Bonjour From Paris

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

When so much has happened since your last blog post, it’s really hard to just dive right into a new one. Even with the best intentions to write about our travels, share tasty recipes, and update you on other fun life updates, my schedule the last few years hasn’t really allowed me to do so. However, I expect that to change over the course of this next year.

Since it’d be impossible to cover everything that’s happened since January 7th, 2017 (the date of my last blog post) in just one post, let’s just jump ahead to the biggest news of all…

Two weeks ago yesterday, the hubs and I MOVED TO FRANCE.

That’s right. From Fayetteville, to Boston, to Austin, to PARIS, we’ve made our biggest move yet, and it has been a whirlwind of a process as well as a total dream come true.

In short, in May Jacob was awarded a grant to fund dissertation research for his PhD, and since most of the manuscripts he needs to study are here in France, fast forward four months, and here we are; two excited expats with just a few suitcases of belongings living in a 193 square foot apartment smack dab in the middle of the city…

The process to get us here hasn’t always been easy and many tough decisions had to be made along the way, like giving up a great job, leaving behind friends and family, and temporarily saying goodbye to our best girl, Heidi (the dog). However, this is only one small chapter of our lives (we’ll return to Austin August 2018) and we couldn’t be more excited to be here.

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Since arriving our time has been filled with long walks, buttery croissants, endless baguettes, cheap (but delicious) French wine, amazing ethnic foods (of all kinds), riverside picnics, beautiful sights everywhere we look, museums, churches, leisurely reads in the parks, lovely fall temperatures… the list could go on and on. But also, let’s not to forget about stressful apartment hunting, language barriers, lots of work for the hubs, sleepless nights on an uncomfortable pullout couch, homesickness, missing our girl terribly, and SO MUCH cigarette smoke.

Really though, the few negative asides, being here so far really has been a dream. While we long to be reunited with our girl (she’ll arrive in just a few weeks!) and to move into a space a little bigger than what we’re in now (We’re moving into a more permanent space in October that’s a whopping 484 square feet!) I say to myself at least five times a day “What!? I live here?!” because being here truly is surreal.

I look forward to the adventures we’ll go on this next year, the memories we will make, and blogging about it along the way. It’s good to be back.

Until next time, mes amis!


In a city like Paris, there’s literally always something to take a picture of. With that said, I have unfortunately missed the opportunity for some really great photos these last couple of weeks, simply because I don’t carry my camera with me 24/7. HOWEVER, there is one thing I do always have on me, and that’s my phone. For live updates, funny crisis moments, and more beautiful Parisian sights, be sure to follow me on Instagram, @jndoss. 

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Thanksgiving in Big Bend, Pt. 2

Culture, Photography, Travel

Though day one of our Big Bend vacation was one of our trip highlights, days two and three certainly did not disappoint.

On our second day, after a foggy, relaxed morning at the campsite drinking coffee and eating pumpkin pie, we headed down the mountain to explore the valley below on our first ever desert hike.

A moderate hike to a series of prominent volcanic dike formations, the Chimneys Trail is well-known for Indian rock art marks at the base of its iconic, chimney pinnacles. Surrounded by various types of cacti and other short, brushy desert plants we were unfamiliar with, the first bit of this hike was interesting, but in all honestly, I was over this hike halfway before it was done. Once we made it to chimneys and explored the petroglyphs and evidence of camp settlements, we high tailed it back to our car and ventured on to the more exciting part of our day.

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From the desert we headed along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive for more beautiful views and a visit to the Santa Elena Canyon. Towering 1,500 feet over the Rio Grande, the Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most dramatic canyons in the park, and was a breathtaking site to see. We’d originally planned to take a rafting trip down the river through the canyon, but not wanting to jam pack our schedule, we decided to save that trip for our next visit. Now after seeing just a glimpse of the canyon’s beauty, that’s a rafting trip I can hardly wait to take.

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On our third and final full day in the park, we woke before the sun and set off for one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes I have ever done. The South Rim Trail,  a strenuous 14.5 mile loop along the south rim of the Chisos Mountains, was well worth the 2,000 foot elevation gain, steep and never-ending switchbacks, and a nerve-racking bear encounter.

Starting off brushy and dry in the basin of the Chisos, the hike soon turned green as we quickly ascended a couple thousand feet into the mountains. Next to cacti we saw Pines, as well as Firs, Aspens, and Maples. The first couple of hours our feet saw red dirt, and then suddenly the bright colors of Fall.

Finally, when we thought our knees could no longer take it,  we made it to the mountain ridge where we were rewarded with panoramic views of the mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert. Fighting with the fog, we took our time on this part of hike, resting and eating lunch, and peeking through the clouds into the world below. Then, just before we descended the mountain, the sun finally won, offering us front row seats to Big Bend’s most stunning vistas.

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Though the second half of the hike was just as pretty as the first, I barely remember it as I was just ready to get off the mountain. With a bad knee, hiking downhill is much worse than going up, and if we’re being totally honest, we both just couldn’t wait for a burger and an icy cold beer.

The last mile of the hike I felt exhausted, yet energized, as I powered my way back to the car proud of what I had just accomplished. After a visit to our campsite and a quick decision that we were too tired to cook, we headed to the Chisos Mountain Lodge and ended our adventure with that well deserved burger and beer.

We went to bed that night exhausted and sore, and woke the next day surprisingly rested. Trying to extend our trip just a little bit longer, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and bacon, and then eventually, knowing we had to go home, packed up camp and made our way back to Austin.

Though I was tired on Monday and still a little sore from our hikes, our short trip to Big Bend was well worth it. Each year our Thanksgiving celebrations seem to get a little more unique, and I am totally okay with that. A plate of turkey and stuffing is just as good in the great outdoors, if not even just a little bit better…

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Big Bend, Pt. 1

Culture, Photography, Travel

 

The first time I ever experienced a major holiday away from home was our first year living in Boston.

Though my heart longed to spend that Thanksgiving with my family, knowing we’d  soon be heading home for Christmas, we instead went to New York where we spent the holiday with some of Jacob’s relatives.

That Thanksgiving was a bit unusual for me as we celebrated as a party of 10 or so,  instead of a party of 50, but it was quiet, and relaxing, and truly one of my most memorable holidays.

Living in a big city at that time, I was quite used to cooking in a kitchen the size of a closet, so spending a long weekend in a spacious, country home was a dream. I still remember vividly making my first totally from scratch green bean casserole, and some amazing brussels sprouts dish I prepared from one of Jacob’s aunt’s magazines.

I spent most of that day in the kitchen with his aunt, laughing and talking and getting to know her more closely. By the end of that day I no longer felt so homesick, and settled in that night grateful for family, when the rest of mine was so far away.

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Last year marked another interesting holiday. Back to a small celebration, we spent Thanksgiving here in Austin with our pup, my parents, and their small dog L.E. A table of four felt so small, but it was a memorable experience to be able to cook my first full Thanksgiving meal and host my own family.

The turkey was flavorful and moist, the pumpkin pie was divine, and again, the peace and quiet was amazing.

Growing accustomed to these small and peaceful Thanksgiving celebrations, this year, we decided to have our most untraditional Thanksgiving yet, spending it in the desert for a long weekend of camping.

Still wanting a somewhat traditional holiday, I decided to cook a full Thanksgiving spread before we left town to enjoy on Thanksgiving day. Having roasted a 12 pound bird (for only two people), preparing stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, a casserole, and a pie, I had big expectations about our Thanksgiving meal, and even bigger ideas about what this blog post would look like.

I envisioned pictures of our plates with jagged mountain peaks in the background; shots of the cheese course centered on the picnic table surrounded by cups of wine. I thought i’d show artistic photos of our tent and the campfire, and then talk about how fun and manageable it was to celebrate a holiday in the great outdoors.

This is not how this post is going to go.

Instead of  this romanticized, idealistic Thanksgiving I had envisioned, we spent the holiday in Mexico, where we had our most memorable Thanksgiving yet.

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Settled in Southwest Texas, Big Bend National park features sweeping desert landscapes, dramatic canyons, rugged mountains, and shares 118 miles of its park boundary with Chihuahua and Coahuila Mexico. Knowing that there was a border crossing located within the park, we knew that stepping over into Mexico was something we wanted to do during our trip, we just didn’t expect our time there to be all that is was.

An isolated and primitive outpost amidst a vast wilderness, 150 miles from any major town on either side of the border lies Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

Once a town of around 300, because of the border closure in 2002 (due to the events of 9/11), by 2006, the population of Boquillas dropped to around only 90 residents. Eleven years later in 2013, the border reopened, helping to revive Boquillas’ population, which is now home to about 200 people.

Besides for two small restaurants and one bar, there’s not much to see or do here, but wanting this tiny tourist town to succeed, the Mexican government has done what they can, providing supplies to fix older buildings, and paint to freshen up the look of the place. And finally, in 2015, solar panels were installed so that residents could enjoy reliable electricity…

Our journey to Boquillas started at the U.S. Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry where we learned the rules about crossing over into Mexico (don’t bring back alcohol, rocks, etc…) From there, we hopped an “international ferry” and were transported 15 yards away across a knee deep river. After politely saying no to a man with a burro offering us a ride, we walked the quarter of a mile into town and started our adventure in Mexico.

Once arriving to town and checking in with customs, we decided on one of the two restaurant choices (both I believe are owned by the same family, serve the same food,  and are are literally just across the dusty road from each other), and grabbed a spot outside in the shade to enjoy the views and excitement.

For lunch we had tacos with teeny fried flour tortillas and a plate of tamales, and washed it all down with a couple of potent margaritas. We enjoyed live entertainment, AKA a man with a very out of tune guitar, made friends with strangers (who just happened to originally be from Austin), and enjoyed the company of a lively local.

Esteban was the man who originally offered us a ride on his burro, and after spending lunch talking with him, I was disappointed we didn’t accept. Over a peach juice and a couple of Carta Blancas, Esteban told us about his time in Boquillas (he has lived there his entire life), about his mountain guiding services, and about how he walks four days through the desert each year to the nearest town for some extra work.

In the midst of all the hatred we’ve seen towards immigrants and minorities this election season, Esteban was a breath of fresh air. His authenticity and kindness was refreshing, and our time spent with him was one of the best parts of our day.

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After buying a copper scorpion from Esteban and bidding him farewell, we left with our new Texan friends and their guide to take a short tour of the town. We saw the small church and school, water supply tank, and solar panels before finding ourselves in the town’s only cantina where we enjoyed more good conversation over a couple of shots of Sotol. Coming from an unmarked bottle behind the counter, similar to tequila, Sotol is distilled from the dasylirion wheeleri plant native the Northern Mexico. It was smooth, tasty, and was probably safer to drink than the water. Even if the bottle did look a little sketchy…

After an hour or so of getting to know our new friends and a round of Carta Blancas, we hurried our way back across the river, just barely in time for the border closing, and continued our random Thanksgiving day at some hot springs nearby.

Finally, around 7:00 pm when the sky grew dark, we drove the hour back to our campsite to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal. After quickly reheating the food I worked so hard to prepare, I took one lame picture of my plate in the dark, and then crawled into the tent for bed before 9:00. By the time Jacob had returned from cleaning the dishes, I was sound asleep, dreaming of tacos, and our Thanksgiving adventure in Mexico.

A Weekend in Savannah Georgia

Photography, Travel

I know that it has been unseasonably warm all around the country lately, but when the weather was over 90 degrees the first day of November, I gave up on the idea that we would soon be experiencing any type of real fall.

Though the weather today is a bit more promising and this week’s forecast seems much more appropriate for November, on Tuesday, when it was 91 degrees, I had accepted that it might as well still be summer here in Texas, turned down the AC, and reminisced on the best memories this summer had to offer. While France definitely tops the list (Road Trip Through France, Part 3 coming to the blog soon), it was my quick weekend trip to Savannah, GA that still has me laughing.

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Ever since moving away from home, mother-daughter trips have become much anticipated events. While I love a good trip back to Arkansas or a weekend in Austin showing my mom and sister around, there’s nothing quite like getting the three of us together some place new. While yes, these trips can be quite stressful, we never fail to return home closer than ever  and with a handful of memories we will never forget. This year’s trip to Savannah was one such occasion.

It’s my mom’s obsession with autographed cookbooks that brought us all together in Savannah. After hearing there would be a Paula Deen cookbook signing at her restaurant just a few days after my mom’s birthday, tickets were quickly purchased and that’s how this mother-daughter getaway began.

After meeting the queen of butter herself and eating a very forgettable meal at her restaurant, we moved on to spend our first day exploring the cuteness of Savannah firsthand. We shopped, drank cocktails while roaming the streets, ate fresh pralines still warm from the stove, argued, laughed, and just overall had a great time.

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On Saturday, we started our day by browsing the stalls at the Forsyth Park farmer’s market with five new friends and a talented chef, as part of our Savannah market tour cooking class. After picking up provisions for our meal, we headed to the Forsyth Park Mansion where the real fun began. Together we made asiago polenta, braised kale, grilled chicken, steak, and shrimp, and for dessert, what else but some juicy, Georgia peaches.

Though the class was more of an informative, social gathering where we got to eat a lot of delicious, local food, than a true cooking class, it was still a wonderful way spend a Saturday morning with my mom and sister.

Following our class we spent some time walking through the park and browsing the boutiques in Savannah’s lovely historic district.

Growing tired from the heat and from such a gluttonous meal, we spent the rest of our Saturday relaxing poolside at our hotel and enjoying a massage in the comfort of our own hotel room.

A few massages and a couple of bottles of champagne later, we got dressed and headed out for one last evening together in Savannah.

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img_1902For dinner that night we enjoyed an unforgettable meal at one of Savannah’s most acclaimed restaurants, The Grey. While it wasn’t my mom or sister’s first pick of places to eat, they both gave me two hours of pure bliss as I devoured each bite of my meal.

Occupying a renovated 1938 art deco Greyhound Bus Terminal, The Grey is the kind of place that makes you want to linger. Starting with my cocktail in the lounge, I knew right away that I was in for a treat. Over the course of the night I enjoyed raw oysters and champagne, a goat terrine and white pinot noir, roasted yardbird in a rich curry sauce, a chocolate parfait with peanut butter cream and spicy peanuts, and a Tawny port for dessert. Though my mom and sister likely grew impatient, I could hardly tell as I finished off each bite.

From there, we found ourselves at a hidden speakeasy where we embarrassingly won a game in front of far too many strangers, danced, sang, and laughed until it hurt. When I was 16 and someone told me that one day my mom and sister would become my best friends, I didn’t believe them for one second. Today, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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On Sunday, we hugged and cried and went our separate ways. My mom and sister headed back to Arkansas while I made my way to Tybee Island for some alone time before my early evening flight.

After a some fresh seafood and a few hours on the beach with a good book, I boarded the plane that night rested and full, and already looking forward to our next mother-daughter getaway. As I waited for my flight to leave, I spent my last few minutes in Savannah looking at pictures and texting my mom and sister about special moments from our trip. Three months later and I am still doing the same.

Thanks mom and sister for keeping life fun! I’m glad you’re not just my family, but also my closest friends.

Until next time!

 

Dordogne France and Anniversary Waffles

Culture, Food, Photography, Recipes, Travel

To think that Dordogne almost didn’t make it on our itinerary is a shame. Protected by its relative inaccessibility, the region of Dordogne is full of unspoiled beauty and sites unlike anywhere else in France.  Filled with prehistoric caves, rock-sculpted villages, and the best foie gras in Europe, Dordogne was an easy area to fall in love with, and the perfect place to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary.

A near five hour drive from Amboise, we took our time getting to Dordogne, enjoying the views and stopping for a roadside picnic lunch of baguette sandwiches with pork rillettes, whole grain mustard, and cornichons, and the best market strawberries on earth for dessert.

Arriving in the region in the late afternoon, we started our Dordogne adventure with a scenic drive through the eastern part of of the area, wandering through the sleepy towns of Carennac, Loubressac, and Autoire, and pausing for a Belgian pint in the well-preserved medieval town of Martel. After our drive, we made it to our bed and breakfast nestled near the river in Castelnaud, and it was there where the true magic of our Dordogne adventure began. IMG_0224IMG_0280IMG_0227

IMG_0260IMG_0303IMG_0339Our stay at La Tour de Cause was nothing short of perfect, and it’s partially because of this inn that Dordogne will forever have a spot on our itinerary each time we visit France. Our room and the grounds were lovely, the food was impeccable, and the inn owners had a gift for making us feel right at home.

After forcing ourselves from the too comfortable beds, we’d start each day with freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe cheeses, buttery croissants, homemade jams, creamy yogurt, decadent hot chocolate, and some other French or Belgian delight perfectly prepared and served by Igor and Nico, our hosts and new friends.

We’d sit around in their stunning  kitchen long after we’d finished eating, sipping our coffee and chocolate, chatting, and finalizing plans for our day. After breakfast, we’d slowly get ready and enjoy some time on the patio, before venturing out into the countryside to explore the best sites this part of France had to offer. IMG_0717IMG_0706.jpg

IMG_0795IMG_0772On our first full day we explored the nearby town of Sarlat-la-Canéda where we shopped the stalls at the bustling Wednesday market. As one of the most important market towns since the Middle Ages, not only did the Sarlat market offer us a wonderful culinary tour of the area, but it also offered a downtown rich in architecture and history, a great introduction to this historic region.

At the market we bought cheese and cured meats, tasted walnut liqueur, and spoke to the merchants in broken French. We stocked up on foie gras and terrines, and purchased fruit, wine, and baguettes for lunch. When it started to rain, we ducked into the church to sit and pray, before heading on to the more adventurous part of our day.

Once the rain passed, we headed down the road to start our nine-mile, lazy canoe ride down the scenic Dordogne river. Paddling at a relaxed pace, we took in views of lush forests and towering limestone bluffs, and then of castles and cliff-dwelling villages.

IMG_0389churchIMG_0445IMG_0420IMG_0466IMG_0541IMG_0594Docking our boat at the foot of the first village, we stepped onto dry land to explore the beautiful town of La Roque-Gageac, a quaint little place where we later returned for our anniversary dinner. From there, we paddled on past Castelnaud, where our bed and breakfast was located, before ending our excursion with a tour of one of my favorite castles, the mighty 12th century fortress of Beynac.

Hiking to the tip top of town, we enjoyed our walk up the narrow cobblestone roads, surrounded by historic homes and rose covered buildings, before being rewarded with sweeping views of the river valley area below.

Nestled 500 feet above the Dordogne River, Château de Beynac was used as a defense fortress by the French during the Hundred Years’ War, and having been recently restored,  gave us a great glimpse into what life might have looked like in this area during that time. Much different than the newer, more luxurious palaces we saw in the Loire, the fortress of Beynac was one of the coolest châteaux we visited in France, and is perhaps one of my favorite châteaux  I’ve seen in all of Europe thus far. IMG_0671

IMG_0621IMG_0617IMG_0645IMG_0659IMG_0656IMG_0629Winding down from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to our bed and breakfast where we had one of the best meals we had during our entire stay in France. Starting with aperitifs and hors d’oeuvres on the patio, I knew right away that our decision to stay in for dinner was the right choice. Igor and Nico serve up a lovely breakfast, but it’s dinner where their talent is truly able to shine.

Gathered around the kitchen table with Igor and Nico and two other guests, we enjoyed herring crostinis with creme fraiche and fresh dill, duck pâté croquettes topped with fried parsley and lemon, sausage stuffed quail with a wine and fruit reduction, sauteed zucchini, and a melt in your mouth polenta. The wine flowed freely, the conversation never stalled, and before we knew it, we were no longer a table of strangers, but instead, a table of friends.

After dessert, more wine, and then a pot of tea, we collapsed into bed, happy and full, and never wanting to leave. france wafflescave

tree.jpgDay two of our Dordogne adventure was another special one as it was also the day of our 5th wedding anniversary. As if dinner the night before hadn’t already been perfect enough, we were greeted at breakfast that morning with cheers and music and special, anniversary waffles. With Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage playing in the background, we celebrated with our new friends, feeling loved, and so happy to be in France.

Though maybe not the most romantic way to celebrate an anniversary, we continued our day and our Dordogne adventure by exploring the region’s biggest attraction and touring two of the hundreds of prehistoric caves that are scattered around the area.

The first cave we visited, Lascaux II, is an exact replica of the area’s most famous cave, Lascaux. Just feet away, the original cave was closed to the public in 1963 to help preserve the art. After being discovered in 1940, changes in the environment caused by human visitors did more damage  to the art in the 15 years it was open to the public than in the estimated 17,000-20,000 prior. This cave is most famous for The Great Hall of the Bulls, a section of the cave which depicts colorful paintings of bulls, equines, and stags, as well as the largest painted animal discovered so far in cave art, a 17 foot long bull. Next we saw original and newer (though certainly not new! est. 13,000 years old…) cave art at Rouffignac, which is well known for its engravings and drawings of mammoths, bison, horses, and other large animals. Our visit to these caves was a highlight of our trip, and though maybe not romantic, was a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary. 

After our cave excursion we enjoyed a late picnic on a quiet riverbank next to an 11th century Romanesque church, before heading back to our bed and breakfast for a nap, and then on to another memorable French meal.

While I would be happy celebrating marriage anywhere on earth with my dear hubs, our 5th wedding anniversary is definitely a day I will never forget, and it’ll take a lot to top this year’s memorable celebration. IMG_0864IMG_0844IMG_0817IMG_0849On our third and last day in Dordogne, we cracked open a bottle of Chimay before noon, and enjoyed one more chat with Igor and Nico gathered around their kitchen table. We talked politics and about our work, and most importantly, about food. I shared with them some of my favorite recipes, and walked away with some of theirs. Too quickly the bottle was empty and the hour was late, and we still had one last castle to visit before leaving for our next town. Sadly saying our goodbyes, we packed the car and went down the road to visit Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle before heading on our way.

I cried a bit when leaving, sad to move along so soon, but also excited for what was next to come. I read the paper Igor had given me,  a recipe for the waffles we enjoyed on our anniversary, and smiled knowing we’d forever be able to have a bit of Dordogne in our lives, wherever we may go.

My new go to waffle recipe, these are great for breakfast, dessert, or a late night snack. Though I call them anniversary waffles, they’re really just a great Belgian waffle recipe that came from some amazing Belgians in France, perfect for anniversaries, or any weekday or weekend meal. We like them best warm and very crisp, served with a smear of apricot jam, and washed down with a chilled glass of champagne.

Anniversary Waffles 

Makes 9-10 Waffles 

2 cups flour

1 cup milk

3/4 cup water

3 eggs

10.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1.5 teaspoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

dash of vanilla (optional)

dash of salt

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, water, and yeast, then mix in all other ingredients, except for the salt. Loosely cover batter and rest in the fridge for 12 hours.

After your batter has rested, mix in a dash of salt, and cook waffles according to your waffle maker instructions. I like to cook mine on the hottest setting, allowing them to become extra crisp. Serve with powdered sugar, syrup, or my favorite, a high quality jam.

 

2013: A Year in Review

Boston, Culture, Photography, Travel

 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.

unnamed1385359_620398167079_1124592443_n76114_619012808349_5578899_nunnamed-1970653_611471206779_267726798_nScreen shot 2014-02-03 at 1.25.43 PM1424291_624703559039_1224241147_n548334_622403358659_350101081_n63702_622887628179_124582956_n1017560_635034954839_657219007_n 1002037_630231196609_208284773_nWe took a road trip back to Arkansas and settled into our second little home.We started new jobs and Jacob spent hours upon hours working on PhD applications.We ended the year with a bang at 10,000 feet feeling grateful for each memory made the year before. My 2014 is already off to a happy start and I look forward to all that is yet to come. 

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!

Assisi, Italy :: Part 2

Culture, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

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!

Assisi, Italy :: Part 1

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

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

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

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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Quintessential Fall

Boston, Culture, Photography, Travel

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No, this is not fall in Arkansas. I wish that I could say that it was, but in fact, it is still very green in these parts. This is quintessential New England, a perfect fall day in central Massachusetts.  While the trees here are taking their time to change, today I reminiscence on fall in New England.

Our first New England fall was an unrivaled experience. We traveled to New Hampshire where we  hiked the beautiful White Mountains, ate pancakes at sunrise, and drove the scenic Kancamagus highway. We took early morning walks along the Charles River, we picked apples in the Berkshires, and we ate an unhealthy amount of cider donuts. We enjoyed warm and sunny afternoons in the Boston Commons, and sipped mulled wine with friends on brisk and chilly evenings.

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Our second fall was nearly just as perfect. Though our Vermont getaway didn’t turn out quite as perfect as our trip to New Hampshire, we still left with some wonderful memories. Though the leaves were passed their peak on our visit to Vermont,  we still found a lot of color around Boston. The leaves were fiery red for weeks, and I was giddy as could be each time I took a ride around town.

One weekend, about this time last year, we traveled back in time and spent our day in a rural 19th-century village. Old Sturbridge Village in the fall is a classic New England experience. We explored antique buildings, saw water-powered mills, pressed a bushel of apples, and watched a blacksmith at work. The trees were brilliant and the weather was just as perfect.

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While I miss perfect fall days like the ones described above, I feel a bit of warmth and happiness as I look out my window and see the first colors of fall. Though there’s still lots of green around, I see a bit of yellow and orange peaking through the trees. Fall is finally making its way to Northwest Arkansas, and I couldn’t be happier.

What are some of your favorite fall memories?