Wednesday, December 19, 2012


  We leave for Rome in less than a week, and I haven't even gotten around to writing anything about Milan yet. So I'm going to try to sum it up in one blog post. If I had to describe Milan in one word, that word would be: disappointing. For those of you thinking I'm crazy to say this, in my defense I will say that 2 other people have given me the exact same appraisal of Milan: 'It's just another city'. One woman was German, one British, and they didn't know each other. I have to say I agree with them, however!
If you love shopping then obviously Milan is the place for you (although most of the stores I saw there were chains that could be found anywhere else in the world). If you love Italian food and culture, then try another city. Not that Milan doesn't have its fair share of art, museums, etc, but I'd have to say that the food was good at best, nothing outstanding. And it's so hard to see the ever-so-famous Last Supper that you either have to pay an insane price or reserve your tickets months in advance (or both). I'm not saying the Last Supper is the only quality piece of art in the city, but if you're touring Milan then you're more than likely going to want to see this famous masterpiece if at all possible.
 The fact that it rained our entire weekend there probably didn't help my appraisal of the city, but here are a few highlights from our little getaway.
  Milan's Duomo is beautiful. Of course it is: it's the Duomo! And one of the largest in Italy, I think. Didn't really do my homework for this trip unfortunately. Just beware the scammers outside in the piazza: guys will try to give you some birdseed and get you to hold your arms up for the (dirty!) pigeons. They then offer to take a picture on your camera of you feeding said nasty birds. Not really sure what they plan on doing at that point other than picking your pockets or charging you for taking a photo. In any case, if they force the seed on you, drop it and go!
 For our first dinner (and our only formal/expensive/sit-down dinner) in Milan, we ate at Nerino Dieci Trattoria, one of the top-rated restaurants in the city. Good service, home-made beer, very eye-pleasing food...but I can't say that our meal was the best ever. Tasty, maybe, but there was no one dish that I specifically remember, either. (Whereas I'm still craving some ribollita from Florence!). For the price, I was expecting some gastronomical treats, but what we got was average food made to look beautiful.
 Also, while the service was very attentive and everyone was pleasant to us, it was quite obvious near the end of our meal that our waitress was quietly being told off by the manager because she hadn't cleared a small plate from our table. We'd asked her to leave it for Keila (who was sleeping in her stroller), and while I could see that she was explaining this fact to the manager, there were still lots of annoyed gestures on his part about the whole thing. Kind of ruined the meal for me. The waitress came back and never mentioned a word about the plate, but if it was such a big deal they could've at least been polite enough to discuss it in private instead going at it in full view of us and other diners. I'd still recommend trying it if you're in Milan and want good service (even if they are a bit TOO attentive when it comes to clearing plates), but it just doesn't compare to food in Florence or upper-class Venetian restaurants.
  Sweets: we ate some gelato at Gelateria Rinomata, and also had gelato and cake at Chocolat. The gelato at Rinomata was pretty good, although a bit too sugary for my taste. Apparently they've held onto their original recipe for years, and the inside is quaintly old-fashioned, too. I'd stop by again if we were in the area.
 Chocolat has great dark chocolate cakes, and their hazelnut dark chocolate gelato was top-notch, too. Keila loved the regular chocolate gelato, but I don't think she's too picky! The cafe interior is very trendy and relaxing at the same time. It seemed to have a good mix of clientele, too. Would defintely return there again.
  And, that's it for Milan! We're glad we went but likely won't return. It was a nice weekend getaway but I wouldn't bother going for longer unless you really want to shop or tour some museums.

  Nerino Dieci Trattoria in Milan: Via Nerino 10, 20123
  Gelateria Rinomata: Ripa Porta Ticinese | Angolo Viale Gorizia
 Chocolat in Milan: Via Boccaccio 9, 20121

                    Nerino in Milan: Lovely atmosphere, staff, and presentation. Now if only they'd spice up the food a notch or two!

                                  Rinomata Gelateria: Quaint gelateria with good service and quality gelato

                       Great chocolate cake from Chocolat Milan

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Keila is 25 Months Today!

Where did the past month go? I could've sworn we had just finished celebrating Keila's second birthday. Now it's already going on Christmas and she's 25 months old. Here's what my little girl has been up to in the past month:
 1. Keila's language skills continue to improve at an astronomical rate, although still mostly in English. She's consistently repeating 2 or 3 words at a time now when I talk to her, instead of just one. Keila also LOVES singing and can go through a verse or two of 'Santa Claus is Coming To Town'. Japanese still needs some work, and Keila apparently recognizes that it's not English, or at least not what Mommy speaks, as she told Yuki this morning (when he was trying to count with her). 'No! Momma count! Dada no!" Clever girl. But we definitely need to ramp up the Japanese whenever Daddy is home.
 2. Another molar is working its way through! 1.5 teeth to go....
 3. Sleep is still hit or miss. I'm going to continue to blame that on the teething issues....and pray that it gets better once they're finally in!
 4. Keila's newest favorite activities include: playing 'Supergirl' (having Mom or Dad lift her up in the air), 'swimming' (flailing on her tummy while in her crib), and throwing any and all food she doesn't like. First 2, cute. Last one, not so much. Throwing has calmed down a bit since she's realized that Mommy will take away ALL the food until she stops throwing things.
 5. Still basically potty trained (with a few accidents here and there). I think this category is officially done with!
 6. Once again forgot to check weight and height. She seems pretty average for height, and last time she was playing on the scale I think she was 12.9 kilos. Keila is growing out of her clothes pretty quickly, so we're not too worried about her growth progress.
  That's all until 2013!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Product Reviews: Lindt Excellence Wasabi Dark Chocolate Bar, and Cadbury Snow Bites

  Quick review for 2 impulse-buys from the store yesterday: Lindt Excellence Wasabi Dark Chocolate bar, and Cadbury Snow Bites.
 The first one: Lindt tends to make decent supermarket-level chocolate, so I figured that I might as well try their wasabi flavor and see how it fared. Verdict??? They did surprisingly well! While the blurb on the back of the package declares that it's the 'finest dark chocolate, subtly flavoured with wasabi', I wouldn't say that the wasabi taste is 'subtle' at all. Which is fine by me, but be forewarned if you're sensitive to spice. What you get really is a lovely dark chocolate sensation, followed by the sudden spice and heat of wasabi. Wonderful!!! Perhaps my only complaint is that the bar has a minimum of 47% cocoa solids. This definitely meets the European minimum requirements of 35% cocoa solids for a 'dark chocolate' label, but being the chocolate snob that I am, something around 60% or so would probably still be sweet enough to balance out the wasabi but provide more of a chocolate kick.
  Next up: Cadbury Snow Bites. Have these things been around for years and I've just never noticed them? I know they haven't been for sale in America, but perhaps they were out with the Christmas treats here in the UK last year and I just overlooked them. In any case, I'm going to go ahead and review them and hope I'm not discussing a holiday staple as if it's something entirely novel.
 The front of the Snow Bites package reads: 'Cadbury milk chocolate balls surrounded in a crispy white dusted shell'. Which is exactly what you get. If you're American and have never seen these things, imagine the Cadbury milk chocolate candy-coasted mini Easter eggs and you'll have a pretty good idea. Only these have a white powered sugary dust outside the shell. Not sure why they're call Snow Bites instead of Snow Balls, but they are at least bite-size. Not bad, not life changing, definitely Cadbury. I'd buy them again if I wanted a cheap sugar rush and some added vegetable fat in my chocolate.

      Lindt Excellence Wasabi Dark Chocolate Bar

           Seasonal product:  Cadbury Snow Bites

               2 and 1/2 Cadbury Snow Bites

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last Night In Barcelona: Bo de B Sandwich Shop

  This is the second-to-last Barcelona post (only 3 months late, and I still need to write about our Spanish guitar concert experience!), and it's about our dinner on our final night in the city. It'll just be a blurb, since my memory is already a bit hazy on the details.
 Since we were tired (and had eaten a HUGE lunch at El Cangrejo Loco), Yuki ran out for food while I stayed with Keila in the apartment. He returned with some amazing (and amazingly HUGE) sandwiches from Bo de B. Little did we know that this place is said to be the best sandwich shop in town, but even without that knowledge, Yuki used his deductive powers to guess that they had to be pretty good if there was a big line in front.
 He got us a roasted chicken sandwich, and also a vegetarian/falafel-like option. Both really good, both loaded with veggies (at his request). Great food, cheap prices, no complaints from us!!! I would definitely go back--they're like the I Due Fratellini of Spain. (Click HERE if you have no idea as to what I'm talking about).

Bo de B
c/Fusteria 14 Merce 35, 08002 Barcelona

Half a chicken sandwich, and half a loaded veggie sandwich from Bo de B

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rainbow Cake and Origami Butterflies: Keila's Birthday Party

  While it's fresh, I'm going to post a few pics from Keila's birthday party yesterday. The theme was a rather loose rainbow butterfly combo, mostly because when I asked Keila what she wanted, she agreed to any and all options presented including 'purple', 'blue', 'animals' and 'pretty'. So there you go.
  The rainbow cake turned out to be both harder and easier than expected. I got the idea off the Martha Stewart website ( but used a basic white cake recipe and didn't stick with the recommended filling or frosting recipes, either. After all, who wants to use 19 (yes NINETEEN) eggs in total when baking a cake? Not me. Plus, we were avoiding dairy and soy for one of our guests, so I substituted oat milk for cow's milk and non-hydrogenated margarine for butter. (Question: how do they make margarine without hydrogenating the oil? I probably don't want to know, right? Am guessing it's still not incredibly healthy).
 The cake recipe is here:  I have to say, for a plain white cake, it turned out really well, quite tasty!
 For the frosting, I used this recipe:   Seeing as I was frosting and filling a 6-layer cake, I doubled the frosting recipe, using the UK's Sunflower Pure Margarine. Also found that I didn't need any rice milk to thin out the frosting, either. And I didn't use quite as much powdered sugar as they called for. But it was still a LOT of sugar!
 So, baking the cake itself wasn't really difficult, just time-consuming to divide up the batter, color it, and then bake it in six different pans. All of the colors came out great, besides the red. I used red gel food coloring too, so not sure why it wasn't stronger? Anyone? Anyway, it was still pretty.
 The problems began while I was frosting and stacking the layers. I'd left the layers on parchment paper and just flipped each one over onto the growing stack after frosting the layer below. All was going well until....the layers started sliding around like greased hockey pucks!! AHHHHHH! Had completely forgotten that margarine isn't as dense as butter and therefore softens up much faster at room temperature. I managed to get the layers all stacked up, but the whole cake was doing a good impression of the Leaning Tower of Pisa by then. I hurried and shoved it into the fridge (at which point it toppled over and came to rest against a container of almond milk; imagine the sounds emanating from our kitchen at that point!!). I had thankfully reserved a lot of frosting in another bowl (also put in the fridge) for the next morning, hoping that the cake could be fixed.
  12 hours later...I pulled the cake out, shoved the layers somewhat back into place, and skewered them into place with 2 chop sticks. Topped the chopsticks with butterflies, frosted over the mess as best I could, and added more origami butterflies to try and conceal the damage. All this really did was make a rather tacky butterfly/leaning cake mess, but it was the best I could manage with the time that was left!
  So....ready to completely write off the stupid rainbow cake (even though Keila yelled 'PRETTY' upon seeing it)...imagine my surprise upon cutting it. Perfect rainbow layers inside!
Lesson learned....just cut the cake and don't show it to anyone before serving individual slices. Or use real butter and refrigerate the frosting in between each layer!
   As for the origami butterflies: they're quite easy to make and very cute for a child's party. I used them as decor and also as toppers for the party favors. Click on this link if you want the step-by-step tutorial:
 Finally, for a craft, I had the kids (with mom's help) glue strips of pastel rainbow paper onto pre-cut clouds. They then topped the clouds with cotton balls for a fluffy realistic effect. Or they just ate the cotton balls and/or licked the glue.

  I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking!

                       Lopsided Butterfly Rainbow Cake

                       Rainbow Cake! Amazing layers

               Children's Party Favors: Rainbow markers topped with ribbon and rainbow butterflies

                                   Rainbow butterflies on our rubber tree

               Rainbow butterfly streamers for the birthday party

                   Kids' Party Craft: Rainbow Clouds

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Keila Is 2 Years Old!!!

  Keila is 2 years old today!!! We had a great day to celebrate, too. A party with her friends in the morning (decorating cupcakes, a craft, and lots of playing), plus Daddy came home early so she got to eat dinner with him for once. Plus of course all the presents and cards she received. Keila had so many gifts that she couldn't even open them all today! All in all a wonderful day for this new 2-year-old.
  Here's her progress report:
1. Language. This kid comes up with some hilarious comments now. I really need to start writing them down more often. Keila often has an ongoing narrative about what she's doing at the moment. For example, tonight it was 'Beast! Chase! Hold you!!!' as she chased Wasabi (Beast) through the downstairs hallway. She also still tells a lot of stories and has an amazing memory. Yesterday Keila was talking about Uncle Andrew and Aunt Joke's wedding; she reminded me that Aunt Joke had yellow and orange flowers, which were 'pretty'.
2. Those last 2 teeth are still holding out. Hopefully by next month?
3. Sleep.....yeah. Keila went through the night 3 nights in a row the week before last, then caught a cold and went back to multiple night-time wakeups. Plus napping is down to only about an hour. Maybe by the time she's 3??
4. Keila has started climbing a lot more things recently. I caught her on top of the toilet the other day. Other activities include playing kitchen in her new kitchen (thanks Grandma!), having baby doll use the toilet and get a sticker as a reward, carrying Wasabi around, and helping Mommy clean the house. Now I just need to teach her how to wash dishes and we're all set!
5. Keila is potty trained!!! I'm still finding it hard to believe, but it's been over a week since she's had an accident, save for an occassional sleep-time wee in the diaper. Keila even used the potty while we were Milan over the weekend; go Keila!!!
6. Totally forgot to check Keila's weight and height for today. Oops. She seems pretty average for both but I'll try to remember for next month.
  Happy Birthday Keila!!!!!
  See her blog for more pictures 

                             Harassing Wasabi

                              Thanks, Grandpa!!!

                         Eating Rainbow Birthday Cake

Monday, October 15, 2012

Product Reviews: Dairy Queen Pumpkin Pie Royal Shake vs Belmont Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

   We tried a Dairy Queen Pumpkin Pie Royal Shake a few weeks ago, but of course I'm only just now getting around to reviewing it. Actually, my mom and I tried two different pumpkin pie shakes from Dairy Queen--the Pumpkin Pie Royal Shake, and then another shake that cost a dollar more. I don't remember and can't find the name of it, but the only difference really was that the pricier shake was supposed to have pieces of pie crust in it. I say 'supposed to', seeing as that extra dollar bought us about 3 measly and small pieces of pie crust in the entire shake.
 For the 2 small shakes, our bill came to just over 7 dollars. Ouch. Adding insult to injury, I then found out that the Dairy Queen Pumpkin Pie Blizzard was debuting just a few days later. I would've much rather had tasted the Blizzard than the Shake, but I'm not about to go waste more money at DQ.
  Anyway, the Pumpkin Pie Royal Shake review: in a nutshell, don't bother. Details: First off, the shake was way better after being frozen a while, when it had more of an ice cream consistency. So why not just sell it as ice cream, DQ?? Secondly, while it did taste like pumpkin pie, it was just a store-made generic pumpkin pie taste, nothing to write home about. Definitely not worth the 3 bucks and change that Dairy Queen is charging. Especially when....I tried an off-label brand of pumpkin pie ice cream that was amazing! And it only cost $2.88 for the whole tub!
 I had just about given up on finding any pumpkin pie ice cream at all this season (I'd been on the lookout for Edy's Slow Churned Limited Edition Pumpkin Ice Cream, but apparently it's a bit TOO limited around here, seeing as nobody has it in stock)...when I came across some seasonal ice cream in Aldi's, of all places.
 For those of you who don't know Aldi's, it's a generic grocery store that has pretty decent deals on fresh fruits and vegetables, along with staples such as dry roasted almonds and of course Winking Owl White Zinfandel. Great wine, even better price. But back to the pumpkin discussion.
 The day after we tasted Dairy Queen's Pumpkin Pie Royal Shake disaster, I stopped in Aldi's for some veggies...and walked out with pumpkin cream cheese, pumpkin ravioli, and pumpkin pie ice cream. Go Aldi's! Of course neither the cream cheese nor the ice cream were reduced fat, but they were both great. Way better taste than I was expecting for either one. The pumpkin ice cream was a perfect mix of pumpkin pie spices and creaminess, yum! And the pumpkin ravoli actually had pretty healthy stats, although it was sweeter than I expected. More like a dessert ravoli, if such a thing exists.
 I don't know if there's any of the pumpkin pie ice cream left at Aldi's this week (there wasn't any in our local store when I stopped by today) but keep an eye out for Belmont Pumpkin Pie ice cream. It's much better and much cheaper than anything from Dairy Queen, and I'm guessing it has lower calorie stats, too.

                                     Dairy Queen Pumpkin Pie Royal Shakes
Belmont Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Friday, October 5, 2012

Keila's 23 Month Update

  Posting this a bit early since we're traveling tomorrow. But seeing as it's already the 6th in Japan, and Keila was born there....
  Yes, that's right. In a month's time, Keila will be 2 years old! I still can't figure out how my baby has become a little girl!
 Here's Keila's progress report for this past month:

1. Keila is continuing to make leaps and bounds in the language department. I do wish that she had more Japanese exposure than she's getting, but we're working on it. This morning on our daily jog, she started saying the Japanese word for 'backwards"....I had no idea why she was saying it until she said it again, then yelled "Cars....gyaku (backwards)". And indeed she was right, cars do drive on the opposite side of the road here in the US! How she figured that out from rolling along the sidewalk is beyond me, but she did. Smart girl!
 Keila also likes to tell me storries about her friends back in the UK, or she'll tell me what Daddy is doing. Usually Daddy is working, but sometimes he's showering or eating.
 2. We have TWO new molars in! Oddly enough, they're not coming through as a matched pair like all the other ones did. Keila's back molars on her left side have come through, top and bottom. Which has made for some very painful meals after she accidentally bit her mouth several times in a row. Two more down, two to go.
 3. Sleep....well, it's obviously taken a backslide since our trip to the US. Keila is refusing to nap AT ALL even though she's exhausted, and as a result she's been rather whiny and clingy. And the lack of naps doesn't really help her sleep at night. I'm praying that she gets back to her routine pretty quickly when we go home in a few weeks.
 4. New activities....Keila loves doing Wii Dance with her cousin. She's also still really into running and being chased, but her favorite activity her is playing kitchen. Grandma's house has a massive amount of toy food, so we've been served numerous cups of tea, pieces of fried chicken, you name it. I can see that we're going to need to find a play kitchen in the UK asap!
 5. Potty training is still coming along, but all the changes in routine have thrown us back a bit. We'll step it up when we get home.
 6. I have no idea how much Keila weighs right now. Will be sure to check height and weight for her 2nd birthday next month, though! Until November 6th...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Product Review: Candy Corn M&Ms

While shopping in Target last week, I came across their massive Halloween candy display....and in it, some candy corn M&Ms. Now, while admittedly having a huge weakness for peanut, pretzel, and milk (and dark) chocolate M&Ms and also for anything new, I was a bit hesitant to try candy corn white chocolate M&Ms. I'm not a huge white chocolate fan for one, and besides, wouldn't adding any sort of chocolate to candy corn make it...not candy corn? So with those thoughts, I forced myself to walk away from the pack that was calling my name.
 Flash forward to Sunday afternoon, doing yet more shopping at Target...and they had put their M&Ms on sale. So of course I caved and purchased a pack of the aforementioned candy corn M&Ms. After dinner that evening, I opened the bag and was rather surprised. Surprised by the fact that these candy corm M&Ms taste like Orange Creamsicles (Dreamsicles to some of you) and nothing at all like candy corn! Thinking that maybe the orange ones just, I then tried the yellow and the white ones. Nope, still orange. And orange. Not that I have anything against Orange Dreamsicles, but this taste really wasn't a pleasant surprise. If you like orange candy or orange creamsicles then by all means buy these candy corn M&Ms. Otherwise, go fo the real (as real as anything chock full of dye and processed ingredients can be) deal and just buy a bag of candy corn.

 Seasonal White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Product Review: Cap'n Crunch Halloween Crunch

Since I'm currently in the US and my Barcelona pictures are back on the computer in the UK, I thought I'd do a few American product reviews until we get home. And seeing as Halloween is fast approaching, there is no small amount of new fall-themed treats in the aisles. Most of these novel products are candies, but some other sugar-laden snacks are getting in on the fun, too. So here we have Cap'n Crunch's Halloween Crunch. Claim to fame? 'Ghosts turn milk green!'
  I used to love Cap'n Crunch as a kid, and I'd happily pick through it to get the tasty red balls (not sure what's in them, but I'm guessing just a higher sugar content than their golden counterparts). So the first thing I noticed upon opening this box is that the good old Cap'n has increased the ratio of red to gold pieces. Smart move, hopping kids up on even more sugar than they were getting previously. I'm sure parents love that.
 These particular Halloween crunch pieces looked about the same as the usual ones, but I was easily able to pick out the 'ghosts': certain red pieces contain bits of green that will tint milk. Does this really excite children? I admit that when I grabbed the box, I wasn't really paying attention to what was special about it (screaming baby being foremost on my mind) but I was expecting something more than "turns milk green". Boooooo to that letdown!
 So overall, what you get is the usual tasting Cap'n Crunch, only with grossly green milk. Oh, and let me clarify that my taste buds have matured since childhood. This stuff is sickeningly sweet! My advice? Don't bother paying extra for the green milk. And if you're even thinking of heading down nostalgia road like I did, do a quick U-turn and go buy some oatmeal instead!

                                   Halloween Crunch: Looks like the usual Cap'n Crunch
Cap'n Crunch Halloween sort of turns milk green....but why do you want green milk??

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Montserrat, Spain: Day Trip From Barcelona

Mid-week during our stay in Barcelona, we escaped the city for a day trip to Montserrat. Only about an hour by train from Barcelona, Montserrat is quite famous and is the most-visited monastery in the region. It's pretty easy to get to Montserrat--just catch a train from Espanya station. Of course, finding the train in Espanya station is another matter entirely. I'd advise getting there in plenty of time (check the train schedule first, as there's only about 1 every hour for Monserrat). Espanya is quite a large station, so we trekked around a bit after arriving via the metro. Basically, just wander around looking for line R5 for Manresa. And most vendors seemed to know where to point us when I'd pathetically question them: 'Donde esta Montserrat?'. Literal translation: 'Where is Montserrat?' (couldn't remember the word for train at the time). Once you do find the R5 line to Manresa, it's quite simple to buy tickets: the ticket booths are right in front of the ticket gate to the R5 line, and they're manned by very helpful attendants who will explain your options in English if need be.
  You've got a few choices when buying your tickets (do you want to take the cable car or the track railway once you transfer from the train at the foot of Montserrat; do you want to add in the funicular trams that take you to various parts of the the mountain once you're at the top, etc). I'd recommend going for the full package, since it's worth even taking just one of the two funiculars and hiking around. If you're really interested in all the details of getting to/from Montserrat, then try this link: It's pretty comprehensive and will walk you through everything.
  One final word of advice on traveling to/from Montserrat: be prepared to jump on board quickly when returning to Barcelona. Otherwise you may not get a seat for the entire ride back! Even if you're in line and waiting, it would appear that normal and civil conduct goes out the window when the train arrives: we were pushed aside several times by people trying to board. Apparently nobody cares if you're elderly or traveling with small children. Actually, a lot of elderly passengers were the ones doing the pushing! Thanks, Grandma.
  As for Montserrat itself: it was great, but I can also see why it's not a UNESCO World Heritage site. I'm not trying to knock it at all, but we just had a bit of a feeling of...'We traveled all this way, and this is it?' We're probably just a bit too spoiled by all the amazing world sites we've seen, however.
 One of the main attractions at Montserrat is the Black Madonna statue, which is housed inside the cathedral. You've got to get in line to view it, and beware if you're joining said line out in the hot, sunny courtyard. That means you've got at least a 2 hour wait ahead of you! We didn't realize this fact at the time, so we stood in line for about an hour before Yuki wandered inside the cathedral (while I held our place) and realized that the line snaked in through the side of the cathedral and up to the second floor, where the statue is located at the back. Now, I was all for seeing the Black Madonna, but not if it meant at least another hour of standing around when we could be seeing all the other great sites. Seemed a bit too much like idol worship to me, for one thing! That, and a big waste of time.
 Soooooo, we ditched the line, had lunch in a cafe there (overpriced so if you're on a budget then be sure to pack a picnic), then took a funicular up to the very top of the mountain and hiked around. This hike was probably the best part of the visit, even though it was sweltering and there's no shade up top. However...the views were simply amazing. Definitely make time for a hike if you go. We took the Sant Joan funicular, which is said to have the best views. (The other funicular, Santa Cova, takes you to a cave and a rock where, according to legend, the Black Madonna was rediscovered).
 A note for those of you with small children: bring a baby backpack. Strollers just aren't going to work up at the top. There are lots of steep steps in areas, plus the paths aren't exactly paved. And to anyone with a fear of heights....just don't look over the edge in some areas. Trust me.
  After sweating away half our body weight up at the top, we came back down and cooled off in the cathedral for a bit. It's a really gorgeous building, inside and out, and if you have a good lens or maybe some binoculars, you can actually see the Black Madonna from inside the main part of the chapel.
 All in all, it was a great day trip, but if you're pressed for time in Barcelona and wondering if Montserrat is a must-see....well, I'd say you won't hate yourself for skipping it.

                           See those people up the steps behind me? That was beginning of the line for the Black Madonna.

                     Inside the cathedral at Montserrat. That cut-out arch at the very back (above the crucifix) along the second-floor level is where you could see the Black Madonna. Steps from along the side of the cathedral lead up and around there.

                                        The top of Montserrat

                                    Some nuns paying pilgrimage at Montserrat. The drop-off to the left was vertigo-inducing.

                           Ruins/cave along the wall of the mountain

                                Montserrat monastery as seen from above

                                                Inner courtyard of Montserrat cathedral

                                    Inside the cathedral at Montserrat

                               Outer courtyard at Montserrat

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Keila is 22 Months Today!

  Only 2 more months until Keila turns 2. I cannot believe that time has passed so quickly! In fact, it's passing so fast that I nearly forgot that today was the 6th already.
  Here's Keila's progress from last month.
 1. Her vocabulary is huge now! She's easily combining words to make small sentences. Some of her favorites are: 'Get ready'; 'Hold you!' (she hasn't quite made the transition to 'Hold ME' yet);  'I riding' (used when riding her zebra, the back of the couch, and sometimes Wasabi); 'Toes dirty!'; '!' and ' home!'. She also knows random words that I haven't particularly taught her. Yesterday she touched her chest and said 'Heart' idea how she learned that one. Oh, and her first full, grammatically correct sentence was on Saturday. It was....drumroll....'I want ice cream!' Oops. That kid does love her ice cream. Go Keila go!
 2. Those back teeth have yet to come in, still chewing on things though. Maybe by the time she's 5??
 3. Oh, sleep. I'm longing for the nights when Keila would only wake up once! Lately she's figured out how to open her bedroom door (if she leans out from her crib she can grasp the handle), simultaneously with figuring out that Mommy doesn't just go to sleep when she does. Which has led to many fits when I tell her to go to bed.
 4. Keila has started playing hide and seek along with her favorite game of 'Chase chase'. She prefers to be the seeker but will sometimes hide for me, too. She also discovered how to go down the slide head-first today, so now I have something else to worry about at the playground!
 5. Potty training has begun! Not in full force yet, but we're taking it slowly and she seems to be doing ok with it so far. Maybe in the next few months we'll have that mastered.
 6. Keila is 12.4 kilos according to our scale. She loves to weigh herself and also her baby dolls on it. Not sure about height but she seems pretty average compared to other kids her age.
 Until the 23 month mark.....

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bubo Chocolatier and Pastisseria in Barcelona

  Not too far from our apartment in Barcelona, we discovered Bubo. Or rather, one night I feverishly searched Google for 'best patisserie in Barcelona' and came up with Bubo. Which happened to be quite close to us. (Pastisseria obviously being the Spanish version of patisserie, in case I'm not the only one getting confused by the spelling).
  Bubo, the mastermind of Carles Mampel, an award-winning pastry chef, actually consists of 2 storefronts, side by side: Bubo the chocolate/pastry shop, and Bubo the wine bar that serves amazing-looking tapas along with sweets from the chocolate side of the business. We unfortunately never got to dine at Bubo's tapas bar, but we did have a mid-morning treat in the chocolate shop.
 Upon arrival, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by just how modern and stylish the shop was. I guess I was expecting something a bit more traditional and older-looking, but that wasn't the case. I'd actually say that it looked like it should be in Japan, based on the presentation and the sweets themselves. Bubo definitely exuded class and style. It was quite hard to choose what we wanted to eat, seeing as everything looked wonderful.
 The shop clerk spoke excellent English and was quite happy to inform us of the ingredients in various cakes and desserts, seeing as we're always cautious about Keila's peanut allergy. After much debate (there were a LOT of tempting cakes, see HERE for some of what they offer), we settled on a simple dark chocolate cake by the name of Creamy Guanaja and a hazelnut chocolate croissant. As much as Keila loves her croissants and we really shouldn't have had it within her reach, the hazelnut was just too lovely to pass up. (Side note: If you don't want your toddler to throw a screaming fit in a cafe, don't even think about trying to stealthily eat a nut-studded croissant in her presence).
  The Creamy Guanaja was just as good as it sounds, and the hazelnut chocolate croissant was well worth tasting, too. Of course, all the ambience and those tasty treats didn't come cheap--I think it was about 7 or 8 euros for those 2 sinful delights, plus a coffee. Still, I'd say it was worth it--amazing chocolate desserts, stylish and relaxed atmosphere (besides someone's kid screaming for a croissant, that is)....I'd highly recommend Bubo! And their wine bar if you get time. Like I said, we never got to eat on that side, but we did take a peek and their tapas looked as good as their chocolates. They had a lunch menu of something like 5 or 6 tapas plus a dessert for 16 euros. Probably a drink was included in that price too but don't quote me on it. A good deal, either way!
  Bubo and Bubo Bar
  Caputxes 10, Barcelona
 (right by the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar)

                                                   Bubo Chocolatier and Pastry Shop

                                 I don't know what this was, but I really wanted to eat it. Too bad it was huge and therefore not an option.

            Our mid-morning indulgence at Bubo. See above for the link to better pictures of their wares. I had an upset baby on my lap so didn't get to take as many pictures as usual this time.

Friday, August 24, 2012

El Cangrejo Loco in Barcelona, Spain

  Another Barcelona restaurant review: El Cangrejo Loco, or 'The Crazy Crab'. Now, I really have no idea why such a posh restaurant would give itself a name that conjures up images of spring break revelers drinking at a beachside shanty, but El Cangrejo Loco it is. And let me assure you that it's definitely not a beach party type of restaurant. More like a 'book a babysitter and have a leisurely romantic meal' type of restaurant. Which of course we did NOT get to do; thank goodness for outside seating! Instead of a nice sit-down meal, our lunch was more of a baby-chasing relay. Keila was a champ as usual but if anyone knows a toddler who can sit through a 2 hour long lunch, then they get baby of the year award.
  Online reviews of El Cangrejo Loco rave about its views and most of the food, although many complain about the sub-par paella. Duly warned, we opted for their 25 euro daily set menu. This menu included 2 starters (1 hot and 1 cold), 1 main, and a dessert. Drinks obviously weren't included, and several of the menu options had an additional charge, so our bill came to 65 euros or something like. Not bad for a massive and long lunch! I would highly recommend this place: great views if you sit on the second floor veranda, excellent food (aside from the neigboring table's paella, which really didn't look all that great to be honest), pretty substantial portions for the price, and spectacular service (besides one of our 4 waiters, who was inexplicably cranky and frowned as us the whole time. He was attentive and prompt, just really grumpy). Oh, and most of the service staff seem to know English, in addition to the English menus. I think they also may have had Japanese and French versions too, but don't quote me.
 Between the two of us, we had: flat bread with smoked sardines, roast leek, and carmelized pineapple; octopus and vegetable salad; seafood ravoli with sea urchin sauce; monkfish stew with clams; and papillote of salmon in banana leaf with vegetables and soy sauce. Plus some amazing olives and flatbread with roasted tomatoes. Dessert was panna cotta and a lemon cheesecake.
 I'd have to say that my favorites were the octopus salad, the seafood ravoli, and the salmon. Keila agreed with me on the ravoli and the salmon; she never eats well on vacation, but the kid scarfed that salmon faster than I've seen her eat just about anything, ever. Unfortunately she mistook Yuki's panna cotta for ice cream and was quite disappointed upon discovering otherwise. The lemon cheesecake was good but I wouldn't call either dessert spectacular, just good. Then again, El Cangrejo Loco is a seafood restaurant, not a bakery or sweets shop. And they definitely excel at seafood.
 In summary, if you go: avoid the paella, stuff yourself with some of their wonderful seafood, and tell the cranky Indian waiter that we said hi!

                          I didn't think I liked olives all that much until our Barcelona trip. Spanish olives are my new addiction.

                                Flatbread topped with smoked sardines, carmelized pineapple, and roasted leeks

                                     Octopus salad at El Cangrejo Loco. Superb.

                                  View from the top terrace at El Cangrejo Loco.

                              Seafood ravoli with sea urchin sauce at El Congrejo Loco

                                          Keila thorougly enjoyed the ravoli

                                 Papillote of salmon with vegetables and soy sauce