Manda Travels: India Part 2- Jaipur

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We spent four nights in Jaipur and really fell in love with the capital of Rajasthan – also known as “the pink city” because of the color of the terracotta buildings within the old city walls. We did so much shopping here, in addition to site seeing and, of course, eating.

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Day 4 continued …

We arrived in Jaipur in the early evening, hungry, thirsty and thrilled to be out of the car. I strategically booked us a night at the Tree House Resort so that we’d have a little bit of a rest after a busy beginning to our trip, and it worked out wonderfully! You reach the resort by driving down windy and hilly dirt roads into a valley outside of the city. We checked in and were taken to our “nest” – a free-standing tree house perched up in the trees with a real tree growing right through our room! We dropped our bags and headed to the Peacock Bar for a drink — the bar is actually a 400 year old small wooden room that they re-purposed into a bar. One of the quirky things about the resort is that they employ local people from the nearby village, rather than those trained in hospitality — I loved this, but the level of service was very different from what we experienced elsewhere… all of the staff was very friendly and helpful, but many were a little awkward and didn’t speak a lot of English. We spent the evening with wine in one hand and a book in the other the eventually found our way to dinner — we had paneer with peppers and onions, chicken tikka masala and okra with onions –great food, made with fresh local produce. The manager of the resort sat with us for a bit and told us more about the place its history – turns out it started as a single tree house, cute! After dinner we climbed up into our nest and hit the hay!

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Day 5: Settling into Jaipur

We had breakfast at the Tree House Resort (coffee, yogurt and some puffy fried bread that tasted like funnel cake) then went for a quick swim in the infinity pool. Our driver picked us up at noon and drove us into Jaipur city to our next hotel – Samode Haveli – our favorite hotel of the trip! We were given lemon water and sat in the most beautiful painted room while we checked in. Samode Haveli is an old mansion surrounded by gardens. Each room is different and you reach your room by climbing narrow staircases and walking through various courtyards. Our room was so pretty – filled with hand-painted columns and arches and it even had a private terrace (complete with monkeys – hah!) We had about an hour to kill before our first plan for the day so we had some prosecco at the pool, obviously. At 4pm we met our guide, Amit, for our Crafts & Cuisine tour with Jaipur Walks. We saw so many things – marble sculptors, bangle makers, copper and brass metal workers and flower vendors, plus various temples and havelis. We also felt super adventurous and had some “street food” — buffalo milk pudding with cardamom and almonds, fried dough filled with lentils and spices, and the best chai tea in town. An amazing tour that helped us understand the day to day life in Jaipur. Later on, we went for a night swim then had dinner at our hotel – butter chicken, cauliflower with peas and butter naan.

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Day 6: Busiest Day Ever in Jaipur

We woke up early for our Old City tour — we started at the wholesale flower market which was crazy busy and cool. Tons and tons of bushels of yellow and orange marigolds! We then walked through the Jantar Mantar observatory – an astrological observatory from the 19th century, including the world’s largest stone sundial (which is accurate to the minute!). We then walked through the City Palace – one of my favorite parts were the four different doors that lead into the main courtyard — one for each season. We learned a lot about the history of the royal family, and their role today – the current king is only 19! After the tour we had lunch at LMB – a popular restaurant and sweet shop. After lunch we wandered around Old City on a hunt for a bunch of shops that I had bookmarked — we bought rose and sandalwood oil from a fragrance shop, pom-pom flip flops from a shoe shop, and some earrings at a bangle shop. We also went into a textile store – Hassan’s – where we ended up buying some clothes and a rug. On our way to meet up with our driver, we found Tikam Chand — a third generation photographer in Jaipur who has been taking and developing photos on the street for years. I was SO excited to meet him. It was a highlight of the whole trip. We went back to the hotel for a swim and some rest, then headed back into the Old City for our appointment with Suresh Shastri – a seventh generation astrologer. We sat on a mattress on the floor with him in the back room of a building — such an interesting experience. We had drinks and dinner at Bar Palladio that night – really pretty restaurant but the food was just so-so.

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Day 7: Shopping Day in Jaipur

We spent the bulk of our day in two stores — Ridhi Sidhi Textiles and Manglam Arts Furnishings. Ridhi Sidhi was my dream come true – stacks upon stacks of hand block-printed fabric, plus cute shirts and dresses and amazing quilts. Harsh, the owner, even drove us in his car to their main factory just a few blocks away where we got to see the printing process live. They do a lot of printing for Pottery Barn and Roberta Roller Rabbit, so it was really interesting to see where it’s all made! We spent hours looking through fabric and ended up with a few dresses for me, two custom-made shirts for Brett, and a new quilt for our bed. We spent the afternoon at Manglam Arts – a furniture company that makes custom furniture for Anthropologie and ABC Home. It’s a series of warehouses filled with amazing chairs, couches, side tables, etc. We walked around and explored then picked out and designed some custom furniture for ourselves. This was a really fun day — we have a future plan of traveling back to these two places later in life when we need a wardrobe or furniture refresh 😛

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Manda Travels: India Part 1 – Delhi & Agra

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Brett and I spent two weeks in India at the end of September. It was an amazing and unforgettable trip. I’m going to highlight some of our favorite things over three posts since there are too many to squeeze into one!

Packing was really tricky for me – the advice that I was given was to cover up while out and about to not draw attention, but wear whatever I wanted within our hotels and restaurants, etc. During the day I wore loose pants and t-shirts or mid-length dresses with a pashmina covering my shoulders. At night I wore normal vacation-y dresses 🙂 It was generally pretty hot (and sweaty), so I hand-washed a few t-shirts that I wanted to wear twice.

We were really lucky and didn’t get sick at all during the trip – no “delhi belly” for us! We were pretty careful about what we ate and drank (we used bottled water to brush out teeth, avoided ice unless we were in a nice hotel, and didn’t have any salads/raw veggies) and we also took activated charcoal pills every day (a tip from a friend who grew up in Delhi). I also ate yogurt almost every day, something I swear by in the states too 😉

Day 1: Layover in Doha

We had a twelve hour layover in Doha on our way to Delhi. We landed around 7am, showered and changed in the arrivals lounge at the airport, then headed into town. We took an uber to the main souq/marketplace, but not much was open so early. It was 108 degrees so hard to be outside for too long — we ended up taking another uber to the Villagio Mall to cool down. The mall was so heavily air conditioned that I had to step outside a few times to warm up! Similar to the souq, nothing was really open yet even though it was noon. Some stores finally began to open around 1/1:30. While we waited, we watched an ice hockey game (yes, there was an ice rink int he middle of the mall) and we had chicken fingers at TGIFriday’s (::cringe::). At 2pm we headed to the Museum of Islamic Art, which was by far the highlight of the layover. When we left the museum we walked back to the Souq, which had more hustle and bustle than earlier in the day. We checked out a Falcon Souq — which had falcons for sale ranging from $500-$5000! Eventually we made our way back to the airport for dinner and drinks in the lounge. Looking back, we wished we had booked a hotel so we could have slept through the morning and used the afternoon for the museum and the souq.

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Day 2: Old Delhi

We finally landed in Delhi at 2am local time. We were exhausted and so happy to finally crawl into bed. We let ourselves sleep until 9am then made our way north to Old Delhi. We hopped in a rickshaw and drove through the streets of Chandni Chowk – the oldest and busiest market in Old Delhi. It was really crowded with people and traffic (rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, bikes) but despite the hustle and bustle, people seemed pretty calm. During our ride we drove by many Hindu Temples, Muslim Mosques and even a Baptist Church! After the drive we visited the almost 400 year old Jama Masjid – one of the largest mosques in India. For a few dollars you can climb up on of the mosque’s four minarets and take in a great view of Delhi from above. After Jama Masjid we went to The Red Fort, which was the main residence of the emperors for 200 years. We spent about an hour walking around the huge property reading the history behind each of the many buildings. After our Old Delhi morning, we went back to the hotel for a nap and a shower, then went to Haus Khas Village – a very hip, young and social neighborhood with lots of bars and shops. We went to Social and sat outside overlooking a lake. We had drinks and a few really great appetizers – including vegetable “momos” (dumplings). The narrow, winding, pedestrian-only streets reminded me of Positano. Eventually we headed back to our hotel for a nightcap before bed.

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Day 3: New Delhi –> Agra

We woke up early and went to Humayun’s Tomb – a really pretty red sandstone tomb from the late 1500s. We spent about thirty minutes walking around the gardens then went across the street to The Hope Project – a non-profit organization that offers tours of the slum it’s located within. A 21 year old who grew up and still lives in the slum was our guide – he was really sweet and smart and we learned a lot about the community and its history. India is filled with hidden treasures and this neighborhood was no exception – one of the most interesting stories we heard was about the poet Mizra Ghalib whose tomb is in located in the neighborhood. After the tour we met up with a friend’s sister for lunch at Basil & Thyme – good food and great company! We even got to meet her two kittens after that she rescued from the street. Back to the hotel to pack up then we hit the road for the three hour drive to Agra. We arrived in Agra in the early evening, had a drink in the hotel then went across the street for dinner. Crossing a street in India as a pedestrian is terrifying – you just sort of have to go for it, and hope that the drivers swerve around you. Eek! We ate at Pinch of Spice – a crowded and lively restaurant. We had paneer masala and chana masala and, of course, rice and butter naan.

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Day 4: Agra –> Jaipur

Our guide for the Taj Mahal met us in our hotel lobby at 5:45am so we could be at the Taj for sunrise. Our guide was great – we learned a lot about its history and construction (took 20,000 people 20 years to build it and then 5 years to clean up from building it!) He also insisted on taking advantage of every photo opp — we must have 50 posed photos of us from the visit! Went spent a while walking around and experiencing the building from all different distances and views — it was crazy beautiful and super detailed up close. After the Taj, we had breakfast at our hotel and spent a bit of time relaxing at the pool. Then back in the car and back on the road for the long drive to Jaipur. Seven hours total, included a one hour stop for our driver to eat/rest and a one hour detour to visit the oldest and deepest stepwell in India. The highway we drove on was perfectly nice — but the craziest thing is that people don’t seem to use their mirrors at all! Instead, drivers honk constantly at each other to let them know when they’re changing lanes/passing/etc. I spent 15 minutes of the drive counting the number of times our driver honked the horn — 33 times! In 15 minutes! Omg. We finally arrived in Jaipur around 5pm, tired, hungry and happy to be out of the car.

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Manda Cooks the Book: Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s “My Father’s Daughter”

I discovered this Let’s Cook The Book instagram via A Cup of Jo a few weeks ago and was oddly obsessed with the idea. The owner of that instagram account started it as a way to simplify her meal plan for the week, but I think it’s a great way to get to know my cookbooks! I own quite a few cookbooks, and while I do crack them open pretty often, it’s a fun way to focus on one book and really get a feel for the style.

I started off with Gwyneth Paltrow’s “My Father’s Daughter” — I already a few go-to’s from this book, so I forced myself to try two new recipes for #cookthebook week and for the third meal I went back to a favorite. The recipes in the book are simple but special, with uncomplicated ingredients and easy steps. The book will continue to be a go-to for weeknight dinners.

We made:

Fried Sole Sandwiches with Spicy Mayo and Pickles (we substituted cod from our CSA, and I made homemade pickles with this recipe)
Homemade Veggie Burgers (these were way better than expected, and made great leftovers)
Chicken Milanese with Herbs and Dried Cranberries (the topping here is the best part – use good olive oil! and don’t skimp on the cranberries)

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And in the past we’ve also made:

Kale Fried Rice
Stir Fried Chicken (<– so, so good, it tastes like Chinese take out)
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Playwright’s Melts

Manda Travels: SF to LA roadtrip

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Two weeks ago Brett and I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles over the course of four days. I had been wanting to do this trip for a while, and while I’m so glad we were able to squeeze it in this summer, I wish we had had double the time to explore the coast! We spent one night each in San Francisco, Big Sur, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles – each place is so different from the others that it really felt like four mini vacations in one. A few of our favorites below, plus a ton of pictures from Big Sur for obvious reasons 🙂

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Day 1: San Francisco

We landed in San Francisco around 10am and headed downtown to drop our bags at our hotel. Brett’s favorite place to stay in SF is The Palace Hotel — it’s super spacious and comfortable, and generally feels fancy which is fun (they even have those electronic japanese toilets!) We grabbed a burrito for lunch for the Senor Sisig food truck – best burrito ever (feelings may have been influenced by time change/airplane food/etc). After the burrito (which we ate in approx 30 seconds with the i-bite-you-bite method), we grabbed iced mint mojito lattes from Philz. They sound weird, but they taste like a thin mint had a baby with coffee ice cream (= delicious). Brett headed off to meetings for the rest of the day, so I met up with a friend and explored her neighborhood a bit — we walked through a Bi-Rite market (which is what dreams are made of) and she showed me the Painted Ladies. I then walked over to Tartine and got four “snacks for the road” – three of which we ate before we got into the car the next day. The ham and cheese croissant was insane. That evening we had a drink in the hotel with a friend, wine in the Ferry Building with Brett’s aunts and then dinner at my friend Emily’s apartment.

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Day 2: Monterey, Pebble Beach and Big Sur

We picked up our rental car and hit the road around 10am. We arrived at the Monterey Aquarium around 11:30am and had quick hour inside to walk around and marvel and the jellies and the octopuses (which is actually the correct way to make octopus plural, who knew?) From Monterey, we took the “17 mile drive” through Pebble Beach – a fun drive with crazy homes and pretty look outs. We had lunch with a friend at The Bench at The Lodge at Pebble Beach (quite the name, I know) – we sat outside on the patio, which overlooks the 18th hole of the famous golf course. After lunch we hit the road and were Big Sur-bound! Because of highway closures on route 1, we had to take a tiny, windy back road up over a mountain and back down to the coast. The smell of the woods and the mountains was crazy – now I’m on the hunt for a “Big Sur” candle! We pulled into Treebones around 6:30pm, dropped our bags in our yurt (!), went for a quick dip in their pool, then changed and headed to the bar for champagne. There are two eating options at Treebones – the main restaurant and then a little sushi hut. We went the sushi route and we so pleased we did – really fresh fish, with beautiful presentation (edible flowers!) in an amazing setting.

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Day 3: San Simeon, Santa Maria and Santa Barbara

After breakfast at Treebones, we headed back over the mountain towards civilization. Next stop: San Simeon to see the elephant seals. There were about a hundred male seals sleeping on the beach – apparently there are sometimes THOUSANDS of them, but it was still quite the sight! We grabbed lunch at Centrally Grown, where Brett had a Cuban sandwich that he is still talking about. A trip to California isn’t complete without a visit to a winery, so we spent the afternoon at Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria. We landed later that afternoon at our hotel for the night – The Goodland in Goleta (one town north of Santa Barbara). The hotel had such a fun, chill, California vibe – there were record players in every room, and Beach Boys records to play. For dinner we went to Santa Barbara Shellfish Company, which is right on the end of the pier. We sat at the bar and shared a steamed local crab and fries. After dinner we had a cocktail by the fire pit back at our hotel, plus a complimentary “s’mores kit” from the bar.

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Day 4: Final Stretch to LA

We slept in and had breakfast at our hotel, then hung by the pool for a few hours. We stopped in downtown Santa Barbara for lunch at La Super Rica — one of Julia Child’s favorite places to eat! We waited in line for about 45 minutes, but the wait was worth it. We shared four different dishes plus a horchata agua fresca, which was actually one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. After lunch we were back on the road, stuck in classic LA traffic. We listened to Here’s The Thing to kill time. We finally arrived at our hotel in Beverly Hills around 6:30pm. We checked in, made a quick change, then headed to Abbott Kinney to meet friends at First Fridays — a monthly gathering of food trucks! We had a quick prosecco toast at The Otheroom, grabbed dinner from the Word of Mouth Truck, dessert from The Pudding Truck, then night caps at The Tasting Kitchen.

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Day 5: Last Day in LA!

We packed quite a bit into our one full day in LA. On our way to Sqirl for brunch, we grabbed coffee at Alfred on Melrose Place. Sqirl was incredible — Brett and I shared the crispy rice salad, smoked whitefish tartine and ricotta toast with jam. So, so good. After lunch we drove up to the Griffith Observatory — parking was sort of a nightmare and took 30 minutes, but we had a good visit (especially space-obsessed Brett). We picked up our friend Katie and headed back to our hotel for some poolside aperol spritzes. Later that afternoon we stopped by a friend’s birthday party then had an amazing dinner at Felix in Venice. We were lucky to snag three seats at the bar before it got super crowded. Everything was had was delicious — it was the perfect final meal of our trip!

Manda Cooks: Zucchini Muffins

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Zucchini has been in our CSA haul for the past few weeks straight. I’m not complaining – zucchini is surprisingly easy to work into just about any dinner dish. We’ve had pasta with zucchini, lemon and parm, zucchini and corn fritters, zucchini stir fry and zucchini quesadillas. This morning I woke up at 9, found one last lonely zucchini in my fridge (in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer, duh), and found myself with just enough time to make zucchini muffins to bring with me to a baby shower at noon. I should have made them yesterday, because zucchini bread falls into the category of fruit-based baked goods that get better with age (true of banana bread, pumpkin, bread, apple cake… day three is the best, if you can make it last that long). But morning-of zucchini bread eaten just two hours after baking is also delicious, and nobody complained. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe – she has a love affair with zucchini, so I trust her completely when it comes to this (and have added this and this to my list for obvious reasons). I’ve spelled it out again below, so that I’ll remember where I landed for next time.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

3 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter and 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
2 cups grated, packed zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour

Here’s what you do:

Preheat over to 350F. Whisk eggs, butter, oil, sugar and vanilla together until combined. Whisk in cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in zucchini then fold in flour until just combined. Pour into muffin tins – you can get pretty close to the top here, as these rise perfectly. I got 20 muffins in the end (only 19 made it to the baby shower because of mandatory taste testing reasons). SK says muffin baking time is 20-25 minutes, but mine were ready after 16 — keep an eye on them!

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Manda DIYs: Glitzy Prosecco “Proposals”

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There are some wedding traditions that Brett and I will be skipping — either because they’re too cheesy, or too mushy romantic, or they just don’t quite feel like us. Wedding party “proposals” can definitely veer on the edge of cheesy, but I’ll take any excuse for a craft project ; )

Brett and I knew we wanted to have our siblings stand with us when we get married, but we also wanted to find a way for our closest friends to be involved in the big day. We decided to make our siblings our traditional bridesmaids and groomsmen, and then ask our friends to be party of our “bride squad” and “groom squad”. I made monogrammed straw totes for the bridesmaids, but wanted to do something else extra for my total squad. I didn’t want to spend too much or give my squad something they wouldn’t really use… so the obvious choice was to cover mini bottles of prosecco in glitter, duh! Inexpensive, easy and consumable.

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You’ll need:

mini prosecco bottles
paint tape
adhesive spray – I used this
three colors of glitter – I used this brand
acrylic sealer gloss – I used this

Use the paint tape to cover the top section of the bottle. Hold the bottle at the tape-covered neck and rotate it as you cover it with the adhesive spray, and continue to rotate as you sprinkle glitter from the top down. You have to move somewhat quickly, but glitter is forgiving so you definitely don’t have to try to be perfect. Once you’re finished glittering, give the bottle another all-over spray with acrylic sealer. This is optional, but helps the glitter stay put (sort of).

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Manda Travels: Cuba!

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Two weeks ago Brett and I spent a long weekend in Cuba thanks to my older brother, who gave us the flights as an engagement gift. We spent two nights in Old Havana and our third night in Guanabo, a beach town about 30 minutes from Havana. Cuba was unlike any place I have ever been — it was colorful, hot and weird but welcoming.

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We stayed in two different airbnbs and both were comfortable but without any frills, which is exactly what we expected. Our hosts were so friendly and helpful – they arranged taxis for us, made dinner reservations and were available for anything we needed (including when the water stopped working on our first day, and when the power went out on our second day – part of the charm of Havana!) The hotels that we were looking at didn’t have great reviews and were much more expensive than our airbnbs (which were $35/night and $17/night!) — we also were able to walk everywhere we needed, which was nice and convenient.

Cuba has a few “inconveniences” that are easy enough to work around in advance. There isn’t any cell service, and wifi isn’t widely available — I called my phone my “camera” the whole time. We did a bunch of research in advance on restaurants and site seeing. There is a map app that allows you to save a map to your phone, but we actually used a paper map from a guidebook the whole time, which felt fittingly old-school. There aren’t any traditional grocery stores, but you can buy water or beer from little counters in town (that also sell a few other random items like canned corn, tuna fish and rolls).

Cuba also operates only on cash, and there is an extra fee to exchange into their currency from US dollars. We brought euros with us instead, which we exchanged into CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) at the airport and then a second time at a bank in town. We had to wait about 45 minutes at the bank — if you can plan out your budget for a single exchange, I’d recommend just doing it all at the airport. We spent about 100 CUC/day ($100), plus another 100 on the driving tour we did.

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Our favorite eats:
361 – a cute bar/restaurant next door to our airbnb
Dona Eutimia – one of “the best” restaurants in Old Havana, apparently! our host made us the reservation here — it’s at the end of a small alleyway and surrounded by other small restaurants. We had ropa vieja, a giant avocado filled with shrimp and frozen mojitos.
El Cocinero – we had dinner here Saturday night and it definitely had a vacation vibe. The host stand apparently didn’t have our reservation (or the reservation for the group in front of us…) but they managed to seat us anyway. El Cocinero is in a cool old building that use to be an oil factory — we ate outside on the cute rooftop terrace. The food and drinks were great. After dinner we went next door to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano – a super trendy, VERY Brooklyn, art factory and bar.

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Our favorite drinks:
La Bodeguita del Medio – Hemingway’s favorite mojito bar! Super small and crowded, so we grabbed our drinks and enjoyed them outside on the street. Not the best mojito, but a fun crowd and live music, so worth the experience.
El Floridita – Hemingway’s favorite daquiri bar! Also fun and crowded. The shades are all drawn, so it was dark but cool.
Plus we got a surprisingly good and refreshing pina colada inside a pineapple from a street cart – we really embraced the whole “we’re tourists!” thing, in case you couldn’t tell.

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And, of course, we tried three different coffee places:
*iced coffee is a foreign thing there, we ordered it at each place, but were served three different versions. As with everything in Havana, just go with the flow.
Cafe Bohemia – a cute cafe tucked away from the main square in Plaza Vieja. Was my favorite setting, but a little hot because it didn’t get much air flow!
Cafe El Escorial – another place in Plaza Vieja, but on the main square. Good people watching, but wasn’t our favorite.
Cafe O’Reilly – this was the only place we found that was a) open early and b) served breakfast! A cute place, reminded me of New Orleans.

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And how we killed time between meals 😉
We did a 90 minute driving tour with a guide recommended by a friend – he picked us up in Old Havana, drove us to the Morro Castle, then along El Malecon and through the neighborhoods of Havana.
Museum of the Revolution – Brett described this as “highly mediocre” and I couldn’t agree more! This can be skipped.
Playing Card Museum – a cute, free museum in Plaza Vieja, was fun for a quick walk-through
Walked around Central Park, Capital Building and “Jurassic Park” (a place where a bunch of old cars park!)
Played bananagrams and read books 😉

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Our night in Guanabo was so different from our time in Old Havana, it was great to have the contrast. It’s a beach town filled with Cuban tourists – we definitely stuck out, but everyone was really friendly. One guy even introduced himself and shook my hand on the beach! Our airbnb host used to own a restaurant and cooked us breakfast on our last morning – was one of our favorite meals of the trip! For dinner the night before we ate at Chicken Little – the “best restaurant” in Guanabo. But in classic Cuban style they were out of chicken! We had fish instead 🙂

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Manda Cooks: Chives!

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I got loads of chives in my first couple CSA pick-ups this summer — one bunch still had the purple chive flowers attached, so they doubled as a bouquet on our dining table for a few days 🙂

I try my best not to waste any food — but sometimes I have to get a little creative to figure out how to get through all of the CSA produce. Three ways to deal with chive overload below!

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1) Chive Butter!

Put a stick of butter in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften, then stir in 1/2 cup of chopped chives and some sea salt. Freeze or refrigerate for later use — great for cooking (I used with eggs for breakfast) or on toast, and would be great on top of a steak!

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2) Frozen Chopped Chives!

Chop chives and place in an ice cube tray. Pour olive oil on top and freeze. Once frozen, I stored these in a ziplock in the freezer — use one at a time as needed.

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3) Chive Flower Vinegar!

Pull off the flowers and rinse well. Fill a mason jar with the flowers, then pour white vinegar on top. Store in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks then drain the flowers. The vinegar becomes a really pretty purple and will have a slight chive/onion flavor – it’s great in salad dressings.

Manda Crafts: Monogrammed Straw Tote

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Last summer when I signed up for my CSA, I was determined to find a cute but functional market tote to carry my vegetable haul in each week. I saw this monogrammed tote on a blog I read and fell in love, but wasn’t into the $160 price tag. I’m not an expert level crafter, but creating my own monogrammed bag was surprisingly simple and cost less than $50. I love the bag so much that I use it for far more than just vegetable hauling; and the project was so quick and straightforward that it’s easy to replicate and makes a great gift. I painted one for my mom for Mother’s Day this year — pictures below, along with links on where to buy supplies!

You’ll need:

A straw market basket – I use this one
Two paint colors – I use these
Letter stencils – I use these
Plus paint tape and two paint brushes – one thick and one thin

Use the paint tape to set up a basic grid for your outer stripes. Because the surface isn’t completely flat, be careful as you paint on the edges so that too much paint doesn’t bleed under the tape. Remove the tape when you’re finished. Use the stencils to paint on the monogram, starting with the middle letter to make sure it’s centered. Fill in the center stripe using your second paint color — I do this free hand and find it pretty easy to stay in the lines. Finally, use your second paint color to add some dimensions to your letters. Let the bag dry completely and then strut all over town with it.

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Manda Cooks: “The Best Baked Spinach” (but actually)

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I never really considered myself a spinach fan… until last week. I often find raw spinach a little too spongy for me and cooked spinach a little too wet and droopy for me. I frequently get pounds of spinach in my CSA (multiple pounds of spinach is A LOT, for those of you who are familiar with weighing your own spinach) and would usually cook it into omelettes (despite the sogginess) or make it into a salad (despite the sponginess).

Last week, however, I decided to face the spongy and the soggy head on and solve the problem…AKA go to Smitten Kitchen’s “spinach” section and let her solve the problem for me. At the bottom of the recipe list was “The Best Baked Spinach” – oh really? Yes, really. This spinach dish blew my mind. It was so good that I made it twice last week, and can’t wait to make it again. I used Trader Joe’s Cheddar/Gruyere blend instead of Swiss and don’t think that extra tablespoon of “indulgent” butter is needed (I didn’t use it the first time, but added it the second time and didn’t find it necessary). Otherwise this recipe is perfect. Bring on the pounds of spinach, CSA!

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