Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Best of 2015

2015 has been a great year for us and while we're sad to see it go, we're so excited for all that next year has in store. One of the best things about having a blog is that we can look back on the year and see what we were up to....here are a few of our favorite moments from the past year:



Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas



My parents are here for Christmas now and I'm taking this week off to spend time with family, do some sightseeing, eat lots of Christmas treats and relax! We're planning on one more visit to the Edinburgh Christmas market, treating my parents to real fish & chips in Anstruther, and a day trip to St. Andrew's on Christmas Eve for a candlelight carol sing. Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, wherever you are in the world! xo

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Beef Stew

Many Christmas traditions revolve around food and in our house, there's no exception. We started a tradition when we lived in Cortina of eating beef stew on Christmas night for dinner. I'm not quite sure how it came about - Ryan always had practice on Christmas evening because he always had a game the day after Christmas - and after our big Christmas Eve party, I guess I didn't want to cook another elaborate meal, so we settled on beef stew which is hearty, delicious and super easy to make.

{Image via}

Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound of stew meat (check weight)
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup flour
2 cloves minced garlic
1 cup red wine
1 tbsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cups beef broth
4 stalks of celery, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
3 potatoes, chopped

Directions
Heat the olive oil on medium high heat and add the stew meat. Sear until the outside is no longer pink, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion to the pot; cook until softened. Add the flour and stir to combine and cook for another minute. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute, being careful that you aren't burning anything. Add the red wine and stir to combine, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pot as well. Simmer the wine for two minutes, then add the thyme, bay leaves and beef broth, as well as a bit of salt and pepper. Also add the beef back in. Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for one hour.

In the meantime, you can chop up your vegetables. After an hour, add the carrots, celery and potatoes to the stew, cover again, and simmer for another hour and a half.

Serve hot with chopped parsley on top and crusty bread on the side.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Edinburgh Christmas Market

It's Christmas market season! After four years in the Dolomites, we're pretty well-versed in European Christmas markets and so we were happy to find that Edinburgh has a great one of its own. Here are a few pictures, if you'd like to see....


Typical Christmas markets are filled with stalls where you can buy presents, treats, sausages and gluhwein and this one is no exception. We did a bunch of Christmas shopping here and added to our ornament collection (we have a Christmas tree ornament from every market we've been to).



We were also pleasantly surprised by the real German sausages that we found....


....and these are the best donuts EVER.


They also have multiple ice skating rinks, rides for kids and a Christmas tree maze! We would highly recommend it if you're ever in the area in December.


PS - Past Christmas markets in Salzburg, Prague, Munich, Lienz and Switzerland...and a round-up of our favorites.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pecan Pie Tarts

December is the best time for sweets and we like to have some on hand at all times. This year, while making a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, I had extra filling and ended up using it to make these little tarts which were a big hit and are the perfect holiday treat.


I followed this recipe for the filling (I substituted the bourbon with scotch, because - Scotland! and left out the candied ginger too). I bought pre-made tarts at the store, poured the filling in and baked them at 350 for 30 minutes. And I have to say - while we are making Christmas cookies this year, these were much easier!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Gifts for the Traveler

A little gift guide for you today, if you're looking for gift ideas for any travelers....


1. This weekender bag from Lo & Sons is one of my favorites. As an over-packer, short trips or weekend trips can be tough for me packing-wise, but this bag is truly the perfect size - and there's a secret compartment at the bottom for dirty clothes....or extras.

2. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones - for those plane rides when you just want to sleep.

3. Currency! For whatever country they're traveling to next. Having a little cash on hand and not worrying about exchanging money right away is always so convenient. {Image via}

4. A world map and push pins so they can mark down where they've been.

5. A monogrammed luggage tag - one of those fun little things that you wouldn't normally buy for yourself.

6. A guidebook to the next place they're going....while Rick Steves has definitely saturated the guidebook market, rarely has he steered us wrong.

7. A journal for keeping notes during trips, holidays and vacations.

8. Good walking shoes. These are on my list this year....

9. A cross-body bag - perfect for sightseeing and balances out the weight better than a bag worn on one shoulder.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December is Here!

We love December in this house so we're thrilled that it's finally here! We're getting our tree this week, my parents are coming in two weeks for Christmas and this week marks the start of my third trimester so we're finally in the home stretch!

{Image via}
Coming up this month - we're going to do a two-part gift guide this season and the first installment will be out later this week. Plus a few holiday recipes, a visit to the Edinburgh Christmas market and later on, our favorite parts of 2015. Happy December!

PS - Our favorite Christmas markets in Europe and it's finally time for.....chestnuts roasting on an open fire!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Winter Travel Ideas

The winter months aren't usually associated with travel due to the holidays, the cold, the snow, etc. but they can be some of the best months to take a trip, especially if you go to the right place. Here are four travel ideas for winter that we've loved:

1. Go skiing - Ski vacations are obviously the most popular kind of winter trip, but see if you can take one in January; the crowds will be less and so will the prices, especially after Christmas and New Years which are usually the most popular times for winter vacations. We were lucky enough to live in Cortina for four years which is one of the best winter resort towns around (our winter tips for Cortina are here) but there is great skiing all over Europe, especially in Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Ischgl is at the top of our list for another trip....and don't be put off by the lack of English - if it's a large and popular ski resort, there will be plenty.


2. Rifugio hop -  Not a big skier? The rifugio culture is big, especially in Northern Italy and Tyrol. Rifugios are typically cabins in the mountains or woods that serve food and drinks and often have beds where you can sleep for the night and cozy fires that you can lounge by. One of our favorite things to do in the winter is to go to a rifugio for lunch or dinner - the food is all homemade and very typical of whatever region you're in and the atmosphere is so cozy. You can get to the rifugios on foot often, or you can ski or snowshoe to them. And if winter sports really aren't your thing, someone from the rifugio can come pick you up in a snowmobile.


3. Hit the Christmas markets - There are Christmas markets all over Europe throughout the month of December and they're perfect for anyone and everyone. You can pick out ornaments and stocking stuffers, eat delicious regional food like warm baked potatoes and sausages, listen to Christmas carols and drink mulled wine or hot chocolate. A few of our favorites: Bolzano, Italy; Salzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany.


4. Sleep in an igloo - We did this last winter and it was so exciting (and exotic!). The igloo was at the Hochjochferner Glacier in Val Senales (very Northern Italy) at the Bella Vista Mountain Rifugio. You can ski to the rifugio (or they'll pick you up on a snowmobile) and you spend the afternoon in the hot tub and sauna - or by the fire drinking local beer and playing games like checkers. You eat dinner with other travelers in the rifugio and afterwards, you go out to your igloo and sleep in the warmest sleeping bags. The igloos have strands of lights inside so you can see - we played a few games of Backgammon before we went to sleep - and they truly aren't as cold as you would think. In the morning, someone wakes you up at 7 for breakfast and then you ski down the glacier. It felt very adventurous and was such an experience!

{Image via}


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving has been much easier this year now that we're in Scotland instead of Italy - we didn't have to order a turkey a month in advance and the one that we got didn't have to be sawed in half to fit in the oven, for one. We found canned cranberry sauce - still no canned pumpkin though! - so I opted for a pecan pie (pecans - another non-Italian delicacy). The Thanksgiving process hasn't been quite as adventurous as it usually is, but we're enjoying the change of pace. Hope everyone has a wonderful day! xo


PS - Trying to plan for Thanksgiving in Italy and how we always pulled it off.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Thanksgiving Contest!

Thanksgiving is this week, and to kick off the celebrations a bit early, we're going to start a little contest today! Keep Calling, an international calling company that we love, is giving three readers a $10 credit to call overseas this Thanksgiving and chat with friends and family at home, wherever that may be.


To win, please leave a comment below saying who you would call this Thanksgiving. Alternatively, you can email me at sophiedingle11@gmail.com. Please make sure to leave your email address in the comment so that I can contact you if you've won. I'll pick three winners at random on Wednesday so that on Thanksgiving day, you can call away!

This Thanksgiving is the first in five years that we've been able to celebrate on the actual day (in Italy, Ryan always had games on Thursday) so we're looking forward to spending the morning chopping, cooking, worrying that the turkey won't cook in time AND calling all of our parents to check in and say hi and tell them how much we love them.

What about you?! What will you be doing this Thanksgiving morning and who will you call?

The contest will run until Wednesday, November 25 at 7 pm GMT - winners will be contacted Wednesday night and provided with the calling credit by Thursday, November 26.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Green Bean Casserole

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to share one of our favorite Thanksgiving recipes - green bean casserole. But! This isn't the green bean casserole that's made with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup and French's Fried Onions! It's a homemade version that Ryan created and perfected during the four years we lived in Italy when we didn't have access to ingredients like Campbell's and French's. We've never written down a recipe, so everything is very approximate, but I love this dish so much, mostly because of the great story behind it...


Monday, November 16, 2015

An Update

There are a few questions we always get asked now that we live in Scotland so I thought I'd take a minute to answer them today, if you'd like to hear....


Thursday, November 12, 2015

5 Free Things to do in Edinburgh

We're very close to Edinburgh this year so we've been into the city a few times to explore. I noticed that Edinburgh has tons of free activities which is great because free is usually harder to find in larger cities. Here are five - a few that we've enjoyed and a few we want to try:


1. Walk the Royal Mile. This is the main street in Edinburgh which got its name back in the 16th century when the king used to travel between the castle (at the top of the street) and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (at the bottom of the street). Now, it's filled with restaurants and pubs, all sorts of shops and many of the city's main sights are just off this street. It's great for a stroll, to get a feel for the city, for listening to bagpipes and for people watching.

2. Arthur's Seat. This hill is perfect for climbing (it's a 30-45 minute hike to the top) and the views of the city (and sea) below are stunning.

3. Galleries and Museums. I was looking for Edinburgh tips in my guidebook one day when I realized that many of the major museums and galleries offer free entrance! My mom and I checked out the Writer's Museum a few weekends ago where we learned about Scotland's three most famous writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson whose poems I used to love as a child. Other free ones include the National Museum of Scotland, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Fruitmarket Gallery and the Museum of Edinburgh.

4. Calton Hill. Providing another great view of the city (some say even better than Arthur's Seat), this is Edinburgh's acropolis with several memorials dating from the first half of the 19th century.

5. Have a picnic in the park. On a nice day, the Princes Street Gardens are a lovely place to sit. There are plenty of benches and it would be fun to bring a picnic and eat in the park while enjoying the sun. After being in Scotland for three months, I've noticed that when the sun is out, you have to take full advantage of it and soak it up - this would be a great spot to do that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Feta Dip

We're starting to think about Thanksgiving over here, so this month I'll be posting two recipes that we're incorporating into our Thanksgiving menu in two weeks. First up: this lemony, garlicky feta dip which I usually make as an appetizer.

Image via
 I first made this dip several years ago and I originally used this recipe, which I've now adapted slightly.

Ingredients:
8 oz package of feta. Use good feta! I always buy a nice block of it and never the pre-crumbled kind
1 lemon - zest the whole lemon and juice half of it
1 clove of garlic, minced
6 tbsp olive oil + extra for drizzling
1 tbsp thyme (I always use dried)
Crackers, carrots and celery for serving

What to do:
In a blender combine the feta, lemon juice, half the lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. Blend for a few seconds until combined and then transfer to a bowl. Drizzle some more olive oil on top and sprinkle with thyme and the remaining lemon zest. I usually serve this with pita chips or crackers as well as carrots and celery.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Paris

The highlight of last week's trip, by far, was our stop in Paris for a long weekend where we met up with my aunt and cousin for a girl's trip...


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cortina

Here are just a few pictures from three days in Cortina last week - my mom and I went back to sort and pack and ship the things that Ryan and I left there last season, which was slightly overwhelming (the post office didn't have boxes, first they couldn't ship to the US and then suddenly they could, we had to use loads of tape to cover the writing on the boxes because no writing was allowed.....etc.) But! In the end, everything got shipped off.


It was really nice to be back in Cortina, and as you can see from the picture above, the weather was insanely beautiful. We took lots of packing breaks to sit in the sun. Ryan unfortunately couldn't go with me this time, but it was so much fun to see our Italian friends from the past four years - and to be able to eat delicious Italian food again! The first night we went straight to our old stand-by, Cinque Torri, for spaghetti carbonara with zucchini....


....and we also got into the casunziei which is a regional specialty.


Every lunch and dinner we had was so good. When we weren't packing or at the post office (which we were most of the time) we were able to spend some time visiting with friends and walking around town. I love living by the sea now that we're in Scotland, but those mountains!!! I never get sick of that view.



Then we were off to Paris! More on that tomorrow!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Off on an Adventure!

My mom arrived in Scotland this past weekend and today we're heading first to Cortina for a few days (mainly to pack up and ship off things that Ryan and I left there) and then, on Thursday morning, we're going to PARIS for a long weekend! I'm beyond excited for this trip - first to go back to Cortina and see all of our friends and then to have the chance to go to Paris with my mom (and cousin and aunt who are meeting us there for the weekend).

Image via
So! I'll be gone until next Monday, November 2 and then back here with lots of pictures and stories for you. xo

PS - Any Paris recommendations for us?!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

5 Ways to Travel for Less

Let's face it: the one (major) downside of travel is how expensive it can be. It starts with the big things like transportation and accommodations but it doesn't end there because there are still things like meals and pricey museum tickets to worry about. There have been multiple times over the years when we've gone away for a weekend trip and come back after two days having spent something like $1,000. Now - especially with a baby on the way - we're a little more careful about where our money goes when we travel and we've picked up a few tips to help us save. A new company I recently learned about, Personal Capital, offers free financial software to get help managing and investing your money - and save for your next vacation!


1. Find free activities. If you do research, you'll find that there are always some free (or less expensive, at least) museums. For example, in Edinburgh there are multiple free museums and galleries, including the Museum of Edinburgh, Fruitmarket Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland. Most churches and cathedrals are free as well and usually contain amazing art, architecture and relics. I always think it's fun to get off the beaten path and visit the smaller museums or churches that often get overlooked in guidebooks. Another bonus: fewer crowds.

2. Have a picnic. Meals can be so expensive when you travel, especially if you're paying for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To avoid this, we usually look for accommodations that include breakfast in the price. At lunch time, it's fun to have a picnic somewhere. Many cities have fantastic local farmer's markets which are great for picking up sandwiches or picnic things (my favorite is Mercato Centrale in Florence). This can be done at dinner too - how much fun does it sound to picnic while watching the sunset?!


3. Go for a walk. Instead of booking tours, get out and see things on your own. This is my favorite way to explore a city (especially in Venice, when you never know where the next alleyway will lead you) and it's free! I love not knowing what we'll stumble on - churches, ruins, tiny cafes, local shops, an art gallery...


4. Find deals. Check on sites like Groupon for local deals on sightseeing activities, meals and shopping. We just did this boat tour that I found on Groupon for half price and it was great! Looking through these sites before you head out can save money on things that you wanted to do or see anyway.

5. Don't eat at touristy restaurants. We always avoid any place that advertises a "tourist menu" out front. While these menus may seem less expensive, the food is usually sub-par. And there's nothing worse than spending money on something you don't enjoy, especially when you're on vacation! Ask locals or at your hotel for a restaurant recommendation instead. Small places, not in the guidebook, are usually less expensive because they haven't been "discovered" yet or else the prices are kept low to keep local clientele returning. We always share dishes too - that way you can try more things - and we usually ask the waiter what he or she recommends; they'll know that the chef's specialties are or what's the freshest that day and that way you'll get the best bang for your buck.


**This post was done in collaboration with Personal Capital.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Firth of Forth Boat Tour

Last week I got tickets to this boat tour that cruises the Firth of Forth (the body of water between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh) and we checked it out on Friday. Here are a few pictures if you'd like to see...

We started in South Queensferry (luckily it was a sunny day!) which is a little harbor town about 20 minutes away.


For an hour and a half, we cruised around while a recording played that explained the history of the area, what the different islands were, and even what kind of boats had been shipwrecked beneath us!




We made a stop at the island of Inchcolm, where some passengers disembarked to walk around and explore (and then get picked up by a later boat) but we stayed on board and continued the tour.


We had a great view of the famous railway bridge (one of the most famous in the world, they say)...


...and every so often the captain interrupted to tell us where to see seals.


The seals were huge! They also said that the word "golf" comes from an acronym: Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden!! (But we think they were kidding - maybe!). The whole tour was very informative and it was fun to learn a little more about the area we're living in - we'd highly recommend this activity if you're in the area, especially in the summer. The tours are only running through the end of October now, but they'll start back up again in the spring. And, if you go in the summer months, you're almost guaranteed to see tons of puffins and maybe a porpoise or two which would be fun! For us, it was only seals but it was really nice to be out on the water, in the sun.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fun Apartment Rentals

Do you ever rent apartments when you travel rather than stay in a hotel? Ryan and I were really late to the game on this concept, but last spring, during our month-long trip around Italy, we rented apartments from Airbnb rather than pay for hotel rooms for a month....and we loved it. Now, whenever we go on trips for longer than a few nights, we always look for an apartment to stay in.


You get more space than a hotel room, plus they often come with a washer and dryer for doing laundry, balconies for sitting outside, breakfast...and, depending on what you pick, they can often be much less expensive than hotels. They're especially good for larger groups too, because you can rent a whole house and all be together.

I'm going to Paris on a girl's trip (!!) with my mom, aunt and cousin later in the month and we rented this beautiful one for the long weekend.

Here are a few others around the world that look fun:

In Amerstam, you can actually rent a houseboat! This one looks amazing...

This just looks insane....

You can even stay in a castle!

Or how about a yurt?

Or a treehouse?!

Of course, there are nice, normal - less exotic apartments for rent as well - Ouray is one of our favorite places in Colorado and this gorgeous lake house looks nice for a vacation.

And when we go to London, I'd love to stay here.

And this one, in Bari, was our favorite place that we stayed in Italy last spring. The owner, Enzo, was so helpful and nice - he brought us local pastries to try when we arrived, stocked the kitchen with coffee, tea and milk, and gave us maps of the city where he had pointed out the best shops for fresh pasta, bread and wine.

You can get stuck browsing on Airbnb all day long and there are so many fun places where you could have a great adventure! Any other recommendations?!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Arthur's Seat

We're so lucky that Edinburgh is just a 30 minute train ride away, and we've been taking advantage of that to pop into the city for the day or for the afternoon whenever we get the chance. It's nice to not have to squeeze everything in to one trip and to space it out depending on what we feel like doing that day. On Monday, it was sunny and we felt like hiking, so we headed up to Arthur's Seat where you get incredible views of the city below, and in our case, a rainbow!








Monday, October 12, 2015

Our Favorite Meals Abroad

When Ryan and I go to a new place, we like to explore: by wandering, by sightseeing and best of all, by eating. We're big believers in "eating where you are" - trying the local specialties - so we put together a list of our favorite meals that we've had over the course of our travels - so far....looking forward to lots more to come!


If you find yourselves in any of these cities and towns, check these restaurants out:

In Vienna, at Figlmuller: The best schnitzel in the world - truly. They're thin, cooked in three different pans and are as big as the plate they're served on (and yes, you can eat the whole thing). Sometimes I dream of going back to Vienna just to eat this schnitzel and for no other reason.


In Naples, at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele: the best pizza in Naples, which therefore means the best pizza in the world. I'm not a huge fan of Naples because it's a big, bustling, slightly dirty, chaotic city and it doesn't have the best reputation....except for when it comes to pizza and then it's the best city ever. The thin crust, the fresh tomatoes and the gooey mozzarella...I would brave Naples traffic for this pizza any day.


In Monterosso (Cinque Terre), at Ristorante Gabbiano: their pasta with seafood is spectacular. So spectacular in fact, that we have no picture to show for it, because it got eaten immediately! Our only mistake was in sharing it...

And speaking of seafood, in Sorrento, at Trattoria da Emilia: the fried mixed seafood platter. We stumbled on this restaurant by chance one day when we were wandering. It's down in Marina Grande which (in April, at least) is a quiet part of Sorrento right on the sea. We were in Sorrento for five days and we weren't loving the food scene there - until we came here. We saw everyone ordering this platter, so we followed suit - and it turned out to be such a good decision that we came back the next day and ordered it again. It was that good.


In Lugano, at Ristorante Canvetto Ponte di Valle: when we were in Switzerland last December, we were overly excited to eat proper fondue and it did not disappoint. We basically went to Switzerland in the first place to eat fondue (and chocolate) and both were out of this world.


In Anstruther, at The Wee Chippy: fish & chips are a staple here in Scotland, so we were determined to find the best version of them ASAP. Following multiple recommendations, we drove to Anstruther one Monday where we taste tested several versions before deciding on The Wee Chippy's version as the best.

 
In Cortina, at Rifugio Col Taron: the sausage sandwich. This was an after-skiing favorite for us. It's sausage, cheese and onions, all grilled and on a roll and it's the perfect ski lunch (with a beer), while sitting outside enjoying the beautiful view of the Dolomites. I'm seriously going to miss that this winter. (Again, no picture, because who has time to take a picture when there's a hot sausage sandwich in front of you?!)

In Lienz, at the annual Christmas Market each December: the famous potato. We first discovered this potato three years ago, and I would think about it all year until December rolled around again and we could drive to Lienz and have one for lunch. The drive was about an hour and 15 minutes from Cortina, which might seem like a long way to go for a potato, but it was worth it - that's how good it is! It's a baked potato, with a crispy skin and warm filling, topped with a creamy, garlicky sauce and tiny pieces of speck. Paired with a gluhwein, it's heaven - one of my favorite things about December.


What about you?! Favorite meals while traveling? We'd love to hear any suggestions!