Saturday, June 22, 2013

The joys of summer

The last two months of school are always a little bit insane. Wrapping up curriculum, talking about changes for next year before you even know what next year holds, meetings upon meetings upon meetings, and of course the fact that you have to deal with 160 students that really want nothing more than to be on summer vacation- and trust me, so do YOU!

But then, it moves quickly and I find myself sitting here, first week of summer under my belt, relaxed and joyous that two months of free time is a head of me. Adam and I were pretty smart this year and planned very little for the first two weeks. So, we often find ourselves around 1pm sitting on the couch chatting (sometimes still in our PJ's) and thinking what the rest of the day may hold.

Turns out a lot of really wonderful things happen at our house when we are work. The chickens cluck around the homestead, Sandee does a lot of sleeping, each room feels different due to the amount of sunlight coming through the windows, and the slight change in wind is always noticeable due to the sounds of the live oaks rustling in yard. I'm not sure we will stay in Topanga Canyon forever, but it's these quiet days at home that makes me truly love where I live. Our little cabin, that often feels like rustic appalachia, is such a serene get away from the hectic city, "the valley", and the scene of LA.

Another great thing that happens when we are at home are the freshly made lunches that we throw together whenever we are hungry. Recently, my dad said to me that one of the greatest pleasures in life is eating lunch outside with a really good glass of white wine. Well, Dad- you are totally correct on that front. The veggies are plentiful, the salads are fresh, and not even the small yellow jacket buzzing around me can ruin a good summer lunch outside.

Today, in honor of the solstice and the amazing amount of basil we have in garden, I made some pesto. Fresh and layered in with a little bit of mint I think this is pretty much the best pesto on the block. It's vegan, fresh, and damn is it good on just about anything. Play around with the garlic as much as you like but I think two small cloves gives it all it needs.

Happy summer!

basil and mint pesto:
1 1/2 cup of fresh loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 cup of fresh loosely packed mint leaves
2 small garlic cloves or 1 large one
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup great tasting olive oil (the spanish kind from Trader Joe's is the best and really pretty cheap)

Combine fresh herbs and garlic in food processor and chop until small bits. Add pine nutes and pulse until blended. Slowly add a little olive oil at a time until smooth and more of a sauce like texture. If you like it more "saucy" use 1/2 cup olive oil.

Mix it into pasta or roasted veggies. Use as a pizza sauce or in a casserole. Tripple of recipe
and freeze for later!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mother knows best

When I was a young adolescent I was pretty awkward. For those of you that knew me then, you know that "awkward" is an understatement, but whatever I was (big purple glasses, loud voice, crooked teeth and all) I was me, and my mom really loved me.

That being said, I was not a kid that was excited about any sort of exercise. I joined sport teams but suffered through the long conditioning runs we had to do for practice. Slightly plump and not in shape, I was far from fit during most of my teenage years. My mom on the other hand, was running 10Ks every month and finishing at the top of her age group- and, she had (and still has) the legs to prove it.

Man oh man, did she try to get me to love running. But, no matter the pep talks, the testimonials, and even my friends doing it, I still hated it. I hated how awful
I was at it and I HATED how amazing she was at it all the time. Blame it on the high school mom daughter relationship but I wasn't going to change my mind. I was stubborn.

It's probably not much of a surprise that now, 20 years later from when she first tried to show me how great it was, I am a runner. Today, I love running. I love that all you need to do it is a pair of shoes and a hair band. I love the pavement under my feet, the breath I maintain, and the stride that I have developed. All it took was a really awful break up back in my mid twenties to prove this to me, but really I should have known- because my mom knows best.

This week, with the awful happenings in Boston, I have been so grateful to be a runner. Not only have I felt a solidarity with those runners but I have been able to process their pain, their anger, and my own grief on many long runs this week. It's given me the space and the time to truly give homage to a city I love and a population of people that are weeping for their loss. I am proud to be a runner this week- thanks, mom.

Turns out she not just good for exercise mentorship. Today, as I was driving to Whole foods she told me "if you see the halibut, buy it." And then, after I bought said halibut and had no clue what to do with it she said, "make this sauce- it's the best thing you've ever had". She was right, Jayne Adair really does know best.

Jayne Adair's special sauce:
Perfect for two- great on fish but really could go on anything.

1 shallot
1 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups chopped herbs (basil and parsley are perfect)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Cook shallots in oil until soft. Add water and simmer until reduced, about 6 minutes. Add cream and whisk to mix, simmer 6 minutes more. Blend together in food processor with fresh herbs. Return to pan and reheat, add lemon, salt and pepper to taste. Put on top of anything but is really wonderful on grilled halibut.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

When the fog rolls in

When the fog rolls into the greater Los Angeles area, the local NPR host always says, "temperatures should be warming up later, after the morning burn off". In code this means, "don't worry folks- you'll get your dose of Vitamin D today... no reason to panic". But this weekend, despite their claims of warm rays making their way through, we were socked in all weekend long. The morning fog became cloud cover, the cloud cover got thicker, and the temperature started dropping. It was gray, it was cold, and damn it was lovely.

Blame it on my childhood in Pittsburgh, my heart that still lies in New England, or the way that the Portland mist energized me, but I am a lover of weather. Rain, wind, thunderstorms and frost- weather makes my clock tick and my toes wiggle. Don't get me wrong, I love the sunshine that falls upon the hills of Topanga just as much as anyone. But, the small moments when I do get to experience a little bit of weather, I am always a little bit happier. Because in the end, it makes that sunshine feel so much better. 

This weekend, with puffy vests and scarfs wrapped around me, I basked in the foggy weather with lots of celebrating to do. Often, the fog forces me inward- in bed, wrapped in blankets- but this weekend, there was too much on the docket for that silliness. Celebrating birthdays, babies, and just friends being together we went from Filmore to Venice, Carpenteria to Topanga- good people, good food, and great weather. 

Now, Sunday evening is winding down and so are we. We started a fire in the wood stove for the first time since early March and are finally hunkering down the way the fog wanted us to.  Monday is coming too quickly and school is looming over our heads. I can tell you one thing, foggy weather isn't nearly as nice at school as it is at home. But, c'est la vie as my mom always said! This is the routine-we work, we play, we work again. And, a little baking on Sunday night makes it that much easier. 

I have two rotating snacks that Adam and I thrive off of all week long. Not only does making them sooth my anxious stomach before a long work week but it also keeps us going through the busy school days that often seem never ending. The breakfast cookies are about 95% easier to make but the granola is pretty much the best thing you've ever had. Try both of them, you won't be disappointed, we are making the granola for this week.


Breakfast cookies: found here

3 mashed bananas (ripe), 1/3 cup apple sauce, 2 cups oats, 1/4 cup almond milk, 1/2 cup raisins, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

***If I don't have any bananas I use 1 cup of pumpkin instead and added a little nutmeg. They are sweeter with the banana b/c banana's are simply sweeter so if you use pumpkin you might want to add a little maple syrup or honey.***

The Best Granola: adapted from Bon Appetit February 2013

  • 1 large egg white
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (such as almonds or pecans)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut shavings
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup warmed coconut oil (olive oil if you don't have it but the coconut oil really makes it)
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup dried cherries or cranberries (or both mixed!)

  • Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine 1 large beaten egg white, 3 cups old-fashioned oats, 1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (such as almonds, pistachios, pecans, or walnuts), 1 1/2 cups coconut shavings, 1/2 cup agave syrup, 1/4 cup olive oil or warmed coconut oil, 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon in a large bowl; toss to combine. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet.
    Bake granola, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and dry, 40-45 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet (it will crisp as it cools).
    Mix in 1 cup dried cherries or cranberries.


    Sunday, April 7, 2013

    Good to be home

    Coming home- it's inevitable. All great trips come to an end and coming home happens whether we like it or not. The long drive in traffic, the house that smells slightly moldy when you open the front door, plants that need watering, and the totally empty fridge that needs filling. Needless to say, we did not want to come home. The moment we crossed the boarder we were ready to go back and bask in our Baja bliss for weeks upon end. "We only went half way down the peninsula! There is so much more to see!" we sighed, as we sat in traffic on the 405 outside of Los Angeles.  But then, as we broke out of the streamline of cars onto the PCH and turned off onto our canyon road we both thought, "not a bad place to come back to".

    And turns out, home isn't all that bad after all  Home is warm cooked meals, fresh eggs for breakfast, and fresh veggies from the garden. Home is old friends for dinner and getting to meet fun new neighbors that have found their way to our neighborhood. Home is long runs with a dog by your side. Home is taking off the flannel winter sheets and putting on new spring sheets because it got that much warmer out. Home is family birthday parties, picking avocados from the tree, and a sweet pup that rests her head on your foot as you type on the computer. Home is good, really good.

    So, even though the prospect of teaching tomorrow is daunting (how do I do that again?) and a 530am wake up call to get in the morning run that I have done EVERYDAY for the past week (wow! I can't believe I made that goal!) sounds brutal, life back at home is sweet. So, no complaints here!

    But, needless to say, we will be dreaming of Baja until summer.

    Wednesday, April 3, 2013

    Todo bien

    Todo bien- all is good. Adam and I sit here in our final resting spot. Although we are happy to be back in Topanga tomorrow, overjoyed to see our beloved Sandee, and filled to the brim with love and adventure from this spectacular honeymoon, we are certainly sad to leave this magical place.0

    As we left our "enroute stop over town" in San Quntin we chatted with some ex pats that had moved down to Baja from Vegas years ago. They were curious about our travels, "Mulege! Wow- great spot, huh?", they said. We loved their curiosity and the fact that age 60 they live in Cabo san Lucas and are happy as clams (man- that could be us one day)! But mostly, they said Baja was the most magical place they'd been. We agreed. They also said, in response to a question about the time change, that a saying in Baja was "Why ask why?". Good question- we left it be.

    After the grueling 3 hr drive from San Quintin to Valle de Guadelupe (think running into a speed bump on the middle of the most hectic highway in your area), we arrived back in the pristine wine country of where we started- Valle de Guadelupe.

    Not in the same spot- Hotel Endemico was sold out for the night- but at the B&B we ate lunch at a week ago, Villa del Valle. A gorgeous villa perched on top of gardens and vineyards we were happy to stay at another magical place in the valley. Warm colored rooms, lush linens, and a house to mesmerize over we are happy. After a couple of quick winery visits, we found great wines and bought an old wine barrel that was transformed into a bar (pictures to come soon). Tamales for dinner and wine in our hands, we are running off to the hot tub for one last soak. What a honeymoon it's been- so good. We truly couldn't have asked for more.


    Tuesday, April 2, 2013

    A few more shots

    Loreto and San Javier mission- and all their beauty.

    Nearing the end...

    A day trip to our southern most point, two missions, and a lot of driving later- we are headed home. It's crazy that this trip is coming to an end. Due home on Thursday, it's hard to believe that we will be in our little Topanga cottage in just two nights. It's a little sad, but damn has it been good.

    Yesterday, we jumped into the car for a little day trip to the town of Loreto. Known for it's cobblestone colonial streets and islands to google at, we were happy to spend the day exploring. The two hour drive south was seamless and after a plate of huevos rancheros, we were ready to explore. The views were stunning of Isla Coronada off the coast of the city. The mission, still decked out from the Easter holiday, was honestly more stunning on the outside than the in but still worth a peak. But really, the 30km drive into the mountains to find the San Javier mission was the highlight of the trip. An old stone mission, in the middle of the mountains, this piece of history was amazing. 26 missions in the Baja California state and this was in supposed to be the best. Well, having seen 4 of them- I totally agree.

    After a long run along the beach and a farewell to the Sea of Cortez we started our 9 hour drive back north to San Quintin. A stop off in the bay that was accompanied by a very romantic serenade by a Mexican singer and his guitar, we ate clams and reminisced about our adventures. Tomorrow- back to the wine country (we needed a little more wine to top it all off). Then- back to the homestead. Back to life.

    Sunday, March 31, 2013

    Resting on Easter

    Today, we ate great food, swam in the ocean, and took one very long and overdue siesta. That is the beauty of traveling like this- it allows time for taking breaks from the grand adventures.

    Happy Easter, everyone. We miss you- and all the chocolate that we didn't get this year! Can you believe that? Not once chocolate bunny on the block. Damn Mexico...


    Saturday, March 30, 2013

    Two more reasons we might never come back...

    This dog and this house... Or, should I say those eyes and that price????

    Dad- want a good Mexican rental unit? We'll rent it from ya!

    The Sea of Cortez

    The Sea of Cortez is amazingly beautiful. And, what a day we had on it eating, swimming, and making some new friends.

    After a morning of scuba diving through caves with puffer fish and sting rays, we resided in the beach chairs of Ed's world all afternoon. Ed and Sandra are a pair of ex pats that have set up shop in Burro bay. Renting kayaks and other small boats, they live in tiny little beach huts that are straight out of Robinson Caruso. They were so lovely to meet, relax, eat food and share stories with. Ed made us mean carne asada tacos for lunch, and their business partner Jamie fixed up the best ceviche I have ever had.

    A little pup named Coco spent the afternoon wooing us (Ed is looking for a forever home for her) and we nearly put her in the car and drove away with her by our side. We actually haven't ruled it out, she is totally the cutest mexican pup you've ever seen. Although, we were smart enough to leave and "think on how it may effect the life of Sandee" for a couple of days.

    As Ed pulled clams from the ocean and opened them up in front of us, we sipped on tequila and said "this is the life". Both Adam and I cannot wait to return to "Ed's world" - we could not have found a better spot to hang for the afternoon with cevice in our bellies and warmth all around us.

    Friday, March 29, 2013


    I know this might sound like I am bragging, but we are really hitting the jackpot with places to stay down here. I mean every little town, tamale cart, and each company we have worked with has been a dream- especially in Mulege.

    When we arrived upon our little house last night, we were tired and slightly numb from my scorpion attack the night before. But, as we woke up this morning we new we were in bliss. After a run along the river that jets out into the ocean, I came back and was immediately served fresh tamales from a woman outside our house. Tamales and coffee for breakfast? Why not?

    Later, as we explored the town, we did our ATM business, made reservations to go scuba diving, and even found a lovely little market to get supplies for cooking in our kitchen. We bought fresh corn tortillas, tequila and conroy (an amazing Mexican orange liquor) for margaritas, and chips and queso- the whole nine yards. If you can't tell, we are determined to make out little casita feel like home. And, it's working...we might never leave.

    The spot where the house is couldn't be more perfect. The river runs along the row of houses and empties out into the ocean. I have a running trail to die for, a bar around the corner that makes fresh garlic shrimp from the sea and chile rellanos, and a set of kayaks that we got to take out for a whirl and a swim. Terns, cormorants, and great blue herons fill the laguna. This afternoon the air was about 82 and the water close to 70. Bliss.

    After a little bit of FaceTime with the parents we are turning in. I think I have finally mastered a perfect margarita and Adam grilled fresh fish for fish tacos. Tomorrow we are doing a two tank dive off of islands in the Sea of Cortez. That'll work!

    Happy Good Friday to all that are celebrating. Semana Santa vacationers have been around a lot this week but other than that we haven't seen much resurrection celebrations. But, Easter should provide that. We're here until Monday and plan to soak up as much of it as we can. We've already decided we are coming back to Mulege. Actually, we might come back to all of it.


    Thursday, March 28, 2013

    Scorpion bites have happy endings

    For the record, scorpion bites do not start off as "happy"- not one bit. Last night, as we were winding down from our long day of driving and exploring, I cuddled next to Adam, gave him a little kiss, and snuggled into my pillow. I was SO tired.

    Then, I yelled...loudly. Leaping from the bed I ran across the room screaming "something bit me!!!" As I ran my finger under the cold water saying "oh god- it's hurts, it hurts" Adam proceeded to tear apart the bed- every sheet, every inch. But, there was nothing there there. There was nothing there at all.

    After killing a tiny house spider for the hell of it, we crawled back into bed as I literally writhed in pain. All I could think was, "seriously, Nell- a spider that small? Buck up!" Then, as Adam moved his pillow to relax he paused.... "oh shit, Nell, it's a scorpion". WHAT???????

    Long story short, I was stung by a scorpion that was probably the bark scorpion- venomous and painful as all hell. And, after smashing the bastard, checking the sheets about 200 times for more, and a mere 3 hours of sleep from all the adrenaline and pain rushing through my body, I woke up this morning not exactly ready for our adventure of whale watching we had planned in Laguna San Ignacio. I was not a happy camper.

    But, don't worry- this story has a happy ending.

    After a lot of coffee and some warm tortillas with eggs, we crawled into our van to take us on what turned out to be one of the most magical days we have ever had. The gray whale migration goes through Baja every year. Each year, whales come down to birth their calves in the winter waters of Baja, California. Starting in April, they head north as the waters warm but not without some good play time in the Baja Lagunas.

    Today we played with whales. Coming straight up to our boat, we rubbed their bellies, laughed as they sprayed us with their blow holes, and I even got to kiss one of the calves on their nose! It was incredible. We were in awe of the whales, the ocean, and the harmony between us and their species. Despite my throbbing finger, I forgot about it all. We were laughing and splashing all day long.

    Upon our return, we hopped into the car and drove two hours south to the town of Mulege (pronounced Mu- la- hay). Here, we will spend the next four nights in a little house of our own. We have our own kitchen, a coffee maker, and even our own private porch with a grill on the patio. Kayaks in the back yard and dive shops in town, we are ready for a good stint on the Sea of Cortez.

    A numb finger (it's feeling better every hour) aside, we end the day happy and joyful for more adventures a head.

    And yes, Adam will be searching the sheets for any unwanted visitors tonight.

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013

    Road tripping

    Road trips are often epic. They almost always include a sore behind and lower back, some kind of sweet treat, and a lot of bobbing heads to music (good music if you have a decent travel partner). However, they rarely include cacti 39 feet tall, turned over semi's with not a cop or pedestrian in sight, or checkpoints where a Mexican cop smells pretty much everything in your car- needless to say, we've been on an adventure.

    Starting out yesterday we left the pristine utopia of Hotel Endemico for a hectic trip into Ensenada in search of money and gas. This was a hair raising experience that we survived despite crazy traffic patterns and getting bullied into some mediocre tacos that were more than off the beaten path. But, we managed through only because we did our banking at Scotiabank (yes, of Nova Scotia where we were married- apparently the bank has had a resurgence in Mexico of all places.)

    After Ensenada we began our 3 hr journey into the mountainous region of Baja Norte. Gorgeous and lush I was stunned at the cliffs and hilltops we were driving over. Staying the night in the stop over town of San Quintin, we found a bar and a sweet hotel on the back of an orange plantation. "Jardines Baja" was the perfect stopping point and we were even treated to a Mexico vs. USA soccer game on TV. Good margaritas, a comfy bed, and a cup of strong coffee in the morning- we couldn't complain.

    Waking up to what is bound to be a 7 hour driving day is never fun. But, we buckled in and made our way even further south to San Ignacio. Dessert landscapes, military checkpoints, and enormous cati pushed us through. Side note- Adam has done 100% of the Mexico driving this far and is a champion. I'm not sure if he is sparing me, or just fearful of how I might approach the random speed bumps in the middle of the highway, but I'm thankful for how graciously he has dealt with the misfortunes of Mexican roads.

    After a good lunch in the salt mining town of Guerro Negro we pushed through and made it to San Ignacio by 3:30. Greeted by our inn host, Juantia, we waltzed into a garden paradise of a hostel. Our little room, surrounded by a sweet patio,
    is lovely and the library inside the hostel is packed with books about our destinations and the history of this magical land.

    During dinner we ran into two separate groups of retired men on their own adventures. All I could think of was my dad on the road trips he takes with his buddies these days. Dad- Baja should be your next stop. Obviously.

    As we sit here winding down the day, Adam just ran out to get more tacos from the carne asada taco stand around the corner. Tomorrow we are out to see the gray whales and their calves and then 2 more hours south to Mulege where we get to camp out for five days in our own little cassita. If you can't tell, the Baja life is grand.


    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Leaving Hotel Endemico

    As we walked up the dirt trail to our morning cafe and omelette we were sad to leave our beloved Hotel Endemico behind. This place has been incredible. Our pod number 10 perched as though it is floating above the land made us feel as though we were visiting another world, not just another wine country. Last night, hiking down the hill for dinner and the back up as the full moon lit our way, we knew we had found a really amazing spot with this one. And, as we drive away today with wine in our bags and warmth in our hearts we cannot wait until the day we come back to these floating pods, kind people, and a backdrop to die for.

    Today we head south! San Quintin is a stopping point tonight for a long drive to see the whales! Let the Baja adventure continue!

    Monday, March 25, 2013


    In Spanish, vinacola means winery. Pretty amazing considering it sounds like it should be some kind of Mexican soda. But, today we experienced the Mexican side of wine and much more.

    Our day began with an omelette that was so good that during dinner Adam mentioned how excited he was for his omelette the next morning. With a very hilly run and lots of coffee under my belt, we were ready to face the Valle de Guadeloupe of wine.

    Our first stop was Barren Bolche where we were greeted with an eager tour guide with excessive pearls around her neck. The wine was great- we bought a bottle of the Grenache-Cab that was especially lovely- but mostly our memorable moment was the intense photo shoot that the woman took of us the moment she found out we were honeymooning. Nell and Adam behind the wine cellar, Nell and Adam behind the wine barrels, kissing hugging...everything! She took a million pictures and it was just like we were back with Irene at the wedding. Oof!

    For lunch, we arrived at the B&B Ville de Valle. This place was unreal. A B&B run by a British couple they have the most beautiful and pristine villa down the longest dirt path. Getting slightly lost a long the way we arrived hungry and ready to eat at their restaurant, carazon de la tierra.. Turns out, the lunch was an expensive pre fix 3 course meal which turned out to be one of the very best meals we could have ever had. Gluten free with fresh veggies from their garden and water that had lavender and rosemary soaking in it, we ate looking at their gardens lush with fresh chard and sunflowers. Their winery, made out of old boats, or lanchas in espanol, was a sight to be seen and included a flight of delicious wines served by a woman named Americana. It was a good stop.

    Now, we sit on our balcony at Hotel Endemico. Our chiminea is lit, our glasses are filled with red wine, and tomorrow we hit the coast for a drive south. This spot is amazing and we could not have found a better hotel and valley to start our trip.

    See you soon!