Category Archives: Travel

Travelling: You’re Doing it Wrong

I wrote most of this post while we were in South America but never put the finishing touches on it and published it. I came back to it today because it still resonates with me, and I thought it was worth posting. Enjoy! 

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The title of this post is something that I find myself thinking every once in a while. I try to push the thought away as quickly as it appears, but there are times when I just can’t help myself. Before you think that I’m constantly judging others for their choices, I’ll clarify that I’m talking about the way that I think about my own travel. With so many different places to go and things to do, and an even bigger variety of ways to do them, it’s hard not to second guess myself and feel like we’re maybe not doing things in exactly the way they should be done.

When we were in Cusco, I had a brief conversation with another Canadian traveller about our plans for heading to Machu Picchu. He asked me which trek we’d be doing, and I let him know that we weren’t going to be doing any trek at all. Instead we’d be making our way up there by train and bus. He was completely shocked by this, and said to me “No way. There’s no way you can come to Cusco and not do one of the treks to Machu Picchu”. While I know that hiking through the Sacred Valley would be an amazing experience, for various reasons it just wasn’t going to work for us, and I attempted to explain this to him. At that moment I felt like I needed to justify our choices so that we wouldn’t somehow seem like “lesser travellers”, whatever that means. There was no convincing him, though – we were most definitely doing it wrong.

I’m giving this guy more screen time than the space he really took up in my head. Look me in the eye and I’ll tell you without hesitation that his attitude was ridiculous, and that no one should make those kinds of judgements about their fellow travellers, or fellow human beings for that matter. But the hardest voice to silence is the one in my own head. Zevi and I have realized that we just aren’t “museum people”. They honestly aren’t a lot of fun for us and we rarely feel like we’ve gotten our money’s worth when we go. We’d rather spend our cash eating at a great restaurant or seeing a cool show or doing some kind of outdoor activity. Even with that knowlege, it’s hard not to feel like we’re doing it wrong when we talk to people who rave about Bogota’s Botero gallery, which we skipped, or Arequipa’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries, which we gave a pass to as well. Are we missing some sort of key experience if we don’t check these things off our list? In my heart I know that we’re not, and we’re doing our trip in exactly the way that works for us, and that’s the only thing that matters. That doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of irrational self-doubt where I question the choices we’re making, though.

I’ve realized that the worst thing we can do is take someone’s else version of “doing it right” and try to apply it to our own trip. We love hearing about things that other people have loved along the way, but the fact that our newfound friends tell us that we just have to go somewhere, seriously does not mean that we do. We’ve made the choice to skip Iguazu Falls. It’s a real shame that we won’t be able to make it there, because everyone we talk to tells us it’s a showstopper, but it just isn’t going to fit within our budget and our itinerary. With a month in Argentina, many would be shocked that we won’t be making the trip there, but that’s just the way things are going to work out. And that’s ok.

In Puerto Maldonado we met a couple who decided to skip Machu Picchu altogether. For a second, I found myself feeling incredulous – how could they miss out on what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see something so iconic? I quickly stopped myself when I realized that I was thinking about their journey in the same way as that guy in Cusco was thinking about ours. As strange as it might seem to me, the choice they made was the right one for them, and it’s not my place to declare that their somewhat unorthodox decision is the wrong one. As with most things in life, it’s best to just worry about what we’re doing and appreciate that everyone is doing what they’re doing for their own reasons. I’m going to keep on spending hours in farmers markets and leave the must-see museums for everyone else. When that doubting voice in my head starts to creep in, I’ll take another bite of ceviche and remember that as long as we’re being true to ourselves, there’s no reason for regrets.

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Easter Weekend at the Cabin

Drive home from Shuswap

I made the long drive home from the cabin with my brother today. It’s nice to be back in the land of wifi and reliable internet, but it was pretty hard to leave BC on such a beautiful, sunny day! We ate our lunch outside in Revelstoke in the warm sunshine and there was a brief moment where I contemplated staying right where I was instead of coming home to snowy Alberta.

Shuswap fire Shuswap wood pile Shuswap Julia breaking picnic tableShuswap vertebrae Shuswap buds

Signs of spring were all over the place at the cabin. Buds were starting to peek out of the ground and appear on the trees, and the dock was starting to float out in to the water as the lake level began to rise up to it’s lofty early summer levels. We did some work to get the outdoor areas ready for a new season of fun, including working in the garden and burning some leftover firewood. Someone also decided it was time to get rid of our old decaying picnic table so we got to do some demolition, which is always a good time.

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Shuswap canoeing

Although I’ve never heard him say it, I’m pretty sure that the cabin is as close to paradise as you can get for Benny. Instead of being stuck inside all day, he got to sprint along the beach and through the forest trails to his hearts content. Between my parents and brother and sister, he was pretty much lavished with constant attention, and he always had someone to play with. He even went for a canoe ride one day! With so much running to do and so many interesting things to smell, he was always absolutely exhausted at the end of each day. For a dog who seems to have never ending energy when he’s in the city, it’s amazing to see how truly tired out the cabin life makes him.

Shuswap Easter egg hunt Julia Stephen Shuswap easter egg hunt StephenShuswap easter egg hunt chocolatesDSC01387Shuswap hamShuswap Easter dinner

Of course it was Easter weekend, so we couldn’t forget about the chocolate and amazing food. My mom came up with an elaborate rhyming treasure hunt on Saturday morning that lead us to some delicious goodies. I love that she realizes that her twenty something year old children are still kids at heart ;). That night we made an incredible easter dinner. The piece de resistance was a gorgeous glazed ham that came out beautifully moist and dreamier than I could have imagined. Can a ham be dreamy? I don’t know, but it’s the stuff that my dreams are made of. We also made roasted potatoes, butternut squash puree, kale chips, and steamed asparagus, which were all incredible as well. I missed taking a picture of the key lime pie we had for dessert, but trust me when I say that it was citrusy perfection. We always eat so well at the cabin, which, predictably, is one of my favourite parts of being out there.

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It’s good to be home, but I’ll miss the relaxed vibe, beautiful view, and quality family time until I get back to the Shuswap again.

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That Time We Got Stuck in the Argentinean Salt Flats – Part Two

Check out part one to read the beginning of our salt flats saga.

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After more than two hours and ten kilometres of walking, we arrived at some buildings that we’d been hoping might house some people. We were pretty disappointed to find that the buildings were just empty shells, but our spirits were lifted when we saw a guy riding towards us on his motorcycle. Finally, someone who might be able to help us! By using my stumbling Spanish and showing him a picture of the truck on Zevi’s phone, I managed to convey our situation to him. As I was trying to explain our plight he taught me the Spanish word for “stuck”, which would prove to be very useful later. He couldn’t drive us anywhere since he didn’t have any passenger seats, but he did lead us back to some buildings near to where he was staying in the hopes that we’d be able to get cell phone service. We were at a point where calling 911 seemed to be our best bet – we weren’t sure what the police would be able to do for us, but we felt like our situation was dire enough to warrant an emergency call. However, despite our new friend’s attempt to position first Zevi’s, then my, and then his phone at varying angles on a rock where he said there was usually cell service, none of us were having any luck getting through. Eventually we had to give up and figure out our next move.

Even though the guy who had been helping us told us that waiting by the virtually deserted highway in hopes of flagging down a car would be futile, there really wasn’t anything else for us to do. As we dragged our exhausted bodies towards the road, both Zevi and I glanced at a broken down shell of a building and wondered if that was going to have to be our shelter for the night. Neither of us said anything, but we were both really starting to worry that that huddling behind those ruined walls by the side of the road might be our fate that night.

Sleeping out in the wilderness might not have been such a concern if we had accounted for the fact that we might still be outside when the sun went down. We were in such a hurry to leave the truck, which at that time was roasting in the sizzling desert heat of the salt flats, that taking warm layers hadn’t crossed our mind. I was wearing a t-shirt and a thin skirt, and Zevi was wearing a lightweight long sleeved shirt and shorts. Standing by the side of the deserted highway as the sun began its slow slide down below the hills, we started to wish that the four water bottles in our backpack could be magically transformed in to warm coats. We found a couple of rocks by the side of the road that functioned as a makeshift seat, and I sat on Zevi’s lap as we tried to keep each other warm. The minutes wore on and on, and, just as our friend had predicted, no cars came. We were both trying to stay positive and be strong for each other, but as we sat there I felt so absolutely helpless and hopeless. This was the most dangerous situation that either of us had been in. I’d never felt more vulnerable, and I don’t mean that I felt like I was in a place where I could share my feelings, I mean that I seriously felt like we might not make it out of that windy, deserted Northern Argentinean countryside. It was incredibly scary, and even thinking back on it now makes my heart race a bit.

We’d been waiting for what seemed like forever, and we were both almost ready to break down. After coming up with a few ideas, all of which we ultimately decided weren’t going to help our cause, Zevi suddenly exclaimed that he thought he’d seen a vehicle moving towards us. When I looked and saw nothing we figured that the stress and exhaustion were making him see things that weren’t there, as much as he wanted them to be. A few minutes later, though, we discovered that he hadn’t been hallucinating, as a beat up orange truck came in to view and laboured towards us. We jumped up and down and frantically waved with every ounce of energy we had, hoping to convey our desperation to the driver of the truck. The relief we felt when he slowed to a stop is indescribable.

Our saviours were a farmer, his wife, and their numerous children, all crammed in to a single bench seat in their elderly truck as they made their way back home from an All Saints Day church service. I told the driver our story, and although his countryside Spanish was nearly impossible for me to understand, I managed to decipher his offer to stay with them in their house just up the road. Let me tell you, I was thanking my lucky stars that I’d decided to do that Spanish minor in university at this point. On top of this, he let me know that he thought he’d be able to recruit some friends and get our truck out in the morning. I couldn’t believe that we’d gone from utter to despair to incredible good fortune in a matter of minutes. Zevi and I couldn’t get the smiles off our faces as we settled in to the back of his truck. The respite from the wind was such a huge relief – we would have slept there all night with no complaints!
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We bumped and jostled our way about five kilometers up a dirt road to the farmer and his family’s humble home, where, incredibly, they gave us a room to sleep in and fed us llama stew for dinner. They had no electricity or running water, but we certainly weren’t looking for luxury at that point. As we ate our dinner and drank our tea, the farmer’s wife came and told me about her children and their way of life. Although this was definitely a negative experience overall, the chance to chat with some true locals and see how they lived was the silver lining.

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True to his promise, in the morning the farmer had rounded up a couple of neighbours and gotten all of the necessary supplies together in order to extract our truck from its salty, muddy trap. We drove on to the salt flats, and, although I’d warned him that we’d traveled a long way, I think our chauffeur was a little surprised as we journeyed further and further away from the road. When we finally had our truck in our sights, we parked a little ways back so that the farmer’s truck wouldn’t suffer a similar fate to ours. We carted shovels and boards and tarps to our truck and the farmer and his two friends got to work with a little help from Zevi. It took them an hour to extract each wheel from the mud’s powerful grip, using bottle jacks and planks to prop the wheels up little by little. As I watched them chew their coca leaves and drink their boxed red wine as they worked diligently in the hot sunshine, I wondered what poor soul they’d practiced this technique on in the past. They seemed to know exactly what to do.

When all of the wheels were out, Zevi and I were gripped by a new stress. What if this tactic hadn’t worked, and we were forced to abandon our truck in the salty desert? We tensely watched as one of the men slid into the drivers seat and gingerly eased his foot on to the gas pedal. Nothing happened. All our fears were coming true, and my heart sank. After some adjustments, he tried again, and this time we saw the sight we’d been dreaming of for the last twenty hours. The truck was free! We held our breath as he drove over to where the farmer’s truck was parked – getting stuck again would be devastating. Thankfully, he made it, and there were hugs and high fives all around.
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It was hard to express our immense gratitude to the people that saved us, but we gave them almost all of the money we had as a small show of our appreciation. We held our breath as we drove across the rest of the salt flats, and didn’t really exhale until we got on to a paved highway. Zevi had been eager for adventurous drives, but we’d both had our fill of treacherous roadways for the foreseeable future. We’d also had our fill of salt flats for the foreseeable future, and possibly forever. It was a traumatizing experience, but for as much bad luck as we’d had, we got equally lucky when that farmer stopped to pick us up. We spend so much time avoiding strangers, especially in foreign countries, but you never know when one might save your life.

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A Good Friday at the Lake

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Hey everyone! Hope you’re having a good Friday (har har) and enjoying a well deserved day off work. Long weekends really are the best.

I’m up at my family’s cabin in the Shuswap for Easter and feeling pretty lucky to be in this little slice of paradise.  Summer is my favourite time to be out at the lake, of course, but I really love coming here in the shoulder seasons as well. The pace is a little slower, and there’s lots of time for reading and running and playing the piano and all of those other relaxing activities that tend to get squeezed out when I’m at home. There’s no rush to get dinner on the table, so we can take our time in the kitchen and make lots of amazing meals. I’m pretty sad that Zevi’s stuck at work and not able to be here, but the fact that we get to have a ham for Easter dinner makes his absence the tiniest bit easier to take ;).

No matter what time of year it is, I always feel my shoulders drop and my chest loosen when I get to our lake house. I’m looking forward to more relaxing family time this weekend, with a little bit of cabin maintenance thrown in to help us earn our afternoon beers. I hope that whatever you’re up to this long weekend helps you feel renewed and ready to dive headfirst in to the spring and summer days to come!

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That Time We Got Stuck in the Argentinian Salt Flats – Part One

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When you get back from a long distance adventure, there’s generally one story that gets told over and over again. It’s the one that your closest family members and friends have heard numerous times, because every time you’re with someone who hasn’t heard it they insist that you tell it again. For us, the story that everyone has heard is about the time we got ourselves in a pretty bad situation during our road trip in Northern Argentina. Zevi does a pretty good job of telling it, but I’m going to give it a go myself, because no account of our trip would be complete without it.

We’d had a beautiful and adventurous day of driving a tiny rural highway that wound up and down high mountain passes, and after conquering that crazy road, we were feeling pretty relaxed about the rest of our day. The salt flats had been something we’d been excited about for a long time – they were one of the first things we’d pegged as a must-see in Northern Argentina. Since we knew that a lot of tourists visited them, we didn’t really think much about any risks that might be involved in checking them out. We figured that we’d drive out, take some cool photos, and be at our hotel in ample time to grab some dinner.

After driving about an hour and a half from the small town of San Antonio de los Cobres, we were super excited when we looked to our left and saw a white expanse of crusty salt glistening not too far in the distance. We were keen on securing ourselves a prime picture taking spot that wasn’t too packed with people, so we decided to take an unmarked side road towards the flats. As we bumped and rolled our way on to the salt, we were excited to see that we would have the entire area to ourselves. It was so beautifully secluded, which we thought was strange given that it was a well-known tourist attraction, but we were happy to be solo.

We really wanted to recreate those cool reflection photos that people take on salt flats that I’m sure many of you have seen, so we were excited when we saw a small blue lake on our GPS. We decided to drive towards it in hopes that we could get some amazing shots of our own. Between our excitement about being on the amazingly expansive salt flats, the promise of capturing some top notch photos, and the euphoric high from having conquered that risky mountain road, we weren’t even a little bit worried about the fact that we were driving kilometres upon kilometres further from civilization. The salt appeared to be solid, and it seemed unthinkable that we could run in to any sort of trouble.

That is, until we did start to run in to trouble. We’d arrived at the area where the GPS told us that there would be water, but there was no water to be seen. All of a sudden we heard a splash, and felt the truck lurch downwards as it cracked through the salt in to the muddy water below. We had found the lake, but it was under the salt, rather than on top of it. This was the first moment when I realized that being so incredibly alone might not be such a great thing after all, and I told Zevi we needed to turn around and get out of that area ASAP. He was in complete agreement, but as he turned the truck around, we sank in again. At this point we were both starting to panic even as we popped out of the mud and continued on our way. Our fears were validated when we sunk in a third time. This time we didn’t pop out. We were seriously stuck.

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I don’t think I realized the true gravity of the situation at first, or at least I wanted to remain optimistic. We had experience getting ourselves free from Calgary’s snow banks, so I figured we’d be able to maneuver ourselves out of there with a little a little rocking back and forth and pushing. Unfortunately, none of our tried and true techniques got us anywhere. In fact, we may have actually been making things worse. Finally we surrendered to the fact that there was absolutely no way we were getting ourselves out of there. Suddenly our solitude was a serious problem.

People always say that if you run in to trouble the thing to do is stay with your vehicle until help comes to you. We had driven so far out on to the flats, though, that no one was going to be coming our way any time soon, so we had no choice but to trek towards the road and try to flag down a passing car. It was a scorchingly hot day, so we made sure to slather on the sunscreen and bring all of the water we had for our walk to the gravel highway. Using his GPS app, Zevi figured that the walk would be about five or six kilometres, which we thought would still give us enough time to find help and get towed out that evening. That dream started to dwindle as we walked on and on, crunching our way through the seemingly never ending salt only to arrive at a muddy swamp where one false step would suck us in to our hiking boot tops (Zevi learned this the hard way). Every so often I’d exclaim to Zevi that I could see someone in the distance, but my hopes were dashed when I realized that the wild donkeys looked an awful lot like people when you looked at them from just the right angle. Honestly I think I could have tricked my mind into thinking that almost anything looked like a human at that point – I wanted so badly to find the saviour that would bail us out of this increasingly dire predicament. We walked on and on towards what we thought might be buildings, looking for any sign of civilization.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll wrap up this story.

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Cafayate – Part 2

I know it’s been a while since our South America trip ended, but I want to write about the last part of our trip before I totally forget about it! So, from time to time I’m going to go back and revisit our big adventure. 

We’d had a great day of wine tasting in Cafayate, so the next day we decided that we wanted to do something a little bit different. The owner of our hostel had told us about a hike close to town that would take us to some beautiful waterfalls and give us the opportunity to swim in the Rio Colorado, which would be a welcome respite from the heat of Northern Argentina. Although most people who did the hike hired a guide from the local community, we were told that it was possible to do the trek without one. The only caveat was that the trail was not well marked, or marked at all, really, so we might have trouble finding our way on our own. Feeling like we wanted to save some money and be independent, we decided to give it a shot solo. The man who greeted us at the entrance to the parking lot was not happy with our decision and tried to tell us that we were obligated to hire a guide, but we stood firm and set out unaccompanied.

Rio Colorado Cafayate hikeRio Colorado hike

If you’re thinking about doing this hike, you should know that no one’s exaggerating when they say that the trail isn’t marked. The trek was basically a big guessing game, where we jumped from one side of the river, which was more of a stream in this blazingly hot and dry November, to the other attempting to navigate our way up the valley. There was a group with a guide just a bit ahead of us that we tried to sneakily follow for a while, but eventually we lost them and it was up to us to find our way again. We never felt like we were in danger, and in a way it was kind of fun to chart our own confusing course, but I do understand why they encourage you to hire someone who actually knows where they’re going.

Rio Colorado hikeRio Colorado Cafayate hike

After we’d been hiking for a couple of hours we became really unsure of where the trail went next, so we decided to stop. We were running low on water and the sun was unrelenting, so we really didn’t want to go much further anyways. Luckily we were stopped right by a little waterfall with a nice pool, so we got to go for a swim. The water was absolutely frigid but it felt great after hiking in the heat!

Puppy in the window CafayateEl porvenir Cafayate

After finding our way back to our car and going back to our hostel to change (and seeing a very cute doggy in the window!), we headed out to do some more wine tasting. We had some bad luck with the first few places we went to being closed so we almost gave up, but we ended up going to some great tasting rooms in town. We really loved how casual the Cafayate wine tasting scene was. Unlike much of Napa and Mendoza, most places had no problem with drop ins, and prices were extremely reasonable.

Cafayate steakChef at Cafayate parilla

We’d eaten dinner the previous two nights at the beautiful wine bar attached to our hostel, but on our last night in Cafayate we wanted to try out something different. I think there’s a rule that you can only go so many days in Argentina without having a steak, so we decided to check out the parilla that our hostel recommended. Cafayate is a pretty small and not particularly touristy place, but we definitely felt like we were off the beaten path when we finally arrived at this hole in the wall restaurant. We sat down at a plastic table on the sidewalk and proceeded to have a parilla experience that was lightyears away from any of the places we’d eaten at in Buenos Aires. There was no menu, so I walked up to the sweatpants-clad chef and asked him to bring him whatever he thought was good. As you can see in the picture above, his grill was built in to the side of the restaurant, so this was street meat at its finest. When our entrees arrived at our table, we both took one bite and confidently proclaimed that this was by far the best steak we’d ever had. Instead of our usual sirloin or rib eye, we’d been given bonier cuts, and the meat was so incredibly tender and flavourful that I was rendered speechless. My only regret was that we’d waited until our last night to go, so we wouldn’t be able to return. The whole experience just reaffirmed something I already knew about eating out. As much as I love eating at fancy, high end restaurants, sometimes the most amazing food comes from some guy slinging meat on the side of the road, or from a little nondescript hole in the wall.

Cafayate still stands out to me as one my favourite stops on our trip, and one of the places I’d most like to return to. With great wine, delicious steak, beautiful natural surroundings, and a laid back atmosphere, how could we not fall in love with this little town?

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Morimoto Napa

Zevi in front of Morimoto fish wall

We ate a lot of great food when we were in Napa a couple of weeks ago, but the big standout for us was Morimoto Napa. Based on Morimoto’s title as Iron Chef and all of the fame and prestige that comes with that, we were afraid that the restaurant might be all style and no substance, but when we tasted the food we couldn’t have cared less whose name was on the front of the building.

Morimoto kitchen Morimoto Heather

Don’t get me wrong, though, the place has plenty of style. As we walked in, I was immediately captivated by the oversized fish mural. How can I get one of those for my kitchen? The dining room was polished and elegant, and the music was just at the right volume for good conversation. I loved peeking over at the brightly lit sushi bar to see an army of chefs working behind display cases filled with raw fish. There aren’t many sights more beautiful to me than giant slabs of raw salmon and tuna waiting to be turned into delicious sashimi.

Morimoto carpaccio

We were enticed by some of the creative main courses, but we decided to share a few of the smaller plates instead. I love to eat off of everyone’s plate so sharing is always right up my alley! We started with the meltingly tender waygu beef tartare, thin strips of beef brightened up with a sweet ginger-garlic sauce.

Morimoto sashimi

Next up was the most unexpected dish of the evening. We’d ordered the Morimoto sashimi, which was described as “seared toro, salmon, eel, tuna, hamachi, five sauces”. I’d expected the fish to be presented in the regular sashimi style, but I’d forgotten that we weren’t at my neighbourhood sushi joint (which I love, by the way). I was surprised and intrigued when the we were presented with the plate pictured above. The pieces of fish were layered one on top of the other, each with a different mini garnish, and accompanying them were droppers filled with the aforementioned five sauces. The server demonstrated how to put little drops of each sauce on to our plate and dip our fish towers in as we saw fit. I wouldn’t want to eat my sashimi like this every day, but I really appreciated the whimsical and creative presentation. Most importantly, the fish was delicious!

Morimoto fried rice Morimoto bone marrow

I’m a sucker for a runny yolk, and egg on top of our duck fried rice provided the perfect mix-in for this flavourful dish. While the fried rice was good, the bone marrow was a true standout. I’d been eager to try bone marrow for some time now, and I managed to get Zevi on board. We were both glad we’d jumped on that train! The marrow was silky smooth, and the spiced panko breadcrumbs cut its luscious richness just enough. We were still trying to scoop out more of that heavenly stuff even when we knew in our hearts that we’d eaten every last drop.

Morimoto sushi

When sushi’s on the menu there’s no way I won’t order at least a little bit of plain old raw fish. While this was the simplest thing we ate that night, it was probably my favourite. The fish was extremely fresh with a perfectly firm texture, and the rice was expertly prepared. In fact, it was so good that we ordered another round!

Morimoto dessert

After seeing how inventive our savoury courses had been, we were eager to check out what the chefs at Morimoto had up their sleeves on the sweet side of things. We ordered the “s’more”, and while this wasn’t your campfire special, when we ate all of the components together we could certainly identify one of our favourite summer treats. The presentation was gorgeous too, and there were no sticky hands in sight.

We were thoroughly impressed with Morimoto, and I would make a point to go back there if I return to Napa. It’s definitely a special occasion type of place, but if you’re looking for a high end meal in California’s wine country, it’s certainly worth checking out.

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Napa Valley – What We Ate

Addendum flowers

If you know me, you know that my main goal when I travel is to find and eat delicious food. The Napa Valley is wine country first and foremost, but all of those wine obsessed tourists bring a lot of money in with them which means that there are lots of world class restaurants to choose from. We barely scratched the surface of the dining scene when we were there, but we did eat some pretty delicious meals!

Ca'Momi cheeseboard Ca'Momi prosciutto and burrata Ca'Momi pizzas

The evening after our wine tour we got together with the rest of our group and went to Ca’Momi, an Italian restaurant in downtown Napa’s Oxbow Market. We sat on their covered patio which was perfect for a large group and plenty warm on a spring evening. Zevi and I had actually visited this place on our last trip to Napa, and the crust was as perfectly chewy and tender as I remembered. I’d filled up on too much free cheese and fruit at our bed and breakfast before heading out for dinner so I wasn’t able to enjoy as many of the appetizers as I would have liked to, but they looked great as well. The menu is huge, and there’s really something on there for everyone. To me, the crust is the defining element of a restaurant that claims to be making authentically italian pizza, and this was some of the best I’ve had outside of Italy.

Bouchon coffee and pastry

It’s hard to talk about food in the Napa Valley without renowned chef Thomas Keller’s name making its way in to the conversation. While we weren’t planning on making a trip to the highly touted French Laundry, I did want to sample some of his offerings, so we made a stop at Bouchon Bakery. Located in Yountville, or “Thomas Keller-ville”, as one shop employee in a nearby town jokingly called it, Bouchon is celebrated for its amazing pastries, breads, and other baked goods. We tried the monkey bread, and it was incredible. I was expecting more of a cinnamon bun type of dough, but it was actually almost as light and flaky as a croissant. The salted caramel glaze gave it amazing flavour, and every bite had me wishing I could try one of everything Bouchon had to offer.

Zevi at Solbar Duck bahn mi at Solbar Fish tacos at Solbar

We spent one day laying off the wine and driving to check out a few of the towns in the area. Solbar is part of the Solange Hotel in Calistoga, and we stopped there for lunch during our travels. The weather was sunny and gorgeous, so we sat on their beautiful patio and sampled their globally influenced fare. The duck in my bahn mi sandwich was extremely tender and juicy, and the cucumbers and jalapeños provided a great crunch, but the bread could have been better. The mango slaw on the side may have actually stolen the show – I loved the tart bite of the barely ripe fruit. The flavour (and the gorgeous plating!) of Zevi’s fish tacos was spot on, and I loved the pickled cabbage that accompanied them. It was a beautiful spot to grab a bite and wish just a little bit that we could sneak in to their pool and soak up some sun on such a gorgeous day.

Lunch at V.Sattui Lunch at V.Sattui

If you need some lunch during a busy day of wine tasting, or if you just need a little something in your stomach to soak up some of that vino, I would highly recommend heading to V.Sattui. Not only do they offer great wine and a top notch tasting experience, they also have a deli where you can buy delicious food to eat at picnic tables outside. It was hard to choose what to get from their dizzying selection of cheese, charcuterie, breads, salads, and warm entrees, but in the end we went with a baguette, a couple of cheeses, a golden beet salad, some truffle mac and cheese, and some prosciutto (just for me, of course). Everything was delicious, and we (Zevi) left feeling ready to make the drive back to town.

Addendum sign Addendum meal Addendum Heather

When I heard that Addendum, another Thomas Keller spot, was opening up for the season, I knew I didn’t want to leave the Napa Valley without paying it a visit. On our last day in the area, we made a stop in Yountville to try some fried chicken in a gorgeous garden setting. At Addendum, you get the choice of either fried chicken, pulled pork, or pork ribs, plus whatever two sides they are serving that day. As tempted as I was to go for the pork, after reading many rave reviews of the chicken I just had to try it, and I knew that stealing a bite of Zevi’s wouldn’t suffice. After ordering from a little shack in the back, we sat down at a table with our sides, which that day were a macaroni and a beet salad. I knew I’d enjoy the beets, but I’m normally not a fan of mayo based pasta salads so I was surprised by how much I loved Addendum’s version! The fried chicken was even better than advertised, with ultra crunchy skin and tender, juicy meat. The flaky salt and rosemary sprinkled on top made it extra flavourful, and Zevi and I agreed that it was some of our favourite fried chicken ever.

I love the opportunity to try amazing wine in the Napa Valley, but the food scene is another great reason to head there. Among all of these great meals, I didn’t even talk about our favourite, which was at Morimoto, bus since this post is plennnnty long I’m going to save that for another day.

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Our Napa Getaway

Napa convertible riding

We’re not usually the spontaneous types, but a couple of weeks ago we decided to take a last minute trip. We considered a few different destinations, but in the end we agreed on Napa. Ever since we got engaged there almost four years ago we’d been talking about going back for more wine and sunshine, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to head down. In 2011 we’d gone down in scorchingly hot July, but this time we got some pretty ideal March temperatures, and the crowds were minimal too.

Churchill Manor

Churchill Manor flowersChurchill manor breakfasts

Once we decided on Napa as our destination, we knew right away where we wanted to stay at the same place we’d stayed on our previous trip. Churchill Manor is a beautiful bed and breakfast just steps from the downtown area. We had fond memories of the place from our last time there, and it may have been even better this time around. The staff are great, and we made sure to take advantage of the free wine and snacks this time around (when in Napa…). One of the main reasons we wanted to stay there again were the breakfasts (let’s be honest, we’re always in it for the food). Every morning we were greeted with pastries, and a beautiful fruit course. Then we got a choice between a sweet or a savoury entree. Predictably, I chose the savoury option every morning and Zevi went with the sweet choice, but I have to admit, the baked french toast was the best thing we had all week.

Selfie at Bounty Hunter Bounty Hunter

One of the things we really wanted to do on our return trip to Napa was head back to the bar where we got engaged. We may have had a few glasses of wine on the day Zevi proposed so we hadn’t gotten any good pictures of us there. It was really fun to revisit the place where I’d cried over a free glass of champagne from our waitress after such a big life event.

Dutch Henry Winery Dutch Henry Cave Tudall Wine Tasting Cairdean tasting Platypus tours group shot

Driving between wine tastings can get a little dicey, so we decided to do a group tour one day. We were so glad we did! We went with Platypus Tours, and we couldn’t have been happier with the experience. The four wineries we went to all provided us with great information and generous amounts of wine, and our driver did a great job of keeping things upbeat. We lucked out and met three great couples on the tour – one of them was even from Calgary! We got along so well that we ended up meeting up for dinner afterwards which was really fun.

Mustang Napa flowers Napa Zevi wine tasting Napa Heather wine tasting

We spent the rest of our time enjoying the beautiful sunny weather in our red mustang convertible, visiting the neighbouring towns, tasting more great wine, and eating delicious food, which I’ll talk about more in a later post. Napa will always hold a special place in our hearts, and we were really lucky to get to spend a few days down there, especially right before Zevi started his new seven days on/seven days off work schedule. I’m sure it won’t be our last visit to Northern California wine country.

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2014 in Review

Gray GlacierChile camping  Easter Island cemetary Zevi road trip Machu Picchu Cartagena after the rain 2014 is in the rear view mirror. What a year. I think it’s pretty obvious that this will be remembered as the year I quit my job and left on a three month trip to South America. You don’t do that every year, as much as I’d love to, and it’s not something we’ll be doing again any time soon. I feel so grateful that we were able to make it work. Although it’s something that I’d thought about and wanted to do for a long time, I always had my doubts that it would actually happen. There were a lot of factors that had to come together for us to be able to leave for that long, and it still seems amazing to me that we pulled it off. Mexico Cherniawsky's at Sea Cider Erin and Nai in Drumheller Calgary skyline

Snowshoeing with Kyle and NaiThe other nine months of the year may have been overshadowed by the main event, but they were certainly no slouch. We travelled to Mexico, Sasquatch music festival, Panorama, the Shuswap, and Victoria twice. We saw a couple of our best friends get married and celebrated the elopement of two more of our closest pals. We went on our annual Drumheller camping trip, and enjoyed great music and good vibes at Calgary Folk Fest. Family selfieFolk fest selfieBachelorette selfieSasquatch selfie I ran my fifth half marathon, but didn’t get the result I wanted so I’ll be back for redemption this year. I got to spend a ton of time with my sister over the summer, which was so much fun. I ate at countless new restaurants, revisited old favourites, and went to some iteration of my very favourite, Anju, four times in three weeks. I learned that choosing compassion is never wrong, even in moments of confusion and hurt. Many selfies were taken along the way. We won’t be doing much jetsetting in 2015, but I’m excited to see what adventures we find closer to home this year. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of selfies.

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