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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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food: fun with the juicer

so… on the weekend, i decided to buy a juicer.
this wasn’t an impulse buy per-say… my pal moonbeam fell back in love with her juicer at the beginning of the month and has been extolling the virtues to me for weeks now…

but i’ve honestly never been much of a juice gal. i’m not even a smoothie gal.
i have often cycled through buying oodles of frozen fruit in a misguided effort to start my day with smoothies, only to throw it all out a couple months later as a solid freezer burned mess.

actually overall, i’ve never been a fruit lover.
but i do love my veggies. and veggies make friends with a juicer too.

the other thing holding me back is that i have limited condo space and therefore i shy away from things that aren’t kitchen multi-taskers. and the juicer is very much a one trick pony.
buuuuuut… it was $99 and really isn’t *that* big, so i’m gonna give it a go.

so step one… obviously buying the machine.
step two… stocking up on fruit & veg.
step three… juice!

i started with a really husband friendly option in an effort to inaugurate him, as he often turns his nose up at my happy planet green juices. so i figured as long as it wasn’t super green i had a fighting chance.

so i went apple, orange & celery.

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they suggest you peel your oranges, so i did and there’s some debate about apple seeds, so i split mine in half and tunneled out the seeds and removed the stems. just to be safe.
celery just needed a wash and it was ready to rock.

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the results were delicious. the husband eagerly downed his glass and all were happy.

so i decided to take the leftover orange, apple celery base and green it up a little.
enter the addition of a couple handfuls of spinach, parsley, 2 carrots and a meyer lemon (skin and all)
to make…. this!

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definitely super yum.
the meyer lemon was definitely the most dominant flavour, but it smelled like parsley and celery. very interesting.
and i know you’re not supposed to “save” the juices because they lose vitamins or whatever, but i poured the rest into a mason jar and put it in the fridge for the next day’s breakfast.

last night, my two besties came over for hockey and one of them was sporting a bit of a hangover, so i whipped up a curing juice.

i decided on a couple apples, a cucumber, a few kiwis and a knob of ginger.
the kiwis were peeled, the apples de-seeded and the cucumber stem removed, but then everything was juiced together to produce this:

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i’m not entirely sure why it separated, but it sure was tasty.  the ginger made it spicier than i anticipated.  i used about a 1 1/2 inch piece and this batch yielded a little over a litre of juice total, but the ginger was the dominant flavour.
delicious, but a pretty strong after burn.  i imagine this would be awesome for if you were sick.

the kiwi maybe wasn’t the best plan ever.  the little seeds got caught in my blade and were harder to clean than i anticipated as they needed to be picked out of the teeth individually with my fingernail.

this morning, we went classic.  simple delicious orange juice.

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man, this is the best stuff.  just so good.

only downside is that i kept my box of oranges on the counter and i think i should move them to patio because my juice (obviously) is coming out at room temperature.

the next challenge is to find a good use for all the pulp i’m getting.
veggie pulp is easy… it can be added to soups, stocks, meatloaf/meatballs/burgers ect.
but the fruit pulp is something that will require some googling.

most of what i’ve read does say that the bulk of the vitamins & nutrients are coming out in the juice… but the pulp is pure fibre.  so while it might not have much in the way of flavour or vitamins, it’s definitely still worth eating.

also, wasting food really bugs me.  and since i don’t have a garden or compost, its making me feel guilty to pitch it.
the internet tells me that saving the pulp in freezer bags works too, and its good to separate it when blending juice… so like if i’m making a carrot whatever juice, do the carrots then stop and collect the pulp in a bag and then do the rest of the veg and store that separate ect.  makes sense.
i foresee carrot cakes in my future.

travel: prague, vienna & budapest today!

well, today is the day!  my flight departs at 4pm to take me into prague via amsterdam.
and man, i am EXCITED.
i have the pleasure of visiting 3 of the most beautiful cities in eastern europe and its all because of the fabulous folks at contiki.  so my huge thanks to them for hosting me!

prague is a city i have always wanted to see… vienna is a city my mother mentions over and over as being her favourite in europe… and budapest is a jewel i never dared to dream i might be able to cross off my travel list.
so this is not an opportunity i am taking for granted.

but as i’ve mentioned, it will be a whirlwind tour.
2 nights in each city will pass in the blink of an eye… and less than 7 days after departing, i’ll be back in vancouver.
and then i get to chill out on the flying front for a bit.
well… i’m off to hawaii on nov 17th.  but thats like a month away.
*then* no more travel until at least march.  maybe may.
but who has time to think about the future when tomorrow i’ll be looking at this:

to be honest, i haven’t done any research.  i’m basically going into all this blind.
i know that i’ll get the major highlights with contiki and then there’s a little free time in the afternoons and i figure i’ll just kinda wing it.  see what catches my fancy, wander around and take pictures… and just go with the flow.
i won’t really have enough time to really do anything big and i’m sure i’ll make friends with some of my tour mates, some who may have been to these places before, so i’m open to suggestions.
or you know, naps, lol.

anyways.  i haven’t packed, i’m still doing laundry from italy, and i guess i should check the weather forecasts to see what kind of clothes i need… so i literally *am* winging it this trip, lol.
i love this whole guided tour thing, its really allowing me to relax and not be that anal uber planner for all my trips.  its wonderful really to give up the control to a pro and just sit back and show up.  and for anyone thats ever been on a vacation with me, they know that i’m not good at giving up the planning control.
but now that i have, its so freeing.  i should have done this years ago!

okay. time to sort myself here and do the packing.

i believe our hotels will have wi-fi, so please follow me on instagram (vancityrockgirl) for pictures and also on facebook – EatDrinkFlydotcom where i’ll put some pics and updates for you.
xoxoxox

travel: the final countdown to italy

after what feels like YEARS of waiting… my italy trip is finally almost here…
only 9 more sleeps until we depart.
no other trips in between my departure…
it feels real now.  very real.
our travel documents have arrived…
we’ve bought all those little things one should have… travel pillows, new luggage tags, universal adapters… you know.

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i’m trying to concentrate all my happy feelings on this trip and working on my body healing itself so that i’m ready to rock.

i’m not gonna lie… i’m in a lot of pain these last few days.
my fall in the turks was worse than i first thought and i’ve been in & out of the hospital 3 times in the last 5 days.  all the docs say i should be fine to fly as long as i take the next little while to really rest up and keep my leg elevated.  so basically i’ve been spending some quality time with my couch.

it’s cool because its given me a chance to really pour over my travel books.

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which has been good… but due to pain killers and such, i’m not really retaining much.
let’s just say that despite 3 reads, i still can’t speak any italian.
which is why i bought the pocket sized book, lol.

i honestly couldn’t be happier that we’re going on a guided tour.  the weight off my shoulders is massive.
especially with this injury, not having to schlep my bags around myself and worry about getting myself to & from train stations is absolutely priceless.
and i know it sounds silly, but i spend my days planning other people’s trips for them… i’m kinda burned out on it when it comes to my own trip.  to let someone else take the reigns and do all the nit picky details for me is a blessing.
all we have to do is show up, and go along for the ride.
and thats exactly what i want out of my vacation.
plus, since italy is all new to me, i won’t proclaim to know all the ins and outs.  trafalgar are experts, so i’m just gonna let them do what they do.

i’ve been watching loads of shows lately on italy…
anthony bourdain has been schooling me on the food… waterfront cities of the world has shown me the secrets of venice… and last night i watched a show on daily life in ancient rome.
and i’ve been soaking up as much as possible.  again, as much as is possible with a head full of painkillers, lol.

i have a bit of a mental list of things to see and places to eat based on shows, books and personal recommendations… but overall, the plan is to just go with the flow.
the only real “must do” for food so far is “restaurant X” that anthony bourdain waxed poetic about in an episode of No Reservations.
i simply must eat that pasta dish that he showed – Tagliolini Cacio e Pepe.

it has to go in my mouth.  like… pretty much the day we arrive in rome.
thankfully, the internet has reviled his “secret” to be Ristorante Roma Sparita and so, this will be accomplished.

to be honest i’d really like to work my way through this list… 10 best restaurants in rome but sadly my time is limited in rome to 4 days.
i do promise you this… there will be many food pictures on my return.  if i don’t take at least one picture of everything i put in my mouth, i will have failed myself.

as well, it seems that my hotels should have wireless, so i’ll do my best to post some blogs from on the ground… but i’m not bringing a laptop, just my ipad, so they may lack photos until i return back in mid-october.
i’ll do my best.

travel: las vegas hiking adventure

a few months ago i won a hefty gift certificate to Intrepid Tours.  they are kind to travel agents and so this essentially meant i had a free trip to take.
the problem, is timing.
initially we were going to use this for our italy trip, but it didnt work out… and really, the idea of going on another trip before italy just isn’t realistic… but i have to use it before the year ends or it expires.

so i’ve been feverishly searching through brochures for something i could do in november or december that wouldn’t cost me a fortune in airfare.
and i have a winner!

this is called canyons & indian lands.

Highlights: Learn about the traditions of the Navajo people, Be mystified by the lunar landscapes of Monument Valley, Witness the epic scale of the Grand Canyon, Weave between the rock spires of Bryce Canyon, See the bizarre city of Las Vegas, Revel in the peaceful beauty of Zion National Park, Hike to the serene Emerald Pools

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i’m pretty excited about it.

las vegas is a perfect start/finish city because the airfare is affordable…
and it’s 7 days/6 nights, so it won’t require too many days off.
so i’ve submitted my name and hopefully i get approved.
and if you’d like to join me, i can make that happen.  it’s a pretty affordable trip and there’s 3 spaces left.  (they only take 12 people, so you’re not on a giant bus)

i’m pretty excited to take a thousand pictures of amazing landscapes.

Days 1-2 Las Vegas/ Zion National Park

Start the adventure in the heat of Las Vegas, NV. Arrive early to indulge in the many delights of ‘Sin City’ before escaping to the tranquillity of Zion National Park. Follow the parks many trails through sandstone cliffs and discover hidden waterfalls and pools nestled in the shade of Zion’s soaring rock formations.

Day 3 Bryce Canyon National Park

Get swept up in the beauty of Bryce Canyon, a mind-bending collection of natural spires that glow a deep shade of orange in the hot Nevada sun. See this ecological oddity in all its glory on the Rim Trail or get up close and personal with the red sands of the canyon floor on the challenging Peek-a-Boo Loop Trail.

Day 4 Monument Valley

Enter the spiritual home of the legendary Navajo people, an otherworldly landscape of massive rock formations and blood red plains. Watch the sun move across this dramatic setting and take an optional jeep ride into remote areas of the Navajo Indian Reservation. Learn about the culture and traditions of these proud people that have inhabited this land for centuries.

Days 5-6 Grand Canyon National Park

Journey to the epic grandeur of the Grand Canyon, a monument worthy of the Gods. Soak up awe-inspiring views while hiking the South Rim Trail or splurge on a thrilling helicopter flight to see the scale of this unimaginably vast canyon from a different perspective.

Day 7 Las Vegas

Return to the neon wonder of Las Vegas where the Canyons and Indian Lands journey comes full circle. Why not take a stroll along the Strip or catch one of Las Vegas’ famous shows to end the trip in style.

travel: las vegas – trip number 8

on saturday i returned from my 8th trip to fabulous las vegas.
and dare i say, i think it was my most successful one yet.

we flew with westjet… for a few reasons.

flight time was the main one.  we left at 10:15am which really makes the most of your first day there.  and coming home, there’s a 1:45pm flight which meshes nicely with hotel check out time.

second, westjet includes a checked bag, which i appreciate because it equals saving at least $50 in bag fees.
and lastly, the overall price of the flight to begin with was the best.
so westjet won for this one.

the flight itself was pretty uneventful… which is how i like my flights.
my mom and i had a spare seat in our row, so i sat in the window and enjoyed the view and she sat aisle and we had the middle seat free.  wonderful.

the one place where westjet really falls down is their in-flight entertainment.  air canada definitely wins for that.  but, its a short flight and i amused myself with my ipad and vodka.

we arrived and grabbed our bags and hopped into a taxi to mandalay bay.
upon arriving, there was a line up to check in of about 25-30 minutes, but it was well organized and there was a guy passing out bottles of water, which was nice.
the front desk lady gave us a high floor with a great view of the pool and we were off to the 30th floor.

one thing that i really liked about our view was that it was easy to keep tabs on how full the pool was and if it was worth trying to get chairs in which location.

this trip was largely focused on checking some chef’s restaurants off my to-do list.
and i’m pleased to say that i accomplished 3 that have long been residents of said list.  i’m doing a blog post for each restaurant, so more to come on that.  and if you’re on facebook, i did save most of my food pictures for the blog, so there will be new content.

the big success on this trip was the gambling.
not only did we ACTUALLY WIN on the slots… but we won a LOT.  well, considering we were playing penny slots – its all relative.   when your spins are $0.80 each and you hit $300, it’s a big payoff.
for the first 2 days we were in vegas, we could not lose.  we were literally sitting down at machines, playing for 30 seconds and hitting $200 wins.  we won at the luxor, tropicana, new york new york and a little at mandalay bay.
total, we won about $1300.  but once you factor in the losses, we figure we were up about $1000.
this is amazing to me.  in all my years going to vegas, i have NEVER won more than about $70 on a machine.  we were so excited at all this, it was hard to absorb.  we just could not lose.  man, gambling is fun when you’re winning.

so because of this, we decided to up the ante on the trip.
we spent a day at Qua Spa at Caesars Palace which was absolutely out of this world.  The baths were incredible and i had a 50 minute body polish and a 50 minute sweedish massage that were delightful.  we spent a total of 5 hours there and we were hard pressed to leave.  i’ll be back there for sure.

we also check out a show – Zumanity at NYNY.
ummm… so not what i was expecting.  i knew it was “sensual”, but i didn’t expect it to be so overtly sexual.  it was great and i definitely recommend it, but it maybe wasn’t the best pick to see with my mother, haha.  don’t get me wrong, she enjoyed it too, but when the “mistress of the evening” is suggesting that you take your date home to the hotel and fuck their brains out, its possible you didn’t bring the right date if you’re there with your mom.
but yes, excellent show and wow, does cirque ever do an incredible job of making the most insane feats look effortless.  absolutely stunning.

besides that, it was food, gambling and pool time…
i did a lot of this:

…and this…

…and definitely a lot of this…

ah drinking in vegas… free in the right places, and totally effed when you pay for it.
that irony never gets old for me.

so there you have it kids!
my totally awesome 4 nights in fabulous las vegas!

upcoming posts include:
– Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger’s Border Grill
– Charlie Palmer’s  Aureole
– Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill
– Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood
– Hussong’s Cantina in Mandalay Place

food & travel: O’o Farms, Maui

one of my favourite parts of my trip to maui was O’o Farm.
I know, for a girl that lives mere minutes away from farmland, you’d think that seeing a farm wouldn’t be a high priority.  but i’m oh-so glad that we made it one.

the farm itself was a marvel to me. existing only to service two high end restaurants with fresh organic produce, this is not really a “working farm”, but more a culinary indulgence of chef/owners.  which i think makes for a really unique and special farm experience.

every single thing grown there exists because the chef has requested it for the menu or because it is a control plant to attract/detract pests or to add or remove nutrients to/from the soil.  everything has a purpose here and nothing is wasted.  in fact, there’s not even anything extra to sell.  the restaurants and the farm tour use everything grown here.
even the fish carcasses from dinner service and coffee grounds make their way back to the farm to be composted. this was a beautiful working example of a sustainable farm.

i left here feeling inspired.  this is the lifestyle of my dreams. to be in hawaii, growing the food that i serve at my restaurant?  i don’t think they could have possibly pinpointed this better for me.  so if i run away, this could very well be where i am.

okay, now on to the good stuff… we’ll start with the view.  the farm is high up the crater with a spectacular view of kihei.

ya, pretty rough, hey?  that could sooooo be my workplace view please.

first off, after intros and pleasantries, we went to the coffee plants.  now, these plants are just starting to produce and they’re relatively new to this farm, so their beans aren’t being used yet in the restaurants, but they will be soon. until then, they use beans from a farm down the road that are roasted at O’o Farm by the cutie that was our guide for the tour.  (seriously, this farm has everything. even dark curly haired gentlemen with strong jaw lines – aka “my type”, lol)

after sampling the berry of the coffee plant – you eat the red ones and spit out the beans.  it’s really an interesting flavour… very sweet off the start with a tart finish.  of course here there’s no waste, so they use the berry in cooking & garnishes in the restaurants and dry it to make tea from it (which i bought a bag of) and then they roast the beans inside.

we moved on to the orchards after our coffee plant lessons… first the citrus grove.  literally, a few of everything was growing here… pink lemons, pomellos, limes, clementines and even buddah’s hand… which i’ve never actually seen growing before!  so cool!  (it’s basically a citrus made almost entirely of rind & pith, usually candied or preserved and used as a strong citrus flavour agent)

the stone fruit trees were done for the season (funny to hear about it being “winter” in hawaii) so we moved over to where we’d be dining and met the chef.

she told us a little about the food we’d be eating and where it came from (everything from the farm except the fish which was caught yesterday just off the maui coast and the tofu).  she also shared her culinary journey and how she ended up cooking for the tours and such.
then we moved on to see the fields and pick our salad greens for lunch.

here’s a shot of my husband picking some yummy sorrel for lunch…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorrel

…and showing off our bounty of lunch greens and filling us in what each one is and how its grown…

…and grabbing a little more arugula.

this one is just a cool picture of a kale plant.  because i dig kale.

then we ventured back to the “dining room” for our feast.

first up was the fresh avocados with citrus and the selection of root vegetables… candycane & watermelon radishes, fennel and kohlrabi for the salad…

and my plate all loaded up with the tofu, beet & chard dish, the mahi mahi in sweet maui onions & citrus and of course the fabulous salad.  all wheat-free, and all absolutely delicious and bursting with freshness. everything from the farm had been in the ground mere hours ago.

after a plate (okay, maybe and seconds) we chatted with the people sitting around us… almost everyone had brought their own bottle of wine (ours white & refreshing) and we discussed the farm and our own personal reasons for being drawn to visit it.
there were lots of foodies that were fans of the restaurants associated with the farm… a lot of gardeners, both hobby & small business… and just generally people that loved this lifestyle of natural, sustainable living.  it was very cool.

after a bit, the chef brought out a plate of chocolates that she had made and a big bowl of still-shelled macadamia nuts for us to crack & snack on and our guide invited us up to the “coffee house” where he had brewed us some coffee that he had roasted that morning.

my husband and i gladly trucked up the hill and had 3 cups of the coffee each, while chatting with our guide about the coffee, growing it, roasting it, varietals ect.  we ended up buying $100 in premium coffee from him, including a batch that had just been roasted, but wasn’t even bagged yet for sale.  we just got talking about it and so he ran down to the roasting house and pulled some out for us.  people, you can not beat this.

honestly, if this kinda thing isn’t up your alley, then there’s nothing i can say to convince you… but if this kinda thing tweaks your fancy, then you MUST do O’o Farms tour in Maui.  it was $50 well spent on an excellent and truly awesome experience.  in fact, we decided that we would do this every trip, just to see what’s growing at different times of the year.  and the restaurant is definitely on our “must eat” list for next trip too.

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