Venice, Italy

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We arrived in Venice during high tide. Approaching the city on a slow moving boat felt almost magical. As the city crept closer through the fog, I remember imagining what it must have been like for those arriving here hundreds of years before me. I knew we were going to experience something amazing. Something our eyes had never seen. I will never forget the anticipation.

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On our first full day we booked a walking and boat tour from an experienced guide who had lived here his entire life. His love for Venice and passion for it’s history was infectious and we found ourselves relishing every newfound detail he shared. Especially the story (or most probable explanation) of how the body of the apostle Mark came to rest at Saint Mark’s Basilica. Mystery has it, that under the cloak of night there was an exchange of gold between Venice merchants and Greek monks leading to the abduction of the body and relics to be brought to the Basilica.

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Another interesting element of Venice is that they allow no cars or bicycles on the island. You arrive by boat and then walk, everywhere. We loved this because walking gives you a more intimate experience of a city. You’re not whizzing by everything and you’re able to pop in and out of shops, snap your 1,898th photo, eat gelato, grab a cappuccino, stand on a bridge and watch the gondolas float by, stroll the markets…in other words live like a local.

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Cafe Florian – Words cannot express how much I adored this place. Maybe it was heightened by the fact that our first visit was on a drizzly rainy morning when we tucked in one of their jewel box rooms to wait for the brief storm to pass. We sipped delicious overpriced coffee, nibbled on decadent pastries served by waiters in impeccable white jackets and listened to the live orchestra playing concertos outside our window. I remember telling my husband that if we lived here we would soon be penniless because I would want to come here every. single. day.

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Once the rain subsided we headed to the top of the Bell Tower to take in the panoramic views. The sky was still grey and ominous but it didn’t hinder the spectacular scenery. There was a riot of color below us from the centuries old buildings and terracotta roof tiles. We ended up staying here until the sun started to peek through and the clouds began to disappear.

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I’ve had many conversations with Europeans about why Americans are in love with their cities and it always seems to drift to architecture and history. The allure of walking through buildings dating back thousands of years is like a magnetic force and they will always astonish me. Even a simple walk under the porticos is inspiring and memorable.

In Venice, high tide happens about twice a year, usually in the winter. In the morning you can witness the water begin to flood the entire square. It lasts until around noon when the water levels start to subside and before you know it, the streets are dry. You can see from the two photos below how quickly it comes and goes. I’m actually glad we were able to experience it and wade through the water in our 20 euro orange plastic galoshes.

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I took more photos during our walks than on any other vacation. It’s literally the most photogenic city I’ve ever visited. The mix of crumbing facades, bright and muted colors, romantic canals, narrow secret pathways, it’s a paradise for those of us who love photography.

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We spent a morning at the Rialto Market (I’ll share in a future post) and enjoyed picking up a few things to stock our apartment from the smaller stands located throughout the city. I thought they were so charming with their stacked wooden crates and green awnings.

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In 1978 my grandparents spent several months traveling throughout Europe and one of their photos was of the Bridge of Sighs. A hand written note on the back said “Last walk and view for prisoners.” I tried to recreate the photo in memory of their grand adventure together and have plans to frame it and tuck their original photo in the corner.

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During our travels to Amsterdam and throughout Italy we stayed in a combination of hotels and Airbnbs. And while we liked the location of our Venice apartment (right above Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, haha!) we didn’t care for the owners or lack of cleanliness. But truthfully, exploring the city from sunrise to sundown was more important anyway.

I did enjoy watching the pigeons stoop on the buildings right outside our apartment window and it became a game for me to try and capture one perched just so.

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If Venice is not on your bucket list it needs to be. I would recommend going in the spring or fall to avoid the crowds and sweltering temps. And stay at least 3 days. It is such a fascinating city with marvelous gravity defying architecture, a history of allure and intrigue and is filled with romantic storybook scenes around every corner. In other words, magical.

Citrus: Sweet & Savory Sun-Kissed Recipes

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What better way to beat the winter doldrums than to immerse yourself in a beautiful book devoted solely to Citrus! My dear friend Victoria Pearson has filled it’s pages with stunning images and well known food stylist and recipe developer Valerie Aikman-Smith provided mouth watering recipes you’ll want to have on repeat in your kitchen. They offered to share a few recipes with us here and give away a copy of their new book – signed by Victoria Pearson.

Personally, I really love this Meyer Lemon & Thyme Hearth Bread. It’s an easy focaccia that makes a stunning addition to a round of appetizers or along side a big green salad.

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Meyer Lemon & Thyme Hearth Bread

Juicy Meyer lemons and freshly picked lemon thyme add a perfumed, zesty kick to this simple, no-nonsense focaccia. It will surely become part of your life very quickly.

1 cup warm water (about 110 ºF)

¼ cup olive oil

1 package (¼ounce / 7 grams) active dry yeast

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced

1 small bunch lemon thyme

Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

Pour the water into a measuring jug, stir in the oil, and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until frothy.

Place the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse until mixed. Then, with the motor running, add the yeast mixture to the flour and process for about 4 minutes, until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap, set aside in a warm place, and let the dough rise for about 11⁄2 hours, until it doubles in size.

Oil a 9 by 13-inch sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the center of the prepared sheet pan, punching it down to deflate it. Then, using your fingers, press and stretch the dough out evenly in the pan, extending it to the edges. Using your fingertips, dimple the entire surface of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Uncover the dough, arrange the lemon slices on top and scatter with the lemon thyme. Sprinkle generously with the coarse sea salt.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.

Serves 6 to 8

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And one of my other favorites is this tangy Fennel, Tangerine & Olive Slaw which pairs well with grilled chicken or steak. I was lucky enough to be in the studio the day they were working on this recipe and loved the addition of the dill flower heads sprinkled on top…such a pretty detail.

Fennel, Tangerine & Olive Slaw

~Serves 4 to 6

1 fennel bulb with fronds attached

1 Granny Smith apple

4 tangerines, peeled and thinly sliced

14 cup sliced green olives

VINAIGRETTE

Zest and juice of 1 tangerine

2 pinches red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon whole-grain Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

14 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Fennel blossoms, for garnish (optional)

Cut the fennel fronds from the fennel and set aside. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut the fennel bulb into matchsticks and transfer to a large serving bowl. Cut the apple the same way and add to the fennel. Add the tangerine slices and toss in the olives.

To make the vinaigrette, combine all of the ingredients in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Screw the lid on and shake the jar vigorously until the mixture emulsifies.

Pour the vinaigrette over the slaw and toss to mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper and toss again. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To serve, tear the fronds and sprinkle them and the fennel blossoms on top of the slaw.

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To enter the giveaway for Citrus: Sweet & Savory Sun-Kissed Recipes please answer the following question in the comments:

What’s your favorite way to enjoy citrus?

For me…I would have to say Lemon Bars!

Winner will be announced on this post Friday, January 29th!

Winner of the book by random number is comment #18: Shelby Mikucanis!

Reprinted with permission from Citrus, by Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Photographs copyright © 2015 by Victoria Pearson

Grove House: French Display Cabinet

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Transitional spaces between rooms can be tricky to furnish. Often times the furniture needs to serve dual purpose and have the ability to suit the aesthetics of both connecting rooms. I have such a space between our kitchen and dining area and found this French Display Cabinet from Kathy Kuo Home fit perfectly. I love that it will allow me a space to serve drinks, desserts, or appetizers during parties and also have fun with seasonal vignettes and decor.

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 The shelves are adjustable making it easy to accommodate large platters, soup tureens or wine and champagne bottles when entertaining. It also came with iron hooks to place on the rails but I haven’t found a use for them yet. Maybe for a tea towel when serving drinks or as mug hooks? Who knows, they might come in handy sometime.

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One of my favorite things about the piece are all the small drawers below. I’ve got them loaded up with votive candles, matches, napkins, serving utensils, wine openers, etc., etc.

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For now I added pieces I had on hand and a few from a recent antiquing trip to Santa Barbara that had an autumnal feel to them….vintage copper mugs, ironstone, an antique French painting. And I mixed in a bit of the colored glass I have in other areas of the kitchen to tie them together. I’m looking forward to adding fresh evergreens and holiday elements for Christmas!

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I baked an apple tart yesterday for this post and still have enough pastry dough to make another one. I’m thinking it should definitely include pecans since we were gifted a giant bag…just in time for Thanksgiving. Off to search for a recipe! Or maybe you have a favorite?

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Sources: French Display CabinetKathy Kuo Home, Recycled Glass Tumblers,  Washed Linen Napkins, Similar Marble & Wood Cake Stand (the one I bought from Anthropologie is sold out) and Marble Candle Holder. All other items are vintage or antique finds…my favorite way to shop!

Between posts you can find me on Instagram sharing highlights of daily life.

Amsterdam Shopping: A Prop Stylist’s Guide

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 The shopping in Amsterdam is just so good. There are small independent boutiques dotting nearly every street. I tried to pop in as many as I could. With their creative window displays and merchandise spilling out onto the sidewalk continually luring me inside, it was an easy task. My favorite place was de Weldaad. Their selection of antiques, home furnishings, accessories, and textiles were so beautifully curated. I loved the gentle wash of soft muted color tones and worn wood surfaces displayed throughout the store. It was such a relaxing environment to browse.
I seriously wanted all the things.
They’re also conveniently located a couple doors down from Winkle. I’m just sayin’.

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Raw Materials was another great shop for home decor and furnishings. Worth a stop if you’re in the neighborhood. You’ll find plenty of inspiration and probably a few treasures to take home. I loved their chunky knit blankets, unique glassware, and walls filled with black and white botanical framed art. They ship to the US which is always a plus when you’re traveling light.
Side note: I’m thinking about making a pendant like the one below for the alcove in my master bath. They were about 650 euros so I passed on buying one. Hence the possible diy in my future. They seem simple enough to make. (Famous first words of every diy project). I’ll keep you posted.

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Before arriving in Amsterdam I had heard good things about Anna + Nina. They carry quite a bit of jewelry and clothing with a fresh mix of home accessories…think candles, art, mirrors, pottery and ceramics. The shop has an upbeat youthful vibe that I really enjoyed.

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The glowing pierced metal pendant lights at Zenza were mesmerizing. They had them hanging all over the shop in a variety of metals – gold, silver, copper – every one just beautiful! I bought some pretty wooden spoons, tiny basil soaps nestled in bamboo dishes, and a few other trinkets here.

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Dille & Kamille was a lot of fun to wander through. It reminds me a bit of a cross between Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel. There were lots of kitchen elements and a cute garden section. They have a coffee bar and tea atelier in the back of the store with a large selection of both to choose from. I like to bring home tea from my travels, especially proprietary blends.

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 I also wanted to mention a few great places to pick up a fresh groceries, a quick cappuccino or bite to eat while strolling the area…or maybe just to stock up on decadent chocolate bars to bring home. My two favorites were Statch and Marqt both with multiple locations throughout the city.

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 Marqt was sort of similar to our Whole Foods but on a smaller scale. Here we picked up delicious alpine yogurt, fresh fruit, croissants and the most beautiful hard candies (as souvenirs because they were too pretty to eat!). Definitely the place to buy groceries or snacks for your rental apartment or hotel room – or for treats to bring with you on your long flight home.

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And a couple other shops of note:

Six and Sons – Loved this concept store with handmade leather goods, vintage and new wares.
Shop de Ville – Colorful, fun, friendly place with quirky gifts and unique toys. A happy shop!
Droog Amsterdam – Well curated mix of beautiful books, ceramics and decor.
Restored – Design shop with handmade jewelry, clothing, accessories and apothecary.
Sukha Amsterdam – Probably my second favorite! Fabulous, clever displays, gorgeous pottery, linens, sweaters & scarves! Again, all the things.

I hope you find my list useful the next time you find yourself in Amsterdam. As a professional prop stylist (with a black belt in shopping) it was my favorite city for this type of “activity” on our entire trip to Europe. I loved the simple Scandinavian design influences I noticed in many of the stores and the selection of products I’ve yet to see here in the US. Maybe someone will start importing. Anyone? I’ll be your first customer!

Between posts you can find me on Instagram sharing highlights of daily life.

Amsterdam Travel Guide

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This year has been filled with a generous amount of travel…both business and pleasure. The later of course being the most fulfilling and memorable. This year also marked our 15th wedding anniversary and to celebrate we decided to take an extensive trip to Europe together. Our journey included traveling to Amsterdam, Venice, Florence, Rome and several cities within the region of Tuscany. To say there was a vast amount of planning for this trip would be an understatement. But fortunately all those little details made for a very smooth holiday and incredible experiences we will both never forget.

We began our adventure with a flight from LAX to Stockholm then on to the first city on our agenda…Amsterdam! And let me just cut to the chase here…we both LOVED Amsterdam!

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We stayed in an area known as The Nine Streets located in the heart of the city’s canal district. It was a beautiful section of the city filled with quaint boutiques, coffee shops and charming restaurants. It felt like a small neighborhood and we enjoyed being able to walk to dinner and the market for our daily breakfast yogurt. Our first meal after getting settled was a Nutella crepe stuffed with strawberries, a ham and gruyere cheese panini and an authentic Belgian waffle.

Choosing to stay at Hotel IX made our visit incredibly special. The well appointed rooms were so beautifully decorated with simple, yet sumptuous, white bedding and a dramatic black and white photo mural of a street scene right outside their front door. And those wood beams!

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 The large room had a nice seating area, a free mini bar and Nespresso machine and a great bathroom with a walk-in shower. Usually I’ve found in Europe, hotel rooms and apartment rentals are tiny with even tinier bathrooms. So having such a generous, light filled space was a welcome surprise. One memorable item of note about this hotel (that you won’t read on their website or in reviews) are the soft church bells you hear ringing every hour. It’s like a daily reminder to savor the moment. Wish there were more of them here in the US. I find them soothing.

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Some of the scenes along the canals were the epitome of what I thought Amsterdam would look like. Large trees lining each side, crooked row houses covered in vines, fresh flower stands, old boat houses and bicycles whizzing by nearly every minute. You can rent bikes to explore on your own or with a guide at Yellow Bike and Scooter Rent Amsterdam.

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One evening we took the free ferry from the Central Station to the north side of Amsterdam to have dinner at Pllek – a restaurant made out of recycled shipping containers! Inside you can sit by the fireplace and gaze out their enormous floor to ceiling windows with views of the water. It’s the perfect date night. They have an amazing menu of sustainably caught seafood and fresh local produce and everything we had was delicious. Oh, and you can see their giant disco ball here!

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Some of our other favorite cafes and coffee shops were:

Cafe Bern – For authentic Swiss fondue and local atmosphere. Definitely not touristy.
Cafe de Pels – Nice little place to sit by the window,  have coffee and watch the world go by.
Paper Planes – Great spot for brunch, regardless of their somewhat odd FB page.
Pluk Amsterdam – Healthy juices, smoothies and fresh salads, beautiful shop as well.
Lot Sixty One – They take coffee seriously…the perfect place for a cappuccino and croissant.
Gartine – Absolutely loved this place. The food, decor, staff…even the dishes. Highly recommend!
Winkel – Famous apple pie. Or is it cake? You be the judge….either way it was delicious!

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There are so many great places to eat in Amsterdam. We didn’t have a single bad meal. It’s easy to get carried away with trying to hit all the “best” places but I also like to go off the beaten path and just stop when hunger strikes. The Man even ate some sort of crispy egg roll/chicken curry thing from a vending machine at Febo and liked it. Apparently they’re a huge hit with the locals.

One of the trip highlights for me was visiting the Anne Frank House. I read her diary several times as a young girl and it had such an impact on me. I believe it was the first time I ever understood the devastation and atrocities humans can inflict on innocent people. Being able to walk through their secret hiding place, climb the same stairs, see the rooms they lived in and her original hand written diary was an extremely moving experience.

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There are some wonderful museums, parks and palaces all worth a visit:

Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House, Vondelpark, Rijksmuseum, and the Royal Palace just to name a few. You could spend days going through them…if not weeks. We even popped into the little Amsterdam Tulip Museum to see what was inside.

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 I really love traveling in the fall. The weather is generally mild, the summer crowds are gone, and there is a more relaxed pace to things. We would get up early and walk the canals just as the city was starting to stir. We could hear children laughing on their way to school, watch deliveries being made to local businesses and see beautiful Dutch people of all ages riding their bikes on the way to work. Aside from panoramic views and mind boggling architecture, this is my favorite aspect of traveling. To see how other people live. It’s fascinating to witness and hopefully we’ll be able take some of their daily lifestyle habits (bicycle commuting) and adapt them into our own life.

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 In my next post I’ll share all my favorite shops! Amsterdam has so many great little boutiques filled with amazing lighting, original home decor, and other beautiful interior furnishings.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam?
Would love for you to share your favorite places in the comments!