All posts by Valerie Citrano

Jesus, Family, Travel, Food. I am a professional photographer and baker who has been published in several magazines and even a cookbook published by Southern Living who featured my pies. I bake for our restaurant, The Coffee Shop Cafe in McGregor, Texas. If you like food and traveling, be sure to keep an eye on my blog and social media pages. I'll be sharing our adventures and recipes along the way! Be sure to comment or ask questions. Our guests mean a lot to us! Thanks for stopping by! For possible collaboration, please email me at ValerieDutyCitrano@gmail.com

Join us in Northern Italy & the Riviera for food, wine and fun! 

Food, wine, beautiful sights and even a pasta making class!!

The Cinque Terre in Northern Italy is an optional excursion while we are in the Riveria
The Cinque Terre in Northern Italy is an optional excursion while we are in the Riviera!
We ♥️ Italy so much that we decided to take a small group back with us on a private tour to visit some places we’ve never been, along with visiting some of our old friends! Turin, Italian Riviera, Bologna, Verona, Venice and much, much more with a few side trips on our own!!! May 15-27, 2016.

Join us on the trip extension in Venice!! it's a magical romantic place like none other!
Join us on the trip extension in Venice!
Remember, on our tour, you will be traveling with a couple that works in the food industry and a professional photographer to boot! I’ll gladly help you take better travel photos and even take some for you!

A $300 deposit per person is all it takes to reserve your space to go with us on this amazing trip! Pay as you wish with balance due by 3-6-2016. It’s like travel Lay-a-way! Booking for our tour closes on soon! 

Full itinerary details & to sign up are on our tour website:

Coffee Shop Travel Club Italy 2016

There will be few surprises for you along the way too!

Q&A’s about our group trip to Italy

 

Q: How will we be getting around Italy?

A: The tour company will provide us a luxury bus with a guide and bus driver that will be with us throughout the tour. There will be boat rides along the Italian Rivera and in Venice. We will be walking around the city centers and other places. Definitely bring those walking shoes!

Q: I’m thinking about going, but don’t have a travel buddy. Can I go alone?

A: You betcha! We have several ladies coming with us without a spouse. It’s probably safest to travel this way to explore to world solo. You can pay a little extra and have your own room (as space permits) or be paired with another lady to share a hotel room. Ask me about sharing! We have someone looking to share now! Solo gentlemen also welcome!

Q: What about booking our flights?

A: The easiest way is to book your flights along with the guided tour. The tour company can get better rates because of the sheer volume of business they do with the airlines. Online, you just type in the airport near you such as DFW for those here in Waco. The price will come up and will be added to your total. It’s around $1400 per person. If you want to use miles or book your own flights, that’s perfectly fine! You can still arrange for a transfer from the airport in Milan to our hotel in Turin with the tour company. Just call them at their 800 number. Transfers inside Italy are included when you book your airfare with the tour company.

Q: I’d like to take advantage of our airfare and go to Europe early or stay later. Can that be done?

A: Sure thing!! Donald and I are both staying longer. All you have to do is call the tour company and let them know when you’d like to arrive or leave. Those of you that are staying with us, just need to let me know and I can tell the tour company.

Q: How do I join your group tour?

A: There are several ways to book. Which ever one you are most comfortable with is the best.

1. Online at http://coffeeshoptravel.grouptoursite.com

2. Call Go Ahead Tours at 1-800-206-9871 and give them our group tour number 68796229

3. Ask me for a tour Réservation form to book and send a check in the mail.

Q: How do I pay?

A: It’s easy! It only takes a $300 per person deposit to hold your space. You can pay whenever and how much you wish as long as it’s paid in full by March 6, 2016. You can pay with a credit card online or over the phone or mail a check.

Q: What do I need to do to travel to Italy?

A: You just need a passport to travel to Italy. Make sure you have at least 6 months left on yours at the time we leave. If you don’t have a passport, you can visit your post office and pick up a form or download a passport form from the State Department website. You’ll need a certified copy of your birth certificate and 2 passport photos that can be taken at the post office or Walgreens for a fee (around $10). Don’t try taking the photos yourself or using a snap shot. There are specific requirements which are best left to a professional. Fill out the forms, bring along your photos and birth certificate and pay the fee.

If you are in Waco, the post office on Hwy 6 is the place you need to go to submit your application. They will answer all your questions and take care of you. Be sure to call for the passport hours and schedule an appointment. You should really get this done as soon as you decide to go. it may take 6-8 weeks to get them. For more information, visit the U.S. State Dept Passports web page. Information about renewing a passport is also on the site.

Q: Which excursions are you going on? Can I book them later?

A: Donald and I will be going along on both the optional excursions and on the extension to Venice. You can book the excursions later but I’d just go ahead and book now and save the $10 per excursion for booking early. They are things you’ll want to see and do. I strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of going to Venice! The price they charge for the hotel, travel, stops from Verona to Venice and the guided tour while there is less that I usually pay for one nights stay in a hotel there! Seriously, it’s an amazing place that you need to go to!

Q: I don’t live in Waco or even Texas. Can I still go with your group?

A: Anyone can join our little group! You certainly do not have to live in Waco or Texas or even live in the US. We make friends quickly and those interested in joining us are welcome! We have met and made friends with people from all over the world while traveling! It’s an amazing experience traveling with people that enjoy traveling, meeting new people and seeing and experiencing places that become forever memories. You can fly out of any airport and we will all meet up in Turin, Italy to begin our tour! When booking, just input your nearest international airport and the price will come up. If you call, just tell the operator your nearest airport. Super easy!

Q: Is trip insurance available?

A: Yes, insurance is available! Just call Go Ahead and have it added to your trip. There’s a bonus if added within 14 days of booking too. Here is the info and choices of coverage:

Educational First/Go Ahead Tours Travel Insurance

If you love to travel a lot, like we do, I’ve found an insurance company that actually covers your travel annually rather than by each individual trip. I found it while booking a flight with Delta Airlines for another trip. I’m excited about it as the cost is just under one thousand dollars for both of us for every trip taken during the year. More about that after I look into it more or check out Delta’s website.

Q: Are you going to~~~ insert your favorite destination?

A: We will be taking groups to several places in the years to come! You are welcome to come along on any and all that we go on!

June 2017 we will be going back to Italy to a part we have never experienced but always wanted to go. Puglia has been on my short list for years and this tour also includes a great part of Southern Italy. It’s amazing how different every region of Italy is! We will visit Naples, Sorrento and the Trulli Valley! One excursion I’m really looking forward to is visiting the beautiful Island of Capri! This is just a taste of what we will see on this trip! Here is a link to our 2017 Southern Italy trip:

http://valeriecitrano.grouptoursite.com/

We would like to go back to Israel and walk in the steps of Jesus. If you haven’t experienced this yet, it is a must! Truly life changing! This is a 10 day tour that visits Tel Aviv, Haifa, Lake Tiberias, Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Gallilee, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Mount Zion, Masada, the Dead Sea and through Jericho. Who would like to go with us? Thinking September or October of 2016. We will extend our stay and visit Jordan for four additional nights this trip too.

What about France? France is always a good idea! Paris, Normandy and the Loire Valley are definitely something we will do! Maybe right after the Puglia and Southern Italy trip? We can combine two trips and save on airfare! Who’s in?

Have a question not answered here? Just ask! 
Coffee Shop Travel Club Italy 2016

Food, wine and friends enjoying Italy! Join us May 15-27, 2016! Reserve your spot now!
Food, wine and friends enjoying Italy! Join us May 15-27, 2016! Reserve your spot now!

Join us in Italy May 15-27, 2016! Only a few spaces left on this amazing small group food and wine tour! Visit www.PieLadyLife.com for details! We would love to have you come along!
Join us in Italy May 15-27, 2016! Only a few spaces left on this amazing small group food and wine tour!
 

World’s Best Eats: Florence, Italy

Is there a food that sometimes you lay awake at night and dream about? A dish that you’ve had that you compare all others that you try in different restaurants to?

Well, thats what the Spaghetti Carbonara at Ciro & Sons in Florence, Italy is to me. My dream plate of food. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten!

Spaghetti Carbonara at Ciro & Son's in Florence, Italy is absolutely the best I've ever eaten!
Spaghetti Carbonara at Ciro & Son’s in Florence, Italy is absolutely the best I’ve ever eaten!

Have you ever tried Spaghetti Carbonara? My first time to try this luscious dish was at Ciro & Sons on our very first visit to Italy. I had never even heard of it before! I still can’t believe I had missed out for most of my life! Sigh!

After a really long day of traveling by train from Paris we checked into our hotel and I’ll tell ya, we were starving! Enough of the cheese crackers and fruit gummies! We were ready for some good Italian food! We set out walking and stumbled across this quaint, very Italian eatery at the end of the block. My husband and I were seated at a long family style table and immediately brought bread and garlic marinated olives which were exceptional! Garlic. Olives. Olive oil. What a simple idea! Yes, I’ve copied it over and over at home for the last fifteen years!

Then we were brought our pasta. My husband ordered his favorite, Pesto Spaghetti, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Then he tried my dish of carbonara and he was in love too! Love at first bite.

Bacon and eggs. Thats basically, in American terms, what carbonara is. Of course, in the heart of Tuscany, Bacon and eggs holds a whole new meaning. Here it is local pancetta, garlic, locally grown and pressed olive oil and farm raised eggs which are expertly blended into a creamy sauce covering freshly made, perfectly cooked pasta. Al dente Perfection! Who needs tomato sauce?

But they have tomato sauce too. Their pizza is out of this world. That oven is hot!

At Ciro & Sons in Florence, Italy where they make great pasta and pizza!
At Ciro & Sons in Florence, Italy where they make great pasta and pizza!

I’ve been back countless times over the years. One August, we had taken my youngest daughter with us to Italy and made Florence our home base. I rented a little apartment on the same street as the restaurant and planned to enjoy as many meals as we could while there. How disappointing it was that they were closed for their vacation all of August! Lots of businesses in Europe close during August for their vacations! My bad! I know now. Now you do too! Don’t go to Europe in August. Ciro and Sons will not be open. Too bad we can’t close our own restaurant for a whole month and travel! Our customers wouldn’t like that one bit and neither would our employees! Oh well.

At Ciro & Sons in Florence, Italy where they make great pasta and pizza!
At Ciro & Sons in Florence, Italy where they make great pasta and pizza! Sweet people too!

On my last trip to Italy, I planned a stop in Florence just to take my sister to Ciro and Sons. They were open. I made sure to check on their Facebook page. It was wonderful. I was so happy. My sister loved it too. Just like me, she began comparing their pasta to others we tried along our travels. One nice version we both tried while in Nice, France (catch the pun?) was good but just did not make the cut. It was good though.

We will be going again next May, 2016. I’m taking a group this time. I’m planning on making a special diversion on our trip to Ciro and Sons. Must share the love. Now… where will we park that tour bus?

Ciro & Sons

Via del Giglio, 28, 50123 Firenze, Italy

+39 055 289694

We can’t travel to Florence every time I dream of Carbonara. Obviously. One day I turned on Oprah’s TV show and she had Tom Cruise on as a guest. To my absolute amazement, he did a cooking segment and made his favorite recipe. Thats right! Pasta carbonara. We both have good taste. Now. I make my best friend Tom’s favorite pasta dish. We are friends, right? We must be since we love it so much. Definitely worth jumping up and down on a couch for!

Tom Cruise’s Spaghetti Carbonara

1/2 inch olive oil (for frying pan)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 chopped onion
8 to 12 thick slices Italian bacon
4 eggs
2 packages spaghetti
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

In a frying pan, combine 1/2 inch of olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic, one chopped onion and the Italian bacon cut into small squares. Let simmer for about a half-hour, being careful not to let the oil get to a boiling point.

In a bowl, beat 4 eggs with lots of salt and fresh ground pepper.

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Cook both packages of spaghetti until al dente, drain and immediately add egg mixture to pasta. The eggs are actually cooked by the pasta. (Make sure the eggs are thoroughly cooked before proceeding.) Stir the egg mixture until it is well mixed. Pour in the mixture from the frying pan and stir. Finish with the Parmesan cheese and serve!

Makes 4 servings

So, what are some of the best things you’ve ever eaten?

Our Eating Prague Tour 

We had worried about the rain forecasted on our spring Saturday in Prague. It actually turned out to be a beautiful sunny day for a foodie walk through Old Town and the surrounding area. Our guide lead us through small, out of the way streets, passages and gardens on our quest for some of the best local foods of the Czech Republic.
Our merry band of foodies on our Eating Prague Tour
Our merry band of foodies on the Eating Prague Tour
Our meeting place at 12:30 was at a very Bohemian chocolate shop on Klimentska Street. Our small group of four couples were an international mix which all spoke English. We were joined by couples from England and Italy and a young US couple that are living in Spain while she attends and he teaches at a university in Barcelona. We find a unique commonality that we all love food!
Our guide on the Eating Prague Tour on PieLadyLife.com
Our own Pied Piper who led us through the streets of Prague in front of the rather hidden entrance to Styl & Interier
Our guide, Jan is from Prague but has lived in Seattle and San Francisco while working for Microsoft. As we got to know him, we learned that he is an aspiring artist with a young family that obviously loves the ins and outs of food. He bakes too. His speciality is cheesecake. Quite the diversified businessman, along with setting up and guiding the Eating Prague Tours, he also guides photo tours around Prague.
We learned from our guide that Eating Prague Tours was founded and is owned by an American now living in Rome. His ‘Eating’ dynasty now includes Rome, London, Amsterdam and of course Prague.

Horice rolled wafers filled with cream dipped in chocolate at Choco Cafe on PieLadyLife,com
Horice rolled wafers filled with cream dipped in chocolate at Choco Cafe
  

Eat Dessert First
Our tasting began with dessert! Great way to begin I think! The sugar will help with all the walking we will be doing during our next four hours. Choco Cafe is a family owned small chocolate shop in a quaint setting on an off street. The decor is a mixture of funky, mixed-matched tables and chairs with the walls covered with posters celebrating Chocolate. The smells in the air are intoxicating!
Light, flaky Horice rolled wafers filled with a lovely cream which you dip in a warm, rich, thick chocolate sauce. This pastry was made legendary by Napoleon and is served in only a few restaurants. Absolutely heavenly way to begin the tour!
Open faced sandwiches from Sisters in Prague on PieLadyLife.com
Open faced sandwiches from Sisters in Prague
Sandwiches and meat
We then began our walk on small streets through the Jewish Quarter to a pair of businesses only separated by a narrow passage on Dlouha Street. Our first offering was a trio of gourmet open faced sandwiches from Sisters. We began with a lovely beet spread with a chunk of goat cheese and a beet leaf. Then came a lovely slaw made of celery root and finally a mixture of cod. These were served with a lovely elderberry flavored lemonade.
Sausages, spicy mustard and pickles at Nase Maso in Prague from PieLadyLife.com
Sausages, spicy mustard and pickles at Nase Maso
Just across the passage way is Nase Maso, a meat market that offers some of the best meats in Prague. Their reputation  of using local, high quality meats has caught the attention of Prague chefs who purchase their offerings for service at their restaurants. The line at their counter proves they are loved by the locals as well. We tasted three sliced meats including ham and salami. Their traditional sausage, mustard and gherkin pickles were my personal favorite.
Naso Maso is more than just a butcher shop. They will grill the meats you choose from their counter and offer plates that include traditional artisan bread baked locally. A young man who was attempting to enjoy his lunch while our group basically surrounded him and his table, declared that his pork cheek was the best that he had ever tasted. He noted that it was flavorful and fork tender.
   
Unique setting at the cozy Zvonice Restaurant in Prague at PieLadyLife.com
Unique setting at the cozy Zvonice Restaurant in Prague
Tucked in a Bell Tower
I must say that I was excited that our next restaurant was on our tour! I had inadvertently found this charming place while searching for places to eat in Prague. It’s setting in a bell tower offers the ambience that would be appreciated by young lovers (ask for the table for two tucked between the bell and window) and history buffs alike. It is not obvious there is a dining establishment on the upper floor from the outside, so it is frequented mainly by locals. Though it is located in a tourist area, people just walk right by.
Sauerkraut Soup inside a bell tower at Restaurant Zvonice in Prague at PieLadyLife.com
Sauerkraut Soup inside a bell tower at Restaurant Zvonice in Prague
Our guide refused to tell us what we would be tasting even after the wait staff placed a bowl in front of each of us. It seams that a lot of people are put off by sauerkraut. Sauerkraut in Eastern Europe does not have a bold vinegar taste like the jars we buy in our American grocery stores. It has a much smoother taste when made from scratch. This chef is said to make the best Old Bohemian Sauerkraut soup in the world. The cabbage is sliced razor thinly in a velvety sauce with a dollop of sour cream and a drizzle of basil cream sauce. Absolutely fabulous!
Don’t let the ‘S’ word scare you!  Look for Restaurant Zvonice on Jindrisska Vez the next time you are in Prague. You will not be disappointed.
Pate and handmade wine at S &I in Prague at PieLadyLife.com
Pate and hand crafted black currant wine at Styl & Interier in Prague
Handcrafted wine
The well hidden little coffee shop, Styl & Interier on Vodickova is down a passage just off Wenceslas Square. It is an interior decor shop turned cafe due to their unique wine and pate offerings. This mom and daughter duo have began to be so popular that they are now expanding and installing a full kitchen. At this stop we were offered a lovely pate with a hint of bacon along with a slightly spicy celery salad with cranberries that I would definitely love to have the recipe for!
Their handcrafted wine was made with fresh black currants. Quite smooth and a nice fragrance. I thought it was really lovely! Bottles are available for purchase as our young Italian tour-mates found to be a nice souvenir. A glass or two would be especially nice while enjoying the sunshine in their adjacent garden patio.
  
Cafe Louvre's Svickova: Braised Beef in Prague at PieLadyLife.com
Cafe Louvre’s Svickova: Braised Beef
Traditional Braised Beef
Café Louvre was also on my radar for a visit! So happy this was an included stop!  This is the place for people watching. I’m told that prominent Europeans choose to come here to see and be seen.
Located a flight or so up in a historic building this jewel offers traditional dishes like the Svíčková or Braised Beef that we were served. Tender beef in a vegetable cream sauce with bread dumplings and cranberries. Load your fork with all the components for that perfect bite! Had the room not have been full of patrons, I would have given more serious thought to licking my plate. We were given an abbreviated serving for our tasting. I can’t imagine what a full entrée would do to me!! My diet was suffering. I had tried to be ‘good’ up until this point. Then they brought out dessert! 

 

The Cafe Louvre's custard cream sauce makes their apple strudel special PieLadyLife.com
Ahhh. The Louvre’s custard cream sauce!


The Louvre’s apple strudel was special. Why? It was the creamy vanilla custard sauce that they paired  with their flakey, apple goodness. That sauce is amazing! I’m definitely trying this at home! 

Just book it!

All in all, I would recommend Eating Prague Tours to anyone. It’s a nice mix of food, good conversation and a nice informative walk through some of the back streets around the tourist areas of Prague that you may not see otherwise. Our guide did a nice job of showing us some historic places along with some that were a bit off beat. A nice mix. A lovely day. Come hungry. Leave satisfied. Don’t make dinner plans.

You can contact them through their website at 


*** I was not compensated for this review. They had no idea who I even was. The opinions are truly my own. I’d happily go on any of this companies tours. Looking forward to seeking them out. Hope they expand! May I suggest Florence? 

Southern Deviled Eggs

No southern Sunday supper table would be complete without a beautiful plate of Deviled Eggs. A simple recipe that is perfect beside baked ham for your Easter meal, as an appetizer before a bar-b-que or center stage on your party buffet table. 
 
It doesn’t hurt that eggs are a good source of protein and each of these darling stuffed egg halves are just 51 calories each when you use sugar-free sweet pickles. 
 
Southern Deviled Eggs Recipe
Cut eggs in half. Reserve yolks in bowl.
Southern Deviled Eggs recipe
Smash the egg yolks with a fork
Southern Deviled Eggs recipe
Add Miracle Whip and mustard
Southern Deviled Eggs recipe
Using sugar-free sweet pickles lovers the calorie count
Southern Deviled Eggs recipe
Spoon filling mixture into egg white halves
Southern Deviled Eggs recipe
Easy Southern Deviled Eggs

Southern Deviled Eggs

9 hard boiled eggs
5 tablespoons Miracle Whip
1 tablespoon mustard
3 sweet gherkin pickles, finely chopped
Cut hard boiled eggs in half. Remove yolks and place them in a bowl. Using a fork, smash up the yolks into fine pieces. Add Miracle Whip, mustard and the finely chopped sweet pickles to the egg yolks and mix throughly. Place a heaping tablespoon of yolk mixture in each egg white half. Enjoy!
Store in refrigerator.
Deviled eggs on an antique plate. Doesn’t every southern girl have one that’s been passed down to her? Paired with thick cut bacon for brunch or as an appetizer before a Sunday bar-b-que..

Our First Viking River Cruise: booking & docs


Our travel documents from Viking River Cruses arrived! 

I have had so many questions during this process. I am so happy I’ll finally have answers for some of the things I’ve been wondering about. 

I’ve been dreaming about taking a cruise down a European River ever since my friends, Jean and Walter posted photos on their Social media pages. We met this sweet couple while we took a guided tour of Israel several years ago. Jean and I became friends on Facebook while visiting Masada. How many people can make that statement?

Back to the river cruise…
Our friends have taken several cruises with Viking over the years. Their photos were always so fabulous and they had obviously met more new friends along their travels. I signed up for Viking’s emails and catalogs because of them and their posts. I’d open the catalogs every time they landed in our mailbox, devouring the photos and dreaming of the ports the ships docked in. I have so many places on our bucket list that were so much more affordable that the Viking experience kept being pushed back down our list for another time.
That is until one day in mid December when by chance I opened an email and there was an offer that I couldn’t refuse!

Keep an eye out for a deal that you can’t refuse!
Over the years there always seemed to be a 2 for 1 offer which still was expensive to me. I’d mention it to my husband and we would agree that it was just too much money. But this December day was different. They offered some of their best rooms including those with balconies for certain spring sailings for $2999 each and free air from NYC. Our flights from DFW would cost us $95 each. I called my husband and explained what a great deal this was and he gave the go ahead to book a trip! I chose the Romantic Danube cruise from Nuremberg to Budapest. We added a three day pre-cruise stay in Prague and the insurance. We later added two extra days at the end of the cruise in Budapest. We were going on a dream trip to four different countries!
Yay! Happy dance!
Ok, I’m a planner. I admit it. I’m one of those travelers that like to have every minute filled on a trip. When I book and plan our own vacations I write detailed itineraries and print them out for everyone to follow. I have control issues. I admit that too. This trip will be a little different. Viking has a lot of control. And the river, which I learned from research on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor didn’t always cooperate. The water may be too high or too low which may result in long bus trips rather than smooth sailing along the blue Danube. Surely not in April! Right? Only time will tell.

 

A bit about Viking’s free flight deal.

It depends on what airport you want to fly out of. We chose DFW so we paid $95 each for the privilege. I seriously thought we might be taking a world tour of airports when I booked it! What a deal!!! I’ve booked all our previous overseas flights for over a thousand dollars or more out of Dallas. Too good to be true, right? I was really surprised when our flight information arrived in my inbox! All our flights are on Lufthansa. We have an overnight flight out of DFW to Frankfurt (an international hub) with a nice three and a half hour stay to clear customs and then we proceed on to Prague. Same thing when we fly out of Budapest. No long layovers but we do have a 6:30 AM return flight! Oh my gosh!!! Too early! But definitely worth loosing a little sleep for a great deal! Maybe we will be so tired that we will actually sleep on the plane back home.

If you are flying Lufthansa and want assigned seats then you’ll need to set up a Lufthansa account online and choose seats once you get your PNR number in your final travel documents. I decided to choose our seats since I like sitting next to my husband. I like having a shoulder to try to nap against especially on long overseas flights. I kinda like him too. So, I ended up spending another $200 for assigned seats that cover all of our flights. Different prices on different placement of seats. If you want to travel not knowing if your travel companions will be seated next to you or not, then that’s fine. They will be assigned when you print your boarding passes.

By the way, if you book your flights through Viking Air, your transfers are included.

Let’s save some more money… Viking’s Referral Program
As my research continued, I noticed that Viking offered a Referral program. First time cruisers could receive a discount of $100 per person ($200 per cabin/couple) and all you have to do is give them a customer number and name of a person that has sailed with them before or have booked and paid for a cruise in full. The person who’s number you use also gets a credit that can be used on their next sailing. How cool is that!? Needless to say, I contacted my friends and got their info and called Viking. Their customer service was absolutely wonderful!
I had such an amazing experience that I am willing to pass along my customer number to FRIENDS who would like to use it. Just email me and I’ll give you the information. Val110358@aol.com there may be restrictions due to the deal you chose, but it’s worth a try, isn’t it? A call to them or your travel agent. Why not?  I hate to leave money on the table that can be used for an added excursion, an exceptional dinner of a fun souvenir. Remember though, the credit is given at their discretion according to their rules. Visit the Viking website to see a list of their rules. The posting here is for information only.
Viking River Cruises optional tours
Viking River Cruises optional tours
Speaking of additional excursions.
The optional excursions were one of the biggies I had wondered about. Thanks to the travel documents I now know what they are for the Romantic Danube cruise. Every port has an included tour, but  not every port has an optional one. Here are the ones that do:
Regensburg: Optional Weltenburg Abbey & the Danube Narrows excursion. If you take this tour you won’t be able to take the included tour of Regensburg as they both begin after breakfast. Weltenburg is one of the oldest monasteries in Germany. Its famous brewery has been crafting beer since 1050. You also board an excursion boat for a short cruise through the Danube Narrows. The booklet says that you return to your ship for lunch and then take a walking tour of Regensburg. Cost of the tour is 49€ each. Only offered through the end of October. Really hope it’s available on our spring cruise but really not sure due to the wording. We can hope. UPDATE!! We were able to take this excursion and the Abbey was nice to visit.
Vienna: Optional Figaro’s Wedding performance. After dinner on the ship you are taken to an exclusive Viking performance of Mozart’s comic opera, Figaro’s Wedding. Music, costumes and a beautiful venue in Vienna, Austria… Why not?! I’m really looking forward to this one!! My hubby may not be as enthused. 74€ each. UPDATE! I went and though it was an enjoyable evening, in my opinion, it was very unprofessional. The performers were students, sets basically nonexistent set in a hall that was mearly a room with folding chairs. Book your own tickets at a real opera.
Vienna: Optional Schonbrunn Palace tour. After lunch on our second day in Vienna, you may choose to visit Maria Theresa’s baroque palace including the formal gardens. 49€ each.
Budapest: Optional Hungarian Horsemen: Lazar Equestrian Park. Horsemanship exhibition of the legendary Hungarian “cowboys”. After the show you can visit the stables and maybe take a carriage ride. 49€ each.
Or…
Budapest: Optional Dohany Street Synagogue & Jewish Budapest (not offered on Saturday or Jewish holidays.) Learn about Budapest’s Jewish past and present while visiting the Great Synagogue (the largest in Europe), the Emmanuel Memorial, the Hungarian Jewish WWII Memorial and the stunning display of empty shoes along the Danube. 49€ each. UPDATE! The shoe memorial is a short walk from where Viking docks. Just walk along the shore of the Danube toward the Parliament and you can’t miss it. Very moving.
What's in Viking River Cruise travel documents?
What’s in Viking River Cruise travel documents?
What’s included in the travel document mailing?
Our little silver box of Viking travel goodies arrived right at four weeks before our departure by FedEx. It was a surprise! No email or anything from the company that it had been shipped. Maybe that will change in the future. Glad I was home. So, here is what was in it:
  • 1. Itinerary and Departure Information booklet. Yay! One booklet for each of us. Our airline, hotels, transfers and pre and post cruise information. Includes day to day plans for our cruise including what we will be doing on all the included tours and this is where I got the optional tour informotion I shared with you. It’s in more detail though. Lots of other valuable info about all sorts of subjects. If you have a specific question ask me in the comments and I’ll check this little gem for ya.
  • 2. Booklet all about the Danube River. Very informative little book. Get out the reading glasses!
  • 3. Leather luggage tags. Red. One for each of us.
  • 4. Paper luggage tags to help the Viking staff get your luggage to the proper stateroom and hotel rooms. 2 for each of us.
  • 5. Big Red Viking stickers to put on your shirt at the airport so there staff can find you, cut you out of the crowd and herd you into their vehicles for transfer to the hotel if you’ve booked a pre-cruise extension. YeeHaa!
  • 6. A nice little card welcoming us to the Viking family explaining what’s in the box. At the bottom it reminds us to ‘like’ their Facebook page to connect with our fellow travelers.
And there it is. Back to social media. Connect with our fellow travelers. That’s what some of us have already done. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most.
***Remember…. I’m happy to share answers to questions found in our itinerary booklet. Got a question? Write it in the comments or email me at val110358@aol.com Much more cruise info to come! Have you taken one of the optional excursions? I’d love your recommendations! 
These are my own observations and opinions

MeeMee’s Texan Goulash 

I have to make a confession. My “foodie” card may be taken away from me for admitting to this….

All my life, I thought that my grandmother made goulash the Eastern European way. After all, my MeeMee’s mother was German. Why would I have ever had thought differently? I was so wrong! I can’t believe at my age I am just coming to this realization!

My German great great grandmother, Nana.
My German great great grandmother, Nana.

How did I come to find the real truth about ‘goulash’? You see, my husband and I are planning a trip to Eastern Europe, taking a cruise down the Danube River through Hungary, Austria and Germany. This means that I’ve been doing a lot of research on places to visit including restaurants. I was so looking forward to experiencing a big bowl of goulash in the motherland of my ancestors but the photos on the cafe’s websites looked nothing like the bowls of pasta and ground meat that my MeeMee sat before us at her dining room table.

More research was necessary.

I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed. Had my own grandmother lied to me all those years? It was the one dish that she made that I had looked forward to her serving on our visits.

I ran across a recipe on the Viking River Cruises website and decided to compare it to the one that I have known all those years. The European version has chunks of meat and no noodles but the spices were very comparable. My grandmother used chili powder and the European recipe using some of the same type spices including paprika.

I realized that the recipe had been changed to acomidate my family’s living in Texas with a growing family. Money was scarce and ground  beef was more affordable. Pasta stretched the recipe to fill more hungry bellies. The chili powder had that same smokey flavor as paprika but was more available and affordable in Texas.

I’ll have to tell ya… I still like my MeeMee’s version even if it may not be the ‘real’ thing! I’ll bet y’all will too!

My grandmother's Texan Goulash
My grandmother’s Texan Goulash

MeeMee’s Texan Goulash 

2 pounds ground beef

1 bell pepper, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

2 large cans peeled tomatoes (or Rotel tomatoes)

2 small cans tomato sauce

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon sugar

Large bag of elbow macaroni

Sauté ground beef on top of stove in frying pan till done. Add diced bell pepper and onion and sauté until onion is almost translucent. Drain grease from pan.

In a Dutch oven, combine meat and vegetable mixture with tomatoes, tomato sauce and spices.  Cover and simmer on stove about 20 minutes till bubbly. Meanwhile, boil pasta on stove in heavy saucepan till done. Add pasta to meat and tomato mixture. Taste. Add more chili powder at this point if you’d like.

Serve with crusty bread if you’d like.

Enjoy!

 

‘Fixer-Upper’ in Waco

Seriously, who has not heard of Chip and Joanna Gaines and their show, Fixer-Upper on HGTV? It’s amazing how the couples new home improvement and decorating show has taken off and become so popular here in the US. Honestly, as a person who lives here in Waco, it is quite amazing and something we locals can be very proud of. They are a loving, Christian couple involved with their family who are exactly what they portray on TV as they are in real life.

How exciting to hear that a local couple was chosen to do a pilot for the Home and Garden Television network. We first learned about in an article Joanna wrote in a local magazine, Wacoan, in which she has been a contributor for several years. The pilot was a hit and their search for homes to feature on the show began.

Their show, Fixer-Upper seemed to be a hit from the time the first show aired. It continues to grow in popularity as it has now entered in its second season.

I’m not sure that anyone in Waco could ever have imagined what their show would mean to our city. Besides the renovations of some run down houses, The Gaines have shed a very positive light on Waco on national TV. Something that is good for everyone here. Fans from across the country want to move to Waco so that they too may be able to have a home renovated and designed by the talented couple.

I personally did not realize the ‘Fixer-Upper” effect on Waco until Joanna announced a Fall Workshop on her Instagram account. It sounded like it would be a fun evening in Waco, so I bought a ticket. Good thing I didn’t lolly gag around because about 700 tickets were sold in just a few days! Friends of mine couldn’t get tickets. Even my friend Debby that owns a landscape company that does some of the work for the show couldn’t get a ticket to be able to go with me! Let me tell ya, that is amazing for our community. We are procrastinators when it comes to deciding to buy tickets for events here.

Chip greeting people in line at their Fall Workshop in Waco, Texas
Chip greeting people in line at their Fall Workshop in Waco, Texas
When time came for Joanna’s workshop on that Thursday evening last fall, I was shocked to see the long line that wrapped around the Phoenix Ballroom building. Everyone was excited and chatting in line. My goodness, there were people in line from all over the United States! Other than people working the event, I only recognized one other person from Waco. I’m sure there were more but by-golly, everyone I talked to was from somewhere from out of town. People drove and FLEW into Waco on purpose for this event! A lady came all the way from Seattle, Washington! Seattle! I’ll tell ya, thats when I knew for sure we had some new celebrities in Waco, Texas!

The workshop was a lot of fun. Joanna talked about how Magnolia came to be. I remember when she was starting out by selling children’s clothing downtown at a popular shop called Spice. She moved into a space across from mine in the store. She had some of the cutest merchandise. She told us a cute story about how she would take decor items to try to sell in her dad’s tire store and how one day she went in and the item was finally gone. She was so happy to finally sell something but then later found out that her dad had actually purchased the piece. What a great daddy!

She talked about meeting Chip, their family, Magnolia’s growth, their television show and their faith. She spoke about God whispering to her and said, “When God calls you to do something, he will give you the strength and capacity to do those things.” Very inspiring!

Joanna Gaines speaking at their fall workshop in Waco, Texas
Joanna Gaines speaking at their fall workshop in Waco, Texas
Then Chip took the stage with a chain saw! Yep, I said chain saw! He preceded to use it to cut a tree limb to use in decor. He was as hilarious as can be! Reminded me of Tim the tool man for a hot second! Then it was our time to follow along with Joanna working on a craft project. Nice evening for sure.

Chip Gaines entertaining the crowd at their workshop.
Chip Gaines entertaining the crowd at their workshop.
We love them and their show!

For those of us that live in Waco, there’s a different kind of excitement in watching their show. We all love seeing the landmarks and businesses along with some of our friends and their Fixer Upper experiences.
These days you’ll hear us saying things like:
“That’s our customers!”
“Look! That’s Devan and Hannah!” Or Marla, or etc, etc!
“Where is that neighborhood?”
“I know that house!”
“Isn’t that by the lake?”
And now, “We can’t wait to see what they are doing to Mrs. Truelove’s house on TV!”
Pretty darn special. Everyone here loves it and wish Chip and Joanna even more success!
Joanna’s Testimony
As if you could possibly fall in love with them any more, have a look at Joanna’s testimony she shared at The Gathering held at Baylor University in Waco ….

Here are a few of the places you see on the show in case you would like to visit. I won’t list their farmhouse for privacy reasons. Sorry.

  • The little shop on Bosque: Magnolia Market is located at 3801 Bosque Boulevard, Waco, Texas 76710 This cute little shop will be moving downtown once the silos open on October 30, 2015.
    Chip and Joanna Gaines' 'Little Shop on Bosque' in Waco, Texas on www.PieLadyLife.com
    Chip and Joanna Gaines’ ‘Little Shop on Bosque’ will be moving once the Silo project is complete.
  • Harp Design Company: 808 N. 15th St, Waco, Texas 76707 They have a cute shop to visit and you can even see their house that was on the show. My grandparents lived right down N.15th Street, so it was super fun watching their home’s transformation.
  • Stars Over Texas: Our friend Jimmy Don’s metal workshop on Hwy 317 in Crawford, Texas. He isn’t open with a ‘shop’ anymore because of all the signs he is making for Joanna. He did some of our metal work in our restaurant. We recommended his work long before JDH became a television star! Great guy!
  • Magnolia Silo Project: Update!!! The Silo’s are OPEN now!! They held a soft open on Monday, October 12, 2015! Time to shop! Future home of everything Magnolia. They are renovating the old Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company site at 601 Webster in downtown Waco. The complex will house their offices, retail space, a monthly market and daily food trucks will be on the property. We are supposed to get a glimpse of the ongoing work during season two of Fixer-Upper. Grand opening is slated for October 30, 2015 with shopping all day and a big party featuring a Johnnyswim concert in the evening. Scroll down for more silo photos.
  • Magnolia Silo Project in downtown Waco. Future home of all things Magnolia. Home base for HGTV's Fixer UpperMagnolia Silo Project in downtown Waco. Future home of all things Magnolia.


Waco is a great place for shopping!

A few other places to shop while you’re in Waco. Some you’ve already seen on the show and others you may spot very soon:

LaSalle Shops: 2223A LaSalle Ave, Waco Open Tue-Fri 10AM-6PM, Sat 10-5PM, Sun 1-5PM Lots of antique shopping and several more shops to visit along LaSalle. This was the very first store I recognized on the show.

A glimpse inside the Cedar Chest Antique Mall. This place is an antique lovers dream! www.PieLadyLife.com
A glimpse inside the Cedar Chest Antique Mall. This place is an antique lovers dream!
Cedar Chest Antique Mall and Market: 31707 W. Hwy 84, McGregor, TX 76657 Open Mon-Sat 9:30AM-5:30PM, Sun 1-5PM Really huge place with antiques galore! Make sure you reserve plenty of time to go through the biggest antique store in the Waco area. My favorite place to shop! On top of that,there are plenty more antique shops in the area. Another right next door and several in the downtown area. You really should take time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and my famous pie (shameless plug!) at our restaurant, The Coffee Shop Cafe (past the light on Hwy 84) then drive by the awesome home at 323 Madison that the Fixer Upper crew are working on for season three. You’ve seen a few sneak peeks on Joanna’s Instagram page. A sweet friend of ours lived in this charming 1850’s home that includes a working elevator and a stairway that is super narrow. Its future, after renovation, is to become a B&B. You could possibly come stay in a real Fixer Upper very soon! So cool!! Don’t ya think!!??

Update about the B&B: Joanna publicly confirmed the B&B and that the reveal had taken place on her Instagram last night (Nov 16, 2015) and we couldn’t be more excited! She posted a photo of the gorgeous staircase in the open living area! I’ve  observed the renovation and even had a blessed day helping my friend with a project at the house one day!!! EEK!!! So FUN! Be sure to check back later because I intend to be respectful and not post photos, etc until Jo, Chip or HGTV share more about it. I know, I know… There are pictures all over Facebook, but I’m going to stick to this. Be sure to watch the Christmas special on HGTV premiering Dec. 22, at 9 p.m. ET/PT! This is a Fixer Upper masterpiece!

Charming home in McGregor (just outside Waco) that you'll be seeing on season three of Fixer Upper!
Charming home in McGregor (just outside Waco) that you’ll be seeing on season three of Fixer Upper!

Laverty’s Antiques: 600 N. 18th St, Waco This one would be really difficult to visit if you are from out of town. It was kind of a secret reserved for those ‘in the know’ until they were on Fixer Upper. They are only open a few days a month and the only way you know when is to subscribe to their emails at Lavertysemail@gmail.com. You can always drive by and take a look through the windows where Chip found his cool tool belt with suspenders in season one (as seen in my photo at the top of the page. HaHa!) Wasn’t that a great episode!? He’s so funny!

Future home of The Findery in the old Percy Medicine building at 8th & Webster across from Magnolia silos on www.PieLadyLife.com
Future home of The Findery in the old Percy Medicine building at 8th & Webster across from Magnolia silos in downtown Waco, Texas
Jute Designs is expanding and moving into their new home this fall across the street from the Magnolia silos in downtown Waco. They are renovating the old Percy Medicine building at 8th and Webster. Built in 1908, the two story brick jewel was the manufacturing complex where Percy Medicine was made. My grandmothers cure for upset stomachs and mine too when my kiddos were little. With their new industrial chic building also comes their new name, The Findery. These ladies stock some fabulous furniture, home decor, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, cute bags and various other items like my favorite travel tote! You can follow along on their Facebook page. Can. Not. Wait. Till. They. Open! Meanwhile, visit them inside Spice Village at 5th and Mary across from the Hilton in downtown Waco.

More of my personal favorites:

Christi’s: 1023 Austin Ave, Waco Open Tue-Sat 10AM-5PM This is a magical shop owned by Waco’s own, Christi Proctor who was a designer on TLC’s “Trading Spaces!” Upscale decor and of course, design services! She has her own line of bedding that is absolutely gorgeous!

Papillon Antiques: 1025 Austin Ave, Waco Open Tue-Fri 10:30AM-5:30PM, Sat 10:30AM-2:30PM. Right next door to Christi’s is this upscale shop featuring French antiques and decor.

Honey’s Home+Style: 1700 Austin Ave, Waco Open Tue-Sat 10:30AM-5:30PM A great mix of antiques (including French) and new home decor.

You can spend several days in Waco! It’s a great place to live in and to visit! Here is another page to check out things to do and see in our community : Visiting Waco, Texas

More silo photos. The renovation is coming along nicely! Can’t wait for them to be ready and open this fall!

Magnolia Market silos coming along! Photo taken August 2016 www.PieLadyLife.com
Magnolia Market silos coming along! Photo taken August 2016