My 30th Birthday Part 1: Bologna, Italy

Italy is hands down my favorite country in Europe. The landscape is so vast with hundreds of miles of rocky coastline, rolling hills and vineyards, tall mountains that broach the sea, and turquoise blue waters that lap the shores of pebbled islands. You have glorious Rome, with it’s dirty streets and brilliant pizza, Florence with endless artistic gems, Milan with elegant cathedrals and a knack for fashion. Everywhere you look there are glistening fountains, gelaterias, and elegantly-tall domed basilicas. If you escape to the countryside, you will find some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. And let’s not overlook the abundant olive and lemon trees – all hail the home of pesto! There’s Lake Como with it’s mermaid-worthy blue hues. There’s ancient villages such as Cinque Terra and Positano, carved into the cliffsides along the sea. And there are wonders of ancient architecture and engineering such as the ruins of Pompei and the Colosseum. There always seems to be a surplus of sunshine in Italy, which is perhaps why this country produces some of the sweetest tomatoes in the world. I did not truly believe tomatoes were a fruit until I tried them warm and sun-kissed off of the vine in Italy. And I guess that leads me to the food. If you don’t like pizza, pasta, warm oven-baked bread, or gelato, we can’t be friends. But you’ll still manage to find something to eat in Italy – the freshest mozzarella, seafood caught that day, tiramisu, panna cotta, and a schmorgesborg of soft cured meats, such as prosciutto (ideally wrapped around cool melon) are just a few of the country’s specialties. If your mouth is not watering and your heart is not lusting after an idyllic Italian vacation, I have failed you as a writer! For me, Italy is on par with England, France, Belgium, or Spain. It’s a country I’ve been to before but will never tire of, and try to visit at least once a year. This year, I totally lucked out. Amie and I went to Cinque Terre right around my 29th birthday, Kai and I went to Trieste in the summer, and then I spent my 30th birthday (finally getting to the point of this post!) in Italy as well. When I hit three decades, I wanted to be in my favorite country with my favorite people. And so I selected the best of the bunch from Amsterdam and the US, booked a giant villa, mapped out an itinerary, and flew into Bologna to celebrate thirty years Italian style with all of my favorites. Continue reading

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Cats, Murder, and Taylor Swift aka my 29th Birthday Party

It’s typical to make a wish on your birthday. Prosperity. Happiness. Ponies. While I didn’t quite know what I wanted for twenty-nine, I knew I wanted it to be memorable. And so, after a bit of deliberation, I decided to kill off my friends, one by one. I wanted excitement, intrigue, and above all, murder. I also wanted to be Taylor Swift for the evening. Happy somewhat-irrational birthday to me!IMG_0523The wish wasn’t entirely preposterous. My good friend Michael and I had been toying with the idea of throwing a murder mystery dinner party for quite some time. Michael is a fantastic host and owns a massive dinner table (bigger than the table I celebrated at Spaghetteria last year) and as of late, I’ve had a bit of free time on my hands and have been *dying* to pen a murder mystery. And so Michael and I joined forces to throw a deadly-awesome somewhat-bloody twenty-ninth birthday party extravaganza for moi!  Continue reading

Twenty-Eight Tidbits of Wisdom

When I was twenty-seven, everything fell apart. I’d had a lot of the future gingerly mapped out, and my life took a drastic detour. I spent the remainder of the year trying to pull myself together, breathing but not really living. I turned 28 at a table surrounded by girlfriends and glowing sparklers, and wished for the year to be one of the best. It went by in a whirl. There were dreamy trips to Istanbul and Munster, Norway and St. Tropez. There were unplanned midnight trips to the emergency room, accompanied by great friends and an onslaught of bubbles until the sun returned. There were ups and downs at work, goodbyes and new beginnings.

Twenty-eight was a coming of age year. I learned how to live on my own. Shop for one (aka thrive on predominantly hummus). Talk to strangers. Set a mouse trap. Fix my bike chain. I gained confidence and friends, new beliefs and dreams. To celebrate a new year of life (holy-cow-twenty-nine-balls approached fast!) I’ve spent some time (while sprawled out, sipping wine on a balcony in Italy) compiling twenty-eight tidbits of wisdom. Some lessons were served hard, while others were lingering and long. Here are a select few from this past year of life.

1. Not all relationships are fairytales. Enjoy them for what they are. Some are for two weeks, some are for two years, and some will feel like two eternities. Time does not define quality. Find meaning in what you do and who you’re with, and simply enjoy the ride.

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Twenty-Eight at Spaghetteria

I have officially been alive for 28 years. I wanted to share something profound here – droplets of wisdom or wise old words. But today, I don’t feel like looking back. I don’t want to dwell on twenty-seven or twenty-six, twenty-one or the past. I am sitting here in a clean, ironed shirt, wearing red lipstick with pearls in my ears, and I just want to be. I want to experience the happiness that is pouring from my chest. I want to glow and grow, and hold the present moment in my heart. Birthdays are great because they give us pause to reflect – to establish our own personal resolutions. This year, I will live in the moment. I will not fear the future or hold on to the past. I will appreciate my surroundings, my friends, and the small moments that are often overlooked. IMG_3564Yesterday, my 28th birthday, was a day filled with countless honey-sweet moments. All summer, I’ve been inviting different girlfriends over for dinner on Wednesday night. I’ve coined the evening ‘Woman’s Wednesday’, and I’ve been lucky enough to share my dinner table with some brilliant ladies. As my birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, I decided it was fitting to invite a bunch of my favorite girls out for a big family-style Woman’s Wednesday dinner. Another favorite Wednesday tradition of mine is eating pasta. Growing up, my big Italian family would gorge on spaghetti and meatballs every Wednesday night, so for my birthday this year I asked the girls to meet me at Spaghetteria for massive plates of handmade pasta, crisp Italian wine, and deadly sgroppinos. Continue reading

Birthday Dinner at Ron Gastrobar Amsterdam

Throughout my teenage years and into my early 20’s, birthdays were celebrated with loud parties, rounds of shots, and dancing until 6am. But the past two years have been different. I appreciate different things, want different things. If birthdays are a benchmark for the year to come, I want mine to be filled with love and happiness and really good food. Which is why deciding where to go for dinner on the 15th of October was especially important. B wanted to help me kick this year off with a bang, and compiled a list of great restaurant suggestions. This was a present in itself, as we now have our next few dinning experiences mapped out! But we needed to pick just one for my birthday dinner – and so we decided on Ron Gastrobar, Ron Blaauw’s deliciously chic Amsterdam eatery.
IMG_4689Ron Blaauw is a celebrated Dutch chef, one of the few to be awarded two Michelin stars. Ron Gastrobar is his most recent creation, with a modern menu and a classy chic, but not stuffy, atmosphere. We started with cocktails at the bar while we waited for our table to open. B got a Moscow Mule that matched his shirt perfectly!IMG_4690I got a glass of wine that I embarrassingly choked on in front of our waiter.  I had asked for a sweet white wine, but they only had a sweet dessert wine. Sounded great to me – I’m all for starting dinner with dessert!! He poured me a sample and I eagerly took a sip, only to realize that this wine was INCREDIBLY potent and tasted almost like a port!! It burned my throat and in my surprise I somehow swallowed it the wrong way, and burst into an awkward combo coughing-laughing fit!! I managed to mildly keep my cool and give him the thumbs up on pouring a full glass, but needless to say, we kicked the meal off with a good chuckle! Not long after we were shown to our table, which was along the terrace window, giving B a nice view outside and me a great view of the line chefs in the kitchen. IMG_4691v v My date looked very handsome in his new yellow jumper.IMG_4693We made a birthday toast and then surveyed the menu, hungry and ready for a birthday feast! IMG_4694 IMG_4695At Ron, everything on the menu is €15, and dishes range from eel to oysters to ribs. They recommend starting with two dishes each, and then ordering additional dishes at the end if you’re still hungry or have a favorite. Ron is great because you can grab a cocktail after work and have a nibble to share, or you can order four courses and have a culinary adventure. You could spend €30 or €300 and matter what you do, you’re guaranteed an awesome dinning experience.IMG_4698We ordered our food and were brought a little white bag.IMG_4699Inside, B discovered fresh, warm bread.IMG_4700Along with the bread we were served mini pickles and crispy butter to share. Any place that brings you pickles to kick off the meal is a winner in my book.IMG_4701 IMG_4702Our first course was seafood – I got my all time favorite, monk fish. It was tender and flavorful and  just what I had been craving.IMG_4705B got the crispy lobster ravioli – it wasn’t as pretty as my monk fish but it tasted equally delish!
IMG_4708 For the main I got the wild duck and black pudding. I’d had some fabulous duck in Lisbon, and wanted to see how Amsterdam fare would stack up. I have to say, the win goes to Lisbon, but only because of the portion size (3 miniature bits of duck) and the black pudding. One bite into my black pudding I got a bone (or some other small hard inanimate object I would rather not dwell on). Ouch.
IMG_4710B got BBQ spare ribs which were by far the best dish of the night. They were boneless, soft, tender and sweet. You could cut them with your spoon and sip them down like melted butter.IMG_4709We also got tarragon fries, to round off the meal.IMG_4712Absolutely stuffed (and having already had two slices of birthday cake at lunch) we passed on dessert. However, a smiling chef stopped by our table with mini ice cream cones, topped with wasabi peanuts. B was in the bathroom when these bad boys were delivered to our table, and it took A LOT of self control to sit there with his mini ice cream in my hand without giving it a lick. It was crunchy and smooth –  and the perfect way to end our meal.IMG_4713After dessert we lingered at our table, sipping wine and enjoying the lively ambiance. After we settled the bill we made our way out to the cloak room. I have to give Ron props for their funky art and cool bistro ambiance. IMG_4719 IMG_4723IMG_4727Before we hopped onto our bikes we warmed our hands at the door. It was a chilly night but thankfully not raining.IMG_4726If the weather had been nice, Ron would have been ideal. They have a beautiful outdoor terrace for summer nights and cool dry fall evenings.IMG_4730We will definitely be back to Ron in the coming months. And perhaps again in the summer to enjoy the terrace and a drink in the sun. But for now, I’m happy to smile at our evening at Ron, a great birthday meal to kick of a great new year of life!

Happy Birthday B!

Today was a rainy dreary day in Amsterdam. It was grey all day and poured profusely. But it was also a public holiday, which meant we didn’t have to work. Awesome. And even more importantly, it was B’s birthday!!IMG_7792If you can’t tell by the gifts, we did a bit of celebrating this morning! B and I were absolutely wrecked after an all-night birthday dance party, so we woke up slowly, sipping tea, eating crumpets, and of course, opening presents!! IMG_7794I love stickers, but never quite know what to do with them. This year, I used a ton of funky little bunny stickers to decorate B’s presents. Sticker problem solved.IMG_7796 IMG_7797

Shopping is so much more rewarding when you know the item you buy will bring a smile to someone’s face. I did quite a bit of birthday-browsing over the past few weeks, and made sure to spoil B rotten :) I got him a ton of his British food favorites from M&S (think jams, crumpets, breakfast tea, scones, curry sauce, naan, cider, etc.), a cool doodle pen for his iPad, summer clothes for our upcoming trip to Cannes, and a bunch of luxury department store bath and beauty products. Believe it or not, B is even more picky than me when it comes to his beauty regimen! No drug store products for this guy.

IMG_7814 IMG_7834B has been watching the Dog Whisperer non-stop these past few weeks. We really want a dog and are just waiting for the right time. I would have loved to surprise him with a puppy! But instead this cute little pug card will have to do :)IMG_7837IMG_7838We spent the rest of the day wrapped up on the couch, cuddling and watching movies while it rained outside. As a final treat, I told B I would cook him whatever he wanted for dinner. Wait for it. . . . he asked for grilled cheese and tomato soup! What a guy. I really am so lucky to have such a sweet and handsome guy in my life, not to mention a best friend to boot. Happy birthday B!! I’m so happy I got to spend this rainy special day with you! x

Happy Birthday, Instagram Style

This past week was cloudy, rainy and cold. Every morning I woke up and immediately wanted to crawl straight back under the covers. Thankfully, my birthday fell smack in the middle of this awful, rainy spell, and added a bit of sunshine to the otherwise dreary week. A perfect excuse to celebrate, just when I needed it the most! Although I didn’t do anything big or crazy this year, I thought I would share a few insta-snaps of the festivities.

Top left to right:

1) It was the rainest week ever, and every morning I trudged to work in my wellies, umbrella in hand!

2) Mid week B treated me to an amazing seven course birthday dinner at ‘t Oude Veerhuys. It was a bit out of town, but the food was fantastic and we had glass after glass of port, leaving us glowing and warm – exactly what was needed on a cold, mucky week.

3) My birthday (pan)cake! Best and cutest surprise ever!

4) In the Netherlands, it’s tradition to supply your own birthday cake! Cupcakes seemed a bit easier to bring into the office, so I whipped up a batch of spiced pumpkin cupcakes with vanilla-walnut frosting. These babies were gone in five minutes flat.

5) Another cloudy day, but the rain stopped for long enough for me to snap these pretty autumnal colors.

Bottom left to right:

1) I treated myself to a bit of birthday indulgence, so of course I had to insta-show-off my new outfit and manicure . . .

2) One of my amazing presents from B. I’m obsessed with Jamie Oliver, and can’t wait to try some of these awesome recipes and share them with ya’ll!

3) My favorite gift from B – a rose gold and smoky quartz pendant. He picked it out all on his own, and I am SO in love with it!!

4) Some friends brought by goodies, including a big bag of fresh walnuts. Cracked this one open to find a little walnut-heart. Cute way to say I’m nuts about you?!

5) This last one is a rogue birthday cupcake that “accidentally” got left at the house. Hey, the birthday girl deserves some sweets too ;)