Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chewy Lemon Cookies

I've been wanting to share this delicious recipe for awhile now.  As lemons appear to be in season all year round in Sicily (unlike blood oranges, much to my chagrin!), these cookies make both a light summer treat or a refreshing sweet on a cold January day.  They were a big hit in our house.  Enjoy!

Chewy Lemon Cookies
found via Hooray Blog

Makes 24-36 cookies.


  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of one large lemon
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar for rolling cookies
  • Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  • In a larger bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, lemon zest and juice.
  • Add in dry ingredients, beating until just combined. Roll rounded spoonfuls of dough into balls and then roll in sugar. Place on lined cookie sheets, about 1 or 2 inches apart.
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. (Mine needed just 8 minutes; they were not yet golden but I wanted them still pale and tender.) Remove from oven and let stand on cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to cook on wire racks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

our Dairy Cottage in the Dolomites

(or, How to Stay Mostly Cheerful Despite Mosquito Infestation)

After our whirlwind, stressful, last-minute trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast last month (or was it this month?), Elliott and I both wanted me to take over more of the planning of our next trip.  Hours and hours of research and decision-making and phone calls later, I had a plan:
  • Fly into Venice last Friday (Elliott was already there for work); Elliott bought my plane ticket
  • Rent a car (also something Elliott will do)
  • Drive up into the Dolomite Mountains (also Elliott's job)
  • Spend the weekend there resting, reading, walking/hiking, and being together as a family
  • Drive back at the end of the weekend and return the rental car (again, all Elliott's responsibility)
OK, so I guess I didn't end up doing too much besides enjoying everything that Elliott did for me, but at least this time I did pick out the place we would stay.  That's progress.  And I offered to drive and rent the car.  (No progress in that department.  Maybe next time.)

We rented this car, which was too small for us but was awfully cute, even though Lena's car seat was too big to fit behind us and so my seat didn't lock into position all weekend.  Also, no A/C.  Livin' la dolce vita!  This is a Fiat cinquecento (Fiat "five hundred," named for its 500 cc engine), the quintessential Italian car.

We met up in Venice and headed for the famous Dolomite Mountains, jagged protrusions of gray rock that dominate the skyline throughout all of northeastern Italy.  The mountains remind me of molars: the jagged tops are flat like molar teeth and the green valleys sweep up to them like gums.  The Dolomites are breathtaking, unforgettable, and--considering that we already visited them in May--have a powerful allure to keep drawing you back.

I chose a location that was just north of grappa liqueur country and just south of Asiago cheese country, smack dab in the middle of dairy and organic farming country.  The former diary cottage where we stayed was part of a larger complex run by a friendly man named Enrico.  He welcomes guests to the dairy cottage or into two hotel-like rooms in the larger house, and he also hosts business retreats and meetings during the year.  He offers his guests fresh vegetables from the garden and homemade jams from his kitchen.  It was all truly just as peaceful and authentic as it sounds, and we were charmed.

For photos inside the dairy cottage itself, check out the listing on AirBnB.  (I apparently didn't take a single photo of the inside of the dairy cottage!)  For some snapshots around the farm and property, see below.

the meeting room inside the big house

 Enrico canning fresh pear jam in the kitchen & some charming details around the big house

 local grappa and Balsamic from Modena (where Balsamic vinegar originated)

herbs and sunflower seeds hung up to dry

picking produce for dinner from the garden, which is so organic that absolutely no chemicals whatsoever are allowed, even those usually permitted in commercial organic farming

fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and zucchini to supplement our evening meal

After such a heavenly evening, we were prepared for a wonderful night.  Not so much.  Lena fell asleep downstairs and we crept upstairs to the little attic.  It was hot, so hot that Elliott was sweating just sitting still.  Eventually we fell asleep, but around 1am we were awakened to mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.  I pulled a sheet over my head and slept fitfully until morning.  Elliott tried, but he was too hot, and by 4:30am he gave up and went outside into the cool night air to work on his laptop for the rest of the night.

When we woke up, we looked at our daughter and cried out in dismay.  She was covered in mosquito bites.  Thankfully she'd been wearing her sleep sackinstead of sleeping in just a diaper; her arms and face bore the brunt of the bites.  For most people, mosquito bites are awful, but they disappear within a few hours.  Lena, however, has some kind of allergic reaction to mosquito bites, and so they turn into hard dots and eventually scabs that take about two weeks to heal.

Elliott wanted to leave.  "Let's go somewhere else... anywhere else!"  I was torn.  Surely we could find a solution.  Close the windows, buy bug spray, borrow a fan?

In the meantime, we decided to sit down and have breakfast.

Then we went around the farm to see the chickens and down the road to meet the neighbor's animals.  (This neighbor was our favorite person we met all weekend.  He was only wearing his underwear.  He also invited us in for a beer... at 10am in the morning.)

Later, while Elliott napped, I talked to Enrico.  He found a fumigating spray we could use in the cottage (organic here, much?) and an electric bug killing machine (that didn't work) and promised he would ask his friends for a fan.  He then told me it was going to rain that night (which meant cooler temperatures and no mosquitoes) and swore that it is never like this here!  Except one week each August, maybe!  Bad timing...

Lena and I went across the street and met our neighbors to ask if we could pick their blackberries and raspberries.  Their bushes were laden with fruit!  They happily obliged, and Lena and I made friends with the farmer's daughter, Jessica, and her daughter Aida.  Later Jessica and her farmer-father brought us a bagful of fresh produce and asked to get a picture with us. 

And then we went on a walk around the larger neighborhoods of Sant'Antonio Tortal, the town where we were staying.  And because we were in a good mood, and because it was already so late in the day, and because we are chronic procrastinators, we just stayed for another night. 

do you see the mosquito bites??

And how was the night?  Well, not as bad, but also still not easy.  Elliott fumigated the cottage while we were on our walk and as a result I think there was only one mosquito in the cottage that night.  It was also lot cooler, too, and eventually it did rain. 

Lena, however, had a problem of her own that we could not figure out.  She'd seem to settle down and fall asleep... and then she'd start tossing and turning and crying again.  Finally, at 3am, I tried my final idea.  I pulled the sheet off the [flimsy, thin little] mattress of her travel bed and placed a deep, soft blanket in between the mattress and the sheet.  Maybe she thought the bed was uncomfortable compared to her bed at home? And sure enough, our little baby snuggled down and went to sleep without a peep for the rest of the night!  Our little princess had a pea.

The next day we went for a Sunday morning drive through the hills and found a lovely meadow and half-finished house where we could eat our picnic lunch. 

"Nose!  Yes, Lena, that's Mama's nose.  Where is your nose?"

meeting a grasshopper

(This was right before I said, "Wow, Elliott, there's a weird black beetle thing in the grass that looks kind of like a grasshopper!  Look!  What is it?"  And Elliott scooped it up and stared at me.  "Honey, haven't you ever read Cricket in Times Square?")

That afternoon we weathered rain and a thunderstorm in our cozy little dairy cottage with books and cool, cool breezes blowing through the open windows.  Finally that evening we turned our wheels towards home.   We were a lot more spotted with mosquito bites, and just a little more rested than when we came, but we were happy, and together, and ready to try something vastly different next time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

bits & pieces

During a traumatic bout of diaper rash last week, Lena ran around stark naked,
sometimes in her daddy's shoes.

I thought it might be fun to take a break from epic photo updates and just share some snippets of news instead.  Here are a few fun facts about our lives these days:

  • First of all, happy first day of 4th year at UVA and happy 21st birthday to my amazing, beautiful, and brilliant sister Emily!  If you get a chance (and you know her, I guess), tell her you love her.
  • I feel like poor Bambino #2 never gets mentioned on here, but I am still so very pregnant, folks.  Eighteen weeks tomorrow, meaning I’m well into my 2nd trimester.  "They" say that the 2nd trimester is always the best because you're not as tired as during your 1st trimester or as enormous as in the last one.  So far I would have to say that sounds about right.  The belly doesn't show much yet but I have some fun photos to share tomorrow (more about that later in this post) and you might see Baby a little bit in those!
  • How cute is this camera?  I saw it yesterday—but not for the first time—on Rockstar Diaries, one of my favorite blogs out there.  I have drooled over Little Sapling Toys before for Lena, and how I’d love to get some of their teethers and toys for our new baby, too!  I’m so smitten for anything wooden.  (Hey, does that rhyme?)
  • My newest blog crush is The Year of Less in which a hippie mama chronicles her daily endeavors to purge clutter from her life.  It’s kind of amazing how extreme she is (ie. dreadlocks this weekend?!).  But on the less extreme side, she’s an inspiration to me to keep going with a lot of things I’ve been trying to do already, like…
    • line drying all our clothing (our dryer sucks up so much energy which = big electricity bills in Italy)
    • canceling subscriptions to all catalogues and junk mail
    • moving all our bills and bill-paying to an online paperless system
    • keeping Lena’s toys to a minimum (ie. buying used toys or generally not buying toys at all)
    • read her blog for more great ideas, and visit her other blog (The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking) for more
  • I love this knitted toy snake pattern from Purl Soho?  Makes me hope just a little bit that we are having a boy (we find out September 7), but whether we do or don’t, I think Lena and Bambino #2 would enjoy a playful stuff snake for a pet.  My fingers are beginning to get that familiar autumnal itch back to start knitting.
  • We borrowed my friend Shannon’s ice cream maker last week and Jess and Sarah made peach and toasted pecan ice cream.  It is to die for.  Makes me want a bowl right now.
  • I got a haircut!  Lopped off about 6 inches.  I’m back to “wedding length,” or the length my hair was 2.5 years ago on my wedding day.  (Confession: I haven’t had a serious haircut since, and I only get a haircut about once every 10 months!)  I already feel so much more girly and energetic and don’t feel nearly as weighed down by my heavy, long hair.  It was really long.  Really long.
  • The haircut was perfect for our adventures last weekend because we went camping!  Oh wait, no we didn’t.  We just felt like we did because we were so hot, there were so many mosquitoes, and… well, there were so many mosquitoes.  We stayed here and doesn’t it look positively dreamy?  I thought so too!  But the photos fooled me.  More about that tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Siracusa with Jess & Sarah

Jess had already been to Siracusa once on her visit to Sicily but, believe it or not, she liked it enough that she asked to go back!  Besides, Sarah hadn't visited Siracusa yet.  As Siracusa is becoming my favorite town to visit on the eastern coast of Sicily, I was totally game.

We wandered through the fruit, vegetable, and fish market first, where Jess bought a purse.  Just like all her souvenirs thus far from Sicily, this one was imported from India.  Hmmm...

By the time we reached the main piazza of the town, little Lena was getting tuckered out.  She found some shade and laid her little head down to rest right in the middle of the piazza.

Definitely time for a 10am gelato break.


Siracusa has a little strip of beach and a pier.  Jess and I were so hot and sweaty on our last visit that we jumped off the pier, clothes and all!  This time we planned ahead and brought our swimsuits.  The water this time of year is like bathwater and, in this group, no one was complaining.

We finally headed back up to the beautiful Duomo Piazza for lunch at my favorite restaurant: The Fox and the Grape.  It's very Italian and pretty much all pizzas, but they're trying to be modern and trendy (quite successfully), and the combination is totally charming.  Also, their four cheese pizza is to die for.


"Mom, I'm so hungry!  But I guess I'll content myself with drinking water from a wine glass until the pizza arrives..."


And finally: "Sarah, help me do something modern on this" & "We love Italian graffiti because all it [usually] says is, 'Love!'"

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