Thursday, May 31, 2012

What I'm Cooking: Healthier Chicken Salad

I love Chicken Salad. I've been trying to be a little bit healthier lately though.  This easy and (in my mind) healthier (although I have no scientific data to prove that is healthier) take on Chicken Salad has become a staple of my summer time cooking.

You'll need:

Two Chicken Breasts
1 Avocado, cut into 0.5" pieces
2 Teaspoons Mayonnaise
1/4 Teaspoon Sage
1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Pepper
Juice of Half of One Lime
Salt and Pepper to Taste

I start off by roasting some bone-in, skin on chicken breasts. I coat the chicken breasts with a light covering of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste then place them in an oven preheated to 350F.  I cook until an instant read thermometer reads between 155F-160F -- chicken is fully cooked when the juices run clear or the temperature is 165F.  I find that pulling the chicken out at 155 will allow the carryover heat to bring it to proper temperature.

Let the chicken cool in the fridge for a couple hours or even over night (or two nights).  Cut the chicken into 0.5"-1.0" pieces. Place in mixing bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix together. In lieu of using much more mayo, the creamy avocado helps bind the whole thing together.  Of course it has a bit of a green tint to it, but you'll look past it as soon as you taste it.

I think the lime juice and the lemon pepper add a great citrus taste that is so refreshing in the warmer spring and summer months.

Traditionally, I just serve this on a plate surrounded by my favorite fruits (mangoes, strawberries, bananas) and veggies (tomatoes) but it would go wonderfully on a baguette as a sandwich.

Have you updated a classic recipe - attempting to make it healthier?  Have you used avocado as a mayo alternative before?  Do you agree that lemon pepper is an underused ingredient?

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

IPNC & PNW: Planning

I've written (ad nauseum) about the planning and cancellation of our trip to Vietnam you can read about it herehereherehereherehere and here, following my accident, which you can read about here. We planned on being gone for two weeks; with Vietnam postponed until 2013, we now have two extra weeks of vacation to use. We are taking one (plus) week in Europe, visiting the UK (Olympics), Spain and France.  We've got another week we need to use (technically we have more than a week to use, but we have a week we planned to use in Vietnam that we didn't get to use).

MS has always been a big fan of the State and National Park System -- and to be quite honest, I haven't visited many. He also loves a nice road trip.  Me not so much. Let's see if I can plan a trip that incorporates some of these things -- passions of his but things that I haven't really experienced.

Last year we spent a weekend at my alma mater (Linfield College) for the International Pinot Noir Celebration. This is a 3 day event full of wine tastings, winery tours and amazing food.  We didn't opt for the full three day package last year, but we did attend the main event - the Salmon Bake on Saturday night, followed by the Sunday afternoon wine tasting.  I initially didn't want to do the full weekend package, which includes lectures/seminars -- I was afraid these lectures/seminars would be a little too stuffy and take away from the whole experience.  Two friends (EAD and JFB) did the full IPNC weekend last year and loved it.  We absolutely loved the Salmon Bake and the Sunday Tasting.  Let's do the full weekend package this year!

I figured we could combine these two trip ideas (National Park Road Trip and IPNC) into a nice 10 day trip.  Since we've both got friends in Seattle that we've wanted to see for a while we figured we should tack this on too.  We are still working on the logistics for the whole week, but so far the plan is to spend the weekend at IPNC, the head down to Crater Lake and spend two nights. Then we'll head to the Oregon coast, since I haven't been there in probably 11 years, for a night.  We'll then head up to Seattle with a day (no night though) in Portland. We'll see some friends and visit Multnomah Falls.

I haven't been to Crater Lake or Multnomah Falls before. I know, I am a bad Oregonian, eh?  I think we'll stay in either Newport or Lincoln City -- because we're coming from Crater Lake and we don't want to spend all day in the car. I think Cannon Beach is just a bit too far.

What else should we do on this 10 day road trip? Have you been to IPNC? Do you have any suggestions on alternate attractions around Crater Lake or on the way to Newport? What is your favorite destination along the Oregon Coast?

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dollar Shave Club - Initial Review

Last month I mentioned an interesting website called Dollar Shave Club and how while I was a bit skeptical, I did sign up for it.  Well, 5 weeks later my first shipment arrived.  My credit card was charged the day I signed up, of course.

Envelope and contents of first delivery
Your first shipment arrives in a brown paper envelope filled with 4 blades (depending on the program you sign up for, of course), a welcome note and a handle for your new razors.  The razors cannot be used on another type of handle (that I am aware of) but they throw in a handle with your first purchase.
Welcome Note
 The card is simple and reminds you when shipments are made and estimated delivery time. Nothing all that useful
The handle is pretty big - much bigger than the handles the come with regular supermarket razors. It actually felt pretty good, a nice ergonomic design.

So, how are the razors themselves? Well, I tried them this morning, after 3 days of growth and the razor was pretty good. I traditionally use Gillette Fusion, which cost about $3 from or up to $6 at Jewel or Target.  These cost just $1.50 each.  If they have the staying power of the Gillette blades then this sounds like a good option.  The razor did do a good job of chopping through my stubble.

What is my final verdict? Well, the price is great. The first shave was pretty good. I think I will give it a month or two and see how it really work in the long haul.

Have you tried this product?  Do the razors actually arrive when you expect them to? How many shaves do you get with a single razor?  How long have you used these blades?  If you want to try them our and you are feeling generous, sign up using my link (using my link will give me a free month of razors).

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Monday, May 28, 2012

European Triad: Why I Hate Barcelona

Everyone I know just loves Barcelona, so why do I hate it?  Well, hate is such a strong word.  Let me walk through my thoughts/hatred.  I visited Barcelona once, in High School. It was my first trip abroad (EF Tours - great operator who really sparked my love for travel) and we visited Madrid, Barcelona, Nice, Monte Carlo, Florence and Rome.  All in 10 days.  I absolutely loved Madrid. It was the first foreign city I ever visited and the first place I was ever able to use a foreign language skill successfully -- probably also a reason I love language study now.

It was spring break -- March 1996. Madrid was warm (22C) and sunny. It was amazing. Barcelona was cold   (less than 10C). We had to spend more time on the bus that we did in Madrid.  Our jet lag was really starting to kick in while in Barcelona, so we didn't go out at night.  In Madrid we were out every night - just spending time on the Plaza Mayor and enjoying Chocolate con Churros and people watching.  I even had my first flamenco experience (which I loved). 

-- Digressing slightly.  There was a Flamenco Festival (of sorts) in Chicago in March.  I was excited to go see the dancers, hear the music, drink some sangria, but instead of taking a trip to a bar to watch Flamenco, I took a trip down 15 stairs - you can read about that here --

Back on topic.  MS, the better half, loves Barcelona. It is his favorite city. He studied there in High School (also with EF Tours, I believe) and returns every couple of years.  After we cancelled out trip to Vietnam you can read about it herehereherehereherehere and here. I was racking my brain to find a great replacement.

I don't have anything specific that I hate about Barcelona, I just don't have a memory of loving it. I obviously didn't get to really experience the city.  I am comparing Barcelona to the other cities on this High School trip, which is completely irrational, I know.

I would have been perfectly happy never returning to Barcelona again. That is horribly short sighted though. Especially since MS loves it.  There has to be something redeeming about Barcelona, right?  I love architecture, so that would be something, right?  It is a major city, so it has to have good food, right? So, I really don't hate Barcelona, I just need to really experience it.

Have any of you been to Barcelona? We are spending 3 days there over the summer, what should I do? What should we steer clear of? Where should we eat?
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Friday, May 25, 2012

European Triad: Scoring Olympic Tickets

Since I have 2 extra weeks of vacation this year (because we cancelled our trip to Vietnam you can read about it hereherehere, hereherehere and here, because of my accident, read about that here), I needed to find something to do with myself.

Two old friends recently moved back to London from Melbourne and since London is hosting the Olympics I figured now is a perfect time to visit one of my favorite Cities.

My last trip to London was in March of 2011 -- and lasted a whopping 12 (+/-) hours and I had a great time.  I figured I'd try to get tickets to a soccer match and plan a trip around the game.  

I visited the London Olympics website and after a quick search I found there were tickets available to the Bronze Medal game in Cardiff. I've never been to Cardiff.  It's a quick trip from London and watching an Olympic match would make a great little trip.

After I spend about 20 minutes filling out online forms, picking tickets and proceeding to check-out I get an error message. Evidently the site I was using was for UK citizens only. Dammit. I'm now redirected to a US site and have to start again. Create a profile, search for tickets and find that nothing is available for soccer matches if you are in the US. Dammit.

Next I decide to email my UK friends and ask them to purchase the tickets for me.  A quick response from a friend confirmed she'd order the tickets right away for me.  Fast forward 8 days. Her new job has kept her swamped. She hadn't had time to buy the tickets.  I email her and she promises to handle it that evening.  Two hours later I get an email from the US Olympic ticket seller.  80 tickets for the Gold Medal soccer match at Wembley Stadium. Holy crap!  BUY BUY BUY!

Wembley Stadium
I got in withing 10 minutes of receiving the email and managed to buy two tickets (max number per individual).  Gold Medal tickets at Wembley are infinitely better than Bronze Medal Tickets in Cardiff. C'mon, it isn't even a competition, is it?

I've always wanted to go to the Olympics and London will be a great host.  I can't go to the 2016 games as I am boycotting because Brazil beat out Chicago 2016 and I hold a grudge.

Did you get tickets to the Olympics? Which events are you going to? Do you think Chicago should have beaten Brazil?  Isn't London a much better venue than Cardiff.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

European Triad: Airbus...

One of the reason we wanted to visit Toulouse (in addition to allowing me to practice French) was to take a tour of the Airbus Industrie Factory. It wasn't a reason for us to go to Toulouse alone, but it was something I was getting excited about. Seeing the A380s being assembled and walking around and sitting in classic Airbus planes including Concorde would be a fun way to spend a portion of the day.

I've been on Concorde before, at the Intrepid: Sea, Air and Space Museum. I do wish I could have flown this plane before it was mothballed. Such is life though.

Anyway, we were going to spend some time on the factory tour, but I went to buy tickets and they are completely sold out (or otherwise unavailable) when we are there.  Our visit is in August and it is France -- it wouldn't surprise me if the factory/tour is just closed for the month.  I can't figure out if it is closed or sold out.

This is a bit frustrating.  I didn't put much thought into this tour until now -- when I know I can't go, now I'm disappointed.  I've heard from friends that the tour is just OK, nothing special, but now that I can't do it, I really want to. Grrr.

Have any of you been on the Airbus Industrie tour? Was it worth the visit? What else did you do in Toulouse?  Do you have irrational travel anger/frustration, like me?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

European Triad: Trip Planning

Earlier this year we planned a lovely trip to Vietnam, you can read about it here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Unfortunately we had to postpone it because of my accident, read about that here.  Now we have two weeks of vacation that we intended to use in March -- how can we use these weeks? By planning a quick trip to Europe of course.

MS loves Barcelona - it is his favorite City on the planet. I don't really care for Barcelona myself; I'm sure if anyone can change my opinion he can. One of my favorite cities on the planet is London and since they are hosting the Olympics this year how could I not stop by to say 'hello'?

After London and Barcelona, I wanted to pop across the border into France. I've been studying French at Alliance Francaise and I want to practice my language skills.  Since I'm also a big airplane nerd, I want to visit Toulouse and stop by Airbus Industries for a factory tour (total nerd, I know).

We are still working out the details of the itinerary for London, Barcelona and Toulouse. I've spent a ton of time in London, have dear friends and limited time in the City. I'm really looking for suggestions for things to do and places to eat in Barcelona and Toulouse.

Are you going to the Olympics this year?  Have you taken a trip to the Airbus factory before? Is it worth visiting?  Are you planning a trip to a City you have historically loathed but going to see it in a new light?

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Trinidad: Trini Wrap Up: Limin', Food and Soca

My trip to Trinidad was my first trip traveling abroad in many years - It was good to truly travel again and it was great to see EAD again. One thing I noticed while in Trinidad was the number of people just hanging out. Sitting on the side of the road outside their car listening to music (Soca music specifically). Evidently this practice is called liming. I initially thought that Trinidad had a high unemployment rate and these folks had nothing else to do -- but that's wasn't right. The unemployment rate was (and still is) about 5-6%.

This is just a great cultural difference.  Enjoy life - you see a friend on the street, pull over and hang out for a bit. I think we need to embrace this mentality a bit more here in the US.

My trip to Trinidad was quite quick - I had a really nice time visiting, but I always have a great time when I'm visiting EAD (and JFB). It matters more on who you are with than where you are.  Would I go back to Trinidad? Probably not, but not because I didn't have any fun, but because I have so many places that I'd rather visit.

Have you been to Trinidad? Did you love it? Do you love drinking Caribs and Limin'?  Do you know bring a bucket of chicken as your carry-on bag on the plane?

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

What I'm Cooking: Cheesy Potatoes Au Gratin

Every once in a while I have an urge to make something that may just stop my heart.  This urge hit me two weeks ago. I want Cheesy Potatoes Au Gratin.  I needed to buy a mandolin. Before I go any further, you should read the story of why I don't have a mandolin.

Ever since my accident in February I haven't been able to use a knife all that well (getting better every day though). The only way I could make this dish was if I bought a mandolin.  After nearly 16 years without one, I caved in and went for it.

I scoured the Internet for just the right recipe. I wanted cheese and I wanted more cheese.  What I found was quite delectable.

3lbs of Yukon Gold Potatoes, sliced 1/4" think (YAY mandolin!)
2 cups of Sharp Cheddar Cheese
2 cups of Gruyere (or another flavorful melting cheese)
1 cup of heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste

Yes, these really are the only ingredients.  You put the potatoes in a 9" pie plate - my recipe called for a 9" deep pie plate -- which is one deep plate!  Obviously a misplaced/lost piece of punctuation there. Overlap the potatoes a little and fill the plate.  Pour in the heavy cream so it is just touching the bottom of the top layer of potatoes.  Salt and pepper to taste. Cover with the cheese.

Put the pie plate in your pre-heated oven (425F) and bake for 50 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and potatoes are fork tender.  None of the recipes I found suggested you line your stove bottom with foil, or use a baking sheet below the pie plate -- but you should. This cheesy gooey mess really did a number on my oven.

This makes 4-8 servings depending on how really crazy you are. Two of us ate about 4/5 of the plate of potatoes -- saving me a little leftovers for the next day.

This recipe was so easy - and it allowed me to get back into the mandolin habit.  It is probably one of the least healthy items I cook, but good god it was tasty!

What are your favorite unhealthy things to make? Do you have a tendency to gorge on things like this when you make it, or do you have some self control? How often do you have to clean your oven? :)

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Flight Review: POS-MIA-ORD

After a few days in Trinidad on vacation it was time to go home.  This time I flew from POS-MIA-ORD (MIA in lieu of SJU).  The flight was in the afternoon, so we had plenty of time for a quick lunch before we headed to the Airport. We had doubles, which were delicious. I have no idea where we ate, it was just a little inconspicuous restaurant on a sleepy side street.  Only locals were eating at this place, the exact place we should be eating at every time we travel.

I got to the airport about 2 hours before departure - as I didn't know how backed up ticketing and security would be.  It was light - no one was there and I managed to get my boarding passes and make it through security within 20 minutes - which is amazing fast compared to the arrival process.

I had enough time to swing by duty free and pick up some great Trinidad rum - Angostura 1824 Rum.  I did make sure to double check with the US Customs folks to make sure I wasn't buying too much (or not enough).

I head over to the gate to find that boarding was well underway - I arrived at the gate 40 minutes before departure and we were already boarding my area (and since I had no status I was at the very end of boarding spectrum).  I boarded American's 767 and sat in an aisle seat on the far right side.  I approached my seat and found all the overhead bins full and to my surprise the under seat storage in front of my seat was taken.  I asked my seatmate if she had stowed her items in my storage area as well as hers -- she had. I asked her to move them, she said no.  How perplexing.  What is that smell? Ah, yes, a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken between her feet. Lovely.

I ended up calling the Stew to assist me in negotiating with this stubborn woman from Trinidad.  After she told him she wouldn't move her items he grabbed the items from under my seat and asked her which items were hers in the overhead bin. Once she pointed them out, he yanked them from the bin and handed them off to a colleague. He then grabbed my duty free bag and put it in the now vacated overhead bin. He then proceeded to grab her bucket of chicken and cram it in the overhead bin.

I wish every stew was as efficient and logical as this guy. Kudos to American for this guy.

This is going to be a lovely flight, eh?  After take off she got up and pulled down her bucket of chicken. She was nice enough to offer me a piece of chicken too. I passed. The only other interaction I had with this woman was when she asked me if I had a spork for her side of mashed potatoes. Alas, I did not.  She was quite resourceful -- she stripped the meat, skin and tendons from a drumstick, leaving just the bone. She then proceeded to use it to dip out the potatoes.  She's the Trinidad Macgyver.

We landed a bit late in Miami and as I was running through customs and immigration I ran into an unscrupulous agent. He informed me that I was only allowed to bring in two liters of booze -- he proceeded to throw 3 of my bottles NEXT to the trash. I know he was stealing them, but I was running to catch the last flight to Chicago.  I didn't have the energy to fight with this crook.  What a water cooler dictator.

My next flight was outrageously uneventful.  I made the flight right before the door closed.  The 3 hour flight to Chicago was over almost instantaneously - I slept the entire time. No snack, no movie, no cocktail.  I was home before I knew it.

Have you ever brought a bucket of chicken on a plane? Have you ever eaten a piece of KFC offered by a stranger on a plane or elsewhere?  Do you find yourself Macgyvering a bone into a spork?  Why do the crazies sit next to me?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why I don't have a mandolin...

It was July 3, 1996 - I was 17. I was grilling some burgers and making a salad. I was using my parents mandolin to cut carrots. I couldn't find the safety guard, so I went bare.  Slicing a carrot sounded like a great idea.  And it was until I got too low and sliced the meaty part of my thumb on the traditional slicer blade - not the julienne blade (whew!).

I had to cancel lunch and go to the community doctor.  I didn't slice all the way through the meat either, so I had a flap of thumb skin/meat still flopping around.  The doctor had to cut off this piece and then stitch it together with one big stitch.  Just thinking about it turns my stomach a bit too.

When we got home from the doctor that night we tossed that mandolin in the trash and made a commitment that I wouldn't have one again.  Since then I used a chefs knife to slice and dice. Sometimes it wasn't the most efficient but it was much safer.

Fast forward nearly 16 years (ugh) to April 2012. I decided it was time to get a mandolin because I wanted to make some cheesy potatoes au gratin and following my accident I still don't have full use of my right hand, so cutting potatoes into quarter inch slices would have been nearly impossible.

Do you have any kitchen utensils that have moved to the trash because of an irrational hatred/fear?

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Monday, May 14, 2012

What I'm Cooking: Easiest Skirt Steak Ever

I never cook steak at home. I always over cook it - no matter how little time I keep it on the grill, it is overdone. I could take a thick ribeye and just walk it past the grill and it is well done.

For Cinco de Mayo I had a couple of pseudo-surprise guests so I had to cook some extra food.  I decided to do a marinated skirt steak.  Since I didn't have much time for the marinade to do it's work I had to go for a high intensity flavor marinade.  I started by cutting half a yellow onion into half rings, opened a small can of San Marcos Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce and cut a half pound of skirt steak in half and placed all of this in a zip top bag.  After making sure the meat was fully covered in the sauce and onion I figured it needed a bit more liquid, so I threw in a splash of olive oil.

Into the fridge this bag goes to stew for a while.  Since the steak is so thin it takes about a minute on each side (on a hot enough grill) and it is done.  Of course, my propane tank was empty -- Plan B: indoor grill pan.  Not the best idea.

The pan was HOT. The steak goes in and the cooking Adobo sauce is so peppery the all of my guests started coughing and sneezing. The quick cooking steak still filled the house with this (too) spicy aroma -- which lingered for a couple of days.

The steak was cooked pretty well -- a bit more than I wanted, but better than I have done in the past.  We just sliced an ate this steak (because I ran out of tortillas -- what??), but the intent was to take the sliced steak and put into a tortilla, top with some homemade guacamole or salsa and be in a little bit of heaven.  Next time.

This isn't a recipe that requires a whole day sitting in the marinade -- I think as little as an hour in the fridge provides some great flavor. This is a great week night meal - either throw it all together and let it sit in the fridge while you are at work or do it right when you get home.  A great spicy meal!

Second version of this, including boiled red
potatoes, arugula and tomato salad
with the adobo marinated skirt steak.
How often do you cook red meat at home? Do you marinate or just focus on the beef flavor?  What is your favorite marinade? Do you think chicken would be good with this adobo sauce and peppers, hmmmm?

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Mexican Changes to a French Dessert

We all know I love the Chopping Block and every cooking class I've taken there.  My loyal readers also know that I love to cook but really hate to bake (the whole art vs. science thing).  I decided to make a new dessert for my Cinco de Mayo dinner -- well not a completely new dessert, just a slight adjustment that makes it a bit more appropriate for the holiday.

I really like the way a little bit of spice with my chocolate (pair that with a nice port and I'm in heaven).  I decided I would add a bit of spice to the Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme would change the flavor profile enough and pair nicely with the rest of my meal.

I took the Chopping Block recipe and added a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  I added this to the chocolate and half and half while the chocolate was melting but before the I started tempering the eggs. Then I cooked it as per the recipe.

How did it turn out? Pretty damn tasty.  I think the cinnamon was perfect, but maybe just a bit too much cayenne was added. Next time I think I will cut the amount of pepper by 1/8th of a teaspoon. The heat was a bit too overpowering.

Did you create a new recipe or modify an old favorite this weekend?  Have you decided to add cayenne pepper to random recipes to see how it turns out? Do you know the significance of Cinco de Mayo?

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Trinidad: Port of Spain Highlights

I did manage to get out and see Port of Spain several times while on vacation.  Each night, when EAD got home from work we'd head out at least for dinner and a bit of a walk around town.  Trinidad has some great food - be it native (ish) Trinidad or Indian. The curries and meats were really quite delicious.

I didn't make notes on the restaurants we visited, all were good, but none were really worth revisiting. One interesting restaurant fact, that I heard from a couple of people: The largest grossing KFC restaurant in the world is in Port of Spain -- uh, no, we did not go.

We also spent an evening walking around Queens Park Savannah, which is one of the worlds largest roundabouts - locally it's just called the Savannah. This huge open park is nearly 260 acres and is so flat.  Like other cities, this open space was used to graze animals and then eventually the city grew around the green space and it eventually became a great park. While at the Savannah we did have to get a coconut from a machete wielding vendor. Not a big fan of coconuts, but when in Rome, eh?

 We saw several groups of kids and young adults playing cricket.  This is totally a game I do not understand.  I was visiting Trinidad when the East Indies were hosting the Cricket World Cup -- It would have been great to get to see a game, but I did zero research on sports before my trip. Something that now makes my regular pre-trip planning routine.

If it makes sense, I really like to travel to a high point in the city and take in the views. I love a great cityscape.  The best place (or so I was told) for this type of view and picture was at the Hilton up on the hill.  We didn't stay at or really spend anytime at the Hilton, but did take in the views.

Do you eat fast food while on vacation (KFC, Coconuts from street vendors)? Where is your go-to place in a City for a photo op?

Friday, May 04, 2012

Fiesta at Tim's

Saturday is Cinco de Mayo, or as we called it in college, Cinco de Drinko -- yes, we were clever, weren't we? I also go through spells of cooking Mexican food non-stop. Ever since a boys trip to Cancun I've truly loved cooking Mexican food.  I've decided to have a couple friends over for a little Mexican Fiesta on Saturday.

I almost always try a new recipe when I have guests over - this time I'm only tweaking an old favorite recipe and am not trying anything new.  I will be making a homemade guacamole, ceviche (if the fish looks good), homemade chorizo and potato tacos, enchiladas con salsa verde and my semi-new dessert recipe. I'm taking the recipe I got from the Chopping Block a few months ago -- Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme -- and will be using a chili infused dark chocolate and perhaps a bit of cinnamon too.  I just can't get enough of the Pot de Creme.

What will I be serving with all of this great (and fat free...) Mexican food? Well, margaritas of course!  I use the same margarita recipe I learned from a great Chef in Cancun. I'll also serve Modelo and Pacifico beers.

I love Mexican food and I love cooking it for my friends. Are you hosting a Mexican Fiesta this Saturday? Do you make your own Chorizo? What about ceviche? If you could add one thing to my menu, what would it be (don't forget to direct me to a recipe, if needed).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Trinidad: I'm Not a Birder: Asa Wright Nature Center

We were heading back from the North Shore of Trinidad we stopped off at a couple of places to hike and track down a waterfall. Before we made it back to Port of Spain we wanted to give finding the Asa Wright Nature Center a chance again. Our first go, had us just wandering the streets of Arima and getting nowhere near the Nature Center.

Why did we want to go to Asa Wright? It is unclear. Neither EAD nor I are birders (which is really what Asa Wright is known for).  We didn't even do any real research, we knew (or thought we did) where the Center was and knew you could eat there, take tours, watch birds and plants...and that's about all we knew.

Surprisingly, we found the proper road to Asa Wright the first time this go around. My recommendation, when coming from Port of Spain pass right on through Arima and turn around and head back towards Arima on the Eastern Main Road, then turn right on Arima Bye-Pass (yes, it is spelled that way) -- you can't miss Asa Wright this way.   The long winding and narrow road up to the Center was as scary as the other rural roads in Trinidad -- except this time you are going up steep hills without many guardrails.

We made it to Asa Wright around 14h00. We found we had missed the final guided tour of the day and they didn't have any more self guided maps available.  We opted to get a bite for lunch and a drink (yes, we had another Carib). Following lunch we walked around the areas that we were allowed to visit without a guide.

We ran into oh so many British Birders. All decked out in their safari gear with big binoculars and huge lenses on their cameras. We seemed to always be in their way -- either walking in front of their pictures or not being 100% silent and scaring away the blue breasted something or other.

It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours, but I sure don't think I could spend much more time there. I'm sure the guided tour would be quite lovely -- even if it is bird and plant focused (not high on my list of interests).

Have you ever been to Asa Wright Nature Center?  When you travel do you make a point to go bird watching?  Do you, like me, find that you are consistently ruining other tourists photos by stepping in front of the lens?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Trinidad: The Turtles (and other wildlife) of San Souci

We made it to the beach area of San Souci and just a couple miles up the road was the Grande Riviere. We stayed at a small bed and breakfast called Le Grande Almandier, which served our needs well.  Our needs were simple though - a safe, clean place to sleep that was beach/turtle adjacent. Check and check.

We arrived midday and had a late lunch, which was perfectly acceptable - nothing to write home about, but considering there really isn't any alternative, it was pretty good.  After lunch we went to our room to relax. The room was quite spartan, with two full size beds and a washroom. We did "upgrade" to a room with air conditioning. It was hot and the A/C wasn't optional in our minds.

After getting settle (by this I mean dropping off our suitcases and realizing there is no reason to stay in the room) we head down and grab a beer at the hotel bar. Carib, of course. Then we head out to the beach.  We had already arranged a night beach tour with the hotel to see the turtles. You have to buy a pass/permit before you can go out at night.  We figured we would just spend some time relaxing on the beach until dinner time -- but we were shocked to see leatherback turtles in the surf and on the beach.  Of course we get as close as we can to these animals. They seemed not to know we were there, even though we were less than 1 meter away.  Some kids thought it would be great to touch or try to ride the turtles - I miss the days when parents would actually raise their kids.

Momma leatherback dropping off her eggs
We watched these giants for about an hour then headed back to the B&B. We hung out at the bar and chatted with some other vacationing ex-pats (two British couples, one older and one younger) for a while.  By now it was getting close to dinner time - it always surprises me how early the sun goes down at the equator.

Dinner, like lunch, wasn't spectacular, but did the job and was washed down with some more Caribs (theme?). After dinner we met up with our guide to head to the beach.  Our group had about a dozen people, including the ill behaved kids from earlier in the day. The guide used a red tinted flashlight to guide us around the beach. He said the red hue wasn't visible to the turtles and didn't distract them from their egg laying duties.

The guide provided limited commentary but I think the intent was just to watch nature do its thing. We did. The kids were still obnoxious.  We remained with the guide for about 2.5 hours. By the time the tour was over, I was done. I guess my attention span isn't that great to begin with, but watching children run around a big leatherback turtle laying eggs only goes so far.

Don't get me wrong, it was a great experience that I am very glad I did, but I do think once is enough for me.

We headed back to the bar for one final beer before bed and I headed up to the room to use the washroom. Once I opened the door to to the washroom I saw a long tail and little furry legs run behind the toilet. A large spider was sitting on the wall next to the toilet -- is this an ambush?  I'm telling myself this wasn't a rat, but a lizard with a fur coat.  Looks like tonight I will be sleeping with one eye open.

The beaches around Le Grande Almandier and San Souci were beautiful and seeing the turtles really was great.  The B&B was a good value, all in - plus I didn't get attacked by the conspiring lizard in rat clothes and the spider.

Have you gone on a turtle safari? Have you ever opted NOT to get the air conditioning room? How did that turn out for you? Do you wonder when parents decided it wasn't their job to raise their children any more?  Have you been looking for a domestic source for Caribs, too?

The beach from Le Grande Almandier

Le Grande Almandier - from the beach

Good god it was hot. Thankfully
we upgraded to an A/C Room