Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paradise Vacation 2013: St. Kitt's

I'm going to have to break this trip up into at least 2 parts. We have so many fun pictures (and a few stories) to share, and I'm not looking to break any records with an epic post of the trip. In case you did not know, I won the Circle of Excellence award at work (for sales performance and meeting set goals)- and was rewarded with a trip to the Four Seasons, Nevis. We decided to head out a couple of days early so that we'd have some time to ourselves.

After 12 long hours of traveling, we arrived at 9pm in St. Kitts on Friday night. We chose to stay at the Marriott St. Kitt's Resort & Royal Beach Casino because it seemed like the easy thing to do. With a long name like that though, we should have known it was going to be a monstrous hotel. But we just needed a place to land for 2 nights that wouldn't be much of a hassle. After a very lame bar dinner and less than impressive service the first night, I already knew that we would likely never visit it again.

But when we woke up on Saturday morning, we were treated to a beautiful view, and were excited to start our vacation. We took off for a short run and made our way over to what is known as "the strip" (a small string of beach bars/restaurants that seems to be popular for late night revelry and dancing). There is an international vet school on the island, and apparently the strip is where they all like to party. Interesting fact- St. Kitts is home to multiple international schools. It was bad enough just finishing college in a party town- I can only imagine how distracting the beach would be!

View from our hotel balcony.

Hank in front of Elvis' Love Shack. Elvis is a popular name on the island, according to one of our taxi drivers.

After our run, we grabbed a quick breakfast from the lobby, and then got ready to hit the beach. We really didn't want to be stuck at the hotel- as it was on the Atlantic side (rougher water) and just didn't have much personality. Several people recommended that we taxi to a small beach bar (on the Caribbean side) called Shipwreck. It's tucked away on a secluded strip of beach, and I swear it's where you go when you don't want to be found. We snagged two chairs covered by a little palapa roof, and quickly ordered a round of Pirate's Punch (for me) and a $3 Carib (for Hank). We napped, swam, ate, watched monkeys and mongoose, and snorkeled. This was seriously one of my favorite days of our whole trip. We could have stayed there forever, but ran out of cash just in time for our taxi guy who came to pick us back up.

Entrance to Shipwreck

View along the beach front.

Our chairs for the day.

Monkeys eating leftover scraps.

Saying a sad goodbye to our new bar friends.
After a day of drinking on the beach, and a few hours in the hotel lobby looking for other Apple people to trickle in, we finally decided to clean ourselves up and head out for some dinner. Another interesting fact about the island is that many of the stores are owned by Indians, and therefore the island has a significant Indian population. The only thing that really means to me is that there was good food to be found. There just happened to be an Indian restaurant a short walk from the hotel, and it had good reviews online, so we headed to Bombay Blues. Full disclosure- we had been drinking all afternoon, so our judgement might be slightly skewed. But my recollection of the meal was fabulous. I had the Malai Kofta (one of my favorite dishes) and the sauce was flavorful and hearty. Hank had his favorite- Aloo Gobi. It was reasonably priced, our server was nice, and overall we enjoyed the meal. The restaurant was pretty crowded, so I got the impression that it was a local favorite.

After sleeping it off in the next morning, we decided it would be fun to take a tour of the island before we had to meet the ferry for Nevis. The island is only 18 miles long, so it doesn't take long to make the big circle. Through the hotel, we hired a really nice driver to give us a tour. First stop was a high point overlooking our hotel from the beach.

Below Hank down on the right is where Shipwreck was- the South part of the island.

View of the Marriott (red roofs) on the far right side)

After a little driving and story telling, he waited patiently while we toured the Brimstone Hill Fortress. It is now a national monument that was originally designed by the British, and built by African slaves. After an extensive preservation effort (that is still ongoing), it is one of the best preserved fortifications in the Americas. You can read more information in the link- but my brief description is that it was breathtaking. We really, really enjoyed walking around viewing the amazing construction and beautiful views of the island from one of the highest points.

Looking up to the highest point and the Citadel. There were multiple levels and buildings overall.

It was no joke climbing up to the top- those stairs were serious business, and intentionally built to slow down any troops trying to overtake the fort. 

View of the Infantry Officers Quarters
Hank geeking out with all the history around him.

Many of the original canons were stolen and melted down.

Drinking a local (non-alcoholic) Ting and enjoying the view.

Here kitty, kitty....A cute cat hanging out in the main area of the Citadel.

More canons pointing towards the back of the fort. They had all angles covered for any attacks.

We finished the loop around the north side of the island, and got to view where the Atlantic meets the Carribean, and also black rocks formed by the now dormant volcano on the island. We finished the tour just in time to catch an early ferry to Nevis, where the rest of our trip continued. Stay tuned.....

The Atlantic is the rougher/bluer part on the left, and where the color changes is where the Caribbean begins.

Volcanic rocks and crashing waves.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

We're back!

We finally made it back to Austin Saturday afternoon, and it really was good to get home, see all the girls, and sleep in our own bed. It will likely take a few days to get pictures sorted and edited before I can put together a post or two about the trip, but I promise I'll get to it this week.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Out of the Office

For the first time in a long time, I'm signing off for a full 9 days of vacation. We're headed to Nevis, West Indies for some serious rest and relaxation (and maybe even a little pampering). I fully expect to have some wonderful stories and pictures to share of our adventures. But until then, I'm going to enjoy being unplugged, and spending quality time with my future hubby.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Out and About: Sway

Sway seems to be the newest, hottest restaurant in Austin right now. Although that title seems to be filled with something different on an almost weekly basis, I think it's well deserved. The modern Thai restaurant is located in a deceptively simple from the outside Michael Hsu-designed building (he is seriously the godfather of all hip buildings in Austin), but the inside is stunning. Sleek and modern (as all his designs seem to be), but still warm and inviting on the inside. There are large square tables that accommodate the communal-style seating offered, and each table is highlighted by a gigantic bamboo(?) chandelier. There is a bar facing their open-kitchen concept, and I imagine that would be a fabulous spot for a fun date night. There is a second bar a little out of the way of the main dining room, as well as a candle-lit outside patio. When the weather is nice, I'm sure the patio will be a hot spot.

We met another couple for dinner on a Sunday evening, and chose to meet early (6:30pm) in order to avoid a wait for a table. We were smart, as the dining room was almost completely full by 7:30.  I mentioned communal seating- and you have to know that up front before you go. The tables are large enough to listen in on a neighbor's conversation, but not so close that you feel like your space is being invaded. It's a loud and busy environment, but one that makes for really great people watching.

And listen to me...I haven't even gotten to the food yet! You should know by now that I eat mostly vegetarian, with a few exceptions here and there. Knowing that the menu would be adventurous, I had already resigned to the fact that I would need to get over my aversion to meat for the evening. The food is served family style, which makes eating with others even more fun. You get the opportunity to try a bunch of things as opposed to having to settle on just one main dish. The menu is laid out by categories of food: stir-fry, curry, wok noodles, grilled + get the idea. We tried to order one dish from  several different categories, and the result was a parade of delicious food.

Dishes are brought to the table as soon as they are ready, and it allowed us to try bites of a few dishes at a time. After awhile, the flavors all started to blend together, but each dish had a memorable component to separate it out from the others. Like the crispy farm egg from the Son in Law dish, or the tomato vinegar from the Po-Pea Jay spring roll appetizer. We also ordered a side of Miso Sweet Potato Mash that was nearly my favorite dish. It was almost like dessert with how rich and decadent it tasted, but it was also the perfect way to cool off your mouth after one of the more fiery dishes.

The service was flawless- informative without being pushy, and attentive enough without being annoying. Multiple people brought dishes out to us throughout the evening, and all of them made sure we had everything that we needed. My one and only "disappointment" of the evening, if you can even call it that, was dessert. I was drawn to the banana split purely by all the crazy components in it. Things like Chocolate 5-spice caramel cashew ice cream, coconut milk jam and drunken cherries. And each bite was delicious, but it was almost just too much. When (not if) we go back, I will likely go for one of their house made ice creams or sorbets.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Lunch in a Box: Quinoa Sweet Cakes

I wrote a post yesterday about getting back into weekly meal planning. I stumbled across a few interesting recipes and am really pleased with the things I have made so far. Last night, I made a Sweet Potato and Kale Pesto pizza that was absolutely deliciously. I used a minimum amount of oil in the pesto, and the result was a fresh and tasty pizza that was not the least bit greasy. It was healthy, without TASTING healthy! It was a winner for sure.

I also made Sweet Quinoa Cakes and a Creamy Tahini Kale Salad for our lunches today and later this week. (You can find links to all of the recipes from yesterday's post). I've had multiple failed attempts at making veggie burgers, so I was a little skeptical of this recipe. But they turned out just fine, and actually taste really good. We often rely on frozen veggie burgers for quick lunches, but I like finding alternatives that are not made with soy. These have a little extra quinoa in them, so they pack a good punch in the fiber department.

Kale is one of the best foods you can eat. It's full of fiber, fights off yucky diseases, and even makes your skin and hair healthy. It puts the SUPER in superfood. It's also ridiculously inexpensive. At my HEB, a bundle costs 98 cents. It does cook down quite a bit, so I usually count on only getting 2 servings out of one bundle. The Kale Salad that I made was lacking some of the zing that I thought it would have, but it's still tasty. The recipe makes a ridiculous amount of dressing, and I only used about a third of it. Any more than that and the kale would have been soggy. I will definitely tweak the quantity, and also find a way to add a little more flavor to it. But I think it's worth making again.

I rounded out our lunches with some carrot sticks with hummus, and fresh grapes for "dessert". I also packed an apple for Hank, and a Cutie for me to have as an afternoon snack.

Sweet Quinoa Cakes:

The recipe calls for 1/2 cup each of quinoa and lentils. I upped the quinoa to 1 cup so that I could get more cakes out of the mix. I left the lentils alone because I'm not a huge fan. For seasoning, I used 1/2 T chipotle chili power (gave it a nice kick), and 1 tsp each of turmeric and garlic powder. But I love that the recipe is easy to tailor to your taste. Once I had all my components in the bowl, I ended up adding about 1/3 cup of cornmeal, just to make it stick together easier. I sprayed my baking sheet with a bit of olive oil, and ended up cooking them for closer to 30 minutes so that they would be a little crispy on each side. I was able to get a total of 12 cakes out of the mix.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Weekly Meal Plan: 1/13

It's been awhile since I've put together a weekly meal plan. I saw some interesting recipes on the Zite app this morning, and it prompted me to put something together. We're leaving for vacation on Friday, so I wanted to eat "clean" for the week before heading to paradise- otherwise known as Nevis.
One of my goals this year is to work on developing my own recipes that can be used to make easy, healthy lunches. I love using fresh ingredients, and know that I can probably put a few good things together. But for now, I'm fine with piggy-backing off the hard work of others.

You'll notice that all of our meals are vegetarian (and vegan if I can make it happen). We rarely eat meat in our household. I am conscience about making sure that we have enough protein in our meals, and find that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures that you get all the nutrients and good stuff that your body needs. You'll also see a few "free" meals- planning 5 full lunches and dinners is a lot of work, and I think it's important to allow yourself a break here and there.

When making my plan, I usually pick 2-3 items that I can make ahead of time and then use throughout the week. I also like recipes that make for good leftovers. When you're only cooking for two, it's easy to make sure there's enough left for lunch the next day.

A sampling of some of the items I made today to last us for the week.

A picture of our pizza ready to go into the oven- until we
realized the igniter needed to be replaced. Bummer.

Sunday dinner: Sweet Potato & Kale Pesto Pizza

Monday lunch: Quinoa Sweet Cakes and Creamy Tahini Kale salad on the side (with fresh fruit)

Monday dinner: Leftover 3 Bean Chili (from the freezer) with balsamic roasted brussels sprouts

Tuesday lunch: free lunch

Tuesday dinner: Butternut Squash Soup (my own recipe- see below) with Farro and Kale Salad

Wednesday lunch: Leftover soup and salad, with fresh fruit on the side

Wednesday dinner: Tofu with Peanut Ginger Sauce and broccoli, served over whole wheat noodles

Thursday lunch: Quinoa sweet cakes and kale (same as Monday)

Thursday dinner: free night (we'll likely get take-out as we'll be busy packing for the trip)

I spent about 4 hours in the kitchen on Sunday, making as much as I could so that I would only have to heat up dinner. The only thing I'll need to cook is the tofu dish on Thursday. We had the football games on, and Hank cleaned the house while I cooked in the kitchen. That arrangement works just fine for me! I really enjoy days when I have the time to do this.

Does anyone else plan out your meals for the week? I'd love to hear any tips and tricks you use for making it easier.

Butternut Squash Soup
(makes about 6 servings)

1/2 white onion, chopped
1 carton organic butternut squash (already peeled and chopped from Costco, $4)
1 T chopped thyme
1 tsp red curry paste (use more or less depending on how much heat you like)
1 container low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup low-fat coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions in a tiny bit of oil until soft. Add squash and thyme, and continue to cook and stir occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and then cover and reduce heat. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the soup. I like to make this at least one day ahead, as it gives the flavors a chance to come together.

Out and About: Galaxy Moviehouse & Eatery

I've been meaning to write about this new movie theatre that recently opened just a few minutes from our house off north 620. We first went about a month ago to see Lincoln, and again last night to see Jack Reacher (great movie, by the way). The Moviehouse & Eatery has both regular theaters, and the eat-in kind (duh). It's very similar to my beloved Alamo Drafthouse, but much nicer as the seats are plush leather and recline at the touch of a button. There is also plenty of leg room, and nice little tables that rotate in front of each chair. Unlike the similarly designed iPic Theaters, with comparable seats priced at $29, the tickets at The Moviehouse are only $12. Food and drink pricing is also fairly reasonable, with most entrees maxing out at $12.

About one minute into our first visit, we vowed to never watch a movie anywhere else. It was just too comfortable, the service too nice, and the overall experience so pleasant. Combining dinner and a movie into one experience is one of our favorite date nights. However, we had been wanting to see Silver Linings Playbook (a fantastic movie!), and it was only showing at select theaters. So off to the regular place we went, and we could not have been more disappointed. Crowded, chatty, and too warm inside- we vowed again to never see another movie outside of Moviehouse. The second we reclined into our seats last night, I knew that this time, we would stick to that vow.

Three movies in as many months is a record for us- we just don't go to the movies that often. But I absolutely loved Silver Linings Playbook, and was pleasantly surprised by Jack Reacher. I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan, but he toned it down and really put out a great action film. I would be remiss to not give serious kudos to Bradley Cooper though, and believe his Best Actor Oscar Nomination is well deserved. We all know he's brilliant to look at, and still is even though his character was all kinds-of crazy. His acting was incredible the entire movie was just awesome. Quirky, lovable and awesome.

Any great movies that you have seen recently that we should add to our list?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

December Holidays 2012

So much happened towards the end of the year, and all of it was fun. Rather than giving a drawn out recap of everything I did, I'll just share some of my favorite pictures.

Trail of Lights returned from a 2 year hiatus. We met my sister and her husband and took turns pulling my niece around the trail. It was cold, and it was awesome!

Joint brother/sister birthday celebration at Matt's El Rancho, followed by cookie decorating the next morning. It was Hank's first year to join and I have to say I'm impressed by his efforts.

Georgia was so excited to get her face painted. 
Blake turned 30 this year, and I'm creeping closer and closer to 40.
Wearing my awesome new scarf from brother and sis-in-law.

An assortment of cookies.

A friend got us "Ninjabread" cookie cutters- and they ended up being my favorite!

Christmas rolled around, and we celebrated with my family in Austin before packing up the car and heading to Oklahoma for a few days with Hank's family.
Christmas Eve service with my parents at Riverbend Church
Georgia rounding the corner at my parent's house on Christmas morning. She was only grumpy until she saw her first big gift.....

A Barbie Cruise Ship!!! Complete with a swimming pool with dolphin fountain. She loved it!

It's tradition for me to make my brother's birthday cake for Christmas night- this year I made an oil derrick cake in honor of a recent job transition.

Katie realized something was up, and was not too happy that we left her alone for 4 days. 

Sleepy pups on the drive up to OKC.
We woke up on Thursday morning to snow. It was beautiful.

Marley was like a new dog playing around in the snow.

A few generations of Holland boys, engrossed in a chick flick.

Engagement night at Stellas.

 We finished off the year by celebrating with a few friends on New Year's Eve, and are now looking forward to a relaxing beach vacation in just a few weeks. Happy 2013!