Four Faves of the Week

  1. Homemade Halloween Costumes. Like the good old school kind that you actually make for yourself or your children. I don’t mean like actually sewing them, just pulling things together from your house to make most of your costume. Sure more effort, but also so much more fun and funny. Julia and I were always the neighborhood kids in the homemade costumes. I chose to be things like David the Gnome, so cute and girly. Julia would be Dorothy or one year she was Lambchop.

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2.  Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats.

I am obsessed with this band–they are feet tapping good. Perfect driving or weekend music. My favorite song, S.O.B., is one that I would have had to tell my parents that “I just liked the music and beat and was not even paying attention to the words”.. I tried this trick starting at age 12 with the Spice Girls ‘Wanna Be’ through high school rap songs. I feel sure it never actually worked, but it made me feel better. Look them up on Spotify or better yet download the record from iTunes. You will actually be able to listen to the entire album, not skipping a single song, unless you have children that can talk and are in the car..  Then just skip my favorite one and come back to it after you’ve dropped them off. Not to mention I love the squash blossom necklace on the cover of this album, I am ALWAYS on the search for a good, vintage version of this necklace.

  

3. Burnt

Previews and press for this Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller film have been everywhere, but it comes out tomorrow and we are SO excited. It hasn’t actually my gotten rave reviews, but a coming of age story filled with great actors and lots of cooking – count me in.



4.  The Hot Toddy 

It’s chilly enough for a nice warm drink, and one of my favorites is a classic Hot Toddy.  1 oz. bourbon, 1 Tbsp honey, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 hot water.  It just doesn’t get easier.  And hey, it apparently also cures the common cold, so you’re basically helping your immune system.  You’re welcome.

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Positano – Italian Recap Part 2 of 3

On Sunday morning we woke up and took the train from Florence to Naples.

Travel tip: everyone says Naples is sketchy, so be aware. Wear your cross body purse in front of you, make sure any men have their wallets on their chest or just not in the back pockets, etc. Do not let anyone take your bag from you to “help” because they will then demand money. We were prepared for all of this and had no problems at all – but just be aware.

From Naples we had a driver pick us up and drive us to our place in Positano. Our driver, Guitano from Positano, was a character – so fun and nice. He pointed out the sights from Naples to the Amalfi Coast like Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius and was one of very few people who grew up in Positano. We heard all sorts of fun stories about the famous people he has worked with through the years, and it was entertaining to say the least. Just the train and drive alone were gorgeous, but arriving into Positano is like pulling into dreamland. Positano is exquisite – most “pinned” destination in the world, yada yada – but it is worth the hype, folks. Disclaimer: other people have heard this too, and there will be more tourists than you may expect, but there are places to escape the crowds. 

 After arriving in Positano, we went out exploring and wandered down to Spiaggia Grande, the main beach, getting a lemon granita in the land of lemons and popping in and out of a couple of shops and having a pair of sandals made. 

Travel tip: Get sandals made while on the Amalfi Coast. I got mine from Safari Club, and those folks have it down to a science. For about 60 euros you can choose your type of sandals.  They will fit them to your feet, and they will be ready in less than an hour – perfect, usable, and an easy to pack souvenir. 

The most beautiful shop I saw while in Positano was the Emporium at Le Sirenuse. It is located across the street from the hotel and has world renowned perfumes and caftans. I bought a hat but am already requesting perfume for Christmas. The floors alone at Le Sirenuse and their store are exquisite.   

Grant and I sat at a beach bar and people watched for an hour. One blogger was having her photographer/boyfriend take pictures of her on the beach, and while I fully get it, it was thoroughly entertaining to watch the process. Like this girl changed bikinis under her coverup then switched coverups, get it girl – two “looks” in one shoot – an hour of entertainment for me and three thousand “likes” for her, I assume.

  We stopped by a market and grabbed a couple of things for our apartment then headed back up the mountain to Le Sirenuse for apertivo. If I could have cocktails and watch the sunset from this place at least once every five years it would be incredible. The drinks and snacks were delicious, and the sun setting over the town of Positano, the mountain, and the ocean was just exquisite.

  
 We continued back up towards our apartment and made our last stop of the evening at Bar Bruno. Bar Bruno came recommended to us by friends and locals alike.  Most of it’s tables are set up on the sidewalk under little umbrellas.  The waiters, clad in all white, dart between traffic to deliver fresh, fabulous seafood dishes. We ordered their seafood pasta with clams and mussels and shrimp in a light, garlicky tomato sauce, and the evening ended with a limoncello toast with a three minute stroll home–the perfect first day in Positano. 

  

 
On our second day in Positano it was a rainy morning so we took advantage of the fact that we were on the beach vacation part of our trip and slept in. It felt nice to rest, and once up we headed to Fornillo Beach, the smaller of the two main Positano beaches.  It is a 10 minute walk from the main dock at Spiaggia Grande, and the walk itself is so pretty.

Travel tip: In Positano there are steps everywhere you will go as the town is literally built into the side of a mountain. The distances are not far, but there are hundreds and hundreds of steps. As long as you pack the right shoes, you will be totally fine! I wore Birkenstock Gizeh sandals, and they were perfect and easy to wear on steps and in town.  Plus they were perfect for the rocky beaches too.


 We found ourselves at another recommend spot, da Ferdinando, and stayed for hours. It was the perfect little stabilimento. These are little beach clubs that have chairs, umbrellas, food, drinks, and bathrooms. Finding one of these is definitely the way to go when traveling to Positano if you want beach time. Compared to these beach clubs on Spiaggia Grande, any stabilimento on Fornillo Beach will be a little more casual, less expensive, and far less crowded – which is the real appeal. The drinks at da Ferdinando were excellent. My very favorite was called the Tricky Tricky which was lemon granita with vodka and mint – Italian beach drink heaven.  

  
  

After the afternoon at da Ferdinando we made the long stroll back to our apartment, finding a private little cove on the way to put our feet back in the ocean and put our selfie stick to use without being embarrassed. It was amazing to be so secluded in such a popular, little beach town.

 That night we had dinner at L’Anchora; it was good with gorgeous views with the lights from town twinkling on the dark ocean. Grant ordered the cannelloni, which he loved, and I ordered the seafood risotto. 

  
Saving the best for last, we woke up ready for a day at Da Adolfo. We called the day we arrived in Positano to reserve our chairs and lunch reservation. The boat with a red fish on its mast starts taking trips from the main dock at Spiaggia Grande at 10am. I recommend going on the 10am boat and planning to stay for the entire day–you will not regret it. The red fish boat will take you on a 15 minute trip to the small beach and restaurant. It’s a treat just to get out on the water.  

  
As soon as you step off of the boat, you will see the small little shack that is Da Adolfo, but do not fear. Enjoy the private beach, take a dip in the sea, and lounge on your beach chairs until lunch is served at 1 o’clock. We even watched the fisherman take his large white ice chest from his boat straight up to the kitchen. The staff alone made for perfect entertainment and people watching.

Once we sat down for lunch we started with sangria (which was cold, cold white wine with peaches in the perfect ceramic pitcher), grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves,  and muscles in the most perfect tomato, lemony, garlic sauce. Then followed by spaghetti alle vongole and grilled fish. It was a long, perfect feast just feet off of the beach. Grant still says this was the best food we had during our entire trip.  

  
After lunch we spent the remaining hours of the afternoon between our beach chairs and the sea. The water was cold but felt great and refreshing. If we had done this on our first day, I would have booked another day at Da Adolfo. I recommend this meal and experience to any and everyone. Around 4 o’clock we took the red fish boat back to town then made the trek from the dock to our apartment.

Once back to our apartment, we showered and packed to get ready for our early morning drive to Naples. After packing we headed back out for one last night at Le Sirenuse. We went to their champagne and oyster bar.


 Grant had been dying to check out Music on the Rocks, so we walked down to the beach and towards Positano’s one discoteca. When we arrived they told us that it did not open until 11pm… and it was 9:30. Like oh right, we can’t hang. We walked through the empty bar and headed upstairs for one last drink and view of town, laughing about how when we were 24 the discoteca would have been awesome. Damnit. It was a cool cave with crazy lights, so if you are young or if you hadn’t had a long day in the sun this may be worth checking out. We took our one last hike from the beach to our apartment and laughed at ourselves the entire way.

Then we were off to Roma!

  

Garlic Ginger Roasted Salmon

Around my house we’re always trying to make our meals just a little bit healthier, but I’m definitely not going to skimp on flavor or ease.  So let me just say, this meal has become a favorite around here!  We all know we should be eating more fatty fish (thanks omega-3s!), and salmon is one of my freezer staples.  I like to just throw mine in the oven with this simple marinade on it, and I usually roast some veggies in another pan right alongside it.  Serve it all with a little rice, and you’re set!

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Garlic Ginger Roasted Salmon

-2 medium sized salmon fillets

-4 cloves of garlic

-2 inches of ginger

-1 Tbsp soy sauce

-1 Tbsp oyster sauce

-1 Tbsp honey

-1 tsp sesame oil

-salt and pepper to taste

Combine all of the ingredients except for the salmon in a small food processor to make a smooth paste.  If you don’t have a small food processor, no problem!  Just mince or grate the ginger and garlic and combine them with the other ingredients.  Next pat the salmon dry with a paper towel and spoon the marinade over both sides of the salmon.  If you have the time, allow it to marinate in the fridge for up to two hours; if not, just pop it in the oven.  Before roasting, make sure that most of the garlic mixture is sitting right on top of the fillets.  Then roast the salmon in a 375° oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until it is just cooked through.

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I like to serve mine over hot rice tossed with minced green onions.  So easy and delicious!  Enjoy!

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Florence – Italian Recap Part 1 of 3

Later this year I turn 30, and I decided this would be my big year of travel!  Lucky for me, my husband was totally on board.  We knew we wanted to go to Europe, and after a lot of research and discussions, we decided to explore around Italy.  My parents took a similar trip about 30 years ago, and one weekend when Grant and I were at my parent’s home, they pulled out a box of pictures, maps, and itineraries from their trip to Italy in the 80’s.  It was so much fun going through it with them!

I reached out to so many friends and other bloggers for all of their tips and favorites for our itinerary of Florence, Positano, and Rome as we started our planning. I am so very thankful for the time they put in to send me their information because it takes serious effort, and our trip would not have been the same without their suggestions. Since their tips were so very helpful I knew, I wanted to try to keep notes during our trip and be able to share our favorites as well.

  

We found a decent price on round trip tickets to and from Rome so we left from Nashville with a stop in Atlanta then off to Rome. If you ever find yourself in the international terminal at ATL be sure to stop by One Flew South for a drink and appetizer which is where,Grant and I officially kicked off our vacation.

Once we arrived in Roma we successfully took the train from FCO to Firenze SMN, navigating trains, and finally we landed in Florence. Then we went to get the keys for the apartment we rented. It was near the Duomo, and was perfect for the two of us for four nights. A small studio apartment with a terrace that doubles the size of the studio. It looked out over the Duomo and was so nice to have a good bit of outdoor space in the middle of Florence. Plus being by the city’s center meant we never got lost.

Travel tip:  These two apps are must haves

  • Ulmon CityMaps2Go.  Get this for any cities you are planning to go. It was a     lifesaver!! Helped us get to and from our apartment, restaurants, museums, etc. without having to connect to WiFi.
  • Rick Steve’s Audio Europe.  Yes he is a goob, but this app is free and is full of tons of great, free information, walking tours, museum tours, etc. Just download the         specific ones you want to listen to before you leave and you will have it all whether or not you have WiFi.

After settling into our apartment, we set out to do one of the most touristy things of our entire trip, the double decker, Hop on Hop Off bus. It was late afternoon at this point, and we wanted to do something to get our bearings without exerting too much energy since we started to run on fumes from the overnight flight. I had fairly low expectations for this one hour bus route, but it was not crowded; the weather was gorgeous, and we went to places and saw views that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. So it was worth it and so nice to rest a bit while seeing our first taste of gorgeous Firenze. 

That night we opted for an easy, pizza spot that had been recommended to us – Gusta Pizza. It was on the other side of the Arno so we walked from our apartment and were able to take in the sights of the Ponte Vecchio at night which was a treat. Gusta Pizza was the perfect, casual first night spot. Incredible pizza and wine. This place was bustling, but just be prepared for super casual – plastic cups instead of wine glasses type of casual, but out of this world pizza (with wine for 15 euros – done and done.)

 


 The next day (our first full day in Florence) we messed up and slept in way too late.

Travel tip:  Beat the Jet Lag 

Upon arrival to a foreign country change your timezone manually if it doesn’t do so automatically and set your alarm for the next morning so you can get on their schedule – rookie mistake. We didn’t do this, I panicked at first but it ended up being ok.

We wandered over to Mercato Centrale and enjoyed perusing through the market on the first floor, tasting amazing samples, and buying wine to have on our balcony. Then we made our way upstairs for lunch. Upstairs is like an upscale food court full of a plethora of authentic Tuscan options. Grant got a pannino from one “station,” and I ordered bruscetta di buffala with tomatoes. It was heavenly. I already miss bruscetta with such fresh, good ingredients.


  

After lunch we poked through San Lorenzo market. I purchased a black leather clutch and a couple of scarves. As long as you have cash you can bargin, easily. We stopped in and out of little cafes and met a family friend of Grant’s for a drink at a funny, college-y bar near our apartment – JJ’s Cathedral. Then we changed for dinner and headed to Ristorante La Giostra.

La Giostra (need reservation) had been recommended to us by several people, and the setting was amazing – small, dark, candlelit. As our first “real” restaurant in Florence the ordering was hard and fast (later I realized this was the norm, but I was not quite prepared yet). We let our server select most things for us, and the carpaccio of grilled zucchini, tomatoes and parmigiana with pine nuts; papradelle with wild boar; and osso bucco were the shining stars of the meal. (People recommend the ravioli with pears here, but I was too flustered at the beginning to remember tidbits like this, darn! I also forgot to take pics here). We skipped dessert at dinner because I knew I wanted to stop for gelato on the walk home.

We woke up the following morning and went on a Best of Tuscany tour with Art’viva. There were 12 of us in a Mercedes van with our tour guide, Giuseppe, a nice, talkative, walking encyclopedia – the perfect tour guide. We went to Sienna, Monteriggioni, and San Gimmenano with at stop at a vineyard for lunch in between. The Tuscan countryside was gorgeous, but this daytrip was a bit touristy for me. Here is the rundown: Sienna was cool and very medieval. We learned a lot about the horse race and their neighborhood rivalries. Plus their Duomo was insanely gorgeous (go inside here to check out the floors alone), and we stopped by an idyllic little butcher so Grant could get a sandwich.              

Next we went to a tiny town of Monteriggioni. It was teeny, tiny but really cool to see such a small walled little community that rests atop of rows and rows of olive trees.


  
We headed to a vineyard for a tour of the wine making process and a lunch with wine pairings. My favorite thing I learned from this vineyard was about the DOGC label on Italian wines.

Travel/life tip: Selecting Italian wines

  • If selecting Italian wines look for DOGC on the label. DOGC means that, regardless of price, the wine has gone through the most strict regulations and guidelines in the industry, has been tasted by a committee, and is guaranteed to be from the region it states. The acronym is usually near the neck/cork of the bottle.


From our vineyard tour we went to San Gimmenano, the cutest and most touristy of all three towns. The views of the countryside from San Gimmenano are incredible, like everything you see in movies and read about in books. We stopped for gelato at the “gelato world champion’s” gelateria. It was the best gelato I had the entire trip, and eveyrone else wanted a taste because the line was long. I had raspberry with rosemary and limon and the combination was delicious.    

  
 After returning to Florence we went back to the apartment, regrouped, and headed out for dinner. We walked to Trattoria ZaZa, but the line was extremely long, and it started to rain so we popped into a small cafe. We split an order of bruscetta and a bottle of (DOGC) chianti, and called it a night. 

I warned Grant that our last day in Firenze would be a busy one and it was. We started our morning with Rick Steve’s Renaissance walking tour from the Duomo to the Uffizi, with a pitstop for a cappuccino. It was great to learn about the places we had walked by the past several days (originally we were meant to do this on the morning we slept in).

Travel tip: Buy tickets ahead of time

  • Buy your tickets for the Uffizi online before you leave for your trip and print out your voucher. We toured the gallery with the masses, but it was absolutely worth it. Again we used Rick Steve’s audio guide while in the museum, and it was perfect – plenty of information without being tied to a tour group.

The works of art here are mindblowing – Michelangelo, Rafael, Botticelli. Not to mention that the views from the Uffizi were gorgeous! Grant laughed that half of the gallery was dedicated to Mary in a blue dress, and I understood his sentiment. There were quite a few paintings of the Madonna with child, and yes, she did wear a blue dress in almost every one. 

  
 From the museum we grabbed a sandwich at I Due Frattellini. It will be hard to ever knock this sandwich off of it’s pedestal as my very favorite sandwich of all times. The bread and ingredients were both perfect. I ordered the No. 26 which contained bresola, arugula and caprino (soft goat cheese). For 8 euros we each got a sandwich and a water. This is basically a little walk up window where you order and either eat your panino on the curb or take it to go.   

We took our sandwiches across the Ponte Vecchio to the Boboli Gardens. The gardens were very large and full of lush, green hedges, pea gravel, statues, an amphitheater, and…bathtubs?

 

From here we walked back across the river to the Santa Croche and finally stopped for a little break and some wine.  

We wore our tennies and walked over ten miles this day, but needed that wine break. Wandering back towards our house we decided to go ahead and get packed up before we headed out for the evening.    

We went to the Westin Excellsior’s rooftop for a drink and to watch the sunset. There were a lot of American’s, but the sunset and the views from the rooftop were worth the cost of a couple of drinks (next time I would not order bottled water, that ended up costing 7 euros).  

From the Westin we walked to our final dinner reservation in Florence at the small and wonderful, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina (need reservation). This was the best meal and experience we had while we were in Firenze. It is a tiny wine bar and restaurant that truly only has about 20 seats. The three owners work almost every night and are all so helpful and informative. They helped us select our courses and wines. Dishes included – fried squash blossoms, some sort of egg, mushroom fondue wonderfulness and house made pastas each paired with the best wines I have ever tasted – not to mention is ended up being reasonable. Typing this out is embarrassing because it all sounds so rich, again thank goodness for all of the walking. If we had gotten to spend any more time in Florence I would have definitely come back to try their set lunch with wine pairings. I would recommend this restaurant to just about anyone, and am so appreciative of the recommendation. 

  
 Next stop, Positano! Ciao Bella.

Tuesday’s Table: Butternut Squash Soup

Oh chilly weather! You are just making me so happy.  Let the warm weather foods commence!  Butternut squash soup is one of my favorite things for this time of year.  Not only is it amazingly comforting, but it’s also incredibly healthy!  This version contains no added butter or cream, and trust me you won’t miss it.  Plus, it freezes perfectly, so feel free to make a giant batch and store it away for later in the season.

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Butternut Squash Soup

-1 large butternut squash

-1 medium yellow onion, diced fine

-2 inches ginger, minced

-2 tsp olive oil

-6 c. chicken stock

-salt and pepper to taste

-cashew and green onions to garnish

Peel and roast the butternut squash until fork tender.  Often the peeling and cutting can seem almost impossible, so I like to pierce mine with a fork first and microwave it for about 3 minutes before peeling it, cutting it in half, and removing its seeds.  Then place it in a 400° oven for about 45 minutes.  Next chop it into chunks.

While the squash is cooking, dice the onions and ginger, and get them in a large pot with the olive oil.  Cook them over a low heat until the onions are translucent.  Then add the squash and the stock.  Let this simmer for about 45 minutes.  Then puree the soup with an immersion blender or in your regular blender, but if you are using your regular blender be very careful!  You don’t want your blender to explode on you while you’re blending a hot liquid, so proceed with caution.  I like to just blend a little at a time and hold the top of my blender down with a kitchen towel.

Return the soup to your pot and season it with salt and pepper.  Garnish with chopped

cashews and green onions.  Enjoy!

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