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.