Backyard Fun

Summertime is around the corner (in Miami, it’s already here) and the kids are getting restless. Especially after all of these months of quarantine. If you’re out of ideas trying to keep them busy, here are some fun activities for your pool or backyard/outdoor space.

I hope you and your families have fun with these outdoor activities. As for me, I am truly enjoying my pool time for now and can’t wait to get to the beach as soon as it opens up. Have a safe and fun summer!

Strada in the Grove

My favorite type of food is Italian, always has been. I am always trying out new Italian places everywhere I visit. Thankfully, living in Miami allows me many options. My husband is not big on dishes with creamy sauces or cheese (don’t ask), however he loves seafood so he always finds a nice fish dish to enjoy. Miami has many amazingly delicious Italian eateries, however, Strada is one of my favorites, from the marvelous food to the side entryway, which reminds me of many restaurants in Italy, to the friendly wait staff. Its sister restaurant/pizzeria, Farinelli 1937, located directly across the street, is another great eatery in Coconut Grove, also not to be missed.

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Side entryway of Strada

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Interior of Strada

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Sitting outside in the evenings. Photo courtesy of Strada.

At first glance it’s hard to choose from so many amazing dishes, but here is what we started with:

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Ricotta cheese and prosciutto appetizer, delicious!

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Fried calamari

Then on to the main dishes.  I ordered the pumpkin agnolotti which I always order here, it is amazing (I am a creature of habit), and my husband ordered the salmon.

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Agnolotti di Zucca al Burro e Salvia
Homemade roasted pumpkin and amaretti agnolotti in butter sage sauce.

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Salmone al Ginger
Grilled marinated fresh Atlantic salmon, crunchy ginger and carrot salad.
Served with green beans and potato gratin.

For dessert we ordered the panna cotta, one of my all time favorite Italian desserts, and it was delicious.  Just the right texture too.  And it came in a cute tiny mason jar to boot:

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Panna Cotta served with fruit.

You basically cannot go wrong with this place.  All of the dishes we have tried have been excellently prepared and the ambiance is fantastic, located in Coconut Grove, with outdoor seating available as well. Makes for an enticing evening out.

Have you dined at Strada?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most…

Strada in the Grove
3176 Commodore Plaza
Miami, Florida 33133
(305)444-1312
http://www.stradainthegrove.com

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Tantalizing Taormina

Sicily, in particular, Taormina, had been on my bucket list for a while. If you follow my blog, you know that I LOVE Italy and have blogged about many of the cities I have been to. So I finally decided that I could no longer put this off.  Being that Sicily is an island (the largest in the Mediterranean) we decided it would be best to leave it for the end of our 2-week trip throughout Italy, figuring we would be pretty exhausted (we were) and would benefit from relaxing by the hotel pool or beach. We flew from Rome to Catania and hired a private driver through Viator (very affordable) to drive us to Taormina. As usual, I must start with our hotel. We stayed at the NH Collection Taormina, located in the heart of town, a few steps away from Corso Umberto I and the city center. The room was spacious with a gorgeous bathroom and the best part was the panoramic view from our balcony, simply stunning. I would advise staying at any of the hilltop hotels, there are several nice ones to choose from offering magnificent views.  Here are some of the views from our room:

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Views of Taormina from our room

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More amazing views…

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The infinity pool area overlooking the town

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Our daughter admiring the views from the infinity pool

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Our room

Taormina is full of quaint shopping streets, beautiful architecture, breathtaking sceneries and delicious food everywhere.  Here are a few things I loved in Taormina:

Stroll Corso Umberto I
Bordered to the north by Porta Messina and to the south by Porta Catania, the Corso exhibits many buildings from different eras. Also full of numerous shops, bars and restaurants, the cobblestoned, pedestrian street is always very busy, especially in the evenings. While you will encounter the obligatory typical souvenir shops, make sure you don’t miss some of the other boutiques selling some beautiful ceramics and high end items, typical of Sicily. The Corso is the main street in town, which also has many small alleys and side streets to discover, leading to more shops and eateries up and down some steps.

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The many buildings on Corso Umberto I

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Steps leading up to a beautiful ceramic shop right off the Corso

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Balconies seen all over the Corso

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Fruit stand on a side street in Taormina

Piazza IX Aprile              
Piazza IX April, Taormina’s main square, is a fantastic stopping point along your stroll on the Corso and a perfect place to enjoy a gelato while people watching. Make sure not to miss the  breathtaking views of the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna from the piazza over the water, truly spectacular! You can find many important monuments on this piazza, such as the early-18th-century Chiesa di San Giuseppe, which represents a beautiful example of Sicilian baroque, with its double staircase located in front of the entrance. Another beautiful church on the piazza is the Church of Sant’Agostino with a commanding presence and a terrace that overlooks the Messina Gulf. Also on the piazza is the Torre dell’Orologio (the 12th-century clock tower) which leads you through to the Borgo Medievale (Medieval Quarter) and eventually to the Piazza del Duomo.

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The beautiful Chiesa di San Giuseppe

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Also on the piazza, the Church of Sant’Agostino

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Torre dell’Orologio (photo courtesy of continentaltaormina.com)

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The piazza full of tourists in the evening

Piazza del Duomo 
The path on the Corso from the clock tower though the medieval quarter will lead you to the Piazza del Duomo, another great gathering spot. On the piazza stands the Duomo of Taormina, hence the piazza’s name. In the center of the square you will also find the Quattro Fontane di Taormina, a Baroque-style fountain featuring a centaur, representing Taormina’s city symbol. However, the statue atop the fountain isn’t a straightforward centaur. Not only is the figure female rather than male, it also only has two legs (the back two) rather than four. No one knows why the centaur is not typical but the people of Taormina have adopted the statue as the town symbol. You will find many folks sitting around the fountain in the late evenings, enjoying the crowds and having gelato.

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Duomo of Taormina and the Quattro Fontane di Taormina

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Sitting by the Quattro Fontane on a beautiful evening

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Another view of the piazza

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Another side street off the piazza

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The Duomo at night

Pasticceria Gelateria D’Amore
One item you can find all over are cannoli, as they were originated in Sicily. We enjoyed many cannoli and gelatos in various places but we really liked Pasticceria D’Amore. The store has a window where one can observe them while they’re making the cannoli, and they offer a great variety of gelatos and pastries.

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Pasticceria D’Amore

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Cannoli with a variety of fillings being prepared

Greek Theater (Teatro Greco)
A visit to the ancient Teatro Greco is a must, especially if you love the ancient monuments and ruins found throughout Europe. Despite its name, the Greek Theater is actually an ancient Roman structure. The ruins you see today date primarily from the 2nd century A.D., although the theater was started in the 7th century B.C. Taormina’s Greek Theater sits high above the town’s famous beaches, so visitors who climb uphill to see the ruin are rewarded with gorgeous views of Taormina, the beaches below and the Mount Etna volcano.  Many events are held at the theater, click here for the schedule of artists, plays and concerts. This is also the venue for the Taormina Film Festival held every year in June.

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Teatro Greco (photo courtesy of Akos Hajdu)

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Another stunning view of the theater

Taormina Funivia  
The Taormina Funivia (cable car)  connects the town center with the beach at Mazzaro. It makes getting down to the beach or back to your hotel easy and quick, especially in the hot summer months. There are eight cable cars in the Taormina-Mazzaro Funivia system that are in constant rotation, depending on the season. During the busiest months, cable cars run every 15 minutes, and the trip from one end to the other takes less than five minutes.

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Cable Cars (photo credit unknown)

Here are some more photos of our trip for your enjoyment:

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The stunning views of the sea from Piazza IX April

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More amazing views from the piazza

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And some more views…

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Dinner at this delicious pizzeria

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YUM! Pizza in Sicily!

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One of the MANY cannoli we had on this island!

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One of the side streets off Corso Umberto I

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One of the gates into the old town, Porta Catania di Taormina

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We started our stroll onto the Corso through the other town gate, Porta Messina di Taormina

Have you visited beautiful Taormina?  I would love to know what you enjoyed most!

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Mom’s Day Gift Guide

A bit of a different Mother’s Day is coming up in a few weeks, as the quarantine continues. While many of us may not be able to celebrate with our moms, we can still send them a little something to let them know how special they are to us (gift cards are always appreciated too)!  Here is my Mom’s Day 2020 gift guide:

I hope you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day this year and get to celebrate with all of the special moms in your life soon.

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Hulu & Prime Video

Following up with my Netflix binging…I have now also ventured into Hulu and Amazon.  These will come in handy now that the summer is approaching, the network shows have all ended for the season and the quarantine continues.  Here are a few series that I have really enjoyed:

Catastrophe – Prime Video

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This series is really funny and you will love both of the main characters, but mainly Rob. During a business trip in London, an American named Rob meets Sharon, an Irish teacher with whom he shares incredible chemistry. While the two plan to have some fun with no strings attached, things go awry when Sharon learns she is pregnant. The unexpected news inspires the recent acquaintances to try and make it as a couple, despite nonstop complications that include hailing from different countries and a pregnancy that is not without risks.

Little Fires Everywhere – Hulu

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I am completely hooked on this show, as I love both Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Hulu started releasing the episodes weekly on Wednesdays, starting with episode 4, but it is definitely worth the wait.  Based on Celeste Ng’s 2017 bestseller, Little Fires Everywhere follows the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and an enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. The story explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, the ferocious pull of motherhood — and the danger in believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Four Weddings and a Funeral – Hulu

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Maya, the young communications director for a New York senatorial campaign, receives a wedding invitation from her college schoolmate now living in London. She leaves her professional and personal life behind, in favor of traveling to England and reconnecting with old friends and ends up in the midst of their personal crises. Relationships are forged and broken, political scandals exposed, London social life lampooned, love affairs ignited and doused, and of course, there are four weddings…and a funeral.

Have you watched any of these series?  I would love to know your thoughts…

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OH MY GOSH! Brigadeiros

What is a brigadeiro, you may ask? A brigadeiro is a traditional Brazilian dessert, a popular chocolate treat named after the Brazilian hero, Brigadeiro Eduardo Gomes. Brigadeiros are made of condensed milk (the main ingredient, now you know why I love them), cocoa powder, butter, and chocolate sprinkles covering the outside layer. They are also referred to as bon-bons, truffles or fudge balls. A few years ago, Luciano Brilho, a young American-Brazilian entrepreneur opened up the first Oh My Gosh! Brigadeiro boutique in Miami, Florida (there are now 2 shops). My daughter spotted the place one day as we were driving (hard to miss all the pink) and decided we should check it out sometime. We weren’t even sure of what they sold, as we had never heard of brigadeiros. Boy am I glad we stopped in. Not only it is adorable but the brigadeiros, as well as some of the other items they sell, are all delectable.

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Oh My Gosh! Brigadeiros location on Coral Way in Miami. (All photos courtesy of OMG! Brigadeiros)

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The outside of the Coral Way location on the corner.  You cannot miss it!

The “Oh My Gosh” is their signature flavor and easily the most popular.  It has a creamy condensed milk center wrapped in a milk chocolate coating covered in chocolate pearls. However, my favorite is the White Milk brigadeiro, but it’s hard to choose a favorite. These are the available flavors:

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They also offer small cake jars, several types of cakes, coffees and shakes, all very delicious. I was also very impressed that during this crazy quarantine time, they were offering chocolate Easter eggs, which I unfortunately did not order in time, however I was able to order a tray of varied brigadeiros to surprise my family for Easter yesterday.  Take a look:

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Small cake jars

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Yummy shakes

dulce de eche capuccino

Dulce de Leche Cappuccino

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The delectable Easter eggs

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Super cute wrapping too!

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The brigadeiros I ordered for Easter came with a cute Easter tag as well

If you are ever in Miami you must stop by and visit this place. You will not regret it.  Have you been to OMG?  I would love to hear what you liked most!

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Coral Way Location:
2205 SW 23rd Avenue
 Miami, FL 33145
305.456.8378

MiMo Location:
6912 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, Florida 33138
786.817.2132

info@omgbrigadeiros.com

Monday – Thursday: 11AM – 7PM
Friday – Saturday: 11AM – 8PM
Sunday: 12PM – 8PM

Netflix & Binge…Spanish Version

A few months ago I blogged about my Netflix obsession. Well, since we have all been in quarantine for a few weeks now (praying it will come to an end soon) I feel that I have watched everything that interests me on TV and Netflix. I have now become slightly obsessed with the Spanish series and movies from Spain and there are many good ones to choose from. For those of you that do not speak Spanish, no worries, you can use subtitles or even dub them, that’s how good these shows are. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did:

Casa de Papel (Money Heist)

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Ranked as one of the Top 10 watched Netflix series, this show is AMAZING! Season 4 was just released this past Friday. La Casa De Papel takes an overused plot and spins a unique story from its common thread. A genius, named Professor, contracts eight people with nothing to lose and enfolds them into a plan to occupy the Royal Mint of Spain, kidnap a couple dozen citizens, and print hundreds of millions of euros. To keep everyone’s identities a secret, the newly contracted bank robbers are named after cities and told to keep all personal information to themselves. However, how interesting would the story be if everyone followed the rules? One misstep after another leaves eight robbers with good intentions, and an airtight plan, left to adapt to all that could go wrong… and does. A story about a bank robbery gone wrong sounds familiar, right? Yet, this story is anything but trite or routine. That’s because it’s hard to tell an ordinary story that’s embedded in humanity and love.

Vivir Sin Permiso (Unathorized Living)

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This has been my second favorite Spanish series so far. Absolutely loved the story line and of course the beautiful sceneries of Galicia, Spain. The plot follows the story of Nemo Bandeira, a drug lord with a clean businessman facade, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Although he tries to keep the news away from his family it becomes difficult while he tries to assess who his successor might be. Season 1 of the show revolves around Bandeira’s challenges within his family and his business network. Season 2 will see how his second-in-command tries to steal the business empire from its rightful heir, resulting in betrayal, violence and mayhem in Bandeira’s life.

Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest)

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I love Jose Coronado (from Vivir sin Permiso above), he is an amazing actor, so of course when I saw he was in this movie, I was intrigued. The international young entrepreneur Adrian Doria seems to have it all in life; wealth, recognition, fame, and above all, a family and a caring wife on his side. But his perfect life is about to crumble like a pack of cards when he is found locked in a hotel room next to a dead body, and as a result, he now stands accused of murder. Under those circumstances and with less than three hours to come up with an impregnable defense as a last-minute eyewitness threatens to turn his case around, Adrian will seek help from the esteemed witness preparation expert, Virginia Goodman, while the clock is ticking. Eventually, as the night drags on, diverse interpretations of the incident will emerge, nevertheless, even though there can be more than one side to a story, in fact, only one can be absolutely real.

Mar de Plastico

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Another great series. Mar de Plástico derives its name from the greenhouse areas in the fictional town of Campoamargo in Almería, whose aerial view resembles a floating sea of plastic (google Almeria on a satellite map). The peaceful cohabitation of fruits and vegetables in the greenhouses is shattered by a woman’s screams and struggle one oppressively stifling evening in the middle of a blackout. The following day, crops and workers alike are soaked in a bloody shower. The blood comes from the brutally murdered woman from the previous night. The woman turns out to be Ainhoa Sánchez, daughter of town mayor. The influence of the political status of the mother of the victim pales in comparison to the inhumane act the victim suffered before and after she died, and the latter is the pivotal reason why the case is sensational. Ainhoa was killed like an animal, she was chained, hanged upside down, her blood was drained while she was alive, and her limbs and head were chopped off and buried in different locations all over Campoamargo. If that is not savage enough, I do not know what is.

7  Años

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This drama is centered around four friends and business partners who in one evening are forced to find a way to save their company and themselves. The impossible decision they face is agreeing on who will be the one to sacrifice their freedom to save the others from personal and financial demise.

Fugitiva

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I have liked Paz Vega ever since I watched Spanglish many years ago. With a thriller format, Fugitiva is a story that revolves around Magda, played by Paz Vega. Magda is an attractive woman who, at a crucial moment in her life, sees her world explode into pieces and is forced to take a drastic decision. In this story, located between Mexico and Spain, Paz Vega is accompanied by Mexican actor Julio Bracho, which plays her husband; and by Roberto Álamo, who plays José K, a private investigator who will closely follow the steps of the fugitive. The creator of the series and screenwriter, Joaquín Oristrell, describes Fugitiva as “the story of 90 hours in the life of a family subjected to an extreme situation in which everyone is responsible, with characters facing constant obstacles and very emotional situations. powerful”.

El Aviso

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Jon is a young man with a gift for mathematics and an obsession for numerical logic. He is a genius, but lost out on a promising scientific career because of his schizophrenia and had to settle for a job in a copy shop. One night, Jon and his friend David go to buy drinks at a gas station. David enters while Jon waits in the car. Just then, a robbery goes down and a bullet leaves David in a coma. Jon stops taking his medication and, overcome with guilt, he becomes consumed with finding some meaning in the killing of his friend. He investigates past attacks until he comes across the mathematical pattern they follow. Based on this, he deduces that, in nine years, the next victim will be little Nico, unless he manages to get a warning to the boy….

Have you watched any of these series or movies? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Homemade Dulce de Leche

During this quarantine time, many of us have taken to cooking to keep busy. I am not much of a cook, however, I do enjoy baking.  I decided to try and make homemade dulce de leche.  Dulce de leche is one of the most popular desserts originated in Latin America. However, its name varies greatly from country to country. In Argentina, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica it goes by the name of dulce de leche. In Ecuador, Chile, and Panama it is referred to as manjar. Peruvians and Colombians prefer arequipe, while Mexicans and Nicaraguans use the name cajeta. I am Cuban, and ever since I could remember, before dulce de leche became a thing, most Cubans simply called it leche condensada cocinada (cooked condensed milk). Dulce de leche for us was actually another dessert made from curdled milk and sugar (also delicious).

Dulce de leche can be eaten by itself with a spoon straight out of the can (my favorite way), or it can be spread on toast or crackers, as a topping for ice cream, on pancakes or crepes, etc. Many of you have probably seen dulce de leche cookie, cheesecakes and ice cream recipes all over Pinterest.  It’s all very yummy (my entire family loves alfajores!)

Most folks make dulce de leche in the pressure cooker or in a crock pot. However, I have always been scared (actually terrified) of the pressure cooker and after hearing how the cans may explode and such, I finally decided to make it a much simpler way, using a water bath.

Take a look at all of the delicious desserts you make with dulce de leche:

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Directions:

1) Preheat your oven to 425°F.

2) Pour the contents of the sweetened condensed milk can into an 8×8 pie pan and cover the pan tightly with foil.

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3) Fill a larger roasting pan with enough water so that it goes halfway up the sides of the 8×8 pan, which will go inside the larger roasting pan.

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4) Bake for 1.5 – 2.5 hours, or until you reach your desired caramel color. Check to make sure that the water is still halfway up the side of the pie pan, checking every 45 minutes or so to add more boiling water if too much has evaporated. Take the pans out of the oven and uncover the pie pan. Stir the dulce de leche until smooth. It’ll thicken a bit while cooling. Cover and store in the fridge.

It should look like this:

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Have you made dulce de leche?  How do you enjoy eating it?

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Palm Trees in the Snow

Many of us find ourselves indoors right now working remotely and/or with children home from school. What better time to pickup a good book. Here is another one of my book recommendations that I think you will definitely enjoy (also available as a movie on Netflix). I watched the film a few years ago and then recently discussed the book with my book club last month. It’s truly a beautiful love story.

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Palm Trees in the Snow by Luz Gabás  (synopsis)

When Clarence of Rabaltué discovers a series of old letters from her father’s past, she begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her once-noble family. Her father and his brother worked in the colony of Fernando Po, but these letters tell a different story than the tales of life in Africa that made it to the dinner table. Clarence has no idea what really went on during their time at the cocoa plantations—or why no one in her family has ever returned to the island in all the years since. But the letters suggest that a great love story is buried beneath the years of silence.

Setting out from her home in Spain’s snowy mountains, Clarence makes the same journey across the sea that her uncle and father traveled before her. There, she unlocks the painful secrets her family has hidden in the rich African soil. But what she discovers may also be the key to awakening her own listless heart.

Pickup a copy or download it to your e-reader and enjoy a great read or movie if you decide to watch it on Netflix. Either way you will truly enjoy this story.

Have you read any good books lately?  I love suggestions!

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Gifts for Teen Girls

Our sweet daughter was born in January.  Coincidentally, most of my family was (except me).  What to gift her for her birthday, 2 weeks after Christmas?  This is my dilemma every year, and as she gets older, the choices become more difficult. This past January was extremely hard, as all she desires anymore are gift cards to her favorite stores.  While there is nothing wrong with gift cards, I prefer to buy her gifts, as I feel it’s more of the thought that usually counts. So here is a list I put together for anyone out there experiencing this issue with their teen daughter, niece, goddaughter or friend:

Barrington personalized bags & accessories Barrington Gifts offers high quality leather bags, totes, duffle bags, wallets, cabin bags, writing instruments, crossbody bags, passport and laptop cases. Customizable in many colors and prints.

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A subscription to Disney+  Our daughter just recently asked us if she could subscribe to this service, so I think any teenager would enjoy it.

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A relaxing spa set Any young lady would enjoy a relaxing spa set, which may include scented candles, bath bombs and face masks.

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A pink Echo Dot Who doesn’t love Alexa??

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Alex and Ani Flying Butterfly Duo Charm Bangle Set Alex and Ani have so many options of adorable bracelets, rings and necklaces.  Tons of options to choose from, wherever your young lady’s interests may lie.

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Adidas Originals Women’s Gazelle Sneaker Adidas sneakers are so popular nowadays, and there is a large variety to choose from.

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Urban Decay Naked Cherry Eyeshadow Palette  This is a very nice palette for any make-up loving teen.

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Pink Colorblock Felt Letter Board These boards have become very popular for room decor and even at parties and gatherings.  They come in a variety of colors as well.

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HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer Since no one uses cameras anymore, especially the younger generations, these little photo printers allow them to print photos directly from their cell phones.

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Sunrise Alarm Clark We know teens have a very hard time waking up in the mornings.  Sunrise clocks are designed to mimic the sun rising by slowly filling your room with light. When the alarm finally rings, your room is bright, which makes waking up less abrupt. It also includes an FM radio and USB charging port. (This may be a huge hit for college freshman).

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And of course you can never go wrong with Apple AirPods.

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Shopping for teens can be very difficult at times, I hope this list gives you some ideas.  I would love to hear what you have gifted teens?

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