2011 holiday gift guide: the new mom

I had my friend and new mom, Ashley, help me come up with a few of these gift ideas. I think any gifts that are helpful like showing up and cleaning up the house without asking or cooking a homemade meal are the best but if you aren't local, try these items.

1. When Ashley's son, Reid, was first born, I sent the new parents a box of chocolate covered strawberries. They are such a decadent treat but also healthy and I figured they were something they could share with visitors - but only if they wanted to.
2. New moms (and dads) are up every couple of hours during the night with the new baby. It is nice to have something cozy to snuggle up in, like a robe, during feedings, especially during the winter months.
3. With a newborn at home, there really isn't much time to do your make-up. Red lipstick immediately makes someone look put together. Try NVEY ECO organic lipstick which not only gives a pop of color but also keeps lips moisturized.
4. There isn't much time to shower but new moms certainly don't want to smell like they haven't showered. Scented lotions not only moisturize but keep them smelling fresh. Try Pangea Organics Body Lotion which comes in interesting scents like Indian Lemongrass with Rosemary.
5. With no time to shower, new moms can keep their hair from getting oily by using a dry shampoo like Frederic Fekkai Au Naturel Dry Shampoo which is all natural.
6. Our splurge item is a pair of jeggings. Ashley says that she is not quite back into her old jeans that she had before she was pregnant but she dislikes constantly wearing sweats and yoga pants because she feels sloppy. Her jeggings are great because she feels more dressed up but still comfortable.

Any other ideas for a new mom? What is your fave item on the list?


sweet potato biscuits

I bought two sweet potatoes that I had forgotten about. I knew we would rarely be around during the holiday and I hate when food goes to waste. So I called up my MIL and told her I was going to attempt homemade sweet potato biscuits for our Thanksgiving meal.

Although, I love to cook I am not a great baker so I was surprised that these turned out so well. In fact, straight out of the oven, these were DELICIOUS. Flaky and light, they were everything a good biscuit should be. I baked them the day before Thanksgiving and, although they were still good, they weren't as good as the day before. So I would suggest baking the day you are going to eat them, even if you make the dough the day before.

makes 16 biscuits
adapted from here

for puree:
2 large sweet potatoes
course salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. good maple syrup

for biscuits:
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and shaping
4 Tbsp. light brown sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus extra for melting
2/3 c. buttermilk

1. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 2-inch chunks. In large saucepan, cover potatoes with water. Bring to boil. Cook until tender for about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain. Puree potatoes in food processor with salt, pepper, butter, and maple syrup.
2. In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut butter into mixture until it resembles a course meal. (I didn't have a pastry blender so I just used my hands.) In small bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups sweet potato puree and buttermilk. Stir into flour mixture until combined (do not overmix.)
3. Put dough on lightly floured surface. Knead gently until dough is combined but do not over-knead. If dough is too sticky, add a little flour. Shape into a disk and pat to even 1-inch thickness. With 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits as close together as possible. Gather scraps and repeat. (Do not use scraps more than once.)
4. Preheat oven to 425˚ with rack on lower shelf. Butter two 8-inch cake pans. Arrange biscuits in pans. Brush with melted butter. Bake until golden, rotating once, for 20 to 24 minutes.



weekend: a long thanksgiving break

apple pie fail . . . dinner at mojo's . . . thanksgiving dinner . . . friday lunch at petit louis . . . the boat parade
a little inspiration for the coming week:

styling secrets from the j. crew catalogue

a super cute black on black outfit

i am excited to learn about christmas in a different country

i love this quote

i really want to see this

great advice
My weekend actually started Tuesday night. I had Wednesday through Friday off from work for Thanksgiving break. Tuesday night, the Hubs and I grabbed food at a local Mexican resto. Wednesday, I baked a few things for Thanksgiving and then the Hubs and I went to a new restaurant in town called Mojo's. Its menu changes weekly and it has a great laid-back atmosphere. The Hubs and I shared Wet Bay Dog wings, the Bitch in Heat burger, curly fries, and mac and cheese - all very good! Thursday, we spent Thanksgiving at the Hub's parents. Friday, I drove to Baltimore and had lunch with Laura and Tanya at Petit Louis. I had pumpkin soup, a croque monsieur with a glass of Beaujolais, and poached pear with crème fraiche for dessert. That night I binge watched Homeland and I am now addicted. Saturday, I cleaned and relaxed and then the Hubs and I went to Green Hill to watch the Christmas boat parade on the Wicomico River. Today, the Hubs and I cleaned and put up our Christmas tree.

Also, I am SO behind on blog reading and tweeting. I swear I have not been ignoring you. I will get caught up soon!

How was your weekend? Did you celebrate Thanksgiving?


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{image via here}


francophile friday: france email #6

This is a continuation of my lost emails that I sent to my family and friends while living in France in 2007 as a student. You can read more about it here. This email was sent right after I got back from Toulouse.

Hello Everyone!

Well the last couple of weeks since I got back from Nice have been interesting. The Tuesday after I got back was the last day that I had classes. The students went "en greve" (on strike). Apparently, the French government passed a law saying that universities could start receiving private grants. This is a big deal because all the universities here are public and they only pay like 400 euros a year to go as long as you past this really hard test at the end of high school. This technically will begin to slowly privatize the colleges. The problem with that is that some universities may not get the funding they need like Bordeaux 3. So either the schools will become horrible or they will start paying a lot more in tuition. So after my classes that Tuesday, the students at Bordeaux 3 went on strike along with a lot of other universities in France. (Each university does it separately though). So it lasted a week with them voting by raising their hands. Well early last week the president of the college tried to have a private ballot but some kids wouldn't let people in. Apparently this Friday we will have another private ballot and this one should work this time.

So Friday, I left for Toulouse early in the morning (luckily considering a lot of the train people are on strike too - for different reasons of course.) We got to Toulouse and had really no idea where our hotel was - neither did a lot of people we asked. We ended up taking many wrong buses that people told us to take until we happened to find it. Our check-in wasn't until 3 though so we left our bags there and walked around the city. We saw tha capitol and ate at the McDonalds nearby. (Yay for the cheap euro menu). Then we walked around some more and went back to our hotel around 4 30. When we got to our room (or studio I should stay) we found that we had a big room with a big bathroom and kitchen. This was nice because we went grocery shopping and were able to save money since we didn't have to eat out.

Saturday, I went to the Musee des Augustines which is an old church that has a lot of paintings and sculptures while Nezia studied for her GRE test that she was taking on Monday. I went back to our room and had lunch and then I went to St Etienne cathedral and Fondation Bemberg which a beautiful old private mansion that was turned into an art museum. When I got back Nezia and I went for a walk along the canal. We walked for about an hour. It was really nice even though it was cold.

Sunday we both went to see if the capitol was open to go in but being it was a SUnday it wasnt. We walked towards St Semin (the largest Romanesque church in the world) and found a market that we walked around. We went back to have a late lunch and then I read for a bit.

Monday, Nezia went to take her GRE test and I walked around Toulouse for a few hours. Then I found a place to have a late lunch and read. Then I moved onto a Tea place and read. After that I met Nezia to catch our train back to Bordeaux.

Nothing else is really happening. The vote is supposed to actually work on Friday so we will probably have classes starting next week (considering this will be our third week off). I will let everyone know what happens.


Have you ever been to Toulouse?


happy thanksgiving

I hope you are enjoying your Thanksgiving so far. I am spending the day at the in-laws with the Hubs, Peyton, and the Hub's Grandpa. I plan to eat, eat, and eat some more.

And, like last year, reasons why I am thankful:

1. I love my new job! Everyday is different and it never gets boring.

2. I have a great family! They know all my skeletons and they are there to catch me when I fall. We aren't the perfect family (quite dysfunctional actually) but I wouldn't trade them. I just wish I could see them more.

3. I seriously have the greatest friends. Our college group has been told a lot by "outsiders" over the past year, "Wow, I don't have friends like that. My friends would never have thought to do that for me." I may not have a huge group but the friends I have our solid (and that includes the non-college group as well.) Sometimes, I feel weird even referring to them as my friends because really they are extended family.

4. I freaking love my husband! He is seriously the best. We have learned a lot being newlyweds over the past year. I think the one the thing that has gotten stronger is that I really enjoy his company - like a lot. I am one of those people who is ok with eating in a restaurant alone, traveling alone, and just generally being alone but now I don't want to do it alone.

5. Also, I am thankful for you guys! You make this blog worth working on everyday. Thank you for your comments and support. I have great readers!

What are you thankful for?

{image from here}


2011 holiday gift guide: the girly girl

1. Our splurge item is the Rose Gold Sparkle Clutch from Etsy by Scout & Catalogue. This clutch is perfect for the holidays but can certainly transition to daytime. And what girly girl doesn't love a little sparkle?
2. These Inside Out Bowls are perfect to mix and match or can be bought all in the same color. I could see these being used during a very girly tea party.
3. Every girl needs a spot to put her jewelry and I think this Spinning Ribbon Jewelry Stand is just so clever. What a pretty piece to put on your dresser!
4. These Glinted Post earrings would be perfect with any outfit. I love the vintage feel of the brass gold.
5. It is always nice to have a set of good notecards on hand. These Personalized Notecards from Etsy by LetterLoveDesigns would be perfect to write a love note, say thank you, or just send a hello.
6. This Lingerie Set by Josie Natorie for Target is so pretty and girly. I love the floral pattern and the flirty shape of the shorts.

What is your favorite? What would you add?


curried lentil soup

I had been craving lentils and I wanted to make a healthy but flavorful soup. This recipe definitely fufills all of those needs while remaining very budget-friendly. I couldn't stop eating it.

serves 6
adapted from Bon Appetit

3 Tbsp EVOO
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp hot curry powder
1 c French green lentils
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Heat 1 Tbsp EVOO in large pot over medium. Add onion and carrot. Cook until onion is translucent for about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until vegetables are soft but not brown.
2. Add curry powder and stir for about a minute. Add lentils and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are tender for about 30 minutes.
3. Puree garbanzo beans, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of water in food processor.
4. Add puree to soup. Add water to get desired consistency.



weekend: katie's birthday

mushroom and goat cheese crostini . . . picture with the birthday girl . . . st. mary's alumni
a little inspiration for the week:

settee makeover

trudging stylishly through the snow is no problem for this girl (i wish i looked this good when it snows)
I was way too exhausted when I finally got home last night to write up my weekend blog post but here it is! Friday night, I grabbed dinner with the Hubs and then packed up food and kitchen supplies and headed to Kathy, Katie, and Pamela's house across the bridge. Saturday morning, Kathy and I ran party errands. Then Niki came over and helped us with food prep. After that I got dressed for the party while the girls went to get their make-up done. Then Jevi and her boyfriend, Ted, came over and helped me finish up the food. After that Katie's friends and family came over and we celebrated her birthday. For the after-party, we went to downtown Bethesda. Yesterday, I drove back to Salisbury, attempted to take a quick nap, and then we went to Ruth Chris to celebrate the Hub's grandfather's birthday. Needless to say, I am le tired! At least I only have a two day work week...

How was your weekend?


2011 holiday gift guide: the francophile

1. There are few things that are better than a warm bowl of soup on a cold winter night. These sleek crocks are perfect for making French onion soup at home. You can find soup recipes here, here, and here.
2. Our splurge item is food delivery from Poilâne. Send a little bit of the Parisian boulangerie!
3. Wearing a scarf is very French, so gift one like this pretty lace scarf. It can make a so-so outfit look very chic.
4. I always love when I go to someone's house and they have magnetic poetry. It is so fun! Frenchify your friend's fridge with this kit.
5. I was so excited when I stumbled upon these vintage French notebooks. They would be perfect for taking notes in class or even jotting down a grocery list.
6. Francophiles young and old will always enjoy The Little Prince. This pop-up book edition brings the illustrations to another level.

Find last year's francophile holiday gift guide here.

What would you suggest for the francophile?


a cookbook to covet

I read a New York Times article the other day titled, "Are Cookbooks Obsolete?" I have sometimes pondered this myself. Cookbooks can be expensive and with the access to recipes on the internet or through apps, sometimes it is hard to spend the money to buy one. The majority of the cookbooks I have in my collection (which is rather large for the average twenty-four-year-old) were gifts from family and friends.

But then I think about how giddy I get when I go to the book store. The section I always go to first (and sometimes never leave) is the one with books about cooking or food. And a random or searched recipe online will never be able to invoke the emotions I feel when I skim through a cookbook for the first time. A cookbook does not just house recipes - it is curated with specific photos and food in a very stylized and personal way. The closest things that has ever come close to this for me are food magazines and great food blogs. And looking through my cookbooks is great inspiration when I am having "food-block."

And while we are on the subject, here are some cookbooks that I am currently coveting:

Quinoa 365: I have been trying to incorporate quinoa into my diet over the past year and I have really learned to love it. But sometimes I feel like it is hard to find recipes that are different from your average quinoa salad. This cookbook contains recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, baby foods, and dessert.
Fried Chicken & Champagne: I think the title of this book describes the versatility of my cooking (and eating) style exactly. This cookbook has a collection of both high end and down home recipes.
Tartine Bread: One day I hope to visit the famous Tartine Bakery in San Fran but for now I will settle for learning to bake bread at home from the best. I have been wanting to start baking my own bread for awhile now and this looks like a great place to start.
Super Natural Every Day: I have been a long time fan of Heidi Swanson's blog, 101 cookbooks, so I have been wanting to pick up her newest cookbook since it came out this spring. Heidi is a constant inspiration to create healthful but delicious vegetarian meals.
Plenty: The picture on the cover of this book caught my eye while perusing the books when I visited Terrain in September. It is a vegetarian book written by a non-vegetarian who enjoys fresh and seasonal ingredients. However, when I was first looking at the book I barely realized that it was missing meat recipes - everything just looked so delicious.

Any good cookbooks you have come across lately? Do you think cookbooks are becoming obsolete?


2011 holiday gift guide: new baby

My friend and blogger, Laura, is a new auntie! She asked me to come up with a gift guide for a new baby. Now I am certainly not an expert since I am not a mom but with all the new moms and babies around me, I feel like I know a little bit more than I should.

1. A fancy outfit is nice but newborns live in onesies for the first few months. Find a cute onesie to gift like this Cassette Organic Onesie - very baby hipster.
2. Sophie la giraffe is a classic teething toy that has been used by French babies for over fifty years. And it appeals to all of babies' senses: the contrasting spots stimulate young babies who can only see contrasting colors; Sophie squeaks when you squeeze her stomach; she is made out of 100% natural rubber which is safe for a baby's mouth and has a pleasant smell; and Sophie is soft to the touch.
3. I love the modern and clean look of this countertop drying rack for the baby's bottles and utensils.
4. Our splurge item is the Organic Ergo Baby Carrier which I have heard great things about. The ergonomic design makes sure that the baby is hanging in a way that doesn't put pressure on their little joints. And it is very comfortable for parents as well.
5. When I was at my friend, Ashley's, baby shower, she opened the Bumbo Baby Sitter and everyone went crazy. And I had no idea what it was. Even as early as three months, babies can sit in this unassisted so they can start to gain eye-level communication with mom and dad.
6. What is cuter than a baby in a hooded towel? Maybe one who is in duck hooded towel?

What do you suggest as gifts for a new baby?


mushroom and brie soup

There is a local restaurant that has a great mushroom and brie soup and I vowed when the weather got chillier that I would try and recreate it. This soup turned out great and was very satisfying. I served it with a slice of fresh multigrain bread bread, drizzled with olive oil, garlic salt and toasted.

serves 4

8 oz of double cream brie
1 c sherry cooking wine
1 Tbsp of unsalted butter
8 oz. baby bella (crimini) mushrooms
1/4 c. shallots, minced
1 Tbsp wheat flour
2 c low sodium beef broth
1 c half and half
black pepper
1/4 c Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped

1. Trim rind off of brie and tear into 2 inch pieces. Set aside.
2. In small saucepan, reduce sherry over medium-high to 1/2 cup. Set aside.
3. In medium stockpot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, shallots, and lemon juice and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add flour. Stir until flour is fully incorporated.
4. Return mixture to heat and add beef broth and sherry. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
5. Add brie, stirring until cheese is melted. Add half and half and continue to simmer without boiling for 5 minutes.
6. After adding to bowls, top with parsley.



francophile friday: france email #5

This is a continuation of my lost emails that I sent to family and friends while living in France in 2007 as a student. You can read more about it here. This email was sent right after I got back from my trip to Nice.

Hello Everyone!

Well I just got back from meeting my friend, Maira, in Nice, France. I left Thursday night at 9 45 and actually slept pretty well on the train (I think I am learning to sleep just about anywhere). I was smart this time though - I brought a pillow.

I got to Nice at around 9 Friday morning and went to our hostel but the lady said that check in wasn't until 11 so I left my stuff there and told her I would be back around 11 30 and hopefully Maira was there by then since her light got in from Rome at 10 30. I walked around for a little bit doing some window shopping. They pretty much had every expensive shop you could think of - Chanel, Blvgari, etc. Then I still had a lot of time so I decided to sit outside the cafe right downstairs from our hostel and wait for Maira there. Since she didnt come by 12 I went upstairs and found that she had somehow passed me. So after that we pretty much walked around Nice. We saw the stone beaches, went in some little shops, and went to the Lascaris Palace. We found a cheap really good Chinese place for dinner and then went home to go to sleep.

Saturday, we set off to see Monaco. It was really pretty. We found a little place where we got focaccia sandwiches and had dessert and then we walked around the exotic gardens. We didn't go to the residence because he was there I guess so we decided to go to Cannes. Cannes was a very long bus ride - much longer than we thought so we didn't get there until the sunset but it was really pretty. First we saw a sort of food expo going on so I told Maira she had to try a real French macaron. We tried a bunch of different flavors but I still think my favorite is pistachio. Then, we walked a little bit and sat and watched the sun set. After that, we went back to our hostel and then ventured out for some good cheap Italian food.

Sunday, we decided to do the musuems. We went to the Marc Chagall musuem first and I was impressed. Then we went to the Matisse musuem which is actually in the middle of a parc so afterwards we sat and watched all the dogs play. After that we had to go back to the hostel and get our stuff so for lunch we ate at Quick Burger so that we didn't have to lug our stuff around and then we went to Pinocchio for crepes. Maira had to get to the airport after that so I went to the bus station, bought a book, and had about 4 huge cups of tea at a cafe. My train left a few minutes before 9 and I got to my room this morning.

I liked Nice but if anyone is planning to visit for a weekend they better plan on going other places too because you can pretty much do Nice in a day. I mean we did it in two half days.
I hope that everyone is doing well!


Have you ever been to the south of France?


keep calm

You will have to excuse me the next couple of days. My computer has decided it no longer has memory to give me. Or rather, I didn't know that having over 11,000 pictures on your computer would not only significantly slow it down but also not allow you to save anything. So the holiday gift guides and such that I was planning for this week will just have to wait. I couldn't even save a picture onto my computer for this post. The Hubs promised to help me move my pictures from iPhoto to a hard drive.

I will miss you guys. I am trying not to freak out.

goat cheese and spinach stuffed portobello mushrooms

I used to really dislike mushrooms. They were one of my top three most icky vegetables. But I remember the day I started to like them. One of the first days I was in France, my new friend, Nezia, made me an African meal. She made mushrooms as a side and cooked them in oil and A LOT of salt. And they were delicious. I soon learned to appreciate mushrooms - even if they weren't drenched in oil and salt. But lately, I can't get enough. I CRAVE them.

This is a great vegetarian meal. I was going to make a side to go with this but I was feeling lazy that day and decided not too. I am glad I didn't because I didn't need anything else. This is a delicious and filling main course.

serves 2

1/2 c. EVOO
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
2 large portobello mushrooms
1/3 10 oz. package of frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of excess water
4 oz. baby bella/crimini mushrooms
2 tsp. EVOO
1/3 c. onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbsp. panko bread crumbs
1/3 5 oz. package of soft goat cheese, crumbled
for topping: more parmesan

Whisk together first four ingredients in a medium bowl for marinade. Cut stems from portobello mushrooms and put in food processor. Place portobellos in container, gill side up. Pour marinade over them. Let marinade for about 30 minutes.

Add baby bella mushrooms to food processor with stems and coarsely chop. Heat oil in skillet over medium high. Add onion and sauté for about 3 minutes or until they begin to brown. Add garlic and sauté for 10 seconds. Add chopped mushrooms and season with salt. Cook for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and let cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place marinated mushrooms on a oiled baking sheet, gill side down. Roast until beginning to soften for about 15 minutes.

Add spinach, parmesan, and breadcrumbs to mushroom mixture and stir. Fold in goat cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Turn roasted mushrooms over so the gill side is up. Divide the filling between the mushrooms. Sprinkle with desired amount of parmesan cheese. Bake until heated through and cheese begins to brown, about 15 minutes.



red lip ready

I love wearing lipstick. I am normally a red color kind of girl but during the summer I will play with coral and in the fall I love a great mauve or burgundy. Lately, though, I have noticed that after I put on my lipstick, it doesn't look as nice. This nippy weather has been chapping my lips.

Although one way to prevent this is to keep your lips hydrated, you also need to exfoliate to get rid of any dead skin cells. Even better? You don't even have to leave your kitchen.


1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. white granulated sugar
a squirt of lemon juice

Mix the ingredients together to create a paste. Use your finger to rub all over lips in a circular motion. Be sure to get the outer edges of your lips as well as the corners.

And now you are red lip ready!

{image via here}


weekend: a hole

this morning's breakfast . . . a new blouse
a little bit of inspiration for the coming week:

a sister's eulogy

how the world grew to 7 billion

how french women really don't get fat
Friday morning at 4 am, my grandmother passed away. So I spent the morning at work, trying to distract myself and then finally went home around 12. I slept the rest of the afternoon. Friday night, the Hubs and I decided that eating in and a comedy would be best. Saturday morning, I went to the grocery store and watched the SVU marathon on TV (the show I always used to watch with my grandmother.) My brother, Eddie, came over for dinner and then I spent the night editing Nezia's wedding pictures. Today I cleaned some more, ran some errands, and hung out. Everything around me seems so normal but I feel like there is a hole in my heart.


francophile friday: france email #4

This is a continuation of my lost emails that I sent while living in France in 2007 as a student. You can read more about it here. This email was sent right after I got back from fall break.

Hello Everyone!

I just got back from my Vacances de Toussaint (basically my fall break because I dont know what that holiday is about). Here is how it went:

On Friday October 26th, we left at 10 in the morning to catch our noon train at Gare St Jean. Our train arrived in Narbonne, France for a connection to Barcelona. In Narbonne, of course, it was pouring down rain but we ran across the street to a little restaurant to have a late, late lunch. There was a little white dog guarding the restaurant and he barked at everyone who came in and wouldn’t get near them. I felt privileged that he even came close enough to me to sniff my water bottle and purse that was on the floor. After a while he was fine – he fell asleep and started snoring. We had chicken with (of course!) fries and then made it back to the train station. Our train ride to Barcelona was fine except for the 30 minute delay at a station checking passports but Nezia and I entertained ourselves by taking silly pictures of each other. We got to our hostel (Pension Medoza) and it was fine. Julia (my friend from high school) met us there and we went to a tapas bar a few doors down. The tapas were well priced (only 1-2 euros each) and very good.

On Saturday, I found a wonderful market outside our hostel. It was huge and crowded but fun to walk around. That day we basically walked around Barcelona snapping pictures of everything around us. Barcelona is complete with palm trees, beautiful buildings, and a wonderful harbor.

After a sandwich in the park, Julia and I went to the Sagrada Familia while Nezia went shopping. The Sagrada Familia is a church planned by Gaudi that has been under construction since 1882. Later that night Julia and I (Nezia wasn’t feeling well) found a place called Happy Bar and Grill that actually sold paella for under 10 euros. We split vegetable paella, a huge platter of grilled vegetables and sangria. After that we went to a jazz lounge but once we found out there was a 15 euro cover charge, we found another lounge and had a glass of sangria and watched the Europeans dance.

On Sunday, Julia and I went to Gaudi park which is full of mosaics by Gaudi. We went to the Gaudi museum and climbed to the top of the mountain to see the beautiful view of Barcelona. Later that day we all went to the Picasso Museum and of course Julia and I visited the gift shop. For dinner we decided to go back to the tapas bar. We tried some new stuff and Catalan cream for desert.

Monday we left early for a train to Madrid. We could not have gotten a better view of the mountains. It was absolutely beautiful. It was as stunning as the Alps but it was beautiful in a more rustic colorful way. After climbing 4 flights of stairs, we were pleasantly surprised by our hostel (Hostel Lauria). It was so nice and it was cheaper than our other hostel. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Madrid. After that we walked around the city and went on a search for Chinese food that Nezia and I were craving. We walked for over an hour cursing the city for not having Chinese food. I mean what kind of city doesn’t have Chinese food?! We finally found one and had a good dinner. (We later found out that if we had turned the other way from our hostel, we would have found 10 of them but it didn’t help us earlier.)

Tuesday, we were going to go to the Prado but we kept getting stopped by all the shops along our street. So basically that day we went shopping. I mean we shopped so much every time I bought something I panicked, not because of how much I was spending (the stuff in Madrid was very well priced and I had been saving my money) but a) how I was going to get it to all fit in my carry-on and b) if my credit card company was going to deny my card because of irregular activity. Outside of H&M we were met by a mob/protest protesting something and being very loud. Then I really wanted Mexican food so we went to this Mexican restaurant and it was ok. It was not like the Mexican food at Monterrey’s (cheap, greatest restaurant down by school.)

Wednesday, we walked to the Prado promising we would not walk in any more stores. We found a huge line but them realized it was huge because it was free that day. (Luckily we hadn’t gone the day before.) After that I wasn’t feeling well so I went back to the hostel to nap. I got my appetite back after that and really wanted pasta. I found this place called Nebraska Café and had a surprisingly very good pasta Bolognese. I also became fascinated by their orange juice machines.

Thursday night, I took my first Ryanair flight from Madrid to Oslo. Of course, I was surrounded by a huge group of loud obnoxious guys. When we got to the airport we expected to be greeted by Nezia’s cousin’s husband, Norbert, because he said he would get there at 7 pm and our flight got in at 9. He was nowhere to be seen. We didn’t have his phone number so we asked the Ryanair lady and she searched for us. This was after she told us that even though our tickets said Oslo airport this was not the main Oslo airport. That one was 1 ½ hours away meaning Norbert was probably at that one. So we went to the pay phone which wouldn’t work so I asked the Hertz rent a car guy to help us and he just let us use his phone. Norbert didn’t pick up on his cell or at home so we decided to just sit and wait. 15 minutes later, the Hertz guy calls us over with Norbert on the phone. Norbert said to take the next bus from the airport to the bus station in Oslo (since he did not have a car). When we got to the bus station in Oslo we found out that they didn’t actually live in Oslo but in a little town 1 ½ away and the bus to go there had already left and there wouldn’t be another until morning. Of course the most practical solution seemed to get a hotel for the night. Well, we walked around in freezing Norway air until 2 in the morning (I was actually laughing about it until around 1) and we could not find any hotel or hostel that had vacancies. Apparently, it was a very busy time for them. So we gave up and decided to sleep in the bus station and wait for the 9 20 bus. Well the bus station was basically like sleeping outside because there were so many huge automatic doors that kept opening the heat wouldn't stay inside. I was shaking – for 7 hours! I tried to lie down on two chairs but the security guard made me sit up. I probably slept a total of 40 minutes but I couldn’t sleep on the bus to their town. The tour we got of Norway was so beautiful. When we got to their house, Euphrasie (Nezia’s cousin) had remade all the food that was supposed to be for dinner the night before. So we ate A LOT. Then her daughters came home from school (they only have half days on Fridays). Her oldest Salone is 10 and can speak 5 languages – Kirundi, Swahili, Malawit, English and Norwegian. Dalone is 4 and speaks Norsk (Norwegian) fluently, a little bit of English and can understand Swahili and Kirundi. Dalone wanted to have a sleepover that night with me so we did.

Saturday, we played a little with the girls and ate a huge late lunch. Then we went to walk around town around 4 and even though it was still light out for another good hour and half, my pictures turned out as though I was taking them in the dark.

Sunday, I was forced to take pictures of Norway from the bus taking us to the airport because I had taking none of the country. We took an SAS flight and, of course, I was surrounded by a group of loud, drunk Norwegians. We went to our wonderful hostel in Madrid and then hunted down a place for Indian food (we picked the wrong place.)

On Monday, we went to the train station and I had fresh squeezed orange juice with one of those orange juice machines. Then we took a train at 10 and I didn’t get back to my hostel until around 9. I enjoyed hearing French on the tram ride home.

In Conclusion
I liked Madrid best. Barcelona was very pretty but very expensive compared to Madrid and the atmosphere was better in Madrid. I want to visit more Scandinavian countries because they are so beautiful. Maybe I will climb a mountain or two.

What I have learned
1. There is almost always someone who can speak a little English (especially in Norway where they speak a lot of English)
2. Hand motions/charades work well in any language

Just to let you all know. I am leaving for Nice on Thursday night and will not be back until Monday morning so if I don’t return your emails that is why. Also, if there is still anyone else who you think you would like to be added to the emails just let me know.



2011 holiday gift guide: the anglophile

1. Nothing says "rainy spring day in the English countryside" like a Cath Kidston floral umbrella. Cath Kidston is a British designer and author whose company sells housewares, bags, and accessories in beautiful vintage inspired prints.
2. I couldn't have an anglophile gift guide without something with the British flag on it. This British flag pillow looks super comfy and would be great to cuddle up with a cup of tea.
3. These Hunter wellies are great for imagining you are in London splashing through puddles on a rainy day. And even better? Hunter supplies footwear to The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. Wonder if the Queen splashes in puddles?
4. Every anglophile lady needs a pretty headpiece like this one for a special occasion or night on the town.
5. My grandmother is the calmest person in the world. I have never heard her yell. I am pretty sure it is because she is British. I think I need to get this poster to remind myself to be more like my grandmother in times of crisis.

Anything that strikes your fancy? What would you get for an anglophile?


under the covers with niki: does size matter?

{This is our sixth post for our feature, "Under the Covers with Niki." You can read about sex therapy and see other posts here.}

Does size really matter?

Well, it depends on whom you ask. Women say “no” and men say “yes!” Of course this isn’t a universal dichotomy; however, it seems that women don’t really understand men’s preoccupation with penis size.

For many men this is a real issue. They can often develop serious complexes and feel like their penis is not big enough. Many men unrealistically compare themselves to other men (particularly men in porn). Like women, men are not immune to inaccurate media hype. However, both men and women should be aware that penis size is not all it is cracked up to be. In fact, the average penis is between 2.5-4 inches when not erect. Additionally, the vagina is incredibly accommodating and will adjust to a large or small penis. Therefore the emphasis of sexual pleasure should not be size. Instead the emphasis should be technique, position, and communication.

So what is the take home message for this question? Women: don’t gossip about penis size and shame your man. Men: try to get out of your own head. If she says she likes your penis, she means it. No two penises are the same!

{image via here}


three bean chili

Chili is definitely one of those great comfort foods and, with the way the weather has been lately, it was definitely time to make a big pot of it. Since the Hubs is out of town and hates beans, I thought I would make an old college standby that my friends and I used to make on cold weekends. This chili has three different beans in it, including garbanzo beans which you don't normally see in chilies. But my friend, Alissa, loves them so we used to throw them in. This is a great vegetarian meal and can even be vegan if you don't top it with cheese and sour cream like I did.

I made this on a weeknight so I didn't have as much time to simmer it but we used to let it simmer for a few hours. The longer you have the better but it was definitely still yummy even after thirty minutes of simmering.

serves 4-5

1 Tbsp of EVOO
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 c chicken or vegetable stock
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14 oz can black beans
1 14 oz can light red kidney beans
1 14 oz can garbanzo beans
1/2 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp chili powder (I used medium hot)
optional: sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, green onions

1. Over medium, heat oil. Add onion, peppers, and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes and beans. Stir to combine.
2. Add oregano, cumin, and chili powder and stir. Let simmer for at least 30 minutes but the longer the better.
3. Top with cheese, sour cream, and green onions.