Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunny San Diego Girls Weekend 2009

Sunny San Diego Girls Weekend 2009.

Two weekends ago I left the urban concrete of NYC and headed out see what all this California sunshine stuff was about. Some of my favorite ladies and I had an excellent time enjoying the beach and all the San Diego has to offer!

We arrived on Friday, myself from NYC, Laura from Minneapolis and Megan from Arizona! All parts of the country for this weekend! Jacquelyn met us at the airport and drove us out to her amazing apartment, literally, right on the beach! You can’t beat that!

View from Jacquelyn's apartment.


Although I was still super sick, boo, I was super excited to see everyone! Friday night we had pizza at Jacquelyn’s and then headed out to some of the local bars, walking distance from her apartment!

Saturday, still a little cloudy and windy, we walked out to the pier by Jacquelyn’s apartment and watched the surfers and even managed to spot some dolphins!



After meandering down the beach, we headed back to grab some sandwiches and drove over to La Jolla to see the seals. La Jolla was beautiful, a little too rich for my liking, but still the coastline was gorgeous. There was also a ton of seals on the beach, most of them lazy, but a few willing to play for some photographs!




At the seal beach in La Jolla.


Fun with crazy cows in La Jolla.


The sun came out later that afternoon and we were able to enjoy our picnic overlooking the ocean.

Saturday night involved sushi, wine, dancing, and good times had by all. It was Megan’s first time having sushi, but she was a trooper and gave it a try.


Sunday was a much more beautiful day, here was the sunshine I’d heard all about. We decided to drive out to Coronado, a city on an island in the bay. Beautiful. The beach here was HUGE. It was still a little chilly for swimsuits, but we able to enjoy the view and relax on the sand. We walked all around and then ended up at cute little sidewalk cafĂ© for lunch. Afterwards we headed to Yogurt Escape for dessert, my new favorite thing ever! You get a bowl, and then can fill it with whatever kinds of frozen yogurt you like, then add all of your favorite toppings. You pay by the ounce. It ended up being pretty cheap, and an awesome dessert. I need one of these in New York! …though in NYC I’m sure it would end up somehow being 12 dollars for a small sundae.



Alien seaweed at Coronado. This stuff was actually all over the San Diego beaches.


That evening we enjoyed the sunset and then went out for Vietnamese in Ocean Beach. This part of town seemed much more laid back then where we were staying, I wish we could have had more time there.





Monday I went for a run on the beach and it couldn’t have been better. I seriously think I would become some sort of crazy distance runner if I could run next to the waves all day.

Overall, a super fun trip and I would love to go back! Jacquelyn, we’ll be visiting you again soon!!


ps. I'm having trouble with my picture sizing, so apologies that some of these images are funny looking or chopped off!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Fortunate Spring

Spring has officially sprung on the east coast! I've been meaning to get out and shoot some of the blossoms that seem to have bloomed on every street in the city, but haven't quite had the chance. However, I did get a few happy flowers around our house to share this weekend!



There is also some other great spring news to share! This past weekend, I went to San Diego to have a girls weekend with some of my favorite ladies (pictures coming soon!) on our last night, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant and had fortune cookies. My fortune told me "You will receive pleasant news." This couldn't have been more accurate as I found out this week I was offered a full time job for a great organization! The Institute for Family Health. I'm very excited, and will actually be starting tomorrow. I have no idea how I managed to pull this off, not only changing fields into public health from education, but landing a job in these economic times in a city as competitive as NYC. I'm flabbergasted, but excited for the new challenges that lie ahead. I will even be heading to DC this coming week for a conference. Talk about hitting the ground running!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chicken Stuffed Shells!


These were SO good. I highly recommend making them. Today. YUM.


I had been craving stuffed shells with ricotta cheese, I have no idea why, and was inspired by this recipe. I had bought some, but not all of the ingredients, so altered things to my liking. I was extremely pleased with the results. These made for an excellent dinner and tasty leftovers the next day!


Chicken Stuffed Shells

About 20 jumbo pasta shells (I cooked the box, but had leftover)
3-5 garlic cloves, depending on your level of garlic love, pressed
A good handful of fresh basil leaves
Ricotta Cheese (My container had about 1 3/4 C or so in it)
1 C or so of freshly grated other cheese, mine was a blend of parmesan, asiago, and fontina.
1 large chicken breast, up to a breast and a half
1/3C Italian Breadcrumbs
Spaghetti Sauce (I used both homemade meat sauce, made with just ground beef and Trader Joes Garlic Marinara)

Cook your chicken in a skillet. Flavor with garlic powder, or whatever other herbs you enjoy. Meanwhile, prepare your pasta shells by package directions. Once the chicken is cooked through and cool enough to handle, shred into small pieces with a fork or with your fingers. Add the chicken to a large bowl and combine with the ricotta, other grated cheese, pressed garlic cloves, breadcrumbs, about .5 to 1 tsp of oregano and parsley, and a handful, maybe 7-9 basil leaves torn into small pieces. Mix together well with a spoon.

Layer the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan with pasta sauce.

Stuff your pasta shells with your cheese and chicken mixture and lay open side up in the pan. Cover with more sauce and sprinkle with more town basil leaves and grated cheese.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes or so at 350 degrees.



Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Guatemala Round-Up

So, I realize I've been a bit of a bad blogger. It's taken me awhile to finish up blogging about our trip, my apologies. I've been taking it easy and also been weirdly busy, and then weirdly sick. Like, for real weirdly sick, who actually gets vertigo? Then, now that the vertigo finally has gone away, I manage to come down with a horrendously gross cold. Ish.

So, I'm hoping to recover in time to enjoy some California sunshine this weekend. Myself and two other fun ladies will be heading down to San Diego to visit the lovely Ms. Jacquelyn for a weekend of fun in the sun. Hopefully I won't still be hacking up something awful at this point.

Anyhow... so as to finish the point of this post! Finishing up our adventure!

After Antigua, Alex and I hopped on a shuttle bus to Panajachel, the small town on Lago de Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. The shuttlebus, was a rather large minivan, but ended up being more of a clown car. Alex and I were somewhere in the middle of the pick-up schedule, and after another stop, thought for sure the bus was full. But to our surprise, the bus kept stopping! Our little shuttle was full to capacity, to say the least.

The drive to Pana was about 3 hours and uneventful, but beautiful. The countryside was truly spectacular. We visited Guatemala in the dry season, so things were a little browner then normal, but overall, gorgeous volcanos and rolling hillsides everywhere you looked. It was however, another of those drives you just don't want to watch. Those of you who have ridden busses in developing countries know what I mean. Sometimes drivers like to tear through mountain roads, sometimes at speeds us silly American tourists don't particularly like. Sometimes really close to cliffs we really don't like either. Trust me, you just don't look. However, one thing I found curious about Guatemalan drivers, with the exception of one, every single one we had, taxi's included, wore a seatbelt. Whoever is on public safety patrol in Guatemala is doing something right, I have never, ever, seen that before while traveling.

After our bus ride, we found ourselves in Panajachel, gateway to Lago de Atitlan. Pana was extremely touristy. Basically, the two main streets go restaurant, craft shop, craft shop, craft shop,restaurant, tourist agency, hostel, craft stand. I wasn't super a fan of that part, however, upon making our way down to the lake, I understood what all the rage was about.

Lago de Atitlan was spectacular.
(Yes, I tweaked the color a little bit, but, it really was spectacular!)



Mostly, I just really liked this flower petal.

It's basically a huge crater surrounded by beautiful volcanos. It was a bit cloudy when we arrived, so you could just barely see the mountainsides behind the clouds. Everything looked a bit mysterious. However, the following day was perfectly clear. It was simply stunning. Alex and I rented a kayak and explored the lake and had a great time. Though, just as we got out towards the middle, the wind decided to pick up quite a bit and we end up completely soaked. Oh well, all part of the adventure.

The last stop on our trip was Tikal, the Mayan ruins in the north east part of the country. Getting there was an entire days journey in itself. We caught a "chicken bus" one of the local public busses from Pana to Guatemala city, then bought tickets for another bus from Guate to the town of Flores. All in all, we left Panajachel at 7:30am and didn't arrive in Flores until 10:30 that night. Much too many hours on a bus if you ask me. It also meant that as we arrived late in Flores, all the good hostels were taken and we had to take a not as nice place, it was fine, but really, also kind of icky, for much too high a price. However, luckily, the next morning we left right away and found an awesome hostel, the much nicer and also much cheaper! Horray!

Our first day in Flores was mostly recovery from the bus trek. Also, we were feeling a little sickly, so wanted to take it easy. Flores is an easy town to do that in luckily. The pace here was super laid back, and mainly, all you need to do is lay in a hammock and enjoy the view.


Our only stress was the we were running out of cash. And the only ATM in Flores did work for our ATM cards. Crap. After going to the bank and exchanging the rest of our American dollars, we tried unsuccessfully to get a cash advance from our credit card. Hmm. Our main problem would be having enough cash to buy the bus tickets back to Guatemala. Really, something we didn't want to do again. Then Alex came up with the brilliant idea of buying plane tickets back. These, unlike bus tickets, could be purchased with a credit card. After a little thinking, mostly about how we hated long bus rides, we decided to go for it. Expensive, but oh so very worth it in the end.

Anyhow, the reason for the adventure this far in the first place. Tikal! Now, Alex being Alex, he insisted that we get there right away, meaning leaving on the 5am bus. (Tikal is about an hour and 15 minutes from Flores). I wasn't pleased with this idea, but went along with it anyhow.

Although we ended up being much too late for sunrise, it was nice being the only ones there in the morning. Except for the walking in part. I had read lots of stories about how in the past people had been robbed on the trails around Tikal. (One of the most appealing parts of Tikal is that is still very much within the jungle.) This apparently doesn't happen really anymore because they've amped up security and park rangers, but, when we were walking into the Grand Plaza, we were literally the only people on the path in the middle of the jungle. I have a very active imagination. I totally managed to spook myself. Luckily, as I was about to make Alex turn back, a ranger and another couple came along. We never had anything to worry about. However, I was still jumpy the whole day whenever we were walking between the temples, often times we managed to be the only people around. Very eery.



Overall the temples at Tikal were very neat. But I think more then anything, I liked the views of the jungle from the top and the wildlife that surrounded them. There were all kinds of critters hanging around and tons of birds, and I will always be happy to take pictures of monkeys!










Unlike the temples at Angkor, these were all very similar. Most were pyramids or variations of. I enjoyed myself, but have certainly been spoiled by the site in Siem Riep.

Mold on the temple walls.

I really liked the texture of the thatch roofs.



On an ending note, Guatemala was a beautiful country to visit. It reminded both Alex and I of many places we had travelled before, yet had it's own unique aspects. For me, I kept seeing glimpses of Senegal, but with a Central American twist. Though the patterns were different, the women still sway through the streets in brightly colored skirts with their goods balanced atop their heads, the busses as colorful as ever. Alex commented that a lot of the cities reminded him of Hoi An, the little colonial town we spent a week in while in Vietnam. Clearly as well, lots of Ecuador could be seen in the street of Guatemala as well, especially in the little family front stores like those my host family owned in Calera.

When we first had thought about going to Guatemala on our honeymoon, we opted not to. We had heard stories it wasn't safe, that tourists got hijacked on busses, that it was too dangerous. I was still anxious about riding on busses at night, and we were extra careful when we went out for dinner in the evenings. I'm happy to report we had no issues, and overall we had a wonderful trip. I have no idea if we were just lucky, but I feel as though this may be one of the cases were some of the worry is overstated. Clearly, there is a lot of violence in Guatemala, particular areas of Guatemala City do need to be avoided. There is a lot of inequality, and lot of poverty, this creates bad situations.

However, I'm so very glad that we went. There is a lot of good in Guatemala to be seen as well. And I would love to go back. Most of all I want to actually see the Guatemala that is not tourist shop, restaurant, tourist shop. We did what we could in a week, but next time, we will venture off the beaten track for sure.