Ciao to Ciao to Chow

Hey, y’all! (Yes, six months later I am still talking in a Southern accent even though I live in the Midwest.) I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to be saying goodbye to ciao to chow. Well, saying ciao to chow to chow, if we want to stick to that crazy Italian thang!

While I love blogging and have enjoyed writing posts the past six months that show off my great sense of humor and quick wit (bahahaha) share with you the stories and people that make my life the wonderful thing that it is, I’ve decided that — in order to truly live the best life I can this summer — I want to have time to experience all of the things the East Coast has to offer (on a STRICT budget, of course!). All on top of work and a family vacation.

I hope you all (whoever you are) have enjoyed reading this. My wish was for my audience to not only see photographs of my journey throughout Italy, but to…in a way…experience it with me. You all were great vacation buddies 🙂

Thanks again — ciao for now!

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Wednesday Lunch Date

This morning, after a quick bowl of Special K fruit & yogurt (with a sliced ‘naner on top), I headed out for a run on my usual 5-mile route. Besides the occasional “misting,” the workout went well. Thanks, Rascal Flatts & Lupe for powering me through it! I’m hoping to build back some speed this summer, as well as endurance. Let’s see if I can manage that, k?

After a quick shower and prepping myself to not look like a sweaty hot mess, I got picked up by my hot lunch date: Julie! For those of you who don’t know, I roomed with Julie for 4 months in Rome last semester when we studied abroad. We saw each other a lottttttt, but after almost 2 weeks apart, we were missin’ each other and decided to get together for a lunch date (good thing we live less than 2 minutes apart by car).

Per Julie’s mom’s smart recommendation, we dined at Restoration Gardens, a cute garden/cafe combo with plants to peruse and dishes to devour.

The interior of the cafe isn’t all that large, but the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxing. Quaint & cozy — and that’s all I need!

Like my friend Liza, I have the tendency to check out the menu of a restaurant online before I go out to eat, so naturally, I headed to their site earlier today to see what caught my eye.

I decided quickly I’d get the Chicken Salad Sandwich — and that’s saying something since it usually takes me ages to finalize my order at a restaurant! (“Um…can you come back in like 5 minutes? I just need a little bit more time…”)

Chunks of tender chicken combined with cranberries, pecans, red onion, celery, and mixed greens, all resting atop eight-grain bread. Not only was this sandwich delicious, but the portion is generous — even enough to take home for tomorrow’s lunch, in fact 🙂

Oh, and just when I thought this couldn’t get better…I discovered the unbelievably crunchy kettle chips underneath the sandwich halves. Why hellllllooooo there! I know I just said yesterday the only chips I really like are Sun Chips, but can I please add extremely crunchy (with tons of folds, if ya know what I mean) kettle chips to the list?

Julie chose the California Turkey: shaved turkey with guac, alfalfa sprouts, tomato, provolone cheese, mixed greens, and applewood smoked bacon on French Bread.

After hearing great things about this place, it definitely lived up to its expectations. We both loved our sandwiches and would recommend this place in a heartbeat.

Sandwiches make me happy!

After catching up on our days apart, Julie and I headed outside to look at the flowers:

While there were still some pretty geraniums (see Jules? I know a flower type), the disgustingly cold Wisconsin weather (even in May!) has prevented the flowers around town from really being their most gorgeous. Oh, well. I’m sure they’ll bloom sometime this summer — like around late July, perhaps? 🙂

A perfect lunch date with one of my favorites. Don’t you just love when fun things pop up during the week…and not just on the weekends?

Now, I’ve gotta go clean up all my junk lying around and see if there’s anything my mom needs help with before the relatives come over tonight.

Lata gatas!

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Like Jared.

After baking over 80 cupcakes and cooking dinner two nights in a row, Layne and I were ready to let someone else do the dinner-makin’ on Monday night.


Well, Jared didn’t really handle the dinner prep, but he did serve as our inspiration. After a long school day that started at 6:15 am (how do kids go to school straight-through from 8-3? I don’t know how I handled that for 12 years!), we were pooped when we returned home. Not too pooped to go for a long walk, but tired enough to cook dinner. You know how it goes…

We decided to pick up Subway on our way home from our walk. I chose a 6-inch sandwich on flatbread that included turkey breast, a slice of provolone cheese, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and pickles, with easy light mayo. A mouthful, but just what I prefer — a teeny taste of the mayo so I get the flavor but not all the fat & cals. (I’d rather use those for, say, peanut butter frosting 🙂 )

On the side: a small bag of Garden Salsa Sun Chips. I only have these every so often, but when I do, I realize they’d have to be my favorite type of chip. And really the only ones I like. Crunchy, and not too greasy…with a ton of zesty flava!

Breakfast today was eaten at my sister’s apartment — alone — before I headed out for the 3 hour drive. I decided to “sleep in” until 7:30, instead of waking up at 5:50 like her. I enjoyed a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats (w/almonds) cereal with 1/2 a sliced ‘naner on top.

Lunch was thrown together pretty quickly after I got home. As I was on the phone with one of my good friends, I just kept snacking on fruit throughout the house — on the counter, in the fridge, in the crisper drawer. I know I’m hungry when everything looks good.

I decided to go the simple route and make a turkey, swiss, romaine, & tomato sandwich on whole wheat bread with a few drizzles of Italian dressing.

Super simple, and it fit the bill. Meaning, it filled my stomach. (Don’t the toothpicks remind you of a diner?)

I added a yoplait light yogurt to complete the meal. Love that raspberry flavor!

Now, for those graduation pics I’ve been meaning to share with y’all:

Dad normal….

And on his tiptoes…

Not to worry, Dad! I’m convinced the hat gives him a few extra inches 😉

I don’t know why Andrew was so hesitant when Layne & I told him we wanted to “lift him up.” You don’t get those muscles from lifting peanuts, baby! 🙂

Again, we are all so proud! Congratulations to all you graduates out there!

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My new best friends are J. Biebs & 8th graders

The way to a middle schooler’s heart is through his or her stomach — guaranteed.

My sister Layne is a middle school science teacher, and after visiting her students last year and totally charming them with my sparkling personality and great sense of humor winning them over with Pillsbury Funfetti cookies, I knew I wanted to up the ante this year…and did I ever!

But I’m going to make you wait for that…

On Saturday my family got together to celebrate & congratulate my brother Andrew on his college graduation — woot woot! We are all so proud of him and his accomplishments. Way to go, dude! (Since the graduation pictures are on my mom’s camera, I’ll post pictures in an upcoming post.)

After the graduation ceremony, I headed to my sister’s house to spend a few days out in the boonies 😉 I loooovveeee “the boonies!” We’ve had a fun couple of days full of long walks, cooking & baking in the kitchen, watching the Justin Bieber movie and absolutely loving it, and catching up on our 4+ months apart.

The first night we got home a bit later and wanted something quick and not too heavy.

A grilled chicken salad to the rescue!

Lemon-pepper marinated slices of chicken breast came together with a bed of fresh spring mix greens, dried cranberries, pecan halves, feta cheese, and a handful of croutons. All drizzled with some more of the marinade…because it’s just that dang tasty!

On the side, we split a cinnamon raisin bagel. I chose to drizzle mine with honey.

Sunday night’s dinner was a recipe from one of my favorite bloggers, Courtney from Sweet Tooth Sweet Life. Can you believe I was ready for pasta & pesto again?

We whipped up Courtney’s Chicken ‘n Penne Pesto in no time, with just one modification: we subbed in whole wheat rotini noodles for the penne. That’s all!

 While the broccoli was a tad bit soggy for my liking (my bad; I think that was when I was distracted with proclaiming to Layne my new-found love for J. Biebs), the rest of the dish was delish. Chicken, pasta, broccoli, garlic, pesto. What more could a girl want? So easy and quick to prepare, too…which never hurts.

I also brought Layne a souvenir: limoncello!

While it’s super-syrupy and uber lemony (think: a lemonhead) on its own, limoncello is tasty when mixed with other, more tasty things…such as cranberry juice, lemonade, and Squirt.

Now…on to some drool-worthy desserts.

As soon as I decided cupcakes were the name of the game, I headed straight over to Courtney’s blog because she is the Queen of all things sweet — especially cupcakes!

The minute I clicked on her recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes & Peanut Butter Frosting, I was sold. Like that.

Ya sold yet? 😉

These babies were the star of the 3-cupcake selection at the middle school…that’s for sure! Since I had to bake & frost over 80 cupcakes, I chose to make 48 of the PB choco variety, 24 Red Velvet, and 24 Pillsbury Funfetti cupcakes (my cousin Natalie thinks I’m joking when I say I’m having Funfetti cupcakes at my future wedding in place of a cake).

Photo creds to Layne on the above photo. She rocks my (tan) socks.

With the Red Velvet and Funfetti cupcakes I used boxed mixes and already-prepared frostings (Cream-cheese style and Funfetti white, respectively), because I had EIGHTY to make (hehe), but I did a little something special with the PB Cup ones. Per Courtney’s recipe, I started out with just a regular old Devil’s Food Cake mix and baked those according to box directions (subbing in applesauce for the oil because it’s a super-easy substitution that’s healthier and tastes just as great, if not better and more moist!).

Once the cupcakes were out of the oven, I let them cool for 10 minutes until I placed a mini Reese’s PB cup in the center of each.

Courtney is a genius. Seriously. Once you place the PB cup inside the warm chocolate cupcake, it gets all melted and creamy and ohmygoshican’tstopgawkingatthiscupcake.

We were so tempted to try one right then — but knew we had to wait for the Peanut Butter frosting.

All it takes is a little combining of some powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and — of course — the peanut butter! Just add milk ’til you get to the desired consistency. (Careful — I was tempted to add milk until it was thinner and thinner, but just remember: frosting is supposed to be thick! Add too much milk and the frosting will run right off the ‘cakes!)

Warning: This frosting is highly addictive. You WILL have leftovers (because the frosting is so rich, I didn’t want to put a TON on each ‘cake), and they will tempt you from the container in the back of the fridge, behind the apples, yogurt, and spinach.

Best part? You start out with something like this…

And when you bite (or stick your fork into — yes, I eat cupcakes with a fork if given the option) into it, it looks like this:

We microwaved ’em for just 12 seconds so the frosting would get all melty right before we dug in. They were obviously still moist and fresh, but melted peanut butter is just that much better.

And to think my sister & I don’t even like chocolate cake. Ha!

Trust me, even if you don’t like chocolate (cup)cakes, you will fall in love with these because of the irresistible combination of peanut butter and chocolate. Guaranteed…or your money back. (Well, not really. But I just have always wanted to say that phrase!)

What’s the best flavor combo out there?

  1. Peanut butter and banana
  2. Peanut butter and chocolate
  3. Cinnamon raisin and swiss (love, Love, LOVE cinnamon raisin toast or bagels with melted swiss cheese. So flippin’ tasty!)
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What Screams America

I don’t care what anyone says…

Homemade burgers on the grill, baked beans, and a beautiful fresh fruit salad are the (food) definition of America.

And when a meal looks and tastes like this, I’m so alright with that 😉

What food screams America to you? Is there something that — when traveling — you crave more than anything else?

Since I’m a meat-eater, I’d have to say burgers, brats (holla, Wisconsin!), and chicken on the grill, along with all the ‘ol classics — potato salad, fresh fruit, and corn on the cob — make me think of my mother land.

As for food I crave when I’m traveling, there’s nothing that I crave every single time I travel. It usually depends on where I go and how long I’m there!

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Mother’s Day & OIAJ

Now that I’m back in the states, I’m hoping my blogging can become more regular again. But with a crazy-busy summer packed with a full-time internship in Manhattan and a family trip to Greece, this could prove rather difficult….

While I’ve got the time at home (well, one day at least!), I’ve decided this’ll be a catchup/ketchup/catsup/alrightttttt, catch up post. I’m tellin’ ya upfront! (Translation: this could get supa random.)

Mother’s Day was the greatest because we all got together, once again. We are Family, after all. And what better way to spend Mother’s Day than with all your fave people, right?

Can I please just share with y’all how my dad first took this photo?

Since the point of the photo was to lift up my mom, my dad kind of missed the point the first time around. We got a good laugh out of it, though!

Just like the reception location, the place we ate brunch was unbelievably gorgeous — with a perfect lakeside view:

Like most brunches, it was served buffet-style. Downside: reminded me of mensa. Upside: the food was 100x better!

I filled my plate with scrambled eggs, a breakfast sausage, a barbecued rib, a scoop of cold pasta salad, and loads of fresh fruit.

 I know this is not the way things are supposed to turn out, but after my added salt-less Lent, I am loving that I can salt eggs again. Is it just me, or are eggs so much better with a sprinkle of added salt?

Besides the fruit being so fresh and juicy, my favorite part of my meal was undoubtedly the barbecued rib. They don’t make those in Italy.

Oh, wait…let me rephrase that: My favorite until the dessert, that is 🙂

A sliver of carrot cake with — you guessed it — cream cheese frosting. Moist spice cake dotted with flecks of carrot, pieces of walnut, and thin ribbons of frosting. I die.

The happy couple even stopped by to visit before they jetted off to Cabo. I told Kelly to enjoy the warm weather for me — She-bo doesn’t get that warm…like, ever.

My other eats throughout the week included:

  • My very first OIAJ (Oats in a Jar). This heavenly concoction can be made the night before, or the morning of. It’s made when you have just a little bit left in your peanut butter, almond butter, or any other nut butter jar. How convenient that our peanut butter was running low right when I came home 🙂 (Thanks, Dad for making those pb&j’s!)

Since I didn’t think of it until the morning of, I chose to make the oats and then put them inside the jar — perfectly delicious, IMO.
I loaded my oats with a handful of pecans and a few slices of frozen banana. I’m begging you guys to try this — so much better than the oats I make in a bowl and then put a dollop of pb on top of. Maybe because it’s super fun eating out of a jar? I felt like such a rebel 😉 Kind of like when you drink from the milk carton…a la Danny Tanner when he goes psycho and becomes Dirty Danny in the episode when he’s standing in the closet and overhears his family saying he’s a neat freak! Wow, now that I’ve completely embarrassed myself…
  • After looking at food porn Foodgawker, I stumbled across a recipe for an Asian-inspired Salmon via This Week for Dinner. I followed the recipe almost to a T, simply substituting a different type of salmon for the Norwegian fillet the recipe calls for.

I had never made fish before, so to be honest, I was pretty excited it turned out to be edible! The only thing I’d change for next time would be to let the sauce reduce a little more to become thicker.

Consistency of the sauce aside, the actual flavor of it was pretty good — infused with orange juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and ginger. On the side, we had some steamed broccoli with a few splashes of soy sauce and sesame oil and added sesame seeds on top. The brown rice that accompanied the meal? As I was choking it down (slight exaggeration), I tried to remind myself that it was the healthier choice — but I can’t pretend to like it. I much prefer the Uncle Ben’s brown rice variety in a bag. You know, the one that warms up in the bag in 90 seconds? Simplicity and tastiness 🙂 Next time, I’m going for something a little more flavorful — maybe some added black beans, different flavors of rice…

  • My grandma’s family-famous homemade pizza

Ain’t she cute? 😉
My mom and I were thrilled when we smelled this baking in the oven…poor Dad wasn’t along for the ride eats!
I had 2 slices of pizza with cheese & Italian sausage, as well as some lettuce with carrots and my grandma’s from-scratch vinaigrette. And at Grandma’s a meal ain’t complete unless you have dessert, so I finished off my meal with a peanut butter cookie. (At G-ma’s): from scratch, natch 🙂
After lunch, a rousing game of Scrabble was played between my Grandma (G-ma), my mom (Ma), and me (lil’ Ma). Is lil’ ma a rapper? I’m so behind on the times…
See the word wrung? Jackpot, baby! TRIPLE WORD SCORE. Bam.
Somehow lil’ Ma ended up winning:
Even though at one point my letters looked like this:
I mean, really?
After talking for a while longer, my mom and I headed out to beat the crazy storms. Only a day trip, but so nice to see them before I leave for the summer.
And I Ask You: What’s the best thing you’ve eaten this week?

I’m not gonna lie: OIAJ were the most magical thing I’ve eaten since I’ve been home.
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Family = Craziness, Family = Love

There are few things I like more in life than weddings. I have been to a ton of weddings about 3 weddings in my entire life, but those 3 were pretty darn good — and this one was no exception!

There’s nothing like a fun, family wedding (and getting the news that I finally got my dream summer internship!) to cure any traces of jet-lag. Plus, I’ve gotta admit that — while I had the time of my life in Italy — there is absolutely no comparison to the sweet taste of American freedom. I am in love with this country 🙂

After kissing my kitchen floor sleeping in my own bed (ahh!) and attacking my brother with a ginormous hug (he had to oblige; I had to make up for 4 months!), my family and I headed to Oconomowoc. Isn’t that the coolest city name ever? Besides Sheboygan of cousre 😉 Bee t dubs, Andrew and I counted that there are in fact 5 o’s in Oconomowoc. Yes, we are 22 and 20 respectively and get excited that we can count.

Sibling love.

This dress may look familiar — I wore it to my campus’s end-of-year banquet in Roma last week. Oh well: I am never ashamed to wear an outfit more than once in a short time span…especially when I’m in a whole different country.

Friday night was full of a lotta family & a lotta food. Since these are 2 of the things I love most in life, I was one happy, American-lovin’ girl!

Before I get to the chow, here’s a little photo recap of the weekend:

First off, I got to meet my cousin Erica, at last! She lives in Cali (tough life, right?), so I don’t get to see her family very often.

She’s gonna grow up to be even more stunning, agree? And I WANT HER HAIR. (Okay, I’ve settled down.)

And the rest of these weirdos? Well, I’ve known ’em my whole life.

Marcia, my godmother & roomie for the summer, is on the left; Layne is on the right.

Mom & Dad.

My cousin Lizzy had the most adorable bubble-gum pink dress ever. She’s gonna be the hottest prettiest girl at that 8th grade dance, that’s for sure 🙂

Alright, enough talking — the rest of the photos are uninterrupted, I promise!

Love them to death.

(Note: my  cousin Nolan was not drinking my sister’s beer. This was for silly photo purposes only!)

We clean up real nice, but we believe our true personalities come out better in the goofy photos:

My family got fantastic creeping viewing seats. I mean, the 2 tables directly in front of the wedding party? Yes, please.

While everyone was getting settled in their seats, I took the opportunity to explore my surroundings. Not bad, eh?

The beautiful couple (my cousin John and his new wife, Kelly) chose to forgo a traditional wedding cake in favor of vanilla and chocolate cupcakes decorated with their initials…and of course, chocolate strawberries.

(Side note: Does the word “forgo” make anyone else think immediately of Chris Harrison and the Bachelor fantasy suites? “If you choose to forgo your separate rooms, please take this key and spend the night together in the fantasy suite.” Wonder what went on behind those closed doors…)

Before our entrees, we were treated to a side salad with thick slices of fresh cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and a tangy peppercorn ranch dressing. Playing wing-man was a still warm multi-grain roll.

After lots of intelligent conversation foolish chatter with my cousins, the entrees were brought out. A couple of months ago, my mom asked me my meal preference. I could choose between a.) a grilled chicken and steak combo platter, b.) a stuffed porkchop, and c.) mushroom ravioli. At the time, I was diggin’ pasta and thought that to be the best choice. Fast-forward 2 months and, while I’m not exactly sick of pasta, it’s become rather repetitive. Good thing this ravioli was unlike anything I’d had in Italy!

Throughout my travels, I’d had gnocchi, fettuccine, spaghetti, bucatini, rigatoni, penne, linguine, farfalle, shell, and lasagna but no ravioli. A girl’s gotta stop somewhere, right?!

This dish was divine — tender ravioli was filled with mushrooms and drizzled with a creamy orange sauce and a bed of fresh asparagus.

After the meal, dancing ensued. And lots of it! Y’all should see my Dad’s and Uncle Dan’s dance moves. Seriously, people. And my Uncle Steve has a mean “leg guitar.” Yeah, kinda had to be there I guess?

In between doing the shopping cart and the leg guitar, we made sure to visit the photo booth — a lot. The deejay kept telling people to visit the photo booth and take goofy photos, and because no one else did, we did it for them. I mean, the prop box had a fish hat. A fish hat, people!

Kelly looked beautiful — I loved her dress! She is the sweetest girl, and I’m so happy she’s joining our crazy family. I feel confident she can totally handle us…or at least join in on the craziness 🙂

And how cute does my cousin Erin look with her baby bump?

That baby is going to be showered with Meseck love, that’s for sure.

Thanks for an awesome wedding, Kelly & John! As my dad so wisely put it at one of his best-man speeches way back when: May all your pains be champagnes. 

And I Ask You: Chocolate or Vanilla cupcakes? Go.

While I love chocolate in things, I detest chocolate (cup)cakes and chocolate ice cream. Hence, I’m totes going for the vanilla.

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