Monday, May 21, 2012

Mi tienda esta en fuego. ¡Que lastima!

Argh, my excuse for not keeping up with my posting this time is sickness.  I randomly had a fever on Friday and was unable to make my planned dinner or finish a post.  I had applesauce and noodles for dinner instead.  It went away quickly, but then I was busy this weekend so here, finally, is the post I should've done on Thursday.

Back in the day, Will would attend a yearly conference that met at a different place in the Caribbean each year.  I was only too happy to accompany him.  After attending for 4 years running it was also like a big reunion every year, and boy was it fun to escape the cold and get to see everyone again every February!  The 4th year we went (in 2007) it was held in Mexico outside of Playa Del Carmen (which isn't exactly in the Caribbean, but I wasn't complaining).  As you can see in these pictures, I was pregnant with Emily, and as you can probably guess, this was the last year we attended :-( 

I was super-excited to go to Mexico, since Will had been before and loved it.  He first visited on an explorer group/work trip back in August of 1998, when we had been dating for about 7 months.  He was gone for 12 days, and I missed him with a passion that only a dramatic 17 year old can muster.  My family still teases me about how I sat on the couch clutching increasingly sodden throw pillows and sobbed, subsisting solely on boxed mashed potatoes.  Hey, it's still the longest we've ever been apart since our first date and if he ever left for that long again I might still be able to soak a throw pillow or two.

For the week of the conference, we stayed at the Fairmont Mayakoba, which was gorgeous.

Oh, how I wish I was there now!


There's Emily poking out (and me getting the worst sunburn of my life because I thought those cloth umbrellas would actualy block the sun.  Nope.

I had to miss out on all the tasty mixed drinks, but I did enjoy some virgin versions
Dinner on our porch
I repurposed the flowers the  next day :-)

Will's family, minus Margaret
Daytrip to Tulum
The Mayans knew how to choose a location

As lovely as our first week there was, my favorite part of the trip was when Will and I extended a couple days to set out on our own.  We rented a car and headed into the middle of the Yucatàn peninsula to check out Chichén Itzà.  We stayed at this idyllic little hacienda in the jungle just steps from Chichén Itzà itself (which allowed us to majorly beat the crowds and have the ruins to ourselves before the tour buses showed up in the mornings), and it was perfection.

Our little villa
Our little poisonous snake friend right outside our villa (red touches yellow!)

The back porch, where we ate our meals

Seeing the Mayan ruins was pretty amazing.  The Incan ruins in Peru were cool, but since most of their decorative work was done in gold (which the Spanish obsconded with pretty quickly) the ruins, while amazing because of their locations and ingenuity of engineering, were mostly just steps and giant rock walls.  The Mayans liked to carve designs into the actual rocks so I found them a lot more interesting to look at.

El Castillo

Chacmool, an ancient Mayan figure, a smaller version of which can be purchased onsite as a convenient chip bowl holder

Some columns
Cenote Sagrado
The observatory (possibly where they predicted the world would end this year?)

Will playing on the ball court (how on earth did anyone ever score with the hoop all the way up there?)
After a couple days there we headed back to spend our last night in Cancun, near the airport.  We took the less scenic (but more real) route back.

Cancun reminded me of a classier and prettier Ocean City (until the sun went down...then it was much less classy).

Will's too sexy for his shirt
I definitely "popped" while on this trip
It was not tough to decide what meal to make to represent our trip to Mexico.  First off, it HAD to include gazpacho!  For one thing, gazpacho is just screams fun.

How could this sight NOT make you feel happy?
All my life I oscillated back and forth from the "gazpacho should be chunky" point of view to the "gazpacho should be blended until smooth" side.  While we stayed at Chichén Itzà we discovered there was a third option which was clearly the best solution, a sort of "all of the above".  Our hacienda served smooth gazpacho, but with little bowls of chopped tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers and onions so that you could decide the exact degree of chunkiness you wanted.  We ordered gazpacho at every meal and enjoyed it so much that way so now it's the only way I make it
Part chunky, part smooth, all delicious
Everyone loves options
Especially sour-cream coated 5 year olds.  Tutu-wearing 2 year olds still won't touch it though.
For our main course, I recreated a meal we ran into (and enjoyed the heck out of) a lot in Mexico, a kind of "build your own toastada" bar.  I'm not sure tostada is really the right thing to call it, especially since ours were soft and not fried, but for lack of a better word that's how I refer to it.  In any case, you start with a soft corn torilla and go to town, scooping delicious toppings on left and right.  One thing I found interesting was that at these build-your-own bars, having a particular preparation of something didn't preclude its separate ingredients from being presented as toppings as well.  So for example there would be refried beans, but also pinto beans.  Guacamole, but also chopped avocado.  Various sauce-y salsas, but also pico de gallo AND plain chopped tomatoes.  And we almost always took a bit of everything until our poor tostada was smashed flat(er) under an El Castillo-like pile of fresh and tasty food.
Corn tostata, refried black beans, shredded chicken, grated cheddar (didn't get a chance to pick up queso fresco), avocado, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime
For dessert, I had to include papaya, because it was EVERYWHERE down there, but I was too afraid to eat it :-(  I had read that eating underripe papaya was dangerous to pregnant women because it can be toxic to fetuses and it also contains enzymes that mimic oxytocin in the body and can make the uterus contract. Rather than trust that every papaya presented to me was perfectly 100% ripe, I just avoided every delicious jewel-like morsel.  I later realized that it was probably GREEN papaya that was the biggest issue (and also that it didn't really work, when I purposely had green papaya salad to try to convince Charlotte to evacuate my premises) but by then I had already missed out :-(

I also found a chocolate bar with cacao nibs and chili peppers in it (and lots of X's C's and L's in the name so you know it's legit (-: ) to accompany my fruit salad of papaya  (very ripe!), mango and pineapple.  Not quite as good as having them fresh in Mexico of course, but a nice little end to my dinner nonetheless.

I shared the chocolate bar of course, although the girls were disgusted
And in case you were wondering, the title of my post is the first (and for a long time, ONLY) sentence I knew in Spanish.  I have had many occasions to use it over the years, let me tell you.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Carby old England

Next we move just a bit south to England.  Will and I traveled to England for the first time in June of 2003, right after we graduated from college.  That time we just went to London (then Paris for a bit...that'll come later), but about a year later in Spring 2004 when my family decided to take a trip to England we went along too and got to see more of the country, plus we saw Bombay Dreams in the West End.  I don't know what it was about this particular trip, but pretty much every year when we get a cold rainy day in spring I get nostalgic about it and want to listen to Bombay Dreams and eat British food.  I also want to go back to England, but that craving is harder to satisfy.

Our first night in London (on our second trip there) we landed late and went to get dinner in a Chinese restaurant because it was the only place we could find that was open.  We promptly horrified our server by eating the orchids that decorated our meals.  You know, these little guys:

They're edible, and are served on salads at a fancy restaurant near our house but the server said she was from Malaysia where they grow all over the place and she's never seen anyone eat them.  Why do they use them to garnish all the dinner plates in her restaurant then, I wonder? 

We've done most of the big touristy things in London....

I never rode the London Eye though....eep
Westminster Abbey

Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields (I think?) in the background

An already-weighty girl with an unfortunately placed "money belt" (oh, it was SO a fanny pack) and her awkward fiance at Tower of London

Buckingham Palace (and a bag of Lush goodies)

St. Pauls Cathedral

The British Museum

The ever-sturdy London Bridge
...and had the famous fish and chips eaten out of a greasy newspaper, but that didn't thrill me much.  Most of the meals we ate were from neat little pubs like this that serve you starch topped with starch with a side of starch.  My favorite kind of food (but if I eat like that too often, I look like I do in these pictures).

I regret that I didn't like beer yet when I traveled over there, because now that I DO like beer I really enjoy English-style beers.  Instead I mostly drank Bacardi Breezer-type drinks, which actually contained hard liquor over there vs. the "malt beverage" things that were allowed in America at the time.  I did go on a tour of a brewery in York though, which was probably my first brewery tour!  Awwww!

I remember being horrified to hear that they just scooped the yeast out of one batch of beer and slapped it into the new batch to keep working and that they had used the same yeast for years.  I now know this is pretty common but at the time I just used it as yet another reason to turn my nose up at beer.

We also got to see Shaun of the Dead on the day it opened while we were in York, which was, of course, awesome.  Especially because we could then go home and brag to our friends that we had seen a hilarious movie that wasn't even out over here yet and then enjoy going to see it on opening day again.  Also they have ASSIGNED SEATING at movies in England, which is bloody brilliant.  There's no stressful saving of seats for late friends, you just swing by early in the day to buy your tickets and you're set.  I'm still waiting for this practice to be instituted here in the states.

Some other highlights of our trip:

A stay in Broadway in the Cotswolds...cutest little town ever
The real-life "English Country Garden" at our B&B.  One day I will have an awesome walled garden like this
Hiking up to Broadway Tower
Will falling in the mud while climbing over a stile while hiking up to Broadway Tower


Windsor Castle
York Cathedral

Our awesome historic B&B outside Oxford
People used to be shorter back then

We were there over Easter on our second trip, and I remember hunting through this little town for some dinner on Easter evening.  For some reason we hadn't anticipated that it might be tough to find a restaurant that was open on Easter in a small place like this.  The one place we found that was open and sold food, strangely enough, was the post office.  I guess England has different ideas of when post offices should be open than we do.  We were grateful for the grub though!

So!  What food did I choose to make for dinner to represent our trip to England?

Bangers, bubble & squeak, and whole wheat Yorkshire pudding with gravy
 Mmmmm, carbs.  I discovered bubble & squeak at a pub in York when I decided to just go ahead and order it, whatever the heck it was, and see what came out on my plate.  I was a bit nervous after run-ins with blood pudding, whiskey porridge and marmite earlier in my trip so I had no idea what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised to find nothing more alarming than potatoes and cabbage with some peas and onions.  I find now that it is usually used as a way to repurpose whatever leftover veggies are in the fridge, which is less comforting to know when you're ordering something from a restaurant (was I getting someone's leftovers from yesterday?) but it is tasty and different.  Yorkshire pudding is a favorite of mine, and if you use whole wheat flour and cut out the 1/2 cup of beef fat in this recipe (I've made it using a couple Tbsp of duck fat and just plain cooking spray instead, both turned out acceptably) you get a super-fast eggy tasty bread that even my kids will scarf down.  Yummy.

Sadly, we had no British beers in the house since my husband is the primary purchaser of beer and he favors American microbrews, but I did find this English-style ale that stood in nicely.

Strangely enough, I don't remember eating any traditional desserts while in England.  Scones with clotted cream and jelly at tea yes, but no typical puddings or tarts or cakes.  Maybe we were so stuffed with all the starch from our dinners that we didn't ever have room for dessert?  I do remember several mix-ups involving Cadbury chocolate.  To an American Cadbury kind of implies Cadbury creme egg, but in England it's kind of like saying Hershey's in that they are a big company that makes all kinds of chocolate products, all of which taste infinitely better than their American counterparts.  When I saw a Cadbury McFlurry at a McDonalds over there I rushed in and bought it thinking I would get a cup of ice cream filled with creme eggs, when in fact I got a cup of ice cream filled with something strange and unsettling called Cadbury flake chocolate.  On my second trip I was older and wiser, but when I saw a HUGE Cadbury egg in a drugstore I rushed in and bought that too, expecting to bust it open and find a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-esque motherload of creme inside.  It was actually just a chocolate shell filled with 3 tiny creme eggs on the inside.  Disappointed hardly begins to describe how I felt.

Rather than steaming myself up a pudding to follow my meal, I just abstained from dessert.  I was definitely too stuffed with carbs to eat any more after this meal!

I have to apologize for not being able to keep up with my daily posting.  I HAVE been making and documenting my dinners, the problem lies in getting the posts put together.  As you may know, Diablo 3 just came out so my husband monopolizes our main computer in the evenings, which is my prime blogging time.  He thoughtfully anticipated this issue and got me a new netbook for Mother's Day (now I can blog on trips!) but unfortunately all of my old trip pictures reside on the computer that is currently emitting battle sounds and corpse screams.  Oh well, I'll get all my posts up eventually!