Before we get any further into the year, I wanted to take a moment to pause and get a bunch of randomness out in the first Snack Around the Plate of 2024 — from kids’ Valentine’s Day basket ideas (and a peek inside Eliza’s) to reader recommendations for Italy.
What is a “Snack Around the Plate”? Growing up, this was the phrase my mom called meals she would assemble with random favorites when scouring the pantry and fridge. And, while each item didn’t totally go together, assembled as one collective, I loved them! Basically, “Snack Around the Plate” posts are just a smorgasbord of randomness — “a little of this and a little of that” from all things lifestyle. It’s a mish-mosh highlight reel from a favorite recipes to favorite finds.
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If you follow along on Instagram, you may have seen some of today’s SAP topics in stories, but the bulk of today’s post is all fresh, all new. Dave and I are headed to Italy later this year (our first European vacay) and I have all the questions. So, when I put the question out to all the IG friends for tips and personal recs, I had a BUNCH of you asking for access to what everyone was saying. I thought this would be the ideal way to gather a lot of the feedback into a readable format. If you’re here for the Italy deets, you can scroll on down towards the bottom of the post!
Let’s get to it.
1. ELIZA’S VALENTINE’S DAY BASKET
Another request… I actually had a couple of you ask about what’s going into Eliza’s Valentine’s Day basket this year (surprising and early), and because I basically pulled it together with a few things I had on hand and things she would be getting anyway, it’s simple to share. And because I was going ahead and assembling the basket with things from the stash, while I was getting her basket out of the basement, I grabbed some of her simple Valentine’s decor at the same time and added it to her room while she was at school.
Pom Pom Heart Garland (SIMILAR) | Bed (full, vertical tufted, tall, white chunky boucle fabric) | Sheets | Cream Throw | Plum Linen Throw Pillow Covers (24″) | Cream Knotted Pillow | Cloudscape Art (print size is 30 x 24″) | Castle Art (print size is 11 x 14″) | Jacaranda Art (print size is 10 x 8″)
Literally, it doesn’t take much to thrill my girl and coming home to these two small touches absolutely tickled her.
Now to the basket. FYI — I don’t think anyone has to have a Valentine basket. Or, maybe your Valentine offering is a simple treat or something totally different. But, my mom always gifted me a little something on Valentine’s Day and I’ve continued that tradition with Eliza. The only new gifts I ordered specifically for her basket were two Valentine’s Day books. And speaking of books, I loaded up our library requests with Valentine and Groundhog’s Day books at the beginning of the year so she’s been getting thematic books almost nightly 😉
I already had the rest of the gifts on hand, so I was thrilled to thin out my back-stock a little bit.
IN HER BASKET…
- Drawing Tablet (for the car)
- Book: There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Rose
- Book: Love Comes First
- Little Sleepies Pajamas
- Cuddle & Kind Stuffed Piglet
- Two Tonies Characters: Aurora, Sleeping Beauty & Dragons Love Tacos
- Table Topics To Go for Kids
- Flying Disc
If you’re starting from scratch and are looking to pull together a basket or a variety of treats, here are some more ideas I love.
1. Quilted Shoulder Bag | 2. Travel Jewelry Case | 3. The Invisible String Book | 4. Clay Bead Bracelet Set | 5. Glitter Heart Hair Slides | 6. Cat Eye Sunglasses | 7. Ear Muffs | 8. Heart Plush Blanket | 9. Velvet Scrunchies (12 pack) | 10. Boucle Heart Pillow | 11. Puffed-Sleeve Swimsuit | 12. Initial Letter Key Chain | 13. Essie Nail Polish (Ballet Slippers) | 14. Pocket Hair Brush w/Mirror | 15. Big Sister Ballerina Mouse | 16. Flip Straw Tumbler
2. RECENT AMAZON FINDS
A few recent Amazon favorites of mine, that were also well received by many of you…
I have already gotten SO much use out of my hand warmer but if you missed the deal before the holidays, there’s another version that comes as a set of two that are lightweight and magnetize together HERE! And, there’s currently a 40% off coupon code attached. I literally sit with mine on in my pocket, at my desk, almost daily.
I first saw THESE pastel bleed-free highlighters on Candace Cameron-Bure’s Instagram and since I’ve never had highlighters that won’t bleed through Bible pages, I had to order them to give them a try. I was shocked. And you know, if they won’t bleed through on Bible pages, I can’t think of anything they would bleed through. These are gorgeous, fabulous, and the soft pastel colors can’t be beat.
I asked for (and received) THIS Bath Tub Caddy Tray for Christmas and I don’t know what took me so long. Since our bathroom reno (and then tub repair), I have become such a bath girl, whenever I can grab one to relax at night. THIS caddy expands to fit (probably any?) tub size, and has smart slots for your tablet, Kindle, phone, etc. Just… everything this caddy has is what I need. It comes in a couple design options and colors, but I have the natural classic. It’s also on sale and has a coupon attached right now for a great deal!
3. Cashing In On Christmas Gift (Hotel Stay)
My favorite gift was actually born out of the need to book two additional hotel nights before January 31 to secure hotel bonus points (that we’re saving for Italy). So, I was like “after the holidays, why don’t I get myself a room locally as a mini getaway”. So, I did. I literally packed my Mark and Graham Weekender Bag (large) filled with only pajamas, snacks, and relaxation things, and enjoyed the heck out of my two nights. I Door-Dashed my meals, walked to Starbucks one morning for coffee, and read two physical books. And when my eyes were tired from reading, I listened to audiobooks and colored. Yep, I got myself a new adult coloring book and soft, adult colored pencils. Y’all. It was the best. I didn’t need an elaborate getaway, girls’ trip, night out, or beach vacay. I just needed quiet time, without pants, and zero responsibility.
Even though this year’s gift was born out of ingenuity on how to secure our bonus points quickly, I think this is going to have to become an annual thing. At minimum. And the thing is, even if I were alone in my house, I can’t turn my mind off and I’d be up, doing laundry, chores, and thinking about all the things I “should” be doing. Taking myself physically out of the house really was a gift.
4. JANUARY TARGET TREATS
Eliza was out of school one day this past week and we made it a girls’ day to celebrate my mom’s birthday (lunch, treats, Target…) And while we were there, we ended up scooping up a few things for the coming months. I was especially excited to check out their new shoe releases, since we’ve had such great luck with the comfort/value of Target sandals over the past several years, and this year’s selection is just… fantastic. THESE casual slides are SO comfortable, they booted my former fave casual slides from their top spot. Even my mom agreed so we both left with pairs. I’m telling you, the comfort and cushion factor on these is ridiculous. And, the taupe is my fave color HERE! No half sizes available but I sized down to the nearest whole size and it worked perfectly. Returns are simple but I can’t rave about these enough. They will for sure be my most worn summer shoe.
The other style shoe we both grabbed was THIS style, for $20! They only had the raffia left in two sizes in the store (I think that’s the most popular style), so my mom was able to grab that pair, while I went with the classic black. Again… $20! They look SO similar to a designer sandal for a teeny fraction of the price. The brown is also a gorgeous tone and perfect neutral, but if they have the woven in your size, I’d absolutely jump on it.
I was so excited to grab that style in the rhinestone version because I’ve accepted that at this point, I don’t like and probably won’t be wearing heels unless I’m forced. These rhinestone slides can dress an outfit up so easily, but are still really comfortable. Half sizes ARE available in these and they run TTS.
Welcome Mat | Black Slides (upper left) | Rhinestone Slides (upper middle) | Toddler Fluffy Slippers (upper right) | Taupe Slides (lower left) | Raffia Slides (lower middle) | Black Slides (lower right)
BTW — I grabbed that welcome mat for our post-winter porch since my others were worn out for just $12.99. Great for any season, any door.
My most impromptu purchases happened in the decor section (our store is set up where as soon as you walk in, just to the left, you’ll see the big Hearth & Hand and Studio McGee set-ups.) But, I stand by purchases.
I use cork placemats during the holidays and love just wiping them down instead of having to launder them, so I grabbed THESE pretty, neutral plaid cork placemats for just $4.99/ea. We’ve used them every night and I’m so glad I went with them.
I also got THESE cute little juice glasses for $3.99/ea. (also available in green glass) for times when we don’t need huge water goblets.
And lastly, THIS small glass dome wooden dessert tray with glass dome was just what I needed for random cookies/sweets on my counter. It’s only 9″ so it’s smaller than a typical cloche you’d use with a cake. There’s a TON of reviews so they must have had this one for a while!
5. READER TIPS FOR ITALY TRIP
I received a ton of great feedback when I asked my IG readers to share tips for an upcoming trip Dave and I are planning. And, it was just the nudge I needed to go ahead and book our flights! We are heading there in November and I’ll absolutely share our experience after that.
An equal number of readers asked that I share the information that was provided, so here goes:
- We did horseback riding in Tuscany through Viator and it was wonderful!
- Cinque Terre is a must!
- We stayed at the Elizabeth hotel in Rome and absolutely loved it!
- Florence is stunning! So is Bellagio, Lake Como!
- Cinque Terre, take the train up and walk the sheep trails down!
- Sorrento was amazing and we will go back!
- We used Viator for all our excursions. Loved the wine tour in Tuscany!
- Look at backroads.com and the Dolomites in Italy!
- Great cooking class Cucina Giuseppina near Florence and Tuscany.
- Take the high speed trains, they’re awesome.
- Scuola del Cuoio is a must in Florence for leather goods, esp bags.
- Volpetti is a cheese and meat shop in Rome — their samples are amazing!
- Everything in Florence is closed on Sundays. May be that way in other cities too.
- Bring good walking shoes! It’s pretty easy to walk around and see a lot in Rome.
- Public transit is user friendly. Some hotels also have shuttles.
- Trains are easy to get tickets right at the station, it’s like public transit there!
- Get a travel agent. They can arrange transport.
- Buy business class train tickets. It allows you to keep your luggage with you.
- Book tours for the popular sites — the Vatican, Colosseum, etc.
- Perillo travel agency planned our trip — they specialize in Italy vacations. Highly recommend!
- Must do: food tour in Rome, they take you to the non-touristy parts and it’s incredible.
- Watch out for pickpockets in Rome, they’re all over the tourist areas.
- We used a travel agency based in Italy called Cultural Italy — highly recommend!
- Check out mydaytrip.com. It’s a private driver who takes you from one city to the next!
- The Edition Rome is everything. If you don’t stay there, please visit their rooftop bar!
- I’ve been to Rome twice and it’s not my favorite. Spend more time in Florence for sure do the foodie tour.
- I’ve been to Italy three times and Florence and Positano were my favorites.
- Yes, book ahead for trains. Two weeks?
- Get your own tour guide.
- Book trains ahead of time. Leonardo express from FCO.
- Do: learn bais phrases/words in Italian and use them!
- Bring reusable water bottles, fill them from the drinking fountains. It’s clean!
- Def do colosseum and Roman forum tour!! And Vatican/St. Peter’s! Book through Viator.
- Rome: stay within a mile or less of the Trevi Fountain (the city center)! Walk everywhere.
- Toured Vatican City, museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. We did and awesome walking tour of Rome and loved it!
- Look up eatwith.com for Dinner with Barbara in Rome. Highlight of our trip. So fun.
- The Duomo in Florence is stunning. Make sure to wear comfy footwear. There’s a lot of cobblestone.
- Go to the top of Pisa, views of the Basilica roof are stunning. Skip Naples. Take boat to Capri!
- We’ve never booked trains in advance and it was fine. You need enough time for the physical tickets to arrive to you before you leave if you do that. You can get chaper train passes if you order ahead, if you are certain of dates and times.
- Comfy shoes are a must! Plan out your days to get your highlights in.
- Italy is a major pickpocket capital of Europe! Keep everything locked up, even in hotel!
- A friend stayed on a family’s farm in Tuscany for weeks for cooking classes. Amazing!
- Wear waling shoes — 15-20k steps per day!
- Carry passports in a holder inside your shirt that goes around the neck. Pickpockets.
- Must: four classic Roman pastas! Carbonara, Amatriciana, Cacio E Pepe and Gricia!!!
- Friend had a private driver for Cinque Terra — spent most of the day stuck in traffic! Hike instead.
- Must visit the inside of the Colosseum, not just the drive-by.
- MUST see th Sistine Chapel. Extraordinary experience.
- Civita di Bagnoregio — soooo worth it!
- Would spend more time in Florence than Rome. Give yourself the option. You’ll fall in love!
- Totally easy to book night before trains to/from any city, makes it a lot easier to “wing” it!
- You should make dinner reservations months ahead of time.
- Liv Tours. Book a private Vatican tour as well as a golf cart tour of Rome.
- Daytrip is a great car service and they will stop to sightsee if you wanted to add.
- Book trains ahead. No direct into Florence. I’d fly direct to Rome then train to Florence.
- We used Gate One Travel for our honeymoon and it made everything so easy.
- Get super comfortable walking shoes.
- Do not go in August. It’s hot! I live in Georgia but took at least two showers a day.
- I’ve taken cooking classes and it was fin, but I like cooking.
- It depends on what you want to see. Beaches, coast, then Positano/Amalfi coast.
- Italy is not a place to see all in one trip. Focus on areas of the country.
- Do a food tour in Florence. And take a day trip to Sienna.
- We traveled by train…so easy and affordable. Didn’t love Rome…too busy but hit all tourist spots. Train to Florence and the Venice.
- Must go to Zaza Trattoria in Florence. Extensive delicious menu.
- Please look into Asamina Tours. 100% recommend.
- Book trains there. It’s easy and cheaper. Food tour in Florence. Rent car for Tuscany to explore.
- Cinque Terra is easy to move around from the five cities by train.
- Get the Trenitalia app and book your trains in advance. It was easy to travel by train.
- Rome cab tours. Pricey but worth it. They say they aren’t tour guides but they kinda are.
- The hop on hop off “tourist” buses are oddly helpful to sit on to get a lay of the land.
- Book ahead for trains and arrive at station at least 30-45 minutes early. Can randomly depart early.
- We stayed at the Pantheon Hotel in Rome and it was amazing. Perfect location, too!
- We took trains from Rome, Florence to Venice. No car required. Train system is easy. Pre-smart phone era.
- Restaurant called Paoli!
- Book tours on visitor, don’t waste your time on tours for a few. Florence and Tuscany are like San Fran and Napa, very close experience. Florence is a must go to.
- Pompeii is incredible.
- Roscioli is the best restaurant and needs reservations months in advance in Rome!
- I booked all our tours via Get Your Guide — super easy and lots of options.
- Book ahead a pesto making class in Cinque Terra! It was on the side of the mountain.
- We loved visiting Sienna. Also Lucca and San Gimigiano.
- Italiarail.com to book train between Rome and Florence.
- Book a tour for Rome! Worth it bc otherwise it’s very overwhelming. We learned a lot!
- The Amalfi coast is a MUST!!!!
- If you can visit San Gimignano in Tuscany are DO IT. Hands down one of the best places!
- I found the Rome city pass very useful! If nothing else, you get to bypass long lines. If you plan to travel by train, figure out your travel dates/routes and buy in advance!
- Saw an AS Roma soccer game with my boys — such a fun experience!
- Borgo Santo Pietro is a must stay in Tuscany area. Pricey but sooo worth it!
- Rome is a busy bustling city! Did a Vatican guided tour which was incredible.
- Florence can do day trips to Pisa and Cinque Terre. Can buy tickets when get there. Sometimes can hire cabs for day and they will tour you around for a set price.
- Definitely train between Rome and Florence. They are pretty easy! The Vatican tour is amazing as well as the Colosseum tour.
- Giada DeLaurentis food guide per city in Italy! Covers all mealtimes. Suggestions where to eat for all meals/gelato. Did NOT have a bad meal and gelato recs were the bomb.
- Hire a boat on the coast.
- Walk everywhere. Go into every single church you pass. That’s where the art, history and beauty are.
- Go as early as possible to any tours. The crowds make it tedious to enjoy.
- Ristorante Piperno in Rome.
- Eat at Dal Bolognese in Rome!
- Rome 4, Florence 3, Venice 2 nights.
- Train is good transport. Book online to see travel time, lengths, etc. We stayed downtown so walking access everywhere was good.
- Outside of Florence there are designer outlet malls…like Gucii. Maybe worth a half day trip.
- Use Google flights!
- Definitely should take a car to Sienna and as for Florence, it’s walkable. Rome is beautiful.
- Rome — golf cart tour is a must. So hot in summer!
- 10 days in Rome, Florence and Venice. All by train. Enjoy those 3 cities and save Cinque.
- Rick Steeves Italy book is amazing. Literally maps everything out.
- Go with a tour group!!!
- We did exact 10 days and same itenerary but Positano instead of Cinque Terre.
- Fast trains need to be booked ahead of time.
- Avoid the BIG suitcases. Cobblestones everywhere.
- Day trips possible from those locations, I’d stay longer in Florence.
- Wine tour in Montepulciano. The best wines!!
- We stayed in Rome at the AlephRoma Hotel. Florence was my favorite and not as touristy. Leather making goods class in Florence and Vatican in Rome is a must.
- Don’t miss Monterossa in Cinque Terre. Do a beach day!
- Love the Pantheon Iconic Hotel in Rome!
- Lovexfooditaly — a MUST DO cooking class experience outside of Florence.
- Must visit Venice!!!
- I highly recommend renting a car in Tuscany for the countryside, very easy.
- Tour of Tuscany that includes a farmhouse winery, Sienna and San Gimignano. Skip Pisa.
- Palazzo Velabro which is a Marriott hotel in Rome. Good location. Nice boutique hotel.
- Try to do a day trip to Capri (we did from Rome) and limoncello tasting there.
- Def book train in advance. Pay for upgraded assigned seats. Be early! Trains run on time!
- You can look at the train schedule online so I found all our routes before we went over there and we bought our tickets at the station day of.
- Great restaurants to the right of the Vatican. Just pick one. All of the priests eat around there.
- Book a tour for the Vatican. Private was the best, but group tour is good.
- Spend as much time in Tuscany and coast as you can! I preferred it to the cities.
- Stay in Vernazza or Monterosso for Cinque! Bring good hiking shoes.
- The Edition Rome is a Marriott property.
- The Vatican is a full day event, so make sure you plant for that. I would book a private tour guid. Make sure you bring pants, no shorts, skirts or bare shoulders are allowed.
- All hotels wre booked on booking.com and tours were booked on Viator. Super easy and you are able to download the apps which are easy to use.
- In Tuscany, we stayed at Relais Vignale & Spa, lovely hotel in Radda in Chianti, Tuscany. Friendly staff, clean rooms, however the bed was stiff.
- In Florence, we stayed at FH55 Hotel Calzaiuoli. Staff was super pleasant, smaller hotel, with small European style elevators. Staff reommended a great restaurant called Paoli. It was the most amazing dinner we had in Italy! We did a tour the following day, and although it was great it took all day and we did not get to explore the shops and restaurants as I would’ve wanted to. We toured the Duomo and it was very cool. I climbe to the very top … all 467 steps. All tours were booked on the Viator website and app is super easy. Highly recommend it.
- I loved Florence and Venice. Rome was my least favorite and I could have stayed in Cinque Terre for Days too.
- Full Belly Tours — amazing food tour through a local neighborhood in Rome.
- I’ve made the mistake of booking our return out of Florence and had no idea the airport was so tiny. If they’re getting wind more than 15 mph or so, they can’t take off because the runway is too short.
- Definitely take the train between Florence and Rome and use a driver to explore the Chianti countryside. Driving in Italy is easy, they have beautiful highways. We did a day trip to Venice from Florence taking the train but it was a cloose call getting backj! You can do a day trip to Pisa from Florence. Drivers are the way to go!
- Rome is a great home base. We were able to take a bus day trip to Florence, you could stay overnight if you want more days, but also ride the early morning train to Venice, so fun…stay all day and into the evening and catch a late train back to Rome. We bought same day tickets at the train station, but you can buy in advance.
- Would highly recommend you hire a driver…it’s not worth driving…parking prices in some places are more expensive that whay you will pay a private driver. Call hotel you will be staying at and they will arrange drivers for airport pickup and drop off, day trips, etc. Several friends have learned the hard way in being stuck with driving fines they have no idea they have until they got home.
- Don’t go to sleep when you get there. Stay up, go for a walk, hit one sightseeing destination, eat an early dinner and go to bed by 9. You’ll wake up on Roman time.
- Watch Bobby & Giada in Italy on Max. Tells you where to eat, how to enjoy, places to walk. Important to try gelato on the Spanish Steps.
- Make sure to review the tours to see how long they las because sometimes it they take the whole day, that just takes every energy out of you.
- We got a boat in Venice, which is super easy and we rented a train from Venice to Rome, which was super easy two hours, probably the best thing we did.
- Misuri Florence for excellent leather goods.
- We loved the guided tour of the Vatican, but previously did self-guided. Either way, it’s incredible! Be sure to have an outfit that covers your knees and shoulders when visiting the churches or they won’t let you in. At the top of the Spanish Steps, you’ll meet an amazing artist, Walter Pedrini. We’ve bought paintings from him on both of our trips. Get up early to get unobstructed photos of the Duomo. Crowds build up quickly for tours.
- In Florence, the view from the Piazza de Michalengelo is stunning — it’s a park across the river that looks into the city.
Other Suggested Resources:
- Jen Woodhouse on IG.
- Go check out girlinflorence’s IG.
- Check out kacierose_. She’s an American living in Florence who can def help you.
- Check out thespoiledhome. They just did a reel on a day trip to Rome.
- Contact Shay at Mix Match Mama travel agency.
- Follow heartfelt travel. She has amazing advice and specialized in travel to Italy.
- travelbymitra on IG is based in Rome.
If you have any other first-hand advice, I welcome it in the comment section below! As always, thank you, thank you for your recommendations, time, and input!