Saturday, June 18th
Saturday morning, I started my day by having breakfast with Francesco’s mother, Marusca. 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). Empoli also has (as in most towns in Italy) many churches. We stopped by two of them.
We stopped to purchase some fish for lunch on Sunday and then stopped in a bar to have a drink. The bar was very elegant with many little pastries. I was too full from breakfast to have a pastry but I did have some wonderful fresh peach juice.
Later in the morning, 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 purchase 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!
When we returned to Irene & Francesco’s house, Francesco stayed with Sara while she took a nap. 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 about an hour. The wedding was very interesting to watch. It was hot outside and the wedding was very long. We finally left after they exchanged rings since Irene could not tell how much longer it would last.
Before my trip. Irene had asked me if I could send her a typical Hawaiian dessert recipe. 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 I have had in Italy.
I read in advance on Slow Travel how to translate recipes. I decided that it would be easier if Irene had the “American” measuring cups/spoons instead of trying to do the translations since it seemed from the information that I read that different dry ingredients weighed differently and it was much too confusing. I mailed in advance 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) 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 delicious 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 everything seemed 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 hour and watched as it finally flattened out. After returning to Hawaii, I found out that we might have used too much butter. 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 probably 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 the 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 enjoyed another WONDERFUL day and evening in Empoli!
Sunday, June 19th
Sunday morning was looking like another sunny and warm day. I went down to breakfast for another enjoyable meal (a cappuccino scuro, some yogurt, a wonderful little pastry and some cereal) this time with both of Francesco’s parents.
After breakfast, I went with Francesco to see the church where they were married.
Irene prepared a wonderful lunch of a fish with the same name as a frog (rana) and 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. This is the only interesting picture I took…
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 a big COOP store which was like a mini mall.
Sunday ended with a delicious meal at Francesco’s parents’ house. Marusca made a delicious pasta with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.
We also had roasted vegetables – all my favorites! For dessert, we had some 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, Marusca showed me pictures from her trip to Cambodia and Laos. What a different world! I was sad to say goodbye to Irene, Francesco, and Sara. After thanking everyone, I went upstairs to pack.
Thoughts on my stay in Empoli: It has been wonderful spending time with everyone here in Empoli. I have been so fortunate to be able to experience Italy from a local person’s point of view. All the homemade food I get to eat while in Empoli is always so delicious! I always have a wonderful time when visiting my dear friends. Hopefully I will be able to return again soon. I also hope that someday Irene & Francesco will finally come to Hawaii to visit me!
Empoli is a very interesting place to visit. There are many shops, some interesting churches, and the people there are very kind. It is easy to reach by train, 30 minutes from Florence.