2019 Book Challenge: 5/15 Reads [Book Reviews]

No matter how much I love reading, I always go through some dry-spells here and there. Some longer than others but regardless of time away from books, it’s always so refreshing when you get back to it. I have a goal of reading 15 books this year, here are the 5 books I’ve read so far, in order of when I read them and not how I necessarily rate them. According to Good Reads, I am behind schedule, but I think I can still pick it up. 🙂

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One Day in December by Josie Silver 

If I had to pick the least favorite from this list, this would be it. It’s not necessarily a bad book, maybe I was just annoyed at the main character and for me, it’s hard to look past that. I can enjoy a little serendipity magic here and there but for some reason, the predictability of this book did not hit me the right way. It gave me a little bit of “Carrie and Big” vibes from Sex and the City and I honestly didn’t love that couple. I know a lot of people enjoyed this book (and looove Carrie and Big), but it’s ok, can I respect that!

 

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I am a sucker for good YA, I don’t think they get enough credit, in my opinion. Sure, they can be light and easy reads, but every now and then you find one that makes you feel all happy and hopeful inside. This is one of them. I loved how you are able to get inside the mind of the main two characters and see how they perceive the same exact day through the lenses of their preconceived world views. It also explains a thought that connects love with the dark matter of the universe and I think it’s truly magical – probably because love and astronomy are two of my favorite things – but still, uplifting read in my opinion. 

 

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The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

This is the kind of book that gets turned into a fun romantic comedy-ish, you enjoy it and move on and there’s nothing wrong with that. Although it was quite predictable, I really appreciated the diversity and unique stories that we got exposed to, in addition to the main storyline. I felt like it painted an accurate, balanced picture of today’s world and I respect that. I also can always appreciate a solid male character that is respectful as he is sexy, especially when they care so much about their family like you will see in this book. 

 

Field Notes on Love

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

Ah, to be young and take chances, what a wonderful thing. I really enjoyed this YA, mostly because I felt like I was truly in this journey with the two main characters, discovering new things with them. Their traveling mostly happens in a train from New York to California and that was something I had never really thought of doing. I probably pictured it all more glamorous in my head than it probably is, but still, anything that has to do with travel and discovery will likely strike me the right way. The book also talks about success, performance, self-confidence and how you perceive your talents. It’s spoken to more as it relates to a student’s project, but you can make so many connections to your own life with it, regardless of your age or skillset. 

 

Daisy Jones & The Six

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book is truly something. You’ve probably heard all the buzz around it already but I think it’s worth the hype. I wouldn’t say it is my favorite book of all time, but it’s definitely my favorite from this list. Daisy Jones & The Six is beautifully raw and perfectly broken, with characters that make you feel a rollercoaster of emotions. It also has a way of conveying a whole music album just through words. How I felt I was in a music performance when I was just reading words on paper (or my kindle) is beyond me and anyone that can achieve that has true talent.

Have you read any of these books, what did you think?

Not exactly sure what the next 5 books will be, any recommendations? For the next 5, I am looking for a more historical fiction vibe, but open to anything if you think it’s worth it!

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Considering Daily Harvest? Here’s My Honest, Unpaid Opinion. [Review]

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I probably first heard of Daily Harvest over a year ago. Slowly but surely, I kept being targeted through multiple channels, you know how fun that can be. I had decided that it was not for me until I saw a food blogger, who is known for making her own recipes and doing lots of home cooking, try it and promote it with her own twist. She would make the harvest bowl meal at home, adding her own toppings and it made me reconsider. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a good base for your meal, already prepped?

I got a good starter deal, ended up being about $5 per cup, for 9 cups. Selections were good and Daily Harvest does a really good job of providing information about what you are about to get. Everything from ingredient explanation to a description of what it tastes like. It even tells you which cups are better for workout recovery, stress-relief, etc.

I’ll break down my experience by type of cup because they each have their own pros and cons. I am also including real images of what I got. 

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Harvest Bowls

The first bowl I tried I heated in a pan at home. It looked like a really small quantity so I added spinach, pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds. It was actually delicious but not filling enough, unfortunately. I was thinking I could make a batch of quinoa to heat up and add to the bowls which I think is great, but kind of defeats the purpose of the whole ready-to-go cup.

The second bowl I tried at work. I had to bring my own microwavable bowl as it seems the cups are not microwave-safe, a little hassle but not terrible. Once again, the food was not enough. It can’t be just me! When I am at home it’s more bearable since I will have other stuff available but when you bring a meal to work, you plan around it being successful. So there I was, still hungry at my desk thinking what I could do. Ended up getting a small salad which resulted in me wasting more time and money.

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Oat Bowls

I am used to making my own overnight oats at home with a base of yogurt. These bowls are mostly oats and fruit, with whatever you decide to add (I did almond milk) and I’m not used to the consistency. Flavor and quantity were good for breakfast. Further down this post, I included an expectation vs. reality comparison of the dragon fruit oat bowl. It looks beautiful but it’s actually deceiving in terms of what the product looks like and the quantity served. It is about half of what is shown. I get it, overflowing cups are better to show your product but it leads to disappointment.  

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Soups

I did not try any of their chilled soups because honestly, that’s not my thing so it wouldn’t be fair to taste and review something I already know I am not into. I did give the hot soups a try and they were good. The taste was not that different from your average Campbell’s soup but it seems like you are getting less sodium in the cup which will ultimately be better for you.

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Chia Bowls

Confession: I had never had a real chia bowl until this point. I put chia seeds in my personal overnight oats but I had never had these many chia seeds in one place! It was actually not that bad. I was not a big fan of the feel of the banana soaked overnight but the flavor was definitely there. Same critique with the oat bowls though, deceiving quantity and too expensive for what you actually get.

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Smoothies

If you look at the Daily Harvest ads, you would think your morning routine just got so much healthier and easier. Well folks, it wasn’t like that for me. First, my blender has the little contraption in the middle so the frozen chunk of smoothie did not fit properly. I had to cut it with a knife but it was not that simple, ended up ruining the little Daily Harvest cup it comes in so I was not able to pour it back in like they tell you to do. I added the amount of liquid indicated (I used almond milk) but after blending, it still did not have a drinkable consistency, it was more like a gelato. I had to add more almond milk before it was better. Same thing happened with another smoothie in which I used coconut water. Flavor wise it was ok – not bad, not amazing. I personally think the basic smoothies I make for myself are just as good (and cheaper). I did love their Cold brew + Almond smoothie, nice coffee boost for the morning.

Overall, you get good cups, but are they worth the price? Without a discount, on a regular plan, the lowest you can get a cup for is $6.99 and that entails ordering 24 cups at a time. $6.99 wouldn’t be terrible for lunch or dinner if it were filling enough, but $6.99 for a soup, smoothie or oat bowl? Not so much, but I guess it depends on where you live and what your usual food habits look like. For example, if you are going to a fancy smoothie bar for a $10 smoothie every day, then yes, this might be a good substitute, but if you have the time to source your own ingredients and make your own, that will be your best route.

Daily Harvest Blog

I do, however, see some value to always having some cups available in my freezer (better than having a frozen pizza), but given their subscription model, you can’t just buy a couple to have around just in case. You have to order a certain minimum per box, which makes sense from an effectiveness standpoint, you don’t want to waste all the packaging materials in one little cup. They are good with allowing you to cancel ahead of time so you can always skip if you want to keep your own schedule. I would recommend setting a reminder so you don’t get stuck paying for something you did not plan to.

If you want to try it, feel free to use my code: https://daily-harvest.com/r/RE-H2TYD89

With that discount code, you will get 3 free cups on your first order – that will be about $23 off right away as opposed to their regular welcome offer which is $30 off split across your first 3 boxes. I think getting the deal all at once on your first box is better if you are really hesitant or skeptical. That way you also reap the most benefits if you never order another box.

I think I knew Daily Harvest was not for me after the 3rd cup but I decided to finish the whole box before officially sharing my verdict. It’s just not enough food to justify the cost. I don’t regret trying it since I will no longer stress over the ads thinking “hmm should I try it?”. It also helped diversify my own meal prep by exposing me to some ingredients I would not normally think would go well together (hazelnuts in a brussel sprouts tahini bowl?). When reviewing their marketing materials, however, that’s when I lit up more. Their images are not accurate at all and that is a HUGE turn off for me. That’s disrespectful as a consumer. I am surprised they are able to run all of the images and videos they run because they are highly deceiving.

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Still, in the essence of keeping this review true to my experience, I have to say they do have good customer service. I had an issue with a delivery date – I was not going to be home and I guess my skipping did not go through (or in all honesty maybe I thought I skipped it, but forgot). Point is, I was able to get a generous credit for my next box which was very much appreciated.

So there you have it, Daily Harvest is not for me and I am ok with that.

Have you tried Daily Harvest?

If so, what did you think?

If not, were you considering it?

Let me know!

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Valuing Your Coveted Attention in an Overloaded World

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Some people hate advertising and all it entails – intense targeting, invasion of privacy, lack of transparency, etc. Add in the layer of the modern social media landscape and it all starts to blow up out of proportion, it is believed that the average person is hit with over 4,000 ads in a DAY. As a consumer on the receiving end, it can be exhausting, confusing and just straight up overwhelming. Truth is, advertising is not going anywhere, it will just keep evolving. People were complaining about commercials invading their TV time, now you scroll through Instagram and you get instantly targeted. Business is not going anywhere, people will always find ways to reach the people they think they need to reach.

Personally, I don’t mind ads (targeted or not) because either: 1. I’ve found information or products of value through them or, 2. I work in the industry and understand that people (and brands) need to make a living.

Attention is the new currency and in a world of overload, you either embrace it with control or get trampled. With over 250,000 people (in the US only) working on the marketing industry, it’s not realistic to assume we can all live unplugged lives and honestly, even if you are not in marketing, there’s too much happening online that unplugging yourself will likely affect your chances of success.

It all comes down to intention. If you choose to spend your time on social media (or the internet, for that matter) be more intentional and avoid mindless scrolling. Clean your feed from things that don’t bring value, respect your time and attention and treat it with the value it deserves.

Cristina Nogueras Marketing Clean your feed from things that don’t bring value, respect your time and attention and treat it with the value it deserves.

  • Your email address is a precious gem – Treat it like one! Brands are hungry for it so only give it away when it matters. Be mindful of where you subscribe and utilize it to your advantage.
  • Take control of your feed – You have two options: you either engage with the content you enjoy so you get more pleasant/useful things in your feed or you visit your feed less. Also, be intentional with who you follow as that will affect what kind of advertising you are being served.
  • If you know ads are inevitable, use them to your advantage – Looking to buy a dress for an upcoming event? Engage with any brand that sells dresses and soon you will start to see other brands flow in with other considerations and potentially, even some discounts. Let ads help you with something you already know you need because, why not? The added layer and disclaimer to this is to be smart about what you get thrown your way and learn to make your own calls.

Use advertising as a guide and starting point to further educate yourself on the matter. Sure, buying a dress might be a pretty straight-forward purchase for most people but as you get into products and services related to health, wellness, finance, etc. you have to be your best defendant. Disclosure is key – I am looking at you influencers who never disclose! – deceiving is ALWAYS wrong.

Cristina Nogueras Marketing Just because a brand has money to target you with beautiful advertising doesn’t mean that the product or service behind it brings anything of value, or is even safe.

Just because a brand has money to target you with beautiful advertising doesn’t mean that the product or service behind it brings anything of value, or is even safe. I could go on forever on that, but I will not. 🙂

If you want to try and live a successful, disconnected life, by all means, go for it! You are my true hero. But if you are like me and can’t really do it, that’s cool too, let’s help the industry and ourselves by setting better standards, protecting our attention and only “selling” it for true value.

Photo by Andreea Ch from Pexels

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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. 🙂