurelio Barattini, the chef who took us to the produce market. He also produced a magnificent meal the second night we were in the villa, for everyone who had gathered. He’s a sweet man, determined to feed us well. He’s also as passionate about ingredients and good food as anyone I’ve ever met.

Perhaps this is because his family, for generations, has run the restaurant where he is the chef now. His great-grandfather first ran the restaurant on that spot, in a building constructed in the 1300s.

(It’s hard to come back to the States and hear people talk about the pride their small town has in the building created in 1920.)

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Aurelio cooked an incredible meal for us all.

There were polenta crostini with porcini mushrooms, house-made head cheese, sformato di verdure (a spring vegetable pie we’ll be making here soon), wild asparagus risotto (the chef went into the hills and picked the wild asparagus himself that morning), and chicken cacciatore with Lucchese olives. We were all up late into the night, our bellies full, the room full of laughter from strangers who had just met and become friends over good food.

Look at this table. Good conversations happened here.

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I want to introduce you to Carla and Lorenzo.

Carla and her husband, Rudolfo, run Jovial Foods. (They also run Bionaturae foods, which has been in business for 18 years, bringing good organic foods from Italy to the United States. We love their olive oil. And their pasta used to be our favorite until the Jovial one came along.) Carla is soft-spoken, humble, and a hard worker. She’s also determined to bring good food to people, even if it means being a stickler for quality.

She’ll be horrified that I’m talking about her here. She doesn’t want the attention. But you should know that it was Carla who pushed for a whole-grain gluten-free pasta, who insisted it be so good the Italians in the factory would eat it, that it be packaged in a box made of recycled cardboard, with a bag inside made of compostable materials. This woman pays attention to details. She told me that when they were starting Bionaturae, she deliberately bought a box of pasta from every single pasta factory in all of Italy, just to see which one was the highest quality with the finest taste. In her estimation, that was the Mennucci Brothers factory outside of Lucca.

Lorenzo is a Mennucci. His father and uncle, both in their 80s, still run the factory, working 12-hour days, six days a week. (When we visited the pasta factory, we loved listening to them bicker back and forth about the details of the family story. Brothers.) Their father and grandfathers before them made pasta. This is a family business, a business that makes 18,000 tons of pasta a year.

Carla and Lorenzo have this wonderful sibling relationship, constantly bickering, pushing each other to be better, than laughing. The two of them arranged this entire experience. We are madly grateful for their work.

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Visiting the pasta factory fascinated me and Danny both. They showed us the gluten-free section, an entire building, separate from the rest of the factory. It’s goofy fun to watch spaghetti being made, thousands of strands hanging to dry.

As Carla explained to us, the Italians are obsessed with rancidity. They know that once you grind a grain, it can go rancid quickly. And so, the organic brown rice that is grown for Jovial pasta is ground into a flour the day it is harvested. It’s taken to the Mennucci factory and made into pasta within 2 days.

Lorenzo told me that every single batch of flour is tested for the presence of gluten. If any gluten ever shows up — say a worker forgot and ate a sandwich before bagging the flour — any higher than 10 parts per million, they don’t use that flour.

These folks are dedicated to making gluten-free pasta.

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For Danny and me, it’s quite clear: Jovial is the best gluten-free pasta in the world. It’s the only one we ever use anymore.

This is why we were so happy to be part of this trip.

Well, and the being in Italy part too.

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These folks made us happy as well. The folks who gathered for the trip were extraordinary. Open to the experience, funny, kind-hearted, and loving the moments of sunlight and good food. After every meal and cooking class, dozens of hands reached for dishes to clean and put away. No one slacked. Everyone was present.

We were so excited to meet Carole, one of the winners of the trip, who brought her sister with her. The first time we met Carole, she cried. I don’t think it was about meeting us, so much. It was the beauty of the place, the fact she had finally made it there. Every morning, when we met Carole and her sister in the kitchen, their eyes were more wide open from the adventures of the day before. Their savoring of the experience inspired us.

Liz, the other winner of the contest, also brought her sister along. Those two embrace life. They never stopped smiling. Every time we saw them they were plotting another adventure while making a feast of the simple leftovers in the walk-in. I’ll never forget their faces.

And there were dozens more people, all of whom we laughed with and shared stories with in the kitchen. On the last evening, in our big communal feast, we sat outside in the darkness, at a long table lit by candles. Susan, one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, had been telling me earlier in the evening how much this trip meant to her. (We were all changed by it.) Quietly, she let it drop that the day before had been her birthday. This had been her present. At the table, before we ate the grilled lamb and roasted vegetable salad, I asked everyone to sing Happy Birthday to her. It was a rousing chorus, our voices buoyed by the joy we shared, the knowledge that we would be leaving the next morning. I saw tears in her eyes, even in the darkness. I felt the same.

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It’s amazing what can happen when you gather at a table together to share food.

Even when it’s gluten-free crostini with fresh goat cheese, ripe tomatoes, and basil.

Amazing.

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On the last day we were at the villa, Lu woke up and came running into our room. After hugs and conversation, she stood at the window, looking out at the yard. “Mama, I want to stay here,” she told me. (And she repeated it at least 5 times that day.)

For Lu, Italy meant a vivid-blue pool, wonderful kids playing together, ice cream every day, all the pasta she could eat, warm air, fresh cherries, and a merry-go-round she loved to ride in Lucca. Of course she didn’t want to go home.

But I understood what she meant. Italy feels like a home to us. We met at least 3 Americans on this trip who have moved to Italy. Each one of them said the same thing: “I wanted to stop feeling like a freak for caring about great food. Here, everyone loves food.” There’s no divide in Italy. There are no foodies. Everyone, everyone loves food. There is no guilt, no withholding, no sense that certain foods are forbidden. (Unless you’re celiac, of course.) There is simply everyday feasting, long lunches with family, produce in season, great ingredients, dinners that stretch far into the evening, and great conversations around the table.

“Lucy,” I told her. “I understand. I kind of want to stay too. Our home is on Vashon Island. But we’re coming back, all right?”

I promised her we will be at that villa outside Lucca again, somehow, someday.

(And it looks like it might be as early as late September of this year. Stay tuned for details. We’re all working to make the Jovial Cooking School a twice-yearly event. This time, we want you there too.)

* * *

I did warn you, right? This one was long. I couldn’t figure out any way to write this without all these stories.

Thanks for listening. Thanks for sitting around the table with me for awhile.

 

Jovial Foods paid our way to Italy and put us up in the villa so that we could teach cooking classes there. All opinions, photographs, and enthusiasms here are our own. If you would like to see Jovial’s accounting of this incredible week, click here

82 comments on “a Jovial trip to Tuscany

  1. Sirena

    I love a long entry from Gluten Free Girl — and a mini trip to Tuscany this morning from my own kitchen table. Welcome back you guys and thanks for sharing your amazing trip!

  2. Heda

    Lovely post. What a wonderful holiday. I can almost taste the food! And Lu is so grown up. When did that happen?!!

  3. Ingrid @ Jammy Chicken

    Such a heart-felt post about the simplest things in life — great food, great people, perfect moments — I felt a little pang of longing to be there myself. I’d settle for a nice cup of Italian coffee and a gelato, though — vanilla, please!

  4. Katharine

    Glorious. I would have loved to have been part of that magical week. Loved Lucca when I visited, quite unexpectedly, last year on my birthday, en route to the b&b outside Siena. “Belleatsimo” !!!!

  5. Kimberly

    This is a lovely post, thank you so much for sharing your trip with all of us. Your voice is simply wonderful.

    I do have a question, and I do not mean it as a criticism, so please do not take it as such. Is it really true that all Italians share the same philosophy about food? Or is it that the type of trip that you made put you in contact only with people who cared this deeply about food? It just seems like a very blanket statement to make about a large group of people.

    1. shauna

      Kimberly, it’s a good question. But if you ask Italians, they all say this. Their lives are built on this. We encountered this in 2007 as well, when we weren’t on a food trip. I’ll never forget hearing two men in the piazza in Foligno arguing about whose mother made the better polenta. It’s a very different attitude than here.

      1. llightning

        Just read your very condensed version of this post on Epicurious. Don’t know if you’ve read the comments, but there are some rather hostile ones. I wrote a comment defending you, and was upbraided for it. The gist of these comments were that you are passing yourself off as an “expert” making generalizations about Italians. Oh, and why didn’t you include a recipe, since otherwise what was the point of your writing the post? I figure these people lead very sad lives.

        1. shauna

          Oh, thanks. There are some very sad folks posting over there on a regular basis. Let them lie. But thanks for your support.

        2. Lynn

          I’m so proud of you, Shauna, for managing to build a life whilst ignoring those who criticize you. There are ALWAYS people ready to find fault. It says everything about THEM and absolutely nothing about you. I thoroughly enjoyed your Italy post. Tuscany calls me.….I’m with Lu!

  6. Don Thomason

    What a wonderful post, one that slows the breathing from the everyday pace and invites us along for your wondrous experience. Thank you for your informative narrative that nourishes in more ways than one; hopefully you’ll be back on that biannual basis you spoke of.

  7. Franchesca Havas

    Love the article! It soooo makes me home sick for my Italian family and to go back to Siena where I went to school. Sigh, this was lovely to wake up to. :)

    Thank you.

  8. Ann

    Thanks Shauna — very lovely experience for you and yours. It brought back lovely memories of Lucca for me from 2007 (didn’t know you existed then, and we were probably breathing the same air) — my little family and I went to Lucca for 2 nights, and ended up staying 9, yes 9! and I could stay a lot longer than that. A little pizza place near the anfiteatro served us as a treat (like you, unfashionably early, following an exhaustingly wonderful day trip to Florence) — it was Torte di Ceci. When I got home I found it was the unbelievably common, but not to us, Farinata. Made with chick pea flour, oil, salt and rosemary in a huge flat pan in the oven — yum. We were there in April and May, so it was spring, but a spring like I had never experienced before. Cycling on the walls around Lucca, sitting in the sun in the Pfanner Garden (where there was incredibly a couple of Australian Banksias growing, made us feel homesick for a second), and yes, we had gelati most days. Thanks for the memories Shauna, look forward to the recipes, and the return visits.

  9. animasolaarts

    So beautiful. I have a deep, abiding love for Italy — I was there last year and was so very touched and amazed at how well the Italians both understand Celiac Disease and are still determined (!) that everyone be not only fed, but fed well. This brings it all back for me. Can’t wait to return.

  10. Christine

    I adore this post. First of all, I love Tuscany and I’m pretty sure I’ve dreamt of going there since I was 12. Second of all, the photos and the stories are amazing. What a dream!

  11. Ginny

    Shauna,
    Thanks so much for such a generous post! My stomach is growling from seeing such beautiful food and reading your descriptions.

  12. Melissa Nunes

    I have been waiting for that post and it WAS WORTH IT! I probably won’t win a contest, but I feel like I was there, thanks to your magical way with words. I LOVE the food stories and of course I really want to hear how Lu reacted but my favorite part was the descriptions of the kindness of strangers. That gets me every time. I am so happy that you, Danny & Lu have made this life for yourself. It’s a very big deal!

  13. DamselflyDiary

    Shauna, what a dream! I am so envious! I would love to travel the way you did — small, intimate, behind the scenes with locals to steer and guide you. The idea of traveling in a tourist group or trying to figure it all out on my own has prevented me from embarking on a trip to Europe. One day I will go and I hope it is as magical as your trip. It likely won’t be though because I do not have your innately beautiful spirit and love of people and food. My trip will be experienced through my own eyes and heart. Thank you for sharing your trip through your eyes and heart.

  14. Lauren Grant

    What a lovely post. I enjoyed the trip to Italy from my kitchen table this morning. I’ve been to Italy twice — once before and once after being diagnosed with celiac. I had re-read your honeymoon posts before going last year in order to figure out the best way to eat gluten free. You’re right, it is easy and getting salad is amazing not like in North America.

    I had not heard of Jovial pasta. Do you know if it is available in Canada? It sounds amazing.

    Thanks,
    Lauren

  15. Sean

    Marvelous, and makes me yearn to return to Italy yet again. It’s only a matter of time.

    I suppose it’s actually not surprising that the Italians have gotten on the stick with the whole celiac thing. This is a culture wherein most feel like they have not had eaten their full complement of nutriment unless they’ve had at least one bowl of pasta per day. So I imagine that they would be extremely sympathetic and accommodating to those who cannot indulge in that, at least not the traditional semolina pasta. It warms my Italian-American heart to know that you received such hospitality and warmth.

  16. Nia Sayers

    Wow. Just wow.
    My husband’s family still has a country estate north of Milan where we’ve heard stories of the traditional al fresco dining table being restocked with dish after dish all day long. Dreamy I tell you. One day we will go.

  17. Nicole Riseley Ketchum

    Shauna, I live in Seattle, and was there the same time you were, right outside Lucca. We stayed in Pescia. We loved Lucca. Great leather store there and the wall is beautiful. I miss the food terribly; the cheap, and I mean cheap and beautiful radicchio, tomatoes, olive oil, real parmesan, the clams…god. I think Cinque Terra was my favorite.…the sea, the warm water, the sun.

    I dont know about you, but after being in that sun (I was there for 15 days!) coming back here to Seattle was like a jolt. Where’s the sun? The warmth? The toasty feeling of the days? Sigh.

    Loved reading your account!!

    1. shauna

      Nicole, absolutely! We had a weird week coming back, with jet lag and Lucy getting a swimmer’s ear infection. But mostly, it was just hard to come home! That’s why I coudn’t write this for qwhile.

  18. Suze

    Oh, I’ve been waiting for this story! Thank you for the beautiful telling, the pictures, the dreams they inspire! Lovely!

  19. Heather

    This made me feel so good to hear that a trip to Italy is something that can be done with celiac disease. My parents took me for the first time a decade ago, and I had always dreamed of taking my children there someday. I honestly thought that it would be impossible, but reading this brought tears and hope to my heart. So glad to hear that it was a great experience for you and your family.

  20. SMITH BITES

    i’ve had to stop reading several times to wipe away the tears; so silly, i know — but i’ve had an ache in my gut for Italy for going on 16 years now. i was in Rome in 1997 and had planned to return to study abroad for a year when The Professor asked me to marry him. i will quickly say that marrying my best friend was the right choice!! but my heart has always been back in Italy — and my dream for the last 16 years has been to return — this time w/The Professor — i imagine my photos will look similar to yours w/Danny & Lu — only mine will be w/The Professor. i’ve so enjoyed the post Shauna — cannot wait to read more!!

  21. cathi

    What a beautiful experience for your family! We were in Italy last summer and the fabulous food and extremely kind people were such a delight — magical memories! xxoo

  22. Karen

    LOVE this! Totally immersed myself in your description, closing my eyes, breathing in the smells of fresh basil and simmering, melting tomatoes. Next time, can’t you take me with you?

  23. Bellingham Barb

    I can answer a little bit the “do all Italians share the food culture” question. I think it is safe to say that most do, but not all. McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks (heresy!!!), all have plenty of Italian afficianados. You just won’t see them walking down the street eating from those places as they walk. At least they are still civilized enough to sit and eat! (Gelato excepted). Shauna’s point about seasonal food makes that food culture be true for nearly everyone whether they like it or not. You eat what is in season, and it rarely tastes like anything but real food! I still remember how shocked and broken hearted I was to discover when I went to the market that, while last week the artichokes were in season (with their tender, gorgeous long, long stems still on, and the basis for a risotto to go with the actual artichoke flowers), this week? Not so much. Finito. And those little golden grapes that are available for a week or two in September or October? Just a final, sweet, golden reminder of the summer that is slipping away. Greens in the winter when you really need them. You don’t really have a choice. Even if you are poor. You get what you get when they offer it.
    I am so glad to read your post. We are not in Italy with relatives in Milan and Sardegna this year–next year. This is my little fix. The cooking was just like my sister-in-law’s and her friends. Ah. Grazie mille!
    Barb

  24. Traci

    Thank you so much Shauna for the wonderful recap of your trip! I too have been waiting for this post. A kitchen table trip to Tuscany in the middle of spring/winter/summer (whatever it is here in Tacoma right now) was a lovely escape especially since the weather today actually had me humming a Christmas tune…“oh the weather outside is frightful…” Did you by any chance come home with the yummy sounding chestnut flour cake recipe from your first night? If so, I hope it is one you will share. Welcome home.

  25. Brie

    I’ve so been looking forward to this post and thrilled for the snapshot of your week. Glad it was wonderful. Someday we want to go back to Italy.

  26. Kathleen

    Beautiful, beautiful on all levels ~ and my, isn’t Lu getting to be so big! Glad it was such a delicious adventure for you all.

  27. Ana

    Shauna,
    so glad for you that you got to have such a wonderful experience. It’s always funny to me that my American friends (I’ve been living here in Italy for over 12 yrs) seem to freak about the food I make. Anyhow,… welcome to our ways of eating… it’s SO normal here. I almost seem like the odd-one-out cause I don’t make my own pasta (though that won’t stay that way for long now)… All the markets (we have a market 4 times/wk in our town) make it easier. And it’s always a nice walk to get out in the morning and get what’s fresh for the day.… And oh, the fish!!!!.… Sigh… Ok, gotta go make lunch now… And I am WAY wanting to know about your future classes here in Italy. Would be wonderful to attend.…

  28. Madame Free-From

    You had me from the first mention of pistachio gelato and I only got more hungry as I read through the post! Mouthwatering pictures, sounds like an amazing trip.

  29. Kim Foster

    1. Lucy: adorable, as usual.
    2. You and Danny: Also adorable, but not quite as adorable as Lucy (sorry).
    3. Italy: Magnificent
    4. Jovial: My new pasta. We’ve been trying to help our little pasta-heads eat less gluten and have been looking for a good brand. Thanks for the rec!
    5. Rabbit sauce: I want to make it. Have recipe?
    6. Wellness: I want that for Lucy. I’m a little done with all the kid sickness in our families. How is she (and you guys) holding up?
    7. Home: Glad you are back.
    8. The end.

    xo Kim

  30. shelley

    My heart is bursting with the joy I feel from every word. Thank you thank you thank you for your filled-with-love storytelling.

  31. Robin

    What a wonderful post! Shauna — please keep us posted on details of the next trip and cooking school. I am sooooo in! I see that PCC and Whole Foods in the Seattle area sells Jovial. Going today to go grab some and give it a try. Also Amazon has a “subscribe and save” deal for all of their varieties. Looks like we are finally starting to see some spring veggies at the UDistrict farmer’s market! I see English Peas on the Ripe and Ready list and in my pasta!

    1. Robyn Kinstle

      Just FYI, the Whole Foods in the Pac NW only sells the jovial Einkorn Wheat pasta at this time. I wanted to clarify to make sure GF consumers do not buy that one in error (in a brown box). You will be looking for the Brown Rice pasta that is in the green box– and yes, it is available at PCC, and many of the Coops. But it will certainly help us get our brown rice pasta and gluten free cookies into Whole Foods Market in the Northwest if customers request it at their favorite store!

  32. Kristy Hayter

    I just discovered your blog, from Joy the Baker. I just wanted to say what a beautiful blog post, your writting is lovely.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Kristy

  33. Becky

    What a lovely trip! thank you for sharing. And do keep us posted on your cooking school, I would love to go.

  34. Jenn Sutherland

    This post is like a deep breathing meditation in the middle of a busy day. A perfect lunch hour break — thank you for sharing your incredible vacation with us! I’ve been looking for the gluten-free Jovial pastas all over, and haven’t seen them in stores yet, but now I think it’s time to just place an online order, and stock the pantry!

    Italy is at the very top of our list for travel, and your sharing your experiences there are a large part of it…to know that I can travel to a beautiful country with strong food traditions AND eat safely — I want to taste that bresaola and partake in the good pasta and gentle morning sunlight, too! I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next cooking school for sure!

  35. melanie

    Oh, it truly sounds wonderful. We were in Lucca at the same time, and because of your blog, I had contacted the wonderful people at Jovial and were going to go see their factory. So sad that it didn’t actually happen as we may have had the chance for our groups to intersect. Oh, well. Opportunity lost I guess.

    So glad it went smoothly — even better — meravigliosamente!

  36. sundaykind

    Great post, thanks for letting us participate in your journey. I’m intrigued by the chestnut flour cake, did they by any chance call it castagnaccio? Was it just plain and sweet, or did they add olive oil, pine nuts and even rosemary? I’ve never tried that, but I heard such a thing exists and you’ve just motivated me to give it a try.

  37. Jeanne

    Your post made me feel that I was experiencing every moment with you and brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing post — especially since I discovered that I have gluten ataxia. So many more gluten free choices in Italy. And bravo on the amazing photos too! Thank you.

  38. blandina

    I was surprised to read that you were in Lucca, so close to Florence! This post is so nice to read also for an Italian living in Italy, I shared your emotions and your experiences.
    Thank you!

  39. Janelle

    What a beautiful post! I loved the photos and the experience. I have a gf/df client who spent a semester in Italy this year and loved the food as well. She said that what surprised her is that you find gluten-free packaged goods not in the grocery store but at the pharmacies — it’s food as medicine, literally. Thanks for sharing your trip and experience.

    1. shauna

      Janelle, that’s right! It’s amazing, really. What was interesting to me this time is that I was less interested in those packaged foods and more interested in the foods that were naturally gluten-free. In 2007, I wanted to try every brand! Now, I am happy with those eggs in tomato sauce.

  40. emmycooks

    I didn’t realize that Jovial and Bionaturae were the same people. I’ve been buying Bionaturae tomato puree for a long time and wishing for whole tomatoes in jars–my box just arrived from Jovial, which I learned about from you! Thank you!

  41. captainmomma

    I want that kind of place where food is real and tastes amazing and you can hang around a table for hours in conversation and food.

    Egads! Another contest for the cooking school? I’ll be watching for that!!!!!!

    I wonder where I can find the Jovial pasta up here? Better start looking!

    Thanks for the great post :)

  42. Kristin Hackman

    So grateful for your account of the tastes, smells, faces and sunlight — I felt like I was there.

    Favorite part — that there “is no divide.” Not just in food — but in just being!

    My Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to move my family (triplets and daddy and me) to Italy for a year and write about the “slow life” from the average American “fast lane.” i left a piece of my heart there in 2009 ;) Did you get to learn about the slow movement in the restaurants there? Im sure you ate at a participating spot!!

    Cant wait to follow your Italy endeavors … Who knows… Maybe we will be there together … Eating, loving & writing about it .. thanks for story — beautiful!

  43. christa

    Wow! Shauna, it seems like you & your family had a great time! I would love to join you in Sep but I am working 2 jobs & think that I am a few months pregnant so I would be due around that time.…..so traveling is out :( But, I did get inspired & make my 1st gfree pizza! (Since november of 2011 it’s been since pizza!) I accidently got linked to your flicker album and was blown away by the pics! What beauty to wake up to & share with family each day. You have worked hard and deserve it!

  44. Cate Lazen

    I loved this post. The generosity of spirit you bring to your writing, cooking, traveling, mothering and life are inspiring. I want to show you Mexico someday soon. Looking forward to talking soon? Best to you, Shauna! –Cate

  45. Jac

    What a gorgeous post. I felt like I was there with you! The purple artichokes are stunning — I would love to use them as a table arrangement!

  46. Kaila

    Mountain Eggs: These look very similar to a popular Israeli/Middle Eastern dish called shakshouka:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakshouka

    The chain of espresso bars, Aroma, makes it fairly well (sorry, they only have gluten bread to accompany. Just bring your own from home for sopping up the sauce). If you live in the Toronto area, there are 8 Aroma locations (as opposed to only 3 in NYC, 1 in NJ, 1 in FLA, nana nana boo boo!).

    http://www.aroma.ca/menu/our-breakfasts/shakshouka/

    Better yet, come to Toronto and go to Dr. Laffa (OK, only fresh, gluten-filled luffa, and it’s kosher, so you can’t bring in your own GF wrap or bread for sopping). Really authentic, Iraqi Jewish shakshouka. Yum Yum.

    http://drlaffa.com/index.html

  47. Juanita

    The cherries in Western Europe are indeed great this time of year, aren’t they. Sim and I just got back from a month travelling around Iceland/France/Belgium/Netherlands, and the variety of Spring fruit available was just astounding. Our record was an entire (affordable) kilogram of giant cherries consumed for lunch one day in Paris. Cherries are horribly expensive in South Africa during the Summer months, so it was bliss to be able to eat them at will.

  48. Lauren Schaad

    Just beautiful, Shauna. I studied in Lucca many moons ago, and still have many memories of strolling along the city’s medieval walls, and enjoying gelato in secret piazzas of Puccini’s hometown. Beautifully written, and you’ve thoroughly distracted me from doing anything else with my day. Now I’m googling all things Italy, “senza glutine.”

  49. Kim Theodore

    Have I mentioned before that I’m not celiac, nor gluten free. I just love your stories, Shauna. That’s all. I’ve never made a recipe, doesn’t mean I won’t (I kinda wanta make pie). It’s your ability to take your incredible experiences, both simple and big, and make each of them extraordinary, by putting them into words and pictures on paper, or, um, computer.

    Thank you for taking the time to be in the moment and share. So much.

    ps. It is my dream to go back to Italy!

    ~Kim

  50. Ines

    Lovely photos. I too am in love with Italy. I just came back from a one week long honeymoon in Sicily…Amazing. You are lucky to be going there again in September, enjoy!!!

  51. Kathy

    I just can’t get over it…it REALLY looks like the postcards and movies. It REALLY looks like you want it to. It REALLY sounds like it’s supposed to.

  52. Ashley

    Thank you so much. Your website has been both my inspiration and my rock for over 3 years now and for the first time I feel really compelled to say so. Much love from Toronto.

  53. Ches Hinojosa

    This is a beautiful post. It lends a rich perspective to food allergies in other countries versus the States, as well. Amazing how many Americans are so disconnected from their food they do not know what gluten is (I knew well before I even know what celiac was!), nor can they construct a vegetable dish with anything other than iceberg lettuce and sad vegetables.

    I love and appreciate your blog for the imagination and beauty in food you have uncovered! Thank you for opening up people’s worlds to real food!

  54. Vita @ Juicer Depot

    Italy is such a wonderful place to visit. It is such a great experience that you were able to go. I wish it wasn’t so expensive to get there. I would love to take my family every year to visit.

  55. Laurie

    My local Whole Foods carries Jovial pasta–whole grain. I asked them to order Jovial GF pasta and they said they can’t. Hmmm. Now what? Where do I find GF Jovial pasta? Any ideas?

    1. shauna

      I don’t know why they would say that! Whole Foods carries it in other parts of the country. But it’s also available on the Jovial website and Amazon.

  56. Leah Massey

    Family and friends gathered around a table, platters of eye and palate-pleasing food, and sunshine streaming through the window…these are the very definition of comfort and joy to me, wherever in the world said table may be.

    As a gluten-free newbie, I felt overwhelming…relief…hope…and purpose while soaking up this post.

    As a mom, wife, cook and friend, I nourish my loved ones’ (and my own) hearts with food. Straightforward food that tastes so good it makes you dance a little. (You know what I mean…)

    The GF Epiphany rocked my world (or at least my kitchen) more than a little. I wasn’t so much scared as challenged. In a good way. After all, my mission to inspire food-induced dancing around my kitchen island hadn’t changed! But I have no intention of creating sumptuous dishes that will make everyone else feel loved but leave me…alone.

    This post has gotten all my creative juices flowing (not to mention all the salivating going on here!). Confidence and anticipation are the emotions I’m going to run with. It’s almost midnight, but I’m itching to grab my apron and hone my knives.

    My family doesn’t know it yet, but they owe you, the chef and your wonderful hosts in Italy a large debt of gratitude for the inspired, inclusive and guten-free meals coming their way.

    May comfort and joy continue being passed around your family’s table.

  57. Liz

    Shauna,
    I saw your recent post on Lucca and had to revisit your post from our visit last May.…so excited that you, Danny and Lu are returning and feeling such amazing gratitude that Missy and I had this experience with not only your family but the extended Jovial family as well. A beautifully enriching experience in my life that I will cherish always. Enjoy and celebrate all the treasures that Tuscany has to offer! Best, Liz Newkirk

    1. shauna

      Liz, we love that you we know you through that experience. What a time it was together! I hope you’re doing splendidly.