Waitress “Opening Up” at Straz

I knew I was in for trouble when I sat down for the touring Broadway musical “Waitress” at the Straz Center’s Carol Morsani Hall and the place smelled like sugar. See, I have a sweet tooth. A theatre lobby selling pies in a jar with little wooden spoons and a wafting scent of sugar over the audience makes me hungry. Then the show started and all they talked about was pie.

OK, that’s not true. They talked about love, and loss, and trust and motherhood. Relationships were picked apart and kindled and stomped on. But there was a LOT of pie.

  • Deep Dish Blueberry Bacon Pie
  • Betrayed By My Eggs Pie
  • Everything’s Just Peachy Peachy Keen Pie
  • Marshmallow Mermaid Pie
  • In the Dark Dark Chocolate Pie
  • Pineapple Upside Down Pie
  • A Little Wild, Wild, Berry Pie
  • Lulu’s Strawberry Dream Pie
  • Sweet Victory Pie
  • Polka Dot Peach Pie

I’ve read books where women dissolve their feelings into shared baked goods, and it’s all a bit magical and mysterious. Then I saw the movie “Waitress” and thought it was kind of slow – even though I really like actress Keri Russell. But I gave the musical a shot.

This show is certainly not slow. It covers the same emotional rollercoaster with some sexy twists, lots of laughs, a few tears – and most of all AMAZING vocals! This cast can SING!

The show features original music and lyrics by 5 time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles. The lead we saw, Desi Oakley as Jenna, made me feel like I was listening to Sara sing her own songs. Her voice had a similar tone. I liked how real Jenna seemed. She stood awkwardly, she second guessed her decisions, and she forgot to practice what she preached. I just wanted to hug her and go to the mall with her.

“Waitress” runs at the Straz through April 29. You can buy tickets here. (I also read but did not confirm that you can get 35% off tickets with promo code SUGAR.) I recommend this show for a ladies night out, not a date night. The show is very pro girls lifting each other up! And arrive hungry, so you can taste those little pies in the jars!

Learn recipes for some of the tempting pies mentioned in the show here. Remember to use ice cold water when making pie crust. Using ice water helps the fat of the butter remain solid, and the colder the fat when you put the pie into the oven, the greater the chance for flakiness. Also add one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to keep your pie dough from becoming tough.

I received two free tickets to the show via Tampa Bay Bloggers and the Straz Center in exchange for my honest review. But I paid for parking, and my husband bought two drinks. I did not buy the pie. 🙂

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Cinque Terre, Liguria region, Italy

As a part of our June 2017 trip to Italy, Brian and I stayed for a few days in Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of a string of five seaside fishing villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) on the coast of the Italian Riviera. The beautiful, protected area includes colorful houses, vineyards and olive trees meandering on steep cliffs, harbors of fishing and tourist boats, a few beaches, many historical churches, trattorias with seafood specialties – especially grilled octopus, gelato, and the special cuisine of the region – trofie pasta with fresh pesto sauce.

Hiking trails and train tracks link the villages so you can traverse between them. Parts of the trails are currently closed due to a spring 2016 landslide. We arrived anticipating hiking for two days, but because of these closures we changed plans and decided to hike the first day from Vernazza, where we were staying, to Monterosso – and spend the second day visiting the remaining 5 towns by train. (More on that below. In the end, the hike was so desperately hot and harder than I anticipated, so I probably would have asked Brian to not hike on the 2nd day anyway.)

A green door up three similar flights of stairs from the street led to our room.

We took a train from Rome to La Spezia and then into the small town of Vernazza, one of the Cinque Terre. We had booked a room online that I thought was in a B&B, but it was simply a room, similar to a hotel room with a bed, bathroom, closet and balcony – only it wasn’t a part of a larger complex. We had a front door key and walked right in off the street. The only difference between this place and a studio apartment is that there was no kitchen.

One of the people corresponding to us over email said we would be met at the train station, but we were not. Out came my cell phone map, on went our hiking backpacks (aka our luggage for 16 days), and off we went exploring to find the apartment ourselves.

As soon as we descended the train station stairs, we were on the main street of town, lined with bars, boutiques, souvenir stores, focaccia bakeries and gelato shops. We found the room very quickly – it was a 3-minute walk from the train station, and the owner was sitting right outside on the stoop with her family. (So, yah, they could have easily met us at the train station and assuaged a little of our anxiety, but since it was only three minutes and my phone had service, I look back on it as part of the adventure.)

bidet bathroom vernazza

Get used to seeing bidets everywhere in Italy!

The owner showed us the well furnished space complete with mini fridge and upgraded, modern bathroom. The balcony had a small table to eat on, and overlooked a beach that was off the beaten path and she told us it was the better beach to go to, rather than the main beach. (We didn’t know what she meant yet, but she was totally right. The main beach is very muddy and this one was rocky, thus cleaner and allowed for rock jumping.)

Because the home was built into the side of the cliff, looking out from the balcony over the rocks also gave us a funny view of all the laundry people had hung out to dry that had blown away and was now stuck on the hillside.

Included on the desk in our room was also a list of the owner’s favorite restaurants, a wifi password, and how to contact them for information on things like a car service. The cleaning lady was just leaving from the last visitors, and everything was very tidy.

We spent our first afternoon just looking at the main strip of shops in Vernazza, and headed for an aperitivo before dinner. Aperitivo is the ritual of going out for a pre-dinner drink in Italy. Brian had the drink we saw everywhere while on vacation in Italy, a Spritz, which is said to have originated in Venice under the Austrian Empire. It is a bitter mixed drink using Aperol or Campari, sparkling white wine and soda; often served with a slice of orange. The color is deceiving, it is not as refreshing as lemonade. I had a passionfruit frozen daiquiri – so fresh it had bits of black seeds blended right in!

There were a few scattered, sit-down restaurants where the main street dead-ended at the shoreline. It seems they took turns closing one night each week. Everyone working there spoke great English. Many of the servers take the train in from nearby cities and don’t live in the small towns anymore.

We chose a restaurant at random, and sat at an outdoor table looking out at the water. Granted, most of the evening restaurant seating is outdoors with a view of the water in Vernazza! I tried the local trofie pasta with pesto sauce. It had a few green beans and chunks of white potato here and there, but mainly it was fresh, homemade pasta with a pretty good sauce. (I thought it was great compared to what I get in a jar from the grocery store, but the next day for lunch I had pesto that was MUCH better.) We also tried a local wine.

We kept to ourselves that night, sleepy from travel and wine, and went to bed fairly early knowing we wanted to hike the next day before it got too hot.

Our Hike

From Vernazza to Monterosso

The longest, most difficult hike in Trail #2, this section has lots of stairs and narrow passages. It’s another section of trail in which hikers often favor walking sticks and trekking poles. It’s also the most rewarding view-wise. Its panorama of all five Cinque Terre towns is one of the highlights of the trip. Hydration is essential. If you go in the summer it will almost certainly be blazingly hot. Sunburn and heatstroke are both common ailments of the Cinque Terre hiking trials. Finally you absolutely cannot forget your bathing suit (during the spring and summer) and your camera. A swim in the Ligurian sea is the perfect post-hike reward and the views you get from the trail are some of the best in Europe. Length: 1.8 miles (3km); 2 hours to walk.
[Excerpts from https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/cinque-terre/hiking-trails]

After a quick bite to eat, Brian and I set out to hike the next morning. We went to the train station by our rented room to buy a hiking pass. I also noticed they had a book swap shelf in the station, but it only had two books and they were both in Italian. Then we left the train station and thought we had started the hiking trail, but we had actually found a pretty lookout point and had to double back to the main street to find the actual trailhead. We knew we were in the right place when a guy in a booth stamped our hiking trail pass.

along our hike

There was a lot more uphill than I anticipated, and Brian was patient with me as I stopped to take a breather now and then – which was fine because we were surrounded by beautiful photo opportunities. We could look down at Vernazza and its colorful houses built into the cliffs, the gorgeous water, some streams, vineyards, areas dedicated to the local cats, and stone arches. We passed a man selling awesome jewelry (I totally recommend doing this hike with 30 euros in your pocket for just that reason!) and another playing an accordion for change. We also passed other hikers along the trail in both directions speaking a variety of languages, and I tried to say hello to people as I passed in the language they were chatting in with their friends. A few of my phone photos from the beautiful, scenic hike are here.

When we came out of the green overgrowth of the hike into the next town, Monterosso, I saw ways that it was similar to and different from Vernazza. The main square here was much larger, with a playground, and a longer walk to the train. I popped into Wonderland Bakery for a “wine cookie,” which didn’t taste quite as good as it sounds. Brian bought a cold beer and we recovered from the heat of the hike for a few minutes. We felt like there was not much to see here that was different from Vernazza, so we hopped on the train to Riomaggiore – the land of the 5 we were furthest from. This provided some A/C on the train while we looked at photos from our hike.

In Riomaggiore Brian wanted a nice lunch and I wanted a bathroom desperately, so we found a place with indoor seating and large ceiling fans. In the restroom, I was happy to find I had remembered to bring a Shower Pill athletic body wipe in our hiking bag, and felt much more refreshed after a wipe down with that and scrubbing my hands. I also popped a nuun into my water glass when I got back to the table, to hydrate and restore some electrolytes.

My meal there was fantastic! I had chestnut pasta with clams, tomatoes and pesto sauce (bottom of photo). Brian had beef ravioli with a beef tomato sauce (top). He had wine, but I thought I needed to replenish from hiking before adding alcohol into my system.

Tip: If you leave the train station in Riomaggiore and your find yourself walking straight uphill, go back through the train station and through the pedestrian tunnel and it will be a flatter walk that takes you right to the center of town! Don’t go backwards like we did.

After lunch we took the train back to Vernazza and walked the main street of our town again, down to the water, and up a steep, tall flight of stairs to‎ Ristorante Belforte. We hoped to get a reservation for that night, but they were completely booked. I asked about the next night, and he said they had availability, so I reserved a table for our final night in Cinque Terre at what we had heard was the best restaurant in Vernazza.

That afternoon I shopped, and bought myself a bronze octopus necklace made by an Italian artist. He only has 4 tentacles, but he’s a lot of fun. I named him Popoli (polpo is Italian for octopus.)

For dinner we simply went to the place that was behind us the night before. They had quite a few outdoor tables with a view of the water. The couple next to us were from England and we chatted about our travels through the evening. I enjoyed gnocchi with zucchini, tomatoes and shrimp and Brian had lobster ravioli with prawns. We both had to work for our food that night, breaking apart more crustaceans than I prefer in a meal. I would have rather there been bits of already chopped shrimp in my sauce instead.

Brian then tried the local after dinner drink, sciacchetrà (say: shi-ket-ra). Online we read, “A spirit lives within each bottle – the current winemaker and all those that came before him.”

Those were our first two days in Cique Terre. We also went swimming in a roped-off, precarious area with rock hopping and rock diving, had the best cinnamon gelato, met a woman who sells wine in Florida (who we later met in Venice, Italy!!!) and got stuck in the city because of a train strike and had to be driven to Florence by our landlords. But those are stories for another day…

 

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Trattoria della Barchetta, Rome restaurant review

Trattoria della Barchetta, rome, italy restaurant

Set a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of the Lepanto Metro stop and the River Tiber, kind of near The Vatican, sits Trattoria della Barchetta. The restaurant seems unassuming from the outside with about 4 visible windows flanking the front door with white awnings discreetly stating the restaurant’s name and a few small outside tables.

architecture in rome italy

Great architecture along the way

The first time we ate at Trattoria della Barchetta, it was me and my husband, and we were looking for a leisurely, romantic, authentic lunch. We had no plans for the afternoon and wanted food that would WOW us. We entered about 20 minutes after they started serving lunch. My first reaction was to the amazing smells. My second was that the dining space was so much larger on the inside than it seemed from the outside. I guess many locations in Rome have small entries but lead back into deep spaces. Then I saw a round table just left of the entrance full of a variety of fresh baked desserts.

Two men were busy behind a counter and looked up to greet us with a friendly “Ciao!” To one we asked, “Two for lunch?”, an immediate way of letting them know they were dealing with English speakers. The other brought us each a glass of cool, sweet, bubbling prosecco and a blob of hot, fried dough covered in fragrant olive oil to whet our appetites. They were so puffy and heavenly scented I asked if they were fried zucchini, but he insisted it was pizza. This was while we were still standing in the doorway! Then they showed us to our table.

selfie in rome italy restaurant

trattoria della barchetta menuTrattoria della Barchetta has a folded, laminated menu with English translations showing a wide variety of pastas, meats and desserts. Tucked inside is a brown piece of paper with a handwritten Italian menu. During my trip planning for Italy, someone told me to be on the lookout for this! Usually items that are handwritten are made with ingredients that are fresh that day. So we tossed the extended menu aside and just ordered off the Italian menu. And we were happy to find we could understand most of the Italian ourselves – from just a little time spent on Duolingo before our trip, plus Brian’s high school Spanish and my high school French. (You’ll find the link to their menu on their website is broken.)

Gnocchi with mushrooms

Gnocchi

Brian ordered gnocchi with mushrooms. There was not much of a sauce, maybe a drizzle of white wine. I had four-cheese tagliatelle pasta with black truffle. Both were great, but the truffles were a bit rich for me and I couldn’t finish my meal. Brian’s was amazing down to the last bite! I asked if we could each have one more of the little pizza dough balls we had when we came in, and they brought us a bowl full to enjoy. After we ate they came around with a tray of pastries to try (which I declined) and chocolate covered candied orange (which Brian insisted I had to try.) That put our tummies over the top and we took the Metro back to our apartment to shower and nap.

Tagliolini with cheese and truffles

Tagliolini with cheese and truffles

Pizza dough balls

I so enjoyed the meal, service and atmosphere, and was disappointed that we hadn’t room to try more – like beef or veal – that I told Brian I would be happy to return again for dinner one night. As it happened, we had a day trip to Pompeii and one of our fellow tourists mentioned on the train ride home that he wanted an authentic delicious dinner for his last night in Rome. I suggested Trattoria della Barchetta, showed him our food photos from lunch, and said, “I can’t guarantee we won’t be there too.” So he asked if we’d meet up with him, and we did at 8pm that night.

montecompatri wine in Rome Italy

one of the wines we tried

The three of us ate dinner like Italians that night. When you reserve a table in an American restaurant, they assume you’ll eat, pay, leave – and they can turn the table over to another paid customer. But in Italy when you reserve a table, you are expected to linger and it’s yours for the night. With all of our food, two bottles of wine and interesting conversation (he was also the parent of teenagers and had some cool travel stories to tell) we were there for a few hours. We shared two appetizers (one was mussels and clams but I forget the other one), veal, the same gnocchi Brian ordered, and more I can’t remember. (I let our new friend take the photos and he was going to email them to me but he hasn’t and I’ll probably never see him again.)

For dessert we ordered tiramisu to share – which the server came and made tableside. That added a special touch! They also brought over 4 bowls of cookies and sat them on the table for us to taste as we liked while we finished off our wine and conversations.

When supper was over and we were a little tipsy, I told Brian that we should visit the Trevi Fountain. I figured the big crowds would be gone at night. The one time we saw it during the day the crowd was so big we never pushed our way through to get close. It was also our last night in Rome, so I thought it was our last chance to toss a coin in. You are supposed to toss a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder to ensure a return trip to Rome. Rumor has it the money is collected to finance a supermarket for the poor people of Rome with the help of Italy’s Red Cross.

trevi fountain rome italy

Selfie at the Trevi Fountain

We walked to the Trevi Fountain with our buddy and found approximately 25 people hanging out. Nothing like the 6-rows deep crowd of 10am-5pm! We tossed our coin. Then we all set out for a nightcap.

By the time our drinks were finished, the Metro was no longer running, so Brian and I walked the 2.5 miles back to our apartment past The Vatican. This provided a lot of beautiful photo opportunities – with historical sites well lit at night. Brian was gushy and romantic about both our relationship and our pretty last stroll through Rome. I will have lovely memories for a long time from that night.

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Mothers Day Meal at Datz Giveaway [closed]

I’m not sure where the time flew off to, but May is quickly approaching. And with May comes Mother’s Day!

To help you celebrate a special mother in your life – your own mom, a fantastic mom you know, or yourself – I have a Datz gift card valued at $100 to give away. Although the gift card is good for food, beverages and merchandise at Datz on any day of the year, I personally think Mother’s Day is a great time to celebrate! My winner, however, can decide that for herself/himself.

If you have not yet been to the restaurant Datz in Tampa, their atmosphere is trendy-casual and the space is large. The menu is unique, as are their crafted cocktails. They began years ago as a deli, but now offer a variety of comfort foods and astonishing flavors that you may have never tasted together. They have tacos, salads, nachos, burgers, as well as brunch and dinner plates.

They also own the bakery next door, Dough, so there is a wide variety of delectable desserts, ice cream and donuts to choose from!

If you’re super hungry, try The Cheesy Todd  (as seen on Good Morning America!) A 100% fresh ground chuck burger with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle. But instead of buns, it is served between two breaded and fried bacon-jalapeño mac n’ cheese patties!

My daughter Alice loves cheese, and her favorite is the April in Paris vegetarian sandwich. It’s warm melted brie with tomato, arugula and basil pesto served on grilled sourdough bread.

While you are reading the menu and deciding what to order, you can start the table off with Buffalo Cauliflower. This appetizer is an entire head of roasted cauliflower lightly fried and tossed in buffalo sauce. It’s served with ranch dressing for dipping.

I’ve never had a bite I didn’t enjoy at Datz. And now you can try it for yourself with the first $100 paid for! To enter my Datz $100 gift card giveaway you need to have a Twitter account. Tweet to me @rafdarrow and let me know something from the Datz menu that you want to try. Be sure to tag @datz4foodies too! You have two weeks to enter. I’ll announce and tweet to one winner on the evening of Wed, May 10. All tweets through midnight EST on the 9th will be in the random drawing. 

As a member of Tampa Bay Bloggers I was given a gift card by Datz for National Cheat Day, and another to give away to one lucky winner. Good luck!

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The only mac and cheese recipe you need

You can make this. But you don’t have to. You can crawl inside it and stay cozy forever instead.

I’m just going to leave this recipe here for myself so I remember how I made it.

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 
2 1/2 cups 1% milk
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • about 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • about 4 ounces grated alta badia cheese
  • 2 ounces grated Parm cheese
  • 16oz  trotolle pasta or elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 c breadcrumbs or crushed potato chips or a combo of both

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a casserole dish; set aside.
  2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Melt butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
  4. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in spices, cheese,Worcestershire; set sauce aside.
  6. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse with cold water, drain well.
  7. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top.
  9. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes until brown on top. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.
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