When The Amalfi Coast Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello!

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Thanks to Rick Steves and Elliott’s Grandfather, we’d long heard about the wonders of the Amalfi Coast. Though we were pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to recreate Papa’s tour decades ago, we were hoping for a romantic drive with views of the sea and sun-dappled lemon orchards. Unfortunately, the long-predicted rain storms finally caught up with us and our one full day in Positano was dark and rainy and we even experienced a couple of thunder storms.

As the rain pelted the hillside of postcard-perfect Positano, disappointment was dripping from the eyes of our fellow hotel guests. We were trapped, with barely-usable wi-fi and ‘nothing’ to do. For months Elliott had been planning to walk the Path of the Gods, a 5 mile stretch perched high above the cliffs with spectacular (so we’ve heard) views of the Mediterranean and beyond. While we can usually brave the mild Seattle rain for hiking and running, this thunderstorm was getting us nowhere fast.

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After a serendipitous restaurant recommendation from our concierge, we headed to Il Ritrovo, a ristorante in the neighboring town of Montepertuso in the hills above Positano. We saw in the menu that they offered cooking classes and like lightning, we signed up for one the following afternoon. When life gives you lemons, make limoncello!

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Our 5 hour cooking class started at 3pm and ran all the way into dinnertime, the perfect antidote to our rainy predicament. Along with two honeymooners from Canada and two girlfriends on a workcation (they call their far-flung adventures together ‘mini-moons’), we learned how to make stuffed zucchini flowers, fresh ravioli with four kinds of cheese, fish with white wine, and steak with balsamic vinegar (though the class thought that ‘scalloped meat’ was really scallops). For dessert we made delicate almond cookies that could be topped with candied cherries, chocolate or white sugar sprinkles. Delicious!

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For our last day in Positano, the skies opened up for the shots we’d been waiting for and we set off on our seemingly easy (and economical) bus transfer to the hill-town of Ravello. Since the storm had cancelled all ferry boats, we instead had to bum-rush several already full buses along with every other tourist heading out of town. The line of vintage Alfa Romeos pictured below seemed to taunt us with their freedom!

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After several failed attempts and all taxis full, we headed to our next best option: Le Sirenuse, a five star hotel just down the hill. We explained our predicament and within five minutes, we had a Mercedes and a handsome Italian in an Armani suit to drive us to Ravello in style. What could have been a very long, frustrating day, turned into one of our most enjoyable drives along the Coast.

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Once we arrived in Ravello, we were treated to one breathtaking view after another. Though this view is from Villa Rufolo, our balcony view at our small (and cheap!) hotel, Auditorium Rooms, was just as stunning. After dinner, we stumbled upon this pick-up soccer game taking place at a local school (the players seemed totally oblivious to the incredible sunset taking place behind them), which has to be on one of the most picturesque fields in the world.

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On our last day in Amalfi, we headed to the train station in Salerno for our final trip up to Rome. We knew we were in trouble when our driver was late and saw the look on his face when he learned our train left at 12:30. Though Salerno is only about 10 miles away from Ravello, the windy, cliff-side roads and oversize tour buses make for very slow progress. Our driver was determined to get us there on time, so we ‘enjoyed’ our own Italian version of ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.’ Little did we know that we’d still have time for two espressos and a chat, for our train was late by 30 minutes!

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Captivated by Capri

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Many years ago, Carinn visited Capri with a few girlfriends during a torrential downpour. They managed to make it to a pizzeria for dinner but were otherwise trapped in their hotel for the weekend. Carinn couldn’t remember much about the island but knew that she had to give it another chance. In her memory, Capri was a speck of an island with a couple of restaurants and some fancy hotels next to the port.

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In reality, the island has two totally separate towns, several ports and an intricate system of roads and narrow pathways that link everything together. In our two days on the island, we managed to cover the majority of the island by foot, boat and occasionally by bus. We also had some of the best weather of our entire trip and spent most of our time soaking in the spectacular views from various vantage points. In fact, most of the restaurants are perched right in the side of the steep hillside, with their dining rooms looking out on expansive vistas. We had fantastic seafood everywhere we ate, but a couple of our favorites were La Panorama and Ristorante Verginiello. The hand-made tube-shaped pasta with tomatoes and white-fish (we never were able to surmise what kind of fish it was, other than “it swims deep” and was “si, delicioso!”) pictured below was the manifestation of everything Elliott had been dreaming about Italian food before our trip – simple, fresh and incredibly tasty.

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If you go, we strongly recommend that you explore the ‘roads’ surrounding the main town of Capri – Via Del Pizzolungo and Via Tiberius were two of the most romantic paths we’ve ever walked, and besides a few narrow delivery trucks, they are essentially car-free.

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When we asked our friendly hotel concierge about walking to Anacapri, she encouraged us to take a bus to the top and walk down the 750 steps that connect the two towns, because going up would be far too strenuous; she obviously hadn’t met Elliott before. The challenge thus presented, we set out after breakfast in our running gear and climbed the well-maintained staircase and even opted out of the chairlift to the very top of Monte Solare, peaking at 589 meters (~1800 feet) above the sea. At the top, we got three “mamma mias!” from some Italian locals when they learned we had walked “a piedi” from the Marina.

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In the afternoon, we headed back to the port for a private boat tour around the island with an entertaining local named Paolo. As we lounged in the open-water gondola, we explored the various grottos, churches, ruins and sculptures, much of which are only accessible by boat. We did drive by the famous “Grotto Azzurro,” however it was closed due to a swell hitting that side of the island.

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When Elliott asked if it was okay to swim in “The Fisherman’s Grotto,” Paolo flashed a mischievous grin and said “This is Italy, you can swim anywhere!” We jumped into the stereotypically blue mediterranean water and had a lovely swim through the cave to our own private beach.

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Later on, Elliott mentioned that he had gone salmon fishing the week before our trip with Carinn’s brother. Paolo’s eyes lit up with excitement and he exclaimed “You want catch fish?” He reached into a hidden compartment beneath the deck and pulled out a weathered 3/4” piece of plywood with fishing line wrapped around it and tossed a 50 year-old lure into the sea behind the boat. Though the 3’ swells made Carinn a bit nervous, Paolo managed to help us reel in two tunas, catch a call on his cellphone (because it was his girlfriend after all) and steer the boat with his knees as if it were a glassy still day on the sea.

All in all, our trip to Capri was one of our highlights so far!

In the Shadow of Vesuvius

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Long before our trip to Italy, we’d heard that you had to watch out for Naples. Since we had a train transfer there on our way south – with our luggage – we were a little nervous to say the least. Though we barely left the train station to get on the local Circumvesuviana train, we found it to be like most other large cities in Italy. In fact, nearly every genuinely nice person we’ve met since Florence was originaly from Naples. The train was crowded, with standing room only, but its mostly filled with tourists and even includes some lively, if slightly out-of-tune accordion and saxophone players.

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Our second stop on our Italian tour was in a hilltop villa, high above the city of Sorrento, a dramatic port city built into the cliffs above the Bay of Napoli. Our hotel, Villa Monica B&B, is run by a charming Italian couple. Though our hotel was outside of town, we enjoyed a breathtaking view of the region from our balcony and a free shuttle up and down the precariously steep (and narrow!) roads above Sorrento. When Elliott asked if it was an easy walk from town to get back to the hotel, Pasquale, the proprietor, joked “you can walk if you like, but please, pay me now.” After our first trip up the mountain we could see why – in many places there was barely room for a single car to get through, yet the motorini and tiny cars somehow zipped right past each other.

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Foodwise, we had a bit of trouble finding restaurants in Sorrento that weren’t built for tourists. After a quick search online and talking to a few locals, we found L’Antica Trattoria, an upscale spot in the center of the historical center with handmade pasta and fresh seafood.

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Prior to arriving in Sorrento, we realized that Pompeii was only a few stops away on the train, so we decided to take a day trip to check it out. We’d seen pictures of the plaster-encased victims of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption 2,000 years ago, but we were totally unprepared for the scope of the city and the incredible preservation of the mosaics, frescos and architecture from that period. The events that unfolded on August 24th, 79 AD essentially froze a bustling Roman city in time until the ruins were discovered some 1,500 years later. One of our favorite parts of the city were the 6” grooves worn into the streets by wagon wheels and the scandalous bathhouse frescos.

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In order to fuel our 7 mile daily treks, we need several espresso shots throughout the day. You never know where you’ll find the best ones. So far, Elliott’s favorite spot was at the train station outside of Pompeii.

A Week in San Francisco: Food Nerds in Paradise

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When Elliott learned he had to be in San Francisco on business two weeks in a row, it seemed like the perfect excuse to tag along and make our requisite 9:45 reservation at Rich Table (we don’t have photos this time, but the hamachi appetizer was amazing!).

We started our week in a charming airbnb in the Castro and since it was a beautiful day, we trekked up through Haight-Ashbury to Golden Gate Park. San Francisco is a very walkable city which explains the surprisingly patient drivers at crosswalks and bakeries at every corner. On our first day in town, we happened to walk into Bi-Rite, an unassuming market that is a foodie’s treasure chest. We chatted with a friendly cheese gal and walked away with a small disk of Zingerman’s — some of the best goat cheese we’ve ever tried. Combined with salami, cara cara oranges, meyer lemon yogurt, and a frangipani croissant from Tartine Bakery, we could see this neighborhood was very dangerous for our waistlines, hills or not. Continue reading

Date Night in San Francisco at Rich Table

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It’s pretty incredible that you can get off work at 2pm in Seattle, head to the airport, and make a 9:30pm dinner reservation in San Francisco without breaking a sweat (not counting the A Terminal shuffle to catch the BART). We came to town for a wedding so we only had one night to eat out on our own and wanted to do something special. Elliott asked a friend and got a few recommendations from his twin brother, who we knew we could trust genetically. Continue reading

Muffulettas, Mansions, and Swimming for Our Dinner

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For our second full day in New Orleans, we started off at the famous Central Grocery, the home of the original muffuletta sandwich. The line stretched to the door and moved at a clip reminiscent of Seinfeld’s soup nemesis. With the pressure on to make a quick decision, we went for the ‘whole muffuletta’, which turned out was more than enough for two meals. As we ate this tasty concoction of salami, ham, cheese, and olive tapenade on the banks of the Mississippi, we discovered this was one meal where napkins are a must. Continue reading

Vij’s Lamb Popsicles with Curry Cream Sauce

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We had to share this recipe, since it’s the best lamb we’ve ever had. Even if you’re not a fan of lamb, this dish might just be the one to change your mind. When Elliott saw that lamb rib chops were going for a screaming deal at PCC, we immediately thought of these succulent little popsicles and ended up making this recipe two nights in a row. They’re that good. The recipe comes from Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver, BC, and we were introduced to it one year when Elliott’s friend, Gaelen, cooked them up for New Year’s. They’re relatively easy to make especially considering how sophisticated they taste. If you’re looking for a dish that will really wow on Valentine’s Day or beyond, this dish will definitely do it!

Vij’s Lamb Popsicles Recipe (by way of Dinner with Julie)

A Hop, Skip, and Two Left Turns…Winter at Suncadia

With the winter weather halfway over (we hope), it was time for us to get our of town for a little R & R. Suncadia Resort is the perfect getaway for a quick weekend trip. It’s only an hour and a half from Seattle (literally two left turns off of I-90) and you can visit it year round. Though we were hoping to do some snowshoeing, the 30˚ weather and frost-tipped trees still gave us that winter wonderland feeling. Plus, who doesn’t love a good outdoor soak or two in a salt water tub?

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Asian Take-Out Night: Szechuan Eggplant and Tom Kha Soup

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We’re pretty lucky to live in West Seattle where we have several outstanding Chinese and Thai restaurants. It’s always hard to choose which way to go for dinner so the other night we chose instead to recreate our favorite dishes from Lee’s Asian Restaurant and Buddha Ruksa. Elliott wanted to recreate a Szechuan eggplant dish from Lee’s, and while I would have LOVED to have fried up some of Buddha’s famous garlic chicken, we opted for the easier Tom Kha soup.

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Surfers, Sand, and Sun?

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Well it took a myriad of freeways, an army of tailgaters, and Carinn’s white knuckles, but we finally made it to San Diego. On our first morning in town, we headed out to La Jolla for coffee at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. The wait was long but totally worth it. We shared a sun-dried tomato quiche and “The Sugar Daddy,” a decadent latte made with Mexican chocolate.

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