Saturday, May 5, 2018

Amazing and Heavenly Cinque Terre

I wish you could hear the sigh I make whenever someone mentions they are traveling to Cinque Terre (translation, Five Lands). This place is truly a traveler's delight and is one of the few places that truly recharges and inspires me on so many levels. If you're lucky enough to be traveling here, know that there is no "right" way to visit the five towns. You will enjoy it no matter what!

Cinque Terre Header

Where is it: Tucked away in the northwest part of Italy, the five towns in order from north to south, are: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore.
Map of Cinque Terre
Vernazza at Dusk

Getting there: The best way to get to Cinque Terre is by train. You can travel by car; however, parking and driving on the narrow roads deters even the most confident drivers. If you are flying into Milan, you can easily catch a train that will take approximately 3 hours to get to Monterosso, one of the five towns. Alternatively, you can catch a train from Florence (3 hours), Pisa (1.5 hours), or Rome (4.5 hours). The trains are so easy and routine that you can even arrive from France. To start planning, visit

Vernazza at Sunset

Things to do:
Travel from town to town: This may seem like an odd suggestion of what to do in the area. Certainly the highlight of most vacations is not the shuffling from one place to the other. That is fair and true for most places; however, Cinque Terre is different. If you are hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza, you are wandering through basil fields and breathing in the wonderful aroma. When you are sitting on the ferry sailing to Riomaggiore, you can imagine what it was like for fishermen back in the day bringing in their haul.
Cinque Terre Hike

There are three main options to get to the towns: hike, boat, and train. Each have their own pros, and I would suggest doing a cocktail of all three!

  • Hike: The five towns are connected by trails and you can walk all the way from Monterosso to Riomaggiore. We stayed in Monterosso and really wanted to hike the main coastal trail (Blue trail or SVA2). We grabbed a breakfast at our favorite bakery and hit the trail before 8. We were told if you were on the trail early enough, you did not have to pay the entrance fee. We were able to pass the ticket booth and get started on our hike with the cool morning breeze. This was also nice as the path between Monterosso and Vernazza is the longest and most hilly part of the hike. Each path has its own character and it is fun to explore and discover each one. We were never bored on any part of the hike. 
Cinque Terre Hikers

My tips and suggestions for the "Blue Trail" are:
    • Pack swimming gear: The hike can get hot, and you pass different areas where you can get in the water. You might want to save the swimming stop for Manarola, as it has amazing deep water swimming.
    • Be a smart hiker: Pack a hat, enough water, and other items you may need. It is a day hike so you don't need much, but make sure you have the necessary items to keep you hydrated and safe. 
    • Enjoy where the path takes you: As I mentioned each path has it is own character. Take it slow and allow yourself to experience each one. The whole trail can be done "quickly," in 4 hours. However the point isn't to race through it. We reserved the whole day for the hike, which allowed us time to take unexpected breaks and get the full experience. 
    • Take the train or boat back: There are round trip hike options; however, we decided to take the scenic trail one way, and then the train or boat home. We kept our way back up in the air, as we were going with the flow. It was nice knowing we either had a fast way back, the train, or could cool off in the sea breeze on the boat. Ultimately, we took the train as we were hungry and ready for a shower, saving the boat for the next day.  
Cinque Terre Trial
  • Ferry: In a perfect world, I would save the boat ride for the day after the hike. It was fun catching it from Monterosso and seeing the path I walked the day before from a different perspective. The boat leaves from Monterosso (weather permitting) hourly, generally starting at 10:30 am until 6:00pm. The rates vary depending on which town you want to visit. There is also an option to go to Portovenere, which is beautiful, just not considered one of the "five lands." 
Cinque Terre Ferry

  • Train: Save the train for when you are wanting to get somewhere, and somewhere fast. The towns are approximately 5 minutes apart when traveling by train. There are options to buy a Cinque Terre Treno Multi-Service Card. We had crunched the numbers, and decided that we weren't going to take enough train rides and hike on the same day for it to pay off. At the time we traveled, we would've had to hike and take three different train rides i n one day to break even. However, visit the site and see if there is an option that works best with your itinerary. 
Cinque Terre View
Visit the Towns: Like the paths in between, each town has its own character and is worth a visit. It’s great to wander in each town with no expectations and see if you get the "vibe" the town is known for. Here’s a summary of each town's reputation:
  • Monterosso al Mare: I’ve heard this described as a resort town; however, I would argue that it’s not as commercial as other resort areas. It has a large beach, which is fantastic after a day of hiking, and a great place to finish the day with its nightlife. The town is the perfect mixture of old and new, as it has tried to keep its charm while rebuilding after pirate raids, floods, and bombing during WWII. If you are wanting more than a relaxing day on the beach, Monterosso has several sights to see such as historic churches, WWII bunkers, and a castle!
    Cinque Terre Monterroso
  • Vernazza: My favorite part of this town was sitting on the rocks close to the harbor watching the port activity. I could spend hours soaking in the sun and watching the boats rock in the wake. The town is small, but has all the necessities (ice cream and cafes).There is also a castle, Castello Doria, in Vernazza, and the hike up provides breathtaking views of the town. This is probably the most popular town of the five, as it has the reputation of being the most authentic. Due to this, hotels and rooms can be difficult to find, so book early if you want to stay in this particular town. 

  • Corniglia: I feel like Corniglia is commonly the forgotten town of the five. Maybe it is because it isn't located on the water and is high up on the cliffs. However, due to this, it is calmer and less tread upon. I like that Corniglia is quieter and find it easier to talk to locals who are working there. If you are up for a bit of a hike down (and back up), the beach is more remote and can be a great place to relax after a busy day.  
Cinque Terre Corniglia

  • Manarola: The most popular part of Manarola has to be the Punta Bonfiglio. Here you can get a breathtaking view of the town, water, and truly capture the "Cinque Terre Spirit." If you are doing the Blue Trail hike you will run upon it and not be disappointed. However, don't get your picture and head on to the next town; Manarola has a lot to offer! There are amazing and flourishing vineyards that hug that town which provide a great place to rest.
Cinque Terre Manarola
Cinque Terre Punta Bonfiglio

  • Riomaggiore: There is no denying that this is the fisherman's town. We arrived by boat which puts you out at the bottom of a steep hill, and you can see where the fishermen pull up their boats and unload their haul. Just a few steps off the boat, you will start to see amazing hole in the wall places selling the freshest fish. We grabbed some and did the hike up the hill to the San Giovanni Church. This provides amazing views and has a fun garden you can walk through. 
Cinque Terre Riomaggiore
Cinque Terre Riomaggiore water

Must Eat:
  • Il Pescato Cucinato, Riomaggiore: Great fresh fish where the husband and wife work as a team. She cooks the fish that he brings in!
Riomaggiore fish

  • Wonderland Bakery, Monterosso: ·  This is truly a Wonderland, as I commonly dream of this place! We stopped every morning and made friends with the owner. He would explain each treat to us while we sipped coffee and made sure we grabbed seconds before heading out for the day.
Wonderland Bakery, Monterosso

  • Ristorante Belevdere, Monterosso: This is the place that introduced my husband and I to "squid ink pasta." It was the most amazing meal, and we still talk about it to this day. The prices are affordable, portions are large, and the view is amazing. This is my number one suggestion for all the restaurants in Cinque Terre.  
Where to Stay: Albergo al Carugio We really enjoyed our stay at Albergo al Carugio and the owner was very hospitable and provided some great insights on the area. The rooms are fairly basic, but have everything you need, and this is what we wanted since we knew we be spending time outdoors.
Amazing and Heavenly Cinque Terre
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Best Paleo Granola

Granola can be so expensive it boggles my mind, and I hate it when the taste doesn't add up to the price. Then, if you add gluten free or Paleo in front of the name, you will be paying astronomical prices with an even worse taste. Well if you are like me, you'll love this recipe.

Best Paleo Granola
Why I like this recipe:
  • I purchase a large amount of almonds and pecans from Costco, and then chop them all in the food processor at one time. I put all the chopped nuts in a ziplock bag and measure what I need as I make a batch. This saves time chopping the nuts each time I want to make this recipe. 
  • This is my preferred granola recipe, regardless of whether I'm doing Paleo or not. It's so tasty!
  • One batch is enough for several breakfasts, so I have granola all week to help with the busy mornings.  
  • Also a create recipe to consider for a crowd or brunch event. 
Paleo Granola Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped almonds
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Combine the almonds, pecans, coconut, seeds, and raisin into a large bowl and gently mix together. Then mix the remaining ingredients in a microwave proof bowl (or measuring cup), and microwave quickly for 15 seconds. Add the warm mixture to the nuts and thoroughly mix together.

Paleo Granola Baking

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and gently press the granola onto the sheet. Make sure to press down to the rim of the baking sheet and compacting together. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown and fragrant. Allow the granola to cool for 30 minutes before breaking apart into desired consistency. Store in an air tight container until ready for consumption.

Finished Paleo Granola

The Best Paleo Granola
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The Best Lemon Spritz Cookies

These are another holiday favorite; however, they can be enjoyed throughout the year! The dough is simple to make, and you have beautiful decorative cookies in minutes. You can even top these off with sprinkles or dye the dough to make it fit your occasion.

Most Amazing and Buttery Spritz Cookies

Why I like this recipe
  • The dough is made in the mixer, using only one bowl
  • You do not have to grease the baking sheet. 
  • This batch provides a lot of cookies, making it great for parties and big crowds.
  • If you don't have or like lemons, simply take out that ingredient, and you'll have excellent traditional spritz cookies.
Spritz Cookie Ingredients

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream or milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup of butter, softened 
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups of flour
Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Begin by whisking together the egg, cream, vanilla, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside and cream the butter, sugar, and zest on medium speed together until light and fluffy, approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the egg mixture and combine thoroughly for 30 seconds. Turn the speed down to low, and slowly add the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

Spritz Cookie Dough

Remove the dough and put as much in your cookie press as you can. (Alternatively you can free form or use a piping bag to form the cookies.) Press the cookies out to an ungreased pan and cook for 10-12 minutes. Careful as the different shapes of the cookies can cook at different times and these burn quickly.

Finished Spritz Cookie

The Best Lemon Spritz Cookies
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Monday, January 15, 2018

5 Minute Apple Sauce: The Perfect Recipe for Busy People

As a Washington native, you can determine from the smell in the air when it is apple season. The cool breeze will tell you when you should head out to pick apples on the orchard. The best deals are if you hike slightly out of the city and get the apples fresh from the orchard. So naturally you come home with boxes of beautiful, crisp apples.

5 Minute Apple Sauce

Why I like this recipe:
  • Almost no prep time needed and the slow cooker does all the work!
  • This recipe is chunky and thick! I hate it when apple sauce in the slow cooker comes out with a water, soup texture.
  • Along with no prep time, there isn't much to clean up afterwards! It is only my apple cutter and measuring cups that go straight into the dishwasher after preparing the ingredients. 
Washington Apple

  • 10 apples, cored and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon or 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
Put all ingredients into the slow cooker, and cook on low for 6 hours. The sauce will need to be gently stirred, until your desired consistency level.

5 Minute Apple Sauce

5 Minute Apple Sauce: The Perfect Recipe for Busy People
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Ghraybeh: Best Middle Eastern Shortbread Cookie

I love trying out cookies from a different culture, and love it even more when the ingredients are simple and commonly found in my pantry. I typically have orange blossom water, but this is optional and the cookies are still equally delicious if you leave this out. Without the orange blossom water, this is a four ingredient recipe! How often does that happen?!

Why I like this recipe:
  • The dough is incredibly easy to work with making rolling into a ball very simple. 
  • The steps and ingredients are easy and simple. Plus everything is done in one bowl, making clean up a breeze. 
  • This recipe is vegan as it does not require any egg. Great if preparing a meal for a vegetarian friend. Also it removes one guilt factor from eating raw dough!
  • These cookies are delicious for a week after cooking, making them a perfect recipe to make in advance of an occasion. 
Ghraybeh: Best Middle Eastern Shortbread Cookie

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water, optional
  • 2 cups flour
  • Slivered almonds or pistachios for topping
Middle Eastern Cookie Ingredients

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cream together the butter, sugar, and orange water until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Slowly add the flour and mix until the dough is no longer crumbly. 

Ghraybeh dough

Roll the cookie into an 1 inch ball shape and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Press an almond deep on each cookie, and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Rolled Ghraybeh

These cookies do not brown, so be careful not to over bake them. Allow the cookies to cool slightly, and dust with powdered sugar if you prefer. The cookies will last a week in an airtight container.

Ghraybeh Cookies

Ghraybeh: Best Middle Eastern Shortbread Cookie
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