Eat, Eat, Eat (and drink a little)

If I had written “Eat, Pray, Love,” it would have been called “Eat, Eat, Eat.”

Admittedly, I have done a few other things besides eat since arriving here in the land of the plum tomato and the roasted eggplant, but eating has been paramount.

This is because I love food, and also because we folks at this EMBO Conference on Magnetic Resonance for Cellular Structural Biology are being fed three times a day.

At least, I thought we were being fed three times a day.

On Tuesday afternoon, at around 5:30, I was wandering through the lobby of our hotel, the Fattoria La Principina in Grosseto, when I noticed a table laden with goblets and bottles of wine and water.

The afternoon beverage cart

The afternoon beverage cart

Not far from either side of the table were smaller tables on which sat platters of delectable Italian salami and even more delectable Italian cheese, in huge wedges and small wedges. Also, crostini, bruschetta, and several other spreads, and fresh olives.

Snacks for scientists (and their spouses)

Snacks for scientists (and their spouses)

The snacks had been laid out for the conferees, who clearly hadn’t eaten enough before heading back to their science. I was the only person in the lobby, except for the serving staff.

It was all I could do not to eat every last piece of salami and small wedge of cheese. I felt bad leaving all that food on those platters. Who would eat it, if not for me? I managed to limit myself to two pieces of each, all the while imagining making off with the large wedges of cheese.

No one would have noticed. However, I resisted, in large part because I wasn’t sure what I would do with them once I got them back to our room. It is true that we have a small refrigerator, but I didn’t think I’d succeed in importing the cheese back to Canada.

The way I was obsessing about that mid-afternoon snack you’d have thought I hadn’t eaten in days. But the truth is, all I’ve done for days is eat. The food here at the Fattoria (so named, I think, because we are all going to be fat by the end of our stay) is phenomenal.

Dinner on Tuesday evening, our third night here, was fish. The first course was seafood risotto. Next up was a medley of seafood: melt-in-your-mouth roasted salmon and squid, swordfish, and a massive crustacean that I believe was a shrimp (an oxymoron) but which tasted like lobster. Also potatoes, but I passed on the potatoes, because, you know, I’m trying to avoid carbs.

Dessert was the best lemon sorbet I have ever tasted, like lemon explosions to clear out the fishy taste from the mouth.

After dinner the scientists went back to work which, as I understand it, consists of listening to each other talk about science. I went off for a walk with my new friend Rebecca (the only other spouse here). When we returned to the hotel, Rebecca found a text from her husband informing her that there was a wine-tasting in the lecture hall.

Good grief! That was the second wine tasting of the day! How these scientists are accomplishing anything scientific, given the amount of alcohol they are being offered, is beyond me. (Though to be fair, I think yesterday was the only day they were offered wine tastings. Maybe it makes the science more palatable. Who knows?)

In case I haven’t made myself clear, let me restate: our food-and-drink needs are being more than met.

Here is a little run-down of our meals to date. I will try to take some pictures today so you will have even more to resent.

Dinner is a sit-down affair, served by men and women dressed in black. They always serve the females first. This is the first time in my life I have truly appreciated sexism.

The first night’s dinner featured bruschetta, followed by ravioli, followed by a mixed grill (sausage, lamb, chicken, and beef) and roasted potatoes. There was also a salad bar – radicchio, fennel, mixed greens, tomatoes, corn, and shredded carrots. For dessert we had lemon gelato with fruit salad. Our table of eight people emptied the first bottle of Chianti in the wine holder quickly. The server brought us another.

Breakfast is always the same: a buffet with scrambled eggs and bacon, plain croissants or croissants filled with marmalade, various cookies, yogurt, cereals, and fruit. There is a massive machine that serves coffee, espresso, cappuccino, hot chocolate, and steamed milk. There is always a lineup for the massive machine.

We also have chits for hot drinks at the lobby bar. Yesterday I ordered a hot chocolate there. It tasted like liquid pudding (the good kind).

On Tuesday morning at breakfast I picked up something that I thought was a brownie, but which turned out to be a yellowy sponge cake dipped in chocolate – not really worth the calories, so I didn’t finish it.

This morning at breakfast I picked up this confection:

This is no ordinary Hoho

This is no ordinary Hoho

I thought it was an Italian version of a Hostess Hoho. As soon as I touched it I was sure I’d made a mistake taking it. But I’d used my hands, so I couldn’t put it back.

Here’s what it looked like when I cut into it:

The tiramisu Hoho. To date, Italy's greatest culinary contribution to the 21st century

The tiramisu Hoho. To date, Italy’s greatest culinary contribution to the 21st century

It wasn’t a Hoho. It was filled with tiramisu. Man, these Italians. Just when you think they don’t understand chocolate-covered snack food, they come up with a tiramisu Hoho.

And now, about our lunches. Every day we have had platters of roasted vegetables (peppers, zucchini, eggplant), a salad bar, and some kind of pizza. The main courses have varied. On Monday we also had risotto with radicchio, cannelloni, and some kind of mushy bean thing that I skipped because there was no room left on my plate. We also had had beautiful cheeses (fresh ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and something I will have to learn the name of soon, because it appeared at snack time on Tuesday, too).

Tuesday lunch featured a seafood salad, platters of lox (!!!), and polenta topped with what I was told was olive tapenade but turned out to be liver. (Blech.) (I also mistook the octopus in the seafood salad for fennel and turkey. Some of the octopus looked like fennel. Some of it looked like turkey. What can I say? I’m not used to this cuisine. But I am getting used to it, which means I will be sorely disappointed when I get home to my boring meals in Edmonton.)

The main courses at Tuesday’s lunch were baked ravioli, and rotini with a pesto and artichoke sauce. Go ahead. Drool. You should.

Dinner Monday night was Tuscan vegetable soup (which is really more like stew, or soup that ran out of water but still tastes good), polenta, and wild boar stew. (I ate the polenta and salad.) Dessert was crème brulee. Wine was served. Wine is served with every dinner. Unlimited wine. Italian wine. Wine that is probably made about 20 minutes from here.

Go ahead. Resent me. But know that if I could bring home a doggy bag for all of you, I would.






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