Category Archives: Favorites

The Galapagos Islands: What can I say? It was amazing.

Last week, I returned from a trip in the Galapagos Islands – it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity. As I was flying back to Raleigh, I was left with a feeling of sadness about leaving this amazing place, where I got to see amazing animals that I will most likely never get to see again, at least in the wild. It was an inspiring reminder of the wonders of this beautiful world that we live in – something that is easy to forget as I settle back into my everyday life back here in civilization. There was a group of 13 of us, and we spent 7 days on a 78-foot yacht with room for 14, and I will say that I never thought I would enjoy my time on a boat as much as I did for this trip (generally, I hate boats). After a few days of rough water, we were very fortunate to have great weather and calm seas.

We chased dolphins around the middle of the Pacific Ocean so we could snorkel with them. I saw a mom, baby, and dad dolphin dive directly below me. Each time we saw the pod and it moved on, it was ‘una mas!’ and we were back on the dinghies to follow them again. It was an exhilarating morning, to say the least.

The sea lions…oh the sea lions! They were so cute – like little puppies that you wanted to cuddle. We saw them sunbathing, swimming, playing, fighting, nursing, rolling around in the surf.

We only had one day of all rain, and it was still a great day. We played board games, read, and napped. AND in the afternoon, we snorkeled in the rain with penguins, sea lions, and sea turtles! It was an awesome experience, and I’m so glad that I went! Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of this…there were many times on this trip when I wished I had an underwater housing for my camera!

We got within inches of giant tortoises – they’re amazing creatures. My trip was officially made at this point. Almost all of the animals on the islands don’t react to human presence, due to a lack of natural predators. Mostly if we stayed low and moved slowly (so they didn’t think we were being aggressive), we could get very close, and if we stayed still, they would come to us.

We saw Nazca boobies nesting and babies in all stages of life – eggs, tiny and newly hatched, fuzzy, almost as large as adults, and fully grown.

We saw Blue footed boobies, who really looked like they had stepped in buckets of blue paint – their feet were so bright!

We saw both brown and white red footed boobies.

I didn’t realize that they had blue beaks – they were so colorful and pretty.

We saw Blue-footed boobies, sea lions, penguins, and marine iguanas all resting on the same rock, a respite from the rain and surf. In short….I saw all the animals you learn about and read about, and it was so cool to see them in the wild, up close.

Our tour guide, Juan, was amazing – he was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He really gave us an education while we were there, but without making us feel like we were ‘learning’. He would get so excited about everything that it really made the trip. He grew up in the Galapagos, and has been doing tours for years, so it’s clear that he really loves his job and the islands, and loves showing people these amazing animals, places, and plants.

As I begin my job search in earnest, Juan’s enthusiasm and love for his job is on my mind – and I’m hopeful and determined to find a job that allows me to be happy, joyful, and grateful every day.

My trip by the numbers:

Days on the boat: 7
Days total: 12
Number of islands visited: 6 (Santa Cruz, Genovesa, Marchena, Isabela, Fernandina, Floreana)
Number of tortoises seen in the wild: 12
Number of photos taken: 1,620
Rainy days: 1
Games of Rummikub played: countless
Number of people on the tour: 13
Times I swam in the middle of the Pacific: 2
Times we crossed the Equator: 2

Tour operator: CNH Tours (we did the Northwest Itinerary)

More of my pictures posted here on Flickr.

P.S. Happy Leap Day!

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Babies, Book Club, and Bundt Cake

This past weekend was the annual Nawakwa Women’s Book Club Weekend. Our book this year was “The Good Earth”, by Pearl S. Buck. The book is amazing, if you haven’t read it. I never had to read it in high school, and I am really glad that I have read it now!

All the PREP girls were there, if only for Friday night. I got to meet Sophie for the first time, and she was tiny, adorable, perfect. Charlie was so much bigger than the first time I met him…and he was such a little flirt!

There were so many willing and eager arms waiting to take Sophie and Charlie off of their mamas’ hands.

Two loving sets of hands tucking a tired Charlie into his car seat.

Plus, as always, there was an abundance of food. This year, I made spinach & artichoke dip (a.k.a. The Dip), almond roca, and an orange olive oil bundt cake (from Baked Explorations).

The orange olive oil cake was delicious – it had a texture similar to pound cake, and although I expected a stronger olive oil taste, it really did not come through very much. The orange flavor was beautiful though. It is the type of cake that’s great for dessert, snack, or breakfast.

In my mind, it’s also not terribly unhealthy…there’s four eggs, but no butter!  And there’s yogurt!

Zest two oranges – mine ended up being about 1/8 cup. Mmmm…I love the scent of orange zest.

Then you separate the eggs and beat the yolks (save the whites for later). After the egg yolks are thick and pale, add the sugar slowly with the mixer on low. I wasn’t expecting this, but it becomes really thick – a grainy paste. After you add the orange zest, vanilla bean paste (or just plain old extract), yogurt, and olive oil, it loosens up. Then, you add the dry ingredients, and it is a pretty thick batter.

At this point, you set the batter aside and beat the egg whites till they form stiff peaks. I don’t know about you, but I’m always amazed at how egg whites work. Seriously, they start out as a liquid and then they triple in size and become a fluffy foam. So cool.

Then you begin the kind of hard work (ok, “hard” for someone who is not very strong): folding in the egg whites. You start with a small amount and fold it in gently, gently, gently. Then, you fold in the rest, still very gently, until they’re all incorporated. The batter becomes lighter, and the texture is more like what you’d expect from a cake batter.

You pour it in a bundt pan and put it in a 350 degree oven. It’s supposed to bake for 40-50 minutes, but mine probably took closer to 60 minutes. You rotate it once, halfway through baking. The smell wafting through my apartment was amazing, and the cake itself was really good.

Not too sweet, great texture. I didn’t use the powdered sugar because I transported it in the pan, but I think that would have added a really nice sweet touch. I want to try a grapefruit version of the cake as well.

This was definitely a time- and labor-intensive recipe. For everyday cakes, I’d probably try something a little easier (possibly this one from Smitten Kitchen), but for special events or get-togethers, this is perfect.

Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake

From: Baked Explorations (page 36)
Yield: 1 10-inch bundt cake

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup plain yogurt (I used low-fat)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated zest of 2 oranges (about 1/8 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting – optional


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 10-inch bundt pan – either with cooking spray or butter and dusted with flour.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a mixer with the paddle attachment (or just a regular old hand mixer), beat the egg yolks on medium speed until they are pale and thick.
  5. Turn mixer to low and slowly add the sugar until it is completely incorporated. You may have to increase the speed slightly as the mixture gets thicker. Scrape the bowl.
  6. Add the yogurt, olive oil, orange zest, and vanilla and mix on medium speed just till combined. Scrape the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated.
  7. Add the flour mixture in two parts, scraping the bowl after each addition. Mix just till incorporated. It will be quite thick.
  8. In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  9. Scoop about a cup of the egg whites into the batter and gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
  10. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold them in until they are almost completely combined.
  11. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake for 40-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Start checking for doneness after about 40 minutes – mine took close to 60. Rotate the pan halfway through the baking process.
  12. When it’s done, transfer cake (still in pan) to a rack to cool. Then, once cooled, turn onto a rack.
  13. Store tightly wrapped; cake will keep for a few days.
  14. Dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving (optional).
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Homemade Christmas Goodies

I am writing this post in honor of my fabulous, crafty friends.

I have these three friends, and we call ourselves the PREPs.

Here we are in September 2009, with the first PREP baby {the second baby has since arrived, and the third will be here soon…!!}.

The name “PREP” goes back to the first year I worked at Camp Nawakwa, and the first summer we all worked together and became friends. We were young and definitely preppier than anyone else who worked there, and so we bought four matching A&F shirts emblazoned with the word PREP. And we wore those shirts once a week, on a designated day. Yup. We…were probably pretty silly. But regardless, we became the PREP girls.

Things certainly have changed since that first summer almost 10 years ago (i.e. we can’t fit into those shirts anymore. Also, wow. 10 years.), but we remain the PREP girls. And every year around Christmas, we get together for an annual dinner. We all bring a different part of the meal and we have a little gift exchange. The past few years, as babies, families, and lives have taken over, we haven’t done a gift exchange, and we kind of agreed to the same this year.

However. I got some amazing, lovely, gorgeous homemade goodies this year. Meredith and her husband Paul did an impressive amount of canning for some beautiful and delicious treats:

Blueberry syrup? I can’t wait to have this on pancakes, oatmeal, and ice cream. Also, she reused (sanitized) beer bottles, and apparently you can just pop on new bottle caps!

Apple butter, preserved lemons, and hot sauce. How adorable (and yummy) – I love those little canning jars.

Roasted Red Pepper spread – we sampled this at the PREP Christmas dinner, and it was delicious!

Oranges Confit…not sure how to eat these, but I’m intrigued. They’re also just so pretty!

It didn’t end there… Kelly P. made this amazing looking lavender sea salt scrub – perfect for dry winter skin! I can’t wait to try it out!

And of course, there is arguably the most homemade of homemade gifts – Kelly M.’s brand new baby, Charlie. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of him, but he’s so precious. All in all, it was a great Christmas.

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Favorite faces, favorite places

I haven’t been cooking that much lately, or at least, nothing to interesting or new enough for my blog. BUT…I thought I’d give you some of my favorite people and places instead.

HomeMy beautiful momma

PREPsCamp Nawakwa

Other homeElla Monster

DadThe Lake

This will hopefully be the first in an occasional series of my favorites. Stay tuned!

All photos by me except PREPs (a patient husband) and Dad (Mom).

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