Monday, February 25, 2013

Vegan Cheesy Curry

TH is a fan of Annie's macaroni and cheese, but he's been trying to cut down on his dairy intake.  I searched far and wide for a vegan mac and cheese recipe that utilized quinoa instead of nutritionally void pasta. This recipe was adapted from a post I found at averie cooks.  TH liked it so much he requested I make it twice in three days.

Vegan Cheesy Curry

In a saucepan, boil:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
Once it has boiled turn the heat down and simmer for fifteen minutes. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, whisk together:
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp tahini
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
juice of 1/2 lemon
Keep whisking the above mixture until the sauce thickens.

Gently mix together quinoa, the sauce mixture and steamed veggies of your choice (red pepper, broccoli, onions, mushrooms).

It's not the most beautiful dish, but it is incredibly tasty; very rich and flavorful.  I promise!




Stitch Fix

TH calls it crack.  I call it a super exciting package full of clothing surprises! Check it out:  http://stitchfix.com/sign_up?referrer_id=3037529.

We don't have a single clothing shop in my tiny town.  Anchorage is the best option for shopping, but it is almost three hours away.  For this reason (and the fact that I like pretty things), I signed up for Stitch Fix as soon as I read about it online.  I waited about three weeks for the chance to fill out a style profile and schedule my packages.  Each box contains five items (based on a questionnaire you fill out). If you choose not to keep anything you pay a $20 styling fee.  If you keep one item (or more) the styling feel is subtracted from your bill.  If you keep the whole box you subtract the styling fee and get a 25% discount.  Each shipment includes cute styling cards, which are so helpful to me as I struggle with accessorizing.  It is so much fun! 

The items I kept from my last Stitch Fix:



Yelapa, Mexico

TH and I travel to Mexico at least once a year.  We've explored most of the coastline, but not much of the interior.  (I live in Alaska.  December vacation = beachtime.)   Our most recent trip was to Yelapa, a small fishing village, forty minutes (by boat) south of Puerto Vallarta.  In planning our travels, we were looking for a quiet, charming, fishable, and rustic-esque vacation spot.  Jackpot.




Things to look out for in Yelapa: 
  • The pie lady!!  She appears on the beach in the afternoons, toting coconut, lemon meringue, cheesecake, and chocolate mousse slices.  By the end of our stay I was thinking about pie more often than where to get my next margarita.  Forty pesos a slice may sound steep, but a thick triangle of pastry paradise won't leave you disappointed.  


Sneaky Picture of The Pie Lady 
  • Dog and horse poop; it's everywhere.  But the dogs are really cute.  
  • Manguito's, located at the base of the bridge on the way to the far away (and elusive) waterfall. Luis serves margaritas that will make the waterfall even more elusive.  

  • Raicilla.  Do not let any "friends" convince you to take a shot of this home-brewed agave liquor.  Your next day burps will still taste like charcoal simmered in a pot of diesel. 
  • Shambala and Tacos y Mas.  Both restaurants offer incredible food (try the goat cheese spring roll at Shambhala and the avocado pie at Tacos y Mas), dangerously good margaritas, and impeccable service.  
  • Free spirits.  As Jack Donaghy says, "Never go with a hippie to a second location."


Things you don't have to look out for in Yelapa:  
  • Cars. The cobblestone roads transport only horses and a few 4-wheelers. 
Sneaky Picture #2

  • Timeshare salesmen.  This is not a highly targeted sales market.  If you spend a week or so on the beach you will get to know the three jewelry tray dudes and the two iguana-pose photographers. 
  • Thieves.  Our friends stayed in a house with one wall.  Our landlord told us that in the past thirteen years he knew of a two thefts of tourist items, both of which were resolved when the village pressured the thieves into returning the goods.  I'm not saying you shouldn't take standard precautions, but we personally felt incredibly safe. 

Where we stayed: 

  • Cassa Tassia at Mar y Sol Villas.  We felt that our location and view were the best in Yelapa. We stayed for two weeks and paid under $90 a night.  High season is expensive in Yelapa, but cheaper digs are available if you are on a tighter budget and are willing to rough it a bit.  Yelapa Info is an incredible resource. 

Cassa Tassia is on the second floor of the white building



dinner with friends on our rooftop terrace
What we did:
  • Fished with Jay (ask around, he's easy to find).  
  • Hiked to the town and far waterfalls.
  • Walked to the next village, Pizota, and took a water taxi back.
  • Enjoyed meals at Shambhala, Tacos y Mas, Cafe Bahia, El Cerritos, Maguito's, Angelina's Gardens, and Christina's (which has an exquisite upriver location).





Saturday, February 9, 2013

Panama

Panama is one of our favorite countries in the world. When work is challenging, or the winter days seem too dark and cold, we pretend we have purchased a couple of acres on Lake Gatun. TH will start a fish guiding business and I will scatter seeds into the fertile soil and all of the fruits and veggies we need to survive will magically appear. Then we will take time off from fishing/farming and revisit the places we love the most.

Panama City



When we stay in PC, we choose Panama Center Apartments.  Why? 
  • Excellent, safe location, a short walk from a variety of restaurants. 
  • Incredibly welcoming and  helpful office staff.
  • $45 per night.
  • Close to cheap laundry and a salon that offers a $5 blow-out that will last for a week! 
Be sure to visit Casco Viejo, or the old town, in Panama City.  We were able to walk (with several cerveza/snack breaks) from our apartment to this lovely mix of old world/new world.  


While in Casco Viejo, don't miss Ceviche, Seviche.  The small, hip dining area includes a Baskin-Robbins style counter, except instead of ice cream there are tubs of ceviche!!  Sample flavors: Passionfruit Curry, Cajun Pineapple, Spicy Mango.  



Isla Contadora

A quick, scenic flight from PC is Isla Contadora.  

arrival onto Contadora, from the plane window

Oh, my, what a beautiful place. We stayed at Contadora Island Inn for around $70/night.  

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Contadora is a part of the Pearl Islands, which have been featured on three episodes of "Survivor".  Tony, host at Contadora Island Inn, can tell you drama filled production stories, as well as tales from the days when Contadora was packed with money and drugs.  Although it was once a hoity-toity vacation spot, the island is now laid back and mellow. No one will give you the stink eye if you buy a six pack of Cuba Libres and spend the day bobbing about in the translucent, balmy water.  


Las Lajas

Las Lajas is an easy seven hour bus ride from PC. Buy your bus tickets from the modern bus station and bring along a good book.  The bus will stop midway for lunch, which you might not need if you take advantage of the random snack sellers who hop aboard every few miles. 

Playa Las Lajas is the longest beach in Panama.  It is fantastic for never-ending beach walks, shell collecting, and crab sightings, but not so great for swimming.  


The next best view in Las Lajas is from Finca Buena Vista.  




We've stayed in this lovely hotel twice ($50), enjoying supreme breakfasts on our patio and walking to the friendly village for dinners. It is such a serene, peaceful place.


Boquete

Boquete is quickly becoming an expat retirement haven, due to its scenic mountain location, cooler temperatures, fertile soil, and access to hiking, birding and rafting.  The flowers, fruits and vegetables are so vibrant and the landscape is verdant and lush.




One day we splurged and dined at The Rock.  After a two hour trek from our apartment (it looked so much closer on the map!) we were rewarded with a crusty loaf of bread (warm and soft on the inside), creamy hummus, coffee infused pumpkin soup, jambalaya, shrimp pasta, and tiramisu.  Unreal.  



La Loma Jungle Lodge

Located on Bastimentos Island in Bocas del Toro (a bus-boat-boat adventure of about six hours), La Loma Jungle Lodge is a secluded treat.  Priced at $100/person/night, this was leagues above our standard room rate, but it included beautiful meals and a unique jungle setting.  Each night, after a gourmet family style dinner, we would sit on our porch surrounded by a cacophony of noises: layers upon layers of birds, insects and frogs.  It was almost impossible to single out a particular sound to speculate on what it might be.  During the days, our wildlife viewing included sloths, giant tree iguanas, hundreds of birds, bats, frogs, lizards, snakes, and crazy insects.



La Loma offers several economical day tours for further Bocas exploration.  We went with Roger (couldn't recommend him more highly!)  jungle-beach hiking, snorkeling, fishing, and bat cave spelunking. Our guest hosts, Karen and Ron, were incredibly welcoming and knowledgeable.  After a day excursion we always looked forward to Ron's special cocktail, served at a pre-dinner social hour.  As we sipped, darkness would creep into the jungle, the candles would be lit, and all the guests would sit down to share a farm fresh meal and stories from the day.  What a special place.

While at La Loma we were treated to chocolate desserts made from the property's cacao trees, local fruits, and garden vegetables.  On our last day we sampled the "miracle fruit", a small red berry that when eaten slowly coats the tongue and makes everything eaten for hours thereafter hyper sweet. Limes tasted like Kool-Aid, made with half the recommended amount of water.




Colon Island (Bocas del Toro)

I have to admit, it took a couple of days for Bocas Town to grow on us.  Initially we felt old (where did all these young, beautiful people come from?) and older (how do they stay up so late?). We worried that we would miss all of the happy hours (12am-1am) and that people would make fun of our roller bags.  But then we rented bikes and zipped away from Bocas Town, exploring the quieter roads and beaches. And a week later, we didn't want to leave. 

We stayed in a little casita called Saigoncito for $45 a night.  It was cute, colorfully decorated, and located in a welcoming neighborhood.  From our place it was a quick bike ride to town, numerous restaurants, the dock for catching water taxis to other islands, and deserted Bluff Beach.  Boca del Drago, or Starfish Beach, is a scenic collectivo ride across the island.

Bocas was lots of fun in July, but I wonder if it might be overwhelming during high season.


San Blas/Kuna Yala

We debated for a long time about visting San Blas.  It's expensive (also $100/person/day), not including the small plane flight from Panama City (around $100/person) to Playon Chico.  After hearing other travelers' stories our competitive flashpacking nature kicked in and we decided that we needed to visit the Kuna Yala.

The Kuna Yala (also known as San Blas) includes 365 islands (one for every day of the year!) that are owned by the Kunas.  They won their independence from Panama in 1930, and continue many of their traditional practices today. No foreigner can own land in the region, which is amazing as I'm sure the Kuna have been offered millions for real estate in this exquisite environment.  There are no hotels or high rises; the only accommodations offered are in Kuna-owned traditional structures.



Our palapa at the Yandup Island Lodge had solar powered lights and a fan available at night. We did not choose the more expensive over the water option, and we were pleased to find out that our cheapness paid off  in a cabana that was located on the breezier side of the island.  We left our doors open to enjoy the wind and avoid suffocating in the heat.



Every morning the Kuna men head out in dugout canoes to fish and lobster hunt.  It was so peaceful to rise from bed, sit on our porch, and watch the men quietly slip out to work.  


Our stay at the lodge included three meals a day and two tours to neighboring beaches and the main town of Playon Chico.  A few tour highlights:




We loved the staff at the lodge and highly recommend a visit to this beautiful area.