Hello! After ten wonderful days in Italy followed by a couple bonus days in France, we are finally back at home. It was a fabulous trip, with bits of "what the hell were we thinking, bringing three little boys to Tuscany?" and "what do you mean you can't get us home for days?" mixed in. It all brought a tremendous sense of adventure and even accomplishment. We did, in fact, all survive. Now that I'm home, I am able to remember the good and laugh at the crazy.
I have about six loads of laundry to wash, a full email inbox at work, and an empty refrigerator. Oh, and very tired little boys. But I still plan to spend some quality time with my pictures so that I can share some with you here very soon. It's good to be home.
I haven't posted a book in a while, because I try to include only the ones I would recommend to my friends. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, is definitely one of these. The book is the astonishing true story of Louie Zamperini. It tells the story of his life, starting at his home in Torrance, California, where he was a deviant kid causing all sorts of trouble until he began running. He became an Olympic runner, running in the 1936 Olympics. He was training for the 1940 Olympics when he joined the war, becoming a bombardier. His plane was shot down over the Pacific, and only he and two other crewmen survived the crash. They floated adrift for 47 days, surviving an ordeal that none of us can even imagine, only to be picked up by the Japanese when they eventually did reach land. He was taken to a POW camp, where he spent the rest of the war enduring torture, disease, and near starvation. The story takes us all the way through his return from Japan, and it makes me happy to know that this 93-year-old man is still alive.
His story is absolutely remarkable, and Laura Hillenbrand does an excellent job telling it. As she did with Seabiscuit, she writes a real history with the detail and pacing of fiction. It is gripping, and I was completely hooked. I decided I had to finish it before the trip, so I read the entire thing in only a few days. It wasn't hard to do, because I really didn't want to put it down.
Here's a link to the NY Times book review.
This week's Three Beautiful Things:
1. I'm on vacation, in a beautiful place where I've never been. Learning Italian words, enjoying Italian wine and food, exploring Italian towns, and eating gelato every day.
2. I'm spending good quality time with my gorgeous boys, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew.
3. I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to take such a grand adventure with my family. I won't be happy for it to end, but I'll look forward to sharing some of it with you here.
*Pictures are from the lovely Sarah Tucker. Looking forward to posting my own pics when I get back!
In addition to Foster the People, The Naked and the Famous are occupying that spot in my Summer music rotation that I reserve for upbeat electronic indie/alternative bands. Good music to turn up loud and and listen to while dancing around the room.
As this post is published, we will be arriving in Florence. We'll be spending a few days exploring the city before venturing out to the Tuscan countryside. I am hoping for a week full of adventures, art, picnics, walking, people-watching, picture-taking, exploring and seeing a big naked man. I want to eat a lot of gelato and pizza and pasta and seafood and to drink a lot of wine. I want to learn just a little something about Italian wine and olive oil. I want to be patient with my children, who will undoubtedly be tired, so that their memories of Italy are only fun and beautiful memories. I want to spend some quality time with my sister and brother-in-law, who I do not get to see often enough. I want to spend lots of time sitting by this pool, playing with my kids and soaking in the sunshine.
I want a lot out of this vacation.
It'll be pretty quiet around here for a bit, although there are a few posts scheduled. When I return, expect lots of pictures of Italy, and I'll let you know how we did.
images via homeaway.com
Left image from Cooking Light, Right image by me
Corn, Potato and Leek Chowder - I am not a huge fan of cooked celery, so I replaced it with summer squash. A great chowder made entirely of fresh, local, farmer's market produce. This was really good, and perfect for a cool and rainy summer day. I was pleasantly surprised to see my big boy finish his entire bowl!
Fish Tacos - I just cooked a variety of taco fillings so that we could each assemble as desired: cod, black beans, saffron rice, sauteed zucchini/squash/onion, and monterey jack. My little boy eats a ton of this, especially with a little sour cream and salsa on top.
Summer Ziti - This recipe from my Mom gets made at least once every August. There really is no better smell in the world than the combination of fresh tomatoes, peppers, basil, and garlic.
Pierogies, cinnamon apples, broccoli - Can you tell this is a Monday night meal? I prepared the cinnamon apples on Sunday, so they were already ready to go. I sauteed the pierogies with a little butter and an onion. Served with broccoli and cheese. Voila.
Finally watched Wasteland. It's extraordinary. Beautiful, and touching. The people in this film lead lives that most of us can't even imagine, and yet they carry themselves with such dignity.
Have you seen it? If you have, what did you think? If you haven't, you really should.
This week's Three Beautiful Things:
1. I have a beautiful new baby niece. I wish she didn't live so far away, but I'm looking forward to meeting her at the end of the year.
2. Little orange sungold cherry tomatoes. After picking them up at the market over the weekend, I washed them and put them in a bowl on my kitchen table. I've been popping them in my mouth like candy. So sweet and so good.
3. We've had some good rain over the past week. I love a rainy summer evening. Sitting on the front porch watching a storm roll through. Leaving the windows open at night and listening to the sound of the rain while drifting off to sleep....perfect.
My sweet new niece with her big sister
photos from Traditional Home
Another kitchen to love. Actually, the whole house is pretty awesome - go check it out. I'm still narrowing down my choices of sinks and stoves, waiting for my contractor to call me back. I like the ceiling and recessed lighting, the cabinets that don't even look like cabinets, that stove (I don't think I have enough space for a double-oven, as cool as that would be, though - still like the look), the wood island... It's all lovely.
image via southern living
Yes, another popsicle idea. Before the summer is out, try another flavor or two! I've been having fun trying out some different kinds this year. My newest favorite: pina colada.
I knew it would be a great flavor, but I wasn't exactly sure what to use. I searched through a bunch of different recipes. Some used pineapple juice and milk and flaked coconut. Some used coconut milk. Others used yogurt. Real pineapple. Lime juice. And various combinations of these. Here's what I did:
Fresh pineapple - they were on sale, and the fresh ripe fruit is super sweet. About 2-2/12 cups, chopped.
(*Can use frozen pineapple to make this even easier.)
Organic coconut milk - 1 can
1/2 Banana - I had read a couple reviews that suggested that there was a lack of flavor. I just thought this would add a little something, just in case. It was a nice addition. Probably not necessary, because i think pineapple-coconut has plenty of flavor, but it was still nice.
Honey - just a little squeeze. As always, just taste your concoction and sweeten accordingly.
Blend it all up. Pour into molds. Wait overnight. Enjoy!
My kids are currently the ones who enjoy the popsicles in our house. That said, I really think these popsicles would make a great dessert for a summer dinner party. Just add a shot or two of rum.
Do you eat popsicles at your house? What's your favorite flavor?
photo via Martha Stewart
Another weekend come and gone. They always seem to fly by! This weekend was a muggy one, although I shouldn't complain, knowing how hot it is south of here. On Saturday, we spent the morning at a marketplace festival. Hay ride, face painting, bouncy house, fresh fruit, picnic lunch (I enjoyed some really good stuffed clams), ice cream... A really lovely way to spend a warm summer day.
Sunday brought us visitors, which was perfect since it was raining! We went out to brunch, and then hung out at home. I loved listening to my big boy play board games with his grandma and great-aunt while I prepared a chowder for dinner. (Potato, corn, and leek, with some summer squash added in for good measure - all fresh, local produce. So good.) I love that they played him honestly and didn't let him win, and I also love that he didn't get upset when he didn't win a single game! He had a lot of fun playing, though. The sun did make an appearance in the afternoon, which allowed us to get out and take a walk, ride bikes, swing, and slide.
Goals for this week:
1. Start packing
2. Print out all our paperwork (itinerary, reservation info) and call to confirm details
3. Learn a few new Italian phrases ("Io non parlo italiano", "gelato alla fragola per favore", "più vino per favore"...)
4. Put a few kid's shows/apps on the iPhone. Just in case. Oh, and find our headphones.
5. Keep taking my Vitamin B
Can you tell what's coming? 8 more days!
My big boy and his best friend, trying to coax a centipede into moving for them
One of the discoveries I made during the Newport Folk Festival was The David Wax Museum. I had heard of them before, but I hadn't spent time with their music. David Wax and Suz Slezak formed the band in Boston. The music is eclectic, with a blend of Mexican roots and country folk music. I was especially drawn to them when I watched their concert, because they absolutely emanate joy when they are performing. They are a band that I'm sure is best appreciated live, so check out the links below to some live performances. That said, I'm really enjoying their latest CD, entitled Everything is Saved.
Listen to their concert at the Newport Folk Festival.
Photo by Erik Jacobs, Anthem Multimedia
I continue to make some tasty meals, and whenever I make something we enjoy, I like sharing them here. Often, when I'm looking for inspiration, I'll come back to the blog and look at what I was eating a year ago. Of course, I like mixing in some new items as well. Here are a few...
Cucumber Feta Toasts - So easy and really good. Serve as an appetizer, or pair with a pasta salad and fresh tomatoes like we did and call it lunch. Perfect.
Cantaloupe and Bocconcini Salad - I thought this would be an extremely kid-friendly choice. Fruit, cheese, ham, all in little bite-sized balls? Well, my kids weren't really up for it. However, K and I really enjoyed this. Another very easy no-cook summer lunch. Served with a baguette.
Chicken Kebabs and Nectarine Salsa - Another kebab recipe? Yes, I'm a sucker for kebabs, peaches/nectarines are in season, and I love incorporating fruit in a main dish. My boys didn't gobble this one up like I thought they would either (apparently my little boy doesn't like peaches?), but we enjoyed it. The only downside: It involves a lot of chopping. But if you're enjoying a weekend afternoon with a glass of wine or sangria in hand, chopping is no problem.
Chicken Koftas with Cucumber Yogurt - LOVE this one. Very simple, but it's different from our standard fare and has great flavor. Highly recommend.
This week's Three Beautiful Things:
1. Last night I had my post-bedtime quiet time on the porch. I sat and watched the sky turn pink. Those ten minutes to sit and be still are wonderful. Even better when I can sit outside in a perfect temperature and watch a beautiful sunset.
2. I love sleeping with the windows open. The temperature is perfect at night, and I wake up to the smell of fresh air.
3. I'm sorry, but it must be said: My little guy using the toilet and being really excited about his underwear. I anticipate it may take a while, but I am one step closer to becoming diaper-free, and I can. not. wait.
photo credit: Pure Style Online
More kitchen love. Love the simple white subway tiles and this cute little double stove. I wonder if it'd be too small to roast a chicken in, though. No, I'm not any closer to picking out a stove.
Our latest update is that I'm waiting to schedule a meeting with our contractors to discuss possible layouts. Come on, people! Don't they realize how long I've been waiting for this! I really want to talk to them before vacation. Let's at least get the conversation started, get an idea of cost (yikes - bracing myself), and get some momentum behind it. More to come.
My boys hanging out by the waterfall
It was another pretty quiet weekend. The boys were both recovering and were therefore pretty lethargic. We did a lot of snuggling. Sitting on the front porch. Hanging out. Eating popsicles. Throwing sticks into the river. All in all, not bad things to do on a hot July weekend. A few other highlights:
*We did manage to run a few errands on Saturday, including the usual stop at the farmer's market. I'll post a couple of the recipes we tried, because they were yum.
*I wasn't kidding about the Newport Folk Festival. Saturday afternoon, my big boy and I sat on the front porch, watching the concerts on my iPhone. (Now starting to understand what fun an iPad could be.) Our favorite was Gillian Welch, although he also loved watching The Decemberists play one of his favorite songs while eating dinner. (Emily, if you can't make it to the Gillian Welch concert, you can watch one here. Set it up on your iPad or TV and watch it in the comfort of your air conditioning! You should check her out - she's amazing.) I discovered a few new bands over the weekend as well. Very fun.
*I got my big boy his first real camera. I thought it would be fun for him to have on our upcoming trip to Italy. He spent Sunday practicing, and so far I'd say he's pretty good! He is very excited about it.
*By Sunday afternoon, the boys had some of their energy back, so we went to a cookout at a friend's house. In addition to a swingset/playscape, they also had a large bouncy house. The boys had a fun time playing while I had a fun time talking with friends and enjoying a nice sunny evening.
A few goals for the week:
1. Clean out the freezer. It was left open one night this weekend, and lots of things melted. I have to go through it all and figure out what went bad. Doesn't this sound like a fun task?
2. Buy a new suitcase and other items we need for the big trip - it's almost here!
3. After having to spend time at home with a sick boy last week, I have some catching up to do at work.
4. Sit and be still.
5. Since all the ice cream in my freezer was ruined anyway, maybe it's a good week to abstain from the creamy goodness.