My Favorite Things | MARCH

March 22, 2014

This might be a bit longer than a usual LAZY SATURDAY post, but I figured it’s all going to be about fun, cutesy things, how bad can it be, right?

I love reading posts and videos about people’s current favorites, whether it’s about makeup, a book they can’t put down or yummy burger from a new joint. It’s always fun and encourages me to try new things.

So in a new way for you to get to know me and my interests these are six of the things I’ve been loving during the month of March.

Folks, this might get girly. You’ve been warned.

 1. Her
The Oscars do to me what the Super Bowl does to the rest of the world. I count down the days, snacks (specifically brownies) are mandatory and may God have mercy on your soul if you ask me to change the channel.

I do my best to watch all the nominations before the big event and my winner this year was Spike Jonze’s Her. This was not at all what I expected it to be but I quickly fell head over heels for this story. It’s funny, touching and an accurate critique of our generation’s need for technology and living in the digital era. The movie is complex and interesting from the get go, but what really tangled me in was the chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix’s character with his OS, Samantha played by Scarlet Johansson. 

I do hope you give this movie a shot. The dialogue is rich and meaningful and I think many people can relate to it past the perspective of our future attached to our phones and technology. Deep down, it’s a love story.

2. Moon Wall

I saw this DIY idea of painting the moon on a wall of your house or room and immediately thought ‘I’m going to do that’. I’m going through a whole decorate-and-change-everything phase at the moment and A Beautiful Mess is my favorite website for daily inspiration on lifestyle, photography and décor (not to mention exquisite recipes).

My bed faces a blank wall so I think I would like to wake up facing the moon… or something like that. It sounded better in my head. I might do that sometime soon but instead of gold, I’ll try it with silver paint.

3. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon

Okay, calm down. It’s not like this is the very first time I’ve heard this album. But to my shame, I did hear it from beginning to end only about a year ago.
I know many Pink Floyd songs but I’ve never really ‘heard’ them. I decided it was to study this immortal band and there was no better way to start than with their best-selling album (and bestselling albums in history), The Dark Side of the Moon

It is impossible to describe The Dark Side of the Moon in one paragraph. Hell, it’s impossible to describe it one long post. This is more of a drink in hand, one hour long conversation type of thing. The best way I can summarize it is by mentioning the immense sense of satisfaction I felt from listening to such a wholesome, detailed album that, by far, surpasses all the sugary garbage made nowadays. People just don’t make music like they used to in the 60’s and 70’s.

The album is pure genius, from beginning to end. It makes you feel things, every song has a unique mood yet you can’t imagine listening to it in any other order than the one they chose. It’s brilliant and so ahead of its time. If I had to pick one favorite song, it would be Us and Them. Or Brain Damage.  Okay, I can’t. I must stop geeking so hard about Pink Floyd now.

4. The Giver Quartet

I read The Giver for the first time as a reading assignment in tenth grade and I loved it. Just recently, I realized there were more than two books to the series and I had to give them a try once again. And once again, I loved it!

The Giver takes place in a utopian society in which everyone’s role in the community is decided at a young age. Jonas, a twelve year old boy, is nervous about the ceremony in which he’ll find out his fate but discovers soon enough he will have the most honorable job of them all. He will be the Receiver of memories and with such memories he will know the ominous truth and past of his community. 

While people love all kinds of recent teenage trilogies like Twilight, meh, and Hunger Games, so so, I found The Giver to be so interesting and much closer to what our ‘dystopian’ future could be like. It’s entertaining but also a real thinker as to where the human race is headed. 

The four books are not exactly sequels. They tell the stories of different characters living in this fictional world and eventually it all ties together. I hope you give it a read before the movie comes out later this year. That way you can say ‘Oh yeah, I knew about this way before it went mainstream. Let your inner hipster shine for a bit.

5. Lady Grey Tea
I love tea. More importantly, I love tea time. It’s different to a coffee break. Tea time is not a pause from work hours to reenergize. It is relaxation with scones. 

I am more of a loner tea drinker, not by choice, but recently my friend popped by for a chat and we made tea. She came by again the week after with a new tea for me to try. Because I don’t enjoy Earl Grey, she brought me Twinning’s Lady Grey which has a more citrus note than the Earl. It was lovely! It is much more delicate and fragrant than the black tea I’m used to and I love the lemony touch. I take it with a splash of milk and some brown sugar.
My friend now pops by every week for tea and a chat. We feel really fancy. We are obsessed with planning a proper tea party, with scones and sandwiches and French music. 

I told you this was going to get girly.

6. Kakslauttanen Artic Resort

Since this is a travel and tourism blog, I have to add a place or country as well in these segments.

I have never seen the Northern Lights but they’re an important one on my bucket list. However, I never imagined I could ever be able to see them like this!

This has to be one of the most romantic ideas I have ever heard of in my life (and I am a romanticaholic). Kakslauttanen Resort offers log cabins and snow igloos as accommodations as well but the glass igloos are my top choice. Just picturing curling up in bed with hot cocoa while watching the green and blue streaks of lights of the Aurora Borealis makes me want to start saving up right now.  

The only downside of it is that it’s really more of a romantic getaway idea or a honeymoon destination. None of those are in my recent plans. Oh well… someday.

I hope you enjoyed this ‘Favorites’ post and getting to know all my current obsessions with books, movies, music and travel sites. Let me know what a few of your favorite things are (I tried very hard not to quote Sound of Music throughout this post).

Have a great weekend!

M xx

Cueva Ventana: A Burst of Light

March 19, 2014

“Did you bring a flashlight?” a hiker asked me when our paths crossed in the middle of the rocky trail, me heading towards the cave, him already on his way out.

“No. Do I really need one?” I hesitated.

“It’s pitch black in there for quite a while. Until you get to the view.”

He must have sensed my sudden worry for he added “Don’t worry. A cell phone will do just fine. Enjoy!” he said over his shoulder as he walked away.

We decided to spontaneously visit Cueva Ventana, roughly translated 'Window Cave', because everyone always said the view was to die for and the pictures often come out as a snap meant for a postcard. The ‘window’ part of the name refers to that view the hiker mentioned, an enormous hole at the end of the cave that displays the green plains and river of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Nature’s window.

The drive on Road 10 towards the mountains of Utuado took us to our destination that can be easily missed since all there is to announce it is a wood sign next to a gas station that reads Cueva Ventana.

While it used to be an ‘on your own’ kind of experience, without any guidance or tours, they are currently charging $3 per person, for regulation purposes and because the cave is located in private property. 

It’s not crowded but people are always coming and going, the newcomers excited as they start their hike and the one’s leaving always giving tips and tricks as to how to find the place. 

I imagined sneakers and worn in clothes were a must for a fifteen minute hike through the mountains. But the heads up for a flashlight felt like I was headed for more dangerous, risky type of adventure and I need to mentally prepare for those.

After the short walk, fit for pretty much anyone, we reached a rocky descent into darkness. The people gathering around or waiting for their friends to come out signaled we had arrived.

The cavernous entrance demonstrated a tricky climb down into the cave and the rest was to dark to make out. The slippery rocks and the mud made each step down a possible hazard and a sure promise to fall over the bigger rocks accumulated on either side. Even with the thick rope tied to a tree to help people on their way down, the descent is slow and steady but people didn’t seem to mind. Once inside the cave, the surface is relatively smooth but not necessarily flat.

The remaining light guided us a few yards in the right direction but soon enough, we were surrounded by silent obscurity. We were lucky to have one among us with a flashlight app in his iPhone. He led the way and we walked very close together, trying not to disturb the bats that flew by the stalagmites while containing any cowardice we brought along.

The natural silence in the cave and the lack of direction were only accentuated with the darkness that covered the unfamiliarity of our surroundings. However, even if we were not a big group, only five of us, there were others before us and the people who already knew the way kindly told us to go straight ahead. “You can’t miss it.”

Only three minutes in, we noticed a stream of light coming from a narrow path. We had to squat and squeeze through it but the guidance of stronger light was unmistakable. We were almost there.

After we all made it through, there was no need for the artificial iPhone light. This spacious part of the cave was fully illuminated by an enormous opening at the very end. At first it is hard to I walked closer and the surface started to incline, the famous view was exposed. 

People sat around, some close to the edge of a free fall, others on a flatter, safer surface, to admire the view of the wide plains of the bordering town, Arecibo.

The textures and patterns of green in the landscape are cut in the middle by the curving river that looks so small from such a distance. It’s not until I noticed the  miniature size of the trees that I realize how high up we have been the entire time. 

It sent a sense of unease through me, but not as much as seeing the young kids daring each other to get closer to the edge. Some sat right on it, their legs dangling while resting their weight back on their arms. I’m all for double dog dares, but this one, I sat out.

The view continued to amaze me. From all the pictures of my friends’ silhouette with the view as the background, it seemed the ‘window’ was much smaller, literally an opening you could peek through. But this was something else, like the cave had crumbled down to create a back entrance. It was luminous and beautiful, worth sitting down a few minutes to take it in.

Or take funny pictures.

After we finished admiring nature’s beautiful accident, we headed back this time not worrying so much about the bats that watched us upside down and seemed at ease with our presence. 

As we climbed out pulling ourselves up by the rope, excited newcomers asked us if it was cool. “Very cool”, we replied.

“You have a flash light, right?” we asked them as they were mid way down. 

They hesitated as they looked at each other for a response. Amateurs.

LAZY SATURDAY | Colombian Empanadas

March 01, 2014

I love cooking and I enjoy most finding recipes of dishes I discovered in other countries and trying them out at home.

In my post about Places to eat in Miami, I talked about Colombian empanadas, golden fritters made of cornmeal, fried to crisp perfection with a savory center of potatoes and minced meat. 

I adapted Erica Dihno’s recipe from her website My Colombian Dishes, and I was very proud of my results and everybody’s eagerness to reach for seconds. And thirds. 


1 ½ cups of precooked yellow cornmeal and additional ½ cup

2 cups of water

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

1 packet of Sazón Goya with Saffron


2 cups of peeled and diced white potatoes

1 tablespoon of olive oil

¼ cup of diced white onions

1 cup of chopped tomato

½ teaspoon of salt

¼ chopped scallions or green onions

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tablespoons of chopped red bell pepper

¾ pound of ground pork or beef

For the dough, place the cornmeal in a large bowl with the sazón and salt. Mix well. Add the water and oil and mix until the dough comes together. I found two cups of water was a bit much, so I added half a cup more of cornmeal in stages until the dough came together.
Knead for two minutes until smooth and cover with plastic. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes with a bit of salt for about 20 minutes or until a fork goes through them. Drain the potatoes and mash with a fork –or any utensil of your liking- while still hot. Set aside.

Next, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add the onions and cook over medium heat until translucent, for 5 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, green onions, garlic, red bell pepper and cilantro. Cook everything on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Add the ground pork or beef and break apart with a wooden spoon, cooking for 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the meat into the potatoes and mix thoroughly. The starch in the potatoes will hold the filling together and it will be much easier when spooning into the cornmeal dough.

Divide the resting dough into portions of about one tablespoon and a half. I used an ice cream scooper and filled it half way. Take each portion and rolled into a ball with the palms of your hands.

Place the dough balls between two pieces of plastic and roll out with your rolling pin. This became a very cautious and stressful process since the dough is quite pliable and soft. So I ended up slapping the heck out of it or pressing my palm firmly over the dough until it formed a flat disc. It’s your choice. Old school style or a tad of violence.

Remove the top film of plastic and add about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each disc. Once that’s done, fold them over to form a half circle and use a fork or your fingertips to crimp the edges.
Once they are all filled and folded and crimped, fill a large pot with vegetable oil, enough to cover the empanadas, and heat over medium heat to 360 ° F.

Carefully, and most definitely not throwing them in (like I did), place 3 to 4 empanadas into the heated oil and fry for about 3 or 4 minutes until golden and crispy on all sides. My tip is to not fuss over them. Let ‘em do their thing in the hot oil and if necessary, flip them over once. 

Once they are at that golden point, use a slotted spoon and transfer them to plain lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. 

Serve them up with lime wedges to cut through the grease and hot sauce. The recipe makes about 20 empanadas and while that may seem like a lot, they go fast. Trust me.

I had a lot of fun exploring a bit of Colombian cuisine and eating every bit of it. It may seem a complicated recipe with many ingredients, but it was very simple to make and much of this can be made ahead of time. Plus, it's quite fun to create a working line with your friends. One cooks, one forms balls, another rolls away.

I hope you have a lovely weekend! x