la mia bella vita

my beautiful life by Katie

Moving On

After surviving our night in the windy forest, we both felt ready to pack up and move on.  But before we could say our goodbyes to Yellowstone, we decided to squeeze in one last visit to Lamar Valley.

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And the second time around?  It was as magical and as amazing as the first.  Much like our first visit, we saw bears, antelope, coyotes, and tons and tons of buffalo.

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I seriously can’t get enough of these guys, they are just so cute.  They are slow and a little odd, but hilariously cute.  Eating, roaming, sitting, laying, sleeping, walking…they could pretty much be doing anything and I would love them.

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It was truly the perfect last adventure to have in Yellowstone.  We both were beaming as we arrived back at our campground, ready to pack up, get on the road and start the final part of our trip.

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While the hubs got our camp packed up, I prepared a campfire breakfast.  We didn’t realize until we were here that it is legal to have fires at any time of day, so we hadn’t packed perishable breakfast foods.  Luckily, the Canyon facilities had a food store, so we stocked up on a few items to whip up a nice breakfast.

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A hot breakfast in our stomachs, the after-glow of buffalo watching, and we were ready to hit the road.  We drove South heading out of Yellowstone, and within a few short hours, we reached our next and final destination on our trip, Grand Teton National Park.

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When you arrive, the views are immediately breathtaking.

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After checking into our campground, we drove over to the ranger station to get help with our itinerary.  Having come from such a large park, spending most of our days just driving in between spots, we were in the mindset that things would take an equally long amount of time here.  Cue our slightly awkward and dry conversation with the ranger.

Me: “So, we wanted to drive around Jenny Lake, how many hours do you think we should allot for that?”

Ranger Dan: “Probably about 10 minutes.”

Me: “10 minutes!?!”

Ranger Dan: “Ummm yeah, its about 2 miles around.”

Me: “Oh okay, and so we heard about this place in town called Cowboy…”

Ranger Dan: “It’s a bar.”

Me: “Right, so is it worth a stop?”

Ranger Dan: “It’s a bar.”

So, after our enlightening conversation, we both came to the realization that in general, Grand Teton National Park is significantly smaller than Yellowstone.

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Luckily as we were leaving the ranger station, we overheard a family talking about swimming in Jackson Lake.  We hadn’t even considered it, as we assumed it would be way too cold.  But, we decided to drive over and give it a look (the drive took approximately 3 minutes).

Upon seeing that tons of people were braving the shockingly cold waters, we decided to give it a go too.  Well, it was freezing, I’m not going to lie, but after about 10-20 minutes your body adjusts (that or you are just so numb you don’t notice that you are freezing anymore.)

After our quick dip, which by the way is amazingly scenic, we got dried off and started our drive to do the main loop around the park.  Originally we were thinking that this loop would take hours to complete, and days with all of the stops added in, but luckily Ranger Dan helped clear that all up for us.

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Grand Teton is a very easy and straightforward park to visit.  Since we were basically there to enjoy the views of the Tetons, our plan was to just drive the main loop and pull off at the various scenic view points.

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So, drive and stop we did.  And as you can see, we couldn’t help but stop for some more buffalo too!

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We spent the better part of the afternoon just driving around and enjoying the views, it was very relaxing and very beautiful.

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When we finished the loop, we headed back to our campground to set up for the night.  While the Mr. got our tent all fixed and ready, I worked on dinner.  Tonight’s menu?  A steak fit for a cowboy and all the fixings too – potatoes roasted on the coals, asparagus and cornbread muffins.

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Everything was cooking along and lining up just right.  We were both just chomping at the bit, ready to dig in.  Then something happened.  The hubs had gone over to the car to grab a few things, and I went to the fire to flip the steak.  Just as I had grabbed the steak, the fire flamed up and smoke got in my eyes.  I flailed a little bit and “oh #*$%” exploded out of my mouth.  “What happened, did you drop the steak into the ashes?” My husband asked, slightly panicked.  “Ummmmmm…kind of.” 

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Yup, our almost perfectly cooked steak dropped directly into the ashes.  Now, if there was another steak, no big deal.  But, we had only bought one large steak to share.  (Insert sad faces here.)  But, when you are camping, you’ve got to get creative and make the most of it.  So, we quickly grabbed some bottled water and “washed” the steak.  We popped it back on the grill to cook off any other bits and voila!  A no-longer charred, but hopefully still delicious steak.

We loaded up our plates and dug in – the asparagus was on point, the cornbread muffins?  Best I had ever cooked them.  The steak?  Not too bad all things considered.  And the potatoes?  Huh, oddly crunchy.  I had cooked them a good hour, but they seemed barely ready.  So, we threw them back on the fire in a bid to get them properly cooked.

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thank God for smores!

Well, eventually we got tired of waiting for them, so we just tucked into our new creation, potatoes al dente.  Wine in hand, we enjoyed our dinner and shared some good chuckles about all that had happened.  It’s like they say out here on the range, when life throws you an ash-covered steak, you make steak.

Adventures in Yellowstone

It was another beautiful morning here in Yellowstone.  The sun was shining, the air was fresh and crisp, and the birds were singing (literally).

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Today we change camps from Madison to Canyon.  And speaking of which, I think that I have failed to mention up until this point just how huge Yellowstone is.  It’s enormous!  It can literally take hours to get between different parts of the park, and that is exactly why we are dividing our time here between two different campgrounds.

After getting the car all packed up (or basically just stuffing everything in, goodbye organized car), we headed to Artist Point and the South Rim Trail.  No, we are not at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim Trail, we are going to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone; and Artist Point is the lookout for the Canyon and the falls.

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You can easily just stop by Artist Point and enjoy the beautiful views of the Grand Canyon, but we decided to follow the South Rim Trail over to Uncle Tom’s Trail, which takes you down towards the base of the falls.

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Up until this point of the hike, I was, in my own way, enjoying it (although I was on major bear watch), but then we reached the end of Uncle Tom’s Trail, and this is what I saw…

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Okay, so I haven’t mentioned this before, but I am slightly afraid of heights.  But, I am also the kind of person who tries to push them-self beyond personal boundaries, sooo…the show must go on.  I decided to try and make the most of this giant staircase hanging over the Canyon.

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Wobbly knees, one stop to cling to the railing while sitting down, counting the stairs to distract myself, and we made it.

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It was beautiful, and I am glad that we went down; however I had a hard time enjoying it for more than a few snaps once we arrived.  After hustling back up the stairs, I felt relieved knowing that the rest of our day would be all land and car adventures.

From Artist Point we made the split decision to drive back to Old Faithful, hoping that our timing might be just right for us to enjoy a better viewing.

Luckily, our timing was spot on.  However, unlike the other morning when we quickly grabbed front row seats minutes before the eruption, this afternoon’s visit was jammed with people.

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Rows and rows of visitors eagerly awaiting Old Faithful’s magic.  And wait we did.  She was supposed to erupt at 1:15, and when she didn’t, the ranger reminded us that the times are approximate, and that it would happen within the next 10 minutes.  1:25, nothing.  1:30, nothing.  1:40, nothing.  1:42, a few little burps.  Finally, 1:48 p.m., she erupted.  Hey, 30 minutes late, but better late than never, right?

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Sadly, it was another small and quick eruption.  The ranger announced that since it was so small and quick, there would be another eruption in about 20-30 minutes.  After 2 slight misses on Old Faithful, we decided to throw in the towel and just be grateful for the experience.

To help brighten our spirits, we grabbed an ice cream cone on our way out, and then started our drive towards Canyon.  The drive was beautiful – we drove alongside Yellowstone Lake, past the Continental Divide and through beautiful pastures spotted with buffalo.

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Once we reached camp, we were both eager to set up our gear and get our fire roaring.

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The Canyon Campground was beautiful, and surprisingly different than Madison.  Madison was more cleared out with a few large pines, and Canyon is little tent clearings set in between super tiny toothpick-like pine trees that really sway with all of the winds.  But with more trees comes more privacy, and that is definitely a bonus when it comes to camping.

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Just as we finished setting up camp a fire truck pulled up on a neighboring street.  Being the kind of person who considers herself a part of the imaginary neighborhood watch program, I did what any (nosy) person would do, I went over to see what was going on.  Apparently a bunch of trees had fallen down, and so they were coming to clear them.

As I walked back to our camp, I suddenly noticed something that looked a little strange.  Yup, a fallen tree.  Literally in the 5 minutes I was gone, a tree fell over right next to our tent.

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I headed back over to the firefighters to see if they could come and cut up our tree as well, while they were at work.  They informed me that it wasn’t anything to be concerned about, that it happens all the time, and as long as it didn’t hit anyone in the head, there was no problem.  I file this one under different strokes for different folks – me personally, I’d like to keep all of my body parts intact.

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Having our fears of falling trees put to rest (not), it was beyond time to start dinner.  And tonight is a real campfire classic in our house, fajitas!

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Then again, I guess that we kind of love anything that we cook while we are camping.  Anything cooked in a lodge pan over an open flame is a sure-fire win.

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After dinner, the night fell dark much quicker than it had been, and so we decided to turn in early.  Although, as we lay all tucked into our sleeping bag, the wind howled, and the trees swayed, and we couldn’t help but feel a bit spooked.  “Don’t worry honey,”  I assured my husband, “the firefighter said as long as it doesn’t land on your head, we’re all good.”

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the forest surrounding our tent

Home on the Range

Disclaimer:  If you are adverse to seeing a ridiculous amount of adorable buffalo pictures, then please look no further.

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Today was awesome.  There is really no better way to put it than awesome.   When we first started planning our trip to Yellowstone, my husband wouldn’t stop talking about Lamar Valley and how it is the Serengeti of North America.  I thought that it sounded cool, but I really had no idea what I was in for until we arrived.

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our beautiful drive out to Lamar Valley

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There is no sign saying “Welcome to Lamar Valley,” but when you arrive, you know it.  It’s like the clouds part (except there are no clouds) and the choir of angels sing, ta-dah!  It truly is the land where the buffalo roam, the land where the deer and antelope play, and you can’t help but want to sing a little “Home on the Range.”

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Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

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Buffalo so close you can touch, wolves, coyotes, foxes, antelope, a grizzly bear with her 2 cubs, black bears; the list goes on and on, we saw so many animals.  As far and as wide as the eyes can see is beautiful green land, just spotted with animals.

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It felt so amazing to see all of the animals in their natural habitat – grazing, running, eating, and just being their wild selves.

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#nozoom

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This has pretty much immediately become our most favorite experience in Yellowstone thus far.  I mean, what else can I say?  It is amazing and breathtaking in every way.  We both feel a bit awestruck.

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After our amazing day watching the animals, there was only one thing left to do, eat pizza.  We’ve started making pizza on the grill at home, so I figured, why not over the campfire?

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Having forgotten our rolling pin, the hubs cleverly suggested using a bottle of wine to roll out our dough, and it worked like a charm!

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While the dough got a little pre-cook going, we enjoyed one of my favorite recipes from my Italian travels, panzanella.

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Post-panzanella, I had a little trouble picking the dough off the grill with the tongs, hence the chunk of dough missing from the corner, but it actually turned into a happy mistake.  I took the tiny piece of dough and let it finish cooking, topped it with some olive oil and salt, and we both devoured the foccacia-like creation, it was so good.

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A delicious end to an unforgettable day.  Yellowstone, you have charmed us with your natural beauty and wonders.  Life is pretty good on the range.

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Old Faithful

One of the things that the Mr. and I are most excited to see in Yellowstone is Old Faithful, so we decided to make that our first heading this morning.

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The crisp and very cool morning air made it a bit tough to want to roll out of our tent this morning, but with a quick pot of coffee, we managed.

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The drive to Old Faithful this morning was so beautiful.  Because we left earlier, not only did we beat the traffic, but we were also able to enjoy some of the animals that were out for their breakfast.

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can you spot the buffalo?

We pulled up to Old Faithful, hoping that our timing would be just right, and we were spot on.  With 20 minutes before the eruption, we headed straight over to the geyser and grabbed some front row seats.

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So….I’m sure you’re dying to know what it was like to experience Old Faithful in person…

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pre-eruption steam

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Well, the eruption itself was a little anticlimactic and not totally what we were expecting.  It ended up being a smaller and quicker eruption, and unfortunately there wasn’t a great view of the geyser’s water because there was a lot of steam covering it up.  Regardless, we both enjoyed the experience.

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Afterwards we headed back to the car and started our slow journey back North.  I say slow, because our plan was to stop at every attraction heading home, and we followed through on our plan.  Geysers, paint pots, basins, bubbling things, falls – you name it, we stopped.

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i prefer my morning coffee with a side of geyser

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our favorite stop – grand prismatic spring

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After hours of exploring the natural wonders of Yellowstone, we pulled off at the Gibbon Falls picnic site, and set ourselves up to make some lunch.  This picnic spot was absolutely breathtaking.  Sitting on the cliffs, overlooking the river and falls, it really doesn’t get any better.

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Well, it actually does get better, because after we finished lunch, the hubs ran to the car to bring out a surprise for me, bubbles!  I love bubbles! (Seriously.)  He brought some bubbles for me to play with, and that seriously made my day. (#nevergrowup)

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After lunch (and bubbles), we had originally planned to conquer more of Yellowstone’s geysers, but since the weather was so gorgeous and we were feeling a bit geysered-out, we decided to head back to Firehole Canyon Drive to go swimming in the river again.

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post-lunch buffalo

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Today the water was nice and still, so we just floated and enjoyed the relaxation of the scenery, including a beautiful Elk that came and grazed at the edge of the river.   When the Elk was done grazing, she laid down and watched us all splash around.

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can you spot the elk?

After a relaxing afternoon, we drove back to camp to sit around and play some cards; that is, until we realized that we forgot the cards.  So, we just sat around, slowly got our fire started, and enjoyed the late afternoon sun.

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Tonight’s dinner is a campfire favorite, zipper pouches.  I grew up eating these over the fire with my family, and the hubs has quickly fallen in love with them too.  My Mom and Dad always say that you can put whatever you want in them, but I always go for what we had growing up – a layer of tots, corn, chopped onions, ground beef and then some gravy seasoning.  Zipped up in foil, you just pop them over the fire and let them cook away.  They turn out awesome every time.  I don’t even know what to compare them to, but trust me, they are delish.

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We also brought some special wines to drink with our dinner tonight.  We had a few small bottles of wine that we had brought back from our honeymoon in Italy (over 8 years ago), and they probably weren’t the kind of wines you wanted to age for very long.

We had always talked about drinking them, but then felt too sentimental to do so.  We finally decided that it was time to enjoy the bottles while we can.  The one bottle was so old that we couldn’t even break the seal, so we used our camping knife to hack into it.  We thought that this might be a good sign.  Totally not the case.  It was awful.  Really awful.

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Luckily I have the sweetest husband – he drank the bad wine and poured me a glass from the other bottle we brought back, which thankfully turned out to be great!  It was fun to drink the wines, toast to the memories of our honeymoon, and to the new memories from today.  Cheers!

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On the Road Again

It’s time for a Summer road trip!  The hubs and I got our car seriously packed up just in time to hit the road and kick off the start of Summer with a week of road tripping and camping in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.

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#seriouslypackedcar

We hit the road bright and early to take advantage of the long daylight this time of year, leaving San Diego around 5 a.m.  And we actually hauled it all the way up to Idaho.  Our goal was to get most of the driving out of the way on our first day, so that we could roll up to Yellowstone at a reasonable time on Day 2.  It was definitely a push to drive from San Diego to Idaho Falls (just 2 hours shy of YNP), but it was so worth it.

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desert art outside of Las Vegas

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best sign ever…and I’m pretty sure if you’re snoozing, you aren’t reading it

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Even with a lot of roadside stops to take pictures of the changing scenery, we made it to Idaho Falls by 8:30 p.m.  We quickly checked into the Snake River RV and Campsite, and Big Bob got us all set up.  Within 30 minutes, we had our tent and campsite set up (thanks to our new handy dandy pop-up tent), fire roaring, and beers cracked.  Early enough to enjoy the end of Sunset before calling it an early night.

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After a great nights sleep, we both woke up refreshed and were seriously jumping out of our skin excited to pull into Yellowstone.  Ever since our first out west trip to the Grand Canyon, we have had the big time National Park and camping itch.  Yellowstone has been on our list for years, so we were really excited to arrive.

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beautiful bright and warm morning

We ended up making more stops than planned (we needed extra coffee), but we were still able to make it into the Park by 10:30.  We headed straight to our campground, Madison, checked in, grabbed a few extra bags of ice and drove to our site to set up camp.

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The campsite is beautiful, it is tucked right next to the Firehole River and mountainside.  The air is beyond fresh, and we feel like we are being serenaded by the choir of birds living in the forest.

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view through the roof of our tent – we love that you can watch the stars

After setting up and getting settled in, we decided to make a quick lunch at camp before heading out for a few afternoon activities.  We always look forward to our simple camping lunches, PB & J.  (Funny that we never eat it at home, because we both love it!)

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After lunch we started driving towards the Old Faithful Visitor Center, but quickly got distracted.  First we stopped at the Junior Ranger Station to inquire about a few different swimming options.  Unfortunately only one is open this time of year, but fortunately it was just a quick drive from where we were.  Since the weather was absolutely gorgeous (80°), we decided to head straight for a swim in the Firehole River.

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The backdrop for this swimming spot is idyllic, the water…well, a little on the chilly side for us Californians, but after we swam around for a little bit, we adjusted just fine.

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It was beautiful to spend the afternoon just floating away in the river, watching the forest and meadows, and even a Bald Eagle fly above us.

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After our swim, we headed to our original destination, the Old Faithful Visitor Center,  which seriously took forever to get there (I actually fell asleep for a large part of the drive, but don’t worry I wasn’t snoozing and cruising, the husband was at the wheel).  We seemed to be stuck in some sort of traffic jam, which we eventually found out the culprits, a herd of buffalo!  I quickly changed my tune about how long the drive was taking.  I would happily sit in traffic any day for a glimpse at one of these guys.

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Once we arrived at Old Faithful, we were happily greeted with an ice cream parlor, where we split a buffalo chip ice cream cone in honor of our sighting.

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After a quick talk with the rangers about our plans for the week, we headed back to camp.  We poured a couple glasses of champagne and set off for a walk along the river.  The scenery is breathtaking here in Yellowstone.  The river is sparkling, and the mountainside is an ombré of greens from all of the different trees.

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Once we got back to our site, we got our fire started, and the Mr. got our appetizer started, campfire popcorn.  (Another camping favorite of ours.)

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After sitting for a bit and enjoying the gorgeous sunny weather, we threw dinner on the fire.  Brats, corn and watermelon.

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We happily enjoyed our grilled feast, changed into our jammies and pulled our chairs real close around the fire to roast some ‘mallows.

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Faces shmeared with marshmallow and graham cracker bits, we both decided to (again) call it an early night and rest up for tomorrow’s adventures.  It was a sunny and warm welcome to Yellowstone, and we are both feeling so blessed and grateful to spend the week here.

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savoring the last hot embers before bedtime

Fun, Food, Fourth

I hope that you all enjoyed a beautiful holiday weekend, the weather was absolutely gorgeous here in San Diego.  In fact, this whole past week has been gorgeous.  It’s been really fun to spend more time outside around the pool, swimming and catching a few rays.

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We topped off our holiday weekend with a cookout with friends.  We are normally working on the Fourth, but since we weren’t this year, I really wanted to go all out.  I had been itching to throw a Fourth of July BBQ for some time now, so I pounced at the opportunity this year (I think we literally invited our friends a month in advance).

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But before we could get to all of the food festivities, we started our day with an early morning beach walk over on Coronado.  This is seriously my favorite way to start the day – although it might not be so much fun to get up extra early, being practically alone on the beach makes it completely worth it.  And then of course our post-walk coffee at Clayton’s doesn’t hurt either.

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After our walk, our plans were pretty low key – I had done most of the prep work for our meal over the weekend, so the Fourth was just about enjoying the day.  Easiest way to do that?  Pool.

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enjoying a childhood favorite poolside

We just chilled at our pool and relaxed most of the day through.  The perfect way to spend the day.  And before we knew it, it was time to start the feasting.

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First up was my favorite, seriously most favorite, guacamole with chips (yes, even Doritos, that’s how we do it here).  Paired with some cold Coronas, it was the perfect way to start the party.

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And then from there, the food basically kept flowing – heirloom tomato and burrata salad (inspired by this recipe), fresh fruit with mint and lime, grilled Caesar salad (inspired by this restaurant), BBQ chicken, marinated flank steak, and plenty of wine to wash it all down.

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the cutest Fourth of July cocktails

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accidentally extra-crispy, but oh-so-good

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It was quite the celebration – hours spent sitting outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and good company.  How could our day get any better?

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Well, it could, and it did.  Two words, Mud Pie.  Yup.  My favorite, need to make a dessert ahead of time solution, Mud Pie everytime.

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As far as a recipe goes, well, I haven’t actually compiled what I do yet.  You could easily make this with all store-bought ingredients, but instead of ice cream, I love to make homemade gelato.  So I piled my homemade Oreo cookie crust with cookies’n’cream gelato, a layer of fudge, chopped mac nuts and toffee bits, milk chocolate gelato, and then another layer of fudge, mac nuts and toffee.  Home-run?  You bet your bottom dollar.

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Finally stuffed (actually I think that I was stuffed after the guac), we headed up to our friends apartment just in time to watch the firework display.  A great end to a great day.  The fun was there, the food was off the charts, and the Fourth?  Always feels great to celebrate our pride.  Happy Birthday America!

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Rose Garden

If you’re a San Diego local, then I’m hoping that you already know about one of Balboa Park’s best kept secrets, and if you don’t know, then let me clue you in…the Rose Garden.  Just off the main drag of Balboa Park is the cutest little (actually not that little) Rose Garden.  And right now it is in full bloom.

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Sitting right next to the Cactus Garden, the Rose Garden is your perfect place to walk, wander, plan a picnic or just enjoy some sunshine.  There are endless rows of beautifully colored roses, and plenty of benches to stop, sit and take it all in.

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It’s definitely a favorite spot for me and the Mr. to swing by when on a walk through the park.  The whole garden is perfumed with fresh roses, and we seem to notice a new or different variety of rose each time we visit.  It has been a nice welcome back to San Diego after enjoying all of the beauties of Italy.

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It feels relaxing, and like you hit the reset button taking a wander through the garden.  Maybe a little natural aromatherapy at work?

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And just in time for our holiday weekend here, which will be teeming with beautiful weather – make sure that you grab a friend, loved one or a good book, go out for a walk, soak in the sunshine and stop and smell the roses.

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Time to Say Goodbye

And just like that, my time in Sicily and my month in Italy has come to an end.  It always amazes me how quickly the time passes.  It almost feels like I just arrived, and now here I am, at the end of my last full day.  I can’t complain one bit though, I have truly had an amazing adventure.

I was definitely lagging a bit from all of the wedding festivities, but yesterday has still got me smiling.  We all had such a great time at the wedding.

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how cute are they!?!

I started my day out in the sunshine, as I have so many mornings here on the farm.  It is such a nice and peaceful way to start my day.  After a little bit, a car pulled up, and it was Irene and Mario, bringing over a huge tray of my favorite pastries!  They are seriously so sweet!  They wanted to make sure that I had one more of my favorite pastries before leaving Sicily.  (And also, they were coming over to get ready to cook.  They wanted to give me a true Sicilian style barbecue as my sendoff.)

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cartoccio…God’s gift to me

Mario got the grill going real hot, Pino ran out for some more wine (I wish that I was joking), and I did what apparently is my major talent in Italy, eating.

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I tried desperately to help with the cooking, but they will barely let me touch anything.  They are so generous in all that they do, and they truly made me feel so loved and taken care of.  To be honest, I have kind of felt like a princess all week.

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Mario al due

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Today’s feast?  Barbecued meats – stuffed meats, meats stuffed with meats, sausages…anything that was either part of the meat group or wine group was on the menu.  And of course, everything was delicious.  I swear that everything that I have eaten on this trip has been my newest favorite meal.

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The funny thing about today’s lunch was that it was actually supposed to be a “light lunch” because we had dinner plans as well.  Well, we all know how that light lunch thing goes…anyways, rounds of meats, breads, cheeses, another good chunk of wine bottles and a platter of cartoccio later, we were stuffed.  But there’s always room for a little Prosecco, right??

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With practically all of the food and wine finished, it was time to clean up and get ready for dinner.  I wish I was joking.  The nice thing about these long lunches, is that they are long and relaxing.  The downside is that you basically need to get ready to eat again right away.

Tonight was set to be another feast.  Irene had learned that I had never had some of the famous little savory pastries from Termini, and so she insisted that we plan a dinner of them.  Tiny little fried and baked pockets of cheese and meats?  Sign me up!

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Pierina with a giant tray of arancini

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tiny little sfincione

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Irene with her favorite – bolognese stuffed brioche rolls

They loaded up my plate with one of everything, and then they all sat in anticipation to see what my favorite would be.  It seems like everyone had a different favorite, and was hoping that I would pick theirs.

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My winner?  The bolognese stuffed brioche roll.  Irene was pleased that I chose her favorite.  And me?  I couldn’t be leaving any happier.  This whole month has been such a wonderful exploration of Italy.  I have been to so many new places, tried so many new things, and lived every single day.  This has truly been la mia bella vita.

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Here Comes the Bride

So I actually woke up surprisingly early this morning after yesterday’s feast, made myself a cup of tea, and just sat outside enjoying the sunshine.  When my father-in-law got up, he was energized and ready to pack in some morning activities before we went to the wedding.

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I was really enjoying the quietness of the farm, so I decided to hang behind while he and Zio Mario went off exploring.  My father-in-law was laughing at me and my love for the farm life…he jokingly said, “what are you going to do, watch the corn grow?”  Yes, actually, yes I will.  And in fact the corn has grown a lot since we arrived :)

While they went out in search of something (probably a little bread or pastry), I decided to take a quick shower so that my hair could air-dry.  Pino had told me to lock the front door if I was going to shower, so I literally used the key to lock myself in, then took my shower.  When I got out, I made another cup of tea and went to go unlock the door and sit outside.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the door to unlock.  Seriously.  I tried for maybe 15-20 minutes with no success (this also brought back memories of when I locked myself in a bathroom at my parents house as a child, but that’s a story for a different day).  I was feeling really frustrated…all I wanted to do was sit outside and enjoy the sun.

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Finally I figured it out.  No, I didn’t unlock the door, I opened the kitchen window, climbed on the table, and hopped through.  Well, at least I was outside, right?  Luckily when Pino and Zio Mario got home, they were able to get the door unlocked on their first try.

After a good chuckle, we got ourselves ready for the wedding, and found that we had just enough time to kill that we could sneak in a quick gelato lunch.

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gelati from earlier in the week

The gelato here is so good; it is so creamy, and so flavorful.  And don’t even get me started on the brioche. I had never before had brioche con gelato, and when Irene heard this, she was like, “we must go immediately and get you one.  Everyone who visits Sicily must eat brioche con gelato.”  So, brioche con gelato it is.  A freshly baked brioche roll, cut open, stuffed with gelato and topped with fresh cream.  A gelato sandwich, can it really get any better than this?

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Stuffed with gelato, we went to the relatives’ house and took pictures of everyone dolled up for the wedding, then drove into Palermo for the wedding.

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Mario and Zio Mario

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Mario and Loredana

The church was beautiful – the star painted ceiling, the ornate gold accents, the white flowers, everything was just right.

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We all took our seats to only immediately and repeatedly get up to greet different cousins.  When you have family in a small town in Italy, it almost seems as if everyone is related to you somehow.

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Just before the ceremony started, the choir sang a few songs.  I was both surprised and excited by their song selection.  Serena, the bride, had chosen all upbeat and happy songs for them to sing.  I felt like I was in Sister Act; it set such a great tone for the wedding.

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The ceremony was so much fun and so beautiful.  Serena made the most beautiful bride, and Lorenzo, her doting groom.  They are so sweet and gentle with each other.

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the proud parents

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After the ceremony, we all set up outside the church for the traditional rice throwing.  I have seen this in movies and pictures, but have never gotten to experience it firsthand, so I was really excited!  We all picked up little papers filled with rice dyed in their wedding colors, and rose petals.

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And when they exited the church, it was the most beautiful explosion of rice and rose petals!

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After pulling rice out of each others hair, we piled back into our cars and drove out into the countryside where the reception was held.  A beautiful villa lined with Italian pines awaited us.  It was lit up, decorated to the nines and filled to the brim with food just waiting for us to begin the aperitivo hour (more like hours).

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starting to present the appetizers

We were offered different champagne cocktails and then encouraged to dig in.  There were three 15 foot long tables filled, and I mean filled with food.  And no repetition.  There must have been 100 different things to eat.  Is it possible to eat everything, I asked Irene?  “Yes Kate, it is always possible.”

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So as to not offend anyone, I made sure to eat everything.  Just kidding, I just tried bites of everything because, when your choice is either pane e panelle or a meatball, how do you choose?  You choose both, thats how.

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round 1 of 20

Fried foods, raw foods, cheeses, breads – I can barely even remember everything that they offered.  It was unbelievable to just look at, and each bite was truly as good as the last.

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wheel of cheese?  yes please!

Already stuffed, it was time to head into the dining room.  The amazingly attentive staff escorted us each to our tables and helped us with our chairs.  Serena and Lorenzo arrived and burst into the hall beaming with that newlywed glow.  They have such a sweet energy together.  They both have such playful and joyful personalities, it has been so much fun to be a part of their special day.

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Mario reciting a special poem that he wrote for the lovebirds

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With the arrival of Serena and Lorenzo, it was again, time to eat.

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First course?  Fried shrimp, smoked salmon, octopus salad, and a shaved fennel salad.  Wow.  Strong start.  I was immediately starting to regret my 100 appetizers.

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As soon as we finished our first course, the band started playing and everyone hopped out of their seats and we danced for a good 3o minutes.

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I asked Irene, do we dance between every course?  “Of course Kate, that’s how we keep eating.”  Oh, okay, I get it now.  Eat, dance, eat, dance.  I got it.

Second course?  A creamy mixed seafood risotto.  Followed by more dancing, which by the way, the band was amazing!

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Third course?  Homemade pasta with langostino.  Homemade pasta!?!  At a wedding!?!  Someone was really busy in that kitchen!  This was also my favorite course, and definitely a dish that I am going to try and make at home.  Fresh pasta delicately tossed with a shrimp infused red sauce and topped with sweet juicy langostino, che buona!

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Fourth course? Salmon stuffed with crab and spinach, swordfish, fried calamari and a stuffed lobster tail.  And then, of course, more dancing.

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Finally done with the feasting, or at least until dessert, the next few hours were filled with more dancing, speeches and then the most amazing surprise. A sand artist.

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The artist came with a table of sand that was under-lit and projected onto a screen for us all to watch.  What was going to happen?  I had never seen anything like this.

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What unfolded was such a beautiful work of art.  Using only her hands and the sand, the artist told the love story of Serena and Lorenzo, literally drawing pictures of their life together with sand.

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And if that is not amazing enough, what I was so impressed by is that she never wiped the board clean; she would literally turn the butterfly into Serena’s face, or a horse into the Eiffel Tower; all set to beautiful music, this was truly an experience.  Everyone was blown away.

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After the sand art, we all put our dancing shoes back on for the few last songs before the doors opened and revealed the dessert room.  What had once been 100 appetizers, was now 100 desserts…cakes, cookies, gelato, tartes, candies, fresh almond brittle…you name it, they had it.  I mustered the strength to try a few things, but after all of the eating that had already happened, there was barely any room left.

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After we finished dessert, it was well after 1 in the morning, and it was time to start saying our goodbyes.  And about an hour later we left.  Haha.  Seriously, Italians take their goodbyes very seriously.

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The drive home was filled with laughter and smiles as we all exchanged happy stories from the day.  To watch such a special couple marry was truly a gift for us all.  Congratulazione Serena e Lorenzo! Una grande bacione per voi!

Touring Termini

The past few days have been a whirlwind of eating, visiting with relatives, eating, cooking, and eating some more.  It’s been pretty great.

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the coastline of Termini Imerese

My father-in-law and his brother arrived from the States, so it was time for me to say my goodbyes to some of the cousins, and move out to the Pantarella (the name for the family farmhouse).

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artichoke fields nearby the Pantarella

Prior to my first stay at the Pantarella, I had been given the impression to not expect very much at all.  I went in thinking that there was barely going to be running water and that I would have to take the family donkey into the village to get groceries (I’m only joking though, they haven’t had a donkey for years).

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Well, that is definitely not the case at all.  The Pantarella is a beautiful home that just happens to be located on a farm.  For the relatives, it feels rustic, but to me it is heaven.  Surrounded by mountains, fields of artichokes, fruit trees, and as much peace and quiet as you can handle, it is perfection.

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Although we weren’t staying with the relatives anymore, they all still went out of their way to make sure that we were taken care of.  They had fully stocked the house, and not just with the essentials, but also with their homemade olive oil, red sauce, jams and wine.

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And on top of that, they barely let us do a single thing.  They are all so generous in all that they do, and you just feel this completely overwhelming sense of love and care when you are around them.

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On Friday morning we all headed over to the Mercato to pick up a few things to make for lunch.  Let me first start by saying that it is very typical in Sicily and Italy that your lunch meal is the biggest meal of the day.  So that being said, we went to the market ready to load up.

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We wandered the stalls in search of the freshest seasonal ingredients, which turned out to be everything.  I love how abundant all of the markets are in Italy; the colors of all of the produce and the energy of the people leaves me feeling very inspired.

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We were so inspired, in fact, that we probably overbought.  But we figured that with enough tummies to fill, it would all work itself out.

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But before we could get home to start cooking, we had to make two more stops, a quick snack break and the grocery store for some wine.

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Sicily is famous for panelle, and for pane e panelle.  Panelle are little crepe-like patties made from chickpea flour.  You make a super thick batter, chill it, then cut slices and deep fry them.  You can either eat them alone, delicious, or you can have pane e panelle, which is a panelle sandwich.  However you eat them, these babies are addictive.  So we figured that it would be a good idea to grab a couple of sandwiches to share, just to make sure no one went hungry ;)

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After our sandwiches, we headed over to the grocery store, and boy was this a fun stop.  We all cracked up as my father-in-law went to town in the wine department, loading up our cart.  Irene kept exclaiming, “Pino, basta!”  (Enough!)  It was hilarious!  I think that we left the store with almost 20 bottles?  I can’t totally remember the exact count, but lets say this, it was enough to really get the party started.

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Irene posing with our goodies

When we got home, we opened some wine and quickly got to work on different tasks.  Loredana expertly cleaned all of the fish, Dario and Zio Mario manned the grill, Irene got the table set…and me?  Well, I took on the roll of master taster and wine pourer.  I nibbled on the different courses as they were finished being prepared, and made sure that no ones glasses ran empty.

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On the menu?  Grilled sardines, grilled octopus, grilled stuffed swordfish skewers (to die for!  I need to try and recreate these!), grilled langostino, spaghetti with clams, fennel and tomato salad, several different cheeses and enough bread to sink a ship.  We were really in for a treat.

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This was the lunch to end all lunches.  We ate about 100 lbs of fish, went through 10 or more (its hard to remember now, maybe it was 15) bottles of wine, ate practically all of the food, and laughed ourselves silly until almost six o’clock, at which point Loredana popped up and announced that she wanted to start cleaning up so that we could get ready for dinner.

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Dinner?  We all laughed hysterically.  There was definitely no room.  So instead we all decided to sit a bit more (code word for open a bottle of Prosecco) before heading out for a passagieta (walk).

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Today was such a beautiful day.  We all got the chance to escape from reality and just enjoy each others company until the sun set.  And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I could really get used to this farm life.

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~ ~ ~

Thank you to TEP Wireless for sponsoring this post.  If you haven’t heard of TEP before, they are an amazing company that rents wireless hot spots for your worldwide travels.  I had mine shipped to Italy for me, and I will drop it off at London Heathrow on my way home.  I knew that I wouldn’t have reception on the farm, so this little baby has been a lifesaver.  I have been able to stay connected with friends and family anywhere that I have gone, and it’s even small enough to fit in a clutch.  If you have any future travel plans, make sure to check them out!

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