How I fell in love with Portugal’s wine country and other Portuguese tales [Vol 2. Douro]

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro

I had already shared how I was not expecting much on the wine front from Portugal before our visit. Shameful, I know. You may associate port wine with Porto but did you know that the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro region? In fact, if they are not from there, it’s not technically port wine. The process may slightly vary by the producer but in general, grapes are harvested and transported to Porto where they are stored for aging and eventually consumption. Also, there is a LOT more to this beautiful wine region than port wine, we tasted plenty of other varieties that were just absolutely wonderful.

For our trip, we decided to rent a car in order to travel through all of our stops:

Porto -> Douro -> Fatima -> Albufeira -> Lisboa

I 100% recommend renting a car if you can, as it not only gives you freedom from schedules but you can also explore at your own pace and change things up as you go if you so desire.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

For our stay in Douro we stayed at Quinta Nova Nossa Senhora do Carmo, which you can see in this photo. When looking at where to stay in Douro, I saw plenty of gorgeous quintas in the region but I wanted to make sure we could stay in a quinta that offered wine tastings and actually had a vineyard. Our stay was short but wonderful. Due to time constraints, we actually did not leave the quinta once we got there and honestly have no regrets.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova wine and cheese vacation

We began our stay with a wonderful spread of ham and cheese and started tasting some of the wonderful selections from Quinta Nova right away. Their reserva was one of our favorites and definitely affordable considering the quality and taste, says the girl that is happy with a $10 bottle of wine at the liquor store, but you get it. 🙂

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My favorite part was walking through the vineyards, just me and Brian. There was not another soul in sight and the weather was absolutely perfect, not too hot or too cold. This region is truly a beauty and the landscape is breathtaking, unlike anything I had seen before. It’s also very calm, the kind of vibes you have to stop for and take a moment to really take it in because it’s a magical experience.

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

Quinta Nova offers a delicious dinner with a chef’s menu and of course, dedicated wine pairings. Each course was a unique experience and everything was purely exquisite. Dinner wouldn’t have been completed without an excellent dessert and of course, port wine.

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The breakfast selection the next day was also delicious but the best part was enjoying it all with a morning view. I mean, how often do we allow ourselves to not only enjoy breakfast time but enjoy it with this kind of view. Good coffee, good food and knowing that the day can only get better. That’s what vacation should feel like.

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You can never have enough of something wonderful, right? I would have loved to stay longer in this region and explore further. If you have the time, definitely recommend you explore other quintas and even take a boat through the river. Even if you are tight for time and can’t stay for the night, Douro is not far from Porto and you can do a day trip to get a taste of the magic (it’s only a little over an hour drive).

Stay tuned for more of my Portugal series and feel free to message me if you are planning to visit and have any questions about my experiences. 🙂

cristina nogueras photography portugal douro quinta nova

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Hello Fresh vs. Blue Apron [Real-life Review]

Blue Apron Chickpea Curry Bowl Meal Kit Cristina Nogueras

Chickpea Coconut Curry with Sweet Peppers & Rice from Blue Apron

Unless you are living under a rock without your phone and with no mail access, you’ve likely been served an ad by Hello Fresh and/or Blue Apron. They’ve been around for a while and while I was curious to try them from the start, I never felt like I would have time to actually cook all the meals before the ingredients went bad. I overcame that hurdle last September when I finally came to terms with the fact I could not give all my paycheck to Seamless anymore.

I wanted to try a meal kit service but with so many options out there I had no idea which one to start with. I decided I was going to go with the most popular one to start, but even that did not narrow it down too much. I ended up doing research on what I perceived to be the top three: Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated. I read LOTS of reviews online and narrowed it down to Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. So many reviews had one of these two options as their top choice and from looking online both offered similar experiences, so I decided to try each service out for myself and draw my own conclusions.

Before we dive in, here are some notes and disclaimers I would like to make:

  • There are a lot of details here, this is an actual breakdown of my experience. I find it helpful to have all the details when making decisions so you can decide what aspects of a service or product you value the most in order to make your own call.
  • I did not receive any sort of compensation or gifts for this post, I paid for both services from my own little pocket.
  • We used Blue Apron in both Atlanta and Hoboken, but we did not try Hello Fresh until we were in Atlanta. Not sure that matters but just in case!
  • Both services are top notch and always making updates, so for the latest and greatest on their offerings, do check their websites.
  • After you are finished reading, if you are interested in trying either service and would like me to send you a free box hit me up! I have a few boxes to give on each account so happy to share what I can!
Hello Fresh Enchiladas Cristina Nogueras Meal Kit Cooking

Salsa Verde Enchiladas with Poblano Peppers, Black Beans, and Monterey Jack Cheese from Hello Fresh

Menu Choices: Let’s start with the menu! From a purely mathematical standpoint, Hello Fresh has more menu options each week. It also offers gourmet and dinner 2 lunch options for additional fees. Hello Fresh also offers an option to add a side of garlic bread or other treats such as Baci chocolate truffles, all for an additional price. I did feel, however, that Blue Apron had more unique choices each week in terms of the plate and ingredients.

Pricing: If you are considering trying either service, please make sure you use a discount! They are EVERYWHERE so please take advantage of that. Overall, the more you order the cheaper it will be. I found my sweet spot was 3 meals a week for 2 people. Less than that would increase the price too much and more than that was cheaper but tougher to stay on track with cooking as there are days that you just want to be lazy.

  • Hello Fresh
    • Standard starter discount= Directly on their website you can claim $80 (usually spread out across first few boxes) or get $40 from a friend using the service.
    • Standard cost per plate= $10.15 (when you order 3 meals for 2 people in one week)
  • Blue Apron
    • Standard starter discount= Directly on their website you can claim $50 (usually spread out across first few boxes) or get a free box from a friend using the service.
    • Standard cost per plate= $9.99 (when you order 3 meals for 2 people in one week)

Delivery: I used to get my Blue Apron on Sundays but Hello Fresh did not offer that option (at least in Atlanta) so I chose Monday delivery. At first, it actually worked out ok because I did Sunday night meal prep for my lunches and didn’t feel obligated to cook twice but there were weeks that I wanted to have the cooking experience on a Sunday night so I do appreciate that Blue Apron offers delivery every day of the week. I did not have any issues with late deliveries or damaged boxes with either service.

Sustainability: I must say I am NO expert on sustainability but there are simple things that anyone can notice and Hello Fresh is definitely winning in this category, starting with the little package they’ve created to protect your ingredients. It could vary, but they tried to use recyclable or biodegradable materials to keep ingredients safe and cool inside the box. Both services have interesting ways of “saving” for example Blue Apron always sends me a whole garlic head even when I only need one or two cloves for the recipe. Hello Fresh sends me the exact number of cloves I need but it’s wrapped up in plastic so… which one is better? Blue Apron tends to individually wrap each ingredient in plastic whereas Hello Fresh gives you all the ingredients for a specific recipe in one paper bag (not individually wrapped). Big picture though, I like that they give you the exact ingredients you need so you avoid waste but with all the plastic and cartons you use each week to even get these ingredients delivered, is that really much of a difference?

Ingredients: Both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron have always included good quality ingredients. They both assume you already have some basic ingredients such as salt, pepper and olive oil. With Hello Fresh, however, they also assume you have other ingredients such as butter and vegetable oil. I tend to always have butter but I did not have your standard vegetable oil when the recipe called for it, so I ended up just using what I had (olive oil or avocado oil). Still, I personally prefer when Blue Apron sends you butter because they are usually nicer quality than your average butter that may or may not be close to expiring in your fridge. 🙂  Perhaps it was the choices I made but I felt like Hello Fresh repeated a lot of ingredients. I swear I was zesting lemons and mixing sour cream almost every time. With Blue Apron I thought it was nice that they integrated different types of cheeses, spices and cream to keep things different and interesting. Bonus for Hello Fresh though, I once did get one free sample of a waffle mix, decent sample size and all. Blue Apron, however, introduced a cool new line of products called Knick Knacks. The line features a combination of pre-portioned ingredients from Blue Apron’s premium suppliers and their own proprietary blends which you can buy through Jet.com and then get the rest of the ingredients for the recipe as you wish. It’s not available where I live yet, but I like the idea of being able to obtain a set of harder-to-find ingredients to create a special recipe without having to buy three meals from the service.

Recipe Difficulty: Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are both fairly easy. If my husband and I can do it, you all can do it too! I swear the first 3 Hello Fresh recipes all asked me to zest a lemon and I had never done that before. Not only did I not have the special tool (Update: I later Googled and learned you zest a lemon with a cheese grater which we did have), I was also confused by the ask. Blue Apron has cool, short videos that show you how to master simple cooking skills like dicing, for example. I’ve found those helpful and would have appreciated one on zesting lemons, for easy access. I found it interesting that both services organize steps and instructions a little differently. Blue Apron has been very clear at stating all the “prep” right at the beginning while I found some “prep” steps mixed in later steps for Hello Fresh. Blue Apron also tends to organize steps or sections depending on what you are making (a section for the rice vs. a section for the baking of certain ingredients) whereas it seems like Hello Fresh predicts a more normal flow and alternates between different parts of the recipe based on how it recommends you approach it. Honestly, they are both FINE, I think psychologically we just got used to the Blue Apron way and then were thrown a bit off by Hello Fresh but nothing ridiculous.

Taste: I did not try one recipe in either service that I could not eat. Sure, there were some favorites but everything was really good! Both services were good at keeping you honest on spice levels and how to make it your own with seasoning to taste. Brian loves all things spicy so I’ve been allowing myself to try a bit more spice every single time.

Gourmet Level: Again, no culinary professional here but I do feel like Blue Apron is a bit more elevated when compared with Hello Fresh at their standard price. We’ve done interesting Blue Apron recipes that mix more than one culture together, providing us with unique ingredients that would be a bit harder for us to get at our local grocery store. Hello Fresh does offer two plates every week as a choice for “gourmet” but you have to pay extra. Personally, at that point, I would rather just go to a restaurant to get a meal served for me but to be fair the recipes do look good!

Portions & Leftovers: I think overall, the portions are fine. As someone who likes to eat a lot, I’ve found it nice that they do portion control for you so you don’t end up going crazy. With Blue Apron I did end up having leftovers on some recipes, not a lot, but some. With Hello Fresh there were some instances where I felt I was still hungry after finishing a meal. Nothing devastating though. There were times when Brian had to cook Blue Apron without me because I was working late and the ingredients were going to go bad. In those instances, he prepped me a plate and I saved it for my lunch the next day. Most plates, however, do not do well reheated. For that reason, I’ve never done any of the plans that offer leftovers for lunch. That’s just my personal take though! I love prepping lunches but I like to think carefully about the menu to make sure it is something that will still taste delicious reheated.

Customer Service: Unfortunately, there were 3 occasions in which I was missing one or more ingredients in my Blue Apron order. At all times, I reported the missing ingredients through the app and received a credit for the amount of the plates affected (usually around $20). Not terrible, but obviously disappointing when you were already planning on having something for dinner and maybe did not have other easy options available. In 2 of the cases, I unfortunately lost most of the other ingredients by not being able to make the recipe due to what was missing. I did, however, attempt to make ramen without various key ingredients. It was… interesting. Let’s just say I made soy sauce soup. Oy. In the weeks with Hello Fresh not once were we missing an ingredient. I almost thought about faking that I was missing an ingredient just to compare the customer service experience but that seemed wrong. 🙂

There you have it. All the ins and out of my experience. If you made it this far, thank you! If you just scrolled down here to see which one I picked, that’s ok too!

Hello Fresh Couscous Bowl Cristina Nogueras Meal Kit Cooking

Mediterranean Baked Veggie with Couscous, Almonds, and Feta from Hello Fresh

And the winner is…

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh Beaches and Brie Cristina Nogueras Comparison

Blue Apron!

At the end of the day, they are both great services and you will likely be fine with either one. For me, however, Blue Apron offers more variety of ingredients and recipes which makes it all more interesting to explore and try new things. I consider myself an average cook so if I am going to use a meal service kit, I want to be able to get something different and more exciting than my usual go-to recipes.

Have you tried Hello Fresh or Blue Apron? What are your thoughts? Do you use another meal kit and love it? Let me know in the comments below!

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Crispy Chicken Tenders & Mashed Potatoes with Butter Lettuce Salad & Ranch Dressing from Blue Apron

Real Talk: What’s been going on over here

I don’t really usually call myself a blogger, even though I have this blog and have had blogs since 2010. I do like to think of myself as some sort of writer. I write daily as part of my job, I write as part of my personal life. Writing gives me fuel in a way not many things do.

I started this blog in 2013 as a creative outlet to let my thoughts develop into further pieces to express all things typical for a 23-year-old living in New York City – hope, frustration, love and hunger. As the last 6 years have gone by, a LOT has changed. Many intentional changes but also many life changes that happen unconsciously, subtly but surely and leave you reconsidering perspectives.

One of my biggest frustrations in the last few years has been not having more time to write. I would complain that I didn’t have enough time, but then when I did have the time I was too tired to do anything and then I would blame myself for not writing. I kept beating myself up as I looked at others embracing and fulfilling their writing wishes with less than average ideas, when I felt I could too contribute to the wonderful world of words – if I only had the time or energy.

Life happens. We can sit, look back and think of all the ways we could have done it differently but that is only useful if you plan on implementing that in any way to your future. Otherwise, what’s the point? People keep telling myself I am too hard on myself and honestly half of the time (or more) I don’t see it. It’s not easy for me to recognize this but hey, it’s a process and I am ok with that.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I’ve missed writing and know that I am not perfect but I still want to continue to share pieces of me and my thoughts to whoever wants to enjoy them. Sure, it’s great when many people read what you have to say, but I think that at times it is just as empowering to combine beautiful words, make them yours, surrender them the universe, and see what happens.

I’ve come back to this blog after various unintentional hiatuses but never acknowledged them to protect myself in case I slipped away again… but not this time. I am putting it out to the universe because I know it’s something that is important to me and as such, it deserves the safety of accountability any other big task receives. Still, you don’t always need a plan or strategy. That’s the beauty of writing, you can just let it flow and let it refresh you in ways you probably weren’t even aware that you needed.

 

How I fell in love with canned fish and other Portuguese tales [Vol. I: Porto]

I want to start this post by apologizing to Portugal.

I must admit, Portugal was our second choice for a trip that for months we had been envisioning as a Greek adventure. I’m pretty sure Brian and I were talking about doing our one year anniversary in Greece when we were still in Thailand for our honeymoon. Disgusting, I know. Timing, flights and curiosity slowly led us to consider Portugal more and more. First it was going to be a second stop in our trip but as we uncovered all the potential we decided we were going to dive in completely and we are so glad we did. (Don’t worry Greece, I’m still coming for you!)

I will be doing a series for every stop we made in Portugal in order to truly make it justice. I will be sharing what we did but also, a lot of recommendations I collected before the trip (and during it) that we were not able to discover.

Let’s start with the wonder that is Porto. Jetlagged as we were and with some time before we could check into our Airbnb, we did not miss a beat and found ourselves having breakfast by theriver. We had no set plans, just a list of choices. What did we do? We propped ourselves outside a local restaurant, drank wine and watched the people walk by. To be fair, we did walk in the church of Saõ Francisco on the way and explored some of its barroque beauty.

Let me tell you, Portuguse wines are so underrated. Maybe it’s because I am not a sommelier but when I hear people rave about European wines, it’s always French, Italian and Spanish wines… but Portugal? Not so much or at all. Sure, we hear all about the wonder that is Porto (the wine) but I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) all the different varieties they have to offer.

For our first dinner in Portugal, we went to Wine Quay Bar. This was a place we had seen mentioned in various lists and I really liked that it brought together a lot of Portugal delicacies in a “tapas” style menu. The cheese, meats and olives were superb but oh my goodness… the bacalhau. Not sure how you feel about cod (bacalhau) but I grew up with my grandma’s Puerto Rican “bacalaitos” (cod fritters) and to me cod has always been associated with fried greatness that you should not have too often. Well, Portuguese have been doing it right all these years (sorry, grandma!). The cod we had here was soft and full of so much rich, yet delicate flavor. I don’t think my description can do it justice. 

I knew canned fish was a delicacy in Portugal and I was excited to try it but to be honest, I never expected to fall in love with it like I did. There are currently about 12 cans of different fish varieties in my kitchen. No day feels special enough for us to dig in just yet. Brian wants me to add that he was not a huge fan of the cod but was obsessed with the spicy tuna that they serve (also in a can). The saddest part is that I could not buy the exact cod they had at the restaurant because they ran out. The waitress was telling us about how cod is not as abundant as it used to be. There are issues with over fishing and people respecting sea borders. Really a shame since a lot of people, like them, have grounded their business around cod.

You really can’t go to Porto and not experience a Porto wine tasting. Like I said, we did not have set plans but for this, I recommend you do a little research and look to reserve beforehand. We were lucky to be able to walk in and just get a spot in Cockburn’s Port and had a great experience. First of all, I didn’t know port came in whites! Refreshing to start the tour with a port and tonic, even though I realized once more that I just don’t like tonic.

Did you know that port wine has about 20 % alcohol volume? You feel it. It’s good.

Porto (technically Gaia) houses all the port wines for aging but the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro Valley region. Just like champagne is not champagne if it’s not from Champagne, France – port wine is also only port wine if it comes from this region. Lucky us, Douro Valley was our next stop! More to come on that in an upcoming post.

So yes, this is a Francesinha (missing the fried egg on top). It’s a signature plate in Porto that I feel I have no authority to criticize. Essentially, this plate is available in almost every restaurant that serves Portuguese food but I was being such a brat that I didn’t want to order it if it wasn’t from the places “the internet” said are the best. The way our day ended up flowing, we were not near the famous Cafe Santiago when it was time to eat so Brian convinced me to let it go and just order it where we were. It was alright. Plot twist, we ended up having the best Francesinha in Lisbon from a restaurant with a chef from Porto. I will share more on that when I write about Lisbon!

The whole thing was so silly and has really got me thinking about the way I want to travel. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff that other people have discovered but I also want to take my own chances and discover for myself  the wonders that are out there. We worry too much about what other’s have lived that sometimes we forget to make adventures of our own.

This was the case for our anniversary dinner. We tried to get reservations in some of the popular places but they were all full. We ended up walking by this small and cozy restaurant that was playing live Fado – exactly what I wanted for such a special evening. I was hesitant to trust our anniversary dinner in a restaurant that was unknown to us but Brian ignited the explorer in me and we went for it. I am so glad he did, as our dinner at Terreirinho Restaurant was the most special dinner of our entire trip. Who would have thought?

And that, my friends, was the view from our AirBnb. It was affordable and with a great location, here’s the link if you are interested!

Here are some other food spots we did not get to try but totally encourage you to consider. If you do end up going to Porto and trying some, let me know what you think!

Any Porto food recommendations you think I should add? Let me know!

You can see more from my Portugal travels on my Instagram. 🙂

[Dinner] Sorellina’s Twist On Some Classics

Finally made it to Sorellina, a nice recently opened spot in Hoboken. Happy to report back that I was not disappointed! It was not too crowded, but then again, temperatures were below freezing so I would still recommend you check out Resy for a reservation, we had no issues.

We started off with some appetizers and if you know me, you know I can’t say “no” to burrata. In addition, we went for the roasted cauliflower and it was absolutely amazing. The charred onions and the breadcrumbs gave it the perfect crunch.

As for the main course, I went for the Cacio e Pepe Conchiglie. It’s not your average Cacio e Pepe as it has milk-braised pork and it features a different type of pasta. Still, I took a chance and it was very good. If you are craving Cacio e Pepe and are 100% set on it, order something else but if you appreciate what makes Cacio e Pepe amazing at the base and are open to exploring something different, go for it!

Brian went with the Bucatini Genovese and he was also very pleased although I must be honest and say he kept trying to eat off my plate. 🙂

Overall, I definitely want to go back and try different plates to keep tasting their unique flavors and fusions.

Have you been yet? Any recommendations?

Rico & Melo: Puerto Rican Pups Adoption Story

Ricus, Melus, Ricks, Melito, Riquito, Meloncito, Riquibiris, Meluskis, Bubu.

Those are just some of the ways I address my two little furballs Rico and Melo. I hear no complaints from them… yet. They also have their own Instagram because look at them.

I’ve always wanted a dog. Always. I was (and still am) that person that would drool over cute dogs on the streets and had to fight the need to pet them. A lot of my friends growing up had dogs and I would make sure I visited often to solidify my spot as their dog’s number one favorite. Whether it was my mom saying “no” (I love you still, ma) or life circumstances (college, etc.) I was never able to make my dreams come true. It sounds tragic because it was, don’t judge me.

I always knew my time would come, I just never quite expected it to be this way. As you may or may not know, Hurricane Maria battered my island of Puerto Rico this past September 2017. It destroyed crops, shattered homes and basically turned everything upside down. Little did I know that while I was completely focused on my family’s well-being during the storm, my two little pups were somewhere out there on the streets fighting the storm on their own. This thought still breaks my heart.

Our pups Rico & Melo were rescued from the streets the day after the hurricane hit. No collars, no home but hundreds of tics and two little empty stomachs. My good friends took them in and gave them everything they needed to survive and be well. One thing led to another, and somehow, me and Brian agreed to adopt not one, but two dogs.

Two. What were we thinking? As I type this, I glance over and see little Rico napping on top of Melo and I know that we did the right thing. These two wouldn’t have survived a minute without each other. They may fight and lick each other inappropriately, but they adore each other.

And us? We are officially obsessed.

Like, actually obsessed. It’s impressive how much you can love a non-human, little ball of fur. They are sweet, hilarious, cuddly and loving (watch out, Brian!). They are definitely an undertaking though, and God forbid something happens to them, all hell will break loose. They are worth it though, every cold walk in the morning and every dollar spent buying them toys I know they will destroy in seconds. Not to mention the phone chargers and shoes lost in the process…

Even before they got to us here in Hoboken, they were already teaching us about compassion. In the midst of hurricane relief, strangers to me partnered up to ensure these two could find a safe way to our home. My friend’s family fostered them and provided them with everything they needed, my other friend brought carriers with her all the way from Miami, a couple who didn’t even know us volunteered to fly the pups with them in the cabin during their already scheduled flight. It took a village.

I look at these two and although I know they don’t understand everything I say and feel, I know that at some level they have to know how loved they are. I hope they know because otherwise, I feel like they hate us for having brought them to this bitter cold. They have to know that they are family now and we will protect them forever.

I may never know their past and everything they have endured, but they are home now and our lives will never be the same.

Follow @ricoandmelo on Instagram for more of these two little goof balls!

2017 Musings, Let The Light Shine On

How can one year be charged with so many different emotions? For the past couple of days, I have been thinking about this past year and how crazy it was. Here’s my brain dump fueled by freezing temperatures and memories of warmer days.

Let’s start with the hardest part. Hurricane Maria knocked Puerto Rico down, but our resilience and strength as a country have shone through. Difficult times make us react in ways that surprise us, allowing you to see strength you didn’t even think you had. A crisis, big or small, allows you to grow in painful, yet beautiful ways.

Still, 2017 was so incredibly good to me, I can’t honestly complain. Not only did I get to marry my best friend, but I got to celebrate all wedding-related activities with so many people I love. The fact that people came from near and far to join us means the world, and as we start our new chapter as a family, we love knowing that they will be with us through this crazy journey.

After the hurricane, we adopted two little pups that changed us forever. After the storm, literally came out the sunshine because those two fill us with joy every single day. It’s absurd. I could honestly write about them forever, but I will not bother you with that here (go follow them on Insta, how about that?).

We are thankful for what we have, but still, we are not where we need to be. Challenges and risks come in all shapes and sizes. Some hit us harder than others, but we muster up the courage and keep going because, what else is there to do?

How do you deal with all the bad in the world without letting it overwhelm you? How do you enjoy all the great things without letting them distract you?

Life can be many things, in waves, or all at once. That will never change, life will always spin you in crazy ways but what matters is how we handle it and who we share it with. Everything is better when you share it with those you love, yes, even food. Everybody says you need to live life to the fullest like it is a breezy task. It may not always be that way, but it will always be worth it.

May the new year be full of moments that matter, big and small. Full of unexpected joys shared with special people, old and new. Mostly, may your soul be content and at peace in the midst of all things crazy and if you lose your way, may the good vibes guide you home.

Here’s to 2018.