Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Arrivederci, 2013!!

 2013 was a great year for us: we traveled to new places like Lake Como, Munich, Prague, Salzburg and Bologna. We did our first wine tasting (in German!), we made wonderful new friends, and we beat the #1 seed in the playoffs last season. We got MARRIED, and went on the best honeymoon by the ocean. We came back to Cortina for the third year in a row, moved into a new home in a new neighborhood (and learned the new rules of recycling), became risotto experts, and learned how to make casunziei. We loved our first married Christmas, survived a snowstorm, and lived without lights and heat for two days.

2014, we're ready for you! Happy New Year!


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Let There Be Light

This is the story of our Christmas adventure:

On Christmas Eve, we hosted our annual Christmas Eve dinner. We drank prosecco and red wine, we snacked on an amazing antipasti platter, we played games, we ate Ryan's famous lasagna, we did a Secret Santa gift exchange, we played more games, drank more prosecco, ate some chocolate, did all the dishes by hand, and went to bed when the last guest had left in Italian style after midnight.

On Christmas morning, we woke up and ate our Christmas breakfast, drank fresh squeezed orange juice, opened our presents, played with our presents, watched the rain and prayed for snow, took a nap, made beef stew for Christmas dinner, went to church, went to practice, Skyped with our families, and then....

...that night, finally, finally it started snowing and we ended up having a white Christmas after all! What we didn't know when we tucked ourselves into bed, exhausted after all the festivities, was that it kept snowing and snowing and snowing....

The morning after Christmas we woke up to two feet of snow and no electricity or heat. Ryan's game that night was canceled because the rink didn't have electricity either. In fact, ALL of Cortina and the surrounding towns had no electricity! And it was still snowing really hard.

So we helped our neighbors shovel, we drank tea, we ate leftovers from our Christmas party, and when it got dark we lit candles and played games like Monopoly and Backgammon until we just couldn't see anymore. That night we piled extra blankets on the bed and snuggled in early. We expected that the lights would turn on in the middle of the night and that one of us would have to get out of bed, turn off the hall light, and turn on the heat, but....

...two mornings after Christmas we still had no lights, heat or hot water! And we were getting cold. Ryan's game was canceled for a second time, and we walked into town to see what the situation was. Absolutely no one had electricity - the stores were closed, the cafes were serving cold beers instead of hot coffees, and all the fur-wearing Christmas people were walking around looking put-out and cold. Later that afternoon when the lights still weren't on, we decided to buy supplies. Since we couldn't see after 4:30 pm, we needed a flashlight, so we made our way downtown again, only to find that all the flashlights in Cortina were sold out, but we did manage to find two headlamps.

By this time, most of the power was back on downtown and the Christmas lights were back in action. We took this as a good sign, but decided to avoid cooking dinner in the dark for the second night in a row, so we ate in town and warmed up in the heat from our favorite restaurant. As we walked down the snowy path later that night with our brand new headlamps, we were optimistic when we saw house after house lit up with real lights rather than candle light. But when we got to Chiave....it was still dark! So we piled more blankets on the bed, used our new headlamps to read our books, and went to sleep hoping we would see that hall light on in the morning.

We did not. On the third morning after Christmas, we took to wearing multiple pairs of socks. Luckily we both got new, really warm ones for Christmas this year. We walked downtown once again to enjoy the warm sun -finally out now- and when we came back home, finally, FINALLY that hall light was on!!! We turned the heat on (our house was at 13C/55F), shed one pair of socks, and made some soup.

And THAT was our Christmas adventure this year. It was a fantastic first married Christmas. Hope everyone else had a wonderful (and warmer) few days too!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Very Merry!

MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone back home!! Tonight we are hosting our annual Christmas Eve dinner party (this year appropriately called "Jingle with the Dingles"), and we wish ALL our family and friends could join us! Although, that would be tough in our tiny little apartment...

Hope everyone at home has a wonderful and very merry Christmas!

And to my husband....Merry first Married Christmas! xo

Saturday, December 21, 2013

3 Reasons We Love Cortina in December

Every year, Ryan says, "Being in Cortina in December is like living in a snow globe." Christmas here is done RIGHT, from the two giant trees in the center of town, the star lights that hang over the promenade, the advent calendar that lights up the windows of the library, and the fact that every hotel is decked.out. in Christmas lights - we ARE completely living in a snow globe (now all we need is some snow!).

The other day we were talking about the reasons we love Cortina at Christmas time, so we put together this little list, just for fun:

1. The people watching is phenomenal - contrary to popular belief in the Dingle household, my favorite December activity is NOT singing Christmas carols, but rather, sitting at a cafe and watching the people walk by. Depending on the snowfall, people start pouring into Cortina from opening weekend (usually around December 7th) all the way through New Years. The busiest week is between Christmas and New Years, and did you know that the population in Cortina goes from 6,000 to 50,000 in the winter?! All of these people seem to think they are required to wear an entire ensemble of fur to enter Cortina. Their hats, their coats, their boots, and their bags will all be covered in mink, fox, beaver, rabbit, and my personal favorite - the time I spotted a man wearing a full length bear coat, head included. Oh, the amusement is endless....

2. Christmas Markets. We are beginning to consider ourselves semi-experts in the Christmas market scene (we've hit Lienz, Bolzano, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Prague and Munich - NOT all this year, that would be a lot). What can I say? In addition to all those sparkly ornaments, deliciously spicy cinnamon sticks, mistletoe and Christmas candles, there is vin brule AND baked potatoes with garlic yogurt sauce. Please.

3. And finally - the two P's of December: Prosecco and Panettone. Now. I love Prosecco but I despise Panettone, but Ryan likes it, so it made the list. Also, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas here without panettone. What it is though, is an awfully large, usually dried out loaf of Italian fruitcake (originally from Milan) and no, it doesn't taste any better than American fruitcake. But some people like it (everyone in Italy, for example). Every year for Christmas, Ryan and the rest of the team gets a box with two bottles of Prosecco and a huge loaf of panettone:

I am not even kidding, Ryan walked in from practice like this when I was writing this, proving my point exactly. Anyway, Ryan will happily gobble up the panettone while I sip the Prosecco and watch him. We had our first encounter this year with panettone two nights ago at the team's holiday party, and it was just as I had remembered it from last year, so I won't be eating it again this month.

But December, I love you, even with panettone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Best and Worst Trip Ever

We debated for a while where to go for our second trip in December. Paris? Too expensive, especially for a month with two trips. Back to Florence? Been there, done that, and we have to go somewhere new! Switzerland? Too much like Cortina in the winter. So, we settled on...Prague!

Then we debated whether to fly (bad times, weird connections), take the train (making a long trip even longer) or drive. In the end, we packed up the car last Saturday morning and headed towards the Czech Republic, a country that neither of us had been to before. We were so excited to be in uncharted territory! We stopped in Innsbruck to fill up the car with gas and ourselves with coffee, and then turned on the GPS to navigate us the rest of the way.....only to find that of the 22 countries our GPS features, the Czech Republic is NOT one of them.

So we did it the old fashioned way. We stopped in Munich, took pictures of an atlas so we knew what roads to follow (highly frowned upon, I'm sure, but desperate times...), then stopped once we crossed the Czech boarder and bought a road map which was literally no help at all since we didn't know what direction we were coming into the city from (of course the map didn't cover that important part!) and every road was called something like "zvichk". In the end, we followed signs towards the center and then by some Christmas miracle, spotted our hotel on the side of the road. And trust me, it was NOT as easy as I'm making it sound!

Once we recovered from our driving mishap adventure, we LOVED Prague. The architecture was so beautiful, everyone was very friendly, the food was delicious and there was even a Christmas market!

We wandered around the Old Town Square, which was incredible, explored the Christmas market, listened to a jazz group, popped into the Cathedral, drank Czech beer, and saw the famous clock chime on the hour - it even has little people that come out of the clock and dance around!

On Sunday night we went to a KHL hockey game. The KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) is a Russian league that also has a few teams from other countries, so we got to watch Prague take on their biggest rival, Bratislava, Slovakia (and kill them, they won 7-0!). It was pretty fun to see - there were over 10,000 fans there - just a few more than we get in Cortina - and there was a couple who actually got married on the ice before the game, which was very odd.

We walked over the Charles Bridge, which was built in 1357 and is lined with statues of religious figures.

We visited the Prague Castle which is the largest ancient castle in the world, roughly the size of seven football fields! The complex includes museums and exhibits, gardens, and its own Cathedral with incredible stained glass windows.

One day we ate lunch right on the river and watched the boats and swans float by.

It was the perfect trip and we kept talking about how much we looooove Prague....and then I got food poisoning. Luckily it was the last night we were there so the only thing we missed doing was the Jazz Boat which we were supposed to be on that night. The good news is, since we both loved it so much, we can go back again! Thanks to my wonderful husband for taking care of me, driving the 7 hours back to Italy with no help, AND for reading the map and driving at the same time...next time we'll pick a country that our GPS covers!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

December Risotto

This month, Ryan got to pick what risotto we were going to make, and he nailed it! His choice - risotto with ham and leeks - was warming, comforting and delicious....perfect for December.

First, chop up some leeks. I chopped one (white part only) into rounds and another one into strips for frying.

Then, heat up some oil to fry the leek strips. When it's really hot, drop the strips in and let them bubble away until they are golden brown. Take them out and set them aside on a paper towel-lined plate...you don't need them until the risotto is done.

Meanwhile, warm up four cups of chicken or vegetable broth. Then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauce pan. Add the round-cut leeks and saute until soft. Pour in about half a cup of Arborio rice (I always use half a cup for two people - and always four cups of broth for this amount) and stir to coat the rice with the olive oil. Add a ladle of warm broth and stir, repeating this process until the rice is tender, but still has a chewy bite to it.

Stir in the ham pieces - I used pre-chopped pancetta but the recipe actually called for slices of deli ham cut up - and add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese. Mix it all together and then plate it, adding the fried leeks to the top.

This was our favorite risotto so far, so maybe Ryan gets to pick again next month too!

PS - Here are past risottos from September, October and November....

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rainy Christmas Markets & Mozart

Vacation time! This year we have two mini-vacations in December, so for the first one we headed up to Salzburg for two days and nights of sightseeing, Christmas market-ing, and meat and potato eating.

Salzburg is known for its music scene and Mozart, so most of what we saw and did revolved around music: we visited the Mirabell Gardens, where parts of The Sound of Music were filmed (!) - while the actual gardens are more colorful in the summer, it was still beautiful and filled with impressive statues. We went to the house where Mozart grew up and lived until he was 17 (and below is a picture of the house where he was born). One rainy afternoon we went to an Advent concert in a tiny hall at St. Peter's church which was beautiful, cozy, and Christmas-y.

The Christmas market there was one of the best and was filled with sparkly ornaments and all things Christmas.

We battled the rain, drank gluhwein to stay warm, and ate this local treat (below) that everyone loves, which is fried dough topped with sauerkraut, which sounds so weird but is so good!

On Tuesday morning we took the tram up to the castle which overlooks the city and has gorgeous views. Here's the view from below looking up:

We walked around and stopped in the museum inside, but mostly just admired the view looking down on the city, and enjoyed the sun that had finally come out.

Next up - on Saturday we're headed to Prague for a few days!