The Trip: {Venice & Orvieto}

This post should have read, Venice, PISA and Orvieto…

…but that was before the rail workers went on strike, we skyped with friends in two nations to change plans, I almost died of thirst on a train, I gave a lady from South Africa two granola bars, and we walked over ancient cobblestones with our suitcases a mile out of our way after we got lost (for the first time) on our way to the station.

Oh, Europe. We love you.

{Cancellato, Cancellato, Cancellato… and lots of tourists in line for refunds}

During our stay in Florence, we planned a day trip to Venice, and to Pisa. One of those, as you now know, was cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances. However, the other, along with a gondola ride straight out of a book, or a dream, or a Disney theme park (whatever speaks to you) more than made up for it.

Who needs to see an ‘ol lopsided building anyhow.? That’s what I told myself, anyway… It sort of worked.

Venice:

{Made-on-the-spot espresso on the train, the Tuscan countryside, water taxi ride…}

The train ride to Venice was our first rail experience,  and we navigated it wonderfully. Mind you, this was the day before they were on strike, so we were blissfully unaware of the problems we could have faced… thank goodness! The city itself was packed with crowds. There was a boat race that day, so there were several thousand EXTRA tourists and spectators packed on to the narrow bridges and streets – quite a contrast to the relatively easy to navigate (and breath/have elbow room) Florence.

But, Oh…

…it’s so beautiful.

We purchased the Venice Pass (to bring us to the front of the long lines!) and took the vaporetto (water taxi) to St. Mark’s Square from the train station to see the Doge’s Palace and Basilica of St. Mark. The square was full of people, but the sights were beautiful. The “bridge of sighs” that passed between the palace and its prison (where prisoners would sigh as they took one last look at Venice as they crossed) was one of our favorite spots (top right, above!)…

{Narrow water-streets, our gondola, the Grand Canal… and that blue door}

After touring both the palace and the church, we wanted to get into the city to see the lovely little waterways and more of the Grand Canal – too picturesque for words! We ended a rather warm, crowded day with a cool, peaceful, romantic gondola ride (so, so worth it!), and some local cicchetti at al Pesador – a bar nestled right along the Grand Canal and the Rialto bridge… octopus, yum!

{Flavors, guide book review, the husband trying new things, fresh-water fountains}

We really enjoyed walking the streets, browsing the lovely Murano glass and traditional lace – both made on one of the hundreds of islands that make up this amazing, historic city. As we often felt during the trip, we had to leave too soon… but, more adventures awaited us!

Orvieto:

Because Pisa was a no-go, our next day was spent getting a refund at the train station, then spending some extra time in Florence before departing earlier-than-planned to Orvieto. It turns out, this was a blessing in disguise! We adored every moment we had in this tiny city-on-a-hill in the Umbria region with Hannah!

{Views, our suite of rooms and breakfast… oh, to be sitting there again!}

We stayed at B&B La Magnolia, and it was more perfect than I could have imagined. Serene, the owner, also owns the fun cafe & bar downstairs (where our breakfast was served the first day – above middle), and was wonderful to work with. Our suite was at the tippy-top of the historic building in the center of town, and had a fabulous view of of the city and countryside below. It was also just steps from Orvieto’s fabulous duomo, which was one of our favorite churches we visited on the trip… and that’s saying a lot!

The highlight of this portion of the trip, however, was getting the chance to see Hannah “in her element”! Now fluent in Italian (though she would deny it), seeing the place I’ve heard so much about from her over the last few years was amazing. She works with a college program that she attended while in school, and is getting ready to start her Masters in Fine Arts this summer. Orvieto has inspired her work in so many ways – it was easy to see how she fell in love with the views, the culture, the language and the people…

Speaking of the people, we also had the delightful pleasure of meeting Hannah’s talented, amazing friend – Federico. He is a shoemaker and leather craftsman that learned his art in Rome, and lives in Orvieto where he has a shop. We had a blast getting to know him, seeing his beyond-beautiful work, and taking advantage of his tour guide and pizza ordering skills :)

{The evening streets were dream-like, and the sunsets were not to be missed}

While here, we toured the duomo, visited ancient pre-Roman Etruscan ruins, walked down the St. Patrick’s well, climbed the clock tower and ate the most fabulous pasta alla carbonara and affogato known to man at Mezza Luna Trattoria (the restaurant with the amazing flowers hanging over the door, above). The pizza with spicy sausage and Gorgonzola wasn’t too shabby either… or the wine…

…let’s just say it was a good thing we climbed 10,000 stairs while on this trip.

All to quickly, we said goodbye… and were off to Rome!

…more coming soon!

P.S. On another note – Happy third Anniversary to my brave, strong, smart, Godly, devastatingly handsome husband… We always said we would go on adventures together… I’d say we’re off to a good start ;)

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A milestone…

Well, my goofy redheaded “little” brother has officially graduated from college…

…oh, my.

I’m old.

My only consolation is that I still get asked for my ID at the movie theater, and somewhere in my head I fully believe that I am about to enter the 8th grade.

Hanson, gel pens and Bonne Bell lip gloss are still all the rage, right?

Anyhow, Joe’s graduation celebration was wonderful. The ceremony was honestly the most well-run and lovely program I’ve ever attended. It felt wonderful to see my little bro walk across the stage, and to watch him hug, grin and chat with family and friends.

This shindig also gave me a reason to:

  1. Buy a new dress
  2. Go to the nearby outlet mall
  3. Stay in a hotel
  4. Eat at Cheesecake Factory
  5. See the Avengers

Sooooo, as you can see, it was good time.

In other news, The Trip is pretty much all I have on my mind at this point.

Two Weeks.

Am I ready? Of COURSE I’m ready:

His & Hers passport covers? Check. Zebra neck pillow for the airplane? Check. Grandma walking sandals for my still-on-the-mend runner’s feet? Check. Mini bottles of every type of hygiene product known to man? Check. Re-reading my 6th grade “Famous Men of Rome” text book. Half-way check.

Totally prepared. Totally freaking out.

Talk to me in a week and a half and I’ll let you know if I’ve actually started packing or have stocked up on my to-go nut butter supply yet. Then you’ll know It’s getting serious ;)

For now, the next big thing is Chicago with Bekah & my lovely mama for the weekend!

{Can’t wait to be here again (2011). That’s American Girl bliss, folks.}

:) Exciting things ahead!

Easter {Fun}day

I, like many of you, am still recovering from/basking in a weekend of fabulous Easter celebrations. Full of all things wonderful: family, friends, dark chocolate, church, presents, breakfast dates and mashed potatoes, we couldn’t have asked for a more full, refreshing time (or tummies! ;)

(Title~ pun intended)

We started the weekend early with my family’s traditional Passover Seder meal on Thursday evening. Though we are Christians, the symbolism of this night is very special. We do a Messianic version of the readings, and I love reflecting on the history and meaning behind the words. The same ritual has been performed by the Jewish people for thousands of years, and Jesus said the same words at the last supper… amazing to ponder.

{Berry pies, turkey and matzo ball soup… My mother works wonders!}

Good Friday dawned with an intense kickboxing class with my good friend, Steph (and getting Bekah dressed for the a “Cross Walk” event uptown – Isn’t she cute!?) The class. Was. Amazing. And, it totally worked up my appetite for a scrumptious grilled feast that evening. The Husband and the other guys played golf all morning while we hit up Great Harvest (yay for those warm, wonderful samples!), World Market (their little milk frothers make great gifts – I LOVE mine, $2.99!) and the grocery store to get the goodies for dinner. “The Gang” is ALWAYS a blast, and we totally enjoyed their company.

{Sirloin burgers= boys. Homemade ELR black bean burgers = girls. Soooo good!}

On Saturday morning, I had the chance to go to one of my favorite restaurants of all time – Northstar Cafe – with one of my favorite people – Samantha! She and her husband were in town for the holiday, and we managed to carve out some time to catch up (over to-die-for ricotta pancakes, eggs and coffee). Isn’t Sam gorgeous?!

{Wonderful organic, whole foods, wonderful company. Our lives are so fun and crazy right now… We had no idea we’d be ‘here’ when we took Chemistry together 8 years ago!}

The rest of our Saturday was jam-packed with a family Easter-present/candy hunt, and a trip to visit my great-grandma and cousins for yet another great meal, golf in the backyard, baby goat petting, egg hunt and sunny porch sitting. We rounded out the evening back at Samantha’s parents house (her mom, dad and siblings are close friends of my family) for a glass of wine, brie en croute and s’mores… whew!

{Dietsch’s dark chocolate salted caramel, chick cookies, hugs, and hidden surprises…}

Sunday morning was a fun rush of (more) food, the donning of crisp dresses and colorful shirts and a rich celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The Husband and I we are fortunate enough to have met at church, so both of our families are a part of the same congregation, along with a ton of long-time friends. After church, we headed over to the Husband’s parents’ house to hang out with his siblings, and eat another great meal!

{Fresh strawberry scones, mini-quiche, fruit and bacon for breakfast, and brisket and fixin’s for dinner… along with my sister-in-law’s jaw-dropping cinnamon roll cake *cue angels singing*}

…now see why I’m recovering?

I hope you all had a sweet, fun weekend with your families and friends and favorite dishes :) Did you have any fun eats? Please share!

{festivities}

It’s only just begun…

It’s okay. Go ahead and sing the Carpenters’ song in your head.

I won’t judge.

We’ve been busy getting into the holiday spirit: Our tree, my parent’s tree and our annual “Thank God it’s Christmas” party with friends! I LOVE the Holidays (read: pretty much crazy/obsessed/drive-The-Husband-nuts-with-non-stop-christmas-music). So, I am totally in hog heaven right now.

{Best Christmas Tree impression}

We went to Kaleidoscope Farms to cut down our tree – our third “married” Christmas tree! They have a lovely little shop, a donkey, a reindeer, and absolutely beautiful trees…

{Hot Cider – Yum!}

It’s a tradition to go out to a fun dinner before we set the tree up. This year, we went to Alexandria’s (remember this concert?) for cocktails and appetizers, and then headed over to Revolver (Yum) for dinner and dessert.

It was divine.

After that, we trimmed the tree, drank “egg” nog (really soy nog… surprisingly tasty!) and listened to music… perfection.

The next day, we ran errands, strung lights outside, cooked, cleaned and headed over to Andy and Sara’s house for the Annual Thank God It’s Christmas party with our friends!

{Brussels sprouts with maple, cranberry and sliced almonds and roasted squash & harvest grains were my contributions. So much good food!}

Everyone brought delicious food and fun drinks, and we laughed, talked and ate until late that night. We also worked with Halley on her Christmas card project – she is sending cards to soldiers overseas and in VA hospitals. This is her second year of the tradition – such a worthy cause. It’s a great feeling to give back during the holidays. Learn more on Halley’s blog.

{Bottom right: Zane (14), Dad, Me, The Husband, Joe (21), Bekah (9)}

The Christmas-themed marathon didn’t stop there: on Sunday we headed over to my parents to get their tree with my siblings! Mom, Dad, Bekah, Zane, Joe, The Husband and I packed ourselves into the car for our annual trek to Timbuk Tree Farm.

We ALWAYS ride the bus, and we ALWAYS go to Granville for dinner and ice cream afterwards. We started these traditions with my great-grandparents years and years ago.

We ate at Brew’s Cafe (portobella mushroom sandwich with sweet potato fries) and then went to Whit’s Custard (PB Whister) for dessert. Everything was. to. die. for.

We trimmed the tree when we got home (it was MY year to put the star on top!) and drank egg nog… only UDF brand will do in that household (it is sinfully delicious).

{Whew! Yes, that did take as long as it looks. But I got the job done. Eventually. Let’s just say that there were some picky bystanders.}

It was a wonderful kickoff to the Christmas season, and we’ve got so much more to look forward to! Potluck at the office, Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, The Husband’s huge office party,  The Nutcracker, a cookie exchange, Office Christmas lunch downtown, family celebrations and lots of traveling… can’t wait!

What do you have in store in the weeks leading up to Christmas?

Our Friends {Up} North

You know those times that you feel like you could say “Thank You” a million times, and it still couldn’t begin to explain how blessed you feel?

Our weekend adventure left me and the Husband in just that state: Reeling with gratitude for friends, hospitality, surprising excursions, epicurean delights, wise words and the road we have ahead.

We trekked up to Ancaster, Ontario to visit our good friends, Gordon and Selena, and their son Harrison. Another set of friends, Phillip, Josie and baby Gabe, met us there over the weekend as well. (Note: Gabe was the most beautifully well-behaved child I have ever met. SUCH a sweetheart! And, he gave me kisses…)

We’ve known these wonderful families for a while, but have been itching to get to spend some real time together hanging out and having fun. This was the perfect opportunity!

We talked babies, education, faith, food, the arts, and…. TRAVEL. One of the many reasons we make the trip up was to get Selena’s world-class European travel advice. Yep: The Husband and I are planning a special trip to Italy in the spring….. and have been hopelessly at a loss as to where to begin.

No more! We think we might have a start, some ideas for a middle, and end. Details will emerge as we solidify them. Already can’t wait! {May 2012}.

Besides talking and eating Selena’s fabulous meals (seriously delicious pork & applesauce, jams, cheeses, steak & potatoes, pate, soup, salmon sandwiches and salads!… and her tea was fabulous as well.) and getting a new appreciation for wine and spirits from Gord, we visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), shopped, and ended our visit with a trip to the Falls and Niagra-on-the-Lake.

I also taught Harrison how to use a rubber-band wrapped around his hand as a gun (see upper left corner). I’m sure that made Selena happy. And no, I wasn’t kicked out the country for possessing firearms ; ) (Sorry guys…I had to use one Canadian joke. Just be proud I refrained from using “Eh?” in the title).Toronto was such a progressive, fun city – Lot’s of fabulous European influence and green living!

After breezing through several exhibits – (The dinos were our favorite!), we were treated to lunch at Crystal 5 (c5), a restaurant at the top of the museum, overlooking the city.

So beautiful. So delicious. {Goat cheese & beet salad  and pulled pork tacos, cappuccino and re-imagined french toast for dessert…}

Fortino’s was an amazing grocery – a little like Whole Foods, and packed with an amazing selection of produce, cheeses, prepared foods and products I hadn’t seen before (it takes me forever to shop at home…let alone when there is soooo much to see!).

The Falls were breathtaking. I’ve seen the American side, but I have to say our friends up north have a better view : ) LOVED the rainbow!

Lunch at the Oban restaurant at Niagra-on-the-Lake was perfect. Have you ever had a Caesar? A Canadian tradition, it’s like a Bloody Mary, but with Clamato juice. Doesn’t sound delicious… but it was actually pretty refreshing.

Such a pretty afternoon.

But I have to say, the Tiramisu & Bacio Gelato was the highlight of the day. (Think icy Nutella!). The spot on the top left is where Selena and Gord were engaged

A wonderful trip with wonderful friends. We’re already looking forward to the next get-together!

It’s the season of Thanks. What unusual thing are you thankful for? (Canadian friends and Goat Cheese are already taken…sorry).

Curry for {Cheaters}

We had another jam-packed, fun-till-you-drop weekend.

Someday, I vow we will spend an entire weekend in our PJ’s at home. Like, when we’re 85… But for now, we love that we can go, go go!

Our days were full of family, friends and Jesus at an annual church conference in Columbus, amazing food at the North Market and a peek at Cole & Steph’s new house (where we ate more amazing food…big surprise)!

The Husband and I had such a rich time getting to know people from across the country, and having the opportunity to talk to them about the sessions we attended on “God’s Disruptive Goodness” (think: all of those times major events have happened in our lives that we didn’t plan for… and how they ended up bringing us closer to Him, teaching us things, and preparing us for even better things ahead!) . Though we learned a TON, I have to say that the North Market, my veggie curry lunch and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream were some of the major highlights of the trip : )

{Small photo above, right: Conference friends eating downtown. Sebastian, far left, assisted missionaries Dow & Lois Robinson in translating the bible into Aztec, and creating a written language for the Aztec people. The others at the table served in Costa Rica and San Antonio for the Boy with a Ball organization. Photo above: The North Market in all of its delicious glory!}

After staying up late (2:00a.m.!) chatting and hanging out downtown for two days, we were worn out on Sunday. But, not too tired to see Cole & Steph and their beautiful new home! Steph made the best, most perfect fall dinner possible with recipes from Daily Garnish and Eat, Live, Run (a couple of our favorite “blog ladies”!). Try these dishes…they are to die for. Then, you can invite me over because you’ll owe me : )

{Bison burgers with mushrooms and steak sauce, butternut squash and cranberry maple mixed grains and apple spice bread with apple cider glaze}

Well, I’ve had curry on the brain for a while. Hence the reason that I inhaled my lunch at the Market so fast that the Husband looked concerned and our new friends thought twice about inviting us to go with them… But, making real curry with real curry ingredients and real curry patience and exactitude doesn’t always float my boat. You know what does? Throwing stuff I already have laying around into one big pan. That is why I created “Curry for Cheaters”…sometimes, cheaters do win.

Real curry enthusiasts will cringe and squirm at this concoction, and I don’t blame them. But, If you want something fast and flavorful, this will do in a pinch. You can use ANY of your favorite vegetables in this dish (or whatever is languishing in your fridge). The only thing I think you should absolutely stick with is the sweet potato. Best part.

Curry for {Cheaters}

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 Servings of short grain brown rice, prepared as directed (or 10 min. brown rice if you need something faster! Use Vegetable broth for the best flavor.)
  • Olive or Canola oil to saute
  • 1-2 T Garlic Gold (or one clove of garlic or garlic powder to taste)
  • 1 Bell pepper
  • 1 Sweet potato
  • 1/2 Large onion
  • 3 Stalks of Bok Choy
  • 2 oz. Shitaki Mushrooms
  • 1  can Chick peas (15oz.)
  • Handful of Snow Peas
  • 1/2 t Salt
  • 1 t Garam Masala
  • 1 t Yellow Curry powder
  • Dashes of Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Smoked Paprika (or anything else that sounds yummy…)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (I always have this in the fridge…coconut milk, not so much.)

Directions

  • Heat oil in your pan on medium/ medium high heat (including Garlic Gold Garlic-infused oil if you have it…so good. A gift from Steph!).
  • Chop all of your veggies, and begin sauteing onions and peppers.
  • While onion and peppers begin to soften (about 8-10 minutes) placed diced sweet potato in a microwave safe bowl, add a splash of water, cover, and cook on high until tender (time will vary – 2-5 min.).
  • Add the rest of the vegetables and the spices to the pan, and continue to cook.
  • Remove sweet potatoes from the microwave when done, drain, and add to the pan with the other vegetables.
  • Saute the mix until vegetables are tender, but not limp. A crust will begin to form at the bottom of the pan (flavor!). Time will vary depending on your veggie choice, but try around 10 minutes and see where you stand.
  • Slowly deglaze the pan with the almond milk, 1.8 cup at a time. Stir in between.
  • Curry will become a little creamy and sweet, and a lot wonderful : )
  • Serve on top of rice, garnished with plain yogurt.

So delish, so easy, so healthy. Make it now, clean out your fridge and thank me later : )

Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite toss-together dish? Let me know about it!

A Good Sport…

In 1997, I could list the starting lineup of the Cleveland Indians, and my most prized possession was a Sandy Alomar, Jr. autograph. Maybe I was a little obsessed…

{Note the shirt, shorts, earrings, necklace, hat, glove and facepaint. Too bad my coordinating red and blue socks were cut out of the photos…}

Times have changed. Thank the good Lord.

Though baseball is still the only sport that I can actually follow, I can’t really tell you much about the game any more (except stories from my childhood about camping our in the living room when the Tribe was in the Series, and how I would throw myself in a corner and pray under and blanket every time one of our guys got up to bat. It was sweaty…and disappointing.) But, this weekend I got to see my good ‘ol Indians, go to a fabulous wedding AND see the Brownies take home a win (in temperatures above freezing!).

We were in Cleveland for Aaron & Carly’s wedding – The Husband was good friends with Aaron in college, and Aaron was in our wedding two years ago. The Bride and Groom are both big Tribe fans (Carly especially) and had the awesome idea of having their rehearsal dinner at the Indian’s game!

We were also very lucky, because they were honoring Jim Thome (one of those old players I actually know!) for hitting 600 homers, and many of his old teammates came to the game (I waved to Sandy…. I totally think he remembered me from that autograph signing in the 90’s. Let’s face it…I haven’t changed much.)

After watching the Tribe pull out a win, we woke up bright and early the next day to get ready for Aaron and Carly’s big day. The Husband had the honor of being the Best Man, so he helped Aaron run some last-minute errands while I got to run, eat oatmeal and write.

The wedding (and the bride) was absolutely lovely, and the music selection was superb. Aaron’s little sister sang many of the songs, and they played a bunch of my favorites. The Husband did a great job doing a special reading: It was one of his favorite passages in Jeremiah that he and Aaron had studied together in a bible study college. So special, so fitting.

We danced and ate and had fun with the photo booth (gotta love those things!). The Husband’s speech was great, and we owned the Macarena. After the reception, we plopped exhaustedly into bed at the hotel. But, more fun was in store for the next day:

A Browns game!

{Tribe game, Aaron’s grandpa serenades us on the church steps with his harmonica, Browns win!}

Carly happened to have a few connections that allowed the four of us to get amazing last-minute seats. We did have a slight run-in with some pushy scalpers, but the boys took care of us : ) The sun was shining, and it was actually hot – totally unheard of for a Cleveland football game – and we WON (equally unheard of).

The Husband and I sported brand new Browns gear (purchased right before the game) and were so, so happy to get to spend some extra time with the newlyweds : )

Congrats again to Aaron and Carly, and here’s to many more Cleveland wins!

…maybe I should start praying under the covers again.

;)