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.

[Lunch & Dinner] Charlie Bird

If you know me, you know I have a slight obsession with Charlie Bird‘s farro salad. Why obsess over a salad, you ask? Because it’s delicious, fresh, intriguing and somewhat guilt-free.

Charlie Bird NYC Farro Salad Beaches & Brie

This salad helped me appreciate pistachios in a brand new way because YES, it has pistachios! The parmesan shavings on top just add another level of saltiness greatness, making each bite come to life a bit more.

I have yet to recreate this salad at home but NYT Cooking and All Day I Eat have some great ideas on how to start!

Charlie Bird Cacio e Pepe NYC restaurant Beaches & Brie

Another Charlie Bird favorite? Their Cacio e Pepe. Creamy but so good, I mean, just look at it! They also have a prix fix lunch menu during the week where you can get a small plate (think: farro salad)  AND a pasta for $32. Not super cheap, I know, but it’s worth treating yourself to a nice lunch if you are in the area, especially if it’s a nice day out and you can take advantage of their outdoor seating.

gnocchi Charlie Bird Beaches & Brie

The gnocchi is also another solid option. Try starting with the burrata option, another great pick, but NEVER as a substitution to the farro salad. Promise?

charlie bird burrata nyc beaches & brie

Snack Time: 6 Snacks To Check Out

From a new twist on to-go meals to vegan cookies that don’t suck, I was able to try a lot of fun new snacks in the latest Snack Attack Editor Showcase.

Check out some of my favorites below!

terra sweet plantains terra plantains new snack delicious beaches & brie

Terra Sweet Plantains

I personally love that plantains are becoming more mainstream. As a Puerto Rican, I’ve grown up knowing there is no such thing as too much plantains. I’ve always been a fan of Terra chips (and by fan, I mean I’ve been known to devour a whole bag of sweet potato chips in one sitting) so I am excited to see them rolling out these two new flavors. They are addictingly tasty but also only have 3 ingredients, so don’t feel too guilty.

cucina & amore quinoa meal

Cucina & Amore Quinoa Meal

Guys, this one might be life changing. It’s your very own quinoa meal ready to eat, wherever you go and it actually tastes good. They are very generous on their topping, I just personally feel like I could eat a lot more of it. My trick? I bring a supplemental side to make this a meal, whether it’s leftover chicken or a simple soup.

farmer's pantry cornbread crisps

Farmer’s Pantry Cornbread Crisps

At first I was like ew, weird, but these crisps actually taste like cornbread. Nice and crispy, they make for a fun snack in the middle of the day.

sheila's gluten free

Sheila’s Cookie Bites

I’ve loved Sheila’s Brownie Brittle since day one. Now she has a gluten free option! PLUS she came out with these delicious crisp chocolate chip cookie bites. Having one alone is not possible, but I invite you to try.

naturipe snacks healthy

Naturipe Snacks

I had been having the Sargento Snack Packs, which I like, but felt like they were not enough. Naturipe gives it a nice healthy addition, you can get your cheese now accompanied by some sort of nut and fruit. They have different combinations too, so that you don’t get bored.

 

vegan cookies

Miche’s Kitchen

So now, I am not vegan but I can appreciate vegan meals and totally respect the lifestyle. For someone who loves diary, these were pretty good. I only tasted the coconut flavor, but if that’s any indication of the rest, it’s worth giving these a shot.

Have you tried any of these snacks? Any other snacks you currently can’t get enough of? Let me know, I am alway in the lookout for snacks!!

I received snacks to try for this post, opinions are my own.

[Thailand] My Friends, The Elephants

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

I can’t remember who was the first person to tell me to watch where I was going to see elephants in Thailand, I just remember knowing that I needed to educate myself instead of just showing up somewhere random. I knew I wanted to see these beautiful animals, I just wanted to do it responsibly so that I wasn’t contributing to their pain.

Through research and personal accounts of people living in Thailand, I found The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants in the sanctuary have been rescued from riding camps or other places where they were treated unfairly and abused. There, they are provided with everything they need within a safe space. Some may argue that they are still not in ideal conditions, but it’s better than what they had before. Also, as one of the volunteers argued, they have been captive for so long, they are not fit to survive in the wild on their own. Elephants are not meant to be ridden, it’s not natural for them.

We arrived to the sanctuary on the back of a mini truck, well aware that we were in for adventure and that we were going to be in the throws with the elephants.

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We started by changing our shirts and wearing the traditional karen clothing so that the elephants would feel more familiar with us. In order to really win their friendship from the start, we fed them lots of bananas. Literally banana after banana, after banana… they can really eat!

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elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

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We walked around and brought them sugar canes for them to eat. Again, impressive to watch these beautiful beasts eat. This one even tried to eat my GoPro.

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I must admit I was a bit scared. They are beautiful, yet intimidating beasts. They were gentle and friendly and to me, it was scary to think they could be so friendly that they could hurt me without realizing so. For example, being together on the river, a quick playful roll could have basically killed me. Maybe it was just me being cautious, but those thoughts were always in the back of my mind.

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Still, I was able to enjoy and admire them up close and in their natural habitat. We literally got into the mud with them, I went in barefoot to a pile of God knows what. I legit probably stepped on their poop more than once but hey, I did not come all the way to Thailand to stay clean and watch from afar, right?

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The mud made jumping in to the river 10 times more amazing. Sure, the elephants still pooped on the water there, but hey, at least I could clean myself! It was really an experience like no other. The closeness with nature (think walking barefoot through the jungle) and the majesty of these animals (think huge elephant running around like a puppy) was just absolutely incredible.

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

This day really made me want to continue exploring ecotourism. It was interesting, yet not surprising, that the group was composed of people like me from around the world (mid/late twenties all the way to mid/late thirties) hungry for meaningful experiences that do not cause harm and help you learn about the awesome world we live in.

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