June 21, 2017

Maggie’s Florence Adventure

I know what you’re thinking; those LMP girls must REALLY love Italy. I know Abby just took a trip to Italy this spring and you’ve already heard all about it, but I promise I have a unique experience to share too!

When my friend Colleen said she was thinking about going to Florence in June, I knew I had to nudge my way onto her trip. Colleen and I studied abroad in Florence 5 years ago, so although it’s a city I know well from living there for 4 months, I couldn’t help but think “this trip is exactly what I need right now.” No exhausting lines with other tourists. No pressure to see the sights. All I had to do was focus on eating, drinking, and getting inspired.

If you haven’t heard yet, I’ve recently been hired full time (yay!) with Little Miss Party. For the past 2.5 years I’ve worked remotely with the team from Boston, where I’ve lived for 7 years. I traveled intermittently to NYC, which is when you may have seen me on Seri’s Snapchat or Instagram. We were finally ready to make a big transition, so I will officially be moving to NYC on July 1st! It’s been quite the journey for me over this past year, but I knew in my heart that working with LMP was my dream come true. You can learn more about my journey and all the reasons I was ready to leave Boston on my personal blog.

Needless to say, it’s been a crazy couple months for me, and knowing I would soon be VERY busy with the move to NYC, I knew that I had to take the opportunity to travel now before life gets in the way. Because so much of my life revolves around creativity, I planned this trip knowing my main focus was to take in the beauty, photograph my experiences and EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT.

Let’s start with sights:

The Darling details of Italy

Gorgeous cars, posed perfectly against the traditional architecture of Florence.

Every building has rooftop & porch gardens. It brings beautiful new life to this old city.

Bicycles EVERYWHERE! And more plants!

Archways over narrow streets, casting the most beautiful light. Your eyes will never be disappointed on a casual walk through this city.

Sights for Sore Eyes

The Duomo is easily the most famous building in all of Florence. This feat of architectural beauty creates a “wow” factor for any passerby. Although I recommend seeing the views of Florence from the top of the Duomo Bell tower, the lines during tourist season are INSANE and walking around the outside of this building is impressive in itself.

The Arno is the river that divides Florence, and while in town, walking across its many bridges is necessary. Lined with many restaurants and hotels, this river is a beautiful sight, especially at sunset. Be sure to walk across the Ponte Vecchio but the better views are from the bridges surrounding it.

For the best views of Florence AND the surrounding Tuscan countryside, I would suggest walking up to Forte di Belvedere. All the tourists go to Piazzale Michaelangelo, and although it’s beautiful up there, it’s always packed. This location is much quieter and offers a grander view of the area. We only knew about this spot because we spent the whole week with our wonderful local friend who shared the secret with us!

Next, let’s discuss food and drinks:

Pasta

One of our favorite pasta stops was Trattoria Sant’Agostino which of course, we stumbled upon after a couple hours of walking and feeling famished. We purposely sought out locations off the beaten path, in small alleyways where we could tell everyone inside was speaking Italian. We wanted the authentic experience, and this place did not disappoint.

Pizza

If you’re looking for a freshly made pizza, Gusta Pizza is a must-go. Although a tourist attraction and always busy, this spot makes your pizza to order in their own brick oven so it comes out piping hot and delicious.

truffle everything

Truffle is in season in Italy, and you see it very frequently at the local restaurants. One night in search of a late dinner, we found Trattoria Napaleone which had a menu with a section of pasta that included truffle in every dish. So, we ordered truffle carbonara, truffle ravioli, and truffle gnocchi. No regrets. this place was beyond amazing with a true Florentine atmosphere.

Coccoli, prosciutto and stracchino

This is a famous appetizer in Florence, which is essentially fried bread, soft cheese, and prosciutto. It was simply delicious everywhere we tried it.

wine

We cannot forget one of the most important parts of going to Italy. THE WINE. It flows like water, and boy, did we drink it like it was.

We were lucky enough to go with our local friend, Angelica, outside of Florence about 45 minutes via public bus to Marchesi Antinori, a famous winery of Tuscany. The region is famous for Chianti Classico, an esteemed red wine that has been made there for hundreds of years.

Although we all tasted the Chianti Classico with lunch it was a HOT day. After learning about the winery and walking the grounds, we cooled off with their equally delicious rosé.

Finally, let’s focus on the things that made this trip inspiring:

The entire time we were there, Colleen and I had our cameras out and ready to capture the things that caught our eyes. Colleen is an amazing artist, designer, and photographer and I am so lucky to call her my friend. We fueled each other during our week back in Florence to capture the beautiful moments.

Colleen and I planned this trip so we could work on one of her (many) amazing side projects, Wanderwise. She is hoping to bring change the tourist industry of Florence with these creative workshops, and I’m so lucky I was there to help her brainstorm.

This trip was very nostalgic for us. This is us in front of the apartment we lived in 5 years ago. It was this place that developed our friendship and made us into the artists we are today.

Florence is a city filled with tradition. We were there during one of the famous city-wide rugby matches and were able to watch a parade to celebrate the big game. This procession lasted about 45 minutes with hundreds of men in traditional, colorful, and heavy garb.

Our wonderful Italian friend, Angelica is the daughter of one of our professors from studying in Florence. She was kind enough to show us around her city, help us order the best food, and provide a warm welcome for our entire stay.

The beautiful, old architecture of Italy is always so entwined with nature. I was so happy to walk around and see greenery and flowers every way I turned.

I came home from this trip feeling full, happy, and READY to move! I hope you enjoyed seeing pieces of my trip. Feel free to follow me on Instagram (@maggieantalek) to see my future travels, daily BTS at Little Miss Party, and my new adventures in NYC. Watch out New York, I’m coming for you next!

xx, Maggie
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June 9, 2017

Ready, Set, Weekend with Simply Beautiful Eating

Guess what?

I HAVE OVENS!

Not one but two. Yep. That’s what I wanted in the new kitchen, because God only knows what the future will bring. I figured that it was a practical move since entertaining for a crowd will be inevitable. My mom always loved  her double ovens. When she hosted  large family gatherings twice a year, there was always enough room to place extra dishes in both to keep all the food nice and toasty.

Last night I made my first pizza in the lower oven. Why the lower one? It’s much easier to reach into. Despite the fact that there is still no running water on the main floor, I am absolutely thrilled to be able to bake, broil and roast again.

As an added bonus, Steve has planted all our fresh herbs in the garden and you know what that means? I’m out there snipping and clipping. Now, I’m not a big chive lover but to be honest, they were unbelievably good on this pizza. Along with the fresh herbs, I used sliced zucchini and farmers cottage cheese for my toppings. This was one fancy dancy pizza, don’t ya think?

Oh, and I also have counter space to work on now. OODLES of counter space, which I’m going to tell you about.

I’m in the midst of writing a detailed renovation blog, but I wanted to share this one piece of information with you today. If you have been following along in this adventure, you will remember that I have ISSUES in making up my mind. It’s not that I’m indecisive. Well, maybe a little. Okay, maybe A LOT.

I just want things to be RIGHT. I figured that I have to be in love with the choices I make for this kitchen, otherwise I will be waiting for the opportunity to change things in the future. Deciding on a counter top was one of the toughest decisions for me to make.

You see, being a food blogger means that you are going to beat the crap out of your work space. It means drips, spills, scratches and work space abominable messes. What does all that mean? It points towards choosing a durable surface that can withstand ME.

I searched and searched through every possible man made quartz counter top sample and finally decided on one.

THEN.

I changed my mind. (insert Steve’s eye roll thingie here) Let me tell you what happened.

I walked into a showroom to choose my quartz slab and the salesperson said “don’t look to the right”. When I asked her what she meant by “don’t look to the right”, she informed me that all the marble slabs were to the right and all the quartz slabs were to the LEFT.

So naturally I went to the right.

That was my first mistake, because I fell hopelessly IN LOVE. All the slabs I saw were exactly what I have dreamt of having in my kitchen. There wasn’t one person who didn’t try to talk me out of getting marble. I was basically told “it would be the worst decision ever”.

So what did I do?

I chose marble.

Am I insane for doing so? Probably. Is it beautiful? YES. Is it perfect? No. With every natural stone there are flaws, but I guarantee that there will be more once I start my usual kitchen antics.

I was super careful last night with this pizza. I used every trivet I had in the house to make sure that the pan didn’t come in contact with the counter. Worth it? Uh huh.

Making my own pizza dough is something that I love to do, but for a quick version and since I’m still running up and down the stairs for water, I used a store bought whole grain shell for this pizza. Easy peasy.

The whole shebang took me less than ten minutes to throw together and look how pretty it is!

I’m starting to see a light at the end of the kitchen tunnel. For instance, I have a couch now which has nothing to do with the kitchen, but it’s somewhere that we can sit now. Or should I say, the cat can sit. She was ecstatic that we gave her back some furniture to park her butt on. Why is it that she thinks she owns everything? Most likely because she DOES.

ZUCCHINI & FARMERS CHEESE PIZZA WITH FRESH CHIVES

– 1 store bought pizza shell
– flavored olive oil, I used garlic& herb
– 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
– ½ cup fresh baby spinach leaves
– 1 teaspoon dried oregano
– 2 zucchinis, thinly sliced, steamed and blanched
– 6 tablespoons farmers cottage cheese or goat cheese
– kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
– fresh basil leaves, for garnish
– 2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives for garnish

1) Preheat oven to 450F. Grease a 14-inch round pizza pan. Place your pizza shell on the pan and brush with flavoured oil.
2) Evenly sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the crust. Top with spinach leaves. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and sprinkle the dried oregano evenly over the top.
3) Bake in the lower third of the oven until the crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly and browning on top, 8 -10 minutes. Meanwhile, steam zucchini slices for 3 minutes in the microwave with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Drain and blanch in ice cold water.
4) Remove pizza from oven and top with zucchini, dollop farmers cottage cheese over it and sprinkle with chives. Place back into the oven for two to three minutes just to warm through. Slice and serve immediately.

See you next week!

debi @simplybeautifuleating

xx, Debi
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May 30, 2017

Spiked Cold Brew Coffee

It’s officially iced coffee season, and over Memorial Day weekend, I was inspired to make a more “festive” version of my favorite summer pick me up!

We had some Bailey’s lying around the studio after St. Paddy’s Day and I thought it would be a good idea to use it to spice up my cold brew coffee recipe.. and boy, was I right!

Here’s what you need:

-fresh cold brewed coffee (recipe here)
-Bailey’s Irish Creme liqueur
-ice

Here’s what to do:

1) Once you’ve made your cold brew coffee and let it sit in the fridge overnight, remove cold brew from fridge.  Add ice to each coffee glass.
2) Fill each glass almost full with cold brew coffee. On top of that, pour about 1 oz. of Bailey’s, or more if you have room.


3) Use straw to mix Bailey’s in, and add more if desired.

Since National Donut Day is coming up this week, I also added a little extra detail to this drink… a mini donut on the straw!

You can dunk the donut or eat it on its own. Either way, this coffee/ donut combo is an excellent way to start your morning off right this summer.

Hope you enjoy, and that you had an awesome Memorial Day Weekend! Cheers!

xx, Abby
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May 19, 2017

Ready, Set, Weekend with Simply Beautiful Eating

Now I know I’ve completely lost my mind and I’m sure you wanna know why.

I’ve been searching through archived photos of my food photography for the past few months, just came across these and guess what? I don’t even remember when I shot them. It was somewhere between 2014 and 2017. That’s all I know. The other thing I’m pretty certain about is this…..

These muffins were the bomb.

To narrow down the timeline, it’s clear that these were made during blueberry season (well duh, there’s a load of them in the recipe ,so this wasn’t something that I needed the FBI to figure out).

Anyhoo, you know how I feel about blueberries. They are plump jewels of happiness that make everything taste better. Especially when they burst out of a muffin and into your mouth.

Wait.

How about these roses? My husband is always a sucker for good foliage. He makes his way down to the flower markets whenever there is an occasion, like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, my birthday or a just-because-I-love-you-day.

Let me tell you what he did for Mother’s Day.

Of course, he surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of roses, similar to the ones in these photos.

Then, he gave me a really cute card with an enclosed paper (hand made) puzzle. Yes, he made the puzzle out of letters that were my “clues” to my gift.

I had 10 minutes to piece together these letters, otherwise Steve informed me that the gift was NULL and VOID.

No pressure, right?

OMG, I suck at puzzles. I could never win Survivor. Plus I’m really bad in math, which has nothing to do with puzzles, but I just thought I would let you know that useless piece of information.

Oh, and we were in the car on our way to brunch when I opened my card. Steve set his iPhone timer for 10 minutes and yelled “GO!!!”

I was fiddling around with the stupid paper pieces for exactly 7 minutes, when he realized that he may have spelled the word wrong. Not surprising, since his spelling is comparable to my math skills. It’s a good thing we can assist each other with daily simple tasks because, really?

So now we are stopped at a red light, he grabs one of the squares of paper and scribbles over the letter making the correction.

I have 3 minutes left and I’m starting to shvitz (sweat).

I figured it out with a minute to spare and guessed it!

You won’t believe this one. He still spelled it wrong.

These where my letters:

L

O

S

V

E

G

A

S

How do you really spell it? Las Vegas.

Do I gamble? No. I hate losing money.

Do I need to go to Las Vegas now, with two weddings coming up this summer? No.

Can I try spelling something else with those letters and still get a gift? All I could figure out was LOVES GAS so maybe a gift certificate to ESSO might be another option. Okay Steve?

Here’s the moral of the story. No matter how you spell it, these Blueberry Oat Chia muffins are a sure bet.

BLUEBERRY OAT CHIA MUFFINS

– 2 extra large eggs
– ½ cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
– 2 medium size, ripe bananas, mashed
– ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tsp baking soda
– ½ tsp ground cinnamon
– ¼ cup cup chia seeds
– ¾ cup quick oats
– 1 cup + 2 tbsp white whole wheat flour (or a mix of all purpose and whole wheat is fine too)
– 1½ cups cups fresh blueberries

1) Preheat your oven to 350F and prepare a 12 cup muffin pan by spraying with non stick cooking spray or lining them with paper liners. Set aside.
2) In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Whisk in the Greek yogurt, bananas,sugar, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon, chia seeds and oats mixing until smooth.
3) Add in the flour and gently stir it in until just combined. DO NOT OVER MIX.
4) Toss the blueberries in 1 tablespoon of flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins, then fold them into the batter.
5) Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, using an ice cream scoop. Fill them almost to the top. Sprinkle with additional oats if desired.
6) Bake for 20 -­ 22 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins begin to turn golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
7) Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. These will keep well in an airtight container for up to 5 days or they freeze well for up to 3 months.

See you next week!

debi @simplybeautifuleating

xx, Debi
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May 12, 2017

Ready, Set, Weekend with Simply Beautiful Eating

Well, guess what?

I still don’t have a kitchen.

So what if it’s been almost 4 months? So what if I haven’t picked up my camera? So what if I forgot how to think, write or edit? So what if there are swatches of paint, slabs of stone, and visions of couches dancing through my head. SO WHAT!!

I apologize if I sound cranky today. That’s because I AM. Forgive me.

DEEEEEEEEEEEP BREATH.

Okay, so there is a space where the kitchen is going to be but I don’t have any cupboards, sink or a place where I can actually COOK and BAKE. What this means is this, I have to come up with ways to prepare meals that are effortless and don’t require a stove or oven.

You wanna know something? I think I can relate to the pioneers. They leaned towards making dishes using their survival skills and cooking over wood fire burning stoves. Tempted to do so in my living room because, frankly, it’s been too cold outside to cook on the barbecue.

It’s May for Godsakes. Come on.

Even though it’s been months of prepping food in my bathroom, I haven’t succumbed to grabbing a rifle and hunting squirrel (but I’ve been tempted to).

I’ve rarely read that pioneers included kale in their recipes, most likely because KALE is the new possum in present day culinary terms. Pioneers were basically good at foraging through the forest gathering herbs, roots and berries. The rest of  their food came from their fields, gardens and farmyards.

Last weekend, I looked outside my window and saw mushrooms growing out of the grass. They looked scrumptious, and the thought of stir frying those in a skillet on my hotplate swirled through my head. Before I attempted to forage, sauté and most likely die from mushroom poisoning, I decided to leave them for the dang “raccoon pioneers” who seem to be destroying my lawn lately. Besides, I need to be around to see the new kitchen if it ever happens.

Since the start of this renovation, I have considered Steve and I to be very imaginative with our meals. Not exactly pioneers, but close enough.

For instance, we had our new staircase installed last week. When I came home from work, the installer told he required us to stay upstairs for at least 2 hours so that the varnish had a chance to dry. That meant that the three of us were sequestered to the upper level (I’m including Tiffany the kitty in this head count, because in my opinion, she is human).

So?

What do you do when you have time on your hands, hungry for dinner and trapped upstairs?

Chop chop.

Not only did I end up with a beautiful salad here, I also added another recipe to my ever growing list of things I can make without major appliances.

One more thing before I go (which is useless information), but important to know about my past. When I was 16, I was hired part-time in a store downtown, situated in a very large shopping mall. If you are from Toronto, I’m talking about the Eaton Centre. The store sold dresses that were very reminiscent of the ones that pioneer women used to wear. When I went for the first interview, I was told that all sales staff were required to purchase and wear these dresses during work hours (in order to give the customers a visual on how pretty these garments were) or how idiotic we looked in them – clearly there was a market for these fugly frocks.

On day ONE I quit.

Reason why?

Do I look like the pioneer type to you?

RAINBOW CRUNCH SUPER SALAD WITH TANGERINE DRESSING

– 1 bunch kale, thick stems removed and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
– 4 cups shredded red cabbage
– 6 tangerines, peel, segment and dice 3 and juice the remaining 3 for the dressing
– 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
– 2 medium bell peppers, cored, seeded and diced (I used orange and yellow)
– 2 medium carrots, julienned
– 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
– ⅓ cup sunflower seeds
– ⅓ cup pepitas
– ⅓ cup sliced skinless almonds
– ⅓ cup fresh blueberries
– 1 avocado, sliced
– ⅓ cup crumble feta cheese, optional for garnish

1) Place the kale, cabbage, tangerines, onion, bell peppers and carrots in a large salad bowl. Mix well with salad tongs. Top with the chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pepitas, almonds, blueberries and slice avocado. Sprinkle with feta, if desired.
2) Make your dressing (see recipe below).
3) Pour the dressing over the salad. Mix with tongs until well combined. Serve.
4) Good news is, you can keep this refrigerated, covered, for 2-3 days.

TANGERINE DRESSING

– ¼ cup freshly squeezed tangerine juice
– ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
– ¼ cup olive oil
– 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
– 2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup or agave
– ½ teaspoon kosher salt
– ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1) Make the dressing. In a small bowl, combine the tangerine juice, vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey salt, and pepper. Mix with a whisk until well combined or you can whip this up in a blender.

See you next week!

debi @simplybeautifuleating

xx, Debi
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