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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Spaghetti Squash {your new best friend}

I love great food, and I love eating a lot of it.

While I have developed a more delicate appreciation for new dishes and fancy preparation, at any time I could still eat an ice cream sundae as big as your head. And like it.

I have never been told I eat “like a bird”, and I’ve never been one of those people who just take one dessert at a potluck. I’m pretty convinced that I could eat the Husband under the table at every meal if I wanted to. But, that wouldn’t be very lady like, and eating massive quantities of ice cream isn’t good for my girlish figure…or my mood when I wake up on Monday and my pants don’t zip.

Been there, done that. Not pretty.

I am perfectly fine handling my portion control most of the time, but there are some days (maybe when it has been a little chilly in your office all day long, and puddles have eaten the bottom of your pants so you feel soggy, and when you had a lame-o lunch that you packed in a rush this morning) that you want to just feel all warm and fuzzy and full. Like, a loaf of bread and butter and a huge bowl of pasta full. BUT, you also know that you can’t do that every cold night October – March without dire consequences…

So, what’s a healthy hearty eater to do? Two words: Spaghetti. Squash.You might be a little familiar with this lovely veggie, but I think WAY too many people are in the dark regarding its delicious potential. I think it might just be one of the best kept secrets at the super market… You might be skeptical, but don’t hate until you try it. Trust me. It’s worth it.

Picture a HUGE bowl of spaghetti goodness with marinara, your favorite veggies, a little cheese sprinkled on top and a slice of toasty bread. All for a fraction of the calories and carbs of your usual go-to pasta! This dream can become a reality tonight.

Directions

Serves 2-3

{You can find spaghetti squash at most regular grocery stores – If the Kroger in my little Ohio town has it, I bet yours does also!}

  • Pre-heat oven to 400
  • Carefully cut squash in half length-wise (this is tough – take your time and watch those digits!)
  • Scoop out the seeds
  • Lay face-down on a baking sheet lined with foil (makes clean-up a breeze!)
  • Poke holes in the skin (like a baked potato)
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a knife slides easily through the skin (time varies depending on size and ripeness of the squash)
  • Use a fork to scoop and scrape out the insides of the squash – It will come out in strands just like spaghetti!

At this point, you can season with olive oil or butter and a little salt and pepper and call it a day (or a great side dish). BUT, if you want the true pasta effect, take a few more steps…

Chop your favorite vegetables, even toss in the meat of your choice, and add marinara for a well-rounded healthy meal (that you can each a bunch of with zero pasta-fuled-guilt-trips).

I used mushrooms, broccoli, red pepper, onion and spinach, and added about a 1/4 lb of browned ground turkey. This dish is also GREAT with these turkey meatballs (just keep a batch of them in the freezer and pop them in the oven whenever you want!).

So, grab a squash, a bowl, the nearest green things and a jar of sauce, and get ready for a healthy, hearty meal that will leave your belly full, and your skinny jeans in your repertoire ; )

Enjoy!

Rachael’s Wedding Pasta

We’re headed to a wedding this weekend (and many weekends recently…it’s just that season), and it got me thinking: I love weddings – the celebration, the food, the love, the dress, the food and the reflection of the couple in all of the little details they spent time planning…and the food.

I had a wonderful time planning my own wedding in June of 2009, and even miss it sometimes. One of my favorite things about ‘our special day’ was our dinner menu. After weeks of trying to decide which caterer to use, I realized that everything I LOVE to eat, my mom makes. And, everything I was looking for in a caterer, were things she already did better than anyone I could hire. So, we chose to ‘cater’ the wedding ourselves (with the help of a few dozen friends).

It tuned out better than I could have imagined…

{Above} Entering our reception – I adored my vintage clutch {Below} Food and treats!

A star of our spread was a recipe my mom perfected, and has since been dubbed “Rachael’s Wedding Pasta”. It’s flavorful and impressive enough for a crowd of elegant guests, but simple enough to make that even a newlywed can pull if off without a hitch!

Rachael’s Wedding Pasta

What you’ll need:

(Serves 4)

  • 2 Chicken breasts
  • 1/2 Cup Balsamic vinaigrette dressing (I love Newman’s Own…and not just because of Paul’s captivating stare…)
  • 1/2 Box of whole wheat Pene pasta (The Hubby likes this type because he says it’s easy to stab with a fork)
  • 1/2 Cup Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, or to taste
  • 1/3 Cup of Pine nuts
  • 1 Quart Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
  • About 1 Cup Spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, minced
  • About 3 T Olive oil to saute, plus 4 T to dress pasta
  • 3/4 Cup Fresh grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, plus a ‘sprinkle’

Directions:

  • Marinate Chicken in dressing, grill, and slice into bite-sized pieces, set aside and keep warm
  • Saute mushrooms in olive oil (or butter), add pine nuts and garlic, heat
  • Cook pasta as directed
  • Drain pasta, add spinach while it is still hot to wilt
  • Mix pesto and mushroom mixture into pasta, add olive oil to taste
  • Add cheese, stir, use extra as garnish

We love to serve this with a leafy spinach salad, crusty bread and dipping oil – Always a hit, and easy to re-heat or make on the fly for unexpected guests (the kind your hunky new husband invites from work and doesn’t tell you about until about T-30 minutes from their arrival… no, not from personal experience of course).

Or, your husband might come home from work hungry, and grab the whole bowl. This happened. No joke.

At least he classed it up with the swanky bottled root beer.

Enjoy!