VENICE


VENICE

TRAVEL GUIDE FOR VENICE ITALY


Venice was pretty much our last destination in Italy.  We actually weren't planning on going because so many had said that this was their least favorite Italian city in part due to the large amount of tourists, extreme prices and dirty water.  We decided to check it out anyways since we were so close and flying out of Venice to Greece was super convenient.  Overall we really enjoyed the city.  I think it helped that we went in with very little expectations so it definitely surpassed ours.  We had such a wonderful time exploring and walking around.  Venice is the perfect destination for 24 hours!

SINGING GONDOLA RIDE

This is a great way to experience the singing gondola ride.  A group of 6 or so gondolas travel at the same time - one has a singer on it.  The route takes about 45 minutes and gives a great tour of Venice by water.  It is a little short but romantic none the less.  

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  singing gondola ride, comfortable gondolas with cushion seating
  3. CONS:  short (45 minutes), singer on one boat not all boats
 One of our favorite memories from the trip - our gondola ride was magical 

One of our favorite memories from the trip - our gondola ride was magical 

 Gondola ride in Venice during golden hour!

Gondola ride in Venice during golden hour!

ST. MARK'S BASILICA

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful majestic architecture, amazing mosaic tile murals that are raw stones, good tour guide - very knowledgable 
  3. CONS:  TONS of people, short 1 hour tour - almost not enough time to really explain sights, no photography allowed in several parts of the church
 A quick dip with the pigeons outside St. Marks Basilica 

A quick dip with the pigeons outside St. Marks Basilica 


We had such a blast visiting Italy and feel so blessed to have the chance to explore so much of the country.  Check out our drone video below to see more from our trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BURANO


BURANO

TRAVEL GUIDE FOR BURANO ITALY


This quaint city lies just outside of Venice and is the lace capital of the world.  Just a quick 40 minute ferry ride the city boasts tons of lace museums and seriously colorful buildings that make the Painted Ladies look drab.  We absolutely adored our visit to Burano and so enjoyed walking around and just taking it all in.  

BURANO

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  instagramer's paradise, colorful buildings and wonderful seafood (from what I hear), cute shops
  3. CONS:  later in the day this town gets super packed.  Many of the well-established well reviewed restaurants here require reservations for eating so plan in advance!
 The charming city of Burano!

The charming city of Burano!

 When the HUBS finally gets Instagram 

When the HUBS finally gets Instagram 


We had such a blast visiting Italy and feel so blessed to have the chance to explore so much of the country.  Check out our drone video below to see more from our trip!

 

 

 

 

 

ROADTRIP THROUGH THE ITALIAN COUNTRYSIDE


ITALIAN ROADTRIP

ITINERARY FOR A 10 DAY ROADTRIP THROUGH ITALY


 Our 10 day road trip through Italy 

Our 10 day road trip through Italy 

DAY ONE  ROME

As y'all know Italy has too much to see for one trip but we were committed and determined to get the most out of our 10 days.  We wanted to hit the ground running (quite literally) as soon as we landed, so we planned to see most of the notables on the first day.  However, insane customs/immigration lines and less than stellar weather did not allow for this.  As a result we had to flex some of our plans to the next day.  

SIDE NOTE:  if you are taking a non-stop direct from the US to Rome, just be prepared for some ridiculous lines in customs/immigration.  It took us 2 hours to get through customs alone!  It seems that the FCO airport has several international flights land mid-afternoon which accounts for the ridiculous lines.  Also, there are many affordable transportation options leaving the airport.  We used the SIT bus (6 Euros/person - cash only) and would definitely recommend this option over cabs, shuttles or even the train.  

VARESE GUEST HOUSE (LODGING)

We really tried to keep our housing affordable throughout the trip, and since we were traveling with our besties we wanted something that catered to group housing.  This is effectively a glorified dormitory.  Several group housing rooms that all share a couple of bathrooms. 

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS: great location (two blocks from Termini Train Station, clean, reliable wi-fi, good common area space with small kitchenette, spacious rooms (some with balconies).
  3. CONS: average comfort, no breakfast, city/tourist tax to be paid in cash only

RIFUGIO ROMANO (RESTAURANT)

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  good food, affordable prices, really nice helpful staff
  3. CONS:  long waits, reservation highly recommended (or go early - like before 8PM).

DAY TWO  VATICAN CITY + ROME 

Since we encountered lots of temperamental weather the Sunday we landed, we had to flex our original plans to the next day which meant a lot more walking!!  Thankfully we packed comfortable clothing and shoes 🙏🏽.   Between the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica & Colosseum, there was quite a bit of walking - 7 miles to be precise.  Yep SEVEN.  

During the planning stages of this trip we got tons of great insights from our many friends who had been to Italy already.  Pretty much everyone told us to buy skip-the-line tickets for both the Vatican & the Colosseum (+ Forum).  This was excellent advice, however the key to this being useful (for the Vatican in particular) is doing the earliest tours available.  Skip-the-Line tickets allow you to skip the entrance lines for these high profile sights, but do not allow you to skip the security lines (metal detectors).  The security lines are smallest first thing in the morning!  The other benefit to morning tours is that the Vatican is WAY less packed.  You have some breathing room to enjoy the artwork & historical artifacts, but more importantly really gawk at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.  

THE VATICAN MUSEUMS & SISTINE CHAPEL TOUR

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  great quick tour with a knowledgable guide, all the highlights are noted, great for individuals who enjoy fast paced tours (length was 1 hour, ending with the Sistine Chapel - could stay here indefinitely), the Vatican Museum Map room was 😍, we got blessed by a priest in the Sistine Chapel!! 😇
  3. CONS:  not as informative as we personally would have liked (could have been more in depth)
 the maps room in the vatican museum is gorgeous 

the maps room in the vatican museum is gorgeous 

 outside the Vatican with my favorite humans 

outside the Vatican with my favorite humans 

 FASHION INSPO:   BLOUSE   |   JEANS   |   SUNGLASSES   |   ESPADRILLES   |   CROSSBODY BAG

FASHION INSPO:  BLOUSE  |  JEANS  |  SUNGLASSES  |  ESPADRILLES  |  CROSSBODY BAG

ST. PETER'S BASILICA TOUR

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  go at your own pace, explore freely, this Basilica was personally my favorite from our tour of Italy, absolutely breath taking architecture and so artfully made.  THIS IS A MUST SEE.
  3. CONS:  This tour comes with an audioguide (downloaded through your own phone on an app), headphones cost extra and are only for normal headphone jacks (not compliant with iPhone 7 and newer).  
  4. NOTES:  Our tour was in the afternoon when there were floods of people, definitely recommend first thing in the morning.  
 I think a part of my soul was left behind here at St. Peters Basilica.  I mean just look, gah.  Its so magnificent.

I think a part of my soul was left behind here at St. Peters Basilica.  I mean just look, gah.  Its so magnificent.

SOME NOTES ABOUT THE VATICAN:  

  • If you decide to use these two tours linked above, I would recommend doing all three sights back-to-back.  As the day progresses, the Vatican gets super packed both outside and within the museums.  Its best to be done with all the tours before lunch in my opinion.  Also the Vatican is a no re-entry zone, so once you exit a museum you can not go back in.  
  • Special attire is required (pants, no hats, no revealing clothing for women - no sleeveless, knees must be covered, and according to most sites - closed toe shoes (however this one didn't seem to be strictly enforced)).  
  • The Vatican is closed on Sundays and several religious holidays throughout the year.  It is best to make sure that it will be open during your visit before booking anything.   If you can, book the garden tour - we regret not buying tickets to see this.  
  • Ok and our final note, lots of restaurants in the area will solicit your attention in a semi-aggressive manner.  I would plan meals as much as possible.  We made the mistake of walking into one of the restaurants and getting some fruit.  We didn't think it would cost that much and the price wasn't listed on the menu.  It cost us 50 Euros just for the fruit salad (note this is not the restaurant listed below)!!

PASTASCIUTTA (RESTAURANT)

  1. RATING:  4/5 
  2. PROS:  great basic italian dishes, really inexpensive ($), and very fresh
  3. CONS:  nothing too inventive (just the basics - think pesto, pomodoro, fungi...), only 4 stools in the restaurant to sit, a little hard to find because in a alley way of sorts, not the nicest staff.  

 

COLOSSEO

Much like the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum (aka Colosseo) is magnanimous in person.  Its so incredibly grand and massive - I was literally speechless.  We thoroughly enjoyed just walking around the entire archeological site and spent a couple hours doing only that (and taking pictures 🤗) before even going in.  It was really incredible to be in a space that was built almost 2000 years ago!  So incredible that we went back 3 times!  

RATING:  5/5

  1. PROS:  well preserved, lots of historic artifacts throughout
  2. CONS:  tons of people, very touristy food in the area, steep uneven stairs
  3. SOME NOTES:  
    1. The Colosseum offers skip the line tickets which were excellent.  Our scheduled entry time was 5:30 PM and we basically walked in.  The security line at that time was pretty minimal which was also really convenient.  Just a heads up, only small purses/backpacks are allowed, tickets can be purchased here and are good for 2 consecutive days (this proved very useful with the bad weather we encountered), and tickets give access to the Forum (where Caesar is buried) & Palatine Hills.  Oh also they are super affordable - however the link above is not for a guided tour - if you are looking for that then I'd suggest the Viator route.  
    2. I also really recommend going back to the Colosseum at night when its all lit up.  There is a little bridge right across from it that is a great view point at night (see picture below).  
    3. Lastly, watch out for the gladiators.  These guys are aggressive, will essentially take your phone as collateral until you pay them, and will ask for ridiculous amounts of money for about 5 minutes of fun.  Have cash ready for this instead of opening your wallet in front of them.  They demanded we pay $100 USD, we gave them $30 (which is still a bit much).
Colosseum Colosseo Itinerary Guide Italy Roadtrip Charisma Shah
Colosseum Tour Roadtrip Through Italy Tuscany Travel Guide Charisma Shah
Colosseum Guide Roadtrip through Italy Tuscany Travel Guide Charisma Shah
 OUTFIT DETAILS:   DRESS   |   SKIRT

OUTFIT DETAILS:  DRESS  |  SKIRT


DAY THREE  TIVOLI GARDENS + CIVITA DE BAGNOREGIO

The next morning we had a late breakfast before picking up our rental car and leaving Rome for Villa D'Este aka Tivoli Gardens.  Some of our good friends raved about these lush gorgeous gardens so we knew we had to check it out.  The gardens were first commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este an avid patron of the arts in the 16th century.   Today the site is owned by the Italian government and is a a world UNESCO heritage site.  Tickets can be purchased in advance (to be picked up at the counter) here.

TIVOLI GARDENS

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful lush gardens, very well maintained, expansive, lots of fountains
  3. CONS:  can't be reached by train, sometimes large groups
 Just admiring the endless roses in Tivoli Gardens (Villa d'Este)

Just admiring the endless roses in Tivoli Gardens (Villa d'Este)

 Happiest with the HUBS.

Happiest with the HUBS.

CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  really quaint village, very few tourists, peaceful
  3. CONS:  not accessibly by train, steep hill/hike to entrance, everything closes early here so plan accordingly!

Civita di Bagnoregio is this really charming village that sits at the plateau of a mound of constantly eroding volcanic rock.  The town is over 2500+ years old and is constantly at risk of erosion from decaying rock.  This was actually the HUBS find.  Neither of us had ever heard of this town before but I am so glad we went.  In fact, this is where Pinocchio was filmed.  Geppetto's shop is still here and can be visited!  Its actually an olive oil bottle manufacturer.  The views from Civita are beautiful.  Every corner & crevice of Civita de Bagnoregio is chock full of beautiful blooms and vines.  

 The stunning Civita de Bagnoregio, a 2500+ year old city that sits atop volcanic rock in Tuscany!

The stunning Civita de Bagnoregio, a 2500+ year old city that sits atop volcanic rock in Tuscany!

 the HUBS wanted a picture with his Italian café in front of Civita 

the HUBS wanted a picture with his Italian café in front of Civita 

 OUTFIT DETAILS:  SIMILAR  RAINCOAT   |   SUNGLASSES   |   CROSSBODY

OUTFIT DETAILS:  SIMILAR RAINCOAT  |  SUNGLASSES  |  CROSSBODY

 OUTFIT DETAILS:   SIMILAR TOP   |   JEANS

OUTFIT DETAILS:  SIMILAR TOP  |  JEANS

II RIPI & GO (RESTAURANT)

  1. RATING:  4.5/5
  2. PROS:  quaint, spacious, great service, delicious food, reasonable prices, walkins welcome
  3. CONS:  limited parking, staff may not speak english

LA MERIA COUNTRY HOME

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  probably our favorite of our stays this home was quaint, spacious, comfortable and perfect for families.  It has a kitchen, dining table, fireplace, balcony, two rooms and two bathrooms.  The balcony overlooks lovely Tuscan rolling hills.  The home sits at the base of a larger property with several units.  Breakfast is delicious and included pastries, teas, fresh coffee, cheese spreads, breads, deli meats, and fruit.  I also loved that you could literally drive up to the home directly.  Also Luca was so sweet, thoughtful and just happy to be there.  Also theres a cute little rooftop above the breakfast area that is so serene.  We really wish we had stayed longer.  
  3. CONS:  literally no complaints.

DAY FOUR  CASCATE DEL MULINO

CASCATE DEL MULINO

Probably Italy's best kept secret is Cascate del Mulino (in Saturnia), these beautiful cascade of natural geothermal pools nestled in the Tuscan countryside.  I knew I wanted to visit this gem the minute we decided to vacation in Italy, so I planned quietly to keep this somewhat a surprise for everyone else (especially the HUBS who is obsessed with local only spots).  Its super relaxing and serene.  For anyone looking to rent a car, this is a must see.  

Since this spot is tucked away, we decided to stay in Catabbio, the closest lodging we could find on AirBnB.  Saturnia is technically free and not associated with any hotel so people can go at any time.  We wanted to get there first thing in the morning before it got too packed.  According to the reviews on TripAdvisor, most people get there around 8:30/9AM and the pools tend to be most packed during the warmer seasons (May - September).  Since we were visiting at the beginning of high season we planned on getting to the pools by 6:00 AM.  Thankfully we were only staying about 15 minutes away.  

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  natural (not man made) geothermal spa, serene, stunning, not too many tourists because no train access or tour groups
  3. CONS:  can get packed with locals, rocks can get slippery so be careful, no lockers or bathrooms - plan accordingly, smells like sulfur 
Saturnia Terme Geothermal Spa Tuscany Travel Guide Charisma Shah Italy Roadtrip Itinerary
 Cascate del Mulino geothermal spa in Saturnia, Tuscany.

Cascate del Mulino geothermal spa in Saturnia, Tuscany.

 Cascate del Mulino geothermal spa in Saturnia, Tuscany.

Cascate del Mulino geothermal spa in Saturnia, Tuscany.

ROCCAPESTA

After spending the morning at Cascate del Mulino in Saturnia, we decided to visit the Roccapesta winery which our host recommended.  Tuscany is abundant with wineries including several notables.  Although, we had never heard of Roccapesta we were excited to try a local recommendation.  The owner, Alberto, actually gave us our tour.  He was so incredibly knowledgable, kind and answered our many questions (the HUBS asked easily 100+ questions).  Apparently Alberto purchased the winery in late 2000's.  If I remember correctly, Alberto was formerly an engineer before buying the winery.  Every grape is hand-picked before being hand-sorted for processing.  Many of the wines have earned the illustrious DOCG certification, included their most popular Roccapesta Reserve.   Our personal favorites would have to be the Calastia.  Alberto was so generous and even let us try some of his older reserves from his personal collection!  

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  local pick, boutique vineyard, not touristy, very charming, great service and very friendly staff, very affordable wines
  3. CONS:  not accessible by train
  4. NOTES:  make a reservation well in advance.
Roccapesta Tuscany Winery Morelli di Scansano Italy Travel Guide

 

DAY FIVE  WINERIES & ABBEY DE SAN GALGANO

You can't visit Tuscany without visiting a winery...well actually several.  We wanted to get a good variety of wineries so we chose a large and boutique vineyard to visit.  

CASTELLO DI BANFI

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  great service, we did the tasting menu (vegetarian friendly) at the restaurant which comes with 3 wine pairs and 1 aperitif prior to the meal.  The Banfi campus is HUGE and gorgeous.  You can also stay here.  This one of the biggest wine manufacturers & exporter in Italy and a majority of their wines are exported to the US.  
  3. CONS:  pricey, a little less personal,
  4. NOTES: reservations are required
 The shop at Castello di Banfi has so many wonderful wines, olive oils, pottery and much more to bring home!

The shop at Castello di Banfi has so many wonderful wines, olive oils, pottery and much more to bring home!

MATÉ WINERY

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  quaint, beautiful campus, wine tasting is pretty thorough
  3. CONS:  wine tasting does not include a tour, personally was not that fond of the wines.
  4. NOTES:  requires a reservation.  

ABBEY OF SAN GALGANO

This was somewhat of a random stop.  I literally saw some photography of this abbey on instagram and knew I had to visit it.  It just looked so beautiful and raw.  Turns out the abbey was en route to pisa so we decided to stop by and check it out.  It was absolutely gorgeous and a great spot for drone footage.  A 800+ year old monastery, the Abbey was once roofed but in 1786 its bell tower fell after years of decay and with it went the roof.  Today several efforts have been made to restore what remains.   People can still get married here however and the inside looks beautiful (we couldn't go in because it was already closed by the time we arrived).

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful, quaint, quiet (no tourists), serene
  3. CONS:  not accessible by train, closes early.  
 The Abbey of San Galgano from above by drone (DJI Mavic Pro).

The Abbey of San Galgano from above by drone (DJI Mavic Pro).

 Playing dress up at the Abbey of San Galgano (Tuscany, Italy)

Playing dress up at the Abbey of San Galgano (Tuscany, Italy)

 The Abbey of San Galgano from above taken with a DJI Mavic Pro.

The Abbey of San Galgano from above taken with a DJI Mavic Pro.

GANDHI (RESTAURANT)

  1. RATING:  3.5/5
  2. PROS:  really great service, super friendly staff, spacious, good food, decent portions, well priced
  3. CONS: parking right outside of restaurant is limited and restricted
  4. NOTES:  As an Indian, I am pretty critical of Indian cuisine outside of India or my mom's kitchen 😂.  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with the food but it definitely was not as good as the real thing.  After eating tons of Italian food however, it did provide some necessary variety & spice.

VILLA MARIA

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  great breakfast (fruits, pastries, eggs, fresh coffee, tea, meats), private bathroom, spacious room 
  3. CONS:  twin beds, staff is somewhat strict about quiet hours

DAY SIX  PISA

Before our trip we scheduled a cooking class just outside Pisa with Chef Paolo that covered 10+ pasta sauces and 4+ different types of pasta. We so enjoyed this class and would definitely recommend it to other friends and family.  

CHEF PAOLO MONTI'S COOKING SCHOOL

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  very thorough assortment of pasta sauces and pastas, recipes are printed out for you to take home, learn everything from chopping to making fresh pasta, get to eat your creations afterwards, wine pairings are included, food is delicious!
  3. CONS:  a little outside of Pisa (not that common of a location), 5 hours long course with lots of standing.
  4. NOTES:  reservations required, seriously one of the best meals we had in Italy.  The pasta carbonara was easily the top 5 pastas I have ever had in my life.  I wish I could eat it every day lol.
 Chef Paolo teaching me how to make Carbonara.  

Chef Paolo teaching me how to make Carbonara.  

 We had such a wonderful time learning from Chef Paolo & his team!

We had such a wonderful time learning from Chef Paolo & his team!

Later that evening after the class, we decided to stop by the Leaning Tower on our way home.  Like many of our friends said, the tower is pretty anti-climactic, especially at night.  It wasn't even lit up!  There also weren't any plaques or guides describing the history of the tower.  The architecture was definitely beautiful and ornate, but this was probably the least memorable experience during our Italy trip.

LEANING TOWER OF PISA

  1. RATING:  3/5
  2. PROS:  nice architecture
  3. CONS:  not that interesting, touristy (lots of people), not lit up at night

DAY SEVEN CINQUE TERRE

One of the most anticipated destinations in our Italy trip was visiting Cinque Terre.  We had heard so many amazing things and were so excited to spend some time exploring.  Each town was so quaint that half a day was definitely not enough.  We had anticipated hiking through the 5 towns, but it was really hot so we instead opted to just enjoy more time in Vernazza.  We visited Monterosso al Mare & Vernazza.  We really wish we had also spent some time in Riomaggiore but unfortunately we ran out of time since we had a long drive ahead of us.  

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  super quaint, lots of charming shops and restaurants to visit (not the most veggie friendly), phenomenal pesto, beautiful views, train accessible, hiking path
  3. CONS:  jam packed with tourists (best to go earlier in the morning).
 Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy - Spring 2018 

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy - Spring 2018 

 Damn, that gelato was so good though 😋!

Damn, that gelato was so good though 😋!

BELFORT CASTLE

We decided to stop by Belfort Castle while we were en route to the Italian Alps.  The HUBS was obsessed with visiting old abandoned castles during the trip.  In fact he even had a little ritual of playing "Castle on a Hill" every time 😂.  We had spotted this castle during while researching about Italy before our trip.  Much like the rest of Europe, Italy has some beautiful castles, each one rich in history and nestled in some quaint countryside.  

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  incredible views of the alps, free, parking lot, quiet and serene
  3. CONS:  not train accessible
 Belfort Castle from above.  

Belfort Castle from above.  

 Fields of dandelions in front of Belfort Castle

Fields of dandelions in front of Belfort Castle


DAY EIGHT ALPS

This was probably the part of the trip that I was most looking forward to.  After visiting Switzerland & Iceland last year, I was really curious as to how Italy compared.  No one ever talks about the Italian Alps, but damn they are GORGEOUS.  I personally felt like the Italian side of the alps was tremendously more beautiful than the Swiss side.  The views were incredible and so much more approachable?  I am not sure how to describe it, but the mountains are softer and land seems sweeter.  Maybe pictures would help?

 Italian Alps as seen from the charming town of Bruneck (Brunico) 

Italian Alps as seen from the charming town of Bruneck (Brunico) 

One of our first stops in the Italian Alps was Lake Sorapis.  I had read about many beautiful hikes in the Alps and knew immediately that I had to do this one.  The trail head for the hike starts off SR48 (follow the signs for Passo Tres Croci).  The hike is about 11 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 200 meters.  The trail path winds through forest, scales the side of a mountain before coming to a clearing where you will see Lago di Sorapis (Lake Sorapis).  This lake is insane.  Basically glacial melt, the water is brilliant tiffany blue.  This is by far the BEST HIKE I HAVE EVER EXPLORED.  Even the HUBS agrees.  We witnessed snow, rain, sunshine, waterfalls, mountains, wildlife, etc.  It was so beautiful that we all were in awe when we came back.  Lets just say this is a hike where you are so lost in the beauty of your surroundings that you forget how tired your feet are.  

LAGO di SORAPIS

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  insane views, beautiful surroundings, pretty clear trail path, hiking shoes not required but would be advantageous, partially shaded, cool & shaded for about 1/2 of the trail.
  3. CONS:  no bathrooms, limited parking immediately off the street (no lot), road leading to trail head is a little bit confusing.  
  4. NOTES:  if you are ever searching for hikes in this region this website is a great resource - click here
 the HUBS exploring Lago di Sorapis

the HUBS exploring Lago di Sorapis

 Lago di Sorapis is seriously gorgeous y'all.

Lago di Sorapis is seriously gorgeous y'all.

 Serenity at its best!

Serenity at its best!

LAGO di BRAIES (PRAGSER WILDSEE)

Supposedly one of the most photographed lakes in Italy, Pragser Wildsee aka Lake Braies is a local gem of the Dolomites.  This lake somewhat resembles Lake Morraine in Banff and is beautifully framed by the wonderful Italian Alps and features really pretty almost moody teal water. We absolutely loved visiting this lake and it was so peaceful to just be able to take a canoe out and explore.

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful view, no hiking required (just park and walk), serene, quiet, canoe rentals available
  3. CONS:  parking costs 4 Euros, somewhat touristy later in the day
 Canoeing with the HUBS on Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee) 

Canoeing with the HUBS on Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee) 

HARDMITZN (RESTAURANT)

To be completely honest, I didnt really know what to expect of the food in the Alps.  Its pretty well known that the alps are this fusion region with a large german influence.  In fact many of the signs as you travel north are in both Italian & German.  The same is pretty much true for the food. Lots of meats but surprisingly the meals we had in the alps were our second best.  This restaurant was right next to our hotel and had two floors - downstairs (the pizzeria) and upstairs (a steakhouse).  On the first night we decided to try the steakhouse.  As a vegetarian, I really was expecting to just eat sides for the night but they had this "curry" veggie burger.  Y'all:  it was the best veggie burger I have ever eaten (sorry, Grindhouse you've been bumped)!  It was smothered in this creamy masala mayo that was so delicious.  Note to self:  steakhouses can have excellent vegetarian options.  

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  the prosseco aperit with dragonfruit and mint is excellent, awesome veggie burger, grilled vegetables & baked potato, great atmosphere -  some tables have great views , the pizzeria was delicious too - suprisingly good chili burrito and margherita pizza!
  3. CONS:  the tomato butter & bread are not very good (personal opinion), on the expensive side
  4. NOTES:  reservations not required unless you want the view

CRON4

  1. RATING:  3/5
  2. PROS:  nice thermal pools with lots of sauna options
  3. CONS:  saunas are towel only (no bathing suits), lots of men walk around entirely nude, steam rooms are nude only, must have sandals, bring your own towels & sandals or you can rent them for a small fee, entry fee, lots of kids

HOTEL GARNI HOCHGRUBER

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  nice staff, really awesome breakfast (waffles, fruit, teas, fresh coffee, meats, pastries, juices, cereals), comfortable rooms with balconies, discounted entry to CRON4
  3. CONS:  no pool or hot tub, rooms are dated

DAY NINE  VENICE

Venice was pretty much our last destination in Italy.  We actually weren't planning on going because so many had said that this was their least favorite Italian city in part due to the large amount of tourists, extreme prices and dirty water.  We decided to check it out anyways since we were so close and flying out of Venice to Greece was super convenient.  Overall we really enjoyed the city.  I think it helped that we went in with very little expectations so it definitely surpassed ours.  We had such a wonderful time exploring and walking around.  Venice is the perfect destination for 24 hours!

SINGING GONDOLA RIDE

This is a great way to experience the singing gondola ride.  A group of 6 or so gondolas travel at the same time - one has a singer on it.  The route takes about 45 minutes and gives a great tour of Venice by water.  It is a little short but romantic none the less.  

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  singing gondola ride, comfortable gondolas with cushion seating
  3. CONS:  short (45 minutes), singer on one boat not all boats
 One of our favorite memories from the trip - our gondola ride was magical 

One of our favorite memories from the trip - our gondola ride was magical 

 Gondola ride in Venice during golden hour!

Gondola ride in Venice during golden hour!

ST. MARK'S BASILICA

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful majestic architecture, amazing mosaic tile murals that are raw stones, good tour guide - very knowledgable 
  3. CONS:  TONS of people, short 1 hour tour - almost not enough time to really explain sights
 A quick dip with the pigeons outside St. Marks Basilica 

A quick dip with the pigeons outside St. Marks Basilica 

DAY TEN BURANO

This quaint city lies just outside of Venice and is the lace capital of the world.  Just a quick 40 minute ferry ride the city boasts tons of lace museums and seriously colorful buildings that make the Painted Ladies look drab.  We absolutely adored our visit to Burano and so enjoyed walking around and just taking it all in.  

BURANO

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  instagramer's paradise, colorful buildings and wonderful seafood (from what I hear), cute shops
  3. CONS:  later in the day this town gets super packed.  Many of the well-established well reviewed restaurants here require reservations for eating so plan in advance!
 The charming city of Burano!

The charming city of Burano!

 When the HUBS finally gets Instagram 

When the HUBS finally gets Instagram 


We had such a blast visiting Italy and feel so blessed to have the chance to explore so much of the country.  Check out our drone video below to see more from our trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO


CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO

GUIDE FOR TRAVELING THROUGH ONE OF ITALY'S OLDEST CITIES


Civita di Bagnoregio is this really charming village that sits at the plateau of a mound of volcanic rock.  The town is over 2500+ years old and is constantly at risk of erosion from decaying rock.  This was actually the HUBS find.  Neither of us had ever heard of this town before but I am so glad we went.  In fact, this is where Pinocchio was filmed.  Geppetto's shop is still here and can be visited!  Its actually an olive oil bottle manufacturer.  The views from Civita are beautiful.  Every corner & crevice of Civita de Bagnoregio is chock full of beautiful blooms and vines.  

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  really quaint village, very few tourists, peaceful
  3. CONS:  not accessibly by train, steep hill/hike to entrance, everything closes early here so plan accordingly!
 The stunning Civita de Bagnoregio, a 2500+ year old city that sits atop volcanic rock in Viterbo!

The stunning Civita de Bagnoregio, a 2500+ year old city that sits atop volcanic rock in Viterbo!

 the HUBS wanted a picture with his Italian café in front of Civita 

the HUBS wanted a picture with his Italian café in front of Civita 

 OUTFIT DETAILS:  SIMILAR  RAINCOAT   |   SUNGLASSES   |   CROSSBODY

OUTFIT DETAILS:  SIMILAR RAINCOAT  |  SUNGLASSES  |  CROSSBODY

 OUTFIT DETAILS:   SIMILAR TOP   |   JEANS

OUTFIT DETAILS:  SIMILAR TOP  |  JEANS

II RIPI & GO (RESTAURANT)

  1. RATING:  4.5/5
  2. PROS:  quaint, spacious, great service, delicious food, reasonable prices, walkins welcome
  3. CONS:  limited parking, staff may not speak english

 

WHEN IN ROME & VATICAN CITY


ROME TRAVEL GUIDE

ITINERARY FOR A 3 DAYS IN ROME, ITALY


 Our 10 day road trip through Italy 

Our 10 day road trip through Italy 

DAY ONE  ROME

As y'all know Italy has too much to see for one trip but we were committed and determined to get the most out of our 10 days.  We wanted to hit the ground running (quite literally) as soon as we landed, so we planned to see most of the notables on the first day.  However, insane customs/immigration lines and less than stellar weather did not allow for this.  As a result we had to flex some of our plans to the next day.  

SIDE NOTE:  if you are taking a non-stop direct from the US to Rome, just be prepared for some ridiculous lines in customs/immigration.  It took us 2 hours to get through customs alone!  It seems that the FCO airport has several international flights land mid-afternoon which accounts for the ridiculous lines.  Also, there are many affordable transportation options leaving the airport.  We used the SIT bus (6 Euros/person - cash only) and would definitely recommend this option over cabs, shuttles or even the train.  

VARESE GUEST HOUSE (LODGING)

We really tried to keep our housing affordable throughout the trip, and since we were traveling with our besties we wanted something that catered to group housing.  This is effectively a glorified dormitory.  Several group housing rooms that all share a couple of bathrooms. 

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS: great location (two blocks from Termini Train Station, clean, reliable wi-fi, good common area space with small kitchenette, spacious rooms (some with balconies).
  3. CONS: average comfort, no breakfast, city/tourist tax to be paid in cash only

RIFUGIO ROMANO (RESTAURANT)

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  good food, affordable prices, really nice helpful staff
  3. CONS:  long waits, reservation highly recommended (or go early - like before 8PM).

DAY TWO  VATICAN CITY + ROME 

Since we encountered lots of temperamental weather the Sunday we landed, we had to flex our original plans to the next day which meant a lot more walking!!  Thankfully we packed comfortable clothing and shoes 🙏🏽.   Between the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica & Colosseum, there was quite a bit of walking - 7 miles to be precise.  Yep SEVEN.  

During the planning stages of this trip we got tons of great insights from our many friends who had been to Italy already.  Pretty much everyone told us to buy skip-the-line tickets for both the Vatican & the Colosseum (+ Forum).  This was excellent advice, however the key to this being useful (for the Vatican in particular) is doing the earliest tours available.  Skip-the-Line tickets allow you to skip the entrance lines for these high profile sights, but do not allow you to skip the security lines (metal detectors).  The security lines are smallest first thing in the morning!  The other benefit to morning tours is that the Vatican is WAY less packed.  You have some breathing room to enjoy the artwork & historical artifacts, but more importantly really gawk at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.  

THE VATICAN MUSEUMS & SISTINE CHAPEL TOUR

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  great quick tour with a knowledgable guide, all the highlights are noted, great for individuals who enjoy fast paced tours (length was 1 hour, ending with the Sistine Chapel - could stay here indefinitely), the Vatican Museum Map room was 😍, we got blessed by a priest in the Sistine Chapel!! 😇
  3. CONS:  not as informative as we personally would have liked (could have been more in depth)
 the maps room in the vatican museum is gorgeous 

the maps room in the vatican museum is gorgeous 

 outside the Vatican with my favorite humans 

outside the Vatican with my favorite humans 

 FASHION INSPO:   BLOUSE   |   JEANS   |   SUNGLASSES   |   ESPADRILLES   |   CROSSBODY BAG

FASHION INSPO:  BLOUSE  |  JEANS  |  SUNGLASSES  |  ESPADRILLES  |  CROSSBODY BAG

ST. PETER'S BASILICA TOUR

  1. RATING:  4/5

  2. PROS:  go at your own pace, explore freely, this Basilica was personally my favorite from our tour of Italy, absolutely breath taking architecture and so artfully made.  THIS IS A MUST SEE.
  3. CONS:  This tour comes with an audioguide (downloaded through your own phone on an app), headphones cost extra and are only for normal headphone jacks (not compliant with iPhone 7 and newer).  
  4. NOTES:  Our tour was in the afternoon when there were floods of people, definitely recommend first thing in the morning.  
 I think a part of my soul was left behind here at St. Peters Basilica.  I mean just look, gah.  Its so magnificent.

I think a part of my soul was left behind here at St. Peters Basilica.  I mean just look, gah.  Its so magnificent.

SOME NOTES ABOUT THE VATICAN:  

  • If you decide to use these two tours linked above, I would recommend doing all three sights back-to-back.  As the day progresses, the Vatican gets super packed both outside and within the museums.  Its best to be done with all the tours before lunch in my opinion.  Also the Vatican is a no re-entry zone, so once you exit a museum you can not go back in.  
  • Special attire is required (pants, no hats, no revealing clothing for women - no sleeveless, knees must be covered, and according to most sites - closed toe shoes (however this one didn't seem to be strictly enforced)).  
  • The Vatican is closed on Sundays and several religious holidays throughout the year.  It is best to make sure that it will be open during your visit before booking anything.   If you can, book the garden tour - we regret not buying tickets to see this.  
  • Ok and our final note, lots of restaurants in the area will solicit your attention in a semi-aggressive manner.  I would plan meals as much as possible.  We made the mistake of walking into one of the restaurants and getting some fruit.  We didn't think it would cost that much and the price wasn't listed on the menu.  It cost us 50 Euros just for the fruit salad (note this is not the restaurant listed below)!!

PASTASCIUTTA (RESTAURANT)

  1. RATING:  4/5 
  2. PROS:  great basic italian dishes, really inexpensive ($), and very fresh
  3. CONS:  nothing too inventive (just the basics - think pesto, pomodoro, fungi...), only 4 stools in the restaurant to sit, a little hard to find because in a alley way of sorts, not the nicest staff.  

COLOSSEO

Much like the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum (aka Colosseo) is magnanimous in person.  Its so incredibly grand and massive - I was literally speechless.  We thoroughly enjoyed just walking around the entire archeological site and spent a couple hours doing only that (and taking pictures 🤗) before even going in.  It was really incredible to be in a space that was built almost 2000 years ago!  So incredible that we went back 3 times!  

RATING:  5/5

  1. PROS:  well preserved, lots of historic artifacts throughout
  2. CONS:  tons of people, very touristy food in the area, steep uneven stairs
  3. SOME NOTES:  
    1. The Colosseum offers skip the line tickets which were excellent.  Our scheduled entry time was 5:30 PM and we basically walked in.  The security line at that time was pretty minimal which was also really convenient.  Just a heads up, only small purses/backpacks are allowed, tickets can be purchased here and are good for 2 consecutive days (this proved very useful with the bad weather we encountered), and tickets give access to the Forum (where Caesar is buried) & Palatine Hills.  Oh also they are super affordable - however the link above is not for a guided tour - if you are looking for that then I'd suggest the Viator route.  
    2. I also really recommend going back to the Colosseum at night when its all lit up.  There is a little bridge right across from it that is a great view point at night (see picture below).  
    3. Lastly, watch out for the gladiators.  These guys are aggressive, will essentially take your phone as collateral until you pay them, and will ask for ridiculous amounts of money for about 5 minutes of fun.  Have cash ready for this instead of opening your wallet in front of them.  They demanded we pay $100 USD, we gave them $30 (which is still a bit much).
Colosseum Colosseo Itinerary Guide Italy Roadtrip Charisma Shah
Colosseum Tour Roadtrip Through Italy Tuscany Travel Guide Charisma Shah
Colosseum Guide Roadtrip through Italy Tuscany Travel Guide Charisma Shah
 OUTFIT DETAILS:   DRESS   |   SKIRT

OUTFIT DETAILS:  DRESS  |  SKIRT


DAY THREE  TIVOLI GARDENS + CIVITA DE BAGNOREGIO

The next morning we had a late breakfast before picking up our rental car and leaving Rome for Villa D'Este aka Tivoli Gardens.  Some of our good friends raved about these lush gorgeous gardens so we knew we had to check it out.  The gardens were first commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este an avid patron of the arts in the 16th century.   Today the site is owned by the Italian government and is a a world UNESCO heritage site.  Tickets can be purchased in advance (to be picked up at the counter) here.

TIVOLI GARDENS

  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful lush gardens, very well maintained, expansive, lots of fountains
  3. CONS:  can't be reached by train, sometimes large groups
 Just admiring the endless roses in Tivoli Gardens (Villa d'Este)

Just admiring the endless roses in Tivoli Gardens (Villa d'Este)

 Happiest with the HUBS.

Happiest with the HUBS.

VEGAN PORRIDGE

Some might not know but the HUBS is an excellent cook.  In fact, one of my favorite memories from when we first started dating was the first time he cooked for me.  It was a first week of dating and refused to let me do anything.  It was so romantic and sweet! He literally did everything - prepped, cooked, and cleaned up.  I was so impressed.  Turns out the HUBS was and is a great cook!  

Over the past few years, he's really started exploring and delving beyond his heirloom recipes, or simply adapting them to be healthier.  This recipe was adapted from his moms "dalia" recipe which was an assorted porridge with lentils, grains & milk.  The HUBS adjusted this recipe to include super seeds like chia & hemp hearts.  Its seriously delicious and its vegan, vegetarian, refined sugar-free, vegetarian, and gluten-free!  

Vegan Vegetarian Gluten-Free Porridge Recipe Charisma Shah

VEGAN, VEGETARIAN, GLUTEN-FREE

PORRIDGE RECIPE

KITCHEN  THE HUBS


INGREDIENTS (SERVES 4)

  1. 1/2 c steel-cut oats
  2. 1/2 c quinoa
  3. 1/4 c chia seeds
  4. 1/4 c hemp hearts
  5. 5 cups of water
  6. 1 packet of instant chai 
  7. dash of cinnamon
  8. blueberries, dates, pumpkin seeds, pepitas, bananas, honey (garnishes)
  9. vegan milk

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Lightly roast the grains & seeds in a pan until fragrant (light roasted smell)
  2. Add water, cover and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower to simmer.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until grains are fully cooked.  
  3. Add the chai packet & cinnamon.  Stir well.
  4. Garnish with honey, dates, fruits and seeds.  Enjoy!
Vegan Vegetarian Gluten-Free Porridge Recipe Charisma Shah
Vegan Vegetarian Gluten-Free Porridge Recipe Charisma Shah

 

 

10 Amazing Drugstore Beauty Products That I Swear By

Many women have an entire arsenal of beauty products, much of which come from specialty stores like Sephora & Ulta, including me.  Today, however, I wanted to share some of my favorite cost effective & more importantly results-driven products that I always pickup from the grocery or drugstore.  Much like their higher-end counter parts, these products are effective, deliver on their promises and seriously affordable!  I always have these in my arsenal and they could never be replaced by a higher end product.  These are the 10 most amazing drugstore beauty products that I swear by and continue to use over and over again.  


10 AMAZING DRUGSTORE BEAUTY PRODUCTS I SWEAR BY


This is probably the newest addition to my drugstore/grocery store favorites.  I tend to wash my face twice a day, first thing in the morning and second after my workout.  My regular face wash (although brilliant) is a preventative acne treatment that I don't need to be using twice.  That being said, I was looking for a great gentle cleanser that made my skin feel squeaky clean post-workout sweatiness.  In the past I have used Fresh's Soy Cleanser which is amazing, very gentle, but also a little bit pricey for something I am going to wash off in ten seconds.  After much research I found this fantastic dupe for Fresh's Soy Cleanser.  I love that this cleanser is vegan, sulfate-free, paraben-free and cruelty free!  Plus its made with seriously wholesome ingredients like acai berry, blackberry, rosehips, pomegranate, calendula, chamomile, olive oil and argan oil to name a few.  You can readily find this product at Whole Foods and Amazon and its generally less than $10!  NOTE: a little bit goes a long way, I usually use about a pea size amount.


Next up is one of my "holy-grail" items.  I have been using this product for 10+ years now and I am beyond thankful for it.  Seriously though, I used to have really bad acne in high school & college.  I tried everything from antibiotics to pretty much every face wash at the supermarket (like Neutrogena, clearasil pads, noxema, dove, aveeno, etc).  Nothing seemed to work on my skin.  Finally my mom spotted this face wash at Costco and thought I should give it a try (this was back in 2006).  At first, I used the 3 step program of face wash, toner & moisturizer.  Within two weeks my skin cleared up.  Twelve years later, and I still use this EVERYDAY.  I use this as my daily cleanser but this product is also great at stabilizing my skin when I travel.  It is readily available in drugstores, Target, Amazon, Walmart & Costco.  NOTES:  this product does discolor colored towels so use with white towels!


10 Amazing Drugstore Beauty Products for Less Than $10 Charisma Shah

This next item has been a regular in my makeup bag since I was in middle school.  It was the first mascara I ever used.  18 years later, I still swear by this stuff.  Lets just say that I purchased the Charlotte Tilbury False Lashes Mascara which I tried once and haven't used since because it smudges & smears SO bad.  This mascara however is more reliable, creates the same voluminous fake lashes look at about 1/5 of the price and stays put.  I have yet to find another mascara that I like better and can't count the number of times my lashes have been mistaken for falsies when using this product.  Its another one of my "holy-grails" and can literally be found in every drugstore and supermarket.  NOTES:  I am a huge fan of the regular wand (not curved) and in the color Carbon Black.  I am NOT a fan of the waterproof version (which tends to flake).


10 Amazing Drugstore Beauty Products Charisma Shah

This next product is also newer to my medicine cabinet.  I have previously mentioned how much I love the Body Shop's Vitamin C pods which unfortunately were discontinued.  They were so lightweight and really brightened my skin while also diminishing fine lines.  I was in the market for a new VitC product but really didnt want to spend absurd amounts of money.  At the time The Ordinary products were regularly sold out and had yet to be sold at Sephora.  I was walking through a local organic market when I tried a sample of this Vitamin C serum.  I was immediately in love with the consistency and smell (lightly floral).  The next morning my skin was literally glowing and dewy.  I was sold, so I went back to purchase the product pretty much committing to it regardless of price.  When I found out how affordable it was I was shocked!  Another added perk was that this serum has a healthy serving of Ferulic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid (which I am obsessed with), Vitamin E & Aloe to soothe skin!  I found this product at my local organic market but it is also available for purchase here.  P.S.  Also wanted to note that Vitamin C is the second listed ingredient!


Next on my list is another great skincare product - this moisturizer.  I was first introduced to this product a couple years ago when I left my moisturizer at home and was visiting my parents for the weekend.  My mom was using this product so I tried some.  I was immediately impressed with the light as air consistency, ingredients (hello ceramides & hyaluronic acid!) and potency.  I went home and bought some for us the next day.  I am a HUGE fan of moisturizers that are water based (usually have water listed as the first ingredient).  I find that they absorb fast into my skin and keep my skin hydrated without being oily.  Initially I used this product on its own daily, but about a year ago I started mixing in 1 drop of this Facial Oil before applying (this will literally make your skin glow).  This is by far the best drugstore moisturizer and both the HUBS & I absolutely love it. NOTES:  I am not a big fan of the sunscreen version of this, so I use this product when I am staying indoors.  My favorite sunscreen can be found here.


10 amazing drugstore beauty buys I swear by less than $10 charisma shah

Last but not least of my drugstore skin saviors is these bad boys.  Although they are about $1/strip, these are the only product that get every last blackhead out!  The originals strips were great but these charcoal strips are AMAZING.  Seriously that feeling after when you remove the strip and can't even count all the blackheads (kinda gross but unbelievably satisfying like waxing haha).  These are a staple in our medicine cabinet and the HUBS swears by them too!  We also like to keep a strip on us when traveling just in case!  NOTES:  We find that using these immediately post shower (or even in the shower) works best.  Always steam your face immediately before use to get the most use out of each strip!  Also, side note:  the hubs and I have tried at least 4 other charcoal blackhead removing products at this point (freemans, random amazon 5-star review products, bars, etc) none of which have removed as much or made our skin so clean!  We will be sticking with these from now on!


Ok so I am finally done with skincare products.  Next lets move on to hair.  As an Indian woman, obviously maintaining a thick luscious mane is important to me.  I take really great care of my hair - I don't use heat tools too much, I don't dye my hair, and I try to keep my shampoos to no more than 3 times in a week.  That being said, I have accrued some favorite haircare over the years.  Including a shampoo that actually adds volume to my crazy thick Indian hair, styling products that actually keep my dead straight hair curled for 3 days (yep you read that right) and the best detangler for long hair that tends to get crazy knotted.  

When I first went to college, there were so many things I had to buy for myself including many toiletries.  I grew up in the very Indian household in which most everything was bought in bulk, at severely discounted prices and in which I very rarely had a say in.  So when I started buying stuff like shampoo for myself, I was excited to try something new but overwhelmed with all the options.  Personally, I have super thick, long, heavy Indian hair that tends to get flaky in the winter.  It also tends to get flat easily, and oily pretty quickly.  Naturally, I needed a shampoo that could add volume (especially at my roots) without making my hair more oily or adding unnecessary gunk to it and treating my dandruff.  After trying everything from Garnier to John Frieda, I finally just opted for the shampoo that smelled the best.  Turns out it was the only shampoo that actually added noticeable volume to my hair.  I have been using this shampoo for about 8 years now.  I alternate between it and this sulfate-free dandruff shampoo.  


Growing up, I had a really hard time learning how to style my hair.  I was thankfully blessed with long, thick pretty straight hair but that just meant impossible to style.  Since my hair was so thick and heavy, it rarely maintained a heat style.  I can't tell you how many times my mom would curl my hair only for it to fall out by the time she got the last curl.  Thats also post tons of hairspray.  Flashback to a couple of years ago, I went to have my hair styled at a salon for my friends wedding.  The stylist but texturizing cream first to my hair while damp and then styled as usual.  My hair stayed curled for 3 days straight.  I was so impressed, I immediately sought out some texturizing cream of my own.  I didn't want to spend too much so when I found this affordable product I felt confident.  I have been using this cream for about 3 years now.  A little nickel size amount goes a LONG way (I am still on my first tube!).  This is also a great unisex product so the HUBS and I share this when traveling to lighten our load.  NOTES:  I always add this product right before I blow dry my hair and before curling/styling.  With hairspray, any heat style lasts at least 3 days before falling out.  This product does not leave my hair crunchy, but rather touchable and soft with a matte finish.  


THE BEST DETANGLER

With long hair comes lots of knots.  When you add working out, you get even more, some nearly impossible to get out.  I used to use spray detanglers to try and work out the knots in my hair, but they rarely delivered.  Then at the gym one day I got a sample of this shampoo, conditioner & mask.  The shampoo was ok, nothing to write home about, but the conditioner and mask were excellent.  I was very familiar with using ceramides for preventative anti-aging skin care, but I had never at that time heard of their great benefits for hair.  The HUBS and I were both so impressed that we bought both the conditioner and mask.  Although not explicitly one, this conditioner is seriously the BEST DETANGLER I have ever used.  Its honestly quite magical really.  After Indian weddings, my hair has been through too much heat styling, and lots of dancing and therefore lots of knots.  This is the only thing that really gets them all out and it does it pretty much immediately.  It also leaves my hair so incredibly soft. You can readily find this product in most grocery stores, supermarkets, and drugstores.  NOTES:  I massage about a quarter size amount throughout my ends and within a few minutes I am able to comb out my hair with ease.

The corresponding mask is also spectacular.  If you aren't using a hair mask, you are missing out, well rather your hair is.  Hair masks are a great way to add nutrients to your scalp, deep condition & moisturize your hair, and they are so invigorating.  In fact, I much prefer using masks over conditioners.  At $6 or less, this product is a steal, offering ton of goodies for your hair.  Personal tip:  I like to add a couple drops of mint & rosemary essential oils to this before applying.  I also love using this as a long mask, so I wet my hair, massage this throughout and leave in for 10-20 minutes.  I immediately follow this with shampoo.  My hair always ends up unbelievably soft & hydrated.  You can't beat this product at this price!

THAI TOM YUM SOUP RECIPE

Legend has it that those who share this dish fall in love.  Ok...not really, but that is how our love story began.  According to the HUBS, he was enamored when I shared my Tom Yum soup with him the weekend we met almost 6 years ago!  It is definitely true that great dishes and homemade recipes can really bring people together.  Naturally this soup is one of our favorites, but in truth my love affair with tom yum soup began wayyyy back in the day.  I think I first tried it at my best friend's thai restaurant in Nashville.  We would go as a family and stock up on hearty, savory oh-so-spicy and vegetarian friendly dishes each weekend.  As a family, our standard order ALWAYS started with tom yum soup.  The way the lemongrass, kaffir lime & thai chilies danced together in the soup excited our taste buds - it was guaranteed satisfaction.  I always loved saving some broth at the end to add to my red curry & rice.  So the HUBS and I finally decided to give this dish a shot. 


AUTHENTIC THAI, VEGETARIAN, VEGAN, GLUTEN-FREE

TOM YUM SOUP RECIPE

INSPIRED BY SABAIDEE


INGREDIENTS (SERVES 6-8)

  1. 6 c vegetable stock (I used ~ 50 oz of vegetable stock)
  2. 8 kaffir lime leaves (fresh/frozen)
  3. 6 two inch slices of galang root
  4. 6 two inch slices of lemongrass stalk
  5. 15 oz can sliced button mushrooms
  6. 2 tsp adu marcha (or minced thai chilies to taste)
  7. 1 limes (juiced; half added while cooking, half added fresh)
  8. 1 yellow onion (julienned)
  9. 1/2 c of fresh coarsely chopped cilantro
  10. 2 tbs tom yum paste 
  11. 1 bunch of green onions (diced on bias)
  12. 1 tbs vegetable oil
  13. tofu (optional)
Vegetarian vegan gluten free authentic thai tom yum soup recipe charisma shah

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium - large pot over medium-low heat, sauté the adu marcha/thai chiles in the oil.
  2. Add the tom yum paste and sauté.
  3. Add the sliced onion and lightly sauté.
  4. Add in the stock and bring to a boil.
  5. Add the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galang root.  Bring to a boil and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until very aromatic.
  6. Add soy sauce, tomatoes, and green onions.  Cook for an additional 3 minutes at a boil.
  7. Just before serving soup add the fresh lime juice & cilantro.  For extra heat, garnish with chili garlic oil (😋).

GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE EXPLOSION COOKIES RECIPE

I have a sweet tooth.  I love chocolate (obsessed) and I can eat an entire pan of chocolate chip cookies in about 2 minutes.  Cookies are absolutely my kryptonite (besides frozen kitkats).  In fact, that was how I started getting into cooking...via baking!  

I have tried an abundance of GF recipes for cookies primarily in an effort to decrease the carbs and eliminate the use of all-purpose flour.  I have tried baking with quinoa, brown rice, whole white wheat, oat, and bean flours.  Yep.  All of them.  Believe me when I say in cookies the flour really matters.  Or at least I thought so until about a week ago, when I tried some meringue cookies.  To my absolute surprise they were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  If I had not been told these were GF without any flours at all, I would have just assumed they were normal cookies but thinner!

The entire experience inspired me to whip up some of my own, so I did some research and fused some recipes, added a touch of my own flair and incredulously on my first attempt they turned out excellent!  If you have baked before you know how precise of a science the entire process is and how unlikely successful first attempts are - cue macaroon failures.  


GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE EXPLOSION COOKIES RECIPE

ADAPTED FROM PINT SIZED BAKER


INGREDIENTS (MAKES 12 COOKIES)

  1. 2 egg whites
  2. 1/8 cream of tartar powder
  3. 6 oz + 2 oz of chocolate chips
  4. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  5. 1/4 c sugar
  6. option 1: pinch of powdered coffee + chopped hazelnuts
  7. option 2: 1 tbs peanut butter
IMG_3094w.jpg

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Melt 6 oz of the chocolate chips in the microwave (or double boiler).  If melting in microwave - melt in increments of 30 seconds to prevent the chocolate from burning!  Allow the chocolate to cool for 30 minutes.
  3. While the chocolate is cooling, whisk your egg whites until frothy.  Add the cream of tartar while continuously whisking.  Then add the sugar.  
  4. Whisk until stiff peaks form (aka removing the whisk creates peaks that stay firm and don't disappear at all).  In my experience it is best to whisk eggs at medium high until this happens on an electric mixer.  
  5. Gently fold (not whisk) in your chocolate, adding a little bit at a time to the eggs.  
  6. At this point I divided my batter into two batches:
    1. Option 1: add a dash of finely ground coffee powder, chopped hazelnuts, and  chocolate chips.  Fold in thoroughly.
    2. Option 2: add peanut butter and chocolate chips. Fold in thoroughly.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown/crisp on the outside.
  8. Eat fresh or store in air-tight container (eat within a week).

CHEESY CHOLE POPOVERS

Finding something cooked & ready in the freezer is like finding money in your pockets!  Suddenly your not dreading having to cook because you have a tasty, spicy FLAVORFUL meal ready to go.  With that being said, pretty much anytime we make Indian shaaks/subjis (aka veggie entrees) we make double and set it aside for later.  Well earlier this week we happened to come across some Chole in our freezer so we decided since we didn't have fresh baturas on hand we would make popovers out of it.  Y'all.  This might be the best decision we made this week.


CHEESY CHOLE POPOVER RECIPE

KITCHEN CHARISMA


INGREDIENTS (12 POPOVERS)

  1. leftover chole (see homemade recipe here)
  2. 1 roll of puff pastry (cut into 12 even pieces)
  3. 1/2 c fresh pico de gallo
  4. 1/2 c of mozzarella cheese
  5. eggs (optional) whisked 
  6. oven cooking spray
cheesy chole popover recipe charisma shah vegetarian

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Prep a cupcake pan with nonstick spray
  3. Thaw 1 roll of puff pastry as instructed on the box (about 20 minutes).  Cut roll into 12 even pieces.  Roll each piece into 4 inch squares.
  4. Place pastry squares into cupcake pan.  Lightly mold to cupcake pan shape.
  5. Spoon 1 tsp of cheese into pastry "cups" to create the bottom later.
  6. If using eggs, evenly pour into cups.
  7. Remove EXCESS LIQUID from the chole before spooning.  Allocate into cups (about 1.5 tbs/cup).
  8. Add 1 tsp of cheese on top along with pico de gallo (again, remove excess liquid before).  
  9. Bake for 15 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown.  

 

TAVA PANEER RECIPE

When the HUBS and I travel we love to try new dishes from other cuisines, but inevitably about after a week, we start really missing good ole' indian food.  For vegetarians, nothing seems to be easier, as nutritious, and satisfying.  That being said, after about a week of poutine in Banff, we just NEEDED naan, shaak, and dal.  We decided to check out Masala, a restaurant that came highly recommended by our family in India.  Y'all:  it was phenomenal.  We do not give out 5 stars  to just anyone - in fact the HUBS and I have a strict rule.  Restaurants only get a 5 star review if we would happily hop a flight just to eat there.  To date I think we only have a handful that have met this criteria - but Masala definitely earned this honor.  We decided to venture out and try their Tava Paneer.  I was honestly expecting a dry roasted paneer dish, but was more than happy when instead the dish was saucy, savory and finger-licking good.  

In accordance with our plan to eat healthier, higher protein meals, I decided to try my hand at this dish.  The result was a good second to Masala's - it'll have to carry us over until we can make it back there for the real deal.  We decided to eat this with homemade low carb kati rolls (recipe here).  

tava paneer kati roll recipe vegetarian low carb indian charisma shah

VEGETARIAN

TAVA PANEER KATI ROLLS RECIPE

KITCHEN CHARISMA SHAH


INGREDIENTS (SERVES 4)

  1. 1 pack of frozen paneer (ingredients should just be whole milk & vinegar)
  2. 2 large green bell peppers (diced)
  3. 1/3 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
  4. 2 tbs butter
  5. 1 tsp jeera
  6. 2.5 tsp minced garlic
  7. 1 1/2 tsp adu marcha
  8. 1 yellow onion (diced)
  9. 1 1/2 tsp mirchi
  10. 1 tsp dhana jeeru
  11. 1 tbs tomato paste
  12. 1/2 c cream (or substitute with homemade cashew cream)
  13. 1/2 tsp garam masala
  14. 1/4 tsp amchur powder
  15. 1 tsp kasoori methi 
  16. pinch of ground cardamom
  17. 1 tsp sugar
  18. salt to taste (about 1.5 - 2 tsp)

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Melt the butter over medium low heat. 
  2. Add the jeera and allow to sizzle for 30 seconds (you should see tiny bubbles form around each cumin seed).  Do not over cook these otherwise you will have a strong roasted flavor.
  3. Add the minced garlic and saute until golden brown.
  4. Add the adu marcha and let saute until aromatic (about 1 minute).
  5. Add the diced onions and saute until translucent (about 3-4 minutes)
  6. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, dhana jeeru, and red mirchi.  Cook until tomato smell goes away (about 5 - 7 min).
  7. Add the kasoori methi, amchur powder, sugar, and garam masala and bring to a light simmer.
  8. Add the fried paneer and bell peppers.  Cover and cook until paneer is tender (about 3-5 minutes).  Do not overcook the bell peppers.  These should still be bright green and have a little bit of crunch to them.  
  9. Serve with low carb kati rolls (click here for recipe), fresh naan, or parathas.  
 *please note that these values are an approximation and are for just the tava paneer (not the kati roll)

*please note that these values are an approximation and are for just the tava paneer (not the kati roll)

LOW CARB KATI ROLLS RECIPE

With new years, come new resolutions.  This year the HUBS and I are trying to be more mindful of pairing our meals with our workouts.  On weight training days we try to eat high protein, low carb meals, and since every Indian dish tends to be pretty carb heavy, we created these: low carb kati rolls.  These are a great alternative to naan (plain or garlic), have a decent amount of protein, and like the name states: low carb 🙌🏽.  Scroll down to the bottom to see the complete nutrition information.  

low carb kati roll naan roti paratha recipe charisma shah

VEGETARIAN

LOW CARB KATI ROLL RECIPE

KITCHEN CHARISMA SHAH


INGREDIENTS (12 SIX INCH DIAMETER KATI ROLLS)

  1. 1/2 c greek yogurt (2% fage)
  2. 1/2 c full fat cottage cheese
  3. 1/2 c quinoa flour
  4. 1/4 c vital gluten wheat flour
  5. 3/4 c whole white wheat flour
  6. 1/2 tsp baking soda
  7. 1/4 cup of milk (we used protein nut milk)
  8. 1 tsp salt
  9. 1 tsp sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mix all ingredients with electric mixer.
  2. Place dough in a warm place and allow to rise for at least 1 hour (I usually try to do 2 hours)
  3. Flour a surface for rolling.  Pinch dough into smaller 1.5" round balls.  Flatten and roll out into 6" diameter rolls.
  4. On a skillet/tava cook the dough on both sides until lightly browned.  
  5. Lightly spread with ghee (optional).
 *please note that these values are an approximation

*please note that these values are an approximation

PETRINI (VEGETARIAN CHILI) RECIPE

One of my favorite things to eat growing up was Petro (aka tennessee chili).  Petro was this incredible fast food joint founded in Knoxville, TN that made vegetarian chili (and meat chili) topped with fritos, green onions, and sour cream.  Its seriously delicious, but unfortunately the one near my home closed down well before I learned to cook.  My mom & best friends mom did their best to recreate the dish (and they did a pretty amazing job) that it became one of the first dishes I made for the HUBS when we were dating.  He loved it so much that he made it for his parents...and well we got married.  Coincidence?  I think not 😂.  Fast forward 20 years, the HUBS and I recently came across a Petro and tried the real thing again.  It was as delicious as I remember.  

After trying the dish again, I was inspired to try recreating the dish fused with the Fresh & Easy canned vegetarian chili (which is delicious and unfortunately no longer exists).  This recipe is the result and was designated with the name "petrini" by the HUBS.

All this being said, if you are looking for a 5 min or less sort of dinner, than my Petro recipe is a better go to.  This requires marginally more effort but is delicious (and freezes well too!).  Enjoy!

vegetarian vegan gluten free paleo raw chili recipe instapot slowcooker 10 minute dinners lunch charisma shah marie sharp

PETRINI (VEGETARIAN & VEGAN) CHILI RECIPE

KITCHEN CHARISMA SHAH


INGREDIENTS (SERVES 6-8)

  1. 1 tbs butter (substitute with olive oil for vegan)
  2. 2 tsp minced garlic
  3. 1 tsp garlic powder
  4. 1 tsp onion powder
  5. 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
  6. 2 tsp red mirchi (or cayenne pepper)
  7. 1.5 tsp hot chili seasoning
  8. 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  9. 1/8 tsp cream of tartar powder
  10. 1/2 tsp Williams Sonoma chili lime seasoning (optional)
  11. 1 (15 oz) can of Bush Chili Beans (pinto beans in a mild chili sauce)
  12. 1 (15 oz) can of Kidney Beans (drained)
  13. 1 (15 oz) can of diced tomatoes
  14. 1.5 tbs tomato paste
  15. 1.5 c of frozen corn kernels
  16. salt to taste (about 3/4 tsp)
  17. 1 tbs lime juice
  18. hot sauce of choice for garnish (we ♥️ this one)
  19. sour cream, chopped red onions, tortilla chips, fresh cilantro for garnish
vegetarian vegan gluten free paleo raw chili recipe instapot slowcooker 10 minute dinners lunch charisma shah marie sharp

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Melt the butter over medium-low heat.
  2. Add the minced garlic.  Saute until golden.
  3. Add all the spices & seasonings.  Stir until aromatic (~1.5 minutes).
  4. Add the tomato paste.  Mix well.
  5. Add the canned beans & tomatoes.  Cook until simmering.  
  6. Add the corn.  Stir well, cover and bring to a light simmer (about 5-7 minutes).  
  7. Serve with garnishes of your choosing.  We love to add lots of hot sauce, tortilla chips and fresh red onions!
 with our favorite hot sauce,  Marie Sharp's , that we picked up when we visited Belize earlier this year!  its soooo good y'all!  you must try this hot sauce - not too acidic, garlic & tomato based.  

with our favorite hot sauce, Marie Sharp's, that we picked up when we visited Belize earlier this year!  its soooo good y'all!  you must try this hot sauce - not too acidic, garlic & tomato based.  

NOTES:  This recipe can be adapted pretty easily for the instapot or slow cookers.  For the Instapot users: simply use the saute setting and proceed with the instructions as above (do not cover).  For slow cooker users: add all the ingredients into the slow cooker and cook covered for 6-8 hours.  

 these nutrition facts are an estimation

these nutrition facts are an estimation

MARBLED PUMPKINS TUTORIAL FOR A BEAUTIFUL DIY THANKSGIVING TABLE SETTING

The holidays can be expensive, especially when you are the host.  Food is pricey on its own but decor can sometimes be quite frankly unaffordable.  This year the HUBS and I spent most of our funds buying (slash somewhat DIY'ing) our new dining table.  We desperately needed an 8-seater, especially since we were hosting thanksgiving for our family!  Turns out even DIY'ing a dining table isn't cheap! 

So I had to make some pretty drastic modifications to my thanksgiving decor budget aka DIY the entire thing.  I LOVE decorating, especially for the holidays.  It really brings warmth & personality to the home but more than that I love when my creations inspire others to create!  So I set out to create a marvelous Thanksgiving table setting without buying readymade decorations.  

First, I waited until Halloween was over, and scoured the city for some pumpkin varieties.  My friend and I went on a mini scavenger hunt to four different grocery stores before we found the jackpot at Tom Thumb!  They had tons of mini gourds of all shapes and sizes at a fraction of the cost since Halloween was over.  Score!

We purchased about 25 pumpkins, getting a good assortment of sizes and shapes (color didnt really matter since we were going to spray paint them).  We came home and immediately removed any labels before adding two coats (in some cases three) of white spray paint with primer.  We thoroughly let these dry (between layers) in the sun before marbling.  

To marble the pumpkins we used this tutorial.  We were able to apply the same principles and selected three different shades of blue, one light gray, and one pastel teal nail polish.  The more refined your color selection the more elegant the overall result.  Choose colors that compliment or can be found in your place setting - in my case my plates were white and blue and my accent color for thanksgiving was raspberry.

 In love with the way these pumpkins & gourds turned out 😱

In love with the way these pumpkins & gourds turned out 😱

marbled pumpkin chinoiserie table setting thanksgiving DIY table decor tutorial (charisma shah)
marbled pumpkin chinoiserie table setting thanksgiving DIY table decor tutorial (charisma shah)
marbled pumpkin chinoiserie table setting thanksgiving DIY table decor tutorial (charisma shah)

It took about a full 24 hours for all of the pumpkins to dry (the smaller pumpkins dried MUCH faster than the big one).  After these were done, I arranged them on our dining table (I did put small paper towel coasters under each pumpkin just in case the paint wasn't completely dry). 

I was originally planning on buying table/placemats but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.  Instead, I ended up printing cheap paper mats with a fun original watercolor print in my selected colors.  I figured white placemats were bound to get dirty so why spend the time or money to make fabric ones when I would likely have to throw them.  Boy am I glad I went this route, because half the mats post dinner had severe stains.  

I designed this print in Photoshop and had it printed on 24 X 36 inch cheap paper at Office Depot.

thanksgiving table setting tablescape decor DIY tutorial (charisma shah)
IMG_0680w.jpg
marbled pumpkin chinoiserie table setting thanksgiving DIY table decor tutorial (charisma shah)

👇🏽 CLICK HERE FOR 👇🏽  

FLATWARE  |  ORGANIC SHAPED SALAD & DINNER PLATES  |  WATERCOLOR BOWL 

MINI BOWLS 


I also decided to design hand-lettered menus and name cards that were also printed at Office Depot.  I wanted our table setting to be inspired without being too much going on.  The key in making this happen is dialing back and restraining from uncensored color use.  Everything involved the same three main colors: blue, white and my accent raspberry.  Initially I was really nervous about how everything would come together but it really turned out beautifully!

I purchased some blue, white and teal floral napkins on clearance from Anthropologie last summer.  Unfortunately, at the time they only had 4 left and were completely sold out online.  I had some leftover fabric from making my sister-in-law a floral watercolor lehenga, so I used the rest of it to make 4 more napkins to complement my Anthro ones.  Both sets of napkins went perfectly with each other and the rest of the table.  

Lastly: the actual flatware and dinnerware.  When the HUBS and I got married we purchased these really nice organic shaped ceramic table setting from West Elm (plates shown above).  Then a couple weeks ago, we spotted this watercolor bowl at Ikea.  When the HUBS saw it, he knew that I would be buying them.  He didn't even contest at all!  We are obsessed with this flatware (the HUBS calls them the "fancy spoons" 😂) which can be found here.


SHOP THIS POST

I hope you found this tutorial helpful and informative.  Happy Thanksgiving!! 

 

 

 

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dinner 8-Course Menu With Recipes

Being a first generation American, Thanksgiving is not the most traditional but definitely the most easily adoptable Western/American holiday.  Due to the likely overlap by lunar calendars, Thanksgiving was usually masked by the tremendous amount of celebration surrounding Navratri & Diwali, but on occasion - our family would celebrate Thanksgiving.  Its pretty easy as an Immigrant family to be thankful for the opportunities and happiness each year brings.

That being said, this year was the first family Thanksgiving that the HUBS and I hosted.  Since traditional menus are not that filling for vegetarians, or that flavorful compared to ethnic cuisines, we decided to deconstruct and create dishes that capture the essence of Thanksgiving without being trite.  

We also wanted to be fancy 😂 and serve each dish as a separate course in a plated fashion.  I just have always wanted to recreate the experience of dining out at farm-to-table restaurants in my own home and what better occasion than a holiday?

Keep reading to find out more about how we prepared for the HUBS' entire family to come visit, decorated our thanksgiving table, and created new classic dishes that were a tremendous hit!  

PLANNING THE MENU

As you can see above, the HUBS and I hosted and served our Thanksgiving meal by plating each dish rather than having a buffet.  I was really determined to make sure our vegetarian thanksgiving dinner would be just as good if not better than its turkey counterpart, so creating a captivating and exciting menu was a challenge.  I was on a mission to make sure my non-vegetarian guests wouldn't even miss the turkey, and apparently they didn't!  Yay!  🤗

After we found out we were officially hosting Thanksgiving, I started planning the menu.  I knew I wanted to serve this Macaroni & Cheese (one of my favorites!) but that was basically it.  I also knew that I wanted to really hone in on the colorful veggies that make thanksgiving so festive, so I set out to imagine some dishes.  Eventually, I ended up with the menu above: homemade root chips with charred fennel dip, cranberry canapés, herbed mashed potatoes, delicate squash salad, calabrian chile & date mac & cheese, and truffled portabellas served with leek quinoa dressing and herbed béchamel.  Each dish was such a big hit that there was very little rinsing of the plates needed before dishwashing 😂.  #goals #cleanplateclub

THE DISHES

 creamy roasted fennel dip served here with a baked baguette.

creamy roasted fennel dip served here with a baked baguette.

In the past I have tried to make vegetable chips myself without really any success.  The chips were always to thick to bake all the way through - and there is nothing more annoying than soggy chips.  That being said, I really wanted to recreate a dish I had tried at this great little restaurant in Nashville called 5th & Taylor (if you haven't been you should go!).  They make some seriously good eats including a creamy fennel appetizer dip that is incredible addictive.  Instead of serving the dip with store bought root chips, I tried my hand one last time at making baked chips at home.  The HUBS, his mom, his dad, and I used this slicer to cut carrots, parsnips, apples and sweet potatoes into 1.5mm thick pieces - the thinner the piece, the better it will bake.  The slices were then tossed in olive oil with a pinch of salt and sugar.  You can find the full recipe for this dip here: http://www.charismashah.com/cache1/2017/11/20/creamy-roasted-fennel-dip.

 baked sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, and apple chips served with creamy roasted fennel dip.

baked sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, and apple chips served with creamy roasted fennel dip.

For the second course the HUBS and I wanted to serve a Thanksgiving spin on one of our favorite recipes.  We bought some wonderful mini french baguettes from our local market, and topped them with goat cheese, fresh arugula and cranberry compote.  We used this exact recipe, however substituted the cherries with 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, halved.  

The third course, our herbed mashed potatoes, is actually a recipe from one of my friend's.  After college, I attended my first traditional thanksgiving meal with an actual turkey.  I was such a fan of his herbed mashed potatoes that they have become a mainstay in our household with some slight variations.  You can find our adapted recipe here: http://www.charismashah.com/cache1/2017/11/20/herbed-mashed-potatoes  

 homemade garlic & herb mashed potatoes garnished with chives.

homemade garlic & herb mashed potatoes garnished with chives.

So at this point we had already incorporated sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and cranberries.  Our next dish focused on squash.  As much as I love squash soups, it just has not been cold enough here to warrant a warm soup.  Instead we opted for a baked squash salad with arugula, pickled onions, parmesan, dill creme fraiche, toasted pepitas, and pomegranate.  The recipe for this dish can be found here:  http://www.charismashah.com/cache1/2017/11/20/baked-delicata-squash-salad-recipe

Since the portions of each course were becoming larger and larger, we started to slow down a little - taking and giving longer breaks between each course.  For our next dish we decided to serve our absolute FAVORITE macaroni and cheese recipe ever.  Really this mac n cheese can not be topped.  I'll spare you from my excessive & obsessive love for this dish.  Since mac n cheese is a Thanksgiving staple, we just HAD to make this rendition.  To see the full recipe click here:  http://www.charismashah.com/cache1/2017/3/16/flatiron-mac-cheese.

 When making this dish we suggest using radiatore or toscani pasta to really sop up the sauce.  

When making this dish we suggest using radiatore or toscani pasta to really sop up the sauce.  

At this point most of our family was pretty stuffed.  Actually I was completely stuffed (that macaroni is very filling and rich)!  I was so full I didnt even get to try this last dish.  In lieu of turkey, I needed something really filling.  The last thing my menu was missing was dressing, so I decided to make a vegetarian truffled quinoa dressing served on marinated portobello mushrooms with an herbed béchamel sauce.  This was the dish I was most worried about since A) I hadn't even tried it and B) was completely made up haha.  It ended up being a huge hit!  So much that the little nephew loved it too 😀.  To view this recipe click here:  http://www.charismashah.com/cache1/2017/11/20/vegetarian-thanksgiving-entree-alternative.

Finally the best part, dessert!!!  I am not the biggest fan of pie, so I opted to make a Churro Pumpkin Funnel Cake topped with Vanilla Bean ice cream and toasted oats.  Yummmm.  I could've eaten this all day 😋.  To see this recipe click here:  http://www.charismashah.com/cache1/2017/11/20/churro-pumpkin-funnel-cake

 dipped in cinnamon sugary goodness.  

dipped in cinnamon sugary goodness.  

The last course was simply mulled wine.  The HUBS and I took two bottles of Rioja, added some chopped granny smith and red delicious apples, oranges, 6 cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, pinch of nutmeg and let this slow cook on the stove over low heat for 4 hours.  Immediately before serving, we topped off each glass of mulled wine with a splash of sugar-free orange soda.  Delicious and not too sweet! 

We had such a wonderful time celebrating our first official Thanksgiving with our family.  We are so thankful that it worked out for everyone to come together from all over the country for this holiday.  It could not have been more perfect!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM OUR FAMILY TO YOURS

 

P.S.  I will be posting a tutorial tomorrow on how to we created our tablescape! 

CHURRO PUMPKIN FUNNEL CAKE


CHURRO PUMPKIN FUNNEL CAKE RECIPE

KITCHEN CHARISMA SHAH


Churro Pumpkin Pie Funnel Cake Recipe Charisma Shah

INGREDIENTS (SERVES 12-14 PERSONAL FUNNEL CAKES)

  1. 1 pint olive oil (for frying)
  2. 1.5 c all-purpose flour
  3. 1/4 tsp baking powder
  4. 1 tsp baking soda
  5. 2 tsp cinnamon (ground)
  6. 1/4 tsp salt
  7. 1 egg
  8. 1/4 c packed brown sugar
  9. 3/4 c canned pumpkin pie filling
  10. 1 c milk
  11. 1/3 c granulated white sugar
  12. 1/3 c granola
  13. 1 tbs vanilla extract
  14. vanilla bean ice cream 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat the oil for frying.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, and salt.  
  3. Beat the egg, brown sugar, pumpkin pie filling, and milk together until well blended.  
  4. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients until all has been well mixed.  
  5. In a shallow wide plate, mix the remaining 1 tsp of cinnamon with the granulated white sugar for dipping. 
  6. Pour the batter into a plastic funnel.  Cut open a 1/2 inch hole at the tip of the funnel.  Squeeze into the frying oil.  
  7. Fry until golden brown on both sides (flip).
  8. Dip into the cinnamon sugar.  Top with vanilla bean and toasted oats.