Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Recipe Organization

I have a new project of Recipe Organization.  Every week I am left with nothing to fix for suppers and feel overwhelmed with the prospect of thinking about what I should cook when I go to the store.  The results of this have been bad: rather than meal planning, I simply buy every ingredient I could possibly need to make any meal that I could want!

I've found that for us, the better system is to buy per recipe rather than stocking up on staples for the pantry and keeping it up because since we are only two people, food turns bad and we never use the staples. 

This weekend I decided to try to think of a solution: I created an Excel file and started to think of all of the recipes I know that we love.  Then, I write down the basic ingredients so that by copying and pasting the spreadsheet onto my grocery list, I can quickly and easily create a meal plan for the week.  We really do not eat very many "meals" because if I make something, we have so many leftovers, but I think that it will make things easier for me.  Another plus would be that I can examine what we eat and hopefully get a better variety of food in our diets.

I started by thinking of Mexican-inspired dishes.  How do you organize your recipes and think of things to make every week?  Sometimes I feel like organization can be a time-sucker in itself and then I never use it in real life.  Thoughts?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Our weekend

We had another great weekend!  On Friday evening, I went to Jazz and had some delicious Cajun food with some friends.  My favorite thing to order there is fried oysters, and mine did not disappoint.  They can also serve up a mean cup of gumbo, which I also order every time I go.  SO tasty.  The problem with Jazz is that I've eaten at their other branches (specifically, in Columbia), and wasn't too impressed.  However, maybe the food is better there.  At any rate, I always think that when a small restaurant decides to branch out, the original location is always better than the branches. 

On Saturday we hung out at home and I cleaned the house while David studied.  After church we went to our church's trivia night with David's sister and brother-in-law.  Last year we won the trivia night but this year we were no where close.  I am not very good with trivia because I don't know much about movies and sports, but when the art category comes along I usually know a fair amount from taking classes in college. 

Then, on Sunday, I went to yoga and had to go into work for a few hours to catch up on some things.  David studied all day long. 

Did you do anything fun this weekend?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Piano playing

David is studying again, so in an attempt to spend time with him while he studies in the basement, I an trying to practice the piano more.  I've been working on "Clair de Lune" by Debussy.  When I was in high school and college, I was a pretty fair piano player, but it is interesting how quickly my skills went by the wayside.  It is fun to pick it up every once in a while again!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Egg Rolls

On Sunday I decided to attempt to make some egg rolls.  I say "attempt" because they didn't turn out quite as planned.  I think that somehow my wrappers were not wet enough or something because they were crunchy hard (as in the wrappers were still basically wrappers and not that delicious thing you eat in the restaurants)!
Hmmmm...any tips for me?  I filled them with eggplant, carrots, celery, and onions that were sauteed.  At the end I brushed them with soy sauce and chicken broth in an attempt to make the wrappers more egg-rolly, but it didn't work.  Hrm.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The animals

I noticed that I have not posted pictures from our animals for a while, so I thought that I would share a few. 

Nothing is really new with them.  They certainly rule our entire house with their antics.  We have (mostly) grown out of the accident stage, it seems. 

Paco and Arwen are still extremely close friends.  They sleep near each other at night (on our bed...it gets crowded!) and love on each other:
 Thorina remains aloof and likes to talk to us.  She is always meowing and if I respond to her, she will meow even more.  Here she is trying to act uninterested in what is happening in the kitchen:
 But on second glance one can see that she likes to keep tabs on the family.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our weekend

We had a great weekend.  Friday evening David studied and I relaxed at home.  It was SO nice to finally have a weekend evening where we had nothing planned, because it seems like we go from event to event and while they are enormously fun, it is nice to have a relaxing evening once in a while.  I watched I Don't Know How She Does It, which was pretty good, and then I started watching one of my favorite movies (because it is from one of my favorite books): Sense and Sensibility.  

On Saturday I went to yoga and we went to church and then we went with some friends to Party Arty, a fundraiser for the art museum here in town.  It was SO much fun....the party itself was neat because it was in the art museum and there were performers who performed dances during the event.  They also had drinks and delicious food from various places...my favorite was this delicious mini-hot dog with a relish on it.  SO good.  I may or may not have eaten two.  They were mini!

Then on Sunday I relaxed and David studied after being exhausted from having so much fun the night before! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tips for getting tickets at the Vatican

When we first started planning this trip, my mom had one request: to see the Pope.  I mostly just laughed at her after reading in my trusty guidebooks that this Pope no longer holds personal audiences and just thinking about how overwhelming it would be to try to get tickets to events like a mass at Christmas.  But, little things kept happening that pushed us in the right direction: I read in Rick Steve's to try to get tickets to the Scavi tours (but don't count on it), and my parents heard from some priests at an event that you could get tickets to midnight mass at Christmas.

First: the Scavi tours.  Basically, in order to request tickets, you have to email your information to the "Scavi" (as we called whoever was answering our emails).  Rick Steves said that no answer is common and it means that you do not have tickets, so I was not expecting much from the Scavi.  However, soon after I emailed them, I received an email back confirming our reservation...for 9 a.m. the day we arrived in Rome...and our plane was scheduled to get into the airport at 8:55 a.m.  I was so sad, but decided to keep emailing the Scavi to try to find a different day/time.  Nope...everything was full.  After (literally) seven or so emails back and forth, I just gave up.  I even tried having David email him with absolutely no luck.

A few days later, my mom also emailed the Scavi, who confirmed her for a tour for a date and time I had already requested (and been denied).  No matter: we were simply happy to have tickets! 

The day that we arrived in Rome, we arrived at 9 a.m. and our tour started at 11:45 a.m.  We opted to take a shuttle from the airport to our hotel and then hoped to get from the hotel to the Vatican ASAP in order to make the tour.  Long story short, we did not make the tour.  We literally ran around the Vatican, tried to get everywhere in record times, and we arrived at the Scavi office at noon.  A group was standing outside the office so my parents and brother just joined that group while David ran into the office.  He didn't come out right away so I joined him just in time to hear the official saying, "Impossible!"  Getting a sinking feeling, I asked what was going on and David and the official explained that since we were late, another family got to take our place on the tour (understandable, but still stinky).  We asked the Scavi official if we could reschedule.  At first he just laughed at us and said "impossible!" again, and then suggested that we come back in January.  I told him that obviously we were not here that long and that we couldn't really help being late, so we would greatly appreciate any accommodation he could give us.  Finally, he said that there was a tour leaving at 1:30 and if we could be back at 1:00 p.m. we could join that tour. 

Basically, it seems that the Scavi is pretty precarious.  The man behind the counter was an Italian layperson (not a priest or a nun...whenever we came across those Vatican workers they were extremely nice, happy, and helpful).  It seems that the tours are just kind of jumbled.  I would say that if you want to request tours, have multiple people from your group request reservations and then be on time.  As long as you don't get frustrated you are likely to see the tour.

The effort was very worth it.  The tour was amazing and it was really neat to see the tombs underneath the Vatican.  It was like stepping into Ancient Rome (literally) as we toured grave sites and got a history lesson from a soon-to-be-priest from St. Louis (while we were on the tour with another family from St. Louis!).  The highlight of the tour (and maybe one of the highlights of being in Rome) was saying the Our Father in the room where St. Peter's tomb is located (and while seeing the bones that are believed to be his).  It was a wonderful experience that I was so happy to have as a Catholic and I am happy to have shared it with my family.

Midnight mass: The best website for any information for American visitors is the Bishop's Office for US Visitors to the Vatican.  It was so helpful and when I emailed the Office the replies were so friendly and helpful as well.  I e-mailed the office about requesting tickets to Midnight Mass.  They replied back that we could send a letter or a fax to a certain number in order to ask for tickets.  The day I got the email, I sent a letter to the Vatican with a sinking feeling because I knew that the mail would take weeks to reach the Vatican, especially when the small town postal worker said, "Vatican?  We've never had a letter go there!  I don't know how many days or weeks it will take to send it!"  Sheesh. 

Luckily, my parents have a fax machine in their house, so my mom tried to fax the request.  She faxed and faxed and had issues times ten with getting the fax to go through.  Finally, she was able to fax the letter to a nun at the Bishop's Office and asked the nun to please fax it to the appropriate person for us.  We did not hear back for about a week and then, one Saturday morning, my mom found a fax sitting in her machine that said that we had midnight mass tickets.  We had to pick up the tickets a day before the event at the Vatican.  On the day of the mass we arrived at the Vatican at 5:45 and joined a hugely long line.  The doors opened at 8 p.m., so we stood and watched as the Pope made an appearance in his apartment window with a candle:
Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_606w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2011/12/25/Style/Images/Vatican%20Christmas%20eve.JPEG-0a33e.jpg

The line was incredibly long and it was hilarious as people kept trying to butt in line near us.  Eventually, the line wrapped three times around the square and we got into the basilica.  People in front of us were running to get in and when we did we saw why: if you got in early enough you could sit on an aisle seat, which was closest to the Pope as he made his way down the aisle.  We got into the basilica and sat down near a friend we made while in line.

The mass was incredible and again, a wonderful, wonderful experience.  Everything was simply beautiful, from the music to the surroundings, to the readings and message from the Pope himself.  After taking the Scavi tour, I couldn't believe that I was celebrating Christmas in the Vatican, just above the ancient tomb of St. Peter.  This was definitely the highlight of our trip to Rome and was just gorgeous.  

Papal Audience: After my mom heard about midnight mass and that one could request tickets for that event, she suggested that I call my diocese to see about getting tickets to midnight mass.  I called my local diocese and asked about requesting tickets and the lady on the other end stated that she did not know how to request tickets to midnight mass, but mentioned tickets to a papal audience.  Apparently we had to ask our local priest, who would then request tickets from the Bishop himself.  When I told my mom this she volunteered to go through her diocese.  The Bishop wrote us a letter requesting tickets to the Audience and then one day I got an email telling us that we had the tickets.

The audience was another wonderful event.  We had to pick up the tickets near Trevi fountain before the event.  We picked them up at the Bishop's Office late Tuesday afternoon.  Since we were receiving an Indulgence at the Audience, we were encouraged to go to confession at the Office where a priest was waiting, so we did.

While waiting in line, we began to realize that we had golden tickets while most other people around us had blue tickets.  We figured that they were just printed on different pieces of paper until I walked into the auditorium and was spotted by a man in a tuxedo.  He said that I should follow him with a golden ticket, so I did (along with my family) and he seated us seven rows from the front.  My mom (who had gotten there earlier in the day) was already seated two rows from the front.  We have no idea how we got the golden ticket.

The Audience was spectacular.  My tip for a future visit would be to pretend you are with a group (i.e. when you request tickets, say you are with the "Smith Family Reunion" or something) because groups are called and can stand up and the Pope acknowledges them.  Again, I highly recommend requesting tickets for this event. 

Here is the message that the Pope said at our audience:

The Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s meeting is taking place in the atmosphere of Christmas, imbued with deep joy at the Birth of the Saviour. We have just celebrated this Mystery whose echo ripples through the Liturgy of all these days. It is a Mystery of Light that all people in every era can relive with faith and prayer. It is through prayer itself that we become capable of drawing close to God with intimacy and depth.
Therefore, bearing in mind the theme of prayer that I am developing in the Catecheses in this period, I would therefore like to invite you to reflect today on the way that prayer was part of the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Indeed, the house of Nazareth is a school of prayer where one learns to listen, meditate on and penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, following the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
The Discourse of the Servant of God Paul VI during his Visit to Nazareth is memorable. The Pope said that at the school of the Holy Family we “understand why we must maintain a spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teaching of the Gospel and become disciples of Christ”. He added: “In the first place it teaches us silence. Oh! If only esteem for silence, a wonderful and indispensable spiritual atmosphere, could be reborn within us! Whereas we are deafened by the din, the noise and discordant voices in the frenetic, turbulent life of our time. O silence of Nazareth! Teach us to be steadfast in good thoughts, attentive to our inner life, ready to hear God’s hidden inspiration clearly and the exhortations of true teachers” (Discourse in Nazareth, 5 January 1964).
We can draw various ideas for prayer and for the relationship with God and with the Holy Family from the Gospel narratives of the infancy of Jesus. We can begin with the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. St Luke tells how “when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses”, Mary and Joseph “brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (2:22). Like every Jewish family that observed the law, Jesus’ parents went to the Temple to consecrate their first-born son to God and to make the sacrificial offering. Motivated by their fidelity to the precepts of the Law, they set out from Bethlehem and went to Jerusalem with Jesus who was only 40 days old. Instead of a year-old lamb they presented the offering of simple families, namely, two turtle doves. The Holy Family’s pilgrimage was one of faith, of the offering of gifts — a symbol of prayer — and of the encounter with the Lord whom Mary and Joseph already perceived in their Son Jesus.
Mary was a peerless model of contemplation of Christ. The face of the Son belonged to her in a special way because he had been knit together in her womb and had taken a human likeness from her. No one has contemplated Jesus as diligently as Mary. The gaze of her heart was already focused on him at the moment of the Annunciation, when she conceived him through the action of the Holy Spirit; in the following months she gradually became aware of his presence, until, on the day of his birth, her eyes could look with motherly tenderness upon the face of her son as she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger.
Memories of Jesus, imprinted on her mind and on her heart, marked every instant of Mary’s existence. She lived with her eyes fixed on Christ and cherished his every word. St Luke says: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19) and thus describes Mary’s approach to the Mystery of the Incarnation which was to extend throughout her life: keeping these things, pondering on them in her heart. Luke is the Evangelist who acquaints us with Mary’s heart, with her faith (cf. 1:45), her hope and her obedience (cf. 1:38) and, especially, with her interiority and prayer (cf. 1:46-56), her free adherence to Christ (cf. 1:55).
And all this proceeded from the gift of the Holy Spirit who overshadowed her (cf. 1:35), as he was to come down on the Apostles in accordance with Christ’s promise (cf. Acts 1:8). This image of Mary which St Luke gives us presents Our Lady as a model for every believer who cherishes and compares Jesus’ words with his actions, a comparison which is always progress in the knowledge of Jesus. After Bl. Pope John Paul II’s example (cf. Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae) we can say that the prayer of the Rosary is modelled precisely on Mary, because it consists in contemplating the mysteries of Christ in spiritual union with the Mother of the Lord.
Mary’s ability to live by God’s gaze, is so to speak, contagious. The first to experience this was St Joseph. His humble and sincere love for his betrothed and his decision to join his life to Mary’s attracted and introduced him, “a just man”, (Mt 1:19), to a special intimacy with God. Indeed, with Mary and later, especially, with Jesus, he began a new way of relating to God, accepting him in his life, entering his project of salvation and doing his will. After trustfully complying with the Angel’s instructions “Do not fear to take Mary your wife” (Mt 1:20) — he took Mary to him and shared his life with her; he truly gave the whole of himself to Mary and to Jesus and this led him to perfect his response to the vocation he had received.
As we know, the Gospel has not recorded any of Joseph’s words: his is a silent and faithful, patient and hard-working presence. We may imagine that he too, like his wife and in close harmony with her, lived the years of Jesus’ childhood and adolescence savouring, as it were, his presence in their family.
Joseph fulfilled every aspect of his paternal role. He must certainly have taught Jesus to pray, together with Mary. In particular Joseph himself must have taken Jesus to the Synagogue for the rites of the Sabbath, as well as to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the people of Israel. Joseph, in accordance with the Jewish tradition, would have led the prayers at home both every day — in the morning, in the evening, at meals — and on the principal religious feasts. In the rhythm of the days he spent at Nazareth, in the simple home and in Joseph’s workshop, Jesus learned to alternate prayer and work, as well as to offer God his labour in earning the bread the family needed.
And lastly, there is another episode that sees the Holy Family of Nazareth gathered together in an event of prayer. When Jesus was 12 years old, as we have heard, he went with his parents to the Temple of Jerusalem. This episode fits into the context of pilgrimage, as St Luke stresses: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (2:41-42).
Pilgrimage is an expression of religious devotion that is nourished by and at the same time nourishes prayer. Here, it is the Passover pilgrimage, and the Evangelist points out to us that the family of Jesus made this pilgrimage every year in order to take part in the rites in the Holy City. Jewish families, like Christian families, pray in the intimacy of the home but they also pray together with the community, recognizing that they belong to the People of God, journeying on; and the pilgrimage expresses exactly this state of the People of God on the move. Easter is the centre and culmination of all this and involves both the family dimension and that of liturgical and public worship.
In the episode of the 12-year-old Jesus, the first words of Jesus are also recorded: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). After three days spent looking for him his parents found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (cf. 2:46). His answer to the question of why he had done this to his father and mother was that he had only done what the Son should do, that is, to be with his Father.
Thus he showed who is the true Father, what is the true home, and that he had done nothing unusual or disobedient. He had stayed where the Son ought to be, that is, with the Father, and he stressed who his Father was.
The term “Father” therefore dominates the tone of this answer and the Christological mystery appears in its entirety. Hence, this word unlocks the mystery, it is the key to the Mystery of Christ, who is the Son, and also the key to our mystery as Christians who are sons and daughters in the Son. At the same time Jesus teaches us to be children by being with the Father in prayer. The Christological mystery, the mystery of Christian existence, is closely linked to, founded on, prayer. Jesus was one day to teach his disciples to pray, telling them: when you pray say “Father”. And, naturally, do not just say the word say it with your life, learn to say it meaningfully with your life. “Father”; and in this way you will be true sons in the Son, true Christians.
It is important at this point, when Jesus was still fully integrated in the life of the Family of Nazareth, to note the resonance that hearing this word “Father” on Jesus’ lips must have had in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. It is also important to reveal, to emphasize, who the Father is, and, with his awareness, to hear this word on the lips of the Only-Begotten Son who, for this very reason, chose to stay on for three days in the Temple, which is the “Father’s house”.
We may imagine that from this time the life of the Holy Family must have been even fuller of prayer since from the heart of Jesus the boy — then an adolescent and a young man — this deep meaning of the relationship with God the Father would not cease to spread and to be echoed in the hearts of Mary and Joseph.
This episode shows us the real situation, the atmosphere of being with the Father. So it was that the Family of Nazareth became the first model of the Church in which, around the presence of Jesus and through his mediation, everyone experiences the filial relationship with God the Father which also transforms interpersonal, human relationships.
Dear friends, because of these different aspects that I have outlined briefly in the light of the Gospel, the Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family. Many thanks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Italy Hotels and Restaurants

I'm sorry that I didn't take any pictures of the hotels. 
We had great hotels in Italy and I wanted to share our recommendations with you. 


Hotel Diocleziano, Rome:  We stayed at Hotel Diocleziano for four nights while we were in Rome.  The experience was wonderful.  The rooms were very clean and large (for a hotel in the city).  The staff was amazing and always met us with a smile.  When we first arrived, we had to dump our luggage off at the hotel and basically shove our reservation number at the man working the front desk because we had to catch our Scavi tour at the Vatican.  No problem: they had our luggage in our rooms when we arrived back at the hotel.  Whenever we had a question, they had an answer.  Finally, the breakfast was very delicious and included a wide variety of foods, including fresh salami, cheeses, breads, croissants, fruits, yogurt, and cereal. 

The location of the hotel was great for us as well.  The hotel was located near Termini station, which was nice because it was a short walk to the Termini subway stop, which was on the blue and red lines.  Furthermore, on our travel days, we just walked to the train station and thus did not have to waste time traveling to the train on those days.  For us, it was worth it to stay a bit farther from the main attractions (Vatican City, ruins), but in the future I may consider staying closer to the Vatican just because we were there every day, so it would have been good to be near the action.

Hotel Colomba, Florence: This quaint hotel in Florence was cute and convenient.  We stayed here for two nights.  This hotel is run by an older couple who also kept everything very clean and tidy.  They were very accommodating when we checked in late Christmas day.  The breakfast was also tasty...especially the various coffee drinks we ordered!  The hotel is situated about a block from the Duomo, so the location was wonderful.  Florence is small, so it only took us about ten minutes to walk anywhere we wanted to walk.  Again, the service was wonderful and everybody was extremely friendly.  We had a great stay at Hotel Colomba.


A few restaurants really stuck out to us (in order of my favorites):

Trattoria Katti, Florence:  Trattoria Katti was wonderful.  We arrived in Florence on Christmas Day, exhausted from traveling most of the day and from staying up late the night before for midnight mass.  Here I had one of the best pasta dishes of my life: a bolognese sauce on pasta that was so. delicious.  When we arrived I saw a huge pot with the bolognese sauce inside of it bubbling away on the stove, so I had to order it.  The sauce did not disappoint.  Everybody else at my table loved their food as well.  Katti also had a great house wine and we all enjoyed.  Another great part of this restaurant was the atmosphere.  Katti's niece served as our translator and made sure that everything was just how we wanted (hard sometimes when two people in the group don't like cheese).  When my mom wanted "sweet" wine, they found some for her.  One of the best parts was at the end of our dinner, Katti brought out a huge, fresh rack of ribs and started hacking it up in the kitchen with a cleaver for someone else who ordered it--that's how you know the food is made to order---when you see the proprietor bringing your raw meat out from the back.  It was awesome. 

Antica Birreria Peroni, Rome: This place was hilarious.  We stopped here for a very late lunch on Saturday in Rome.  By this time, anybody who knew any English in the restaurant was gone.  Therefore, we had a fun experience of ordering by basically pointing to random things on the menu.  When we got our food, hilarity often ensued (for example, when my dad ordered house red wine (in a glass, or so we thought) and a small pitcher of white wine came out and we thought that it was vinegar until someone worked up the nerve to taste it...also when my dad got eggplant and that is literally the only food he won't eat (but luckily he switched with David, who loves eggplant)).  The food was great: I had spaghetti with a red sauce here.  We also enjoyed the atmosphere.  This is a must-see place that is a bit off the main streets but well worth the effort to find it. 

Trattoria ZaZa, Florence:  This restaurant seems to be starting quite a stir on TripAdvisor with some reviewers thinking that this was awesome and others thinking that it was a bomb.  I thought that the food was good here, but in particular I really enjoyed my pasta with red meat sauce (another bolognese sauce, surprise, surprise).  It was quite possibly one of my favorite dishes in Italy.  The atmosphere was somewhat fun but if I remember, the service was not the best.  I think that you have to get lucky with what your order here, because others in my group did not think that this place was all that great. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Recent cooking adventures and our weekend

We had a great weekend this weekend...on Friday we went to David's work holiday party and then on Saturday went out to celebrate a good friend's birthday.  On Sunday we hung out and then went to a Pitch party, where my team won the top prize!  Yay!  On Monday we had a wonderful day full of relaxation.  So perfect.
 I wanted to share some recent cooking adventures that I've had rather than writing another Italy post today.  The Italy posts will finish up this week and then we will be back to our normal programming. 

On New Year's Day I made a batch of cinnamon rolls.  They were good but I added wayyyy too much cinnamon.  I used Pioneer Woman's recipe but honestly I don't think that the icing is any good.  I need to find a different recipe. 

Later that weekend I made these delicious stuffed red peppers:
 I usually go an Italian route with these, using Italian spices, but this time I had leftover Mexican rice so I used that for the sake of finishing it up.  I added corn and sausage (a key ingredient!) and these were so very good.
 Later that week I used other Mexican leftovers (chicken, corn, beans, etc.) to make a quick Mexican tortilla soup, which was pretty good:
 And then I made a tasty bolognese sauce (I'm obsessed with the stuff after Italy):
My basic recipe: I process a bit of onion, celery, and carrot and saute it in a bit of butter and olive oil.  Then, I use red wine to get the bits off the bottom of the pan and add a can of (fancier than I usually use) pureed tomatoes.  Finally, I add a pound of hamburger.  I let this sit and simmer for about 45 minutes and it was divine.  Next time I want to add a touch of whipping cream to make it go over the top.

[]]]]]]]]]]]]    <--------This is apparently a hello from Thorina, who typed on the keyboard while I was writing this post.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Italy: Wednesday!

 Wednesday was a very special day because that morning we went to a Papal Audience!  It was a TON of fun and a great experience.  I highly encourage you do go if you can while in Rome. 
 We ended up getting great seats: my mom was two rows from the front and I was seven rows from the front with the rest of my family!  I will post more tips about it later.  After it was over, we went to St. Peter's Square one more time:
 And then decided to find the Pantheon.  One thing I love about Rome is that you can walk around the city and all of a sudden see ruins among the apartments and other, more modern buildings.  The scenery is so wonderful. 

David and I went to this restaurant right next to the Pantheon in 2006 when we went to Rome, so we were excited to see that it is still open:
 We sipped hot chocolate there while looking at the beauty of the Pantheon:

After that, David and I decided to walk around the city together.  I will share those pics in a post of their own, but here is a picture of our last sunset in Rome.  It was such a wonderful trip and Rome is such a great city.  I love it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Italy: Tuesday

On Tuesday, we took the bullet train back to Rome (we didn't want to waste any time now that everything was open!).  It is always funny navigating a train system in Europe since trains aren't as prevalent in the United States (at least in the U.S.), and especially since we didn't know the language.  We made it, though, so that afternoon we decided to go to the Vatican museum and we saw the Sistine Chapel.  It is so gorgeous to see.  I love just standing in the chapel and looking up for a long time.

That night, we went out to eat and walked around near the Spanish steps, which had great shopping:
 The Spanish steps (sorry for the horrible picture):

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Italy: Monday

On Monday we woke up to our first Florentine morning.  My mom, David, and I decided to take a run around Florence.  We crossed the river and climbed up a hill with an incredible view of the city.  Running is a great way to see a city because you can get far in a short amount of time...I love to do that whenever I'm on vacation. 

After the run, we ate a delicious breakfast at our hotel and headed out into the city. 
Our first stop was the Uffizi, an incredible art gallery that was built starting in 1560 by Vasari.  The building was great and we saw many famous works, including Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Leonardo's Annunciation.  It was gorgeous and very reminiscent of the Renaissance.  I loved it!  

Walking around after:

Our next stop was to see David by Michelangelo, which was incredible.  David especially enjoyed it.  :)
A gorgeous door
After taking a brief break at the hotel, we went to the Duomo, but it was closing early that day because it was the day after Christmas.  So, we just looked in the inside quickly and moved on.    That evening, we went to eat at another delicious restaurant, where I had the best Bolognese sauce EVER.  It was SO delicious that I still dream about it to this day.  YUM!
Every night, after dinner, we went on a quest for the best desserts.  My most memorable find was a delicious meringue. 

Florence was amazing, and I really enjoyed it!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Italy: Christmas Day

After experiencing Christmas Eve at the Vatican, we slept in pretty late on Christmas Day.  Before the trip started, I decided to make Christmas a travel day because everything was closed.  We did find some restaurants open, but overall Italy shut down for the holiday. 

At around noon, we checked out of our hotel and then hopped on a train to Florence.  We took a slow (non-bullet) train, so it took about three hours, which afforded us many gorgeous views of Tuscany:

 Three hours later, we were in Florence!
Christmas Day pictures:
That night, we found a delicious restaurant and enjoyed a yummy Christmas dinner:
It was a great Christmas!

Friday, January 06, 2012