Saturday, August 22, 2009

Salsa Verde

This recipe comes from the Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop. This is great on toast or served with pasta. It's delicious. I usually serve this with Spinach and Ricotta cakes.

1/4 cup of minced fresh parsley leaves
10 large green olives, pitted and minced
2 tablespoons of minced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon of capers, rinsed and minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Place parsley, olives, basil, capers, garlic and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Slowly beat in the 1/3 cup of olive oil. Taste and add salt if necessary. Use immediately.

Tomato and Basil Tart

I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with at the moment. This recipe is quick and easy, and makes good use of those fresh tomatoes. I grew the basil next to the tomato plants to save time.

5 oz of mozzarella sliced or chunked
4 large tomatoes sliced
10 basil leaves
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
salt and black pepper

1/2 cup of all purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 oz of butter
1 egg yolk

Mix the flour and salt, rub in the butter and egg yolk. Add a tablespoon or so of water, or enough to bind everything. Knead on a floured surface. Wrap and chill for an hour.

Roll the dough out and place into a pie pan. Prick the crust with a fork and bake for 10 minutes until firm. Remove and let the crust cool for a few minutes.

Line the crust with the mozzarella. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the mozzarella letting them overlap. Dip the basil leaves in olive oil and arrange them on the tomatoes.

Scatter the garlic on top of the tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil and season with black pepper.

Bake 40-45 minutes at 350 F. Serve hot.

Flip Camera

I've been lugging my old Sony camcorder around for years. I love that camera. But this year we went ahead and picked up a Flip camera. These little pocket size video cameras are great when you're spending the day sightseeing. They fit right in your pocket and make it easy to have a video camera with you at all times. They plug directly into your computer, so you can easily offload your videos and post them on the Internet to share with your friends and family back home. I've read reviews by folks who really liked them, and reviews by people who really didn't. I don't think the technology allows you to shoot high end videos, and there are some functional limitations, such as being unable to use them for night shots, and some limited zoom capabilities, but for what they are they're an excellent investment.

Noise Canceling Headphones

I'd been considering getting noise canceling headphones for years. They do a great job of canceling out the sound of the jet engines, letting you listen to your music or movies without having to crank the volume all the way up. You can spend a small fortune to get the high end Bose headphones, but we invested in a some relatively inexpensive JWIN's that worked just fine. Amazon has a pretty good selection, but you can find them all over the place these days. Do a little research and see what works for you. But these are a great investment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Saved by Travel John

Having young children, you always have to be aware of the nearest bathroom. Sometimes, there just isn't one available or near enough for emergencies. Enter my favorite invention, the Travel John. This little miracle saved us many an embarrassing moment while traveling - and it's not just for kids!

From their website are the following standard features:

Revolutionary "bag within a bag design"
Non-toxic, odorless, spill proof gel. It instantly gels after absorption of liquid thus making it leak-proof!
No closure needed
Waste disposal safe, simply throw away
Small and light weight
Reusable until it is full
LIQSORB® super absorbent polymer pouch included
Volume indicator included
Unisex plastic collar for easy handling

I highly recommend this product - not only for travel, but also for every day trips. It's awesome!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: Scandic Sergel Plaza Hotel, Stockholm Sweden

For our family trip to Sweden, we chose to stay at Scandic Sergel Plaza in the heart of Stockholm. I had researched Stockholm hotels on the web, looking for something family friendly, and knew I would choose a Scandic. Their Sergel Plaza location was recommended by Frommer's, and Frommer's has never steered me wrong, (except for that time in Monterey, CA many years ago...)

Since we had four in our party, two adults and two children, I booked a family room. This includes what they call a double bed, (which I thought was near the size of a queen bed in the States), a pull out sofa, chair, desk, satellite tv, two armoire type cabinets, a stocked (and wired for purchase) mini-bar, and a full bathroom. Breakfast was included, as well as a special gift for all children on arrival and a play area in the hotel specifically geared for younger children.

After we arrived at Arlanda Airport in Sweden, we took the Arlanda Express train to Stockholm's Central Station, (which I highly recommend.) Since we were half crazed from lack of sleep, (Brad and I can't sleep on planes), we opted for a taxi to the hotel. It was only a couple of blocks away from the station. The check in time was 2pm, and it was around 10:30am when we arrived, so we checked our luggage in their baggage room and went exploring.

First impressions: Great location! This Scandic is not only located in the heart of Stockholm, but it's also in the midst of the shopping district. Across the street is a Gallerian shopping mall with over 80 stores - enormous! H&M, Ahlens and NK are also nearby. Almost everything is within walking distance; a metro station (tunnelbana), Central Station, several ports, City Hall, tons of restaurants, parks, bus lines, the tram line and ferries.

The lobby is large and bright. Near the reception desk, there is coffee available, along with all sorts of snacks, sandwiches, salads and drinks for purchase. They also have what they call a "store", but really it's just small items to purchase on a few shelves. The items for sale are handy though; personal care items like toothpaste, deodorant and shampoo as well as toys for kids and souvenir items. The staff was friendly, efficient and spoke English very well.

Downstairs is the family breakfast area. I have to say, the star of the show was the breakfast they offered each day. What a selection! Here are a few things that were included: several kinds of yogurt, with dried fruit and nuts to add in, fresh fruit, several kinds of fresh bread and rolls, pastry, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, jams, jellies, applesauce and cottage cheese, green salad fixings, cookies and biscuits, and finally Swedish pancakes with cream and lingonberry jam. Yum! Drinks offered include coffee, many types of tea, milk, juices, chocolate milk and the ever-present sparkling water. We couldn't believe that they offered so much for the "included breakfast." And here's some video Brad took on our last day showing some of the offerings...

Our room was larger than we expected, and we found it clean and comfortable. This hotel has a lot of "green" initiatives, so we found no toiletries in the bathroom. (Actually this has been the case at most of the European hotels we've stayed at.) There was a hand soap dispenser on the wall near the sink and a "Shampoo/Shower Gel" dispenser on the wall of the shower/bath tub area. I expected this ahead of time and brought our own soap and shampoo/conditioner. One note: For those not used to European hotels, bring your own washcloths from home. They do not provide any. From what I understand, they consider it too personal an item to provide at hotels. I brought some cheap kitchen dish cloths from home. This worked out great because we each had our own color so always knew which was ours.

On arrival, a large platter was brought to our room. It had a mountain of fresh fruit, two bottles of Coke, two small boxes of chocolate truffles and two bags of Swedish candy. I can only assume this was the special gift given to children on arrival. It was a great surprise and we ate every last bit!

Our room was promptly and thoroughly cleaned each day, and the hotel staff was receptive to our request for more pillows and towels. The television had several channels (in Swedish and English) and had children's programming including the Disney channel (which was dubbed in Swedish - but our boys didn't seem to mind) and two Disney movie channels that ran a continuous loop of "Wall-E", "Bolt", and "Ratatouille" - all dubbed in Swedish. The boys were thrilled that they could see some of their favorite movies, didn't care it wasn't in English, and even picked up some Swedish words. :)

We stayed nine nights, in August, and our cost was 11,160 SEK or at today's exchange rate, $1,548.72, which costs out to $172.08 per night. (I booked early from Scandic's website and received the Early Saver rate.) Considering the location, amenities, and especially the free breakfast each day, I think we received a good deal.

Overall, I highly recommend this hotel, especially for families. For more information, please see their website.

Drottningholm Palace

Lower Lake - Glendalough - Ireland

Boats - Wexford

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Clif Kid Bars

I had to plan ahead for our trip to Sweden. Since we took our 4 year old twin boys, who, like us, are vegetarians (and picky ones at that), I knew we would encounter food issues. I wanted some snacks that were (somewhat) healthy, easy to carry and very tasty. I discovered Clif Kid ZBars. First, I tried them out at home on my two subjects. From Amazon, I ordered a Clif Kid ZBar variety pack which includes 8 Chocolate Brownie, 8 Chocolate Chip and 8 Honey Graham bars. The boys (and their parents) liked all three varieties. Success! Since we're gluttons, we ended up eating the entire variety pack before we left on our trip. I ordered two more variety packs and kept them under lock and key until we left.

Since the bars have vitamins and minerals, whole grains, no artificial ingredients, no high fructose corn syrup or trans fats, I felt good about the boys eating them. They just thought they were getting a treat.

Review: SAS, Scandinavian Airlines

We just returned from our trip to Sweden (obviously, per previous photo posts...) and flew via SAS both ways. We had a direct flight from Chicago to Stockholm, Sweden, which took a very long 8 hours (with two 4 year old boys.) I have to say, SAS seriously impressed us.

First of all, the flight crew were nice (shocking!) Everyone we encountered on board was professional, friendly and efficient. We were in Economy class, which usually is the pits, but considering how many people they had jammed in that section, we were made quite comfortable. Each seat had a seat-back screen with Movies, Music, Games and Flight Information. Our boys loved the fact that they could control what they did to pass the time. I think all aspects of the entertainment system were utilized. Each seat was provided with a bottle of water, which was also a nice touch. After take off, a flight attendant came around and gave each child a small toy. We didn't expect this, so the boys were very excited. They both received a Lego vehicle to build.

The drink service was similar to others I've experienced except they allowed Economy class customers to have one alcoholic beverage for free. (Brad took advantage on the way back home and had some red wine, which was very good.) The meal also surprised us... It was edible! Being vegetarians or vegans, you don't expect much from airline meals, but Brad and I both agree that SAS provided the most tasty vegetarian meals we've had on an airplane. We had ordered Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians meals for all four of us. Our entree on the flight to Sweden was roasted asparagus, potatoes and red pepper with a mild tomato sauce. There was fresh fruit, a green salad and two kinds of bread rolls with butter and brie. Brie! Can you believe it?! After dinner, we were offered coffee or tea and they came back for multiple refills. Between meals, they came through with water and a large basket of wrapped candies to choose from. Our snack before landing was a tomato and cucumber sandwich with yogurt and juice. Brad liked the sandwich, but the boys and I preferred the yogurt.

On our return trip, we had a similar experience. The meal was good; an entree of roasted vegetables in a light tomato sauce on a bed of wild rice, fresh pineapple, green salad and two pieces of bread with margarine. The snack before landing was a cheese sandwich and a fruit juice. As a treat, during the long period between the meal and snack, each child was offered an ice cream treat. Nice touch! Considering the flight back to Chicago was 9 hours, (yes, NINE hours), that extra treat perked up the boys considerably.

All in all, we give SAS a big THUMBS UP! Their staff were great, the amenities were plentiful, (even in Economy class), and the food was edible, and dare I say it, tasty.

Our trip to Sweden was wonderful. I hope we go back again some day - and if we do, we're definitely flying SAS.

Tangopalatsi - Stockholm Culture Festival

How can you pass up a Finnish - Persian Tango band.

Rosendals Tradgard

Riddarholmen - Stockholm

Drottningholm Palace

Friday, August 7, 2009

Gamla Stan at Dusk

Stockholm - Kungstradgarden

The Kungstradgarden is a great big city park. It was always filled with people eating at the cafes or strolling with their kids in the warm summer sun. We passed it through it every day on our way around the city. The tourist office is right by the park as well. The day before we left there were stages set up for rock concerts as part of the Culture Festival. 

Stockholm Opera House

Changing of the Guard

I've seen the guards changed in a few places around the world. But I've never seen anything quite like the pomp and circumstance of the Royal Guards in Stockholm. Brass bands, kettle drums, guns, swords, and hundreds and hundreds of tourists in very tight quarters. This is a country that has been at peace for a very, very long time. Jack was on my shoulders the whole time. He loved it.

Riddarholmen - Stockholm

Space Bags

Jenni and I always use space bags when we pack for our trips. We've used them for years and they're super handy. They save on so much space in your suitcases. I think your clothes come out less wrinkled as well. Basically you put your clothes in the bags and compress all the air out. You can get twice as much in your luggage.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Long Way Down

I've been watching the Ewan McGregor/Charley Boorman series 'Long Way Down' again. It documents a motorcycle journey the two of them took from John O'Groats, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. I'd really enjoyed Long Way Round, which took them from London to New York traveling east and I think this was actually a little better. Or perhaps it was just better editing. I think their team had a bit better idea what they were doing anyway.

Nevertheless, the idea of putting in those sorts of dizzying miles on a bike is ridiculous. The idea of doing it in Africa just seems suicidal. Cool show though and definately worth a view.