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travel – carnival cruise

ah yes… finally… my long long overdue post about my fabulous cruise in the caribbean.

so, back in May, myself and 7 of my coworkers had the pleasure of being hosted on the Carnival Breeze for a 6 night cruise from Miami and visiting Key West, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

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here she was, as viewed from the Miami port before we embarked.  she’s a big girl and beautiful, shiny and new.

this was my view… deck 2 outside cabin.  we had this fabulous little window well that i used many afternoons to sit in and read my book while enjoying the gorgeous caribbean water… there’s nothing like that colour…

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the ports were fantastic… we rode bikes in key west… i did the stingray city excursion in grand cayman (so cool!) and in cozumel we did a catamaran boat cruise with snorkeling and beers & guacamole.

my main challenge on this cruise was to keep active and to try to restrain myself around the food…
there was a Guy Fieri’s burger joint on the ship and I managed to restrict myself to only 1 burger.  which was a miracle, because that was a damn fine burger.  my boss ate 7.  so basically i was the only one showing restraint.

my main temptation was the blue iguana taco bar… they made the tortillas fresh right infront of you and then you got to load up your tacos as you liked and there was even a hot sauce carousel that included my all time favourite hot sauce; a honey habenero.
i could never decide between the pork or chicken taco, so obviously i ordered one of each… there was also a fish option, but it was breaded and deep fried, so i said no to that.

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*drool* makes me hungry just thinking about it…

i also did well in the breakfast department… i’m not a huge breakfast guy, but i did love that i could have my bagel and smoked salmon whenever i saw fit…

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and then one day, i splurged on the huevos rancheros…
oh man, it was good.  three kinds of salsa… and these little hush puppies on the side… yup.  that was a winner.

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and because the best part of cruise ship life is having no limit to what you order, we also got a breakfast mac & cheese for the table… which was garnished with fried chicken and bacon.  hells to the yes.
there was 3 of us digging in to that and it was still too rich to finish.

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so there’s a little snapshot into how damn easy it is to indulge on a ship.
there were a few nights i definitely went overboard… i ate 3 lobster tails one night.  why not?  they’re free and i was still hungry.  there were nights filled with beer until 3am… (couple of those nights infact)…
but i balanced everything out with 4 trips to the gym (which was REALLY nice BTW) and tons of walking.  while you’re onboard a ship, you’re constantly walking from one end of it to another… and in port, with bike rides and swimming excursions, we kept moving.

and at the end of everything, i’m quite pleased that i didn’t gain a single pound.  so that is a total win to me.

carnival really wowed me with their ship, facilities, service and food.  i’d definitely go on the breeze again!

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travel: little havana in miami

well, my first real cruise and trip to Miami was a pretty rad success. I’ll talk more about the cruise in another post, but I wanted to give you a couple pictures of my food tour in Little Havana.
we visited a few different places on a walking food tour that lasted a few hours… ate some delicious eats and got to experience a bit of the history of the place. it was very fun.
I’ve never visited Cuba and didn’t have a massive knowledge about Cuban cuisine, so I was looking forward to learning something new. as I expected, the food wasn’t particularly spicy or heavily seasoned, but it was tasty and you definitely could see the difference from other caribbean cuisines.
the area of Little Havana itself was like another world from South Beach and it felt very Caribbean with people just hanging around on the street corners and in public spaces playing dominos and socializing… and pretty much every man was sporting a Cuban shirt. so of course I had to bring one home for my husband.
anyways… enjoy some pictures from my wanders…

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and lastly… the food.
medianoche – the midnight sandwich. it’s a Cuban pressed sandwich but on a sweeter egg bread made for late night eating.
empanadas – these were stuffed with ground beef & green olives. delicious twist on a classic.
tostones – fried plantain cups filled with chicken sofrito.
pastelitos de guayaba – pastries filled with guava. so fucking yum.
abuelita maria ice cream – homemade ice cream with waffle cone & guava in it.

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food & travel: austin, texas

well… it feels like its been forever since cass & i booked our trip to austin… but finally the countdown is at under 2 months and we’re starting to get VERY excited.

my right hand (wo)man found an amazing blog called Fed Man Walking that we’ve spent a few hours drooling over and dreaming up all the delights that we’re going to try while we’re there…

we’ve mapped out most of the places that we’re planning on visiting and made some guestimates as to what we can walk to and what will be bus or taxi…

and we’ve got a loose itinerary.

we arrive on wednesday and will have had a looooong day of travel with an early morning start, so we’ll probably just check in, chill out, go for a swim and wander the immediate area around the hotel.

thursday we’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed and plan on a morning run/walk and some solid city exploring, some pool swimming, relaxing ect
then we’re very stoked to be seeing The Book of Mormon that night!

friday is when we really get going… we’ll be up early for our pre-ACL food tour with Austin Eats Food Tours.

Get your ACL festival morning started right!  Experience Franklin BBQ (no line), Torchy’s breakfast tacos, Blue Ox BBQ, Sugar Circus Bakery and Hops and Grain Brew prior to arriving to the festival!
What’s included:  breakfast taco, brisket, sausage, turkey, pork tenderloin, pulled pork, 3 local craft beers, dessert & drop off at the festival!

and then the main event… off to ACL festival!  we have poured over the schedule, highlighted our picks and have formulated a plan of attack.
on friday we’ll end the night with depeche mode.  after the festival… who know where austin will take us…

saturday will hopefully treat us with a bit of a sleep in…  maybe a morning swim… and then off to ACL fest for silversun pickups at 4pm! ❤  ❤ ❤
after the daytime shows are over at ACL fest, we’re heading down to Emo’s to check out the late night show with franz ferdinand and smith westerns which should keep us in just the right amount of trouble all night 😉

sunday is our gospel brunch date at stubb’s bbq!
then we’re off to the last day of ACL fest with the closing performance from lionel richie.  yup.  after the festival, who know?  we may have to crash from exhaustion or we might have it in us to rock austin for one last night…

monday we head home at 3pm, so we’ll still have the morning to have one last exploration and shopping endevour before we start the journey home.

ya, i’d better book that tuesday off work for sleep and recovery.  just typing all that exhausted me, lol.

46 days to go…

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fabulous las vegas: including bon apetit vegas uncorkd 2013

you might not know if from my lack of posts, but the 2013 vegas crew did indeed survive our adventure.
i also answered the question – is 6 nights in vegas too long? with a resounding NO.  i was not ready to come home and could have lounged poolside for another week easily.

and once again, i headed to vegas with a to-do/to-see list that was a mile long and really only got through a handful of things.
but i did have an excellent time.

when we checked in at the cosmopolitan, the lovely lady at the desk asked if it was our first time.  we told her it was my 7th trip to vegas, but our first time staying at the cosmopolitan.  she leaned over the desk and whispered “you’ll never stay anywhere else again”.
and by george,i think she was right.

the cosmopolitan was top notch from start to finish.  excellent service, beautiful rooms with incredible pools and terrific restaurants.  i have zero complaints about our stay there. and yes, i’ll be back.

our room was over 1000 square feet with 2 bathrooms and a giant patio overlooking the bellagio fountains.  i pretty much never wanted to move out.  it was gorgeous.

(here’s our patio view)

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and a shot of the living room when we were about to check out… le sigh…

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anyways, like most things in life, pictures don’t do it justice, but lets suffice to say it was pretty kickass.

but, more than anything, in las vegas, we come to eat and drink.
and the bon apetit vegas uncorkd was a strong lure for us…
we decided to do two events, the grand tasting and the bellagio block party.  both were very cool and very different.  the grand tasting was a totally mind blowing experience.  celebrity chefs everywhere, throngs of people loaded up with pork belly and short rib and fine liquor flowing very freely.

here’s my partners in crime and i on the red carpet on arrival.

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it’s kind of hard to see and describe, but all the food is poolside in an outer ring and then the liquor was on the inner ring, hugging the pool.  lovely setting.

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this was the most i saw of gordon ramsay all night… he wasn’t exactly hanging out making conversation…

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no big deal… just bobby flay serving food for mesa grill…

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i don’t even know which restaurant this cookie came from, but it had a syringe of chocolate ganache with it and it was a delight.

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i resisted the urge to take pictures of my food and just experience the event instead.  by now, i know that no photo can replicate being there and tasting it, so i’ll just tell you that we enjoyed to the max and kept the camera in my purse pretty much the whole night.  this was an event, not a photo op. and i stand by that decision.

the next night was the bellagio block party… and it was fun!  much more relaxed than the grand tasting and much smaller, in both size and guests.  the food portions were also bigger, as instead of 200 restaurants, you only had about 30 to try from, so you got a bit more of an appetizer vs an amuse bouche.

here’s my crew (minus my husband who left to get a beer) at the block party.

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and then under the bellagio hidden driveway sign…

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yup.  fun times!

anyways… fill in the blanks with food, sun, pool, drinks and laughing… and that was vegas!  definitely always more fun with wicked people.

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travel & food: Vegas Uncork’d

this year’s trip to fabulous las vegas coincides with bon apetit’s vegas uncork’d festival.
and by coincides, I mean we totally planned it that way.

moonbeam, my husband and I have for years discussed hitting this event.
lets face it, it’s a massive food & drink event with celebrity chefs and its in a totally rad place that is super fun to visit. sooooo… it was fated to happen sooner or later.
and this is our year baby.
kinda.

we started with huge plans of hitting multiple events… but then reality bitch slapped us.
these events are not cheap. like, not even remotely close to cheap.
in order to do a couple events a day, we’d be into this for a couple grand each. and it’s just not happening this year.
so we made some tough decisions and committed to two events.

we’ll be at the grand tasting on the friday night at ceasars palace and then the following night at the bellagio for the block party. both sound super fun and will be stuffed full of food & drinks.
and we’re pretty excited about it all.

as usual, this trip to vegas is including a number of our nearest and dearest for super fun party times.
now, this sort of thing isn’t up everyone’s alley, but a couple pals have decided they’re into the block party (because who doesn’t like hanging out at the bellagio and stuffing your face while getting boozy?) and I’m excited to put on some fancy duds and get all prettied up for this.
none of us are “clubbing” people and so we pretty much never end up doing a “fancy” vegas night when we’re there… I might even wear heels.*
(*i am totally not wearing heels. terrible idea)

overall, we’re treating this like a test year to check out the events and see how we feel about how they’re run and if we feel its worth the money and then maybe next year we’ll go a little bigger for the uncork’d.

at the very worst, they’re 2.5 hours each of our vegas time and we can rendezvous with the others after since going out at 10pm in vegas is like going out at 7pm at home, lol.
so there’s not much to lose when you look at it that way. (except the thousand dollars on my visa – yikes)

anyways, we’re all very excited and I’m just calling it now that if I find out mike symon is anywhere near me, I might go full fangirl. just sayin’.

naturally I’ll do my best to blog and instagram and tweet as much as I can and fill all you in on all the details and happenings!

food: vancouver christmas market

well… when i first drafted this post, it was december 17th.  and christmas was almost upon us.
now, it has come and gone.
excuses excuses, but december was a particularly trying month for me for various reasons and lots of things fell by the wayside.  this post/blog being one of them.
to be honest, i also didn’t travel anywhere nor did i cook barely at all.  i certainly ate, but not much in the way of preparation…

but, resolutions abound in the new year… so i’m going to finish this post and then post some more.

for the last couple years, vancouver has played host to its own german-style christmas market.
and if there’s one thing i really enjoy, its a cup of hot mulled wine while wandering around eating and shopping for knick knacks.
so this was pretty much right up my alley.

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first off, kudos to these guys and the city of vancouver for treating us like adults and letting us wander with alcohol.
you could buy your hot mulled wine and/or a beer and wander freely inside the market.  not penned in to a beer garden looking longingly past the plastic fencing forced to choose between the drink and the market itself.
this was a vast improvement over many other events vancouver is home to, simply for that reason alone.  alcohol should not mean segregation.

i also was a huge fan of the mug deposit system.
instead of drinking your beverage from a disposable plastic or styrofoam cup, you received a real ceramic mug for the deposit price of $2.  then, if you wanted to keep your mug, you could… or you could return it for your twoonie back after you were done refilling as needed.
another great idea.  i wish other events would take heed and do the same with beer gardens and get rid of all those wasted plastic cups.

basically what i’m saying, is that this market took some of europe’s best ideas from their markets and instituted them.  which really, if you’re going to refer to yourself as a german christmas market, you’d better represent.

so, to show support for this idea, we immediately went into the lineup to get a mulled wine.

anyways… on to the food.
there were many choices, in fact, the stands were weighed heavily towards food over goods… which was just fine with us.

first stop… schnitzel.

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sorry for the overexposed picture, it was dark and flash was the only way to go.
anyways… the schnitzel itself was pretty damn good.  we waited about 25 minutes for it and received a lovely golden crisp piece of pork with a light panko coating.  served with a pita bread, potato salad, lemon wedge & a pickle.

overall… solid.  we ate it and liked it, but really, i think vienna has ruined me for schnitzel.
when it comes from the deep fryer its just not the same as the frying pan full of butter… and the potato salad was out of a costco bucket and sprinkled with dried dill.  don’t get me wrong, i’ve eaten my share of costco potato salad, but i guess i hoped for something a little more homemade.

next up was the spätzle!

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i was really looking forward to this…
after another 25 minute line up, we finally had our cheesy pasta-y goodness in hand and barely stopped to breathe.

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the smell coming off this stand is so amazing, it should be illegal.  essentially this fella above just continuously tosses the noodles in excessive amounts of clarified butter, bacon and onions in a giant wok-style cast iron frying pan.  have you ever just fried pasta in clarified butter until its cooked?  ya.  you should do that.  because it was pretty much my heaven.

throw in some bacon and fried onions and you’ve got a winner.
but seriously… so much butter.  i watched that dude use pounds of butter in the time i was in line.
then he scooped out a portion, smothered it in cheese and topped it with fried onions.  yup.

because we’d been smart and shared all our meals so far, we figured it was high time for a bratwurst.

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so for our last food stop of the evening, we hit up the brat stand and after a 30 minute line (see a pattern there?  we need more food stands!) we were rewarded handsomely with a lovely sausage on a crunchy soft roll smothered in sauerkraut and golden caramelized onions.

here’s a testament to how good that thing was… i hate onions and kauerkraut and i ate it all without picking it off.  it just seemed like one of those “when in rome…” kinda things.

bellies full, we grabbed a beer and wandered around to see the crafts.  overall we didn’t see too much that interested us… the one place with tons of cool looking stuff was in a building and the lineup was ridiculous to get in, and frankly i just didn’t have it in me to wait in yet another line, so we moved on.

we picked up an ornament for the mother in law and my husband purchased some alpaca socks (which he LOVES) and then we called it a night.
overall, it was a lovely way to spend an evening and i hope next year they expand the market because after the long line just to enter and then the continuous lines inside, i think a lot of people get frustrated.

but i’m happy to see the city giving these kind of events licensing and space and hope this is a tradition for many years to come.

travel and drink: waikiki edition

ah hawaii… truly one of the few places on earth where a manly man can be seen with a drink garnished with flowers and umbrellas and not be mocked by his mates.
in fact, to not order such a drink is really just cheating yourself.

and the king of all drinks in hawaii is the mai tai.

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and honestly, it just takes it to a new level when its served in a fun glass like this.
this is how it comes at dukes and hula grill.  and good on them for keeping it extra real.

but at the end of the day, its really whats inside the glass that counts.  so what you’re looking for is premium spirits… and fresh squeezed juices.
and of course, a pretty garnish helps.

the supposed “best” in waikiki is hotly debated.  many many places claim it, but one place i kinda believe is the moana surfrider.  first of all, its a fancy pants hotel.  and they charge like $14 for it, so it had better be good… and it looks like this:

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its gorgeous AND comes with a beachfront ocean view.  so it wins.

and while every place does put a spin on the classic mai tai… this is basically the recipe.

  • 1 oz. Dark Rum
  • 1 oz Light Rum
  • 1 oz Orange Curacao
  • 2 oz Pineapple Juice
  • 1/2 oz Lime Juice
  • Dash Orgeat
  • Dash Simple syrup

and then you have the blue hawaii…
this is definitely one of those garbage pants sickly sweet cocktails that you’ll suck back in record time and then pay for in hangovers the next day.
…buuuuuut its a classic.  so you gotta have at least one.

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original blue hawaii

  • 3/4 oz light rum
  • 3/4 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
  • 3 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz sweet and sour mix

something that i really enjoy is this little fella.  they call it the lava flow in hawaii.  but in las vegas they call it a miami vice.  but same same.
its half pina colada and half strawberry daiquiri kinda layered together… and in vegas you get a strawberry garnish, in hawaii everything comes with a pineapple.

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one thing about hawaii, is that at one point in your trip you really must have a ridiculous drink.  like something giant or in a fishbowl or on fire… or all 3 if possible.

we went with this bad boy from LBLE  (thats Lobby Bar Libations Extraordinaire – clever name, huh?)

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it was a giant concoction filled with fresh juices and rum, rum and more rum.  and then they lit some 151 on fire inside a lime on top.  yup.  it was awesome.

its a tough act to follow… but i followed it up with a straberry, basil & vodka drink topped with a floater of champagne.  it didn’t steer me wrong.

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from LBLE we were forced by the bartender to go to her favourite bar after. and i mean literally FORCED.  she refused to serve us another drink and called us a taxi and sent us there.

its a place called the Pint & Jigger and it was really everything she promised it would be.
they served me the best manhattan of my life.  the glass was smoked, the booze premium, the ice cube singular and giant and the garnish was a homemade maraschino cherry.

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last but certainly not least… hawaii makes some good beers.
most prevalent is the kona brewing company, and they’re damn fine, but don’t stop there.  head over to Yardhouse for a great selection of local brews.  or dukes also has a beer sampler that will scratch your itch for local.

my personal favourite, which i don’t have a picture of is the Hawaii Nui Mehana Volcano Red Ale. but then again, i love me a red ale.

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