Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

This cake is delicious. I mean it people. Pay attention.

It isn't your local grocer's typical, icing-covered sugar bomb, which don't get me wrong, I can fully appreciate from time to time - at a party, maybe after a long day of work, for breakfast (not that I know anyone who would ever eat cake for breakfast), or even for a laugh. Until now my personal interpretation of cake can't have been much different than an eight year old's. Cake layer. Icing. Cake layer. Icing. Sprinkles. What more do you need?

But my cake arsenal was lacking. I need cakes for different occasions, cakes that don't require me to wash 19 dirty dishes in the aftermath, cakes that don't certainly induce sugar comas, cakes with more subtlety. And then I discovered this cake. This beautifully unassuming cake, with it's sweet dimply crust and bursts of raspberry flavor. There's just something so nostalgic about it. Is it just me or do recipes with 'Buttermilk' in the title seem more wholesome? I know, I know, it sounds like an oxymoron, but just roll with me here!

Anyway, this cake is a cinch to make, so make it now. No special occasion necessary.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk*
3/4 cup raspberries

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Once it has reached the desired consistency, beat in the vanilla, lemon zest, and egg.

Slowly beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk, alternating between the two, until just combined. Spoon the batter into the cake pan and smooth it out. Drop the raspberries into the batter evenly and sprinkle the entire cake with an additional tablespoon or two of sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes or until cake is golden brown.

*Did you know you can make your own buttermilk?! Add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to one cup of milk and let it sit 10 minutes. I'm not going to lie. I haven't actually tried this myself, but I've seen the tip on a bunch of cooking sites!

Recipe adapted from

Monday, September 28, 2009

Excuses, Venice Take Two, and Randomography

This weekend Andreas and I floored the attic, sorted through old clothes, papers, and housewares, and organized what most would claim to be a ridiculous amount of 'stuff' for a couple that has only been married for three years. Where did it all come from? And how did it get here?

Now I'm all for sharing our lives with you guys, but photos of me sweating profusely while awkwardly navigating the attic beams or my living room looking like it has been hit by a tornado are not my idea of fun, internet-friendly memories. So instead you are getting the last installment of least for a while. I've been using the stacked photo cache as a blog crutch of sorts. Posting new and more recent events on here forces me to get behind the camera and practice more often, so here's hoping I can be creative and come up with something entertaining!

And now I present Venice Part Deux (or however you say two in Italian)...

This is how you start the morning off in Venice, a cafe. Let me warn you that this is strong coffee, as in I used the entire packet of sugar to sweeten a cup that was smaller than the actual packet of sugar. Of course Dad didn't need no stinkin' sugar and drank it straight up. But I'm not that hard core.

Hungry for breakfast? Grab some fresh the boat.
Don't forget to put the laundry out to dry. This was beautiful, but it made me very grateful for my dryer.

Aren't they cute?! Hannah decided to stay home on this trip to Venice, so it was just Mom, Dad, Andreas, and me. We missed you Hannah!

Piazza San Marco, view from St. Mark's basilica. If you Wiki Piazza San Marco they have almost this exact same picture!

We took a tour of St. Peter's Basilica, which was absolutely breathtaking. The entire church was covered in these impossibly small stones...

...which combined to create these remarkable mosaics. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Mom and Andreas took a trip to the top to see the four horses while Dad and I hung out downstairs.

Pretty soon it was time for lunch. And do you know what there is no shortage of in all of Italy?

That's right. PIZZA. It is EVERYWHERE. This one is the Four Seasons - mushrooms, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and a pepperoni-like sausage*. Don't ask for pepperoni pizza though unless you want a bunch of red and yellow peppers. Take a cue from Hannah and order the Diavola.
Venice totally lived up to my expectations. It was beautiful and romantic, buzzing with people in certain areas and totally peaceful in others.

And I can't completely finish off Italy without putting a few other random pictures in here of our trip, so here it goes...

Mom and Dad's house! That's an olive tree on the right. And that tree on the left, I just loved it. Such a brilliant red. It looked like it was on fire! And see that corn field in the back right-hand corner?

No big deal. Just their INSANE view.

Pretty pink flowers cascading over a neighbor's window.

Yummy lunch. Pizza again, but I'm not complainin'. I think this time we got buffalo mozzarella and grape tomatoes!

One day we took a trip to a walled city. I cannot remember the name. Mom, help? I know you will remember. I love this picture. Sista, sista!

One of the city's main attractions was a basilica whose floor was entirely covered in a mosaic depicting the history of Christianity. Awesome.

Hannah, Dad, and I scaling the walled city lookouts.

And this picture isn't really related to anything except it was taken on the same day in the same general area. But it took a good 20 minutes to capture this moment, and I felt it deserved its own moment in the spotlight. And look, it still isn't right. But hey, we tried, and now we have the memory of Mom and Andreas directing us for a good long time while we just laughed and complained about our arms hurting. Better luck next time!

*The meat is actually prosciutto, which is a dry-cured ham and not at all like pepperoni. But it was late when I wrote this, and I didn't actually take the time to look at the picture before typing, so now you get this late disclaimer. Good thing I reread the post this morning. Please forgive the confusion.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Team Vang

Love this guy. He's the best part of Team Vang.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lake Barcis

One of our day trips in Italy started with a relaxed morning at the market. The vendors sell everything from clothes to seafood to jewelry to fresh produce. We spent a couple of hours walking around looking at what everyone had to offer. We ended up buying fruit, cheese, and marinated olives for part of our picnic lunch later that day.

Our destination that afternoon was Lake Barcis.

After a short drive through some challenging roadways and quaint villages, we arrived. We sat down and ate lunch at this picnic table. Since it was a weekday we basically had the lake to ourselves. Andreas, Hannah, and Mom checked out the fish swimming just at the lake's edge.

We walked the path that circled the lake. Mom, Dad, and Hannah had been once before and said the water was much lower on this visit.

It was a beautiful area!

But then we drove a little further down the road to this! Crystal clear streams with an awesome view of the mountains.

The water was gorgeous!

The beach was rocky, but it was so nice. The weather was cool and we all just hung out skipping stones and listening to the water.

Family pic - we don't exactly look very glamorous here!

The water was freezing. I mean freezing. If it hadn't been moving so quickly I am certain the water at the shore's edge would have frozen. I barely dipped a toe in before decided I was content to sit on a towel on the warm rocks. The only ones brave enough to attempt getting in were Andreas and Mom. I love this picture. You can see the pain in their faces, haha. It was so cold! They're tough, but they didn't last long. They only got half way across before they were running back towards us!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Winery Tour

When Mom, Dad, and Hannah first arrived in Italy, part of their welcome tour included a trip to a winery. The family that owns the vineyards supplies wine to all the American military bases in Europe, and it just so happens the estate is within minutes of my parents' house. During our visit, going to the vineyard was on our list of things to do. But with all the traveling and other sightseeing escapades, we almost decided to skip it. I am sooooooo glad we didn't. It was seriously one of the most exciting things we did all week!

We started our tour in the winery, where they were in the full swing of things. Let me stop to mention that this was basically a private, casual tour with the Italian owner leading our family around while his staff just worked around us and he did his best to explain the process in English. He was great and totally hospitable. If you look closely at the picture, the third receptacle from the right may appear blurry. This is because the entire thing is covered in a thin film of water, which you can see spilling off towards the bottom. The owner explained that this piece of machinery was older than the others and therefore used a different, more antiquated cooling system.

We saw a machine that separated the grapes from their stems at an insanely quick speed and with what appeared to be incredible ease. It churned away, pumping the grapes towards a separate machine that removed the pulp and juice. The picture below is a truckbed filled entirely with grape skins. The owner explained that these skins were the byproduct of just 12 hours of work! He sells the skins to another company that makes grappa, a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy of between 37.5% and 60% alcohol by volume (according to Wikipedia).

Then he casually asked if we wanted to see the grapes. Of course we wanted to see the grapes! We followed him to basically what was his family's back yard. Rows and rows of grapevine, full of ripe fruit with the Alps creating a backdrop. It was so beautiful words cannot do it justice.

We strolled through the rows as he pointed out grapes calling them by name - Merlot, Chardonnay, and the vines that his wife had insisted on planting that grew table grapes! He would pluck a grape and eat it, comment on its flavor, and encourage us to do the same.

It was harvesting time and field workers were plucking grapes by hand. Our guide said picking by hand allows for a higher quality wine because the staff can discern between a good and bad bunch and leave the bad fruit on the vine. Most winemakers are using a more current process where a machine pulls the fruit, which is faster but does lower the quality of the end product. This particular vineyard had vines that were picked by hand and vines that used a machine for harvesting.

One of the really amazing facts he shared was the motivation behind planting these rose bushes at the end of each row. He said if there are any issues with soil quality, bugs, or any other potentially damaging variables they will affect the rose bushes around two days before they begin to affect the grapevines. For this reason they refer to the rose bushes as alarms!

At the end of the tour we did a small taste testing. The wines were all so delicious that I ended up buying 4 bottles! Do you know how much it cost me? 12 Euro. That's it!!! When I climbed back into the minivan excited about my purchase Andreas was quick to remind me that I probably wasn't going to be able to stow those bottles in my carry-on. Woops! So, our family came together in true Italian-American fashion. We solved the problem over the course of the next week with delicious Asiago and peppered cheeses alongside freshly marinated olives, while watching Harry Potter, during family game night playing Apples to Apples, and with dinners. I didn't have any wine at the end of that week to worry about bringing back home, but I sure am looking forward to my next visit so I can enjoy that local wine during relaxed evenings together as a family. Hopefully next time that can include you too Kirk!

Disclaimer: Some of the 'facts' in this post may be a litttttle off. The owner spoke English pretty well, but it's been a couple of weeks since our visit and I am not totally confident in my memory of the process.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Venice Day 1

Venice. It's extremely well-known, steeped in history and romance. The city is alive and definitely has a story to tell. I think when most people hear the word Venice it conjures up vivid images in their heads, and in person the city did not disappoint.

After arriving at the airport from Copenhagen, we took a water taxi to the island. We docked near San Marco Plaza. The street was overflowing with people and vendors, lined in beautiful, bold buildings, and gondolas were everywhere.

Our surroundings were mysterious and beautiful. The canals, the architecture, the shops - everything had character and seemed to breathe together easily.
Ah yes, there was an exception. The pigeons were not beautiful. They were gross and nasty, though it seems most of the visitors had a difference of opinion with me on this matter.
Including my mother!
We walked from San Marco to the Rialto, the large bridge spanning the Great Canal. It wasn't a long distance, but we took our time, peeking into shops along the way, stopping at other random landmarks, appreciating the cafes and pastry shops, enjoying the sunshine and the beauty in the old architecture.
Hey look! A shoe store! I know you all want a pair for Christmas - just like the elves! Now I can appreciate European style, but this I just do not understand.
Like I said, gondolas were everywhere! They lined the wider side canals and you would occassionally see them drifting along in the tiny canals, gondoliers steering around excited tourists. We didn't take a ride, but maybe someday.
The boats have such personality! Most are ridiculously ornate and opulent, appealing to romance-hungry couples, of which there is no shortage.
It does not take much to get lost. We enjoyed wandering around, strolling through less-crowded streets eyeing everything from pizza to Murano glass. There is no pattern to the alleys that I could determine. Every few streets is a small, quiet canal, some with bridges, some without. We did a good amount of walking on Monday, but I feel like we zig-zagged our way through the entire city on the next visit. More on that later.
Finally we made it to the Rialto. There were people everywhere, going in and out of shops, smoking, selling purses, eating gelato. So fun!
But the view. Oh the view...
After a long day, we enjoyed a pizza dinner outside. The appetizer was delicious! Fried bread with fresh, fresh, fresh tomatoes and olive oil, cheese, and herbs.
Venice at night is possibly even more beautiful.
We went to Venice again toward the end of the week. But there were fun trips in between! Coming soon!