Oct 1, 2014

Confessions of a Guacaholic



Today marks the first day of October for the year 2014. Not that you would know it here...unless, of course, you were looking at a calendar or reading this blog post. Unfortunately for those of us living in Central Florida, it feels nothing like the beginning of October or, more disturbingly, like the season of fall at all. It's still reaching 90 degrees each day, it's constantly humid and muggy (I feel like I've got a layer of sweat permeating the surface of my skin at all times...eww, I know), and it's been torrential downpouring daily for the last 11 days straight. I'm honestly not sure if I'm still in Florida or really displaced to the depths of the African Congo. Dramatic, probably...but coming from living in a European country with such mild weather, I'm basically distraught at the thought that fall, and the feelings typically associated with the month of October, are still far from reality for us here. If you understand any one thing about me it should be that October is my most favorite month of the year (hello, birthday month!!) and fall is my spirit season. Let me reiterate, DISTRAUGHT. No amounts of Starbucks caramel coloring laden PSL's can save me now.

So, what do you do when your favorite season is no where in sight? You sure as heck don't go buy all things pumpkin and try to will it to light. I made that mistake in the form of a soup that was too rich and too soon. One step outside to pull weeds and the heat turned my full soup belly into curdled death fire. Not cute. Instead, I'm trying my darnedest to embrace this new life amongst the blazing sun by keeping meals light, airy, and relatively healthy. Because lets face it...as soon as fall does start making a true appearance (I'm thinking December, maybe), I'll be busting out my mac and cheese sweatpants and chomping down hearty stews with the best of them. Until that sweet pumpkin spiced day comes...GUAC.



I've really got to thank my Aunt T for this recipe. Every time I make my way back to North Carolina in the summertime, she drives down the road from her house to my parents house (half mile at best) to wine drink & board game it up. Homemade guacamole is always a snack staple and we've perfected the right combination of lime and saltiness. I'm drooling just thinking about the batch resting in my fridge as we speak. Last night, D and I grilled up some chicken, toasted some ciabatta rolls, plopped down some jalapeno jack, and slathered a glob of this guac on top for open faced sammies. NOMS. If fall has alluded you as well...this guacamole is here to be your saving grace. We don't need no stinkin' fall. Avocado is the new gourd!

[Just kidding, fall. Come back. I need you.]



Homemade Guacamole
[Serves 4...or 1 if you're a guacaholic like me]

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and cut into chunks
1 small tomato, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic (less if you aren't a garlic fan)
Juice from half a lime
1/2 tsp. sea salt
pinch of fresh cracked black pepper
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (if desired)

Directions:
1| Peel, remove pit, and cut avocados into chunks and place into a medium-sized bowl. Squeeze the half lime all over the avocado chunks to keep them from turning brown.
2| Add in the diced onions, tomatoes, and garlic and mash together with the back of a fork. Allow for some chunks of avocado to remain if you like a chunkier guac.
3| Sprinkle in the sea salt, pepper, and red pepper (if desired for spice) and stir together. Enjoy with your favorite tortilla chips!


For more fun recipes, check out my CULINARY ADVENTURES page!

Sep 29, 2014

Russia Highlights: Swan Lake & A Midnight Sunset


Even though our tour around St. Petersburg was a bit of a bust, we still had an evening of iconic Russian art ahead of us. After returning to the ship to quickly freshen up (I'm talking we had 1 hour to shower, dress up, and shove a snack in our faces), we hopped another bus to take our entire travel party to the Aurora Palace Theater for a performance of Swan Lake. We were all very excited to be seeing such a famous ballet in its debut country...talk about a HUGE unexpected check mark off the bucket list! Upon arriving to the concert hall, we noticed it was going to be a small performance, likely just put on for cruise passengers and private tour groups. This discouraged us a bit, but there was a champagne reception, so we all took advantage of a glass or two and made our way to our seats still looking forward to the performance ahead. After being seated for mere minutes, we noticed how incredibly hot the concert hall was. No A/C and we were all dressed up (boys in ties and slacks)---typical of Europe and Russia, but we failed to take that into consideration when dressing for the evening. You could see the disdain painted across the boys faces. They already weren't happy about leaving a night of cigars and drinking on the ship to join their ladies at the ballet (oh, the horror!). Put them all in ties in a hot, stuffy room at the ballet and BOOM...they instantly wanted to divorce us all. In hindsight, I almost don't blame them.

10 minutes into the first act, we began to realize that this performance might be less than outstanding. While still better than some ballets I'd watched in my many years of viewing dance competitions and recitals (via my lovely dance-inclined sister), it was missing the grandeur, poise, and preciseness that we'd expected. It seemed sloppy and forced, like the ballerinas were all made to dance that night and really couldn't be bothered with it. The side eyes us girls were giving one another through the whole first act were all too frequent and at times, almost had us laughing. It was all we could do to keep from being overcome with disappointment. Yet another point in time on this cruise that we were all SO thankful to be on vacation as a group instead of as solo couples. After the first act was over (it was over an hour long--comprised of 2 scenes), we bum-rushed the bathrooms and champagne stands to unload our feelings on the whole thing. Even though the majority of the performers were students or graduates from the well-known Vaganova Ballet Academy (an associate school to the highly touted Mariinsky Ballet), we still felt like we'd been duped into a sub-par touristic Swan Lake experience. We thought long and hard about complaining to our guide...or even asking the bus driver to shuttle us back to the ship without seeing the second act, but after another glass of champagne and some laughs, we decided to rough it out. We were still in Russia after all! We sat the boys together towards the back of the theater (the place was barely 1/3 full) so they could commiserate quietly away from the stage (re: fall asleep), and the 5 of us girls braved a few rows back from the orchestra pit. 


Interestingly enough, the second & third acts were much better than the first. It's like the principle ballerina found her groove during intermission and returned with breathtaking pirouettes and much more chemistry with Prince Siegfried than ever before. I imagine they were sweating to death, too (it progressively got hotter in the concert hall throughout the evening)...but they powered through the final acts with some lovely moments, slightly redeeming themselves for their iffy first act performance. Would I consider Swan Lake worth seeing while in St. Petersburg? Absolutely. We can still say we saw Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake IN RUSSIA. Amazing. Just make good and sure you know what theater and what company will be performing for you before you book your night at the ballet. See all the good things you guys are learning from our stupidity? You're welcome. ;)

When our ballet experience was over, we made a short drive through the city and returned to the ship to find it in full on party mode. We changed into our White Party attire and slid right into the conga line without missing a beat. Even though we had a rough start to the evening, it ended up being one to remember. Our reward for making it through a night in Russia? A stunning midnight sunset on the Baltic Sea. With the time difference, being so far north, and finding ourselves in the height of the summer, we got to witness a cotton candy pink sunset just as the clock stuck 12am. I've never experienced a natural phenomenon like it! We all grabbed lounge chairs along the bow of the ship and sipped cocktails as we watched the sun sink into the ocean, reminiscing about all the craziness of our cruise...and we still had 3 days left! We may have had some hiccups on that sailing, but we still appreciated the opportunity to travel to so many fascinating places and to experience them with friends that had become like family to us during our time abroad. Next up on our Baltic adventure, my most favorite stop...Tallinn, Estonia!

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