Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dear Zahara: 7 Months

Dear Zahara,

Happy seven month birthday! We had a lot of fun this month continuing to try new foods. We started on purées on Christmas, but you quickly decided that you weren't a fan. We switched to bigger pieces of food (baby led weaning), and that is working much better. You're just so darn independent. I wonder where you get that from.

Here's a sampling of things you've eaten: sweet potato; avocado; butternut squash; carrots; cauliflower; banana; peas; beets; rice, fish; eggs...and so much more. We're now at the point that we'll give you a little bite of whatever we're eating. We try to avoid salt and dairy though. You really love fish and banana and can grab pieces yourself.

Another big development is that you are starting to crawl! You are up on all fours scooting with both knees at once. You haven't quite figured out that moving one leg at a time would be more efficient. Instead, you use a combination of rolling, scooting and balancing on your head to get where you want to go. It's adorable.

Good news for mummy and daddy--sleep is getting much better! We have been really consistent with sleep training. Again, since you're so stubborn independent, it took a couple of weeks for you to get it. But now, we start our night-time routine at 6:00 and you're asleep by 6:30. You're still getting up a couple of times a night to eat, but you usually go right back to sleep. You're up for the day around 6:30 or 7:00 and take three naps (9:00; 12:30; 4:00).

You're getting so big now. You have definitely outgrown the moses basket. It's such a shame because we would bring the basket into the bathroom and you would happily play there while mummy or daddy showered. We'll have to find a new solution now.

Also exciting is that your teeth are coming in! Just this week we noticed two sharp little teeth poked through your bottom gums. Daddy and I are sad to see your gummy smile go, but your new teeth are really cute too.

We had more travel adventures this month too. In Tenerife, you had sand between your toes for the first time! I'm not sure you loved it, but we'll try again soon. Here's to many more adventures! We love you!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Visitors

Living abroad has been an absolute dream come true. The only downside is being so far away from family and friends. Dan and I are incredibly lucky to have such great friends though. Over the winter holidays four of our friends come and stay with us. Two couples each stayed a few days, and they overlapped by a day. It was a crazy, super fun time having six adults and one infant running around our house. It was truly joyous.


Our first visitors were Jeff and Steph, whom you may remember from our trip to France last Christmas. We caught them just before they moved from England back to Canada, where Jeff got an amazing work opportunity. We spent Christmas in our pajamas, watching great movies (It's a Wonderful Life; A Christmas Story; Elf) and eating delicious food (homemade peking duck!).

We spent Boxing Day touring Fountains Abbey--still one of my favorite places around here. Can you believe the local high school kids use this as their graduation venue?

We sent Jeff and Steph off in the true Yorkshire way...with tea and scones at Betty's.

This was Dani and Brian's first trip to Northern England, but not to Europe. In fact, Dani and I met in Paris for a girls' weekend a couple years back. While in England, they wanted to see castles, so we went to the ruins at Knaresborough, Durham and Skipton. Unfortunately, Durham castle was closed for the holidays, but I was really impressed with the Skipton castle. I can't believe it us so long to visit. It's pretty close to home and is very well-maintained. Though the castle was closed, Durham was still worth the visit. It's such a great little town. And the  inside of the cathedral is absolutely stunning.

Knaresborough; photo courtesy of Brian

Durham; photo courtesy of Brian


We also took a hike through Malham Cove. Dan and I have been there once before, in May 2012 when Dan's parents came to visit. I remembered it being a nice walk across fairly flat land. I wouldn't have even described it as a hike--more of a walk. How wrong I was. Not only did I completely forget about the very steep climb up to the top, but I didn't think about how the weather would affect the landscape. All the winter rain made the grass so slippery! Thankfully we all made it--muddy boots and all. It's a gorgeous day out and I would still recommend it, but just approach it with a little more sense than we did.

Photo courtesy of Brian

Photo courtesy of Brian

Photo courtesy of Brian

We had such a great time with our friends. Be sure to read Dani and Brian's write-up on their blog. Thanks so much to Jeff, Steph, Dani and Brian for coming to visit us!  Hope to see you again soon!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Poppy Seed Strudel

Inspired by our trip to Central Europe, Dan decided to try his hand at a homemade poppy seed strudel. It was surprisingly easy to make and tastes fantastic. He says he's not happy with the recipe though so he doesn't want to share it, but here's one that is pretty similar. What it means to me though is that I'll have more poppy seed strudel in my future as Dan tries out a different recipe. Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Viennese Coffee and Pastries

Ok, we've seen the sights, so now let's talk about the food in Vienna. Though I am not a coffee drinker, I had to try a Viennese coffee and pastry. We went to Cafe Landtmann for a traditional Vienna Melange (half coffee and half hot, frothy milk) and apple strudel. Though the coffee was very smooth and well-prepared, I just don't like the taste. The strudel was delicious though and we really enjoyed the atmosphere.

Funny story about the coffee: caffeine doesn't affect me at all, but it apparently has a major impact on Zahara! A few hours after I drank my coffee, she went nuts! She was a hilarious and adorable junkie. I definitely learned my lesson not to drink so much caffeine late in the afternoon though.

Sacher torte, a chocolate and apricot cake, was invented in Vienna at the Sacher Hotel. Everyone told us not to bother getting it there since it is very expensive and not very tasty. We tried our luck at Cafe Mozart instead as part of a sample platter of desserts that also included a cherry cheesecake and a chocolate and cream cake. To be honest, I've had better.

The best food I ate in Vienna was definitely the Christmas market fare. We were spoiled for choice. Vienna is serious about their Christmas markets; there are a few main ones and several smaller ones. We lost count after seven. Have I mentioned "Rome Rules" before? When Dan and I were in Rome we were overwhelmed with the amount of gelato we wanted to eat compared with the number of days we had in the city. Therefore, we adopted "Rome Rules," which meant that while we were in Rome we could eat as much gelato as we wanted without judging ourselves or each other. (Dan will tell you that I broke the rule when he went for his fourth gelato of the day. Apparently I do have limits). Faced with all of the delicious Christmas market fare, we had no choice but to call Rome Rules for Vienna.

So, let's dig in, shall we? The best thing I ate was also the most ridiculous. The Schönbrunn Palace had a fantastic Christmas market with tons of great food and drink. Since it was so cold out, I was confused when I saw people with chocolate dipped ice cream cones. Turns out it was chocolate covered marshmallow fluff!! OMG! It was so good!! Confession: we went back for seconds the next day.

We also couldn't resist these donuts. Firstly, they were huge. Secondly, you choose your filling right there! I really wanted apricot and Dan wanted chocolate, so we asked if we could do half-and-half. Yes! It was delightful.

Dan sampled a couple different Glühweins, both traditional and unique. I liked his caramel one, and I got my own apple cider that was very tasty. All of the stalls at each market sold wine in the same mug. You paid a €2 deposit and could then return the mug to any vendor.

Not pictured are the roasted chestnuts; cinnamon-sugar roasted almonds; fried potato pancakes (not nearly as good as the one in Budapest); and mountains of sushi! We literally ate sushi every day. It was glorious. It wasn't even fancy sushi--we got it several times from a stand in the underground. But it was so delicious. As you can see, we really made the most of our time in Vienna.

Read about our other stops in Central Europe:
Eating and Bathing in Budapest
Budapest Highlights
Vienna Sights

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Vienna Sights

Our final stop in Central Europe was Vienna. Can I just say again how much I love traveling in Europe during the holidays? Vienna put up some mighty good Christmas markets, and Dan and I ate our way through them.

Before I get to the markets though, let me tell you about some of the sights. We stayed a little bit outside the city center near the Schoenbrunn Palace. It worked out really well because we were right on the metro line so we could easily access the city, but we were within walking distance to the palace. I've seen quite a few palaces now, and this one ranks right up there. It's the former summer house of the Hapsburg monarchs and it is absolutely stunning. The audio tour was really informative and the palace was well-kept.

Of course you can't talk about Vienna without mentioning the opera house. As I mentioned before, the outside is beautiful, but not as grand as the one in Budapest. But the inside was unbelievable. It just oozes luxury. Though someone (cough, cough, Zoey!) had a major meltdown and caused me to miss some of our tour, what I did see was so impressive. The theater was incredibly opulent, but I was most impressed with the backstage. It is massive! I had no idea that the part of the stage you see from the audience is only as small fraction of the whole.

We took a self-guided walking and tram tour using Rick Steves audio guides. I am just amazed at how Vienna is able to cram so much beauty into such a small area. Just look at some of these buildings:


Hofburg Palace

St. Stephen's Cathedral

Eating in Vienna deserves it's own post, so stay tuned for that!

Read about our other stops in Central Europe:
Eating and Bathing in Budapest
Budapest Highlights

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cookie Overload!

Though the holidays are over, I'm desperately trying to cling on to the cheer, which is why this past weekend I hosted a very small cookie exchange. Have you heard of these before? Apparently it is a uniquely American tradition. Here's how it works: each invitee baked a few dozen cookies to bring to the party. I then provided bags for everyone to take four of each type of cookie home. With seven attendees, it meant we each got 28 cookies (plus all the cookies we ate at the party!).

I made a knock-off Girl Scout Samoa. It was amazing! It's not the fastest cookie to make, but it is pretty easy and makes a bunch at once. Definitely give this recipe a go.

Like a good wife, I split my bounty with Dan. I put most of mine in the freezer so I can enjoy them over the next few months. Have you ever been to or hosted a cookie exchange? I don't want to wait until next December to do another one. Who's with me? Quarterly cookie exchange?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Budapest Highlights

As I mentioned yesterday, Budapest really exceeded my expectations. I fell in love with the food and the Roman baths, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The city is filled with gorgeous architecture and a stunning riverside. As my friend Nick will tell you, Budapest comprises three regions: Buda, Pest (pronounced "Pesht") and Obuda. We spent most of our time in Pest, but crossed over to Buda to explore Castle Hill. We only had two and a half days, but I could have easily spent three or four.

The Dohány Street Synagogue, or Great Synagogue, blew me away. It's the largest synagogue in Europe and the architecture is so different to any synagogue I've ever seen. It was built in the 1850s in a Moorish style with some Catholic elements so as not to draw undue attention to its Jewishness. The synagogue was mostly spared during World War II because the Nazis used it as a base and a stable. During the communist era. the synagogue again began to function as a prayer house. After the fall of communism, the synagogue underwent much-needed repairs largely thanks to a private donation from Estee Lauder, a Hungarian-American Jew.

The Holocaust memorial garden and Jewish museum attached to the synagogue are also worth exploring. I was especially moved by the weeping willow with the names of victims etched into each leaf; the stained glass sculpture; and the tombs covered in stones (a sign of respect for the dead).

Budapest's opera house was another highlight for me. Though it is smaller and less famous than Vienna's opera, this one is actually more grand. Apparently the architect was told by Emperor Franz Joseph that the house must be smaller than the one in Vienna, but was not given restrictions on the actual design. We didn't take a tour of the opera because we planned to see the one in Vienna, but we did go into the lobby to admire the views. I would have loved to see a show--especially since the Nutcracker was playing--but it wasn't practical with Zoey. We saw the building both at night and during the day, and it is much more impressive at night.

While in Budapest, you should definitely take a tour of parliament. The building is massive! I loved the giant staircase at the entry and seeing the room where the government body convenes. Here's an interesting tidbit: smoking used to be allowed in the building, but not in the main chamber, so members of parliament would leave their cigars in the numbered holders in the lobby while listening to speeches. A particularly good speech was said to be "worth a Havana." They still use that phrase today.


We did not spend nearly enough time at Castle Hill. There was so much to explore, but we just ran out of time. We took the funicular to the top and walked down. If you're short on time, the one thing you have to see is the Matthias Church. It is absolutely stunning inside, and the outside isn't so bad either. Pictures don't do it justice; you'll have to trust me on this one.

Other honorable mentions are the Great Market Hall and Fisherman's Bastion. Really, this city is chock-full of gorgeous buildings.

Next up, Vienna!

Read about our other stops in Central Europe:
Eating and Bathing in Budapest