Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Seabourn Legend... Legendary Indeed!

The Seabourn Legend
With four action packed walking, touring, eating, sipping and photographing days under our belt in Rome, the thought of leisurely enjoying our awaiting cruise ship, the Seabourn Legend, was beyond enticing.  After all, our anniversary vacation was meant to provide some much needed rest and relaxation time which had thus far been excitedly filled with quite the opposite.

With Rome at our backs, our driver, Mauro, transported us from the hectic paced Eternal City through slower paced suburbs, on to grassy hills and fields and finally to the smooth blue Mediterranean.  Arriving at the port of Civitavecchia our next mode of transportation, The Legend, awaited.  White gloved attendants whisked away our luggage and within moments my husband and I found ourselves with glasses of champagne in hand while checking in onboard the ship.

In a matter of minutes, another white gloved gentleman led us to our veranda cabin which was to be our home for the next seven nights.  Bidding us "Bon Voyage", the attendant departed as we toasted each other with the remaining champagne in our glasses just before popping the cork of the chilled bottle which had been so patiently awaiting our arrival.

Opening the veranda door we gazed at the ocean that would soon be ours and grinning, we toasted again as our luggage arrived along with Sonja, our room attendant, who brought indeed more champagne and a smoked salmon appetizer.  Yes... this was the rest and relaxation we were looking for!

Easy to get used to, the aptly described 200 guest mega-yacht provides a most comfortable atmosphere along with touches of luxury at every turn - sophisticated yet simple.  From the delicious food, to the friendly staff to the thoughtful itinerary with special touches (Captain Anderssen took us past the erupting Stromboli for our viewing pleasure), sinking into vacation-mode was no problem at all.  More importantly, some of the "usual" touches from larger cruise ships (queues, loud announcements, soda cards, signing for drinks, sexy leg and belly flop contests, etc) were noticeably absent.

Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle - I'll take two!!!
Most evenings began meeting new friends aft, at the Club Bar, as we chatted and sipped a cocktail before moving on to the Dining Room, aptly named "The Restaurant".  Different nightly menus provided exceptional dining choices suiting nearly all tastes.  First course soups received rave reviews over and over again and the entrees and of course the desserts never failed to please.  Favorites for me included the Pan Sauteed Salmon, cooked to perfection and served with Cauliflower puree, capers and radocchio, Chateaubriand cooked perfectly to my requested medium-rare, and the Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle with Roasted Sweet Garlic Cream that literally melted in my mouth.

Sauteed Salmon with Cauliflower Puree
Restaurant 2, a second aptly named dining option, provided a somewhat different dining experience.  Reservations required and only serving some 30 guest a night, Restaurant 2 brings a special dining menu to each evening.  Our two visits to this venue brought incredible meals, the first being an Asian affair starting with a Chinese Hot & Sour Chicken Soup which my husband actually dubbed the best soup he's ever had.  Ginger Glazed Portobellos with Crisp Onion Rings and Orange Dressing, and Pan Roasted Marinated Cod, Stir Fried Vegetable & Egg Noodles with Miso rounded out the menu where we found ourselves enjoying our meal so much we were the last to leave.  I might add that the Passion-Fruit Creme Brulee Lime Sorbet was positively addicting.  Additional Restaurant 2 offerings throughout the voyage included a Tapas-like tasting evening (the Apricot Beignets were to die for!), Indian Spice Market, Surf N' Turf, and Steak House.  Definitely worth a visit if you are onboard.

Breakfast with a view of the beautiful cliffs of Lipari
Breakfast for us was most preferable on the back of the ship, outside at the Veranda Cafe with stunning views of the Mediterranean vistas and ports.  After placing our cooked to order and beverage requests each morning with our server, the always energetic and smiling Boro, we then headed inside to peruse the fresh fruit, yogurt, cheeses and meats, and bread offerings.  Memorable indeed... I miss my breakfast with a view.

On a side note, I was interested to learn that all of the incredible breads and pastries were baked onboard the Legend.  Apparently one man begins baking bread just as the rest of the chefs are retiring for the evening and he bakes the entire night through providing all of the bread needs for the following day.  Rolls, sliced breads, and bread sticks were always available in addition to muffins, croissants, and other offerings.  Pastries, cakes, cookies, and innumerable other sweet confections were also available leaving one with more choices than one can possibly try.  Pastries and such were provided by a wonderful team of talented pastry chefs who had my heart from moment one.

I couldn't decide... so I chose both the White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Sauce AND the Coconut Cream Pie...

Fueled and ready to go, a new port awaited our exploration each morning by 8 AM.  Most ports were simple enough to wander through on foot as the Legend docked or anchored nearly downtown in the small ports of Sorrento, Taormina, Trapani, Valetta, Lipari and Gaeta.  Transportation to town was provided by the ship if walking was not possible, and in addition excursions to various tours and activities including pizza making and olive oil tasting were available for purchase.  Preferring to keep our days mostly unplanned after our full speed ahead days in Rome, we chose to forgo most excursions in place of a more relaxed pace spent wandering about the local ports and tasting the local fare.

While lunch was served onboard the Legend, taking advantage of the local fare and cafes in most ports was our preferred choice.  Enjoying fresh Italian Pizzas, Cannoli, Cappuccinos, and Salads had us gushing with pleasure and considering a full time move to Italy.

Continuing our new wine with lunch practice, a return to the ship for a nice nap before partaking in the daily afternoon tea in the lounge became a habit.  Then it was off to our pre-dinner cocktail where Ben, my favorite bartender, mixed our drinks and had us on our way to dinner before heading to bed and so we could start all over again.

Early in our voyage, Captain Erik Anderssen hosted a Gala where he introduced the ship's officers and many of the staff, obviously a close knit and cohesive group.  Taking a moment to address the guests, Captain Anderssen read the following poem which touched my heart and seemed to sum up our vacation and in general, our way to Liv Life:

Decide to be happy today,
to live with what is yours,
your family, your business, your job.
If you can't have what you like,
perhaps you can like what you have.
Just for today, be kind, cheerful, agreeable,
responsive, caring and understanding.
Be your best.  Dress your best.
Talk softly, look at the bright side of things.
Praise people for what they do,
Don't criticize them for what they can not do.
If someone does something stupid,
Forgive and forget.
After all, it's just one day.
Who knows,
It might turn out to be a nice day.

With memories of the Legend still swirling in our heads, returning to real life has had its difficult moments.  We simply can't thank Captain Anderssen and his crew enough for seeing to our every request and for pampering this tired mom and dad for a week. 

Bon Voyage!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Salted Caramelized Pistachios

Fine Cooking is a magazine that frequently offers some of the finest foods in the kitchen.  While the photography alone is visually stunning, well scened and well... a true inspiration, their recipes many times become the star of the meal.  Having been a subscriber for years, my Fine Cooking stack if ever growing and the issues are usually splattered and well worn from use over the years.

Looking for an over the top, visually beautiful and extraordinary dessert for our 2nd full Thanksgiving dinner in the last 4 days (my husband spent the first one in a hotel), I turned to the Fine Cooking Party issue on the top of my stack.  Thumbing through the pages Liv's and my eye stopped at the same time on the photo of the Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Caramelized Pistachios.  Both staring for a moment, she broke the silence by saying, "I want that."  And she got it.

Dense chocolate (flourless) cream is lovingly poured into a baked buttery shortbread crust and topped with a dazzling display of salted caramelized pistachios.  Broken into pieces, the pistachios almost appear to be set into broken amber over the luscious chocolate tart.

Sometimes such a visually appealing dessert doesn't live up to its beauty, not so with with this treat.  Served at room temperature, the chocolate creamy confection pairs delightfully with the crunchy, flavorful topping sending different textures, tastes and sensations bouncing around your mouth.

Mom has already put in a request for the dessert for her next Couples Bunco party.  She wanted a showstopper... we can do that.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Greek Couscous Salad

Spending two weeks in Italy we surprisingly came across Greek Salads in nearly every restaurant.  While I'm not a big fan of the olives, which are usually a big part of Greek anything, I do love everything else about the salads.  Internet searches provide various versions of Greek dressings, however the main ingredients seem to include:  a good olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon.

Adding couscous for substance, arugula (just because I love it) and avocado to give it a California twist, I put together a version of my own which I enjoyed so much I've actually made it twice in the last week.

Light and flavorful, the salad is chock-full of fresh, healthy veggies along with the substance of the tiny pastas making it a perfectly satisfying lunch.  I can definitively say that a piece of that leftover Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie makes a delightful finish...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year... somehow the warm days of summer slipped quietly into November and without the sun setting so early in the evening I don't think I would have known the holidays are here.  Our lives have been blessedly wonderful here at Liv Life and we have much to be thankful for.

First off I'm thankful for the good health that has blessed our family this year and the safe travels of my loved ones.

I'm thankful for Liv who shows me what it's like to truly Liv Life to the fullest each and every day.

I'm thankful for my son who makes me smile with his wit and views on life.

I'm thankful for my husband who takes such good care of me.

I'm thankful for my parents who are always just a phone call away.

I'm thankful for my girlfriends who support me when times are low and who celebrate with me when times are good.

I'm thankful for the chemo that is helping more friends than I had ever imagined would need it.

I'm thankful for the Dance Mom's of Liv's competition team who are nothing like the dance moms on tv.  (and that Twitch took a moment to pose with us!)

I'm thankful it doesn't snow in San Diego.

I'm thankful for Italian Pasta and wine with lunch.

And I'm thankful for this wonderful food community that I have become a part of through this blog.  Thank you for the support, the wonderful comments you all leave and the extraordinary recipes you share.  Thank you for checking in on me when I've been absent for a while, thank you for the spontaneous emails and facebook posts just to say hi, and thank you for the friendship.

Liv and I want to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving filled with wonderful food, family and friends.  I'm sending virtual hugs to my husband who is spending the holiday on the road in a hotel.  Our real celebration will be when you return home!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Goat Cheese Cranberry Kisses

Ahhh... Thanksgiving!  A day to give thanks for the bounty we have received and a day of abundance.  Occasionally, and hopefully said abundance will lead to a day of leftovers, which in my opinion is actually one of the best part of the Thanksgiving meal.  Who doesn't love rummaging through the fridge finding turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and slices of assorted pies all at your fingertips?

Occasionally, however, the plethora of leftovers might become a bit daunting and we're here to recommend a wonderful use for some of that extra Cranberry Sauce (we highly recommend our Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce if you are looking for a recipe).  If you don't need all of your sauce to slather onto that Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Sandwich, you can look like a gourmet chef with these cute little Cranberry Kisses.

Three ingredients and about 25 minutes once your puff pastry is thawed is all you need(Note to self... take frozen puff pastry from the freezer and place it in the fridge as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are done so it will good to go by the next afternoon).  Puff pastry is rolled and then cut into squares and fitted into the cups of mini muffin tins.  Filled with cheese and a dollop of cranberry sauce the treats head to the oven.  About 18 minutes later cheesy cranberry puffs are ready for your house guests and you're looking better than Martha Stewart.

Our favorite version uses goat cheese, or chévre, but a luscious brie is a fine substitute.  Served warm, these little kisses are just one more thing to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Shutterfly Giveaway - Tell Your Food Story in a Photo Book

Some 19 years ago my husband arrived home from an errand with my very first cookbook.  I think it had something to do with the pasta that he had been served some 6 different ways in 7 consecutive nights, and just might have been a subtle hint that I should broaden my cooking horizons.  For me however, it was so much more than a cookbook.  The pages were plastered with lovely photos and each recipe came with descriptions giving mouthwatering narratives of each meal to come.  Unbeknownst to my husband, he had just started a sort of addiction that I still feed whenever I can get my hands on a new pretty book.

A new cookbook is something akin to a novel for me. A happy afternoon is leisurely spent reading the volume cover to cover, drooling and exclaiming over photos, recipes and ingredients, and frequently enjoying the story that many cookbook authors tell if you read the book closely enough.  Reading how an author puts ingredients together or about a memory with a grandmother or close friend that relates to the recipe brings the recipe or photo to life making it much more than ingredients and words.

Cover of Liv's Sweet Book!
Shutterfly's Storytelling with Photo Books page is currently featuring Food Stories, and once I saw the books they have featured I couldn't help but make one of my own as a present for Liv for Christmas.  In our book, Liv Life 2011 - Sweet, I've featured some of Liv's favorite sweet recipes along with some of our favorite photos and events from the year... Sweet!

Food stories make wonderful gifts, not only for the Christmas or Hanukkah, but also for weddings.  A few years ago I presented a new bride with a similar book filled with some of our tried and true recipes along with photos from her childhood to set her on her on the cooking path and she tells me that the book is one of her go to resources and holds a prime spot on her cooking shelf.  Have a little one?  How about a book with photos of them making their favorite cookies?  Or how about that little one cooking with Grandma along with a special recipe?  A true memory for years and years to come.

At this point I am excited to announce our partnership with Shutterfly and our giveaway.  Shutterfly recently sent me two 12x12 Food Story Photo Books to preview and I am in turn giving them away to one of you as inspiration to create a book of your own.  Stephen Asprinio created a gorgeous book with stunning photos of wine and pizza and the Turntable Kitchen produced Three Cooks and One Book featuring mouthwatering photos and recipes - These two photo books will be mailed to our Giveaway Winner AND additionally Shutterfly has agreed to give one 8x8 photo book to our lucky winner to create a photo book of their own.

Sample page from Three Cooks and One Book

As for my own experience with Shutterfly, I can't recommend them highly enough.  Shutterfly has been my "go to" company for photo books for years.  In my past years as a Girl Scout Leader each of my girls was given a book recording her years in our troop, Liv and I make a book each year featuring her dance photos, and family books are made recounting our vacation travels (Italy is production!).  My mom has a stack of books on her table showing the kids growing up and a special one featuring my dad's 80th birthday.  In addition, each year I put together calendars with some of my favorite travel photos and give those as gifts to neighbors, teachers, coaches and friend.  This year we will be adding a new foodie version as well, but, shhhh... that is a secret.

 Giveaway Rules and Fine Print...
How gorgeous is Mr. Asprinio's book cover??!
 To enter our giveaway all you need to do is to leave a comment below with what your photo book food story might be.  A year in review?  Baking with Grandma?  Macro photos of ingredients?  The world is your oyster!  What will you do with it?

If you would care to like us or Shutterfly on Facebook, or Twitter, etc that would be great, but it's certainly not necessary.  We only want you to follow us if you really want to, however we would truly appreciate a share on your Facebook pages and in your Twitter accounts to help promote our giveaway if you are willing.

Our Shutterfly giveaway will close on Friday, November 25th at 2 PM PST and a winner will be chosen at random.  If your comment does not lead us to your blog and/or email, please be sure to include your email in the comment.  Upon winning, Shutterfly will need your email connected with your Shutterfly account (or you can create an account at that time) to credit you with your new book.

Unfortunately this giveaway is open only to United States addresses.

Thanks for participating, Liv and I are eager to hear your food story ideas!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce

Humans many times become creatures of habit, and I for one find my life extraordinarily habitual.  Perhaps it is my "mom world", but most mornings I pass the exact same moms at the exact same minute in the exact same spot.  Meal at our house are often at about the same time of day and the ingredients are ones I turn to again and again.  Mostly because they are popular, but also out of habit.

Thanksgiving is very traditional (or is it habitual?) for me and our menu doesn't really vary much over the years.  I even have a Thanksgiving folder with recipes that are only made only during this season creating similar menus that we look forward to the rest of the year.

On occasion a new dish will find its way to our table, the most recent being the White Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Cups which did indeed make the tradition cut and have been lovingly added to our Traditional Menu Folder.

Tradition for more than 15 years, these cranberries are flavored with orange peel and fresh orange juice making them a wonderful sweet complement to your traditional turkey (or a turkey sandwich the next day).  Sprinkled with a touch of Grand Marnier while still hot, these simple berries have been elevated to a near heavenly experience in my book.  While we did post them last year, I think they are important enough to bring to the blog table once again to share.

Easy to make, fine to make ahead (actually better), homemade cranberry sauce is a lovely and simple way to dress up your holiday table, and the smiles and "Oh, these are sooo good!" comments always make my evening just that much better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

White Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Cups

Re-entering life after 12 days in Italy has been a bit difficult.  Ok... it's been a lot difficult.  Having been ultimately spoiled in Rome and then on our cruise I'm having great difficulty finding motivation to get back into the kitchen let alone gear up for the holidays that are racing towards us.

With the realization that Thanksgiving is indeed next week, not next month, a bag of white chocolate chips was just the encouragement I needed to get back into the kitchen.  Definitely Thanksgiving themed, the warm flavors of fall are all wrapped up in the hard white chocolate shell, making stopping at just two (or three...) not an easy feat.

Discovering these little gems last year at Healthy Food for Living, I have now proclaimed then Thanksgiving Tradition.  Filled with pumpkin, pumpkin pie spices, crushed graham crackers (you can make your own here) and a dose of cream cheese for good measure, the cups are sweet yet ever so slightly spicy and with a touch of creaminess from the cream cheese and white chocolate.

A bit of a project to create, but totally worth the time, the cups are decorated simply with a sprinkle of jimmies.  Since I've discovered the art of chocolate cup making I am now the proud owner of several silicone molds, square and round.  I've found the white chocolate preferable to work with when painting the molds with the melted chocolates where a quick stint in the freezer has them set in about 15 minutes and then carefully popped out of the mold.

Once the molds are completed the filling is spooned inside, smoothed, then topped with more white chocolate and then the jimmies for decoration.

I'm not sure if it is the combination of the pumpkin and spices with the white chocolate that makes these cups so good, but whatever it is, they are positively irresistible.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Arrivederci to Rome...

Rome, the Eternal City... somehow we became a part of it, or maybe it became a part of us.  What started as different and unfamiliar quickly became comfortable and hard to leave.  Not at all like my home in San Diego, California, Rome is a mix of old and new, modern and ancient.  No where in California do you turn a corner and run smack into a structure over a thousand years old.  No where in San Diego do you walk narrow cobblestoned streets bathed in the glow of golden lamps after sunset.  No where in San Diego do you get food like you do in Rome.

Making the most of our last day in Rome my husband and I rose early, grabbed our "usual" (Italian pastry and cappuccino), and hit the road.  Walking for miles we took in a few remaining tourist attractions that we had missed in our first few days.

Rome is amazingly walkable, though sometimes difficult to navigate.  Street signs are not always posted and alleys turn into roads which change names every so often.  Big enough to get lost in, yet small enough to never really not know where you are, Rome is best seen on foot.

Having checked off the "must sees" on our list, the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Vatican, we laid out our plan for the day, first stop... the Trevi Fountain to throw the obligatory coin over our shoulders and into the water.  Legend says throwing a coin into the fountain will assure your return to Rome and I wasn't taking any chances.

Inside the Pantheon
Next up, the Pantheon.  Built more than 1800 years ago, the Pantheon, with its thick brick walls and large marble columns is impressive upon sight.  Originally a temple for pagan gods, the structure was converted to a church in 609.  Currently, the Pantheon contains the tomb of my new favorite artist, the amazing Raphael, along with several Italian Kings.

In front of the Pantheon
Open at the top of the large dome (the largest in Italy until 1436 when the larger dome was built in Florence), the oculus provided the only source of light.  Beautiful beyond words, the Pantheon is a sight to behold.

Campo de Fiori
Stopping briefly at the Campo de Fiori, the abundant and brilliant fruits and vegetables had me wishing I was home, or at least in a position to prepare a meal. Fragrant tomatoes and crisp greens lined the tables of the farmer's  market-like event with additional tables laden with spices, pasta and oils, mainly for tourists.

On to the Piazza Navona, a beautiful piazza now filled with peddlers selling all sorts of things.  From paintings to caricature artists to photographers and other items, the square is bustling yet still appealing.  Lined with cafes under pleasant umbrellas, we felt quite a draw to sit and have lunch, however warnings from tour books as well as locals told us that we would be better off choosing an area off of the piazza where we would find better food and at more reasonable prices. 

The Spanish Steps were next on our docket as we made our way back to the hotel.  The direction had us walking through a wonderful shopping district where I could have spent hours leisurely filling an entire extra suitcase should I have had the time.

Spanish Steps
With the day drawing to a close we had time for one more Roman dinner before we bid the city goodbye.  Choosing one of Rich Steves newest recommendations, I Colori del Vino Enoteca, we took one last walk through the street light lit cobblestoned streets.  Mr. Steves summed it up perfectly: 

"I Colori del Vino Enoteca: This modern wine bar – without a tourist in sight – feels like a laboratory of wine appreciation, with woody walls of bottles, a creative menu of cold cuts (meats and cheeses with different regional themes), and a great list of fine wines by the glass. Helpful and English-speaking Marco carries on a long family tradition of celebrating what we know to be the fundamentals of good nutrition: fine wine, cheese, meat, and bread." 

I wholeheartedly concur with Mr. Steves summation and will make I Colori del Vino a must visit whenever I am in Rome.  Marco was indeed inviting as he recommended phenomenal wines from Italian regions, my favorite being the Amarone.  Smooth, silky and full of flavor, Marco made me feel like he picked it specially for me.

Marco pouring my wine!
My salad, simple with spinach, pears, nuts and cheese, was dressed with a delicate olive oil and topped with a sprinkle of salt and pepper while my husbands pasta with shrimp had us both salivating simply from the aroma.

Content from our evening, we made our way back to our hotel by way of the Colosseum, brilliantly lit for the night, and took our final photos of the structure.  Beautiful at night with its golden cast, we stood and simply gazed for our last few moments out in the city.

Rome did indeed become a part of us and leaves one yearning to return.  From the chaotic espresso-like buzz of the bustling city to the relaxing wine with every meal way of life, I get it.  I love it.  I can't wait to return...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Pizza, the Vatican, Cul de Sac for dinner and Rome by Night

What could be more Italian than Pizza?  Well... actually quite a few things, however when in Rome one has pizza.  Not the pizza we have here in America, or at least not what most of us have come to consider pizza, but something much more refined and delicious.

Baked in ultra hot ovens Italian pizza usually comes with a thin crust, many times crunchy on the edges and is topped with any number of combinations.  Usually lighter on the sauce than what we have locally and definitely with a higher quality of cheese than you will find at Dominos, Italian pizzas will indeed spoil you forever.

Eager for my first real Italian pizza in over 20 years I excitedly pointed out my choice as my husband, a fan of true American pizza, skeptically pointed out his.  With a cannoli tossed in for good measure, we made our way to a small table and took our first, wonderfully delicious bites of the thin crusted delight.

Taking me back 25 years, memories of my first and never forgotten Italian pizzas came flooding back.  Checking my husband's impressions I was darn pleased to see that he also was enjoying his pizza, though I think given the choice he still has a preference for the American version of thick crust and extra sauce.  He kindly didn't tell me that though!

Satiated and content, we met up once again with Lindy, from Angel Tours, and our small group made its way right past the lengthy line of guests waiting to enter the Vatican (a wonderful benefit of this tour company).  For the next four hours our group of 8 traveled through the rooms of the Vatican Museum, the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel taking in as many frescoes, statues, maps and tapestries as our minds could hold.

Lindy again provided a running narrative of the history of the Vatican including facts on architecture and artists as well as the residents of the tiny country.  Filling our heads with the lore of the city, the Vatican Museum walls seemed to come to life with stories of the artists who took part in the creation of the many treasures on view.

A fan of the pristine white marble statues, I was shocked to learn that in Roman times the statues would have been considered unfinished.  Finished statues were colorful creations, with paints coloring the clothing, eyes, hair, etc of the statues, only the skin remained the pristine white that we are so used to today.  As I wandered through the many rooms admiring the statues I just could not get past the fact that they used to be colorful.

The Gallery of Tapestries and the Room of Maps were simply awesome.  Exhibiting works hundreds of years old, the tapestries are woven masterpieces with detail that is hard to comprehend.  In addition, the maps frescoed onto the walls of the map gallery represent the Italian regions in the late 1500's, while the ornate ceiling of the gallery is a work of art in and of itself.

Huge tapestries woven hundreds of years ago with amazing detail
Most impressive to my husband and myself were the Raphael Rooms which actually served as the former apartments of Pope Julius II.  Pope Julius gave Raphael complete license to fresco the rooms and even to cover up the works of his former master, Perugino.  The rooms have been cleaned and refurbished bringing the brilliant colors of the walls back to life.

The works of Raphael
Imagining someone actually living in these rooms is somehow beyond belief.  The thought of kicking your feet up and enjoying an evening cocktail while surrounded by such impressive works has me wondering if the Pope actually took notice every day of his incredibly gorgeous and detailed surroundings.  I'm choosing to think that he did.

Probably the most recognizable frescoes of the Vatican are those of Michaelangelo's in the Sistine Chapel.  Simple words can not do justice to the works enclosed in this chapel, and cameras are not allowed.  Let it just be said that one could spend hours in the chapel and still not take it all in.  Simply a must visit sometime in your life.

St. Peter's Basilica
Leaving us outside the Basilica, Lindy provided the history and facts of the structure and the treasures within.  Noting that a Mass was being held, we were told access to some areas may be limited, but we entered anyway and wandered through the treasures taking in Michaelangelo's Pieta in the process.  The Basilica is beyond impressive and brings a feeling of overall peace upon entering.

As I wandered to the front of the Basilica audible gasps were heard all around as the choir from the mass began to sing.  Many people, myself included, stood, tears streaming down our faces, as we took in the sheer beauty of the moment... a moment that will most likely not be repeated in this lifetime and most certainly never forgotten.

Taking our leave of the Vatican just as the sun set we took a few moments to savor the view from the bridge near the Castel Sant' Angelo, just outside of the Vatican.  With the sun setting and the lights beginning to shine, the scene took on a magical quality, setting the Vatican forever in our memory.

Hungry after our long afternoon tour we made our way to Nadia's (our B and B, The Amaranto Romano's, host) dining recommendation of Cul de Sac, an Enoteca (wine bar) rumored to have an extremely extensive wine list.

Extensive wine selection??  Yep!
Just outside of the Piazza Navona, Cul de Sac is a small establishment with an inviting, cozy decor offering seating options either inside or out, and yes they have an extremely extensive wine offering.  Sitting at our table our server provided two English menus and an inch-thick binder... the wine list!  Luckily the knowledgeable young servers didn't disappoint with the wine recommendations they provided as we found the inch-thick binder somewhat overwhelming.

Options ranging from cheese and salami plates to pasta to beef, the menu also did not disappoint.  Choosing the cheese and salami plate as a starter we perused the rest of the menu in search of the perfect meal.  The Ravioli became my favorite pick of the evening... filled with ricotta and topped with additional cheese and a touch of pistachio these little pasta pockets had a delightfully unexpected lemon finish.  Even my non-ravioli loving husband went back for seconds on this dish.  The accompanying Greek salad with a slab of fresh feta was also enjoyed as was the steaming bowl of good 'ole pasta with meat sauce.  Once again, feeling incomplete without tasting the Tiramisu, my husband let me have all but his little taste.  Light and flavorful with a liquor and coffee finish, this tender cake was simply divine.

Cul de Sac provided a wonderfully authentic meal which remains a highlight of our meals in Rome.  Food, wine and enjoyable service along with reasonable prices will keep this meal memorable for a long time to come.

Roman Streets at night
Tired after our long day of walking topped off with a good meal we began to make our way back to the Amaranto Romano.  Wandering the cobblestoned streets at night the golden glow of the street lights transformed the Eternal City into a magical sort of place.  Small side streets glowed in romantic hues and an older couple walking together caught my eye.  Obviously local, the couple made their way up the street with the gentleman holding his wife's arm to steady her.  All the while they whispered together smiling, obviously in love.

After 3 days of nearly nonstop touring, this moment of peacefulness and satiation became the exact moment our minds moved from the fast pace of everyday life to the relaxing speed of vacation.  Grabbing each others hand we gazed at the couple for a moment longer then turned to continue on our own way, smiling with an understanding that one day that couple would be us...  Rome is beautiful.

My husband caught this little bit of the choir singing in the Basilica... the quality is not ideal but it will give a glimpse to the incredible beauty of the moment!