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

 

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