Hannah Drake

5 Simple Syrups You Need in Your Home Bar

EntertainingHannah DrakeComment

I started exploring the wonderful world of simple syrups last fall to up my beverage game (and impress our guests). It’s a really…simple way to take your cocktails to the next level. They’re easy to make and they keep well in your refrigerator. Once you have the basics, you can do pretty much anything! (Including doubling or halving the recipe to meet your needs.) So let’s get to the five key syrups (IMO) that you need for your home bar so you can make delicious seasonal drinks all year round.

And remember: the beauty of simple syrups is that they’re great in any drink, it doesn’t have to be alcoholic.

LAVENDER SIMPLE SYRUP

  • 1 cup cool water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 Tablespoons lavender buds

Add the ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 7 minutes. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, strain, then chill for 1 hour before using. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 1 month.

Variants: blackberry lavender simple syrup (add 1 cup fresh blackberries) or lavender thyme simple syrup (add 1 bunch fresh thyme)

Try it in a Gin & Tonic or a Gimlet for a refreshing summer cocktail. For a non-alcoholic drink, add 1 Tbsp to lemonade.

ROSEMARY SIMPLE SYRUP

  • 1 cup cool water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary

Add the ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 7 minutes. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, strain, then chill for 1 hour before using. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 1 month.

Try it in a Gimlet or a cranberry sour.

APPLE CINNAMON SIMPLE SYRUP

  • 1 cup cool water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 apple (any kind), sliced

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 3 cinnamon sticks

Add the ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 7 minutes. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, strain, then chill for 1 hour before using. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 1 month.

Note: If using ground cinnamon, it will settle. Shake well before using it to mix the cinnamon through.

Add it to your gin & tonic for a delicious autumnal drink.

CRANBERRY SIMPLE SYRUP

  • 1 cup cool water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 1/4 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)

Add the ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 7 minutes. (Do not allow the berries to burst.) Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, strain, then chill for 1 hour before using. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 1 month.

Try it in a Moscow Mule for a cocktail perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

GINGERBREAD SIMPLE SYRUP

  • 1 cup cool water

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup molasses (treacle)

  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger or 2 ounces (225 grams) fresh ginger, peeled & diced

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or 4 cinnamon sticks

  • 1 teaspoon cloves or 12 whole cloves

Add the ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then chill for 1 hour before using. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 1 month.

Note: This syrup will be dark and thicker than normal simple syrup because of the added molasses and it will settle over time. Shake well before using it to mix the molasses and ground spices through. Using fresh ginger may result in a different taste than ground ginger.

Try it in a Kentucky Mule (bourbon & ginger beer) for a festive cocktail you can drink throughout the holidays. It’s also unbelievably good in a cup of hot chocolate!

Earlier this moth, I attempted to freeze a simple syrup to free up space in the fridge and kind of just to see if it works. I poured it into an ice cube tray and after a few days, it was a really soft solid. Almost like jelly. They came out in one piece (but didn’t pop out like normal ice cubes), so I was able to put them into a bag to keep in the freezer. But then they just kind of turned into a solid mushy thing. I can just scoop it out when I need some, but it’s not as clean and simple as I imagined.

If you want more, check out my Cardamom Coconut Gin Fizz post for the cardamom simple syrup recipe or my Red, White, & Blue Raspberry Lemonade for the raspberry simple syrup recipe.

Shop some of our bar favourites below. We use the 250ml glass bottles (with the cork) to store our simple syrups when we’re entertaining. (It doesn’t quite hold a full batch if using 1 cup of both water and sugar.) The pourers fit perfectly in the top which saves us from a sticky mess. To store in the fridge, we keep them in mason jars. I recommend using both because it’s messy to pour from the mason jars, but they do seal it a lot better and keep it fresher longer.

This post contains affiliate links, so I may make a commission off any purchase you make through the link. Thank you for supporting my blog!

10 Things to Know Before Visiting Italy

TravelHannah DrakeComment

It’s been nearly ten months since we left for our trip to Italy, our long awaited honeymoon slash first anniversary trip. It was an incredible trip and certainly the most extensive (and expensive) holiday Luke and I have ever done together. A lot of planning went into our trip, but there was still a bit that caught us off guard.

PLAN WHERE YOU WANT TO GO

Duh, right? Italy is a big country, rich in culture and history from corner to corner. While we were, I realised that before I moved to England in 2017, I probably knew more cities in Italy than any other European country. There’s Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice. There’s the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Sicily, Tuscany, Lake Como and Lake Garda. It seems like Italy is massively popular for travel bloggers and influencers and every day I log into social media, someone else I follow is in Cinque Terre or Positano. I can’t blame them, these are beautiful places and I fell in love with Italy too. But here’s the thing, all of that and whatever else you want to do is simply not doable in one short-term trip. I’ve always said I could easily spend a month travelling around Italy and now that I’ve been, I can assure you that’s probably an underestimate.

When we started planning, I had quite a few places in mind, including the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Lake Como, Venice, and Tuscany. (Rome was always a must-do for our first trip.) When we looked at a map, we were surprised to find our choices dotted all over the country. So with just under two weeks, we had to narrow down our list, ultimately prioritising Rome and the Amalfi Coast, which seemed more than manageable in our time frame. When it came time to book, it made sense geographically and financially to fly into Naples and out of Rome, so we started building an itinerary around that and focus on southern Italy. Taking a train from Naples to Rome (1 hour, 10 minutes) was our longest travel day, with ever thing else—whether by ferry or by car—was under an hour.

We built our itinerary in both digital and paper forms with travel, accommodations, and activities all colour-coded. It was really handy to keep all the paper work together in a folder that could easily slip into our backpack.

LEARN A FEW KEY PHRASES

This is something we didn’t do and we definitely regret. First of all, learning key phrases in the native language is just basic decency. While most people spoke English, we also encountered a few who didn’t. We were able to get by, but it goes without saying that if we had learned what we were trying to say most frequently, it would have made it a lot easier for everyone.

Start with these:

Hello - Ciao

Goodbye - Addio

Please -Per favore (per fav-or-ray)

Thank You - Grazie  (graht-see-eh)

You’re Welcome - Prego (pray-go)

Can I have the check, please? - Il conto, per favore

Do you accept credit cards? - Accettate carte di credito?

RENT A CAR OUTSIDE THE CITIES

You’ve probably heard that driving in Italy is NUTS. You heard correctly. On our very first day, walking around Naples, we were shocked (and scared) by the roads. People just seem to do whatever they want and go wherever they want. And the volume of scooters on the road doesn’t make it any easier. We originally booked our rental car from the second day of our trip, thinking we’d pick it up at the train station, drive it to catch the ferry to Capri, and park it at our hotel overnight. Bad idea. On our first afternoon there, Luke called to move it back a day, paying a fee of £15, I think. It was worth it though. We didn’t see much parking at the port, there didn’t seem to be parking available at the hotel, and it would have been madness to do all that driving when we only needed to walk about 20 minutes from our hotel to catch the ferry!

It was really nice having a car on the Amalfi Coast, though. We drove from Naples to our Airbnb in Vietri sul Mare, stopping for the day in Pompeii. It gave us the freedom later to drive to Sorrento catch the boat for our boat tour and later to drive back to Pompeii to go up Mount Vesuvius. We didn’t do much driving along the coastline, where the roads are more narrow and have tight hairpin turns, but driving through the mountains was a bit easier. It was longer in kilometres, but ultimately took about the same time to get there.

If you plan on venturing out of your home base, so to speak, it’s worth looking into renting a car. When we originally booked it, it was under £90 for six days. I wouldn’t, however, recommend getting a car if you’re in a major city like Naples or Rome.

LOOK FOR A BASE COST ITEM ON THE MENU

When you’re looking for restaurants, you can gauge how expensive it will be based on the most simple item: margherita pizza. When we were in Naples and on the coast, we found most restaurants had their margherita pizza between €4 and €6. (The most expensive was right off the pier in Amalfi, €6.) However, when we got to Rome, it was more likely to be €7 to €10. The best deal we found was right outside of Pompeii when we got a pizza and a drink for €5!

On that note, reconsider drinking soda while you’re there. (Or probably anywhere in Europe.) 20oz glass full of ice? Yeah right. Unlimited refills? Forget it. You’ll be paying anywhere from €2 to €4 for a CAN of Coke. Yes, one can. I have a terrible affliction where I get so thirsty only Coke can quench my thirst, and that, my friends, adds up when you’re in Europe.

DON’T ORDER OFF THE MENU

I don’t necessarily mean making up a dish or asking for substitutions. When you order at a restaurant, especially in a tourist-dense area, order your food with your menu in hand and point to what you want. Most menus we saw listed the item in Italian with a description in English underneath. But we’re all so used to different pasta dishes, it’s easy enough to order. However, when we were in Capri, we went to a place for lunch that had assorted grilled fish on the menu for €28. After I had ordered literally off the menu oysters for us to share, the waiter took our menu. When he came back, Luke ordered the assorted grilled fish and said we were going to split it. Somehow that got lost in translation and when the bill came at the end of our meal, it was €139. The oysters had been €5 a piece and the assorted grilled fish had been €40 and we had gotten two! (They had brought out a big platter and then took it back and put it on two different plates, so we didn’t realise.) It was seriously shocking and kind of a buzz kill for the rest of the day. If I’m being perfectly honest, it made me feel like they were really slimy and taking advantage of tourists. It certainly left a bad taste in my mouth. For the rest of the trip, we were sure to order menu in hand and be super clear when we wanted to split a dish. It didn’t happen again.

To end that on a positive note, our first night in Naples a waiter who spoke very little English asked if we wanted wine and we said yes we wanted a bottle, without looking at a wine list. He brought back a €11 bottle of delicious red wine!

CARRY CASH

A lot of places are going to be cash only, whether you’re stopping for lunch, like at L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples, or for a mid-afternoon gelato. Some activities are cash only, like the steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Vendors selling souvenirs on the street are probably cash only. We had to get cash more than once, but it seemed more places were card-friendly in Rome. In addition, if you’re doing a guided tour, make sure you have the amount you want to tip in cash before you start. We weren’t able to tip our amazing tour guide for our Rome in Day tour and we both felt absolutely awful.

BE PREPARED FOR SMOKERS

For some reason, in my mind, smoking has always seemed like a more French thing than anywhere else. I’ve only spent about 48 hours in Paris, most of it at Disneyland, but it seemed like there were more smokers in Italy. (Just take that with a grain of salt.) Smoking is prohibited in bars and restaurants, but dining outside under striped umbrellas is part of that European charm! We walked by waiters and baristas standing right outside their restaurant smoking in their uniform. Just about every time we stopped to enjoy the scenery, someone next to us would be smoking. But the worst was when someone at the next table over would be smoking through our meal. On our last night in Rome, we had dinner in the Jewish Ghetto between the host smoking on one side and the guy at the table 6 inches from ours smoking on the other. And it’s not like they don’t know how dangerous smoking is. I looked over at the guy’s cigarette pack on the table and probably 60% of the box was covered in SMOKING KILLS warnings.

BE PREPARED TO PAY TOURIST TAX

At our hotel in Naples, our Airbnb on the Amalfi Coast, and our hotel in Rome, we had to pay a “tourist tax” that wasn’t covered by what we had already paid. I’m not sure what it was in Naples or if Luke was able to pay by card. But the other two times, it was cash only, but we were given the option to pay at check in or check out. On the coast, it was €1 per person, per night, but in Rome, it was €3 per person, per night. I would imagine we would have been prepared for it if we had read the fine print, but I for one wasn’t expecting it.

SOME BASILICAS HAVE A DRESS CODE

If you plan on visiting any basilicas, particularly the Vatican, make sure you’re aware of the dress code before hand. The Vatican is of course a holy place, and because of this, you are required to cover your shoulders and knees. It may seem unbearable in the summer months, but they will turn you away. As we passed the line to get in, we also passed vendors selling scarves to women who were wearing tanks tops. Later, inside the Vatican, we saw a girl who had one of the scarves tied around her waist as her dress was too short. Luke is generally a warm person and we were visiting the Vatican at the end of an 8 hour walking tour that day, so he packed jeans to change into before we went in.

SOME MAJOR TOURIST DESTINATIONS HAVE BAG RESTRICTIONS

If you plan on going to the Vatican or the Colosseum while you’re in Rome, make sure you check the limits they have on bags before you go in. Don’t plan on going to either place on a day you’re travelling if you’re not able to leave your luggage at your hotel or Airbnb. It’s a great idea to have a small backpack to carry around while you’re out sightseeing, filled with water, sunscreen, and anything else you need throughout the day, but make sure it’s small enough to be let in to the places you want to go. While you’re at it, get rid of any spray sunscreen you have before you go to the Colosseum. They no longer allow sprays of any kind (bug spray, sunscreen, body spray, etc.) and we had to toss our sunscreen outside the gates. We used the Little Ash from MUZMM and if you want to get one for yourself, you can use the code HANNAH20 at check out for 20% off your order! (They ship internationally!) It’s such a fantastic travel bag.

And for some Rome-specific bonus tips:

YOU CAN’T EAT ON THE SPANISH STEPS

It probably seems like the perfect place for an impromptu picnic that you’ve actually been dreaming of because it might have been in a movie you saw once. But they’ll actually tell you off for eating on the steps. And there are plenty of security guards (or maybe it’s police) walking around ready to do just that.

DON’T FORGET TO VALIDATE YOUR METRO TICKETS

Do not learn this the hard way. Like us. You have to buy your metro tickets in a newspaper stand near a station. It might not be completely obvious where you can buy them, they might not take credit cards or be able to break bigger bills, it might be a hassle. But once you get on the metro, there are yellow boxes near the doors where you can validate your ticket. You might be able to get away with it (also like us) for a while, but if you get caught it is e x p e n s i v e to pay the fine. And don’t worry, they have a credit card machine ready to go for you if you don’t have the cash. Just validate the tickets and save yourself the hassle.

PLAN TO VISIT THE TREVI FOUNTAIN EARLY — AND WATCH YOUR BAG AND POCKETS

Want to get a shot without hundreds of other tourists in it? Go early! Sadly the Trevi Fountain was off while we were there so we didn’t stick to our original plan of going back one of the last two mornings we were in Rome. But that’s the way to do it. Also, watch your bags. It’s so crowded and your pockets and bags are prime for the picking. We were warned by our tour guide on the first day, so Luke turned our backpack around to be on his front and made sure everything was zipped and secure.

PIN FOR LATER!

The 10 Most Used Items from Our Wedding Registry

MarriageHannah DrakeComment

It’s been almost exactly a year since we got our big registry delivery. We registered at John Lewis, that offers one big delivery after the registry has closed (within 2 months after the wedding) instead of shipping things as they’re purchased. That means that they can’t guarantee every product and only allow you to register about 2 months before the wedding. It’s definitely not what I’m used to from friends and family getting married in the States and registering at Target, which offers a discount on everything remaining on your list or Crate & Barrel (which might do the same), which keeps your registry open for a year after the wedding. Our long list of frustrations with John Lewis have come and gone and what remains are our awesome gifts from loved ones.

Now that it’s been a year, I feel like I can say what’s been good and what’s been…kind of pointless. So today I’m breaking down the 10 most used items from our registry. I’ll go ahead and save you the obvious that our dishes are our most used item. We literally use them everyday.

KitchenAid Mixer

Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch because Luke actually got it for me for Christmas, but we did register for one. It’s also a good reminder that you shouldn’t expect anyone on your list, no matter how closely related or how well off they are, to drop some serious money on a kitchen gadget for you. Maybe you’re lucky and someone will get it for you, so why not put it on “just in case”. It’s probably not a surprise that our mixer is used often in our kitchen since I love to bake. I had one in the States and sold it before I moved because of the weight (for shipping) and the complications with the plug/voltage, but this one is getting more use out of all three attachments, especially the dough hook considering I broke our handheld mixer just before the wedding trying to make croissant dough.

Plastic Funnel

Yes, seriously. Don’t just go big because the little things are really useful (and honestly more affordable for some of your guests). I’m honestly shocked at how often we use this thing and totally baffled as to how we made do without one. We use it for all the usual things. But it’s especially handy because we try to buy dry goods and pantry staples (spices, flour, lentils, rice sugar, etc) in bulk and store them in other jars and containers. You know I love my jars!

Egyptian+Cotton+Towels

My mom hooked us up with new towels for my birthday actually since they weren’t purchased off the registry before it closed. Even after a year of rotating between two towels each, these Egyptian Cotton towels are still so plush. They’ve held up a lot better than the towels we got from TK Maxx when we first moved in together.

Retro Copper Kitchen Timer

We’ve got copper details all over our kitchen, including our kitchen timer. It’s retro in every way, from the look to the sound it makes when it goes off. And it’s magnetic, so it lives on the side of our fridge. We use it all the time, but especially when we’re cooking or baking multiple things at once and need to use our phones as well. It may be 2019, but I’ll never outgrow an actual kitchen timer and I’ll use it over my phone any day.

LSA+International+Oil+%26+Vinegar+Set

This oil and vinegar set lives by our hob and I’m in love with it. It’s so beautiful, and while it doesn’t hold a lot of volume, it’s really practical for us. They pour better than the bottles oil and vinegar come in and are great if we’re serving a simple salad at a dinner party.

Royal Doulton 1815 Small Mugs

Funny story about these mugs. Our friends got us the mugs we originally registered for (the same maker, just different patterns), but between registering and opening our delivery, I fell in love with these mugs that they actually own. We ended up exchanging them for these and I’m glad we did. They’re gorgeous and now our go-to tea and coffee mugs. I’m a firm believer in not having matching mugs—mugs are special and should be collected over time—but I’m counting these since they’re different colours.

John Lewis & Partners 'The Pan' Pan Set

While our IKEA pots served us well for about 10 months, these pots are amazing and beautiful. The frying pan has been difficult to keep clean on the bottom, but Barkeeper’s Friend has been a game changer and has it looking as good as new! And you’re probably noticing a theme with all the cream kitchen stuff. Luke was over the white, so this was a good compromise. We actually bought these ourselves with some of the gift cards we received. Gotta love those gift cards!

John Lewis Dark Blue Ramen Bowl

We registered for four ramen bowls, two this dark blue pattern and two a simpler grey pattern. You know we love soup and I’ve always been a fan of soup bowls. Sadly, one of our blue bowls was the first (and so far only) thing to break from our wedding gifts, so we’re down to three now because they discontinued both patterns. Regardless, we still use them just about every Wednesday night!

John Lewis & Partners Round Soft Close Pedal Bin

It’s always nice to buy people fun kitchen gadgets or pretty linens…I’m definitely the same. But don’t sleep on the insanely useful gifts. I’m so glad our friend purchased a bin for the bathroom off our registry because it’s been insanely useful. It’s smaller than the one we used to have (which has become our recycling bin), so it fits in our tiny bathroom better, but it’s also sleeker, prettier, and you just gotta have the lid.

Mason Cash Bakewell Mini Bowls

I’ll never forget when my sister and brother-in-law unpacked all their wedding gifts in their apartment and realised they ended up with SO.MANY.BOWLS! Literally, a human has never owned so many bowls. I took their tale as a tale of caution and tried to limit the number of bowls we registered for, but it turns out bowls are super handy. And I’m so glad we registered for these mini bowls. I use them when I pretend I’m on an internet cooking show like Tasty and pre-chop all my ingredients. We use them for soy sauce when we bring home sushi. We use them for just about anything you would need a mini bowl for. And when they’re not in use, they’re displayed next to the coffee mugs and it makes all my pretty pastel dreams come true. (We also have the 4L version of this bowl in the same powder blue that we use as a serving bowl.)

I’ve been hearing rumblings online that registries are outdated because couples often live together before the wedding, but it seems like they’re not really going anywhere. Instead, they’re evolving a bit with the times. Luke and I were in an odd situation of living together, but not really having a ton of stuff already. Luke had lived in furnished flats and houses since uni and I was obviously moving across the ocean and not bring over a whole lot. We lived together at his last house for about two weeks, then sublet a friends’ house for about a month before finding an unfurnished house to rent. When we moved into that place (almost two years ago!) we pretty much had nothing. A bedside table, a lamp, and some miscellaneous kitchen stuff and home decor pieces that my mom shipped over in November. We made multiple trips to IKEA to get the basics, got a bunch of free furniture from friends and family and strangers online, and tried to plan ahead for our registry.

In case you find yourself living with your fiance and unsure of what to register for, I’ve got four tips just for you:

TAKE INVENTORY OF WHAT YOU’RE MISSING

We held off on investing in items with a bigger price tag until we registered. Things like small kitchen appliances (a stand mixer, a blender, a food processor) were out of the question before our registry closed. We also waited to get some speciality items or things we would use for entertaining a bigger group.

Maybe you’re moving to a bigger place shortly after your wedding or are already in a place you haven’t finished furnishing. What else do you need? Does your guest room need linens? A lamp? Maybe you have a breakfast counter that you haven’t found the right stools for yet.

DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO UPGRADE

We actually had a lot of things we wanted to upgrade. Like I mentioned, we had purchased a lot of things at IKEA or TK Maxx or even got them off Freecycle because I was unemployed during my first six months abroad and we were setting up an entire house. The idea what to kind of “tide us over” until we could register for nicer things. We upgraded our pots, our pans, our towels, our dishes, and our vacuum, among other things.

We prioritised our upgrades and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it having really nice bedding when we could get some more kitchen gadgets or glasses for our bar instead. But if you’re sleeping on sheets from your college days or drying off with the same scratchy towels he had while he was a bachelor, maybe it’s time to upgrade.

CONSIDER WHERE YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR TIME

After already living together for some time, you probably have a better idea of how you live. If you’re registering for items before you move in together, in a way, you’re just guessing how to prioritise your time and life as a couple. In the eleven months we were living together before the wedding, we discovered that our priority was the kitchen and entertaining. I would say that 90% of our registry was for things that are kept in our kitchen today. We wanted things like margarita glasses and martini glasses, Balti dishes, dip bowls, and bed trays that we probably won’t use all the time, but are great to have when we’re having Mexican food or Indian food, or even just chips. And the bed trays encourage breakfast in bed on the weekends—my favourite!

Maybe you spend a lot of your time in the back garden. Do you need gardening tools or grilling tools? Maybe you like the simple life of lounging in the living room and need a few more items to make it feel like home. Get some decor pieces you really like. Some artwork, a big mirror, or a new floor lamp.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX

Like I said, registries are evolving. Nowadays you can register for all kinds of stuff. So many stores offer wedding registries now, like Amazon (they have everything!) or REI (perfect for the outdoorsy couple)!. You can register on one site for multiple stores, like Zola. You can register for money for your honeymoon or a home renovation or even just to have some seed money on sites like Honeyfund. There are so many options out there now. These are your mama’s wedding registries!

PIN FOR LATER!

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