Post 33 – 5 tips to keep you from eating like a crazy, starving person (because you’re most likely not)

I post about a lot of life victories, delicious recipes, and happy moments, but there’s a side of Erin Eating Everything that you don’t see that often. Literally Erin eating everything.

Lately I’ve been on some crazy ravenous hunger kick (lately?). Well, calling it hunger is hardly accurate. I am constantly surrounded by food, accustomed to instant gratification in this day and age, and confused by the signals my body is sending me (or rather not listening to them at all).

A great many things can be solved with kindness, even more with laughter, but there are some things that just require cake. (Don't believe it!)

A great many things can be solved with kindness, even more with laughter, but there are some things that just require cake. (Don’t believe it!)

See those Oreos on the tables? Delicious! Imagine what they taste like! Wait, don’t imagine – eat one! Eat two even! Everyone else is eating them.

I work in an office where the table by the door has a constant supply of sugary snacks, I also work in a kitchen (food everywhere!), and the moment I walk in my apartment food is in plain site. I am always within reach of food to the point where when I want it, I can get it – almost instantly. It’s become a problem and I think my body has been trying to tell me for a while.

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It’s times like these when I wish I had a magic pill, an easy solution that fixed all of my crazy cravings and moments of weakness. I can hear the infomercial now: Take this pill daily and within seconds all of your cravings for junk food will disappear.***

From what I can tell so far though there is no magic bullet, just common sense. At a certain point you have to step back, talk to yourself and think about what you’re doing. Are you in control? Do you feel long term satisfaction from eating this way (or just instant gratification?) I know for me it’s an ongoing challenge and I have my good days and bad, but every now and then I give myself a good pep talk and calm down for a few days.

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So to help me out (and maybe you’re in the same boat – hey neighbor!) Here are some tips to keep yourself from mindlessly eating when food is there and you aren’t really hungry:

  1. Write one goal for yourself at the beginning of the day (think small as in this is small enough and reasonable enough that I can accomplish it. Day two can go bigger) and keep it in your pocket or taped to your phone or somewhere that you’ll run into it a lot. Sometimes seeing a note from your reasonable self can help tame the crazy you when it comes out.
  2. Picture yourself in the situation before it happens (I know, I know this sounds hokey, but work with me here). Picture yourself looking away from the food that’s tempting you instead of staring at it and expecting it to jump in your mouth. Perhaps coming up with something to do instead of staring at it or thinking about eating it will help (just decide what that something is before you get to that moment)
  3. Give yourself a long to-do list and be productive! I find most people’s bad eating habits stem from boredom and if I have enough to keep me occupied (in an interesting way) I am less likely to graze on random foods.
  4. Stock up on good snacks that you want to eat and can eat if you are legitimately hungry (but first ask yourself are you actually hungry or do you just want to put something in your mouth?)
  5. Are you in control or out of control? What works better for you – eating just one bite of something you love to get your fix and then you can walking away? Or do you need to completely avoid whatever is causing your crazy eating habit and not allow yourself even one bite? If you’re the former, make sure to have a small bit available to you so you don’t end up giving in to something less satisfying just because you want something.

Find what works for you (easier said than done, but not everything works for everyone) and stick with it. Most food things are just bad habits waiting to be replaced by good habits. So start a new habit!

***Not available in all states. Must take this medicine regularly for the rest of your life. Side effects of going off this pill may include: wanting to stuff your face with those fluffy frosted grocery store sugar cookies, eating absurd amounts of Pringles, and sneaking off during a party to secretly finish off the rest of the half gallon of ice cream.

P.S. (I’m still keeping the name of my blog. Erin Eating Reasonably doesn’t have the same ring to it…)

IMG_2293P.P.S. Look out for a quick cooking video (hopefully) in the next few days. Stay tuned.

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Post 32 – The Comfort Zone

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Like stepping out of your comfort zone (ok I’m a very visual thinker and when someone says step outside your comfort zone I literally picture stepping out of a small area filled with lots of couches. That’s not the point…)

Earlier this week I took a step out of my comfort zone and told a guy that I could cook for a party of 30 people out of his small galley Boston kitchen. I had been automatically  rejecting previous offers to cook for parties that big because I figured it was too big for just me to do, but then I got involved in talking to him and I figured I couldn’t back down.

Long story short – it went amazingly well. People were asking for my business cards (gotta get on that), complimenting me on the food, and expressing surprise that I had made everything myself. I must confess that I couldn’t have done it without Teresa. She was hired separately to help clean up during the party and she was an amazing asset – she helped assemble dishes, take food out of the oven, and clean dishes while I cooked. Without her I would have been there all night and I would have been a lot more stressed about it. I’m very happy with how the night turned out and am grateful I had (and took) the opportunity.

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At the end of the night I swore I wouldn’t go anywhere near the kitchen for the next few days, but after a good night’s sleep I felt more refreshed (not ready to cook for another party of course). Since we needed more granola and it doesn’t take too long to make I made some of my favorite breakfast staple. I have adapted the recipe each time I make it, but I have found a few different recipes that I am very happy with. I find in this humid weather though the hardest part is getting it crunchy enough without burning it.

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The following is an adaptation of a recipe from my aunt in Hartford. You can use any kind of nut butter and any kind of dried fruit (or leave it out and use fresh fruit). It’s very easy to make and is a great snack. Granola is also relatively flexible so you can easily make substitutions or play with the amounts of dry ingredients if you want it sweeter or something. Because I like my almonds chopped and I already had whole ones, I cut these up, though you could use whole or chopped.

 

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Homemade Granola

4 cups rolled oats

1 cup coconut

2 cups chopped nuts of choice

¼ cup canola oil or olive oil

¼ cup peanut butter or almond butter

1/3 cup honey

Measure oats, coconut and nuts into a bowl. In a separate bowl, measure oil, nut butter, and honey with a splash of water (1 Tablespoon). Stir well. Drizzle over oats and stir well to coat.

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Bake at 275 on parchment paper lined sheets for 20 minutes. Switch the sheet pans for even cooking and bake 20 minutes more. Remove and let cool. Stir in your choice of dried fruit if desired and store in an airtight container. Enjoy with yogurt and fresh fruit or as a quick snack.

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Post 31 – The Family Recipe Box: Banana Bread

There’s nothing like spending the weekend with family to remind you why you’re weird.

What I mean is this: each family has their own brand of weird that manifests itself in the individuals that compose it, but spending time with those related to you reminds you exactly what kind of weird you are and that here it is normal. (I must say Sam’s a brave man to join the family.)

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The summer has been filled with the gift of family – Sam’s family in Italy, my mom’s visit last weekend, and my grandma’s visit this past weekend (along with cousins who were passing through on their way to Maine). I have enjoyed seeing these reminders of myself showing up at my door from time to time. This summer I have also spent some good quality time with my aunt who recently moved to Hartford and we’ve come to realize how much we have in common. We both seem to get the same thrill from cooking up a feast of food for those we love and smoothing out the uneven edges in ice cream containers and crooked cake slices (among other things we share). It’s our shared brand of weird, but hey when we’re together, we’re speaking the same language.

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This weekend we sat around the dinner table with my cousins, two aunts, uncle, and grandma, recounting family stories and hearing rumors about ourselves spread through the branches of the family. Strangely enough now it is the children (well we are hardly that anymore) that spin tales and lead the jokes told at the table, while the parents sit back and listen to their children banter, chiming in once in a while to correct us. The matriarch, my grandmother, listens quietly at the head of the table, hearing every detail and speaking up every now and then to chide us for our tone or cruelty.

“Let’s talk about something nicer now, shall we?”

Yet we continue in the same style, assuring her that no ill feelings were intended.

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We have graduated from the kids’ table, the one we used to surround at holidays and dessert quickly when the food was gone to go play. Now we linger at the table for the conversation and even the youngest, my 13 year old cousin, puts up with all the women and knows how to throw in one-liners here and there that break us up into laughter.

When I returned home on Sunday, I pulled down the long wooden recipe box that my grandma (the very one I just saw this weekend) handed down to me from her grandmother (apparently her grandfather made it). The family gathering had inspired me to try a family recipe.

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Though I was looking for dinner, I didn’t feel inspired by the “Barbeque Beefies” recipe and since I had several dark brown bananas from the weekend, I tried her banana bread recipe instead. I could brag that it is a family recipe, unique and special, handed down through the years on the yellowed index card, but I’ll be honest – it’s banana bread, a recipe that doesn’t hold any secrets and also I didn’t follow it exactly. Since food and family change and develop over the generations and since I can make hardly any recipe without changing something, I did my own interpretation: butter instead of shortening, brown instead of white sugar, and a little extra milk to thin it out. I interpreted a slow oven as 325 degrees (only baking it for 45 minutes or so) and vanilla as about 1 teaspoon. My grandma interpreted sweet milk as regular milk, as opposed to sour milk. I hope great-great Grandma would understand (I never knew her of course).

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The loaf came out moist and flavorful, as to be expected, and it was devoured quickly at work. I also made some mini buckwheat banana breads as an experiment and those were also delicious.

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Sometimes spending time with family reminds you that you aren’t weird, but it might also remind you of what’s important to you, or that you aren’t exactly where you want to be. You remember your passions and talents and you wonder why you haven’t been more ambitious in pursuing them. Maybe you work a job that’s not fulfilling or you’ve fallen off some kind of metaphorical wagon (healthy living, maintaining relationships, whatever), but family can bring you back (or sometimes take your further over the edge).

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That “someday” when you own that café/bakery feels a wee bit closer and your path to make it there a little clearer. And you ask yourself why you spend your weekends cooking with your aunt, or making banana bread and sweet potato skillet cakes and planning elaborate cooking escapades on a weeknight if it’s not something you really love.

Maybe you’re crazy or maybe it’s just your own kind of weird.

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Post 30 – When in Rome, do as the Olsen twins do

You know how before you go somewhere, you have these expectations of what it’s going to be like? You had seen the Olsen twins visit Rome in one of their movies that you watched when you were a teenager and in it they rode off into the sunset on mopeds with cute Italian boys and threw their wishes into the Trevi Fountain. So you arrive in Rome with Dean Martin’s “On an Evening in Roma” in your head and you assume that’s pretty much what Rome is like, right? Umm, not so much (well maybe all of that with the Italian guys and what not can’t come true when you’re there with your fiance anyway. If you’re reading this, I was happy to have you there, dear).

Let me just say that Rome, to me, felt like an Italian New York City – crazy busy with rude people who don’t want to deal with tourists who don’t speak Italian. There are probably a million interesting things to see and do, but you almost get turned off by all the crazy. In contrast to NYC, this place is wicked ancient (there’s that Boston coming out in me) – like at least a couple thousand years, so that it’s almost weird to see these ancient ruins smack in the middle of whizzing cars and modern life. Like, isn’t the ancient lifestyle and culture just supposed to be permanently preserved while the rest of Rome happens somewhere else?

Obviously, I didn’t get the Mary-Kate and Ashley experience.

After settling into our B&B and getting recommendations from the owner we headed out to see the top sites, since our stay in Rome would be brief. We took the metro to the Colosseum and were somewhat shocked to emerge from the underground world to find this towering holey structure standing before us like it wasn’t a big deal. It is a big deal. That’s when you realize, you are in Rome.

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So we toured the beautiful ancient grounds and saw the Roman Forum and the whole Palatino area. The sun was brutal and I don’t have a ton of interest in ruins so we didn’t spend too long looking at everything.

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We went inside the Colosseum, which to me seemed less impressive from the inside than the out. I imagined a massive pit with cascading bleachers, the setting immediately putting pictures of screaming spectators and gladiators in my head. The inside still inspires awe, just not quite what I had pictured.

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We continued to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain (again in the middle of random plazas, but swarmed by people)

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and then headed to the Piazza Navona, which Sam had somehow discovered through researching. The piazza was beautiful – a long corridor lined with beautiful buildings and patio seating for restaurants. Artists and street vendors tried selling their wares in the middle and we wandered around taking pictures of the elaborate fountains and gorgeous architecture.

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Then out of nowhere (well the sky had been getting dark) the skies let loose and it poured. We watched people sprinting for the perimeter of the square, looking for any kind of cover from the rain. We waited it out in a covered porch next to a restaurant. Somehow it had never occurred to me that it might rain in such an idyllic city as Rome.

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When the rain finally let up (after faking us out several times only to have it start again) we left the shelter to find a place for dinner.

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We stumbled upon Pizzeria Da Baffetto, one of the places recommended to us by our host. Luckily we were seated quickly at an outdoor table that was dried off from the recent rain and under cover in case of more.

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Our last night in Italy. I hated to think it.

 

I ordered the signature pizza (fried egg in the middle) and Sam opted for sausage and onion. We also shared a carafe of house wine and an arugula and Parmesan salad.

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We enjoyed the freshness of the salad and while the pizzas were good, they were too thin and lacking in flavor for my taste. Compared to our Ferrara pizzas, they were considerably less cheesy, which was great, but they needed a little something else.

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Our evening ended with another stroll by the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain and our final gelato (disappointing). The next day we would return home to our sweet kitties and less glamorous Boston life. (Remember the “grass is greener” lesson? Life is good!)

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I am grateful and fortunate and happy to have visited such a wonderful country, tasted all its food, and wandered in its winding streets. I am thankful for the kind people we met who welcomed us despite our clumsy attempts at Italian and happy there weren’t more rude Italians we ran into. Overall, Italy was delicious and I hope to one day return and see more of it. Who knows when (or if) that next time will be, but when that day comes perhaps I’ll try to learn a little more Italian before hand.

 IMG_3118Buona sera. Ciao!

Post 29 – Pirate Pastries

I have to admit I was lazy our second day in Vernazza – I took absolutely no pictures of any of our delicious meals. I’m sorry for depriving you of your beautiful food porn.

Our second day in Vernazza began with a breakfast made by pirate twins. How often can you say pirates made your breakfast?

If you ever go to Vernazza, I highly recommend eating at Il Pirata delle 5 Terre (click the link and scroll down for beautiful pictures on their website) – a pastry shop and restaurant off the main road in the village. Twin brothers run this charming place, so don’t be alarmed if you just think one guy is running around and doing everything. You probably just saw one brother here and the other brother there. The pastries are all homemade and they sell out quickly. We beat the morning rush by arriving at 8 and the line came right after we sat down.

Sam and I shared a beautiful fruit plate (not photographed because we didn’t bring the camera – sheesh! The most beautiful things are always eaten when the camera isn’t present) and we each had our own pastry. After giving us a hard time about not coming for dinner the night before, one of the brothers picked out a pastry for each of us – mine a croissant type pastry filled with pastry cream and Sam’s the same filled with a cannoli-like ricotta and chocolate chip filling. Delicious way to start the day.

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For our second day in the Cinque Terre, we hiked the path from Vernazza to Corniglia, stopping to enjoy the views and take water breaks. As we hiked toward the village, we could see the other villages in the distance, jutting out into the water.

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Because the other paths were closed, we took the train to the next village, Manarola, where we ate lunch. Sam’s mom was fortunate enough to find a great store with a whole gluten free selection and a friendly owner! She was thrilled. She shared a bite of her chestnut tart with me and though the flavor was good, I didn’t enjoy the texture.

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We passed restaurants with beautiful seaside views

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The same restaurant from a different side

The same restaurant from a different side

And silly signs in restaurant doorways.

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Sam and I continued on to check out the other villages

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and then came home for a casual seaside dinner with his parents. I enjoyed a tasty salad from a place called the Lunch Box and a cone of fried shrimp.

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We returned to the pirates hoping for a leftover pastry to take on the train for our early morning ride, but as they had said, they were sold out.

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We shared a cannoli instead and wandered back out to the seaside to enjoy our dessert and take one last glance at the beautiful village.

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The next day we were off to Rome.

Post 28 – A Day in the Life in Vernazza

Our lives are all glamorous when you look at the bullet points:

  • graduated from fill-in-the-blank college
  • got a good job
  • moved to a beautiful city

At a quick glance, we are all envious of another person’s fortune, how lucky they must have it, how good his life is, but you don’t see all the boredom, frustration, and contemplation that goes into it (of course!). Like a movie montage you see a chunk of years summarized in two minutes, the character’s victories highlighted and the hard parts skimmed over. Even my accounts of Italy are just the nice bullet points. The in-betweens include smelly Italian excuses for toilets (porcelain holes in the ground with foot rests for squatting) and the sweaty dragging of luggage across a foreign city. You know that phrase the grass is greener on the side? It’s true right. Just remember that – no matter which side of the fence you’re on, the grass is always greener. (The secret to life: Don’t let it be).

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Vernazza is one of those towns where you look at the people living there, along side the water with the beautiful views and the miles of hiking trails, and think of how grand their lives must be. You see this idyllic, seaside town and try to imagine what it’s like to live there, you assume sunny skies day in and day out, swimming in the Mediterranean, and eating delicious food every day. But you know, those are just the bullet points (and only for some people). Just reassure yourself that most of the people living there are probably just living normal lives (just somewhere else than you). Maybe they’re really happy or maybe they’re really not. Just because they live in Italy their lives aren’t inherently better, right?

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For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Cinque Terre is a collection of five villages, the fourth of which is Vernazza, along the northwestern coast of Italy. These seaside towns were built into steep hills so they all boast plenty of stairs and hiking trails for the exercising types. They each have their own personality and they are all connected via trails or trains. Two years ago a major flood hit Vernazza (and some of the other villages) and its citizens scrambled to make repairs, knowing how important it was for their livelihood to get the town back in order. The damage was extensive, but they have recovered amazingly since then and we enjoyed the village (and its sister villages) as lovely as they had ever been. If you didn’t know about the flood though, you would’ve hardly noticed they’d suffered.

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After taking a stroll through the brief strip of “town,” we spent the afternoon hiking towards Monterosso, enjoying the breath-taking views (Sam: “I need to remember this view when I’m back at work in a few weeks”) and stumbling upon beautiful churches built way up in the hillside (how did they get all the building materials up here?). Every once in a while we’d a house way up in the hills or a above-ground cemetery adorned with colorful flowers. As we climbed the views got more gorgeous and the trail was steep up and down.

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After a few hours of hiking, we came back down and changed for dinner. The choices are limited when staying in a tiny village, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious. This pizza place pictured below looked promising.

This pizza place made cool shapes out of their dough

This pizza place made cool shapes out of their dough

We opted instead for seafood in the seaside town. We sat outside and enjoyed picturesque views from sea level.

So you can't see the sea in this photo, but the view was nice.

So you can’t see the sea in this photo, but the view was nice.

We each ordered our own giant bowl of pesto pasta (having learned our lesson to not share delicious pasta after Bologna’s tortellini), having read that the villages were well known for their pesto and focaccia.

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Three of us also ordered our own grilled fish, which arrived whole on the plate, black and browned from the grill and decorated with carrots and lemon. I felt like a far less-seasoned Julia Child as I tried to delicately pry the flesh off the tiny bones, though I don’t know that I succeeded. The fish tasted mild but fresh and went well with my giant plate of trofie al pesto. The night ended with a gelato of course – this one in tough competition with Bologna’s second round. They had my absolute favorite flavor, cinnamon, and a delicious amareno, which was a creamy gelato with dark, sweet cherries folded in.

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We sat on the steps along the water as the sun began to set, thinking how sweet and slow life felt at that very moment. If this is a normal day for a resident of Vernazza, my musings of greener grass can’t be that far off, I think as my feet dangle over the darkening, blue water of the Mediterranean.

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Then again, we are nothing more than strangers stumbling upon a village with moving parts and people, speculating on the wonders of everyday life in a town that has worked so hard to rebuild after a major natural disaster. The grass may look greener leaning over the fence, but down into the roots and far into the field, the color fades and the work behind it remains hidden. I salute the people of Vernazza for restoring their town so wonderfully and giving me a chance to see it as an idyllic world in a bubble. I hope their own grass seems greenest to them.

Post 27 – Beautiful Bologna

After Ferrara’s wedding weekend events, it seemed like our next stop in Bologna would be quiet and potentially disappointing. Quiet it was, since our company of international friends had dwindled down to only us two, but disappointing it was not. We dragged our suitcases through the shaded (thankfully) porticoes of the city to get to our B&B, struggled with an Italian pay phone to get a hold of the B&B owner, and finally set our suitcases down in our comfy room. Despite the bumpy start, it didn’t take long to see the charm of Bologna.

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It was in Bologna where we ate gelato twice in one day (upon regretting buying the smallest size after lunch, we vowed to get more after dinner). It was in Bologna where we fell in love with (and wished we’d ordered more) homemade tortellini filled with pistachio and ricotta and paired with salty pancetta. It was from the top of a tall tower after climbing four hundred something steps that we saw the beautiful city of red roofs and orange and yellow houses. In Bologna we poked our heads into silent, decorated churches and wondered how all the beautiful ceilings could have such different details from one to another.

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Our tour of this university town started out in the main plaza, Piazza Maggiore, where the great fountain of Neptune becomes a gathering place for students and tourists alike. People drape themselves on the steps of the library, taking in the sun and sculpting their cones of gelato with each flick of the tongue. We joined in the gelato-slurping with them, feeling half drowsy in the afternoon heat, half like we should carpe the diem (as Sam would say).

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We decided to take on the stairs of one of the two grand towers and climb to the top. When we reached the top, we were rewarded with the beautiful views and the soft breeze. It was amazing seeing the city from above, the uniformity of the colors of the houses, though despite the sameness the city still had a lot of character.

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After taking some photos, we climbed back down (trying not to look too far down the steep stair case) and headed back to the B&B to get ready for dinner.

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Upon the recommendation of Giovanni, our host, we wandered over to La Traviata for dinner where we found ourselves once again dining outdoors. The owner, a patient Italian woman who spoke a charming blend of Italish, told us the specials of the day. We ordered, despite me being completely unsure about what I would be eating. The pistachio-ricotta tortellini was a no-brainer (because it sounded delicious – and it was soo delicious),

The picture doesn't do much, but this pasta was amazing

The picture doesn’t do much, but this pasta was amazing. On top is the pancetta.

but the fasera that I ordered for my main course still remains a mystery (“It’s similar to chicken… no it’s not turkey.” Italian speakers – please help me out). It tasted good, but I really have no idea what I ate. Sam ordered a salad of arugula, Parmesan, and steak that he enjoyed and we shared a bottle of Lambrusco.

Quail? Quinea hen? I don't know.

Quail? Guinea hen? I don’t know. Served with grilled polenta.

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Our evening ended with one of the best gelato tastings of the trip at the Sorbetteria Castiglione, a modern looking shop off the main tourist roads serving an assorted, yet traditional array of flavors. We both enjoyed the dulce de leche and began eating it so eagerly that I skipped taking a picture. Our evening concluded with a romantic stroll through the lighted porticoes that are ubiquitous in the city.

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The next morning we said goodbye to the beautiful city after a lovely breakfast of fruit, pastry, and bread (eaten in an elegant room that makes me want it call it a salon or sitting room for some reason).

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Though we enjoyed our Bologna visit, we saw most of what we came to see. Now we were off to the western coast for the breath-taking views and hilly terrain in the small but inviting villages of Cinque Terre.