This is part of a series that recaps my family’s recent vacation.  For more posts, check out Rome 1, Rome 2, and Split, Croatia.

Our second port of call was in Turkey, a country that I never would have anticipated visiting.  Our schedule was a little more relaxed as we had the entire day in port.  The cruise had different excursions that you could sign up for.  My mom and sister Jessie chose to visit a Turkish Bath while my Dad, sister Rachel and I went to historical Ephesus.  Thanks to Rachel for some of the photos to follow.

Ephesus is an archeological site of the ancient city.  It took about 1 hour to walk the site, yet only about 1/3 has been unconverted.  It was one of the largest cities on the Mediterranean in the ancient world and was the home of the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient world.  Cruise 243IMG_1744Temple of HadrianCruise 231Cruise 233Cruise 259IMG_1766

Library of Celsus.  I front has been entirely reconstructed, pieced back together from the rubble found by archeologists.


There were cats EVERYWHERE!


IMG_1734Remains of the ancient baths which included public restrooms.IMG_1794

IMG_1741IMG_1762IMG_1751Pomegranate tree!IMG_1749Ephesus was originally a Greek city, then taken over by the Romans, and finally, became part of the Ottoman Empire.Cruise 225IMG_1789

Pictured in the 2 photos above is the theater, built in the third century BC.  It was used for concerts, plays, gladiator and animal fights as well as for religious, political, and philosophical discussion.  Christianity had a presence in Ephesus, established by John and then developed by Paul (disciples of Jesus).  As the Christian gospel spread, artisans that crafted silver likenesses to Artemis felt that their trade was threatened.  They publicly addressed this issue in the theater.  Paul’s disciples did not allow him to address the crowd (possibly for safety concerns) and shortly after left the city.  Never the less, Ephesus become the third most important city for Christianity, behind Jerusalem and Antioch.


IMG_1802Aaand the tourist trap leaving the city.

Part of our tour included a carpet presentation.  Turkey is known for their carpets, so we were taken to a dealer.  While there, we observed a woman hand making on carpet.  This craft is traditionally made by women.  It is a dying art in the age of mass production so the Turkish government subsidizes the production to keep the tradition alive.

Carpet WeavingA small one, 3X5 feet, can take one woman up to 8 months to complete.  They showed us all kinds including different sizes, colors and materials.  The quality is judged on a couple of criteria.  Material: wool, cotton or silk.  Colors: in one carpet, the yellow thread was died with saffron.  Thread count:  in a square inch, the count can range from 200 to over 1000!

Carpet Presentation 3Carpet Presentation 1

The dealer joked that Turkey does not have any famous painters, but that they are known for their carpets.  In a small frame, there was one that took 3 years to make and had a thread count of 1,400.

During the presentation, the employees came around with apple tea, beer, wine and small pastries.  According to them, it is Turkish custom to give your guests a gift.  Definitely enjoyed that custom Smile.Carpet Presentation 2After the presentation, they invited us to look around.  We had no intention of making a purchase, but in the end, we bought a BEAUTIFUL carpet for my sister Rachel.  The photo doesn’t do it justice.  As part of the government and Royal Caribbean subsidies, there was no import tax so she was able to bring it right into France.  They packed it up so small, it fit into a bag the size of a typical day to day purse.  Pretty cool.Cruise 456

After the presentation, we still had some time.  We grabbed lunch and continued to souvenir shop.  I purchased some really intricately painted bowls (which will be featured anytime soup, yogurt or oatmeal makes an appearance on TBN).  I also bought an evil eye magnet.  This image was everywhere and is used to keep evil away from you, not to inflict it.  We always get a magnet from wherever we travel for my mom (we may need a new fridge soon).Bowls Collage


Our final adventure was to go find the beach.  The water was just sooo clear and blue and the weather was perfect.  We got directions from a local and set out.  We had to walk about a mile down the road.  then our instructions took us down a footpath, over rocks and down a crumbling set of marble stairs.  A bit sketchy.  But when we got there it was so worth it.

After an hour we packed up and set off for the ship.  Fortunately this time we got much better directions and followed an actual road back.  No more hiking!

Once we were back on the ship, we rejoined mom and Jessie, who had a great time at the bath.  Apparently very large, very intense Turkish men were in charge of the massages so it was fun as well as relaxing.

And that was Turkey! It was beautiful and all the people were so kind.  We all had a great time.

Do you collect any special souvenirs when you travel?


Product Review: Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats

Waaaay back in September I went to the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore where I got some samples from Bob’s Red Mill.  I actually got to meet Bob! Very cool. 

Well, the samples were nestled into my pantry and forgotten about.  They even made the move from Maryland to Connecticut.  Yesterday morning I cooked some up.


3/4 cups of water to 1/4 cup of oats for 10 minutes.  They have a nice texture, and I like it a bit al dente.  The flavor is just what you would expect from oatmeal, a good base.  So to spice it up I added some raisins and a small scoop of peanut butter.


Delicious! And pretty.  Check out one of the bowls I bought in Turkey.  I have a tradition where I buy a painting in every country I visit.  When we were in Turkey I couldn’t find any on canvas, so I went with ceramic.  There are three more, so watch for their debut!

Lately I have been having larger breakfasts.  Eggs, toast, yogurt, fruit.  I swapped out the toast for oatmeal and I was full for an excessively long time.  I didn’t need lunch till almost 3!   These oats definitely have staying power if you need something to stick with you.

A bonus that comes with this product is that they are gluten free.  Gluten is not naturally in oats but it is easily contaminated when processed in a facility with wheat, barley or rye.  Bob’s Red Mill has a ton of gluten free products so it is a great resource for people with Celiac Disease. 

All in all, thumbs up to these Steel Cut Oats.  I’m ready for the weather to cool down so I can start having cozy, hot breakfast mornings.

What is your favorite breakfast food?

Avoiding the Freshman 15

This is my first year where fall hasn’t meant going back to school, so I started reflecting on college and got the idea for this post.

Most colleges have been back in session for about 2 weeks.  You have had time to get settled into your classes, meet some new people and are hopefully enjoying your roommate’s quirks.  Now its time to look at your habits and see if you are the right track.  A couple things to remember:

The French Fries/Cookies/Soda will always be there

Dining halls can be amazing with a huge variety of delicious things to try.  It is easy to be overwhelmed and want to eat all the things your mom never bought at home.  Just remember that most of the ‘treats’ will be there everyday.  They are no longer special foods.  Its okay to occasionally have them, but making it a habit (which happens to a LOT of students) is a quick way sabotage your diet.

Soda Fountain

Beverages are a common trap.  On average 20% of American’s calories come from beverages!  Regular sodas, sports drinks and even juice all pack a lot of calories, especially with free refills.  And the kicker is they don’t quench thirst as well as water.  If you still want juice in the morning, remember that a serving is 6oz while many glasses may hold up to 16oz!  Cut it with water to cut the calories and when in doubt, hydrate with 64oz/day of water.

Get involved in physical activity

College campuses are teeming with opportunities!  There is bound to be something that you enjoy.  Continue playing a sport from high school or try something new.  I played volleyball in high school so I joined intramurals.  I also joined a dance team, something that I had always had an interest in but had no experience with.  You can also check out the campus gym and design your own workout.  In addition, make it a point to walk or bike to class rather than take a bus or drive.  The key is to find at least one thing that you enjoy and engage in it regularly.

Physical Activities

Resist bored eating

When you meet up with friends for Friday dinner or a weekend brunch, its not uncommon to linger and chat, especially when you are getting to know them.  After you have finished your meal, resist the temptation to get up and grab another helping.  It can initially be uncomfortable sitting there without something to physically do.  To side step this, choose a calorie free beverage like water or coffee to sit with.  Before you grab something just think: are you hungry or bored?  If you find you are having trouble resisting, take the reins and plan an activity in your dorm, game room or out and about on campus, away from temptation.  Bonus points for a pick up game of basketball or volleyball.

Avoid loose and baggy clothing

This may seem random, but go with it.  When you sleep, go to class and study in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, its harder to notice changes in your body.  I didn’t own sweatpants till junior year.  Once I had a pair, I lived in them and didn’t realize I was gaining weight until I had put on 5 pounds in one semester!  You can still choose comfortable clothing but try jeans with some elastic or yoga pants instead.  I have also noticed that when I feel put together, I make better choices for myself on the whole.

Sweat Collage

Have a well rounded plate

So here is some what TO DO in the dining hall.  There are 5 food groups, so use them!  Don’t get into the habit of piling your plate with a ton of one item you love.  Odds are, your body wont be satisfied and you may snack more later on.  Want a hamburger for lunch?  Totally fine.  Fill in the plate with a side salad or other veggie, a piece of whole fruit and a glass of low fat milk.  This way your body and your brain gets what it needs to function while satisfying your taste buds.

A colorful plate is a healthy plate (fruity pebbles not included)MyPlate Blue

Keep a regular sleep schedule

Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived eat more calories and less nutritious meals and snacks than their well rested counterparts. But sticking to a schedule is tough.  Tuesdays you don’t have class till 1pm but Wednesdays start at 8am.  You have intramural sports till 11pm and then go out on the weekends.  High school had a lot of structure; college doesn’t.  You have to make it for yourself.

Sit down one afternoon and analyze your schedule.  Set a bedtime and then designate certain chunks of time for different activities.  Example: In order to get 8 hours of sleep, I need to be in asleep by 11.  Done with class at 2.  2-5 homework, 5-7 dinner, 7-10 social time, 10-11 calming down and getting ready for bed.  The system may sound silly but you would rather be the well rested, functioning person in class than the zombie to your left eating a donut.


Don’t overdo it on alcohol

Alcohol has a presence on most college campuses.  If you are underage, I do not encourage you to drink but understand that many students do.  If you imbibe, this is an activity where the calories add up fast.  One serving (a shot) of liquor can range from 95-160 calories.  And that is without mixing it! Alcohol Chart

When making drinks:

  1. Measure and count, don’t guess.  This way you know how much your consuming which is safe for multiple reasons.
  2. Alternate with water.  You may feel pressure to have something in your hands, and guess what? In dim lighting, water looks a lot like every other beverage.
  3. Use low or non-calorie mixers.  Powder mixes like lemonade or diet sodas work well.  Juices may have vitamins, but they still have 100+ calories per cup.
  4. Don’t give into peer pressure.  Have a good time and it doesn’t matter if or how much you drink.  Save the calories and feel better the next day!

College is an adjustment period.  It’s a chance to discover yourself in a whole new way.   Use these tips to guide your habits, take control and make the most of it!

What strategies did you use to avoid the Freshman 15?

Split, Croatia

This is part of a series recapping a recent family vacation where we took a cruise and had 4 ports of call.  Other entries include: Rome Part 1, Rome Part 2

Our first port of call was in Split, Croatia.  The night before we landed, my family competed in a trivia competition with our classic team name, “The Griswold’s”.  We won, naturally.   Bonus points if you get the reference.  The moderator was from Split and gave us directions to local hangouts where we could get some authentic Croatian food and local beer as well as a few phrases. 

We toured the town which is predominantly an ancient fortress, originally the palace of the Emperor Diocletian, built in 305 AD.

Croatia Collage 1

The ruins have been reclaimed by current residents and house lots of shops selling local goods including crafts and produce.  One stand was selling local honey.  My grandfather is a beekeeper so we checked it out and bought some to bring home.  In the picture below you can see the pumps set up so people could sample the different types.  The whole area was surrounded with bees trying their hardest to reclaim the honey by climbing up the spout. 

Croatia Collage 2

After a couple hours, we split up and I went off with my sisters.  We saw Zeus’s temple and then went off the beaten path, veering away from the tourist area.

Croatia Collage 4

Croatia Collage 3

Map of the city.  Split is the largest Dalmatian city and the second largest in Croatia.  It is thought to have been founded in the 6th century BCE as a Greek colony.


We found some interesting things.


After our exploring, we all met up and then promptly split. Get it? Anyways.  Mom and Rachel went to check out the beach while Dad, Jessie and I followed the instructions from our Croatian guide and sought out lunch.  After poking around for a bit we stumbled upon this wonderful little restaurant where no one was speaking English.  Perfect!  Inside, all of the seats were reserved for a local party so we hunkered down outside. 

Because they don’t usually get a lot of tourists, our waiter seemed excited to explain things to us.  He brought out a platter of fish so we could choose which one we wanted to eat.  He gave us pointers on how to say a few things and was in general really friendly.  I decided to try honey grappa, a grape based liquor.  It was pretty good!  On the opposite side of the alley way, there was a painting right on the wall that was really well done.  When our food came it was even better than we expected.  Everything was simple, but still amazing.  We all split a chicken dish and a pork dish and both came with this red pepper puree as a dipping sauce which really amped everything up. 

Croatia Collage 6

On our way back to the ship.  We didn’t have much time but we managed to buy a painting, a towel, gelato and acquire a variety of local coins.  Croatia is transitioning to the Euro so we wanted to snatch up some Kuna’s while there were still some to be had.  After our mad dash to get our souvenir shopping done, we made one of the last tenders back to the ship.

Croatia Collage 5

Do have any currency that is no longer in circulation?

Football Food Substitutions

Football season is here!  And with that comes the parties, and of course the grub.  According to a Times News article, Super Bowl Sunday comes in second for most calories eaten on a single day, only second to Thanksgiving.  Now you may be thinking, “The season just started, we have MONTHS until the Super Bowl.”  Well, depending on your company, each Sunday may end up more like a training session for your belly than just a casual get together.  A little beer, Uncle Mark’s famous nachos and a secret family chip dip recipe can add up.  Fast. 

Here are a few easy substitutions you can use to manage the damage. 



Dairy is a really easy way to shave off a ton of calories and fat.  When making dips, try:

  • 1/3 less fat cream cheese  790 —-> 590 calories for 8oz
  • low fat shredded cheese   450 —-> 350 calories for 1 cup
  • reduced fat sour cream     440 —-> 330 calories for 1 cup


Choosing all non-fat options is usually too drastic a change.  It alters the flavor but can also be grainy or not melt properly.  Start by changing everything to low fat.  If you want to take the next step, make a portion of the ingredient fat free and the rest reduced.

Another option for sour cream is non-fat, plain Greek yogurt.  It has the same creaminess and tang but it cuts out 300 calories and adds 9 grams of protein per cup!


Spinach and Artichoke Dip Recipe


Ground beef has a lot of opportunities to pop up.  Hamburgers, chili, nachos, meatballs.  Now there is nothing inherently wrong with beef, but every reduction helps on game day.  The most popular ground beef type is between 80-90% lean.  The comparisons below are for 80% lean beef for a 4oz portion.

  • 90-95% lean ground beef     200 calories, 14g fat —->   145 calories, 6g fat
  • ground turkey or chicken     200 calories, 14g fat —->   170 calories, 9g fat
  • go vegetarian with beans    200 calories, 14g fat —->    145 calories, 0g fat

In mixed dishes, the substitution is barely noticeable, especially with the distraction of the game.  Bacon is another area to attack.  Trading turkey bacon for the regular stuff will save 50 calories and 4 grams of fat per oz.


Turkey and Bean Chili


Choosing baked and not fried is a great way to reduce calories and fat.  In addition, go for whole grains.  These items are not lower in calories, but do provide fiber, a nutrient frequently absent from these kind of festivities.  Fiber can help fill you up, potentially preventing you from grabbing that extra wing. 

  • Whole Wheat Pita    1g fiber—-> 5g fiber
  • Baked Scoops           140 calories, 7g fat, 1g fiber —-> 120 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g fiber
  • Whole Wheat Buns  1g fiber —-> 2g fiber

pita chips

By make some changes here and there, you can enjoy your tailgate or party with the piece of mind that you will still be able to fit into your jeans come February.

What is your favorite game day recipe?