Cancun recap

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As a gradation/Match gift in April, my mom and stepdad took Daniel and me to Cancun for a week! It was the first time any of us had been on a classic tropical beach vacation and we loved it!

We stayed in the hotel zone in Cancun, at a hotel with a beautiful white sand beach. Although it was a little noisy at night, it was a great location. We rode the city bus everywhere and found Cancun very easy to navigate. We didn’t get around to exploring much outside the city, but that just means we will have to return to see the rest of the Riviera Maya!

Some highlights from the trip:

The hotel

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Since the hotel had such a pretty beach, we spent the majority of our time just laying out under the palapas (thatched beach umbrellas) in the chaise lounges. The perfect place to read a book, drink a beer, and work on getting a little bit tan.

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My bikini is Gabifresh for Swim Sexy. Workin’ that fatkini!

We got our sunscreen and a styrofoam cooler filled with beer, and stayed out all morning most days. We did spend a little time in the water, but on the first day the waves knocked off my red heart sunglasses and they were gone forever.

IMG_9670Yeah, it’s like this every day.

Isla Mujeres

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This little island just off the coast of the Yucatan is a 30-minute ferry ride from Cancun. We visited twice during our week in Mexico. The best part about La Isla was renting a golf cart and driving around the island (it’s really that small!)

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Playa Norte, the beach at the north end of the island, is amazing, with the calmest blue waters we experienced on our trip. No photos of the playa because we were out swimming the whole time! We chose to rent an umbrella and beach chairs (about $15 for three of us for the day).

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We visited a turtle sanctuary/farm on the island called Tortugranja. Admission was 30 pesos and a bag of turtle kibble was 10 pesos. It was so fun to feed the beautiful, feisty little turtles!

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There was so much beauty on our trip, but I think our favorite spot was at the very southern tip of La Isla. This rocky spot is home to Mayan temple ruins as well as a modern sculpture garden. It is also the easternmost point in Mexico, the first place where the sun hits Mexico in the morning. It was rocky and wild and just beautiful.

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IMG_9944We ended one of our days on La Isla with a lobster dinner at sunset on the beach.

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Cancun

We also had a lot of fun exploring Cancun using the bus system. The buses are fabulous – they cost 10.5 pesos (less than $1) and they run constantly. We never waited more than 3-5 minutes for a bus, usually less. They would also pick you up even if you weren’t at an official bus stop! During our whole week, we only took a cab once, because we were running late for a dinner reservation.

Some of the places we visited and plan to return to (sorry, there aren’t pictures for everything):

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  • Spa Xbalamque – We visited the spa twice and were well-attended to both times. The space is clean, the staff are attentive (little or no English spoken here, btw), and the prices are cheap. Like, ridiculously cheap. On our first day, we each had 4 hours worth of services for about $100 USD per person (before tip). It was absolutely fabulous.

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  • La Habichuela Sunset – An amazing old-school resturaunt with great food, incredible ambiance, and spectacular entertainment. During our 2 hour dinner, we saw an hour-long Mayan show, and were serenaded by two different mariachi bands. The restaurant is gorgeous, with a beautiful garden courtyard dining room. Unfortunately, I was suffering from a little bit of food poisoning + sunburn that night, so I can’t personally vouch for the food, but my dining companions said it was delicious and worth returning.

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  • La Casa del Habano – This is a cigar shop in the hotel zone. I don’t smoke – not even a little – but my stepdad loved this place. They also have a bar and a deck overlooking the lagoon, where I enjoyed the best mojito of my life.
  • Peter’s Restaurant – This little restaurant is not in the hotel zone, doesn’t have a view, and is tucked away off of a noisy busy street. But we ate dinner here twice and would return again in a heartbeat. Peter’s is a family-run place serving European-Mexican fusion (the owner and chef Peter is Dutch). The food was wonderful, the service was fabulous, and it felt so welcoming. What a cool place.

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  • Thai Cancun – We went to this restaurant on our first night and honestly, we’re not sure if we would return. On the one hand, the location is amazing – tables are situated in their own little private cabanas out on the lagoon. There are red lanterns everywhere lighting up the water. It is so cool-looking. But the Thai food was fairly bad, and to make it worse, this was definitely the most expensive meal we had during the whole trip. Still, it might be worth a return visit at sunset though – maybe just for drinks and appetizers?

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  • Parque de las Palapas – I highly recommend venturing into Cancun proper, if only for an afternoon. Since we were already headed into the city center to get to the spa, we also dropped by El Parque de las Palapas (Park of the Umbrellas). This public square is nearly deserted during the day, but after 5pm, it comes alive with dozens of vendors and hundreds of people – mostly local families with children. This was my chance to enjoy all my favorite street foods, from sopes to elotes to churros. Daniel and Mom got themselves some giant chamoyadas, but I passed. I highly recommend visiting for a chill, low-key dinner and some great people-watching.

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One thing is for sure – all four of us definitely plan to return to the Riviera Maya – and soon! I am currently in the process of securing my vacation time for next year. Once Daniel knows his spring break schedule, we may just have to start planning our triumphant return!

Thanks, Mom and Steve for the best vacation ever, and for being great travel companions! We love you!

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a week in Chicagoland

Well, I’m done with work! I quit my job last week and now I have a few days to relax while Daniel finishes up his school year, and my mom and sister visit Seattle. After that, we’ll have just over a week to pack, clean, and say goodbye to Seattle.

Two weeks ago I flew to Chicago to look for an apartment. My awesome friend Pamela volunteered to drive me around all week.

As soon as my flight got in, we headed to Logan Square for a late night bite at the Longman and Eagle; we had some sort of corn-on-corn churro thing for dessert that was delicious.

at the Longman & Eagle

After noms, we headed up to the North Chicago/Waukegan area to spend the next 5 days apartment hunting. We put a ton of miles on the car, driving from suburb to suburb (more like ex-urb really) looking for a place to rent. The whole Chicagoland area is so different from Seattle; it’s going to take some getting used to. We also took the opportunity to sample the food and culture in the North Chicagoland area.

First we stopped at RFUMS for bumper stickers and t-shirts:

RFUMS swag

We also discovered that apparently it is ok to park on the grass when all the parking spots are taken:

Parking

Then we took in some nightlife in the nearby town of Libertyville:

Pamela

Then we spent a  whole bunch of time just driving around the city of Waukegan, Illinois, looking for FOR RENT signs. This is all old Saunders stomping-grounds, since Pamela’s dad grew up in Waukegan.

Pamela approved of Joplin’s Java, the only independent coffee shop in Waukegan (for the love of dog, please correct me if I am wrong here and Waukegan is full of secret local coffee shops – this is the only one we could find!) The coffee shop is really cute and it overlooks a beautiful ravine.

Joplin's Java

Anyway, so after lots of running around, a few disappointments, and some tears, I found an apartment! It is is Waukegan, in a safe, but working class area. It’s less than 2 miles from the elementary school where Daniel will be teaching, and it’s about 7 miles from RFUMS. We’re excited to have such short commutes in an area where it seems everyone is willing to commute miles and miles to work every day. We really don’t want to have to get a second car, at least right away. Also, Daniel is really happy about our close proximity to lots of taco shops and Mexican groceries.

Anyway, the apartment is a 3-bedroom, 1 bath with hardwood floors and a nice big porch/balcony area. I will have one whole bedroom to myself for an office, and we are also planning a guestroom for when family and friends come to visit. It will be so nice to have more space to spread out and set up a proper office. One of the biggest perks of living in the suburbs – you can get a 1400 square foot apartment for less than you were paying for your 525 square foot place in Capitol Hill!

Thanks for a great week Pam!

Pamela and me

Incommunicado

The cabin where we are staying this weekend has no internet and no cell phone reception, so the blog will be going dark for a day or so while I chill out here:

What I’ll be eating this weekend

This weekend marks the reprise of Camp Squid! Instead of going to the ocean this time, we are packing up and heading for the mountains, where there will be a firepit, a hot tub, and, hopefully, some snow!

A cozy weekend calls for cozy food, most of which will be supplied by Daniel, natch.

But I am not completely useless in the kitchen, so I will be making a specialty of mine – smoked salmon corn chowder:

smoked salmon chowder!

Although I love a good New England chowder, this is a more Northwest version. It isn’t thick and creamy like New England clam chowder, but milky and briny. The stars of the soup are salty, smoky salmon, and sweet corn, with tender red potatoes and celery. Sometimes I add carrots too.

Like most good soups, there isn’t really a “recipe” because it is so simple, but here is my ingredient list and simple description of how I usually make it. I have no idea how much of each ingredient I use; that is something you can just eyeball as you put together the soup. If you want a really indulgent chowder, increase the smoked salmon and add some heavy cream. If you love potatoes, add more! If you like the way some of the potatoes disintegrate and thicken the chowder, try adding some starchy potatoes like russets in with the waxy red potatoes. This would be great with fresh corn, but frozen is perfectly acceptable, too.

Smoked Salmon Corn Chowder

  • 1 onion, 3-4 stalks celery, and 1 carrot, all diced (carrot optional) (mirepoix!!!)
  • some fat – butter or bacon fat are best
  • maybe some white wine would be nice in here…
  • about 2 tbsp flour
  • 8 oz. smoked salmon (or more! It is delicious with more!)
  • half a bag of frozen corn
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock (if you want to be a BAMF, warm the chicken stock in a separate pan so it is not cold when you ladle it into your mirepoix-roux).
  • waxy potatoes, cut into 1/2″ dice (red potatoes add a nice color)
  • half and half (milk is ok if you don’t have cream, but don’t boil it!)
  • salt (never forget the salt!)

In a big pot, melt the fat and cook the mirepoix over medium heat until the carrots are mostly softened. Now, I would normally salt here because it helps the veggies release their moisture, but since the salmon is probably pretty salty, just give it a little sprinkling of salt.

At this point, you can deglaze the pan with a little white wine. Then stir in a little bit of flour and let it cook until it is golden. If you don’t let the roux cook a little, your soup will taste floury. (The flour coated veggies will look pretty gross right now. I am pretty sure you aren’t technically supposed to make a roux with veggies in the pot already, but do you think this honey badger cares?)

Once the roux is golden brown, slowly ladle in some of the chicken stock. Whisk the stock around so it is absorbed by the flour with no lumps. Scrape the bottom on the pan to get all that good fond off.

Pour in the rest of the chicken stock, then add your salmon, potatoes, and corn. Bring to a boil and let the soup gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, but not disintegrating (maybe 15 minutes). At this point, it is best to turn the heat way down (or off) and just let those flavors sit and mellow. Salt the soup!

Just before you are ready to serve, turn the heat back up and add the half and half. You don’t want to boil it once the half and half is in, but you can simmer a little. Taste for salt one more time, and serve. Daniel the garnish king suggests topping the soup with some chives for maximum pretty.

smoked salmon chowder!

visit to Pam – Part 2

My whole trip to Champaign was awesome, but there was one thing we did that weekend that really changed my life. On Saturday, we drove out to a little local farm for a delicious farm breakfast…

farm breakfast farm breakfast

…with great coffee…

farm breakfast

…and then the real fun began:

BABY GOATS HERE

Baby goats break my heart.

baby goats

baby goats

There were only a few baby kids, but there were plenty of mama goats in the other barn. I made friends with them all. The best part is that they all had little name tags on their neck and they were all real names! I met Beatrice, Tallulah, Shelly, Roxanne, Ruby, Bella, and a whole bunch more. I love it when animals get human names. Goats are people too, you know.

new friend new friend

new friend new friend

Goats are so wonderfully quirky and expressive:

mama goats

mama goats

mama goats

mama goats

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Pam & Tallulah

Of course, sometimes new relationships just don’t work out:

(I don’t know what’s better, the fact that Pam caught that little interaction on camera, or the fact that you can hear her go “Gaaaaahhhh! … It’s recording!”)

Thanks for taking me to see the baby goats, Pamela!

Camp Squid

I know this is coming really late, since we went on this trip over a month ago, but I have to blog about Camp Squid!

Back in March, Daniel and I went on an awesome long weekend to the ocean with our friends Kaitlin and Chris. We rented a little house in Pacific Beach, brought a bunch of food (and some booze) and just had an awesome time. Spring break is the perfect time to go to a cold places – the rates are cheap, and if you’re lucky, the weather will be nice. If not, you have the perfect excuse to snuggle up and just chill out.

Camp Squid! (aka Coastal Nest Cottage in Pacific Beach)

Isn’t this place cute? It’s called the Coastal Nest Cottage and the owner was really sweet to work with. Seriously, this is the best possible place to stage a lazy, low-key weekend. Daniel expressed all of our delight with this pose:

this place is adorable!

Presuming we continue to live in this area (finger crossed that we are moving this summer!) we will definitely be back.

The first thing we did was start working on a sweet puppy puzzle, which we promptly finished.

puzzle progress

yes! awesome animal puzzle finished

Thank would be the only task we would actually complete all weekend.

Then we basically ate, drank, talked and played Settlers of Catan. I didn’t even get any reading done. Daniel was the chef all weekend, which he loved, and so did we.

Chris & Kaitlin

breakfast

We were having such a good time that Daniel and I only walked down to the beach once. Actually, the beach was pretty disgusting, and we all decided that we didn’t like the cars. We also never went clam digging even though there was totally a dig that weekend because apparently I was the only one who wanted to go.

on the beach

It was a beautiful weekend, with lots of sunshine. On our last full day, it poured and shone at the same time. I went outside to search for the rainbow, and it was a great one.

an awesome rainbow

We had such an awesome time at Camp Squid! We are going to try to make this some sort of annual event, if at all possible. Camp Squid 2011, inaugural class!

post wedding, post honeymoon

Well, the wedding is over and so is they honeymoon (so to speak), so the only thing left is to blog about them! We are expecting the professional photos from the wedding any day now, but in the meantime here are pictures from the honeymoon.

So, an overview: Daniel and I drove down to San Francisco. We sped down I-5 on the way there and meandered up US 101 on the way home. We swapped apartments with a complete stranger – I totally recommend this. We went through HomeExchange.com, but there area lot of other websites out there. It was so relaxing to be able to come back to a real home at the end of the day, instead of some cheap hotel room. And we saved a ton of money. I don’t think I’ll ever take a vacation at a hotel again, if I can help it!

7 days is the longest vacation I’ve ever really had. It was great to be able to be leisurely and take breaks when we needed to. In fact, it was so long tat I’m going to have to break this down into several posts. So here’s some of the stuff we did!

Day 1: a lot of shopping in the Mission.

This was at The Curiosity Shoppe. I was quite taken with the art installation made up of a wall of beautiful motorcycle helmets. The guy at the store took pictures of us too.

respect yourself

respect yourself

The Mission is so grungy and beautiful. How cool is this blue tile wall?

blue

blue

Daniel and I bought a journal on the first day and we used it to document the whole trip. I’m so glad we did that because now we have a reminder of all the little things we did that we otherwise would have forgotten.

journal

Random pictures of us

The majority of the pictures we took fall into two categories: one of us taking a picture of the other while they make a funny face; or one of us awkwardly holding the camera out to take a pictures of us both hugging and smiling. But I guess you get a free pass for dorky pictures on your honeymoon, right?

At a restaurant in the Haight:

across the table

across the table

At the Dolores Park Cafe. I’m wearing my new favorite dress, which I had just bought.

lunch

lunch

Later the same day after visiting the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park:

@ Golden Gate Park

Ok, that’s all I have for now, but there will be more later. Comment! And if you have wedding photos, for God’s sake, send them to me!

Halloween recap

We had a very chill Halloween last night. No trick-or-treaters, as usual, which is kinda lame. On Friday night we carved pumpkins and last night we had a few friends over to watch an appropriately Halloween-y, but not to scary movie. We saw Låt den rätte komma in, which is a Swedish movie about vampires and first loves. (Thankfully, the movie had very little else in common with Twilight.) Then we went to bed early, and enjoyed the extra hour of sleep. The end.

NEVER FORGET

tableau

I’m going to try to do NaBloPoMo again this year. To try to keep myself going all month, I’m telling myself all I need to do is post a new picture every day. Hopefully with bonus words next to it. We’ll see how it goes.

heat wave!

Everyone in Seattle and Portland already knows this, but it is really hot right now! I heard that it got up to 107°F in Portland yesterday! Last night it was so hot inside that I woke up at 2am and stood on the porch in my underwear for 10 minutes until I was cool enough to go back to sleep. My sister Erin is getting married outdoors on Saturday in Portland. I think this heat wave will have broken by then. God, I hope so.

And speaking of weddings, I have been making progress on ours, even though I haven’t posted anything in a long while. Daniel and I have decided on wedding colors and we have a plan and a budget and a location and a date!

We’re getting married at the Golden Gardens Bathhouse in Ballard next June. It’s a beautiful brick building right on Puget Sound in the middle of a public park. Here are a few pictures of the space and the surroundings. (None of these pictures are mine; the photos link to the source).

Here’s the space set up the way we will have it (more or less) with round tables:

Here’s another reception setup, with rectangular tables:

And here’s the view from the inside to the beach:

I’m afraid this is going to turn into a wedding blog for a little while, but I want to document my wedding progress. Stay tuned for more later.

My first earthquake!

I’ve been having a hard time sleeping lately – my schedule is all messed up from staying up late to hang out with friends or write papers, and it’s likely to get even more disrupted when I make the 9-hour time change in a week. (Oh my god, only a week left!)

So this morning I woke up around 6am after tossing and turning for a while. I was just drifting off to sleep again around 6:20am when all of a sudden the bed started shaking for about a full second like someone was kicking it. Thankfully, my first thought was “So that’s an earthquake!” otherwise I would have been really freaked out. As it was, my heart was pounding. About a minute later there was a distant creaking sound and a small aftershock. Suffice to say, I never fell back asleep. When I finally gave up and got out of bed a few hours later, I found out that it was a 4.7 magnitude quake with the epicenter about 25km southeast of Lund.

Seattle is in an earthquake zone, what with the Juan de Fuca subduction zone and multiple active volcanoes in the region, but I’ve never felt an earthquake before. I read Apartment Therapy San Francisco, and they’re always talking about earthquake-proofing your home. I do have a lot of glass and ceramic stuff on shelves back home, so maybe we should think about getting some of this stuff to keep things from falling, and re-evaluate how we hang things on the walls, especially over the bed. Maybe I should replace all my nails with those picture hanger hooks.

In other words, tomorrow is my last full day in Lund! I did all my laundry yesterday and so tomorrow I have to pack everything up, make a chicken pot pie for my farewell dinner, and give away all the stuff I won’t be taking home with me. My friends have been so much friendlier ever since they found out I was giving away my stuff… Then on Thursday Laura and I set off for Stockholm for a few days.

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