Eating Comfort Food in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is a melting pot of a city, which means that it has a variety of food styles that have been combined to create the cuisine that represents the city. The food in Pittsburgh is as relaxed and unpretentious as the city itself. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find upscale restaurants with fine food, there are definitely options for that, but the majority of restaurants offer downhome cooking. They are the types of places where you expect to find that the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. We were able to try a variety of simple meals that had a lot of flavor and taste.

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Inside of Primanti Bros

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Lydia’s Restaurant

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Pittsburgher

There are a couple of things that you have to eat when visiting Pittsburgh. First of all, you will find pierogis on the menus of many restaurants in the downtown area, so you have to try them at least once. We actually had a few varieties while we were there from the traditional potato and cheese filled pierogi to a Reuben pierogi that we found at a restaurant that specialized in pierogis called The Pierogi Bar. Of course, we had to try them with a local beer. Pierogis are served either boiled, pan fried, or deep fried. Another item that you will find at various burger and sandwich restaurants is the Pittsburgher, which is a burger topped with coleslaw and French fries. We heard that Primanti Bros, which is a diner style restaurant, was the best place to get a Pittsburgher. It is certainly an acquired taste and the burger tasted a little bit more like a meatloaf rather than a plain old hamburger.

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Primanti Bros Counter

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Reuben Pierogis

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Eating the Pittsburgher

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Classic Pierogis

Another must have item when in Pittsburgh would be fresh baked pretzels. They can be found all throughout Pennsylvania and the ones in Pittsburgh were as good as any that we have had. Whether you like your pretzels with a beer-cheese sauce or yellow mustard, you will find plenty of places that offer them as a snack or appetizer. One interesting place that we found was called The Yard, an American Gastropub, which specialized in a variety of toasted cheese sandwiches. The toasted buffalo mac and cheese sandwich was extremely decadent, but equally delicious.

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Pretzels with Cheese and Mustard

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Buffalo Mac’n’Cheese

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Sitting at the Yard

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The Pierogi Bar

For an upscale Italian meal, Lydia’s is ideal. We shared the lasagna, which was certainly large enough for two people. We also had an interesting Cajun shrimp pasta that was served with garlic cheese bread at the August Henry Burger Bar. It was also the place where we had the traditional pierogis that are served with sautéed onions and sour cream. We had our pierogis pan fried, which is our preferred way to enjoy these delicious potato cakes.

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Lasagna at Lydia’s

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Fine Dining Atmosphere at Lydia’s

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Cajun Shrimp Pasta

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Crystal

If you like good, simple, food that tastes good and fills your stomach, then Pittsburgh has plenty of options for you. You can also find a nice variety of local craft beer that goes great with the humble meals that are found throughout the city. As always, we asked the locals where to go and received a lot of recommendations that helped us find places to grab a bite to eat. One place that we visited several times, mostly because of the friendly owner and staff, was Crystal, which is more of a neighborhood bar that serves Mediterranean food.

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Beers on Tap at the Yard

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Neighborhood Bar

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Crystal Gets Busy

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Local Beer

 

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Traveling to New Places is Addictive

There are many reasons to travel from understanding different cultures, learning about history, seeing the natural beauty of the world, to many more. One of the more selfish reasons for traveling and going to new places around the world is that it just makes you feel good. Once you get over the stress of travel itself and actually are spending time in a new location, there is a sense of awe and enjoyment that can’t help but make you smile. When you smile, your body releases endorphins that make you feel good, which is why travel can become so addictive. In the same way that an adrenaline junky can’t get enough travel because of the endorphins that get released when doing risky activities, the same things occur to people who truly enjoy traveling.

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At the Colosseum in Rome

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Afternoon in Prague

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At a Volcano in Ecuador

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Plaza in Old Town Strasbourg

When we look back at photographs of ourselves from our travels, there is no doubting as to whether it makes us happy. We usually have broad smiles on our faces and a general look of contentment. There is no doubt that we have conditioned ourselves to traveling and most definitely have the travel bug. Oddly enough, when we look at our selfies, which we don’t always take, it is almost as if we have the exact same poses and faces in every single one of them. Because we travel over the winter quite frequently, we also have the same coats and scarves on in many of them as well. Do you look the same in your travel photos or do you do random poses?

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Sunny Day at the Acropolis in Athens

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Cold Day in Iceland

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On a Bridge in Nuremberg

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The Canals of Amsterdam

 

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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – A City on the Rebound

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is one of those down-to-earth cities where the people work hard, play hard, and always have a kind word to say. They take pride in their sports teams and their city, even during times when the economy wasn’t as strong. Fortunately, things are on the rise at the moment and jobs are plentiful and the city is experiencing a revival. As one of our cab drivers told us, depending upon what you do, you can come to Pittsburgh now and probably find not one job, but three. As friendly and welcoming as the people were that we met, we are definitely happy to see things improving for them.

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The Strip in Downtown Pittsburgh

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Train Going Through Downtown

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Pittsburgh Architecture

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Heinz Ketchup Factory

One thing that you notice immediately when you visit Pittsburgh is that it is an unpretentious city. Most buildings are unassuming and have the feel of the turn of the century, with the exception of one glass skyscraper which is shaped like a castle and looks very out of place compared to the rest of the city. The streets are very walkable and there are a variety of wonderful restaurants, especially in the Strip, which is on Penn Street in downtown Pittsburgh.

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One of the Many Bridges

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Point State Park

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Castle Skyscraper

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Buildings in Downtown Pittsburgh

With the three rivers converging in Pittsburgh, the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny Rivers, yellow bridges can be found at almost every turn. It is certainly worth walking to Point State Park and taking a stroll along the river for a relaxing afternoon and enjoying the views of the iconic baseball stadium that sits across from it. With rolling hills all around the city, going up to Mount Washington will provide you with wonderful views of the downtown area as well as the park. Another sight not to be missed is the famous Heinz building with its ketchup bottle proudly pouring the condiment for all of the city to see.

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Football Stadium

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Yellow Bridges

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Strolling in Point State Park

We only had a short time to spend in Pittsburgh, but we expect to be back again to enjoy even more of the city’s hospitality. It was definitely warm and welcoming with a very casual and relaxed feeling. The city is a melting pot of a variety of central European cultures from Polish, German, Italian, and more, which makes it a very unique cultural city as well as culinary city to visit.

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Nuremberg Trial Courthouse

You don’t need to be a history buff to visit the famous courthouse in Nuremberg where the trials of the leaders of the Nazi party were held following the end of WWII. It is a stark reminder of the horrors that people are capable of when their power is left unchecked. It was also probably the most notable use of international law to punish those who committed the atrocities of the Holocaust as well as other war crimes. The courthouse is a short distance from the old town area of Nuremberg, but it is worth taking the time to visit this famous location.

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Famous Courtroom

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Entrance to the Courthouse

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Courthouse

As you take your self-guided tour of the courthouse, there are video stations at the different seats that allow you to see actual footage of the court hearings and listen to the prosecutors, judges, defendants, and others giving testimony. Hearing and seeing these moments from the past is certainly fascinating, although it is almost seems a little surreal. It is important for all generations to understand the significance of what occurred during this horrific period of our history. As you watch the trials through the footage taken at the time, you understand that these were real people, not just mythological figures in history books, who made decisions that seem unfathomable to us now.

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Ornate Doorframe

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Large Courthouse Grounds

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Courthouse Rooms

Visiting courthouses and prisons aren’t often on the top of anyone’s trip itinerary, but there are times when it is important to make a point to visit these places. As a society, we turn these types of places into museums and historical landmarks as reminder of not only what happened, but also what the human race is capable of if we turn a blind eye to events that unfold around us. These might not be the most beautiful locations, nor should they be, but that doesn’t necessarily lesson the impression that they make upon you.

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View as We Left the Courthouse

 

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A Taste of Austin, Texas

Austin may be known for its barbeque, but there are a lot more food options than just smoked meats. With its proximity to Houston, there is an abundance of seafood and the restaurants offer everything from comfort food to creative plates that are sure to please. Needless to say, we could only sample a few of the many restaurants in this historic old city, but we enjoyed everything that we were able to taste. It isn’t just the food, though, the ambiance and historic feel of many of the restaurants provide an atmosphere that invites you with southern charm or surround you with a feeling of elegance.

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Ironworks Barbeque

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Red Beans and Rice

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Irish Pub

We definitely had to get some barbeque while we were in Austin and, to be more specific, we had to get some beef brisket. As always, we asked the locals for recommendations and received several, but we decided to go to the Ironworks in the Red River District. Fortunately for us, we arrived early as the line was starting to really grow by the time we left. We sat at the outside deck, slathered our sandwich with barbeque sauce, and had some corn on the cob and potato salad. The brisket literally melted in your mouth it was so tender from being smoked over a low heat for hours.

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Moonshine Grill

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Beef Brisket Sandwich

Local Beer

For seafood, we had two very unique and different experiences. In downtown Austin, we went to Truluck’s Seafood Restaurant for an upscale dining experience. We couldn’t resist getting a dozen oysters on the half shell, but the escargot was different than usual and the presentation of their shrimp cocktail was equal to the restaurant’s atmosphere. For pure comfort food, we went to Sam’s Boat in the suburbs of Austin, which was near our hotel. With its abundance of options like po-boys, fried oysters, crawfish, and shrimp, they offered seafood comfort food.

Rooftop Bar

Line Forming

Crab Queso

For more unique experiences, we went to a couple of different taverns for drinks as well as small bites. We enjoyed Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill in the Red River District, which had a good happy hour and friendly bar staff. They offer a nice variety of southern and Texas options, all with their eclectic flair. The Southern Grit Cake was definitely an unusual option with fried crawfish, aioli, and hot sauce served over a grit cake. For a wide variety of local beers, North by Northwest (NXNW) couldn’t be beat. They too were located in the Arboretum area of Texas and were relatively new, but that didn’t keep the crowds from filling up their outdoor seating area.

Oysters on the Half Shell

Cocktails

Shrimp Cocktail

We seem to find an Irish pub wherever we go and Austin was no different. We enjoyed an Irish Boxty while listening to some wonderful country-western music. We could have spent all afternoon sitting and listening the band if it weren’t for the fact that we had places to go. For a classic cocktail, the Driskill Bar inside of the famous landmark hotel serves up anything that you like in an relaxed, yet upscale, atmosphere. There are also many rooftop bars in downtown Austin that will give you great views of the city and a refreshing drink while you try to beat the heat.

Escargot

Cajun Mac and Cheese

Patio Bar

Regardless of your style of dining, Austin has something for everyone. If you make your way to Texas, you have to try some barbeque, but don’t be afraid to try something a little more unique. Austin claims that they are “weird”, but really they are just authentic, friendly, and have a true southern charm. We are looking forward to our next visit where we can try even more of the wonderful options that Austin has to offer.

Driskill Bar

Patio Bar

Upscale Seafood

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Us Against the World

Do you ever feel like everything in the world is conspiring against you? There are definitely times when we feel like no one else really understands what we are trying to do or why we are trying to do it. Why do we take the time to write posts almost every day, why do we travel to far away places instead of traveling to see family, why do we spend so much energy working on something that doesn’t make much money? These are all questions that we get asked by friends and family. As if writing a travel blog is a hobby that we do in our spare time as opposed to something that can be more significant than that. We are generally positive people, so we do our best to push some of the negative commentary out of our minds. At the end of the day, we know that are not alone and that there is a community of like-minded people for us to connect with. Do you ever feel the same way, do people question why you do what you do at times?

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Lone Tree on an Island in Bolivia

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Lone Statue in Romania

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Sad Monkey in Gibraltar

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Isolated Cabin in Iceland

 

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Austin, Texas – Music, Food, and Fun

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Capital Building

We had the opportunity to visit Austin, Texas, and enjoyed the opportunity to have some good barbeque, country-western music, and wonderful hospitality. Congress Street in downtown Austin has a variety of restaurants, shops, and music venues, which makes it the perfect place to stroll. Austin is the capital of Texas and the tourist section of Congress Street starts or ends there depending upon how you look at it. At the opposite end of Congress Street from the capital is the Congress Bridge, which will take you across Lady Bird Lake, which is a river-like reservoir on the Colorado River in Austin. There is a nice park and walking paths to enjoy.

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Walking Congress Street

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Line for Barbeque in the Red River District

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Mix of Architecture in Downtown Austin

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St Elias Church

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Vietnam Memorial on the Capital Grounds

We only had one day downtown as we were there for a work trip, so we made the most of our time walking the streets of downtown. We started our day in the Red River District and made sure to get some beef brisket before heading towards the capital, which seems to be the most photographed image of Austin. The grounds of the capital are quite beautiful with several statues and you can even take a tour of the governor’s mansion depending upon when you visit. After walking in the Texas heat for a while, we decided to stop in The Driskill Bar and Grill, which is located in the historic hotel. The inside of the hotel is quite beautiful and it was an elegant place to sit and relax before continuing to enjoy downtown Austin.

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Historic Driskill Building

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Walking the Red River District

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Lobby of the Driskill Hotel

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Walking Path in the Red River District

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Moonshine Tavern

We couldn’t leave Austin without listening to some country-western music and oddly enough we found an Irish pub with a live band that met our needs perfectly. It was almost a family affair as different members of the band joined at different times, so the music was constantly changing. It was quite a lively atmosphere and we enjoyed it very much. Afterwards we continued to walk around downtown Austin looking at the varying architecture, which is a mixture of historic and modern buildings sitting side by side.

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Enjoying the Music

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Rooftop Bar in Downtown Austin

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Historic Building

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Downtown Architecture

After having some seafood for dinner, we made our way back to our hotel. We definitely enjoyed our time in Austin and are looking forward to visiting again in the near future. There is more to see than what we were able to do in such a short period of time, but what we did see left us wanting to see more.

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Convention Center Grounds

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Street Art

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Downtown Skyscraper

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Texas Peace Officer Memorial at the Capital

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Another View of the Capital

 

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Parrot Clay Lick in the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador

When visiting Yasuni National Park in the Amazon, one of the tours will take you out to see the parrots and parakeets licking the clay on a cliff along the banks of the Napo River in Ecuador. The tours are organized by the Napo Wildlife Center, whose property is where the licks are located, and the best time to visit is just after dawn in the morning. Activity at the clay lick is even more abundant on mornings when it isn’t raining, so we were fortunate to have a clear day during our visit since it is called a rainforest for obvious reasons.

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Colorful Parrots

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Hundreds of Parrots at the Clay Lick

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Flying In and Flying Out

The night before our tour, our nature guide offered us the choice of sleeping in an extra thirty minutes and having breakfast on the boat or getting up at 4:30 am to eat before departing on the tour. Since we had be up so early every morning, we gladly chose to stay in bed for any extra time that he would offer us and the chef of the lodge prepared a variety of food for us to eat on the boat. Despite being in the jungle, it was surprisingly cool on the water as we made our way to the first of two clay licks that we were to visit that day.

The parrots, parakeets, and macaws visit to the clay lick almost daily because the minerals in the clay counteract the toxins that are in the berries and fruit that they eat in the jungle. Without the clay licks, the birds wouldn’t survive the toxicity that builds up in their small bodies. The birds certainly seem to fully enjoy their time at the clay lick as they chirped and squawked incessantly as they hopped around and flew in and out of the group. There were so many birds that it was hard to distinguish one from another at times. We sat there on our boat for almost an hour as we ate our breakfast and watched the birds eating and playing.

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Birds Flying Towards Us

Afterwards, we went to the second clay lick where we had to hike our way into the jungle to get a spot in an observation deck. There was the possibility of a variety of animals from birds to mammals coming to the location, so our group sat there quietly waiting for anything to appear. At one point, we saw a couple of parrots come to the clay lick, but that was all that we saw. After seeing so many birds at the previous clay lick, sitting quietly for three hours to see two birds was a little anticlimactic.

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Birds Huddled Together

We saw so many different birds and animals during our time in the Amazon, but watching the feeding frenzy at the clay lick was certainly a highlight of our time in the rainforest. It is hard to believe the way that animals learn to adapt to their environment, eating things that are toxic to their systems and then finding ways to counteract what is poisoning their systems. If only there was a clay lick for humans who have gone out at night and had too much to drink, wouldn’t that be nice 🙂 .

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Don’t Let the Weather Get You Down

When you have spent so much time and money planning a trip, it is always disappointing when the weather doesn’t cooperate and it either rains or snows so that you can’t see how truly beautiful a place is. Everyone wants those travel photos with the clear blue skies and the sun shining brightly on the statues and buildings. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has a mind of her own. We always try to check out the weather trends for a location before we go so that we know when it might be a rainy season and then try to avoid those times. Even so, it is important to make sure that you try to be as flexible as possible and plan some indoor activities such as museums or tours of a palace. During our time in Germany, we had many rainy weekends, so in the end, we just made the most of the time that we had and decided not to complain about something that we couldn’t control. In some ways, photos of a rainy day can be more interesting than those on a sunny day. These are some pictures of our trip to Paris when it rained almost the entire time, but thankfully it wasn’t our first trip to that wonderful city.

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Walking in the Rain

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Car Lights Reflecting on the Street

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Wet Cars and the Arc de Triumph

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Eternal Flame Resisting the Rain

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Eiffel Tower Shrouded in Rain Clouds

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Rainy Intersection

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Modern Paris in the Rain

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Storm Clouds over the Eiffel Tower

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People Walking in the Rain

 

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Fettuccine with Pork and Spinach

Needless to say, there are hundreds of restaurants in New York, many of them Italian. Many, if not most, of them serve wonderful food from family recipes that they brought with them from the Old World. During our stay in Manhattan, we came across one of these small, family owned and run, restaurants and stopped there for lunch as we walked the streets of the city. We ended up trying a couple of their daily specials, one ravioli and the other fettuccine. Both of them were wonderful, but we especially liked the fettuccine as it was different than most pasta dishes that we have had. In our attempt to replicate it, we had little to go on other than the picture that we took during our meal, but it turned out to be delicious as well as very simple to prepare. As is often the case, simple dishes with only a few ingredients can often be some of the best.

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Fettuccine in New York

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb Fresh Fettuccine
  • 1 lb Baby Spinach
  • 1 lb Ground Pork – unseasoned
  • 2 tbsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1 tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tbsp Red Pepper Flakes – more or less depending on how spicy you would like it
  • 1/2 cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
  • 4 tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 6 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

Be sure to use plain ground pork and not a seasoned pork sausage. In a large bowl, combine the pork, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, red peppers, salt and pepper and be sure to incorporate the spices throughout the meat. It is best to work the meat and spices with your hands as you would if you were going to make meatballs. Set the pork aside for about 30 minutes to let the seasonings infuse the meat and allow the meat to come to room temperature. Heat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to medium-high heat. Add the pork, breaking it up into rough bite size chunks as it browns. Sauté the pork until it is fully cooked and slightly browned, about 10 minutes while stirring frequently. Remove the pork, leaving as much of the oil and fat, and set aside on a plate with a paper towel to drain. Add the baby spinach in batches and heat until it is wilted and soft. The spinach will reduce to about 1/4th as it wilts. Once all of the spinach has been cooked, reduce the heat to low and combine the pork and spinach. Cook the fettuccine according to the package directions, being sure to reserve about a cup of the pasta water. In a large bowl, combine the butter and the fettuccine and mix thoroughly until the pasta is coated. Combine the pork, spinach, and pasta water and toss gently together. Divide onto plates and shred the parmesan cheese over top and serve.

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Browning the Pork

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Wilt the Spinach

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Our Version of the Fettuccine with Pork and Spinach

 

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