Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dreaming of Mexico...My Lonely Planet Purchase

No plan in my life is ever carved in stone but it is still our intention to go to Mexico in mid-August and stay a couple of months.  We aren't sure where we are going and if we will be traveling or renting an apartment.  Either way, I couldn't wait any longer, I had to get my hands on the  Lonely Planet Mexico  guidebook.  This would help us, right?
WRONG!  Mexico is so big, beautiful, and so varied in food & traditions, how can we narrow it down?   I am a longtime fan of LP guides and I've been flipping through this book for a couple weeks, and the one thing I have decided is that we need more time in Mexico.  

Unfortunately there is a time limit.  We will be working on the Christmas Light Pros in October in Atlanta.   I tried to narrow down an itinerary of 10 places I'd like to see:  

1. Mexico City - Ernesto has never been there, and I definitely have more to see.  We have starwood hotel points, so this will be our starting point.  I also have an idea that we will eat only from markets/street food while we are there.  Don't you think that would be so cool?
There are a couple things nearby Mexico City that I want to check out while we are there too: 
* Teotihuacan - ancient ruins
* Taxco - old colonial silver mining town 
* Tepotzlan - a smallish city in a lush valley surrounded by mountains, one of which has a 700 year old Aztec pyramid built on it.  Also, Aileen (an aquaintance from my Habitat India Trip lives there with her husband and she has invited us to visit. 
2. San Miguel de Allende- beautiful colonial architecture and cobblestone streets make this artist town quaint and picturesque, but I have heard that the 10,000 foreigners living here makes it very commercialized.  This could be why it's said to have the best restaurants, art galleries and schools.  This maybe where Neto takes some cooking classes and I take a photography and/or jewelry class. 

5. Guanajuato- Once a rich silver and gold mining townGuanajuato was a declared a Unesco World Heritage city in 1988.  Just from this picture I was hooked. The grand colonial buildings, tree-filled plazas and brightly colored houses build onto the steep slopes make this city so attractive to me. 

3. Zacatecas- I cut this picture out of a travel magazine (over 8 years ago) of the Quinta Real hotel in Zacatecas.  It is the country's oldest bullring and  it was reconstructed as a luxury hotel.  Must see.  

4. Durango- It seems to be a cool cowboy town with mountains and sand dunes,  but more importantly, Ernesto has family here.  I have met several people who live there and were visiting San Diego, so it should be great fun.  Also we are planning to do the 200 mile bike race from there to Mazatlan on the Pacific coast in mid- September.

6. Guadalajara- Another city where Ernesto has family, Guadalajara, I have read, is a cosmopolitan city, that has kept its colonial charm.  I can't wait to explore it! The shopping is going to be great with many markets, food and artisan.

I mapped it out for you here, and I think we will go counter-clockwise from Mexico City.  
The three T cities near Mexico City can all be day trips.  Then we will head north to San Miguel de Allende and continue the circle, flying home from Guadalajara.  I guess you can call this a "plan".  Besides Mexico City, I have never been to any of these cities, so I am really excited to explore new territory.  

Do you know any of these cities?  Please leave [in the comments] any suggestions you may have, I would love to hear them.  Viva Mexico! 

This post is shared with the Inspired Room and Hooked on Fridays!  I am Hooked on Mexico!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Listy-List -The Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend I:
- took a 45 mile bike ride
- ate fish tacos at Rubios
- made this p. chops recipe from Sunday Suppers 
- climbed Cowles Mountain
- met w/guy who's making new wedding ring
- spent hours landscaping the front yard 
- ate cow tongue tacos
- drank a beer at the Lamplighter
- drove to Tijuana for a paella cookout**

** pictures and a the paella recipe will be coming your way! This paella had been planned for a couple weeks, I even bought a Mexico dress to wear! We arrived at tio Mario's house and to my horror, I realized I left my camera battery charging in the wall at home.  Very very disappointed.  I was able to capture a few photos on someone else's camera and I'm patiently waiting for those to appear in my email so I can share with you!  

Did you guys have a good weekend?  what kind of fun things did you get into?

Hablamos de Chiles

If you are a chile eater, you have probably seen or heard of the Scoville Chile Heat Chart. The Scoville scale measures the hotness of a chili pepper, as defined by the amount of capsaicin (a chemical compound that stimulates nerve endings in the skin) present. In other words the amount of burn you are going to feel. The scale is named after its an American chemist named Wilbur Scoville. He developed a test for rating the pungency of chiles.

(If you'd like to learn more about this test, click here)

Scoville Chile Heat Chart

I found this chart on a great website called Eat More Chilies. Apparently the site grew from one chile pepper writing assignment in Arizona to a huge chile handbook. There are recipes, event info and a lot of chile facts. Some of which I thought quite interesting:

Did you know...?

• Chiles are healthy! They are low in sodium and calories and are cholesterol free. Chilis are a good source of vitamins A, B, C, and E, folic acid, and potassium.

• Eating chiles can help with digestion. The capsaicin in chiles increases gastric secretions and the flow of saliva, combining to ease the digestion process.

• In 2007, salsa surpassed ketchup as the most widely used condiment in the United States.

• A Chile’s heat or intensity is commonly, but incorrectly, said to come from the seeds in the chili. The heat actually comes from capsaicinoids - the combination of capsaicin (the active component of a chile) and a few other related chemicals - that is found along placental tissue in the center of the chile where the seeds are found.

• The color of a chili pepper actually has nothing to do with its heat level. Rather, the color typically signifies the maturity of the fruit.

• Birds are not affected by the heat or pungency of capsaicin because they do not have a receptor to detect it. This allows capsicum plant seeds to be dispersed through avian travel.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Afternoon Cocktails and Ceviche

A sunny afternoon of cocktails & ceviche with a view.  Yes, have some.
He said Ceviche...and we said, we'll be right over!
Ernesto's brother-in-law Pepe invited us over to his house for a leisurely afternoon.  He and Veronica live in Bonita in the ultimate party house.  The deck, complete with pool and hot tub, overlooks a golf course and the mountains of course.  
Pepe has been in the restaurant business forever and although he is not a chef at his job, he is a wonderful cook.    He is the king of ceviche! 
 As a mater of fact, Ernesto learned how to make ceviche from Pepe years ago, although he made a couple modifications.  (see  recipe)  I love how Pepe added cucumber and used habanero chiles.  wow! It was spicy.  He made a batch with shrimp and one with fish.  

The drink to the left is a Michelada.  (Beer, clamato juice, black pepper, tabasco, worcheshire sauce, lime, salt).   A perfect complement to ceviche tostadas.  Trust me. so good! 

Palomitas o Popcorn

We usually eat dinner between 9 and 10pm. My parents always give us a hard time because we eat dinner so late. I could say it's because we don't have kids so we can prepare dinner at our leisure. This is true. But I think the real reason is because we are snackers. We probably have the snacking thing backwards, but it works for us. For example, most of my family and friends prepare dinner when they get home from work, and then snack later in the evening. We, on the other hand snack immediately upon arrival to the house, then head to the grocery store to buy our ingredients for dinner that night.

Our snack, 99% of the time, is either salsa or popcorn.

Not just any popcorn. Spicy popcorn. Because everything has to be spicy according to Neto. My brother Tim, who is also crazy about spicy food, shared this recipe with us years ago.

With the invention of microwave popcorn, you may never have even made popcorn the "traditional" way. But trust me, it is worth the 5 extra minutes (and more healthy too)!

Pepper Popcorn

1Tbsp canola oil

2-3 hot peppers

Leave on high heat until charred.

Add 3/4 cup popcorn

Shake pan every 30 seconds until pan is full

Snack then dinner. I think it makes sense. What time do you guys eat dinner?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Del Mar is usually a quiet beach town (just north of San Diego) but all of that changes when the Del Mar Racetrack opens in July. Open for only for 43 days every summer, it's a popular place to go. Especially on Opening Day, which attracts some 40,000 fans.

When I saw an article about it a few weeks ago, I got really excited. This was an EVENT. What to wear? I looked at last years pictures and saw a lot of fancy dresses and big hats. Men in suits and hats too! Oh Yes! I had to go! The people watching was unbelievable.

There is an famous hat contest too. This is a huge deal. There are 4 categories where you can enter your hat and win over $2000. Most glamorous, best racing theme, funniest/most outrageous, and best flowers.

Now I didn't really have time (or money) to put together a great hat for the contest. Uh..wait. What am I talking about? I have nothing BUT time on my hands! The real problem was that I didn't get started shopping until the night before, and surprise surprise, there weren't many hats left. We went to 3 stores and ended up at the Village Hat Shop in Seaport Village at 8pm the night before the race.

I found one that I liked in my favorite color for only $23! I paired it with one of the dresses to the left? Which do you think is more fitting for horse races? Me too...I wore the printed one. (Its not totally my stlye, but seemed appropriate for the festivities. I will sell it- 100% cotton, size S ,$15. email me.)

I am not a total horse racing virgin. In college me, my brother and several friends took a road trip to the Indianapolis 500. We bought tickets in the infield and had a crazy fun time. I still remember that I wore shorts and a loose shirt because I was smuggling in vodka in ziplock bags that were taped around my stomach. What a blast! (I wish we had smuggled our beers at Del Mar because they cost $8 a pop for a draft.) The traffic was pretty bad getting to the racetrack, and for Espinoza standards, we arrived EARLY! (One hour before the first race). We signed up to be Diamond Club members which automatically gave us 1/2 off the entrance fee.  Back at the car we enjoyed a few cold beverages before entering the park.The whole atmosphere was really exciting. I'll say it again, the people watching was better than I have seen.  The hats were the highlight for me (the outfits and fake boobs came in a close second & third).  I was partial to the feather hats.  Next year Im entering that contest myself! 

This one had us laughing.  She had to have won for the Most Outrageous, right?

There were 10 races on opening day and this is how we enjoyed them:

1. Pick horses. I placed my bets based on the horses name and the colors that the jockey was wearing (all listed in race program) Yes, very scientific, I know.  Neto did a bit of research before and followed the picks of a professional which were listed online. 2.  Place bets.  The people taking your money were most helpful. It was obvious we weren't regulars, but they were all so friendly. One bet we played on every race was the "trifecta".  With this bet you need to pick the horses that come in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place and pick the correct order.3.  See the horses.  Its nice to be able to see the horses close up.  Unfortunately there is not enough time to view the horses and then go bet.  You can only encourage the horse you have already put money on. These are beautiful horses, so lean and strong.  I also liked checking out the jockeys. so little.

4. Watch the race and cheer!   I love the announcer, giving you the blow by blow with the horses names making it so exciting.   There is also a screen showing the horses, so you don't miss anything. 


5.  Hold up winning ticket and scream!  On the 7th race we got lucky! (I say "we" because when you are married 'what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine' right?)  Ernesto won $350 on a $1 trifecta bet! 

I wasn't the only girl who had to take off her shoes that day.  It was a lot of walking and I haven't worn heels for more than a couple house in a year!  Minus the 2 big-ass blisters on my feet, we had one of the best summer days in San Diego.  

The after party was at L' Auberge a luxury hotel in Del Mar. Ernesto had a friend DJing the party, and it was pure craziness.  The crowd was huge and the music was fantastic.  Much dancing. Weaving in and out of people. Pool blocked off as VIP.  A bit of pretentiousness.  It felt more like LA or Miami, but fun just the same.

This post is being shared with  The inspired Room and Hooked on Fridays check out their blogs to see what others are hooked on today.

Oh! One more thing:
Sticking to the horse racing subject I have to share this video.  My sister showed it to me and I was LMAO! 
Now, if you are easily offended, don't hit play. (foul language) You have been warned!  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


This weekend was the U.S. Sand Castle Competition  hosted every year at San Diego's Imperial Beach.

Vendors were set up for a street festival on  Seacoast Drive with food, musical entertainment, and arts & crafts.  I use the "arts& crafts"  very loosely, as I was not drawn into even one booth to have a closer look.  These    Lucha Libre masks did however warrant a photo. Not that Im a wrestling fan, but the masks look fun. 
Contestants in the castle competition were competing for $21,000 in cash by building realistic, life-size sand sculptures.  The beach was packed with spectators and general beach goers.  It was a great time.  
I captured some of the sculptures before the 2pm deadline, so most of the contestants were still working. This family sculpture had to be my favorite.  The detail was amazing.  Can you believe this?

Overall, a really cool afternoon.  Due to San Diego's no alcohol on the beaches rule we didn't stay for the announcement of the winners.  A cold beer was calling.  It was great catching up with Fred-bo, a long time friend of Ernesto.  (also the best man at our wedding)

Sunday Morning Menudo!

Rise and shine!  Nothing like starting off the day with a bowl of cow intestine soup. ...or Menudo, as they call it in Mexico.  You have to admit, it looks damn good!  Menudo is a traditional Mexican soup made with tripe.  It is thought to be a cure for a hangover and is usually served for special occasions or with family.  (I remember eating it at a wedding reception at 3am in Tijuana

After trimming the tripe of all its fat, it is cut into chunks,  and set to simmer in a chile based soup overnight.   It must cook for at least 7 hours.   A steaming bowl of the soup is topped with fresh cilantro, onion and a freshly ground chile [de arbol] powder.  You almost forget what you are eating. Special Note:  Ernesto's mom has given me the recipe line by line, and I know you are dying to get your hands on it!  Be patient.  I'm excited to say that development of my food blog is underway, and I'll be introducing it to you soon.  While in San Diego this summer, I have been learning a whole lot of authentic recipes from an extraordinary cook, Ligia Espinoza. (aka: mi suegra) Add this to what Ernesto already knows, and we have ourselves a Mexican smorgasbord.   Stay tuned!                                             

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ligia's Flautas

En la Cocina con.....Ligia Espinoza (my Mother-in-law o mi suegra)
This summer we have been lucky enough to spend a couple months living in San Diego with my in-laws. Some of you may cringe at the thought of this, but I kid you not, I love mis suegras. From Day 1 (almost 10 years ago) they made me feel like their daughter. They are so wonderful.
Living with them, I can fool myself that I am really in Mexico. Family is constantly in and out of the house, we always speak Spanish, and the food is authentic Mexican. I have been eating mi suegra's food for years, but to be in the kitchen with her has been a real treat. Last night she asked what I would like to cook. I was craving flautas. I mean taquitos.
Hmmm. Are they flautas or a taquitos?
You can call them either name depending on your location. Some say the difference is if they are made with corn tortillas (taquitos) or with Flour tortillas (flautas) My mother-in-law calls them flautas, and I'm going to stick with that. When it comes to Mexican food, she knows what she is talking about. Flautas means "flutes" in Spanish and this is what they look like, right?

They are easy and the finished product is like a piece of art.

Ligia's Flautas
You will need to start with:
The freshest corn tortillas you can buy.**
(**In San Diego this is easily done. Fresh tortillas are sold everywhere. In Canton, Ohio where my parents live - not so easy. You may need to try several packaged brands to find the best.)
The stuffing for the flautas could be several things. Usually pork, chicken, or beef.
Mi suegra used shredded beef. (In the store labeled as "roast.") Boiled until cooked through and then shredded. Add salt.
In a frying pan add 1/2 inch vegetable oil and heat on high.
Place some shredded beef in a line down the middle of the tortilla.

Roll it. Fry until golden. (see pic above) Repeat.
The pure deliciousness of this dish comes in the toppings.
Chopped iceburg lettuce
Sour cream
Red vinegar onions (sliced and soaked in white or apple cider vinegar, salt & pepperfor at least 30 minutes)
Salsa Navarro (roasted salsa with oregano-recipe here)
Queso fresco (crumbled white cheese, sold in most stores in Mexican isle)
Plate 4 or so flautas, pile with toppings and enjoy! Refill plate. Oh, yes you will!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Cross Stitch Project

It's not that I need another project.   I wanted was something I could do on the road.  My sewing projects aren't portable, my jewelry is not accessible, the blanket I'm crocheting has lost it's novelty (+ its too big), and decorating a house is out of the question right now.

So, I saw this cross stitch project at Joann Fabrics.  I know, I know, cross stitch? But I imagined it framed on a wall in my house and I began to like the idea. 

I'd like to introduce you to: 
Yes, the Mona Lisa.   Leonardo da Vinci painted this classic back in the 15oo's and she is still around.  She has history, she's international (born in Italia lives in Francia), and I think she would look nice against many paint colors.  

Mona and I go way back.  Back to an unbelievable time in my twenties.   I was on a backpacking trip through Europe with my brother Brrrian.  I have been to Paris probably 4 times since then, but only went into the Louvre on that first trip.  Discovering art, the art of traveling, and essentially who I was as a young adult.  I can't see her and not be reminded of this trip.  I have been buying a lot of art/textiles for my future home on my travels the last year and  think this will be just as special. 

The other thing, the most important thing, is that my Mona Lisa will be 100% handmade by me during a [yet another] memorable period of my life.  A time of volunteering, traveling, discovering and spending quality time with family.

So thank you Joann Fabrics for taking me down memory lane and doing it for only $9.99.  
Half price off. 
18" x 12" and comes with all the thread. 
Let's see how long it takes me to finish. Any bets?

This was my Beautiful Life Friday.  Check out more on the Inspired Room.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, San Diego

San Diego is so dry.  I guess this should not surprise me, but before spending all this time exploring, I had spent most of my time at the beaches where lush plants are everywhere you look.  On recent bike rides and hikes inland, I have seen the diversity of this awesome city.
Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is roughly 20 miles north of San Diego in Rancho Peñasquitos.
Los Peñasquitos, means little cliffs, and the canyon is full of them. There are also more than 10 miles of trails used for walking, running and biking. 
We started out walking, but the drill sergeant said "Come on, let's run just one mile"  UGH!  I obeyed!
There are over 500 plant species, more than 175 types of birds, and a great variety of reptiles, amphibians and mammals evidences the rich bio-diversity of the canyon.  As I sat in this field of straw, Ernesto told me to listen for a rattling noise.  The rattlesnake always gives off a warning before attacking.  What?  Needless to say, I got out of there quickly and kept my eyes peeled to the trail to be sure I didn't step on anything.
We completed a 6.5 miles loop, where there is a "waterfall."  I didn't even take a picture of it, that's how disappointing it was.  Compared to the falls I had visited the last year in Costa Rica, this did not qualify.  
What was amazing were all the huge boulders.
I'm not exactly sure what you call this type of landscape.  Help, anyone?
All I know is that we were alone, in the middle of no where and felt like we should have a piece of straw in our mouths.
This weekend we are taking our mountain bikes to these trails and doing the whole loop....maybe twice!


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