What a Difference a Night Makes

As I mentioned in the last post, we have both been very busy at work.  When you work at a school, fall can make you a bit crazy.  Kevin’s workload has, thankfully, slowed down a touch since the start of the semester.  I have not had any such luck with mine, nor will I in the near future.  It will be at least November before my department can catch its breath.

Back in August, one week proved especially awful.  I knew we needed to just get out of town.  I talked to Kevin and we agreed we were willing to spend a little money to do something different that night.  I hopped on Priceline to see what I could get for that night.  After a successful low bid, I left work a few minutes and packed a bag for us.  When Kevin came home, I told him I had a surprise for our evening activities and we hopped in the car.

We drove to Columbus and checked in to the Westin downtown.  In our first such experience, we got upgraded to a suite, which made the price we paid even better.  We got settled in our room and then walked around downtown.  One of our vendors at worked had told me about a little restaurant his son works out and I knew Kevin would love it.

Enter Dirty Frank’s.  This tiny hot dog joint easily ranks as one of Kevin’s new favorite restaurants.  Prices are cheap and the food is great – at least as long as you like hot dogs.  Kevin asked to go back at least four times that weekend.

After dinner, we walked around downtown more.  Having spent the majority of my life in Columbus, it never ceases to amaze me how much of the city remains undiscovered for me.  I was reminded why I love cities so much and how desperately I miss living in one.  There is always something new to see or some neighborhood you haven’t explored.  In contrast, there is literally no street in our town we have not been down.

We walked over to the Topiary Garden near the School for the Deaf.  All of the topiary sculptures here are modeled after Georges Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.  We loved seeing students and families and all sorts of people enjoying the park.  We talked about how, while we loved our college experience, the one aspect we feel we missed out on was having a city to explore.  I would have loved having such a cool park a few blocks from my college campus and going there to study.

Once we got back to our hotel, we walked to a nearby Kroger and picked up supplies for a picnic the next day and some snacks for the night.  The snacks proved insufficient, however, and we succumbed to the temptation of room service.

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As simple as it sounds, being together, eating room service, and watching HGTV was exactly what we needed that night.  It was wonderful to get away for a short time and just relax.  The next morning, we laid in bed and watched Bob Ross paint some trees on PBS.  After a lazy morning, we packed up and headed over to the Columbus Park of Roses for a picnic lunch.

Again, it was the perfect activity for the day.  It may not have been the exact time of year to see the most roses in bloom, but there were still plenty of them to enjoy.  Once again, we were so happy to enjoy the simplicity of the moment and the opportunities afforded by the city.

We were gone less than 24 hours, but we returned feeling more rested and refreshed than we had in weeks.  The whole trip really didn’t even cost that much since we chose mostly cheap activities and got a good deal on our hotel.  It was just the reminder that we needed to value simple, quality time together.

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Happy Birthday to Me!

It’s been a long time.

We have both been insanely busy at work so our evenings have been spent crashing, not writing blog posts. We’re back, though, and hopefully this post will bring a bright spot to my dear mother-in-law’s day!

Exactly a month ago now, I reached the ripe old age of 26. I know, practically on Social Security. We had a great time celebrating over the course of Birthday Week; most of the festivities fell on the weekend.

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Friday night we headed to the Greene and met up with friends for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. I truly could not have chosen better people to spend the evening with. Thanks so much to the Babcocks, Deardens, and dear Clara for coming.

Saturday, my actual birthday, Kevin had to work until early afternoon.  Once he got off, though, we headed up to Columbus.  We met up with my family and headed to the Food Truck Festival downtown.  There were more than forty trucks all serving various treats.  We sampled all sorts of things.  It was a perfect birthday dinner.  Although, we did have an unreasonably long wait to get jerk chicken at one truck.  Strike two, Jamaica.

Sunday, Kevin had planned a special “Surprise Day of Awesome” for me!  We started off enjoying the local fare in Yellow Springs at Sunrise Cafe.  I cannot believe we had never been before; it’s truly a local gem.  They served us hot chocolate in tiny individual teapots and the food was delicious.  Kevin got a really excellent buffalo sausage patty.  The decor is fun and unique – classic Yellow Springs.

From Yellow Springs, we headed down to Cincinnati.  We spent most of the afternoon at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  This trio of  museums resides in the former Grand Central Station of Cinci.  The best part of the afternoon was the behind-the-scenes tour we took of the building.  Such incredible history!  I have never seen such great Art Deco architecture and decor!

Yep…I chose to spend my birthday at a museum.  And I loved it.  #totalnerd  Of course, we did not pass up to get sundaes in the ice cream parlor in the lobby.  The whole parlor is decorated with Rookwood tile.  The tiles in that room alone are worth more than the whole building.

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After we finished at the musuems, we had some extra time before dinner so we swung over to the Newport Aquarium.  Our last visit was the weekend we “officially” started dating so it was fun to go back.  We spent a long time watching the sharks and the penguins.  We even got to get closer to the sharks than we did swimming with them at Disney.  My childhood dreams of being a marine biologist were satiated for the year.

We capped off the night at Sotto in downtown Cinci.  This Italian restaurant sits just below street level and is the most authentically European restaurant I have eaten at in the States (granted, my experience is somewhat limited here in Ohio).  Water was served in one large glass bottle at the table, no ice.  The menu was structured by course and varied slightly from the typical American routine.  The food was good, though not exceptional.  Overall, though, the atmosphere and experience made Sotto the perfect choice for my big day.  My only regret is that I did not order their house-made pasta.  Seriously…what was I thinking??

The weekend really was great.  Adult birthdays try so hard to live up to the standard set by childhood experiences.  I think I am finally learning that adult birthdays are not bad, they are just different.  The most important thing is doing what you love with people you love.  I definitely did that.

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We’ve come a long way since we first stood overlooking the Ohio River together back in March 2011!

Caprese Pasta

I love basil.  And mozzarella.  And tomatoes are pretty great, too.  Caprese anything makes me pretty happy.  In fact, I make this Caprese Grilled Cheese sometimes for lunch that is to die for.  I’ll have to save that for another day.  Today, we’re talking about Caprese Pasta.

Caprese Pasta

I’ve been making variations of this pasta for a while.  The original recipe comes from Martha Stewart.  I adapt depending on what we have around.  This time I used:

  • Medium pasta shells
  • Grape tomatoes from our garden
  • Fresh basil, also from our garden
  • Fresh mozzarella, cut into small chunks
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Leftover turkey, chopped into bite size pieces
  • Vegetable oil
  • Butter
  • Salt & pepper

Caprese Pasta

It’s a super fast, super easy dish.  Cook pasta.  Cook meat (grilled chicken is good, too).  Then, combine everything, including some reserved pasta water.  Toss it all together until the cheese and pasta water make a sauce.  Top with extra Parmesan and enjoy!

As I said, the great thing about this dish is not only its feasibility but its flexibility.  You really don’t need to worry much about quantities of ingredients.  I typically use 8oz of the shells (or other pasta) and then ends up being just slightly more than we’ll eat in one sitting.  I’ve used a variety of herbs in place of the basil; the original recipe calls for parsley.  You could add more veggies and leave out the protein entirely.  You could switch out the protein as well, although I think the lightest of the dish works best with poultry.

It tastes delicious and is a great summer dish – especially when you are using ingredients straight from your back yard.  Enjoy!

What other variations would you make to this simple recipe?

Sun Times, Fun Times

July is quintessential summertime.  Hot days and warm nights, no students around at work, fresh produce from our garden.  It’s wonderful.  While July 2013 did not hold anything monumental for us, it was a great month.  Here’s a quick recap of what we did just to keep you up to date with our lives right now.

We hosted an Independence Day cookout and some of our dearest friends came.  No pictures because we were far too busy enjoying our company to get out the camera or even an iPhone.  The second week of July we both helped out at our church’s VBS.  I won’t post any pictures here for the sake of privacy for the kids who attended.  There are some on Facebook if you are interested.  I did all the music (translation: I did 2.5 straight hours of aerobics every night for a week) and Kevin led the 2nd graders.  We both had a great time and loved serving this way.  However, there’s nothing like interacting with other people’s children to ensure we’re not ready to have our own!

We left immediately from the VBS closing program to head up to Michigan for a weekend with the Napps.  Kevin had a high school reunion that we spent some time at.  Mostly, though, we got to spend time with his family.  It was so great to see them!  On Saturday, we borrowed a family friend’s Jet Ski and hit the lake.  Perfect way to spend a summer afternoon in my opinion.

July 2013On the way home from Michigan, we stopped for dinner at Ruby Tuesday.  No one outside my immediate family may understand the importance of the picture above.  Kevin got the salad bar and brought me a plate of croutons.  This man takes good care of me.  Oh, and if you’ve never had these croutons, get to a Ruby Tuesday stat.  They are delicious.

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The following weekend, Kevin hit the road again.  He headed to Indiana for a Brotherhood Weekend (that’s what his college friends call it when they get together).  Scott & Mychaela have a new baby and the guys went to meet her.  You can see her with her Uncles Bonzo above.  Cute stuff.  They also managed to squeeze in a baseball game and plenty of other manly activities.

Meanwhile, I spent the weekend being uber-productive and indulging in some girl time of my own.  Back at the start of the summer, we got a membership to a great organization called Enjoy the Arts through LivingSocial.  In short, it’s an organization that encourages young adults to expand their horizons and attend fine art events in Cincinnati.  You buy the membership and then get one pair of free tickets to a variety of organizations.  When I saw that Kevin would be out of town on one of the weekends the Cincinnati Opera was putting on Aida, I immediately knew who to call.  My wonderful friend Clara, who I met the very first night of college, shares my affinity for the arts.  We got dressed up and headed out for a fantastic girls’ night!

When I ordered the free tickets, I was expecting nosebleed seats – the cheapest available.  Imagine my giddy shock when the tickets came a few days before the event and they listed our seats in the fourth row of the orchestra seating!  That’s the fourth row of the theatre!  We could not have asked for better seats!  The tickets were valued at $125 each and we paid nothing for them!  We did end up having to sit in the back for the first of four acts.  We had a parking fiasco that made us about 60 seconds late.  We had no cash to pay for parking and there were few garages in this district of Cinci.  We ended up at a parking meter about a half mile from the music hall.  We even sprinted back and forth to feed the meter between the second and third acts – in heels!  We barely made it back for the third act, coming in with the last of the smokers.  We landed in our seats, sweating and panting, just as the curtain rose.  We could not have been more proud of ourselves!

The opera itself was simply beyond words.  To be that close made a good experience a truly great one.  The cast sang beautifully; the woman playing Aida had performed the role previously at the Met in New York!  The set was gorgeous.  The chorus was huge and quite talented in their own rite.  The orchestra played perfectly.  And, of course, Verdi was a master so the talented performers only caused his music to shine brighter.  I could not have imagined a better night at the opera.

July 2013Back home, Zach spent Sunday night with us before heading back to Philly.  In his honor, we made a mega cookie.  While I have never ending problems making chocolate chip cookies (seriously, I’m cursed or something), I made this one a mint chocolate chip cookie using fresh mint from our garden.  It turned out wonderfully.  Zach told me it tasted like Christmas, which is about as high a compliment as one could get from Captain Christmas himself.  If you’re wondering whether this night broke my string of cookie disasters, don’t get your hopes up.  I made two batches of regular cookies with this dough as well.  The second got forgotten about and came out of the oven with a nice black hue.

Burgers, caramelized onions, peas, and glazed carrots

Burgers, caramelized onions, peas, and glazed carrots

Speaking of food, we’ve been eating pretty well lately.  We challenged ourselves to cut back on food spending this summer.  We have done great, cutting our food budget nearly in half!  Part of that has meant eating at home a lot more.  Notice how many vegetables are on that plate!  My mother would be so proud.  And no carbs, either!  Does a meal like that mean we’ve gone Paleo?

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Shrimp & Veggie Primavera

Definitely not.  My love affair with pasta continues.  In the above shot, you can see that I pretty much tossed every vegetable in our fridge into the pasta primavera.  We had those two meals two nights in a row.  You can imagine how proud of ourselves we were for eating so many vegetables.  Never fear, meat lovers.

We’ve had a turkey in our freezer since we bought in on sale just after Thanksgiving.  We finally thawed it out for the last weekend of July.  Now, if you’ve ever been around me in November, you know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday ever.  I’m quite passionate about it.  So, imagine how happy I was making a full Thanksgiving dinner in July!  Turkey, mashed potatoes, two kinds of stuffing, and green beans – we feasted like kings!  I ended up using the carcass, some additional veggies, and herbs from the garden to make stock for future meals.  Kevin, being the wonderful sous chef that he is, suggested I use the stock ingredients to make two batches.  What a smart man!  I was a little nervous to let the second batch simmer overnight, but our house is still standing, so I guess I had nothing to worry about.  I probably didn’t need to check it twice in the middle of the night.

All in all, July was a great month for us.  Kevin shot some of the best golf games of his life in his Wednesday night league.  We spent a lot of time with friends and family.  It’s been a really hard few months at work for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here, at least not yet.  In spite of the tough days, we have been so blessed to have such a wonderful support system.  Meanwhile, August is off to a great start.  And why shouldn’t it be?  It’s BIRTHDAY MONTH!!

What did you do in July?

June is for Weddings

Thanks to minimized screen time and the plethora of Disney posts, we missed out on a whole month of Napp activities to post about.  Instead of spreading it out, I’m going to pack it all into one post for you today.  Hold on to your hats; we are about to fly through June.

We started off the month by heading up to Mt. Vernon, OH for a wedding.  But not just any wedding.  In a joining of families long imagined, my cousin married my sister’s best friend (and my honorary second sister).  Jim and Brittany were sweet enough to ask me to sing for their ceremony.  It was a beautiful day and one of the most fun weddings I have been to.  Kevin even got out on the dance floor!

The third weekend in June was filled with community theater performances.  Earlier in the spring, I auditioned for a part in our town’s Broadway Revue.  I performed as part of the Dance Chorus and also sang a duet (“Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You” from The Last Five Years) with one of my dear friends.  I had a lot of fun.  I rarely get to perform like this any more, so having the chance to be on stage again was priceless.  The highlight was probably being cast as Fantine in the “Les Miserables” medley.  I got to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” and a be a part of a beautiful trio at the end.

Also that weekend, we had the pleasure of attending the wedding ceremony of one of Kevin’s coworkers.  It was right in town, so we got to go before my Saturday matinée show.  I am so glad we did.  There’s nothing quite like watching one of your friends experience the same joy you did not too long before.

IMG_0207Back at home, the flowers around our house bloomed beautifully.  We inherited some nice landscaping from our home’s previous owners, including some gorgeous lilies and a rose bush.   I especially appreciate these features of our house when Kevin clips some flowers and brightens our kitchen with them.

IMG_0209June also brought with it a big event: my parents’ 30th anniversary!  Since they are not party people, my sister and I found a different way to honor their life together.  We contacted friends and family from over the years and asked them to write a small note of congratulations for my parents.  We also gathered pictures from every era of their relationship.  The result: this beautiful book.  We got it from Milk, which, despite its horrible design interface, really put together a nice product.

The fourth weekend of June found us headed to another family wedding, this time in Georgetown, KY.  My cousin Matt and I have always been very close.  He and his brother served as ushers for our wedding and I was honored when he and Alyssa asked me to sing for their wedding.  I could not possibly be more happy for these two.  They both deserve so much love and God has truly blessed them with each other.  The wedding was beautiful and a truly worshipful time.  It was also super fun to see Jim and Brittany who were just back from their honeymoon.  On a completely side note, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Georgetown and were really surprised and impressed with how nice it was.

On the way home that night, we visited the drive in movies to see World War Z.  Now, we had gone to the drive-in last summer as well.  It’s the sketchiest place, but so fun.  We had a Groupon for a double feature that included a large popcorn.  We didn’t stay for the second movie, which didn’t start until almost midnight, but we enjoyed the inexpensive way to see Brad Pitt’s latest.  Only downside: we ran the battery down on our car and had to get someone to jump us before we left.  It didn’t turn out to be a problem at all, but it definitely made the night more eventful!

We closed out the month by cashing in a Groupon for a canoe trip down the Little Miami.  It was a cool day and we made great time.  In fact, upon on return, the staff couldn’t believe how quickly we had done the trip.  We’re canoeing champions!  You can look for us at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.  We had a great time making our way down the river and doing something different.

Oh, and after the canoeing we celebrated our third annual Little Kid Day.  This holiday originated when we were dating.  It involves eating snacks we ate as children (i.e. juice boxes, Gushers, etc.) and picking a movie we loved as kids.  It used to involve making a blanket fort as well, but then we realized that those aren’t nearly as fun when you have to disassemble them yourselves.  This day we were inspired by our visit to Disney to watch the classic Swiss Family Robinson.

Also in celebration, I attempted a grown-up version of a meal my mom made when we were little: mac and cheese with smoked sausage on the side.  Now, as a kid, I only ate the Kraft blue box mac and cheese; I was long overdue for an upgrade.  Martha Stewart’s recipe served the occasion perfectly and was delicious.  As with any Martha recipe, it required a good amount of time invested in it, but it was well worth the effort.  (I did cut the huge recipe in half and it still was way too much for just us two!)

There’s no denying that we love summer.  June encapsulated that perfectly.  There is so much to do and we have been staying very busy fitting in as much as we can!  July hasn’t slowed down much for us at all, so make sure you keep coming back to see how we’re filling these (finally!) hot days.

What did you do this June?  Has your summer been as filled with weddings as ours?

Final Florida Days

If you are super tired of reading about our time at Disney, I promise it’s almost done! I never intended to stretch out our recap of this trip for so long. But, then came the headaches and, finally, the glasses, so things have taken a bit longer than expected. This is our last post recapping the trip – I promise! We will do one post later on about our thoughts on Disney as a whole for those of you who may be thinking about going, but we’ll be back to regular life stuff before that.

Typhoon LagoonBecause we bought our Disney tickets in conjunction with the conference Kevin went to, we got a bonus free day at one of Disney’s smaller attractions. While we had several options to choose from, we knew from the start that we would be going to one of the water parks. After some research into what both Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon had to offer, we settled on Typhoon Lagoon. I only have one picture from that day; I was not about to tote my camera or even my phone all over a water park.

The biggest selling point that got us to Typhoon Lagoon was an attraction they have called Shark Reef. Basically, you put on snorkel gear and swim across a pool containing a coral reef. In the water with you are a myriad of fish and some small sharks. The water is pretty cold for the sake of the animals, but it was a really cool experience. Nothing like being able to say you swam with sharks on your vacation…even if it was in a pool at Disney. The closest one got to me was probably about three or four feet away.

We got to the park right when it opened and so, as with all the other parks, we had a great advantage when trying to get through as much as possible. In that first hour, we flew through Shark Reef and most of the water slides. Once the lines starting getting longer, we settled in by the wave pool and soaked up some sun. We left in the early afternoon to get to our hotel and clean up before Kevin’s conference started that night.

The Gaylord Palms Resort & Conference Center is only a few minutes away from the Disney complex. It is enormous. Our room was much bigger than at the Gaylord Opryland and we were thrilled to be given an atrium room here. We were on the top floor right between two of the large atriums, so we had a great view.

On Friday and Saturday, we took turns manning the table at the conference. The Palms had a great adults-only pool that we both took advantage of in our free time. As with everything in Florida, it was nice and quiet in the morning and got pretty busy in the afternoons.

Gaylord Palms

Friday night, we popped down to Downtown Disney to walk around and grab a bite to eat. We ended up getting rained on, which dampened the evening considerably (pun intended). We ate in a very crowded Earl of Sandwich and then explored the area. Scotty McCreery was at the House of Blues that night, although we did not get tickets. Unfortunately, I had really wanted to see the Cirque du Soleil while were there, but the one week they vacation annual coincided with our trip.

On Saturday night, after we had torn down from the conference, we headed over to the coast for some seafood. We knew we couldn’t leave Florida without getting some fresh fish and we figured the coast was the only place to do it right. After a little research, I found a very small place in Cape Canaveral that seemed to be exactly what we were looking for.

Seafood Atlantic operates mainly as a fresh fish market. Outside their doors, though, they have a small patio area with tables and some bar stool seats overlooking the canal. They work with local fisherman who all have bios on their website. It doesn’t seem to be a big operation, but they have something very special. We sat at one of the small bar tables that looked out on the water. It was not the most beautiful site – no ocean waves, just fishing boats – but there is something incredible about eating seafood while looking at the boat it came in on. While we ate, the sun set over the horizon.

The food easily qualified as the best we had all week. We got some shrimp as an appetizer that Kevin is still talking about a month and a half later. For our entrées, Kevin got swordfish and I ordered crab legs. I cannot describe to you in words how awesome everything tasted. We did have to wait a while before a server got to us, but that was because of a miscommunication among the staff. Once our server realized what had happened, she was great. She even gave us a free piece of Key Lime Pie, Florida’s specialty dessert, as a thank you for our patience.

The experience was exactly what we wanted: casual, local joint serving unpretentious, fresh seafood. The meal actually ended up being the cheapest we ate all week! After all, the place has very little overhead. It felt wonderful to escape the tourist worlds we’d been living in for the past week. We even contemplated driving the hour back on Sunday afternoon just to eat there once more before our flight left. Any time we are near Cape Canaveral again, we will be going back to Seafood Atlantic. It comes with the highest recommendation possible by the Napps!

Sunday, we spent a few hours by the pool – together this time! – before packing up and heading home. We had an absolutely wonderful trip. It was a great balance of work and play. Having a trip last that long really helped us get all the way into vacation mode. Those first few days in Nashville we definitely had to work at relaxing. By the time we got to Florida and Disney, though, we were fully immersed and ready to have fun!

Plus, we got to scratch off a little more on our scratch map!

Around the World in One Afternoon

When we went to Epcot, I knew long before our arrival which part of the park held the most appeal for me.  The front of the park contains the two halves of Future World, but the back holds the World Showcase.  All around the lake, Disney has built a trip around the world.

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There are 12 countries represented, if you include the African Outpost.  We spent our afternoon wandering from country to country, soaking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the world.

We stopped in Mexico first, right as the World Showcase opened at 11:00.  In Mexico, we rode a short boat ride, hosted by The Three Caballeros, which took us through some Mexican culture.  The ride broke down for a few minutes while we were on it, but nothing major.  Even Disney’s announcements to tell you the ride is malfunctioning stay in theme with the attraction.

We made a quick stop in Norway, but were scared off by some life-size and extremely realistic looking Viking statues.  Seriously, they were terrifying.  We did fit in a quick boat ride in Norway as well, which touched on highlights of Nordic culture from over the centuries.

Next stop: China.  The landscaping and detail here were truly beautiful.  At this point, we were expecting a cultural boat ride in every country.  China did offer a film, but we skipped out on it.  We did, however, take the chance to partake in our first culinary treat on our world tour.  Kevin loves pot stickers, so they were an easy choice.

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Next came Germany.

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Germany offered nothing in the way of entertainment or rides, but we did get another snack there.  We both love bratwurst and there is no better place to get it than Germany…well, probably the real Germany, not the Epcot version.  Still, we enjoyed it.  You can see that we specifically got the sauerkraut on the side.  Kevin ate that half.  We even split the bun so I didn’t have to eat anything that had even touched it.  I have traumatic childhood memories involving sauerkraut.  Ok, maybe not traumatic, but the stuff is gross.

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We were amazed at how many people were filing into the German buffet for lunch.  While we love food from just about all cultures, we could not understand why you would choose German food when you had the option to go one more country over and enjoy some of the best food in the world – Italian!

We contemplated getting cannoli or, my all-time favorite, tiramisù in Italy.  Ultimately, we opted to return later for the tasty treats – and never did.  Had we not already had reservations elsewhere for dinner, I would have chosen one of the Italian restaurants in a heartbeat.  Kevin sadly does not have the same love for pasta that I do; I love their food.  Pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella and other cheeses, olive oil, fresh herbs – I love it all.  Since we have Italian food all the time, though, a stop in Epcot’s Italy for food would not have been entirely justified.

We also skipped everything in The American Adventure section.  They do have a show enacting American history.  However, we consider that to be a topic we have a pretty strong grasp on.  No show needed for the Napps.

Japan had beautiful gardens.  We considered getting miso soup there, but the day was far too hot at that point.  No soup for us!  There also were no attraction options in Japan.  We did walk through the shops there and I was struck at how similar even the set up of the goods were to actual Japanese stores.  When I was there in high school, I remember being at the mall and there just being tables packed full of one item (chopsticks, hair clips, etc.).  That’s exactly how Disney had their shops set up as well.  Points for authenticity, Disney.

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We made a quick stop in Morocco.  They had lots of little shops packed in on some winding back streets.  It was interesting even in these small replicas of cultures how small variations changed the feel in each country.  We timed our Moroccan visit just before Aladdin and Jasmine were to arrive for a photo opportunity.  One look at the line of crying children, though, and we were on to the next stop.

Ah, France.  My francophile heart could not contain its excitement as we reached Epcot’s version of the country.  I’ll refrain from gushing about my love of everything French here.  Suffice it to say that I was a happy camper at this point.  We watched a short film containing exclusively beautiful wide-screen shots of life in France.  The majority of the movie depicted the French countryside, which is stunning.  One comment from Kevin, “Forget the cities, that made me want to go to France for country,” renewed hope for the realization of my dream of owning a second home in a village in southern France.

In the afternoon, I got a raspberry line macaron from Les Halles Boulangerie Patiesserie.  Then, later in the night, we had dinner at Chefs de France.  We’ll talk more about our experience with Disney dining in a later post, but for now, you can see pictures of our meal.  We were lucky enough to get a window seat on a crowded, rainy night.  Kevin got Demi poulet fermier roti Pommes rissolees et broccoli (roasted chicken, rissole potatoes, and broccoli) while I ordered Plat de cote de boeuf au cabernet avec pates (beef short ribs braised in Cabernet with pasta, pearl onions, and mushrooms).  For dessert, we had Profiterolles au Chocolat (profiteroles with ice cream and chocolate sauce).

Another treat in France was the Beauty and the Beast topiary display.  They had topiaries of various Disney characters throughout the park (you can also see Cinderella and Price Charming in the pictures above).  They were all incredibly intricate, but only Belle ranked high enough in my mind to take my picture with the display.

We flew through the United Kingdom.  At this point, things were getting crowded and we had no interest in meeting Alice in Wonderland (who was there for a photo opportunity) or watching the street performers.  The UK did have some lovely garden areas, though, which sadly did make it onto my camera.  While I could have sworn I took some pictures, I was getting pretty tired by that point.

We breezed past Canada as well.  I could not figure out why there was a castle in the Canadian area.  They had a cool waterfall, which made sense.  They also had a film about Canada hosted by Martin Short.  We skipped that one, too.

Though not every country had a formal attraction, they all had little shops selling the wares of their native land.  A lot of the countries have traditional headgear offered.  Taking advantage of this, we took a picture of Kevin in every hat we could find.

One interesting thing we noticed was the ethnicity of the workers in each country.  At all of the parks, Disney employees wear name tags with their home town written under their name.  It’s cool to see how so many cultures are represented in their staff.  At first, while perusing World Showcase, we thought Disney had just been super stereotypical in placing their employees.  By Germany, though, we realized that the people working in each area were actually from that country.  They all wore very traditional cultural costumes.  We definitely wondered if they enjoyed representing their countries that way or if they hated the clichés being perpetuated.

Even though World Showcase wore us out – Kevin was very tired of looking in the shops by the end of our tour – we really enjoyed the experience.  For people who love traveling as much as we do, I think it gave us a great sense of quite a few countries.  The architecture and decor in each country was beautiful and very authentic looking.  As with everything, Disney masters the details, giving an immersion experience like few other places.

We did wonder if visiting these countries in Epcot counts enough to scratch them off on our map.  It totally counts, right?

Indulgence

It’s no secret that the Napps love food.  We experiment in the kitchen at home, we grow our own food, and are always in hunt of a great new restaurant.  Whenever we leave our small town and its limited food choices behind us, we know that discovering new places to eat will be one of the best adventures of our new city.

If that city happened to be Nashville, we can say with certainty we would not complain about the food.

DSCF0428We ate at some great places while we were down there a few weeks ago, including several restaurants at Opryland.  We got the chance to try three local Nashville eateries and would happily return to any of them.  Of course, I only remembered to take pictures at one.  Sorry about that…

Thursday night, we met up with two of our favorite Nashville-ites, Taylor & Rachel.  They took us to a fantastic little burger place, The Pharmacy.  They have these awesome, unique burgers and some really amazing fries.  The ambiance tops their food, though.  You can see pictures on their website, but they basically have this backyard area full of picnic tables and strung up with lights.  So fun to go and hang out and grab a bite with friends.

DSCF0424Friday, we had the privilege of seeing my cousin Matt and his fiancée, Alyssa.  These two are getting married in just a few weeks!  They both went to school in Nashville, so they know the area.  They very kindly drove over two hours from their new home in Alabama to spend the day with us.

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For dinner, they had actually been hoping to take us to The Pharmacy as well!  That’s how good those burgers are.  We ended up at Silly Goose.  It was, in Kevin’s words, the ultimate hipster restaurant.  All the pictures from the post are of our time there, including that cheese plate we started with.

DSCF0432That’s the sandwich Kevin got.  They call it the “Bird” sandwich: grilled chicken breast, sun-dried tomato, avocado, bacon, and peppered goat cheese on wholegrain bread.  He loved it.  I even had a bite, despite the presence of avocado, and enjoyed it as well.

DSCF0430Now, I know the picture there may not look that appetizing, but my entrée was delicious.  I got “Commander.”  It’s cast iron flat iron steak, rapini, roasted grapes, gorgonzola, caramelized fennel, celery root, rosemary smoked pine nuts, a madeira demi glace, and gremolata.  I’ll be honest; as much of a foodie as I am, I had never tried most of those ingredients and had never even heard of some of them.  Perfect food adventure and it paid off.  The roasted grapes were an especially nice sweet note in the midst of the richer flavors.

DSCF0427You can see a little from this picture what I mean by this place being a hipster palace.  We drank from Mason jars, the menus came on clipboards, we had bandanas for napkins, the food has a strong push toward natural ingredients, both menu items and the restaurant itself had quirky and nonsencial names, and our server had wore a flannel shirt, skinny jeans, and a beard.  It was so cliché, and yet so good.  We would definitely go back if given the chance.

Saturday night, we went out with Taylor and Rachel again and they took us to Soulshine Pizza.  Once again, I forgot pictures.  Let me paint the scene for you: indoor and outdoor seating on two levels.  Upstairs on a crowded patio there’s live music.  Down on the street level, we sat enjoying the evening breeze with more light strands hanging above us, each bulb reflecting on the modern art of the colored glass windows in the storefront.  The pizza was great, but the company was better.

So that’s what we ate in Nashville.  And we feel as though we just scratched the surface.  We drove down several streets where we said, “If we lived here, we would make it our goal to eat at every restaurant on this strip.”  That’s the kind of people we are.  No shame.  I don’t think our wallets or our waistlines could afford goals like that, but we would be very happy residents of Music City.  Maybe someday?

IMG_0109Oh and for one last glimpse into my penchant for the indulgent, take a look at this amazing used book store Matt took me to.  He shares my adoration for the written word.  It’s called McKay and I would like to set up a cot in the back of their store.  This picture shows a part of their immense inventory of used books, movies, and music (including vinyl!).  It was a great thing we were on a schedule and I was restrained by packing space because I could have spent weeks and hundreds of dollars there.  I escaped with only 4 books, although Kevin probably wouldn’t use the word ‘only.’

It’s like we’re outside…

Welcome back to Nashville Week!

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Unfortunately, we did not actually get to spend a week in Nashville.  It was just the first stop on our 12 day trip.  We drove down on Thursday morning, stopped for lunch in Florence, Ya’ll, and made it to the Gaylord Opryland Resort by mid-afternoon.

When Kevin first told me he had a conference in Nashville, I silently dreamed that it would be at Opryland.  If you haven’t been, Opryland is an enormous hotel and convention center that has multiple atriums filled with luscious plants, waterfalls, gardens, and restaurants.  I had been with my cousin when I visited Nashville before and could not believe the immensity of the place.  It’s beautiful and a definite experience all of its own.  Needless to say, when I found out the conference actually would be held there, I got very excited.

IMG_0114Sadly, we did not get an atrium room.  Our room was definitely smaller than I expected and, while decently nice, definitely does not qualify as the nicest place we have stayed.  It’s obviously that when you stay at Opryland, they do not expect you to spend a lot of time in your room.  There is so much to see and explore.

The layout of the resort can be confusing.  Kevin found himself lost more than once that first night.  The convention center was located on the opposite side of the building from our room and it took a solid ten minutes to make the walk.  I don’t think I ever went the same way twice, although, for me, exploring was half the fun.  I found it frustrating at times that there were no easily accessible stairs to our fourth floor room.  I’m sure they were somewhere, but I never did find them in the four days we were there.  Had there been a fire, I have no doubt I would have died trying to find the stairs.

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Thursday night we grabbed a bite to eat at the Mexican restaurant before the conference began.  All of the restaurants at Opryland are expensive (this became a theme of our trip). However, they are convenient and good.  We enjoyed all the meals we had there, just not the bills.  Above you can see Kevin with the homemade guacamole he ordered.  That’s a happy camper right there.

IMG_0105I got fajitas that came with steak, chicken, and chorizo.  They also came with those delicious, purplely beans you can see in that bowl.  They were so good!

IMG_0103Kevin got chicken tacos and enjoyed them just as much as he did the guac.

One of my greatest vices is my inability to turn down dessert – especially when its something I have’t tried before.  We ordered dessert tacos.  Their arrival and presentation excited me so much that I promptly forgot to take a picture until we were halfway through them.  Oops.

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They tasted divine.  The whipped cream in the bottom had been flavored with vanilla bean. You could see the dark flecks throughout the cream and the flavor permeated perfectly.  The rims of the tacos had been dipped in chocolate and then sprinkled with sugar.  Then the whole thing was topped with fresh strawberries.  I am only slightly ashamed to admit that Kevin ate half of one taco and I polished off the rest.  I will definitely be attempting to recreate these at home.

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A super fun part of staying at Opryland was the scenery.  On Friday I worked remotely and set up my temporary office overlooking this fountain.  The view slightly bested the one from my actual office.  The weather on Friday was pretty dreary, but neither of us even realized it was raining until just before lunch.  The whole world of Opryland creates the illusion of being outside without experiencing actual weather or bugs.

Opryland has been mentioned in the Humanities course I teach before as an example of postmodern art.  We have created a world in which all of the things we like about nature exist without the negatives.  There are quaint shops and restaurants set up on little plazas in a quasi-European experience.  But at its core, everything there is merely an imitation.  Beautiful, enjoyable, but fake.  We ran into this feeling at Disney as well, and we’ll talk about it in a future post.

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Regardless of any internal dilemma caused by the faux environment, we truly enjoyed ourselves.  We were so thankful to get to see dear friends on our trip, including the wonderful Tyler Scott, who did our wedding photography.  He very generously worked his schedule around ours and met us for a quick breakfast at Opryland before we left for the airport Sunday morning.

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We would have loved to spend all day hanging out with this great friend and felt awful for cutting our time together short.  Next time!  Of course, Tyler, being the awesome person he is, took our picture before we parted.  I think he’s taken more pictures of us than anyone else at this point.  Thanks, Tyler!  This is probably the one we’ll put into our new Opry frame next to our scratch map.

DSCF0451 Stayed tuned for one more Nashville post on Friday.  We got to experience some great local culture while we were in town and can’t wait to share it with you!  Ok, let’s be honest. Friday will mostly be about food.  There is great food in Nashville!

Have you been to Opryland?

We’re Gonna Eat This Stuff

GardenOne of the oh-so-domestic things I have gotten into in the last few years is gardening.   I had a small selection of herbs on the pack porch of my apartment in 2011.  I bought them because I had started to fall in love with cooking – particularly with fresh ingredients.  Those herbs and I got on splendidly.

When Kevin and I found the house we live in now, we were thrilled to see a decently sized garden plot in the backyard.  Last summer, we spent a good deal of time back there and harvested a pretty successful crop.  And we had fun, too!  With gardening, Kevin’s love of landscaping and the outdoors meets my love for food and cooking.  We have found a wonderful activity to do together; it’s even a productive, delicious, money-saving activity!

GardenAfter completely ignoring the garden through the entire winter, we were pleasantly surprised to see the return of some perennial herbs this spring.  We planted our first spring crops in early April and then finished out with our summer crops in mid-May.  

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By the time I took these pictures in May, our spring crops were flourishing!  In the picture above you can see (left to right) our garlic, shallots, and spinach.

GardenIn the middle, we have the herbs.  Left to right: rosemary, thyme, chives, oregano, parsley, two basil plants (I adore basil), and mint.  The mint and basil look a little pathetic in this picture as they had just spent two days in our kitchen before planting due to a few particularly cold nights.  At the top of the picture are our six tomato plants: two big boy and four sugary (grape tomatoes).  The one random plant on the left between the tomatoes and the herbs is an onion left from last year.  Not sure why it came up this year instead of last with all its friends, but we’re letting it grow.

GardenDown at the end, we have snap peas.  Kevin built a beautiful little playground for them to grow on.  We looked around quite a bit for a nice, in expensive trellis for them.  We could not find anything in our price range, until we got to Lowe’s and they did not have enough of the kind we wanted.  Thankfully, the extremely helpful Lowe’s employee suggested building something like this of our own.  Turns out it was cheaper than buying even one trellis!  We have contemplated adding more butcher twine in case the peas can’t reach the bottom strand or they get to heavy, but have decided to deal with that on an as-needed basis.

GardenWe absolutely love our garden.  The first thing we do every day after work is go out and look at it together to see how all our little baby plants our doing.  We’re like super annoying, coddling, over-protective parents.  And you can tell what total city kids we are.  Even after all our success last year, we are just as amazed this year that the tiny seeds we plant in the ground turn into things we can eat!  We understand agriculture on a scientific level, but in practicality, it still completely amazes us.  God really designed an incredible world!

Do you have a garden?  What have you had success growing?  Any total failures?  For us last year, our big failure was green beans.  What are your favorite things to eat fresh?