Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Vatican City

Vatican City is the papal province which holds a lot of rich Catholic history as well as Roman history. Basically, if you go to Vatican City and you don't actually go to the Vatican//St. Peter's Basilica, or the Sistine Chapel, you've completely missed the point of going there in the first place. The line getting in here (they are all three connected) is usually really long, but is extremely worth the wait.

The Vatican Museum
  • This museum illustrates the coming together of Roman culture and Catholic culture. It is really interesting to learn about how Catholicism absorbed some of the aspects of Roman culture and knowledge into its common place.

The Sistine Chapel
  • This actually was not as big as I thought it would be, but it was just as beautiful and impressive as I imagined. The ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel were painted by Michelangelo. His progression as both a painter and a person can be seen through each of the different scenes on the walls and ceilings.

St. Peter's Basilica
  • This is basically the church of all churches in the Catholic world. It is the holiest Christian site and is the burial place of St. Peter.
  • St. Peter's tomb is directly below the alter in the church
  • This church is palatial and there are so many intricate sculptures of different popes and times in Jesus's life.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"No Harm Eggplant Parm"

If you know me, you know that i'm kind of a bipolar health nut..if you don't know me, you know this now. I LOVE food, I love to eat, but I hate not being a guy (or one of those girls) who can eat anything and not gain weight...I know, I know, its annoying to hear people complain about, and obnoxious, but that is why I will be posting recipes in here. From Weight Watchers, Hungry Girl, and random cookbooks and MSN links that my mom has or sends me, I collect a lot of recipes that are essentially healthy versions of heavier foods that we all love to eat and hate ourselves the next day for.

So tonight, I decided to give my mom a break and make dinner for her and my sisters. We hadn't had Italian in a while so I decided to make a dish called "No Harm Eggplant Parm". It's fairly easy to make and pretty much idiot proof as long as you watch what you're doing and keep an eye on the oven. With prep time and cook time, it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to make, but its very simple to do. It's also a great dish to make with younger siblings or children. They can help with the coating and the layering with out make a huge mess.

From Hungry Girl

1 large eggplant

1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)

1 cup Fiber One bran cereal (original); ground to a breadcrumb-like consistency in the blender

1 cup canned tomato sauce w/ Italian flavoring (such as Hunt's Tomatoes Sauce with Basil, Garlic & Oregano)
1 cup shredded fat-free mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup reduced-fat grated parmesan-style topping

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

Optional: dried Italian seasonings (basil, oregano, etc.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice ends off of eggplant, and cut it lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips. Use a paper towel to blot eggplant slices on both sides (to remove excess moisture). Spray a large baking pan with nonstick spray. Season crumbs with garlic powder, salt, pepper and, if you like, additional seasonings. Coat eggplant slices on both sides -- first with egg whites, and then with Fiber One crumbs. Place slices flat on the baking pan, and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. Then, flip slices over and bake until browned on both sides (about 10 minutes longer). Remove pan from oven, but leave oven on. Spread 1/4 cup of sauce over the bottom of an 8" X 8" baking dish sprayed lightly with nonstick spray. Arrange half of the baked eggplant slices evenly over the sauce. Continue to layer ingredients evenly in this order: sauce (1/4 cup), mozzarella and parm topping (half of each), sauce (1/4 cup), eggplant (remaining slices), sauce (1/4 cup), and cheeses (remaining amounts). Cover dish with foil and return to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, or until heated throughout. Allow to cool slightly, and then cut into quarters. Enjoy! MAKES 4 SERVINGS

Serving Size: 1 generous portion (1/4th of recipe)
Calories: 170
Fat: 2.5g
Sodium: 872mg
Carbs: 29g
Fiber: 13g
Sugars: 5g
Protein: 15g

POINTS® value 3*

I haven't tried to make this using chicken yet (because we keep kosher in my house) but I'm sure that if you wanted to make a lower fat, lower calorie chicken parm, you could sub chicken in for the eggplant in this recipe and it would taste fantastic.

so the other cool thing about hungry girl is that with their recipes they give points values and nutritional stats...kind of like proof that..yes this food tastes awesome, but it also does a fraction of the damage that the real dishes do...

hope yall enjoy this!! bon appetito :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Florence, Italy

While I was abroad, I spent most of my time in Florence. I lived and studied there for three and a half months in the spring of 2009.

Florence is a beautiful city, full of culture and history. It is also a great place to go if you are not too comfortable with your Italian, but are willing to learn it (if you were deciding on where to study abroad). It is home of David, The Pitti Palace, and the Duomo, as well as countless other beautiful piazzas, museums, and churches.

Out of the many places to see, you must at least see the following places that really make Florence the amazing city that it is.
  • The Duomo - this is an amazing cathedral in downtown Florence. It is formally known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is one of the largest churches in Italy and is absolutely gorgeous on the inside as well as the outside.
  • Ponte Vecchio- okay so yes literally this means "the old bridge" but seriously its more than just a bridge. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that there are actually houses built into it. It also has tons of gold jewelry shops (Florence is known for beautiful gold jewelry). The view is beautiful, and it connects the Florence where it is split by the river Arnot. You will use this bridge a lot, so take the time to enjoy it too

  • The David- yes, the original David resides in the Galleria d'Academia in Piazza San Marco in Florence. Go see this-seriously. I know it seems like its just a statue, but it really is so impressive. The museum also houses beautiful paintings and other works by known Italian artists. It is illegal to take pictures of the David, but sometimes being a little badass isn't going to hurt anyone...

  • Piazza Michelangelo- Taking the walk, or trek up to this look out point really is worth it. Once at the top, you get the most breathtaking panoramic view of the city of Florence. The first picture on this blog is me at the top of Piazza Michelangelo, with Florence in the background. Don't be lazy and take this walk at least once.

  • The Pitti Palace-this was the former residence of the Medici family beginning in the late 1500's. It is now home to five museums and is connected to the Boboli Gardens. In the Palce, you can see how it was decorated, including explanations of what each room was for. It is gorgeous and aptly illustrates the extravagance of the families in Italy's upper class.
  • The Boboli Gardens-a great place to walk and enjoy beautiful flower arrangements. It is best enjoyed during April, when the flowers are in bloom and the weather is comfortably warm.
  • San Lorenzo Market-This is a huge open marketplace that starts right by the Church of San Lorenzo and extends down most of the streets that intersect with the piazza. You can find almost anything and everything there, as its offerings range from bracelets to scarves to shoes to jackets. You do have to be careful and make sure that people aren't selling you fake, or low quality items, but for the most part, it is a really good place to find all of the random souvenirs that you may want to buy for friends and family back home.
  • Restaurants-We went to many restaurants in Florence; the guide that I was given had many American style restaurants to check out, but to be honest, my friends and I wanted to stay away from those as much as we could. The following were restaurants that we would go to on the weekends. We also recommend just walking into cafes for a quick lunch or dinner. You really cannot go wrong.

Aqua al Due - known for blueberry steak, but kind of expensive

Yellow - great traditional pizzas and pastas; we ate here a lot. The meals are affordable, and it had a great, relaxed atmosphere which was very enjoyable.

Il Lattini - traditional Florentine meals; it is done family style and you will get more than enough food and wine. GO HUNGRY IF YOU GO HERE; you will be beyond stuffed when you are finished. The food is great, and if you have some type of dietary need (kosher, vegetarian) let them know, they do try to accommodate and do not have an attitude while doing so. It is kind of expensive, but most definitely worth it.

Osteria d'Agnolo - also traditional Florentine; not as expensive, but just as good. Definitely worth going to; the food was good and filling (definitely go hungry for this one as well)

Be sure to treat yourself to gelato...it's so good; make sure it doesn't look fluffy though-you want legit gelato, not crappy gelato.

  • Bars - definitely get a group of your friends together and go to the bars. A word of caution though: Italians know how Americans get w hen they are drunk; they profile us as stupid and easy to take advantage of so PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Have as much fun as you want to, but please be smart about it and don't get yourself into any trouble. Also, a bar to an Italian is a coffee shop, so if you're asking directions, say that you're looking for an American Bar.
Astor Cafe-it's near the Duomo and there is a huge orange clock in the window. They have discounted drinks, I think until 11 pm. Their drinks are really good, but make sure that you order at the bar so that you don't have to pay for table service. Seriously, it's not worth it.

JJ's Cathedral-also near the Duomo, fun atmosphere, good beer and sangria; also offers some discounts

Lion's Fountain-similar to JJ's but the area is a little sketchy, be careful and always go anywhere in groups. Great beer and drinks as well.

If you are interested in anything else about Florence, please let me know. I will blog some of the random stuff after I get through the rest of the cities that I visited while abroad. I'd love to help or give advice to anyone who is traveling abroad. I really did have the best time and I'd like everyone else who gets the chance to do the same.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kidd Russell and Flobots in Chicago

Probably one of the most fun, random, nights that I've had was due to a tweet from Ross Golan that was seen by my friend, Cara, and then passed on to me. I had gone to Chicago for Thanksgiving to spend it with some of my family and was planning on seeing a friend, Sarah, who had graduated from Syracuse last semester. We really did not have anything planned for that night and probably would have just gone out for dinner or something like that. Thanks to this tweet and our spontaneous spirits, we ended up at Lincoln Hall to see two bands that we had never ever heard of. All I knew was that Ross had written a song with Kidd Russell. That literally was it.

Most people that I know unfortunately would not just randomly go to a concert without knowing at least one of the bands. I had listened to both of the bands earlier to get a taste, and really liked what I had heard.

We got there right as Kidd Russell began his set. During this set, I recognized Ross and went over to talk to him. He was really sweet and came over and talked to us a lot that night. I am really glad to have met him. For those who don't know, Ross writes and co writes with a lot of different bands, and is also in his own band called Glacier Hiking.

Kidd Russell is a fun mix of hip hop and good music with great beats. Some of his songs kind of remind me of Shwayze, but there is a definite difference. Kidd Russell is great. Some of them tell stories, some get a little serious, but overall, his songs are good listening and have the power to evoke different feelings from those who are listening. My favorite song had to have been their new one, "She Feels Like Home". It reminded me of summer time, or just a time with no cares, a time to hang out, chill, and have a little bit of fun. They brought Ross up to sing "E North Ave" with them, which is a song about living in..maybe not the best part of Chicago, but loving it for what it is. "Rush" is a song that I would have listened to before a volleyball game (when I used to play) definitely a get psyched song, I've played it for my friends who play competitive sports and they agree.

Check Kidd Russell out on myspace or on the band homepage. They are definitely worth checking out and catching in concert if they pop up at a venue near you. I'd be there, no questions asked.

After Kidd Russell, the second band came on; however, half of them had gotten arrested, so it was kind of put together randomly. It was amusing, but I wasn't really following what was going on at that point.

The Flobots played their set next. They are an interesting group that may take some getting used to if you are seeing them live before knowing their music, depending on the type of person that you are. Accompanied and intertwined within their lyrics are very strong, activist thoughts. While this extreme activism does not particularly appeal to me, I think that it's so awesome that they can inspire movement, thought, and action through their songs and concerts. I admire this and their dedication to these causes. I really enjoyed their songs; they have this ability to dig deep and stir the audience with their lyrics and their beats. "Same Thing" is a very catchy song, that I really liked; it was the perfect song to start their set out with. "No Handlebars" is their current single and for some reason reminds me of the movie, Donnie Darko; no idea why, but I like it. "Rise" and "Whips and Chains" are great examples of songs with messages and their goal of inspiring movement in their fans.

Though they were a little too activist for my liking, I would still go see the Flobots again if they appeared at a venue near me. I'd definitely say give them a listen and see what you think. Check them out on their band page or on myspace.

For more videos, check out my youtube channel, and for more pictures, check out this album (maybe if snapfish decides to cooperate, I'll link that...eventually).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Blind Side

My sisters, cousins, and I have a tradition, where every time we have a big Thanksgiving together, we all choose one movie that we want to see, go to CVS and stock up on candy, buy three huge bags of popcorn, take up half a row in the movie theater, dance to the music in the commercials and previews, and of course, see this movie that we've been talking about for months. This year's movie happened to be The Blind Side.

Personally, I am not too interested in football, but for some reason, I am strongly drawn to enjoying movies about football. I guess its the whole underdog thing, as most of these movies follow that theme, but don't most "based on a true story" sports movies do that anyway?

The Blind Side tells the story of Michael Oehr, an 18 year old boy whose mother was addicted to drugs. He spent most of his later teenage years living on his friends's couches, moving from family to family. His friend's father gets him enrolled in a private Christian academy, mainly because Michael's football player physique seems promising to the football coach. His grades are not up to the school's standards, and he seems dumb and unmotivated. In reality, he sees the differences between him and his schoolmates an realizes that his teachers do not understand him. On teacher catches on to this and begins to help him, slowly turning him around. The major turnaround in his life; however, occurs when SJ Tuohy, a small boy who is a lot younger than Michael, befriends him at school. SJ's mom, Leigh Anne, notices Michael walking home in the rain one night and picks him up. She finds out that he has no place to stay and offers him her home for the night. This begins a lasting relationship between the Tuohy family and Michael. The Tuohy's help Michael turn his grades around and become a football player, using his protective instincts as his inspiration to protect the other players on his team. Because of this peculiar relationship, and the Tuohy's dedication to their Alma Mater, Michael's decision to go to college that he chose is questioned, but later is resolved.

This is a true story, and it is a very inspiring one. It teaches us that selflessness from those who have can really mean something to those who do not have. It also shows that no matter how noble someone's efforts are, they still may be challenged as people always are judging and doubting, though often unfairly.

Sandra Bullock absolutely crushes the roll of Leigh Anne Tuohy. Her performance was so intense, that it really made the movie. She was a perfect juxtaposition to the males in the movie, who would be expected to have her intensity. Quinton Aaron's delivery of Michael Oehr really pulls at your heartstrings and makes you feel the trials, difficulties and confusion that he goes through during this time of his life.

Please go see this movie. It's definitely worth the ticket price.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Traveling Abroad Part 1: Getting Ready

Last semester, I studied and traveled abroad for four months. I was given a guide about things to know and places to go and see while over there and I figured I would share that with you, as well as new things that I picked up while spending my own time in Europe.

Before you begin your travels, there are a lot of things that you need to consider and plan so that your trip will go as smoothly as possible.

Cell Phones:

  • I took a Blackberry world while studying abroad. This is convenient if a lot of your friends and family also have blackberries. Those who own blackberries are able to use the Blackberry Messenger to communicate. Just like in the United States, BBM's are free between Blackberries, no matter what carrier is used. You will have to pay for the international plan, but this gives you access to BBM, internet, and email, as well as any messaging systems that do not use text messages.
  • The iPhone also has an international plan, but I am not knowledgeable on it's features. Those who had the iPhone abroad did not have many complaints about its services.
  • If you do not have a Blackberry or an iPhone, you should plan on buying a cell phone while you are abroad. These phones work kind of like a calling card would. You put euros on your phone and they get deducted as you use them. The phone is rechargeable, so Euros can be added on once you run out. It is best to find out where you are living in whichever country you will be in so that you can choose a character that works the best in that area. For example, I spent my time in Florence, which had two main phone companies. Where one worked better, the other one did not. You do not want to be without cell phone service in a place that you are unfamiliar with.
  • If you do choose to go with an international plan using your local cell phone, be sure that you know how to dial international numbers. Be sure that you know the country code and any other codes that must be dialed in order to connect the call.
  • Converters and adapters are a must. If you are bringing your local cell phone, check with your carrier to see if they carry the converter or adapter for your cell phone's charger. You can buy converters and adapters on Amazon.com, Target, and most electronic stores. Keep in mind that not all European countries use the same outlets, so you may have to buy several different adapters and converters depending on which countries you will be spending time in.
  • Be sure to keep an eye on exchange rates.
  • I would suggest making a budget so that you do not run out of money before your trip ends.
  • Traveler's checks are sometimes hard to exchange, as not every single bank offers that service.
  • ATM fees vary with each bank, but in all honesty, it is much easier to withdraw Euros from ATMs instead of trying to go through the hassle of exchanging money or traveler's checks.
Travel Necessities
  • Always have an umbrella with you. Weather is always unpredictable, but the last thing you want is to get stuck in the rain and then be mobbed by street vendors trying to sell you their umbrellas.
  • For small weekend trips, pack lightly. I'd suggest bringing an easy to carry backpack or duffel bag. Rolling suitcases are alright, but most of your traveling will probably be by train or bus. The airlines have also become extremely strict about the one bag only policy for carry on's, and are known to charge for checking bags. Some will not let you on the plane if you have more than one carry on, even if the second is a small purse.
  • Non EU citizens also have to pay an extra charge for flying, so be sure to have euros handy for when you have to pay this fee. They do not like to take credit cards
  • Always carry around a copy of your passport that includes your visa to be in that country.
  • For day to day use, a bag with a cross strap is really convenient. Pickpocketing and theft is very common on transportation, and in the streets and you want to make sure that you have a handle on your bags, pant pockets, and coat pockets at all times. Try not to keep anything in your pockets at all. Gypsies are very common and are very good at distracting you while their children somehow get into your bags and pockets.
  • Be aware and be careful, but don't get paranoid