Honeymoon – Tucson

Tucson was my favorite city of the trip, and I’d happily move there if given the opportunity. It has a really relaxed vibe and is just the right size for walking around, plus it has a large amount of entertaining activities and amazing food. An added bonus is there’s a large eco-friendly movement there, which makes it no surprise that they have a 100% solar powered indie book store (which has a pretty rad reading selection).

We stayed at University Inn, which was a decent hotel in the middle of everything. Really close to the school campus and within walking distance of almost everything we wanted to see.    Our first morning in Tucson we got an early start and headed towards the University of Arizona. We walked through several neighborhoods to get there, admiring the brightly colored houses, and we also happened upon a small bird in a cactus! He seemed quite happy there, so we let him be.   We arrived at the University of Arizona Art Museum just in time to see exhibits of all the graduating art students’ work. I really really loved everything we saw, plus it was free for those with students IDs. Below are photos of just a few of my favorite pieces.    After the museum we marched around campus a bit more before walking to the Tucson Tamale Company. I didn’t get any pictures worth posting (really poor lighting), but the food was fantastic. We both got the two tamale plate with two sides. The sides weren’t awe-inspiring, but the tamales were delicious. 

There was a huge variety of vegetarian and vegan flavors, so after much himming and hawwing I settled with the new delhi (Indian inspired with a filling similar to a samosa) and the vegan blue (blue corn masa with squash, onions, tomatoes, and chiles). Peter got the chile relleno (roasted green chiles and red bell peppers with cheese) and wisconsin (just lots and lots of cheese). 

The best part was that just as I was joking about how good these corn tamales were and that it was probably due to them being GMOs, the manager came by and asked how everything was. As we were discussing the nice variety of veggie-friendly food, she said “And everything is GMO-free too!” Which just made me love the place even more.

After a filling lunch, we walked around the downtown area before heading to the Loft, a non-profit indie movie theatre with a nice mix of newer releases and old classics. We ended up seeing Welcome to Me, a funny yet slightly melancholy film that was a good way to get us out of the afternoon sun.

We went back to the hotel for a swim before walking just a block to get dinner at Zemam’s Too, an Ethiopian restaurant. Neither of us had ever eaten Ethiopian before, but Happy Cow reviewers had wonderful things to say about Zemam’s. We got two veggie samplers and in doing so basically tried every vegan dish on the menu. 

I was worried Peter wouldn’t like it (he’s not big into spicy food) but he loved it and ate the collards so fast that I barely got a sample in before they disappeared. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, which was located in a renovated house, and felt almost like I was eating dinner on a friend’s patio. Since this amazing food encounter, I now have a strong love for Ethiopian food and have been trying to perfect a homemade injera bread to accompany lentils and such.
  The next day we wandered through what I mentally deemed the “hipster district” of 4th Avenue which held loads of cafes, crafty areas, book stores, and head shops. The area had plenty of things to see and several pieces of functional art (newspaper holder, bike rack, etc.) to admire. 

We had lunch at La Indita, a Mexican restaurant with a Native American twist as a nod to the owner’s heritage. The server was great about knowing what was available vegan and I got a veggie plate which featured an enchilada, tostada, beans, and rice. Peter got something cheese filled that I can’t remember the name of. Both plates were very tasty and the red sauce was more vinegar-y tasting than most Mexican restaurants I’ve been to, which was a nice change. This combination of cultures was a tasty experience and one you should seek out on 4th Avenue.    D&D Pinball was definitely the highlight of our Tucson trip. It was a small room crammed to the gills with pinball machines. The machines ranged from pretty old (Monster from the Black Lagoon) to fairly new (The Walking Dead). We went there only planning to stay an hour, but ended up playing for nearly two!     I discovered a hidden talent for pinball and had a great time trying out all the different types. My personal favorite was a medieval game that when you scored high enough it would drop the drawbridge to the castle so you could attempt to hit a ball into it.           Since the majority of our trip was spent running around in t-shirts and jeans, we decided to have a “fancy” night out at a nice restaurant and the local theatre. Dinner was at The Tasteful Kitchen, an all-vegetarian restaurant with a ton of vegan and gluten-free options. 

Our waiter convinced us to get the pepper poppers as an appetizer. They were cashew cheese stuffed jalapeños and sweet peppers with a tangy dipping sauce. These were so good that I had to stop Peter from chewing on the leftover stems to “get all the flavor out”.

 I can’t remember the particular name of this dish (they have a rotating seasonal menu and it has already changed), but it was fried eggplant medallions with marinara sauce and arugula, accompanied by a smear of basil pesto. Eggplant has the tendency to sometimes get spongey and heavy when fried, but these medallions were perfectly seasoned and fairly light feeling.

I apparently blacked out and forgot to photograph Peter’s dish, but he had zucchini noodles with basil pesto, fresh vegetables, and gnocchi.  We packed up half of our entrees to-go to make room for shared dessert, strawberry cashew cheesecake with chocolate drizzle. The Tasteful Kitchen sure does know how to cook with cashews. The sweet cheesecake was nicely complimented by the bitter dark chocolate sauce and was the perfect way to end our fancy pants meal.After dinner entertainment was at the Rogue Theatre. We saw Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and I was expecting just a decent performance due to both a lack of love for Shakespeare and previous crappy experiences with well-touted theatre. I’m happy to say pessimistic me was wrong and the whole production blew our socks off.

The acting was spot-on, costumes were impeccable, and the set really immersed you in the story. If I lived in Tucson, I would definitely become a member of the Rogue Theatre to have guaranteed good tickets to all the new shows.

    I was sad to bid Tucson farewell because we had such a fantastic time there. Hopefully we’ll be back soon or even living there someday!

Honeymoon – El Paso

It was an adventure in itself even getting to El Paso. The train lines from Austin were obstructed by a fallen tree (thanks to a slew of storms) and we had to take a bus to San Antonio’s station. Once there, we sat around for about three hours while they prepared the trains to El Paso. While waiting we met a lot of nice people in line and had great conversations, so that made the time pass faster.

Once we arrived in the late afternoon from the overnight train, we were exhausted and hungry. We checked into  the Gardner Hotel, a dusty yet charming hotel that’s famous for being a rest stop of John Dillinger’s bank robbing spree. We were delighted to find that the pizza place directly next to the hotel, the Pizza Joint, had vegan options!

They were actually out of Daiya cheese that day and were extremely apologetic about it, and the wonderful staff were aware of what crusts and sauces were vegan-friendly. I ended up getting their thin crust pizza with garlic olive oil, kalamata olives, artichokes, red onion, and fresh basil. It actually didn’t even need the Daiya, I think it would’ve covered up the pizza’s nicely balanced flavor.Peter wanted to keep things simple and just ordered two slices of cheese pizza. Little did he know that those slices were each bigger than his head. Check out the awkward posed bite photo he insisted on me taking.Pizza Joint also had a small collection of board games, so we spent our lunch playing Battleship. While we waited on our Uber at the Austin train station, we met a lovely woman named Eva who was delighted that we were visiting Texas on our honeymoon. We later ran back into her at the Texas State Capital and she offfered her phone number and an “insider tour” if we were ever in El Paso. So while in town, we met up with her and she drove us all around.

Eva volunteers at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) so we got shown the campus, the library, and some of the recently renovated grounds. We also visited a tamale shop (which had dessert tamales that were vegan!), her former school, and some of El Paso’s other interesting sights.  Eva drove us up the mountain in the center of the city and we had an amazing view of El Paso and also Juarez, Mexico. According to her, the mountain writing on the Juarez side says “The Bible is good, read it”. Meeting Eva was such an awesome part of our trip, and we parted with a hug and her telling us “Have a good life, and take care of people you meet along the way.” Such a nice woman. For lunch, we stopped by the Green Ingredient, which was only about two blocks from the hotel. Be warned, it is on the ground floor of the Chase Building with no signage outside. We walked by twice before we stopped and asked a security guard who pointed us inside.

Inside was an airy and well-lit dining area, with a friendly staff. Peter wasn’t particularly hungry (from the earlier tamales), so he just got dessert. He chose the avocado chocolate mousse, which was actually vegan. I like avocado mousse just as much as any other vegan, but this stuff is unrivaled. Really creamy and rich, on top of a soft chocolate cookie and sprinkled with cacao nibs. I can’t resist anything with “buffalo” in the title, so I got the cauliflower wings with tofu ranch. Our waitress was nice enough to substitute broccoli for the celery since I abhor that vegetable. These were very spicy (a good thing in my book) and perfectly textured, just inbetween being too soft or crunchy. The ranch wasn’t as creamy as expected and had a very lemony flavor, but it worked well with the cauliflower.  After lunch we visited the Magoffin Home, a historic adobe home in downtown El Paso. We took the guided tour and it was a great way to spend an hour. We learned about how the adobe housing was made, a large amount of El Paso history, stories of the Magoffin family, and how this particular family impacted the growth and change of the town. A really neat place, just like El Paso itself.

Cardiff

My time in Cardiff, Wales was very short — only one full day — but it was a lovely city with less hustle and bustle after coming straight from Liverpool.

The first place I visited was Cardiff Market, which was great because I got there early enough to avoid a big crowd. There was a wide variety of interesting stalls selling things like Indian spices, vintage records, palm readings, fresh produce, and (my personal favorite) the yarn shop. It was called the Wool Pack, but she had a massive collection of acrylic yarn (all of the shelves on the left side), from which I purchased a beautiful teal skein.

IMG_0201.JPG

IMG_0202.JPG

After getting lost (thanks, Google Maps) and having to ask for directions at a craft beer shop, my first food stop was at Crumbs Kitchen. It was worth the hassle though, because I had a very good lunch there. The first floor of the restaurant is a bit chaotic, due to that being where the orders take place, but there is a second story with extra seating away from the main crowd. I got the chili over brown rice, with rose lemonade and chocolate cake. The chili and rice was filling and just what I needed for keeping me warm on that dreary wet afternoon. The serving was huge though, and I ended up taking half away for my dinner later.

DSCN0340.JPG

I gotta admit, part of the appeal of Cardiff was being a Torchwood fan. I never managed to get into Doctor Who (though I still find Weeping Angels terrifying), but I was addicted to Torchwood when I found it in Netflix. Because of this, I decided to brave the rain and wind and march two miles from my hotel to the area where they shot the show. It was odd to look at all these buildings in real life when before I’ve only seen them in panoramic filmed shots. Definitely worth a trip if you’re a fan.

IMG_0206.JPG

IMG_0205.JPG

IMG_0207.JPG

A place you must visit in Cardiff is Cinnamon Sticks, an almost painfully adorable tea room shop. Everything ranging from the wallpaper to the servers’ outfits is either floral, pink, or dainty. I’m not a huge tea fan (unless it’s cold, sweet, and Southern), but I did partake in their cake, which is beyond amazing. I got a piece of their chocolate peanut butter masterpiece and can say that it was probably the best piece of cake I’ve ever had. The peanut butter frosting was the perfect amount of sweet and fluffy, and the chocolate cake was a rich spongy texture. I was sad I didn’t have time or the stomach space to try their savory vegan options, but I’ll just have to get them next time I go to Cardiff, since I will definitely be visiting Cinnamon Sticks again.

IMG_0203.JPG

IMG_0204.JPG

Bored Baking (Vegan MoFo #14)

vegmofo

Tangled is a take on the Rapunzel fairytale. After being kidnapped as a baby and raised by her evil “mother”, Rapunzel must live in a tower all alone except her companion gecko Pascal. Her dream though is to leave the tower and see the annual lanterns released from the nearby royal castle.

Instead of following the classic tale where she waits for a man to rescue her, Rapunzel takes matters into her own hands. A guy sneaks into her tower, and she attacks/ties him up before demanding he take her to the royal castle. Little does she know he has an ulterior motive, and her “mother” will be chasing after them their entire journey.

Tangled-Wallpaper-cynthia-selahblue-cynti19-22778472-1024-768

Since she’s spent nearly her entire life locked in a tower, Rapunzel must find ways to entertain herself. Among the hobbies she chooses is baking. How she manages to bake all of these goodies day in day out and not become obese, we’ll never know. I can only assume it’s part of the Disney magic.

tumblr_ljzvwkyedT1qjpg6co1_500

Images property of Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

The warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies Rapunzel and Pascal bake were the best looking baked goods to me. So I went the easy route and made 3-ingredient chocolate chip cookies. Though the banana taste is a bit strong with this, it’s still amazingly simple and a satisfying treat.

tangled cookies

Alien Cake (Vegan MoFo #3)

vegmofo

I gotta admit, Lilo and Stitch wasn’t one of my favorite Disney movies growing up, though it did have its cute scenes (see below). Surprisingly, I did really enjoy the spin-off television series that followed a few years after.

Stitch is an energetic alien who crashes on Earth and finds a home with a Hawaiian family and befriends Lilo, a sometimes lonely little girl. As alien bounty hunters begin hunting for Stitch, Lilo tries to train him and teach him the meaning of family (ohana).

 

Based on the well-known scene of Stitch eating cake and then “sharing” it with Lilo, I baked a chocolate cake! I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe, and topped it with vanilla frosting and sliced fresh cherries. No regurgitation necessary.

It was good luck that I decided to take a picture immediately after frosting it. Our air conditioner broke over the weekend, so the southern heat was ridiculous, even indoors. Because of this, the frosting melted and slid off just after a few minutes of sitting at room temperature. But it still tasted good!

stitchcake