Thursday, October 27, 2016

In Love with Italy

We talked about going to Oktoberfest this year, but Ben had a company retreat (to Mexico, poor guy) pop up that was the same time frame. If you recall, we went to Ireland with a Travelzoo trip, so I always keep my eyes peeled on deals.  There had been a lot of Groupons for Italy popping up. Italy has been on my bucketlist f.o.r.e.v.er! But none of the trips I was finding were the time frame we wanted or the cities we wanted.

One day while browsing Travelzoo, I came across Trip Masters. I was skeptical about their low priced packages and flexibility, but after doing some research, I found them to be a legit company. Trip Masters is unlike the other package sites I've seen. Trip Masters allows you to select your flights, city orders and duration, select your hotels and transportation in between.

After messing around a few days, I finally narrowed down the perfect trip itinerary for our allotted time frame:

  • Rome: 3 days
  • Cinque Terre: 2 days
  • Florence: 1 day
  • Venice: 2 days
After booking the trip, I realized I had Ben's name wrong from his passport and also decided that the hotel we'd booked for Cinque Terre area was not ideal (we were to stay in the "suburbs", if you will). Trip Master's customer service is outstanding! They're available by chat which is so convenient, that I was able to easily update the name information.  They also allowed me to cancel our Cinque Terre hotel and gave a refund so that we were able to book our own separate accommodations in one of the Cinque Terre Villages. 

Pricing wise, the trip was more reasonable than I ever thought possible.  For our flights, 8 nights hotel (original booking) and 3 trains between cities, we paid only $200 more per person than the cost of our flight outright. Amazing! I highly recommend Trip Masters and will certainly use them in the future!


In Love with Italy

Sunday we returned from an 8-day, 8 night (not including flights) Italy trip. Italy is AMAZING!

We talked about going to Oktoberfest this year, but Ben had a company retreat (to Mexico, poor guy) pop up that was the same time frame. If you recall, we went to Ireland with a Travelzoo trip, so I always keep my eyes peeled on deals.  There had been a lot of Groupons for Italy popping up. Italy has been on my bucketlist f.o.r.e.v.er! But none of the trips I was finding were the time frame we wanted or the cities we wanted.

One day while browsing Travelzoo, I came across Trip Masters. I was skeptical about their low priced packages and flexibility, but after doing some research, I found them to be a legit company. Trip Masters is unlike the other package sites I've seen. Trip Masters allows you to select your flights, city orders and duration, select your hotels and transportation in between.

After messing around a few days, I finally narrowed down the perfect trip itinerary for our allotted time frame:

  • Rome: 3 days
  • Cinque Terre: 2 days
  • Florence: 1 day
  • Venice: 2 days
After booking the trip, I realized I had Ben's name wrong from his passport and also decided that the hotel we'd booked for Cinque Terre area was not ideal (we were to stay in the "suburbs", if you will). Trip Master's customer service is outstanding! They're available by chat which is so convenient, that I was able to easily update the name information.  They also allowed me to cancel our Cinque Terre hotel and gave a refund so that we were able to book our own separate accommodations in one of the Cinque Terre Villages. 

Pricing wise, the trip was more reasonable than I ever thought possible.  For our flights, 8 nights hotel (original booking) and 3 trains between cities, we paid only $200 more per person than the cost of our flight outright. Amazing! I highly recommend Trip Masters and will certainly use them in the future!


Monday, October 10, 2016

Mexican Riced Cauliflower



I'll be the first to admit this is not the best picture to blog, but trust me, this recipe combo is worth sharing!

Since finishing Whole 30, I've gotten really into substituting riced cauliflower for previous diet staples like quinoa and rice.  I usually cook at least one meal a week (which ends up being three servings for me) with cauliflower.

Mexican Riced Cauliflower
  • Head of cauliflower
  • 8 oz can tomato paste
  • 1/2 yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground chipotle
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1 tomato (diced)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
To start, rice your cauliflower. Sometimes I'll chop it up finely with a knife and other times I'll throw it in my Ninja Express to rice.

In a large skillet, warm the pan over medium heat, add coconut oil.  Add cauliflower and mix with cauliflower. Add 1/2 cup water and mix rice.  Stir in can of tomato paste and add spices. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup of water.

While this is coming to a soft boil, chop up the onion, jalapeno, tomato and cilantro.  Stir into rice.  To let the flavors blend, let it simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

I decided to add some leftover Slow Cooker Mexican Pulled Pork I had. Mixing this in was a great idea! The flavors compliment each other nicely.  I topped the dish with a guacamole jalapeno salsa I found at the grocery store.

I eliminate the brown sugar called for in the pork recipe, which makes this meal entirely Whole 30 and Paleo compliant!




Friday, October 7, 2016

Piney Lake

Living in Vail has proven to have several perks.  Towards the end of September, my coworkers and I decided we should do a little team building.  Given the fall colors were changing prime time, we wanted to take advantage. So one Wednesday night after work, we grabbed some beer and made our way to Piney Lake.

Mr HaHa and I had been to Piney Lake area earlier in May to camp, but to be honest, we hadn't even gone to the lake because we had Oscar in tow and understood the lake to be on private property.  We missed out. I mean, look at this view!
To get to Piney Lake, it'd be recommended to have a four wheel drive vehicle. From Vail's north frontage road, turn onto Red Sandstone road.  Don't be fooled by it's initial paving, it will turn into a red sandstone road.  Follow the road and at the first fork, go left and follow signs for Piney Lake.  You can also put Piney Lake into navigation (do it before you leave Red Sandstone Road, you will loose cell service!). It takes about 45 minutes once turning off the frontage road to get to the lake.

Piney Lake Ranch is private property, but there is a parking lot available. If you're feeling up for more than just taking in the view, there is Upper Piney Lake trail to hike.  The trail is about 6 miles round trip and will take you to water falls. It's the perfect spot to take in Colorado's beauty as it's finest!
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Piney Lake is well worth the drive and a gorgeous spot! As I mentioned above, there is camping in the area and because it's National Forest, it's free!  Until next time Piney!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

West Maroon Pass

This past weekend was so incredible, it calls for a post.

I told Mr HaHa, I never want to forget this weekend and after all the rigmarole to coordinate it, I hope this will help other hikers as well.
I don't remember where I stumbled across the West Maroon Pass Trail hike, but once I did, it was immediately added to our bucket list.  The idea of hiking from Aspen's Maroon Bells (a place so stunning in itself) to Crested Butte (which has become a favorite mountain town of ours), couldn't be beat. 11 miles didn't sound that bad and living in Vail, Aspen is just two hours away. 

However, there are quite a lot of logistics to figure out:
  • Where to park in Aspen? How to get to Aspen trail head?
  • How long would it take? (Aspen to CB is slightly harder due to elevation gains; the hike trailhead to trailhead is 11 miles with ~3,000ft gain)
  • Should we camp?
  • How could we get from the CB trail head (located at Schofield Park, approximately 13 miles from CB)?
  • Should we hike back from CB to Aspen the next day?
  • If we don't hike, how should we get back to Aspen from CB?
While Google is great, I couldn't easily find all of the answers to my questions.  We originally settled on the general plan of hike, camp, hike back.  Then I realized that Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area currently requires bear canisters and it was a unanimous decision that we would just get a hotel in Crested Butte.  

So, Saturday, September 10th, we were on the road at 5am, to get to Maroon Lake by 7am. During the hours of 8am - 5pm, the only vehicles allowed to drive directly up to Maroon Lake are shuttle buses, which be picked up at $8/person from Aspen Highlands ski area and parking lot (which is $5/day). However, outside of these hours, there are an allotted number of day-use and overnight parking spots for public. At the Aspen Ranger Welcome station we were told that overnight parking was full; which I had anticipated but hoped to squeeze in. Because the shuttle doesn't start until 8am (and we wanted to be on the trailhead before), we drove back to Aspen Highlands and called High Mountain taxi for a ride (I'd confirmed the day before that they would be available). 

They took about 10 minutes to arrive and 20 minutes after that (and $41 later with tip, youch!), we were at Maroon Lake trailhead, departing at 7:40am and ran into this big guy.
Can you see him in there? We were scared to get to close; but there he was. A beautiful (and huge) male moose to start the beginning of what would be a wonderful hike.
This is only our third fall living in Colorado and we typically make it a priority to get out a weekend or two and drive from Denver to the mountains for fall colors; but this year living in Vail and watching the action in progress is what I've been looking forward to since I signed my apartment lease last December.
Of everything we've experienced living in Colorado, for me, you can't beat standing in the middle of a forest surrounded by a golden glow and magical flutter of aspen leaves. It is the bee's knees!
I'd been to Maroon Bells only once before, last July. We'd hiked to Crater Lake, which is 1.7 miles one-way from Maroon Lake.  It's listed to have 629 ft of elevation gain; but it warmed us up quickly (which is good because it was about 37 degrees!)
Looking at Maroon Bells from Crater Lake
We progressed on from the lake, making really good time (about 22 minute miles) towards the valley. We passed several campsites and made mental note of how cool it would be to wake up with this kind of views. Next summer!

The farther along we moved, we'd occasionally look back at the views we'd left behind. Absolutely stunning!!

 A few hours in, at 9:30am, the ground was still frozen solid and covered in frost.  We were in jackets and a comfortable temperature, but ready to get in the sunny meadow that laid ahead.

We hit the sun just before 10am and immediately were ready to remove some layers.  This part of the hike had gorgeous yellowing bushes and several small streams to cross over.  Thank goodness for waterproof hiking boots!

Looking ahead, it was hard to see exactly where we'd summit the pass but there were inclines to be seen and a few switchbacks to get us there.
The final ascent
When we made it to the summit of West Maroon Pass my Garmin watch clocked us at 6.47 miles in three hours, which is a pace of 27 minute miles; not bad considering the approximate 3,000 ft elevation gain. The views were 360-degrees of pure natural beauty!
The trail up the valley from Aspen
The wind on the top was a little brisk, but there are enough rocks to block it for a comfortable sit for a snack and to take in the views.  After a fifteen minute break, we were on our merry way down.
The trail from the Crested Butte side is less steep and also shorter (4.5ish miles from trailhead to summit instead of Aspen's 6.5) and in itself is breathtaking.  We were a bit late in the season for wildflowers, but caught a few on their way out.
While going up was shy of 3 hours, coming down took about 2 hours.  Very easy terrain and almost all sun exposure to the sun. At the base/trailhead, there was a parking lot (and if you are desperate for a portapotty, there's one another half mile at a second lot), a stream and some logs for a shuttle "waiting area".

There are two shuttles allowed for pick ups: Dolly's Mountain Shuttle and Alpine Express.  Both run scheduled group pick ups ($15/head to get back to Crested Butte, drop off location of your choice).  I found a lot of recommendations for Dolly's but found their communication (lack thereof) to be terrible, so we ended up booking at 2pm pick up with Alpine Express. Another option is to pay to have your car driven over for you by Maroon Shuttles, but this is pricier than other methods of getting around/back.

We got to the base at 12:30p. We'd planned on the hike taking six hours and it took us under give. With plenty of time to spare before our 2p pick so we relaxed by the stream and in the shade of the trees.  There's no cell service so we used the time to just chat and unwind.  By 2pm; we had plenty of other hikers waiting with us for a ride.  (We'd joked at 12:40p about hitchhiking into town and while the lot was full, we didn't see anyone leaving to ask).
Alpine Express dropped us off directly at our hotel, Elevation Hotel and Spa.  I booked the hotel two days prior to our hike using Hotwire.com.  I would highly recommend using them as there are limited hotel options in CB/Mount CB area and with Hotwire we saved $30 off the nightly rate compared to other sites.

The room was awesome and the hot tub views couldn't be beat.  We were skeptical about staying on the mountain base instead of downtown, but the town's shuttle, Mountain Express, runs every 20 minutes and is a quick (10 minute or less) ride downtown. As always, Secret Stash was a must-have with the appetites we worked up!
 
The next morning we were picked up by our driver and headed back to Aspen via Kebler Pass.  To get back to Aspen, Dolly's, Alpine Express and Travel Crested Butte all offer shuttles, at $60/person. Some have minimum people or price requirements. We booked with Travel Crested Butte, primarily because we could book online but it turned out to be a convenience that we didn't have to worry about meeting a minimum price. We entirely lucked; no other travels had booked so we had a pimped-out Yukon to ourselves!

The drive back to Aspen Highlands took around 3 or so hours. We took the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the views!
The majority of the other hikers who got picked up with us at trailhead were hiking back the next day.  Honestly, neither of us had thought of this.  As mentioned above, we had originally thought about camping (which I'm glad we didn't, we didn't see any sites near Schofield Park) and hiking back; but we never thought about hike, hotel, hike. Another option to consider next year! 

Overall, this tops the charts as one of our favorite hikes,. It was gorgeous from start to finish.  I'm so glad it came together last minute (Although I'd done my research, I did all of our booking Thursday and we hiked Saturday). I'd highly recommend adding this hike to a bucket list!




Friday, April 22, 2016

Whole 30 Recap

Hi there, long time, no see. It's been a while. Trying to maintain a work-life balance, finding time for myself and Mr HaHa was extremely difficult with my last work assignment and being gone 12-13 hours a day! 

Skip forward, I'm on my next work assignment. I'm living away from home in Vail (Feb-Dec 2016). I have an adorable (company-paid) apartment and love being in the mountains! I don't love being away from my husband, but thank goodness for Face Time and weekends! Honestly, with my last project, I really never had an "me" time; it was work and "us". It's been interesting to be away from home and forcing both Ben and I to grow.

Anyways, moving to Vail, I really wanted to start off on the right foot with a more conscious, healthier diet and lifestyle. Motivated by a friend, my second week here I started Whole 30.  I figured it was best to jump into it before I could get used to anything else; plus I knew it would be easier not having to please Mr. HaHa and just feed myself. I also signed up for the gym and started training for a marathon.  A lot at once!  

You'd think it'd be exhausting, but I've had so much energy! I believe I have Whole 30 to thank for it.  For anyone who isn't familiar, Whole30 is 30 days of no dairy/grains/sugar/legumes/alcohol. It really was surprisingly easier for me than I thought it'd be. I’ve always used Sundays to meal plan for Sun-Thurs; so I kept that schedule.  I also was constantly looking for recipes, so much that I’d get excited and start planning ahead for the next week. I think part of the reason I didn't have difficulty was that I love to cook and found it fun and inspiring to constantly seek out new recipe ideas. 

The most helpful time savers were to prep long-"lead" foods in advance, like roast spaghetti squash or butternut squash the night before so it’d be ready to shred for my meal. I also got in the habit of one breakfast for the work week and making it on Sunday night and then just making eggs a few nights so that I wasn’t making a breakfast from scratch every day.

Another aspect of Whole 30 is no snacking.  This probably terrified me the most. I  was really surprised to find that probably 90% of the days I didn’t need anything and meal times crept up on me!

A few of my fav meals to share (I also have a Pinterest board)
 
Breakfast:
Tex-Mex Hash
@staciehassing.dietitian
Make 4 servings
---------------------------
Ingredients:

½ lb grass-fed ground beef or ground turkey (I used complaint chorizo (Boulder Sausage Company is awesome))
1 Tbsp. chili powder
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. garlic powder
⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ cup water
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 medium sweet potato, diced small (about 1 ¼-1 ½ cups)
½ cup diced red onions
½ cup diced red pepper
½ cup mushrooms, chopped
2 cups spinach, chopped
Fresh Cilantro, Avocado, Green Onions, Salsa (optional)
1 can of diced tomato with green chili (added)

Lunch/Dinner: I tried to make a 2-serving dinner and have leftovers for lunch
Spaghetti squash pizza crust – I realized part way through baking that I had the oven at 350 instead of 400 so I cranked it up; but my squash never fully seemed to “dry”/bake like real pizza crust. I had to use a fork to eat, but I will definitely try again (and at the right oven temp); I also think I needed to dry to get more of the moisture out of the squash

Complaint BBQ Sauce (I simmered to get the flavors to blend and added water to get to the consistency I wanted), with crockpot pulled pork over a baked sweet potato

Strawberry avocado salsa (I mixed up, added balsamic to taste and let sit for 30min) over salmon and spinach; it was kind of odd over the salmon, but I think it’d be odd with any meat. I’ll keep making and just eating with spinach as a salad

Roasted butternut squash (seasoned with pepper and fennel seed) mixed with compliant sausage and roasted kale <I wanted to do squash as noodles, but had a hard time running them threw so I gave up)

Juli Bauer’s Buffalo Chicken Casserole 

I used my greek marinade over chicken and roasted veggies

Obsessed with chimichurri over meat. I think steak/veggies and zoodles/marinara were the only meals I repeated because I like them both so much.
 
For snacks I keep dry roasted almonds, complaint Lara bar and apple/banana with almond butter.

I really feel so great that there’s a lot of stuff I don’t really see a need to add back into my diet.  We leave for vacation on 4/2 and I want to be able to have flexibility to eat there and know the impacts of foods; so I’m following Whole 30’s 10-day reintro plan starting today (hummus at lunch!) to make note of what effects food groups have on me; but moving forward I plan to be pretty strict Whole 30 during the week (except red wine) and then more lax on the weekends but still eating/drinking consciously.

Even without having my final weigh in, my skin is clearer, I moved down 2 sizes on my belt loop, my stomach is flatter and my rings are spinning on my fingers! Plus I feel like I have more energy, sleep well and wake up without being groggy.  I’m so glad I took the plunge and did it!

So on to Reintro Day 1: Legumes!







Sweet Potato Nachos

I experienced so many good meals during Whole 30 and now that I'm done; I don't want to stop! I followed Whole 30's Fast Track Reintroduction; essentially adding back in one food group at a time and pausing to see the effects.

My goal in reintroducing food groups is to know how my body will react if I give myself a break. Like I said above, I feel so great physically and mentally that I want to continue with Whole 30/clean eating.  So, my goal is to follow 80/20. During the week when I'm cooking for myself, no issue. But what's life without a little fun, especially on the weekends, right?!

I combined a few recipes to whip up a delicious meal!

·  4 medium (about 7 oz each) sweet potatoes, skin on, wedged
·  1 tbsp olive oil
·  1 1/2 tsp paprika
·  pinch cayenne pepper
·  1 tsp garlic powder
·  Coarse salt and fresh-cracked pepper

Cook at 425 for 8-9 minutes on each side

1 can tomato paste (6oz)
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup unsweetened 100% apple sauce
1 tbsp coconut aminos
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder (see note below)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp all spice
1/4 tsp cayenne powder (optional)

Mix together, simmer over low heat and add water to get to a consistency you like.

I mixed the potatoes and bbq with chicken, cilantro, jalapeno and red onion and viola! 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Garden of the Gods

This past weekend, we headed down south a little over an hour to Colorado Springs.  Prior to this, the farthest south I'd made it was the outlet mall, but we were excited to cheer on a friend in Tour de Cure. The drive was absolutely gorgeous!
And as one would expect, so were the red rocks once we got to the park! I mean view...
As our friend worked on her long ride, her husband, brother-in-law, and my husband convinced me to attempt to rock climb. Mr. HaHa bought gear at the beginning of summer, but had only used it once prior to this trip; but he did just fine.
 
Me on the other hand? Well, given that I'm not afraid of heights, but not a huge fan either; I harnessed up. I was thankful that the guys we were with had plenty of experience and knew what they were doing. I took my time trying to contort my body against this huge rock and look for random hand grabs and footings.  I was slow but made my way, until I got stuck and couldn't manage to go any further. I made it up about 40% of the route and my legs wouldn't stop shaking and my arms were exhausted so I went down.  Kind of anticlimactic, but then again, I tried!  I think I could get pretty good with some practice.
The view looking up the route...
 
...and the rock the route was on!
 
Back on solid ground, we drove around the park. There are plenty of trails, great for trailing running, but the day was running late and it was extremely hot, so we opted for the car until heading to congratulate our friend!
Garden of the Gods wasn't as big as I'd expected, but it is certainly beautiful!
 

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