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I went with my little family to Tulum, Mexico last month, and I have to say, it was one of our best trips–ever.

We travel to Mexico nearly every year, but always on the west side, I suppose because we know it and it’s closer. I didn’t realize the east side looked completely different, and thus always thought, why take a 5-6 hour flight to Mexico when you can get there in 3-4? However, the east side–at least the Yucatan Peninsula where Tulum is located, is really beautiful and very different from the west. Lush jungles abound and mangroves grow for as far as the eye can see. We saw manatees and a crocodile during our adventures, as well as ancient Mayan ruins, and everywhere turquoise-blue waters.

I love that most of the hotels in Tulum are relatively small and strive to be eco-friendly. I must admit they all run off diesel generators since Tulum is off the grid, but some people would like to change that, and the visionary owners of Be Tulum and Nomade–two gorgeous resorts on the far end of the resort strip, would like to bring clean energy in. I can imagine how a visit to visit Tulum would be even better without the noise or air pollution of generators running night and day behind every hotel? I can already see them powered by clean, renewable energy from the sun, of which there is plenty.

But let’s get back to the beach…

Tulum gives off a different vibe than many resort towns in Mexico. First off it’s relatively small, and because many of the resorts take an “eco” approach, many buildings are small, low to the ground, and nestled in the trees, so when you’re walking on the beach, the land retains its jungle-ness. As a health-conscience person, I also loved that many of restaurants offered salads from local and organically-produced gardens, acai bowls and vegan dressings. While I imagine a lot of people visiting the area while I was there might have over indulged in cocktails (mezcal is the thing to drink there), I never saw any sign of it. What I did see were people relaxing, enjoying good food and long walks on the beach (you can walk forever there), taking yoga and meditation classes, and generally “chillaxin.”

Our little haven off of our room at Be Tulum.

Gorgeous, stylish rooms at Be.

 

Every morning we received an amazing basket of breads, including croissants, “Mexican” bread (as I call it because I don’t know if it has a particular name), rye and sweet breads. While I generally shun gluten, I admit I relished the morning gluten fest. The bread in Mexico has a certain something about it, which I find irresistible.

We also received an incredible assortment of fruit along with granola and yogurt. In fact, after we had polished off the bread and fruit, we were always left wondering why we bothered to order other dishes like chilaquiles, omelets and pancakes. After breakfast, we had to roll down the sandy slope toward the part of the beach which housed the cabanas, where we slept off the big morning meal or read until lunch. And speaking of lunch, I always wondered how many days can one really eat tacos. And in truth, nearly every day–at least once a day.

 

 

One day we hired a boat to take us through Sian Ka’an, the nature preserve just a short drive past the hotels and resorts. That’s where we saw a family of manatees that swam up close to the boat out of sheer curiosity. We also saw a crocodile through the mangrove branches, but as I only had my iPhone on me at the time, I wasn’t able to get a decent pic. In the preserve, our boatman dropped us off on the side of one of the mangrove-lined channels, and led us over a 500-meter (roughly) raised wooden walkway to another channel in which fresh water flowed. It flowed fast enough that there was a decent current, so we donned life vests and literally floated through the channel several kilometers after which our boatman was there to meet us. It was an incredible experience I can’t recommend enough!

Snorkeling in Yal-Ku Lagoon.

 

On another day, we explored one of the many cenotes (natural pits, or sinkholes, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath) in the area. Most of the cenotes are filled with fresh water, but cenotes can have salt water as well. Yal-Ku lagoon in Akumal, just a short drive from Tulum, is a gorgeous salt-water cenote. There are incredible rock formations, underwater caves and channels, and numerous varieties of tropical fish. The biggest parrot fish I’ve ever seen were in Yal-Ku. We had a great snorkeling experience there, but I recommend going early when there are fewer tourists and swimmers around. The most famous cenotes in the area–Grand Cenote and Casa Cenote, are on the top of our list for our next visit to Tulum.

Tulum Ruins near Akamal.

We also visited the Tulum ruins just outside of Tulum. Right on the edge of the ocean, they were well worth the short drive and confusion over where to buy tickets. Note: Don’t stand in line to get your tickets from a person, go to one of the two tickets machines on the left before the long lines of people waiting to talk to a ticket agent, and use your credit card. It will take you 2 minutes instead of 20.

We chose not to visit the famous Chicheniza ruins–approximately a 2.5-3-hour drive from Tulum, out of sheer laziness and because we found the Tulum ruins pretty impressive in their own right. However, we might stretch our horizons next time we visit as Chicheniza is supposed to be pretty spectacular.

We heard great things about the Monkey Sanctuary (also just outside Akumal), but we were too late to join a tour the day we went there, and too short on remaining days of our trip. If you plan to visit the area, have your hotel book a tour for you in advance. Sadly, the only monkey we saw was a dead one on the side of the road as we drove from the airport to Tulum.

If you have the chance to visit Tulum, take it. It won’t disappoint. Just a simple 1.5-hour drive from Cancun Airport, it feels like another world. Just remember to say “hello” to the monkeys and parrot fish for me.

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You might be wondering where the food photos and recipes are, but along with wildlife, traveling is most decidedly my other great passion. As it happens, my family has done a lot of traveling this summer, and we’ve been lucky enough to visit some historically-rich and beautiful cities.

If you missed my post on Florence, please check it out here. Otherwise, take a minute or two to get at least a little familiar with the small but incredibly gorgeous town of San Miguel de Allende which lies 274km northwest of Mexico City. I had heard about it for years, and now wonder why I didn’t go sooner.

My husband travels to Mexico regularly for his work, and although it was very last minute, the kids and I booked to accompany him since it was the same week as his birthday. After spending a couple days in Mexico City, we hired a car to take us to San Miguel de Allende. It was certainly an adventure… Google Maps said the drive would take 3.5 hours, so we all looked forward to a little scenery, and a dip in the pool of our hotel when we arrived. Seven hours later… Yep, the predicted 3.5 hours turned into 7 hours. There is only one road between the two cities, on which a truck carrying some sort of fuel (gas or oil) crashed and spilled its highly flammable cargo. And unlike in the U.S., Mexico does not have a rapid response system set up to deal with such things, so they closed the only road between the two cities for hours. Based on the reports of others, it would have taken 10 or 11 hours that day, but we took matters into our own hands, and asked our driver to go off road in order to skirt the closure. Please be advised: this is not recommended!! When you leave the highway, you drive on narrow, unmarked dirt and rock roads through “rancherias,” which are entirely unpoliced areas considered very dangerous–particularly at night. We only took this desperate measure because we were losing our minds parked for hours on the highway, and because the SUV we were in happened to have “protective properties.”

Seven hours later we arrived in San Miguel de Allende, which is hands down one of the most beautiful towns, if not the most beautiful town, we have ever laid eyes on. Narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with buildings painted with rich colors of the earth–terra cotta, saffron yellow, burnt red. You see exquisitely-carved doors everywhere, and magical courtyards abound. Throughout the center of town you see Spanish colonial architecture, which greatly adds to the beauty of this small town. (In addition to being one of the most affluent cities in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende lays claim to the start of Mexico’s independence from Spain.) Beyond its physical beauty, the historic town boasts a thriving arts and cultural scene, and the food is phenomenal. In fact, the food is quite fancy, serving dishes similar to what you find in high-end NYC or San Francisco restaurants only using local ingredients. We actually bemoaned the fact we couldn’t find and didn’t have time to just eat some good and simple enchiladas or other “traditional” Mexican fare.

Another surprisingly aspect of the town was how lush and green it was. In fact, the entire area was incredibly green. It’s the rainy season now, but we were told it is green nearly year-round. And the rains come just in the afternoon for an hour or two–just enough to water all the vegetation and clean the sidewalks and streets. Very efficient.

One thing is certain… We will return to this memorable little town soon.

Happy sightseeing!

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View of Il Duomo from my sister's apartment.

View of Il Duomo from my sister’s apartment.

 

I just returned from Italy where I visited Florence and Rome to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday.

Since I love traveling as much as I love food, I thought I’d share some of my pictures and experiences with you here.

I find it ironic–given I eat pasta maybe once every two years, that I ate paste every day I was in Italy. The pasta was so fresh and delicious, and there were so many types to choose from, that I never ran out of something new to try. Not only do the Italians offer so many different kinds of noodles, but they also prepare an incredible variety of sauces. I ate wild boar ragu, spring vegetables, pesto, bolognese, basic marinara, spicy sausage with “black cabbage” and vongole (pasta with clams)–the list goes on. Oh, and the fresh burrata! It was dessert for me. Of course, I also had to try the cannoli, the gelato and the tiramisu. Much to both my joy and horror, the hotel we stayed at just outside of Florence offered several tarts each morning as part of its large breakfast buffet. I tried to eat carefully and healthy–choosing sauteed mushrooms, eggs, fruit and roast tomatoes most mornings, but the tarts and Nutella-filled chocolate-glazed croissants called my name loudly each morning. And after all, I was on vacation!

Here are just a few photos of Florence–many of which will be very familiar if you’ve ever visited, along with some of the delicious food I ate (and appear to still be carrying around). If you follow me on Instagram, a few of the photos are repeated (sorry!). I will share photos from the rest of my trip in a subsequent post because I have so many I’m excited to share.

View over Firenze from the Piazzale di Michelango.

View over Firenze from the Piazzale di Michelango.

Il Duomo in the evening light.

Il Duomo in the evening light.

A church--unassuming from the outside, that we wandered into to escape the punishing heat outside.

A church–unassuming from the outside, that we wandered into to escape the punishing heat outside.

Florence's version of a farmer's market inside the Mercato Centrale.

Florence’s version of a farmer’s market inside the Mercato Centrale.

Tomatoes that tasted like candy with burrata.

Tomatoes that tasted like candy with burrata.

Perfectly roasted octopus on a bed of sauteed greens.

Perfectly roasted octopus on a bed of sauteed greens.

The most amazing little lunch place (Enoteca Tognoni) in the quaint town of Bolgheri.

The most amazing little lunch place (Enoteca Tognoni) in the quaint town of Bolgheri.

Lovely Siena the day before the Palio horse race.

Lovely Siena the day before the Palio horse race.

Siena's plaza tower.

Siena’s plaza tower.

A lovely Siena courtyard with frescoed ceilings.

A lovely Siena courtyard with frescoed ceilings.

Il Duomo in Siena.

Il Duomo in Siena.

Stripes!!

Stripes!!

Lunch at 4 Leoni in the Artisan quarter.

Lunch at 4 Leoni in the Artisan quarter.

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I just returned from holiday in Hawaii, where I spent a week on the island of Maui. My visit reminded me how too many of us take our beautiful Earth for granted.

Maui holds a special place in my heart. My mom and her seven sisters were born and raised there, so I’ve been visiting the islands since I was 5-years-old. We went last week for holiday, but also to return the remains of my aunt–the first of the eight sisters to pass away.

I went to the same lovely bay (Kapalua Bay, aka “old Flemings”) I’ve been snorkeling in since I was young. Kapalua Bay used to be a pristine bay bordered by a relatively small but gorgeous beach with rocks to climb over on either side and a small cave on the right to shelter in during sudden downpours. You really didn’t know it was there unless you were a local or related to one. No parking lot existed–just a strip of red earth next to a chain link fence overgrown with vines. Trees, palms and thick, lush tropical vegetation grew along the entire edge of the beach, overhanging it in many places. The crystal clear water resembled the most incredible natural aquarium showcasing dozens of different species of tropical fish, moray eels, octopus and turtles, as well as sea urchins, sea slugs and other less easily identified sea creatures. I particularly love this little bay because there is a reef running along the entire mouth of the bay so one never needs to fear spotting a shark.

I have witnessed many changes to my favorite bay over the past four decades… A parking lot and signs now make it easy to find, and if you don’t arrive before 9:00am, you will have to scavenge for a parking spot along the road higher up. Most of the vegetation has been removed and luxury villas now step down the slope with the grassy border of their grounds touching the sand in several places. The rocks as you enter the water are now covered with a slimy brown seaweed, and many of the spectacular coral formations are whitening (dying due to ocean acidification).

While this may sound very depressing and worrying, I must also add how beautiful the bay still is and how resilient nature attempts to be. There are still at least two dozen species of tropical fish, I encountered a huge zebra moray and a baby snowflake moray, the water remains clear and the sea turtles (previously threatened) are now thriving.

Here are some of my photos*–many of which aren’t “pristine,” showing evidence of our role and impact on the earth, but also showing the incredible beauty and strength that continues.

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Please take two minutes to think about a favorite place in nature you’ve visited, and think about how you might honor it–literally or just in your heart. Then please take two more minutes to think about just ONE (more) thing you can do to help protect our beautiful Earth. I’ve shared previously with you many of the things I do to lessen my negative impact on this planet, such as eating organic and local, not buying and/or using chemical products in my home, on my body, etc., making every effort to never take a plastic bag and to almost never take any sort of bag when out shopping, driving an electric car, etc. And some of you know of my work to make a positive impact on this planet (speeding the transition from fossil fuels to renewables with Empowered by Light).

I’m conducting a waste audit at my kids’ school today as part of recognizing Earth Day, but I know I can be doing a lot more. In fact, no matter how much you’re already doing, chances are, you can easily do just one more thing.

Happy Earth Day!

* I took video of my swim underwater with a large sea turtle, but I’m not very tech savvy and can’t figure out how to share it or create a still from it!

 

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OK, so you might think from the photo that this post will share a taco recipe. It’s true, I make some sort of taco every week for my family. They love them, no matter what I stuff in them–prawns, beef, chicken, fish, etc.) You might also think using superlatives such as “best” is a bad idea, but this really is the best Mexican rice I’ve ever had–at least compared with what we call “Mexican rice” here in the United States and all the way down to Central Mexico.

The recipe (slightly modified) comes from Maui Taco, on the island of Maui where my mom was born and raised. Even though it’s grown more crowded and touristy, I still love visiting the island, and I try to go as often as i can. Even though the roads sport more cars, and my favorite “secret” (known only by locals) snorkeling spot now has a resort built to the edge of the sand, the waters are still turquoise blue and warm, and I still know where to go for a guaranteed swim with huge gentle sea turtles.

But back to the food! After a few hours of snorkeling and playing in the surf and sand, my family heads to Maui Taco for a quick bite. The fish tacos are simple but flavorful, and when accompanied by rice and beans, they make a full meal. The nice folks at Maui Taco shared this recipe with me years ago, and I’ve been making it ever since. For some reason, I just now thought to share it with others.

It’s surprisingly simple, incredibly flavorful and versatile. You can serve it alongside tacos as I’ve shown here or put it in a larger wrap when making burritos. You can top a bit of it with a fried egg, some sliced avocado and a little salsa or hot sauce for a satisfying breakfast. You can serve it with all the taco/burrito fixings over lettuce and make a healthy taco salad. I actually like it so much that I will eat a bowl all by itself in lieu of dessert.

I served the rice pictured here with tacos filled with meatless “Beefy Crumble,”  radish micro greens, sliced avocado and fresh salsa. I’m not a huge fan of faux meat, but I really like the ground beef substitute by Beyond Meat. We get the “Feisty” version which is very flavorful and made with pea protein (instead of soy, which as you may know, I generally avoid).

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taco

 

Ingredients

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup red onion, finely diced

2-3 garlic cloves, minced or crushed

1 cup long-grain rice

1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste

3 cups organic (or homemade!) chicken stock*

Sea salt to taste

 

Preparation

Heat the oil in a 12-inch cast-iron or similar skillet over medium heat. Add in the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion softens and begins to turn translucent. Add in the garlic and cook, stirring regularly, for another 2-3 minutes.

Push the onion/garlic mixture to the edge of the pan and add in the rice. Cook, stirring occasionally until the rice begins to brown a little. Stir in the tomato paste until fairly well-blended. Slowly stir in the chicken (or veg) stock. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the rice covered for 20 minutes. Stir and season to taste with salt.

Serve immediately or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to three days.

Enjoy!

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In the past, in honor of Earth Day, I’ve given suggestions on ways people can lessen their impact on our Earth. However, increasingly, I think people will care more about the Earth and want to take part in preserving its health and beauty if they simply connect more with it. So this year, I thought I’d simply share some of my favorite images that celebrate the incredible beauty of this planet we call home. I hope you enjoy them.

 

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The perfect color of blue, untouched and unfiltered.

The perfect color of blue, untouched and unfiltered.

 

After our three days on the north shore, we loaded our luggage and kids into the car and drove to the south shore. If you haven’t been, the south shore–the windward side of the island, is much drier. The temperatures were at least five degrees warmer and the weather definitely improved.

We stayed in a little condo on the beach in Poipu, and visited friends who own a lovely home nearby on the water. Aside from snorkeling, paddle-boarding and eating deliciously fresh seafood every day, our highlight was a tour to the Allerton Gardens adjacent to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. I won’t bore you with the details of who Allerton was, as you can read all about him here, if you like, but the gardens he created west of Poipu, are some of the grandest I’ve seen–large and thoughtfully planned yet still lush, tropical and somewhat wild. The gardens also contain “the Jurassic trees,”  truly the most unusual, prehistoric-looking, magnificent trees ever. I must have shot three dozen photos just of them, yet still left feeling like I didn’t have enough.

Also on the south shore is access to Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Roughly 10 miles long and 3500 feet deep, it’s filled with red earth and waterfalls. We didn’t have the time or energy to hike around it, but we drove to the main look out to experience it’s beauty and vastness. From there we visited Salt Pond State Park, where the children explored tidepools and jumped waves until our grumbling tummies forced us to return home.

 

HI trees

“The jurassic trees” are actually 74-year-old fig trees.

A little perspective on the size of the trees (and next year's holiday card photo?).

A little perspective on the size of the trees (and next year’s holiday card photo?).

A view through the gardens built into "rooms."

A view through the gardens built into “rooms.”

The sky perfectly reflected.

The sky perfectly reflected.

HI leaf

 

Wailua Falls, but we didn't get to swim in the pool below.

Wailua Falls, but we didn’t get to swim in the pool below.

Waimea Canyon with a waterfall on the left.

Waimea Canyon with a waterfall on the left.

Exploring the tide pools at Salt Pond Park.

Exploring the tide pools at Salt Pond Park.

Enjoying our last days of paradise.

Enjoying our last days of paradise.

 

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