Sunday, April 9, 2017

Q & A

This is my second Question & Answer blog post. Check out my first one here. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading and your simply wonderful questions. This one's for you...

Kristi asked:

What are the things you do on a daily basis that incorporate an Italian lifestyle into your American world?

The very first thing I do in the morning is make espresso in my Moka pot and then serve it in an espresso cup and saucer along with my breakfast. I purchase Italian espresso, usually springing for the illy brand in the spring, summer, and fall, but the cheaper Lavazza works into my budget better in the winter. 

Espresso in my novelty Philadelphia espresso cup and saucer
with a blueberry muffin

Speaking of meals, I often eat pasta for lunch or dinner. My meals can be simple, including a dish composed of only a few ingredients. I purchase fresh vegetables every week. Sadly, not at an outdoor market though. I eat at the table. Even breakfast now! About once a week, I invite a friend over for a meal. Sometimes, I serve antipasti, both solo and socially. When dining with someone, I nearly always wish my dinner date, buon appetito! I love to eat. I also drink red wine (mostly Chianti) on almost a daily basis, with dinner, a weekend lunch or as an aperitivo. I do not have more than two glasses of wine however.

My salad lunch with a glass of iced tea at the table
...and a fabulous book!

I often wear black and other neutrals, but have a pop of color in a scarf. For example, on the day I wrote this, I wore a white shirt over a white camisole with black pants, black ballet flats, and a deep red damask scarf to work. My clothing is fitted, hopefully skimming my silhouette. I don't own a lot of clothes. When out in the sunshine, I wear sunglasses. Not huge ones though...

Me in a black winter coat and with a black handbag with my dark pink scarf 
at the Christmas Village in Philadelphia in December 2014

I try to put my best foot forward in almost everything I do. Fare la bella figura. It would be unthinkable for me to not shower, straighten my hair, apply makeup, spritz my signature scent, dress in clothes appropriate to wear out in public, and put on at least a few accessories such as a pair of earrings, a watch and a belt almost every single day. I also put my best foot forward by treating others with respect, the way I want to be treated. Furthermore, I truly try to do the right thing.

My home is an apartment. My home isn't large ...and neither are the items in it. I dislike big things such as huge puffy sectionals with recliners. I also keep my home, my sanctuary, decluttered. Plus, I take care of my home everyday. I clean at least something daily.

I frequently take note of beauty in everyday life. A vibrant color, for example, may stop me in my tracks. I love having fresh flowers at home. They feed my soul. I strive to make my home beautiful. 

On a weekly basis, I walk to a few stores instead of driving to them. With the longer days of spring and summer, I could possibly do this more often soon. I incorporate exercise into my daily routine.

I also spend some time with my mom about once a week, usually on a Sunday or Monday. I recently found out that I am hosting the family feast for Easter again this year. Italians tend to be family-oriented.

I daydream of being in Italy daily. I dream about it at night too!

Kim Covell-Campbell asked:

What made you fall in love with Philadelphia? I have been there and it is such a historical and interesting place to visit.

I didn't fall in love with Philadelphia until I moved there. Growing up, I had visited Philadelphia a few times on day trips with family and on school field trips and thought it nice, but, honestly, didn't think too much of it. I suppose we mainly stuck with the historical neighborhood called Old City. When I enrolled in a graduate program in Art History at Temple University, I moved there. I lived in Philadelphia for about nine months, from July 2008 through March 2009. I attended a summer session and a fall semester. 

Always having lived in the suburbs, I really wanted to try living in a city. I loved it. It was the perfect time in my life to try that. I delighted in the fact that there was always something to do ...and that I could get to that something by walking or via public transportation. I enjoyed discovering it. I also adore that a city is much more cultural than a suburb. 

Chinatown Gate at 10th and Arch Street

I adore the unique character of each distinct neighborhood in this particular city. I moved into a huge studio in South Philly, which has an Italian flair to it. This neighborhood is home to the Italian Market. I rarely visit South Philly on my quick day trips, but if I spent more time there, it would be the next place on my list to go. In fact, in my research, events in a district of local businesses and restaurants called East Passyunk tend to pique my interest. 

It's hard not to fall for my favorite places like the amazing Reading Terminal Market. Every once in awhile, I crave the cranberry pistachio biscotti from Termini Bros. in the market. The Italian cafe I tried (twice!) on my last visit called Gran Caffe L'Aquila is definitely my new favorite place in Philadelphia. I can't wait to go back! I highly recommend visiting Philadelphia. Only two hours from New York, I feel it is so underrated. There are so many festivals in the summertime!

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti from Termini Bros. in Philadelphia

Cappuccino from Gran Caffe L'Aquila in Philadelphia

Lori asked:

We followed a lot of your suggestions when we took our dream trip to Paris and your tips made it even more special. How did you find all those special places to visit?

I am so happy to hear it! 

I used to study art history, so I don't shy away from heavy research. I believe you should overresearch. It's okay to throw your itinerary out the window once you arrive if you wish, but not okay to have a moment when you and your travel buddy look at one another and can't think of something to do in an exciting place. When you've done your homework, you will always have a long list of options. There are so many ways I found these places.

My big secret is Rick Steves. I consider a guidebook of his to be essential. I definitely picked up his latest Paris guide soon after publication. That was probably where I found most of the places... Right before my trip, I also listened to his podcasts, which made me simply want to sit at a sidewalk cafe rather than provide inspiration for a list of places though. 

Having studied art history for six years, I do make a point to see specific masterpieces or architecture I have studied in real life. I had to see the Mona Lisa! I also dragged Elizabeth across the Louvre to see their Vermeer, The Lacemaker.

Me and Mona Lisa in April 2014

I enjoy reading travel narrative and may consider visiting the place the author loved. I remember reading about Julia Child around the time of my trip and then making the pilgrimage to her apartment building on the "roo de loo."

Me at Julia Child's Paris Home, 81 Rue de l'Universit√© in April 2014

In addition, I think I remember using Yelp, the review website which is also good for determining what else is close to an attraction. That way, you're not crossing the city for the next attraction, you're conquering an area before proceeding. (A guidebook helps with this too.) 

Also online, I follow blogs from fellow Francophiles. In fact, I have a blog roll of five French-related blogs. I remember this blog post made me want the chocolate chip cookie from Eric Kayser, for example. With 256 pins, I collected online resources on my Travel: Paris Pinterest board. 

Films inspire wanderlust. I remember that the shot of Piazza delle Erbe in the movie Letters to Juliet put Verona on my list of cities to (re)visit on my last trip to Italy in 2011.

Following all this research, I try to figure out what I really want to do. On my trip to Paris, I simply wanted to revel in the beauty of Paris. I could accomplish that in a number of ways. Since I convinced a friend to accompany me to Paris on my birthday, I was up for whatever she wanted to do while there. She wanted to see it all, so I (ambitiously) planned it that way. And we did everything except for like three things! 

Sidewalk Cafe in Paris in April 2014

Carmen asked:

First, I would like to say how much I like your blog. Living in Europe (I'm Dutch) and having visited France and Italy a couple of times, I can truly say the way you live your life is quite an European one. Now, regarding your Q & A: I would like to know your thoughts, feelings and contemplations on your No Spend February. 

Thank you so much! I am so pleased that it appears and that I am actually living a European lifestyle in America. 

I will write an entire blog post on this subject, but I don't want to not answer your question. I actually wish I learned more from my challenge, but with being terribly sick twice and having my beloved grandmother pass away that month, I didn't get out of it what I thought I could possibly have. With the flu, I was in bed, not out and about being tempted to spend money. With the upper respiratory infection, I had trouble keeping bland food down. 

Nonetheless, I did learn a few things. One was that I am able to wait to buy things. When in the middle of doing a challenge, I noted that it's also nice not to stress about not having enough to afford what I want and need in my checking account. Please stay tuned for my post where I will elaborate. Plus, I will include a couple of tips.

A sneak peek! 
This is a product that helps me be frugal with my groceries.

It was a difficult challenge for me, but not awful. I can definitely see doing a No Spend Day, or maybe even a Week when faced with a financial goal, but probably not a Month again. I did make a mental note of how proud I felt whenever I mentioned the total amount I saved, that I hit my savings goal.  

Stephanie asked:

1. You seem so calm and intentional and not easily influenced by outside opinions, trends, or advertising. How do you stay so centered and focused on your core values and tune out the noise? 

So much of this is a personality thing for me. I am an INFJ. I do try to seem calm, cool and collected on the outside, but I am nervous on the inside! It's chaos in my head. "Complex" is a better "c" word. Since my mind is so loud, that might tune out the noise in the world a bit. I attempt to control my appearance, presence, and outer world as much as possible, make it as simple as possible, for some balance. Balance is key in life.

I am a lifestyle blogger to the core. Meaning I strive to be intentional. My head is often in the clouds, I am so future-minded, but, still, I do try to enjoy the moment. I routinely indulge simple pleasures. Life is what you make it. Living is an art.

My planner cover reads, "Create a life you love."

To a certain extent, I am a people pleaser. At work, it is actually important for my prospective residents and residents to like me as a leasing professional because then they might apply or stay. I do care what people think of me, but it's not anywhere near as important as what I think of myself. My thoughts never end. I am constantly telling myself to do better. INFJs always try to improve themselves.

It is difficult go against the mainstream. I was actually pretty much a follower as a kid, for the first 18 years of my life. After I went away to college and visited Italy on spring break of my freshman year, I changed and started to become the woman I was meant to be. I am always becoming more and more me. Fitting in does have its benefits, but being yourself is so much better. I am value-driven. And I value authenticity. "The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to love them." Truth.

I believe in cultivating a personal style in everything: clothing, accessories, beauty, home decor, entertaining, blogging, etc. I even have my series on my go to things, Signature Sunday. I do not tend to follow trends, like fashion in regards to clothing. I believe you should go for style over fashion, always. I know that the color blush is in right now, but as an accent, I much prefer vibrant color to pastel. Often, temporary fads don't work well for me anyway. Why are skinny jeans still in? I have shorter muscular legs and wide hips! I need a bootcut leg (or trouser, or maybe straight leg, or possibly ankle pants which are difficult) for balance. Keeping up with the Joneses is relentless too. It's better to be true to yourself. You choose what makes you happy instead of what makes others happy when you show it off. Individuality fascinates me. 

2. Also, I believe you mentioned previously that you don't subscribe to cable tv, but instead use amazon prime. Have you found any tips and tricks for this? What do you enjoy watching and how much time do you spend watching something like amazon prime?

I don't pay for cable. And I just renewed my Amazon Prime membership this week. (I can't live without the free two-day shipping!) I don't think that I've gotten my TV out of my walk-in closet and turned it on since the Superbowl... I truly don't watch much TV at this time. My only "current" TV show is the episodes that House Hunters International posts on their website. And those are probably old at that! (At the moment, the webpage is mostly blank. They seem to be in between a series of videos.) I enjoy watching any episode set in Europe. I view these videos on my laptop. 

In addition, when her latest cookbook came out, I started to watch the Barefoot Contessa. I wasn't ever into her before, but I loved it! (Read my thoughts here.) Since I enjoy entertaining, I feel like I watched her at the right time in my life, you know? Then, they changed her time slot from 10:30 AM on Sunday to 8:30 AM the same day. That's inconvenient for me. I am usually walking to the grocery store or at least putting a couple loads of laundry into the washers in the building laundry room at 8:30. Obviously, at this time, I'm just not going to change my life around for a TV show. I know that Ina Garten has a new show premiering next month, but I don't think it will be focused upon entertaining and am unsure if I will watch it. It's fun to follow her on Instagram though. 

My sister also allowed me to use her Netflix account one day, so I could watch the Gilmore Girls revival. (Read my blog post about my binge watching here.)

Barefoot Contessa on TV

Right now, I am addicted to an alternative to TV, YouTube. I subscribe to about a dozen channels and will often watch videos from several others I do not officially follow. I feel like I watch too many YouTube videos. Since it interferes with reading books, I may consider limiting my time spent on YouTube this spring, like only viewing videos on, say, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I will probably write about watching YouTube and list my favorite YouTubers in a Simple Pleasure Sunday blog post, so stay tuned! :)

I rarely watch anything on Amazon Prime. More movies than TV shows. I love foreign films and seek them out on Amazon, Prime or not. However, I did watch all ten episodes of the first season of the Amazon Original TV Series Z: The Beginning of Everything about Zelda Fitzgerald. That was good. It's hard to believe that I didn't feature it in a Simple Pleasure Sunday post! Someone, please let me know if Amazon Prime ever offers How I Met Your Mother

I don't watch much TV now, but I think I will in the future, especially when I live with someone special.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! Addicted to YouTube, I almost want to say something like, "If you enjoyed this video, give it a thumbs up! If you are new, hit the subscribe button, so you won't miss future videos!" Geez, you know you're addicted, when... 

Anyway, again, I appreciate you reading.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book Review: Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro

I will do my best with this book review. I am starting this blog post late after entertaining this evening, but am committed to publishing something tonight since it's Tuesday, therefore a requirement of my current blogging challenge. I've been busy on the weekends lately and have been failing to work on my blog daily like I wanted. Plus, this is a novel I read months ago. After briefly skimming a description and a few reviews, I'm trying to remember it and what I wanted to say! When I posted my Winter Reading List back on January 3rd, I mentioned that I had already read the eBook version borrowed from the library.

I recommend Rare Objects: A Novel by Kathleen Tessaro. Although, I did enjoy another one of her works of historical fiction The Perfume Collector more. I enjoy the author's writing style, which is vivid. The story captivates you. Her writing made me care about the main character, Maeve, an Irish immigrant struggling with life in Boston during the Great Depression. I cared for her even though she digs herself into a deep hole and the story is pretty depressing at times. Plus, I cared for the protagionist even though I didn't like her friend much at all. One of the ways she tries to improve herself is scoring a job in an antiques store. Since I am the daughter of an antique dealer, I love that. Another thing I am drawn to is that Maeve and her mother do not live among the Irish, but the Italians! In the North End, my favorite area in Boston. The author does depict the setting well, but does not hold your hand in regards to background. It helps to know some US History and also a bit of World History as well so the reader can really understand what's going on in the novel. It's a good story that is well written and has a few details that pique my interest.

There was a detail in this book that I believe was also included in a book entitled Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell from my fall reading list that I would have read just a few months before. (Read my review here.) This fascinating concept was Kintsugi, the Japanese practice of repairing an object broken into pieces with gold (mixed into an adhesive) with the thought that the break and repair are part of the item's history, events that make the piece more interesting and beautiful, not less, not meant for the trash. That translates to a wonderful life lesson. Flaws, issues and just feeling broken shouldn't be covered up and/or dismissed, but when recognized and action is taken can possibly yield something bigger: beauty, growth, and triumph. It's a vulnerable way to be, but when embraced can be so rewarding.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Signature Sunday: Antipasti

The last time I had a friend over for dinner, I assembled antipasti on a cutting board. In Italy, antipasti is served prior to the many courses in a formal meal. In fact, the term antipasto literally means "before the meal." But Wednesday evening, I served it as supper. It certainly fed two people well. This is a platter full of cheese, charcuterie (sliced cured meat), olives, and other food items. It is also referred to as a cheese board. This dish is something I'm known for. I love it! Plus, I don't even have to cook if I don't want to, perfect for summer. I simply artfully arrange whatever I want. I have been trying to vary my antipasti lately. There are so many options and you can make selections based on your own taste. I have collected 168 pins for my Pinterest board entitled Antipasti. Guests can have a lot of everything or try something new. It's definitely a conversation starter.

I was looking forward to serving antipasti last week following picking up a few items at the Italian grocery store Di Bruno Bros. in Philadelphia. This particular cutting board is my go to dish if I'm serving antipasti as a meal and/or at least two people. Made in Italy, this round board is by Legnoart. I picked it up from HomeGoods years ago.

Usually, you vary the cheese, which can be done in many ways such as firmness like soft or hard, which animal the milk in the cheese comes from like cow or goat, or even area like Italy or France. For the cheese, I selected what I like. I have my favorite which is my grocery store brand's Wisconsin sharp cheddar which is a semi-hard cheese made from cow's milk in the US and the Italian hard cheese made from cow's milk Parmigiano Reggiano from Di Bruno Bros. I often have cheddar and parmesan on hand. I love the print on the side of the parmigiano, so authentic. Its label notes that this cheese is "sweet, nutty and sharp..." It goes on to say, "The flavor symphony apt for a royal court, they do call this one 'The King of Cheese.'" It was good. It does not slice well though. I top a Harvest Wheat Toasteds cracker with a bit of cheese.

The charcuterie I chose came from Di Bruno Bros. I selected Prosciutto Classico which was so flavorful and Hot Soppressata which is a spicy salami. I don't have to have the spicy variety next time.

I included many other pairings. I selected Kalamata olives from the olive bar in the deli section of my local grocery store. These purple olives from Greece are meaty. Also purple, I opted for red seedless grapes rather than green because I got such a good deal on them. For some green, I added store brand sweet gherkins. Pinterest taught me that the French call gherkins cornichons. I filled my newest little white dish from Pier 1 with almonds. I also have store brand grape tomatoes on the board.

I also shared my favorite wine, Banfi Chianti Classico. My signature red wine paired rather well. Serving antipasti is definitely a signature way of mine to entertain.

We ate at the coffee table and enjoyed this different kind of meal.

Do you create antipasti? If so, what do like? I look forward to trying new things next time.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My Clean Kitchen at Night Challenge

Back in this post, I announced a new challenge. I would not go to bed at night without leaving my kitchen clean for one week starting March 12th. Keeping a clean home most of the time, I still often leave dishes in the sink, crumbs on the counter, and espresso splatter on the stovetop at night. In order to hold myself accountable to others for the challenge, I planned to post a photo of my clean room with #cleankitchenatnight to my blog's Instagram account @theitaliagal every night. Even though I didn't get to bed until late some nights, I succeeded for all seven days! Unfortunately, I haven't made cleaning my kitchen at night at habit yet. I have only left it clean once since the end of the challenge. I hope to get back into it soon though!

Since I have more energy in the morning than I do in the evening, I don't think it's a huge deal to finish cleaning at night. Yet, I wanted to improve in this. Even though I knew I would start my day off beautifully if I entered a clean kitchen in the morning, I was actually pretty surprised just how good it felt! And no wonder as washing dishes has never been my favorite chore. This challenge was a good idea and like I said before, I plan on continuing.

Here are my photos from the week of the challenge:

Day 1: Sunday, March 12, 2017
My cleaning included taking out the trash and recycling Sunday night.

Day 2: Monday, March 13, 2017
Mopping the floor was one part of sparkling my kitchen Monday night.

Day 3: Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Even though I made my pasta specialty dinner Tuesday night, I still managed my cleaning routine.

Day 3: Dinner
My pasta specialty included asparagus that is in season.

Day 4: Wednesday, March 15, 2017
I mopped the floor and published a quick blog post on my progress so far Wednesday night. Making a point to clean earlier, I wanted to capture that it was still light out later.

Day 5: Thursday, March 16, 2017
The candle I ordered arrived on Thursday. I found that it is nice to have one burning in the kitchen.

Day 5: Candle

Day 6: Friday, March 17, 2017
I took out the trash and recycling again.

Day 7: Saturday, March 18, 2017
I took out the recycling and mopped the kitchen floor yet again Saturday night. To keep my interest after this challenge is over, I also bought two nice products from Target.

Day 7: Products
I like the clementine scent of this all-purpose spray for a variety of surfaces. I love the lilac scent of the hand soap, but am still using a cherry blossom soap at this time. Both of these brands are pretty popular with the YouTubers I follow. They rave about these natural products, free of toxic chemicals. I might try more of the method products, such as the Antibac spray.

Monday, March 27, 2017
This is the only time I left my kitchen clean since the challenge. My cleaning included taking out the recycling and mopping the floor. I clean my kitchen almost every Monday anyway. I will try to incorporate cleaning up my kitchen into my evening routine every night.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Grocery Haul

Here are the items I purchased at my local grocery store, Giant, on Sunday:

Back row, from left to right:
Pillsbury Cranberry Muffin Mix*
Barilla Penne*
Crinkle Cut Fries**
Barilla Penne*
Keebler Toasteds in Harvest Wheat*
Marva Maid 2% Reduced Fat Milk
Middle row, from left to right:
Kalamata Olives (from deli's olive bar)
Red Bell Pepper*
Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese**
Grape Tomatoes**
Front row, from left to right:
Spring Mix Salad***
Red Seedless Grapes****
Authentic French Style (Wheat) Baguette**

* on sale
** store brand
*** on sale and store brand
**** on sale and store coupon

I spent $30.16 on these 13 items. This is an average weekly Giant bill for me. As I have noted, I do either try to pick things up on sale or select the cheaper store brand, sometimes even both. Doing my homework by viewing the circular online while making my shopping list helps me stick to a budget. I also earned $0.25 by simply submitting my grocery receipt on the cash back app ibotta.

In addition, I shop at Target at least once a week. As far as food goes, I tend to buy more expensive food there, such as a package of pork chops, a frozen Bertolli pasta meal, and the Betty Crocker brownie mix with the included chocolate syrup pouch.

This is a fairly average grocery haul at Giant. Muffin mix and milk, pasta, crackers, red bell pepper, cheddar, tomatoes, salad and bread are staples for me. However, I had to sacrifice buying a package of meat or more vegetables such as zucchini for my pasta specialty in order to afford a few things that were out of the ordinary. Since I bought Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips with a good Cartwheel discount at Target Friday evening, I picked up crinkle cut fries to go with it. Plus, it's nice to have a bag of fries or tator tots in the freezer. In addition to using some of my aforementioned staples and many other items I have at home, I intend to assemble antipasti with the olives and grapes and then serve it when I entertain this week. The grapes were 98 cents a pound with a coupon in the circular and a $25 purchase. Even though I am used to spending around this amount, I wanted to be sure of it. So, with adding an item to my basket, I scribbled my new estimated total on my shopping list.

Since I didn't buy as many main course items as usual this time, I will use what I have at home this week. After a day trip to Philadelphia, wine shopping, and wining and dining out last week, I simply don't need to go over budget this week. In addition to those prepared chicken tenders, pasta, salad, and even antipasti as dinner, I have other main course options in the freezer including: two large chicken breasts, six pork chops, and a pepperoni pizza. Four bags of frozen vegetables in my freezer, two jars of tomato sauce in my cabinet, and nine rather small gold potatoes on top of my refrigerator will also help round out a meal. And don't worry, I have enough chocolate in stock until Easter. Since a bit of the budget went towards entertaining this week, this is my opportunity to shop my kitchen for free. Jennifer of the blog The Daily Connoisseur recently talked about shopping your kitchen here. I just didn't happen to draw inspiration from her blog post and video this particular time because it is something I already do as needed. Plus, I don't even need to use my own food on occasion this week. After going out to lunch (burgers, fries and a coke!) with my mom on Monday, I received two meals worth of her leftover turkey and mashed potatoes before she dropped me off at my place.

Remember, I am doing a Q&A soon! Have a question? Leave a comment on this blog post or on any of my blog's social media. I will answer them in April.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Wine & Spirits Shopping

My friend Elizabeth and I went wine shopping and out to dinner Saturday night. So much fun! Again, we patronized Total Wine, an amazing warehouse selling wine, beer, spirits and accessories. I enjoy reading the notes in a wine. Unlike my first and second visits, where I spent around $73 and $87 respectively, I wasn't exactly planning and budgeting for this visit months in advance. In fact, my friend suggested the outing Thursday evening, just a couple of days before. So, I didn't spend nearly as much on this third visit of mine. I intended to purchase two bottles of my favorite wine, Banfi Chianti Classico and a new bottle of tequila for margaritas in the summertime and that's exactly what I bought. (You may read what I think about my signature red wine here.) I spent $52.83. (Both this amount and what I spent on dinner came out of my checking account.) Counting a $3 cash back offer, 3 bottles for about $50 is quite the deal! I did well.

I conducted some research on a good tequila for margaritas online. I already knew that silver tequila was traditional. First, I googled something like "tequila for margarita" and looked at a list from the top search result, an article on the website VinePair. One line read, "El Jimador Reposado BEST ON A BUDGET." This piqued my interest because it was recommended for my intended purpose, it was reposado which means "rested" and I tend to enjoy aged wine and rum, and it was a budget-friendly option. I clicked on the article and liked the description. Next, I went to my cash back app on my phone ibotta. I spotted a deal for this brand and this specific type was included. There were only a few brands of tequila with an offer. I promptly unlocked that deal for $3. Then, I went to the Total Wine website and searched for it. I approved of both the $19.49 price and the description that it "brings out the flavor of Mexico." I love travel and places, so I eat that sort of thing up! Plus, the reviews on the Total Wine website were good. After that, I also googled "El Jimador Reposado" and read some of the reviews. The high ratings were consistent. This was a cheap yet solidly good tequila that is a bit better mixed in a cocktail rather than straight in a shot. Many bottles of the Reposado variety were missing on the shelf. I look forward to trying it in a blood orange margarita!

It will be nice to have a bottle of my favorite wine around for my April birthday.

If you haven't already, find out the Italian chain restaurant we chose for dinner by viewing my blog's Instagram account. Please follow me @theitaliagal. I post extras in between ones noting a new blog post.

I have a blog post on another haul already scheduled for Tuesday. Check back for a grocery haul. 

I am aware that I must catch up on so many other topics. I am trying. I thank you for your patience.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Call for Questions

I would like to do another Q & A on the blog. Check out my first one here. I will answer your questions again, so please ask me if you would like to know something. This is not limited to any specific topic. I will be collecting questions in the comments section of this blog post as well as my blog's Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest board. I plan to publish the Q & A post on either Tuesday, April 4th or Friday, April 7th. I look forward to reading each inquiry that comes in! Plus, I would love to do this for my lovely readers. I appreciate you and am so grateful that you read my blog.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Travel Tuesday: My Day Trip to Philadelphia

I took a trip to Philadelphia for the day yesterday and had such a good time! It was my first time I visited in a year and many things have changed. Seriously, so much was under construction. A couple of new things punctuated my rounds of my old favorites.

It was a sunny and the high for the day was about 52 degrees F in the city. I took an aisle seat after I boarded the train, but then hopped over to a window seat at the first stop. Even though I have so much of my winter reading list to go through, I downloaded a couple of books that will be on my spring list onto my Kindle before the trip. Both books were written by amazing bloggers I follow. I enjoyed reading a bit of Thirty Slim Days: Create your slender and healthy life in a fun and enjoyable way by Fiona Ferris (of the blog How to be Chic) and The Life I Imagined: My Personal Renaissance in Florence, Italy by Karen L. Mills (of the blog An American in Italy) on the ride.

I arrived at 30th Street Station and then crossed the street and headed downstairs to the subway in order to travel downtown, a neighborhood called Center City. I bought a paper subway ticket on a touch-screen kiosk rather than a token machine I've been used to. Unfortunately, the paper ticket didn't scan through the turnstile well at all.

I headed for my favorite shopping district first, Chestnut and Walnut Streets. Walking up Chestnut, my first stop was Sephora. Even though I am not too low at the moment, I bought my signature lipstick, Dolce Vita by NARS, nonetheless.

Next, I wanted to try this new Italian cafe on the same block, Gran Caffe L'Aquila. I had walked past it before and since L'Aquila is the capital of the odd Italian region I studied abroad in, vowed to try it on my next visit. In some travel research, I checked them out online and was anticipating my visit. Yesterday, when I walked up to the cashier, she greeted me with a buon giorno. I love that. I ordered a cappuccino and chocolate croissant, taking a seat at the white marble-topped counter to savor. The coffee and pastry were truly delicious. They served the coffee with a small glass of water which is routine in Italy. I also loved seeing the products around the bar area, items like chocolates and drinks that I only tend to see in Italy as well. I instagrammed my (second!) breakfast, hopefully sharing just how happy I was with my followers.

After the cafe, I crossed the street and wandered around a little mall. I browsed Victoria's Secret and my favorite jewelry store Fire & Ice. At each of their locations I come across, I gaze at a stunningly beautiful bracelet of dark pink rubies each cut in a pear shape. I've been stalking it for years now. I have a ruby pendant on a necklace and ruby stud earrings. One day, I will make the lovely bracelet mine too. Maybe even for my birthday next month! Back out in the sunshine, I strolled to my favorite little accessories shop, Tselaine. It was fun to browse, but their selection is more quirky than classic, so I happened to leave empty-handed. I walked down Walnut, and then up past the central City Hall. Again, I browsed Macy's beautiful location for silver bangles, but didn't find what I was looking for. Walking further down Market Street, I also enjoyed browsing the home department at Marshalls but didn't have to have anything. Even though I lived in Philadelphia, I have never been there. I did quickly walk through the similar discount department store Ross, but didn't find the housewares section there, so I left. The mall that it's in is under construction, so maybe that had something to do with it...

I turned around and stopped at one of my favorite places in the city, a large indoor market call the Reading Terminal Market. My first stop was Termini Bros., but unfortunately, they were out of cranberry pistachio biscotti. I decided against picking up a different kind of biscotti. It is easy for me to spend money, but on a budget, it's difficult to spend a lot or on things I haven't been obsessed with. I contemplated going to their South Philly location. (I didn't even look locations up on my phone, but in writing this post, I discovered that they also had a stand at the central Comcast Center.) I turned around and picked up a small mixed bag of 1/4 pound of dark chocolate covered vanilla and chocolate butter creams from the quirky Mueller Chocolate Co. They are good, but not my favorite. I wandered through the market, taking everything in. I tend to take a trip to Philadelphia on either a Sunday or Monday (which are my days off from work). Even though it was lunchtime and busy, it wasn't slammed busy on this particular Monday, with everyone trying not to bump into each other like it is on a weekend day. It was nice. On the way out, I stopped by The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company. I ordered 1/4 pound of chocolate chip cookies (which is two cookies) as usual, but the gentleman behind the counter politely informed me that they sell them by the number of cookies now, another change I encountered. I ordered two cookies and he teased me about two dozen.

Tulips and Hyacinths (and Poppies?) at the Reading Terminal Market.

The vibrant color of the ranunculus caught my eye.

Then, I found myself strolling up Chestnut Street again. Not particularly interested in clothing shopping that day and not having started on my spring capsule wardrobe yet, I stopped in H&M on a whim. Why not? It's a cheap store and I could simply browse. Well, I found a sheer black blouse with a pleated front and short flutter sleeves discounted from $24.99 to $10 as well as two short sleeve tees priced at either $5.99 each or 2 for $10. One tee was a black scoop neck and the other was a dark gray v-neck. $20 for three tops, one fancy and two basics, was such a good deal. Plus, in Pennsylvania, there isn't any sales tax on clothing.

I also patronized the new Nordstrom Rack location, selecting round one carat size cubic zirconia stud earrings. Usually, I buy a new pair once a year on or around my birthday and then wear my signature earrings more than all of my other earrings combined. I'll be sparkly for my birthday this year. I kinda like picking up a pair of earrings as my souvenir on a trip.

Signature lipstick and earrings
picked up in Philadelphia.

I quickly browsed a thrift shop called 2nd Time Around that sells clothing and accessories. I wanted to save an Italian food shop called Di Bruno Bros. for last because I was interested in picking up some cheese, charcuterie, and bread for antipasti. Since it is an expensive store, I had to limit myself. They love their cheese here, so I knew that I had to select one and I picked parmigiano reggiano. For salami, I selected spicy soppressata and prosciutto classico. I tasted the prosciutto with my cheese, crackers and red wine ritual after work this evening and its robust flavor actually made me pause. I also picked up a demi baguette. I look forward to putting together antipasti this week! A couple of long cranberry walnut biscotti also ended up in my bag. I ate half of a long biscotti this morning for breakfast and unfortunately, it didn't compare to that of the Termini Bros. It almost tasted like packaged biscotti that I've given up on. 

What I really wanted to do for lunch was to go back to that new Italian cafe. Even though I was traveling alone, I still felt odd asking for a table for one in a fine dining establishment. I waited until about the 2 o'clock hour, after the lunch rush. I remember leaning towards the hostess to softly speak my request. She did ask me if I was here for coffee, but after I replied, "for lunch," she grabbed a menu and graciously showed me a corner table. My waiter was fantastic as well. Seeing that I went for the wine list first, he asked me what I like to drink. After I answered, "Chianti," he recommended the similar red wine of the week, under their special weekly menu currently celebrating the city of Assisi. It was a blend of Umbrian Sangiovese, Cabernet, and Merlot. ...and it was delicious. Medium-bodied, but smooth like I like. The meal came with delicious bread and olive oil garnished with cheese and pepper. Their lunch menu consists of small plates. I ordered two: classic tomato and basil Bruschette and lamb Arrosticini Abruzzese. After my food came, I was wished, buon appetito. Both dishes were well done and delicious ...oh, and messy... As half the topping fell off the crostini with every bite and I managed to spill the sauce trying to remove the meat from the skewers, I was content not having a date this time! I happen to be a rather picky and plain eater, but the accompanying cold chili pepper sauce was pretty good too. I don't think I've had arrosticini since my farewell dinner on one of the old streets in Pescara back in the spring of 2005. In Italy, you have memories of specific legendary meals. Anyway, arrosticini was a special dish there. After all that, the waiter told me that I looked so happy and suggested a coffee to tie it up. I didn't mention my caffeine sensitivity and I also didn't even get up to look at the case of gelati, I simply ordered my favorite flavor, a small portion of baci, which is chocolate with hazelnut. It was delicious and at this point, thankfully not too rich, the perfect blend of decadent flavor and creaminess. I spent on this one meal what I spent on groceries for two weeks during February, but it's completely okay to splurge every once in awhile. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I loved the restaurant with its white marble tabletops and other traditional touches as well as its warm yet airy and happy ambiance. I think I have a new favorite place in Philadelphia!

After my meal, I made my way back to the train station. I lucked out with a window seat again, ideal for daydreamers.

I enjoyed my first chocolate chip cookie for dessert after a late salad dinner last night.

Today, I had my last one for dessert after another salad lunch and a walk. I also ate salad again for dinner tonight. Balance is key in life.

I had such a good trip...

Have you ever been to Philadelphia? If not, I highly recommend it.