Rosemary Lemonade

One of my favorite summer drinks was this rosemary lemonade. Since we don’t have Country Time (and maybe that’s a good thing), I decided to give it a whirl and make this fancier, adult version. Surprisingly easy. I made it for friends that visited and they were all impressed, so I knew I had a winner.

1. Create simple syrup. Combine 1 cup sugar with a 1 cup of water. Heat over a medium low flame until sugar is completely dissolved.

2. Add sprigs of fresh rosemary and chill overnight.

3. Strain the liquid to remove the rosemary. Pour into glasses, filling about 1/3 of the glass. Fill another third with vodka (or water) and the final third with tonic. Add fresh rosemary and lemon slices as garnish. Enjoy!

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Chicken Noodle Soup

I’ve been really sick since Thursday. No idea why and just trying to rest so I don’t aggravate my throat more than it already is. Haven’t lost my appetite though. And (Thank heavens), haven’t lost my sense of taste. In my opinion, that is one of the very worse effects of a bad cold. Enough about that. This afternoon, Jaro made (I know, Jaro again! He’s been a busy chef this week.) Vietnamese chicken soup that I made way back here. But since he knows I don’t mind mixing flavors, (especially when garbage day is tomorrow and we want to use up everything we can), we also had prosciutto, arugula and, wait for it, raspberry jam on a baguette. I had seen something similar with fig jam on Pinterest recently, so figured this was a close enough substitute. You might think it’s crazy, but don’t knock it til you try it! So delicious. And that’s not my messed up, cold-ridden taste buds talking- Jaro gave it a thumbs up too.

So yeah, Jaro has basically been Iron Chef these days. I love that man.

And I’m getting used to the sound of him sharpening our knives every night…

xxx

Chorizo & Egg

Chorizo & egg is a traditional breakfast dish in many Mexican homes. My grandma would make it for us all the time when we were growing up. It was always one of my favorite meals. Still is. Jaro and I continue to share this spicy breakfast with our families and many, many friends. (Just ask anyone who spent the night with us back in Chicago). We make it “taco style” since I love my corn tortillas. We used to have them all. the. time. when we lived in Chicago because the chorizo and tortillas were always fresh. As you might expect, corn tortillas are hard to come by in Amsterdam. Maybe because we’re 4000 miles away? Luckily for me, Jaro has been rather ambitious in the kitchen lately… He made (!) homemade chorizo and homemade white corn tortillas. Check it out, they tasted amazing!

Chorizo recipe here and corn tortilla recipe here. Mix the chorizo with egg, throw some tomato and avocado on top, and give it a squirt of Cholula sauce. Just don’t get it in your eye. Trust me.

xxx

Blog + iPad Update

Hi friends! Real quick, fun tip for ya’ll with iPads that follow me. All one or two of you. You can add us to your homescreen! It’s real easy. If you are looking at the site in Safari, there is a menu item at the top “Add to homescreen”. It turns our blog into it’s own app! And it looks like this…

 

Isn’t it cool?? I think it’s cool.

xxx

Tacos with homemade (blue!) tortillas

The other night, we needed something super simple to make for dinner and when that’s the case I always turn to my roots. My Mexican roots. Taco night it is. I had bought (bleh) flour tortillas just in case, but Jaro had the crazy notion recently to MAKE corn tortillas at home. He found a recipe that made it seem so easy. Yeah right. Anyway, we found the corn flour and he spun his magic. I think they turned out all right…

 

A little thick, a little rough and a little… blue. But they were good. We’ll He’ll be trying it again. Corn tortilla recipe here.

xxx

Homemade Trofie with Pesto

As promised, I’m going to get back into sharing some of the divine foodstuffs we create. And I have to tell you guys, we reached a new level in our kitchen today:

We were so inspired from the countless plates of trofie with pesto that we had in Cinque Terre, that we… that’s right, we made our own pasta. From scratch. For the first time. Ever. According to the recipe website, the only place you can get trofie is the Liguria region unless you make it yourself. So – We went from this:

To this:

Yeah, yeah. We decided to pull out the nice china and even had some champagne to celebrate this occasion. And why not? It looks good right?

Clearly, we are no food photographers (might be a worthy class to look into?), so I’m sorry if this doesn’t appear as mouth-watering as it was. Trust me, it was delicious. We even made the pesto from scratch and (unnecessarily) added shrimp to get some, you know, protein or whatever shrimp provide. Super straight forward but exhausting recipe here.

More soon. Much more.

xxx

Summer vacation: Italy’s Campania Region

After 2 whirlwind days in Rome and 5 ultra relaxing days in Cinque Terre, we headed down the coast to Sorrento, where we stayed for a full week! Isn’t it lovely?

But first, let’s talk about the ride down real quick, shall we? Those of you that follow me (I love you), know that I had some train ticket issues in Eastern Europe. Specifically, I bought them in advance when I shouldn’t have. Well guess what? My own advice about not doing that again bit me in the ass. We waited until we were in La Spezia (the major-ish station outside the Cinque Terre) on a Wednesday and requested overnight tickets to Naples for the following Sunday. Lo and behold – it was sold out. Crapola. We ended up having to stay an extra night in Vernazza (happy face) and took a day train (frown face) from La Spezia to Naples via a transfer in Rome. The plus side is that we got to take in the gorgeous Italian countryside. It was pretty. The down side is that we arrived in Sorrento much later than planned.

But, we made it. Stayed in a shack of an apartment, but that’ll make for good stories when we’re older. From Sorrento, we were able to easily visit Capri, Positano and Amalfi. Here is a brief run down of things we did:

Hung out on the beach piers in Sorrento (36 Euro for the day – steep!):

…Bought some handmade (on the spot!) sandals in Sorrento:

…Roamed around the island of Capri and took in the gorgeous views:

(Even jumped off some rocks. This was an achievement for me)

…And, of course, we checked out the Blue Grotto:

Traveler Tip: The Blue Grotto is cool, worth seeing if you are on Capri even for a day. It is a hilarious spectacle… You have to lay down in the row boat and the guide lays on top of you and yanks you in through the small opening with a chain! I suggest going very first thing in the morning to avoid the cruise ship crowds that arrive around 10. Also, bring cash. We forgot (!) and had to buy a tacky souvenir w/ an overcharge from the nearby stand and I don’t know if the seller will be that friendly again.

…We also repeatedly took the scary, yet beautiful bus ride to the Amalfi Coast:

…Visited Amalfi (only for half a day):

…And Positano (my favorite, went here twice):

Throughout the week, we drank about a million of these:

granita di limone

Overall, we had a really great time in this region too. For our last night, we splurged and stayed in a fancy seaside hotel and enjoyed the rooftop pool (& bar) all day. That was a great way to end the week and prepare for a long day of travel ahead. Some things we learned from our time there:

– Sorrento is very much a cosmopolitan city. It felt urban (and touristic) and only had a speck of sand; the waterfront is mostly piers. Positano is a beautiful village built vertically into a cliff with a nice beach. Don’t go there if you don’t like to walk. Much of it is sharp inclines or stairs. Amalfi didn’t have anything that these other two didn’t, so don’t bother if you are short on time.

– Logistically, getting to Sorrento from Naples is very easy, there is a metro that runs straight there. Getting to the Amalfi Coast is a little more tricky. You can either take a relaxing (expensive) ferry ride or a equally scenic (but nauseating) bus ride. I tend to get car sick (yes, I’m a child), so these long, crowded, hot, wobbly bus rides were torturous. Jaro didn’t mind them at all though.

– We had a similar food experience as we did in Rome: a lot of tourist menus slash likely non-homemade food. We still enjoyed it, lots of pasta and seafood, so really how much can I complain. Our favorite spot, Inn Bufalito in Sorrento, was so DELISH that we ate there twice. Definitely seemed homemade to me and if it wasn’t, good trick. Nothing else was quite memorable, anything with an outdoor patio was good enough for us.

We came home relaxed, tan and most weirdly, ready. We were ready to come home. It was a great feeling.

That’s all, folks. Hope you enjoyed reading about our summer vacation.

xxx

Summer vacation: Italy’s Cinque Terre

I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of this area until we moved to Europe. One has to ask HOW. I mean just look at it:

That’s Vernazza, the little village where we stayed for 5 nights. There are 5 little seaside, somewhat-remote towns (try a Google Maps search – nothing!) along the Ligurian Sea that make up this area of the Italian Riviera: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso.

We spent our days swimming in the warm sea:

…Hiking between towns on the scenic coastline trail:

Scenery along the trail outside of Vernazza

More bougainvillea in Corniglia

I’m sorry, but doesn’t this next one remind you of the NaPali Coast in Kauai?

Cinque Terre, Italy. Summer 2012.

For comparison (how awesomely similar are these photos?!):

NaPali Coast, Kauai. Spring 2008. (Our first vacation together!)

…Eating fresh seafood and my favorite dish – trofie with pesto (this is the region where pesto originated – heaven!). Our favorite afternoon snack was a tasty indulgence of Italian beers and fried fish cones from the little shops on Vernazza’s main drag:

Can’t even tell you how many of those we had. Filled with calamari, anchovies (local delicacy), shrimp, cod and some veggies, those things were a real delight.

…Laying on rocks and soaking up the sun:

…Enjoying some lovely sunsets:

Sunset & dinner in Manarola

SIGH. I think it’s pretty obvious that we were in love with this place. It was enchanting. Some tips for visiting that we learned:

– Coming from Rome, the food scene here was much different. While not the most beautiful presentation and slightly over-priced, it was some of the best seafood and pasta that I’ve had in a long time. The pasta, especially my trofie mentioned above, was unmistakably homemade with a lumpy, doughy texture. It was the best. And the house wine – don’t scoff, get it! The local vines are great. Here are some of the amazing places we ate at and we recommend all of them:

Ristorante Marina Piccola, Manarola

Belforte, Vernazza

Gambero Rosso, Vernazza

– Logistically, be prepared for how much effort is required to enjoy this wonderland. It’s difficult to get there, takes over 4 hours from Rome, and multiple train connections.  I wouldn’t travel in from there again, I’d fly in closer like to Pisa or Genova. And once you’re there, it’s not quite glamorous or accommodating as you would think…

– There are a ZILLION day trippers. People hop from one town to the next on huge ferries and knock ’em all out in a day. They don’t have time to lay out or swim, but they are packing the streets, creating long lines at the gelato stand. Don’t worry, those ferries stop running around 6 and you get to enjoy less crowds in the evenings.

– For sunbathing, you have to climb out on rocks and throw towels down. Everyone else is doing it, so shut up and figure it out. Unless you stay in Monterosso, where they have a beach (lame:).

– For swimming, it’s either very rocky (cut my feet several times, yuck) or wayyyy over your head. I didn’t mind the latter since the water was some of the clearest I’ve ever seen.

– To stay, I’d recommend Vernazza, Corniglia, or Manarola. Monterosso was very resort-y (not what we were going for) and Riomaggiore was not very vacation-y at all (more locals, not many restaurants, not a great swimming area).

– For being connected to the outside world, forget it. We didn’t bother to hunt down cafes with wi-fi; it was nice to disconnect.

Seriously folks, it was such a relaxing vacation. Words really can’t do it justice. And this was only our first week. More on week two in Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast coming soon.

xxx

Roman “Holiday”

I have to divide this post up into multiple parts for a very specific reason. You see, all year all our trips were trips. Not vacations. What’s the difference? Well let me tell you. A trip, in my mind, is a visit to a place where the focus is to explore, learn, and most definitively, get as much out of a place as we can. A vacation, on the other hand, is a visit to a place to relax. That’s it. No other purpose. If sight-seeing happens anyway, so be it, but that is not the intention.

Therefore, the two very fast and full days we spent in Rome were a trip (literally and figuratively, hah). We RAN through the city, saw everything that we possibly could, and were spent. A quick breakdown:

Day 1: Arrived, found apartment, and booked it to the Colosseum, Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps. All on our feet. In stifling 35 degree weather. While all of this was fascinating and really cool neat, in the oppressive heat it became a check-the-box day of attractions. I was constantly drinking water (thank God for those free fountains all over the city), yet still thirsty. I think living in mild Amsterdam has made me a wimp in hot, hot heat. While very glad to have seen such incredible places full of rich history, at the time I could barely stand and just wanted A/C. Which, conveniently doesn’t exist in Rome as our apartment had no A/C and neither did any of the restaurants we ate at. Hmm… At least it cooled off slightly when the sun went down. After an unmemorable dinner near the Spanish Steps, we even got to enjoy a free opera singing performance there! So nice. But then we got lost trying to get home. Then I broke my sandal. And then we hailed a taxi.

Day 2: Took a public bus to Vatican City. Holy crap. Pun intended. (!) What a magnificent place. Regardless of your religious orientation, it’s an amazing place to see. We toured the 11 (!!) museums, craned our necks in the Sistine Chapel and saw the light (as you’ll see below) in St. Peter’s Basilica. We even climbed the huge dome to take in the lovely views of Rome. (As you can imagine, that nearly killed me.) We spent the entire day there. Although we bought time slot tickets in advance, it didn’t seem necessary, shockingly. Unless I blacked out as we passed a huge line to get into the museum (which very well could have happened), we strolled right up to the counter to enter. And despite a huge line to get in St. Pete’s later that afternoon, metal detector inspection and all, it moved really fast. It was surprisingly painless given the massive crowds of tourists and it being hotter than hell. Oops, pun NOT intended! Anywho, it was an incredible day.

Some first impressions about Rome (keep in mind, I was deranged from the heat and this might not be how it actually is at all):

1. The food was “okay.” I know, this is shocking. I mean, it’s Italy! One of my favorite cuisines! Rick Steve’s suggestions seemed to have sold out and become too generic, so we skipped those. And maybe we just wandered into places that were too touristic, too generic, too… microwaved, but there was something about it which didn’t seem very authentic. I wanted that grandma-in-the-kitchen, homemade taste and I didn’t get it. Maybe it’s because Tuscan food (the only other area of Italy I had traveled to til this point) is that much better? I didn’t know. More on this in upcoming posts about the rest of our Italian getaway.

2. People were friendly, but in that I’m-being-nice-to-you-because-I-have-to-since-you-are-a-tourist way. I had a similar feeling in Prague. There is no real intimacy or feeling of an authentic experience. Everyone is a freaking tourist. Everyone speaks English. I’d rather suffer through my terrible Italian than resort to English! In conclusion, I think these places deserve a little more time so you can escape the tourist funnel, get away from the center, and find legit non-touristy areas for that local experience I crave. We just didn’t have the time.

3. Scenery was gorgeous. Italy is very quickly becoming my favorite holiday destination. I love the twisty streets. The paint-chipped facades. And the cool thing about Rome is that you can be walking on a normal street and – bam – there is the Pantheon. Very beautiful mix of old and new.

4. I want to go back. Just not in August.

More on the actual vacation part of this trip coming soon.

xxx

Kitty War: It finally happened

This morning.

At around 5:00.

We have joked with all our of visitors about putting screens in the windows here. (Something I guess I have failed to mention on this blog until now.) Why? Well, it’s not for flies, honey. In fact, no one in Amsterdam (all of Europe?) cares about pesky flies anywhere – not your house, the cafe down the street, the upscale restaurant, and certainly not the market.

Well, we have screens. For a very particular reason, which we were warned about upon moving in. We just don’t use them. And last night (like most summer nights here) was pleasant and mild, so our windows were open, letting in a cool breeze…

A loud THUMP woke me up. Startled, I shot my eyes open and what do I see? A cat jumped into our bedroom! We have stairs just outside the bedroom windows that lead to our roof, so the little mangy thing invited itself in!

Cue panicked yelling, Jaro waking up in a frenzy, the cat howling at the top of its lungs and both of us frantically trying to catch it and throw it out the window to its death and back on the stairs. Eventually (after probably 30 agonizing seconds), it was cornered and released.

Going forward, we will be using our screens.