Traveling Light: European Edition

Oh hai, world travel! I had a drought of almost 9 years where I didn’t get to do any international travel and damn…that’s long enough. Life is short and I’m turning 30 in a few weeks, so let’s see the world! This year, I managed to get myself to France, Sweden, and the Bahamas  via some press trips and consequently got to do some pretty amazing things. I have ridden horseback through vineyards in St. Emilion (France), met an Absolut vodka brand ambassador who was also a Swedish countess, and eaten conch salad and drank LOTS of rum in the the Bahamas. These trips all deserve their own blog entries (and they’ll get them over the holiday break hopefully!), but for now, let’s go over some travel tips that hopefully will help ya’ll not break the bank while seeing the world.

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Checking Bags

I’ll be honest: I almost never check a bag since most airlines have ridiculous checked bag fees now. You can always gate check something for free if there is limited overhead space (neat little trick to get out of paying to check a smaller suitcase!) Normally you get at least one bag checked for free on an international flight, but since I’m not interested in trying to find underwear in another country, I try to survive with just a carry on. However. See that picture above? I felt very cool on my first trip of the year to Bordeaux, France. I bought a GIANT suitcase for this trip because I found out I would get a free checked bag, and what if I wanted to buy everything in the entire country?

Lesson 1: Just because you CAN check a bag doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Guess what: most old European hotels do NOT have elevators. You know what they do have? A lot of stairs and cranky porters who grumble about “huge American suitcases” while they schlep your crap up narrow staircases. Take one carry on sized bag and one purse. Lesson learned. Honestly, most of the people that drove me around and helped me out were awesome and very nice about it, but it was a press trip. It was their job to make sure I had fun, which I absolutely did, mostly because I didn’t have to carry my own suitcases.

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What to bring

  • See those shoes? So cute. So chic. So PAINFUL. I ended up with blisters while still IN THE DULLES AIRPORT because I hadn’t broken them in. Dumb. Lesson 2: Break in new shoes so that your first stop in France doesn’t have to be une pharmacie française to buy French band aids and disinfectant spray. The second stop was Foot Locker (distinctly uncool American) to purchase some Converse. Fun fact: Converse are like $100 in France because they’re imported. I hated my life that day.

    These helped. Plus ALL THE BANDAIDS.

    These helped. Plus ALL THE BANDAIDS.

  • Don’t worry about packing shampoo, conditioner, or lotion. They take up a lot of room, are annoying to get through TSA, and are provided 9 out of 10 times when you stay in a hotel. Not worth it. Plus, I got some awesome souvenirs fo’ free!  The one item I needed on all these trips was a small travel sized bottle of Febreeze, which you can obviously decant from the spray bottle under your sink into a travel sized bottle. I got a tiny bottle of Gain fabric refresher at Walmart for a buck. It helps keep your dirties in check and refreshes anything you need to wear more than once. This matters when you are horseback riding and out of clean socks. Or wearing a bathing suit a couple times in a row.
  • Lesson 3: Always always always check to see if you will need plug adapters for your electronics. ALWAYS. I read some misinformation online before traveling to Sweden and didn’t have an adapter for the entire trip. I was writing using my iPad, using social media, and taking pictures constantly and desperately needed my phone and iPad to stay charged. Obviously this was next to impossible, and I missed some amazing pictures on the most amazing night because of this. If you do happen to go to Sweden (or most other European countries), they are used to Americans forgetting adapters and hotels normally have 1 or 2 at the front desk. Be nice and you might get to borrow one for free. Otherwise, many times you’ll have to put down a deposit that you get back once it is returned.

    Pack lightly. What if these leggings need to come home with you? (Bergerac, France)

    Pack lightly. What if these leggings need to come home with you? (Bergerac, France)

  • Finally, check the weather and pack accordingly. Bring a cardigan/sweatshirt for the plane. Bring a couple versatile pieces that you can mix and match, like black skinnies, a white button down shirt, and a denim jacket. You know what I’m saying. Don’t pack your entire wardrobe, because you are going to buy souvenirs and then may be forced to throw away valuable press materials at the airport because your checked luggage is over the weight limit. Woops.

    Halfway through writing this…I decided to split it up! Check back next week for a few more suggestions on better ways to travel the world. Next time we’ll talk about why all-inclusive resorts are the bomb, cool places to stay in Stockholm, and why you should take a food tour in Nassau!

Citrus Rosemary Gin Fizz

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Bar accessories are addictive. Why doesn’t anyone warn you about that? When I started getting tattooed, everyone explained that I would want tons of them (they were right). So it turns out the same advice applies to bar glasses, cocktail shakers, and frankly…booze. Anyone that has ever looked up a drink recipe knows that some of them call for a lot of random liquors and bitters and infusions and…whatever else you put into drinks. That stuff accumulates (in the most delicious way!).

So I got these glasses. I’d been looking for the perfect bar glasses with gold accents and had gone through several imperfect iterations. These came from TJ Maxx and completed my life in a way I didn’t know bar glasses could! They sat on my bookshelf for a few weeks until Thanksgiving rolled around. I needed a little something to to sip while baking gluten free crescent rolls (which failed spectacularly due to sad expired yeast!) so just whipped up a drink with what I had. Which, because of all the drink recipes, turned out to be kind of a great variety of things.

One note: The simple syrup I used came from making these candied clementines from Saveur. I didn’t have enough clementines and ended up with extra two mason jars of syrup. It’s SPECTACULAR in drinks or drizzled on cake. YUM. So if you don’t decide to make those, although I hope you do, just use plain simple syrup and a very small dash of vanilla extract and some orange extract or juice.

I love drinks that aren’t too sweet, and this is a great one. Grapefruit with notes of vanilla and clementines, laced with fresh rosemary and a few bubbles made this a great little cocktail for the holidays. Also, the next time I have a yard sale, people are going to wonder what in the world is going on in my house and why I have 10 sets of cocktail glasses.

IMG_2774 Citrus Rosemary Gin Fizz

1 part Hendrick’s Gin

2 parts pink grapefruit juice

simple syrup to taste*

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Splash of tonic or club soda

Put the gin, juice, and simple syrup over ice and shake to chill. Strain into a glass and top with a splash of your choice of sparkler and the rosemary.

Butternut Squash Soup with Goat Cheese

It’s finally kinda sorta cold in Virginia. It’s chilly and rainy at least, so it’s kinda sorta fall! My fave. I spent today thrifting with my mom, found a super cute antique coffee table, and found myself wanting a nice hot dinner. Butternut squash everything is all over Pinterest right now, and I had some other produce to use up, so this soup is what I came up with. A true “what I had in my fridge” recipe if there ever was one. Plus I got to use my immersion blender, which is always fun!

Serve this with some toasted bread and butter for dipping. If you have a snoring pug to sit next to while you eat, it tastes even better!

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Butternut Squash Soup with Goat Cheese

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large sweet apple, peeled, cored, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
olive oil
4 cups chicken broth

chilled goat cheese to top

1) Combine squash, sweet potato, apple, onion, and garlic with 1 tsp of salt  and two tbsp olive oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot. (I use a heavy dutch oven for soups, always!). Cook on medium for about 15 minutes, covered.

2) Cover with broth and add spices. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15-20 minutes.

3) Remove bay leaf and transfer to blender. Blend until smooth. I use an immersion blender because you can safely blend hot soup right in the pan! They’re inexpensive and awesome. I have this one.

4) Serve hot with crumbled goat cheese on top. Relax. Your day is about to get better.

Roasted Cauliflower with Smoked Paprika and Parmesan

So I live in Harrisonburg again. Ping ponging around Virginia just seems to be my lot in life, and I’ve just accepted that I’m a rambler and am seldom happy in one place for very long. The best part of this move is that I got to keep my job in Northern VA and am now a full time telework employee! I love the freedom this allows me, especially in terms of my meals. I appreciate the fact that I can easily make something healthy and cooked, rather than trying to subsist on salads or leftovers nuked in the microwave. I also got a pug named Mini, and she gets walked 4-6 times per day around our neighborhood, which is so much more fun than sitting in an office.

Now that I’ve unpacked most of my stuff and have settled in, I am finally cooking again and cooking well. South Beach is coming back in a big way in my life, so vegetables are where it’s at! One great thing about moving back to this area has been the availability of fresh produce, as well as the fact that I can walk to the farmer’s market. So even though I’m in a house that has mice, a tiny kitchen with no counter space, no dishwasher, and window AC units (I do not love these), I do have a lot of fresh food and that’s a big deal.

Today I arrived home after a wedding and didn’t feel much like cooking. The problem was, I ate like crapola all weekend because I was traveling. I needed vegetables. I looked in the fridge and realized I had two heads of cauliflower, which is one of the all time easiest veggies to prepare and is low carb and South Beach friendly! Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and within 20 minutes I had dinner ready to go. Try this the next time you have zero desire to cook but need something healthy in your body. I ate about half of it with some sliced tomatoes and cucumbers for dinner and feel completely satisfied. Cauliflower is a perfect blank canvas for the strong tangy parmesan and zippy lemon to play on, spiced up by the smoked paprika and garlic.

Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower with Smoked Paprika and Parmesan

1 head of cauliflower
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper
Garlic powder
Smoked Paprika (I used Penzey’s)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
juice of half a lemon

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.

2) Trim the leaves off your cauliflower. Slice cauliflower into florets and spread on a baking sheet or a casserole dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and garlic powder.

3) Bake for 20-25 minutes.

4) Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Try to save some for lunch the next day if you can stop yourself from eating it all in one sitting!

Ethiopian Spiced Coffee

My favorite thing that I’ve purchased for myself in the last year is a Keurig. It’s red and shiny and adorable. I especially love the little refillable loose coffee pod, because K-Cups are expensive. If you MUST purchase them, I highly recommend these through Vitacost, which I’ve also been able to find at my local grocery store. They are organic and more eco-friendly than regular all plastic K-cups, which is always good.

What I didn’t realize is that you really do, for real, need to clean your Keurig regularly. It will start leaking grounds into your coffee, your hot water will start to have a soupçon of coffee taste and smell, and you’ll get less than a full cup. Unacceptable, especially if you telework a lot and aren’t interested in Starbucks every morning. Also if you’re a grouchy pants in the morning. Which I am.

I remembered finding a couple pins through Pinterest about how to clean your Keurig and since I didn’t want to buy any of those little descaling pods, thought I’d try the method I found at A Few Shortcuts. It was worth the bottle of white vinegar and 35 minutes! I noticed a definite difference in how much water was coming out, and it was clear after the vinegar. Success is mine!

To commemorate my clean Keurig, I’m sharing a “recipe” for Ethiopian spiced coffee, which I first tried at The Blue Nile in Harrisonburg, VA. I’m friends with many of the bartenders and was able to find out what to add to my ground coffee to get the same spiced flavor.

 

Here's my grumpy pants morning face

Here’s my grumpy pants morning face

Ethiopian Spiced Coffee

Mix equal parts ground cinnamon, ground cardamom, ground cloves, and ground ginger ( I did about a 1/2 tsp of each) in a small dish or jar. Thoroughly mix until completely blended.

Fill a reusable Keurig cup with 1 to 1 1/2 tsp of ground coffee* and 1/8th tsp of the spice mixture. Brew normally. I doctor mine with cream and sugar to keep the morning grumpies at bay.

 

*Ground coffee, any dark roast that you’d like (I like Italian espresso!)

South Beach Phase 1 Cream Cheese Pancakes

Enough is enough, I thought to myself, as my heart sank into my toes. The 3rd person in a week, my normally very nice manicurist, had just asked when I was due. Fighting the urge to ask what the ugly lump three feet above her ass was (OH IT’S YOUR FACE?! I HAD NO IDEA!), I smiled, laughed and said “oh no, I’m not pregnant, just fat!” I am tired of uttering that phrase and cannot believe the number of people who think it’s totally acceptable to comment on my body.

I hold my weight around my midsection. I know it looks like a tiny person is growing there. However…not pregnant. Even if I were, I would expect NOBODY to ask when I was “due” until I brought it up myself. It’s just common courtesy.

Anyway, all that being said, it’s time to get back on the diet/exercise train. I had unexpected surgery about a month ago and then promptly got very sick with an upper respiratory infection/sinus infection for 2.5 weeks. Food wasn’t tasting good to me and I could barely drive, let alone work out. I am FINALLY all healed up and healthy and ready to go!

South Beach Phase 1 is my nemesis. I tried it before and had no luck, but I am going to give it another go. High protein, low carb, NO SUGAR. Arg. It’s so hard. The hardest part is no sugar, because oh my gosh, do I ever have a sweet tooth!! Especially when I’m upset or stressed. So the worst parts of the day are first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I scoured the internet for some good breakfast recipes that don’t involve eggs, because while I love them, eating them for breakfast every day WITH veggies makes me wanna barf.

I found this recipe on 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet, which might be my new favorite place on the entire internet. Cream Cheese “Pancakes” are the best! Since no fruit or sugar is allowed in Phase 1 of South Beach, I paired these with some Walden Farms Calorie Free Pancake Syrup. It’s sugar free, gluten free, and calorie free. I know I know…it’s not exactly an all natural organic product, but I really don’t care at this point since it helps me get a little sugar kick! The sweetener I used in the batter is erythritol, which I use rather than Splenda, stevia, etc, all of which I hate. If you haven’t yet, read about erythritol, it’s amazing and tastes great! Because you are supposed to have 1/2 a cup of veggies at breakfast (which is also hard for my sweet tooth to handle), I grilled up some tomatoes in the pan and ate those along side my pancakes with some salt and pepper. Yum.

I am going to add 1 tablespoon each of almond meal and garbanzo bean flour next time I make this to see if I can get a thicker pancake. These taste amazing but were a bit thin, and who doesn’t want more healthy protein in their pancakes?

I’ve had some questions about where I get a lot of my weirdo ingredients. I buy most of them through Vitacost.com, and here is a referral link if you’d like $10 off your first order :) 

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South Beach Phase 1 Cream Cheese Pancakes

2 oz. Neufchatel cheese
2 eggs
1 tsp. no-calorie sweetener
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1) Blend all ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Let batter rest for about 2 minutes to let the bubbles dissipate. The batter will be very thin.

2) Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat with a tsp of coconut oil.  (Here’s why I prefer coconut oil)

3) Pour batter on skillet in pancake sized dollops and cook about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Serve with calorie free syrup (or berries if you’re out of phase 1)