Tuscany, you're oh so lovely...



When Michael and I started planning our trip to Europe we had no idea where to go.

A trip overseas is laced with pressure to do something amazing, because anything that requires a 16 hour flight and puts that kind of a dent in your bank account needs to be amazing. We racked our brains for the right cities, the best deals on hotels, the shortest amount of time that would be enough time to really see a city. We were out of our league.

Luckily for us, Michael has some amazing family members that have lived in Milan for years. We reached out to them and they gave us some extraordinary recommendations, including the ever lovely Villa Bordoni

The villa itself was gorgeous down to every detail -- the pool, the open-air workout room (check out the view from the treadmill), the food, the staff, and the wine was the best I have ever tasted.

When we first got there, we had to pick our jaws up off the floor and pretend like we fit in. Ha! It was gorgeous, and ELEGANT. We noticed the hand-painted tiles on the floor of the bathroom, the floor-to-ceiling windows that opened out onto a balcony overlooking the rolling Tuscan hills. There was an adorable garden with little tables for two where we ate breakfast and had several glasses of wine during our stay. Right outside our room there was a shared sitting room where you can play chess (...who has time for chess on the reg?) and enjoy a cocktail. The bar looked like a scene out of the roaring 20's. Everything about this place felt like a breath of fresh air.

Click through all the pictures below:



The first day, Michael and I took a cooking class with their chef where we learned to make handmade pasta, a rustic marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes from the garden, tender Veal Osso Buco, and classic Italian Tiramisu for dessert. We love cooking so this was a real treat for us, not to mention that all-you-can-drink wine was being served all afternoon. The pasta process was almost therapeutic. The chef gave us tips on how to chop vegetables correctly, how to find the best olive oil, and how to cook in-season. His broken English and the glasses of wine made it more of a lighthearted Italian experience rather than any sort of real cooking school. 

And we were great with that.

The next day we visited the Antinori Vineyard for lunch and a flight of local wines. The whole place reminded us of a James Bond movie -- the towering concrete building with a vineyard literally built on top of it. The entrance was lined with swirling barbed wire, and you can't help but to feel fancy (and underdressed) when you're there. We kept catching each other’s eye with that “play it cool” but “I can’t believe we’re doing this” look.

When you're trying to pack light for a 10-day road trip across Europe you don't typically bring a whole lot of fancy clothes. But man I was so glad I brought that one dress.

On our last night, we cuddled up in our room, opened the floor-to-ceiling windows to our balcony, and we watched Under The Tuscan Sun (my first time ever seeing it). We laughed, we cried. It was absolutely perfect.

The next morning we picked out a case of local wine to preserve all the dreamy memories (never gotten a case of wine before...wow) and headed on our way to the train station. As sad as we were to leave we could LITERALLY not afford one more night (hehe). So we got the heck out of there and headed to Rome where our hotel was tiny and crappy, which is pretty much what we can actually afford.

So here's my blog tribute, to hoping that we’ll be able to return one day, but grateful for the beautiful moments we had there.

As beautiful and extravagant as Villa Bordoni was, there was something more that really impacted us when we were there. 

IT WAS ALL ABOUT TAKING IT SLOW

We all have an everyday pace that is so fast-- it never stops. We can even feel guilty for having a lazy Saturday. But everything about the place was designed to help you retreat for a day or two from the usual stresses of life and just be. I don't just think that's nice--I think it's necessary.

Up until this trip, Michael and I hadn't really taken a vacation, we were always traveling for work. As wonderful as that can be, and as blessed as we were to be able to travel together for work, we realized we had never really de-stressed and enjoyed ourselves like we did there. 

But I don't think we were able to relax just because Villa Bordoni was a swanky place to vacation.

I think you can tune into that feeling wherever you decide to go. Maybe it's a retreat to the mountains or to the beach for a weekend. Maybe it's a stay-cation at home. Maybe it's saving airline points and eating Ramen Noodles instead of eating out so that you can go live it up for a weekend. Go somewhere you've always wanted to go, or buy a bottle of $30 champagne because there's something worth celebrating.

I know it's not possible to do this stuff all that often, or to rush off to Italy, but it is always possible to enjoy yourself, be grateful, and relax. I hope we all decide to do that sometime soon.

XO,

Emily

RECIPE: HOMEMADE CORN DOGS


Happy Tuesday from chilly Michigan!

Michael and I are headed to Adrian, MI to play a show tonight. I've been feeling a little drained today and I thought we all might could use some Tuesday inspiration.

So you've come face to face with the realization that you're already exhausted and Friday is so far away (sigh). Here's a little something easy and fun for you to look forward to this week.

It always energizes me to get creative in the kitchen, this will be a good excuse to have some friends over and plan a themed movie night or play board games while you munch on warm homemade corn dogs. Or if you want to go all out, you could always plan a whole carnival themed date night…just saying...

Happy cooking!


HOMEMADE CORN DOGS

(makes about 20 minis)

1 cup self-rising flour

1 cup corn meal

1  1/4 cups buttermilk

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

3 Tbs sugar

2 Tbs honey


You'll also need...

corn starch for dredging

10 hot dogs, cut in half

20 wooden sticks (chopsticks, skewers, or lollipop sticks)

candy thermometer


Mix the cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, sugar, salt, pepper and honey together until blended well. Pour into a tall cup for dipping

Cut the hot dogs in half, and insert the wooden sticks

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet or a fryer to 375 degrees

Cover one of the mini corn dogs in corn starch, then dip it in the mixture

Drop the whole thing into the oil and let cook for about 3 minutes, or until it reaches the color and consistency that you like

Fry up to 4 at a time, depending on the capacity of your fryer. The more you put in there, the harder it will be to maintain the proper temperature

Cool on a plate with a paper towel to absorb the oil for at least 3 minutes before serving


Date Night Idea /

One of my favorite scenes from the Notebook is Noah and Allie's date to the fair. It would be a romantic movie night to cook dinner together with fair-themed food (think corn dogs, funnel cakes, caramel apples or ice cream cones…you've got lots of unhealthy options here so go big or go home). Then move all of the furniture in your living room to make space for an air mattress picnic and watch The Notebook together with your carnival feast. Don't forget candles and tissues.


Just before I sat down to share this recipe I was reminding myself that every single day I have the option to make my life joyful, or to let everyday stress seep in and dull the things that could've been great. So I'm going to smile more today, and remember why The Notebook is such an incredible movie, and enjoy the people in my life, and plan ahead to make some corn dogs.

I hope you do too!

xo, Emily

RECIPE: CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD


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I have the best memories of rotten banana days in my house growing up.

You know what I mean... you were at the grocery store and decided to buy bananas. But you don't really like bananas that much. So they end up sitting there for a week (or two or three...) and they start to get too gross, even for a smoothie.

But the best thing about almost-rotten bananas is that they're great to bake with. My mom used to make this DELICIOUS banana bread on those rotten banana days, and I remember the smell of fresh baked bread filling the house.

Banana bread is really good the first day when it comes out of the oven warm, but its REALLY GREAT for the next several days when you cut yourself a slice or two, spread a little butter on it and throw it in the toaster oven.


Well, yesterday was rotten banana day in my house

and a dear friend of mine just did me a huge favor, so I was thinking about writing her a thank you card. But what's better than a thank you card?

A thank you card and banana bread.


I used a recipe for "Whole Wheat Banana Walnut Bread" in the Williams-Sonoma "Cooking At Home" book. It called for whole wheat flour and walnuts, but I (obviously) substituted chocolate chips for the nuts. I also decided to try out a local flour that I found at the Farmers market. If you frequent the farmers market you may find that there are some really cool vendors there that you never noticed before. It happened to me last time, and I've got to say that using the fresh, local flour made the whole baking experience a little more fun.


This is for you, person who accidentally let your bananas rot.

And for you, person who has a thank you card they need to send.

Give it a try...


HOMEMADE CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD

( M A K E S   1   L O A F )

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick of butter

1 cup sugar

2  mashed, very ripe bananas

2 eggs

1/2 cup chocolate chips



COMBINE flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl

WHIP the butter (room temperature) and the sugar in an electric mixer 

BEAT in the eggs and the banana until completely mixed. It’s ok if it’s lumpy.

STIR in the chocolate chips, then the flour mixture until just combined

POUR into greased loaf pan + BAKE for 1 hour at 350 degrees



When I took the loaf out of the oven I put it straight onto a cooling rack. When it felt cool enough to touch I wrapped it in clear plastic wrap and cut a piece of butcher paper to wrap around the middle. I wrote a little note on it for my friend, but if you're interested in sharing the recipe click HERE for a printable version that you can hole-punch and tie onto your loaf.

I hope you enjoy your baking day!


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Because it's on you to make life interesting.

xo, EM