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We have had a few very foggy mornings here in Houston – it’s like the world is having a hard time waking up.  It is beautiful.  Trying to capture fog in a picture is hard (especially for a novice photographer like me).  Fog is fleeting and sneaks away before you can get a handle of it.  In the blink of an eye, it is gone completely, broken apart by the resilient sun.  Enjoy my attempts to capture it.


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The next stop on our Italian journey:  breathtaking Cinque Terre, a cluster of five, small, oceanside, villages hugging the rugged cliffs along the Ligurian coast.

A steep and very narrow trail connects all five villages weaving in and out of small vineyards and farms, offering stunning views of the picture perfect turquoise ocean below.

From Florence, we took a day trip to this picturesque pocket of Italy.  Our day began in the northernmost village of Monterosso.  From there, we hiked along the precipitous slopes (and got very sweaty, tired, and hungry along the way) until the trail met Vernazza, comfortably tucked away against the cliffs and hugged by a peaceful cove.

The main square of Vernazza is right off the cove and is dotted with colorful umbrellas and bustling restaurants and we took no time in finding a cozy cafe to enjoy a well-deserved lunch.

This was one of the best meals of the trip.  A crisp beer cooled us down and we sufficiently filled our grumbly bellies with the local specialty pesto trenette (pasta, pesto, potato, and green beans), a simple spaghetti overflowing with fresh seafood (squid, shrimp, mussels, and clams) swimming in an explode-in-your-mouth white wine and tomato sauce, bread crumb and herb stuffed mussels, and panna cotta with strawberries.

Refreshed and on cloud nine from an exceptional meal, we spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the sun on the boulders jutting from the cove.  Perfect.

The seafood spaghetti is the dish that stands out in my mind.  I love how this pasta is simultaneously simple yet layered with different flavors.  To me, a bite of mussels tastes like the ocean and transports me to the beach every time I eat them.  Tonight, I was back in Vernazza.

Seafood Linguine

Serves 4-5

1 lb dried linguine pasta

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3/4 cup dry, white wine

1/2 cup clam juice

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded (have your fishmonger debeard them for you)

1 lbs little neck clams

1/2 lb medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Cook linguine in a large pot of salted water per package instructions.  Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add red pepper flakes and cook for one minute more.  Add wine and let reduce for about 1 minute then add clam juice and continue to reduce, 1 minute more.  Add crushed tomatoes.  Once mixture is simmering, add clams and mussels, cover skillet and let cook until shellfish has opened, about 5 minutes.  Add shrimp and cook just until shrimp has turned pink, 1-2 minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper to taste (I did not find I needed any black pepper since I used red pepper flakes, but everyone is different).

Combine linguine and shellfish mixture in a large serving bowl and toss to combined.  Garnish with parsley and serve.

Ready to keep traveling? Our first major stop in Italy was Florence, where we spent five days.  What a city!  While not all that big, Florence is busting at the seams with museums, gorgeous architecture, Renaissance history, art, swarms of tourists, and gelatoa lot of gelato.

We did everything you “should” do while visiting Florence.  We saw the David, the Uffizi Gallery, climbed to the top of the Duomo, and watched the sunset from the Piazzale Michealangelo.

Of course, one of my favorite moments in Florence was visiting the outstanding food market near the center of the city. I was in heaven!  Salame, Prosciutto, dozens of varieties of Pecorino cheese, vibrant fruits and vegetables, wine, olive oils, artisans making huge batches of fresh pasta, and every cut of meat you could imagine.  We bought some soft Pecorino cheese (by far the best and most unusual Pecorino I have ever had), robust Salame, crusty bread, and perfectly ripe strawberries.  We lugged our treasures to the Piazza della Signoria and ate in the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Overall, we found the food in Florence mediocre.  Granted, we could have just made poor decisions in restaurants, but we were never blown away by anything we ate.  The one exception to that would be the gelato.  Florence definitely boasted more gelaterias than any other city during our visit and they have it right.  The most memorable of all the gelato we ate was from a fancy cafe just of the Ponte Vecchio.  Besides gelato, this shop was stocked with all sorts of pastries and a lovely espresso bar, but we were immediately drawn to the gelato case.  Before I knew it, after shelling out more money that I ever have/will for frozen milk, I was the proud owner of a heaping cup of the most flavorful black cherry and pistachio gelato.  Quite possibly the best 8.50€ ever spent.

In memory of our favorite afternoon snack, I have adapted a semifreddo (semi frozen) recipe from the latest Bon Appetit.  No ice cream maker or euros required.

Pistachio and Cherry Semifreddo

Serves 10

Adapted from Bon Appetit June 2011

1 1/2 cups shelled unsalted pistachios

4 tablespoons sugar divided, plus 1/2 cup

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract, divided

1 1/2 cups frozen cherries, thawed (about 6 oz)

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Line a metal loaf pan (approximately 9x5x3″) with 2 layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.

Grind pistachios and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until very finely chopped.  Transfer pistachio mixture to a small saucepan.  Add 3/4 cups milk; bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl; strain, discarding solids.  Stir in 1/4 teaspoons almond extract; set pistachio mixture aside.

Puree cherries and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor until smooth.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over another medium bowl; strain, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible.  Discard solids.  Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and set mixture aside.

Whisk eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium metal bowl.  Set bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch water).  Beat egg mixture at high speed until it triples in volume and an instant-read thermometer reads 170°, about 3 minutes.  Remove bowl from double boiler and continue beating until thick and cool, about 3 minutes.  Add one-half of egg mixture to both the pistachio and cherry mixtures; fold each just to blend.

Beat cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form.  Add one-half of cram to each of the pistachio and cherry mixtures; fold each just to blend.  Cover cherry mixture and chill in refrigerator.  Pour pistachio mixture into prepared pan; smooth top.  Cover; freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.  Gently pour cherry mixture over pistachio layer; smooth top.  Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

To serve, uncover semifreddo, lift from pan and invert onto a chilled platter; peel off plastic.  Slice crosswise.