March 31, 2010

Weekly(ish) Photo Essay: Italian Vacation Scenery in Three Parts

This is going to be a long one, so get ready!

But it has lots of pretty pictures, so don't fret!

Part One. I've been in Rome for about five days, but I haven't really done anything particularly exciting. Valerio is working until today (in fact tonight we're going away to his house in the pseudo-Tuscan* countryside, yay!), and until now I've pretty much just been relaxing. Sunday Valerio and I took Spike, Valerio's brother's Jack Russell, to Villa Ada (the biggest park in Rome).

 Isn't he adorable? You should have heard the ruckus he caused!

 Spike eating grass, and then getting it stuck in his teeth!

There were tiny little daisies everywhere, all over the park!

There was obviously something he couldn't resist!

 hehe! gotta love that little tail!

a little blurry, but still lovely!

 *By "pseudo-Tuscan" I mean that technically his home is still in Lazio (the region where Rome is), but it's so close to Tuscany (the region where Florence is), and the whole area looks so much like Tuscany, that it's pseudo-Tuscan.

A blurry train window picture of a lovely yellow field.

Part Two. Then yesterday I had to take a little trip up the the beach house to trade in some of my winter clothes for summer ones. I've gotten a lot of comments when talking about the beach house (which sounds a lot fancier than it actually is), so I thought I'd take some pictures from the train on the way there and back, and a few around my beach down - a desperately sad place right now, since it's out of season- to show you what it's all about. And the scenery on the way there and back also has an unusual mix of rich agriculture and vegetation, and dilapidated wintry beach towns that seem like they've been abandoned for decades.

I'm not sure what those tall blurry things are, but they sure are cool looking!

Doesn't this look like it could be some 1950s slum town?

The grey Mediterranean, and a lonely lamp post.

An old villa, unfortunately near the highway.
The blur is a smudge on the train window.

My favorite house in Santa Marinella.
(Believe me, our house looks nothing like this, except that ours is the same pink)

Another insanely huge beach villa. This is just the side with the tower.

A sad wintry beach.

La Briciola, or The Crumb. The name of the teeniest little house in S.M.
It's literally like 15 x 30 feet.

Doesn't this look like it would lead to a secret garden!

The apricot blossoms in our back yard.

These last two are pictures from a couple of years ago.
(Yesterday I didn't get any good ones of the front of the house)
The first is our tree house, in the Eucalyptus tree, with Valerio sleeping on the "second floor"
The second is the front of the house and front garden at Lorenzo's birthday party.

Part Three. When I got back into Rome last night, I was at my cousin Lorenzo's house, making myself a cup of tea, and I saw out of one kitchen window, this perfect cloud, and just below, their neighbor's beautiful little balcony (photos above), and out of the other kitchen window, the most spectacular sunset (below).

I just love how little things of beauty make a day so much more special!

March 29, 2010

Finally Appreciating Something I Never Really Valued

When I was younger (still in K-12) I used to always marvel at the amount of vacation time teachers and other school staff got.

"They get the same amount of time that we get off, and they don't even have homework! Lucky!"

When I started teaching in Madrid and found out that I had eleven days off for Semana Santa (Easter/Spring Break) I was like, "Whaaaa? That's a long time! Awesome!"

Little that I know that grading homework and papers and tests was indeed homework, and the amount of vacation time teachers get is essentially the only way to stop them from becoming killing-spree psychopaths after a full year of dealing with "our future."

Until you start to teach, you have no idea what teaching is like. I don't mean to sound snooty and elitist, but honestly, teaching - especially teaching young children - is something you can't understand externally. You have to have done it to really know what it's about, much like parenting, I imagine. Although I probably can't really imagine because I've never been a parent (except in my dream last night, which was weird to say the least, but that's another story for another day).

I've been teaching on and off for the past three years, but mostly rather informally. One-on-one in-company business English lessons, groups of three adolescents, twice-a-week lessons with ten three-year-olds. It was challenging, at times difficult, and often exhausting, but it was nothing like teaching full time in a school with full-sized twenty-five child classes.

Don't get me wrong, I love the kids at my school, especially the wee ones. But the very thing that makes them so cute - their age - makes the job all the more exhausting and physically draining. I wake up at 6:45, try to shower, get dressed, have a decent breakfast, and take a look at my email (we can't access gmail at the school) before running out of the house at 8:00. By 8:50 I'm at school, and I scrambling to finish preparing my lessons for 9:00. Then from 9:00pm to 4:00pm - with the exception of one morning break and one hour for lunch - I am constantly teaching.

And not just handing out worksheets and supervising, or writing stuff on the board and watching the kids copy. I work primarily with ages one to five, and all - and I mean all - of our activities are active: singing songs, dancing, playing games, reading stories, going outside. And when you're the ringleader of all this madness, it can get pretty exhausting.

In addition to essentially being a English-teaching clown all day, I also get to teach exam prep classes for second and fourth graders four times a week, which is where my awesome homework of grading and correcting assignments comes in.

I used to be one of those people that could never fall asleep in public - the eight-hour transatlantic plane trips I took twice a year were agonizingly long to be awake for the whole time. But now I'm that tired girl who falls asleep on the twenty-minute bus ride back into the city. Few are the days when I don't jolt awake and wipe a little drool off my face when the bus pulls into the station.

My point is, I'm sorry for every time I said teachers must have it easy with three months in the summer, and winter and spring break vacations, I'm sorry for ever thinking that teachers never had any homework, and I'm sorry for under-valuing the sheer amount of time and effort it take just to be a teacher, let alone a good teacher.

Now I know how truly deserving teachers are of their time off, and now, almost two months after being surprised about having so much vacation for Easter, I realize how much I needed this vacation, and how, if I didn't have it, I would probably be throwing children out of windows in a week or so.

Thank god I still have eight days left, or I don't know what I would do!

For all you other teachers out there...
What did you most appreciate about your Spring Break this year?
And if you haven't had it yet, what amazing vacation do you have planned?

March 28, 2010

Better BlankThan Blank

My excuse is that I was on a plane on Friday, and then slept the whole afternoon, and then yesterday I got distracted baking a quadruple chocolate giant heart-shaped brownie cake. So you'll be getting my Friday Blanks on Sunday. Oh well. Better late than never, right?

1.  The best piece of advice I was ever given was    that you are the most important person in your life. The more you do to further yourself, the more you can hope to make a real impact on someone else's life. Sort of like how on the airplane they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anybody who might need your help .

2.  If I had a million dollars to give to one charity I would give it to     UNICEF  .

3.  If I got to choose my "last meal" it would be      definitely something involving lobster and scallops, an amazing salad, green beans with almonds and butter, and a tarte tatin.

4.  My hair is     due for a trim. It's been about nine months, and while it started at chin length, it's now well past my shoulders and sort of unruly   .

5.  If at first you don't succeed   don't feel too bad, no everyone is a winner the first time around. but then carefully analyze where you went wrong and make the necessary changes the next time around!

6.  I have always been very      optimistic and diplomatic.

7.  Oh....and by the way....      I'm in Rome! Man, I missed this city! I can't wait to go eat some pizza and stop by Gelateria San Crispino, and ride a scooter... oh how I miss my scooter!

And now I've got to go, because it's lunch time and Valerio's mom probably has something delicious planned!

March 27, 2010

Quadruple Chocolate Brownie Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Pretty much the first words* out of Valerio's mouth yesterday when I got into Rome were, "voglio un dolce!" (I want a dessert!). I used to always make cakes and desserts for him (back what I actually had an oven), and I guess I sort of spoiled him to the point of expecting me to make him some sort of fancy dessert every couple of weeks or so. It's been a couple of months since I've actually baked him something (living in a difference country where I don't have an oven makes it sort of hard) so he decided to take advantage of my staying with him (in his house with a huge kitchen and working oven) to demand a cake from me.

Normally I don't like when people demand things from me, but to be honest, I sort of had a little hankering for something chocolatey. So I spent a little time on Foodgawker looking for he perfect fudgey brownies recipe. But then Valerio mentioned that he wanted something with that "white stuff" I used to make - that "white stuff" being cream cheese frosting. I'd never heard of cream cheese frosted brownies before, but since the ones I was making were extra chocolately, I figured the tang of the cream cheese would balance it out well.

The brownie recipe I used was ThomasKeller's "Ah Hoc" Chocolate Brownies, which I modified a bit to be quadruple chocolate brownies, by adding milk chocolate and white chocolate to the dark chocolate and cocoa powder), and Lovin' From the Oven's Cream Cheese Frosting, which she swears by.

Here are the two recipes, with my modifications in bold. If you want to see the original recipe, without my modifications, go here.

"Ad Hoc" Quadruple Chocolate Brownies

(Print Friendly Version)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
 (we use valhrona)
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
 (you may want to reduce this a bit, by 1/8-1/4 pound. I used the full amount the recipe calls for and I found it a bit greasy).
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces ( about 1 1/2 cups), divided in two
  • 4  ounces milk chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. At Ad Hoc, they use a 9-inch square silicone mold, because it keeps the edges from overcooking; if you use a metal or glass baking pan, butter and flour it. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside
Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature. Mix in half of the dark chocolate (4 oz) into the butter until completely combined.
In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then add one-third of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter. 
  6. Mix together the remaining chopped chocolate pieces (4 oz each dark, milk, and white chocolate).
  7. Add the mixed chopped chocolate and stir to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

  8. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it. If the pick comes out wet, test a second time, because you may have hit a piece of chocolate chip; then bake for a few more minutes longer if necessary.
  9. Cool in the pan until the brownie is just a bit warmer than room temperature.
 Run a knife around the edges if not using a silicone mold, and invert the brownie onto a cutting board. Spread cream cheese frosting over the brownies. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days). If you don't want to use the frosting, then Thomas Keller recommends cutting into squares and dusting the brownies with powdered sugar.

Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 8 oz cream cheese (only use Philadelphia brand!)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • few drops of water
Beat all ingredients well and spread on top of cooled cake.

The verdict? It was delicious! We even snuck a little corner before dinner! Yum! 
But if I had one regret, I would have put walnuts or pecans in it too, but it totally slipped my mind! 
Either way, it was tasty enough like this!

* OK, I'm exaggerating a bit. But they were maybe his second or third words :)

March 25, 2010

Baggage Procrastination

this is what my head feels like.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to Rome. It's past 1:00 am and I haven't even started packing yet. I've been "packing mentally" for the last hour or so, but I haven't started putting anything in my suitcase. I haven't even gotten my suitcase out yet. Instead, I've been sewing. I caught the sewing bug again with the adorable baby dress I made, and I decided to use the stripey fabric to make myself this skirt. But mine has black and white vertical stripes with a wide black satin ribbon belt. Now that I think about it, it sort of reminds me of beetle juice. haha. But it's cute. I can't wait to wear it with cute heels out on the town.

I have finished it, but I'm way too tired to take pictures and post them right now. Especially because I need to start packing and manage to get some sleep before waking up at 6:00 am and leaving for the airport at 7:00 am. I probably shouldn't even be blogging.

Which is why I think I'm going to do the responsible thing, and put on another episode of Friends, and get packing. My alternative is procrastinating until I'm forced to pull an allnighter because there's no way I trust myself to wake up after only two hours of sleep, and I'm not going to let this happen because I can never fall asleep on airplanes, especially during such a short flight, and I have no intention of being comatose tomorrow, because aside from spending the day with Valerio, I also have to fit in a lunch with my psuedo-boss, who's also going to be in Rome this weekend. Phew. That was a long sentence. Which means it's officially time for me to hurry up and get to bed, because when I start with run-on sentences, I know I'm tired.

Crap. I also have to find the time to take a shower at some point. Dammit.

Nighty night, every one. Have a great weekend! I'll be back as soon as I find the time!

p.s. I'll probably just end up making an elaborate list of stuff I should be bringing (and then forget to bring half the stuff), which like putting an end to procrastination without actively doing something.

March 24, 2010

Getting to Know You


I found it at The Little Things We Do, but originally from MannLand5

The questions..
1. Are you more of a talker or a listener?
I'd say both. I'm a good listener, but I love talking. Sometimes I say really smart things that impress even myself, but sometimes I talk just to fill an awkward silence and I say some stupid ass shit.
2. Bra. Underwire or wireless?
Underwire, totally.

3. I wish I were.....?
a little bit less judgmental. Once I get to know someone, I'm extremely accepting and not judgmental at all, but I tend to be pretty judgmental about people I don't know very well/am only seeing from a distance. Example: I always mentally assess people - on the subway for example - based on how they're dressed, even though I know it's totally mean and superficial, since most of the time I'm not thinking anything nice.

4. The Academy Awards are on tonight..will you watch?
If I were here where I am now, then no. I can't imagine where I would watch them. But if I had the option, I totally would. I haven't watched the Oscars in years!

5. Do you put your deodorant on before or after you get dressed?
During/after...  if I put it on before it manages to get everywhere. 
stupid Dove deodorant, "goes on clear," "little black dress approved" my ass!

6. Would you rather do the dishes or clean toilets?
Dishes. Toilets are yucky!

7. How much did you weigh at birth?
7 lbs 2 oz. Not too fat, but I had a huge head!

8. If you could only buy one thing for the Spring/Summer season..what would it be?
A white cotton summer dress. Light enough for the beach during the day, dressy enough for heels and a cardigan at night.  So versatile and elegant.


I would write more, but I'm beyond exhausted, and I've somehow managed to stay up until 1:20 am again. I need to turn into those people who go to bed at 10 pm!

And then tomorrow I have a thousand and one things to do before leaving for Rome bright and early on Friday morning. I'll try to get in another post before the weekend, but we'll see!

March 23, 2010

Itty Bitty Baby Dress!

So remember how I got a sewing machine and started embellishing all my clothes with ribbon ruffles? Well, I got kind of bored of ribbon ruffles, and I wanted to sew up something that used a pattern. So yesterday I stopped by my (over-priced) neighborhood fabric shop, and picked up not only a couple of awesome fabrics for me (black and white stripes and grey - so much for deviating from my dull monochromatic wardrobe),

but also a couple of adorable infant prints - pale pink, and a creamy white with tiny pink circles.

No, I'm not planning on making myself pink pajamas. My cousin is pregnant and due in May, so I thought I would try my hand at making baby clothes. And luckily she's having a little girl, which means a pink dress! Which fits perfectly with the Spring season of her birth! I got the pattern from Made By Rae, and made a couple of modifications. It's free, but for personal use only.

I thought baby clothes would be difficult to make because they're so tiny, but they're actually quite easy because they're so simple! No adjusting for hips, waist and breasts, no darts - babies are so easy to sew for! Plus I could add girly embellishments on her clothes too! I added a pink ribbon hem and waist detail, and I modified it to have an open slip in the back that ties up with a little bow - it'll fit her longer, and it's much cuter!

So here you are, my first effort at sewing up baby clothes - not too shabby, if I may say so myself :)

Don't the little tie-straps look like bunny ears?

A cute bunny!

The slit in the back with the little bow-tie, and the satin detailing at the waist.

I'm not crazy about the flash effect, 
but it does show off the satin hem and waist, 
and it's not blurry.

What do you think? Won't little Marta look just precious?