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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Save Money By Cooking In Your Hotel Room

It's no secret that I'm a big advocate of vacation rentals, because having a kitchen can totally help you stretch your budget. But what if you don't have a kitchen, because you can only get a hotel room? Well, if you have a microwave, coffee maker and mini-fridge, you can still make actual food. You just have to be a bit more creative.


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Obviously, you can survive on microwaveable meals, but they can be packed with fat and sodium, so with a little ingenuity, you can make easy, healthy, and (mostly) fresh meals with minimal appliances.

Breakfast

Oatmeal: Not only can you make packet oatmeal in the microwave with just water, but you can make regular oatmeal in the coffee maker as well. Do as you would on the stove top. 

Cereal: This is pretty much the easiest breakfast ever.

Peanut butter and jelly: A good pb&j sandwich can be really filling and you can switch it up by adding sliced bananas instead of jelly and/or honey. Delicious!

Omelette: If you like a good hearty breakfast, then you can use a zip top bag to make an omelette in your microwave. You can add all your veggies and other ingredients, pop it in the microwave and zap for 2 1/2 minutes. Use Ziploc Zip 'n Steam bags for this. If you can't find them, you can make an omelette in a mug:
  • whisk eggs plus salt & pepper in your mug
  • microwave for 1 minute
  • add toppings and stir a bit
  • microwave for 1-2 minutes (done when all your liquid is gone and eggs are fluffy)
  • eat out of the mug or serve on a plate
Soft-boiled eggs: Add your eggs to the coffee carafe, brew (without coffee, obvs) so hot water drips over your eggs. Let them sit for several minutes and then they're ready to eat!

Bacon: You can make bacon in your microwave, as long as you have a real plate and some paper towels. Hit up a local dollar store for a plate and towels (and bacon, if you're lucky). Lay out two paper towels, one on top of each other, on the plate, place your bacon on them without overlapping, cover with two more layers of paper towels and microwave for 5 minutes.

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Lunch

Grilled sandwiches: Whether you're looking to make a grilled cheese or something a bit more substantial, make sure to get some foil when you buy your ingredients at the store, put together your sandwich, butter both sides, wrap in foil, and then iron away with the iron that comes in your room. You can also do quesadillas this way. 

Macaroni and cheese: Use the microwave to cook your pasta, then drain and add your milk, butter and cheese packet. Of course, you could buy those little just-add-water cups, but they are twice as expensive and are only good for one person (if that).

If boxed mac and cheese sounds horrible to you, you can actually make your own from scratch as well. TheKitchn has this easy recipe that you can do in your microwave using your favorite shredded cheese and noodles.

Wrap sandwich: You can purchase pre-grilled chicken, then add hummus, lettuce and feta to a pita, or caesar salad dressing and parmesan for a salad wrap. You can heat up the chicken in your microwave if you want a warm wrap.

Salad: This is pretty easy and only requires a fridge. Buy all the ingredients and put it together when you're ready. You can make it even easier buy buying a bag of ready to eat salad that includes all the ingredients in the bag. Get some rotisserie chicken and add as topping.

Hot dogs: If you don't have a microwave, but you do have a coffee maker, you can have hot dogs, in about half an hour. Fill your carafe with 6-8 cups worth of water, add your frozen hot dogs to the carafe and turn the machine on. They will slowly cook in around 30 minutes.


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Dinner

Pasta: You can actually make pasta in your microwave, if you have a container large enough to cover it with water. Most pasta can be cooked in 8-10 minutes on high. Here's a handy website. I do this at home, too, because I'm not patient enough to wait for a whole pot of water to boil on the stove. You can heat up a jar of really flavorful sauce in the microwave as well, or you can heat it up in your coffee maker, so both are ready at the same time, but you may want to use the carafe to drain your noodles.

Rice: Use your coffee maker to cook rice as you would on  your stove top, then add something like Indian food pouches they sell at Trader Joe's and similar food sections in your typical grocery store. Purchase steam in the bag veggies to add. If you're into a vegetarian meal, mix in beans, a can of diced tomatoes, and some steamed corn. You can also do quinoa instead of rice. You'll add the rice to the carafe, put the amount of water for the amount of rice you're cooking in the top and hit brew. Then keep it warming until all your liquid is gone. If this freaks you out, there are those quick packs of microwaveable rice.

Baked potatoes: I love a good baked potato. You can bake them in the microwave with a bit of olive oil or butter. Prick them with a fork or knife, drizzle a little oil or slather some butter on the outside, cover with a paper towel and cook on high for around 8 minutes. Once done, you can top with anything you like. I enjoy baked sweet potatoes with chili, but also regular potatoes with ham and cheese, traditional toppings, or fajita toppings, which you can sometimes buy already cooked in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Mashed potatoes: Knorr and other brands make a just-add-water mashed potato pack that come in different flavors and are easily made in the microwave. If you want fresh mashed potatoes, cook your potatoes like baked above, but for a bit longer, then mash with a fork with milk, butter, and salt & pepper.

Shrimp: Use a high quality zip top bag to cook your thawed (peeled) shrimp in the microwave. Add them to the bag with a bit of water or sauce and then cook for 3-5 minutes and use them over rice, pasta, or make your own easy shrimp tacos.

With a bit of smarts and a trip to the store, you can totally make a complete meal in your room for any time of the day. Don't forget about bringing back leftovers and repurposing them as new meals too, like meat and veggies that you can throw on top of potatoes or rice. 

If you bring some of your favorite spices from home (you can use empty Tic Tac containers), your meals will be even more flavorful. Just don't forget to get out and actually eat at some restaurants for a taste of your destination too. 

What's the best thing you've ever made in your hotel room?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Breezing Through Airport Security

I love the airport, even during the holidays. I’m a weirdo, but I like shopping/browsing and trying the different places to eat. I love the fact that I’m going to go somewhere. I like to people watch and I enjoy checking out the airport art and other cool things they have that other airports don’t. I’ll pay $3 to park so I can wander around. Sometimes I find awesome stuff there, plus Portland International is America’s Favorite Airport four years running. How can I resist that?

security travel tips

Anyway, if you want to make sure that you actually make it onto your flight to go somewhere fun (or at least to visit friends and family), then you’re going to want to be prepared for what TSA has in store for you.

Get to the airport early

This is a must! Security lines are longer than ever during the holidays, even on the slowest days. Just plan to wait in line twice as long as you usually do. You never know what’s going to happen and traffic sucks from November 1-January 2. Allow yourself time for all the inevitables and surprises and plan to get to the airport at two hours before your flight if you’re traveling domestic, and at least three hours if you’re traveling international. Bring a book, a battery back-up for your phone or tablet and a game. This way you’ll have something to amuse yourself in line and at the gate if you get there with plenty of time before you flight. Remember: flights generally board 30 minutes before take-off, so you’ll want to get there before that window opens.

Wear easy-on, easy-off shoes

Do you want to spend 20 minutes untying your hiking books to take off and put in the security bin? Probably not. Also, the people behind you do not want to wait for you either. Make sure you wear shoes that can easily be taken off and put back on, so you can make security procedures that much less painful for you and everyone else involved.

Do not wrap your gifts 

TSA is all about seeing everything in your bag. Even if you only have one gift in your bag, don’t wrap it. You will have spent all that time and energy making it look pretty and then getting it into your bag, only to have an agent rip your paper to shreds to find out what you packed. Bring small gifts that can be packed without boxes and wrapping paper. By all means, bring those staples with you to wrap at your destination if you have room in your bag.

Have your photo ID and boarding pass in-hand 

You can’t even get to the security conveyor belts and scanners if you don’t make it past the TSA agent in the line. Make sure to be prepared and keep the line moving, by having your photo ID (or passport) and boarding pass at the ready. Nobody wants to wait for you to dig around in your bag to find it and you will just make enemies of those people in line behind you. Even better, download the airline app and use the e-ticket to check in and get through security. You can use your phone to show the passes of everyone in your travel group, as long as they have their identification out.

Have your 3-1-1 bag out 

Don’t wait until you get to the airport to start rummaging around in your toiletry bag and finding all your liquids and gels. Buy a TSA-approved 3-1-1 bag online or at the store or pick up a box of 1-liter zip-top bags and fill it up before you leave home. It will make you less stressed and you’ll know that everything fits in there.

Make sure your laptop is easily accessible 

If you’re bringing a laptop, netbook or iPad, make sure you can quickly access it and slide it in and out of your carry-on. It will make the security line that much faster when you have to dump all your individual things into a bin: shoes, jacket, purse, pocket contents, laptop, 3-1-1 bag. The quicker these things can be put into a bin, the faster you can push them towards the X-Ray machine and make room for other travelers’ items and bins on the counter. (Another way to make this easier is to get a checkpoint-friendly bag, like this Travelon one.)

Don’t stuff your bag

Before I got Pre-Check (see below), I was always singled out for “random” bag checks and extra security. I don’t really care. I have nothing to hide and I don’t get embarrassed by my underwear being handled by strangers in front of a bunch of other strangers, but a lot of people do. Also, if you have Tetris-ed your bag so well that everything inside only fits in one way, it’s going to suck when you have to shove it all back in there (or are mortified when the agent tries unsuccessfully to do it) and it doesn’t fit again and you can’t zip it and half your stuff is hanging out on your way to your gate where you can try to get it all back in some order like before. Note: it never works. You’re going to end up shoving a pair of pants in your purse because they somehow no longer fit.

Go left

Most people head to the right after their ID or passport has been checked. Go left instead (if you have the choice) and you’ll likely get through the line faster. Another tip for choosing the best line is to look for one that has the fewest children. Nothing against them, but they are slow and their parents are basically trying to do the job of a cat wrangler while also doing all the security procedures. Don’t blame them. Parenting is hard. But that doesn’t mean you have to get stuck in the slow line behind them.

Get Pre-Check (or Global Entry)

If you travel a couple times a year, then this is a great investment. For $85, you can leave your shoes on and everything in your bag and just breeze past those other suckers waiting in line at security for 40 minutes. It’s like FastPASS for your travels. Read more on my post here.

Stop rushing the gate

You’re checked in, you have a seat. Nobody’s going to take that away from you. Unless you have a small child and you need extra time to get settled in, just chill out. While everyone else is freaking out and crowding the poor gate agent to get on the plane, you can skip the stress and just hang back until the crowd thins out. It might even help you get in the good graces of the crew to help you with this next tip:

Board last

This is one way to get a free upgrade, because when you’re the last passenger on the plane, you have a choice of any available seat, maybe even a first class seat if you’re really lucky. It helps if you only have a small carry-on with you that can fit under the seat. I’ll tell you why: there will likely be no overhead bin space left and having to wait longer for you to either find a place to put your bag or check it to go under the plane will not win you any friends and everyone will blame you when the plane leaves late.

Hopefully, these tips will allow you to get through security with minimal stress and get you on your trip faster.

What are your favorite security tips?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Budget-Friendly Travel for Families

Traveling is about adventure and independence. We are great at coming up with excuses why we can’t take time to explore new lands. When you start making travel a priority, you discover ways around the excuses. Many people think once they start a family, their wild days of globetrotting are over. This doesn’t have to be you. You can have a family and travel, too.

Travel Tips for Families

Don’t be daunted by the thought of family travel. It doesn’t have to be hard. Here are some tips for family travel on a budget.
  • Shop for flights. Do your research on airfares. Plane tickets can be the biggest expense of travel. This is especially true for trips abroad. Find ways to reduce costs. Many secondary booking agencies work directly with airlines and extend deals to customers. Search their websites for the Cheapest Flights available. Be flexible with your destination spots. When shopping for tickets, split your family up into groups if possible. It is easier to find two sets of two seats than it is to find four seats all together.
  • Rent an apartment. If you are staying in one area for an extended period of time, consider renting an apartment instead of a hotel room. Airbnb offers great ways to get in touch with locals. By renting a home, you get the benefits of a kitchen that allows you to cut costs more. Longer stays also give you the opportunity to negotiate prices. Avoid traveling during peak seasons and book accommodations in advance.
  • Be a tourist for cheap. Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean you have to pay for all of the expensive tours. There is a misconception that you have to spend a lot of money to experience a new place. Most places have lots of free things to do. Some museums offer free admissions. You can do a walking tour. Where rates for monuments and museums are higher, purchase a city or museum pass. Take public transportation. Many activities give kids free or discounted admission. Talk to your host and learn what the locals like to do. Sometimes the touristy spots aren’t the best attractions anyway.
  • Do what the locals do. In every city, you have families living their full time on a budget. Go to local shops, markets, beaches, and parks. Although living like the locals when traveling is not the most traditional way to vacation, you might find you get a more culturally immersive experience. Having a picnic in the park allows you to shop at local and outdoor markets, and your kids have the opportunity to run off some energy with the local children.
  • Be flexible. When traveling, be flexible. Rigid schedules are harder to work around and you will usually pay higher prices for specific dates and times. Be ready to roll with the punches. Life happens. Enjoy the crazy nuances. It is part of the adventure. Figure out hacks that work best for your family. A tight connecting flight might work fine for you while others would find it not worth the savings.

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Benefits of Traveling Light

Lighten your load as much as possible. Traveling with your family means more bags already. If everyone chooses a sensible flexible wardrobe, you can reduce your luggage. When you have few and smaller bags, you are more likely to be able to check them on flights. This means less lost luggage fiascoes.

Practice working with a capsule wardrobe at home. You will be surprised the different outfits you can come up with using just a couple of care pieces. Choose neutral colors for your base. You want every piece to have the ability to mix and match. Reduce your toiletries to the bare necessities. If you wear makeup, learn ways to feel pretty with fewer products.

Depend on your destinations to entertain you. Don’t bring a bunch of stuff you will never use. Invest in a kindle and have all the books you could ever desire on one device. Download audiobooks to your phone. Make a small bag of travel-friendly entertainment for the kids. They can bring it on the plane as a personal item.

Traveling with your family is more possible than you may think. Practice some budget-friendly methods like shopping for cheaper airfare, avoid peak seasons, and living like the locals. Take some of the stress out of travel by learning to pack less. You would be surprised at how flexible a small wardrobe can be.

With some creativity, you can make budget travel work, even for a large family. What are your favorite ways to save?

Friday, November 10, 2017

The 2017 Swagbucks Holiday Sale!


Swagbucks is offering double cash back at dozens of different stores (like Macy's and Target) during their 2017 Holiday Sale. Just go to this page to see all of the deals available and get the jump on your holiday shopping.


In order to take advantage of the cash back, just create your Swagbucks account when prompted (it takes less than 30 seconds) and then you're all set! Your cash back comes in the form of SB points, which you can redeem for gift cards to places like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Starbucks, or get PayPal cash!

As a special bonus, if you sign up through me you get a 300 SB ($3) bonus when you earn your first 300 SB before December 1st! This site's a great way to extend your shopping budget, especially around the holidays!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Get More Gift Cards to Help You Travel For Less with November Swago Spin & Win


The digital rewards site Swagbucks is celebrating Thanksgiving early with another big "Swago" promotion starting Monday, November 6th at 9am PT and running until Monday, November 13th! Swago is just like bingo, but in this case you're filling out squares as you earn points on their site for doing things you already do online. If you're thinking of trying Swagbucks, this is a great chance to learn all about how the site works and earn bonus points while doing it, meaning you can get more gift cards faster. Here are a few tips: 


  • Each square on your Swago Board will contain an action item to complete. They can be anything from getting a search win, completing a survey, or just visiting one of our popular stores! 
     
  • Once you complete the action item in a particular square the square will change color signifying the action item is complete. 
     
  • You have until 12pm PT/3pm ET on Monday, November 13th to mark off as many squares as possible so use your time wisely. 
     
  • Be mindful of the patterns and their corresponding bonuses located on the right of your Swago Board. The patterns will vary in difficulty and bonus value. Once you’ve achieved a pattern, the corresponding “Submit” button will light up. You can have multiple patterns available for submission, however, you can only submit ONE pattern so choose wisely. 

  • Each activity you successfully complete on your Swago Board will give you anywhere from 1-20 spins on the Spin & Win Wheel. PLUS, when you submit your board for a bonus you'll get additional spins. The number of spins will depend on the pattern you complete. The wheel has all sorts of great prizes that you can win, and each spin is a winner!

The Spin & Win Wheel will be available all throughout Swago and you have until 11:59pm PT on Monday, November 16th to use all your spins. 

Fill up your board and then submit your pattern to get even more points - if you can fill in the whole board, you get a 500 SB bonus, which is enough for a $5 gift card from the retailer of your choice.  

Click here right now and click "Join" to get started! If you don't already have a Swagbucks account, you'll be able to quickly sign up; PLUS, if you earn 300 SB before the first of next month, you'll get a bonus 300 SB!

Introducing FaceCradle Lite

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to take home a new, innovative travel pillow called FaceCradle. Not only is it perfect for the ever-diminishing airplane space, but it's great for tall people, and for using on trains and in cars as well. It has a bunch of different ways to use it, but it can be a bit heavy to carry around, even with the shoulder strap.


Now, FaceCradle comes in a Lite version, and tomorrow's the last day of the already fully-funded Kickstarter campaign. Want to get one of your own? Now you can for $29. It's 35% smaller than the original, which means it's a fantastic gift for the frequent traveler, kids, and ladies like me. You don't have to find room in your bag for it either, because it has a handy-dandy shoulder strap that you can wear like a crossbody bag and keep your hands free. 


I'll be doing a full review of the new version of FaceCradle next week, but you can rest easy knowing it's as useful and comfortable as the original, just less bulky. Being able to sleep, and sleep well, on a flight can make all the difference in how you feel upon arrival. Being well rested and not all achy when you get to your destination can help you feel like you've gotten off to the right start and give your vacation the kick off it deserves.



If you're a business traveler who flies frequently, you need to be refreshed and ready to go as soon as your plane lands, so make sure you get the sleep you need in the time you have. If you've been looking for a new travel pillow, this adjustable one will not let you down, because it works for everyone and any sort of sleeper. Head over to the Kickstarter page to become a backer now and get yours before everyone else.

Keep your eyes peeled for my review next week!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

How To Entertain Yourself At the Aiport

I see you all rolling your eyes. You probably hate how much I adore airports. I download GateGuru and print out the map and highlight the places to check out when I have a layover, whether it's an hour or four. Two hours is ideal in my eyes. Does it bug you that I look forward to hours at the airport? It doesn't have to be a place of misery. Maybe my excitement can rub off on you...

SFO has a yoga room!
Why do I enjoy the airport so much? It could be that I live where the best airport is (Travel + Leisure has awarded it four years running), but I like most other city's airports, too. I'll tell you why: I view being at the airport as part of my trip. It's like a mall that also has a portal to another destination! (Yeah, I actually hate the mall, but it's the best comparison.) Once you start thinking this way, you might feel differently in the future too, not be one of those annoyed harried people who look at the route monitors with a permanent scowl. Listen, you'll eventually get to where you want to be, so chill out and enjoy yourself. Get  a snack or a beer, buy a new magazine and go check out what the airport has to offer.

Art collection

All airports now have some sort of art collection. Some even have their own galleries for those travelers who have quite a bit of time to kill. I always like to see the different things on display at different airports. Take some time to wander your terminal to check out the exhibits available. One of my favorites is the History of Flight "museum" in McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. They have a main exhibit and smaller exhibits throughout. 

Play area


Travel with kids can be trying and, after having to sit for hours without getting to flail or even stand up, jumping around and annoying people near the baggage carousel is not a fantastic way to burn off energy (or make friends). Head to the nearest play area, which almost all airports have, and let them climb and run and yell and whatever else so they can be ready to fly or for the next leg of your journey. Bonus is that they are usually airplane themed and lots of kids love pretending to be a pilot. 

Workout rooms

These may be few and far between, but if you're lucky enough to go through an airport with some, pack some shorts and a tee in your carry-on to do some running or strength training. Getting some exercise is a great way to stay alert and get moving after a long flight of being folded into a tiny space. If you normally get a workout in during the day, then you're not missing out by sitting on the plane.

Movies

You're probably bringing your laptop, so why not toss a couple DVDs in your bag to watch if you have 90+ minutes to spare on your layover. If you're lucky, you might be in one of those fancy schmancy airports that have an actual theater for travelers and you can see a new movie on a big screen.

Spa

Treat yourself to a massage, pedicure of something else a little luxurious. I've been lucky enough to get a manicure at the Butter London location in Seattle, but we've also hit up the Xpress Spas on trips as well. They do their best to make your treatments short and sweet, so if you have a tighter connection, you can still catch your flight.

Specialty souvenir shops

Bring home gifts to commemorate your trip for yourself or others. If you're just passing through, this is also a great way to sample some of the local flavor, whether it's candy or beer or whatever else. Fair warning, when you go through Portland (PDX) and think Oregon Rain sounds like a fantastic water choice, just don't.

Go sightseeing

If you have a fairly long layover, don't think you can't get out and enjoy your stopover city a bit. We had 8 hours in Vancouver, BC (YVR), rented a car and made a fun day out of it. Recently, we flew through Salt Lake (SLC) and they had a brochure about taking a two-hour tour into their historical center. They have an airport shuttle to drop you off and bring you back and they get tourists into town and a little extra money in their economy. That was pretty genius to me. 

Buy something you forgot 

Or entertainment. My favorite new shops are the 24-hour kiosks in airports. You can buy everything from travel-sized makeup to fancy noise-canceling headphones to an ebook reader. You pay full price, but if you forget that sunscreen you love from Supergoop! or the best ever Benefit foundation, you can get them at whatever time you're stuck at the airport.

What do you like to do to pass the time at airports?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Be a Savvy Traveler

While it's fun to travel the world, it can be less fun if you don't know how to do it properly. There are some customs that are very important to obey when you visit certain destinations. Nobody wants to offend another culture, even accidentally. I like to make sure I read up on the places I'm traveling to, but this infographic gives you a quick overview of some of the most offending acts.

Have you ever made a great faux pas in another country? 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween 2017

My Halloween party isn't kicking off until Saturday, so I don't actually have any pictures to share yet, but I promise to do a post a bit later. Instead, I'd like to round up all my Halloween daily posts from the month.


Day 31: What's scarier than a bad vacation? Unused vacation days! 
Day 30: I may like to poke around, supposedly, haunted venues, but I wouldn't be able to handle staying in a haunted hotel. If you can, here are 10 of the scariest.
Day 29: There are creepy places, and then there are CREEPY places, though I've been to the Museum of Death and disagree with its creep factor. Maybe I'm the weirdo though.
Day 28: If you want some amazing jack o'lantern inspiration for next year, Kevin Hearne has the most epic on his Twitter feed.
Day 27: Ever wanted to visit the filming locations of your favorite horror films? Now you can! If you can find them.
Day 26: Abandoned buildings and spaces are scary, yes, but they can also be beautiful. Check out these photos from France.
Day 25: Is there anything scarier than being lost in the woods? This haunted experience takes advantage of those fears.
Day 24: Folklore and ghost stories can be fun. Even more fun is going in search of those scary monsters.
Day 23: What's worse than a dead or dying phone? A public outlet stealing all your info when you plug in!
Day 22: Sometimes, traveling people are just "plane" strange. What's the weirdest thing YOU'VE ever seen on a flight? Airline employees weigh in.
Day 21: Would you travel to talk to a bunch of like-minded people about death? There's a whole death positivity movement happening.


Day 20: Oh no! Did you forget your pool floatie or leave it behind on vacation? Now it won't go to waste.
Day 19: What's scarier than travel getting more expensive? What if you had to pay to drop someone at the airport?!
Day 18: Does being lost in the middle of nowhere sound like a good time to you? This company thinks so, and you'll pay them for it.
Day 17: Are you looking to make some friends with some ghosts? Here are 12 of the best haunted houses in the US.
Day 16: Can you imagine checking into a hotel and being asked to check out of the country?
Day 15: Sure, hurricanes and such are scary, but what about an erupting volcano? 
Day 14: It’s surprising that short, slippery, sandy, and uphill runways are even legal. These 9 airports may make you rethink travel.
Day 13: Want to skip the regular hotel room and opt for something bizarre instead? Here are 9 wacky lodgings to choose from!
Day 12: Abracadabra! You just saved money!
Day 11: Can't get away in October? Head to the most haunted place in your state to get some spooky fun.


Day 10: Are you ready to get your hocus pocus on? Here are 10 places to do it. 
Day 9: 11 rickety old roller coasters that will terrify you.
Day 8: There's a giant asteroid coming! Here's how to see it. (Sorry if you missed it!)
Day 7: Hate clowns? Well, here are 10 places haunted by those nightmare-inducing beings.
Day 6: Travel during Halloween time is one of my favorites. Here are 13 places you can go for a spooky time.


Day 5: Swimming with sharks sounds terrifying to ME. If you're into it, here's what it's like to swim with whale sharks.
Day 4: One of these 5 things you should never do on a cruise can actually get you stranded. Whoa!
Day 3: How nightmarish is it to get stuck at the airport due to an airline system failure?
Day 2: Welp. Now it's Southwest's turn to make travelers angry.
Day 1: If you're looking for a quick last-minute trip to plan, here are the best places to go this month.

I hope you all are enjoying your Halloween celebrations. I dressed up as Wayne (Time! Excellent!) at work and will be dressing up for our annual party on Saturday. What are you dressing up as?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

My Portland Coffee Tour - Part 8

Okay, so this month has been incredibly busy and lacking in the coffee exploration in Portland, so I bring you one, then I want to talk to you about an amazing coffee shop we found in San Diego and that crazy Zombie Frappuccino from Starbucks. 


I hope to get back into my coffee crawl next month, when things have settled a bit and I am not working quite so much, but if I have to take a break, I will, in order to bring you more quality posts even if they are further apart.

Barista

I've been told by a few people that Barista is a shop I needed to get to. They have a few different locations, including the one at Pine Street Market, but I saw it on the way to brunch with my mom, so we stopped in on our way back to the car for me to grab something real quick. The inside was small with only bar seating, but it's warm and inviting with wood and a giant window overlooking the street. 


I'm not usually one for a mocha, as they're usually too gritty, but I saw something called the Valrhona Mocha, and asked about it. Turns out, it's a type of dark chocolate that's 61% cocoa that is infused into the espresso and it was amazing. It was $5 for an 8oz, but it was like drinking a luxury dark chocolate bar with espresso inside it. It had a rich flavor that I could definitely get used to in my coffee. 


There aren't a lot of food options. You're basically either going to get a pastry or a baked item. I opted for a blueberry cornflour cookie ($2), because it was incredibly different sounding. It was much like a sugar cookie, but with whole blueberries in it that I really enjoyed. I'd definitely be into trying to make something similar at home, maybe with added chocolate chips, for the holidays. I could see how cranberries would also work with the sweetness. Overall, I wouldn't go back to Barista for food, because it's lacking, but I would absolutely go back for the coffee.

Cafe Bassam

Only a block away from our timeshare building in San Diego was this coffee shop, that looked totally normal and modern on the outside with floor to ceiling windows and a fenced in outdoor eating area. I didn't even care what they had when I looked them up and Google described the shop as a funky coffee house with antique furniture and rifles on the wall. I mean, what? You gotta go just to experience that weirdness, right?


So, we rolled in one morning for breakfast and ordered an iced Vietnamese coffee (yum!) and a white chocolate mocha. On top of that, I ordered a bagel, which is clearly the best presentation for a bagel I've ever gotten anywhere. So pretty. Eric ordered eggs and toast, which was a similar presentation, with toast, marmalade, steamed(!) eggs and a pile of fruit. He inhaled it. 


While we waited for our food and drinks to appear, I took a moment to look around and snap a hundred pictures, because what even is this place? My theory was that it was a antique store that was foreclosed on that just happened to have enough space for a coffee, so they just kept it all to be wacky, so I asked.


The owner (Bassam) is from Palestine and an art and antique collector. He created this coffee shop be a place people could gather and have the feel of a European cafe. They are open early and open late, so you can enjoy coffee (or wine or beer or a cigar) any time of the day. The vibe is eclectic, the employees are friendly, and everything we had was fantastic. If I lived in San Diego, this is the place I would drag people who claimed they'd never heard of it.

The Zombie Frappuccino from Starbucks

Starbucks has been creating new drinks more and more frequently and have been serving up these limited edition beverages lately. It started with crazy popular (and, apparently, violently sweet) unicorn frap. I wasn't willing to try that one, or fight people to get to the counter, but the zombie frap looked very much doable, even though there were mixed reviews. I admit, I kind of wanted it just for the whipped cream "brains". 

It has not been nearly as popular as the unicorn and with good reason. It is supposed to taste like caramel apples, but I didn't get any distinct taste from it at all. It was refreshing, yes, but there was no caramel or apple in my cup. But I've spent $5 on worse things, so I wasn't that disappointed, even though I was expecting Laffy Taffy flavor explosion. If you want to try it out for yourself, it's only available until Oct 31.

Do you have a favorite coffee house or an opinion on the Zombie Frap? 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

San Diego Eats In Pictures

While in San Diego, we were in search of some really good food. I employed my timeshare concierge as well as my Uber and Lyft drivers to help us find it. We did a pretty decent job of it, too.


Here are some of the best foods we had while we were in between sightseeing:

Shrimp and krab enchiladas with spicy crema sauce

I had seen a restaurant really close to our home base and decided to try it based on the name. Jimmy Carter's Mexican Cafe? How could one resist. It has absolutely nothing to do with the president, and everything to do with yummy Mexican food. Our concierge recommended their cucumber margarita and, since we were literally across the street, I decided to go for it. The wait staff were super friendly and we weren't starving, so we split a plate of enchiladas and all that stuff on the plate, and a bowl of chips with two dips. 

Number one: if you're looking for a refreshing drink, this margarita is your best friend. It's delicious. Number two: Even if you aren't that hungry, you'll wish you had these enchiladas all for yourself. It's probably the best enchiladas I've ever eaten. Like eat them every day good.
  

Pan-fried catfish 

I, honestly, can't pass up a good catfish, even with fried chicken on the menu! I know this plate doesn't look that appetizing, but we were in a diner (Crest Cafe) and really wasn't expecting too much beyond burgers. The presentation wasn't perfect, but the fish was awesome, as were the scalloped potatoes and veggies. Then, the star of the show: 
  

Chocolate croissant breadpudding

The dish this came in was huge, and I totally thought it was someone's dinner when I saw it in the food window. This bread pudding was outstanding, and we even went to a dessert place that people raved about that wasn't as good, and cost twice as much. If you like bread pudding, this is a must-visit...but make sure to try the food as well. Crest Cafe was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which I didn't know until we were leaving. 

Cappuccino cake

Have you ever been to a sit-down restaurant at a zoo? I haven't, but San Diego Zoo is pretty fancy, so it's not really a surprise they have a fancy place to eat in the middle of the park. At Albert's, I basically ordered a salad with shrimp on top, which was very good, but I saved my calories for dessert it seems. The waiter didn't seem to think this cake sounded that exciting and was surprised when I was like "yes! bring me that!" It was light, chocolaty, and just the right hint of coffee. Yum.  

House-made veggie burger

By now you know I'm not a vegetarian, but I like to get my veggies in where I can. We spent a lot of time in Balboa Park and, while there are a lot of places to eat, there aren't a lot of truly interesting options. Prado is on the more upscale side, but worth it to spend a few dollars more to get something tasty and unique. Eric ordered a chicken sandwich, but I was intrigued by this homemade veggie burger. Aside from being a bit dry, which would have been helped with a layer of hummus (which comes with chips instead of bread and butter), it was pretty good and beyond better than any other non-Boca Burger I've ever had out. It came with a heap of fries that were crispy perfection. 


We took half our food to go at Prado so we could indulge in this Tres Leches Cake. It had caramelized bananas baked right in and a layer of pistachio meringue on the bottom. It was phenomenal. The least appetizing thing on the plate was the ice cream. Ice cream! We didn't take any of this to go, because we demolished it.


Short rib pappardelle

I love a good short rib. Probably because it's so fantastic being cooked in all that fat. Either way, I was nomming on this big bowl of pasta and meat served at Two Seven Eight. It came with that side of kim chee you see. Normally, I don't do kim chee, but I didn't hate it. Eric, on the other hand, who does enjoy kim chee, didn't find it had enough bite for him. So, take that how you will. He ordered the goat cheese burger, because all of that sounded really good, and he said it was. 


I wouldn't come here if you're in a hurry. This is a great place to sit on the patio and just relax while enjoying a beverage. I flipped through the drink menu and saw that they served moonshine. I know it's had a bit of a revival lately, so I asked about it. The owner came out to give me a tasting, so I could decide what to order. If you want to put hair on your chest, Devil's Cut is the way to go. It's S.T.R.O.N.G. I passed on a whole glass of that for the smoother Kalifornia brand. The owners actually know the moonshiners and the son is the first in his family to actually make moonshine legally. They are local and they definitely know what they're doing. If you want something a bit different, bottoms up!

Happy Hour shared plates 

We absolutely had to hit up a restaurant in Little Italy. We wandered India Street in search of a suitable dining option with a good happy hour and settled on Davanti. It was a good choice, since their whole happy hour menu looked fantastic. Above is my favorite, the ricotta vasi. It's basically ricotta with lemon and olive oil, served with tasted baguette and a cube of honeycomb. The honey brings it all together and it's just soooooooooo good. Like, make a meal of it good. We took our leftovers home and had it for breakfast.


The second best pick was polpette ripiene di mozzarella al forno, basically meatballs stuffed with mozzarella, in a red sauce and topped with all the parmesan cheese on earth. If you like meatballs, you can't go wrong with this.


Do you like peppers? I'm not sure why I thought these would be stuffed, but they were only stuffed with their own seeds, giving them a kick of heat. Peperone al forno are roasted pedron peppers with cherry tomatoes and a sprinkling of cheese (because Italian). We were wimps when it came to these and only ate about a quarter of the pan, but, to be fair, that pan was a lot larger than expected. I do wish we had also ordered the calamari, but we didn't, so I guess that's a goal for our next trip to San Diego. 

 What's the best thing you've eaten out lately?

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