Saturday, October 31, 2015

Our Time In Sweden


The whole point of our Europe trip was to attend Ashley's friend's wedding. Before we knew where else we would be traveling, Sweden was going to be our home base. We spent one of the two and a half weeks in this beautiful country. Knowing that we would have friends to show us around, I didn't research as much as I did with the other countries we planned to visit. Before this trip, Sweden was not a place that I had immediate plans to visit. There were no negative notions about this country but places like Prague, Amsterdam, and London screamed out my name. During my stay I developed a special place in my heart for this Scandinavian country. The people, the architecture, the language, and of course, the fika made my stay so incredibly enjoyable. I look forward to returning there one day.

Stockholm

Where we stayed:

We flew into Stockholm and spent our first few days in the Södermalm neighborhood at Hellstens Malmgård. This hotel is conveniently located near the Zinkensdamm T-bana stop. It's also walking distance to Gamla Stan and the city center. The hotel is situated a little off the beaten path in a nice garden setting. The property itself is beautiful with old-world charm. Our room was small, which should be anticipated in European hotels. The neat thing about our room was that it had a loft. A sturdy wood ladder led up to the large, open area with low ceilings and two low-to-the-grounds beds. The bathroom was small but had modern renovations. I really loved the communal areas the hotel offered. There were small tables and chairs in the main courtyard; and in the foyer right outside our room, a lounge style wooden chair, couches, and coffee and tea were available. I spent one evening hanging out in that awesome chair journaling and reading. The hotel also had a great selection of books that previous guests had left behind. The breakfast here was great. It was your traditional European hotel breakfast of fresh baked breads, meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, as well as cooked eggs and sausage. This hotel totally reminded me of a bed and breakfast my mom and I stayed at while visiting Boulder, Colorado. I hope to one day bring her to this gem because I know she would love it.

What we ate:

Beijing8 - A modern and fresh Dim Sum spot we stumbled upon. I highly recommend the steamed broccoli. It was cooked perfectly and the thicker bits of salt sprinkled on top really brought out great flavor. The duck dumplings were spicy and delicious. The chicken dumplings, on the other hand, were too basic for my taste but great for those non-adventurous eaters. The staff here were nice and friendly.



Weindels Konditori - Being our first day in Sweden, we knew we needed to get our fika on. For those who aren't familiar, fika is an important part of Swedish culture. It's a coffee break usually accompanied by a pasty or other nibble. It  This looked like a cute place so we decided to give it a try. My espresso was great! All the coffee I had during our stay in Europe was on point. We also got a few pastries to share. The pastries were good, some better than others. We did stop into another Konditori the next evening called Eclair, which I much preferred.

Our first fika!

Légumes - It's a known fact that the Scandinavian countries can break your budget. Lucky for us we found this great and inexpensive place to have dinner. Légume offers vegan and vegetarian friendly fare in a buffet-style setting. The food is served to you but you pick and choose what you want and can go back for seconds, or thirds if you are really hungry. They had a wide variety of hot and cold dishes to choose from. The food was really good. It was filling and healthy which is also a plus. If I remember correctly, the cost for my meal was 85 SEK which is about $10 USD.

Barobao - Stopped in this place for a quick snack. The pork belly bun was all I tried but boy was it delicious!



What we did:

On our first day in Stockholm we explored the Söder neighborhood. It was suggested that we stay in this neighborhood as it's the new up and coming area of Stockholm. It offers plenty of shops, restaurants, and beautiful buildings to gawk at. The following morning we walked to Gamla Stan. This is a must when you travel to Stockholm. Gamla Stan or "Old Town" is one of Europe's most well preserved medieval city centers. Meandering the narrow streets takes you back to another time.



Uppsala

Where we stayed:

For our first two nights in Uppsala we stayed at the Park Inn by Radisson. I chose this hotel because for the wedding, a bus was going to shuttle us to and from the venue. I wanted to be close to the drop off spot since I knew we would be drinking and didn't want to walk far in a foreign place. The hotel was very nice and tailored to Americans. The room and bathroom were larger than most European hotels. It even had a fitness center which I used one night. Breakfast was included and was enjoyable as well. It was similar fare to what we had at our previous hotel.

For the remainder of our stay in Uppsala we stayed at Martin's father's house. He was going to be out of town and was so kind to let us stay in his beautiful home. It was by far the best place we stayed during our trip.

The wedding: 

Before our trip, I had met Jess twice through Skype while Ash and I planned our itinerary. It wasn't until the wedding when I finally got to meet her in person. Jess and her entire group of friends and family made us feel so welcome. I can't say enough how nice everyone was. The entire wedding was in Swedish and during dinner when everyone made their speeches, her friends at our table were kind enough to translate. The wedding and all it's tiny details made the evening a memorable one. I'm so thankful I was able to be part of their special day.

Hand painted signs by her family. That vintage 1950's bus in the background is what we arrived in.

Beer on the table was crafted by Martin, the groom.

Both the bride and groom are vegetarian so they opted for a full vegetarian dinner.
Jess was pretty excited for us to try the Utedass.

What we ate:

Once we moved over to Martin’s father's house we had a full kitchen to take advantage of. Jess cooked us dinner a couple nights, making falafel one night and fried halloumi burgers another. I had never tried halloumi before but I noticed it quite a bit on menus throughout our trip. In London, Ash ordered vegetarian fish and chips using halloumi in place of the fish. It was so good. Something about the saltiness of the cheese and the crispy outer coating is just delicious. We did go to breakfast one morning to a cafe that Jess had suggested.

Café Linné Hörnan - This place is a dream. I wished that I lived in this beautiful city so I could come to this cafe every morning for coffee and a pastry... or two. To say the least, it was a very enjoyable experience. Along with an americano, I tried their cardamom kanelbullar and a super dense and moist hazelnut cookie (didn’t get the name). The strong and fresh flavors were such a delight and they paired so well with the coffee.


Another meal I greatly enjoyed was one that Jess prepared for lunch. It’s a traditional Swedish cheese pie called våsterbotten paj. Similar to a quiche but more cheese and less of an egg texture. It was really fun to be able to try a classic specialty made by a local in their home. Jess and Martin were such great hosts. Their kindness and calm nature was a pleasure to be around. Spending time with their adorable son was also a plus.


Something else to add onto your list of things to try is Mjukglass (soft serve) with sprinkles. There are kiosks all over Stockholm and Uppsala that sell them. American sprinkles don’t even come close to how good the sprinkles in Europe taste. It was like a crunchy candy coating covering the soft serve. Amazing.


 One thing I learned is that Swedes love their candy. We came across loads of candy bins throughout the city. Naturally we had to try some! Anything chocolate with hazelnut was my favorite. There were quite a few of the gummy varieties I really liked too.



What we did:

Jess and Martin took us on a bike ride through the city of Uppsala to Gamla Uppsala “Old Uppsala” to see the Royal mounds. These ancient burial mounds date back to the 5th and 6th century. There is also the Church of Gamla Uppsala as well as a museum.


The Uppsala Cathedral is not to be missed. This incredibly beautiful church dates back to the 13th century. It is the tallest in the Nordic countries. You must go inside and take in all the exquisite detail. It's truly amazing.


View of the Cathedral from where we were staying.
  A walk through the Botanical Garden and the Uppsala University Library.



On our last full day in Sweden we took a day trip to Stockholm. We stopped for lunch at Vigårda. They offer so-so burgers (beef, chicken and vegetarian options) but great sides and dipping sauces at reasonable prices. Before we made our way towards Djurgarden bridge we stopped at a Systembolaget to grab some wine. Systembloaget is a government owned chain of liquor stores. It is the only retail store allowed to sell alcohol. We thought it would be nice to have a drink out on the water as we were going to rent a pedal boat. Being out on the water was a fun adventure. I didn’t realize how hard those pedal boats work your legs but it was a great experience shared with great people. Sweden and everyone I met during my stay will always have a special place in my heart. I can't wait to one day return and explore more of this great and beautiful country.




Ash spotted this girl walking in front of us and asked if she'd take a photo with me. She was super sweet.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin-Zucchini-Banana Bread




I've posted quite a few breakfast bread recipes here. That's because they are so easy to whip up and a great way to have breakfast all week. Now that the weather is finally cooling down it's actually starting to feel like Fall. What do we do in Fall? Eat everything pumpkin! I'm not a PSL drinker but I do love everything else pumpkin. Just the other night I made a vegetarian green curry with pumpkin. It was so spicy and delicious. That should be a future post. Having leftover roasted pumpkin from that evening, I mashed it up and turned it into Chocolate Chip Pumpkin-Zucchini-Banana Bread. This bread is really yummy! I like to serve it toasted (so the chocolate melts) with almond butter and sliced banana. It's also a filling fiber rich meal which will keep you going until lunch.

Ingredients:

Dry ingredients
½ cup gluten free oat flour (blended up oats)
½ cup rice flour
¼ cup gluten free oat bran
¼ cup ground flax
¼ cup tapioca starch
¼ cup coconut sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon cinnamon
A few dashes of ground ginger
A dash or two of ground cloves

Wet ingredients
1 cup mashed pumpkin (canned pumpkin could also be used.)
1 medium banana, broken into smaller pieces
⅓ cup canola oil
⅓ cup blackstrap molasses
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup almond milk
1 egg

Add ins
1 medium zucchini, grated
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

To make:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Gently mix to combine. In a food processor, blend all of your wet ingredients except for the egg. Once all wet ingredients have been mixed, add your egg and blend for a few seconds. Pour wet ingredients into the dry and mix together until all of the flour blend is saturated. Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Copenhagen


Unfortunately, our trip to Copenhagen was delayed an entire day. Yes, I just said an entire day. The whole thing was a bit of a nightmare. Before we were even notified about the delay, the Saturday before departure we received a text notification from Norwegian saying that due to delays the airline was experiencing, we would be transferred from the Dreamliner to a plane from Hifly airlines. Never heard of them? Neither have I nor anyone else I told this story to. Hifly is a charter airline that leases planes to other airlines. With a 10 hour flight ahead of us we were pretty bummed being transferred from the comforts of the Dreamliner. Come Monday morning we receive another text notification that our flight is now delayed until 3:00pm the following day. I've heard of flights being delayed a few hours, maybe 5 but an entire day? ... A couple of hours later another text comes through with a new time of departure at 5pm... And one more, thankfully the last one later that afternoon with a new departure time of 7:10pm. A whole 24 hour delay. As stressed out, pissed off, and wondering if we were ever going to make it over there, I'm truly thankful for the way the universe unfolded itself that day. That evening, after traveling to 3 different vets and ending up two and a half hours away from home, I had to put my dog down. It was the hardest most emotional situation I have ever been in. I'm forever grateful that I was able to spend his last day with him and hold him during his passing into doggy heaven.
The next morning was rough waking up without him. Still having to finish packing and get myself ready I didn't have much time to mourn. It was good that I would be away so long. I don't know how I would have ever gotten out of bed otherwise.
Thankfully, everything went as scheduled with no more delays. We were still a bit bummed that we got transferred to the HiFly charter plane but how bad could it be? It was BEYOND AWFUL! The plane was old, my seat was coming apart and we feared that the overhead center bins were going to break off due to how much they shook. The staff also failed to close some of the overhead bins before takeoff.  One of the things they mentioned in the text notification was there would be limited entertainment. We spoke with a customer service rep who assured us there would be movies just not a large selection to choose from. With a long flight it's nice to watch a movie. There were no movies and no entertainment. Ashley asked a flight attendant if the tv screens on the back of the seats worked and he gave her the most bizarre look, said yes, and walked away in a hurry. The rest of the flight attendants were just as horrible. It was as if we were all an annoyance to them. They ran out of pillows and blankets as well as water. Yes, I just said water. During the last few hours of our flight I walked to the kitchen area and asked if I could get my water bottle filled. The attendant told me they are almost out of water and gave me a tiny cup with about 2 sips worth. Overall it was my worst flying experience and I'm not sure if I will ever fly internationally with Norwegian again. I would have much rather paid more for a decent flight that was on time. It was the best feeling walking off that plane. We knew that nothing on this trip could be a horrible as what we just experienced. Everything after our rough, rough start was indeed perfect!

Where we stayed:

With an entire day lost to delays we only had an afternoon and evening to see Copenhagen. Our first stop was checking in to our Airbnb. Henriette was a great host and flexible with all of our time changes. Her flat was very comfortable and in a great area for walking to what we wanted to see. She showed us in and pointed out some places on the map that we shouldn't miss with the short time we had. As a local, she pointed out some trendy bar and restaurant areas. I sheepishly asked about Nyhavn which she pointed out but said it wasn't worth seeing as it's full of tourists. We were tourists and it was actually something we did really want to see. It's iconic Copenhagen.

The beautiful streets of Copenhagen.



Near the Kastellet.


What we did:

After a quick freshening up from our long flight we hit the streets. We made our way towards the The Little Mermaid stopping to walk through the Kastellet. Now a public park and historical site the Kastellet is one of the best preserved star fortresses of Northern Europe.
Being from Solvang, the Danish capital of America, we had to see The Little Mermaid. We have a replica in our town. The Little Mermaid is indeed small as everything I read said she would be but she and the views were beautiful. 

The Little Mermaid
We made our way down Norde Toldbod along the water and passed Amalienborg Slot on our way to Nyhavn. After all we went though it felt surreal walking through the streets of Copenhagen. With two and a half weeks of exploring ahead of us, I couldn't have been happier! Turning the corner and focusing on the brightly colored buildings that make up Nyhavn, my heart sang. I used to have a huge collage of travel photo clippings that I wanted to one day visit. I had a few of this famous harbor. As touristy as it is, it was imperative we came here. Denmark has some pretty relaxed laws on drinking in public. As I read before, you can buy a beer at one of the many kiosks (cheaper than buying a beer at a restaurant along the harbor) and walk, sit or explore more with drink in hand. We did just that.

Nyhavn
Grab a beer and sit along the water. 



After relaxing for a bit and taking in all of the harbor we got back on our feet. We made our way towards our Airbnb while looking for a place to stop for dinner. We popped into Halifax on Frederiksborggade. It's a hip burger joint with a few locations around the city. You pick your burger, bun, patty type (they have vegan and vegetarian options), side, and sauce. I went with the Kreta, a Greek inspired burger and a cider to drink. The burger was really delicious. Staff and ambiance were great here as well. We walked home along The Lakes on Øster Søgade. It's a beautiful walk in the evening. We had to get up early the next morning to catch our flight to Stockholm so we called it an early night. Even though we had a very limited time in Copenhagen it was wonderful. The city was clean, beautiful, and easy to navigate. It was so motivating to see how active everyone was. There were many locals we saw earlier in the day walking, jogging and biking. The city is super bike friendly and we were surprised to see that no one locks up their bikes!

If you are into juice and smoothies, another place worth checking out is Joe & The Juice. They have locations in the airport as well as in the city. We got a juice upon arrival and the morning we flew to Stockholm. I can't remember what the one I got was (maybe the sports drink?) but it had passion fruit in it. I ordered it again the next morning because it was that good! 

Also, food options in European airports are 100 times better than anything you would find in the States. Ash and I shared a grilled chicken cheese sandwich and a pastry for breakfast. I really wished my stomach was bigger. I just wanted to eat everything I saw. 

I will be back for you, Copenhagen!


Wishing we got one of each to try.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Roasted Banana Coconut Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Almond Pieces




Ice cream is by far my favorite dessert. I always crave it. You would think that since I have my own ice cream maker, I would have a handmade batch on hand at all times. The truth is, I've only made real ice cream once. And it wasn't even for me! I have experimented with many alternative ice creams though. When I cook for myself at home, I always try to eat healthy and well. I don't worry about what I eat as much when my boyfriend and I prepare meals or go out. I love my burgers and will forever love him for introducing me to Queso, Texas style (Velveeta and Rotel). Having a balance in your diet is important. I give props to those who can restrict to the max, but for me, that is not possible. I love food too much! Anyway back to the ice cream. This is a non-dairy ice cream made with a base of bananas and coconut cream. The coconut cream gives off such a creamy texture!  The ice cream itself is made without any refined sugars. (Cane sugar is an ingredient in the chocolate used to make the chocolate covered almonds.) This is a super simple recipe that you can feel good about eating. 

 Roasted Banana Coconut Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Almond Pieces

Ingredients:

For ice cream

4 ripe bananas
2 tbs coconut sugar
3 tbs melted coconut oil
1 can coconut cream (I use Trader Joe's brand)
4 tbs agave nectar
½ teaspoon almond extract
Juice from half a small lemon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For chocolate covered almonds

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup slivered toasted almonds
1 teaspoon coconut oil
pinch of salt
generous pinch or two of coconut sugar

To make:

Preheat oven to 370 degrees F. Peel bananas and slice lengthwise. Lay bananas flat side down on a silpat or foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coconut sugar and drizzle with the coconut oil. Gently roll bananas around the baking sheet to coat with the sugar and oil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Add bananas and sugary goop to a food processor and blend till smooth. Scrape down sides of the bowl and add coconut cream, agave, lemon juice and salt. Blend again to incorporate all ingredients. Transfer food processor bowl to the fridge and allow mixture to cool for at least 15 minutes. Pour into ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.

Now it's time for the chocolate covered almonds! In a small saucepan over very low heat add your chocolate chips and and coconut oil. Stir constantly to prevent chocolate from burning. Once your chocolate is melted and smooth, remove from heat and mix in almonds. Stir to coat evenly and spread out mixture on a small baking tray lined with parchment or foil. Sprinkle with salt and coconut sugar. Place in the freezer to set.

About 2 minutes before the ice cream churning is complete, remove chocolate covered almonds from the freezer. Break apart with your hands or roughly chop. Add them to the ice cream.
After ice cream is done, transfer to a loaf pan and place in freezer overnight or for at least a few hours, until firm.





Thursday, September 10, 2015

Know Before You Go




The following list is compiled of information I received from family, friends, travel websites and personal blogs prior to leaving on my trip. All the information I obtained was super-helpful and made me feel more comfortable before my departure.

  1. Make sure your passport is current. Most countries will not let you enter if your passport will expire within the next 6 months. Be smart and renew in plenty of time before you depart on your grand adventure. 
  2. Get a chip and pin card. Most credit card companies are now transitioning to this card anyway. I was advised to get this type of card as no one takes the magnetic strip kind.  It depends on where you go. Some places still do in fact take the old card but the chip and pin is becoming the new normal. Also, check what the foreign transaction fee is for using your card. I actually went ahead and got a new card for the trip. It has no foreign transaction fee and is a travel rewards card. Here is an article I found on Nerd Wallet to help inform you of your best options. 
  3. Bring your debit card. It's always wise to have at least two cards with you in case one doesn't work or is lost or stolen. Only use your debit card for withdrawing cash at the ATM. Cash was actually my preferred way to pay for things abroad. Ticket machines at the airport or train station usually only take cards but eating out and and other small purchases were much easier using the local currency. *** Always remember to communicate to your bank and credit card company that you will be out of the country. Let them know the length of time you will be away and the country/countries you will be visiting.
  4. Make copies of important documents. It's smart to make two copies of: your passport, health insurance, credit and debit cards. Take one set with you (keep it in a separate place from where you will keep your cards and cash in case of theft) and leave the other at home with someone. Also make sure you have the 1-800 number for your credit cards if anything were to happen to them.
  5. Leave a copy of your itinerary at home with someone. If you are like me then you will have a typed out itinerary two months before you go. (I was really, really excited about this trip!) It's helpful to have this information written down in the event that anything were to happen to you. Important information: Airlines and flight numbers, where you will be staying and for how long, with the address and a phone number if possible.
  6. Don't forget to pay your bills and rent. With the excitement of planning your trip this will be the last thing on your mind. It definitely was on mine and I'm so thankful I read this tip before leaving. If you make payments online you can schedule to have them be paid while you are away. As for rent and other utilities,  have your payments ready to be sent and have someone at home mail them for you. 
  7. Pack light. I was told by numerous people to do this. I'm normally an over-packer so what I thought was "packing light" was still over-packing by a long shot. Check back for my Packing Essentials post as I will go into more detail and include items not to be forgotten.