Around the World in 2017

Castle

I have been doing a lot of overseas trip planning lately and it got me to thinking of all the places I have been and want to go in the future. It wasn’t until I sat down with a map and started writing down all the countries that I realized I had been to five continents and well over 20 countries (some multiple times)! Not as many as a lot of travel bloggers, but I’m not really a budget traveler. I fall somewhere around mid-range with a rare luxury experience. I save up for big trips and enjoy myself, but I don’t need to stay in fancy hotels. I’m good with a basic, clean room, a bowl of whatever from the place around the corner, with a bottle of good wine. However, all travel styles have advantages and can give you a different outlook on where and how you travel. I wanted something totally different this year so I am about to embark on a more budget friendly solo Euro trip. It will be a big step outside my comfort zone at my age, but I’m really looking forward to a different perspective and new experiences!

2017 Planned Travel List:

UK (again)

Ireland (again, but staying with friends! YAY!)

Spain

Dominican Republic

Peru (Hiking the Salkantay Trail and Machu Picchu)

Napa or Willamette Valley

Where are you planning to go in 2017?

Tanzania: A Photo Essay

African sunset

Sunset at Ndarakwai Ranch

As far back as I can remember, I’d always wanted to visit Africa. It seemed like the most vast and remote place to a small town Texas girl. Many years and numerous countries later, I finally made it to Tanzania. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, go on  safari, and visit Zanzibar. Here is my Tanzanian journey:

Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kili camp

Camping above the clouds on Mt. Kili

Lava Camp

Lava Tower Camp (15,213 ft.)

Uhuru

Highest peak in Africa at 19,341 ft.

Tarangire Park

Tarangire National Park

Maasai Guide

Sunset walk with our Maasai guide in Ngorongoro Crater

Safari

Safari View

Elephants in Tanzania

Lots of elephants in Ngorongoro Crater

Zanzibar Beach

Beach in Ras Nungwi, Zanzibar

Market

Zanzibar market scene

Fish market

Zanzibar fish market

Stone Town

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam

While Tanzania was my first stop in Africa, it certainly will not be the last. I have my eye on the sand dunes of Namibia, another safari in Botswana, and wine tasting in South Africa. Where would you like to go?

 

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5 unique things to do in Rome

On every trip I take I try to balance the typical touristy activities with more off the beaten path experiences. I like to see the things that make a place a destination, but I personally find that doesn’t provide the most memorable experiences. I like talking to the locals to find out where to eat, shops to visit, and their favorite places to go.

I have been to Rome several times and have seen all the big sites, but I keep going back because I keep discovering more things that I love about the city. It is big, loud and delicious, but has hidden pockets of beauty. For me, it is like getting to know a person. You see all the superficial stuff first, but then you start to share experiences with a place. It eventually becomes a friend that you enjoy seeing over and over again.

5 unique things to do in Rome:

  1. Park of the Aqueducts

It took us a while to find The Park of the Aqueducts located along the Appian Way. You basically get on the metro and ride it out to the last stop and keep walking through a suburban neighborhood. We did eventually find it and spent a relaxing, quiet afternoon admiring the 2,000 year old handiwork away from Rome’s crowds. You can spend a whole day walking the park. There are also several neighborhood cafeterias where you can grab a few to-go items and have a picnic in the park. If you need a break this is a fascinating place to go.

aqueduct

The Park of the Aqueducts

2. Testaccio neighborhood

We stumbled upon Testaccio on a food tour and loved the non-touristy vibe of the neighborhood. It is business as usual here with locals chatting in the square, grabbing a coffee, or picking up groceries. There isn’t a major site to see here so it isn’t crowded. Testaccio slaughterhouse used to pay its workers in fifth quarters so this is the neighborhood to go to for tripe  if that is your thing. If not, they have a wonderful market and low key restaurants serving up delicious, straight forward food. It is a place that I will visit again and again.

Market

Vendor at the Testaccio market

3. Testaccio Slaughterhouse

Also in the Testaccio neighborhood is the old slaughterhouse that now houses the MACRO al Mattatoio, a branch of Rome’s contemporary art gallery. Testaccio used to be the slaughterhouse district all the way up to 1975.  It is a unique space that still has the original animal pens and meat hooks hanging from the track. The art exhibits complement the space and is a unique place to visit.

slaughterhouse

Testaccio slaughterhouse

4. Baths of Caracalla

What do you see when you don’t want to see the Roman forum again? The Baths of Caracalla were Rome’s second largest public baths built in the 3rd century. It is estimated that 21 million bricks were used in the construction of the baths. Several large pieces of mosaic work along with entire tiled floors have been preserved at the site.  The vast complex of ruins are surrounded by a large green space. There were few people there when we visited and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Personally, I found this to be one of the best ancient exhibits in Rome. I can only imagine how impressive the baths were in the third century!

Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla

5. Pyramid of Cestius

The Pyramid of Cestius is so completely out of place in Rome which is why it is an interesting visit. Located next to the Protestant  cemetery, it is a funeral monument  to Caius Cestius, a wealthy Roman magistrate. Egyptian architectural style was fashionable after Rome conquered Egypt in 30 B.C. While it wasn’t the only pyramid built in Rome (there was one near the Vatican at one time), it is the only one to survive. After visiting the pyramid, walk through the gardens of the Prostestant cemetery and visit the graves of Keats and Shelley. If you get a nice day, the soft light reflecting off the marble of the tombstones is very beautiful.

Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius

cemetery

Protestant Cemetery

 

What are your favorite, unique places in Rome?

Off the Beaten Path: Perissos Vineyard and Winery

A few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to get out of town. It was hot, downtown was swarming with people for the Austin Food and Wine Festival, and we were fed up with chores and renovation projects. Taking a drive out to the Hill Country for wine tasting was the perfect escape!

I did a little research and stumbled upon a boutique winery just outside of Burnet, TX. I didn’t want to go to the more popular wineries in Fredericksburg, or Driftwood. I wanted to get off the beaten path and find the cute, charming wineries. You know, the kind where the owners are talking to visitors and various animals are running around the property; the kind of place you want to stay all day because it feels like home.

Perissos Vineyard and Winery

Perissos Winery

Perissos is a ancient Greek word from the Bible meaning “exceeding abundantly, beyond what is expected, imagined, or hoped for”. I think that is a fitting name for this lush, healthy estate. With plenty of seating inside and outside, this is a great off the beaten path option for those that want something a little different!

The main building houses a beautiful tasting room, barrel storage, and wine making facilities. The large stone structure was built by the owner, Seth Martin, a former custom home builder and self taught wine maker. We were able to chat with him for a few minutes as he was taking a break from the day’s work. He was super friendly and told us about the crop he just harvested, difficulty of the previous years water shortages, and life as a wine maker and farmer. It was obvious he loved making wine and had such a passion for it. He wanted visitors to explore and spend time on the estate. Everyone working there made us feel at home; even the farm dogs and chickens wandering through the picnic tables and tasting room!Perissos Estate

Now, I have to admit, I don’t normally drink Texas wine unless I’m out wine tasting. Most of the flavor profiles just don’t do it for me. I like big, bold, and serious. Texas wine is more light and playful. However, I did find the 2012 Petite Sirah and 2012 Roussanne to be absolutely fantastic. The Petite Sirah is 100% estate grown while the Roussanne is sourced from Bingham and Oswald Family Vineyards in Meadow, Texas. The two wines couldn’t be more different, but I thought the fruit and minerality of the Roussane and the structure of the Petite Sirah were fascinating. I ended up with a bottle of the Sirah to take home. Now all I need to do is figure out what to make with it. Any suggestions?

Wine

 

 

 

Herb-Crusted Pork Chops with Roasted Carrots

herb pork chop

Easter dinner with my family has traditionally been a large, heavy meal consisting of a honey ham, mac and cheese, green bean casserole with cream-of-something, and banana pudding full of so much sugar that I’m still surprised my teeth didn’t fall out! Now that my husband and I are focusing on a healthier lifestyle, Easter dinner looks very different this year.

Instead of ham, I am using pork chops since they are so versatile. One of my favorite ways to prepare pork chops is to do a light mustard dressing and herb crust with almond meal and fresh herbs from my garden. It gives the pork a tangy, complex flavor while keeping it simple and healthy. If you are grilling this Easter, also check out my recipe for smoked honey dijon rack of pork!

I went to the farmer’s market this morning and picked up carrots from Johnson’s Backyard Garden and organic spinach as side dishes. Roasted or sautéed veggies with herbs and olive oil are perfect. If you need to dress up (disguise) vegetables for little ones or picky spouses, my Italian roasted brussels sprout recipe works great too.

What is your favorite Easter dinner recipe?

Herb-Crusted Pork Chops with Roasted Carrots

  • Servings: 4
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil or coconut oil cooking spray
  • 2 pounds of organic boneless pork chops
  • 1/4 cup of dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup almond meal/flour
  • 2 tablespoons each of fresh thyme and rosemary (finely chopped)
  • 1 pound organic baby carrots
  • 1/8 cup high quality olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme for carrots (finely chopped)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking dish and cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. I use olive oil or coconut oil spray.

Mix dijon mustard, garlic, and honey together. Salt and pepper the pork chops and brush both sides with the mustard mixture.

Mix almond meal/flour, salt and pepper, and fresh thyme and rosemary together. Dip the mustard coated pork chops in the flour mixture and make sure to coat well. Set the pork chops aside for 10-20 minutes to allow the flour to adhere to the meat.

While the pork is resting, wash and trim ends of carrots. Place carrots in baking dish and add olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. Toss well to coat.

After the pork has rested, spray and heat a pan on the stovetop. To get a bit of a darker crust, lightly brown the pork chops and then put them in the oven. I find that the almond meal can get a bit soggy if I do not brown them first.

Once the pork chops are browned, place on a cookie sheet and bake them (along with the carrots) for approximately 30-35 minutes until done.

Enjoy and have a lovely Easter weekend!

pork chops with herbs