Photo Favorites: Miami

It’s late—almost 1am—but for some reason my brain has been extra wired at night, lately. I thought maybe I could distract it with some soothing photo recaps. Maybe not, but sharing my final round of travel photos is better than late night eBaying. And buyer’s remorse.

Even though I was in Miami for over 2 months, I have way more photos from Cuba and Puerto Rico. Maybe because when you have more time, you feel less pressure to photo-document everything? Or…maybe it’s because Joe took a solid 85% of those travel photos, and I was mostly on my own in Miami. I’m not on top of my photo game.

Well, actually that isn’t true. I took hundreds of pictures in Miami. But those are photos of documents I was working with in the UM archives, because the photocopier costs money and photos are free. So I have folders on folders of document photos, but no one but me (and sometimes not even me) wants to look at those. Anyway, this is all related to the first photo I’m sharing, because it was taken in the archives, but it’s not of a book.

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This is the view from the archives window, right as a particularly wild storm was brewing. Did you know that it storms everyday in Miami? Apparently, most people know this, except for me. I did not know this until precisely 3 days before I left for Miami, and I did not buy rain boots, but I did walk 1 to 2 miles every day to the archives. Sometimes in torrential downpours. And although I did not love that, I did love to watch the storms roll in from the comfort of my window seat. So, even though this isn’t your typical palm-trees-on-blue-skies photo, it’s a favorite.

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Alright, here’s a nice palm tree photo though. I happened to be passing by the beach when this postcard-worthy sunset went down. (Pun intended). The colors are gorgeous. That’s all I really have to say about it.

But also, how long do you think people have to live in the tropics before they stop being awed by palm trees?

My final photo is from my cousin’s trip to visit me in Miami.

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Toward the end of her trip, I realized that I, typically, had taken almost no photos. And in an effort to document our good times, I set up the camera over our afternoon Coffee and Chats on the Patio Hour. This photo pretty much sums up how happy I was to have her down for a visit. It also makes me really miss Miami’s endless summer. It’s a good city, but I’m mostly in this game for the weather. And the food.

And that’s the end of the travel photos! Perhaps I’ll go meditate on those storms as I try to get some sleep.

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Photo Favorites: Cuba

Hello, snow! As the east coast receives the brunt of this storm, out here in the mountains, we are getting our fair share as well. Over a foot at least, anyway. Cruelly, accuweather continues to tell me about the 85 degree temps they are seeing in San Juan, so I thought another round of summer weather photo memories was in order. (See here for round one.)

In November, I had the chance to go to Cuba for a conference, and luckily for us, just weeks before, the US relaxed travel guidelines so that Joe could come too! Analysts keep talking about how the opening to US tourism is going to change the travel climate in Cuba, so it was pretty special to get to go when we did. So here we go with my favorite 3 photos from the trip.

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We took many photos of the beautiful and nostalgic old-world architecture in Havana, but for some reason, it’s this photo that really speaks to me. I love the faded green paint against the gray sky, the chicken stall, and the bright laundry hanging across the balcony. Something about this seems really melancholy and lovely to me.

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Here’s the water frothing up on the Malecon, the seawall that winds around Havana’s coast. In the day, we’d stroll along the wall (taking care to avoid any waves splashing over!) but the real allure is at night, when the Malecon becomes a social destination for Cubans who are looking for a place to hang out, sip rum and local Cristal or Bucanero beer, chat, play music, dance, and smoke cigars. After the conference, we’d meet up with local acquaintances to do just that, and chatting with them for hours about their lives and aspirations was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

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This last photo is me and Joe on a beach outside Havana. It was a warm, windy day, and the place was mostly empty. Cuba had gotten the best of us and we’d spent the previous days recuperating in our hostel, so here we are delighted to be back out enjoying the coast. I always think it’s such a struggle to take a quick, natural-looking selfie, but here we are just genuinely feeling so happy and so fortunate, and I think this windswept photo reflects that perfectly.

I’m already feeling a bit sunnier after going through these pictures. Hope that feeling lasts once I break out the snow shovel!

Photo Favorites: Puerto Rico

Although the big storm is supposed to roll in this weekend, it’s already snowing here in W.Va. So, what better time to reflect on my travels to warmer climates? By my standards, I had quite the jet-setting season. And if you get to travel for work, you can’t get much luckier than Miami, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Because recaps seem overwhelming, I thought I’d share my 3 favorite photos from each trip, with a little note about why I love it. Up first: Puerto Rico

We were only in Puerto Rico for 10 days, but we covered a lot of ground.  Starting with beaches:

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I love the wildness of this grassy, deserted beach. The sun is just starting to peek out as storm clouds roll back over the mountains, and white morning glories dot the grass. Joe caught me with my arms spread, exalting in the loveliness.

We also visited historic sites:

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This is at Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, the 18th c. fort that guards the island’s eponymous harbor. I love the history here, and the color and texture of the ancient walls and arches, with the soft light filtering in. Also, my mom and I, just catching a break after climbing all around its many nooks and crannies.

We made it to the rain forest too, El Yunque.

 

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Joe took this pic of me and my parents looking out the observation tower windows. I really like the series of profiles here. Good thing he is always ready with the camera! But you’ll just have to imagine the flora and fauna on the other side…

So that’s it–Puerto Rico in 3 photos! And a moment pretending I’m in the balmy Caribbean instead of battening down for a snow storm..

Warm Spinach Salad with Scallops and Bacon

My cousins and I love dinner parties. Growing up, food and family were at the center of holiday gatherings. As adults all living in NYC for a brief window of our lives, we’d meet to relax, cook up a tasty meal, and spend time together.

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Apparently, I also like to clown around in the kitchen…..

….while producing serious food. 1930621_521307493701_9320_n 1924084_523094996531_4073_nWhen my cousin visited me in Miami last week, cooking a meal together felt like a welcome return to old times. After a few days of chowing down on (delicious!) starch- and protein-heavy Cuban food, we both felt like we needed some green veggies in our lives…but of course, it still had to be vacation-decadent! Thus, the dish was born.

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Warm Spinach Salad with Scallops and Bacon

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 10 large scallops
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Sherry vinegar (to taste)
  • Mustard (to taste)
  • Dry white wine (optional)
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning.

Directions

  1. Prep work: pat the scallops dry on a paper towel. Peel and mince the shallot.
  2. Start cooking the bacon in frying pan over medium heat. Flip when it’s about a quarter of the way cooked. When it’s about half cooked, add the shallot and stir. As they start to brown, add the mushrooms and cook through.
  3. In a separate pan, melt the butter on medium high. Sear the scallops lightly on both sides, add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Remove the fully-cooked bacon from the pan and dice it up.
  5. Turn off the heat on the pan with the shallots and mushrooms. Add a splash of vinegar and a dollop of mustard and stir through. Salt and pepper to taste. Then, mix the raw spinach through in the warm pan.
  6. Deglaze the scallop pan with a splash of white wine. Add to the spinach.
  7. Assemble salad on plates, add bacon and scallops. Dig in!

City mouse

My dad was raised in Southeast Washington DC, in the era just before those poor streets turned mean streets. My mother’s DC-born parents raised their family in the Maryland countryside outside DC. And together, my parents picked country over city and bought a big slice of Maryland farmland where me and my siblings grew up. Very rural. I mean, not in a dramatic, Little House on the Prairie way, but in a prepare-to-walk-a-mile-if-you-want-to-see-a-neighbor way.

For undergrad, I chose Gettysburg College. So, when I finally left the farm, it wasn’t to a big city, but a quaint little town immersed in Americana. Still, it was a town. A pretty town, where I discovered the joy of walking to restaurants and passing people on the streets. And then I studied abroad outside Madrid, growing bolder in my love for the Metropolitan life.

And then, what happened post-graduation? We–me and Joe–moved to New York City. I had visited NYC for all of 6 hours (ever, in my life) when I made the decision that I would follow Joe there to graduate school.  Growing up, DC was always “The City”. And I liked our family trips there well enough. (Coincidentally, Joe was born in the District, and spent a few early years there before being mostly raised in DC’s sprawling suburbia.) But NYC is my true city love. I could fill a whole blog with my love for that place. Maybe someday, I will. And not the glamorous shopping on 5th avenue, drinks in Soho NYC. That was never my NYC. I fell in love with the sootier Chinese street food in Flushing and rooftops in the LES NYC. And maybe a little less so with the Midtown hustle NYC where I worked, but still. We lived there for 2 years, and Joe got his degree.

Next? We moved again, to a “small” Chinese city of 6 million people. In China. An altogether different experience–equal parts crazy, eye-opening, fun, and strange.

But, for the past 5 years, we have been back to small town living in America. Which is fine–better than fine, in fact. It’s a perfectly nice place to live. But I guess my point is: part of what’s exciting about spending a fall in Miami is being back in a real city again. To discover new crowded streets and lug my groceries home over blocks of sidewalk and stop for a coffee on my way to the library.

It’s hard to say whether city life will eventually find me again in the future, but I’m going to enjoy it while I can.

Party in the city where the heat is on…

It seems a little strange that Will Smith wrote an entire song about going to Miami. Odd topic for a song, no? But those 90s beats have ear-wormed their way into my head (ick! ha) so many times this month because: I’m going to Miami!

I’ve known about the 2 month trip (!) since last spring, but I just bought my ticket and booked my accommodations this week, so now is when it starts to seem like it’s becoming a reality.  I’m going on a research fellowship, so it’s not exactly fun and games, but still exciting. Here’s the thing about grad school travel, at least in my experience: while there are opportunities to go cool places, you also have to work a lot while you are there and your budget is pretty tight. (Similar to my experiences with work travel in my previous life as a 9-to-5er, except there my budget was a bit more roomy.) So, while it’s never the “free vacation!” I might fantasize about–and I likely won’t be on any beach until the break of dawn–it’s a nicely subsidized break from the normal routine.

I’ve been busy tying up loose ends on the homefront before I head out in 3 weeks, but hopefully I’ll have some more stories to record here sooner rather than later!

Peking Duck Buns

This recipe combines two of my very favorite Chinese foods: Peking duck and steamed buns. Wandering through Kroger, we lucked into a cheap piece of duck, and Joe immediately suggested we turn it into Peking duck. However, lacking the skills and drive to make a decent pancake, I decided to transform the dish into “Momofuku-style” steamed buns instead–i.e., assembled post-cooking, rather than with the ingredients cooked inside. I also gave the ingredients my own twist, and I think it turned out pretty tasty!

IMG_2703The recipe for the bun dough is not especially authentic due to the inclusion of butter, but the buns turn out beautifully every time. A Chinese exchange student and I discovered it in an old thrift store cookbook in 2007, and I’ve been making it ever since.

Peking Duck Buns

  • Servings: 2-4
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Ingredients 

For the dough

  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp regular butter, melted
  • 4 cup(s) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup(s) warm water
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • 2 tsp sugar

For the filling

  • 1 duck breast
  • 1/4 cucumber, thinly sliced (I used a vegetable peeler to slice mine thinly, and then marinated it in a little rice vinegar and sriracha.)
  • 1 spring onion or 1 tbsp red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Hoisin or plum sauce

Directions

For the buns

1. Add warm water, yeast and sugar to a mixing bowl. Proof 5 min. 
2 Add butter, salt and flour and start mixing everything into a ball. 
3. Knead for about 5 min, until smooth
4. Once the dough is smooth-ish, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise for one hour. Then punch down.
5. Working with a golf-ball sized amount of dough, press dough into a 6-inch round. Place the round on a piece of oiled wax paper and set into a bamboo steamer.** Let sit for 10-20 minutes. IMG_2683
6. Steam over rapidly boiling water for 10-12 minutes. Remove carefully, and beware of the steam built up inside the steamer.

**Depending on the size of your steamer, you’ll probably only be able to fit a few of these in the steamer. I only used 4 for my dish. The rest of the dough I left as unflattened balls and steamed into mantou. Steam these for 15 minutes and serve as a side dish.

For the filling:

  1. While your dough is rising, score and sear your duck breast. Start it in a cold pan, skin side down, over medium heat. The cold pan will give the fat time to render. When the skin is crisp, flip to lightly brown the other side. Cook to medium rare–this will only take about 5 minutes. IMG_2686
  2. Cut the duck into thin slices and assemble your cucumber, onion and Hoisin.IMG_2688IMG_2694
  3. Spread Hoisin sauce generously over a bun pancake. Fill with duck and vegetables as desired.

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