Monday, April 20, 2015

5 Tips for Visiting Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat was easily one of the top highlights from our entire 7-month journey to Southeast Asia. This vast, never ending collection of ancient temples is fun, mesmerizing, inspiring, and educational. It's an amazing experience for people of all ages and a very worthy bucket-list adventure. 

There were a few things I learned while visiting that can help make anyone's experience more rich and enjoyable so I'd like to share my 5 tips for visiting Angkor Wat. 

[The three different outfits I wore on the three different days we visited Angkor Wat.}

1. Dress Modestly. This may be obvious to some people but you need to dress modestly while visiting the temples, meaning no exposed knees or shoulders. Prior to going, I swear I had seen photos of people exploring these temples in shorts and tank tops due to the heat. While yes, it is hot in Cambodia, these are holy temples and it is important to respect their sanctity with appropriate dress and action. Furthermore, you may be prohibited from entering certain temples if you're not dressed appropriately as many have guards monitoring this very thing. So bust out your knee-length skirts and short sleeve tees for this one and if all else fails, you can always buy some elephant pants!

[Brad bargaining with a restaurant owner while kids try to sell him magnets and flutes.]

2. You can get 50% off your meals and drinks at restaurants within the complex. One thing you'll learn quickly about Cambodia is that meals are really cheap, about $1-3 in the city of Siem Reap. Within the Angkor Wat complex, however, these prices double (at least). I was shocked when on our first day at the complex, my husband started bargaining with the restaurant owners at lunchtime. Even more shocking was how quickly they dropped their prices! At first I felt guilty about this but once I realized how low the cost of living is for these people and that they are still making a big profit when you eat at their restaurant (as opposed to one of the 20 different restaurants right next to them), the guilt quickly faded. 


3. Take time to sit at each of the temples. These are amazing man made wonders and you'll want to remember how you felt at each of the temples. When you get home, people will ask you about your time here and you want to have a good answer, so take the time you need to reflect on your thoughts and feelings at the temples. It's easy to get caught up in the rush if trying to see all the temples and going through the motions (especially if you have a tour guide with you). Avoid the temptation to squeeze in one more temple and instead, take time to wander as slowly as you'd like and think about where you are. It's one of the coolest places you'll ever be so make it last. 

[Yes, they're adorable, but don't support child labor.]

4. Don't buy anything from the young children. There will be many locals outside all the temples trying to sell you trinkets and goods. Buy as much as you want from the adults but avoid buying from children, as cute as they may be (and as low of a price as they may offer you). Interact with them, ask them how high they can count, laugh with them but don't give them any money. Parents should work. Children should play (and go to school).


5. Visit the incredible tree at Ta Som. There is a lesser known temple called Ta Som that is well worth making a visit to if for nothing else but the tree at the back entrance. Many people will tell you that Ta Prohm (the Angelina Jolie temple) is the best example of trees fighting against stone. Ta Prohm is the biggest, but the back entrance of Ta Som is the best. My favorite spot in the whole complex. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Petra Elizabeth

On February 23, 2015, the best thing happened to us. Our daughter was born! In the last year, we've done and seen some amazing things, but all of that pales in comparison to the joy our Petra Elizabeth brings us everyday. It's incredible how something so small can bring so much happiness. She's currently only 11 pounds and fits easily in our lap, but the fact that she is a living, breathing creature that was created from nothing is just incredible. She blows my mind every day by simply being. And the sweetness of holding her while she sleeps on my chest? Don't get me started. I don't think there's a better high in the world.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Homemade Biscuits

I've always loved biscuits. There's something about them that feels so right--like a warm hug on a cold day. Sadly, I've always believed that biscuits are also really difficult to make. Well, last Saturday was a glorious day because I was proven wrong! Delicious biscuits can actually be quite easy. As I pulled these out of the oven within about 20 minutes of starting the recipe, I exclaimed to myself, "Well, call me Betty Crocker!" That is how I felt. The texture, the taste, and the simplicity...these are perfect. 

Homemade Biscuits
Yield: 8 biscuits
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Bake Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup buttermilk*

*To make buttermilk, pour 2 teaspoons of vinegar in a measuring cup, then add milk until you reach 2/3 cup line. Let sit for five minutes before adding to ingredients.

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt, and baking soda. Next, cut chilled butter into dry ingredients using a pastry cutter (or a fork if you're like me and don't own a pastry cutter) until mixture is crumbly. Then add buttermilk and mix with a fork. Knead the dough a few times on a lightly floured surface.

Roll or press dough to about 1/2 inch thick. Then using a circle cookie cutter (or glass, or measuring cup--whatever you can get your hands on that is the shape of a circle), cut into circles and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until fluffy and slightly browned, about 10-12 minutes.



**Serving Suggestion: Serve with honey butter. Simply mix equal parts honey and softened butter, then spread on biscuits. Enjoy. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

South and Southeast Asia in 7 Months


What a trip. Bradford and I dreamed and talked about traveling to South and Southeast Asia together since basically the day we met and he couldn't stop talking about the time he'd recently spent in India. He was so passionate and enthusiastic about his time there that it made me want to hop on the next plane there. Well, it took about six years, but we finally did it. In February 2014, we purchased one-way tickets to Bangkok. In April, I quit my job, and in May, we were gone. We visited 8 countries and 86 cities in seven months.

Before leaving, we had a rough idea of where we wanted to go, but that's it. We booked everything as we went, rarely planning things out more than a few days in advance. We decided to stick to South and Southeast Asia for a couple of reasons: (1) this region of the world is so far from America, we knew it would be difficult to get back soon, (2) some of these countries are pretty rough so we wanted to experience them before children, (3) things are CHEAP in this part of the world!

Below are the countries we visited.










And for those really interested, below is a list of all the cities we visited:
(Disclaimer: India is a HUGE beast of a country...we hardly even scratched the surface, believe it or not.)

THAILAND: (Leg 1): Bangkok, Trang, Koh Muk, Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai, Hat Yai, Su Ngai Go Lok
(Leg 2): Hat Yai, Bangkok, Aranyaprathet
(Leg 3): Nong Khai, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Bangkok
(Leg 4): Bangkok, Lopburi, Ayutthaya

MALAYSIA: Kota Bharu, Perhentian Islands, Kuala Lipis, Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown

CAMBODIA: Poipet, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh

VIETNAM: Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi

LAOS: Muang Khoa, Phongsali, Udomxai, Nong Khiaw, Muang Ngoi Neua, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane

INDIA: Chennai, Pondicherry, Chidambaram, Thanjavur, Pudukkottai, Rameswaram, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Kollam, Aleppey, Kochi, Mettupalayam, Ooty, Mysore, Sravanabelagola, Shimoga, Hampi, Hospet, Margao, Colva Beach, Arossim Beach, Aurangabad, Ellora Caves, Ajanta Caves, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Bhavnagar, Shatrunjaya, Udaipur, Ajmer, Pushkar, Jaipur, Delhi, Agra, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Deshnok, Amritsar, McLeod Ganj, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi, Sarnath, Kushinagar

NEPAL: Lumbini, Pokhara, Kathmandu, Patan, Nagarkot, Baktapur

SINGAPORE: Singapore

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pico de Gallo

There is something so simple and perfect about pico de gallo. It's essentially three fresh, healthy ingredients blended together with additional spices to create a powerful, flavorful garnish. As a California native, I practically consider Mexican food a food group and find myself eating some form of it almost everyday. This pico de gallo is the perfect dish to add some freshness to those meals. 

Pico de Gallo
Yield: about 3 cups
Total Time: about 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

6 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pinch garlic powder
1 pinch ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl. For best taste, let sit in the refrigerator (covered) for at least 3 hours before serving. Enjoy!




Chocolate Chip Coconut Energy Bites

Since the arrival of our sweet daughter, schedules and meals have been a little unpredictable at our house. On top of that, I'm nursing which means that my appetite has increased dramatically as my body produces milk. I was very excited when I found this recipe and these little energy balls have proved to be delicious and effective at sustaining my energy levels when I feel like I'm lagging a little. They manage to satiate my hunger when there's no time to eat a full meal. 

Chocolate Chip Coconut Energy Bites
Adapted from I Can Teach My Child
Yield: 24 bites
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, coconut, and chocolate chips. Add peanut butter, greek yogurt, honey, and vanilla. Mix well until fully incorporated. Refrigerate mixture for one hour. Remove and form into 1-inch balls. Store in an airtight container (or freezer bag) in the freezer. 

When you're feeling lethargic, pop a bite and energize up!



Friday, January 30, 2015

India


{View of the Bay of Bengal in Chennai}

When I think back on our time in India, I think to myself, "what a trip". I've never done drugs before, but I think a 3-month stint in India would satisfy just about anyone's desire to remove themselves from the ordinary and experience something totally and completely different. For my first few weeks in India, I was completely enamored and mesmerized by the country. Sure, there were piles of trash and cow pies in the streets, but the colors were so vibrant, the smells so fragrant, and the people so warm. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before yet oddly I felt a sense of familiarity also. After about a month, the wear and tear of seven hour bus-rides, non-air conditioned trains, and over-friendly crowds of people started to get to me.

After month one, India seemed to play a game with me: it would give me a horrible, disgusting experience that made me want to leave the country immediately, then it would follow it up with an incredible, enlightening, delicious experience that made me want to stay forever. In some ways, it felt like an abusive relationship. After two months traveling through India at a very rapid pace, we started to slow down in month three (mainly, I think we were enjoying the cooler weather of the North) and did our best to savor our last weeks in such a unique, special, vibrant country. 

I have so much to share about India...we visited more than 40 cities and I'm still processing all that we learned and saw there. For now, I'll share a sampling of photos from our time there.  


{Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur}


{Cool guy who then turned into a creepy guy on a bus somewhere between Palitana and Ahmedabad}


{Thali meal served on a banana leaf in Rameswaram}


{Goa}


{Elephant crossing at Mysore Palace, Mysore}


{Niligiri Mountain Railway, on the way to Ooty}


{Sikhs at the Golden Temple, Amritsar}



{Buddhist monk in Kushinagar}


{Amber Fort, Jaipur}


{Jodhpur: "the blue city"}


{Pushkar}


{Kerala backwaters in Kollam}


{On top of Victory Tower at Chittorgarh Fort}


{Golden Temple, Amritsar}


{King of the road, Jaisalmer}


{A sampling of the many friendly Indians you'll meet while enduring hot temperatures, long stops in the middle of nowhere, and cramped quarters on a secold-class Indian train ride}


{Fruit vendor in Kanyakumari}

{Dawn boat ride on the Ganges, Varanasi}