Friday, January 17, 2014

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NYC bound

NYC January trip - daytime

NYC January - Nighttime

I've had a busy week this week, with my partner in crime returning from a three-week jaunt to Thailand, a new roommate moving in, and work, work, and more work.  But it's all worth it in just a few hours when I get to duck off early and head to the airport!  I read an article about a study once that found we get just as much pleasure from dreaming about & planning a trip as much as the actual vacation itself.  I know that's true for me!  I start to feel claustrophobic whenever I don't have an airline ticket booked and waiting in my email.

I've been to New York quite a few times now, but not since I've been of legal drinking age.  I now have several friends who live in the city, so I'm excited to have them show me around their favorite local spots and of course, catch up with them.  I'm looking forward to good food, fun bars, and hopefully (fingers crossed) not too cold weather!  It has been 80 degrees in Southern California this week (no joke), which is surprisingly not that strange for January, and it might be a shock to my system if the weather man is correct about snow flurries tomorrow.

I didn't even attempt to pack light this trip.  While I admire those can run off with a backpack for a few weeks (which I did do in Africa), I wanted options for this visit!  Check out my packing boards above for my guess of what's appropriate to wear in real winter.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

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Flank steak + brussels sprouts stir fry

When I turned 24 a few months ago, I thought of some things I wanted to do in the next year before I turned 25, a sort of birthday resolution list.  One of my goals was to cook new recipes: while I've loved to cook for the past few years, I can get stuck on making the same things over and over.  I was frustrated with grocery shopping, wasting food, and feeling uninspired.  I decided an overhaul was in order; I started focusing on meal planning and purchased a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine in hopes of becoming excited about cooking again.  Since then, I've tried a handful of new recipes, and most have been really tasty.

With the new year comes a renewed desire to seek out new recipes and continue cooking more.  A visit to Powell's bookstore, in Portland, and several new cookbooks, got me motivated in the same way buying new gym shoes does.  My goal is to try one new recipe every week, and I'm going to attempt to document some of my favorites here.  

This recipe helped me utilize my new wok.  I'm a big fan of cooking Asian cuisine, partly because of the time I spent in Southeast Asia last year, and partly because it's quick.  I'm generally more confident with the stovetop than the oven (roasting is super intimidating!), so this was pretty simple, but still different than my standard of chicken fried rice.  I'm all about these one bowl meals!

Brussels Sprouts and Steak Stir Fry (very creative name, Bon Appetit!)
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, halved to 2 servings and added a few other things ;)

1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
4 tablespoons oil (I used grapeseed, use any oil with a high smoke point, aka not olive oil)
1/2 pound brussels sprouts
4 ounces flank steak or skirt steak, sliced against the grain
2 green onions/scallions, white part chopped, green sliced
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon chopped peeled ginger 
1/4 pound carrots, chopped
1/4 pound mushrooms, chopped
1 jalapeƱo chili, sliced into rings
Kosher salt
Any other seasoning for your steak (I used this sesame teriyaki seasoning)
Rice for serving (I used brown, and served everything mixed together in a bowl)

1.  Whisk oyster sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl; set sauce aside
2.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brussels sprouts & mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Cover and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; wipe out skillet
3.  Season steak with salt & any other seasoning. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add steak in a single layer; cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until nearly cooked through, about 30 seconds. Add to brussels sprouts
4.  Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet. Add scallion whites, garlic, and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute, adjusting heat as needed. Add carrots and chile and cook, tossing occasionally, until carrots are slightly softened, about 2 minutes
5.  Return brussels sprouts and steak to skillet and add reserved sauce. Cook, tossing occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes. Serve with steamed rice and garnish with scallion greens

PS:  side note that I wondered while making this... why are redheads called gingers? Ginger is beige.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

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New year, new apartment, with some help from feng shui

Fresh flowers & new photo books that Santa brought me

^^ not really related but I love my cat 

I love this corner of my desk... yes whiskey helps me get my work done ;)

With the start of the new year came a desire to revamp my apartment a little bit.  I've now lived here for a year, which is the longest I've lived anywhere besides my childhood home!  When I first moved in, I didn't have a job, and my roommate was very frugal, so we relied on hand-me-downs from her parents and random Craigslist purchases for our furniture.  While certainly thrifty, this was also a little painful for me--I place very high value on the aesthetics of where I live since a clean, stylish home makes me happy to spend time there.  I know I'm only 24 and I don't need to worry about having a perfectly decorated home, but I struggle with having all ugly furniture!

Since I plan on staying in Santa Barbara for the time being, I decided a little bit of effort and money would be well worth the investment on making it a happier place for me to be.  While trying to save on the upgrades, however, I decided to look into other improvements without purchasing a whole new set of furniture.  I spent hours pouring over resources on the internet on feng shui, a Chinese school of thought that seeks to harmonize the relationship between humans and their environment.  The information was at times contradicting; many of the tips were randomly stated without reason.  Some seemed entirely hokey (how do certain crystals help your love life?).  I finally gave up and bought a book on the subject instead.  The recommendations come with explanations, each theory is clear and easy to follow, and the author dispels certain myths and silly superstitions that can turn off beginners.  After implementing a few (cheap) changes, I'm feeling much more excited about spending time at home. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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City by the bay

San Francisco is the loveliest city in the world when the sun is shining.  It's up for debate who said it, but one of the most famous quotes about the city is, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."  While it never gets that cold, it never gets that hot either... so one those random days in September when the sun comes out to play, everyone else does too.  

My friends and I packed up the essentials for an afternoon in Golden Gate Park: watermelon beer, bocce balls, some laidback tunes, and tons of snacks (aka three different types of hummus and chips).  While San Francisco has never topped my list of favorite cities, I can't deny its pull when the sunshine, beer, and good friends are in abundance.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

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Taco trail

Santa Barbara is known for having really good, really authentic tacos.  The kind with no cheese on top, just onions and cilantro and very spicy salsa.  If you're used to Americanized Mexican food, they almost seem... bare.  The taquerias are hole in the wall, and they're always almost very cheap and have limited menus.  But the tacos are so, so amazing.

Many tourists who visit Santa Barbara (and there are a lot), hear about the tacos and go to the one famous spot, La Super Rica, which is well known because Julia Child proclaimed her favorite tacos were there.  While their tacos are very good (their homemade tortillas are to die for), there are dozens of other taquerias that are just as good, if not better, and with shorter lines.  One national travel writer proclaimed La Super Rica the best taqueria in the United States... until he went to the taqueria a few doors down, and then decided those were the best tacos.  Faced with so many choices, I did what any tacos lover would do: try them all.

I'm still working my way through my list (whenever I think I should be done, I find another with a stellar reputation that I just have to try), but I do have a few favorites.  My number one, which is perhaps the second most popular after Super Rica, is Lilly's Taqueria.  Their meat is perfectly seasoned, and for the more adventurous, they serve beef tongue and eyeballs.  Another standout is El Sitio, who has amazing adobado and serves a taco and rice and beans special for $5.  Ask any local, however, and they'll give you an earful on the best tacos in town... your stomach might give up before your taste buds do.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

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Sunday jams

Sundays are my favorite.  I know I'm supposed to like Saturday more, and yes, of course, Fridays are always awesome, but Sunday is my number one.  There's something more relaxing and laidback about my Sundays... maybe it's because they're isn't any pressure to go out that night, or maybe because I usually do most of my errands on Saturdays.  Sundays are almost always just about doing whatever I feel like.

I mean, how can you not love Sunday when it's filled with activities like:

+ going out to brunch, whether it's the hole in the wall with the best bagels or a bottomless mimosa affair

+ playing bocce ball in the park

+ deliberately watching the sunrise or sunset

+ wine and cheese picnics

+ long mornings (or afternoons) in a coffee shop 

+ naps

+ riding your bike

+ buying fresh flowers 

+ wine tasting

+ lazy grocery store experiences (okay random I know, but when you aren't rushed and can browse slowly and there aren't a million people there)

+ a beer at noon

+ the new exhibit at the art museum

+ listening to good tunes

+ spontaneous getaway with your lover

+ getting into a good book 

+ hiking

+ day drinking with friends

+ baking chocolate chip cookies

+ quality time with your cat 

+ matinee movies
I really could go on and on.  Sundays are the best.

Friday, January 3, 2014

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Starting fresh in 2014

from here
I'm so torn on New Year's resolutions.  On one hand, I think they can be kind of silly and fruitless.  You only have to go to the gym on January 2nd and then February 2nd to know what I'm talking about.  And to be honest, I don't even remember what my resolutions are by the end of the year, I just forget them.  But on the other hand, who I am to knock other people's aspirations for personal growth?  Introspection, self-awareness, and desire for improvement are qualities that make our world a better place.  Some people do stick to the resolutions, and are the better for it.  I'm all about that.

And of course there's something so appealing about a fresh slate.  Even though January 1st is just another day, it's exciting to look to the year ahead and visualize how you want it (and yourself) to pan out.  While I don't think this is year that I'll finally lose those 10 pounds I complain about, here's a few things I'd like to do more of in 2014.  Maybe writing them down somewhere will help me remember them, anyways.  :)

+ read more books instead of social media updates

+ improve my yoga practice (aka go more than once a week... twice would be a good start)

+ travel someplace new and exciting

+ go to burning man

+ develop my style of photography/ start taking more creative photos/ curate my own photo project of some sort (I'm currently inspired by this and this)

+ buy less things

Any else hoping 2014 will bring positive changes to their life?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

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Silver Falls

 you could walk along behind the falls... a little wet & cold in December though 

^^ we passed several Christmas tree farms on the drive out... i freaked out over the baby trees

Whenever I'm in Oregon I try to make a point to visit someplace new I haven't been before.  Sometimes it's a new restaurant, or a new brewery, or a new hike.  There's so much to explore in Portland and Oregon is so beautiful--as a Californian the green trees and lush forests make the dreary weather worth it (though I did miss the sunny skies when I lived there for 3 months).

This trip, my mom suggested Silver Falls, the largest state park, which is an easy day trip from Portland.  The park is home to 15 waterfalls (!), the largest of which, South Falls, you can walk behind.  Since it was December, it wasn't crowded at all... I am a big advocate of traveling during the off season for better prices and less crowds (case in point, I'm going to New York in January... eek!).  We didn't spend too much time hiking but we wandered around for a bit & I'd love to come back and go camping sometime.  Ah, the Pacific Northwest has my heart!  I mean, it's seriously so beautiful... the good beer doesn't hurt either. ;)

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