I really do not think it's coincidence that the #1 song on the day that I was born was "Caribbean Queen", by Billy Ocean. While I am usually not a fan of tropical vacations (I love to be extremely active and see tons of things), I was introduced to the Caribbean on a family cruise a few years ago.
While it was great getting to spend some time with my family (not so great getting dragged out of the ships nightclub by my dad because he thought the intentions of a 40 year old Dubai man were questionable - really dad, WE ARE ON A SHIP), I did not enjoy hopping on and off the ship onto islands for only a few hours. I'm a hang with the locals kinda girl, and I love to explore.
A few months ago, I decided that since I did not have a trip in my horizon, I needed to leave and go somewhere sunny. Basically, I wanted to be on a beach with a cocktail in my hand. Preferably Agua de Valencia, which is the most AMAZING drink that I had while I was in Valencia. I'll let you know how it goes, but if you want to try and make it yourself here is a recipe: click here. But please, be careful because this drink will sneak up on you.
Anywho, I had some Southwest Points (actually I had a lot), so I looked into where they flew internationally. Mexico was on the list (not my idea of a vaca), as well as the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Aruba. Aruba sounded the most interesting (and my mother thinks I chose it because it is the closest to South America), so I booked it! After all the reservations were made, this became my screensaver at work, and I've been counting down the days...
So now I am a few days away, and with every trip I go on, I make a bucketlist:
-Rent ATV's or 4x4 jeep
-Visit the Wishing Stone Beach
-Visit the Orphanage - bring clothes/toys
-See flamingos on the beach
-Kukoo Kunuku Bus
-Visit the national park
-Talk to the locals
-Go to the grocery store (one of my favorite things to do while traveling
Now I just have to get through the rest of this work week. If I have missed something that I MUST see or do there please let me know! 🌞
If you know me, you know I am a very adventurous eater (borderline disgusting), and rarely dislike any foods. Escargot, ostrich, and mountain oysters (yes, those are remnants of a bulls manhood) are amongst my favorite that I've tried. I can cook, but food is at the very bottom of my list of interests. However, I wound up with quite a few friends that I would call certified "foodies". Since the food industry is something very foreign to me, I decided to call upon one of my best friends to clarify why cooking has stolen her heart, and how this hobby has slowly turned into one of her greatest passions. She also has some great advice on how to ease your way into some extravagant cooking.
But First...Let's be clear...if it weren't for her I would have starved TO DEATH in our Italian apartment. (This is enough of a reason to check out her blog: The Unstocked Pantry). Besides the tequila, wine, and limoncello in our cupboard, typically 5 ingredients existed in our scarce kitchen. Every single time I challenged her with my starvation, she exceeded my expectations 100 times over.
I warn you that you'll salivate while perusing her blog (sometimes I cannot even read it), but you should read on to see why food is so important to her existence.
1. Where did your love of food come from, and would you describe yourself as a foodie?
My maternal grandfather loved good food, was passionate about cooking, and enjoyed celebrating life with friends and family. He owned a restaurant when he lived in California, which featured British pub food. My grandfather taught me how to make Spanish omelettes, perfect a Sunday roast, and how to pair wines with meals. His love of food was so transparent, it passed down to me at an early age.
My passion for cooking developed slowly. I preferred cooking on my own terms and time, following recipes and experimenting with ingredients. Testing new dishes allowed me to develop my culinary skills and master certain techniques. As for considering myself a foodie, I think anyone who appreciates quality ingredients, and who isn't afraid of trying new foods is automatically considered a foodie.
2. How often do you eat out, and what are some of your favorite dishes/drinks to order at a restaurant?
I eat out at least a three times a week, mostly dinners or lunch. As much as I love brunch, I never seem to get out of the house early enough to grab brunch on the weekends. My favorite types of food are seafood, Italian, and French. I am a creature of habit at my favorite restaurants, always ordering the same meals. On occasion, I order a daily special or a new menu item, but I tend to gravitate towards the scallops, salmon, lobster, or steak.
3. Do you utilize any food oriented websites, such as Zagat or Yelp?
I read blogs and magazines for restaurant reviews. I do check Zagat and Yelp ratings as a guide as well, but usually when I am traveling to a new place, I google "best restaurants in XYZ" and read the first few articles that come up in the search listing. My favorite lists to read for restaurants reviews are Bon Appetite and Saveur magazines, as well as, Conde Nast Traveller. Yelp reviews are great for spur of the moment selections, and a great tool since the reviews are written by what I consider real people. I take the Yelp reviews with a grain of salt, since many reviewers either lavishly rave or colorfully rant.
4. What are your favorite dishes to make, and what resources do you use to find new recipes to try?
My favorite dishes to make include some type of seafood. Paella, risotto with salmon, crab cakes, seared scallops with brussels sprouts and kale, and lobster rolls are just some of my favorite meals to make. During the work week, I like quick meals, such as tacos, egg salad sandwiches with watercress and radishes, breakfast burritos with jalapeños, salsa, and avocados.
When I search for new recipes, the Food Network, marthastewart.com, Bon Appetit magazine, and Williams Sonoma are my resources. I often choose recipes posted by Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), Tyler Florence, Ree Drummond, and Bobby Flay, when browsing through the Food Network.
I also have an obsession with food magazines; anything from grocery store publications to Saveur magazine capture my attention, as long as they have recipes. I can never leave Whole Foods Market or Trader Joes without picking up brochures and newsletters that feature recipes. I even have a tendency to take pictures of restaurant menus for recipe ideas.
5. I know you love to travel as well. Can you name a few of your favorite cities and where you like to eat?
My soul is a nomadic one, leaving pieces of itself in various cities all over the world. I grew up in London, so I have a soft spot for classic fish and chips. Not the imposter versions on American menus, but the standard British fish and chips served in newspaper with tartar sauce and mushy peas. Crumpets are a must, and scones with Devonshire clotted cream are an addiction. My sister has to literally stop me from licking the clotted cream out of the bowl. At this point, all form of proper British table manners disappear and the savage in me takes over. When in London, you tend to have the best cuisine that does not happen to be British. I have had the best Thai food and best Indian food in London (I am not a fan of Asian foods besides sushi).
My must haves in Paris are cheese, macarons, croque monsieur, and steamed mussels in a garlic white wine sauce. In the south of France, anything with lavender is a novelty. Lavender honey, lavender ice cream, lavender shortbread, lavender tea, you name it, Provencal lavender is my obsession.
Here is an amazing meal I had in Paris on Saint Germain:
Coming back to the United States, I currently live in Northern California. In California, it is hard to pinpoint which cities I enjoy eating in, as I have lived in both SoCal and NorCal. My favorite foods to eat in California, that are typically native to our fine Golden state, fresh cold-pressed juices, sushi (sure, this can be eaten everywhere, but Californians have sushi restaurants on every block like Starbucks in Washington), and Pacific Ocean oysters. I also love the fact that we take our farmers markets seriously, and have access to fresh produce and dairy on a daily basis.
I visit Atlanta often, and I am addicted with the Peanut Butter French Toast from Highland Bakery. The food scene in Atlanta is amazing, and every time I visit, I am impressed with every new restaurant I try.
Thanks to a certain best friend, I now have the luxury of visiting Seattle often, and I have become obsessed with their food scene. Although, I have several places left on my bucket list, the restaurants I have tried are high on my favorites list. There is one restaurant in particular that I cannot seem to get enough of, which is Toulouse Petit Kitchen. The food is amazing, and the atmosphere just makes the experience ten times more pleasant.
Sadly, I could go on with my favorite cities and places to eat, so I must stop here.
6. What are a couple of tips for someone who wants to get into cooking, but has no where to start?
1. Before you dive into the task of cooking, first look around your kitchen.
->Your kitchen should be clutter free; a clear, clean space for you to prepare your ingredients, light a candle, listen to some bossa nova, and blissfully work away.
->Your kitchen should evoke positive vibrations, which is reflected in the outcome of your meal. If you are rushed, frustrated, have little to none working space, your meal, more often than not, will turn out less than desirable.
->Think about what makes you productive, and tailor your kitchen space accordingly. Play some music that makes your heart pump a little faster, and create a workspace that makes you feel determined.
2. Once your kitchen is up to your ideal working standards, think about what you like to order at restaurants.
->What are some of your go-to items on the menu? Consider a theme, such as tapas (small plates) or family style. Choose a cuisine, such as Italian, seafood, Asian, or gluten free.
->Once you have considered these aspects, you can then start your search for recipes. You can start simple, with a "one-pot meal", like a hearty casserole or pasta dish, or break up the menu into courses. Start with your favorite foods, before you task yourself with ingredients or foods you aren't familiar with.
3. Make a list of the utensils required for your meal.
->Take everything out before you start. This saves on your overall preparation time.
->Have a kitchen towel on hand to clean up spills and to wipe your hands, and if you wish, wear an apron. If you are missing some basic utensils or dishes, there is no need to drop your next paycheck at Williams Sonoma. Simply visit Home Goods at TJ Maxx where you most likely will find everything you need, and possibly walk out having spent the same amount at Williams Sonoma, only with double the merchandise! Beware: kitchen shopping is addicting.
Here is a Sample Menu - great for beginners who are wondering where to begin:
First Course: mixed green salad with goat cheese, strawberries, cornbread croutons, and avocado.
Second Course: baked salmon with smashed potatoes and asparagus
Third course: eton mess
7. Can you share one of your favorite recipes?
Penne alfredo. It is simple, comforting, and versatile.
(Side Note: This picture alone had me SALIVATING...)
Utensils: a large glass bowl, a medium-sized pasta pot, a medium skillet, and a wooden spoon.
For 2 servings.
What you will need:
-3 handfuls of pasta (as mentioned before, I do not measure out my ingredients)
-A pat of butter (1 tablespoon)
-Half a pint of heavy cream
-3 handfuls of fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
-1/2 teaspoon of fresh garlic, minced
-Salt and fresh, ground black pepper, to taste
-Two handfuls of fresh baby spinach
Bring water to boil in a pasta pot. If you do not own a pasta pot, fret not, just fill up a stockpot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, warm up a non-stick skillet at medium heat (large enough to accommodate sauce and pasta. Add butter, and swirl around as it melts. Once melted thoroughly, add cream. Stirring frequently, add garlic, salt, and pepper. Once simmering, lower heat.
Add pasta to the boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes. Drain pasta and set aside. Stirring sauce frequently, allow sauce to thicken while gently simmering. In batches, add the Parmesan cheese and continue to stir. Once sauce has thickened, and about three-quarters of the cheese has been used, add pasta and stir well.
After a few minutes of mixing all ingredients together, pasta is ready to serve. Add salt and pepper to taste (if needed) and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. This dish is simple, quick, and delicious. Serve on a bed of fresh, baby spinach, and bon appétit!
I hope you have all enjoyed a little insight into a foodies life, and if you ever need a food recommendation don't be afraid to enter The Unstocked Pantry.
I had to add a couple of pics of the food adventures that we have shared. On the left was in Budapest, Hungary - when I had to convince her that street Hungarian Bratwurst absolutely must touch our tastebuds. The picture on the right was our favorite "hole in the wall" chinese place, because number one - it was cheap, and number 2 - had the most AMAZING agro picante (hot & sour) soup EVER. Living in Italy for a year, we made sure to try all genre's of food in Florence. :)
Bellisima = "Extremely Beautiful" in Italian, and how i would describe the world, and how I view it through travel.