Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Top 5 Do-Over Destinations

It is no secret that my husband and I love to travel, and when we do, we try to live like locals. We both agree that leaving a place while there is still much to explore fuels the desire to return. 

Fellow travelers, Monica and Jon of We Go Togethernominated us for an opportunity to share five destinations I would revisit, as part of Booked.Net's Top Destinations to Go promotion. 

It's difficult to pick only five, because so much has captivated our hearts already; however, if I were in charge, and I had to pick five and five only, here is what would top my list. 

I know that Western Europe is crowded, overpriced, but, Paris will always hold a special place in my heart, because it is where we were engaged. Paris truly does have that je ne sais quoi. To me, like Audrey, Paris will always be a good idea, and I cannot wait to go back and explore another neighborhood and enjoy the joie de vivre. 

Yes, we are headed back to Paris...in November!

2. Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela has an air of magic. It may be the faint whisper in the wind from the Celtic Mejas, or flying "good" witches that predated the Christians in Galicia. Or it could be the songs of Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, walking its winding roads leading to the UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral in Obradoiro Square. Nevertheless, there is something special to be found in this gem of Spain's northwest corner. See the sites, sample the food and enjoy a bit of magic yourself.

London holds special memories for me because it was where I first traveled overseas alone, and where I had second row seats to Les Miserables, my favorite musical. As a teacher, the grandeur of Westminster Abbey and Poet's Corner, the Globe Theatre and the Tower of London captivated my attention and left me longing for more. Even the touristy Jack the Ripper tour was fun. And London has some amazing Indian food and gastropubs. So much to see and do...I can't wait to go back!

4. Key West, Florida
For years, I was a card-carrying Parrothead. I lived all things Jimmy Buffett, and Key West, Florida was ground zero. Changes in latitude brought changes in attitude and I was thrilled to be somewhere where the weather suited my clothes. The laid back Conch vibe provided the perfect tropical escape, while the stunning Mallory Square sunsets were worthy, indeed, of their nightly standing ovation. And, I had the opportunity to see Jimmy Buffett playing backyard concert-style in Key West...something I will never forget. 

5. Boston
I am a New England girl and Boston will always be a do-over city, again and again. Whether you're looking for a family-friendly destination or a romantic escape for two, Boston has it all. You'll quickly see why Bostonians "love that dirty water." 

So there you have it...my top five do-over destinations. As part of Booked.Net's Top Destinations to Go promotion, I nominate Chris and Heather from A Brit and a Southerner, Bonnie Rose from A Compass Rose, Alison from Green with Renvy, Kate from Adventurous Kate, and Tatiana from The Dubious Hausfrau

What would top your list?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Easy Weeknight Pasta

If you're looking for an easy weeknight go-to, this pasta dish may be something you will enjoy. It doesn't need the time that a good red sauce or "gravy" would need, and it's flavorful just the same. 

And you can add* or subtract anything, like the sausage for Meatless Monday. Make it your own; it is still delicious. 

Here's what I do. 

Easy Weeknight Pasta

1 box of pasta (with ridges of some sort of absorb the sauce)
1 small bag of spinach
4-6 Italian sausage, quartered
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil for sauteing 
1 onion, chopped
1 can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained. 
1 small jar of artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
1 small box, 8 oz., of sliced mushrooms
1 6-8 oz. container of crumbled feta
1 can of diced tomatoes, not drained
Salt, pepper to taste
A pinch of Italian seasoning and a pinch of tarragon
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese to sprinkle on top. 

*sliced black olives to taste...I don't like olives, so I don't use them, but I'm sure that they would be a great addition. 

1. Cook the pasta in salted water according to directions. After pasta is put into the boiling water, add the spinach and cook together (or cook with the sauce...your choice).

2. Saute the sausage, garlic, onions and mushrooms. 

3. Add the beans, artichoke hearts and tomatoes. Continue to cook until the sausage is cooked through. Add the Italian seasoning and tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste. 

4. Add to cooked pasta and spinach and top with feta. 

5. That's it...mix and serve. Top with your favorite Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Super easy and tasty too. Enjoy!

What's your go-to pasta dish that does not use a traditional red sauce?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Inspiration

One step at at time. Celebrate your successes along the way. 
How do you celebrate your progress?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Fall!

And just like that, summer was over. 

Here's to a fall of wonderful memory making. Cheers!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Inspiration

Think about how you talk to yourself...what does that inside voice think of you? You are amazing! No one is perfect, but there are pieces of perfection in all of us.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday 5: Apps that can save you money.

According to data released by Apple, there are 1.3 million apps available for the iPhone. I'm sure that the Android folks would have similar numbers to share. 

We all have our favorites. 

From gaming to social media to health and fitness to productivity, many people have spent many hours thinking about how to make life easier or more entertaining when using our various devices. 

For me, there are five apps that I use for finding a good deal. 

Here are my favorite 5. 

1. RetailMeNot 
This is a clearinghouse of coupon and promo codes for thousands of retailers. When you have your location services activated, it will give you a pop-up of retailers offering sales and other incentives. And at home, in the desktop option, you can copy and paste the promo codes into your online retailer's checkout.

2. Groupon
This is a great way to try something new, whether it's a new restaurant or a new experience, like skydiving. I have had success with their goods as well. Look up what Groupons may be available in cities where you can have a weekend getaway. If you're exploring a new area, you may discover a new favorite. 

3. Goldstar
We enjoy going to the theatre, but it can be cost prohibitive. We use Goldstar to purchase tickets for theatre, concerts, and even tours in new cities (Groupon may also offer this.) Goldstar is a nationwide service that offers discounted tickets to events in more than thirty cities and neighborhoods across the country. There are no printed tickets; you pick up your tickets at Will Call. We have used this service for theatre events, a speaker series, concerts and tours. We have never been disappointed. They also have a desktop site. 

4. Priceline
We love our weekends away, but we really love saving money. Priceline helps us do both. With this app, we can search the area, or cities around the world and find great deals. Express Deals, I have found, are as good as the ones on which I previously would have bid. Know what star level you're looking for and give it a try. They also have a desktop site.

5. Amazon
The scan feature of the Amazon app has saved me hundreds. If I see a product in Barnes and Noble or Costco or at any other retailer, I can scan the bar code with my app and see what it costs via Amazon. Often times, I can find the same product at a lower price point, and with Prime, my two-day shipping is free. 

Those are my favorite five. 
Do you use any of these? What apps do you use to save money?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Always Monday morning...even on Tuesdays

Everyone has a favorite holiday. 

For many, it's Thanksgiving because it's all about the food and family, without the pressure of shopping for gifts.

For others, it's all things Christmas . . .the lights, the carols, the wrapping. 

Well, maybe not the wrapping...

And then there's the Halloween lovers, who revel in black cats, witches on broomsticks and costumed extortionists who demand candy as payment for the threat of neighborhood mischief-making.

For me, it's all about New Year's Day. I love January 1st. For a long time, I would go to the beach and cleanse my hands in the frigid New England Atlantic in reflection and atonement for the sins of the past year. January makes me giddy with excitement of all that can be. It's a new slate on which I can write my goals, hopes and dreams for the future.

Like New Year's Day, Monday mornings bring a similar excitement. 

Every Monday is a chance to start anew. 

Diets typically start on Mondays..a detox from the culinary debauchery of the weekend before. 

Workouts are popular Monday activities, with the vow that this would be the one, the time for you to get your fitness on. 

Meatless Monday seems to be a given, but what about Tofu Tuesday? 

Just kidding...

What I've learned is that it's all about readiness. 

And readiness can happen on a Tuesday as well as on a Monday. Or a Wednesday. Or even a Friday. 

Ground zero is ground zero. Babies aren't born only on Mondays; likewise goals should not begin again only on Mondays.

Every day is ground zero. Every day is a new day to plan and achieve your goals.

What is it you want to do? What's stopping you? 

Are you ready? 

I mean, really ready? 

Only you know. And no one can force you. 

You have to want it for you

Wanting it for someone else is nice, but you need to want it for you. 

It is all about you. 

Accept it. Embrace it. 

Achieving a goal, whether it's a goal related to weight loss, fitness, education, your career, travel, you name it . . .it all takes time. 

And planning. 

And commitment. 

Every life is gifted with only so many Monday mornings. 

What if you ran out of Mondays? 

I'm not saying that Monday is a bad day to start anything. 

Monday makes a lot of sense. 

But don't put it off thinking there's always next Monday. There could be, but then you've lost a week. What is stopping your success from starting on a Thursday? 

I don't need to tell you . . . life is short. We are bombarded with that message every day. As my mom always says, tomorrow is promised to no one. 

Today is your Monday morning. Even though it's Tuesday. 

Make it count.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Inspiration

Choose wisely and learn from the choices that were not so great. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five TV Shows that Defined My Childhood

Piggybacking off of last Friday's Friday 5, I started to think about the small screen. We were a tv family, for sure. I knew television story arcs like I knew my times tables. 

I had my favorites, but there were five standouts that seemed to define my childhood, either because it was something I enjoyed, or something that was on with which I had no choice in our single television household. 

1. The Brady Bunch
No doubt, this was my favorite. It was awful, I know. But, they had it all...a happy family and a dad with a job that let him take his entire family amusement parks and Hawaii.

2. Little House on the Prairie
This was a Monday night event in our house. I loved Laura...I wanted to be her. Who didn't, really? I cheered when she whipped Nellie Oleson's snooty prairie behind and I swooned, right along with her, for her hunky "Manly" Almonzo. 

3. Lawrence Welk
This is not a fun one to admit, but this was a Saturday night event at our house. My Nana came over to visit, we ate baked beans and hot dogs (sometimes with B&M New England brown bread) and then we began the Saturday night trifecta...Lawrence Welk, followed by the Love Boat, and then Fantasy Island

4. Dallas
This one is a head scratcher, but I think Dallas was a defining show because I was getting older, and I was able to stay up later. And it was something I could watch with my mom without my brother. More than likely I spent most of the time coloring or playing with my toys, but there are those watershed moments, like Who Shot JR? that define the series that I will always remember. And the theme song was fun. 

5.  All in the Family 
I can't exactly remember what night this was on...Sunday night, maybe. But it was a show we never missed. My mom loved Edith...who didn't? And Archie was a lot of things, but he loved his dingbat. We all did.  And when Mike and Gloria and baby Joey left for California, our hearts broke, right along with Edith and Archie's. Most of the groundbreaking comedy went over my head at the time, but that cast of four left a legacy that will last forever.

Your turn...what were the television shows that defined your childhood? What were your favorites?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Walk to the Beach

From our home in Galicia, Spain, we live about three kilometers from what we call "our" beach (almost two miles). 

It's a good cardio walk to the beach, up and down a narrow street, barely wide enough for two cars.

And it's a pretty walk. 

And there's a place to rest and take in the views.

There are farms that pepper the landscape. 

And you are almost guaranteed to see someone working the land. 

Or new families exploring the area. 

It is a beautiful neighborhood that we call home. 

I'll take it. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tortilla Española Recipe...Any Meal, Anytime

When people think of the signature food from Spain, paella is what comes to mind more often than not. And rightfully so. 

Paella is a signature food of Spain; however, I would argue that there is another...one so ubiquitous, that it can be found and easily prepared in any Spanish home or business...from the largest capital cities to the smallest homes in the most remote villages.

Tortilla española, indeed, has the power to say, "Perdón" to its southern sibling, paella.

Tortilla is a Spanish omelet. It has regional variations, but the base is egg and potato. 

Tortilla española is a perfect meal, anytime. It can be eaten as a main dish and paired with a simple salad, in a sandwich, as a tapa or as a ration, or as a pinto pierced with toothpicks. 

It can be eaten hot or cold or room temperature.  

You can add onions (though controversial among purists), red or green peppers, chorizo, mushrooms, cheese, ham...whatever you have on hand. Or you can choose its simplest form...egg and potato, sauteed in olive oil. 

After sampling tortilla española across northern Spain and in a few Spanish restaurants here in the United States, I know two things for sure:

1. A Spanish restaurant can be judged on the quality of its tortilla. 
2. My mother-in-law makes the best tortilla española on the planet.

If you want an easy, go-to recipe that you can serve for a light dinner, lunch, brunch, snack, or anytime food, try tortilla española. 

It is Spanish comfort food at its best. 

Tortilla española

5-6 medium potatoes, thinly sliced, like chips
1 medium onion, thinly sliced or julienned
1 medium green pepper, julienned 
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (1 tablespoon of minced is fine too)
6-8 eggs, depending on how large, well beaten
Olive oil for sauteing
A lid that is roughly the diameter of the saute pan.
Salt to taste

1. Julienne your onions and peppers. Slice your garlic. Use a mandolin to slice your potatoes, or, if you are like my mother-in-law, slice by hand. Keep them thin though, to insure even cooking and the layering that happens after you add the eggs.

2. Season the veggies with salt (and pepper, if you like). My mother-in-law also seasons with Goya Adobo All Purpose Seasoning, but it's about what you like.

3. Saute and stir your veggies until they are fairly soft, but not overdone. Some of them might brown on the bottom...all the better. They caramelize and they are delicious. You need enough oil to insure that you will have movement, once you add the eggs.

3. Beat your eggs, like you would for an omelet. Add to the veggies. Use a fork to make sure the eggs penetrate the mixture to the bottom. You're going to be swirling the pan and eventually, tipping it over, so you want to make sure the egg cooks and sets well. 

Best tortilla española maker. Ever. 

4. Once the egg starts to cook, swirl the pan over the stove to try and get some movement. You want the entire tortilla to be free...if it sticks and falls apart, you're done.

Notice the sides,,,,they're loosening with the spinning. 

5. When it looks set, but not entirely cooked, you're ready to flip it over. Grab a lid that will cover your saute pan. Cover the saute pan and get ready to flip your tortilla. 

6. Over the sink or counter or table, flip your tortilla onto your lid. 

7. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the saute pan to finish cooking and setting the other side.

Those darker, browned bits are delicious! Sweet and crispy.

8. If part of your tortilla wasn't quite ready, don't worry...push it back down into the pan and let it cook a bit more.

All is not lost...push it down and let it cook a little more...
no one will be able to tell the difference.

9.  When you think it's done, you can flip it again but this time, onto a serving plate. Or, you could probably slide it onto a plate without flipping it again.

 10. Let it rest and cool before trying to cut into it. If it's too hot, it could fall apart a bit. Cut into pie-like slices. 

¡Buen provecho!