travel: book reading

here’s a fun news flash… i’m a book nerd.  my friends, most of them, also book nerds. my husband, definite book nerd.

because of that, when we travel, there are extended conversations of what books are being brought and why.  there is also book trading, bargaining and for all intents & purpose, almost a psuedo-book club.

it’s good times.

in addition to being book lovers, myself & most of my friends are FAST readers.  and that’s no joke.  we devour books and race through them in a day or two max.  so when you’re on, say, a week long vacation, that’s at least 4 books that you have to bring.

i have a pretty solid reading regimen for my travels… i bring an old favourite (usually one of two that are my “travel books”) and i bring a few new ones.  then, i buy a magazine at the airport in each direction and sometimes another book, if something catches my eye. so basically by the time i get home i’m lugging around 3-4 books and a couple magazines.  every time.

my standby travel books are my two favourite books.  they’re both books that i love deeply, and while i could pick them at in any place, at any time and start reading, i have that ridiculous drive to finish it front to back whenever i see them.  book 1 is fear & laothing in las vegas by hunter s thompson and the second book is the witching hour by anne rice.  no lie, i have read one of these books (sometimes both) on every single vacation that i’ve been on in the last 10 years.
i’m on my 3rd copy of the witching hour and my 5th copy of fear & loathing.

i hard-core LOVE this book.  and funnily enough, i’ve come across a few friends lately that have never read it… so i’ve been lending it out.  and because i’m OCD about this book, every time i lend it, i have to reread it again because its out.  so right now i’m about 2/3 of the way through it and i’ll probably finish it on the plane.  and maybe start it again if i rip through my other reading, lol.  i never ever get sick of this one.

my “new” reading for this trip is two food books… the first is from anthony bourdain, and while it’s not “new”, it just arrived in my mailbox from amazon last week, so it’s new to me.

i think that the knowledge that anthony bourdain is fucking awesome pretty much goes without saying, so i’m stoked to read this.  also, i’ve been watching a LOT of No Reservations lately, so it’s kinda timely for me.

the other pick is from jeffrey steingarten, who my fellow food lovers might recognize from being the most frequent judge of Iron Chef America.

both books are about food, travel & humorous observations, so i think they’re perfect for my hawaii trip.

then, on the back up reel is my ipad… i didn’t get a chance to download as many books as i would have liked, but my time has been at a bit of a premium lately.  so i grabbed basically a bunch of books that i already own in hard copy and put the on my ipad, so if the mood strikes me to continue reading the witch series from anne rice, i can do that… or if i wanna jump to vampires, well, i can do that too.

having my ipad has made traveling infinitely more awesome.  it’s so freaking handy to basically have a hand-held computer… and really, in the usa especially, free wireless is everywhere, so it’s even better.

but the whole book thing has been especially great.  don’t get me wrong, the ipad will NEVER replace my books, but they sure do make travel reading easier and more accessible.  no longer do i have to lug around 5 books on my trip, now i can load up hundreds on my ipad and read whatever i want, whenever i want.  technology is magic.


travel: always be prepared

well team, i’m off today for 15 glorious nights in hawaii.  so i’m just working on all that last minute stuff… you know, laundry, packing… blogging?  sure.

it occurred to me a couple weeks ago that i am in need of new luggage.  i’ve never actually owned a proper luggage set, just random suitcases that i’ve acquired as the need for them has come up.  i have no proper carry-on size suitcase… i’ve always just used backpacks… fine for the random things to carry when you’ve checked a bag, but not so great for those weekend trips where you really could just get away with that little bag.
also, my mid-size suitcase is starting to not zip so well… and my larger one is so giant that filling it means that my bag is always overweight.

so yes, it was time.
i’ve been on the hunt for a while… hard case or soft case?  this was the dilemma.  hard cases are lighter, but are they more durable?  i just wasn’t sure… but then i thought about it, and really, it’s not like i’m going to have this suitcase for the rest of my life.  i’ll use it for 5 years or so and then it’ll give up the ghost because i just travel so damn much.
really, my main priority was getting a bag with the 360 spinning wheels.  if you’ve never owned a bag with this, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  they’re so far superior, it’s actually not even fair.

so, after a lot of shopping around, price hunting and quality control, i am now the proud owner of an actual brand new, high quality set of matching luggage.

and i’m pretty stoked on it. they’re totally awesome.

i’m using the small one for my carry-on bag and the medium size one for my checked luggage.  but the big daddy is sitting this trip out.  he’s for my big trip to europe in september/october.

i went with heys, and yes, i did go for the hard shell.  they’re customizable with these cool dot stickers, but i’m not sure if i’m going to use them or not.  i might just throw on one or two so that i can be sure its mine.
but, i’m pretty happy.

now that i have the luggage, i’m on to the actual packing part.  the good news is that for 12 or my 15 nights, i’m in a condo with laundry, so i don’t need to pack everything i own for this trip.  also, it’s hawaii.  i really just need bathing suits & dresses.
buuuuut… packing is not really my strong suit.  i’m forever jamming my suitcases full of stuff i don’t wear at home, let alone on vacation.  and i usually come back with a lot of things that never saw the light of day.  so, i’m trying to do better with that.

the one thing i am really good at is the paperwork.  i mean, as a travel agent, i should be, but it’s definitely where my organization soars.  i have files and folders of things that i may or may not need.  this trip includes: plane tickets, hotel confirmations, spa confirmations & gift certificates, restaurant, luau & tour confs, more plane tickets, condo info & maps and various “facts & must-do’s” for maui.

but overall, i have very little planned.  it’s hawaii.  just being there is the plan.
tomorrow i have a massage, facial & body scrub at the spa at the hilton.  dec 23rd we have a luau booked… and dec 26th is my organic farm tour.  that’s it.
(unless you count dec 29th where i cry and hang on to a palm tree as my family tries to drag me home.  but that’s more of a tentative plan)

the other things to be penciled in are: molokini snorkeling trip, maybe the road to hana… ummm… maybe the sunrise over the haleakala crater?  because, i mean… come on! look at this!

ya, that’s pretty much the reason i’m packing my tripod.

alright, and speaking of packing, i best get on it.  the flight leaves at 2:30pm and i tried to check in online, but have already been flagged for “additional random checks” (hooray) so we’ll be getting there extra early.

i may or may not be blogging from destination… i have internet access, i just might not care to be on it that much, lol.  merry xmas & junk!

travel: maui foodie activities

i’ve been on the lookout for something fun for the husband & i to do in maui.  just the two of us. he’s really good with my family, but if after 12 days i’ll be going crazy, he’s going to actually murder someone.
so an “alone” activity needs to be planned.
i’d been looking at hikes and such, but i figure that can be more spur of the moment… we already have a luau booked as a family for dec 23rd… and we’re planning on getting in a boat & doing some whale watching & snorkeling… and i’d really like to watch the sunrise from the crater… but that’s “everybody inclusive”, right?

yesterday my friend sent me on facebook a link to some cool foodie related maui activities and i booked us into the O’o farm lunch & tour.

it’s a beautiful organic farm that exists mostly to supply their restaurants with organic produce.  and i’m pretty excited to eat a freshly prepared meal right smack in the middle of the farm.

i’ve enquired, and yes, they are happy to accommodate me with a wheat-free meal. in fact, theeir food often doesn’t contain much wheat, since it’s all focused on being as farm fresh as possible.  i’m pretty excited and i’m going to take 5000 pictures there, lol.

this whole experience is a good value, $50 per person plus tax & tip.  but i’m getting a slight discount on account of my travel-agent-ness.  still, the food served is akin to their higher end restaurant’s servings, so the price point is just fine.  as well, they encourage you to bring your own bottle of wine. perfection.

i did also consider the tour of the goat farm with cheese tasting, because i am a whore for goat cheese… but the tour & tasting weren’t really well received by reviewers on trip advisor.  so i figured i’d skip it. it’s in the area of this farm, so we may drop in anyways.

food: turkey meatballs

on sunday night i had my best friend over for a day of fun times.  we did a 9:30am aquafit class (it’s kinda weird to not be hungover on a sunday, lol) and then went for a hike, which got downsized to more of a walk due to the cold… we watched hockey, drank wine and i made her favourite meal that i cook.  turkey meatballs.

to be honest (and not humble, i’m serious) i don’t really get the allure.  they taste great, but they’re dead simple, and i don’t feel as though i really have a “secret” or “trick” that makes mine better than anyone else’s could be… but she loves them (and LOVES may be an understatement) so i’m happy to oblige.

the plan was to tweak the recipe to make it wheat free.  meaning that i would omit the panko and just use parmesan cheese instead.  but they were too wet and needed the panko to form, so i gave in and accepted that there would have  a trace of wheat.  i probably used 1/3 cup in the whole recipe which made 22 meatballs, so i figured the contamination would be small.

i can honestly say that my body noticed the wheat.  which is pretty scary.  right away, it gave me that gross bloated feeling that i’ve really been enjoying the absence of.  so, what i’m saying is that i’m fully on board with this no wheat thing.  the most surprising thing to me is that i genuinely don’t want it.  this doesn’t feel like a sacrifice or like i’m depriving myself, it just feels healthier.  i was expecting to feel sad and miserable about all the stuff i can’t eat… when really, i’m just excited about what i do eat.  (welcome back to my life, potato chips!)

anyways… back to the meatballs.
what can i say?  it’s a standard meatball recipe.  ground lean turkey, parm cheese, panko, eggs, spices, hot sauce, worcestershire sauce, mix and bake at 375 for 30 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes.

they go in like this…


and then they make friends with a pot of sauce…
this one has onions, garlic, celery, carrots, zucchini & red peppers…


and voila!  turkey meatballs.


i ate mine without pasta, just balls & sauce… and it was just as tasty.  i did buy a rice pasta, but then i figured, fuck it.  i really wasn’t craving pasta or in the mood for it (if you know me, this is the craziest statement i’ve ever said.  i used to ALWAYS want pasta)

this is the strangest thing to wrap my head around about wheat free… the complete absence of craving for wheat, when i used to crave it all the time.  it’s like i’ve broken the addiction and now i’m free.  definitely something i did not anticipate.  also losing 5lbs in the first 4 days?  also something i did not see coming, but i’ll take it.  and jen was right, that wheat belly thing is REAL.

what i’m really struggling with now, is how much shit has wheat in it.  like soy sauce?  really?  i mean, it’s an easy fix, i buy braggs, but my poor husband doesn’t know these tricks yet and bought us teriyaki steaks for dinner tonight.  and i had to point out that the sauce likely has wheat in it, which kinda blew his mind.  he’s starting to believe me when i say this shit is in everything.  the processed food industry are sneaky bastards, look out.

food: salmon in parchment

it seems to me like this whole paleo/giving up wheat thing is pretty popular among some of my friends right now… and as i mentioned in an earlier post, i’m intrigued.  my friend jen posted about it the other day – and i’ve been trying to do some more reading about it when i have time (when that is, i’m not exactly sure)

in any event, i’ve been making an active effort to avoid wheat in my meals.  this is HARD.  especially when you’re not planning ahead.  like most things, i guess… planning is the key.
yesterday i found myself at work with no food… okay, so breakfast is easy, i have oatmeal, but lunch?  the only thing really accessible is sandwiches or frozen meals.  eek.  i ended up going with a salad from safeway and a box of rice crackers, which was fine, but obviously i need to get some better ideas than just salad or i’ll go crazy.

at home, where i have options and can make things from scratch, it gets easier.  and my husband is on board (kinda) so when he makes meals, he’s trying his best too.  he doesn’t really have the same struggles with wheat that i do, so he doesn’t fully wrap his brain around the importance of it… he’s more just trying to be a good husband and be supportive (awww, right?  what a guy)

on tuesday i came home to this fabulous meal waiting for me:


that makes me hungry just looking at this photo.

the salmon was cooked with slices of orange, a sprig of fresh rosemary & a little hot sauce from our collection and wrapped up in parchment to steam.  takes about 12 minutes in the oven – no dish washing required, dead easy.

the vegetable mixture is butternut squash, asparagus & tomatoes.  it’s been pan roasted with a little butter, white wine to deglaze the pan and fresh sage.  he also roasted & seasoned the squash seeds and tossed them in at the end.

and let me tell you, i in no way felt like i was “missing” anything when i ate it.  it was fresh, healthy & simple clean food.  which makes natalie a happy girl.

i had forgotten all about the fun of cooking in parchment.
obviously, it’s ideal for seafood, but vegetables, chicken… anything like that works well in parchment too.  and i love these zero to low cleanup dishes, especially on a weekday.
not to mention that you can cook whatever without added butter or oil if you desire… although, i must say that if you put butter mixed with herbs & anchovy in with say, a piece of sole, it comes out to be pretty magical.

the comfort food chronicles: chicken casserole

part of winter is definitely comfort food.  it’s slow cooker meals in the form of stews & soups… it’s everything warm & comforting like snuggling up in a blanket just out of the dryer.  it’s about indulging those cravings that would seem obscene in summer months when skin is bared… because, as my husband says, a little extra weight in the cold months is just a winter coat.

on the weekend i woke up with a very specific craving for chicken casserole that my mom used to make when i was a kid.  this recipe is a classic “soup can” kinda recipe.  quick & easy and oh-so yummy to me. and it’s a one dish recipe, which is always a selling feature for me.

here’s the bones of it, as made for 2 people:

3/4 cup uncooked rice
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 soup can of milk
2 chicken breasts, raw
1 crown of broccoli, chopped into bite size-ish pieces
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2tbs melted butter

now, here’s what i did to make it fun…

square casserole dish – throw the rice in the bottom.  add the soup & milk, whisk together… season.  i used a little dijon mustard, some garlic powder (lazy) and some ancho chilli.  stir to combine well.
layer the broccoli over the soup mixture, lay the chicken breasts on top and cover with cheese (i used slices of cheddar because they were handy, and again, i was lazy)
combine the breadcrumbs & melted butter, sprinkle over the top
bake at 400 for 45 minutes.