Wednesday, August 9, 2017

3 Days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy is the most beautiful and scenic place I have ever visited. I flew into Rome and traveled by train to Cinque Terre, spending two nights in Vernazza and one night in Monterosso al Mare. This post includes a recap of how to spend three days in Cinque Terre.

I organized a box in my home office a few weeks ago, and found the short travel journal I kept on trip to Italy a few years ago. Keeping a travel journal is a good way to remember details and highlights of big trips that can easily be forgotten. I have traveled to Europe three times and kept a brief journal on each of those trips. K and I spent three nights in the Cinque Terre region of Italy, three summers ago. We flew into Rome, saw the sights, got adjusted from jet lag, ate pizza, and stayed overnight. The next morning we traveled by train to Cinque Terre. We visited four of the five villages of Cinque Terre on this trip: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Manarola. It's easy to travel between them, as the villages are connected by train.

Day 1

{View of the harbor on the hill above Vernazza}

We arrived in and spent the most time in Vernazza - this is Rick Steves favorite village in Cinque Terre, and I completely agree. Vernazza is very charming and filled with scenic views of the ocean and hillside vineyards. We stayed in a small room on the main street of Vernazza, hosted by Ivo Camere. The accomodation was simple but lovely, with a mini refrigerator and stunning window view of houses on the hill. What more do you need than a simple room when you spend all day and evening exploring? Ivo himself meets you at the train station to show you to the room. Find the details on Trip Advisor.

After exploring town to get settled in, we found ourselves hiking up a tall flight of stairs to a restaurant with a beautiful sunset view of the water - Al Castello. Honestly, I have had much better Italian meals, but the view was gorgeous. My favorite part was a small glass of dessert wine at the end of the meal with complimentary "dunkable" cookies {look for Sciacchetrà wine}.

Day 2

The second day was our {first!} wedding anniversary and we spent it on an adventure hiking through the hills above Cinque Terre. But first, coffee. We found Il Pirata della Cinque Terre up the hill past the train station in Vernazza. It has a pirate theme which made me skeptical but it's a must stop! They offer amazing pastries and iced cappuccinos. I'm only sorry we didn't make it back for dinner another night - our waiter raved about the homemade cannoli. The restaurant has excellent reviews as the #1 rated restaurant in Vernazza {per Trip Advisor}.

We hiked from Vernazza to the village Monterosso al Mare. It's a steep hike at times, with beautiful views of the coast. The hike took us around 2 hours, including stops to check out views like the one below. This is the most northern trail in Cinque Terre, and the most difficult. When we visited the region, most of the trails were still closed from the mudslide in 2011. Several are still closed as the paths need to be re-built.

You can also get up close and personal with local vines on this hike, perched high above the villages.

We ended up getting caught in a crazy rainstorm at the very end of the hike, which would have been treacherous on the steep stone path further up. We ran to the closest restaurant and shared pizza for lunch while the storm passed. Later, meandering back to Vernazza by train, we stopped for a cappuccino in the village of Corniglia and briefly walked around town. The day ended with a lovely dinner outdoors at Gianna Franzi, located on the main square/plaza in Vernazza near the harbor.

Day 3

The third morning started with cappuccinos and a view at Bar Ananasso in Vernazza. K normally doesn't drink coffee but he makes an exception in Italy.

Monterosso is the only Cinque Terre village with a traditional beach. A few hours were spent there with rented umbrellas. K reminds me that I refused to swim in the Mediterranean and lounged on my chair instead. What can I say, the water was chilly :)

We spent the afternoon wandering the village, including the beautiful water views walking along the boardwalk. I found Monterosso to be the largest and most touristy of the Cinque Terre villages, but still charming with gorgeous beach views.

We stopped for focaccia pizza, sampled olive oils in a local shop, and had gelato. While wandering Monterosso, we stumbled on a beautiful a lemon grove and walked a short trail called Valley of the Lemons {Valle dei Limoni}. The village was known for its lemon groves for centuries and still produces lemons today. Lemons are grown in valleys to give the trees additional access to water and protection from the wind. {source} If you can find the Valley of the Lemons trail I highly recommend it. It was a lovely and extremely quiet inland walk. 

We ended our third day with a visit to the village of Manorola. A walk through town around the harbor led us to a park at the top of a hill and a late afternoon glass of wine and bar snacks at Nessun Dorma, with an unbelievable view of Manorola.

I wish I could dine outdoors on a patio like this on every vacation. This view of Manarola now lives in a frame in the entryway to our home and I look at it everyday. I loved our time in Cinque Terre and hope to visit again someday.

After Cinque Terre, we traveled to Florence, Italy; Zurich, Switzerland and Germany, including Frankfurt and Berlin.

Looking for more travel posts?

Monday, July 31, 2017

5 Ingredient Banana Pancakes + Baby-Led Weaning

This healthy breakfast recipe for 5 Ingredient Banana Pancakes will start your day with spinach, bananas and protein. This recipe also works well for babies starting solid food with baby-led weaning.

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I used to LOVE green smoothies. I have posted several smoothie challenges on this blog, where I had a smoothie every morning for weeks on end to increase the greens in my daily diet. When I was pregnant last year I stopped craving smoothies for some reason and I have only had a handful for breakfast since. I eat yogurt bowls or healthy muffins in the morning instead of a smoothie.

I'm adding green pancakes to that list for the rest of the summer. This pancake recipe includes a few key ingredients from my green smoothies {bananas and spinach} as well as eggs, white whole wheat flour, and cinnamon. I think this is a more filling way to start your morning. If you think spinach in pancakes is odd, I promise you can't taste it! The key is to mix the batter in a food processor. Make sure to process the batter long enough that you remove any chunks of spinach. I processed mine for ~1 minute.

I cooked these pancakes in unsalted butter on my large skillet and topped them with a splash of maple syrup and nut butter.

I serve these pancakes to baby C plain, cut into pancake strips so it's easier for him to eat.

We started baby C on solid foods around 6 months, following baby-led weaning. This is not a new idea but it has gained traction in the past few years in the U.S. as an alternative to traditional weaning. I was given this book by a friend and I learned so much from it: Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods. Essentially, parents' following baby-led weaning {BLW} skip purees and rice cereal and begin offering solid foods around 6 months, once the baby can sit unassisted for at least one minute.

Babies following BLW are never spoon fed by adults, nor do they eat pureed food that is not naturally in that form {for example - BLW babies eat applesauce and yogurt but not pureed carrots}. Babies are given foods cut into finger-sized shapes, to encourage picking up and tasting food on their own. Offering foods through BLW gives babies the opportunity to explore different textures and learn how to chew/mash food with their gums and teeth as they come in. Foods that can't be cut into finger shapes can be smashed {such as blueberries and chickpeas} or offered in smaller pieces {such as quartering strawberries}. Some babies eat a lot from the very beginning, and others take awhile to consume much more than the occasional bite. Baby C is somewhat in the middle - but he seems to love experimenting with and trying new foods. We know this because he is the most talkative while sitting in his high chair! His favorite foods so far are broccoli, sweet potatoes, apricots, Cheerios, and these pancakes. Without the maple syrup, that's for me ;)

5 Ingredient Banana Pancakes
Yields: 14 small pancakes*

2 large handfuls of spinach
2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon

*Add spinach, bananas, eggs, flour, and cinnamon to a food processor.
*Process until you get a pancake batter consistency {approximately 1 minute}.
*Add pancake batter to a skillet on medium-low heat. Flip when bubbles start to form.
*The pancakes are done cooking when the top is lightly browned.

Note: I used 1/4 cup of batter per pancake.

If you're interested in learning about BLW, I recommend joining the Facebook group "Baby Led Weaning for Beginners." Here are a few helpful articles about the topic: