Browsing Category

The Passionista

The Traveler

Peru – A Mystic Journey Into the Andes

April 6, 2016
DSC_0923
Prior to embarking on this journey, I had limited knowledge of Peru, it’s resilient people, it’s lush and vibrant landscape and its impressive history.    I split my time between 3 provinces (Urubamba, Cusco and Lima) to achieve 3 goals: 1) check an item off my bucket list by hiking Machu Picchu 2) embrace the local culture and 3) indulge in great Peruvian cuisine.  But my experience far exceeded my simplistic expectations.
DSC_0688
The Sacred Valley – Yucay (Elevation 9,373′)
Enchanted, picturesque and as the locals would say “mystic.”  I arrived via Collectivo (6 soles) after sunset in the rain so when I awoke to the mountain views from my hotel room, I was blown away.  During the taxi ride (40 soles) from the Sonesta Posada del Inca hotel in Yucay to Ollantaytambo, I was in awe of the lush and vibrant landscape and local culture from the stalks of the giant Peruvian corn, to the rushing sounds of the Urubamba River, to the colorful flowers growing in the fields, to the Peruvian woman walking along the road carrying their children or goods in a manta (traditional woven cloth), to the Collectivo drivers en los calles shouting their destinations (vamos a ir a Cusco), to the roaring sound of the moto taxis weaving in and out of traffic.  Urubamba had my heart from the start!
DSC_0968
Ollantaytambo (Elevation 9,160′)
The Temple of Ollantaytambo has a large market and guides for hire (the price is negotiable).  Fortunately, I was invited to join a prepaid tour and was enriched greatly by their kindness and their knowledgeable tour guide.  The history that remains here . . . the original Inca walls, views of the historic store houses where crops were stored to feed the town, the huge terraces and the Inca temple stairs.  Don’t underestimate the stairs, I had to stop to rest on a few terraces and I am very fit (I could not, after all, beat the altitude).  There are quite of few areas to explore once you climb up, the size of this place does not really set in until you’ve walked around.
DSC_0994
Moray (Elevation 11,106′)
As I rode along to Moray, our driver emphasized the importance of the Sun God to the Incas, which they continued to secretly worship after the Spanish arrived – this is reflected in the carvings
Up to this point, I had not suffered from altitude sickness.  My fate turned within 10 mins of overlooking the beautiful terraces of Moray, an Inca agricultural site..  I am thankful that I was able to retire to the taxi to recover but I regret that I was not able to navigate around the terraces and learn more about the site.
DSC_1009
Maras (Elevation 11,090′)
I never knew how salt was made and I’ve never even wonder how until now.  The drive in along a steep winding road is beautiful and scary at the same time since the turns are not wide enough to accommodate 2 cars.  There were several turns where I could peek over a very steep cliff and I found myself praying for safety.  The dry season is the best time to visit to see the most salt and a good portion of the main walking path was closed due to maintenance.
Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes or Machupicchu Pueblo (Elevation 6,700′)
Opt for the Vistadome train (if returning at night, consider the return trip via Explorer dome to save about ~$20 as you won’t be able to see a thing!) This small town sits along the bustling Urubamba River (“sacred river”) and is the portal to Machu Picchu.  Within seconds of exiting the Peru Rail train station, there are throngs of local tour guides offering their services.  I opted to go it alone but if you do use a tour guide, negotiate – they will accept a lower price (I made some friends and they booked a packaged deal in the US for $430 per person – trust me when I tell you that it is far cheaper to do it yourself!).  You then navigate through the market to get to the small city
Machu Picchu (Elevation 7,800′)
DSC_0014   DSC_0015   DSC_0021
Cusco (Elevation 11,150‘)
Pisaq (Elevation 9,700′)
Within 5 minutes of arriving to my B&B, it hailed and then the heavy rains rolled in, I was amazed by the quick change of weather.  Fortunately it was a quick shower so were able to enjoy curated cocktails at Museo del Pisco as well as a late dinner at Limo overlooking the Plaza de Armas.  The next day, I headed to Pisaq via the collectivo and continued to be amazed by the scenic views of the mountains and the valleys below.  We shared a taxi with another tourist from The Netherlands to the Ruins of Pisaq and ended up spending the rest of the day together.  Unfortunately,  several sections of the ruins were closed off that day so we could not navigate the full site.  The portions we saw offered amazing views but I am just about convinced that every nook of this region is astonishingly beautiful!  The Pisaq market had the typical tourist wares; the vendors were not aggressive, most waited for me to express interest.  We headed back to Cusco for a late lunch at Greens Organics and then the rain rolled and stayed for the rest of the day.  With Ponchos in tow, this did not slow us down but we opted for Inca massages and then drinks at our now favorite watering hole, Museo Del Pisco.  We met a lovely family from California and had a great time chatting and indulging in Pisco Sours (mine made with Maracuya).
Lima (Elevation 5,080′)
I am a city girl true so I felt at home when we sped (taxi drivers were very aggressive) through the city to our B&B ($25 from the Airport to Barranco).  I immediately felt the temperature difference (high 60s vs low 80s) and was thankful for the crisp ocean breeze when we hit the Circuito de Playas.  I immediately hit the streets for El Mercado since I read such rave reviews.  I LOVED the energetic and tropical vibe, the food was amazing and the service was impeccable!!!  The weather was so great that I decided to walk to the Miraflores boardwalk.  Along the way, I enjoyed watching a women’s futbol match, families picnicking in the parque or walking their dogs, surfers awaiting the next big wave as well as the sun set “into the ocean.”  The next day was full of activity starting with the Museo de Larco which had an impressive art collection and a small erotic art gallery which was essentially a salute to the male form, if you know what I mean.  From there we battled even worse traffic to visit Plaza de Armas and arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guards. The ceremony lasted far longer than expected so we moved on after 45 minutes of melting in the sun.  I reconnected with a tourist that I met a few days prior at Machu Picchu and had a great family style Peruvian lunch at La Panchita with a group of her MBA classmates (the portions were massive).  It was great to learn a few lines from the stories of their lives because that is what travel is all about: new experiences, new learnings and new connections. The evening ended with an amazing meal at Cala overlooking the balcony with the waves crashing on the rocks below.  Of all the Pisco Sours I tried, theirs packed the biggest punch!
The Foodie

Gluten-Free Basil Pesto Pasta Recipe

April 6, 2016
Pasta Stock Photo

I often create recipes on the fly, based on what I feel like eating or based on ingredients in my kitchen.  This dish was created, as I walked through the grocery store, based on my preferred flavor profiles when making pasta.

Ingredients:

Box of Ancient Harvest SuperGrain Garden Pagodas Pasta (first time trying this and it is worth the splurge!  Other gluten-free national pasta brands don’t stand a chance against this!)

Pack of Aidelles Chicken Apple Sausage (4 count) (exclude this ingredient if you choose to go Vegetarian/Vegan)

Bag of Fresh Express Baby Spinach

Pint of Grape Tomatoes

California Sun Dry Sundried Tomatoes Julienne Cut with Herbs

4-8 cloves of Garlic or 2-4 teaspoons of minced Garlic

3/4 cup of Olive Oil (add more or less based on desired texture)

2/3 cup of Pine Nuts

2 Oz of Basil (use less Basil and more spinach or arugula, if preferred)

Block of Parmesan Cheese (exclude this ingredient if you choose to go Vegan)

1 Lemon

Sea Salt

Cracked Black Pepper (i.e. from a pepper mill)

Cooking Instructions:

Prepare Pasta according to package instructions and set aside in a strainer

While pasta water boils / while pasta cooks, brown Chicken Apple Sausage on all sides in a grill pan over Medium Low heat with a Tablespoon on Olive Oil – I personally use a Calphalon Signature Nonstick 12′ Round Grill Pan

IMG_1180 (3) IMG_1182 IMG_1184

Once Brown on all sides, transfer to a cutting board and either allow to cool or use a fork to hold in place and cut each sausage into 5-6 diagonal slices (you can also skip the Chicken and go Vegan)

Warm a saute pan over Medium Low heat and add about 1/3 cup of sundried tomatoes

Add the sliced Chicken Sausage and 2-4 cloves of minced Garlic and allow to simmer for about 2-3 minutes

Add pint of Grape Tomatoes and allow to simmer for 3- 4 minutes or until tomatoes start to wrinkle

Add Spinach (washed and strained) and cook for 1-2 minutes until they start to wilt

Add Cooked Pasta

Add about 1 cup of Basil Pesto Sauce (you will have about 1 cup leftover or you add more, if preferred)

Plate pasta and top with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese and Cracked Black Pepper to taste

Basil Pesto Sauce:

Basil Stock PhotoYou can prep the pesto while the Chicken Sausage browns by using a food processor – I love my Cuisinart Food Processor!

Add Pine Nuts (you can also use Walnuts but I preferred Pine Nuts), Basil (washed and strained), 2-4 cloves of Garlic and 1/3 bag of Spinach (you can add more Basil or use Arugula if preferred) and pulse until coarsely chopped (scrap ingredients off the sides with a silicon/rubber spatula after pulsing)

Turn on processor and add Olive Oil in a steady stream until well blended

Add 1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese (you can skip the cheese and go Vegan) and juice from 1 Lemon and pulse to mix together

Add Salt and Pepper to taste (add more lemon juice as a tradeoff for the salt)

DSC_0283

Enjoy!

The Passionista The Reader

My 2016 Reading List – Dream Big!

March 20, 2016
DSC_0325

2016 is about reinvesting time in my passion for reading.  I plan to read a minimum of 1 book per month; I’ve purchased most of these books already to keep the momentum going, so wish me luck and comment below to let me know what you are reading or what you think about my selections.

Fierce Inspirational Quote

Inspirational

1. The Bible – To remain balanced, I must feed my soul from the source

2. Fervent – I was gifted this book due to challenges I’m facing in my professional life; I look forward to learning how to pray purposefully

3. Travel Lightly – My pastor, Craig Oliver Sr. wrote a book!  He is such a gifted spiritual leader and orator so I can’t wait to read this one

Motivational

4. The Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes – I have a habit of limiting myself, it’s time to SAY YES!

5. You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero – I am striving to achieve goals I’ve been running from for years, I need reinforcement!

6. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Well, let’s see how this goes!

Book Club Reads

7. To Kill a Mockingbird – I can’t believe I’ve never read this book, it is on my list thanks to a book club that I never actually had the time/opportunity to attend

8. Go Set a Watchman – This book also landed on my list due to my failed book club attempt and I hope that it lives up to the hype

Best Sellers / Recommendations

9. The Husband’s Secret – I came across this book on the best sellers list and I’m sure it will become a guilty pleasure

10. Between the World and Me – Racial tension is at an all time high and everyone has an opinion on what’s it is like to be Black in America, I am interested in understanding this author’s perspective

11. The Secret Handshake by Kathleen Kelley – Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle – One of my mentors highly recommended this book and since politics are often unavoidable, I am looking forward to increasing my savvy

12. The Negotiation Book – I completed an intense negotiations course with The Gap Partnership and this was a parting gift so why not add some new tools to my kit!