Game Day! – Baltimore Trip pt. 2

Waking up in Baltimore on game day was a bit surreal.

We were actually going to an NFL game! A critically important-for-the-home-team-game. A game that both of my brothers-in-law and man had only dreamed about before this Christmas present plan was hatched. A game that a few short months before had been just that – a plan.

The sisters BBM’d our good mornings, agreed to meet shortly and got to getting ready for a hearty breakfast in preparation for an afternoon of beer and football.

Gathering in the hallway outside of our well-accommodated rooms in a row, conversation covered the beds in The Lord Baltimore hotel receiving mixed reviews, with the sirens and interesting screams from the streets below gaining a collective dislike. We were clearly in need of coffee and sustenance.

We decided to try out The French Kitchen, one of the in-house offered restaurant choices, for breakfast and quickly fuelled with coffee, eggs, steak, bacon, and of course carbs in the form of croissants, pancakes and lemon cake.

The internal entrance from the hotel

The internal entrance from the hotel

Our waitress was awesome and extremely friendly, we had the restaurant to ourselves, and even better the food was quick and delicious (and for the record did not have the side effects as the Hardee’s excursion of the day before).

Our fantastic waitress!

Our fantastic waitress!

The French Kitchen was a win in our Canadian books!

It even had this amazingly placed bush...

It even had this amazingly placed bush…

At this point containing the men’s anticipation for getting down to the stadium was next to impossible, so with a few last minute preparations to outfits to get game ready, we headed out on the short jaunt to Raven’s Walk for paraphernalia purchases and our first exposure to tailgating.

I would like at this point to revel in the fact that we were wearing t-shirts and jeans – IN DECEMBER – and at one point I even broke a sweat. In a t-shirt. In December. Best weather for game day, ever.

Best Ravens' fan vehicle, ever.

Best Ravens’ fan vehicle, ever.

We were quick to locate a vendor that sold the jerseys the boys wanted and one carrying the sweatshirts and must-have Raven’s face tattoos that the ladies desired and then headed towards the stadium with the growing swell of energy-filled fans.

All geared up!

All geared up!

This is my nightmare...

This is my nightmare…

Such an awesome moment

Such an awesome moment

Seats and beer acquired, kickoff was one cheerleading and one big-band performance away.

Now, here is where I am going to lose the part of our reading audience that came here hoping to read a play-by-play of what turned out to be a thrilling, once in a Ravens fan’s dreams type-game, however my ability to recall these details is lacking. Also, there are many websites dedicated to such a task.

What I do remember were the giant smiles on all of our faces as kickoff took place, and the cheers, screams and bellows that came from our row of 6.

These people <3

These people ❤

I remember the Browns’ fans in our section taunting us, the confused fan not knowing what team his loyalties laid with, the hot dogs that made Jacqui so happy and the beer that gave me the giggles.

Browns family, Raiders hat, Ravens jersey.... So confused

Browns family, Raiders hat, Ravens jersey…. So confused

Stadium dogs - cheers!

Stadium dogs – cheers!

I rememebr being worried in the third quarter as we lagged and it didn’t seem a win would be in our corner on our mini-vacation.

Worried in the third...

Worried in the third…

And mostly I remember the screams, cheers and excitement that came in the fourth when Flacco started throwing and we made a run for the win.

The best moment though came when the Ravens did win and it was announced that Kansasa City had defeated San Diego, meaning the Baltimore Ravens were headed to the playoffs.

They did it!!!

They did it!!!

The sound and feeling of the crowd of 72, 000 hometown fans erupting in celebration will forever be ingrained into my brain and heart – what a feeling! Even more to that, I got to experience it and celebrate it with 5 of some pretty damn important people in my life. Amazing.

Fans celebrating, players and families rushing the field

Fans celebrating, players and families rushing the field

Even writing about it now, I can feel the rush that came with those moments.

The walk back to the hotel was filled with play-by-play recaps of the most exciting movements both on and off the field and of course a pit stop for coffee. The satisfaction of the day still fresh on our faces, we returned to our weekend home-base and quickly decided on an evening in to cap it off.

We split off shortly to change into our comfies and reconvened back in Julia and Ben’s room (as it was most conducive to community hang outs) where we settled on taking a chance with room service.

Once dinner concluded, we were treated to a royal rumble between Jacqui and…well, everyone that she could egg on. The wresting match between Julia and Jacqui – which ended in a throat jab and face slap delivered by Julia – turned into a wrestling match with Cody, followed by a double threat gang up attack on Ben, which his injuries might lead most to believe Jacqui and Julia won that match. Ben even treated us to handstand push-ups at one point due to a bought of pent up energy wherein he expressed his desire to wrestle again…

Our evening consisted of a lot of this:

The throat jab

The throat jab

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….this went on for some time…

Cody got sucked in too

Cody got sucked in too

Poor #7 nipple....

Poor #7 nipple….

And even more laughter than we thought possible.

We all went to bed satisfied and happy that evening, well-prepared for the long drive home the next day.

~ Toni

Third annual trimming of ye ol’ Christmas tree

On Saturday we celebrated Julia with some of her close friends. While we were sitting at the table, telling stories of the past, I observed Julia’s right ring finger. Placed there was a ring that our grandmother had passed down to her on her 30th birthday. This is a tradition she had with every grandchild – when they were born, she purchased a ring with their birthstone. It’s these traditions that make me want to make my own, our family’s own, as the years go on.

Since Cody and I have had our own house, the first weekend of December is always our time to get our tree. And for three years, my family has graciously, loudly and boisterously agreed to start a new tradition of trimming my tree, a tradition that will be continued throughout the years!

As my house started to fill with people, babies, and the delicious smell of breakfast, our chosen meal, it started to feel more and more like Christmas.

The first event of the day was the building of gingerbread houses! Two were purchased: one Frozen themed and the other just no-name. Julia and I set in for some intense construction; however,  what we found was a little disheartening.

We began to build Anna and Elsa’s castle and it was…how do I say this delicately…well, you are literally paying for ONLY the tiny cardboard cut out of the Frozen characters. Serves us right. The Our Compliments house was larger, with more candy AND the icing was superior…Julia even had to rebuild some of their Frozen castle with the Our Compliments icing to make sure that Santa’s sleigh didn’t fall apart. Seriously Disney…things have gone down hill since Walt was around!

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Sneaky mister WALKING around 🙂

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If you ask me, I think they look pretty amazing don’t you? I especially like the red snow on the rooftops, which Lillian put on herself…after getting it all over the table.  As you can see, the larger more traditional looking one is the Our Compliments, where as the two dimensional church is the Frozen one. Either way, the girls LOVED it! A success for Uncle Cody who purchased the houses!

Earlier in the day I had run some errands, as I wanted to add a little country to our tree. What better to do so than BURLAP ribbon? While I was out, I also found this great wrapping paper, so when all the presents are under the tree, our country Christmas will be complete!

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Can you see the mooses… the meeses?

After a quick walk around the pond (literally, we went for a little walk to get some of the sugar worked off that the girls snuck during our the building process), it was time to decorate the tree. Sophie was quick to gravitate to everything sparkly, whereas Lillian simply focused on creating clusters of balls on one side of the tree. Since they are still horizontally challenged, the rest of us had to fill in the top area. My tree is still a little lopsided, but that’s the fun of it!

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After all the lovely decorating, and trimming of the tree, we worked up quite an appetite, thus off to to the kitchen to make a fine feast! Julia made a delicious French toast casserole, I made home fries, Toni brought the bacon, the orange juice and the champagne, and mom brought the sausage!  YUM YUM YUM!

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The third annual trimming of the Christmas Tree was a success! Although we were missing an integral part of our  sisterhood, Andreah, due to a tire mishap the kick-off to the Christmas Season has begun!

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From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!

~ Jacqui

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

An absolute favourite in our home, Spaghetti alla Carbonara originated in Italy – Rome to be specific and is a pasta dish traditionally consisting of egg, cheese and bacon.

I was first introduced to this recipe by Michael. It was his go-to dish to impress me with when we first started dating long before I knew how simple it was to whip together, as its richness in flavour would make you think it took ages to assemble. Over time it has become one of my personal favourites to whip up and Michael assures me that he’s met his match in the Carbonara game – an accolade I am proud to have earned.

Michael’s mom, Pina was the first to share with me the origins of the dish, explaining that the village would feed the Charcoal workers this hearty meal as it was filling,  easy to cook in large batches and fairly inexpensive to make as pork based meats, cheese and pasta are in abundance in Italy.

While there are many variations and versions of Carbonara – including the cream based sauce, chicken and garlic additions of the western world, and Michael’s and my very own mushroom and onion versions – the best in my opinion is the basic, traditional version.

To start you will need:

A good cut of bacon – if I’m not able to get to our local butcher, I prefer President’s Choice, naturally smoked bacon. You can also swap the bacon out for pancetta, or add in chicken breast in addition to the bacon.

Parmigiano Reggiano – not Kraft Parmesan (aka salt), REAL Parmigiano Reggiano, wax case and all. As this is a staple in our home, I usually buy a fair size piece and then grate it myself – however if I’m tight for time I cheat and buy the pre-grated container at the local butcher, Dipietros. You can also request to have it grated at most meat/deli counters in your local grocery store.

Parmigiano Regiano

Parmigiano Regiano

Eggs – the rule for quantity required is one egg per serving or person eating, plus one. So if I am making enough pasta for 4 people, I would need five eggs for the sauce base.

Pasta – traditionally a spaghetti dish, however many types of pasta can be used in this recipe and it works well with fettuccine or linguine. I however prefer tradition and usually use spaghetti.

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To begin, you will need to cut your bacon into roughly one inch chunks and then separate the slices onto a plate.

I use kitchen scissors as I find it a bit easier and faster

I use kitchen scissors as I find it a bit easier and faster

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Once this is complete, cook your bacon until it is the perfect texture of almost crunchy, but with a little bit of flex to it still. I use a deep pan for this to avoid splatter.

A tip for dealing with the bacon grease: line a bowl with tin foil and drain off the grease into the bowl. When the grease is cooled, you can wrap it up in the tinfoil and throw it away, minimizing the mess and clean up.

Mmmmm bacon

Mmmmm bacon

I drain off the grease as I go to avoid 'boiling' the bacon in its own fat and to cut down on splatter

I drain off the grease as I go to avoid ‘boiling’ the bacon in its own fat and to cut down on splatter

Perfect!

Perfect!

Once the bacon is done cooking, drain off any excess grease and pat dry with paper towel, setting it aside. This is where I start the pasta, bringing the water to a boil, adding in the spaghetti, a pinch of salt and about a teaspoon of olive oil to avoid sticky noodles.

Once the pasta is started, I grate the Parmigiano using a hand grater.

A gift from Piña, my favourite grater.

My favourite grater.

You will need enough cheese for the sauce - one scoop per serving - as well as to garnish/ taste once plated.

You will need enough cheese for the sauce – one scoop per serving – as well as to garnish/ taste once plated.

Now, for the base of the sauce! In a separate bowl, crack your eggs using the rule of one egg per person/serving, plus one.

A serving for four = five eggs

A serving for four = five eggs

To keep the eggs from congealing from the heat of the pasta, add a small splash of extra virgin olive oil – less than a teaspoon.

Just a splash!

Just a splash!

Using a fork, beat your eggs with the olive oil until combined.

The blur is my hand and the fork - I'm so fast!

The blur is my hand and the fork – I’m so fast!

Once the egg and olive oil is ready, add in your Parmigiano using the same rule as the egg. As I am a Parmigiano addict, I make sure mine are heaping scoops.

Mmmmm Parm...

Mmmmm Parm…

To finish the sauce, add in your bacon and stir.

Mmmmm bacon...

Mmmmm bacon…

Ready for the pasta

Ready for the pasta

When your pasta is ready, drain, rinse and return it to the pot. Pour in your sauce and stir – based on the type of pasta I use, I usually use a pair of tongs to turn over the noodles in the sauce to avoid ruining the integrity of the noodle. The heat of the noodle will slightly cook the eggs, with the oil keeping it creamy and rich.

Your pasta is now ready for plating! Be sure to garnish with a few more scoops of Parm and a bit of cracked pepper to taste.

Voila!

Buon appetito!