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Friday, February 24, 2017

Jambalaya Recipe to Help Celebrate Mardi Gras!

In celebration of Mardi Gras, I thought I would share one of my favorite dishes - Jambalaya! And because my husband's from New Mexico and we like a little more heat, this recipe includes a Hatch green chile twist.

"Laissez les bons temps rouler!" means "let the good times roll" and is a popular French saying during Mardi Gras (and we will add to make sure to eat a lot of good food)! We hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do.

Sam's Spicy Jambalaya (with a New Mexican twist)

1 TBS vegetable oil
1 pound chicken breasts (boneless/skinless); cut into bite size chunks
1 package andouille sausage (the spicier the better in our opinion); cut into bite size chunks
1 onion; diced
1 green bell pepper; diced
1 rib of celery; diced
1 1/2 tsps of your favorite Cajun seasoning (Tony Chachere's is a good option)
1 can diced tomatoes; drained
1 cup long-gram white rice
1 can (15.5 oz) of low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (4.5 oz) of chopped green chiles ** If you can get fresh New Mexican Hatch Green Chiles, use these! 4.5 oz is a little more than 1/2 cup. If not, a can is a substitute. **

Let's get cookin':
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the chicken and sausage and saute until the chicken is no longer pink.
  3. With a slotted spoon remove the chicken and sausage and place in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Add the onion, green pepper, and celery to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Then stir in the Cajun seasoning, diced tomatoes, and rice.
  6. Then add the chicken broth and stir.
  7. Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover the pan, and reduce heat to low. 
  8. Continue letting it simmer for 20 minutes (most of the liquid should be absorbed).
  9. Stir the chicken and sausage back into the mixture and include all the wonderful juices from the bowl. 
  10. Stir in the green chiles.
  11. Cook, uncovered, for about 5 more minutes until the rice is tender.
  12. ENJOY!
If you have a favorite Mardi Gras recipe for us to try and feature, please comment or shoot us an email. We love to eat!

 The finished product - so good! 
Note: our recipe is for chicken and andouille sausage, but you can also add shrimp if you can get good seafood.

This is what you are looking for if you cannot get your hands on fresh, New Mexican Hatch green chile. They have mild, medium, and hot so you can choose your heat. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Beauty of a Road Trip (and Some Couple Travel Tips)

Scott and I have always loved road trips and we have always enjoyed road trips as a couple. I do not know if it is because both of our parents vacationed with their families via road trip so we just grew up with them or because it allows us the flexibility we both enjoy when traveling. Ever since we started dating though multiple-state road trips have been a yearly opportunity for us. For the first few years of dating road trips were a cheaper way for us to visit family (Scott’s in New Mexico and mine in Georgia) and now they have turned into some of our longer planned, non-family vacations.
We also enjoy hiking and camping and one of our first large purchases as a couple was a fantastic, retro, 1984 10-foot Coleman pop-up camper. Let me tell you, that thing has been well used over the years and despite the horrible brown 1980s interior it has been a wonderful addition to our road trip options (we have a 2007 Nissan Xterra with a hitch that tows it with no effort).

While I will be keeping you posted on road trips coming up, some we are looking forward to highlighting are (1) our Virginia to Maine trip in 2014, (2) Virginia to Amelia Island, Florida in 2015, and (3) Virginia to Yellowstone trip in 2016. So stay tuned...

Note: I should probably warn you that our road trips double as craft brewery trips, so a lot of our recommendations and opportunities to “go down this random road” are based on where local breweries are and how we can visit as many as we can. 

In general here are some of our low stress road trip tips before we get into trip details:
  1. Stay awake and talk to each other, sing with each other, read to each other – interact! Half of the fun of taking a road trip is spending time with my husband and being goofy by singing songs super loud or getting into a four hour long debate just because we can.   
  2. Whoever is in the navigator seat needs to actually help navigate. This is not just navigation help when the GPS is being funky, but this includes searching for places via YELP! and making decisions for lunch stops.
  3. If the driver is tired, switch drivers and give each other a break. If the navigator is tired, make sure the driver is okay with the navigator napping. And if the driver starts falling asleep when the navigator is napping, the driver should not get bitched at when he/she wakes up the navigator. Can you tell we are still working on #3? I think the moral of the story here is to remember that people get irritated when they get sleepy and driving sometimes makes you sleepy, so be nice or maybe find a rest stop so both driver and navigator can get some Zzzzz.
  4. If you decide to eat in the car, the navigator helps make sure the driver gets fed and makes sure the food does not end up all over the interior of the vehicle. This might mean putting extra ketchup on a burger, holding a sandwich when traffic gets a little crazy, or digging into a cooler in the back seat when a snack craving hits. We’ve learned that having an extra stash of napkins in the glove compartment is a pretty good idea too (and wet-ones and travel hand sanitizer).
  5. Decide as a team how much flexibility to have with time. For example, does anyone care if a 60 mile stretch might take 3 hours because the other person really wants to check out a brewery that is 20-miles off the route? Or is the objective for the day to get from point A to point B because point B and stopping somewhere random would cause you to check into your night’s lodging after midnight?
  6. If someone REALLY wants to go somewhere, talk about it and make a decision together on how to add it into the trip. I cannot think of a single road trip where I felt like I missed out on something because Scott argued and did not want to go (or vice versa). Be a supportive travel buddy and don’t roll your eyes when your wife wants to check out the statue outside a random gas station because it’s a T-Rex and the town is named Dinosaur. Figure out how it fits into the plans together and enjoy the statue because it’s awesome!

 Our 1984 10-foot Coleman pop-up camper lovingly named "Roadrunner" because of the awesome, retro roadrunner rug that was left inside when we bought it. 

 Our typical road trip set-up with our 2007 Nissan Xterra. It pulls that pop-up with no effort.

 My amazing hubby has gotten pretty good at squeezing into tight parking spaces...the man has skills when it comes to backing up something pulled on a hitch. Me? I tend to back into things...

 Over the years we've decked out the pop-up with stickers, stickers, and more stickers. Our favorite is probably the one we picked up in TX on our way to Balmorhea State Park that says, "Conserve water...shower with a friend." 

If you have an amazing sticker that you think we'd enjoy let us know and we will gladly add it to our camper collection. Just message us!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Irish Honeymoon: Sláinte or "Cheers" to a Fabulous Day 1 in Dublin

By the time we got off the train it was about 8am and we headed to The Temple Bar section of town. (Scott: If you like the art scene, drinking scene, or the Ireland-is-awesome-simply-because-it-is-Ireland scene you will LOVE Temple Bar! Think Bourbon Street/Beale Street/Pier 39/6th Street/River Walk/etc.) What we realized as we were walking was that we were some of the only people out and about. (Scott: A note to any morning people: this is a theme in Ireland... a recurring theme...) Couple Travel Tip #1: When you arrive at 8am NONE of the shops are open, none of the restaurants seemed to be open, so we had some time to just mellowly enjoy what is known as one of the busiest areas in Dublin. Although we were enjoying the solitude, food was still our main focus and out of all the wonderful options that we would have had if we would have started our day a little later, our first Irish restaurant was... an Italian place. It was not a complete disappointment though, because they definitely served a "Traditional Irish Breakfast" and we both ordered a full plate (Scott: vs. a "half plate" which is a good option for most Americans and anyone else who tends to eat light in the morning). Irish Breakfast consists of:
  • 1 egg (cooked to your liking), 
  • a stewed tomato (Scott: ick)
  • 1 piece of white pudding, 
  • 1 piece of black pudding (think blood sausage), 
  • 2 pieces of bacon (which was more like ham) (Scott: and ABSOLUTELY delicious! American restaurants please take note.)
  •  and more toast than you can eat. 
Scott loved it! It was a little too much protein for me, but at the moment it was delicious and a great start to our morning... (Scott: We will talk more about the Irish definition of "pudding" at a later date. Basically, somebody is very confused on the definition.)

After a very fulfilling breakfast, it was, naturally, time for a beer (Scott: this is why I married my wife), so our next stop was the Guinness Brewery and Storehouse. We made a good move and got a map of the city from the car rental place, and found it was pretty easy to get around downtown. (Scott: and by this she means "Scott navigated as always and Sam got a bit pissy whenever we got lost." She denies this but such is love...or marriage as the case may be.) Couple Travel Tip #2: By 10am the crowd was also starting to appear, so it was extremely easy to find the brewery (signs + lots of tour buses). This was one of the more "touristy" experiences in which we were willing to put up with a mob and fork out 17 Euros apiece. You can also get tickets on-line, but even on a busy weekend like St. Patty's, the ticket counters moved quickly.

Being beer nerds and history nerds, we enjoyed the tour - complete with the pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar! Side note for those interested in both beer and history, Scott found a really interesting book on the Guinness family; The Guinnesses by Joe Joyce and would recommend reading it before the tour so you can fully appreciate the legacy that is Guinness.

After the Guinness experience, it was Scott's mission to hit an Irish micro-brewery (which is an exciting search because Ireland's micro-brewery scene is really just starting to appear). (Scott: Note to any history people - and yes, Irish micro-brewery history is a very important part of Irish history writ large - the Irish are in their second contemporary wave of microbreweries.) So, we headed back to Temple Bar via a new route and got a chance to see the original Dublin City Wall and gates from circa 1240 AD. Couple Travel Tip #3: The best thing we did was not really have a plan for the rest of the day and we enjoyed just walking around. Anyway, for those of you who support American micro-breweries, we encourage you all to do the same overseas. Our first stop of the trip was The Porterhouse Brewing Co. and their Oyster Stout is highly recommended (gasp, I know, a stout that's NOT Guinness is a sin). (Scott: Also, even though I am pretty adventurous when it comes to beers an "oyster" anything seemed a bit outlandish. That said, it was very good. Basically a smoky, full flavored stout that paired well with seafood. Definitely worth giving it a try.)

At this point we were also starving (if you can tell our bodies were going through some jet lag/lack of sleep (Scott: lack of beer) adjustments) and, Couple Travel Tip #4, we learned a lesson about Irish pubs with food - you kind of just find a seat and then you kind of try to catch a waiter. (Scott: or don't... depends on how hungry/aggressive you are, which we found out the hard way.) Then you order, and your food comes, but if you want anything you have to hunt down the waiter again, they do not check in on you. (Scott: Ever!) Personally, I loved this set-up, and it really helped us slow down and we did not feel rushed at all. We had our second authentic Irish meal for the day - Irish Stew with lamb - yummy! I love a pub that also has decent food. Another side note that we did not know about until AFTER we got back to the states and Couple Travel Tip #5 - apparently you do NOT need to tip in Ireland because of their minimum wage. So, we made quite a few Irish waiters/waitresses quite happy, but it would have been nice spending that chunk of change on something else. (Scott: Let us know if anyone else has heard differently but that is at least what we were told.)

By now it was about 3pm and beer + warm food = crash time for Sam, so we made our way back to the train station and headed back to the hotel. Minor issue was that the train wait/ride was about an hour and we were definitely doing the head bob, sleep thing on the train which must have been really awesome to witness. With the hotel came a warm bath and soft bed - perfect end to our first day!

 Sláinte! We enjoyed a pint of Guinness at 10am and it was awesome.

 Walking around the city centre all by ourselves in the morning...

 The original Dublin City Wall and gates from circa 1240 AD.

 Beer this way...the signs for the Guinness Storehouse and tours were pretty obvious.

 Beautiful view of the River Liffey (Irish for "a life").

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ireland Honeymoon: A Very Long Day 1 Continues

Because we took the red eye to Dublin, the first day of our Honeymoon was actually over 24 hours long. Couple Travel Tip: When the plane landed, the best thing we did was just reset our clocks to Ireland time and not even think about what time it was at home. That meant it was 6 am and we had the whole day to play in Dublin...but first, we had to get our rental car...

Let me preface this next part with how excited we were about the rental car situation when we were originally planning. As soon as we booked the airplane tickets, it took us right to a rental car site and would only cost us 35 Euros a day, so we booked it right away [Scott: Let's start by saying that what looks too good to be true, is just that. I was worried about the company's legitimacy, but we did research and it definitely checked-out, or so we thought...] . From previous family experience, [Scott: My dad, in short, took on a Swiss street train with a rental mini-van and he is proud to say that "at least we broke the train as well." No one was hurt, but the van looked like an opened sardine can. So, the lesson was ALWAYS get insurance in a foreign country.] we knew we needed to purchase insurance and assumed it would be equivalent to US car insurance on a rental (this is where we FAILED). When we finished all the paperwork with the rental car place it ended up costing us 2x what we were anticipating, so Couple Travel Tip #2: if you are planning on renting a car in Ireland...our advice is to call the rental car place and get the quotes directly from them; NOT from the online booking [Scott: If we had not over budgeted in general for this trip, this unforeseen cost would have brought on a very stressful start and probably would have come up again throughout the trip in the form of those fun little fights that ruin a day quickly.]

We took a shuttle to the car pick-up and, thanks to my wonderful husband (who knows how to drive a manual), I got to enjoy the navigator's seat the entire trip! [Scott: "Knows how to not kill himself in a manual" is not the same as "knows how to drive a manual."] The first experience, however, from the navigator's seat was not that fun though. I have never ridden in a car on the left side as a passenger; nor have I ever ridden in a car driving on the left hand side...on tiny roads. Even though the drive from the rental car company to our hotel was only about 15 minutes, Scott and I learned a lot about husband/wife tone; driving tone, navigating tone, "shit, you're on the wrong side on the road" tone, and "I think we're in the right place, but the hotel did not really have an address" tone. [Scott: She forgot my favorite - "You're stressing me out more than a stick shift, on the left hand side of the road, in a foreign country, with no meaningful lines on the road" tone.] Side note on Irish addresses and Couple Travel Tip #3 of this post: it does not seem to be required to assign street numbers, which makes plugging something into a GPS kind of hit or miss so be nice to your navigator.

Since we came into Dublin on St. Patty's Day weekend, we could not find a hotel anywhere near the city center for less than an arm and a leg, so we had to find something close to a train station (thanks again to Scott's experience living in Germany). We found good reviews for and ended up staying at the Marine Hotel at Sutton Cross. If you want some place nice and relaxing, right on the harbor, with simple and clean rooms, and an easy train ride into town, this was a great option! Our priorities at this point were to get to the train station to get downtown and find breakfast. Though it was too early to check-in at the hotel, we were able to leave our car in the parking lot. From the hotel it was an easy walk to the Sutton Station (once we walked the correct way), and even though it cost 10 Euros for a round-trip pass, there was no way we were driving into Dublin that first day. [Scott: I had already lost enough years of my life just getting to the hotel.]

Now comes the FUN PART...Temple Bar!

 Sutton Station was an easy walk from where we staying at the Marine Hotel in Sutton Cross. We were some of the only people on the train heading into Dublin that morning.

Practicing our Gaelic on day 1. It was a good thing that everything else was in English.