Garden Addition

This year, with prompting from our neighbor who wanted to expand and fence in their garden, Brian did the same for ours. We had to plant a lot of our sprouts before it was completely done, so I wasn’t able to rotate our “crops” much this year, but next year I’m so excited with the additional space we have to move some things around. I really need to give squash a lot more space, and the tomatoes need some new placement.

Coraline has been looking for treasure in all the holes for our new garden fence. In the very last hole we found pebbles!

Coraline was looking for treasure in all the post holes for our new garden fence. In the very last hole we found pebbles! It was pretty fun to find an actual “treasure.”

The best part, I think, is the stones between each raised bed. No more will I find snakes in tall grass between them!

Here’s Coraline enjoying the fruits of our labor. Snacking on raw green beans. Jameson also tried mint which lasted .2 minutes until he realized it was NOT like gum like we told him. Ha!

We lost most of our squash early again since we were dealing with some powdery mildew. This year we caught it early enough that it didn’t spread to the tomato plants, and we did still get more squash than in years past. We spiralized zucchini for the first time! Coraline loves anything shaped like pasta.

We also got a pumpkin this year! We had sprouts in our compost and I let a couple plants grow. Our first pumpkin rotted on the vine, but we have a second smaller one that I’m going to cut from the vine soon.

We thought we were growing brussel sprouts, but turns out it was broccoli! When they are sprouts they look very similar, and I misplaced the labels early on when we were transplanting things. We added it to our salad the other day, and it wasn’t bitter like the broccoli we have had in the past. We also are trying eggplant this year, and watermelon, but the watermelon isn’t doing much beyond spreading it’s vine everywhere. We lost the one fruit we had to Jameson, oops!

Overall, it’s been a fun year with the garden, and we’ve gotten and used a lot more herbs this year. We are drying them with the food dehydrator. It feels really good to be using a lot more of the food we’re growing this year, and not be stuck with a thousand pots drying out daily!

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Italy: Chianti Country

It’s been a while since I last recapped some of our Italy trip! We visited Rome, Pompeii and Florence. Then we took a day trip from Florence to Chianti country in Tuscany. Chianti is the only wine my mom would drink, and it was happenstance that that was within driving distance to Florence!

The morning of our day trip was downright rainy, and we finally caved and bought a cheap umbrella, which broke after a couple days use, but served it’s purpose. We cross the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge to get to our meeting point on the other side of the river.


Our first stop was Corzano e Paterno, a winery but also a farm, cheese maker and olive oil maker. We started in their cellar and were introduced to their extra large traditional wine barrels, so large that someone can fit inside to prepare it for the next batch of wine!



The rain was a mixed blessing. We were happy that it was raining on a day where we had plenty of indoor activities, but we missed out on walking among the vines. However, the tour made up for it by letting us see how their cheese is made! After we finished up in the cellar, we took a detour to see:






It was truly fascinating! The tour we took was called Super Chianti Wine Tours, and we loved our guide and driver. He spoke to us a lot during our visit, though we heard from the winemakers directly as well. At Corzano e Paterno, we also got to have a little tasting that including cheese and olive oil.



Our guide (above) spoke to us about the region and the rules around Chianti and other varieties of wine. Mom learned how to observe the color of wine and took a lot of photos of her wine’s reflection.



What we truly loved about this tour was that we learned how Italians appreciate their wine and how it goes with the meal. It’s an attitude toward meal time and relaxation and company with friends that mom hadn’t really learned to associate with wine, and the tour ended up being a favorite experience of our entire trip.




Our lunch stop was at Antica Macelleria Cecchini, and we experienced a phenomenal meal (with more wine) in a family style manner. The butcher is located across the street, and the whole experience is in a charming hilly town in Panzano. The cobblestone steep streets and the city on the hill felt quintessentially Italian.


We had one other winery to experience after lunch, and we went to Poggio al Sole. The winemaker and owner here had a fascinating life, uprooting and moving to Italy from Switzerland for the land to become a winery.




Overall, we left with a true appreciate for Italian wine and really enjoyed our day trip away from looking at maps and trying to figure out the next tourist site! I think the tourist sites were important experiences, but it was wonderful the way we progressed with our trip feeling more and more relaxed as it continued on.

Our tour dropped us off at Piazzale Michelangelo at our request, known for picturesque views of Florence. It was a bit far for us to walk there and back to see, so we were happy to end there and just walk back to our hotel from there. And the views were as promised:






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4th of July Friends + Mini Pies

We tried to get a family photo this 4th of July (I did), but everyone wanted to get their swimsuits on instead of smiling. So… it’s not terrible, minus my double chin.


We went over to JP & Lisa’s house for a cookout, and the kids had a blast. Coraline was a little bit shy/anxious/unhappy for a bit until she warmed up.


Jameson jumped right in, though.




The kids had a couple pools to splash in, swingset, little trampoline, and these cool air powered foam rockets. It was all fun and games until Coraline got hit in the face (okay it was still pretty funny without injury). Coraline’s little foot had no power and the rocket went up about two feet. Jameson’s soared, but he wasn’t great a paying attention to his environment and who was around him.


Jonathan’s new swingset was a hit!



The meal was a full array of meat, and dessert was ice cream and mini pies I made. Coraline is more of an ice cream girl, but everyone loved the mini pies. I brought over blueberry, strawberry apple is pictured below.

For the crust, I followed my grandma’s basic recipe. For blueberry filling, I followed this, and strawberry apple, this. Idea came from here!

Mini strawberry pies


When we got home, I expected to send the kids right up to bed, but the neighbors were out, so we stayed up for a bit playing with pop it’s and sparklers.





Coraline LOVED the pop its. She played with them long after the other kids moved on to other things. Both of them were a little uncertain about the sparklers though – once was enough. It was a great day with friends, and wonderful to really enjoy the hot weather after a long rainy spell in June.

I also really enjoyed getting my bakery on. I don’t feel like I have time usually (or inclination, since we’re busy with making it through daily life), but I enjoyed making the mini pies which we ate all through that holiday weekend!

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Niagara on the Lake Weekend Getaway Part 3

Have I mentioned the wonderful breakfasts we had at our B&B Among the Vines? They were simply fabulous. Our second morning, we had a wonderful cinnamon bun french toast (well, I did, Brian thought it too decadent and had raisin bread french toast instead).

We said our farewells, and visited on last stop before leaving wine country, Creekside Estate Winery.



I was a little bummed to be leaving, but thankfully we weren’t intent on driving straight home right away and instead, we stopped at Niagara Falls. We visited the American side of the falls along Goat Island, which we visited before on our last Niagara Falls vacation.








You can’t take too many photos of the falls! And we got one last one together:


Brian of course wanted to stop at a couple beer stores on our way home, which was not a problem for me since this also involved stopping to eat brunch at the Blue Monk, self-described as “Buffalo’s finest gastropub”. Brian was thrilled to see the extensive beer list!

We sat at the bar until the table was ready, and then had the most amazing brunch outside.


Also, check out these bathroom stalls, all made of old doors!?


And there ends our weekend getaway. It was nice to get home, though it was hard to remember I couldn’t eat and drink every hour or two and instead needed to be restricted to meal times.

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Niagara on the Lake Weekend Getaway Part 2


Even though we had been told the previous day in Jordan that it may not be worth the time to visit some of the larger wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we felt like we would be missing out on part of the experience if we skipped it. So we started the morning off before big crowds hit at Trius and Jackson-Triggs.

At Trius, we found it similar to some of our experiences at Napa Valley, with a large tasting room and quick, less personal service. We found ourselves liking the barrel fermented chardonnay and 2011 red blend. It was here and in Jordan that we started hearing how wonderful the 2012 red vintages were in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and we started paying attention to any that were getting released that we could try. 2012 had a long growing season, apparently, and most of the wines from this year in Niagara-on-the-Lake were superior to years past and post.



Jackson-Triggs was very appealing visually, and we did enjoy our tour despite the large size of the winery. We definitely felt like our stop here was worth the time, though after the tour, we (I) didn’t have the patience to wait in line at their tasting room.






Our tour at Jackson-Triggs began out in their vineyard and ended in the cellars. I do love barrels full of wine! Our guide was very knowledgeable and also declared 2012 to be a good year! While in Napa Valley, I determined that my favorite wine was Cabernet Sauvignon, that was not the case in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Instead, we were really enjoying the peppery flavors of a good syrah and blends. Rather attributing this to any changing tastes, the Cabernet Sauvignon in Niagara-on-the-Lake is just not as smooth.




After Jackson-Triggs, we drove through the downtown area which was just as picturesque as it had been described to us by Brian’s mom. We were going to stop for a moment, but found it too crowded to find a spot close to the main street. Instead, we found one closer to the waterfront and spent some time looking out on the water.




Then we visited Lailey and Pondview. We enjoyed (of course) their 2012 Syrah at Lailey. Unfortanately, there was a large bike tour as well as a bachelorette party, and Lailey was simply swamped. While we both agreed that it actually might be fun to do a bike tour another visit, we decided to try and get off the main drag a bit after that and went to Pondview.


At Pondview, we enjoyed an appetizer sampler with their 2012 White Blend aka Meritage. Pondview wines are actually made by Di Profio (near our B&B) as well.

Brian wanted to make sure we visited the couple microbreweries in town, so we stopped at both Silversmith and Oast House after that nice break. Brian didn’t find the variety of beers to his liking quite as much at Silversmith, but we were glad we made the stop.




I loved the hops growing up the sides of the building!

Oast House only had 3 varieties of beer to try. We could tell, with both of these breweries, that they were catering more toward the winery crowd, but particularly so at Oast House. There just a couple beers and a large tasting bar.



Our next winery stop on our full day here was at Colaneri, a beautiful Italian-style building and vineyard. They are known for making wine with the appassimento style, a method of drying the grapes.



Then we stopped at Between the Lines, and were thankful to be out of the brief deluge of rain that came down while we were tasting. We enjoyed their Meritage and Cab Franc.

And, determined to pack in a full day of wines, we made one final stop to the Ice House, known for their ice wines (of course!). We did bring home a bottle of ice wine, though the one we wanted at first was too expensive! They offer ice wine slushies too!


Then we returned to the B&B for a break and change clothes before our dinner that evening at Treadwell, a “Farm to Table” restaurant. We arrived in town late enough that there was parking available on the main streets, and early enough that we were able to walk around prior to dinner.




The flowers growing all along are simply beautiful. And speaking of beautiful, our dinner was as well! I had an heirloom tomato salad that I am pretty sure I dreamed about that night and after. It was divine!



Everything about our experience at Treadwell was excellent, from the wine to the food. Except the dessert we got was truly a little bizarre for me taste, though Brian loved it (it was spicey!). I would return here in a heartbeat.

And that concluded our day in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a wonderful experience within just a few hours drive for us! I could definitely see why Brian’s parents return again and again.

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Niagara on the Lake Weekend Getaway Part 1

About a month ago, Brian and I were enjoying some time to ourselves away from the kiddos at Niagara on the Lake in Canada. We left Friday after dropping off the kids at daycare and drove straight there.

My last trip to Canada was with Brian to see the Falls in 2007, driving our way around the North East up to Maine to my cousin’s wedding. I’ve never actually been further into Canada than the Falls, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

NiagaraFalls (15)

As it turns out, the transition over into Canada was a bit anticlimactic and other than an accent change and some odd road signs (which we also get in the States), it didn’t feel too different. Well, we did have to get a currency exchange. Brian stopped at a bank and they were giving away cupcakes! So that was a big bonus.


Our first stop was actually for lunch, since we drove straight there we were starving (and had to use the restrooms). We stopped at a highly recommended pizza place to eat. Actually, most places we went came highly recommended, since Brian and I didn’t want to do any intensive planning. We went mostly to places Brian’s parents recommended, who visit Niagara on the Lake very frequently.

We stopped at Old Winery Restaurant and had the Arms and the Man pizza and split a salad, leaving full but not over done. Honestly, I could’ve eaten everything on that menu. We at outside, and it was such a beautiful day and perfect first stop.

Brian and I also stopped at a couple wineries before arriving at our Bed & Breakfast. First was Megalomaniac. Tasting used to be held in the cellar downstairs, but they recently opened up a brand new building built over top the cellars. The landscaping may have been a little rough, but the inside was an interesting mash up of elegant and rustic. (Like Restoration Hardware maybe?)




I loved the extra large glasses they served their red wine in and their logo etched in. We took home a bottle, but honestly the experience being in that big room without anyone else was a little echo-y. We were told that the weekends were actually much busier, and that was truth! There is also just a little less traffic in this part of the region, which is actually Jordan, rather than Niagara-on-the-Lake proper, where we spent most of the following day.


Our next stop was at Kacaba, where they wined (but not dined) us and we did some barrel tastings in the back. Brian was sold on the heavily oaked chardonnay, and we also loved the merlot. We bought a case for when the barrels are ready, and Brian’s parents may be picking that up for us, haha.



Then we arrived at our Bed and Breakfast at Among the Vines to drop off our things. Among the Vines is nestled next to Di Profio Winery, so it was very peaceful location near a vineyard. We stayed in their beautiful main suite, which has an attached bathroom with separate sinks, shower and tub.


Di Profio is most known locally for their white blend, the Kitchen Zinc. We had a bottled opened right there that we enjoyed on their upstairs balcony, a more private location with one table. It was lovely to look out over the vineyards from that spot.





It was a very relaxing first day. In fact, I hadn’t yet truly broken out my big girl camera and took most of the photos with my phone. The next day is a different story, but what a lovely transition into a short weekend vacation for us!

That evening, we actually walked into the little downtown area, Jordan Village. I was looking forward to their mussels. We just don’t really get fresh mussels by us, so I was excited I would be able to have them in Canada!

We ate at the Jordan House Tavern, shared the mussels (I think I made Brian a fan), and I had the mac and cheese. Really tasty home cooking. And I even loved that we could walk there (albeit on an occasionally busy road without sidewalks). It was still a nice walk, but I wouldn’t do it in the dark (at least, not without a flashlight!)

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Father’s Day


For Father’s Day this year, after strawberry picking in the morning, we had a Father’s Day cookout (which seems to be our usual get together). We ate inside though because it was so hot out!



We invited Brian’s parents and sister over and put up a bouncer for the kids.

We had a few “races” through the bouncer, and Jameson had to help Aunt Melissa get out.


Jameson threw a few water balloons, though we opted not to get drenched with the water bouncer or sprinkler that day. This is his sly grin face, as he’s approaching me to get my feet. (Luckily, just my feet)



Coraline enjoyed splashing in the pool, though we didn’t put her all the way in.




The men put a tarp over the bouncer to help prevent it from getting too hot. It worked pretty well!



Coraline loved the obstacle course bouncer and can crawl through the entire thing (going around the sides of things she can’t yet get over). Her favorite  part is the slide!





She was so proud of herself, every single time, with her wide wrinkly nose grins. It was a great day spent with family, the kind you wish you could have every weekend. But summer is in full swing and there is more fun to come!

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Strawberry Picking

Sunday morning, I was excited to take Jameson to our very first strawberry picking outing together. I went with my grandma a few summers, and particularly, I remember the jam that my grandma made every year the old fashioned way.



We went to a little farm about 20 minutes away as recommended by some friends who we were joining. We arrived a little early and got started. Jameson was very intent about finding the strawberries at first and declared “we have to put on our looking eyes!”

He was also very studious in making sure that the strawberries were ready, telling me “those are not ready yet” on several occasions.


After about 15 minutes, our friends arrived but were sent to a different patch further down. So we packed up the few big strawberries we found and joined them.


Jameson best buddy Nathan was there, which was very exciting for him and he immediate stopped looking for strawberries properly. Haha! He told Nathan over and over “we were looking for you!” Nathan’s family just had a new baby girl a month or so ago who joined them napping in her car seat for her first strawberry picking adventure.


The new strawberry patch was open to pick anywhere, which was nicer for the kids who weren’t restricted to one area, and also harder for the adults to keep them close. The boys loved holding their strawberry baskets and talked about how heavy the baskets were (and how strong they were).

Strawberries at the open patch were more prolific, riper, but smaller. It made for much more fun and quick picking!





We came home with more than enough strawberries to freeze for shakes later this summer or fall after the season is past. The strawberries were in great shape, with little to no bruising or rotting.


We also decided to make jam, though not the kind my grandma made as a kid. She tried to teach me, but I’m not super teachable when it comes to cooking. I have baking down pretty good, since it requires exact measurements, but regular cooking usually requires more effort for me.

Nathan’s mother Megan offered to show me how to make freezer jam which doesn’t require cooking the strawberries or sterilizing the jars for sealing, and she invited us over the following evening for a lesson. Jameson was so excited to see Nathan twice; “that’s so crazy!” he yelled excitedly on our way there. Nathan is out of school for the summer, so Jameson hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks.

Freezer jam with our friends! Thanks for showing us how it's done!

Jameson got to help smash the strawberries and do some stirring before the hot part with the gelatin. The boys enjoyed some of the finished product at the end on fresh bread Megan made earlier, which was delicious.

Between freezer jam and our frozen strawberries, I’m looking forward to enjoying the taste of summer strawberries for months to come. We’ll be back again next year for sure!

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Brian’s Birthday

Brian’s birthday seems to consistently have such perfect weather. It’s always right around Memorial Day, and so we tend to celebrate with cookouts with our family and friends!

This year, we went to grandma and poppa’s house, and were surprised to see that his cousin Gabrielle and her son Griffin as well as his Uncle Mike were all there to celebrate with us too!




Griffin gets along so well with younger kids, and played with Jameson almost non-stop while we were there. They played ball and catch and tackle and cars… “boy” things.


Coraline plays ball fine herself too, I should add!


After our rib dinner (so. good.), we went back outside to play. It was beautiful outside!




Aunt Melissa and Gabrielle tried to get Jameson to roll down the backyard hill with them, but he couldn’t be persuaded to let go. He did do a little fake roll for a second but that’s it!




I made Brian’s cake from scratch from the same recipe I made Coraline’s first birthday cake as well, but this time I made it with a peanut butter filling. It was very peanut-buttery, so that was perfect for Brian. It was good, but not my best effort! I had a difficult time getting the filling right (too much peanut butter) and the cake itself was a little… broken.

But, all’s well that tastes well!


For the record, Coraline tasted a bit more of this cake than her own. We’ll turn her into a cake eater yet!

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Coraline’s Cake Smash

This year, I decided to try and do a “real” photo shoot for Coraline’s first cake. Spoiler alert: she liked it just as much as Jameson, which is to say, they were quite a bit concerned with what was on their fingers.

For Jameson, I went the healthy route and made a cake from baby food. It tasted just like carrot cake, except better (if I do say so myself). I made a relatively healthy cream cheese frosting to go with it, and he wasn’t super impressed and didn’t dig in the way I’ve seen some kids do so. One of the things I’ve seen since his first birthday is the cake smash session, where baby gets a photo shoot all to herself, so I decided to give that a shot.

This time, thinking I would get better results from said baby, I made a traditional yellow cake. I used this 3 egg yellow cake recipe, because I only had 3 eggs on hand. It actually turned out great and very moist but solid enough that I didn’t accidentally carve it up while icing, and I’d make it again in a heartbeat. For the frosting, I realized I needed to get more ingredients regardless, so I went all out with a frosting recipe calling for 3-1/2 pounds of powdered sugar that I actually found on a couple different sites. I’m saving the leftover frosting in the fridge for the cupcakes I’m making for her party on Saturday.

I didn’t know, but for decorating cakes, a “crusting” type of frosting is recommended. I didn’t add all the powdered sugar (I did about 3-1/4), so mine didn’t crust too much and actually stayed just right for what I wanted for Miss Coraline. This frosting is intensely sweet but such a wonderful consistency.


For decorating, I borrowed a friend’s decorating bags from Wilton and her decorating tips. After doing a “base coat” of frosting to help the roses stick, you want the larger star-shaped tip, and you’ll just go around in the circle to make the rose. I wasn’t too worried about making mistakes or leaving gaps, I just made little “daisy” flowers between. I’m no professional, but I think it looks great! Here’s a great tutorial for even more professional looking results.








I even cut a slice out (which I later ate) to show her the insides, and helped her taste the cake itself, but still no dice. She’ll have plenty of opportunities to try it again in the next couple days. This still made for some super cute photos, and I’m really glad I took the time to do it!


Oh, that super duper poofy tutu? I made that, no sewing involved. The hardest part was cutting!

I figured, no sense in paying a lot for something that’s going to get ruined with icing. The ribbon was more expensive than the tulle so if you already have ribbon to use it would’ve been about $2 to make. But, I will say that if you want it to go all the way around you need more than 2 yds of tulle! I wasn’t too worried about not having enough; it reached a little over half way around her waist and I tied the ribbon in the back. Total cost was about $4! If you want to try your hand, check out this tutorial I followed.


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