Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Mama - I'm diving!!!"


Oh dear.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Malta: a year later

There are so many trips we took last spring/summer that I've been meaning to post about and haven't had a chance to. I figure a year later is as good a time as any! So, here's a look back at our trip to Malta over Memorial Day weekend 2011.

The flight from Sicily to Malta is literally 20 minutes once you're in the air. Being not a huge fan of flying, I can totally handle flights like that! You can also take a boat over from Sicily, and I think it's something like 4 hours. Either way, not shabby!

Once we landed, we got our stuff, found our driver, and made our way to our hotel. I made a BIG mistake booking the hotel, and was pretty bummed about it. There are two Corinthia hotels in Malta - one more inland, and one at St. George's Bay. On accident, I booked the more inland hotel, and it wasn't want we wanted at all. I mean, it was a gorgeous hotel, but we wanted to be on the Med, and, well... weren't. It was a 25 euro taxi drive every time we wanted to go anywhere, and was so far removed from any of the action. Bummed. Here's where we stayed: http://www.corinthia.com/en/Malta_PalaceHotelandSpa/home/, and here's where I thought I had booked us to stay: http://www.corinthia.com/en/Malta_StGeorgesBay/home/.

Here's a crap picture of our room:



The first night, we did what any good American would do in a foreign country and went to dinner at Hard Rock Cafe with my boss who happened to be vacationing there, too. (He stayed at the Golden Tulip Hotel, BTW, and said it was awesome: http://www.goldentulip.com/EN/hotels/Malta/Saint-Julians/GT-vivaldi-hotel-hotel-booking-room.aspx)

Malta is amazing. Coming from Italy, I thought we'd be surrounded by Italians, foreign language, and pretty much the same environment that we live in (read: southern Italians who throw their trash out the window, and really don't care for the land on which they live). Not so much. It was so clean, and the people were so nice with their British accents, and it was just totally unexpected.

Plus, this was their public transportation. Awesome, right? 



The concierge told us of an amazing bakery up in the city of Mdina, and so we got a taxi and made our way there. I had no idea what was in store for us. I think M'dina is the most beautiful and amazing place I have ever, ever been - and we've been fortunate enough to go to some pretty awesome places. I was in total awe the entire time. The Mdina  is the ancient capital of Malta, and is a walled city. The walkways are lined with brick walls and they twist and turn in every direction. Put on your history hat:

Mdina was inhabited and possibly first fortified by the Phoenicians around 700 BC. The Phoenicians called it Maleth.[4] The region benefits from its strategic location on one of the island's highest points and at maximum distance from the sea. Under the Roman Empire Malta became a Municipium and the Roman Governor built his palace in Mdina. Tradition holds that the Apostle St. Paul resided in the city after his historical shipwreck on the islands.

An Aerial view of Mdina and its walls in 2007
The name and the layout of the city reflect the Fatimid Period which began in 870 AD and lasted until the Norman conquest of Malta in 1091 AD. The earliest surviving buildings date from the Norman period. The Normans surrounded the city with thick defensive fortifications and widened the moat. The city was also separated from its nearest town, Rabat.
Malta passed to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in 1530 AD. Mdina hosted the public ceremony in which each Grand Master swore an oath to protect the Maltese Islands and the rights of his subjects. A strong earthquake in 1693 led to the introduction of Baroque design within the city scape. The Knights of Malta rebuilt the cathedral, to the designs of Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa. Palazzo Falzon, the Magisterial Palace and major restoration works are other projects undertaken by the Knights. The monumental gateway was designed by the French architect and military engineer Charles Fran├žois de Mondion in 1724.
(From Wikipedia)


We loved it there so much, we decided to go for sunset, and was able to enjoy the city virtually tourist free. Oh, what I'd give to be there now!

This is the name of the bakery. You must check it out if you're there; the chocolate cake is to die for!



And so was the Strongbow!!

 


 You can even take a horse ride through the winding streets by a guy who should be competing in the The Beard and Moustache competition:


Amazing.

 I went totally picture happy. Here are some more from Mdina.


Whenever we go to a new place, we immediately seek out the Hop On/Hop Off bus. The tickets are good for 24 hours (in most cases) and you are free to explore certain areas without worrying about catching a cab or finding your way back. Just look for the HOHO! We did a tour around the island on a gorgeous, sunny day. I sat up on the open air top, and Token and Amelia for the most part sat in the downstairs section.





 


The downtown area of Malta is VERY much a happenin' place and seems to be the location where the beautiful people congregate. My boss's hotel was very close to St. George Bay, and he said things didn't really quiet down until the sunrise. So if you're a partier, you'll fit right in! While we were there, the Champions League soccer game was on, so we found a good restaurant showing the game outside and tuned in and hung out. Soccer really brings people together in Europe - we had so much fun!


This is the Corinthia St. George Bay hotel - where I *thought* I'd book for us to stay. Boo.



For people with small kiddos, I would definitely recommend a stroller or a carrier of some sort. We brought our BOB, but it was a bit too big, so I wished we'd brought a smaller stroller. Everyone is super friendly toward kids and love them, just like Italians. In the St. George Bay area, there really weren't many families. That area seemed to be reserved for people in their 20s. I don't think we saw ANY strollers walking around that part of town. It makes sense, though - most Europeans go to Malta as a Spring Break destination. That's not to say it wasn't family friendly... it definitely was; we just didn't see many families when we were there.

Going through these pictures and reliving this vacation is so bittersweet! I'm so thankful we had the opportunity to go to such an obscure place for many Americans. Maybe you'll see us on House Hunters International one day, looking for a vacation home in the Medina? I can dream, right?! ;)



Monday, May 07, 2012

When I'm sad, I bake

My almost 30-year old cousin passed away last night, after a very long battle with a rare form of cancer. I'll never forget when he was first diagnosed. We were both sophomores at Indiana University, when my mom called and told me that he'd been admitted to the Bloomington hospital with very terrible stomach pains. I left Spirit of Sport in the HPER and rushed to the hospital to see him, but only for a few minutes, as he was in the ICU.

That was 10 years ago. He's had 10 years of fighting and living his life to the fullest.

This past fall, the doctors said that there was nothing else they could do for him. That side of my family gathered for Thanksgiving, and our "what am I thankful circle" was more emotional than other years. I don't think there was a dry eye in that room, but I feel comfort in knowing that my cousin is no longer in pain and no longer has to wonder silently to himself when his last day on earth is going to be. He's in a much better place now, where cancer doesn't live and worries are no longer.

There really isn't a good segue into the next part of this post, other than to say that as the true emotional eater that I am, I baked today, and then took the goodies over to our neighbors. I made banana whoopie pies and oh man, they turned out really great. Here's the recipe (from www.mybakingaddiction.com with some changes by me (different filling)).

Banana Whoopie Pies

For the pies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Filling (you can be extra fancy and do half cream cheese frosting, and half peanut butter. I've included both recipes below.)
Cream cheese frosting:
12 oz. cream cheese
6 T. unsalted butter
1/2 t. vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Add in the powdered sugar and mix until thoroughly combined.

Peanut Butter:
6 T. unsalted butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup heavy cream

Throw everything into the mixer and cream together until smooth.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon into a medium bowl; set aside.  

3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter with sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop mixer, scrape down the bowl and beater, and beat in egg on medium speed until combined. Beat in banana, sour cream, and vanilla until combined. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add flour mixture in batches until completely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  

4. Transfer the batter to a pastry bag or a resealable plastic bag fitted with a small round pastry tip. Pipe six 2 1/2-inch round mounds onto each pan, placing them 3 inches apart (try to make the mounds the same size). Bake until light golden, 12-15 minutes.

5.  Remove pans from oven and slide the parchment sheet of cookies onto a wire rack to cool completely. Line baking sheets with fresh paper and repeat process with remaining batter.

6. Once the cookies are cool, put the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (or really any tip will do!). Pipe some frosting on one half of the flat side of the cookie, and top with the other half. The whoopie pies can remain out for ~3 hours - any time after that, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.