San Gimignano, Italia

July 23, 2012

After Siena, we made a brief stop in San Gimignano. This small medieval town is located on top of a hill with stunning views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside. The city is walled and the outskirts comprised mainly of vineyards and olive groves. Another picturesque Tuscan town.

Our brief stop in San Gimignano did not offer time enough for a meal, but after strolling through the main street we stopped at Gelateria di Piazza for some award winning gelato. Across the square, competition nearly fooled us with another gelato place with signs outside stating best gelato in the world. A long line of people fooled waited outside.

Siena, Italia

July 23, 2012

Arriving at Siena mid morning allowed us only a few hours to stroll through the streets and shops of this charming, hilly city. Certainly not enough time to cover all the scenic views, piazzas and little local shops.

Narrow streets leading into the heart of the city

Tourist shop – the flags sold are the flags that represent each district of Siena

Storefront of a meat and cheese shop

Our guide took us through the narrow city streets to the Piazza del Campo where concerts often take place as well as an annual horse race. This race takes place every summer in July and August and is a competition between the districts of Siena. The locals take it very seriously. The piazza is covered in sand and the horses race around ten times, the winner earning honor for their district. It is a very dangerous race run bareback and around tight, slippery turns.

Piazza del Campo

Piazza del Campo

From the piazza we strolled through a few more narrow streets to find ourselves facing the stunning Cathedral of Siena. The facade is spectacular with incredible detail depicting the gospels as well as the legend of Romulus and Remus. It is said one of the brothers traveled to the Tuscany region and founded Siena.

Cathedral of Siena

Cathedral of Siena – She wolf with Romulus and Remus

The line into the Cathedral of Siena was devastatingly long so we chose to spend the limited amount of time in Siena strolling the streets and grabbing a bite of lunch. Our walk took us through the medieval town back to the Piazza del Campo, stopping at a few outlooks over the city along the way. From the piazza we weaved through more back roads passing unique shops before stopping for a quick lunch at a self-serve restaurant. We then enjoyed a delicious bit of gelato (I ordered two flavors in Italian that I could barely pronounce and had no idea what they were, but they were delicious).

Lucca, Italia

July 22, 2012

We arrived in Lucca late afternoon and took a brief tour within the old, walled section of the city through piazzas and narrow streets to the beautiful Duomo di San Martino. Lucca is a charming little city with narrow streets broken up by open squares. The city hold many concerts and events to keep local intrigue and the stores and cafes have a certain level of charm. While Lucca is a city and flooded with tourists ever year, it manages to hang on to its own character and identity without being lost in the shuffle of touristy knickknacks and false goods.

San Michele in Foro

Tower of San Michele in Foro and modern art display of golden fist

Street in Lucca

A street vender selling sweet treats including nut barks and marshmallow candies

I did not dine or stay here, but I was told by a reliable source that it is an excellent hotel and restaurant.

Duomo di San Martino

Pretty side street in Lucca

This shop was very unique and sold fixtures of various materials with classic and artistic designs.

After our brief walking tour we were free to roam the city. As it was Sunday the majority of stores were closed, but we managed to find a few interesting storefronts as well as a good number of twisting, turning, mazes of backstreets that took us wandering through the quiet residential areas of Lucca.

Once we tired of the tight mazes, we strolled out to the wall which has been transformed into a cycling/walking/running path. The path extends the entire length of the wall in one big circle and actually runs on top of the wall with tree cover and benches. It is beautiful and provides wonderful views of the Tuscan countryside.

We headed back to the hotel for a delicious 4 course dinner before falling into bed.

Pisa, Italia

July 22, 2012

In route to our third night in Lucca, we made a brief stop in Pisa for a look at the Leaning Tower and a quick lunch. Before exiting the bus we were warned of gypsies and pickpockets who have taken up the appearance of fellow tourists, usually young girls traveling in a group of 4 or 5. We managed to avoid any theft despite the immense crowds.

There was not much to see in Pisa. The central square contained the Leaning Tower, Basilica and an indoor cemetery as well as a many vendors and a few side streets with cafes. Outside of this central area held more venders (note 95% of vendors both outside and inside the square sold knockoff products made in China) and a few more restaurants.

Central square of Pisa

Classic photo holding up the tower

Side street lined with ristorantes

First pizza of the trip with prosciutto di parma

Roma, Italia

July 20th -July 21st, 2012

The first two days of my Italian adventure were spent in Roma. The large, sprawling capital of Italia, filled with ancient ruins, master artwork, and home of the Vatican, welcomed me with honking scooters as I shuttled from the airport to our hotel with my Father and two brothers.

Traffic rules in Roma are practically nonexistent. Oftentimes intersections did not have traffic lights, but relied solely on the aggression of drivers and lulls in traffic flow. Cars were parked in No Parking zones, on sidewalks, and even perpendicular to the curb.

Our hotel was in the heart of the business district in Roma. This section was wealthy and home to most of the lawyers and business men of Roma. Being right around the corner from an ancient castle and the Vatican, we spent our first afternoon fighting off jet lag and roaming the area.

We wandered over to the Tiber River to find tents of venders selling tourist trinkets, gelato, scarves and jewelry. Following the river to the Castile S. Angelo, we entered the premises and took our time walking through the ancient corridors admiring the art, stonework and views from the top alongside the angel.

After a quick stroll over to the Vatican to admire the basilica and the square, we headed back to the hotel to relax and refresh before a group introductory dinner with our tour group.

Our tour group consisted of 42 people who all got along splendidly. The tour is through Globus, a very reputable company that runs excellent tours with great accommodations, guides and transportation. This specific tour is Italian Treasures.

Day two in Roma began with a very early wake up call in order to make it to the Vatican Museums right at opening. We had a local guide, Marco, take us through the highlights of the museums explaining the history of the art and architecture as well as the symbolism of the art and structures.

Ancient tapestry from the Vatican Museums

Ceiling fresco from the Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museums

Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museums

Detail of painted map in Hall of Maps in Vatican Museums

Marco took us through the museums and into the Sistine Chapel. Sadly no photos were allowed but the work was breathtaking. Michelangelo worked wonders both on the ceiling and his very controversial piece done many many years later above the alter. It would take days to view the complete detail and thought put into every part of the chapel and even then the viewer would still lack complete understanding.

After the Sistine Chapel, we entered St. Peter’s Basilica home to two styles, Renaissance and Baroque, as the construction occurred during both periods.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Michelangelo’s Pienta in St. Peter’s Basilica. Sadly kept behind bullet proof glass after a loon smashed part of her with a hammer.

St. Peter’s Basilica

Bernini’s Alter in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

From here we drove to the ruins of ancient Roma where excavation sites have brought forth history from the depths of the earth covered in sand and dirt as time passed.

Arch of Constantine


Ancient Roman Forum – It appears as nothing but a pile of rubble and ancient stones, but our guide Marco painted a grandiose image of what once existed on the sands of the ancient forum. The temples, architecture, and greatness that once took place here. The air was ripe with history and a ghostly presence of things long past could be felt with every breath.

After hours in the sweltering heat and intense sun, absorbing as much knowledge as we could from Marco, we refreshed at the hotel and left in search of a midday meal. Finding a nice cafe a few blocks away with zero tourists, many local Italians, and no menu, we struggled to order by pointing in the glass counter and explaining as best we could. I manged to use a handful of words I learned in Italian and a few minutes later we were seating eating our meals, mine an eggplant tower with mozzarella and tomatoes. Delicious!

Later that afternoon we met up with Marco yet again for a walking tour in the older central district of Roma.

View from the top of the Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti)

Spanish Steps

Historic Cafe Greco open since 1760

Cafe Greco

Trevi Fountain – It is customary to throw three coins into the fountain over the left shoulder. The first is to come back to Roma, the second a wish, and the third a wish for either marriage or divorce.


Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi (Fountain of Four Rivers)

Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi (Fountain of Four Rivers)

Our final dinner in Roma was at a ristorante a few blocks over from our hotel that was recommended by our guide, Caterina. I do not recall the street it was on or the exact name, but it was Ciao something. The food was incredible! I enjoyed a dish of homemade gnocchi with a basil pomodoro sauce.

Ciao Ristorante

Homemade gnocchi with basil pomodoro sauce

On The Wild Side

The following in its entirety is courtesy of Etsy and can be found in full here.

Get the Look Decor: Welcome to the Jungalow

Published on July 08, 2012 in Shop

Photo by Justina Blakeney


This weekend’s Get the Look Decor is inspired by Justina Blakeney’s gorgeous and unique LA home. She lives just south of Echo Park with her husband, Jason, their cat, Luda, and in just a few short weeks, a brand new baby girl lovingly referred to as “Boomba.” Nicknamed the Jungalow, Justina’s home combines tropical and bohemian styles, incorporating bold patterns, vivid colors, vintage treasures and lots of houseplants.

Check out Justina’s blog for even more incredible decorating ideas and to take the full Jungalow tour.

What is your favorite part about your home?
My favorite part about my home is that it grows with me and my family. It reflects all of our travels, our creative projects, our love for greenery and my fearless relationship with pattern and color. I love the afternoon light in my home. I love my yard. I love how funky and old it is.


[Clockwise from top left: Fairy Bed Canopy Crown by SoZoeyBoutique; Vintage Wedding Suzani by SilkWay; Wind Chime or Bell by ironaworks; Designer Pillow Cover by 3BModLiving; vintage Moroccan Slippers by capricorne; Four Birds Dressed in Red by edsplaceonetsy; The Canopy Lounge in Orange by CANOPYstudio; Large Framed Vintage Painting by MolecularModern; Vintage Wood Window Frame by BridgewoodPlace.]

Did you decide to decorate in this style or was there an evolution to your decorating process?
I think that my decor decisions are more visceral, so I guess an evolution would be more accurate. The more spaces I decorate, the more I realize my decorating habits, the types of things that I tend to incorporate. For example, it became clear after decorating several homes that I love to inundate spaces with plants. Once I recognized that about myself, it became part of my “thing,” and now I make more conscious decisions to add plants into spaces. Same goes for worldly textiles like Handira, Suzani, Kilim and Otomi, and same goes for mid-century lines and upcycled details.


[Clockwise from top left: Vintage 1973 Macrame Lamp by mrbarnes5; Ikat Pillow Cover by islimi; Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table by AtlasWoodCo; Grapewood and Air Plant Centerpiece by TheLivingArt; VIntage Kilim Rug by NoonGallery; Hanging Air Plant Pod Trio by mudpuppy.]

What inspires you when it comes to decorating?
I have a great group of friends that inspire me — my sister Faith, who is an interior designer, and my friend Dabito are two people who come immediately to mind. I am also very much inspired by travel — even local travel, like a trip to the beach or an art gallery downtown. I also find it inspiring to see odd pairings — things that normally one wouldn’t put together — which somehow work. And lastly, I am a huge fan of creative reuse. I love to see items in new contexts.  I love to be surprised and delighted in design, turning form and function on its head and seeing where it takes us.


[Clockwise from top left: Hanging Wooden Wine Rack by AspenBottleHolders; Handwoven rag rug by Gunaspalete; Mosaic Steer Skull made with Handcut Glass Tiles by Jiveworks; Reclaimed Wood and Solid Steel Dining Table by dylangrey; African Inspired Art Quilt Wall Hanging by QuirkyQuilts; Fabric Spider Plant by sian.]

Where are your favorite places to shop for home items?
I love to shop while traveling, from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to the Souk in Marrakech, but when I’m local, I go religiously to the Rose Bowl Flea market. I also frequent random thrift shops — there are a lot in my neighborhood, along Sunset Boulevard. I also like a lot of boutique-type shops. A few that come to mind are Dekor, Rolling Green, Lawson Fenning, Inheritance, Amsterdam Modern…there are many. Online, I scour Craigslist, eBay and Etsy — daily.


[Clockwise from top left: Set of Two Turquoise Pillows by studiotullia; Custom Made to Fit Bay Window Seat Storage Bench by Ablesaw; Vintage Fishing Float by lightinawormhole; Topform Rosewood Modular Shelving System by AardewerkenZo; Green Diagonal Brick Planter by OpenSystem; Antique Mill Textile Wood Spools by thelostrooms; Glass Terrarium by JechoryGlassDesigns; Floor Cushion in Grey by madebyzigzag; Haldensleben Fat Lava Striped Vase by GoGoBerlinette.]

Does your home hold any strong memories?
I’ve lived here for a little over a year, but seeing as how this is the place where we’re creating a family, I’m sure this home will go down in the books for us. Also, we have a couple of possum friends who aren’t shy about visiting us through the cat door and eating all of Luda’s food. I don’t expect I’ll be forgetting that anytime soon.


[Clockwise from top left: Spotted Owl Custom Baby Bedding by birdshaveflowers; Modern Animal Bamboo Wall Clock by decoylab; Vintage Wide White Flowery Lace Panel by ghoghooghora; Silk Suzani Pillow Cover by sukan; Vintage Paint By Number Flamingo by cybersenora; Vintage Pink Dresser by suezcues.]

How The Taste Of Tomatoes Went Bad

A coworker of mine recently posted this article from NPR on his Facebook.The overall decline of taste and quality in the tomatoes found at most grocery stores has not gone unnoticed. My family no longer purchases regular tomatoes. Instead we get Kumato or Heirloom. This article is incredibly fascinating divulging into how a gene mutation have changed the taste of the mass market tomatoes.

The Salt

How The Taste of Tomatoes Went Bad (And Kept on Going)

By Dan Charles

Notice how some of these tomatoes have unripe-looking tops? Those "green shoulders" are actually the keys to flavor.

Notice how some of these tomatoes have unripe-looking tops? Those “green shoulders” are actually the keys to flavor.

The tomato is the vegetable (or fruit, if you must) that we love to hate. We know how good it can be and how bad it usually is. And everybody just wants to know: How did it get that way?

Today, scientists revealed a small but intriguing chapter in that story: a genetic mutation that seemed like a real improvement in the tomato’s quality, but which actually undermined its taste.

Before we get to the mutation, though, let’s start with the old tomatoes — the varieties that people grew a century or more ago.

Thanks to enthusiastic seed savers and heirloom tomato enthusiasts, you can still find many of them. Eric Rice, owner of Country Pleasures Farm near Middletown, Md., first encountered heirloom tomatoes when he was a graduate student in North Carolina.

“I decided I really liked them,” he says. He liked the vivid taste and the unusual colors, from orange to purple. These tomatoes also have great names: Cherokee Purple, Dr. Wyche’s, Mortgage Lifter.

Rice now grows these tomatoes to sell at a farmers market in Washington, D.C. But he admits that all that tomato personality can make heirlooms harder to grow and sell. “Heirloom tomatoes don’t ship very well because they’re softer. And frankly, they’re all different shapes and sizes.” This makes them more difficult to pack.

There’s something else you’ll notice as these tomatoes start to get ripe — something central to this story. The part of the tomato near the stem — what’s called the shoulder of the fruit — stays green longer.

“I think it is an issue for the consumer,” says Rice, “because people do buy with their eyes. And green shoulders also mean it’s not entirely ripe or not as soft and tasty there.”

Those green shoulders turn out to be more significant than you might think. In this week’s issue of the journal Science, scientists report that when they disappeared from modern tomatoes, some of the tomato’s taste went with them.

Here’s how. Sometime before 1930, somewhere in America, a tomato grower noticed a plant that was producing distinctive fruit. These fruit turned red from stem to tip in a uniform way. They didn’t have any of those bothersome green shoulders.

It was a new mutation, and plant breeders saw it as the next big thing.

They called it the “uniform ripening” trait. In 1930, the agricultural experiment station in Fargo, N.D., released a new tomato variety containing this mutation. The variety was called All Red.

Ann Powell, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, says it spread through the entire tomato industry. “It’s a little hard to find a variety in modern production that doesn’t have it,” she says.

Powell is one of the scientists who now has discovered the genetic change responsible for “uniform ripening.”

She was studying some genetically engineered tomato plants for another reason when she noticed that one of the added genes resulted in green tomatoes that were really dark green. It struck her as odd. “The leaves were not dark green. It was only the fruit that were dark green,” she recalls.

Since this foreign gene had interesting effects on the ripening of fruit, Powell and her colleagues started looking for a similar gene that occurs naturally in tomatoes. They found it — and by coincidence, so did another research team on the other side of the country, at Cornell University.

The researchers discovered that this natural tomato gene, when it works properly, produces those green shoulders on tomatoes. The darker green color comes from the chlorophyll in plant structures called chloroplasts, which is what converts sunlight into sugars for the plant. In fact, those dark green shoulders were making those old tomatoes sweeter and creating more flavor.

The uniform-ripening mutation disabled this gene.

“We find out that, oh my goodness, this is one of the factors that led to the deterioration of flavor in the commercial tomato,” says Harry Klee, a professor of horticulture at the University of Florida.

Klee has been exploring the chemistry and genetics of tomato taste. He says tomato breeders made a lot of compromises like this over the years as they created tomato plants that produce more fruit and are also rugged enough to hold up under rough handling.

Now, Klee says, with some of this new science, we have a chance to undo some of those decisions. “What I tell people is, we can have 100 percent of the flavor [of heirloom varieties] with 80 percent of the agricultural performance of the modern varieties, with very little work.”

Breeders can start with some of the best heirlooms, then bring in some of the disease-resistance genes that modern varieties have. They should also be able to increase yields somewhat, he says.

But consumers may have to change their expectations, Klee says. “They’re going to have to go in and say, ‘That one’s got that little discoloration at the top; that means it must be good!”

And, the only way they’re likely to show up in your local grocery store is if consumers can recognize them and are willing to pay a bit more for them.

Still, for the best flavor, you might want to grow your own.

Bedford Trail Riding Adventure

On July 6th my trainer, Vanessa, and some other riders from the Stables at MiraBella and I took the horses, including my little four year old, for an adventure in upstate New York at Bedford Riding Lanes Association.

Having very little trailering experience and only one prior trail ride, Ozymandias handled himself quite well. He loaded in and out of the trailer like a pro and behaved like an angel throughout the trail ride up until we encountered a creek about an inch deep. At this point, he simply refused to move. No amount of encouragement would budge him. Ultimately, a friend riding with us hopped off her steed and lead him through a section of mainly rock.

At the second river crossing, this time a bit wider and deeper, after a few minutes of poking and prodding ending in zero results I hop off and try and drag my hesitant horse across only to have him leap out as I pulled. It all happened quite fast, but I ended up falling in the river and he stepped on my calf. Nothing broken but there is a nice nasty bruise to show for it.

At this point I scare the entire group by having my vasovagal syncope kick in leaving me deaf and blind and I fight to stay conscious. Luckily my quick thinking trainer jumped off her mount and helped hold me up while the dizziness passed.

At the third river crossing my horse continued to put up a fight despite how much effort I put into moving him forward. He reared, kicked out, danced and tried to circle, but ultimately with the help of the group he jumped into the water. Not two seconds went by before he realized it was not a pit of death and despair but a refreshing cooling experience for his hooves. He drank, pawed and played with his buddies totally calm and content. The next two water crossings went beautifully. He catches on fast.

This set of trails in Bedford was perfect for a hot sunny day. The extensive wooded trails kept out sun and heat allowing the us and the horses to cool off and relax. The woods were broken up by many beautiful fields with cross country jumps and trimmed grass for smooth cantering.

The day ended with a picnic on grounds before driving home.

All images in this post are courtesy of my trainer, Vanessa Karlewicz.