Learning to bake with daddyPrimate: Ciabatta be kidding me!

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Homemade ciabatta fresh out of the oven #bread

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This week I decided to have another go at ciabatta. The last time I made it went alright, however I didn’t leave it in the oven long enough to get a nice golden brown crust, and the dough was so thin the bread was tiny once it baked up.

This time I divided the dough in 2 instead of 4, and took it out based on color, not time. It turned out beautifully. What a terribly wet dough, though. It’s difficult to work with without knocking out all of the air. I didn’t need it to be perfect, just good enough to thicken a ribollita for dinner. That’s what it did, and it did so beautifully.

I think the next time I bake it will have to be something a bit more ridiculous, like a charlotte russe, or a povitica. Perhaps that will inspire greatness.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, SpainCathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, from just down the street

The first truly Gothic cathedral we ever visited was the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, in Barcelona, Spain. Throughout the rest of this post I’m going to refer to it simply as Barcelona Cathedral. It’s named after Eulalia, a woman of Barcelona who was stripped naked in a public square during Roman times, and when a miraculous snow fell to cover her junk, the put her in a barrel, stabbed it with knives, and rolled her down a hill. Pretty graphic stuff.

Barcelona, Spain
Front door of Barcelona Cathedral

I was really amazed at the contrast between Barcelona Cathedral and the nearby La Sagrada Familia, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. One was completed in 1448, the other is still under construction. The sharp spires and dark interior of Barcelona Cathedral were essentially the opposite of what you can find a few blocks away. Then again, this city has literally been on the map for thousands of years, so you probably should see some striking differences in architectural design and technique.

Barcelona, Spain
It looks a bit bigger on the inside

We didn’t get to stay inside the cathedral for too long, as people were queuing up for mass and they were kicking the tourists out. We had too much to see throughout the gothic district to spend an hour watching mass, but we totally thought about it.

Barcelona, Spain
I’m guessing architectural limitations at the time of construction are responsible for the relatively small cupola

Barcelona Cathedral was a bit musty on the inside, but that could have been incense, I guess. We made a quick tour of the perimeter before their ushers showed us the door. Wait, that makes us sound rude. The ushers showed probably a couple of hundred people to the door so they could start mass in peace.

Barcelona, Spain Stained glass filtering out the brightest rays of the light

Barcelona, Spain Chancel and stained glass of Barcelona Cathedral

I really enjoyed the art style of this cathedral as it had a very “quest for the holy grail” type feel, which I guess makes sense. Apparently the choir stalls feature the coat-of-arms of the Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

Barcelona, Spain Wikipedia tells me that this photo I took is of the Chapel of St. Olegarius, and that the cross was carried at the Battle of Lepanto

The side chapels at Barcelona Cathedral contain effigies or maybe sarcophagi of St. Eulalia and St. Olegarius. I’ve mentioned it repeatedly in these posts, but I really do get a little thrill from having historical figures, even if I’ve never heard of them, being, uh…present. I’m not sure exactly what it is that gets my excitement going about it, but it might just be the fact that in the U.S. there is very little that is ancient and intact, but in other places even the ancient people are on display. I dunno.

Barcelona, Spain
These chandeliers make me think of Beowulf

The whole look and feel of this Cathedral is appropriately medieval. As much as I would have enjoyed to explore a bit more, it would have been rude to just pretend not to understand that mass was about to begin and stick around. So we headed out to the cloisters.

Barcelona, SpainThe cloisters look like Dorne from Game of Thrones, heh.

The cloisters couldn’t look any more Iberian. It basically summed up the Spanish vibe in one enclosed area for me. Except for the geese. I really dislike geese, they’re rude, loud, and unfriendly. Those words don’t describe the parts of Spain I’ve visited in the least.

At any rate, Barcelona Cathedral was an amazing and old example of Gothic architecture to visit, and I’m so very glad I’ve been there.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, Italy

Rome, ItalySanta Cecilia in Trastevere

On a warm spring evening in Rome we found ourselves walking around Trastevere, wandering the narrow streets with the feral cats in the afternoon, looking at restaurant menus and trying to follow a map from the old guidebook we got with us to see the church where our niece’s name was chosen.

Rome, ItalySt. Cecilia in effigy

My understanding is that St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music, as she sang until she died during her execution. There is an effigy of St. Cecilia front at center on the chancel at St. Cecilia in Trastevere. It is graphic, showing the cuts on her neck from the sword blows, and her head twisted completely around 180 degrees.The effigy is titled Martyrdom of St. Cecilia by Stefano Maderno, and inscribed in stone at the foot of the statue is his sworn statement that this is how her body appeared exactly in 1599 when she was exhumed. Apparently her flesh was incorruptible – a sure sign of sainthood according to the church.

Rome, ItalySome of the art adorning the walls was very Roman/Byzantine looking, with the mosaic used to avoid making graven images

According to everyone’s favorite infallible resource, wikipedia, the original church in this location was built over St. Cecilia’s house sometime around 329 AD, maybe about 100 years after she was executed. Pope Urban I may have been the one who built it. That said, I have NO idea how much of the original church remains. The church as it stands today has a facade that was put on in the 18th century, before the United States was the United States. The art styles range from Roman/Byzantine (probably pre-byzantine) mosaic to baroque sculpture (see above) and renaissance paintings. It’s pretty freaking beautiful.

Rome, ItalyFresco over the Nave

Of all of the smaller churches we visited in Rome, this one had one of the most ethereal naves with the ivory white walls and ceilings, and the frescoes and such. I also felt this church had a really nice vertical balance, with the beautiful art on the ceiling and the mysterious crypt visible through a grate in the floor. Between the open airway to the crypt and the effigy of St. Cecilia, you really got the feeling that she is still down there.


Rome, ItalyLooking into the Crypt of St. Cecilia in Trastevere

Given that it was only a donation of a couple of Euros to go down to the crypt ourselves, we totally did it. Of course, this being Rome and all, the crypt was also an archaeological site. I’m not sure our guidebook mentioned the thing about this church being built over St. Cecilia’s home. But someone definitely lived here during Roman times, so I’m just going to put 2+2 together here and put some misinformation online saying that this is St. Cecilia’s home because I want to say I’ve been to the home of a saint. Just kidding. I’m not going to say that, but it is a pretty cool thought.

Rome, ItalyYeah, someone lived here.

Rome, ItalyI’m not a Latin expert or anything, but I think their spacebar was broken.


Rome, ItalyI’m not sure if this is a sarcophagus cover or what, but the look on his/her face definitely gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Rome, ItalySomeone lived here, and partied here.

Perhaps slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see relics of Cecilia herself on a beautiful bed under a church draped with gossamer linens looking like an angel. But apparently there is a reliquary chapel that she’s been moved to somewhere on the surface level. We did enjoy every bit of our visit to St. Cecilia in Trastevere, though. Beautiful church in a beautiful city filled with beautiful churches.

Rome, Italy

Now, I  think I need to go eat some cacio e pepe and drink a little wine, because all of the writing I’ve done about our tour of some of the ancient and beautiful places in Rome sure makes me wish I was in Italy right now.


Rome, Italy



Masterpieces of Light and Space: Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome, Italy

Rome, ItalyThe Nave of San Luigi dei Francesi

I remember our first day in Rome fairly clearly. We arrived by train, found our hotel, and since it was just an hour ride from Florence and not a horrific overnight bus journey, we were ready to go. We pulled out the guide book and got to it, walking from Piazza Cinquecento (Termini Station) by the Colosseum, Forum, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and one landmark after another all the way to St. Peter’s Basilica and back. I’m pretty sure we visited San Luigi dei Francesi on the same day.

Rome, Italy
Caravaggios lining the walls of San Luigi dei Francesi

Though easily more impressive than probably any church in my home town, San Luigi dei Francesi might be overlooked on one’s trip to Rome, if not for it’s super impressive collection of paintings and frescoes by Caravaggio. I think I saw maybe one or two Caravaggio’s while we were in Florence, and there might have been one at the Prado in Madrid, but I REALLY wanted to see a few examples of his super high-contrast work. It turns out that basically all of them are in this one church in Rome (yes, complete overstatement.) My one semester as an art history teacher (not sure how I ever got that job) left me with an appreciation for Caravaggio that I would have never had without that experience. And I was standing. In a 500 year old church in Rome. Looking at Caravaggio’s handiwork.

Rome, ItalySee why I say Masterpieces of Light and Space?

If the decor makes you think “looks kinda French” it’s because this is the church of St. Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi, see?) St. Louis was King Louis IX of France. So you can kinda see what happened here. I imagine this was basically the French embassy during the days of the Holy Roman Empire, but that is purely conjecture on my part not at all based in fact.

I don’t have any exterior photos of the building – it turns out I was mostly focused on Caravaggio for this stop, but when I googled “San Luigi dei Francesi” the pic came up, and it kinda looks like the facade of every 16th century building in Rome. Pretty, but not super remarkable. Like an oyster shell with high contrast pearls inside.

Learning to Bake with daddyPrimate: Victoria Sponge – lack of failure is success!

The grand finale of the Great British Baking Show as shown in the US (last year’s version, for my British Friend) featured a challenge of baking traditional British cakes. Given my complete lack of success with Victoria Sponge, I felt inspired. I used mommyPrimate’s new book as the recipe was slightly different than Paul Hollywood’s, well the ingredients were the same, however the process was a bit difference.

While I didn’t get a domed top, I at least didn’t get a saggy middle. I think the domed top will happen when I either adjust the recipe to make just a touch more batter or use smaller tins. At any rate, it’s delicious. I’m slightly concerned about the fresh strawberries I used for the filling (along with strawberry jam) turning into, uh, fermented strawberries before we can finish the cake, but if we don’t put all of this butter and sugar into our systems I guess it’s okay.

Is this a Victorious Sponge? I’d say yes. Seeing as it took 4 tries, and probably about $15 worth of butter/flour/sugar to finally get a decent result, I think I’ll call it a Pyrrhic victory.



Masterpieces of Light and Space: The Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy
The Pantheon, former temple to the Roman gods, now Catholic church

After arriving in Rome and making our way to our hotel to dump off our luggage, our first stop was The Pantheon. Okay, truth be told, our first stop was lunch but it was on the way to the Pantheon, if that makes any difference. Because I know you’re curious, I’ll let you know I had a somewhat disappointing carbonara, and afterwards we sampled the best Nutella gelato you could imagine. Anyway, the Pantheon.

Rome, Italy
The Pantheon’s distinctive Oculus

The Pantheon is probably best known for its ultra distinctive Oculus, a fancy latin word for “HOLE IN THE ROOF” that allow a pretty solid beam of light to enter the Church. There are niches all around the walls that are now filled with statues of saints and sarcophagi and such, but a couple thousand years ago they would have been shrines to Jupiter, Juno, Venus, Pluto, and so on.

Rome, Italy
The icons of Christianity now stand where the ancient gods were once featured

The Pantheon was originally built in 27 BC, but the present building was built in 126 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. He also built a wall. LoL. If I remember right, the outside of the building is so drab because all of the gilding and marble was ripped off for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, which we will get to in due time. There are so many great great churches in Rome to talk about, but St. Peter’s is obviously going to take the cake and smash it into smithereens.

Rome, Italy
The Altar of the Pantheon

So  the Pantheon has had a continuous congregation since before the birth of Christ. That’s about as old as a church can get. It would have been super interesting to sit through a service. I assume the Catholic priests in Rome do the mass in Latin. Heck, I bet I couldn’t tell the difference between a Latin and Italian mass anyhow.

Rome, ItalyThe Altar and the Nave kinda blend together because of the circular floor plan

I just realized that the Pantheon’s floor plan isn’t too dissimilar from the church I attend. That’s kinda cool. A few rows of pews in a wide semi-circle with the altar in the middle. I bet the lines for Holy Communion in the Pantheon get out of control though.

Rome, ItalyJust in case it didn’t seem Catholic enough

So the Pantheon was basically the first church I’ve ever visited that is legitimately from the Classical Era. It might be the only church I’ve visited from the Classical Era. Doesn’t really matter, because although it’s got some massive credentials, it was probably not even in the top 3 awesome churches we visited in Rome. Not that there’s a contest. I mean, the churches might have CYO soccer teams or something. I dunno.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Marseille Cathedral, Marseille, France

Marseille, France

Marseille has been populated on the Mediterranean coast of France for thousands of years…literally. It was once a Greek city-state, a Carthaginian trading hub, and then a Roman port. The old city of Marseille is for lack of a better word, ancient. The city’s economic importance throughout the middle ages kept it populated and hell, people still live there along the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, eating at very specific times throughout the day…not eating in between (can you tell what stuck with me most about France?) We were well aware of the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde (which I have yet to write about) before visiting, but hadn’t given much thought to any other major churches in Marseille. The Abbey of St. Victor was amazing, but the Cathedral of St. Mary-Major (Marseille Cathedral) was essentially what I expected to see from my not exactly perfectly understanding of the essence of France.

Marseille, France
Marseille Cathedral, right on the waterfront

Marseille Cathedral itself is a beautiful and imposing edifice with striated patterns in the bricks and very, for lack of a better word, French features. I don’t know how else to describe the shape of the domes and the decorative motif.

Marseille, France The Nave of Marseille Cathedral

We walked in just about 30 minutes before they were going to close up for the day (yes, we were THOSE people) and it was very quiet. I was immediately struck by the large, beautiful banners. I felt like I had walked into a coronation scene from some sort of medieval movie.

Marseille, France
Organ Trumpets at Marseille Cathedral

I’d really like to have had the opportunity to sit through a service here because the organ was imposing (heheh…that makes me giggle.) The stained glass was very French looking. Almost as if it had been made in a rococo style, but that’s not at all the style I mean. I guess it wouldn’t look out of place in the background of a rococo style painting. For what it’s worth, I do not at all like the rococo style, but I like the stained glass. I’ll let you interpret that.

Marseille, France Illuminated statuary

It may have simply been a function of the time of the year that we were there, or the time of day,or whatever, but the windows seemed to illuminate certain statues in a very holy way.

Marseille, France
Altar and Chancel

Even the altar and chancel of Marseille Cathedral were adorned with colorful, ornate banners. I really feel like the textiles of this church were among the most impressive textiles I’ve seen anywhere, what with the amount of drapery and whatnot. Clearly the church was designed in such a way that the amount of drapery would not interfere with the design of the natural lighting.

Tucked down below the wall of the old city, a bit of a walk from anything really, Marseille Cathedral should definitely be on your “hit list” if you’re going to visit France’s “second city.”

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy
Vasari’s Final Judgement is the centerpiece of Santa Maria del Fiore

If there is one old church that every visitor to Florence has most likely visited, it is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which is known to those of us who visit with tourist guidebooks a bit more simply as Il Duomo. The cathedral towers above the rest of the city and the surrounding countryside, and is topped with a ginormous dome. It’s also a set piece for one of the greatest climbing puzzles in the Assassin’s Creed video game series.

Florence, Italy
Looking down from the dome in Santa Maria del Fiore

Of all the churches I have been in, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in NYC where I’ve been to the rafters, I think Santa Maria del Fiore capitalized the best on verticality. After climbing an ancient staircase for what seems like forever (longer if you’re at all susceptible to claustrophobia, I’m sure) you come out on the inside of the dome. If you don’t like heights (as I don’t like heights myself) this can be a bit of a challenge, but boy is it worth it.
Florence, Italy View of Firenze, in direction of Santa Croce from the exterior of the dome.

Climbing into the Tuscan sunshine on the top of the dome, you can literally see the entire city of Florence and the surrounding countryside. It’s beautiful. You can also see the tourists who chose the route up the bell tower rather than to the dome.

Florence, Italy
The bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore just a few yards away from the dome.

For the sheer sake of verticality and the stunning frescoes and surrounding  scenery, I give the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore 9/10 Bell Towers (Ha! I don’t actually have a ratings system, but maybe I should!) Additionally, the well-lit interior is a refreshing change from many of the other churches one might visit around the world with they’re more mysterious dark confines.


Florence, Italy
You know a church is big when the surrounding Piazza isn’t large enough for you to get a photo of the facade

When in Florence, one simply must make a stop, preferably their first stop, at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.