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

Bell’s Beach Mussels with Chorizo and Thyme

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs much as we love living in Seattle, it’s sometime nice (and necessary) to get out of the city and away from the constant assault of sirens, leaf blowers, and NOISE. We knew our time for warm, sunny days was slipping away, so we headed up to Whidbey Island for a relaxing weekend with some friends visiting from France. Elliott’s family has a great little cabin on Bell’s Beach where you can watch the tide come in and with little effort, wade out to as many mussels as you can eat.  After two mornings of waking up to complete silence, a lazy kayaking adventure,  and the feeling of warm sand between our toes, we were at last rejuvenated to return to our life of city living. Here’s a great recipe if you’re ever in need of a little escape from the city (or if you’ve just got a hankering for bivalves)! 🙂 Continue reading

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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Tuesday Night Tuna Picatta Pasta

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Weeknight dinners are often the last thing you want to think about after working all day. It’s hard to find inspiration when all you want to do is kick back and pop a meal into the microwave. One night after a visit with his mom, Elliott returned home with a package of Tagliatelle, a beautiful piece of fresh albacore, and the recipe for our dinner that night. It was easy to see where Elliott learned some of his cooking chops, since this pasta was a breath of fresh air in our midweek slump.

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Poor Man’s Paella with Chicken, Chorizo and Shrimp

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Technically this dish is more “middle class” thanks to the saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world by weight. The cheapest jar we found was just under $15 and though it was hard to see the value in these tiny red strands, a little goes far and the taste is totally unique. Continue reading

Scampi’s Inferno

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Shrimp scampi is technically a very simple dish. The fundamental ingredients are shrimp, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, wine, butter and red pepper flakes. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well for some reason, this dish has eluded us on two separate attempts. On our first try, we followed a recipe only to burn the garlic beyond recognition. For our second outing, we sauteed the garlic and shrimp to perfection only to learn that both of us had salted the dish, resulting in a scampi quite literally from the sea. So we brave this dish once again with all of our past mistakes in clear view. We’ve picked out the perfect shrimp, combined just the right elements…should we be worried that our grocery bill was $86.66? Are we forever stuck in the purgatory of scampi hell?
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