Monthly Archives

March 2016

Travel

The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Notch Trail

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

This hike is short and sweet, up a canyon to an overlook with expansive views over the White River Valley and The Great Plains. The hike is 1.5 miles round trip with 125 feet of elevation gain and the dirt path is marked by reflective poles. Albeit short, this trail offers plenty of adventure with a steep wooden ladder and a portion of the trail tracing a cliff’s edge.

This was a great mini hike and we took our time exploring off the trail nooks and crannies. I must say that I hated the ladder part. I get very nervous about heights when it’s up to me to hold myself to the ledge. Yikes! The ladder is also made of steel wires and wooden logs which get very very hot in the midday sun. But you suck it up, go one rung at a time and the view at the top is always worth it!

*Avoid hiking this trail during or after heavy rainfall. The Badlands has extremely dry and dusty soil which turns into slippery mud during storms.

To get to the trailhead: Take Badlands Loop Road (Route 240) two miles east of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to a large pullout on the east side of the road for Door, Window, and Notch Trails. The Notch Trail begins from the south end of the lot.

Trailhead address: Badlands Loop Road (SD 240), Badlands National Park, Interior, SD57750

Trailhead coordinates: 43.760119, -101.928251 (43° 45′ 36.42″N 101° 55′ 41.70″W)

xo Alina

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Notch Trail

 

Related posts
The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Castle Trail
April 1, 2016
The Great American Road Trip: Guide to The Badlands National Park
March 24, 2016
Travel

The Great American Road Trip: Guide to The Badlands National Park

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

 

The Badlands stole my heart. It did then and it does now. The only way to describe it is otherworldy. It is a mesmerizing mix of vast grasslands, peppered with playful prairie dogs (But don’t touch! They carry the plague. Oddly enough you can feed them here) and harsh terracotta colored buttes, spires, sod tables and canyons. And don’t get me started on the night sky. It quite literally stopped me in my tracks on the way to the bathroom at 2 am and took my breath away. Never have I seen a sky so blanketed with stars and the milky way so big and bright. It feels like you could reach out and touch it.

It is important to note that this is a harsh habitat, with the relentless sun baking you from the time you wake up in your tent at 6 am to the time the sun goes down at night. There are no trees for shade. It will exhaust you and fry you. I recommend getting an early start (though not hard since the sun wakes you up very early) and heading off for your morning hike. Seek shelter from the midday sun in the visitor center or grab lunch in the teensy town of Wall. Wall Drug Store is an attraction in it’s own with a rather sweet entrepreneurial history. We even drove into Rapid City, SD one day for a couple hours to avoid sunburn and heat exhaustion. When the midday sun breaks, you can head out for an afternoon hike!

Words of caution: Beware of Rattle Snakes. Keep a safe distance with all wildlife, but take extra precaution with these guys. They hide out in the tall grasses, under rocks, and in shaded crevices. Watch your footing and handholds.  In addition to wildlife, the Badlands are known for unpredictable weather and afternoon thunderstorms and hail. The terrain is made of extremely parched dirt, clay and ash that will turn to thick muddy sludge in the rain, making footing and trails hazerdous. The open plains also leave you vulnerable to lightening.

We got caught in a supercell storm one evening with 70 mph winds, torrential rain and seemingly endless lightening. It snapped our tent poles and ripped a giant hole in the tent, flooding our gear. Rookie mistake!

Home base: We stayed at Sage Creek Primitive Campground within the park. There’s no need for reservations and there are no designated camp spots. It’s essentially a giant circular plot with pit toilets. First come, first serve, but there is plenty of space and rarely fills up. And it’s free! I loved this little slice of heaven. We laid out on our blanket every evening, listening to the crickets and prairie dogs and watching the land transform before us in the penultimate light. The warm breeze, the smell of sweet grass, the rosy sky, the howling wolves. The whole land breathes a sigh of relief.

Getting there: Located along Interstate 90, you could easily miss this natural beauty tucked into the grasslands of The Great Plains.

Park Headquarters: 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750.
Northeast Entrance (I-90, Exit 131): 21020 SD Hwy 240, Interior, SD 57750.
Pinnacles Entrance (I-90, Exit 110): 24240 Hwy 240, Wall, SD 57790.
Interior Entrance: 20640 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750.

You can find the official Badlands Visitor Guide here.

Keep a look out for two Badlands hike reviews next week. Keep adventuring!

xo Alina

 

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

Guide to the Badlands

 

Related posts
The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Castle Trail
April 1, 2016
The Great American Road Trip: The Badlands – Notch Trail
March 28, 2016
Food

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Baking 2

Baking 1

Baking 2

 

My sister and I frequent this local coffee place and they always have the best pastries and desserts. I remember coming here on highschool mornings and hoping the scone man wasn’t running late. And then how silly happy I’d get when he’d pull up in his car with the fresh (and hot!) scones for the day. If I have one food weakness, it’s dessert! Everything about it – the presentation, the taste, the preparation. I’ve been missing it throughout the initial phases of my yeast-free life and was excited when my sister suggested trying to re-create yeast-free versions of some of the local sweets ourselves. My sister is always up for a cooking date and has been incredibly supportive and enthusiastic with every curve-ball thrown my way on my health journey. She’s kind of the best!

So these are no-bake chocolate/coconut/oatmeal macaroons. Any they’re totally addicting and guilt-free. I may or may not have made them twice in a week.

The best part about them is that by tweaking the ingredient proportions they can be either protein balls or cookies!

 

Ingredients

8 Oz. Cashews (unsalted)

1/2 Cup Steel Cut Oats

1/3 Cup Raw and Unsweetened Shredded Coconut

1/3 Cup Cacao Nibs

1/2 Cup Coconut Oil

1/4 Cup Honey

*There really is no wrong way when it comes to ingredients. Maybe you prefer a stronger honey taste than coconut oil. Maybe you want more shredded coconut than cashews. Maybe you like salted cashews, or carob chips. Play around with it!

Instructions

Grind the cashews in a mixer (we used a nutribullet) until pulverized.

Depending on what type of chocolate you use, you may want to throw that into the mixer as well so it is finely chopped.

Add the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir until blended.

Heat the coconut oil until melted and add to the dry ingredients.

Add the honey as well and mix until the dry ingredients are evenly coated and start to clump together.

Using a tablespoon, scoop rounded balls onto a baking sheet and let cool in the refridgerator or freezer until the coconut oil and honey has hardened.

Dig in to these macaroon balls of goodness that taste like samoas!

xo Alina

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The Yeast Bomb
March 8, 2016
Travel

The Great American Road Trip – 1880 Town

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This is what road trips are all about. Driving down the road with some snacks and tunes when something on the side catches your eye. And of course you have to, gotta, need to stop!

That’s how we stumbled across the 1880s town off I-90 in South Dakota. Best $19 I ever spent! ($12 for entry and $7 for the costumes).

The 1880 Town contains original 1880s buildings relocated from all over South Dakota. There’s a museum, movie props from Dances with Wolves, and a homestead.

We were running around like idiots, sweating bullets under the mid-day sun and sashaying from building to building. All sillyness aside, it was wonderful to take the time to explore the nooks and crannies and history of each building and to picture what life might have been. I always geek out with period rooms (like the 1770s period rooms at the Met, or Versaille) feeling this odd closeness to the people who once slept in the beds, and the toasts given with the champagne flutes.. As if I could reach out and touch the object and immediately be transported back to it’s heyday. Come on time travel machine!

Anywho, this was truly a gem and we laughed until our sides hurt.

xo Alina

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Food, Health Posts

One Pan Salmon Roast

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One pan dinners are my jam! Seven years in a postage stamp sized NYC apartment will do that to you. They’re easy to prepare, easy to clean up, don’t require a lot of cooking gear, and are easy to prepare with limited space. They’re also great for using up ingredients before they go bad.

On a separate note, this whole yeast free diet is pretty restrictive and daunting. Home cooked, simple meals like this are no brainers because there’s nothing processed or canned involved. I don’t have to worry and wonder about mystery or unlisted ingredients.

For this dinner, I picked up a 2lb salmon at Sams Club and used the broccoli and fingerling potatos already in my refridgerator.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease the pan with olive oil. For the rub, I combined salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. I drizzled olive oil and squeezed the juice of half an orange on the salmon and then applied the rub. Feel free to add as little or much as you like.

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Cut the potatos in half. It is best to use small potatos when cooking in the same pan as fish since the cook time is low. If you choose bigger or more fibrous potato types, make sure to cut them into small enough pieces that they’ll cook through fast enough.

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Chop the broccoli into florets.

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Toss the chopped potatos and broccoli in a bowl with olive oil and the same rub as before. Then arrange evenly on the pan. Lastly, I covered the salmon in lemon slices.

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Cook time for this one pan dinner is roughly 30 minutes. Done! An easy, healthy, and stress free meal!

xo

Alina

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Travel

The Great American Road Trip: New York to Minnesota

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NY -> OH -> IN -> IL -> WI -> MN

Week one was a bit of a whirlwind and probably entailed the most car time. The goal was to get out to South Dakota so we could start camping in week two.

For this travel series, I’d like to write in depth city and trail guides. That being said, this week left little room for lingering in places, so I thought it’d be best presented with a photo recap.

Here are the highlights…

Day 1: We drove 8.5 hours out to Holmes County, Ohio to visit Amish country! Apparently, this area is the largest population of Amish people in the world. The scenery is sweeping and peaceful, with rolling hills, farms, and horse and buggies everywhere you look. We’re staying in an airbnb pop-up camper on a farm between the towns of Millersburg and Berlin. It’s at the end of a gravel road, in a clearing on a hill. The owner is very sweet and helpful and the camper oozes charm, with dainty little tea cups, candles and lace fixtures. It monsooned the night we stayed here and a lot of daddy long legs took shelter in the camper with us. (mild heart attack for me, but hey! I did just sign up for months of camping right? So buck up Alina!) Despite the two queen beds, we ended up cocooning ourselves in sheets and sleeping in the same bed, laughing so hard thinking of the adventure we had just gotten ourselves into for the next couple months.

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Day 2: We woke up early to the dew covered fields, sun and birds chirping. The owner’s dogs came to greet us on our way up to the main house for showers. Smiles all around! This little camper is so idyllic and romantic!

Today is another driving heavy day so we wasted no time in heading out for the day. Our first stop was Kauffman’s Country Bakery for coffee and breakfast. There were so many fresh baked goodies; I wanted to buy them all. Homemade breads, pastries, jams, spices, mixes and son on. But this is day two; pace yourself Alina! I settled on a jar of peach jalapeno jam. Next stop of the day was directly across the street at Heini’s Cheese Factory and Store. This is cheese heaven! I swear we sampled 35+ cheeses, fudge, sausages, jerky, mustards, and dips. Yet another place I wanted to buy everything. I bought guava jam, BBQ jerky, pumpkin cappuccino mix and a buckeye (because Ohio). Remember, I am on a camping roadtrip. After this week of hotels I won’t have access to refridgeration, so purchases will need to reflect that. There are a lot of pb&j sandwiches, noodles, canned beans and dehydrated backpacking meals in my future.

My favorite part was the free tour led by Atlee, an elderly Amish man who worked at Heini’s since he was a young man. He explained the history of cheese and how at the beginning, Heini’s only made wheels of swiss cheese. He then showed us where they make the cheese on site and explained the process and where all the ingredients come from. He was so sweet and informative! We left happy and full, ready for a five hour drive to Nashville, Indiana.

Tip: In Amish country, most businesses here follow daylight hours and close at 5/6pm.

We arrived at 5:15pm and most shops were closed for the day. It is a pocket-sized artists town with artists walks, cafes, ice cream shops, and restaurants. It reminded me a lot of Calafate, Argentina or Woodstock, New York. Dinner at Big Woods Brewing Company, ice cream at a local parlor, windowshopping and then back on the road to Crawfordsville, Indiana.

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Day 3: We’ve dubbed today our Nancy Drew day! Crawfordsville is a tiny little town. Two or three blocks really, but it is where my paternal great grandfather  and grandfather is from and there is a lot of family history here. We spent the day sifting through the antique stores here (amazing inventory by the way!) and ended up finding our grandfather’s high school year books! We also learned the mayor is a relative and found all our deceased relatives graves. Great and emotional day!

We spent the night with my cousins in the Chicago suburbs. They treated us to the most delicious deep dish pizza (my first – I am a manhattanite after all and NY style pizza is my favorite!) and ice cream. Although short, I was so happy to connect with cousins I don’t see every often and enjoy a night of wine and laughs.

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Day 4: Day spent in the car again. We stopped in Madison, Wisconsin for lunch (cheese curds, local beer, and a salad with local cherries) and ice cream again (coconut almond). I think it’s safe to say I made the most of visiting America’s dairyland haha. We spent an hour walking around the University of Wisconsin and Lake Mendota. Back in the car to stay the night in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

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Day 5: Minnesowwwwta bound today! I’m very excited to see Minneapolis, as all I ever hear are great things! My boss (ex boss now – sad) spent his law school years here and sent me with a few recommendations. We walked around Hennepin Avenue, the sculpture garden, Nicollet Mall, and the warehouse district.

Our little cousin is flying in tonight for ten days of the trip so we killed time at the Butcher and the Boar beer garden and the Crave rooftop. Minneapolis is nothing if it’s not a drinking town! There’s a very young and outdoorsy demographic. Every year it sits in the top American cities for fit and healthy citizens.

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South Dakota tomorrow and the camping begins!

Keep adventuring!

xo Alina

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Decor, Food

Natilla de Cumpleaños

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Natilla conjures up images of my Abuela’s kitchen and nights where my Cuban family would linger at the table hours past dinner was over, chatting away and slurping up this creamy treat. Two things we’re great at: talking and eating. Especially when it’s something sweet!

It’s something that feels so old world cooking and decadent but in reality is quite simple to make. I bet you have the ingredients in your kitchen right now! And there’s something so unassumingly dreamy about that combo of milk, citrus and cinnamon. It’s rich and creamy yet fruity and light. Writing about it has me thinking about the leftovers downstairs…

But back to the point. It’s delicious and easy and festive! The perfect treat for my birthday dinner!

Ingredients

1 liter of milk (I used 2%)

1 large piece of lemon rind

1 cinnamon stick

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups sugar (I reduced this to 1 cup)

4 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup cold water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Combine the milk, lemon rind, cinnamon and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Let cool. Mix the cold water and cornstarch until dissolved. In a separate medium to large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and the cornstarch mixture. Add in the milk and mix until blended. Pour back into the pot and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly until a pudding consistency. You will be stirring and then from one second to the next it changes from liquid to a thicker pudding texture. This is what my family calls “el punto.” Once you reach el punto, take the pot off the burner and continue mixing for another minute or so.

When it comes to serving the Natilla, it is up to your discretion. We chose to serve ours in individual dishes and make little parfaits. My Abuela always lays out lady fingers in a glass pan and pours the natilla over them and leaves them to soak. Whatever floats your boat!

Recipe source: Cocina al Minuto by Nitza Villapol (the blue version with an hourglass on the cover)

This book is a staple in my house. It’s kind of the Cuban version of Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” And it is in Spanish. There is an english version, though I’ve been told it is hard to come by. My suggestion would be, use a Spanish/English dictionary and take a stab at it!

xo

Alina

 

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Health Posts

The Yeast Bomb

Food intolerances and revamping my diet

The most recent development in my ongoing effort to be healthy is that I learned I am intolerant of yeast, rye and lamb. I mentioned on the “My Story” page, under the Health tab, that I have always struggled with food, both weight-wise and in that certain foods made my body sore or made me anxious. Since these foods were beer and bread, I attributed this to gluten sensitivity. Also because my doctor and most research led me to the fact that it is good to avoid gluten if you have an autoimmune issue. When you have an autoimmune disease and the body attacks that organ, the body is stressed and causes inflammation. Since gluten is an inflammatory agent, it exacerbates the already inflamed body and resulting symptoms.

This past September I started experiencing a change in my body:

Overnight my face broke out in pimples and despite diligently washing my face and using toners and oil free creams (The same Lancôme ones that have always worked for me) those little suckers would not go away;

My digestive system became very irregular; and

I could not stop gaining weight. I got serious about portion control and I gained weight. I did a cleanse that I usually lose six pounds on and I gained weight. I cut out sugar and I gained weight. I had the stomach flu and did not eat for three days and I gained weight. I had gained 25 pounds!

In the beginning I dismissed these since I was finishing up a three month vacation and road trip, but as I finished the vacation and got back to my normal and healthy diet, it was pretty clear to me that something out of the ordinary was going on behind the scenes. I reached out to a local nutritionist (who is so amazing! She feels like a mix of nutritionist, life coach and therapist. So much of our emotions are wrapped up in what we eat!) and we began by me keeping food journals and evaluating my caloric and nutritional intake. She noted that I was actually under eating calorically (go figure!), my protein intake was way too high (and from processed sources), and my calcium/healthy fats/carbohydrate intake was too low. We addressed those issues, but my problems persisted.

The next step was to take the Pinner test. This is a blood test that determines if you have any permanent food intolerances. Many people experience temporary food intolerances for various reasons such as eating too much of a particular food, reactions while on certain antibiotics or medications, or during certain parts of the menstrual cycle. My test results came back two weeks later and revealed I was intolerant to yeast, rye and lamb. This means I lack the enzymes to digest them, resulting in an inflamed gut, weight gain, bloating, brain fog, and skin problems. The good part? Answers!! Now I had something to work on to make myself healthier. The bad part? Yeast is in everything! It is so hard to cut out! It’s not to say that I have to cut these foods out completely and forever because I’m not allergic; I’m intolerant. I.e. I won’t go into anaphylactic shock. I need to not eat them at all for a couple months so that my gut and digestive tract have time to calm down, stop being inflamed, and stop trying to kill me. Then, I can reintroduce the food on occasion. I’m toying with the idea of a monthly cheat night where I treat myself to beer, wine, cheese, balsamic vinegar, kombucha and pastries. It’ll probably end with me rolling around on the floor, shamelessly stuffing my face in fits of diabolical laughter and my guests standing around in horror.

Food that contains yeast or feeds yeast: bread, baked goods, pizza, crackers, alcohol, cheese, anything with vinegar (such as mustard, BBQ sauces, salad dressing, mayo, potato salad, chips, and salsa) dried fruits, fruit skins (such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and grapes), anything fermented (such as pickles, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi), olives, buttermilk, black tea, peanuts, tempeh, tofu, apple cider, MSG, and most canned/bottles things because most preservatives such as citric acid contain yeast (such as canned tomatoes, pasta sauces, hummus, jams, canned vegetables, and bottled juices). It is also advised to avoid mold containing foods when yeast intolerant. This includes mushrooms, cheese, nuts and so on.

I dare anyone in this world to say this isn’t hard! The ironic thing was that in an effort to be healthy, I was all about fermented foods! Kimchi? Yes. Kombucha? All the time. Kefir? My daily breakfast. I even sprinkled nutritional yeast on all my salads! And then when I cheated, I indulged in beer and sugar. I was probably eating the worst diet I possibly could.

Needless to say, I stumbled trying to revamp my diet to be yeast, rye and lamb free. I failed for the first week. The second week, I was completely yeast, rye, lamb and sugar free and I lost 4.5 pounds, my acne went away, and my digestive tract “re-regulated” itself. Answers! Progress! Then I went away for the weekend and my friend came to visit and I fell off the wagon. So here we are and I am restarting my food intolerant free diet. My plan is to completely omit them from my diet for four months. This deadline is mainly set by my five week trip to India in June and the fact that I won’t be able to cook my own food or even read the ingredients during that time.

I’m excited and determined and I even made myself a color coded calendar to track myself (I’m geeky about organization). I will check in and let you all know how I am doing and any changes in symptoms as the weeks pass.

So let’s get to it!

xo Alina

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Chocolate Coconut Macaroons
March 22, 2016
Travel

The Great American Road Trip: A Series

Still 12.1

 

This time last year I had made the decision to quit my job in NYC and take off on an open ended road trip across America, camping and hiking in the National and State parks. It was the most incredible and exhilerating trip and rewatching this video gives me all the feels!

My dad had roadtripped across America twice and backpacked across Europe twice during his college years and he talks about those trips with such awe and spirit to this day. Listening to those stories since I was a little girl, I always knew I wanted to do it too. Needed to do it too! But life takes over and the dream always becomes an “if only” or “someday.” There’s a great quote that goes…

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

It’s never going to feel like the perfect time financially, in your career, so on and so forth. Take the plunge! Go! And you’ll find that you make it the perfect time.

This very amateur video has been a labor of love and is kicking off a series of travel posts in the coming weeks about each of the towns and National/State parks we visited along the way.

Keep adventuring!

xo Alina

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The Great American Road Trip: Sawtooth Mountains Backpacking – Alice Toxaway Loop 2
May 12, 2016
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The Great American Road Trip: Grand Tetons – Memories & Snapshots
May 2, 2016