Buon Compleanno (“happy birthday” in Italian!) at Via Napoli

January has turned into a bit of a blog hiatus for me.  Unfortunately, I am still dealing with issues stemming from my accident (I officially hate car insurance companies!), still dealing with traces of my cold on and off (although I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOO much better), and work has been pretty insane too.  I swear, I couldn’t believe when I woke up yesterday morning that it was ONLY Wednesday.  It felt like it should have been Friday many times over by that point.  To say this month has been challenging for me would be an understatement.  Although I do know that it could be much, much worse, and for that I am grateful.

Last Saturday, we took a break from our life stresses to celebrate my good friend Elizabeth’s birthday at Epcot, where I got to try several new things for the first time!  Having lived in Orlando for over 2 decades, and having been a Walt Disney World passholder for several of those years, I get excited when I get to try something new in the parks.

First stop: New Test Track.

It’s basically an upgraded version of the old ride.  The footprint and track of the ride are exactly the same as they always were.  However, the look and “story” of the ride are totally different.  Now the ride basically looks like you have stepped into the movie Tron.  Lots of dark spaces contrasted with neon outlines.  Everything looks more slick and futuristic.  Also, now you get to design your own car via touch screen kiosks before you ride, and your design gets pitted against the designs of the others in your ride vehicle as you go through various “tests” (stuff like sudden breaking, handling on curves, aero-dynamicness, and everyone’s favorite…SPEED!).  After each test, there is a little leaderboard that shows how your imaginary car fared against the others.

The queue looks totally different now too.  The focus seems to be on the science of car design and concept cars.  I am not a huge car person, but I could see where this would really interest someone who was into that kind of thing.

Later on in the day, we surprised Elizabeth with lunch at Via Napoli for her birthday.

This was another first for me.  This restaurant opened in the Italy Pavilion of World Showcase back in 2010, and it was a place that I had always wanted to try, but just had never gotten around to it.  They are known for their authentic Neapolitan cuisine, including delicious wood fired pizzas.  What I think is the coolest feature of this restaurant are the three very striking pizza ovens shaped like the faces of the patron gods of each of the three active volcanoes in Italy: Stromboli, Vesuvio, and Etna.  So cool!

The pizza was delicious.  It’s traditional oven-fired style pizza with thin crust, ever-so-slightly charred on the bottom with great toppings.  We got a delicious white pizza with artichokes and truffle oil, and some kind of custom-ordered prosciutto and sausage monstrosity that I wouldn’t touch (I don’t like meat on my pizza…I’m a veggies-only kind of girl, but my friends really loved it).

Then the birthday girl got serenaded by the waitstaff!  She got some kind of lemon cookie mini-dessert.  But really, the cookie was just a vehicle for the AMAZING chocolate and raspberry sauce drizzled all over the plate.

I would say all of us really enjoyed it and I know I would definitely go back.  The pizzas are pricey when compared with regular takeout pizza ($30 each for the large), but they were a good size and two of them were the perfect size for the 6 of us.  I didn’t think it was bad at all for a filling, sit-down lunch at Disney.  I know I left stuffed.

My WDW escapism continues this weekend at Magic Kingdom…We have reservations this Saturday for dinner at Be Our Guest, the brand new restaurant in the Beast’s castle in New Fantasyland.  I had to book these reservations back in August (three plus months before the place even opened!), so they are quite coveted.  I am psyched!  If only this week could mercifully end so I could get back to the fun stuff!

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Top 5 Projects of 2012

Can you believe that 2012 is almost over?  It seems like it has flown!  Tadd and I are ready for 2013.  If it’s anything like the past year has been, then we are in for some good stuff.  Can’t wait to find out!

Instead of a typical year in review post, I thought I would share my top 5 most popular project posts of the past year.  I always find it interesting to see what posts people like to read the most.  And it’s always fun to reflect on all I have done in the past year!

5. REUSABLE PRODUCE BAG

This reusable produce bag was one of the first sewing projects I completed at the beginning of this year.  I believe it was the first time I boxed a corner!  And it was one of the first projects that seemed to go really smoothly from start to finish.  Successes like these are what encouraged me to keep going with teaching myself how to sew this past year.  And on top of that, it’s just plain cute!

4. PINK SANGRIA

I love a good sangria recipe.  And although I do love this very popular pink sangria recipe that I made last May, I think my all-time favorite version is the peach sangria I made over 4th of July weekend!  It’s my new go-to summer drink of choice.

3. FALL TABLE RUNNER

If you know me, you know that fall is my favorite season.  When I saw this adorable fall fabric at JoAnn Fabrics, I knew I had to think of a project to make with it.  This lead to this reversible fall table runner, which was my very first ever sewing project where I made something just based on what I wanted, as opposed to following someone else’s tutorial.  It was also the first time I used a decorative stitch.  It obviously wasn’t anything super complicated, but I was still so pleased with how it turned out.

2. CHOCOLATE CHIP CHEESECAKE

My chocolate chip cheesecake post from last spring has REALLY taken off in the past several weeks.  As I mentioned previously, this recipe has been pinned and repinned a TON of times now.  It’s super easy and doesn’t require a lot of ingredients.  I not only made it for Easter 2012 dessert, but made it again last week for our family’s Christmas dinner dessert!  It’s always a big hit.

1. TERRACOTTA POT SAUCER COASTERS

This is, no question, the most popular post EVER on my blog.  It’s the closest thing I have gotten to going viral and it still gets a ton of hits almost every single day.  As a matter of fact, this post has gotten more pageviews than my blog’s regular main page!  Everyone loves these terracotta pot saucer coasters.  I’m glad everyone loved this project as much as I did, although I certainly did not come up with the idea.  I was inspired by this great post from the Joy Is At Home blog, and she was inspired by someone else and so on.

What were your favorite projects that you completed in 2012?  Any goals or ideas for 2013 projects?

Pretzel turtles and a bow wristlet!

Wanted to share two quick last-minute Christmas projects with you before I return to my pre-holiday to-do list!

This idea can be found in about five zillion versions on five zillion blogs and Pinterest pins.  I used this version from thehungryhousewife.com.  All you need are mini preztels (the waffle shapes or the traditional twists), Rolo candies, and halved pecans.

Toast the pecans for 7 minutes in a 350F oven.  In the meantime, lay out your pretzels on a foil-lined baking sheet and top them with the Rolos.  Stick the Rolo-topped pretzels in the oven for 5 or so minutes, then smoosh a pecan half on top of each melty Rolo.  Viola!

I was worried that they would stick to the foil, but I put them in the fridge to firm up overnight, and this morning, they popped right off of the baking sheet.

Can’t get much more effortless than that.  I have seen other versions using Hershey Kisses (the white chocolate candy cane ones work great) topped with red and green M&Ms.

Second project is a sewing project.  I wanted to make something special for a relative that will be in town for Christmas, so I decided to make her a wristlet.  But I wanted to do something different from the wristlets I have done in the past.  I found this tutorial from elmstreetlife.com, and decided to make it my own by using natural linen for the body, and one of my favorite quilting cotton fat quarters (beefed up with some medium-weight interfacing) to give a two-toned look.  I really love the size of this wristlet.  I might have to make one for myself.  I hope she likes her gift.

And with that, I am signing off until later this week.  Off to make my cheesecake and finish cleaning the house!

White Chocolate Candy Cane Fudge

I am hosting Christmas Eve for my family this year, and have been looking for some good finger-food style desserts to serve.  I ran across this post from CentsationalGirl.com with a great recipe for white chocolate mint fudge inspired me to give it a try with one small tweak…I decided to use crushed candy canes instead of the green icing.  I thought it came out great.  I love holiday treats that look as festive as they taste!  This will definitely be made for my family holiday gathering.

White Chocolate Candy Cane Fudge

2.5 bags 11 oz. white chocolate chips

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

6 oz. cream cheese

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp peppermint extract

6 crushed  mini candy canes

nonstick spray

Pour the white chocolate chips into a double boiler (heatsafe glass bowl over a saucepan with a little water in it works fine).  The water should come to a boil, and then turn the heat to low.  Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir continuously to combine as the chips melt.  Add cream cheese, sugar, and peppermint extract.  Keep stirring 8-10 mins until everything is melted together and has a frosting-like consistency.  Pour into an 8×8 pan, top with crushed candy canes, and allow to cool and solidify for 6 hours or overnight.  Slice into cubes and enjoy!

Braided Calzones

This is one of those great dinner ideas where you can use up leftovers in your fridge.  You can take shortcuts or make everything from scratch.  Either way, when I tell my husband that this is what we are having for dinner, he is psyched!

Start with a rectangle of pizza dough (homemade, pre-made, or even the canned stuff), and layer sauce (again, ANY red sauce that you like will be great) and toppings in the middle third of the dough.

I used some mushrooms, green pepper, some green onions, and black olives (only on my half though…as my husband thinks that olives are the work of the devil).  I pretty much just raided my pantry and fridge…almost everything was leftover from dishes made over the past few days.

Top your toppings with shredded cheese!  Again, I had some leftover shredded cheddar, so I used some of that along with some more traditional mozzerella.  My husband loves extra cheese, so he requested I lay it on pretty thick.

Then, using a knife or a pair of kitchen shears, cut both sides of your dough into strips almost up to where the toppings start.  Like so:

Now is the fun part!  Take the first strip on one side, and bring it diagonally across the fillings and press into the other side.

Take the first strip from the other side, and criss-cross it diagonally across to the opposite side.

Continue criss-crossing the strips of dough across the filling, alternating sides.  Very quickly, it will start looking really pretty, like a fancy braid.

Within moments, you will be done, and your calzone will look like this:

Isn’t it pretty?

Bake your calzone at 375F for 25 minutes.  When it’s done, it will be all bubbly and golden brown like this:

Allow it to cool a little bit.  Slice it into your desired portion sizes and enjoy!

What toppings would you put into your ideal calzone?

shabby creek cottage

A Jumble of Thoughts and Goings-On…Brought to you by Hurricane Sandy

It’s a very quiet day around here today.  At work, most of our clients and colleagues are based in NYC, so many of them are quite understandably spending the day preparing for Hurricane Sandy and not concentrating on sending me stuff to do.  Nice change of pace for the day, but it can get a bit boring.  However, I am definitely thinking about all of my many family, friends, and colleagues who are dealing with this Frankenstorm.  Please stay safe, all you North-easterners!  Having been through the Florida hurricane-palooza of 2004 (Charlie/Frances/Ivan/Jeanne), I know it can be scary!

We were not planning on dressing up for Halloween this year, which would have been kind of sad.  But a friend of ours put together a last-minute party about a week in advance, so we had to scramble to figure out costumes!  We decided to do the reverse of what we did 5 years ago.  In 2007, I was an angel and Tadd was a devil.  This year, I got to be the devil!  And Tadd was an angel (although let’s be honest, he’s no angel…ha!).  I reused his pitchfork and the red cape from my Little Red Riding Hood costume from last year and found a $5 set of horns, bow tie, and tail.

Here we are in 2007:

And here we were last Saturday (sorry about the poor quality…as you can see from my friend’s reflection behind us, it was taken with a phone in dim lighting):

Tadd and I went on a date night to one of our favorite Park Avenue dinner spots last night, but beforehand I was able to convince him to take me to JoAnn Fabrics!  I spent way more than I should have, but I got all kinds of stuff to make a few Christmas presents, and what I hope will be a Thanksgiving wreath.  So stay tuned!

I did get started on a new sewing project last night, but something in my sewing machine malfunctioned and it just was not working correctly.  Tadd is going to try to fix it tonight.  I hope so, because I was almost finished with what I was working on.  It was frustrating to be so close to finishing without being able to finish.

And in the spirit of Halloween, I will leave you with this:  At work, one of the executives’ wives is an amazing baker.  Their family had a Halloween party over the weekend and the leftovers were brought to our company breakroom for us to share.  Incredible!  There is a brownie graveyard, a haunted castle cake, a huge cauldron of candy, adorable cupcakes, etc.  I know I shouldn’t have, but I took one of the cupcakes and a chocolate oreo kitty.  How cute are these?  That little knife in the “bloody” cupcake is actually a tiny cookie!

Ommegang Brewery

While we were on our little Albany-to-Cooperstown trek last week, we made a stop at Brewery Ommegang for a beverage and bite to eat.  I have had Ommegang beers before at a few places around Orlando, but it was neat to get to visit the actual brewery itself.  It’s situated in a very scenic spot, in the hills just outside of Cooperstown, NY on the grounds of an old hop farm.

We did not do the brewery tour, but we did have a delicious lunch in the Ommegang taproom.

I can’t say enough good things about the food here!  Tadd and I shared the frites with truffle aioli and honey mustard dipping sauces.  The honey mustard was good, but I could have skipped that and had two ramekins of the truffle aioli, as it was one of the most delicious items I have tried in a long, long time.  I also had a spinach crepe that was really good too.  Tadd had the croque madame, which he loved, and Kerry & Bryon (the bride & groom) shared the beer cheese fondue with apples, bread, and sausages for dipping.  Every single thing we ordered was excellent!

I failed in taking pics of our food (too busy enjoying it!), but I did manage to snap a pic of the beer we tried.

The boys both had the BPA (Belgian-style pale ale).  I tried it and was surprised by how much I liked it.  I’m not normally into overly hoppy beers (when the hops are too plentiful, I feel like it makes the beer taste too herbal and flowery), but this one was quite good.  I had the always-delicious Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, which according to Wikipedia, was the first saison in America.  And Kerry chose the Abbey Ale, which is a richer dubbel-style beer.

Definitely recommend stopping at Ommegang if you happen to find yourself near Cooperstown, NY.  I would like to go back someday and take the brewery tour!  And maybe get more of those frites with truffle aioli…

A photo walk in World Showcase

Tadd and I were finally able to get back to Walt Disney World this past weekend.  Disney’s summer season is officially over and Tadd’s seasonal pass was no longer blocked out, so we took advantage and went to Epcot.  We were especially interested in working more with our new camera.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate at first, and it was drizzly and rainy for most of the morning and into the afternoon.  Which was nice for crowds (the park was almost empty when we got there!), but not so great for taking photos.

We had lunch reservations at Le Cellier, which is the extremely popular sit-down restaurant in the Canada pavilion, so we decided to wait and see what the weather was like when we were done eating.  First of all, holy crap was Le Cellier good!  It was our first time dining there, and I had to get us reservations back in May because it’s always booked months in advance.  I was very curious to see if it lived up to the hype.  We had a great, really fun waitress, and they even had my favorite Canadian beer, La Fin Du Monde.  I’m not really a steak person, but Tadd kept rolling his eyes back into his head while enjoying his wild mushroom filet.  I had the pork chop and the sauce it was served with was delicious.  But my favorite part was the pretzel bread they brought out at the very beginning.  Soooo good!  Tadd also really enjoyed the cheddar cheese soup (which is one of their signature items).  We both walked out stuffed.

When we left Le Cellier, the weather was starting to clear up.  So we decided to proceed with our day, which included a visit to Captain EO (which I had not seen since I was probably about 6 years old), watching the movie in France, and trying out the wonderful new wine bar, Tutto Gusto, in Italy.  We took photos all along the way.  Here are some of my favorite shots.

Summer Sunday Dinner

Tadd and I have been cooking together all this week, which has been really lovely.  So far our favorite meal that we have tried was a baked chicken recipe with Brussels sprouts on the side, which we made last Sunday night.  So good!

For the chicken, we salted & peppered both sides, then moved it to a prepared baking dish and drizzled with a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice.  We then topped the chicken with a combo of parsley and rosemary, poured a little chicken broth around the chicken for moisture, and baked it at 425F for slightly over 3o minutes.

For the Brussels sprouts, we chopped them in half, and spread them on a baking sheet.  Drizzled them with olive oil, salt, & pepper (combine them a bit to make sure everything is coated).  Then threw them in the oven with the chicken for the last 20 min of cooking.

I also found a Weight Watchers recipe for a maple balsamic glaze for the sprouts!  3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, and a little salt, heated gently in the microwave until it thickens.  I put it in for 1 minute, then stirred, then 30 seconds more and it was the perfect consistency.  Drizzle the glaze on your sprouts, or if you’re like me, save a little for your chicken too!

The finished product was served with a glass of Rex Goliath Sauvignon Blanc.  Delicious!  I liked this way more than I thought I would.  We were both happy campers.

Maxine’s On Shine

I meant to post about this earlier in the week.  I wanted to share a restaurant review for a new-to-us place that we tried last Sunday night.  However, I am excited to share that I have been promoted at work!  And in preparing for my new role, time and energy has been scarce lately.

Tadd and I actually went to Maxine’s On Shine Sunday  night to celebrate said promotion.  It’s a cute little bistro on Shine Avenue tucked away in an adorable residential neighborhood just north of downtown Orlando.  The food seems to focus on Italian and Greek cuisine, kind of a Mediterranean blend, but I wouldn’t really categorize it strongly that way.  The food is just really good.  That’s all you need to know!   Although the menu is not large, I’m sure anyone would be able to find something they like.

Source: Maxine’s On Shine’s Facebook Page

We ate on the patio, as the weather was lovely that night.  Not too hot or humid, with a slight coolish breeze, which is becoming less and less common in Central Florida this time of year.  We started with a couple of beers, Shipyard Applehead for me (LOVE!), and Magic Hat #9 for Tadd.  We found their beer & wine list to be impressive.  It’s always nice to see lesser-known craft brews on a menu.  Tadd had originally tried to order a Blackened Voodoo, which is one of his favorite more obscure beers.  He was impressed to see it on the menu, but it turns out they were out of it that night.

We found out that they have a Sunday night special called Magical Mystery Tour.  For $25, you get a 3 course meal (appetizer, entree, and dessert) chosen by the chef, and a your choice of a draught beer or glass of wine.  Tadd was feeling adventurous, so he chose that option.  I am way too much of a picky eater to leave that much to chance, but there really isn’t that much that Tadd won’t eat (olives and raisins are really the only two biggies), so he went for it.  While we waited for his first course to come out, I also ordered a cup of their soup of the day, butternut squash and apple soup.  Mmmmmmm, so good!  I only wished it was fall, because these are flavors that I usually associate with that season.

Soon enough, they brought out Tadd’s appetizer of stuffed grape leaves.  I tried one and thought they were ok, though not really my taste.  Tadd, however, inhaled them.

For entrees, I got the spinach ravioli with ratatouille.  And looking back at the pic, I realize this doesn’t look super appetizing, but I really really loved it.  The mountain of roasted veggies were SO good.  There were mushrooms and artichokes and summer squash and spinach and even beets, which I don’t typically care for.  All really really good.

Tadd lucked out and was presented with something he is STILL raving about; Gnocchi con Pollo Sorrentina, which is gnocchi and chicken served with prosciutto and veggies in a wine/butter sauce.  He was soooooo happy, and cleaned his plate.  I thought he might have licked it afterward if he thought he could have gotten away with it!

Tadd’s mystery dessert was an interesting concoction of what seemed like house-made vanilla ice cream, house-made butterscotch sauce, strawberries, and blueberries.  No idea what this dessert was called, but I think it was just right to end Tadd’s meal.  I had a few bites, and LOVED the ice cream.  Especially combined with the butterscotch and berries.  Nothing complicated or fussy, just really good.

Towards the end of our meal, the owner approached and asked us about our experience.  He was warm, friendly, and welcoming.  Service throughout the meal was great too.  We had Mary as our server, and she was sweet and cheerful.  Loved her.  We walked back to our car vowing to come back soon and bring friends.  Tadd’s office is nearby, so he would love to come back someday for lunch, and I have heard their weekend brunch is great as well.

If you live in Central Florida and are looking for a place to dine near downtown Orlando, check it out!

Maxine’s On Shine

337 N Shine Ave

Orlando, FL 32803

(407) 674-6841