Friday, November 13, 2009

Getting settled in Cali and off to Spain/Portugal!

It's been a while since I've written. Things have been crazy with the move from my home state of New Jersey to Southern California. It's been almost two months to the day and I know my Jersey buds will be sad to hear this, but I love it here! South Orange County is so clean and pretty. There are no pot holes, highway traffic is actually pretty manageable, local traffic is very quiet, streets are well paved with no pot holes, the weather is gorgeous, and I live 5 miles from the beach! There is very little to complain about other than the sales tax!

I've been having a surprisingly good time decorating my new home to make it my own. This coming from someone who has zero decorating experience and without any idea what I wanted. It's been a fun learning experience After two months, I'm finally done painting for the most part. Almost every room has been painted, all doors, and all doorways. I never want to see another paintbrush again! Next painting project is to take down two sets of plantation shutters, repair a few of the panels, spray paint them, then paint and seal the window frames for the mild winter. We'll see when I get to that project...

So I booked a trip to Spain/Portugal back in March 2009 for Nov 19-28. This was before I planned to move to Cali. So with all the changes I wasn't sure if I would go through with the trip. I had a conversation with Judy, my second cousin, and decided to go through with it. For those that don't know, Europe has a very special place in my heart. I'm obsessed with the architecture, culture, food, and sites. I've been to Spain twice, but have been wanting to go to Portugal since 2006. It never worked out in the past, but with a cheap ticket to Sevilla, Spain I seized my opportunity!

I typically plan and research a few months in advance for any trip. I simply enjoy the process of online research, talking with fellow backpackers, and reading and highlighting my Lonely Planet guide book. However, this summer and fall were excruciatingly busy with everything that came with moving to Cali. I never got a chance to sit down and sift through the emails and links I collected on Western Spain/Southern Portugal, the LP Spain book I had from my last Spain trip, or to go out and purchase LP Portugal. I took the day off work yesterday to get cracking. Armed with my Mac, LP books, and a handful of highlighters I got cracking. After 5 hours I was basically done. I have two highlighted LP books, 2 word docs with info on each city I want to hit, and 2 nights of accommodation booked.

The planning process always brings me back to the realization that I love backpacking. Not just traveling, but backpacking. It speaks to my soul. Everything from researching for the trip, packing my pack, passport in hand, finding my way in a foreign country, checking into my hostel, making new friends (and adding new fb friends!), seeing the sites, local wines, etc. It's been two years since I've truly been backpacking (vagabonding!). I've done some great road trips, but there's nothing like backpacking in a country where you don't speak the language. Where you need to rely on your own wits to get around and create your own experience.

I'm off in one week. Below is the general plan. We'll see if I stick to this. I have the first two nights booked in a hostel and will do the rest on the whim! Part of the fun!

Sevilla, Spain: 2 nights
Granada, Spain: 1 night
Lisbon, Portugal: 2 nights
Sintra, Portugal: 1 night
Lagos, Portugal: 1 night

That only adds up to 7 nights and I'm there for 8 nights and 9 days. I'll figure something out ;)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Where the Sidewalk Ends... Mike's blog

It's been too long since I've written a post. Things have been hectic to say the least and I have some big changes coming up. In a few weeks I'll be moving across the country and leaving my home state of New Jersey. California will be my new home! It's been an exciting and very stressful time with little room for creativity.
I promise to update more often and even more importantly, post about my travels this summer. Orlando, Chicago, DC, Chicago again, DC again, Cali, etc. It's coming I promise!

In the meantime, I need to share a post my friend Mike wrote. He lived in San Diego a few years ago, is a frequent hiker, and lover of life. See why we get along? Take a look at his most recent post.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Great Food Shoot Out

What the hell is a Great Food Shoot Out??? That's what I thought as well. Well, let me explain. It's a food photo challenge. Food porn photographers are asked to upload their best food or cocktail photos to win some sort of prize. The contest is being run by Scripps Network. They own networks like Food Network, DIY, HGTV, etc. The winner is chosen based on online voting and/or a judging panel. I read the official rules and it didn't say what the prize was. I'm hopping it's a DSLR so winners can continue to take wonderful photos, but something in me is thinking it will be a signed cookbook by Rachel Ray. Lame.

I uploaded 10 photos so we'll see how I do. I checked out the competition and was not too impressed so far. Most were unimaginative and blurry. It didn't look like they had ever heard of macro digital. Photos are able to submitted for another 13 days. I have a trips to Orlando, Chicago, and DC this weekend and DC and Chicago again the weekend after. That's two weekends of trips and food porn shoots. I'm hoping to get a few more entries in before submission closes. Voting runs from July 1-13. I'll be asking for your help so I can win the Rachel Ray cookbook (which I'll recycle)!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Big Apple BBQ

My favorite holiday of the year has arrived!!! Nope, not Christmas or New Year's Eve. BIG APPLE BBQ!!! This is my third year going to the 7th Annual Big Apple BBQ. The country's top pitmasters come to Madison Square Park for a weekend of BBQing each June. They BBQ their wonderful delicious meats for us to enjoy. I always hit up Big Bob Gibson from Decatur, AL. Pitmaster Chris Lilly makes the best pulled pork I've ever had with this killer coleslaw. Mmmm!!! I dump on his Championship winning BBQ sauce and I'm in heaven!!!

My friend and I thought we were so smart and decided to go right when the event started at 11am to avoid the crowds. We were mistaken. The lines had already started and it seemed like everyone else had the same idea! Strange, because the past three years I've always gone mid day or later in the day and didn't experience such extreme lines. Looks like someone is bad luck... kidding! We ended up staying for about 4 hours there. We saw a ton of people we knew from college and chatted with them, stood on lines, ate, and had a great time. It drizzled for a tiny bit, but harm was done. Humans don't melt :)

My friend is obsessed with ribs and tried just about every rib stand. I don't think he was overly impressed with any of them. Probably because he himself makes killer ribs. It's true. I've had them. They are excellent. I knew better and basically only ate from the Big Bob Gibson tent. I was happy!

Pulling and chopping up the yummy pork at the Big Bob Gibson tent.

Pulling the pork from the pitmaster. The love of my life lives in that pitmaster. Mmmm pork....

He's pulling out the bone and excess fat.

So succulent and perfect. Smokey, meaty, flavorful wonderfulness. And the Championship sauce is to die for.

I was never a huge fan of cole slaw until I had Big Bob Gibson's mustard slaw 3 years ago. WOW! It's a bit spicy and packed with lots of flavor. I want more!!!

So many people!

Overall, another awesome year at Big Apple BBQ. I have just mentally added Decatur, AL to the itinerary for when I road trip across the US one day. Yum!

Sunday, June 7, 2009


After a long week of work, nothing sounds better than a weekend away with the girls. My girls and I headed up to the Pocono's where a friend had a house a short walk to a lake. Stocked with wine, beer, food to grill, and the movie Twilight, we were ready! Weekend of relaxing and girl time!

First thing's first, we need to crack open the wine! Only problem was we forgot a corkscrew. After some digging in the garage we found one of those things you can screw into a ceiling and hang plants from. With that and three strong girls we opened the wine! With our powers combined... we are... a corkscrew!

Romantic fondu dinner

Hello yummy cheesy goodness.
After a good night's sleep we walked over to the lake for some sun. We saw this guy on the walk. It was walking around the trees and we thought it was a turkey. Then it did bounded around and flew up on the roof. We realized it wasn't a turkey after all... I think we determined it was a vulture? I'm not sure....

The water was cold! But felt so good to dip our feet in. Yes, I know my legs are super pale. They have some color now I swear!

Water snake!

My friend's family kept old school Nintendo! Super Mario Brothers anyone?

Need I even say more?

BBQing for dinner! A fun weekend! Will be back before the summer ends!

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Some friends and I headed up to Boston to visit a friend for the weekend. Boston is one of my favorite US cities. That is if you are visiting from Spring to Fall. I call Boston a great family city. It's cute, very clean, and a great city if you have kids. But remember, only Spring to Fall. I refuse to go in the Winter. This is true, just ask my friend Heman.
We got lucky with the most perfect weather we could have asked for. Strolling all around Boston and just enjoying being outside. We walked around an Earth loving/environment awareness festival which was quite good. Lots of free food being handed out. Unfortunately, I have no photos of it due to the extreme hangover.

Wen saw this fountain in the middle of Boston Common. It's of two kids playing. Don't you think that's a bit inappropriate?...

What's the best thing for a hangover? A brewery tour!

The door to the ladies room. Hey, us ladies love to drink!

The guy poured right from the whatever that thing is called. Does it get any fresher??? Than this???

The beer helped my hangover. I'm serious. Scary huh?

I took a walk down Commonwealth and then over to Marlborough while everyone else was getting ready. It was so nice outside with the sun shining, a slight breeze, and the sounds of birds chirping. I'll be back Boston!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Maine for Memorial Day weekend (Day 4)

I woke up to discover I had random mosquito bites around my ankles, neck, and lower back. Kind of makes sense considering we went star gazing with some beers by the carriage trails after hours at Acadia last night. Apparently, drinking after dark in a national park is illegal. The lady that sold us beers warned us. How kind of her.
So off we took to head back home with a few stops along the way.

First stop, Red's Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. My co-worker told me about this place when I went to Maine in October 2008. Unfortunately, they were closed for the season last time. This time around we had to hit it up. They are known for their lobster rolls which I couldn't eat. Even the lady at the counter gave me a sympathetic look for my unfortunate allergy.

The menu

I got the crab roll and fried clams. The crab roll was good, but not spectacular. Not a waste, but I won't get it again.

The fried clams were excellent! They were bigger and more flavorful than the ones from Clam Shack. I would say they are the best I've had. They were super fishy, just the way I like them. If you don't like very fishy seafood, then I wouldn't recommend them. Great, now I want some...

One of the great things about staying in hostels is all the people you meet. You share travel tips. We got the Desert of Maine in Freeport, Maine from Sarah from Cali.

The sand was super soft.

Forty acres of glacial silt. Got here from a glacier that was here back in the ice age. Glacier melted. Vegetation grew. People came and over farmed it. Raised sheep on it. Sheep kicked up the remaining top soil and under it was this glacial silt. Crazy stuff.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Maine for Memorial Day weekend (Day 3)

Our second full day in Maine we hit up a Farmer's Market which was surprisingly right next to our hostel. Bought some steaks, lettuce, smoked mozzarella, raw milk, and salad dressing for real grilling on the BBQ for dinner.

The man at the lettuce stand told us about the fjord at Acadia. It's the only fjord in the US along the Atlantic Ocean. I got so pumped! Most don't know that I have a slight fjord obsession. I'm dying to go to Norway to check out the famous fjords.

Ever had raw milk? Nope? Me either. It was like sucking straight from the teat of the cow. We had a pretty yummy lunch of raw milk, grilled turkey and smoked mozzarella (from the farmer's market) cheese sandwiches. Happy and full, we were off to hike up to the fjord.

The hike up was more difficult of the hike we did the previous day. A great hike nonetheless and well worth it!

We made it. Time to sit back and relax!


A fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides, created in a valley carved by glacial activity

The hike down.

Real grilling on the bbq. Steaks and hot dogs wrapped in bacon.

T-bone steak, hot dogs wrapped in bacon, corn on the cob, and the most amazing salad ever. We made it with lettuce from the farmer's market, grilled onions, grilled corn, and parmesan vinaigrette dressing from the farmer's market. We invited a fellow traveler and Jeff the hostel manager to join us since we had so much food.

This was a great day. One of those classic days full of seeing things you've never seen before, hanging out in a chilled out hostel, and having great conversation with fellow travelers in the hostel. Good times.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Maine for Memorial Day weekend (Day 2)

Got a nice and early start to make the most of our first full day at Acadia National Park. We chatted some some travelers at the hostel while we made breakfast. Got some good tips on some trails to do and scored ourselves a car pass and map to Acadia.

Sand Beach. We started our hike at the far end of the beach.

We veered off the trail a ton to climb around the rocks.

Just taking it in.

Chillin out on the rocks before we climbed and hiked some more.

Nalgene bottle comes with me everywhere.

Back on part of the trail. As a perfect day for a hike.

Left some time to do some tastings at Atlantic Brewing Company

Back at the hostel to "grill" food on the BBQ.

"Grilled" burgers, bacon wrapped asparagus, and corn on the cob.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Maine for Memorial Day weekend (Day 1)

Not many know this, but Maine is up there as one of my top three favorite states. My company was so kind to force us to use a personal day by giving us a four day Memorial Day weekend. I decided on a trip to Acadia National Park right outside Bar Harbor, Maine. Made some great stops on the way up and back. Unexpectedly hungover, 6 hours behind schedule (due to all things related to the hangover...), a third and unexpected friend in tow, we headed up to Maine!

First stop, The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine for fried clams and clam strips.

Fried clams. The clams were a bit smaller than I expected, but pretty good. They give you a ton, so much that it's spilling over the top. A worthy stop.

Clam strips. Personally, I'm more of a fan of the full on clams.

Right next door is the usual stop at Bartley's for blueberry pie

Lobster stew that I couldn't have, allergic. The boys said it was delicious. You can see it's packed with lobster meat! I stared while they ate.

Seriously the best blueberry pie ever!

The Bush Sr. compound is in Kennebunkpork. The Bush's love the pie at Bartley's. It's been in the White House and Air Force One. The walls were covered with signed photos of different politicians that have visited Bartley's

So awesome that they serve it in a bowl. A plate just cant contain all the awesome.

Water bottles they served us. I have no idea.

Laying in the back with my injured neck and belly fully of good food.

We made a quick stop in Portland at Gritty's. My first time in Portland, Maine. It was a quiet industrial portside town.

Around 9pm at night, we arrived at Bar Harbor Hostel! They remembered me from last season! I have no idea who Ken is.