Monthly Archives: July 2013

5 Days in Italy – Day 4

Florence Day 1:

Okay, here’s the scoop, Florence is a lot smaller than Rome in terms of mileage so you can
literally see all the major sites on a quick walk about in a single day. HOWEVER, if you really want to see things in depth it is going to take a bit longer! Because I know shopping is a must I am leaving Florence a little more open than Rome (because the shopping is awesome here!) so….here goes.

Once again start off the day with a good hearty breakfast so you can really go, go, go.
First on the tour today is the Uffizi Gallery! Because this books up so quickly, and they only
allow a set number of patrons in at a time, jump online before you head to Italy and pre-book your tickets for the Uffizi and Academia. Then all you have to do is go to customer service and pick up tickets for your respective time slots!

The Uffizi Gallery is a show case of great Italian art and Florentine patrons. Although many
of the paintings and sculptures are portraits and busts this is definitely a must! The detailing in some of the portraits is so lifelike you can almost feel the fur collars and the beaded tapestries in the backgrounds!

After your tour through the gallery take your time wondering through the courtyard and then through the attached Piazza Signoria to admire the many statues they have on display as well as the many pieces of art the locals have for sale!

Next stop is across town to Academia to see the David. Although he towers above you, his life like features and the way the veining in the marble seem to somehow line up with where real veins and arteries would be will truly amaze! Walk around and get a good look from every angle before heading into the hall of busts and then back out onto the streets of Florence.

With the two major museums under your belt head east toward Piazza Santa Croce for lunch and shopping. This area has some of the most lovely leather purses and coats of all fashions and sizes! While there don’t forget to take a stroll through the church as well before heading off for the next adventure.

After lunch head back west along the Arno river toward the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge of gold) to see the shops before they close for the day. Also take the opportunity to admire the other goods being offered by street vendors along either side of the bridge. BUT don’t get your bags too full yet, you haven’t been to San Lorenzo or the Pig Market/The Straw Market (which has anything but live stock :- ) !

Next we head North back through the city to see the Duomo. Wander in through the main doors and admire the various shades of marble and the stunning carved doors as you do so! Once inside light a candle and then walk through this vast space to admire the grandeur of the frescos – especially those at the top of the dome! Once again don’t forget to look down. The floor of this beauty is just as impressive as the walls!

If you dare take the stairs up to the top of the dome to get a closer look at the fresco and then wander outside to get a striking view of the whole city below you. From here you can see Santa Croce, the Uffizi, Pitti Palace, etc. Although it is high up – I highly recommend this!!!!!

Then wonder back out of the Duomo and take a tour through the bell tower and baptistery. The gift shops here have some fun things to look at and keep in mind if you can’t find them from a street vendor for less!

Back out on the street head north toward the San Lorenzo Market. If the shop vendors are still out feel free to take your time wondering from canopy to canopy, but don’t wait too long to head inside to the food market for some dinner at the Spagittarian. This amazing market has meats, cheeses, fruits, wines, olive oil, lemon cello, and ready to eat meals! It’s a great time to grab snacks for tomorrow too!

Now wander back through the streets, bellies full and admire the city at night as you find your way back to your hotel for some sleep.


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5 Days in Italy – Day 2-3

Day 2 Rome:

Eat another full breakfast before starting out! Your feet may be sore but we still have much ahead of us so throw on your walking shoes and lets get started.

Start out the day early in Saint Peter’s square in Vatican City. Early in the morning the shops lining the street leading up to this massive historical site will be closed, but don’t fear they’ll be long open when you head back out.

Take your time walking around the square before heading into the basilica. Many of the
fountains, pillars, saints statues, and cement inlays beneath your feet were commissioned and completed during the reign of Pope Sisstius. This was during Michelangelo’s time!

Then find your way up to the entrance and just before entering take notice of the Swiss guards still wearing their original uniforms designed back in the day. But don’t try to get a laugh out of them, like the beefeaters of England they aren’t allowed to move or talk with civilians. As you wander through the inside of the basilica you will see famous works of art completed by Michelangelo, Bernini, Bramante, Raphael and many more!

After you have taken it all in, walk back outside and around the exterior of Vatican City to find the entrance to the Vatican Museum. To get the most out of this one see if there are any tours available. The tours are about 2 hours and provide escort into the most prominent rooms including the Sistine chapel. If there aren’t any tours available, or the cost is too high in the high tourist season get a general entrance pass and find your way through the museum on your own. Follow the hall of tapestries and the hall of maps to the Sistine Chapel. Once inside the chapel, marvel at how small it actually is and then crane your head back to get a good glimpse at the famous ceiling! There may be a large crowd but don’t let others push and prod you out until you have seen all you wish to see! Once you have seen your fill, or your neck is killing you, wander back out and admire further frescos on the walls leading out of the museum.

Back on the streets of Rome find a local pizza bar on your way toward the river. These pizza vendors by the Vatican are some of the best in Rome. Enjoy a quick lunch of your favorite slice and if needed, grab an extra piece to go as you head toward the Tiber to walk along the edge of the river on your way toward the bridge of angels and Castel Sant’Angelo. This site used to be a strong hold for Pope’s and rulers of Rome, there is even an underground passage leading from Vatican City to the castle. It is reference in the famous book Angels and Demons and clips of it are actually shown in the film!

Now head across the bridge of angels toward the center of Rome but fall short and head north toward Piazza del Popolo. Enjoy the recently refurbished fountains, shops and vendors, grab a gelato and then at your leisure head back south toward the hotel and the main shops of Rome past the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain (this one is good to catch a glimpse of at night as well when it is lit up!) Shop, eat, and wander until your feet may fall off and then call it a night and get ready for Florence (Firenze)!

There is so much more to do in Rome besides what I have here, but with only two days this is a pretty comprehensive look at the city and most of its major sites. That said, if you come across any other sites you really want to see, or have heard about that you feel you just can’t miss, add them to the mix how ever you see fit! (Other potential sites include Villa Borghese, Circo Massimo, Sant’ Giovanni in Laterno, Teatro Marcello, etc)

Day 3 – Travel Day

Take the train from Rome to Firenze. You may need a quick translation from Italian to English to find your train…but if you stick to your ticket, you’ll be sure to arrive in Firenze without worry.

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Making Dinner with a 2 Year Old

Being in the kitchen with your kids is a great way to teach and play while doing your regular household duties.  It isn’t as daunting as it sounds.  You need 3 things:

Know what you want to make,

Know what they can do safely

Be prepared.

My 2 year old had a hand in making all of the parts of tonight’s meal:




A Dole Green Salad with Cheese Fantastico Dressing:

What the toddler did–Dump Bag into a bowl and arrange it.

Top Sirloin Steaks marinated in Olive Oil, crushed Garlic, Salt and Pepper:

What the Toddler did– Place Meat in Bag, add ingredients measured by Mom, shake, and pound the steaks in the bag.  Handed the bag to Dad to grill.  Brought Dad a plate to place the steaks on.

Baked Acorn Squash with Pine Nuts and Garlic:

What the toddler did–Mostly this.




Also, After I cut the squash into 1/2 inch slices, she took a pumpkin carving knife and a spoon and scooped out the seeds.



In a greased baking dish, she arranged the squash rings slightly overlapping.  I did the first two and then she did the rest:



I sprayed the squash with Olive Oil PAM, and She added sprinkles of Salt and Pepper.

I put the squash in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 15 min.


While that baked, She mixed Pine nuts with crushed garlic and a dash of Olive Oil.

Image You can see what a real photographer can do with it.  This Recipe is from the New Mayo Clinic Cookbook.

When the 15 minutes was done, I had her attempt putting a table cloth on, while i opened the oven and spread the pine nut mixture over the squash.  I let her set the timer for 10 minutes.

When it came out, I held her a safe distance away from the heat, but close enough to shake salt and pepper over it.


Dessert: Easy Banana Cream Pie

What the Toddler did:

Got the bowl, and the hand mixer.  Added pre measured ingredients.  Helped me use the hand mixer by placing her hand on top of mine and turning the on switch and the speed.  Used the pumpkin carving knife to cut bananas and placed them where I pointed in the whipped cream.  Licked the mixing bowl.




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Salt Dough

These are so easy, a 6 year old can measure and prepare it unaided. 

Salt Dough

 1 C Flour
1 C Salt
1/2 C Water
mix into a dough
 You might need to add a few drops of water here or there to mix in flour at the bottom of your mixing bowl.

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Guest Post: My Fight Against Mesothelioma

By Heather Von St. James


I did everything to prepare myself for motherhood. I read pregnancy books, made

changes to my diet, and visited the best doctors. I spent a considerable amount of

time planning my new life around my future child. After I gave birth, being a mother

was just what I had expected. When I saw Lily for the very first time, I felt like I was

the luckiest person in the whole universe.

Despite all the preparation for motherhood, the unexpected happened. I got

diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma just 3 ½ months after giving birth. My doctor

informed me that I would need to start treatment immediately or else I would have 15

months left to live. I realized I would need to gather all the courage I had in order to

survive and raise my daughter.

My husband and I decided that I should receive mesothelioma treatment in Boston.

This was a difficult decision for me to make, as it required me leaving Lily 1200 miles

away. Instead of spending time with my daughter, I was fighting for my life.

When I had my surgery, I didn’t see Lily for a whole month. During this time, I

underwent a surgery that required removing my left lung, as well as the lining of my

diaphragm and heart. The rest of the treatment, which required chemotherapy and

radiation, took a year to complete. Luckily, my parents offered to take care of Lily

in order to provide her with stability. I was also lucky enough to have a supportive

husband, as well as many other people in my life that did their best to help me

through this extremely difficult time.

Once I returned home, I was determined to do everything I could to be present in my

daughter’s life. We would take walks together, go to the park and play outside. Even

though at times I didn’t have the energy I desired, I still treasured every second we

were together.

In some ways, there is not much that has changed during the past eight years since

Lily came into this world. Cam, my husband, and I still cherish every moment we

spend with her. We truly consider ourselves lucky to have such a bright and happy

daughter. As she grew older, she came to better understand the challenges our

family faced and is aware of how happy we are to have her. She doesn’t really have

much recollection of her first year, but for me, it was a time that I will never forget.

Although we did not know what was going to happen, Cam I simply did everything I

could to stay happy and get through this difficult time.

Battling mesothelioma cancer was certainly a terrifying experience. Despite all the

bad, a lot of good has come from my fight. Our family has learned to take nothing

for granted and the difficult times we’ve shared have brought us closer than ever. I

shared my story with you so that others who are facing similar challenges can know

that you can stay positive as you battle your fights and know that you are not in this



You can find Heather here:



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5 Days in Italy – Day 1

I originally compiled this itinerary for 2 of my sisters who were taking a summer tour through my 2 favorite cities in Italy…Rome and Florence. They only had time for 2 days in each and so the itinerary is set up accordingly. It can be modified to suit greater travel time, but also affords a quick and fairly comprehensive view of both cities in a pinch.


Day 1 Rome:

 Get an early start and a hearty breakfast… it’s going to be a long day!

Start the day off with a tour of the Colosseo. Find the entrance line and if the line is long take in the outer structure first, if the line is short get in and through the doors. Once inside walk up the first set of steps to the main level and admire what it would have been to be a spectator in this great stadium. Next take a close look at the maze of walls you can see through the old colosseo floor. These were the rooms where gladiators and performers were held during the games. These rooms connect to a vast underground tunnel system that connected the training grounds to the colosseo back in the day and they are currently uncovering more and more of these passages!


 After you have had your fill of site seeing and picture taking at the colosseo exit and head
immediately north toward the Spanish steps bypassing the forum. (We’ll come back to it at the end of the day when it is cooler!)

 From the top of the Spanish steps admire the city and piazza de Spagna below. Then take some time to shop the small vendor’s set up at the top with catholic medals, purses, paintings, jewelry and more. Then walk down the steps and have lunch and gelato in one of the small café’s at the bottom of the steps before heading off toward Palazzo Barberini. Just as with all palazzo’s in Rome Baberini holds sculptures and art work from famous artists from centuries ago, but don’t dawdle too long we’re off to see the Trevi Fountain.

 From the Trevi Fountain take pictures and oogle at other tourists as you all sit and stare in amazement at these magnificent, centuries old statues. Then turn around and admire the shops in the streets surrounding this square with designer labels and window displays to amaze.

 Next we stay a course headed east to the Pantheon. This famous site has been host to a multitude of religions and face lifts. Wander around the outside of the building and notice the different layers from these many transformations. Once inside follow the crowd around the inner circle admiring the statues and plaques with explanations of the current and past art displays, but don’t forget to look above your head or below your feet for the floor and ceiling of this great wonder hold just as much history as the walls!

 Only a few a few more streets east you’ll run into the Piazza Novona to admire the fountains of Bernini, the site of the original Roman university, and relics/bones of a few well known saints. While you’re here find a café with outside seating and enjoy a leisurely dinner and perhaps a glass of red wine before heading off for today’s final destination.


Once you are full and looking toward the cooler temperatures of the evening head back toward the Roman Forum and walk through the old streets of Caesar’s Rome. Imagine the chariots racing along the thinly cobbled streets and the mischievous behaviors at the bath houses.

 Now climb the steps out and wander back to the hotel for a good nights sleep!


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Using Your Past

Sofa Quote GVB

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by | July 23, 2013 · 10:44 pm

How To: The Beauty of Brining

What is brining? Brining is the process of soaking a meat (any meat) in a salt and water or salt, sugar and water solution (you can also add spices). Brining usually takes 6-12 hours depending on the type of meat and the size or portion you are working with.

Why do we brine? 

Brining meat, for example a lovely thanksgiving turkey, helps to bring extra moisture and flavor into the meat via osmosis. What does that mean? Once the meat is placed into the brine the moisture from within the cells of the meat travels out into the brine solution -because the sodium content in the solution is higher than that of the meat. Once the solution has diluted the brine and an equilibrium is formed again the moisture begins to travel back into the meat (along with salt, sugar and other spices within the brine). The cell then expands to accommodate the extra moisture. During this process the outer protein structure of the cell is broken down by the high acid (sodium) content of the liquid. This structural breakdown creates a net around the cell which traps in the flavored moisture during brining as well as prevents the flavors and moisture from leaving the meat during cooking. 

In the end…brining creates a more flavorful and juicer dinner!

How do we brine? Lets start with a turkey for say… Thanksgiving dinner.

You will need your cleaned turkey (all giblets etc out of the cavity) and a cooler, bucket or brining bag. I have a brining bag.

Next we need the brining solution (recipe below). I have the brining solution completely cooled in the pot I made it in and the giblets set aside in another pot for making stock (waist not…want not).

 Pour the brine into the bag or cooler and combine with enough ice water to cover your turkey. If you aren’t sure how much ice water you need, error on the side of not enough. Once the turkey is in the bag add any additional liquid needed to cover (agitate slightly to mix in the extra water). Start with the breast meat down to infuse the maximum amount of moisture into the driest meat.

 Finally place the cover on the cooler or seal the bag and place the turkey in a cool spot in your kitchen, your garage (or if the weather is cool enough on your porch – but be mindful of poachers if you take this approach). Let the meat sit in the brine for 6-12 hours depending on the size of the meat (I let this 14lb bird brine for 8 hours to maximize tenderness, moisture and flavor). Turn the meat once half way through brining if laid flat in a cooler.

You may be concerned about not having the bird in a fridge BUT FEAR NOT! You have your bird in a salty liquid which acts as a deterrent for bacterial growth. 

Once the brining process is finished remove the meat from the brine and pat dry to prepare for cooking as usual. You do not need to rinse the bird as the spices that will remain on the outer skin will simply continue to flavor the skin and meat while cooking.


Brine recipe:

2-4 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, turkey etc)

1 cup salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

preferred seasonings (mix and play here to create a flavor palate you like)

—If you are unsure of your preference because you are starting out…try this combo for poultry:

palm full of thyme

1/2 palm full of cumin

1/4 palm full of paprika

2 cloves roughly chopped garlic

1/4 palm full freshly ground black pepper or full palm full of whole pepper corns (which ever you have)


Try this season combo for pork:

palm full rosemary 

1/2 palm full cumin

1/2 palm full of lemon pepper

1/4 palm full of mustard seed

2 cloves roughly chopped garlic

Combine liquid, salt, sugar and spices in a pot and bring to a light boil. Cook until all of the salt and sugar have completely dissolved. Then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. (You can make your brine in advance and store in the refrigorator until you need it).

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Milanesa Napolitana

In Argentina in the early 1900s a pizzeria owner created a special kind of Milanesa and it quickly became adopted as a specialty dish.  Milanesa is basically breaded meat, and in this dish it is a high protein pizza crust.  this is a really easy dish that sounds pretty fancy but just tastes like comfort food.
Go to your meat department and look for thin cut meat.  I chose beef, but you can use chicken or pork as well.  I got over a pound and it served ten. Considering the only other item i didn’t already have on hand was Marinara sauce, this served ten for about ten dollars.  A DOLLAR a plate?!  Fantastic.
*One slice of  thin cut beef per person. (You can use chicken or pork as well.)
*Start with 3 eggs whisked with about 1 T. Oregano in a large, flat dish
*In a separate large, flat dish, combine 2 C. Bread Crumbs, 1/2 T of crushed Garlic, 
and 1/4 C Parmesan Cheese.
*heat skillet with 1-2 T of Olive Oil per steak
*Dip meat in egg to thoroughly coat.
*Then, toss in the bread crumb mixture, making sure there is a healthy layer over the egg.
*Place carefully on the hot skillet and cook on medium heat for a few minutes on each side until both sides are a golden brown and crisp.
*Turn on your broiler.
*When each steak is done, place it on a cookie sheet and top with deli sliced ham or
*spoon a layer of sauce over the meat.  (the recipe I started with called for straight tomato sauce.  I chose my favorite bottled Marinara instead.)
*Add a layer of Mozzerella cheese and broil until bubbly.
 Pull out and serve!  
I think I’ll try just cheese next time.


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Big Girl Pre-Teen Birthday Party

The pre-teen “Big-girl” birthday party

 (Repost from an old blog of mine)
I loved Lexi’s idea of Hostessing frugally, and I thought it should be an addition to the blog.  Throwing a party, or just a nice meal should never break the bank.

This was my daughter’s birthday party.  She invited 6 friends and here’s the invitation that I scrapbooked and printed in 4×6 on my home computer.  Free!  Woot! (I edited out the personal info.)


 My oldest daughter wanted a party that made her feel big.  No cup cakes, no games, just sophistication…. she’s nine.   She chose THIS for an idea site.  And she wanted the purple, black and white theme.


 We fortunately had the yard for it, I borrowed the table cloths and chair cover from my mother-in-law, the doilies and toole were from the dollar store as was the tissue paper.
The Eiffel Tower center piece was a $1 yard sale find the day before and made a fun extra Birthday present as well.   We had ribbon on hand, and the party favors below were from a Martha Stewart template  They, stuffed with caramel corn, cost only a couple of dollars as well.  We served Ice lemon Water and THESE RASPBERRY TARTLETS 

The girls decorated Hat boxes that were $2.99 at Roberts (less with my coupon)
And these paper shoes.  I used double sided card stock to avoid making the insert.

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