Eating solo in Mexico – Part 1

I’m back in rainy (and cold!) Vancouver. Sean was working a load-out when I landed, so my dad and step-mom came to fetch me at the airport at 1:30am. (Thank goodness for parents.) By the time I got home, Sean had just gotten home and it was almost 5am Central/PV time. Needless to say, I was tired.

While on this vacation, I had lots of ‘me’ time – no surprise since it was just me – ha. I came to (perhaps a re-) realization that eating out kinda sucks. (I used to feel the same way about cooking. For the most part, it’s way more fun when you are cooking for someone else or a big group.) You have no one to share your enthusiasm or – not in the case of this trip – disdain for a meal, or to share the food with. Food sharing is something I really missed my guy l for last week (along with the un-food related reason of him being the person to put lotion on my back).

When Sean and I go for dinner, we share an appetizer and dessert, and we try each others’ meals (which are never the same). It’s a win/win situation. But on your own in Mexico – and in general, you have to be choosy and recognize (like I did at Fajita Republic – to be documented soon) that you may need to get a doggie bag. Especially when every restaurant serves you the standard corn tortilla chips and salsa to keep you busy. (Tip: Have a couple chips so you can try the salsa, but if you have more, you won’t have room for anything else!)

I promised myself that I wouldn’t eat out every night while in Mexico, but I was on my own and didn’t want to be a hermit. And I love to people watch. Breakfast and lunch (other than El Arrayan) were made at the condo (there was a full kitchen) and eaten on the patio, but I only had a couple dinners at “home”. The rest of my dinners were out and I had some really good food.

Riviera (Paseo de los Cocoteros, 35 – Nuevo Vallarta) – I already wrote about this restaurant. It was my first meal out and I was feeling a bit self-consious, so I brought my Vanity Fair magazine with me to read while waiting for food, service, etc. The chicken mole was good and the margarita ended up being the best I had while I was down there. The prices are decent, as is the food. (If I’m being honest, I think I enjoyed the food better the first time I went with Sean, but the food was still good.)

My dinner companion for most of my meals out.
El Arrayan (Allende #344 El Centro – Puerto Vallarta) – This was actually a lunch, and I already wrote about it, but I had to take this opportunity to talk about the cooking lesson and meal, again. AMAZING day and restaurant.

El Dinamita (Paseo Cocoteros, lote 8 villa 8 – next to Fajita Republic, Nuevo Vallarta) – This is a cool little outdoor restaurant that opened a little while ago. It’s right down the street from the condo complex. The next time we go to Nuevo, I am so very excited to bring Sean to this restaurant. I ate there twice – quality food for a really decent price.

There are lanterns in all the trees and the decor is really simple. It’s a popular place that Pilar (the consierge who picked me up) recommended to me. I’m so glad that she did!

The first night, I still had my Vanity Fair but instead of feeling self-consious, the staff made me feel quite special, rearranging a table for me, and making sure I had lots of candles to add atmosphere to my meal. I met Alex and Jorge who, I think it’s safe to say, run the place. Alex was my waiter for most of the meal and he politely asked me if, since I was new to their place, if he could recommend a meal for me, and what did I like flavour wise?

I didn’t even look at the menu because what he recommended was the ahi tuna steak with garlic butter, steamed veggies, and mashed potatoes. Not Mexican, but hello, DONE. The steak was perfectly seared (ahi tuna is briefly seared on both sides on a really hot grill; the middle is meant to be nice and pink), the veggies were nicely steamed, the mashed potatoes were awesome, and the meal came came with two little pieces of garlic bread that were perfect for sopping up the last dregs of my garlic butter coma. YUM.

Perfectly done ahi tuna steak.
The second time I went, it was my last night in the country. I walked up and Alex greeted me by name and welcomed me back. He asked me if I had told my husband about the tuna steak yet (good memory – I had told him Sean makes an awesome tuna steak) and showed me to my table. Chips and salsa were brought, as was the mini jicama (hi-ka-MAH), orange, and pineapple salad. (Which you do get charged for, but it’s minimal.)

Mini jicama, orange, pineapple salad with ground chiles.
Some friends of my in-laws that have a place in the same condo complex where I stayed recommended that I try the fish tacos with chistorra (spicy sausage) if I were to go back. And so that is what I tried. (But this time, I also looked at the menu. So much to try when I go back!) I was given the choice of wheat or corn soft tortillas, and because wheat and I don’t really get along most of the time, I went with the corn. They are also super tasty and have a great texture.

Jorge welcomed me back as he flew by with someone’s order and I was brought my margarita. And then my trio of fresh tacos came in this neat, wavy stainless steal thing on a wood board. The presentation was beautiful. The meal came with containers of chopped chile sauce, sliced limes, and another chile sauce mixed with olive oil. It also came with a beautiful cilantro sauce, that I am beyond pleased that Alex gave me the recipe for. (I need to make it before I post it, but I promise to post it after that.)

Fish and chistorra tacos with cilantro sauce.
I have a new found appreciation for lime and cilantro. Not only are they good antibacterial agents in food, they also dumb down the heat in spicy food. Much to my gratitude, because despite my Jamaican heritage (my dad is from there), I cannot handle anything too spicy. I loaded up my tacos and I was a happy camper. YUM.

Deep fried ice cream.
Dessert on both nights was something I never thought I would try – deep fried ice cream. I couldn’t finish it both times, but oh my gosh, it was good stuff. But no wonder there is a large portion of the Mexican population that has diabetes. (Carmen was telling us about this at El Arrayan.) This is the country of caramel. That aside, the dessert was quite tasty. (But you can believe I went to the gym every morning.)

Both nights, my meal cost me less than just over $20 CAD. Dead serious. I nearly fell over when I checked my Visa statement when I got home. Each time: bottle of water, the jicama mini salad, margarita, entrée, dessert. For less than $25 CAD!

(General rule of thumb is that $1 CAD equals 10 Pesos. At the time, the Canadian dollar was worth 12-13 Pesos. Mexico is fairly cheap for it’s northern neighbours.)

Two more meals to document, but this post is long enough 😉 and I need to finish unpacking and prep meals for the week.

Learning to cook local, Puerto Vallarta, and watching the sunset

Yesterday was a wonderful lazy day starting with yoga and then by the pool (except for a work email that needed, yes – needed, to be addressed, but even that was by the pool) and on the beach. I finished Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel; no judging. She is awesome don’t have to think about it reading with lots of details and lavishness – perfect poolside/beach book. I was going to post this yesterday, but I got distracted when I got home from what will be called the garlic butter coma dinner by refreshing google.ca and Huffington Post every five minutes and watching the Mexican coverage of the US election. Good decision, people!!! If only my own country’s politics got me this excited!

(Side note: I learned the other day that the Mexican leader gets to be in office for a term of six years as opposed to Canada’s or the USA’s four-year term. Assuming you have an elected leader who is making or can make change but needs time for implementation (thats you, Mr. Re-Elected President!) – as opposed to a corrupted or moronic elected official who the people would have to deal with for that long – a six-year term seems like a good idea. Especially if you have to dig a country out of the red… But I digress.)

Monday was an AMAZING day – cooking class day. After some debate, decided not to take the bus but a taxi into Puerto Vallarta for my cooking lesson, because 1) I wanted the extra hour of sleep; and 2) I wanted to be on time. Even with detailed instructions from the front desk, not being familiar with the bus system timing (from what I can tell, it is somewhat sporadic…) didn’t inspire me to take public transport. At the current exchange rate, the taxi was $15 USD, and well worth the hassle it saved me.

My taxi dropped me off at the white and fuschia stucco wall of El Arrayan, named for the arrayan (ah-rye-YAAN) tree growing in the middle of the courtyard. (They make their house margaritas with the fruit that grows from the tree.) It is a beautiful covered, outdoor restaurant guarded by a very solid and beautiful set of wood doors. Patrons walk in to traditional Mexican decor with some modern touches. Bar and kitchen to the left and seating ahead and along the right. It’s very bright, and of course, there is the arrayan tree in middle of it all.

The arrayan tree. they use the fruits that grow off it for their house margaritas. Delicious!
The wonderful Carmen and her partner Claudia own and run the restaurant and they do what I can officially say is a fantastic day of a perhaps not super traditional but very delicious breakfast in this fantastic hole in the wall that makes their own corn tortillas, touring the produce market and best tortilla factories (I say factories but they are shops that mass produce awesome product), and then back to the restaurant to learn and make a late lunch with the chef. All for $95 USD – a really great deal.

I walked in and was greeted by Carmen, and my classmates for the day: Nick and Barbara from Victoria, Mike (Nick’s brother who lives in Vancouver), and Marsha from New York (not the “devastated” part as she put it to me when I said “oh!” to her telling me where she was from). She piled us into the truck with the driver and off we went for breakfast.

We arrived at El Taquito Hidaloguense, a super clean little place, that Barbara rightly pointed out that most tourists would not necessarily stop at because they have no idea of the food. The posted menu is sparse, but Carmen knows the owners and everything that can come out of their kitchen, and so we were served lamb barbacoa (amazing tender lamb meat that had come off the barbecue not too long before) in fresh corn tortillas, chicken and cheese quesadilla, and a flavourful broth (made from the lamb fat and drippings from the barbecue) with potatoes and carrots.

I had a cup of coffee for the first time ever in my life, and I actually enjoyed it. (I had an espresso incident when I was 8 that forever ruined me for the taste of coffee, but I have always liked the smell.) Why? Because it had dark sugar and cinnamon in it. I tell you, that cinnamon s what made that cup of coffee for me. I didn’t finish the entire thing, but I’m so glad that I tried it. I’m told that Mexican coffee, particularly from San Sebastien (just north of where I am) is quite good.

We piled back into the truck for our next destination, the La Gloria Tortierria where we learned how corn tortillas are made. It’s a small yet mighty operation. They are a popular shop and are considered the best, particularly by Carmen. (Who I would trust anything she told me about food. Amongst many things in the hospitality industry that she has experienced, she went to hospitality/hotel school in Switzerland for three years. You can imagine we were all super impressed when she told us after we asked how she ended up owning a restaurant. The woman knows more about food and wine than I think I will ever will. She is dedicated.)

How the corn tortilla starts.

Masa grinding stones
We also visited a wheat tortilleria but they had just shut down the machines. But I bought (what I’m told are really wonderful) tortilla sugar cookies, I don’t know how else to describe them.

Next was the market (a proper market, not a supermarket) and the variety, quality, and colour of the produce was amazing. Colour wise, it was like the Pantone palette had exploded – so bright and beautiful. And the smell, oh my gosh, the wonderful smell of all that fresh produce. I was in heaven. There were a few things that Carmen explained don’t have an English name, but assured us tasted wonderful in cooking.

Sweet bell peppers are apparently not a a local favourite as they don’t have any “kick” – precisely why I LIKE them 🙂

We wandered down to the dry goods store, where there was an amazing array of spices, dried chiles, rice and such. The aroma of spices, chiles, flours, and everything else in between was very pleasant. I bought some of the dark sugar that was in the morning’s coffee, a small jar of mole sauce, a small jug of laundry soap (the one thing my condo was missing when I arrived) and some achiote, which is a spice mixture that we used for the pork we made later in the day that Carmen had told us about.

Dried peppers

Cinnamon sticks
We visited the open air butcher shops and went to this artisan gift shop called Peyote People where they sell beautiful handcrafted, and locally sourced Mexcian arts and crafts. They had (among other lovely things) excellent skeleton people figurines. These are made for the the “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) which is a national two days of holiday (November 1 & 2) honouring the spirits of loved ones who have passed. The skeletons and holiday apparently represent mocking death for wanting someone’s passing to be a somber occasion. It is meant to be a celebration of their life.

After all of that wonderfulness (i’m initiating this as a word if isn’t already one), we were brought back to El Arrayan and we got down to business with the head chef, Afonso (who I learned to chop onions a new way from – possibly a way that won’t have me crying onion tears ever again), and his sous chef whose name escapes me – I should have written it down!

We were each given our aprons, pens, and recipe booklets, and were encouraged to volunteer to help as we felt comfortable. All the ingredients for their respective meals, were laid out in orderly fashion on a tray per recipe item. It’s a really nice kitchen or cocina. A hot ktichen (obviously), but a nice, open, clean, stainless steel one. It also includes a tortilla making station, called an el comal.

What “we” (but really Afonso and the sous chef) made:

  • Aguachile de Camaron (shrimp and pineapple ceviche)
  • Cochinita Pibil (pork in achiote and banana leaf stew)
  • Xnipec (means runny nose in Mayan – red onion and habanero pepper relish)
  • Frijoles negros refritos (refried black beans)
  • Salsa verde (fresh tomatillo and serrano peppers)
  • Flan de cajeta (essentially goat’s milk and sugar – a kind of flan; the cajeta can also be subbed with chocolate)

We were all a bit intimidated and super fascinated by all the ingredients and how they were being put together. We all diligently took notes and yes, I took a lot of photos. You are going to have to scroll a bit now…

My favourite part was using the giant mortar and pestle (molcajete) to mash the juice out in the salsa verde ingredients. It was hard work but quite satisfying. Even though I was on my very tippy-toes. Dead serious. Nick, Barbara, and Mike are all tall, so they were fine. 😉

You can’t see, but I’m on my tippy-toes. The counter was high…
We also got to try our hand (literally) at making the tortillas. You use this cool press type thing and then it’s quite the skill to perfect to be able to lay the tortilla flat on the grill. They have a lady who does this all evening long – the el comal is her domain, but she had the day off.

And then we got to eat what we made and also tried some of the salsas used for chips and to drizzle on other food. The salsa negra was realy lovely, so I bought a jar to take home. YUM.

It was a wonderful meal and great conversation. As we gathered our stuff, we thanked Carmen profusely. It was a fantastic way to spend the day.

A visit to PV is not complete with a walk on the malecon (the boardwalk). They have redone it a bit since the last time we were here a few years ago. There are beautiful (and some strange) statues all along the way, and I walked partway with my fellow British Columbians so that I could find my favourite statue of this dancing couple.

My favourite malecon statue

My second favourite statue

My new favourite – random avocado eating statue man

I said my goodbyes and nice to meet yous – it really was a pleasure, they were so nice – and headed back down the boardwalk so I could catch a cab back to my cozy condo.

After unpacking my loot and some reading, I grabbed a Corona, my camera, and my book so I could go catch the sunset. Sunset is SO BEAUTIFUL here. I love a good sunset, it gets prettier and prettier right through to the end. Sean proposed to me at sunset on the very beach I will go walk along in a little bit. Made me love sunsets even more than I already did at the time. 🙂

As I was still stuffed to the gills from lunch, dinner was more of a snack: home-made (so proud of myself) guacamole and what was meant to be salsa (but I think I blended it a touch too long), some veggies, and tortilla chips.

Okay, long post. Sorry for the novel and million pictures. Moral of the story? If you’re ever in Puerto Vallarta, walk the malecon and try to be there at the time that El Arrayan is having a cooking class. (They don’t have them every week.) Pool time. Hasta luego!

Settling in and donating to Hurricane Sandy disaster relief

Before I start, I wanted to alert everyone of a really great thing one of my favourite bloggers is doing to raise funds for Red Cross Hurricane Sandy disaster relief on the East Coast. Until Nov 6, you can enter to win one of two really great giveaways by making a donation to the Oh She Glows Red Cross donation page. It’s obviously a fantastic cause and in donating, you have a chance to win a foodie basket or a really fantastic blender.

I made my donation this morning and I’m almost ashamed to say that I made my donation while getting a pedicure on my lovely Pacific Ocean view patio. But that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful and incredibly aware how lucky I am that I am able to be on holiday and getting said pedicure. So many people and places were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Homes, jobs, landmarks. So if you can donate to the Oh She Glows Red Cross page, your donation will be much appreciated. Every little bit counts.

Yesterday was a long day. My friend Eric cheekily pointed out to me that I’m in Mexico and that he has zero to no sympathy. My answer to that is that yes, I am in Mexico but it was a long travel day to get here with 2 hours of sleep in 36 hours (I woke up l at 5am on Friday).

After 5 hours in Calgary airport and being engulfed in a group of people going to PV on the same flight for a wedding (the bride carried her dress on the plane, which is a very smart decision), I dozed for a couple hours and then was WIDE AWAKE. Adrenaline, perhaps? My plane movie was “People Like Us” with Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek remake) , Michelle Pfeiffer, and Elizabeth Banks. It is apparently based on a true story, and is definitely a tearjerker. It was a good movie with a couple odd moments, but life would be boring without oddity, wouldn’t it?

When I got through customs, I walked into a humid, bustling room of the airport that I will call the concierge area. It’s where taxi drivers, time share pushers, resort shuttle drivers, and the concierges who they check in with and who keep them at all at bay. It’s  The lady we booked my condo through arranged for me to be picked up at the airport by one her local staff. The wonderful Pilar was waiting for me as promised (past the concierge craziness), and she took me to Mega, which is the Mexican equivalent of Walmart. It is AWESOME. I’m glad Pilar was with me because I was so exhausted; it would have taken me forever to find everything. Particularly, almond milk.

Mega – best store ever.

Pilar dropped me off at my beautiful suite, I checked in and got my gym/beach club ID, and managed to remember to put away my groceries in the fridge. And then I took care of myself – amazing what a shower, fresh change of clothes, food, and a beer can do to invigorate. It drizzled a bit throughout the day but it petered off and I walked a few minutes up the road to Riviera Grill (Paseo de los Cocoteros, 35, Nuevo Vallarta) for dinner later in the evening.

Riviera is a charming outdoor covered patio restaurant that I think would be perfect for a wedding and reception. Sean and I went there to celebrate ‘one year since she said “yes!”‘  a couple years ago – he proposed to me on the beach at sunset the year before. We had a really good, quality meal (appetizer, entrees, dessert, two drinks each) for a very decent price – way less than what it would cost at home in Vancouver at lesser restaurant. It was still decently priced this time round and my margarita was quite nice. (I can’t wait until I get to my favourite margarita place in a few days! It is to die for.)

I wish I had ordered a different appetizer – my salad was just salad. But my chicken mole (mo-lay) with rice and veggies was delicious. I don’t think I’ve tried a mole sauce in recent memory, but I have to tell you, it was delicious. Especially with the fresh bread they serve. I used it to sop up the rest of the mole sauce – if you’ve seen the movie “Julie & Julia” (or if you haven’t), there is a scene where the book editor is trying the recipe for Julia Child’s boeuf bourgenion. She tried the sauce and all she can say is “Yum!” (pause to have more) “YUM!”. That about sums up my reaction to the mole sauce.

Bliss.

No matter what setting I used, the lighting was just to weird for a really good photo to be taken. This doesn’t do the mole sauce justice… It was fab.
Dessert was a traditional Mexican flan drizzled with some chocolate sauce. I think flan gets a bit of bad rap. But I think that’s because people haven’t had a good flan. This was a decadent (but still light) and wonderful dessert that went well my passionfruit green tea.

I can’t remember if you are supposed to tip here or not, but I gave my waiter a standard tip and he promised me a margarita on the house the next time I came in. Hmm.

Today was much more relaxing than yesterday. I made breakfast, read by the pool, walked the beach. Bought a new straw bag to replace the one that I used so much that one of the handles broke. Turns out my bargaining skills are not rusty and I got my bag for considerably cheaper than originally quoted, but still a fair price. I think the adorable gentleman selling the bags had fun good-naturedly heckling the price with me.

Time for bed. I have a cooking class at a restaurant in downtown PV tomorrow that I am super excited about and I am determined to be good and get to the gym before I go. Hasta luego!

Mexico Bound, Waiting in Calgary

It’s 2:45 am and I’m in Calgary airport; valiantly trying to stay awake before my 6am flight so I can sleep on the plane to Puerto Vallarta. Finally. It’s time for my sunny vacation in one of my absolute favourite places to go, Nuevo Vallarta. Sean is now alone on cat/housesitting duty until Wednesday. The cat looked so upset with me when I was packing my bags. Genuinely heart wrenching. 

I’m on my own for this trip as Sean can’t miss work, but I’m actually looking forward to having a solo holiday. I deal with people all day at work because I’m an executive assistant and event planner. It’s been busy, and this girl needs a break.

It will be so great to finally get to PV because at I’ve had a few trying (and, yes,  very first-world-problem) moments the last couple days. a) My e-reader died/froze, the day after I charged, updated and purchased three new books to read during my time off – there’s some troubleshooting anecdotes that go with this, but I won’t bore you; b) The currency attendant at Vancouver airport might as well have been molasses; and c) I was denied entering an area of the terminal to get food that was closer to my gate because my flight gate started with a different letter – which meant I had to hoof it all the way back to the beginning of my “area” for food. First world. I know. I’ll stop now.

The flight to Calgary airport was blissfully uneventful and short. There is snow here but we didn’t have to go in it. (Phew!) I was amused at the baggage claim because each carousel has a theme based on a Calgary or Alberta landmark/tourist attraction. Mine was for the Calgary Zoo and the first thing I saw when I walking up was this enormous hippopotamus head in the ‘water’ of the carousel. And it’s right next to the oversize baggage desk. (It was funny for me. I’m tired. I’m allowed to be corny and easily amused. 🙂 )

Not sure the hippo would appreciate being next to the oversize baggage desk…
And my suitcase was the third one out which was fantastic.

The first thing I did was brush my teeth and wash my face. I love empty airport bathrooms – no one stares at you because you are flossing. I’ve been fed (courtesy of a fantastic and reasonably priced salmon burger and salad at Monk’s in YVR) and am suitably hydrated. (I feel like that Tom Hanks movie where he lives in the airport.) I’m also going on almost 24 hours of being awake, so probably time to stop typing. Also time to make my way to check-in for my international flight.

Adios, amigos and amigas! Have a great weekend!

Autumn Essentials for a Transit/Walking Commuter

So I am house/cat sitting again. Don’t think I blogged when I was doing the same back in September when Sean was in New Brunswick. It was a hectic time full of living out of a suitcase, working the Madonna shows, and catching up after a week of playing “tourist” in my town with the Scots. That was when Matt and Dori went on a more than well deserved vacation to southern Italy. They are currently on a plane to visit Dori’s family in Japan, so Sean and I are taking care of their adorable cat Musubi (a.k.a. Rice Ball).

Matt and Dori have an awesome recliner that I am taking full advantage of while Sean is at a load-out. Which is wonderful because it was a long week. And as much of an endorphin rush as I got at 8am yoga, autumn has brought out the bear in me and the last thing wanted to do was get out of bed at 6:45am. It’s dark in the morning now and all I want to do is hibernate. But aside from that, I love autumn. Even the rain.

The sound of the rain is actually one of my favourite sounds, even when I’m out in it. But that doesn’t mean I want to get wet.

As a transit and walking commuter, I’m always super grateful to have what I consider the Vancouver essentials at this time of year. Especially when waiting for the skytrain or walking home from the station.

Coat: Warm and ideally water repellant; maybe with a hood. Most good quality coats will cost a bit more money, but it’s worth it to be warm and dry. Make the investment. It rains a lot in Vancouver and the damp (even the sunny cold) is down to your bones chill. (People who aren’t from here, particularly Aussies that I have met, don’t believe me about the cold until it happens. And then they are happy I made them go buy a coat.) If I’m being completely honest, I have more than one autumn/winter coat. I love coats. LOVE. As many as I have, my favourite is my lululemon Apex coat. I’m going in to my fifth autumn/winter with it, and it was worth every penny. The rest of my coats are mostly wool. I also have a Goretex jacket for hiking and such. I am from Vancouver after all… A good place to look for a coat is MEC. If you want more of a city coat, The Bay sells nice ones, and if you want a really lovely wool one, go to Aritzia.

Umbrella: One small for my tote bag and a larger, more sturdy wood-handled version. Always good to be prepared. I don’t like getting wet, mostly because my hair is curly and really the last thing I need is for it to get frizzier than it can get without the rain. Costco sells a set by Shedrain of a small and medium sized umbrella for $15. The Umbrella Shop (couple locations in Vancouver) sells beautiful umbrellas.

Boots: You are invincible if you are wearing a pair of wellies. Splashing your way down the sidewalk in a pair of galoshes is a very powerful feeling. I sound silly, but it’s true. If you have a pair, you know what I’m talking about. And they protect your legs where your coat doesn’t cover. My boot of choice is from Hunter. They are a bit pricey here in Canada, but I ordered my purple ones from Zappos.com and picked them up at our P.O. box in Blaine. It was way cheaper. (The flowered ones are from the UK when we were there last December – amazon.co.uk is amazing.) I also have a pair of waterproof leather boots from Kodiak (Canadian company). It’s not fun to have wet feet.

Bag: A water repellant tote bag is super important. No one wants to get to work or get home with soggy gym clothes, damp books, or wet lunch containers. I have a really great bag from lululemon that I feel like will last me forever. It has been through all kinds of weather.

Sunglasses: Yes, I’m serious. I carry my sunglasses in a glasses case in my purse. The glare in the sky on a cloudy day is brutal, at least for me. And the sun comes out when you least expect it. Sometimes when it’s still raining.

Time for a nice big mug of tea. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Thankful Birthday Weekend – Part 2

It’s raining outside. Yup, it’s raining, it’s cold, and it’s officially autumn (or the less elegant sounding “fall”) in Vancouver. I sound a bit whiny about the weather because up until Tuesday, it was sunny and warm; and up until today, there was no need for a super warm coat and a pair of my Hunter boots. That being said, the cold, damp weather has made me even more thankful for the fabulous weather we had, especially over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

After an evening of birthday fun and turkey goodness, we slept in and woke up to a fridge full of leftovers. A LOT. (First world problems.)

I did a workout video and off we went for our second turkey dinner being hosted by Sean’s parents. We picked my mom up on the way and I was mesmerized by all the beautiful red, orange, and yellow leaves on the trees in her neighbourhood. There is nothing like a sunny fall day.

Dinner at Chez Hardcastle was delicious, as always, and I remembered to take a picture of my plate, unlike the night before. Sean’s parent’s recently moved into a condo and that involved furniture shopping – they now have the most beautiful dining room table that looks like it’s a slab of marble. It was the perfect canvas for dinner.

As the fridge was already full at home, the leftovers were declined. I don’t know that we could have fit a toothpick in the fridge up until a couple days ago.

On holiday Monday, we worked off our turkey dinners with a hike up to First Peak at Mount Seymour. Sean’s friend, Geoff, joined us, and I discovered that he has also bought the Five Finger shoes that Sean has. They look a bit odd but the more I see them, the more I want a pair… But I digress.

My Merrill trail runners flanked by my Five Finger shoe companions

Geoff was not able to make my birthday dinner as he was working – he is a pilot. I was telling him about the dinner and was corrected by Sean when I said it was the first time that we had made Thanksgiving dinner. I was reminded that we made a January turkey dinner during the cleanse last year. (Oh yeah… The cleanse. That was a great dinner considering we had to be very creative…)

Anyhow, it was a beautiful day for a hike with more of the beautiful autumn colour palette, and even the appearance of a black bear(!). I actually got a bit of a tan. In October. But now it’s raining and my skin is counting down to the beginning of November when I am oceanside in Mexico.

Top of the peak
There’s a black bear eating berries in those bushes. We accidentally interrupted his meal, but he didn’t mind. Phew! 

Thankful Birthday Weekend – Part 1

As Thanksgiving weekend comes to an end, we are sitting on the couch finally getting round to watching episode one of the new season of X Factor USA and I am going through the weekend’s photos and thinking, once again, that I have so much to be thankful for.

It was my birthday on Friday, and I have to say, if Facebook and text messages are good for anything in this life, they let you know how much you are loved. My iPhone buzzed all day long. And the in person wishes were even better. I have a lovely group of co-workers and friends at work, and of course, I have a wonderful husband. It’s funny because I’ve been looking forward to a weekend birthday for a long time, but when it came down to it, all I wanted to do was stay home with my guy and have pizza and wine. Life was good on my birthday. 🙂

Saturday was spent making a Thanksgiving feast for twelve people (including ourselves). This came about a few weeks ago when I was thinking about what I wanted to do for my weekend birthday. I had been all “Let’s go out!”, but it’s been a really busy month and a bit; and I just wanted to stay home. So I turned to Sean one day and said:

Will you roast a turkey on barbecue for my birthday, so we can have a turkey dinner party?

He said yes, and we had an amazing dinner party with our friends. So much food… On the menu:

DINNER

  • BBQ Roasted Turkey
Turkey on a spit
Turkey on a platter
Turkey about to be cut
  • Honey Infused Cranberry Sauce

  • Pear, Almond, Cherry Stuffing

  • Garlic Mashed Yams

  • Steamed Brussel Sprouts (which didn’t end up being made, but I’m sure they would have been delicious!)
  • Rosemary Gravy
  • Sweet Bell Pepper, Parsley, Chickpea Salad

DESSERT

  • Apple Pie

  • Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake
Happy Birthday chorus!
The candles say “Yas” – creativity on Sean and Alison’s part.

It was a great evening with friends, and they are something I am very thankful to have them in my life. We ate, we drank (from the many bottles that were brought as gifts – my friends know me well!), we laughed. It was so nice to have my birthday party at home.

When everyone left, we loaded the dishwasher, ate some more pie, and caught up on the PVR. When we finally went to bed, I thought about how lucky I am to have such a good husband and set of friends. And thank goodness for the dishwasher.

The Scottish Invasion – Part One – Seattle and Pulled Pork

Today was a sad day for two reasons: 1) Sean is away for a week for work; and 2) Our friends from Scotland are now on a plane back to the UK. So, after a week of a full house, I have it all to myself, and I’m still uncertain how I’m feeling about that. I know I will enjoy the weekend to myself, because next week I’m back at work for what may be a chaotic week; I won’t have time to think about the fact that I have the house to myself. 😉

And so, I present Part One of the Scottish Invasion:

After months of waiting and anticipation, the Scots finally landed in North America a few weeks ago, and we finally went to pick Stephen and Lesley up in Seattle last Friday. We were only just slightly excited for our houseguests.

We hopped in the car on Friday morning and I worked on my laptop all the way to downtown Seattle, where we checked in at the lovely Paramount Hotel by Coast Hotels (724 Pine Street, Seattle). Thank you company travel rates! Sean went off to meet up with Lesley & Stephen and Frances & Jim (who were flying back to Edinburgh two days later). They went on a “duck” tour and I grabbed lunch and walked over to my company’s Seattle office. I sat down at my reserved desk, ate, and, I kid you not, did not get up from said desk for 4.5 hours. Nose to the grindstone, indeed! (The joys of working your butt off and tying as many loose ends as humanly possible pre-week-long vacation.)

My desk for the day.

After I came up for air, I dropped my laptop off at the hotel and made my way down to Pike Place Market, where the Scots were staying that the Inn at the Market (86 Pine Street, Seattle) – a beautiful hotel with an even more beautiful fifth floor patio with a fantastic view of the market and its Puget Sound setting. It was a gorgeous day in a gorgeous city, and that meant that I was stopping to take pictures all the way down Pine Street. I got a text from Sean wondering if I was lost… Nope, just slow-going. Downtown Seattle is pretty spectacular on a sunny day, and I was going to appreciate my walk.

The Scots are lovely people and it was so nice to finally see them again. When I finally got up to the patio and was greeted by my husband and friends, happily enjoying their beers.

We were brought to the Pike Place Brew Pub (1415 First Avenue, Seattle) for dinner. It’s a multileveled and vibrantly atmosphered pub that makes all of it’s ales in house. I had a really nice Pike XXXXX – Extra Stout Ale (as previously referenced on a few occasions, I’m a big fan of a dark ale) and we started the meal off with the Ploughmans Sampler, and then most of us each had the rather tasty macaroni and cheese. (Sean and I make a very tasty macaroni and cheese, so my thinking this was good is a big deal – and it was awesome. Though, if I’d known that the salmon add-on I’d ordered was going to be as big as it was, I would have done without. Mac and cheese on it’s own is never a bad thing!) Much to the chagrin of Stephen and my husband, I put ketchup on a portion of my pasta. I’m sorry, I love ketchup on my mac and cheese…

Ploughmans Platter
My tasty mac and cheese with enormous salmon fillet

Sean and I were the only ones who ordered dessert but my Pike XXXXX Brownie with stout cream sauce came with more than one spoon and you can safely assume that they all got used. Sean had the Unique Chocolate and Ale Pairing, which consisted of three ale infused truffles and their accompanying ales in large shot glasses. It was enjoyed.

Pike XXXXX Brownie with stout cream

Truffle and ales pairing
Edradour single malt (not my cup of tea, but everyone else’s) and the soon to be opened wine – courtesy of Lesley and the light from Sean’s phone.

We spent the rest of the evening with some whiskey and wine, back on the patio of the Inn at the Market. The view was even more amazing as the sun set and the lights of the (apparently new) ferris wheel flashed and changed.

The next morning, we parted way with Frances and Jim and piled into Sean’s stuffed to the gills Golf and made our way back home. Of course, no trip across the border is complete without a visit to the Seattle Premium Outlets in Tullalip. Believe it or not, I didn’t buy a lot, and Sean bought more than me.

We ended the day with Katie and Tom coming over with an amazing pulled pork Mexican themed dinner. Katie is like Sean in that she can just throw stuff together, but doesn’t always remember all the ingredients. One day, I will get her to nail it down and I will post the recipe. It was delicious!