Those summer {nights}

Our summer has sped by, and I have to say that this might have been our best yet…

We began armed with plans for a dream vacation and a “summer bucket list”, and we’re wrapping up with armfuls of memories, adventures and new friends.

<– Bucket list #7: Paddle down the Blanchard (between going to a drive-in movie, and the local old-fashioned root beer stand for hot dogs and floats).

Our recent events have included some of our oldest and dearest friends. Hannah, along with a very special guest, came up to visit! We were over-the-moon to have the opportunity to sip wine on American soil with Hannah and Federico. Our patio didn’t have quite the ambiance of our Roman terrace, but we still laughed just as much, and talked about everything from Italian politics to high school dances.

It was positively marvelous.

{Federico finds Orvieto on the map at the ice cream shop}

Thinking of what to do during their evening with us, we knew we couldn’t compete with some of the sights and eats of Boston and Philadelphia (spots they saw before they arrived), so, we went for the unique instead of the classic and Hibachi at the Japanese Steakhouse for dinner it was.

Federico had never seen anything like it, and thinking about the idea of catching flying egg in your mouth around a table – through his eyes – made us all roar with laughter. After dinner, we ran to a famous local chocolate and ice cream shop for their renowned dark chocolate covered pretzels, sea salt caramels and truffles. Then, we made a stop at The Wine Merchant for a good American wine to share.

{Kitchen laughs at the end of the night, old pictures, wine and chocolate on the patio, and Andrew’s new belt – an amazing, generous, handmade gift from Federico’s shop!}

We browsed albums of embarrassing old pictures, talked about our trip and theirs, took turns swapping questions, and soaked up as much of one another as possible before we were parted again…

It was a sweet, rich time.

This weekend, we were surrounded by friends again!{Summery drinks + summery food + laughing friends = Perfection}

We hosted a few members of “the Gang” for one of their crazy, old-fashioned fun, foodie-filled visits. Cole, Steph and Dan joined us for an evening of cocktails and grilled pizza on the patio, a round of golf (boys) and a morning run and lunch (girls) and a yummy Sunday send-off brunch. As always, we had a blast!

Steph brought an amazing cocktail with her to share. A refreshing mix of grapefruit juice, tequila, a splash of ginger ale and a wedge of lime – portion according to taste;) – try it for your next patio party!

Dinner was inspired by my mom’s amazing hostess feats, as well as the Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers menu (a gang favorite in Columbus). I made the dough the night before, we grilled it, and topped it with a fun array of toppings – everyone got to choose their own!

Grilled ‘Za Party How-To:

Dough:

I used this recipe for the dough with a few modifications – perfect for a Friday night because you can make it the evening before, let it rise in the fridge overnight, set it on the counter after work, and form into a chewy, perfect crust!

-Recipe-

Makes about 4 small pizzas – I doubled the recipe for the five of us so we could each have one, plus a few extra to sample :)

  • 2 C. plus 2T of bread flour (or, make a wheat crust using substituting 1C whole wheat flour and 1C white)
  • 1 Packet of Instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1 C warm water
  • 3 T Olive Oil
  • 2T Honey
  • Combine flour, yeast and salt in bowl of stand mixer and whisk until homogenous. Add water, knead with dough hook for about ten minutes until ball is smooth and elastic and comes cleanly off the sides of the bowl (will be stuck to the bottom of the bowl). Cover mixer bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate over night. Dough should double in size.
  • The next day, remove from the refrigerator with floured hands and drop dough onto floured work surface. Roll into a log and divide into four pieces. Form each piece into a ball, and place in an oiled container. Lightly oil the tops of the balls, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature for until doubled in volume – about 30min to an hour.
  • Use your hands to form each ball into a smallish “rustic” round crust shape, oil one side generously, and place on a cookie sheet for transport to the grill.

Cooking method:

Pre-heat the grill, then turn burners to low (about 350* worked for us). Flip the crusts from the cookie sheet onto the hot grill, and brush the other side with oil as it cooks. After just a minute or so, flip, and cook briefly on the second side. Then, remove from the grill and take inside for toppings!

Toppings:

We used Pesto and BBQ chicken, turkey sausage, spicy Italian ham, bacon, pineapple, mushrooms, caramelized onion, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, feta, Gorgonzola, fresh and cured mozzarella and provolone.

Use a spoon to spread sauce – BBQ, Pesto, Garlic olive oil or red sauce all work well – then add cheese (it will melt better if added first), and toppings. Transport back to the grill, and use a lower heat and close the lid just until cheese is melted and toppings are warmed through. If your grill is equipped with a shelf inside, this may also be a good option for melting/warming the garnished pies.

And, Enjoy!

Paired with a fun selection of craft brews, hummus and salsa, my go-to Cooking Light spinach and artichoke dip, Tuscan bean salad and mixed fruit, we had a great time sitting on the patio and munching on this spread!

The party ended with a Sunday breakfast was made with the boys in mind. They woke up to sticky buns in the oven, scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and fruit.

Those gooey, pecan-topped buns are worth it, though…. I used low-fat biscuts, so they’re practically a health food, right? An awesome Pinterest find, we had them first on Christmas morning last year. Try them (they’re soooo easy): Cinnamon Pecan Sticky Buns

I hope your summer has been fun-filled as well. What have you been up to?

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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 ;)

{bite sized} Chicago

Well, the girls are back from their exciting, non-stop Chicago adventure…

…a total blast for ALL of us, and a much-needed 10th Birthday/Mother’s Day celebration break ;)

We enjoyed yummy snacks (doll and girl sized!), watched fun movies (Little House on the Prairie, Snow White and Lady and the Tramp), opened presents, swam, ate a breakfast that made us swoon, had hair done, hiked in the rain, felt like real ladies at a fancy lunch, skipped in the sun, saw the bean, slurped coffee, munched cupcakes, zoomed up in the sky, giggled, sniffled, waited an hour for real deep dish pizza, and made lovely, lovely memories…

Here’s a little recap and some advice for your next trip to the Windy City!

{Where we ate:}

First things first.

Of course, fun meals were a BIG part of our trip :) You know I LOVE food, and the three of us are related, after all…

Our first stop was to Gino’s East for real, deep dish Chicago-style pizza. We had a salad and a small half three-cheese and half veggie pie… delightful. Bekah got her name on the wall, and I found where The Husband and I penned ours a year ago! It was our first night in town, so we were a little wiped out, but it was sooo worth it :)

Our next culinary stop was at Orange for a funky, fun, fresh breakfast. Two words: Pancake. Flight. {Perfection}. We enjoyed fresh orange, carrot, ginger juice; delicious orange roasted coffee, a chicken apple sausage omelet, and pancakes that should be illegal…

We enjoyed an amazing, organic meal at the Fox & Obel Cafe at their gorgeous European-style market after a damp, chilly walk to Navy Pier, that included sweet potato fries, fish & chips, mango-chicken quesadillas and hummus.

In slight contrast, we ventured to Beef & Brandy, a 60’s-style diner, for open-faced roast beef sandwiches and classic vinyl booths for lunch after a hike on the Loop. We also enjoyed a quick bite at the Corner Bakery Cafe across from our hotel on Sunday morning – nothing too fancy, as there are several scattered across the city – but an easy place to grab breakfast or lunch!

When you’ve been walking around all day, there is definitely need for some treats (gotta keep up that energy, you know…). So, we stopped by the famous Intelligentsia Coffee at Millennium Park for two rich, creamy lattes and a green tea (and a souvenir mug for me!). This place is amazing – totally a must for anyone visiting the windy city! To complement our drinks, we went around the corner to the Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique for their specialty cupcakes (hint: get the ‘minis’ so you can try several flavors!). We had chocolate milk chocolate, chocolate hazelnut, blackberry and chocolate peanut butter..

So. good. Talk about a sugar high!

{What we saw:}

The American Girl Place was the highlight of our stay. Mostly for Bekah’s benefit, though mom and I were pretty enthralled as well :) We browsed the books, historic & look-alike dolls and their displays, looked at fun outfits & accessories, watched as dolls were transformed at the salon and doll hospital, and ate a fun girly lunch with our dolls at the cafe!

Lunch started with tiny cinnamon buns and a fruit, veggie and cheese plate. We picked our entrees, and loved the mini picnic lunch, salmon salad with cucumber dressing and Caresse sandwich. For dessert, we each enjoyed a cookie, tiny frosted cake and ‘flower pot’ chocolate mousse. Very worth it for the chic atmosphere and fun environment – just be sure to make reservations! We did leave with another addition to our party… Rebecca and Felicity made a new friend they just couldn’t leave without ;)

Besides all of our fun with the dolls, we spent a lot of time hiking around the rest of the city, too! We braved wind and rain to see the skyline from Navy Pier, walked along the Magnificent Mile and looked at shops and lovely buildings, zoomed 103 floors to the Skydeck for the best view in Chicago, saw our reflection in the ‘Bean’ and splashed in the fountain at Millennium Park and even visited the hotel where mom stayed when she visited Chicago in the 1975 when she was in high school- The Palmer House Hilton (so, so beautiful).

{Where we slept:}

We stayed at the Wyndham at the Magnificent Mile. It was the perfect location – close to the American Girl Place and Navy Pier, but still within a comfortable walking distance of Millennium Park (1 mi.) and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (2 mi.). We did end up having to call the front desk about noisy neighbors, but security took care of things quickly (screaming and running down the halls from 10:30p.m. – 2a.m. is. not. cool.). We got a great rate, though parking is always a killer at around $40-60 per night wherever you choose to stay in the city. Check deals sights, and put that AAA membership to use!

Overall, this trip was everything we could have asked for. Precious memories made, lots of laughter, and something else checked off the bucket list… Love you mama & Bekah!

Have you ever taken a parent-child trip? Where did you go, what did you see and what do you remember? Please share!

It’s getting {real}…

We had a fun-filled visit to the old homestead over the weekend… It was about time – We hadn’t been back since Christmas!

Our days were filled with wedding festivities (hooray for Mary Beth & Luke!), a spinning class, mildly successful shopping, hang out time with friends, laughs with family, and THIS dinner.

Yes, that is a homemade grilled pizza buffet. Yes, my mom outdid me with my own recipe. Yes, it was heavenly.

My favorite appetizers, great wine, homemade dough, amazing toppings (including Pear & Gorgonzola) and a cozy fire… sigh. No place like home.

There was also BBQ and funfetti cake at the Husband’s parents’ (partially eaten in the basement due to a slight weather emergency) but that was inhaled with such vigor that there is no photographic evidence. The hail and tornado sirens might have been a little distracting as well…

The other fun development over the weekend was “THE TRIP” coming together! Gordon & Selena, our “Friends up North”, were in town and helped us finalize a few more of our plans. I told you we booked our cruise, but now we’ve purchased our plane tickets and have a few more little details to share… It’s getting real!

We leave May 24 and will return June 10. In between we will be here:

Florence, Italy {source}

and here: Venice, Italy {source}

and here: Pisa, Italy {source}

and here: Orvieto, Terni, Italy {source}

and here: Rome, Italy {source}

and here: Messina, Sicily, Italy {source}

and here: Kusadasi, Ephesus, Turkey {source}

and here: Athens, Greece {source}

and here: Chania, Crete, Greece {source}

I can hardly contain myself. I can hardly concentrate on anything else. I can hardly fall asleep. AND we have two months to go…

Oh, well. I need that time to panic over packing and booking hotel rooms and tours anyhow ;)

Any fun weekend adventures or tips planned in your neck of the woods? Do any of you experienced travelers have any advice for us? We need it!