Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Borrowing a Page from Prêt à Voyager

I've been reading a lot of blogs lately and if I like the author, I always find myself looking for a list of blogs that he or she reads daily.  In the past few weeks, I have bookmarked over a dozen new blogs that are have really peaked my interest.  One called Prêt à Voyager is all about on Paris and travel, focusing on people who travel internationally or are living as ex-pats in France.  There is a standard series of questions that all guests featured in "Boarding Pass" are asked, ranging from favorite vacation spot to preferred method of transportation.  As I searched through some of the archived "Boarding Passes," I found myself wanting to answer these questions myself so here are my answers to a few of my favorite questions.  Let's see how much you can learn about me from my travel preferences!

Last trip taken:

Washington DC--I was with my boyfriend and it was our first time in the city.  We travel to New York and Boston all the time and since we visited Philadelphia for the first time last March, we were really looking forward to our DC trip.  Our four days there were freezing and we loved every minute of it.  We saw as many monuments as possible, visited several museums, ate in wonderful restaurants and had numbs fingers and toes the entire time.  I'd love to go back in the spring or fall and see what the city's like without wearing four layers of clothing.

One place you would go back to again and again:

San Diego.  It's a magical place.  The weather is wonderful, the people are friendly and I feel like a different person when I'm sitting near the Pacific Ocean, cross-legged and barefoot. 

Place you'd never go back:

Although I think I would give Phoenix another try if we went in the winter, I would never go back in the summer.  It was too hot to enjoy our vacation and I got a horrible sunburn that lasted the entire trip.

Place you've never been but are dying to visit:

For me, there is never enough time or money to travel to all of the places that I would like to visit.  I have a very long list of US cities that I want to visit as well as a very long list of places in the world that I would like to see before I settle down.  Some of my top destinations include Chicago, Seattle, Montreal, Barcelona, Prague, Iceland and any of the Scandinavian countries.

Most memorable trip in 2 sentences or less:

I'll always remember the first trip my boyfriend and I took together as a dating couple.  We were in San Diego and although we had a few meltdowns (I wanted it to be a perfect trip and was trying a bit too hard!), we had a wonderful time together and have great memories of that week.

How do you record your travels?

I try to take as many pictures as possible which doesn't amount to that many since I usually forget about my camera when I am looking around and admiring the locale.  My boyfriend has been helping me collect business cards and cute pamphlets or matchbooks from places that we visit as well.  When we return home, I try to put the pictures and other tidbits together in an album so that we look back through it years later, we'll remember all of the details that made the trips so great.

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Evening with Adriana Trigiani

(Image from Adriana Trigiani's website)

Last night, my mother and I took a trip to RJ Julia, the wonderful independent bookstore in Madison, Connecticut, to hear Adriana Trigiani read from her new book, Brava, Valentine.   Adriana has written many books, all about Italian families and strong individuals, love and communities, and I think I've read them all.  They are funny, well-written, heart-warming and heart-wrenching at the same time, probably because her writing is so clear and true.  In her work, she seems so relatable but I always attributed that to the topics she writes about.  However, after spending an hour listening to her speak to a room full of woman (and some men!), it's obvious that she is full of life and more down-to-earth than I ever could have hoped. 

Adriana has a background in improv which she used to her advantage in front of a crowd.  She had the entire room laughing at her stories and anecdotes, most of which revolved around her family.  Beforehand, we weren't sure if the event was going to be a reading and then a book signing or just the signing.  What Adriana offered was so much better: a personalized presentation that gave insights into her life and the material from which she draws for her writing.  My mother and I truly enjoyed ourselves and I'm so happy she was able to come with me.

Afterward, we all waited in line patiently for our books to be signed.  Adriana was truly thankful to everyone that showed up and had a mini-conversation with all of her fans.  There were even some people that drove nearly two hours from Boston to be at this reading.  One of those attendees brought her Italian pastry and she jumped up and gave him a huge hug.  It's things like this that make it obvious that she has a strong following!  When we got up to the desk, Adriana signed our books with a rust-colored sharpie.  She shook our hands, thanked us again for coming.  And here was my favorite part of the night:  She looked right at me and told me that I looked like a writer.  She told me to keep writing, that she loved my name (she added a little extra to the end which I loved, calling me "Crystalina," perhaps to make it more Italian) and that I had a 'good' author name.  Adriana told me she supports young writers and that I should e-mail her.  Ms. Trigiani gives off such a welcoming vibe that I really am thinking about e-mailing her, letting her know that I love her new book and thanking her for being an inspiration to an aspiring author. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wedding Wonderland

(Image from weddingbellsblog.com)

My younger brother is getting married in October so our family has been thrown into wedding preparations.  Some people grow up going to tons of family weddings but we weren't like that.  It wasn't until my early twenties when my friends started getting married (and asking me to be in their wedding parties!) that I started attending weddings annually.  Dan is my only sibling and we are about 2 and 1/2 years apart.  The older we get, the closer we become.  As teens, we had different friends, different styles, different concerns.  Now that we are adults, we are worried about the same things, experience the similar problems and enjoy so many of the same things.  He lives in Boston with his fiancee but we still talk often and I see him when he comes home as well as when I go to visit them every few months.  And it doesn't hurt that I love his fiancee like she is already my sister.  My family has a good track record when it comes to relationships.  My grandparents have been together 60 years, my parents just celebrated their 30th anniversary.  Even though I've been with my boyfriend for almost 6 years, my brother has been with Kristine since they were juniors in high school, almost 8 years.  I can hardly remember a time when she wasn't part of our family--they make the perfect couple. 
I'm not wedding-crazy but I love weddings.  The planning and celebrating of a couple's love is so special.  Every wedding is different and it's the personal touches that appeal to me.  My boyfriend and I talk about marriage frequently but neither of us are in a rush.  We live together, we share our lives and a wedding would be an expensive party that we can't afford at this point.  But that doesn't stop me from looking at websites and picking out favors, guestbooks and invitations that I may like in the future.  I love party planning and a wedding is the biggest, baddest party a couple can throw.  I am truly looking forward to when it's time to plan my own but for now, I'm more than content to flip through the thick wedding magazines in the bookstore and marvel at the beautiful cakes and dresses.

This past Monday, we all made the trip to the bridal store and watched Kristine try on wedding dresses.  She had one in mind that she had tried on a few months ago and when she put it on again, it was perfect.  Her sister and I are bridesmaids and we were able to get dresses that night too, knee-length, strapless black and white frocks that are very cute and classy.  I just need to find a black shoe with a short heel but I'm so excited to party it up on October 10th.

I'm sure that this isn't the last time you'll hear about the impending nuptuals but for now, with the dresses purchased and the reception hall booked, there is little to do but wait for Kristine to join our family!  <3

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Little Before-Bed Snack

  After dinner tonight, I looked over at my kitchen counter and there were two very overripe bananas staring at me.  I was tired but didn't want to waste the fruit.  I dug out one of my favorite recipes for banana bread with walnuts and chcocolate chips.  I greased my new loaf pan, spooned in the batter in alternating layers with the chocolate/nut mixture and put it in the oven for an hour.  And now, as I watch the brand new episode of Project Runway, I am snacking on a warm slice of sweet bread and don't have any worries about my breakfast for tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Croque Monsieur?

(Picture Courtesy of One Hungry Chef: January 2009)

Last week, I was flipping through my grandmother's copy of Martha Stewart Living and fell in love with half of the magazine.  I love Martha Stewart and her publications--I have subscriptions to Body & Soul and Everyday Food and still mourn for Blueprint, her short-lived decor magazine.  Martha Stewart Living has always been a bit stale for me though.  In the past, it's had a fuddy-duddy feel.  There are always lots of flower arrangements and fancy recipes for things that do not interest me in the least.  The pages are always beautiful, of course.  The glossy pictures jump right off the page and make you feel like you are actually standing in that garden in France and not really sitting at a wobbly table in Starbucks.  Anyway, this issue was not only beautiful to look at but also filled with interesting, different content that a range of Martha Stewart readers would enjoy.
  In particular, I loved the easy but oh-so-cute (and difficult-looking!) decorations for Valentine cupcakes and cakes.  There were small meringue hearts that you can pipe onto a dessert or the small, chocolate lace hearts that you can make with a few melted chocolate chips, a sandwich bag and ten minutes in your freezer.  There were bread recipes and variations on that recipe for raisin-cinnamon loaves or rye bread.  Near the middle of the magazine, there was a beautiful layout of cake stands, crystal-colored plates in gorgeous cut-glass and milk glass platters that would look even more wonderful with a huge chocolate or coconut-covered cake on it.  But the thing that stood out to me was on a tear-out card near the back along with a recipe for orange-dark chocolate truffles: a recipe for croque monsieur!
  Until I saw this, I had no idea what croque monsiuer was, which is a bit surprising since I love cheese, bread and all things French.  I used to eat grilled cheese for dinner two or three times a week when I was in college.  And this delicacy is not only a grilled cheese with ham on great bread but also goes a step further with a cheese sauce poured over it while on the griddle.  In my excitement, I shared with my mother, a trained chef, who looked at me and said, "It's just grilled cheese," but I could tell from the picture that the broiled cheese sauce on top of fresh-cut french or italian bread would be just heaven in my mouth.  I have to try it.
  You could imagine my surprise when yesterday at the deli/bakery near my office, the daily special was "Croque Monsieur."  I put this in quotes because once I shelled out my $10 and took my first bite, this was not the lunch I had in mind.  It was barely grilled, the cheese had a horrible, horrible waxy stringy outside that I had to keep pulling off (and which should have obviously been taken off before it was made) and the cheese wasn't melted at all.  This disappointment has not deterred me though--I am now looking forward to making this myself, perhaps for dinner tonight and you can be sure that I will take a picture to share.
  I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon--I, for one, am looking forward to my salad with grilled chicken for lunch (I always bring my own lunch to work so you can see how yesterday's bad sandwich was even more of a disappointment!) and my trip to the grocery store after work to get the ingredients for my very french dinner! Oeuvre!