A few days in Hocking Hills – in pictures

Instead of trying to capture a recent trip to the beautiful Hocking Hills in words, I am letting the photos speak for themselves! Plus I just don’t feel like writing much ☺️. If you are in the Ohio/ PA/ NY/ WV area, I cannot recommend this park enough for a quick weekend getaway. Also to note, all these pics were taken on my iPhone, but I wish I had brought my camera.

Pin this image for later!
A painting? Or just one of many stunning views.
Unbelievable! Walking into the gorge.
Inside the gorge!
Ash Cave
Here you can see the waterfall.
Beautiful fall foliage at Conkle’s Hollow
The top pic is edited with a grainy filter.
Here’s the full size edit ☺️
Beautiful scene.
A different image – turned the exposure down.
Cliffs and sandstone formations were everywhere throughout the park.
Lovely setting for a picnic!
Wagons…. East!
Me and my mom- great light in a cave, who knew!

Done and Dusted Product Review – YSL Touche Éclat All Over Brightening Pen

The empty product.

Hi all – back with a very quick “done and dusted” product review. This is on the *eponymous* YSL touche éclat brightening pen. This pen is a “cult favorite” per Sephora’s website and I’ve purchased this a few times over the past 15 years. I have to say, this will be my last time and I don’t recommend it for others in my age group. While the packaging is beautiful and functional (and it should be for the price) the product no longer suits my skincare needs.

This is somewhat of a hybrid product, crossing between a concealer and highlighter stick. I mainly use it under my eyes for brightening and concealing purposes. It is very lightweight and goes on very nicely and blends beautifully, and it has a nice consistency. While it has some good elements, I think that if YSL would formulate this product as one or the other (concealer or highlighter) it would make for a better product overall. While the consistency is great, it doesn’t provide enough coverage concealer wise or enough highlight to make it worthwhile. I may have liked it more when I was younger because my skin was different and doesn’t require the, ahem, ~upkeep~ it now requires. However, I have always felt that this product leaves something to be desired, and I am finally putting my foot down. This will be my final purchase of this product!

Bottom line: This $38.00 hybrid product just isn’t worth it for me. I have a bigger need for concealer under my eyes than highlighter at this point. If you don’t have dark circles/ bags, then this may work for you! An added bonus- this pen will last a very long time (I purchased this one in November of 2018 !). I still think there are probably better products for way less. I do think that YSL makes a more concealer heavy version, but at this point, I’m ready to move on, and keep using my Covergirl concealer until it runs out.

Price: $38.00

Repurchase: No

Why: Cost, product effectiveness , skincare needs

Kayaking the Upper Cuyahoga River

If anyone is looking for a fun socially distant summer activity, I highly recommend kayaking! There are lots of places to kayak in the northeast Ohio area, including the Upper Cuyahoga River. I’ve been kayaking in this area half a dozen times or so, during different seasons, and it’s always lovely. My mom started taking my sister and I to this area when we were young and I’ve been going ever since!

If you don’t own a kayak, there are a variety of places you can rent kayaks from along the Cuyahoga. Ryan and I actually have an inflatable kayak which worked great on our recent trip to North Carolina. However, because the Cuyahoga is very rocky/shallow in certain areas, we ended up renting some from Burning River Adventures. We’ve rented kayaks from this company before, and we felt safe with the social distancing precautions they had in place. Burning River Adventures also provides shuttling and drop offs if you do own your own kayak.

Ryan organized our excursion as a birthday gift for his Dad, and it was so fun. We had perfect weather and it was beautiful out. Birds were chirping, dragonflies humming, and the cicadas whirred as we floated down the river. You do not need kayaking experience to head out and paddle the Cuyahoga. It is slow paced with a few “rough” spots of water, but you mostly just glide with the (2 mph) current the entire time. As I mentioned before, the water is shallow in some parts, so you can get stuck! Just push with your paddles and scoot your way out if this happens.

We rented kayaks and did the 4.5 mile trip. I would love to do the longer 10 mile trip next time.

Some beautiful flowers near the river.
A serene setting.
👋🏻

We rented sit on top kayaks which I love. They’re much more comfortable than traditional sea kayaks in my opinion, and much more open. This leaves you exposed to the elements so they wouldn’t be ideal in open water or inclement weather, but for a slow paced trip down the river, they were perfect.

Debbie and Gregg paddling along.
📸 by Ryan

There are also some other great areas to kayak in the greater CLE area.

  • 41 Degrees North Kayak Adventures – kayaking rentals and tours out of Rocky River. My mom and I did the Lake Erie sunset tour years ago and it was amazing!
  • Hinckley Lake – another great spot for any skill level. You can rent kayaks through the Metroparks here.
  • LaDue Reservoir – a big reservoir with lots of nooks and crannies to paddle around. I love that this company gives you a sizable discount on rentals if you help keep the area tidy while out paddling- check out Breakaway Excursions, here.
  • The Metroparks has additional rental options on their website. They usually have special outings but unfortunately have scaled back this year.
  • River Cruiser Kayaks offers a couple of unique routes – one of which ends up downtown.
  • More Upper Cuyahoga River rentals through Camp Hi. Camp Hi also offers canoe rentals as well as pavilions and campgrounds.
Camp Hi started as a camp back in the 1930s – photo c/o Camp Hi website

Kayaking is a beautiful way to spend a few hours and it felt so peaceful. I think getting out in nature is always so good for the mind, body and soul, especially in the craziness that is 2020! What other activities do you think would be fun? Leave some ideas in the comments below!

Easy Filling Breakfast Hash

Back with another quick, filling recipe for my readers. This one comes from the “Always Hungry?” book I wrote about in my smoothie post. This recipe is great for breakfast/ brunch but we’ve also had it for lunch and dinner as well! It couldn’t be easier and it’s so filling.

And the recipe is: Black Bean Tofu Hash. To some readers this might sound delicious, to others (like myself), it might sound more like, “ew, beans and tofu?” I too was a skeptic but we’ve had this recipe at least half a dozen times in the last two months and it really is delicious. I had only ever had tofu sparingly in the past, but I’ve been buying it on each grocery trip (or grocery delivery) these days.

I love this recipe because it’s quick, feels hearty, and is inexpensive to boot. Like all great recipes you can easily modify it 😆 and add to it based on what you have in your kitchen.

This is basically all you need!

Let’s get to it! Without further ado, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 block of extra firm tofu (or whatever firmness you prefer) well drained/ pressed*
  • 1 clove of garlic (or more if you are a fellow garlic lover) minced or microplane-d (I think I just made that a verb)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 can of black beans drained and rinsed
  • Southwest seasoning (we made our own blend using 1 tbps Chili powder, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp chipotle, 1 tbsp Cumin, and a dash of salt)
  • Toppings: cheddar cheese, scallions, cilantro, sour cream, taco sauce (go nuts here!)

How to make it:

  • Start by heating the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds or so. Yum… the smell of garlic and olive oil is just the best.
  • Add the tofu, crumbling it with your fingers as it goes into the pan. It will kind of resemble ground meat at this point. Stir around for another minute.
  • I add about 3/4 of my seasoning at this point, stirring to make sure all the tofu is coated.
  • Dump in the can of black beans and stir. Add the rest of the seasoning.
  • Let the mixture sit over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until the flavors meld together.
  • That’s it. Scoop it into a bowl and enjoy. Yes, you’re literally done except for toppings!
Doesn’t look like much but it’ll taste great!

I love to top this with cilantro (the original recipe calls for adding into the mixture whilst in the pan, but I like the fresher taste of it on top) or scallions. I would also recommend using sour cream or cheese to get in some fat as the rest of the ingredients have no fat, except the tsp of olive oil. You could also add some taco sauce or salsa!

This recipe makes four servings and it keeps really well for next day consumption :). I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do! If you haven’t used tofu before #tofubie (tofu + newbie, no, just me?), I think you should give it a chance. It’s a great substitute for meat and takes on the delicious flavors of this dish – the more garlic the better! Honestly I do not think ground chicken or turkey would taste any better in this dish, but if you have those on hand you could substitute as needed and they would work well.

*Editor’s note: I wrapped our tofu in a dish towel and set a pan on top of it for ~20 min to get more liquid out, but I normally don’t have time to do this and just press as much water out as I can with a dish towel or paper towel. The joys of the weekend hours!

My Skincare routine and favorite products

Hello all & happy weekend!

Today I am going to walk through my skincare routine and some favorite products. A few friends, coworkers, and others have asked me about skincare (much to my bewilderment), so I decided to do a quick little post. To be honest, my skincare routine isn’t the most regimented, and I think that I was (very fortunately) genetically blessed with fairly low maintenance skin, which always helps. However, over the last five years or so, I have been focusing on trying to use better quality products and take better care of my skin overall.

So, what prompted my skincare journey (aside from realizing I am no longer 22)? My sister also has great skin, and several years ago, I asked what her routine was. She sent me down a rabbit hole of Korean skincare products that I still use today, in addition to some other items I recently picked up. Let’s get started!

Step One (Wash your face): Cleansing Oil

So the first step in any skincare routine is to obviously washing your face. I do a “double cleanse” which is just fancy talk for slathering on a cleansing oil, and then washing it off with a typical gentle cleanser (step 2 below). I absolutely love this oil and it’s a very affordable option. I have used it for about 3 years, and one jar lasts anywhere from 8-10 months. It blends really well and gets off absolutely every last bit of makeup. It smells incredibly fresh/ wonderful and is really a treat to use. Your face will feel soft and luscious after using this cleanser. For a more luxurious option, try this Elemis cleansing balm. The scent is ridiculously good and it can also be used as a face mask! It is also a good sized jar that will likely last a long time. I have both and will do a splurge or save post in the near future!

Step Two: Foaming Cleanser

I used this Hadalobo product for a couple of years and loved it. It’s gentle and does a great job of cleaning off any residual dirt/grime/residue after the oil cleanser. Buy it here. Again, this cleanser usually lasts me upwards of a year! You just need a pump or two each time you wash your face. I recently started using Cerave foaming cleanser. It works equally well! With the double cleanse system, you don’t need to use any cleansing products with lots of harsh chemicals or astringents.

Step Three: Serum or Essence

This is the step where you want to tailor your selections to your skin type specifically and can get creative. You can use vitamin C, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, ampoules (basically supercharged serums), etc. all based on the needs of your skin! I always use this lotion right after I wash my face. It instantly makes my skin feel moist (ew) and honestly, plump (double ew). It almost acts like a primer* (*I think, I do not use primer so I am unsure) in that it makes my skin feel super smooth. As part of Step Three, I also recently started using one of my all time favorite skin care products, Dr. Dennis Gross Peel Pads. These are honestly transformational and make my skin look completely revitalized like no other product. I was definitely #influenced to buy them, and they are one of the pricier items on this list (and in my entire skincare/beauty regime), but they are 100% worth the hype and the price. This is one of the only skincare products I have ever seen visible results with. If you buy one thing from this entire list, I would buy this. I would also highly recommend doing some research on which serums/ essences would be best for your skin type!

Step Four: Moisturizer

Again, this is where you want to tailor your selection to your needs. I have fairly oily skin, so I usually use a light moisturizer. You can’t go wrong with classic Oil of Olay (although it’s categorized as on the “heavier” side it’s always worked for me and feels light). I think I have been using this moisturizer for ten years. I also just recently bought Elemis Pro Collagen Marine Cream. This is waaaay more expensive than Oil of Olay, so unless it’s a miracle worker, it may just be a one time purchase for me. First impressions though – amazing. The smell alone is *almost* worth it. It’s one of those smells that just feels clean, luxurious, and fresh all at once. Kinda makes you feel like you are in a spa overlooking the ocean somewhere (and hey, that’s worth something right!?). Also, a little goes a long way, it is super blendable and absorbs quickly. I have heard this compares to the famous “La Mer,” cream so we shall see.

I love to also use a night time moisturizer, especially in the winter months when my skin resembles that of a shedding snake. This Banila mask is a winner in my book. I have also loved some other products from Laneige, so I want to try this one soon too.

A few more options – all of these have been on my list to try. This Banana Sleep Mask – love the packaging and have read multiple good reviews! Missha is another great K-Beauty brand. I have tried other products from this company and loved them. This sleeping mask is only $12 (on sale right now) and I have also heard good things about it.

Step Five: Sunscreen

Last but not least, you must finish off your skincare routine with an SPF. This is the one step of my skincare routine I need to focus on more (I tend to forget it). It is so important from a health perspective, as well as for an anti-aging routine if that is a concern. The one SPF I love (recommended by my sister 🙂) is this Biore product (from Japan). This doesn’t feel or look like a sunscreen at all and is more of an essence-type product. It is so lightweight and better quality than much more expensive sunscreens like Supergoop, La Roche Posay, etc. This sunscreen is recommended on tons of Korean beauty forums/blogs, is inexpensive, and it lives up to the hype. This is probably the other product I would recommend most (after the peel pads).

Some other favorite skincare products:

  • Lip balm: Nivea Lip Balm – So moisturizing and so lightweight. Love the smell too.
  • TULA Eye Balm: This product is wonderful. It is very cooling and provides a little bit of highlight under the eye which is great especially if you struggle with baggy or dark circles.
  • Neocutis Lumiere Eye Cream: This eye cream is wonderful. I have literally tried a bazillion eye creams over the years and this one has actually provided a noticeable brightening effect.
  • Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil: This bright blue oil is applied before bed and turns clear as you rub it in. It contains trans-retinoic acid ester complex and gives a nice glow the next day. It does contain retinol, just something to keep in mind.
  • Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Treatment: I bought this and had it over a year! I use it at night paired with the Luna Sleeping Oil. This is an exfoliating product and contains purified lactic acid. It also has a nice fresh citrusy scent. If your skin is sensitive, I would definitely ease into using this item. You can almost feel it tingling immediately on your face.
  • If you are a fan of face masks, I highly recommend this Caudalie Exfoliating Mask. I have had this product now for two years (is that even allowed with skincare!?) and it is amazing. Apply to clean, dry skin and leave on for ten to fifteen minutes. I notice visible clarity and that *glow* factor after I use this mask. I only use this mask every other week at most.

Editor’s note: I am obviously not a dermatologist (or a beauty product expert) and you should probably speak to one if you are starting a new skin care regimen and you plan on using items with any sort of elevated pH. I also think it’s great to speak to a dermatologist in general about these products as they may be able to recommend some items with prescription level retinol, glycolic acid, lactic acid, etc. These are just my personal favorite items that I have used consistently and have made a difference.

What are you favorite skincare products? Any must haves? Let me know in the comments below. Stay tuned for an another beauty products related post, coming soon!

Florence, Italy

Ryan and I went to Italy 🇮🇹 in October of last year, and I am finally getting ready to post some pictures six months later! First up, Florence!

I won’t be doing a traditional post with extensive recommendations, etc., because we barely scratched the surface with what we saw in our few days there. I do have one recommendation if you are planning a trip to Italy – it helps to do some reading and research prior to going. Various websites, travel forums online, and podcasts all proved helpful. I also read a couple of books about the Duomo di Firenze and Florentine art. I ended up purchasing ‘Florence: The Paintings and Frescoes’ which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in art, history, or if you are planning to visit several museums or churches throughout Italy. It provided great context for Italian Renaissance art and beyond. It’s also a gorgeous book. You can purchase it here.

Florence has to be one of the most magical cities in the world. It is truly breathtaking and of another time. Around every corner lies a piece of history on full display. The cobblestone alleys, marble facades, worn wooden doors and ochre stucco buildings form an enchanting maze of streets that are a joy to explore. There is an overwhelming amount of museums, churches, palaces and places to visit. Incredible food and wine are just the icing on the cake! Florence is also very walkable and easy to navigate, especially with the Arno river serving as a beautiful landmark. It’s almost indescribable and I can’t recommend visiting enough.

Shots from around the Arno River:

A look across the Arno.
The spectacular view from our AirBNB.
This was taken on our last night.

Views of the city:

One of my favorite shots ever ☺️
Golden hour, my favorite time of day!
The most dramatic lighting I have ever seen. A storm had just passed through and the sun illuminated the Duomo in brilliant light.
The narrow streets of Florence.

One of the “must sees” in Florence is the Florence Cathedral, aka, ‘the Duomo.’ It is located in the center of the city and cannot be missed due to its sheer size. It’s truly an architectural marvel and a wonder to behold. On this trip, Ryan and I did a guided tour to the top which was amazing and so informative. I definitely think it’s worth it to make the climb up, and the views are stunning. The inside of the cathedral itself is fairly simple vs. the outside, however, the dome has an amazing fresco by Vasari which is an incredible sight as you make your way up.

A caveat: Yes, it is extremely touristy. The wait was four hours to get into the cathedral (if you hadn’t purchased a ticket ahead of time). The square where the cathedral is located is also swarming with tourists. However, that said, it is completely worth it to at least walk around it and observe from the outside. The exterior is much more detailed than the interior, other than the dome. Also, only a tiny percentage of tourists climb to the top, so when we got up there, it was hardly crowded at all! Another option is to walk around at night. We did this multiple times and it was very enjoyable.

Pictures can’t do it justice.
😩😩😩
The Last Judgement – Vasari + Zuccari (sponsored by Cosimo I de’ Medici)
Don’t look down!
Giotto’s Bell Tower and terra cotta rooftops.

We also visited Sante Croce on this trip. It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been in. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, to name a few* (*this sentence came straight out of Wikipedia, but it sums it up quite nicely 🤣). Sante Croce was much less crowded than the area around the Duomo, and I truly think the interior is more aesthetically pleasing. We just waited in a very short line right when it opened and bought our tickets then and there! Timing is everything – if you visit places on the earlier side, they are much less hectic.

The exterior.
Wow.
Again, pictures don’t come close.
Incredible frescos and stained glass throughout.
Ryan in the Sacristy of Sante Croce. The frescos behind him were so beautiful! (Gaddi, Gerini and Arentino). Opposite Ryan (and out of the frame) is the crucifix of Cimabue, which was unfortunately irreparably damaged during flooding in the 1960s. Still beautiful!
A beautiful courtyard within a museum housed in a former Medici villa.
Detail of fresco.

Some other favorite shots from Florence:

Detail at the top of the Duomo.
Interior of San Miniato al Monte
Interior of San Miniato al Monte. One of my favorites.
Winding streets and Cyprus trees 🌳.
Just couldn’t get over this view!
Amazing pizza. I came to this same pizza place with my Mom three years prior! Still just as good.
Enjoying some rosé on our balcony.
Quintessential Italian trattoria.

I have so many incredible photos to share but as you can see, my blog post would be book length at that point. To summarize: if you’re thinking about visiting, do it! My only regret is that we didn’t have more time.

Highlights:

  • The unbelievable art and architecture throughout the city. It felt like a treat to wander down each and every street. Unparalleled museums and history everywhere you look!
  • Gelato every night – the one by our apartment happened to be incredible! Il Procopio is another favorite.
  • Walking tour of the city at night. It wasn’t crowded, the temperature was perfect, and we learned so much history along the way. Pro tip: Try to do any guided (or self guided) tour early on in your stay so you can become familiar with the city.
  • Climbing up to the top of the Duomo – would also have loved to climb to the top of the bell tower.
  • The food! There is no shortage of amazing food. Cured meats, cheeses, Florentine steaks, pasta, gelato, croissants, cappuccinos, etc.
  • Wine. I’ll just leave that here.
  • Walkability – truly a walkable city which makes it easy to explore. I especially loved walking along the river and up to San Miniato al Monte.
  • The incredible churches. I am not religious and I would highly recommend adding several into your itinerary.
  • The Uffizi Gallery – unbelievable to see all of the pieces in here. The building itself rivals the Louvre.
  • Wandering around. So fun to walk through the streets, peruse shops and stalls, and stop for a glass of wine along the way!
  • The Giardino di Boboli- acres and acres of manicured gardens overlooking rolling green hills. A perfect escape from the crowds if you need it!

What I’d like to see next time:

  • The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
  • Basilica di San Lorenzo
  • The Bargello
  • Santa Maria Novella
  • A few more of the palazzos-turned-museums
  • More photos of Ryan and I, and more food pics! Not to worry, I more than made up for this on other legs of our trip ☺️.

We had four full days in Florence and it was incredible. We can’t wait to return someday. Next up: Rome, Praiano, and Orvieto. I hope you enjoyed this post! What do you love to do in Florence?

Tulum Trip

Howdy! If you are in need of a vacation (or just some inspiration) then this post is for you. Ryan and I recently got back from an incredible week long trip to Tulum, Mexico. We have been having a very gray winter here in Cleveland (as per usual) and a dose of sun and sea was just what we needed!

A Little History: Tulum, (if you haven’t heard of it) is a town about an hour and a half south of Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan peninsula and sits on some of (if not the) most beautiful beaches in the world. Tulum got its start many centuries ago as a port for the ancient Mayan city of Coba (a little bit further inland). It was one of the last cities to be occupied by the Mayans, and remained so even after the Spanish arrived. Unfortunately, it was quickly decimated by disease and soon thereafter abandoned.

What remains of the ancient city is now protected in a national park. The *very* well-preserved ruins are perched on a cliff overlooking the turquoise ocean below. We visited this site on our last trip and it was truly spectacular.

^ Here I am at the ruins on our first trip to Tulum.

Pro tip: Get there right when the park opens to avoid the barrage of tour buses from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

The Mayans had the right idea.

^ Some of the buildings are in near perfect condition.

Nowadays, Tulum is more of a beach-y, tourist town that I highly recommend visiting!

Why we love Tulum: Ryan and I have visited this area twice now, and we are already planning a third trip. Tulum really has the best of all things. It has amazing food and culture, beautiful weather, and of course, it’s located on one of the most stunning stretches of land I have ever seen.

^ just looking at this picture makes me feel *zen*. Also, the sky just looks unreal.

We’ve stayed in Tulum town now on both trips (vs. staying directly on the beach). The town is about 2 miles away (by bicycle) from the beach. For our third trip we are contemplating staying directly on the beach, but you really can’t go wrong with either location. Most AirBNBs have bikes so you can easily ride to the public beach or beach clubs, and there is amazing food/drink to be had in both locations.

Pool at our AirBNB:

IMHO, Tulum town is a little bit more authentic than the beach area. There are many Mexican/Mayan people visiting and working in town. In the beach area, we noticed it was less diverse (in some ways) and more touristy, probably due to the higher price points. You likely won’t find a lot of authentic Mexican/Mayan food close to the beach, but, that being said, there are some truly amazing restaurants in this area as well, it just depends on what you’re in the mood for and the experience you want to have. Given the proximity of town to the beach and vice versa, you really don’t have to choose since you can easily go to both areas!

Below: One of hundreds of vibrant murals throughout town.

No matter where you stay, we found people to be friendly and welcoming. The landscape is otherworldly. Lush jungle pushes right up to the ocean along the coastline. Going to the beach is an experience in and of itself. Thick green foliage lines either side of the dirt road as sunlight filters through. You can feel and smell a little bit of the salt spray from the ocean, and as you park your bike under the palm trees on the white sand beach, it feels like you’ve just arrived in heaven (at least my version!).

The color of the water is somewhere between crystal clear and light turquoise. Everyday we arrived to the beach it truly took my breath away and I had to pinch myself.

A true vacation: The best part of this trip for me was how utterly relaxing it was. I recently started a new position (same employer) and the transition has been particularly tough. There is a huge learning curve for this role and a lot of work to be done. This vacation (which was planned well before I took this new job) was much needed by the time it actually rolled around.

Usually when we travel (particularly internationally) I have a lot of places saved, a list of things to do, etc. On this trip, we had nothing planned. It was amazing. We just woke up and decided what to do as the day progressed. Most days we ended up eating a large breakfast and heading to the beach afterwards. On some trips, this lack of structure might not work out so quite so well. For example, when I am visiting a big city like Paris or Rome, I find myself trying to see all the places I grew up reading about in history books, in less than a week’s time. There is often a subconscious sense of urgency for me to see it all on these types of trips (as much as I try to fight it!).

I think generally we do a pretty good job of balancing the “must-sees” with just letting the experience unfold, but I loved this trip because it was a true vacation in every sense of the word. No pressure to see anything, be anywhere at any specific time, or do much of anything at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

What we did (Other than eat, beach, repeat): On this past trip, we cooked with a Mayan family in a very small village called Muchucuxcah (located in the Yucatan state). The family was incredibly welcoming and friendly. Since we did not share a common language, I thought there might be a barrier but it was amazing how much we could communicate through facial expressions and gesturing. We made tortillas, traditional bean wraps using banana leaves, and an amazing dish called ‘pollo pibil’ – chicken in red chile spices, cooked underground.

Finished chicken product:

Our host, Alberto, was really wonderful. He grew up in Mexico and ended up going to graduate school in Belgium on a scholarship for engineering. He began teaching Mexican cooking classes as a means to stay close to his roots while being halfway around the world. Eventually, he took his love of cooking and brought it back to Mexico (full circle!). He met the Mayan family he works with through his brother, and he has been cooking with them for five years. This partnership with the family has helped support them and their community.

Our host family’s casa. ^

Alberto was very informative during the trip to Muchucuxcah and Ryan and I both learned a lot about Mayan civilization, Mexico, and cooking as well. We always try to do some sort of food related activity when we visit different areas. This was by far one of the best we have ever done, and one of the best guides we have ever had.

Aside from this phenomenal culinary excursion, we also enjoyed several other amazing meals. We ate a lot of seafood, tacos, and Oaxaca cheese 😁. We also had our fair share of tropical fruits and vegetables. The produce is so fresh in this part of the world. Having delicious coconut, mango, papaya, avocado, and pineapple on hand truly made me yearn to live in such an ecologically blessed area!

^ Why does my arm/ hand look massively large here? Anyways, cheers to this view ☺️.

We also visited an amazing cenote about an hour from Tulum. Cenotes are naturally formed fresh water pools that are below ground level. There are thousands of them in the Yucatan peninsula, and are all connected via an underground river. It was about 70 feet below ground and spectacular. Long vines hung from the opening at ground level and tumbled down into the blue water below. The water was a deep cerulean blue and completely clear. Ryan and I both swung off a rope (!!) and swam around with the fish for a while.

Tulum thoughts: We have absolutely loved visiting Tulum both times and can’t wait to go back. Have you ever been to Tulum? Do you recommend any other places in Mexico?

*Check out my quick (soon to be published) Tulum guide for more details on what we did, things to do, and other tips.*

Thank you for reading, please leave comments below!

 

It must be beautiful this time of year…

Hi all! Just popping on to share some pics of our home all dressed up for Christmas. We just put our decorations up and are getting in the holiday spirit. These first few photos are actually from last year, but the scene is virtually unchanged this year!

Here are some pics from Public Square in downtown Cleveland. I took these walking home from work the other day. The decorations are truly beautiful and make the sun setting at 4:30 slightly more bearable 😊.

Finally, Maggie is also ready for the colder months:

Don’t worry, she shook off these antlers approximately 2 seconds after this photo was snapped.

I hope everyone is enjoying these last few weeks of 2019. Soon it will be a new year, and a new decade at that! Enjoy the season everyone!

Exploring the Van Aken District

Hi guys!

Today I want to chat about a little area that has been majorly revamped over the last couple of years: the Van Aken District in Shaker Heights, OH.

Van Aken is the name of the street that ends at the intersection of Warrensville and Chagrin Boulevard (about 4 minutes from our house conveniently!) and has experienced a complete renaissance as of late!

A few years ago, it was a mess of an intersection (literally, it had 6 stoplights) and a collection of aging strip malls. Today, it has been reimagined and redesigned with amazing local shops and restaurants. It has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit and discover. It definitely reminds me of downtown Cleveland, or an area you might see in a more urban setting vs ~the ‘burbs.~

Let’s start with the #eeeeeats. This place has so many good options (mainly casual but a few sit down restaurants), your only problem will be choosing where you want to dine!

To name a few:

  • Brassica– casual Lebanese restaurant. Think Chipotle but with roasted veggies, falafel and tahini instead of fajitas, steak and salsa. So delicious!
  • Restore– juice bar/ all around healthy options (smoothies, bowls, avocado toast, and of course fresh pressed juice). I have been getting smoothies here after my spinning classes and they are fantastic. Highly recommend Smoothie #1- Bluebs, Almond Butter, coconut oil, flaxseed, banana and almond milk.
  • Mitchell’s Ice Cream – no description necessary. My ultimate indulgence/forever craving.
  • Rising Star Coffee– my favorite coffee in Cleveland. Amazing lattes, mochas, espresso drinks, delicious vegan pastries.
  • On the Rise Bakery– the original location is just a mile or two away on Fairmount Boulevard. Amazing bread, pastries, and sandwiches. Their croissants and tarts are heavenly. Good iced coffee to boot!
  • Nature’s Oasis– a small organic grocery store with a full service cafe inside. They make fantastic waffles, and a smorgasbord of other options as well. Their other location is in Lakewood, OH and was one of my favorites!

There’s a bunch we haven’t tried too, and I can’t wait to check them out this summer:

  • Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink (have heard good things)
  • ChutneyB (casual Indian joint from Doug Katz)
  • A new TBD Jonathan Sawyer restaurant with a rooftop wine bar!
  • Banter (poutine… drool) – the other location is in Gordon Square on near west side
  • Scorpacciata (fresh handmade pasta, double drool)

A lot of these places are housed in “Market Hall,” sort of like a giant cafeteria. They offer beer and drinks too. There is communal seating inside and outdoor seating available as well, which is perfect for the summer weather we’ve finally been having!!

There are also a ton of shops in the area. Most are local, and all are fun to stop into!

Personally I am more into eating than shopping, but why not support a few local businesses while you’re grabbing a meal!

  • Cleveland Clothing Co– all things Cleveland + clothing. I love their t-shirts!
  • Room Service– mix of trendy clothing and home goods
  • Shinola – a fancy boutique featuring American made leather goods and watches (started in Detroit)
  • Stem (handmade and yummy smelling soaps)
  • Luster– cute boutique with home goods and fun knick-knacks
  • Bonobos– fun menswear with a flair for patterns and prints (and fitting well)

As I referenced earlier, there is also a spinning studio here. I took my first class a few weeks ago and I have to say, I can see what the hype is all about! The studio is called GrooveRyde and so far each class and instructor has been amazing! It is such a challenging workout, but actually fun at the same time (sounds cheesy buttt its actually true). The studio staff are extremely welcoming and helpful, especially to a nervous newbie like me 😁.

Outdoor seating for Market Hall:

^Nature’s Oasis, one of many casual (and wonderful) dining options.

Love this mural in the little square area.

I am so happy to see this whole space focused on local shops, stores and restaurants doing so well.

The area also hosts pop up shops with other local shops, the North Union Farmers market every week, and has happy hours every Friday as well!

It’s easily accessible via the RTA for Clevelanders who live in other areas. Have you been to the new Van Aken District? It’s definitely worth checking out!

In the summertime…

Just sharing some pics from a nice weekend. We spent time with my mom (birthday celebrations) and her sister (my Aunt Jeannie) who was visiting.

I also grabbed some flowers at Trader Joe’s:

And picked some from our yard ☺️

My mom + Maggie = 🥰🥰🥰

Mini photo shoot by Ryan 😄

We also visited the cultural gardens (sneak peak below) which I blogged about here.

^ Maggie chewing eating a stick per usual.

Her gnashing little teeth 🦷🤣.

Enjoying a Lake Erie sunset 🌅.

Dinner and delicious drinks at the Fairmount!

Such a fun weekend! Thanks to Ryan for capturing some great pics of the three of us and Happy Birthday to my wonderful Mom! It’s been a great summer so far.