Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Last day in Mexico and the best Mexican meal ever!

While in Mexico, we couldn't pass on visiting the historical sites which, after all, make traveling what it is. Jeff and I saw the ruins of Tulum, which were built by the Mayans on tall cliffs along the Yukatan coast. The establishment was known as the City of Dawn, as it faces the east. It housed about 1,000 people and was surrounded by a wall, pretty well preserved until today, actually, that helped the Mayans defend against the Spanish, of course up to the point when diseases caused majority of deaths in this culture.
As you're travelling you need to keep in mind that certain (most) tourist sites are very old and it takes a lot of effort to keep them standing for the generations to come. This particular city was built in 13th century but judging from tourists ignoring the "keep away" signs and climbing the ruins I do not know how much longer it will stand there.

This photo is just absolutely magical.

Looking down from the edge of the ancient city at the beach.

Aaand... we're back in Minneapolis... welcomed by a snow storm preventing us from driving home that night. We spent the night in Minneapolis and since we were not satisfied with the amount of Mexican food we had in Mexico, we ate enchiladas at a delicious hole-in-the-wall place called Andale Taqueria Y Mercado (click in the name for their website and here for the Yelp reviews).The food was truly amazing; I don't visit MSP too often but I will be sure to stop by next time!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Salt Lake City and the hidden treasure

Salt Lake City is one of my favorites. I love walking around the Temple Square, enjoying the flowers or Christmas decorations and meeting missionaries from all over the world.

We had an opportunity to watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice. Simply put - amazing. I love listening to their music during the holidays; it makes it so much more celebratory.

One of the most memorable moments was... you guessed it - good food. Approved by Moby, who apparently is a frequent customer at this restaurant, Sage's Cafe proved to be a great find. Organic and vegetarian, fresh and colorful. Check out their menu and I think you may be pleasantly surprised by the gourmet look and acceptable prices for these unbelievably creative dishes. The only canned foods used for preparation are coconut milk and tomatoes and all of the ingredients are organic and locally purchased first. If you want to find out more, please visit the "about" section of their website (click on the name for the link).

Lynne Marie enjoyed her French toast with apple carrot butter. Yum!

I, of course, opted for something south of the border inspired. Here are my tofu tacos with home-made salsa and guacamole. 

Now, I am unsure what Jeff ordered; it looks like the Mountain, according to the online menu. It features a tofu scramble with a faux sausage on top. Usually I don't trust the vegetarian sausages featured in the frozen section of the grocery store as I find them too processed (just look at the ingredients!) but this "sausage" was reported as homemade from tofu, nuts and other secret ingredients. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What's for dinner, Mexico?

Staying in an all inclusive resort certainly has its advantages, all listed below. Forgive me for no dessert photos, I got to them too fast...
Despite my expectations, the meals and the restaurants were pretty high quality. I do wish, however, that we had more opportunities to try Mexican food. The resort had one Mexican restaurant on site and snacks by the pool, otherwise we had an opportunity to eat at one of the places in Playa del Carmen but we didn't as we were in a hurry to get to the Tulum ruins... wait for the next post!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Hola Mexico!

This December we decided not to shiver in North Dakota's beginning of winter, but to fry in the sun instead. Having never been to Mexico, my expectations were certainly exceeded. The coast of the Yucatan offers sandy beaches, beautiful water and amazing people.
Being an adventurous person I felt that staying in an all inclusive resort took away from my venturesome nature, but I can assure you that you can still get out and do all kinds of activities, although passing on free drinks, beautiful resort and free food can certainly prove difficult. We did however go kayaking (got flipped by the high waves and promptly returned to the shore), snorkeling with the turtles and swimming in fresh water caves. Visiting Playa del Carmen was a treat in itself, as the town was a little more commercialized than I expected it to based on my other previous travels, but it did make for a great occasion for Christmas shopping!

I met new friends, but I didn't get too close... ;)

Playa del Carmen and a giant bottle of tequila - I did not purchase it as it clearly spelled "trouble"!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Giving thanks

For Thanksgiving we went to Moab, UT and maybe did not have a turkey, but instead...

-were super happy to see anything other than the plains of North Dakota (although we love it, too)

- saw beautiful views

- randomly met my bridesmaid ShiAnne (how crazy is that!!!) and went hiking and repelling at U-Turn together

- hmm... danced YMCA on top of a mesa?

- rappelled... and perhaps cried a little from fear of heights. Maybe.

- at one point assist-rappelled with my brother-in-law who said he's done it before and admitted afterward that he has not... makes for interesting memories.

- saw amazing views yet again...

- saw arches and maybe even stood on top of them

- went jeeping in Chicken Corners Trail, UT, named after the hikers being too chicken to go any further...

- across the river is the Thelma and Louise point from the famous movie - pretty steep, huh!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sahara on the East Coast

One of the best moments of Philadelphia, in addition to seeing Al Capone's cell, was eating Middle Eastern food at the Sahara Grill restaurant on Walnut Street. We enjoyed a big meal and finished it with my favorite dessert - Turkish coffee!

First we enjoyed a plate full of baba ganoush - a simple yet tasty dish of mashed up eggplant, olive oil, spices and sometimes onion used as a dip. And we all know that eggplant is one of the most delicious vegetables!

Next came the dolmas - grape leaves stuffed with vegetables, although you can get it in a meat version. There are several types of dolmas, as it generally means grape or cabbage leaves with filling. Dolmas are served in several countries varying from Turkey to Greece to... Sweden. I bet you didn't know that Poland had its own version of dolmas - they're called "golabki" (which actually means "little pigeons") and are a meat and tomato filling stuffed cabbage leaves.

Jeffrey ordered a kebab meat with rice and salad.

Stop with the photos and let me eat my dolmas!

Turkish coffee concluded the meal. It is made by boiling the grounds (and sometimes sugar) in the water. Therefore, when you're drinking it you're risking the grounds stuck in your teeth but are rewarded by amazing taste otherwise not achieved by other methods. Just don't smile at your server unless you're sure your teeth are coffee-grind free - not that it happened to me. I'm just saying.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


In November we had the pleasure of visiting one of the oldest and historically important cities in America. Seeing the Liberty Bell and reading about its meaning to so many people was very interesting. Did you know that it was once a symbol of those who were trying to abort slavery? Actually, that's where the name came from. Read more about it here.

Of course we enjoyed a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. Apparently it is supposed to be served with Cheez Whiz, although additions of other cheese versions are also popular.

One of the most interesting parts of the trip was a visit to the Eastern State Penitentiary, as I have lost of family members serving their time there. Just kidding! Although it was at one time the most expensive prison in the world, now it is serving as a museum. This is where Slick Willie Sutton and Al Capone spent their sentences. The prison had their own pet, a dog named Pep, and despite of what one may believe - no, Pep was not a prisoner.

I found the cell of Al Capone the most interesting of all, perhaps because the guards allowed him to bring in fine furniture and rugs.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Enjoying long walks before the ground freezes for the next 4 months...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The juice. Enough said.

Juicing is a serious business...
Recently I watched a movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. If you are not taking care of your body you should watch it. If you are taking care of your body you should watch it, too! It is an amazing and inspirational film describing stories of people who took a big and difficult step towards their health, which changed their lives for ever. They juiced - meaning drank juices for several, sometimes 60, days, lost weight and felt better. Now, I am not recommending this practice as I do not know the health implications of it, but I took some things that were said in that movie to heart. First, we have one body and we need to take care of it. Second, it feels better if you're healthy. Third, there is a thin line between a burger for dinner every night and loosing control of your body - one day you wake up and don't know how you got there.
I don't know that I need or would want to go on a juicing diet for so long. But common sense tells me that adding a glass of juice daily to my diet will only do me good! Now, there are some facts that one needs to be aware of prior to adding a big glass of juice to their daily routine.
1. Don't be fooled - there are plenty of calories in fruit or vegetable juices. It is still good for you as it contains vitamins and antioxidants. But you need to remember that you are not drinking water, so if you have a big honking glass of juice, perhaps you should skip that cookie.
2. Most juicers will remove pulp, which means that they remove the fiber. Make sure you get enough fiber in your diet - as it not only helps your intestines move, it also slows the rate at which sugars are absorbed (so you don't get a sugar rush and then drop) and it lowers cholesterol levels.

This is the apple juice I had the other day - made purely with crab apples - the sweetest apple juice I ever tasted! Are there preservatives in it? No. Is it pasteurized? No. Just pure apple juice. 
Now, enough of that technical talk. For those who need it right to the point - juice is flipping tasty. And delicious. The apple juice you buy at the store? Forget it. My favorite is apple/carrot/lime. My father in law adds ginger to his for the extra kick. I have tried adding tomatoes before and it worked out wonderfully. Juicers will usually come in with a guide book, so make sure you glance at it!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mother of all grains

Don't you sometimes get bored with the good old recipes you've been making all this time and are looking for something new, yet simple? Look no further than your can of coconut milk or package of quinoa. As much as I always used to think those recipes were just to fill the empty space on the packaging, after trying several, I now am convinced that most of them are actually pretty tasty! Here is the newest addition to my cookbook, a recipe from an Archer Farms' quinoa packaging, simply called:
Quinoa with Black Beans and Corn. The main ingredient is a grain that is becoming increasingly popular in the US, but has been known for ages in South America, especially by the Incas, who called it the "Mother of all grains".
Cook 1 cup of grains according to the packaging instructions. Add 1 can of black beans, 1 can of sweet corn, 1 diced red pepper, 1/4 c chopped cilantro (although I used wayyyy more, as I love this wonderful herb), 3 tablespoons of lime juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of cumin. Mix all together. You can of course make variations of this recipe, adding different vegetables, depending on what you like; as you may notice I added fresh mushrooms. This dish can be used as a side salad, taco filling, or you can follow my idea and make lettuce wraps, which make a light, yet filling summer meal. Meat lovers - add some andouille sausage and let me know how it turns out!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cool it

Last days of summer. There, I said it. I am dreading fall and winter and hanging on to the nice weather as long as I can. If you see a girl in a coat and scarf drinking her morning coffee on the porch in October just because it is sunny - yes, that would be me.
But I am getting ahead of myself. After all, we still have over a month of a calendar summer left. So here's a recipe for either a great appetizer or a dessert soup. Inspired by my lunch at the Dakota Harvest, I just had to know how to make this wonderful cold concoction and here is the result of gathering and tweaking a few recipes. Now, this is one of those recipes where you're the boss and you decide how you want it done!
In a food processor chop up about half a watermelon. Use the other half to munch on during your hard work of cooking or mixing ingredients, rather. Pour into a container, in which you will store it. Warm up about half a cup of water and add couple of tablespoons of honey, just so it dissolves. Don't heat the water too hot as it will kill the important nutrients in the honey (a gross fun fact about honey to follow below, those with a weak stomach - please don't read). Chop up several leafs of fresh mint and add into the pot/container. Add juice of half a lime. You may add some fresh ginger if you'd like, really, sky's the limit! Enjoy on the porch or, as a friend rightfully suggested, you may use it as an alcoholic beverage mix!
PS. Gross fun fact - if you love honey you basically enjoy eating bees' puke, as nectar is turned into honey by the process of regurgitation. Good news is that some cultures consider it an elixir of immortality, so eat up!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hide your knives

If you haven't seen the movie "Forks over Knives", you must watch it. It may change your life, your health and the way you think about food; what it should be and what it could be. I didn't used to eat much meat at all, but coming to the US definitely took care of that - I was even eating steaks. So I was very excited when after watching this documentary Jeff suggested that we change our ways. And so we did. The changes you implement don't need to be drastic. For example, at this point we are eating about 70%-80% vegetarian (vegan at times) diet, but when we go out to eat we certainly order meat if we feel like it.
Here we have two very different recipes; one for those who want to challenge themselves in their culinary lives and one for those who would like to stay carnivores for a little longer.
Spring Rolls

 I was very excited to try making spring rolls one beautiful early summer night. For those who live in Grand Forks, ND, I found the rice paper at Toucan International Market, as the guy at Target did not even know what it was.
As you see on the price sticker - they were very affordable! I also used the vegetables visible in the photo, but you can use whatever you would like. I think next time I may add cooked rice noodles in some kind of a creamy sauce, as they would hold in the wrap nicer than just the veggies I used. I ended up sauteing the mushrooms with onions and broiled the asparagus just to give it a little softness. I submerged each rice paper in a bowl of water for about 6 seconds, then let it sit on a place for 10 seconds to let the water absorb. Next I organized my vegetables and wrapped it in a way that a burrito is wrapped. My very first roll did not quite work out, so it is one of those things that you just need to practice.
I got my inspiration for the dipping sauce from an article from the Sunset Magazine, which I unfortunately cannot find on line any longer. I mixed low-sodium soy sauce with sambal oelek, which is an Asian chili sauce (you can find it at Target) and minced garlic.Voila. Dip and eat. Surprisingly, it was very filling.

Steak au poivre
We celebrated Jeff's birthday in a truly carnivorous manner with filet mignon cooked in cream, pretty much. I know that the last sentence sparked your interest, so read on! PS Did you know that in some European countries filet mignon refers to pork?
Jeff cracked a bunch of peppercorns and covered the steaks in them. He took 1/3 cup of cognac and flambeed it until the alcohol cooked off before adding a cup of heavy whipping cream. He reduced the sauce for a while, until just before the consistency that he liked and added the steaks to cook to about medium rare.
Using a dutch oven may be advantageous in this situation as it spreads the heat evenly. Easy, huh!? And oh, how tasty!