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?

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Confessions of a Dieting Food Blogger

Dieting Food Blogger

Rest

Dear Friends,

So, I have a confession. An uncomfortable confession for a self-proclaimed food and wine lover. For the last year I have been on a diet. Not the typical lose-weight-to-look-like-an-unrealistic-airbrushed-swimsuit-model diet, but a lifestyle diet.

Last year I decided that I had too much excess in my life. Too much food, too much drinking, too much work, and too much stress. So I went on a diet and started focusing on my health, doing things that make me happy, and being more present in my life. Blogging and social media were not a priority.

Unfortunately, for a food/wine/travel blog this wasn’t ideal, but these are the five things I learned:

  1. Give yourself permission to rest. Life should be about loving experiences and it’s ok if you need to take a break to reconnect with your passion (or find a new one!).
  1. Change isn’t bad. Good things will always happen if you keep moving towards what you want to accomplish. My husband and I were over weight, exhausted, and dealing with health issues. We started working out 4-5 days a week and eating simple, healthy food at home. We now look and feel better than we have in years. And have more money in our bank account for travel. Win!
  1. It’s also ok to indulge every once in a while. Saturday night dinners with a good bottle of wine are things to look forward too. It feels like a special treat for all the hard work during the week.
  1. Starting over is difficult. Finding the discipline to write before/after work is always a struggle. Just remember to keep moving forward.
  1. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. It really is that simple.

Has anyone else taken a lifestyle or blog break? I’d love to know what you learned!

Also, look for more changes ahead on the blog, new recipes, and exciting posts about our upcoming trip to Africa and Kilimanjaro!

 

Austin’s Friendliest Wine Bars

SXSW is here! As all of Austin’s guests arrive, downtown is transformed into a crazy web of people, events, and pop up eateries and bars. It is going to be a hell of a ride this year since I work for a company that participates in SXSW. If you are looking for a fun, friendly, and Austintacious wine experience  check out my favorite places to grab a glass!

My guide for the coolest and friendliest wine bars is based on different criteria than you typically find in other guides. These are places that I hang out at regularly (ok, A LOT) and love the energy, people, and the overall experience. I judge these places based on friendliness of staff, inviting/fun/quirky spaces, and a decent wine/food selection. Some do not have the most high end wine selection, but I don’t want them too. I enjoy the vibe and people so I pick places that represent all that makes Austin the best place to live in Texas. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

1. Max’s Wine Dive
Max’s Wine Dive located downtown is one of the best places to grab a glass of wine. Don’t sit at a table. Grab a chair at the bar before the dinner rush hits and the bartenders are more than happy to chat you through their wine list in addition to any speciality wines that may be open. I always ask about the ‘day old’ wines that have been opened they are selling at a reduced price. If you go on a Wednesday or Thursday evening prior to their weekly shipment there are usually really interesting wines open they will let you try as well. Who doesn’t like awesome wine for a great price?! Everyone that works there has always been super friendly and very knowledgable. Added bonus: Max’s Fried Chicken. 

Max's Wine

2. House Wine
House Wine is a fun, quirky wine bar located on Lamar and Josephine not too far from downtown. I’ve spent many a night in coffee houses so House Wine brought back the nostalgic feeling of the “early days” of Austin where you could sit on the patio for hours and read. It is a great place to hang out with your friends, significant other, or on your own if you need some quiet time. Cool and comfortable, HouseWine offers small plates of cheeses, olives, and desserts.  The last time I was there they had a cheese plate/bottle of wine special for $50. Great deal! Added bonus: Make-your-own-s’mores plate.

3. East End Wines
East End Wines is actually a wine store located in a historic home on Rosewood Ave in East Austin. With a vast array of wine to choose from you can find economical wines along with high end and rare wines. The great part about East End Wines is they go out of their way to help you pick the right bottle as well as introduce you to new wine. Very friendly and knowledgable (see a theme?) Because you are buying the bottle retail, you can afford to spend a little more and try something different. They also host free wine tastings on Friday afternoons  from 4pm-8pm. If you would like to enjoy the bottle on the patio (and try Raymond’s food truck), they will uncork the bottle (for a small fee) and provide the glasses. Added bonus: Three Little Pigs food truck. Best meatloaf and collard greens EVER!

Wine and Food

4. Red Room Lounge
Red Room Lounge has been around for about a year and a half now and used to be the best kept secret downtown. However, I think the secret is out because the last time I was there it was packed! Red Room Lounge is a cool, laid back, basement lounge with a diverse wine selection at all price points. I like that I can enjoy a less expensive, but still high quality, bottle of wine or I can splurge and order something luxurious. With a somewhat obscure entrance and a basement descent, you may think you stepped into Prohibition era bar. That is why it is one of my favorite places in town. I can sit for an hour, have a wonderful glass of wine, and breath. Added bonus: Bill Elsey, one of Austin’s hottest, award winning sommeliers, is usually around to walk you through the wine list.

Red Room Wine

5. Uncorked
Uncorked was one of the first wine bars I started visiting when Austin’s food and wine scene was still young. Located on East 7th Street just off I-35 in a historic house, Uncorked offers great food, wine, and a view that is one of the best in town. I have consumed many a glass of wine on that patio while I waited out Austin’s crazy evening traffic!  You can order wine flights, glasses, or bottles from a country specific wine list. Tentative wine orderers are put at ease using the winedex tasting guide. Each wine has a series of symbols that describe the type, body, and style. If you have any questions or hesitations they go out of their way to explain the wines and let you try a sample before you order.  The local cheese and charcuterie boards as well as the truffled mushroom risotto are also wonderful. Added bonus: The amazing patio!

UnCorked Wine

Prime Rib with Guinness Au Jus and Parmesan Fries

Prime rib

Hello friends! I’ve been on a blog break the last few months, but I’ve missed posting for you all! Trying to keep up with a new job, home life, and the holidays was just too much, but now I’m ready to get back to baking, cooking, traveling, and blogging 🙂 It is almost “prime” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) patio season so I plan to be out reporting on Austin’s wonderful food scene and creating more dishes for you at home!

I wanted my first post back to be a tribute to Irish cooking since we are gearing up for a trip to Ireland and Scotland in April. I am looking forward to reporting back on all our travel and culinary adventures. We will be taking several local food tours and I will be on the lookout for local farmer’s markets. And of course, beer and whiskey tastings!

I usually cook a big Sunday dinner and last week prime rib sounded so good. And Guinness. And fries. Can you tell I was hungry? I thought I would try adding a can of Guinness to make an interesting au jus and it turned out great. The parmesan fries complemented the dish nicely as they were not too heavy and added a crunchy/salty element.

(The recipe below is adjusted to our tastes since we like rare meat, but you can certainly add more cooking time or different spices. Also, please bear with the photos. They are not the greatest!)

Prime Rib with Guinness Au Jus and Parmesan Fries

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 150 minutes

Ingredients: Prime Rib

  • 5 lbs prime rib roast
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons ground thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can Guinness Stout
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped

Parmesan Fries

  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

1. Ask the butcher to cut a small (5-10 lb), bone in, trussed, prime rib. You can usually order choice or prime meat. I went with choice since the dish wasn’t for guests.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring beef to room temperature and rub with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme. Use as much salt and pepper as you are comfortable using, but I add a lot.

3. Place beef in a deep roasting pan and pour a bottle or can of Guinness over the meat. Add the onion, carrot, (you can also add celery if you like) and a can of beef broth to the pan. There are several different ways to roast prime rib. I prefer to roast on high heat and then turn the oven off to allow the residual heat to finish cooking the meat since I like mine more rare. It really depends on your preferred method, but you can also roast on high heat for 10 minutes and then turn the oven on low for 30 minutes.

4. At 500 degrees, roast the beef 7 minutes per pound of meat. For a 5 pound prime rib, roast 35 minutes. Turn the oven off and let sit for 2 hours. Do not open the oven door. Check the internal temp for 135 degrees after two hours. If the meat looks too rare, heat the oven back to 300 degrees and cook in 5 minute increments to keep checking the temperature. Sometimes it takes a few rounds to figure out the best method with your oven.

5. To prepare the potato, cut into small wedges and place in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, oregano, cheese, and olive oil to potato wedges and mix well. Spread the wedges evenly on a baking sheet.

6. Cook potatoes at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Unless you have two ovens, it will have to wait until the beef is finished. I let the potatoes cook while the beef was resting.

7. When the beef has finished roasting, remove from the pan and let rest on a cutting board. While beef is resting and potatoes are cooking, strain and pour the au jus into a pan. Heat on low to warm up the au jus when ready to serve. If you need more juice, add some beef broth.

8.When ready to carve the beef, cut the trusses and remove the rib bone from the meat. The butcher usually cuts most of it away so finishing the job is very easy.

9. Slice prime rib as you like it. I prefer a small to medium cut as I try to keep my portions to about 4 ounces, but it is up to you!

10. Serve with parmesan fries, Guinness au jus, and beer (Guinness not required if you prefer a glass of wine like me!)

Prime Rib prep

I am really looking forward to trying some of the interesting culinary treats of Ireland. Do you have a favorite dish or restaurant? If so, please forward! 🙂

Food and Wine Process Map

Steak and red, seafood and white, dessert and….Food and wine pairings are so confusing that sometimes one needs a process map to figure it out! I thought it would be fun to create a visual process map (yes, I am THAT nerdy) using different combinations. I help groups visually describe their processes so it isn’t surprising my work follows me home! (Process maps are also good to use for recipe planning. It helps organize thoughts into coherent ideas.)

I don’t always pair the “appropriate” wine with food because I like experimenting. Food and wine can be analytical and unpredictable at the same time, but that is part of the fun! Try fried chicken and Champagne, a la Max’s Wine Dive, or a fresh garden pizza and Rose. You might be surprised what works for you.

What is your most creative food/wine pairing?

Food and wine process map