Chicks in the City

If you’ve not read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” I highly recommend that you  pick up a copy right away. As the Boston Sunday Globe puts it, “This book will change your life… Perhaps never before has [food] been written about so passionately.” While it’s not always easy to eat and grow food the way that Kingsolver and her family do, this book has certainly changed the way that I purchase and consume my food. Kingsolver has left me excited for the summer, and with a new appreciation for farm life. I look forward to planting my herbs  and to growing a few other vegetables on our small back porch. One of these days I hope to expand my garden beyond a few pots and to  participate in a few other farming activities of my own.

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There was a community garden in Boston that Jacob and I would sometimes pass on our way to one of our favorite markets. I always loved seeing that vast space of green in the middle of a sea of grey. It served as a reminder that farming is no longer confined to multi-acre lots; today even city-dwellers have some of the same opportunities that farmers do. As more and more municipalities relax their rules, the number of people who practice backyard farming steadily continues to grow. While larger cities such as Boston, Chicago, or New York, have limitations on what kind of farming can take place, other urban spaces like Austin and Denver, allow a bit more, such as chicken farming and/or beekeeping.

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Photo By: Kara Isham

While I love the idea of producing my own honey, the thought of beekeeping terrifies me, but for years now, I’ve pictured myself one day owning a few backyard, feathered friends. No one knew this about me, really, besides maybe my hubs, so imagine how surprised (and excited) I was to receive an email asking if I would be interested in writing an article about urban chicken farming in my area. I said yes, of course, eager to learn more about this farming trend. I have always thought I would eventually raise a few hens of my own, so here was my chance to figure out if I really have what it takes.

While it might seem like a large undertaking, I learned that it is less work than one might think. It only takes about 15 minutes a day to attend to a chicken’s needs, and about one hour once a month to see to greater demands. I loved getting to meet all of the different families and their feathered friends. Each family had a funny story to tell about their chickens, and most had beautiful coops that they were eager to show off. Like myself, the people I interviewed decided to raise chickens so that they could know where their food was coming fun. Plus, most just thought that they were fun animals to have around.

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“I like watching them run across the yard,” said one woman I interviewed. “They look like little, old ladies running with their skirts hiked above their knees.”

I’m not so sure that I will be able to look at chickens, or little old ladies for that matter, the same ever again.

Hard work is an inevitable part of raising any type animal, but even after seeing the ugly side of chicken farming, I think that I am still interested in raising a few hens of my own. I like the idea of  having fresh eggs, and can’t help but chuckle at the thought of seeing little old ladies with hiked skirts running around my yard!

To read more about chicken farming in NWA, please see this month’s issue of CitiScapes Magazine!

A Weekend in Austin Texas

I hate how little I have been able to blog lately. Between freelance jobs, a big project at work, awaiting the birth of my nephew, and deciding where the hubs and I will call home next, I’ve had little time for such things. But finally, now that my deadlines have passed, now that my project is complete, now that my sweet new nephew has said hello to the world, now that our choices are narrowing down, now,  finally, I have a moment to sit and write.

Anyone who knows me know that I am not good at waiting. I am a planner and I like to know what comes next. Though my life often feels chaotic and unorganized, I am the kind of person who creates lists for her lists, if that even makes sense. It’s what my husband says about me, and in my chaotic but yet perfectly organized mind, it makes sense.

As someone who loves to know just what comes next, this whole PhD waiting game has been quite the ride. Thus far, 11 applications have gone out, word has been received from eight, and the final three acceptances and/or denials could arrive at any time. Jacob and I both check the mailbox about five times a day, while I’m sure he checks his email about 100 times more.

While this whole process certainly makes me anxious,  I am thrilled to be on this ride. I’ve accepted that not knowing what comes next is exciting–it’s a new adventure waiting to be had. Loosening my grip on planning has been nice for a change. It’s nice in a way not knowing what comes next.

A few weeks ago I was able to travel with Jacob to Austin, TX for a prospective student’s weekend. We left late on a Friday afternoon, driving five and a half hours before stopping for a night in Dallas to see our brother BK. We ate In-N-Out burger and enjoyed a few beers from Harpoon–a delicacy I’ve greatly missed since our time in Boston. We enjoyed a comfortable night in, resting after a chaotic and busy week at home.

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Being the nut that I am, I made Jacob wake up at an ungodly hour (for a Saturday morning anyway) so that we could be in Austin in time to visit a local farmer’s market. If Austin ends up becoming our new home, I need to know that I’m able to trust their local food offerings. Of course, with Austin being recognized as one of the top food cities in the country, I knew that this wasn’t really anything I had to worry about. Though, seeing as how it’d been months since I’d been able to visit a proper farmer’s market, I figured I would jump at the opportunity while it presented itself. We strolled through the booths being tempted by local juices and gorgeous produce, learning a bit more about Austin’s local food movement and picking up a few handy resources along the way.

We continued our day at Easy Tiger on Sixth Street where we enjoyed a local brew, a pretzel the size of my head, and the house made cheese spread and a tangy mustard sauce. The air was warm and muggy, but it was nice to enjoy some heat on a February winter day. We proceeded with a walk down Sixth and some browsing on Congress. We zigzagged through neighborhoods peaking in to strangers’ yards. We loved the quirkiness of the homes, and the enormous succulents growing on the curbs.

After stopping at the hotel for a late afternoon nap, we ventured out for round two to get a taste of Austin after dark. We kicked things off on Rainey Street with friends and a drink at Bangers. We munched on fries with curry ketchup and sipped a Revolver blood and honey wheat. We listened to the strums of a banjo and to the hum of the harmonica. Families played cornhole with their kids, while pet owners snuck their dogs tasty treats. The atmosphere of Rainey was friendly and lively. I could see us there on a Friday after school or work;  meeting friends for dinner, or taking our dog along on a date. 

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Our night ended with a quick walk down Sixth Street to check out the local zoo, and a maple bacon donut from Gordough’s– the most sinfully delicious way to end our day.

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Sunday greeted us with cold temperatures and lots of rain. We browsed the aisles of Whole Foods while waiting for a table for brunch at a restaurant across the street. This particular Whole Foods is like the Walmart of the health food world. It was massive and overwhelming, and nothing like any Whole Foods I’d ever visited before. I could have spent hours wandering this health food heaven, but alas, our table was ready and I was forced to leave after a short 20 minute trip. I left with some Harpoon and a local Kombucha, anxious to visit this store once again.

Our farm to table brunch was a perfect treat on that rainy day. We filled our bellies with good drink and grub before venturing on to the rest of our day. We made a quick stop by Graffiti Park before spending our afternoon  browsing the eclectic shops of South Congress Avenue. We perused through antique goods and vintage finds and tried funky ice cream flavors from a shop nearby. We  took a drive through Zilker Park and pictured what our lives might look like if we decide to call Austin home.

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Sunday night rolled around and our prospective student festivities began. We enjoyed a delicious meal of Indian curry and got to know a few other prospective students of UT. We mingled with current students and teachers, and slowly took it all in. I learned all about people’s research, and chatted about what life in Austin is really like. The night ended slightly less awkwardly than it began, leaving knowing at least a handful of people’s names.

Monday was full of tours, meetings, and lectures. It was a day devoted to learning about UT and about the program that Jacob would be in. He was able to meet some of his potential professors, and to ask the questions that we have both been itching to know. I ventured off on my own during the afternoon, wandering about campus and around town, truly trying to picture myself calling this place home. I made my way back to Whole Foods, and even made my way to Trader Joe’s.  I left with five bottles of Charles Shaw and a new succulent, and headed back to find my hubs.

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Monday night ended with one last reception and chitchat with more professors. We concluded our evening with drinks at a local campus hangout and said farewell to our newly made friends. We walked back to our hotel hand in hand on that chilly, rainy night, scrutinizing the way that we both felt about UT and about Austin as a whole.

The hubs is scheduled to fly to Boulder, CO in a couple weeks to check out another serious contender. Boulder has been our number one choice from the beginning as to where we would love to live, but there are so many things to consider during this decision making process. It’s not necessarily always easy, but it’s our fun little adventure. We are both confident that with thoughtful consideration and prayer, we will end up where we are intended to be.

Deadlines are quickly approaching, so this impatient waiter will soon have to wait no more! This segment of our journey is quickly ending, while our new adventure will soon begin.

Until next time, friends!

2013: A Year in Review

 I am fully aware that it is February and that I am a full month behind on this post. I was hesitant to post anything at all at this point, but 2013 was too good  to not look back on. Better late than never, right?

Here’s a summary of our 2013 in handful of words and a plethora of pictures:

We experienced a blizzard and dealt with the Boston Marathon bombing aftermath.  We celebrated milestones, accomplishments, a graduation and a wedding. We traveled from Boston to the Cape, to Maine, Vermont, and everywhere in between.  We said farewell to our first home, a favorite city, and so many people that we love. 

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We spent a month in Europe with only a backpack on our back. We saw Big Ben in London and the Louvre in France. We drank beer at the Hofbrahaus in Germany, and wine on the Rhine. We hiked miles and miles in Chacos and marveled over the majestic Swiss Alps. We splashed in the refreshing waters of the Mediterranean and rode vaporettos through the Venetian canals. We ate truffles with Fabricio in Umbria and drank wine in the warm Tuscan hills. We explored Roman ruins and played hours of Go Fish in an empty Italian square. I cried when we boarded our flight home and have spent every day thinking about our trip since.

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IMG_6501 IMG_6583IMG_7411photo-3I’m a month overdo, but here’s to wishing you all a happy and blessed 2014! May your year bring you lots of peace, joy, and happiness!

Until next time!

Caramelized Onion & Apple Grilled Cheese with an Apricot Sriracha Spread

My idea of a grilled cheese sandwich used to be limited to a slice of american cheese melted between two pieces of white bread. I would occasionally fancy things up a bit by adding a slice of ham or maybe a fried egg, but that’s about as far as I would ever go. Then, in college, a  restaurant devoted just to grilled cheese sandwiches opened up, opening my eyes to a whole new world of things  that I could sandwich between two slices of bread.

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In Boston, there was a little grilled cheese truck that would park just down the road from our apartment. I tried a sweet potato, cheddar, rosemary-maple grilled cheese from there once, and decided that I was a fan of the gourmet grilled cheese trend. Since then, I’ve been busy  coming up with unique combinations of my own. I’ve made them with goat cheese and blueberry pesto, beets and arugula, apples and beer. I’ve used wheat bread, sourdough bread, oatnut bread, and the like. I’ve used a handful of different cheeses and have created my own special sauce. The opportunities are endless when making a good grilled cheese. As long as I’ve got cheese and bread on hand, it’s one of my go to meals when there’s nothing else around.

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I  decided today that taking pictures of a grilled cheese sandwich isn’t nearly as fun as eating one. Let’s face it, a grilled cheese really isn’t all that pretty to look at, but who doesn’t love the messy, gooey goodness of a warm grilled cheese? This recipe was inspired by the lack of items in my fridge, and my lack of time to make it to the store. It’s rich and sweet with a small kick of spice, making it one of my favorite sandwich recipes yet.

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Caramelized Onion and Apple Grilled Cheese with an Apricot Sriracha Spread

Recipe yields two sandwiches 

1/2 cup sliced yellow onion

butter

1 small granny smith apple, cored and thinly sliced into wedges

4 slices of sharp cheddar cheese

4 slices of bread – I used oatnut as it was what I had on hand, but I think that a sourdough would work nicely

3 tbsp apricot jelly

1 tsp sriracha

In a large skillet, melt a pat of butter over medium-low heat. Add your onions and cook until softened and lightly browned. 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your sauce by whisking together apricot jam and sriracha in a small bowl.

Once your onions are lightly browned, add your apple slices and another pat of butter. Cook for 1-2 minutes. You’ll want your apples to soften a bit, but you don’t want them overly soft. I like them with a  bit of crunch to add some texture to the sandwich.  Once your apples have softened, remove onion/apple mixture from skillet and set aside. 

Generously butter one side of a slice of bread.  Place bread butter-side-down onto skillet bottom and add 1 slice of cheese, followed by half of your onion/apple mixture. Add sauce to a second slice of bread and place sauce-side-down on top of sandwich. Grill until lightly browned and flip over, adding a pat of butter to the skillet before flipping. Continue grilling until cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining two slices of bread, cheese, sauce, and onion/apple mixture.

Bourbon-Sea Salt Caramels

I first spotted this recipe about a month ago when my December issue of Bon Appetite came in the mail. As a sucker for anything cooked with bourbon, I immediately dog-eared the page and made plans to return to the recipe as soon as possible. I had never made homemade caramels before, but knew I had found a great place to start.

When I got an invitation for my dear friend’s third annual “Thirsty Santa” Christmas party, I knew right away what I would bring: Shauna Niequist’s goat cheese and bacon dates and these bourbon-sea salt caramels. We spent the night munching on festive treats and stealing one another’s booze–all in good fun as part of our game. I returned home with a full belly,  an empty date tray, and only a small handful of candy.

I modified the original recipe a bit, adding a bit more salt and an extra splash of bourbon. I often enjoy a salty contrast in sweet treats, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love an extra slosh of bourbon?

A candy thermometer is essential as you want to be sure and reach that perfect “soft ball” stage, and when I say constantly whisk, I mean it. My arm was sore for a good two days. I think that maybe I’ve found my new favorite, holiday workout…

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Bourbon-Sea Salt Caramels

Adapted from Bon Appetite magazine 

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3 tbsp bourbon

1/2 tsp kosher salt

sea salt

Cover an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly coat paper with nonstick cooking spray.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook until mixture turns a deep amber color. About 8-10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in sweetened condensed milk and butter until smooth. Fit pan with candy thermometer and return to medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until thermometer registers 240 degrees. Remove from heat and whisk in bourbon and kosher salt. Pour into prepared pan and allow caramel to cool completely. Once cool, sprinkle caramel with sea salt and cut into small pieces. Wrap each piece individually in parchment paper.

Store in airtight container at room temperature. Recipe yields approximately 50 pieces.

Assisi, Italy :: Part 2

I find it a bit funny that I would write two posts about our time in Assisi. Though I was sure I would enjoy spending some time in this quiet town, it was also the first place on my list that I was ready to give the  boot. I kept it on the itinerary solely for my hubs.  It wasn’t the first place that I wanted to stop, but as he has a thing for St. Francis, it was just one of those places that we really had to see.

As mentioned in Assisi, Italy :: Part 1, our time in Assisi didn’t go quite as planned. We wound up in town half a day late, and our itinerary suffered from it. We felt frustrated and rushed when we finally made it to our inn, but the people we met along the way helped to make up for it. We first met Stephen and listened to his quirky stories. Then came inn owner, Lanfranco Carli, who knew about three words of English, but quickly had us in high spirits as we comically tried communicating.  Later that night we met Fabricio, slow food enthusiast, who prepared us one of our most memorable Italian meals and set our evening off on the right foot.

After our picnic we set out to explore the mystery that Assisi had to offer. We put away our maps and filled up our cups with wine. We were giddy with excitement and were glad to find some peace and quiet after our convoluted day.

We found ourselves on the steps of the basilica where we listened to the quiet strum of a guitar, and to the voices of children singing praise. First in Italian, then in English. “Sing a song that brings peace to the people. Sing a song that brings joy to everyone.” They sat in a circle and sang in perfect unison. They brought a tear my eye, and left me glued to my concrete seat. “I will be gentle with myself, I will be kind to myself, I am a child of the universe, being born each moment,” they steadily sang.

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It was the first holy sight in Europe that actually felt holy. There were no hoards of tourists taking pictures. No tour guides spouting off random facts. There was just a grande and quiet church, and a small group of weary travelers, delighting in the sound of these humble voices.

The night was growing late, and it was time for us to move on. We tore ourselves from the church steps and set out to see what other sort of magic that we could find. As we slowly walked down a nearby alley, we heard the voices conclude their presentation with an Italian rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” A favorite Southern classic…

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After getting a bit lost on the hillside, we found ourselves back in the town square where more random and spontaneous singing occurred. This time not by quiet and humble children, but instead by loud and happy adults. People held hands and sung in a large circle, struck by joy, and maybe by a bit too much wine. Once again, we sat and watched, this time smiling and laughing. The singing finally broke up, and we made our way home. Full with lots of joy and happiness, and eager for what the next day would bring.

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We woke early the next morning  to be greeted to a whole  new side of Assisi. The quiet and mysterious alleys that we met the night before were replaced by bright and cheery storefronts, and row upon row of St. Francis memorabilia. We took a brisk tour through the basilica, before making our way back to La Bottega dei Sapori for one last visit with Fabricio.

To our disappointment, our friend  was not there. Hungry, and needing food for our train ride, we decided to order a bite to eat anyway. This time I wound up with a sandwich of deer salami, a smelly pecorino, arugula, and tomato, while the hubs tried out the porchetta, or grilled pork. Both sandwiches were once again delectable, and well worth our last few euros.

As we were leaving, we ran into one more happy surprise, and had one last visit with  our friend Fabricio. He shook his head and kissed his fingers as he sang praises over our sandwich choices. “So good! So good! Mama mia! It’s so hot…”

With a kiss on each cheek, we hugged goodbye in the middle of the town square. Fabricio bid us farewell and made us promise to visit again.

Later that day I joked with the  hubs of how most women go to Italy and fall for the young tan boys with flowing locks of hair riding around on vespas. I,  on the other hand, fell for the sweet tubby guy with a deep love for truffles…

We boarded our train and sat in silence as we departed the station. Assisi took a strong toll on us, and left us anxious to return. We thought about the people we met and the memories we made as we watched mile after mile of sunflower fields, a giant sea of yellow. The beauty of these fields left me giddy and feeling anxious for our next Italian destination. Each stop was like a dream, and I couldn’t wait to discover what the next town would bring.

Until next time!

Liebster Award

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I’m not typically the type to answer random Q&A style posts on the internet. You know, like the ones that are constantly popping up all over Facebook these days? Although, when I read a comment from fellow blogger Maci from The Thoughtful Plate, informing me that I had been nominated for a Liebster blog award, I was glad to accept, even if it did mean spilling out random facts about myself for all to see… I do that each time I post anyway, right?

Everyone seems to be blogging these days. With the progression of websites such as Pinterest, and with the popularity of social media sights like Facebook and Twitter, it’s sometimes hard to find a voice in the midst of all that is being said. As a blogger, I think that it is important to show support to other small blogs. While most blogs that I stay in tune with have a large following and readership, some of my favorites are those that not many seem to know about.

After doing a bit of reading about the Liebster Award, I found that the rules vary, depending on who you ask. Some people answer 11 questions, others 10. Some say to nominate blogs with no more than 200 followers, and some say that the number of followers doesn’t really matter. In this case, I have decided to follow the rules of the person who has nominated me, answering 10 questions, asking 10 questions, and nominating five three blogs. Three may not seem like a lot, but to be honest, I a.) feel that a smaller number of nominees is a bit more meaningful, and b.) feel that more people will actually go and read these three blogs as opposed to just skimming a long list.

Maci asked…

  • Do you prefer the city or the country? Growing up in the South, I’ve always loved the countryside. Although, after moving to Boston, I learned how much I truly love the city. So I will answer like this… for now, during this season of life, I  prefer to live in the city… just as long as the country is close by.
  • Which countries have you traveled to? I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Mexico, Costa Rica, St. Lucia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Though the list is long, there’s still much more that I desire and plan to see.
  • What is one of your favorite holiday traditions? Going to Lowe’s just a couple of weeks before Christmas (because that’s when the trees go on sale) with my dad, sister, and family dog, and picking out the biggest Christmas tree that we can find. We all ride home together, in my uncle’s borrowed and beat up pickup truck, listening to Christmas carols, and huddling together to stay warm. My sister usually gets bored by the time that we make it home, and I am usually left alone to decorate the tree, sometimes with the help of my mom. I don’t mind so much though, and I am not quite sure that I would want it any other way. This is something that I’ve missed out on for the past two years while I lived in Boston, and I am glad to be able to participate again this year.
  • Have you ever met a famous person? I’ve chatted with Taylor Swift once or twice.
  • What is the first thing you do in the morning? As much as I hate to say it, I look at my phone. Checking email, looking at Facebook, etc…
  • How do you prefer to spend your free time?  It all depends on the day. Some days I like to cook, and others I like to curl up in bed with a movie or book. And if I have the money, my favorite free time activity is to travel.
  • How often do you read the news? I don’t often read a newspaper, but I typically read 2-3 digital articles every day. I also watch the news pretty regularly.
  • Do you play any instruments? Unfortunately, I don’t. I know a teeny, tiny bit on the guitar and piano, but that’s all. I do aspire to learn how to play the fiddle and master the harmonica, though.
  • How do you feel about crowds? If I can mentally prepare myself for a large crowd, I can handle them just fine. I typically prefer more intimate settings though.
  • Vanilla or chocolate? Usually almost always chocolate, although I do enjoy a good vanilla frozen custard every now and then.

Now for my nominations…

1.) My dear friend, Cate Jones at Cate Jones Photography, for her beautiful, beautiful photos.

2.) “Bowl #1″ at Two Red Bowls for her solid posts and yummy recipes.

3.) Mandy & M.C. at The Graduate Wife for helping me with my own journey and struggles as a graduate wife.

Here’s what I came up with for you ladies:

  1. Which kitchen gadget could you not live without?
  2. What is one of your favorite holiday traditions? 
  3. What’s your dream profession (all restrictions, limitations, etc. aside!)? 
  4. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? 
  5. Where is your dream place to live? 
  6. Do you speak another language? If so, which one? If not, is there one that you would like to learn? 
  7. What is your favorite condiment? 
  8. What is your greatest fear? 
  9. What is one of your favorite memories from your wedding day? 
  10. How do you prefer to spend your free time? 

I look forward to reading the responses from all of my nominees and hope that you all enjoyed reading my own. May we all continue to show our love and support to other bloggers. Who knows, you may just end up reading something that you really like.

Until next time!

Assisi, Italy :: Part 1

I finally made it through the entirety of my Italy pictures. All 1,800 of them. There were pictures that I immediately deleted, and then there were those that I sat and stared at for a good five minutes at a time. There were those that made me laugh, and then there were those that reminded me of such powerful memories that all I could do was cry.

Our time in Assisi Italy was much too short. We had planned to have a full day, one night, and another half a day before leaving the quiet land of St. Francis and  starting our pilgrimage towards Rome. Due to an out-of-date bus schedule, we wound up spending an extra eight hours in Siena. I can’t say that we hated this delay as Siena was one of my favorite stops in Italy, but it did throw things off a bit. We ended up having a relaxing afternoon in our favorite Tuscan town sipping espresso, eating a leisurely lunch of fresh buffalo mozzarella and a tasty house wine, and enjoying gelato in the Piazza del Campo.

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In a way, I am glad for this delay. It gave us a late start and forced us to see  Assisi the way that I am sure St. Francis knew it to be. Assisi in the day is kitschy. It’s full of tacky souvenirs and St. Francis bobble heads. But at night, Assisi is quiet. It’s mysterious and magical. It’s full of wonderful people on true pilgrimages to visit the church of the famed saint.

At night you’ll hear the sounds of the Benedictine monks singing their nightly vespers. You’ll get to watch the flaming colors of the sun as it sets over the Umbrian countryside. And you’ll meet quirky travelers and store owners, like Stephen, and our friend Fabrizio.

We met Stephen while sitting at the bus stop. We were hot, and hungry, and were feeling anxious to make it into town. Stephen, an Italian native, was visiting Assisi on a pilgrimage. He told us his story, and all about his travels. He talked about his time as a journalist, and about his last 40 years in China where he’d been working in an orphanage. He told us about his home in the Canary Islands, and about how he had predicated the death of John F. Kennedy 45 days before it had happened.

We ran into Stephen a handful of times during our short stay. He always appeared at random, and in ways, he felt like one of those people who just couldn’t be real. His stories were so intriguing that most of them seemed fake, but something about him tells me that every word that he said was true. He was an interesting character, and only added to the magic of Assisi.

Later that night we met another fun and wonderful individual. Hungry and late to our date with the sunset, we wandered into a recommended store to pick up some meat and cheese for our picnic. We thought that this would be a quick stop. We planned to grab something already prepared and to rush off to find a good spot to watch the sunset. Instead, we met Fabrizio, store owner,  and a slow-food-enthusiast.

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La Bottega dei Sapori is a mouthwatering little shop right in the middle of the town square. Stocked with local wines and speciality treats such as olive oil and truffle paste, I could have easily spent the remainder of our euros right in that tiny establishment. Fabrizio Pagliaccia might be one of the friendliest human beings that I’ve ever encountered. He was passionate about his products, most of which came straight from his family farm, and was eager for us to indulge in his samples.

“Not about the shopping, about the experience,” he would say in his broken English. “Fast food down here, slow food up here,” he’d motion with his hands. “Here, you know it’s good,” he’d exclaim with a huge smile across his face. There was something about this man that made us never want to leave. We stayed for a good half hour, chatting with him as he prepared one of our most memorable meals.

He made us his favorite sandwich, capicola, truffle spread, and picorino on freshly baked focaccia and opened us up a bottle of his favorite local wine. “Montefalco Rosso! The strong one! I open, you finish!” We said goodbye with a kiss on each cheek, and didn’t even care that we spent about double the money that we had intended to spend.

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We enjoyed our picnic on the steps of a small church. Breathing in the smell of incense, and listening to the chants of the nuns, we savored each bite of our delectable meal, and delighted in each sip of our sumptuous wine. We watched day turn to night and slowly finished our sandwiches. Little did we know, our magical night had only just begun. We filled our cups with the rest of our wine, and set out to explore the winding and hilly streets of Assisi.

Cooking in Venice

For someone who loves to cook, our month this summer in Europe was hard in ways.  As much as I enjoyed our floodlit piazza dinners and our rustic thrown together picnics, visiting the flavorful markets in Italy was sometimes hard on me. I’d scan the rows of colorful produce and breath in the scent of fresh herbs, longing for a kitchen to play in. While some of my favorite meals were those of fresh bread, unpasteurized cheese, and local olives and fruit, I often wondered what I could accomplish if only I had an oven, or even just one lonely burner.

We cooked once or twice at our hostel in Switzerland, but as the nearest grocery store was at the bottom of the mountain, our selection on what to cook  was limited. We made a funny meal one night of pasta, canned tomatoes, and some strong and stinky mountain cheese that we picked up from the cow next door. We ate it along with a bottle of wine at an elevation of 5000 feet. I’m not sure if it was the elevation, the wine, or the combination of both, but we ate every bite of that pasta, and found ourselves longing for more.

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Venice was our first stop in Italy, and even though I had every other place that we stayed in Europe booked before we left the states, for whatever reason I never found the time to book a place to stay in Venice. I think that we were hoping to couch surf, but unfortunately no one had the space.  Although just winging it is usually something that stresses me out, in this case, it worked out beautifully. My mom, being the saint that she is, got to work and found us a wonderful apartment right off of the Grand Canal. As it was on the opposite side of the mainland, we landed ourselves with a great price, and an even better view.

Here are a few things that really excited me about this apartment: For one, It had air conditioning!  This was something that we had yet to experience while in Europe, and Venice was HOT. Secondly, the bathroom was huge! Not only was the shower giant, but there was enough room for a washer. We could finally wash our clothes somewhere besides a sink! And last but definitely not least, it had a fully equipped  kitchen overlooking the water. We ate breakfast at our sweet little table each morning watching the boats pass by and mapping out our day. I couldn’t complain.

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Our first night in Venice we dined out. We wandered far away from the other tourists and got lost in Venice’s winding and colorful streets. We stumbled into a quite little hole in the wall restaurant where we were served by our bored and unenthusiastic waiter. The food was mediocre, but it was our first meal in Venice, so we didn’t really care. We were in Italy!

For our second night there I had big plans for dinner. We finally had a kitchen and I planned to take full advantage of it. My goal was to visit the local market and pick up some local ingredients, but because our morning got off to somewhat of a rough start, our day was put a bit behind schedule. By the time we finished at Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum, half of the day was gone and the market was over. Hot, tired, and cranky, we stopped in at a local grocer and picked up a few simple but tasty items for dinner. We packed our bags with a of bottle of Peach Bellini and a local red wine, and hopped a vaporetto for a scenic ride back to our little home.

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For dinner I prepared veal ravioli with sauteed mushrooms and a local tomato sauce. I chopped fresh green basil and buffalo mozzarella to mix with baby arugula and Mediterranean olives. We ate next to an open window and sipped our Veneto wine. We enjoyed our Bellinis for dessert and delighted in a good night of rest. We had an early morning train to the Italian Riviera the following day and still had many flavors and sights left to explore. Our adventures in Italy had only just begun.

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Fall Harvest Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Beets

The fall harvest is here. Booths at the farmer’s market are overflowing with shades of orange. The bins at the Co-Op are glistening with deep greens. The trees that dot our street are a bright, flaming red. I’ve got a large batch of summer goods to be dried and to be canned. It’s time to make room for the earthy flavors of fall.

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After one too many social engagements and a few too many meals out last week, I was craving something natural and unrefined to eat over the weekend while the hubs was away. With a small batch of beets and a large tub of baby greens in the fridge, I ventured down the road to pick up something a bit heartier to add to my meal. I walked away with a large butternut squash and a bag full of Thai chilies. The squash for my salad, and the chilies to satisfy my spicy cravings.

This salad is easy and as versatile as can be. No pecans on hand? Walnuts would be great. No squash? Try a sweet potato. Running low on your stock of baby greens? Arugula would be divine! As most of these ingredients are usually always on hand, I do believe I’ve found a new fall staple to get us through the chilly days ahead.

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Fall Harvest Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Beets

1 container of mixed baby greens

4 cups of butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 large beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 green apple, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

6 oz goat cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1 tbsp coconut oil

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe below)

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For an added bit of flavor and texture, top your greens with the seeds from your butternut squash. Just wash, dry, and toast them with a bit of coconut oil and salt. For even more flavor, try adding a couple of slices of crumbled bacon, because bacon makes everything better, right?

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss your prepared butternut squash and beets in 1 tbsp of coconut oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until fork tender. Once tender, set aside and allow to cool.

Once cooled, tossed your greens with the squash, beets, apples, pecans, and cheese. Top with Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette. Recipe serves four as a meal or eight as a side. I imagine it’d go wonderfully with some cider-brined pork chops!

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

This dressing is all about your personal taste. These measurements are only approximations as I never make it the same twice. Sometimes I crave it with a bit more sweetness, and others with a little more kick. Adjust accordingly.

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp pure maple syrup

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

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Whisk together balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and Dijon mustard in the bottom of a mason jar. Add olive oil and add put on the lid. Shake vigorously until well-blended.