Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread

One week from Memorial Day means this cheesy goodness ↓

A close-up shot of easy, five-ingredient Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread.

And this cheesy goodness goes by no other name than (somewhat obvious): Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread! I’ve been wanting to make this perfect cookout accompaniment for quite some time now, and I figured what better time to do so than for the holiday weekend that basically kicks off summer!

And I’m not stopping there. That’s right, this week I’ll be bringing you all kinds of fun BBQ-friendly dishes to get you loaded up with recipes before the hubs and I skip town and head up to Tahoe for a much needed getaway with a few of our close friends. My hubby’s birthday happens to be on Memorial Day this year so we thought, what better way to celebrate than at one of our favorite places with some of our favorite people? We’re keeping it fairly low-key, though, with a spa day penciled in and surely lots of time just relaxing around the house and catching up! I hear there may still even be snow there, which would be pretty cool.

Sorry, just a little digression, because what I’m really here to talk about is this Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread. I’m very happy to report that it turned out just every bit as good as I had imagined. And it’s so easy! We’re talking about FIVE ingredients and FIVE minutes on a high heat grill (or under the broiler.) That’s it!

Looking down on a delicious loaf of ooey-gooey Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread.

Of course, if you wanted to be really adventurous, you could whip up your own BBQ from scratch, but if your household is anything like ours, you probably have at least a bottle or two of your favorite premade stuff hanging around your pantry or refrigerator.

I was lucky to have some of the Sweet ‘n Spicy BBQ Sauce from Montana Mex on hand (thanks, Eduardo!) and decided to give it a spin for this recipe. If you haven’t heard of Montana Mex or Chef Eduardo Garcia, it’s about time you did. (Sorry, just another little digression and, no, this is not sponsored! I truly was just incredibly impressed by Eduardo’s story so I wanted to share it here.)

Every year, Chris and I are lucky enough to attend some of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s events through his company’s sponsorship connections. When we heard we’d be getting tickets to the opening film this year and what the film was about, I have to admit I was a LOT more excited than I had been for the films being screened in previous years.

Charged is a film about Chef Eduardo Garcia’s survival and inspiring recovery from being charged with 2400 volts of electricity while out hiking in the woods one afternoon. Although not for the faint of heart, the film is full of Eduardo’s unwavering positivity in the face of adversity and perseverance through some very challenging obstacles.

We were lucky enough to get to chat with him after the film, and I was honored when he offered to send me a box of his company’s products. Chef Eduardo founded Montana Mex after he became frustrated with so many of the Mexican food products available here in the United States that were laden with chemicals and preservatives. So he and his business partner set out to make a line of Mexican-inspired condiments without all of the gunky stuff. Which you know is right up my alley!

A close-up shot of gooey and delicious Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread.

Charged won’t be released to the general public until September (at which time you most definitely need to go see it), but if you come across any film festivals that might be airing it before then, GO! If you like inspiring stories, survival and food, you will not be disappointed.

Eek, ok! Let’s get to this Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread. Good thing it’s so easy to make because I have been rambling for far too long already and I’m sure we all have more important things to be doing on a Monday morning.

So here’s what we do: We start with a huge loaf of fresh, crusty bread. A pain rustique or ciabatta (something with lots of little air pockets in the dough) would be ideal here. We want lots of nooks and crannies for all of the butter, garlic and BBQ sauce to ooze into.

The beginning stages of making Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread - slather on butter, BBQ sauce and fresh garlic!

We slice the bread long-ways for maximum surface area, then start slathering on the good stuff – first butter, the BBQ sauce and garlic, then cheese. Because this BBQ garlic bread is CHEESY.

The second step to make Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread - slather it with cheese!

Throw the loaf halves onto the grill (if you have space to spare) or pop them under the broiler and you’ll have delicious Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread in as little as five minutes. If that’s not the perfect cookout side dish, I don’t know what is!

Another close-up of this ooey-gooey delicious Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread!

A close-up shot of easy, five-ingredient Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread.
Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
5 mins
Total Time
15 mins

Not your average garlic bread! This version is loaded with zesty BBQ sauce and smothered in melted cheese, the perfect BBQ side dish!

Course: Side Dish
Author: CaliGirl Cooking
  • 1 loaf fairly flat, crusty bread (such as ciabatta or pain rustique,) sliced in half lengthwise
  • 4-6 tablespoons melted butter (depending on how large your loaf of bread is, mine was pretty big)
  • 1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups shredded Asiago cheese (or Parmesan, or your favorite cheesy bread cheese!)
  1. Place halves of bread cut side up on a large baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. If using the grill, turn it on high and let it begin warming up. If using the broiler, turn it on high to preheat.

  2. Spread melted butter evenly onto loaf halves, then do the same with the BBQ sauce.

  3. Sprinkle on the minced garlic and then cover the loaf halves evenly with the shredded cheese. 

  4. If using the grill, place the bread (topping side up) directly onto the grates. If using the broiler, keep the bread on the baking sheet and place in the oven. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling and edges of bread are browned. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Cheesy BBQ Garlic Bread |

Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshake (and Big News!)

Okay, I’ve been keeping this secret for about four months now and I am soooo excited to finally share it all with you along with this perfectly appropriate Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshake…

A festive pink Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshake with pictures from some of our baby girl's first ultrasounds!

Baby Girl Deem will be arriving in October!!

That’s right, our little family is growing, and at a rapid rate at that, because there’s something else I haven’t told you yet (unless you’ve been peaking at my Insta-stories)…

The newest addition to our family, golden retriever puppy Brooklyn, isn't sure how she feels abut getting a baby sister in October!

We got a puppy!!

And oh my goodness we are just over-the-moon with excitement. Brooklyn is an 8-week old red golden retriever and she has completely stolen our hearts. We picked her up on Mother’s Day, which also happened to be the day we did our gender reveal with both of our families, so it was an exciting one! Good thing we have about five months to get used to Miss B. before our other little bundle of joy arrives in the fall 😉

So, yes, Chris will be going from just having to deal with me and my crazy hormones and Type A personality to a household full of girls in a matter of months…I hope he’s ready for all of this! Actually, I have no doubt that he is because he is the best and I know he is going to be the world’s greatest father to both our fur baby and our real baby. No questions asked!

To celebrate all of this big news and the sudden plethora of females in our little corner of the world, I decided to whip up this Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshake. After all, there’s nothing better than a festive (and yes, non-alcoholic) pink drink to get a pregnancy (or new puppy) party started!

Two frosty Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshakes ready to be consumed!

Now, I know many of you tune in every Friday for a new boozy cocktail recipe, so I hope you can bear with me here. And I also know what you’re thinking…There have been an awful lot of boozy cocktail recipes here on the blog over the past few months. Well, I’m loathe to report that I have not been drinking any of them (sad face) but have instead been working on my spitting game and handing the taste-testing reigns over to the hubs to make sure they’re suitable for your consumption and enjoyment. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it 😉

And if you’re really wanting a boozy recipe to get you through the weekend, I’m just going to throw this out there and say that a splash (or glug) of bourbon would be an absolutely AMAZING addition little addition to a frosty Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshake.

Overhead shot of Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshakes that happen to be dairy-free AND vegan!

In other news, these shakes just also happen to be dairy-free and vegan…and I’m very happy to report that you’d never even know it. They’re just as deliciously creamy and indulgent as your average strawberry milkshake, yet contain absolutely no milk or cream.

So here’s what I used:

Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream from Trader Joe’s

(I didn’t even know this existed but trust me when I say it’s amazing.)

Frozen Strawberries
Vanilla Extract
Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
Simple Syrup

That’s it! I picked up some strawberries at the Farmer’s Market that were possibly not quite ripe, so a little more on the sour side (although still delicious.) If you find some really ripe strawberries or can only find sweetened vanilla almond milk, you may want to decrease the amount of simple syrup or eliminate it altogether.

After you have all of the ingredients, the cooking process is as easy as throwing everything together in a blender and pressing “Start!”

Profile view of frosty Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshakes topped with homemade whipped cream and pink sprinkles.

One quick note: I did make some homemade whipped cream to dollop on top of these bad boys for photography purposes that is NOT vegan. I know some folks have had success making coconut whipped cream (I have not) so please feel free to use that if you want to go completely vegan and dairy-free, or just omit the whipped cream altogether. The shake will still taste super-delicious!

I know this is all a lot of excitement for one post, so I don’t want to keep you too long. What I do want to know, though, is what (if anything) you’d like to hear about how my pregnancy is going, how my diet and workouts are changing, what I’m buying (for myself AND baby girl,) etc. I know you come here primarily for the recipes, but I know there may also be some of you out there who are in the same boat as me, so please drop me a line!

Overhead view of Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshakes with some pictures from one of our baby girls' latest ultrasounds!

Looking forward to sharing all of these new adventures with you 🙂

Profile view of frosty Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshakes topped with homemade whipped cream and pink sprinkles.
Lightened Up Double Strawberry Milkshake
Prep Time
10 mins

This lightened up version of the 50's diner favorite is both dairy-free and vegan but tastes just like the real thing.

Course: Dessert
Author: CaliGirl Cooking
  • 1 pint strawberry coconut ice cream
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until combined. Pour into milkshake glasses and garnish with whipped cream and fresh strawberries, if desired.

Asian Paella

Classic dishes, new flavors.

A big pot of Asian Paella ready to be enjoyed!

That’s what I’m going for today with this super-duper tasty Asian Paella. I took the classic Spanish dish that I have for some reason been so intimidated to make and gave it my own Asian spin, and I am in LOVE with the result. I make a pretty darn good paella for an amateur, if I do say so myself 😉

Let’s talk for a second about that intimidation factor. I know I’ve said it before, but have you ever come across a dish that you’d die to be able to make on your own, yet that fear of the unknown holds you back? What if said dish takes an insanely long time to make? Or has some crazy involved technique that you have no idea how to do? Well, after forcing myself to tackle things like this Homemade Matcha Pasta and this Whisky Gravlax, I’m very happy to report that this is rarely (if ever) the case. I’m always amazed at how easy something ends up being after I’ve been so afraid to tackle it for so long!

So if there’s one lesson I want you to walk away with by reading this post (besides how to make an insanely delicious Asian Paella,) it’s that the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the kitchen are hardly ever so at all, so get in there and give a new dish or technique a shot. You’ll not only broaden your “foodie” horizons, but you’ll also both impress anyone you’re cooking for and help them feel more empowered to get in the kitchen on their own and make something out of the norm.

Up-close photo of the most delicious Asian Paella you've ever tasted!

Okay, enough preaching! Let’s talk about this Asian Paella. I first came up with this idea after the hubs and I had a date night at a fairly new Spanish restaurant here in Santa Barbara called Loquita. They have a huge selection of authentic tapas and main courses, and everything is served family-style so you pretty much have no choice but to share. Did I mention they also make amazing cocktails?

When the hubs and I went there, we decided to keep it fairly simple with just a couple of tapas and one order of paella, which really is enough to serve at least four people (but whoever complained about a few leftovers?) As I started tasting all of the different flavors in the dish – chorizo, chicken, fresh mushrooms and veggies – I realized that I could easily swap in some of my favorite Asian ingredients to give this classic dish a new twist.

I used the popular Chinese sausage lap cheong in lieu of the chorizo, and decided to go with easy-to-cook shrimp instead of the chicken. I also made sure to grab shiitake mushrooms and fresh snow peas along with the usual tomatoes and bell peppers.

All of the ingredients for delicious Asian Paella thrown into one big paella pan over the grill.

Because I was already using so many strong Asian flavors (namely the lap cheong and the shiitake mushrooms) I decided to keep the seasonings of the paella traditional, using smoked paprika and saffron. Be sure to use SMOKED paprika (which you can easily find at any grocery store, including Trader Joe’s) as it will help impart the delicious smoky flavor that will make your paella taste like you’ve been cooking it over open coals all day, rather than the gas grill I recommend using here. Also, if you’re hesitant to make the minor investment in very-expensive saffron, don’t be! As you can see from this recipe, a little bit really goes a long way so it will last you a while.

As far as the cooking process, I used my trusty Gourmet Today cookbook as my guide and followed their suggested technique of cooking the paella in an oven-proof paella pan (or wok, in my case) over a gas grill. Aside from the appliance that you cook the dishes on, from there the process is much like that of making risotto, if you’ve ever ventured into that territory.

You cook the proteins first (here, that means the shrimp and the lap cheong) and then add most of the vegetables. After those ingredients have gotten a good head start on cooking, you add the rice and then the chicken broth, stirring occasionally until the rice has soaked up nearly all of the broth and other delicious seasonings.

The protein, vegetables and broth for Asian Paella set to simmering before adding in the rice.

Asian Paella simmers over the grill, waiting for all of the delicious broth to be absorbed by the rice.

One other quick note RE: the rice. I did not use the traditional Bomba rice that most paella recipes call for, simply because I was too lazy to track some down and already had some sushi rice on hand, which still worked wonderfully! The only thing I did notice was that it got mushier the longer the paella sat, because it continued to soak up any sort of liquid that was left in the pan. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re serving your Asian Paella hot off the grill (which is THE best way, I might add) but perhaps stop the cooking process a little bit earlier (before all of the liquid is completely absorbed) if you’re planning on reheating the dish to serve later.

The recipe technique I followed in Gourmet said the entire cooking process would take about two hours, and they were spot on. If you ask me, that’s not too intimidating and means that this recipe is still totally doable for any night of the week when you need to serve a crowd.

Asian Paella for humpday dinner, anyone?

This post contains affiliate links. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for continuing to support the brands that make CaliGirl Cooking possible!

A big pot of Asian Paella ready to be enjoyed!
Asian Paella
Prep Time
50 mins
Cook Time
1 hrs 10 mins
Total Time
2 hr

The classic Spanish dish gets an oriental flair with the use of lap cheong, shiitake mushrooms, fresh snow peas and so much more!

Course: Main Course
Servings: 6 people
Author: CaliGirl Cooking
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled
  • 1/2 of a lemon
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning shrimp plus 1 teaspoon salt for paella
  • 1/2 pound lap cheong, sliced
  • 6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 ounces sugar snap peas, cut in half diagonally
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
  • 3 cups sushi rice
  1. In a large, oven-proof paella pan or wok, heat the olive oil over a gas grill set to medium-high heat. 

  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the shrimp and juice of ½ a lemon and season with salt and pepper. Add shrimp to heated paella pan and cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until shrimp begins to turn pink and opaque. Add the lap cheong and continue to cook until shrimp looks mostly cooked through.

  3. Move shrimp and lap cheong to the edge of the pan and add mushrooms, snap peas and bell peppers to the center. Cook these vegetables, stirring every so often, for about 4 minutes.

  4. Add tomatoes, garlic and one teaspoon salt to mixture in center of pan and stir until slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and cook, without stirring, for one minute before stirring the proteins on the edges of the pan back into the mixture. Stir in stock and saffron.

  5. Turn grill heat to high, cover the grill with a lid, and bring the mixture to a boil. This may take up to 20 minutes depending on your grill. Once mixture is boiling, turn heat back to medium-high and sprinkle rice evenly into the pan. Stir until all rice grains are submerged.

  6. Cook for 10 minutes, stir, and then stir. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 10-15 minutes more, stirring at 5-minute intervals, until liquid is absorbed and rice is al dente.

  7. Using potholders, carefully remove pan from the grill and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

(Affiliate) links for special ingredients:

Asian Paella |

Travel Diaries: Tuscany

So are you ready to hear all about my trip to Italy?

A stunning view of the Tuscan countryside from Villa Fabbroni in Greve.

I hope so, because I’m so excited to tell you about it. And because we basically split our trip into two parts (five days in Tuscany and three days in Venice) I’m going to break it down into two posts for you. This will also make it easier for you to find all my recommendations when you’re planning your next trip to either of these areas!

First off, it’s been far too long since my last Travel Diaries post. It’s been just about five months, in fact, since I brought you my Travel Diaries: Quebec City. We slowed down a bit in the New Year, after the craziness of the holidays, our wedding, and a ton of travel in between. We were also saving up vacation time for this big trip to Italy, which made it just a little bit easier to stay put knowing we had it to look forward to!

The hillsides of Montepulciano in Tuscany, overlooking the vast countryside.

So, without further ado, here are all the deets for the Tuscany portion of our trip!

Where We STayed

The beautiful, historic Villa Fabbroni nestled in the hills of Greve in Chianti in Tuscany.

For this first portion of our trip, we parked our luggage at the beautiful, historic Villa Fabbroni. Now, I may be biased, but if you are traveling anywhere in the greater Tuscany area, I highly recommend that you stay here. We found it thanks to friends of friends of friends, and the owners, Sergio and Stefano, quickly became dear friends of ours after my aunt and I first visited their property back in 2013.

Think of Villa Fabbroni as a huge step up from your average AirBnB. You can’t expect all of your average hotel amenities or daily maid service, but you CAN expect delicious meals prepared for you daily by Sergio and Stefano themselves (unless you opt to cook for yourself in your apartment’s kitchen,) as much estate wine and olive oil as you can manage, and the quiet, relaxing and friendly atmosphere of a country villa.

View of our apartment at the beautiful, historic Villa Fabbroni, looking over the Tuscan countryside.

View of the pool and surrounding countryside at Villa Fabbroni, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany.

The villa is located just outside of Greve in Chianti, so if you are planning to do any exploring of the Tuscany area during your stay, plan on either renting a car (if you feel comfortable navigating windy country roads in a manual) or hiring Sergio and Stefano (if they’re available) to chaffeur you around for the day. Seeing as we had a group of seven and the guys had a big enough passenger van to hold all of us, we opted to have them show us around and are so glad we did. I’ll go into more detail about each of the little towns we visited below, but first I want to tell you about our cooking class!

Learning how to make authentic Tuscan food at our cooking class at Villa Fabbroni.

Menu for the delicious cooking class hosted by Sergio and Stefano at Villa Fabbroni, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany.

The last time my aunt and I visited Villa Fabbroni, the group we were with had jam-packed all of our days with off-site adventures, so we really didn’t have any time at the villa. However, one night we were treated to a delicious four-course meal (as just about every dinner in Italy consists of this many courses….so much food!) prepared during a cooking class that Sergio and Stefano had hosted for another group staying on the property that day.  As soon as we found out that S&S offered cooking classes, we knew we wanted to take advantage of it the next time we visited. And take advantage we did!

When we were planning our trip this time around, we made sure to block out a day to stay at the villa so we could spend the afternoon learning all of the regional cooking methods from two legit Italians. Guys, it was amazing! So much fun and I can’t wait to recreate some of the recipes we made and share them here on the blog. We made antipasti, gnocchi, bolognese, ravioli, and THE BEST stuffed pork tenderloin. Oh, and did I mention tiramisu? We seriously learned so much from them in just a few hours. So if you stay here, DEFINITELY book a cooking class! You will not regret it one bit.

Learning how to make the best Italian antipasto from a homegrown Italian!

Hands-on at our Italian cooking class, learning how to make some classic Tuscan antipasti at Villa Fabbroni!

Making hand-rolled ravioli during our cooking class at Villa Fabbroni.

From-scratch gnocchi, to be covered in delicious bolognese at our Italian cooking class at Villa Fabbroni, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany.

Cheese and apple-stuffed pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto during our cooking class at Villa Fabbroni.

Okay, enough about the Villa (although can you tell I can’t say enough good things about it?) Let’s talk about all of the other places we got to visit during our stay!

Where We Went (and ate!)


This quaint hamlet was quite sleepy  and quiet when we visited, due to it being a largely agricultural-based town and it not quite being “farming season” yet. Sergio informed us that, in a few weeks, its seasonal residents would start trickling in and getting ready for the harvest season ahead, which lasts until about mid-October. We were, however, able to purchase some of the city’s famous wine which we promptly enjoyed back at the villa that afternoon.

The quaint cafe at the entrance to town in Volpaia.

The well-known wine of Volpaia.

Windows outlined with beautiful greenery. There's beauty in every corner in Volpaia!

Beautiful springtime wisteria blooming on the streets of Volpaia.

One of Tuscany's regional specialties: light-as-air almond delights.


Another quiet little town, albeit a tad busier than Volpaia as there are more year-round residents. There’s nothing incredibly significant about this area, but it’s sheer calmness and nearly empty streets made it that much more magical, and made for lots of great photo ops!

The quaint, sleepy town of Vertine in Chianti, Tuscany.
Don’t mind our disheveled look 😉 Our luggage was delayed so we were working with whatever we had in our carry-on!


This was a MUST visit for me as we had gone on our last trip to Villa Fabbroni and I had absolutely fallen in love with two things there: the butcher and the wine shop of course! If you’re anywhere near Panzano during your Tuscany travels, you MUST stop in at Antica Macelleria Cecchini to get a taste of a TRUE Italian butcher. Complete with a glass of house wine when you walk in, a buffet loaded with samples of their seasoned salt and house lard spread on crunchy baguette, and music blaring from the speakers, this is a super-fun stop that you will NOT want to miss.

Antica Macelleria Cecchini - the best butcher in Panzano, Chianti, Italy!

The butcher counter at Antica Macelleria Cecchini, Panzano, Italy.

Help yourself to the samples at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano, Italy!

The other must-visit in Panzano is the Accademia del Buon Gusto, where you will have a wine-tasting experience like no other. Stefano (not the same Stefano that runs Villa Fabbroni, although they are in fact good friends) is the quirky, passionate owner who will take you on a journey through all of the vineyards of Tuscany and beyond, in just his little, stuffed-to-the-gills wine shop. He relates many of the wines he tastes to stories depicted on canvas by a local artist (which he also sells,) stories that will leave you cracking up and with a hilariously memorable experience that you’ll be telling friends about for years to come.

The owner of Accademia del Buon Gusto in Panzano, Italy is sure to entertain you as you taste through the wines of Chianti!


The largest town in proximity to Villa Fabbroni, although it’s really just a huge plaza surrounded by cute artisanal shops, restaurants and, of course, another butcher! Although not as lively as Antica Macelleria Cecchini, Antica Macelleria Falorni is much larger with a huge range of offerings, from freshly butchered meats to house charcuterie to a whole cellar filled with cheese, this was a great spot for us to stop on our first day and stock up on snacks to take back to the villa with us for the rest of the week.

Antica Macelleria Falorni, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany

The butcher counter at Antica Macelleria Falorni, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany

And for all you food bloggers/kitchenware snobs out there, this is also a great town to shop for unique, handmade wood pieces and beautiful Italian pottery. Just take a loop around the square and you’re bound to find something!


Although my parents, aunt and me had all been to Florence before, we felt it was a must-see for the newbies in our group. Before even stepping foot into the city, Sergio and Stefano took us up to San Miniato al Monte, a stunning church (where my aunt and I had actually attended a beautiful Mass on our last visit) with expansive views of the entire city. Most visitors to Florence know to go to the Piazzale Michaelangelo for these gorgeous views, but skip the massive crowds and lines of tour buses and drive a little further to the church. You’ll get the same panoramic views and less than half the crowd!

The view of Florence from San Miniato al Monte.

Me and the hubs in front of the beautiful Florence view at San Miniato al Monte.

After snapping our obligatory photos of the city from above, we headed down and got dropped off right outside the city walls (you need a special permit to drive in the streets of Florence, so if you don’t have one be ready to walk!) We started out at the Sant’ Ambrogio Market which is a smaller version of the well-known Mercato Centrale. We then made our way through the city and eventually to the city center to gawk at the impressive Piazza del Duomo, where you just might end up with a huge kink in your neck from looking up at the massive, incredibly intricate architecture that looms over the city.

Vendors at the Sant' Ambrogio market in Florence.

Beautiful fresh produce at the Sant' Ambrogio market in Florence.

Chiesa di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy

Copy of David located in the city streets of Florence.

Upwards view of the Duomo and surrounding buildings in Florence.

Chiesa di Santa Maria del Fiore next to the Duomo in Florence, Italy.

Il Duomo, Florence, Italy

We’d worked up quite an appetite traversing the rather large city on foot, so we stopped into Antico Ristorante Sasso di Dante for a late lunch before making the hour and a half drive back to the villa. Be sure to order the broiled Gnocchi with Creamy Gorgonzola sauce. I guarantee you will NOT be disappointed.

Gnocchi in creamy gorgonzola sauce from Antica Ristorante Sasso di Dante, Florence, Italy

Oh! And I can’t forget what began our daily love affair with an afternoon gelato stop – right outside of Florence’s city walls, be sure to stop in to Badiani for a couple of scoops of what we determined was THE best gelato of our trip (and we tried a lot of gelato.) It’s worth trying to find a parking spot on the city streets!


Another area that some of us had been to before, but that we definitely wanted to revisit on this trip. Not only is this what could be considered the heart of Tuscany’s wine trade, it’s also a great city to wander around aimlessly, take in the beautiful views down the random alleyways, and pop into shops for some great souvenirs. TBH, we spent most of the day wandering and shopping, although I did stop for a Nutella crepe. We also had a delicious lunch at Caffe Poliziano (seated on an outdoor terrace overlooking the countryside outside of the city walls) and picked up some chocolate truffles at Dolce Vita to enjoy for dessert at the villa that night. On our way out of town, we stopped in for a tasting of the area’s best wines at a little Enoteca, and were sure to stock up on more bottles for the villa (and for packing in our luggage to take home!)

The outside of a salumeria in Montepulciano, Tuscany.

The Enoteca where we did our wine tasting in Montepulciano, Tuscany.

The views outside of Montepulciano.

Quaint building facades in Montepulciano.

Stopping for a Nutella crepe while wandering around Montepulciano!

Delicious chicken liver pate toasts from Caffe Poliziano in Montepulciano.

Ribollita (Tuscan Bread Soup) at Caffe Poliziano, Montepulciano

The beautiful streets and buildings of Montepulciano.

And, all too quickly, that sums up our time in Tuscany! What do you think, did we hit some of the best places or do you have more recommendations? Be sure to stay tuned for a recap of the rest of our trip on Travel Diaries: Venice in the near future! xo

Travel Diaries: Tuscany |

Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher

The best of both worlds!

Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher | - The perfect cocktail OR mocktail for late spring celebrations like Mother's Day and Memorial Day.

In multiple senses of the words 😉 I’m super excited to bring you this Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher today for a couple of reasons:

  1. It can be made virgin or alcoholic – you choose depending on your situation or personal tastes.
  2. It combines some of my favorite spring produce (strawberries!) with some of my favorite summer produce (watermelon!)

If those aren’t the perfect excuses for Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and beyond, I don’t know what would be!

I first made this incredibly refreshing beverage for our monthly SB Foodie Gals meetup we had a couple of weeks ago at the Santa Barbara Mission. I love when we host our meet-ups at the Mission because we do them picnic potluck-style…everyone brings blankets, wine, cheese, cookies, you name it, and we relax and chat about our recent trials and triumphs goals for the future, etc. I feel so lucky to have met such a great group of local gals that share so many of my same passions and ambitions.

We were all sipping on this Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher, that I had totally made off-the-cuff and with no intention of sharing it on the blog, but after receiving so many rave reviews from the gals and requests for the recipe, I decided I better recreate and share it so everyone can make it for all of their celebrations this weekend!

Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher | - An icy glass of one of the most refreshing cocktails or mocktails you'll ever taste. Incredibly easy to make with all fresh ingredients. The perfect drink for Mother's Day!

I love making drinks with watermelon because you can easily “juice” it without a juicer (because unfortunately neither our kitchen nor our budget can handle one right now.) And when I say “juicing,” I mean whirring it up in a blender (with some fresh strawberries, in this case) and then passing the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any seeds or other things that didn’t break down during the pureeing process. Sure, it takes a tiny but of extra time, but the deliciously thirst-quenching result is soooo worth it.

So, I mentioned the watermelon and the strawberry, but there are a few other ingredients that take this Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresh from “just juice” to over-the-top. We’re lucky enough to have a ton of wild mint growing in our backyard (which also happens to be about the only thing we can keep alive back there) so I threw a big handful into the mix to give the drink an extra hit of flavor. I also added some fresh lime juice to balance out all the sweetness, as any cocktail or mocktail should have.

And last, but not least, the big question: to make it alcoholic or not to make it alcoholic? This is totally up to you! It will taste REALLY good either way you try it. For the non-alcoholic version, simply add sparkling water or club soda. To booze things up, simply use sparkling wine in lieu of the soda! And, if you can’t decide, you can always break the juice into two batches and add club soda to one and sparkling wine to the other. See, so easy!

Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher | - These refreshing drinks with fresh strawberry and watermelon can be made alcoholic or non-alcoholic and are the perfect drink for summer holidays!

I am personally becoming quite a pro at making this Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher (and subsequently cleaning out our local TJ’s of most of their strawberries and watermelon,) so I think I am definitely going to have to whip up a batch for the weekend. We’re headed over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for a BBQ on Sunday and I know it will go over well with both the kids and adults alike. 🙂

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend celebrating all of the beautiful mothers in your life! Xo

Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher | - The perfect cocktail OR mocktail for late spring celebrations like Mother's Day and Memorial Day.
Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher
Prep Time
20 mins

This refreshing drink filled with fresh watermelon and strawberries can be made into a mocktail OR cocktail. The perfect sipper for spring and summer occasions! 

Course: Drinks
Author: CaliGirl Cooking
  • 8 cups cubed watermelon (about 1 baby watermelon)
  • 3 cups hulled strawberries
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 10-12 fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups chilled club soda or sparkling wine
  1. Combine watermelon and strawberries in a blender and puree until no chunks remain. 

  2. Place a fine mesh sieve over a wide-mouthed pitcher and, in batches, slowly pour the watermelon mixture through to strain. To speed up the process, use a pestle or some other utensil to help push the mixture through the sieve more quickly. It took me about 4 sieve-fuls to get through the entire batch of juice from the blender.

  3. Remove sieve from pitcher and add lime juice and mint leaves. Stir to combine and refrigerate for at least a half hour. Add chilled club soda or sparkling wine right before serving. Serve over ice or neat, up to you!

Minty Watermelon Strawberry Refresher |