orvieto, italy

The town of Orvieto, Italy was our second stop. We only spent part of the day here, just a quick stop on the way from Florence to Rome. Orvieto is at the top of what is essentially a cliff, so you have to take a gondola/cable car type vehicle to get to the town. Like Florence, it was very walkable and filled with shops, but smaller and more rustic feeling.

The centerpiece of the town is the magical church that is absolutely covered in details, like carvings and mosaics. Across from the church was a street lined with small shops selling handmade pottery and olive wood creations. My cousin and I stopped in to Mastro Paolo and were told the whole story of the business, which had been featured in American news a few years ago. The woman in the store was the daughter of Paolo, who makes the pottery, and she was so proud. We each bought a piece from the store—an olive oil container and a teacup and saucer.

Orvieto is like a fortress, with walls around the perimeter and old watchtowers to protect against invaders. You can explore the walls and towers on the edges of the town, from where you can see the remarkable view of the Italian countryside. Though not the most common destination in Italy for tourists, this was one of my favorite days in the country.

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florence, italy

I’ll be working as a counselor at a summer camp for six weeks where I will be (mostly) tech-free, so as to not go on hiatus, I’m doing a series about my travels in Europe last summer. Each week will feature a different city I visited during my two weeks in Italy and Greece.

Our first stop was Florence, Italy. I loved this city. It’s so full of history and beauty, and you can walk its entirety. Narrow cobblestone streets maze through, leading to plazas with huge cathedrals, leather markets, and gelato shops. The Duomo centers the city, towering over the streets with the most intricate detail. You could spend hours looking at the exterior and continue to find more to see. It’s the original site of Michelangelo’s David, which was actually carved with the perspective viewers would have looking up at the statue outside of the dome (where the scaffolding is in second photo), which is why David‘s hands look larger than would be anatomically correct. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the real David, though the museum was only a few minutes from our hostel, because we ran out of time in our three day visit. The imitations are still incredible, but I hope to go back one day and see the real thing. Another thing I missed out on this trip was going to the Uffizi, which houses art from all the Renaissance greats. Again, I hope to go back soon to see what I missed.

What I did get to see, however, was Dante’s home, the Santa Croce church, and Ponte Vecchio, the bridge with brightly colored jewelry shops hanging over the water. Painters were lined up on the street along the water, capturing the colors on canvas. I hit every gelato shop recommended, by tour guides and Google (which means I had way too much gelato) and one of my favorites was Vivoli, where I got a scoop of dark chocolate. My cousin and I went on a mini scavenger hunt for street art by the famous “Blub” who paints figures like Shakespeare with scuba goggles (eighth picture). Florence is truly an artist’s paradise, with the architecture, sculptures, paintings, and street art scattered everywhere in the city.

One of our nights in Florence, we went up to a vineyard in Tuscany for a wine-tasting and home-cooked Italian meal. We were served bottomless wine and pasta, all with a spectacular view of the hills. On the way back, we stopped at the Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset over the city.

I hope to return to this beautiful place someday for more.

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champagne birthday cake

One of my best friends turned 20 yesterday, so we had to celebrate—dinner at our favorite local restaurant and birthday cake after. I was in charge of the cake (i.e. I took charge) and the birthday girl requested a champagne cake with raspberries. I found the cake recipe on Pinterest (of course) on a food blog, Feast & Fable, that is fantastic all around, take a look! And this cake is so good. Like SO good. It strikes the balance of fluffy and moist, not too dense but not too airy. The champagne flavor is subtle but noticeable and complements beautifully with fresh raspberries. I topped each layer with my vanilla buttercream and lots of raspberries, then finished with a more naked look and fresh flowers from the local florist and my front yard. (Despite many jokes from my brother and sincere questions from my friends, no the flowers are not edible.) The cake got a little lopsided in assembly, but the flowers provided a wow-factor that distracted from my inability to keep things straight. My family was disappointed that they didn’t get to try any of the cake, so I’m making it again already and maybe I’ll get it perfect the second time around.

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Cake recipe from Feast & Fable:

  • 1¾ cups flour (or cake flour)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup champagne

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 6″ or two 8″ cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment paper to keep cakes from sticking.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Add the vanilla, oil, and yogurt and beat until just combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat. Finally, add the champagne.

Once combined into a smooth batter, fill each cake pan with equal amounts and place in center rack of oven. Check the cakes for doneness with a toothpick around 20 minutes, but they will likely need 3-5 minutes more, depending on oven, location, etc. The tops should be slightly golden with edges coming away from the pan.

When cakes are done, let cool in pans for 10-15 minutes. Remove from pans and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before frosting.

Vanilla Buttercream:

  • 3½ powdered sugar (plus or minus more as needed)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Place 2 cups of powdered sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat until fully combined, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Add more powdered sugar until frosting is fluffy and somewhat stiff. Use more milk if frosting becomes too thick, until you reach your desired level. A stiffer frosting is better for holding cakes together and for piping decorations.

Once cakes are completely cool, place one layer on a plate or cake stand and cover with a thin layer of frosting. Place washed raspberries on top, making some fun concentric circles. Pipe more frosting in between raspberries to make it even, then place the next layer on top. Repeat for second layer if it’s three layer cake.

When layers are assembled, use remaining frosting (should not be a lot) to thinly cover the cake for a naked finish. Top with fresh flowers, more raspberries, or whatever else you would like.

Share with all of your friends and family because they will love you forever and ever. Enjoy!

lake superior

We took a somewhat spontaneous girls’ trip up to Marquette, MI this week, complete with shopping, food, and (of course) tons of pictures. The main stop was Lake Superior where everyone had their turn posing on the rocks, Kardashian style, and then sorority style. The water was freezing; I think I lost all feeling in my toes. It was a beautiful day, inside and out, and my friends are the most beautiful part. We were all full of laughter and when I got home my voice was almost gone from singing (badly, I’ll warn) so much on the way home. It’s days like this that make me realize how great everything really is.

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