Sunday, December 30, 2012

One Human Family: Days 5 and 6

December 22, 2012: Key West, FL to Miami, FL
We woke up on Saturday morning to colder temperatures again, and so we sadly decided to save a visit to Bahia Honda for another trip.  We wandered up Duval Street, stopping at Cafe Moka for some truly awful coffee, and visiting Dogs on Duval to look at the dachshund puppy in the window there one last time.  (Roger desperately wants a dachshund, but it just isn't in the stars for us right now.)  We saw a chicken and some adorable chicks, grabbed a bit of frozen yogurt for breakfast, and then decided to hit the road.

The drive to Miami up Route 1 was lovely again, but in all honesty, if I had it to do over, I think I would prefer to fly directly to Key West, and skip renting the car all together.  It really isn't necessary in Key West, where you can walk or bike anywhere (except maybe for Bahia Honda, if you're trying for that), and we're not great at road tripping, I think.  Maine worked out really well, because we knew ahead of time what towns we'd stop in and what we intended to do in each, but in Florida, we hadn't researched ahead of time what the best places to stop were.  Since we're just not terribly good at being spontaneous, we ended up not stopping anywhere at all, and just driving straight through, which really isn't the best method for a long drive.  Something we need to keep in mind for our trip out west in August - plan stops ahead of time!

We arrived in Miami at around 4pm, and checked into the Hyatt Regency for the night.  It was a nice, business-y hotel, but Downtown Miami is a bit of a ghost town, so I wouldn't recommend it very strongly.  We talked to the concierge, who suggested we take the free Mia-Mover to the Bayside Market while we waited for dinner time.  It's pretty much just a mall, but it is on a lovely bay front, near a park.  We split an arepa from a cart, and then grabbed some mojitos at one of the (many!) bars in the mall before wandering around and doing a bit of shopping.  (We bought Roger's mother an ornament, and I bought myself an early Christmas gift.)

View of Miami from the MIA-Mover
Then, we headed out to one of the other best meals we had on the trip, Cuban food at Versailles in Little Havana.  Interestingly enough, this was our one chance to take the car somewhere, but we were worried about finding parking, so we took a cab.  (They had a parking lot.  Of course.)  We really pigged out here, eating more than we had at any other point during the week.  We split the appetizer sampler platter, with empanadas, croquettes, and fried yucca, and then Roger had skirt steak with plantains and rice and beans, and I had the sampler with a tamale, roast pork (out of this world!), picadillo a la criolla and boiled yucca.  (Needless to say, we brought some leftovers back to the hotel.)  And, to finish it all off, we had my favorite cake, tres leches, which was just wonderful.

December 23, 2012: Miami, FL to New York, NY
We spent most of Sunday morning in the hotel bed, eating leftovers with our hands.  It was a pretty fabulous way to start off our last day on vacation, and we savored every moment.  We finally checked out at noon, and headed over to the Miami Art Museum, which was mostly closed, but had one interesting exhibit of new works on display.  My favorite piece was Gideon Barnett's "Landscape with Fallen Child," because I love Bruegel so much.  The museum was free for students, which was great, and there's a history museum and library in the same plaza.  Otherwise, though, we didn't find too much else that was worth doing in downtown.  We had wanted to stop at a friend's brother's restaurant, the Filling Station, partially because it belongs to our friend's brother, but also because it's gotten really great reviews, but unfortunately, it's closed on Sundays, so we missed our chance. 

We walked around for a bit, and then headed back to Bayfront Park to sit for a while and relax.  Finally, around 4pm, we drove back to the airport and dropped off the car, and stopped by a TGIFriday's for dinner in the airport.  We boarded our flight, and to our delight, ended up in a row with just the two of us.  We stretched out and I was able to finish my second book of the trip while we flew back home.  We arrived back at the apartment at 11pm, fed the cat, and packed up some warmer clothes before heading back to our hometown for Christmas Eve.

Goodbye, Florida!

Overall, our first beach vacation was wonderful.  There are a few small things we'd change (like going straight to Key West and skipping Miami), but for the most part, it was everything we needed: relaxing, quiet, and peaceful.  Our next trip will involve a bit more traveling around, but I hope we can take the relaxed attitude from this trip and bring it on all our future trips.  It's much more fun to travel without any pressure!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

One Human Family: Day 4

December 21, 2012: Key West, FL
We woke up on Friday morning shockingly not hungover, and intending to visit Bahia Honda State Park.  It is supposed to be one of the nicest beaches in the US, and we were really looking forward to spending the day on it's clear waters and white sands.  Unfortunately, it was colder than it had been all week (at, you know, 70°F) and windy, and so the day didn't seem right for sitting on the beach. 


Instead, we explored a bit more of the island, taking a long walk to a coffee-shop we never found.  We did, however, find a souvenir shop called the Pelican Poop Shoppe, which happened to be in the building that Hemingway stayed in on his first trip to the island.  Alarmingly, it had some racist memorabilia (not the first we'd seen on this trip, unfortunately), so we headed out pretty quickly, and ended up stopping at an organic grocer for coffee.  We continued to wander a bit until lunch time, when we stopped for one of the best meals of our trip, at Garbo's Grill.  The food was so good!  I had a fish quesadilla, which was just the right amount of spicy, and had a huge amount of fish and cheese on it.  Roger enjoyed the kogi dog, which was enormous, and covered in delicious things like kimichi, cabbage, and diakon.   We could easily have split either of our meals, but we really wanted to try some of the different things on the menu, and even though we were both stuffed afterward, we were glad we'd gotten so stuffed on something so delicious.

Hammock sitting

We continued to wander and did a bit of souvenir shopping for my requisite ornament collection and a few gifts for family, and then headed back to our little beach for some reading.  It was chilly, but we cuddled in the hammock, and enjoyed our books before stopping in for one last happy hour at the bar.  Around 5pm, we walked over to Mallory Square, to enjoy their sunset ceremony.  The square was filled with street performers.  I usually walk straight past street performers, but here, it was a lot of fun to watch for a bit.  We saw a man who has been jumping through hoops (literally) for twenty years, and another man who juggled lit torches while riding a giant unicycle.  He was particularly funny, at one point saying, "All you guys with cameras, please don't put my picture up on the internet.  My mom thinks I'm in college.  Gosh, I wish that wasn't true."  We watched the beautiful sunset (everyone clapped when it finally set), and then did a bit more wandering before deciding to stop at DJ's Clam Shack for dinner and some people watching.  We saw some of the Conch Trains go by with people in Christmas outfits hanging out the sides, and a man riding a tricycle all lit up with lights and a radio playing holiday music.  It was quite the scene, and the food wasn't too shabby at all.  We stopped by the hotel bar for a night cap and a quick dip in the pool before heading to sleep.

Sunset at Mallory Square

Next up: We road trip to Miami and enjoy some Cuban cuisine!

Friday, December 28, 2012

One Human Family: Day 3

December 20, 2012: Key West, FL
On Thursday morning, after sleeping for another ten hours, we stumbled out of bed and into the sun for a New York tradition: coffee and a bagel.  We took a nice walk over to the Cuban Coffee Queen for a morning treat.  I ordered a re-hydrator smoothie, which was delicious, and Roger enjoyed a coffee as we split a "Cuban bagel," which was billed as "an everything bagel, toasted with cream cheese."  I eat a lot of bagels, and this was not exactly what I was expecting.  It had two holes instead of one (better for sharing!), and was sort of rectangular shape.  Oh, and it appeared to be pressed on a grill and covered in honey.  Very good, but definitely unexpected!


 As we walked through Key West, we saw some interesting sites, including chickens and a Christmas tree made out of lobster traps.  One thing we did not see, and wouldn't see until we left Key West, was the bike/jogging path that everyone told us existed along the water.  Several times we tried to find it, with no luck.  So, we mostly kept to the street while we were walking around, and it wasn't too bad.  I had hoped to run around the island a bit while we were there and take advantage of warmer temperatures, but a bad cold attacked me the weekend before we left, and even on antibiotics, too much physical exertion left me hacking.  So, we were limited to walks and a bit of easy swimming to burn off the calories from all the delicious food we enjoyed.


We walked over to the Hemingway House next.  I'd seen the outside when my family's cruise stopped in Key West in 2002, but I was so excited to see the inside during this trip, and it did not disappoint!  The house is absolutely beautiful, and Loren Case, our tour guide, was phenomenal.  Funny and informative, he really let us know a lot about the history of the home and gave us a few good stories about Hemingway and his second wife.  While we wandered around the grounds, Roger and I talked about everything Case did right, because Roger's been asked to give several museum tours as part of his job and school.  Seeing someone so great in action was really inspiring.  And, of course, being at the house was inspiring for me as a writer.  Roger and I agreed that one thing we're looking for in a future house is a bit of studio space.  Hemingway's studio, above a carriage house, was filled with books and animal trophies, and it was just gorgeous.  No wonder he wrote eight of his novels there!

From there, we headed to the Southernmost Point in the USA, and decided that instead of waiting on the insanely long line to take a picture in front of it, we would just sit behind it and watch the water for a bit.  We returned to the hotel and read on the beach for a bit, before partaking in their "beer school."  Mostly, it was tastings of the beers they had on tap at their bar, along with trivia questions.  (Getting one of the questions right meant that you had to slam your beer tasting glass, and they'd pour you a second round.  Clearly this was not for the faint of heart, although I did get two correct answers, and then gave Roger one of the right ones on an IPA.  I don't love IPAs.)


Really, this should have been enough drinking for me, but after several glasses of beer, we received our "diplomas" and headed to the bar for happy hour, where I enjoyed a rum runner.  Then, we headed to yet another bar, Kelly's, for their happy hour.  Kelly's is the only brewery in the Florida Keys, so it was fun to stop by for a bit.  I wasn't in love with their Havana Red Ale, but they did have really delicious wings.  We stumbled our way over to our "fancy dinner," at Cafe Sole, where we polished off a bottle of wine (free with a coupon from our concierge).  I have to say, I wasn't impressed with the dinner.  At about $30 an entree, we were really expecting some delicious seafood.  What we had was good, but not amazing, and weirdly enough, every entree had the same side-dishes, so it felt as if they weren't putting in any real effort.  It's rated as the second-best restaurant in town, but I'd say there are plenty of other places you could spend less money for a better meal.  And, after all that drinking, we ended up hailing one of the few cabs in Key West for the ten block trip back to the hotel.  I promptly passed out on the bed at 9pm, because I, folks, am what they call a champion.

Next up: the best meal of our trip (Garbo's Grill!) and Mallory Square.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

One Human Family: Day 2

December 19, 2012: Key West, FL
We slept late on Wednesday, which was blissful.  After a pretty stressful last few weeks of school, we really needed the rest, and Key West was just the place for it.  We decided to really bliss out by getting a couple's massage at Prahna Spa.  It was the first time we'd ever done a spa treatment together (and the first time Roger's ever done a spa treatment, period), and it was absolutely lovely.  We took a walk up Whitehead Street to kill a bit of time before our 12:30 appointment, and then got in to the spa a tiny bit early.  The served us water and let us relax in their waiting area for a few minutes before our two masseurs came in and asked us to remove our shoes before bringing us upstairs to the couples' loft.  The spa was beautifully decorated, and the masseurs were really fantastic.  It made for a wonderful experience for both of us, since we both tend to carry stress in our backs.  Much more affordable than the other spas we looked at, it was the perfect treat to start off our vacation.  The only thing that could have made it better was a sauna and dipping pools.  Even without those, it was dreamy.

On the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Afterward, we walked over to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, and relaxed on the beach there.  We did a bit of swimming (Roger's not big on snorkeling), and took in the gorgeous sun.  We briefly talked about visiting the fort on the grounds there, and then remembered that we really didn't have to do anything while we were on vacation.  Usually we're so busy rushing around from city to city, trying to see everything there is to see.  We love those vacations, but Key West was meant to be a real departure from that for us - just a week of resting and relaxing.  So saying "no" to seeing the fort, and just lounging for a few hours without any guilt about missing something, was a huge step for us.

Sunset montage!

We headed back to the hotel and watched the sunset from the beach before taking in the happy hour at their beach cafe.  We enjoyed rum runners, which I'd never had before, and with which I instantly fell in love, and some truly delicious ahi-tuna sliders.  After happy hour, we wandered around for a bit and then had some beers and split a sloppy joe at, you guessed it, Sloppy Joe's.  It was really delicious, and a lot of fun to be at Hemingway's old haunt.  They had a bit of live music (we discovered that every bar in Key West has live music, and it's usually a man on an acoustic guitar playing 90s hits).

Happy Hour fare!

Roger wanted to go out drinking afterward, but I was exhausted, and in typical Kristin-fashion, more or less forced him to go to sleep by 11pm.  (Sorry, Roger!)  If I had been less lame, we would have gone to Ricky's, which has an open bar and dancing for $15.  If I had been really cool, we might even have gone to the Garden of Eden, a nude bar (!).  And, if I truly wasn't me at all and able to put aside my feelings on feminism and performativity, we could have taken in a drag show at LaTeDa.  But, I yam who I yam, and all that I yam is a lady who enjoys going to sleep early.

Next up: Cuban bagels, the Hemingway House, and the Southernmost Point in the US.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

One Human Family: Day 1

December 18, 2012: New York, NY to Miami, FL to Key West, FL
We left the house at 4am to catch the M60 to Laguardia, and started our first vacation in nearly two years.  After the quick trip (who knew how close we live to LGA?!), we had checked in and made it through security just in time to board what we quickly discovered was Roger's first domestic flight.  ("Why aren't there TVs in every seat?  What do you mean they don't serve a meal?")  It was an otherwise uneventful flight, and we landed in Miami and headed to the rental car center for our second "first," renting our first car.  We tried to drive the wrong car out of the lot (oops), but remedied that quickly and headed onto Route 1.

Roger at Island Fish Company

We'd been on more northern parts of Route 1 before, and really enjoyed it, so taking in the southern parts seemed like a great idea.  It's absolutely gorgeous, with much of the road going straight over bridges throughout the Keys, and looking out onto the water.  Roger, who hadn't gone to sleep the night before because he was finishing a paper (oh, grad school), slept most of the ride, and I enjoyed driving in quiet and taking in all the sights.  We stopped for lunch at Island Fish Company in Marathon. We watched pelicans dive into the water and hang out on the pier, and enjoyed conch chowder and fish tacos on their sunny outside deck.

Our Hotel

We arrived in Key West a few hours later, and checked into our hotel, Southernmost Hotel.  My mother booked it for us when I complained a few weeks ago that I couldn't handle the stress of finding a hotel and writing poems (thanks, mom!), and it was a fantastic choice.  It's on Duval Street, so it's very close to all the touristy things, but it's at the end and on a beach, so it was very quiet and relaxing.  The staff was wonderful, and if you're looking for a good place to stay in Key West, I would 100% recommend it.  We took in some sun on their private pier, and had piña coladas before taking a walk down Duval Street to see a bit more of town.  We split conch fritters and a salad for dinner at Caroline's, where we watched a number of people in Christmas-themed outfits at the bar.  Duval Street is an interesting place, indeed.

The first of several tropical drinks we'd enjoy in Florida.

Next up: Massages, sunset, and happy hour!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Vacation Message: Key West

Roger and I are freshly-packed (both of us in his new boat-and-tote - let's hope we can carry on!), and with just one all-day meeting, a paper, class, and a final to go, we're almost on our first vacation since France.   We've decided that in order to better enjoy the sun and sand, we're not going to bring our computers, so I won't be blogging during this trip, but I look forward to re-capping when we get back.  We'll be driving from Miami to Key West via Route 1, and then spending five days in Key West, before spending one more day in Miami.  If you have any suggestions for things to do, we'd be so happy to try them out, so please leave them in the comments!


I hope you guys all have a wonderful Christmas if you're celebrating, and I'll look forward to being back in the space shortly after with some changes to the blog and some New Year's resolutions!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cooking with Kristin: General Tso's Tofu

When I was growing up, Chinese food was a real treat.  We ordered pizza every Friday night, but Chinese food was reserved for special occasions like birthdays.  As a result, I have a deep-seated love for it.  As I've gotten older, I've had the chance to try more traditional Chinese foods, and I've found them all delicious, but all of them still pale in comparison to my favorite dish from birthdays of yore - General Tso's chicken.  Wikipedia tells me that the dish was named after Zuo Zongtang, but actually has very little to do with him, or with traditional Hunan cooking. When I became a vegetarian, it was one of the things I missed most. 

Until, that is, my friend Jenny introduced me to General Tso's tofu from Sun Xing.  I'd had tofu before, but I'd never had it crispy, and this really changed the way I viewed it.  I still enjoy it unfried (it's a bit healthier that way), but once I had it fried that first time, I was addicted.  And yet, somehow, I let seven years (yes, seven!) pass before I made it myself.  I have no idea why it took so long, because it's so easy!


Crispy Tofu (adapted from About.com)
  • 1 package of tofu (I like to use extra-firm, but medium or firm also work)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup canola or other cooking oil

Press the tofu. To do this, take it out of the packaging and put it in a bowl or pie plate. Place a paper-towel on the top, and then put a heavy bowl, pot, or plate (or several) on top. Let it sit like this for about 10-15 minutes, as water pools up into the bottom. Now is a good time to chop up and begin to sauté the vegetables you will want to mix in (I used onions, peppers, and green beans).

Mix the flour and cornstarch, and put it in a bowl or plate. Once the tofu is pressed, cut it into 1-inch cubes. Roll each cube in the flour-mixture, making sure to cover all sides, as if you were covering them in batter. Pour your oil into a pan and begin to heat it. It should be about an inch deep, although I used less, and just had to turn the tofu chunks more than once so they cooked on all sides. It should be hot enough that it begins to sizzle as soon as you put your first piece of tofu in. Fry the tofu until it is golden brown on all sides. You may have to do this in multiple batches, depending on how big your pan is. If you have a deep-fryer, you could also cook them in that.

Once the tofu is finished, I mixed it with the sautéed vegetables, and covered them in the sauce.  I used Trader Joe's General Tso sauce, and it was delicious, quick, and the sauce has mostly recognizable ingredients.  But, if I had a little more time, I would definitely try to make The Culinary Couple's sauce, substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth.  Emily's recipes are always delicious, and I'm sure this one is no exception, so if you're looking to make everything from scratch, give that a try and let me know how it goes.

Served over brown rice, this was a delicious meal, and one that came together pretty quickly.  During the time it took to cook the rice, I made everything else, so it probably took about 50 minutes total, and was definitely worth it.

食飯! 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Traditions: St. Nicholas Day

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Roger's treats from St. Nicholas

Do you know about this holiday?  It's St. Nicholas's feast day.  The patron saint of bakers and pawnbrokers, St. Nicholas is the forerunner of Santa Claus, mostly do the power of poetry and, in particular, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas."  On December 5th, in Germany, children leave their shoes outside for St. Nicholas to fill with treats and small gifts.  My next door neighbor, Emily, was the first person to introduce this tradition to me, and I remember her getting a CD or two one year, and thinking it was a great idea.  We never did it in my house growing up, but like the Christmas pickle, I thought it would be cute to start doing it.  Of course, Roger goes to bed after me and wakes up before me, so I couldn't surprise him in the morning, but I did manage to surprise him after he came back from work.  I watched him from our peep-hole, and he seemed pretty happy to see the candy, book, and holiday boxers I left for him.

Not completely unrelatedly, we enjoyed a big German-themed meal on Tuesday.  I threw on some polka-music, grabbed a cold beer, and before frying up the "Hofbrau" sausages we'd bought at Trader Joe's this weekend, I made these two delicious side dishes: 

 

German Potato Salad (adapted from Food Network)
The grandmother of some of our family friends makes the greatest German potato salad known to mankind.  This isn't quite as good as hers (nothing ever will be), but it's pretty darn close.  I've made this with and without the bacon, and it's delicious either way, but with the bacon is much closer to what I remember, so I prefer it.
  •  2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/2 pound thick-cut bacon
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Chives or parsley (optional)
Peel and dice the potatoes, and place them in a pot.  Cover them with enough water to extend 2 inches above the surface of the potatoes. Salt the water and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 12 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, as this will turn into mashed potatoes when you toss them if you do.  (This is actually really good, and what I've done every time I've made them, but it's not traditional.)

While the potatoes boil, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once crisp, place on a paper towel-lined plate and crumble into small pieces. Pour off the rendered fat, reserving 1/4 cup in the pan. Turn the heat to medium and add the onion. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Whisk in the vinegar, sugar, mustard, and salt and stir until thick and bubbly. Add the cooked potatoes and toss to coat. Top with the crumbled bacon and garnish with chives or parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature.


German Red Cabbage (Adapted from AllRecipes)
This turned out to be a really nice side dish that was quick to whip up and didn't involve too much prep (I used a food processor to shred the cabbage). 
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup sliced green apples
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (I didn't use these, but I bet they would be good!)
Place butter, cabbage, apples, and sugar into a large pot. Pour in the vinegar and water, and season with salt, pepper, and cloves.

Bring the liquids at the bottom to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the cabbage is tender, about one and a half hours.

Guten Appetit!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekend Wanderings: Steamed Milk and Peppermint Joe-Joes

11 Days 'til Christmas - Wrap Up
Oh, branding. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/12253825@N00/5259191205
I had a quiet sort of weekend.  After several busy weeks and weekends, the house was a disaster, schoolwork was left undone, and I was generally feeling a bit harried.  As a result, I generally stayed in and tried to catch up this weekend, doing a bit of laundry and cleaning, taking a trip to Trader Joe's, and reading a whole lot of poetry for the last two weeks of school.

There was one quiet moment that I'd like to remember though.  At about 10pm last night, Rob was over after dinner, and Roger decided he wanted some coffee.  The only coffee-shop open that late near us was Starbucks, so we headed over there, and I ordered a steamed milk with caramel.  I don't know why it took me to long to discover that steamed milk is "my drink" at most coffee-shops, but it's delicious and if you've never had one, it's a warm, sweet treat that you deserve.  Try it.  We brought our coffees back home, and enjoyed them with one of our Trader Joe's purchases, peppermint joe-joes, which seem to be the most wonderful combination of oreos and thin mints ever made.  I love peppermint deserts, and two of these cookies felt like the perfect indulgence.

And now, back to the poetry.