Thursday, August 28, 2014

L'Aperitivo, the Happy Hour (with recipe!)

“Happiness, not in another place but this place...not for another hour, but this hour.” Walt Whitman

One of the things you learn when you move to Italy is that in order to get a (mini) cup of coffee, you don't go to a coffee house.  You have your coffee at "The Bar", a place that before living here, my brain only associated with alcohol.  My kids also buy ice-cream and juices at the school's bar.  

Now, the bar after a certain hour does serve alcoholic drinks and then it all makes sense.  L'aperitivo is a break on your busy day, after work, when you stop at "il Bar" for a drink, call it a glass of wine, a beer or the famous Spritz, which has become my personal favorite.  The bars normally provide a few appetizers with your drink, ranging from salted peanuts, pieces of pizza to potato chips.  A nicer bar will provide mini sandwiches, olives and cheeses.  For me, if I had a nice lunch, the apetitivo doubles as a light dinner.  But in reality it just prevents you from starving while you wait for a dinner that does not start until eight o'clock at night, at the earliest.

If you have not heard of this Italian favorite, the Spritz is a mixed drink that is light and summery.  It is a mix of Aperol (an Italian bitter), Prosecco (Italian bubbly) and soda water.  It's not too sweet, it doesn't have added sugars, so let's pretend is low calorie, ok?

Of course enjoying an Aperitivo is part of the Italian's DNA.  Think "La Dolce Vita".  The Aperitivo time is perfect to meet  with your significant other after a long day at the office, to catch up with friends after the summer break or just to enjoy the sights of this beautiful country.  I love  going downtown #Rome for an Aperitivo.  And remember, if you show up at a restaurant at 6:00 pm, you will be way too early for dinner, but the time will be just right for enjoying a Spritz.

On a last note, I already checked and Aperol is available in the U.S.  ;)


Monday, August 25, 2014

Things to Do While in Rome: The Pantheon

“The purpose of all the major religious traditions is not to construct big temples on the outside, but to create temples of goodness and compassion inside, in our hearts.” Dalai Lama XIV

Despite the quote above, Romans did build big temples to their Gods, and the best preserved temple around Rome is the Pantheon.  The word "Pantheon" in greek means temple of all Gods and as such, it was built in the years 25-27 B.C.  and reconstructed by Emperor Hadrian during 118-125 A.C.  It only became a Catholic church in the year 609 when it was renamed as the Church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs.

The #Pantheon's magnificent architecture alone, is enough to make it a stop on your itinerary.  The building, apart from its front portico, is circular and its dome has a nine meter oculus that lets the sunshine (and  rain, and rose's petals on Pentecost's mass) in.   

The Pantheon is on the south side of the "Piazza della Rotonda", which is a city square with a fountain with an obelisk at its center, and restaurants and shops all around.  You'll arrive there by navigating the narrow cobble stone streets of downtown Rome, it's all of Rome in one place: ancient architecture, ambiance and great food.

Talking about food, I had a great fish dinner at Hostaria De Pastini, steps away from the Pantheon.  And if you are more of a meat lover, you should definitively try Maxela, with a butcher's counter at the entrance of the restaurant, you will surely get a nice cut, cooked to perfection.  The portions are a bit smaller compared to its American counterparts, but that is not a problem because a few steps from the restaurant you'll find Gelateria Della Palma, with more that 150 flavors of gelato, you will certainly find one or two, or three, for your perfect italian desert.

And that my friends is a suggestion for a perfect night stroll in good ole #Rome.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Helping Your Kids with their First Day in a New School

“I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me." Stephenie Meyer, Twilight.

I am still a few days away from sending my boys back to school but I can't stop wondering if they feel the butterflies in their stomachs, the ones I felt when I was a kid. I went to the same school from kindergarten to  the 12th grade, but my kids have attended six different schools around the world, and so far, they've always had smooth first days.

So, how can you help your kids feel more at ease on their first day at a new school? Here are a few tips:
  1. Will you know someone attending the new school who could help them on their first day?  International schools (read how to choose the right one for your kid here) are pretty good at helping new kids navigate around on their first day.  If your school doesn't have a program to welcome new students, don't hesitate to request a "sponsor"for your child.
  2. Visit the school before the first day of classes and give your child a chance to familiarize him or herself with their new surroundings.
  3. Make an effort to attend the orientation programs.
  4. Ask your child if he/she has any questions about their new routine and try to help them find the answers.  I know my kids were always worried about getting into the wrong school bus and getting lost in an unfamiliar city.
  5. Write you home/work address and phone numbers on a piece of paper and put it in their backpacks so, in case or an emergency, they'll know how to contact you (have the card translated into the local language).  Of course if they're old enough a cell phone might not be a bad idea.
  6. Will a new outfit (new backpack, new lunchbox...) give them the extra confidence they need?  Maybe worrying about what to wear will take some pressure away from the awkwardness of the first day.
  7. If they're attending the same school as last year, help them connect with classmates before the beginning of school, so they can catch up and share some of their summer stories before school starts.
  8. Remember, as you may be more nervous than them, try to keep your cool and radiate the confidence they need.
  9. Volunteer at school.  Seeing you around and participating will help them feel part of the new school.
  10. Remember, they are going to be fine.  You survived; they will, too.

Do you have any other tips to share?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Traveling the World...Around Your Home

"...‘home’ must always be the loveliest spot in the world, no matter what fairer lands may lie under alien stars."   L.M. Montgomery

I'm sure by now you've heard the word "staycation", if you haven't, it describes a time of vacationing around your own home town.  I have been doing this before the word became hip, and what a fun concept it is!  Ok, my home happened to be in exotic places, but if a vacation at a far away land is out of the question, why not try seeing your city with new eyes?

This summer I spent time around the D.C. metro area, recently named by Forbes magazine, the coolest American city of 2014.  And I agree, what a cool city it is!  Even though I used to live in the area I approached my time there trying to see the city with new eyes.  I tried to walk paths I hadn't visited before and used my acquired exploration skill back home.

One of these very important exploration skills is: TALKING TO PEOPLE.  Yes! As simple as that!  No matter where you are, locals know best!  During my time in D.C. I was using a dry cleaning service often and started talking to the clerk, who happened to be Korean.  Since my family loves Korean food I asked her about a good Korean restaurant around the area.  She pulled out this D.C./Korean yellow pages and gave me names and addresses of a couple of her favorites.  Needless to say we tried her advise and had a fantastic meal at Yechon Restaurant, which is open 24/7.

If you don't know what to order at a Korean restaurant try Bulgogi, their BBQ meat which comes with white rice and several small bowls of pickled veggies and other yummy things.  Or try their Bibimbap, a meal in a bowl, containing rice, fresh mixed vegetables, meat and a signature fried egg on top. Makki rolls were also great.  The waitresses wore authentic Korean costumes and that just made me feel I was in a place far away from home, at least during lunch time.

I love the diversity you find in the U.S. not only because it makes us better, but also because I certainly love trying different ethnic foods and learning about interesting cultures.  Why am I always talking about food?  I don't know, but, do you know of an ethnic restaurant around your area you haven't tried yet?  What are you waiting for!  It's like taking a trip without the plane ride...

Enjoy life around your home or in the destination of your summer travels.  Do you have a useful traveling tip to share with me?


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Rome on a Budget: Inexpensive Meals

"The best things in life are free.  The second best things are very, very expensive." Coco Chanel

When there's a will, there's a way; and there is certainly a way to visit Rome without spending a fortune, at least on meals.  Here I'll give you some insider's tips on how to plan your Roman vacation ...on a budget.

Pizza Al Taglio
I'm sure one of the "must eat" items on your list is pizza.  Pizza in Rome is a must, even though it is very different to what you have probably tried outside of Italy.  Roman pizza has a thin crust and the budget-friendly way to eat it is "al taglio". What does that mean?  By the cut.  There are chains (like "Alice") or just small places where they have the oval pizzas on display.  They put out several flavors and you pick yours and pay by weight.  Most likely the server will have a pair of scissors and will point to what is a normal portion.  Use hand signals to express you want a bigger or smaller piece and  they'll make the cut where you indicate.  A regular portion of Pizza Margherita (cheese pizza) goes for around 4 euros.

A "panino" is a sandwich, but again, it's somewhat different to an American sandwich.  In Italy, they don't really mix lunch meats.  You can find a salami and cheese panino or a mortadela panino, but you will not find a salami/mortadela/turkey-ham panino piled up with sauces. A nice panino will set you back around 4 euro.

Tavola Calda
Tavola Calda literally means "hot table".  These cafeteria-style eateries are all around Rome and they offer home made meals and pizza by the slice.   They normally have a sitting area but you can also ask for your meal to go.  

Lunch Buffets
Many places around office buildings offer a lunch buffet that normally goes around 10-12 euro per person.  Some include wine.  A couple of my favorites downtown are Gusto, located at Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9, Roma 00186, and Elle Ristorante located at Via Vittorio Veneto 8, Roma 00187  Note: In some lunch buffets you are only allowed to serve yourself once.

Of course you have to enjoy a nice meal at a nice restaurant too.  Just stay away from the ones that say "Menu Turistico" or "Tourist Menu" and you'll be alright.  Enjoy eating in Rome and "Mangia, mangia!" (eat, eat!).  Do you know of a great and inexpensive restaurant in Rome?  Let us hear about it!

Until the next time.