Mama & Me Journal

A few months ago, while browsing through Pinterest, I came across a very interesting item…the Mama & Me Journal.  This is basically a composition style notebook that you can create for your child and yourself, to write back and forth to each other, as if you were pen pals.  Sometimes, your child might feel embarrassed or even afraid to talk about some very important topics with you.  That’s why this notebook is perfect; as it allows them the freedom to ask questions or discuss concerns they may be having, (especially during the tough tween/teen years), without having an uncomfortable conversation with you. It’s important for your child to know that this is a private journal that only the two of you will be reading.

Even though my daughter is very open with me and we have some very honest talks, because I’m crafty, I really liked the idea and decided to try it out.  I found a cool pink and black composition notebook at Target, (you can use any type notebook or journal) and then downloaded the label from the original website. I then wrote my first entry, explaining how the journal works, and also as a dedication page.

Luckily, I discovered this project a few weeks before her 13th birthday, so I wrapped it up as one of her presents. She loved it and told me it was her favorite gift of all, and that it meant a lot to her.

For the past few months, we’ve exchanged journal entries. I also sometimes include insightful, interesting articles for girls her age, and I print them out and glue them inside the journal.  So far it’s going really well.  I know that she is enjoying it and I hope that she will look back in the years to come, and remember the things we discussed while she was growing up. Maybe one day she will create a journal for her and her daughter…

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I Heart Rome

I often wonder if in another life I was Italian? I recently took one of those silly Facebook quizzes, which told me the country I belong in is Italy. This wasn’t surprising to me.  I have been blessed with many opportunities to travel, but my love affair has always been with Italy.

My husband and I are avid House Hunters International junkies, and every time we watch an episode with a family relocating to Florence or buying a vacation home in Amalfi, I secretly wish it was mine! I simply love everything about this country, the beautiful rustic countryside, the architecture, the history, the people, the language, which I hope to one day master, the shopping, the food…

The first Italian city that my husband and I visited together was Rome, so I am dedicating my first travel blog post to the Eternal City…

Fontana di Trevi

Fontana di Trevi

Rome is as beautiful as all of the travel books, websites and blogs will tell you it is, but as with most things, seeing is believing. It’s a very busy, lively city, with a lot of activity going on everywhere you look.  On the same block you will find an old ancient ruin alongside a modern building housing a chic boutique or a tiny car dealership!  My favorite areas are the open “piazzas” such as the Fontana di Trevi, Piazza della Rotonda, Piazza Navona and the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps).  You can spend hours just sipping a drink (or in our daughter’s case having a gelato), and people watch.

I could go on and on with this blog post, as Rome is one of my favorite spots in Europe, and I‘ve visited many times but I will only highlight a few things that I feel I must share with you.  The rest of the journey will be yours to discover on your own.

Hotel Albergo del Senato, Piazza della Rotonda, 73, Roma  A few years ago, we found a hotel located on Piazza della Rotonda, called Albergo del Senato.  One of the best features of this hotel is its location, literally in the center of Rome, within walking distance to almost everywhere, located on a pedestrian square.  We always book a triple room, so our daughter has her own bed, and most of these rooms face the square, with a view of the Pantheon out your window (however, be sure to request your room facing the square, as it is not guaranteed).  Needless to say, you can just open your window, and you become part of the scenery.  The first time we stayed here, our daughter was fascinated with the sounds coming off the square, and all of the people sitting around just talking and having gelatos!  Speaking of gelatos, there are a few places right downstairs, two steps away from the hotel’s entrance.  Not that we ever spend much time in our hotel rooms when we travel, but whenever we were in our room, we would find her hanging out of the window, just taking it all in, this was her favorite spot! And as far as most European hotel rooms go, the rooms here are not small, and they’re very comfortable and clean.

View of the Pantheon from our room window...priceless!

View of the Pantheon from our room window…priceless!

One of the family rooms we've had, very spacious.

One of the family rooms we’ve had, very spacious.

A stroll around the neighborhood of Trastevere is another must.  Hubby and I spent one entire day on one of our trips just getting lost on the winding streets and experiencing a more typical neighborhood, away from the tourist crowds.  The district has become somewhat popular with the nighttime crowd as well. The beautiful main square, Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, houses one of the oldest churches in Rome, and it is beautiful. Make sure you bring your camera.  You will also come across some traditional eateries that are not in any tourist books, be adventurous and try one.  These off the beaten path restaurants are usually the best meals you will have on your trip.

Trastevere

Trastevere

In the heart of Rome is Piazza Navona, a charming area where painters sell art and street performers sing opera.  The main attraction here is the trio of fountains that adorn the square. I wouldn’t recommend any of the restaurants right on the piazza, as they are mostly “tourist traps” and as such, very pricey for mediocre food at best.  However, you can sit for coffee, wine or gelato and enjoy the scenery.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Regardless of your religious beliefs, a visit to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica cannot be missed.  Years ago, my husband and I attended a Papal Audience with Pope John Paul II on St. Peter’s Square.  This is something I had wanted to do for a while and it was very special.  You can get tickets (free of charge) in advance if you prefer to get good seats, as it can get quite crowded at certain times of the year.

Papal Audience with Pope John Paul II

Papal Audience with Pope John Paul II

If you’re planning on visiting the Vatican Museums, and seeing the priceless works of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, it is strongly recommended to purchase tickets in advance online, as the lines outside can sometimes wrap around the entire wall of Vatican City, and the wait can be as long as 3 hours.  Especially in the summer months, the heat can be unbearable while waiting for entrance to the museums. It’s usually best to go as early as possible, to avoid the crowds.

View of St. Peter's Basilica from Via della Conciliazione

View of St. Peter’s Basilica from Via della Conciliazione

Ristorante la Rosetta ,Via della Rosetta, 8-9, Roma  We’ve had many good meals in Rome, but we always return at least once every visit, to Ristorante La Rosetta. This is a very good seafood restaurant and we love it.  On one of our visits we had a prawn and shrimp appetizer, hubby had seared grouper and I had the sea bass. Carolina had buttered pasta, as usual, but her favorite part of the meal was of course, the dessert!

Carolina enjoying her delicious three chocolate mousse dessert!!

Carolina enjoying her delicious three chocolate mousse dessert!!

Ristorante La Rosetta, steps from the Pantheon.

Ristorante La Rosetta, steps from the Pantheon.

Have you been to Rome? What was the best thing you experienced there? I’d love to hear!

More pics for your enjoyment!

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

Castel Sant'Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

VIew of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Typical Cafe in Trastevere

Typical Cafe in Trastevere

Carolina's favorite shop...Bartolucci

Carolina’s favorite shop…Bartolucci

Piazza della Rotunda

Piazza della Rotonda

Bulla Gastrobar

I’ve been craving tasty tapas since I returned from Barcelona last summer.  I’m always on the lookout for a good tapas place, and on a recent Sunday lunch date with my husband, I finally found one…Bulla Gastrobar in Coral Gables. Bulla (pronounced boo-ya, not bull-ah) is defined as the ability to create a stir; what everyone’s talking about.  And trust me, everyone is certainly talking about this eatery featuring delicious, delicately prepared Spanish and Catalan dishes, in an ambiance that will make you feel as if you’re sitting in one of the many tapas bars on Passeig de Gracia in lively Barcelona.

Photo Courtesy of Bulla Gastrobar

The restaurant is located at 2500 Ponce De Leon, the same spot as the owner’s previous and slightly more upscale restaurant, Por Fin (which I never had the pleasure of trying), but Bulla symbolizes a fun and casual tapas bar.  A great place for a light dinner or a quick happy hour with friends.  The restaurant also features an upstairs dining room for private events and group gatherings.

There are so many dishes to choose from, it took us a while to decide on a few to share for lunch.  A house favorite is the Huevos “Bulla”, their version of the Spanish favorite usually referred to as Huevos Estrellados in Spain (a favorite dish of mine in Barcelona).  Huevos Bulla are prepared with organic eggs, homemade potato chips, Serrano ham, potato foam and truffle oil (sounds heavenly). Another house specialty is the Sangria de Cerveza, which is prepared with Ommegang Witte, triple sec, lemon juice, and pear purée. We decided on the very traditional Pan con Tomate, and paired it up with an order of Jamon Serrano.  We also had some tiny yummy Croquetas de Jamon, Tortilla Española and Buñuelos de Bacalao (codfish fritters with homemade tartar sauce).

Pan con Tomate &  Jamon Serrano

Pan con Tomate & Jamon Serrano

Buñuelos de Bacalao

Tortilla Española

Croquetas de Jamon

Everything was delicious, and very filling, so unfortunately, we didn’t leave any room for dessert. Next time we will have to try a few more dishes and possibly the Cremoso de Chocolate, their three layer chocolate genoise, vanilla ice cream, olive oil, and Maldon salt concoction, which sounds blissful…What are some of your favorite tapa dishes, I’d love to hear?

Bulla Gastrobar
2500 Ponce de Leon Boulevard
Coral Gables
http://www.bullamiami.com

Keep Calm…

Once I decided on a name for my blog, my daughter thought it would be a cute idea to create a poster on the ever so popular Keep Calm and Carry On website.  This website is very entertaining and basically allows you to create your own Keep Calm poster.  With their Keep Calm Creator, you can play around with background colors, text colors, fonts and logos. Once you’ve created your poster, you can purchase items such as, mouse pads, key chains and iPhone cases with the poster image on them.

So, where did this “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster come from?  Many don’t know the history behind it, but the slogan was created for the third in a series of WWII posters drawn up by the UK Ministry of Information in order to boost the morale of the British people by passing on a message from King George VI. The original posters were the popular ones we’ve seen everywhere…white text on red background with the image being the royal crown of George VI. The reason that it’s become so popular is because the now famous poster was rediscovered in a box of old books bought at auction in one of the largest and most popular secondhand bookshops in Britain, Barter Books.  The owners hung it up in their shop, and soon after customers were asking if they could buy it, so the shop owners started selling fax copies of the poster.

Photo Courtesy of Barter Books

Photo Courtesy of Barter Books

My daughter has a lot of fun with this website, as there are many combinations you can make of this poster, even using your own colorful background.  You can also scroll through their gallery of posters that others have created, and edit them to your liking.  After playing around with it for a while, she created this poster for me in honor of my blog. Isn’t it cute?

The poster my daughter created.

The poster my daughter created.

What do you keep calm about?

Watermelon Cupcakes

I love the seasonal section in Target, especially when we’re entering spring and summer.  It’s always full of patio furniture, beach toys, aisles upon aisles of suntan lotions, and season specific items, such as…Watermelon Cupcake mix.  The first time I tried a watermelon cupcake was at Baked by Melissa, my favorite cupcake shop in the world (in NYC of course).  I’ve never again seen or tasted a watermelon cupcake in any of my local cupcake shops in Miami, so when I saw the Betty Crocker Watermelon Cupcake Mix (and also green watermelon flavored frosting), well I just had to try it!  Sold exclusively at Target, they are available for a limited time and will provide the perfect treat after a picnic lunch or barbeque this summer. Luckily, my daughter announced that she had to participate in a bake sale at her school the next day, so I thought, why not try these cupcakes (after all, we don’t want 24 of them in our house)! The only item I added that was not included in the box, were mini semi-sweet chocolate morsels on the top to make them look like seeds. They came out really cute and they tasted delicious!  My daughter said they were a hit at school too.  For the next bake sale I think we’ll try the Pink Lemonade cake mix or the Key Lime cupcake mix, both available at Target…

Yummy Betty Crocker Watermelon Cupcakes

Yummy Betty Crocker Watermelon Cupcakes

Sibling Love

In honor of National Siblings Day, I am dedicating this post to my two beautiful sisters.  I was blessed with wonderful, caring parents, who have worked very hard since they left their native Cuba, so that my sisters and I, always had everything we needed.  Braces, quinceañeras, college educations, weddings, you name it.  But above and beyond all of these material things, they taught us the most important things you can teach your child; love, respect, morals and family values.  My mother always told us that we were each other’s best friends.  My sisters and I have such a strong bond, we touch base almost every single day, either by phone, text, email, etc.  There isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for each other, and I know I can always count on them.  I have a few friends who are not close with their siblings, even less with their nieces and nephews?!  I couldn’t begin to imagine what that would be like. Ironically, hubby and I only have one child, our beautiful daughter, Carolina. And while we have also showered her with the same love and values that our parents taught us, sadly, she will never understand the strong bond that exists between siblings.  After all, who else would understand how crazy your parents can get at times, better than your siblings? My sisters and I have very different personalities, and have some very strong opinions (what Cuban gal doesn’t?), but what would I ever do without them…hopefully I will never have to find out.

My sisters and I throughout the years...

My sisters and I throughout the years…

 

 

Pincho Factory

We’ve all heard of the Cheesecake Factory, well in Miami, we also have the Pincho Factory.  They serve beef, chicken and shrimp skewers, but ironically, this little gem, was made famous by it’s signature tostón burger, a beef patty between smashed fried plantain “buns” topped with Jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and a homemade cilantro sauce. Pincho Factory opened up its first location in Miami in 2010 and now has another location in Coral Gables.  They have plans for expansion and are scheduled to open up a third restaurant in Hialeah.  The chef-owner, Nedal Ahmad was recently featured on NBC’s Today with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb, cooking his famous tostón  burger!

Aside from burgers, there are other yummy items on the menu.  Hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, salads, and side items such as fried cheese and bacon cheddar ranch fries.  I had the grilled shrimp skewer with a salad, and hubby had the tostón chicken sandwich with a side of the sweet potato tater tots (which were delicious). Now, we did have to wait quite a while for the order to be ready, as there was a bridal party group in the restaurant at the time, but good things come to those who wait!

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Yummy tostón chicken sandwich

 

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Shrimp skewer “styled” with a salad and a side of sweet potato tater tots.

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Photo Courtesy of Pincho Factory

Pincho Factory
30 Giralda Ave, Coral Gables, FL 33134  (Gables Location)
9860 SW 40th St, Miami, FL 33165 (Bird Road Location)
http://www.pinchofactory.com