Friday, August 31, 2012

Olympic Peninsula Part 2

Work officially started this week! It has been crazy busy the whole time, but when things settle down and when we get all the schedules straightened out, everything will be a breeze (wishful thinking!). Now that I have said goodbye to my summer vacation, the next best thing to do is to daydream about my good times at the Olympic Peninsula. So here I am again with another long tale to share. Click Olympic Peninsula Part 1, if you want to know where we went during the first leg of our trip.

On the fourth day of our trip, we woke up at our campsite in Three Rivers. As I was getting ready to heat the leftovers for breakfast, I noticed in dismay that the melted water from the ice in our cooler seeped through the container, causing our food to turn into muck! Gross. DFJ got the brunt of my frustration and I spent the better part of the morning pouting and acting like a brat. Honestly, how does this guy put up with me? We had a late start and an even later start trying to find a place to eat at Forks. Seeing that our choices were close to zero, we picked a diner and had pancakes, French toast, eggs, ham, and sausage. The place was packed, the wait was long, and the food was tolerable. What a coincidence to be in “Twilighted” Forks while the news of Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson’s break-up was hot in the press. Enough said.

We drove to Hoh Rain Forest and marveled at the mystical rainforest beauty. There are two super easy and short trails, the Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Trail. Old trees and young trees crowded the forest floor along with ferns, berries, and other shrubs that are unknown to me. Soft mosses draped over the branches like curtains and blankets draped over furniture in an abandoned house. There were nurselogs everywhere and these were our favorite. Nurselogs are dead trees that have fallen and serve as growing ground for new trees. You have to stop at Hoh Rain Forest, the drive from the highway to the trailhead is pretty long but the hikes are quick and easy. Before you leave the Hoh area, do stop at Peak 6 to buy souvenir shirts. The owner is sooooo nice and helpful. She even gave me a free shirt! Thank you!

DFJ and I drove back to Forks and stopped at the grocery store to get more food supplies for the rest of our trip. At first, we were undecided as to whether we should go to Rialto Beach or Third Beach or both. Rialto won out… but first, we had to stop at the campsite to change into swimsuits and shorts, excited for a relaxing time of reading, napping, and sunbathing. When we got to Rialto, it was windy and freezing cold! Almost everyone wore winter clothes. My legs were so cold. Aaaaaaaaaghhhhhh, major disappointment! We had to hide behind some logs to keep the wind from blowing our pulled pork sandwich and grilled hot dog for lunch. Both of us must have been so tired because even with the rocky ground and crazy cold wind, we both fell asleep under the sun. Don’t get me wrong, the beach is beautiful but way too crowded for my liking and too rocky. We left half satisfied… glad we got to see Rialto but sad that it wasn’t as great as we thought it would be.

We followed a sign that said smoked salmon at #316 and came upon a house painted with 316 all over that sold fresh smoked salmon. It was pricey but totally worth it because it was so good. Go find that house when you’re at Mora, there’s a state sign that will lead you to it. Even though we were both ready to just call it a day, we decided to drive to Third Beach because we both know we won’t sleep well that night if we didn’t give it a chance. It was getting late and there’s a 1.4 mile walk from the trailhead to the beach. We walked fast and as we got closer to the beach, we caught a glimpse of it through a gap in the woods. My heart caught in my throat and it was love at first sight. By far, the most beautiful place I ever laid my eyes on! You have to climb over stacks of logs to get to the beach, some people spring lithely from one log to the next, I prefer to scramble my way slowly because I’m a scaredy cat. The sand was soft and so pretty, made up of teeny tiny rocks. It’s a very secluded little cove and since it’s quite a walk from the trailhead, not a lot of people come to see it. There are sea stacks and rocks in the distance and land jutting out into the sea to protect the little bay from winds, thus making it way warmer than Rialto. We immediately stripped down to our swimsuits and played along the shore. No napping this time, I didn’t want to miss a thing and just wanted to soak everything in and remember every moment at this beach. It was a sad goodbye and we promised Third Beach that we will be back again, someday.

Back at the campsite, we enjoyed a dinner of chips and salsa, a huge turkey leg, and s’mores for dessert. No showers that night, even after sandy feet day.

The next day, we woke up early and had smoked salmon and cream cheese with bagels and poached eggs for breakfast (we also made the same thing for lunch). Packed all our gear and got ready for a long day of many stops and a ferry ride to Seattle.

First stop: Sol Duc Falls

We drove into the Sol Duc area and stopped at the lodge to check it out. For a moment, I was filled with envy at the lodge guests because of how nice and cozy it seemed. They have natural hot spring water pools! If we camped nearby, we could have paid for showers there and soaked in the hot pools. Ahhh, wouldn’t that have been so wonderful… next time, definitely! We walked the short one miler to the Sol Duc triple waterfalls. What a site to behold! Three big waterfalls right next to each other, plunging down to a river at an odd angle.

To the left of the waterfall viewing area is the Lover’s Lane Trail, since we were pressed for time, DFJ and I just walked about half a mile and turned back. This trail was full of big huckleberries, orchards of it left and right. We didn’t have a bag to collect them in and I was so sad, DFJ told me to just enjoy the moment. The rush of getting to the next destination was forgotten in the next few minutes, and instead we just took the time to stop every few yards to pick handfuls of huckleberries and eat them as we walked.

Second stop: Lake Crescent and Marymere Falls

Lake Crescent is beautiful beyond words… On the drive to Hurricane Ridge, we saw the lake  from the highway. I could not take my eyes off it. If you are pinched for time and do not really have the luxury to stop and chill, there are plenty of turnouts along the road that you can stop at to take pictures, so be on the lookout for these viewpoint areas. Some of them even have a path that leads to the lake if you are interested in a quick wade.

We drove to the Marymere Falls trailhead and took the quick 1.5 roundtrip hike to the falls. It was an awesome trail with pretty wooden bridges. What I loved most about it is its friendliness to hikers of all shapes… absolutely handicap-friendly. There are a few steep areas, but these spots have steps or rails on the sides for people to hold on to. So, it is definitely a hike for everyone! Marymere Falls is like a nature Vogue model… tall, slender, and graceful. It is a stunner!

After all the driving and hiking, we were ready for some food. So we scoped for a spot by the lake to dip our feet in and enjoy our bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese. It was nice and cool under the tree and we had a lovely, quiet time, with our food. More than anything, DFJ was more enamored by the boat trailer that got stuck at the end of the boat ramp than by the beautiful surroundings. Boys are silly.

 Last stop: Hurricane Ridge 

Drive up to the very top folks! It is long, winding, and slow, but at least you’re driving not biking uphill. Uh yes, some brave souls biked up and breezed down. Honestly, I think that is the stupidest thing ever. I was scared to death for them… one false move and you can fall off the side of the road, down a steep cliff, and…

Anyway, yes, drive to the top and feast your eyes upon the Alps and the Dolomites of Washington, USA. There’s a ton of hiking trails with great viewpoints that you can take, but since we were on time constraints, driving was the best option.

Wildlife abounds, as you can see in the pictures… a gorgeous prancing gazelle, unfazed by parking lot traffic and a deer grazing to the pleasure of onlookers a mere three feet away.

There are paved, mini trails around the viewpoint area with majestic views of all the surrounding mountains… simply breathtaking! Please do not skip out on Hurricane Ridge, it is so worth your time.

We had to stop and eat the last of our granola bars on a bench in one of the trails we took and I was sad to see the last of the crumbs go because that meant the end of our time at the Olympic Peninsula. What a perfect place to say goodbye to this enormous park… It is definitely a place to go back to in the future.     

After Hurrican Ridge, we were off to the port in Kingston to get on a ferry to Seattle… which will be a story for another day in the near future. The trip to Seattle story involves meeting Molly Wizenberg.

So, here’s the recap:

Day 4, Night 4:
Camped at Three Rivers Resort in Forks.

Drove to the mystical, moss covered Hoh Rain Forest and enjoyed the short and sweet hikes.

A quick stop at beautiful but super windy and rocky Rialto Beach.

Took a 1.4 mile hike to from the trailhead to Third Beach. Oh my word, this place is paradise! Secluded, protected from the wind by land edges jutting out into the sea, soft sand, and haystacks… incredible! If you don’t have any time to visit a couple of beaches and just have to pick one in the area, go to Third Beach. It is a small piece of heaven on earth.

I recommend buying some fresh, local smoked salmon at a house off of the highway by Second Beach. House # 316… just follow the road signs. Delicious!

Day 5:
From Forks, we drove up North and hit three gorgeous spots in one day.

First stop: Sol Duc Falls. The hike from the trailhead to the falls is only a mile, easy peasy. There are a couple of other trails for longer hikes, but we didn’t have time. The tri-falls dropping sideways is just beautiful! Take a walk along the Lover’s Lane Trail and knock yourself out with throves of huckleberries.

If you camp at Sol Duc, I recommend taking a nice hot bath at the hot springs in the Sol Duc Resort… I so wish we got to do that, but time did not allow it.

Second stop: Lake Crescent and a quick 1.5 mile round trip hike to Marymere Falls. If you don’t have time to stop at Lake Crescent, no worries, you can actually enjoy gorgeous views of the lake from the highway and if you want a picture stop, keep your eye out for turnouts, there’s plenty, some even have spots to jump in the water. Marymere Falls is beautiful too, worth a stop. Plus the trail is soooooo friendly to all hikers, young and old.

Third stop: Hurricane Ridge. One word, MAGNIFICENT. Just go there! Trust me, you will love it!

…And that was our Olympic Peninsula trip… very sweet and memorable, definitely a place to come back to!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Brown Rice with Beef and Veggies Stir Fry

WARNING: This is an emotional post and it is a long one… You don’t have to read if you’re too busy… if you’re willing to read, some words of encouragement or advice would really help me feel better and would be greatly appreciated. Thank you friends! If you just want to check my take on this week’s Food Matter’s Project recipe, Crisp Rice Cakes with Stir-Fried Vegetables and Chicken, chosen by Small Kitchen College, scroll down to the very bottom of this post.

Hello Bloggers! What sort of inspirations do you have for blog posts? Where do you write your posts… in your office at home, in bed, at the dining table or kitchen counter, on the couch or do you prefer writing at a public place, say a coffee shop or the library?

I usually write my blog posts in our office/entertainment room, sitting on a bouncy ball, with my laptop on DFJ’s trusty desk which is situated by the window, overlooking the river. In between words, I stare outside and watch the cars go by. When the train comes, DFJ and I get excited and we hover by the window.

Right now (5:00 Sunday afternoon), I’m enjoying a glass of wine while getting some blog posts ready for the week, hopping from one post to another. Every now and then, I get distracted and check my work email, worry about the upcoming school year, reach over to DFJ and talk to him (he’s only about 3 feet away from me reading news), search online for some random celebrity news, spy on friends in Facebook, do handstands and headstands, and worry… always the worry.

I worry about my family who live thousands of miles away. Since I moved to the US in 2007, I have never shown my mom how vulnerable I feel during many days, even after five years of being here. She has enough worries and does not need to know how homesick and sad I get. Life here is different… it’s always go-go-go. My mom does not understand this… Our life in the tropics is at a standstill and no one is in a hurry. So this morning when my mom wanted to talk about something that was important and I told her I had to call her back because I had already planned on going to a yoga class, she flipped out on me and started telling me how selfish I am with my time and money, how ungrateful I am, and how I have forgotten where I came from. 

Being called selfish and ungrateful by your mother, even in her state of despair, is pretty hurtful. So, I yelled back at her, threw my phone across the room, threw my purse on the floor, kicked the door, and completely lost it. All this in front of DFJ. How attractive is that?

There are two sides to the story…

My version: This is a special Sunday yoga class in the park with live music, which might be the last one for the year because it will be cold in the next few weeks and I have been planning on going to this class for weeks. My mom’s problem is serious, but it’s not anything either one of us can solve or even do anything about. So, I figured that if we can postpone the conversation and continue talking about it tomorrow, it would be ok.

Her version, which I did not fully analyze until after I talked to my aunt (her sister) is this: She needs someone to vent her frustrations to and because I am the most responsible child she has, I should understand and be ready to sit down and listen with all ears and an open heart.

Well, I wanted to but I had a plan to be somewhere at that time and when I suggested calling her a couple of hours later… she did not understand that. Oh distance and time difference, why do you have to be so far?!?

My mom was widowed when I was seven… She was left with four kids, the oldest (me) was seven and my youngest sister was barely a year old. The day my father died, my mom gripped my hands tightly in hers, looked me in the eye, and said, “From this day on, we are a team”. That meant that I was expected to be the perfect child: with good grades, impeccable manners, and a good role model to my three younger siblings. Guess what? I wasn’t always perfect, I was a semi-rebel who always spoke for myself but also always made sure to please my mother as best as I could.

During my early twenties in the Philippines, I acquired a serious case of wanderlust and despair at how hard it was to get ahead no matter how hard I worked. Our friend family friend, Sally, came to the rescue and helped me come to the US as a student. After that, I got my second degree and became a Special Education teacher in a wonderful school district.   

My mom has never been here and she has never seen nor fully understood what I do every day. What do I do every day anyway? Here it is in a nutshell: I go to work, stay at work an extra hour or two every day to catch up (I think slow and always need more time), go home and take a quick nap or a snack, go to the gym or yoga studio for 1-2 hours to unleash everything, come home for dinner, relax before bedtime (blog, read, or Netflix), and go to bed.

Being a Filipino working overseas, one is always expected to send money home and have time for phone calls to many relatives. I send money home to my mom… but because of how hard life is over there, it is never enough. Also, I feel like I need time for myself, for me, to catch up on work, take care of my well-being, and just relax… I do not have time to call every living relative and catch up every time I have a free time, for heavens’ sakes! Somehow, my mom just knows how to make me feel guilty for not ever sending enough money, not connecting with family, and not having time to talk to her. It always ends up ugly.

Maybe my mom doesn’t even know how much I love her and look up to her because of the way I act towards her due to frustrations, misunderstandings, and miscommunication. She doesn’t know… all she sees is an ungrateful child who has forgotten about her family because she has had some success in America, the land of opportunity.

Any ideas on how to help me and my mom see eye to eye?

After letting all that out, I feel a bit better and am taking deep breaths, grateful for your time and words of wisdom.  

To FMP members, friends, and followers… here’s my take on Mark Bittman’s “Crisp Rice Cakes with Stir-Fried Vegetables and Chicken”. Check out the original Mark Bittman recipe at Small Kitchen College and visit the FMP website to see what other members came up with.

Nothing fancy, as you might have gathered from my heart-pouring story above, I had no energy to be creative… just a simple rice stir fry with leftover brown rice and beef brisket with vegetables. The rice and beef were from my friend Melissa’s birthday party. Yeah, I’m not shy about taking leftovers home.

This rice stir fry was so good! It filled my belly and my heart. This is a perfect all-in-one meal after an emotionally or physically hard day. Rice stir fries are also great for getting rid of leftovers.

I apologize for not being able to share a concrete recipe. All I did was chop some ingredients, toss everything in the pan, and season the dish with sesame oil, fish sauce, salt, and pepper. Feel free to add any vegetables you wish to, use any meat, or even use soy sauce or rice vinegar. This is a no-fail dish and you can add and taste as you go. 


Brown Rice with Beef and Veggies Stir Fry (Makes 4 servings)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 2 cups of chopped beef brisket
1 large carrot, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
¼ of a zucchini, diced
4-5 cups cooked brown rice
1 egg, beaten
1/8 cup roasted tomatoes, chopped
a generous splash of sesame oil
a generous splash of fish sauce
salt and pepper to taste  
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high. When the oil is hot, sauté the garlic until golden brown. Toss in the beef brisket, diced carrot, bell pepper, and zucchini. Stir until the beef and vegetables are semi hot, then add the rice. Continue to stir until everything heats up, then add the egg and roasted tomatoes. Stir to make sure the egg is spread all throughout until the egg is not runny anymore. Cover with the skillet lid or foil for about a minute. Remove the cover and splash in some sesame oil and fish sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Delicious, hearty, easy… my kind of meal!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Silken Tofu Chocolate Mousse

Hello there friends! Tonight, I am thinking about work… summer vacation is over and all there is left to do is forge ahead and think positive! The pictures that follow are some of the treasures I have acquired in my three years of teaching high school special education… artwork and notes from some of my students and student assistants.
Students of mine, new and old, you serve a big purpose in my life and it is my privilege to work with all of you! Let’s make good memories and have a great year!

a portrait of me by my artist B.

I like to think of myself as a nice teacher who respects, understands, empathizes, nurtures, and is patient with her students. Geez, if those are the only characteristics necessary, I could probably win an award for best teacher.
However, having these characteristics are not enough in the teaching world. To be an excellent teacher, one has to be a goal-oriented manager and an encouraging and supportive leader. Knowledge of one’s content area and ability to share this effectively in a manner that engages students (not lull them to sleep) and allows them to generalize this learning to real world issues is a very important factor in teaching. Without knowledge, enthusiasm, and humor, your students will drag you down.

Organization and planning is another key to being a successful teacher. This is quite challenging because teachers have tons of paperwork to do, lesson plans to write, assignments and entry tasks to check, grades and report cards, attendance to take, individual education plans for students with special needs, meetings with parents and students, conferences with department members, and many other work responsibilities to juggle. It is almost impossible to keep anything straight.

Teachers also need to have excellent communication skills. Students, parents, and teachers do not always see eye to eye, thus it is important to know how to get one’s point across without seeming superior nor scared.

Tons of things go on in a classroom, one minute everything is going smoothly and the next is complete chaos. This is why we need back-up plans, learn to be aware, and be flexible. Amidst all the hustle and bustle in the classroom, professionalism is number one and at all times we must maintain our calm.

Those qualities and skills mentioned above are what I strive for, but seem to have so much difficulty achieving. It takes a great deal of time, hard work, and focus. It takes ultimate dedication. When will I get there?

At the beginning of every school year, I tell myself to do better, but doing better is never enough. There’s so much to do, so many things to teach, and so little time. Maybe this year will be my year to get this whole teaching thing together. One step at a time…  

All right, I will stop all this silly talk and start getting on with my to-do list that keeps getting longer with more and more side notes. Classes start next week and it’s all I can do to prevent myself from hyperventilating and stress eating.

Speaking of stress eating, what’s the number one food that doesn’t fail to boost your energy and lift your spirits? Since food is my passion, this is hard to choose from, but I would say it would be in the form of desserts for me… perhaps some chocolate?

How about silken tofu and chocolate? Gross??? Actually, NOT. You wouldn’t even know you’re eating tofu! I made this silken tofu, dark chocolate, and cocoa powder mousse this weekend and have been enjoying little servings of it throughout the week.

Yep, just teeny tiny little servings because this mousse is rich! It is smooth and creamy, with a strong dark chocolate taste, and a hint of vanilla.

Silken Tofu Chocolate Mousse (4-6 servings)

1/3 cup chocolate chips
1 lb silken tofu, drained using a fine mesh strainer
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp sugar (or more to taste)
Fill a small or medium sized sauce pan with about an inch of water on the bottom. Attach a metal mixing bowl to the sauce pan with a metal clip. Make sure the mixing bowl doesn’t touch the water. If it does touch the water, then make sure it just barely grazes the water surface. Pour chocolate chips into the bowl. Turn the stove on to medium heat. Allow the chocolate chips to melt, gently stirring until everything is completely melted.

While the chocolate chips are in the process of melting, place the drained silken tofu, sugar, and vanilla extract in a blender. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

When the chocolate melts, turn the heat down to medium low. Slowly pour the tofu mixture into the melted chocolate and stir gently until everything is well-mixed. Add the cocoa powder and stir until it is well-combined with the mixture. 

Since the tofu is still cold when poured into the melted chocolate, the chocolate will harden. So, stir gently every now and then until the mixture gets warm and the chocolate lumps disappear. Add more sugar to taste, pour in half a teaspoon at a time. (DFJ and I found it perfect after a total of 2 teaspoons, feel free to add more or less to your liking.) Stir until the mixture turns smooth and creamy, 8-12 minutes.

Turn off heat and move the mousse to a bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes or so. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Enjoy!    

Topping suggestions:

crushed pistachio nuts
toasted coconut flakes
crushed butter cookies
chopped fresh fruit (strawberries, cherries, bananas, what have you)

Decadent and almost guiltless… this mousse will surely melt your stresses away!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Greek Inspired Flatbread with Smoked Salmon Feta

Hello Everyone!

I am in love with my herbs! Just look at how beautiful my planter is. It has some basil, lemon thyme, bell pepper, chives, sage, and mint. MINT for the Food Matters Project recipe this week, Greek “Nachos” with Feta Drizzle, chosen by Megan. My friend, Roslyn, planted these babies for me as a housewarming present. This is probably the most thoughtful present I have ever received. Thank you Ros!

Before we proceed to the recipe, let me tell you the story of how I met Roslyn and her husband, Jo. We all met at the gym, the hub of our social lives! When I was new in this area where I’m living in right now, the gym immediately became my second home. Seriously folks, I was obsessed, and probably worked out at least 2 hours a day, no less than 5 days a week. I’m not crazy like that anymore. Thank goodness!

So, before we even started smiling at each other, Roslyn saved me at a Body Pump class. Body Pump is an awesome weight lifting class that targets all parts of your body. I used to love it and went to class thrice a week, but have since stopped since my back got all weird a year ago. In a Body Pump class, Track 2 is all about squats and Track 7 is all about lunges, these squats and lunges are done with weights on our backs. So 2 years or so ago, when we got done doing lunges in Track 7, I pulled my right shoulder out of its socket as I was hoisting the weight over my head from its position on my upper back. Oh my freakin’ goodness, it hurt so bad! Even though nobody knew what had happened, there was a look on my face that screamed “I am in pain!”. *pause…*

Let me back track to the beginning of this injury… Three years ago, after my host parents and I piled alpaca manure and raked leaves in their pasture, we jumped on the truck to head home. But we saw a turtle in the way and we didn’t want to crush it. So we got out of the truck and took it over to the pond. As I hoisted myself up the truck, my foot slipped while my hand was gripping the roof and pulled my shoulder. I was in pain and knew that I should not move my shoulder. During the short drive home, I sat as still as I could and when I glanced at the mirror, I could totally see my collarbone jutting out in a very odd angle. It was very freaky and scary. After some minutes passed, I took a deep breath and felt my shoulder pop back in place and my collarbone looked normal again. We still went to the doctor and after he deemed me fine, he said it will happen again and again. So the best thing for me to do was to heal and then start doing some shoulder strengthening exercises. True to his prophecy, since then my shoulder has popped out during tennis, as I rolled out of bed, and during Body Pump.

Back to my Roslyn story… So, after I pulled my shoulder in the middle of class, it was all I could do not to yell out in pain. I kinda looked around, embarrassed, to see if anyone noticed my distress, but all of them were too busy pumping their muscles up. But Roslyn, she noticed that something was wrong with me. She dropped her weights, came over to me and led me outside the room to find a trainer or someone who could help me. When we were out of the room, she asked me what happened and tried to find someone who could help (to no avail). Luckily, after a few minutes, I took a deep breath and my shoulder just popped right back in place. Her concern touched me… a complete stranger went out of her way to see if she could do anything to help me. After we both decided that I was semi fine, we went back to class and I braved three more tracks of shoulder, abs, and cool down. Roslyn and I talked after class, she wanted to check how I was feeling and from then on, we became good friends.

Roslyn is a microbiologist who secretly wants to be a gardener. She loves her herbs and I am one of the lucky beneficiaries of her bounty! This herb planter was totally worth that pulled shoulder moment…

Tonight, the mint and basil in Roslyn’s herb planter contributed to the FMP dinner that DFJ and I just enjoyed and absolutely loved, Greek Inspired Flatbread with Smoked Salmon Feta. This was adapted from Greek “Nachos” with Feta Drizzle, by Mark Bittman. Check out the original recipe at Art by Megan and be inspired by this woman's creativity.

This recipe is so easy, simple, and delicious to boot! Thank you for choosing such a great and hassle-free recipe Megan, this is a perfect no-fuss but oh-so-good dinner to make right before the beginning of a new school year (I'm a teacher too!). To Mark Bittman, you win again!

Instead of using pita bread, I used naan, which turned out great. You can’t ever go wrong with naan!

A generous spread of lemony and minty smoked salmon feta-yogurt sauce with roasted tomatoes was slathered on top of the naan.

The perfect ultimate topping to complete the dish was a salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, and olives.

This special Greek flatbread is light, fresh, super healthy, and incredibly tasty!        

Greek Inspired Flatbread with Smoked Salmon Feta (Makes 2-3 servings)
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Greek “Nachos” with Feta Drizzle, The Food Matters Project

2 pieces naan

½ cup smoked salmon, shredded
scant ½ cup whole Greek yogurt, plain
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup homemade roasted tomatoes or sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
scant ¼ cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/8 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1/8 cup olive oil
zest of a small lemon
juice of a small lemon
¼ tsp salt

1 Roma tomato, diced
½ cup cucumber, diced
1 small sweet onion (slightly larger than a golf ball), diced
½ cup sliced olives with minced pimiento

Adjust oven rack to the middle position then preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place naan on a baking sheet and when the oven is ready, bake the naan for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the naan to stay warm until you are done preparing the toppings.

While the naan is baking, combine the smoked salmon, yogurt, feta cheese, roasted tomatoes, mint, basil, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Stir everything together until well combined.   

In a separate bowl, combine tomato, cucumber, onion, and olive pieces. Stir well until everything is well combined.

Remove the naan from the oven. Spread a generous amount of the smoked salmon mix over the naan and then top with a generous amount of the mixed vegetables. Enjoy!

P.S. It’s back to work time for me tomorrow… My summer vacation is officially over. Please wish me luck! 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Olympic Peninsula Part 1

My big summer trip this year was at the Olympic Peninsula and then Seattle with DFJ, my partner in crime. It was an incredible experience. There is something to be said about being away from all our worldly comforts. Exhilaration in the form of freedom from technology, sleeping outdoors with fresh breeze coming through the tent; hearing the pitter-patter of rain; waking up to the sounds of a rushing creek and swooping crows; hiking for hours; walking, running, playing, and napping on the beach; splashing and wading in freezing waters; tasting sea salt on my lips; not showering; eating while enjoying gorgeous views; and simply being one with nature.  

Because the Olympic Peninsula is a rainforest, a day doesn’t go by without the forest being visited by rain. During our visit, we were lucky to have sunshine every day. Sure gray skies would threaten us every now and then, but the rain never came when we were out playing. At night, however, when we were safely snuggled up warm and cozy in our sleeping bags, it fell. Interestingly enough, it never left the ground wet in the morning. So, maybe the best time to visit the Olympic National Park would be during the peak of summer. The rains only come at night and the lake has been warming up all summer and is bearable. It’s not OMG the water feels so good warm, but you can definitely wade and swim in it.

We reluctantly got out of bed on Wednesday morning last week knowing that it was going to be a long day. After breakfast, we packed clothes for rainforest weather, summer weather, beach weather, and presentable city outfits. There was a sheepish moment where we had to ask our neighbors to take care of our little fish, Elfie, for an entire week. After that problem was solved, we continued packing… camping essentials like the tent, sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights, camping chairs, toiletries, cooking materials, eating utensils, and a big cooler filled with ice and food supplies to last four days. Not that I am a camping expert or anything, but a word of advice, it is really helpful to cook dinners at home so all you have to do is heat it up in a pan or pot when you get to your campsite. We were lucky enough to be able to leave home a little after noon and then we braced ourselves for a long drive.

View point stop at Mt. Rainier…

A gas stop, a couple of bathroom stops, and a thousand hours later… we finally arrived at the South side of Olympic National Park. Hello Lake Quinault! It was almost dark, but DFJ and I were adamant on finding the perfect campsite. After checking out Willaby, Falls Creek, and Gatton Creek Campgrounds, we decided on Falls Creek. We found a perfect spot only a quarter of a mile from the lake, Lake Quinault Lodge, and the general store.

Our first day of camping was started off with a delicious breakfast of vegetable and chicken with chimichurri on flour tortillas with fried eggs, some fruit on the side, and coffee.

It was exploration time… there were huge cedars, Douglas firs, hemlocks, and spruce trees everywhere in the Quinault rain forest area. We even got to see the world’s largest Sitka spruce! I marveled at how old this thousand year old tree was.

After our morning hike, we lunched by the lake and then kayaked for two hours. I thought my arms were strong and could withstand 2 hours of kayaking, but they were ready to fall out of their sockets within 15 minutes. It was a feat that we got from one end of the lake and back with my arms intact. On the way back, the wind and the lake waves kept veering us off course, which got frustrating as the minutes went by. We barely made it through without too much cussing. Back at our campsite, we gathered our blanket, books, a Gatorade, and hung out at the beach. It has been a long time since I have relaxed like I did that day… reading and napping under the sun, cooling off in the lake and deciding that it was just as good as a shower, and drying off in the sun before heading back to eat dinner.

The next day, we did a quick 3 mile hike around another trail and saw a huckleberry trove! It was a necessary task to fill up our empty Ziplock bag with the sour, red huckleberries. We ate breakfast back at the campsite, tore down our tent, packed up, and drove along the coast to Forks.

During the drive, we stopped at Kalaloch and Ruby Beach. Both beaches are gorgeous beyond words. At Kalaloch (pronounced as klay-lock), everything was a different shade of gray from the sand, to the seas, to the sky. This is a different kind of beauty than what I was used to back home in the Philippines, where everything was colorful. Kalaloch looks peaceful, elegant, and sleek. Comparing this beach to the ones back home is like having a wild, exotic beauty stand side by side with an elegant Parisian woman decked in black and white… both beautiful in their own ways. The sand is probably the softest and finest I have every touched. It was perfect for hourglasses. DFJ was even able to skip stones on the sand! We were having a hard time walking along the shore with our shoes, so DFJ told me to walk barefoot. Geez, who walks in the sand with shoes anyway? As soon as my feet touched the sand, I squealed with delight at the warmth and softness of it. We had lunch on the logs then we walked on the shore, getting our feet wet. The waves crashed around our ankles and the sand beneath our feet shifted under our weight. It felt like the world spun around for a second, but it was only the sand protesting under my weight. The campsites at Kalaloch are awesome, they are located on a bluff by the beach. Some of the sites are right at the edge of the bluff overlooking the beach. We wanted to camp there but since this one is a popular spot, it was reservation only and it was full. So, if you’re interested in camping at Kalaloch, book it in advance!   

Next stop was Ruby Beach. This beach is beautiful with a wild edge. There are sea stacks, huge rocks, and logs everywhere. The beach is rocky, but closer to shore is fine sand. Not as fine as Kalaloch, because we found it easier to walk on the sand here with our shoes on. The granules are also gray and soft, but not powder-fine. We walked towards the big rocks and climbed over some, until we found a great hidden spot, away from the wind and the people. We ate our second lunch, climbed down the rocks, and played for a bit. I tried to do headstands on the tightly packed, slightly wet sand while DFJ skipped stones. Headstands are impossible on the sand! DFJ had a ball skipping stones and running away from the waves. After about an hour at Ruby Beach, we then drove on to our campsite at Forks.

Our campsite, Three Rivers, is located just at the edge of the rainforest close to the highway. It has huge grounds and plenty of sites that were spread far apart from one another.  There are several toilets, both flush and pit, two unisex showers about the size of a telephone booth, a general store, a restaurant, and a place to clean and gut fresh-caught salmon. It is privately owned and did not have the good maintenance that state campgrounds have, but it was decent. Camping is camping and as much fun as it is, it has its share of discomforts. After pitching our tent, we drove to La Push and checked out First Beach. We strolled on the beach for a bit, climbed over the logs and sat on the rock barriers. DFJ and I mused about the state of this dismal and battered town. Even with children screaming and playing in the water, I could not help but feel sad at the way the town looks. We were running out of food, so we decided to eat at the one and only restaurant in town, River’s Edge. They have decent food with average prices and a cozy atmosphere with a nice view of First Beach. The staff was super friendly and the service was good.

We drove back to our campsite, took much needed showers after having gone about 50 hours without, warmed up by the campfire, and then cozied up in our bags with the smell of smoke in our hair and clothes.

Wow, that was a long post for the first three days of our trip. If you didn’t read everything, I’m not at all offended. I am pretty wordy… So here’s a summary of our itinerary and some things you can do: 

Night 1, Day 2, and Night 2:

We stayed at Falls Creek Campground in Lake Quinault.

There are lots of things to do at Lake Quinault: hike the trails; see the largest Sitka spruce; kayak, canoe, sail, or swim in the lake; and read or relax on the beach.

If you don’t feel like cooking while camping, there are eating options at Quinault, such as: dining at Lake Quinault Lodge or grabbing some pizza and milkshakes at the pizza place in the general store across the Lodge.

Day 3 and Night 3:

We started driving north to Forks and stopped at Kalaloch Beach and Ruby Beach.

There are awesome campgrounds at Kalaloch and if you want to snag a spot, plan in advance because their grounds are reservation only and always tend to be full. We camped at Three Rivers in Forks... not the best, but they had nice campsites and showers.

Dining options at the Forks and La Push area are limited. Forks has more choices and La Push has one that we went to, River’s Edge. Cozy atmosphere, friendly staff, decent food, and average prices.  

More on our trip in the next few posts… thanks for bearing with me!  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Granola Crumbles

Let’s see here… It has been an entire week since I last wrote a blog post. Amidst all the craziness to get ready for a long camping trip and a few days in Seattle, cooking dinners to heat up at the campsite, cooking everything perishable in the refrigerator then freezing them (so nothing gets thrown out), packing clothes for unpredictable rainforest weather and nice clothes for Seattle, laundry and dishes so we don’t come home to a stinky house, making sure we have all the camping gear and food, I wrote three blog posts. One was the Stone Fruit Tart, then two others that were scheduled to come up but didn’t. Blogspot Bloggers please help, do you by any chance know how to schedule posts in advance and have them actually pop up on schedule? I think I did everything right, so there was definitely a moment of frustration when I got back to civilization and found out that it didn’t work. *sad face*    

As much as I would love to share our days in the wild and all the food we ate in Seattle, there’s some unpacking, tent-drying, laundry, grocery shopping, yoga catch-up, and (ugh) house cleaning to do. The next few posts will be all about our trip… It’s my obligation to tell you all about it because someday (sooner than later), you simply must see what the Olympic Peninsula has to offer… a true Washington State treasure.    

This granola post, now edited, was scheduled to go up last Friday but it didn't. Here it is now though...

It wasn’t until I met DFJ that I discovered how incredibly fun camping is. Last summer we went on a lot of camping trips… the Deschutes (OR) for two days of river rafting, the Columbia Gorge (OR) for some biking and hiking, the San Juan Islands (WA) for a week of kayaking and hiking, and Wallowa Lake (OR) for some hiking.

After recalling our adventures last year, I just realized how lame we have been this year. So, to celebrate this summer, we went to the Olympic Peninsula and camped and explored the park for 5 days and 4 nights (Wednesday of last week until Sunday).  Then, we stayed in Seattle from Sunday night until Wednesday afternoon. 

Here’s a super snack that I made before we left for our trip. Let me tell you, these are waaaaaaaaaaaay better than any store bought granola bars.  A healthy power boost during our five days in the wild. 

These homemade granola crumbles started off from Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola Bars recipe in her Back to Basics cookbook. However, since I did not have all the dried fruit ingredients that her recipe requires, I used what was on hand: cranberries, raisins, and crystallized ginger. Ina Garten’s recipe only called for almonds, but since our pantry is teeming with nuts, I threw in some cashews, walnuts, and sunflower seeds into the mix. Other modifications that I made were the addition of almond butter and almond extract and lessening the amount of honey and sugar. DFJ was a little disappointed that I cut back on the sugar, so I appeased him by taking on his suggestion of pouring on some melted chocolate on top.

I wanted to make granola bars for our camping trip. However, I didn’t want to use too much honey and sugar because overly sweet stuff actually hurts my throat and I’ll be honest… yes,  I do have a thing against using too much sugar. As a result, the bars ended up crumbly because there was not enough honey and sugar to keep it intact. That is how I ended up calling these babies Granola Crumbles because this is exactly how they turned out… crumbly granola bars.

Do not let this bother you though because these crumbles are awesome all the same. Just make sure to catch the bits that fall off when you bite into them. Maybe use a plate when eating them or better yet, put them in a bowl and dollop a generous helping of plain yogurt. If you take it camping, catch the bits in a baggie or with your hands. 

These granola crumbles are delicious! It took a lot of our restraint to save them for the camping trip. The chewy granola pieces look glossy with the sweet, honey-butter coating and everything is made even better with the chocolate glaze.

A power snack that is a cross between healthy and decadent! Make it!

Granola Crumbles (Makes 20 bars, before they crumble)   
Inspired from Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola Bars, Back to Basics

2 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened

Sweet Glaze:
3 tbsp butter, unsalted
2 tbsp almond butter
1/3 cup honey
¼ cup sugar, lightly packed
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract (optional)
¼ tsp salt

Chocolate Topping:
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup white chocolate chips

½ cup chopped cashews, raw
½ cup chopped walnuts, raw
½ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup crystallized ginger, minced

butter to grease pan

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large roasting pan with butter.

Stir the oats, almonds, and shredded coconut in the roasting pan and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sweet glaze and the chocolate topping.

Place the butter, almond butter, honey, sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, and salt in a small sauce pan. Turn the heat on to medium and let the mixture simmer, stirring once or twice to melt everything. Turn off the heat and set aside.

In a separate sauce pan, melt the semisweet chocolate chips and the white chocolate chips together using the double boiler method. Since I don’t have a double boiler, this is what I do: Fill a sauce pan half full with water and place the chocolate chips in a separate smaller, metal bowl. Attach the metal bowl to the side of the sauce pan using a clamp. Turn the stove on to medium heat and let the water heat up until the chocolate starts to melt. Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until the consistency starts to thin just a bit. When the melted chocolate seems spreadable, turn the heat off and set aside.   

When the 10 minutes is up, remove the roasting pan from the oven. Lower the heat to 300 degrees F.

Carefully move the oat-almond-coconut mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the cashews, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Stir everything together well with a rubber spatula. Gradually pour the sweet glaze over the dry mixture and stir with a rubber spatula, making sure that all dry ingredients are well-coated. Add in the raisins, cranberries, and crystallized ginger and stir until everything is well mixed.

Butter the roasting pan again. Be careful when doing so, it might still be hot!

Flatten the granola into the pan and pack everything as tightly as you can. Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the top of the granola and spread it all over using a rubber spatula. Bake in the oven for 26-30 minutes.

Let cool for 3-4 hours before cutting the granola.


Use a wooden spatula with a thin, flat edge to cut the granola, so as not to scrape your pan.

If you refrigerate the granola once it has cooled down, it might not crumble as much when you cut it.

The bars stayed intact when we kept them in the cooler during our trip, so you might want to do the same. However, they crumble easily… like I said, make sure to catch the crumbs!