Travelogue: Florida Keys

After a year of being isolated, it felt like a good idea to take a vacation. Basically so we could isolate ourselves somewhere warm, beautiful….and remote. The middle Florida Keys seemed perfect and the weather didn’t disappoint.

Lots of long walks (not on beaches since the Keys have very few of the sandy type beaches but lots of coral) and swimming (long course!!) at the beautiful outdoor pool in Islamorada where of course I made friends and we even ran into fellow Minnesota teammates. I have concluded that no matter where I winter in future years, it has to absolutely involve a good outdoor pool! Australia is most definitely on my list.

The ritual of driving beautiful highway 1 with the windows down to the pool several times a week followed by a late lunch is quite simply meditative soul restoration. I learned the funny little names of the various Keys and harbors. It never got old.

Post swim avocado toast!

Our home base was a secluded rental home in Duck Key, which was absolutely perfect! Morning yoga on the patio, afternoons in the pool or hammock and evenings on the front porch rocking chairs. I couldn’t get enough Vitamin D!! Duck Key is actually a clump of little islands all connected by cute little historic bridges. It’s mostly private homes so walking, biking or golf carts are the primary ways of getting around. I truly love being so isolated.

Charming bridges of Duck Key

It’s also one of the best places to fish in North America. The boys did a day trip to check giant tarpon off the list. They caught 80lb and 100lb fish!! Tarpon are protected and can’t even be taken out of the water for photos (besides they’re too heavy). It’s an interesting style of fishing around the highway 1 bridges, where the bigger fish (and sharks) like to hang out in the strong currents. Timing the tide is key, as is navigating through the bridge structures once the fish is hooked. It takes about 40 minutes to land the fish! They eat once a month so catching one is a pretty big deal.

Giant tarpon fishing

We also went sailing out in Marathon, which is known for its iconic lighthouse and 7 mile bridge. The shallow waters and coral structures mean that in its history there have been tons of shipwrecks. These make for great snorkeling and scuba spots, which I had hoped to check off my bucket list, but seeing sharks changed my mind 😉

Look closely for the rainbow!

Food wise we ate in, cooking healthy bowls, smoothies and of course lots of my favorite avocado toasts with cold press coffee in the morning. Seared fresh blackened tuna and shrimp supplemented meals for the carnivores.

Salad nicoise with fresh tuna
Açaí bowl with dragon fruit
A knife specifically for slicing avocados! ❤️❤️❤️
Dragonfruit mint smoothie
Cold press coffee!

While many things have been difficult about the last year, there are some things that are better. One of them being delivery. I learned that even in remote places in America, you can still get just about anything you need delivered quickly. It amazed me how easy it was to get groceries and house items. I also noticed that once we settled into our routine the people we regularly saw were generally kinder. (The chill vibe in the Keys helps…Island time is a real thing!)

To say that I am grateful for 6 weeks of sunshine is an understatement. Particularly as a way to almost end our yearlong quarantine. The impacts of this year and this trip have been profound for me. A time for inner reflection and gathering energy to grow. My own kind of winter into spring.


Fragipani tree
Baby pineapples! (Technically it’s autumn in the Keys climate)

Coconut Chia pudding (vegan)

Chia pudding with granola and berries

Time for breakfast

It’s been a wild ride these last 2 months, which I am thankful for because it made the darkest days of winter go by quickly!

The boys both finished up their sports this last week and it’s been a bit emotional to start to feel the end of a life phase. Avery ended his high school hockey career with an impressive 50 point season. We’re now waiting for the scouting/recruiting/tryout process for junior hockey to know where he’ll end up next year.

Avery @ Hockey senior day

I missed senior day for Avery while in Iowa for Alec’s swim championships. It was an exciting weekend for the Lake Forest women to defeat perennial powerhouse Grinnell. Alec swam great, including winning the mile in a school record time and NCAA D3 cut. It’s joyful to watch his hard work payoff!

Alec mile conference champ!

During the hockey season breakfast is often the only meal we eat together and I have found joy in getting up early to prep it, knowing it’s only a few more months of Avery at home and our nest is empty!

While I usually prep “regular” breakfast for him, I have simplified my breakfast routine by using one of the daily featured menu items from our recent Baja wellness vacation. Coconut Chia pudding with granola and fruit is ready ahead and provides enough whole grains and fiber to keep me sated. And yes, while this is a breakfast item, it is great later in the day too!

I kind of think of eating the same healthy breakfast every day like one of the Jedi efficiency hacks people like Mark Zuckerberg tout (he wears the same thing every day).

The one decision that removes 100.

The logic is to not spend brain energy on “easy” decisions so that you can focus on the more challenging ones. It’s also the same approach as the one decision that eliminates 100 decisions. Ie, Opting out of social media means hundreds of notifications eliminated daily.

I mention these efficiency hacks because life is truly a whirlwind right now between family and work, as the new business is getting its legs. I have had to make some choices about where to spend my time. My creative energies have been invested in work vs blogging, and I am ok with that for now even though I miss it and interacting with all of you 😊

Coconut Chia pudding with granola and berries (vegan)

Chef Efrain’s recipe from Prana del Mar.

Serves 6-8


  • 1/2 cup of chia seeds
  • 500 ml of coconut milk
  • 500 ml of rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of chopped dry dates (prefer Medjool)
  • 50 ml of coconut cream (the solid part on the top of a coconut milk can)
  • 1/4 cup of dry coconut
  • 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds


– Soak chia seeds in soy and rice milk, stir gently.

– Add vanilla, cinnamon, coconut cream, and dry dates. Cover and store in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight to thicken.

– Make sure your pudding looks thick and the chia seeds have gelled. Sprinkle with dry coconut and pumpkin seeds, granola and berries.

Travelogue: Cabo San Lucas, MX

Oh the fantastic warmth of the sand and crashing sounds of the mighty Pacific! We have spent a week in pure bliss at a yoga wellness retreat center, Prana del Mar, just outside of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Neither Matt nor I have ever done an extended wellness vacation like this, so going into it we were probably “apprehensive” at best. Wow. Serious eye opener and an absolute week of bliss.

I have never felt so spoiled! Redefines luxury not to the ideals of material luxury, but soul luxury. Every detail was considered to make our lives easier. Chef Efrain prepared special vegan meals just for me! I am so grateful to have had time to care and recover in such a beautiful environment. (Rooftop view out to the Pacific).

Our daily routine was:

  • Pre-breakfast smoothie/fruit/nuts/coffee
  • Yoga
  • Real breakfast
  • Laps in the pool or activities (whale watching on the Sea of Cortez, surfing, cooking class)
  • Lunch
  • Chill
  • Meditation
  • Dinner
  • Bed

Eating vegan is already healthy, but I also learned how dependent on carbs/pasta I am. We ate very little rice and no pasta or bread. Both of us noticed a significant difference in our digestive health including more “even” energy levels.

I will post some recipes, but the most significant learnings were:

  • Avocado cartels. I didn’t realize that the global demand for avocados has become as serious as the drug trade in Mexico. I understand now why the cost is significantly different at the coop, which uses responsible sourcing. Avocado toast and guacamole mean something different now.
  • Nut soups. Walnut and pistachio soup?! Yum. And easy. The base for all soups is the same, with finishing touches creating flavor differences.
  • Oils. EVOO should not be heated. What?! Avocado oil is better, and regular olive oil should be used when richer flavor is needed. Adding olive oil to both guacamole and cold soups (watermelon, apple, cucumber) adds richness and depth.
  • Chia pudding for breakfast. I am a HUGE fan now, plus understand the additional nutrients from the seeds. Super easy to make ahead+granola+fruit.
  • Watermelon and beet sashimi. ‘Nuff said.
  • …More to come with recipes!

  • Stop to smell the lavender

    It’s finally spring here in Minnesota!! I planted my flowers and an entire bed of herbs. I decided to give them more space and perhaps overdid it. But I expect to use lots of mint for mojitos amongst other things this summer on the patio. All told, I planted 10 different herbs including multiple varieties of basil, mint, thyme and lavender. And some swiss chard for color.

    I was in such a hurry to get it all planted that I didn’t really enjoy it. They say gardening is one of the most mindful things you can do because it requires you to get multiple senses involved. It was definitely a signal that I am working too hard in that my mind refused to turn off.

    So having a week off came just in the nick of time. Well actually I needed to do this several months ago, but lesson learned. I truly slowed down this week as I accompanied Matt to a work trip in Phoenix. It’s hot, like 100 degrees hot. It takes some adjusting.

    Regardless I spent as much time outside as I could handle. I found a fantastic outdoor lap pool and started to get back in swim shape.

    Sidenote: The outdoor pool in MN opens in just a few weeks!! I can’t wait to see all of my friends…or as Matt calls them, my “subjects” since I am like royalty after all of these years as the Mayor of Swim Town.

    We didn’t have a car so I walked a ton and that really allows you to take notice of things you miss. The desert is beautiful in its own way, but I am definitely a water girl!

    Of course there was food involved. I was impressed to find multiple new fast food salad/healthy chains. It’s getting easier to find vegan options. The highlight was a kale guacamole with grapefruit, honeydew cucumber spritzer and pomegranate limeade. I will be tinkering with those recipes with all of my herbs for sure.

    In Minnesota our summers are truly beautiful and perfect. Especially on the lake. Every time I see the lavender in my garden I will be reminded to slow down and enjoy it!

    Travelogue: New Orleans

    A long weekend in Nola is just about perfect.

    You can fit in a sampling of everything and yet have had enough fun to be ready to return to reality.

    I could definitely see a recurring trip just to explore new restaurants, it’s a great town for eating and any worries I had about finding vegan/healthy choices were quickly set aside. I mixed in trying local seafood too. If I lived near the ocean, I would definitely be pescatarian. 😉

    Day 1

    After arriving early afternoon, we did our usual walking tour to get the lay of the land near our hotel. A quick route on Canal and down into the French Quarter, where we grabbed a late lunch at a hole-in-the-wall spot, Green Goddess. The roasted tomato Bloody Mary was fantastic (Crystal hot sauce being another secret ingredient) and Matt started his run on bourbon tastings.

    The staff was incredibly friendly and gave us tips to check out some relatively new restaurants (and yes, that’s drink #2 if you’re keeping track):

    We had dinner reservations at Pêche, which is part of the restaurant group of chef Donald Link. It’s a hip place with a Creole and Southern seafood oriented menu. I broke my vegan diet to try Louisiana oysters, which were very plump and mild, not briny like East Coast types. (Drink #3 was a gintilly shakedown with gin, ginger, cucumber, lemon and cava. Adult Kool-aid, yum).

    We stopped by the hotel bar afterwards. Completely packed for live jazz, and great people watching for the revelers just heading out (it’s Mardi Gras season after all). I am fascinated by what people do on holiday.

    Day 2

    I had the day to myself and stopped by Merchant for a breakfast of almond crepes. They do a cool self-contained version of a french press coffee to go that I had never seen, plus vegan options.

    We headed off to City Park’s Sculpture Garden, which is free and has more than 300 large sculptures and miles of walking paths. The old oaks with Spanish moss were ethereal. It was nice to walk outside without wearing 12 layers!!

    After lunch, a swim at the hotel pool (a flow pool, cool!) and massage before dinner at Paladar 511. The tuna crudo with avocado and pistachios was fantastic. It’s crab season and the squid ink pasta was also a highlight.

    Day 3

    Lots of walking today to burn through some calories after a late breakfast at Willa Jean. Avocado toast and a glass of lunch punch, with a yummy lavender syrup. I also saw my first King Cake, and learned about this 300-year-old tradition. In Nola, the “king/queen” for the evening who finds the baby figurine is responsible for buying next year’s cake (which BTW can only be eaten during Mardi Gras season.) You can find elaborate fillings and decorations using the colors representing the 3 kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus (purple, gold, green).

    Walking down the Riverfront path watching the barges come in to St. Stephen’s church, and a palm reading (the irony).

    A late lunch at Killer Poboys of banh mi style sautéed shrimp sandwich. They had vegan options here too and I fully converted to the vinegary Nola-based hot sauce brand, Crystal.

    We had a work dinner event that night, which included a crawfish boil and gator bites. Growing up, we used to catch crayfish on the North Shore of Lake Superior, where we’d skewer roast them over a fire with butter. So I was up for trying the crawfish, but wasn’t keen on the texture…and couldn’t bring myself to try gator. 😉

    N’awlins really is another world of cultures and traditions from our northern end of the Mississippi. But like Minnesota, the people are very nice. The main difference this time of year is just a mere 100 degrees and 36 inches of snow. 😉

    Already have the next long weekend planned:

      Nighttime ghost tour
      Creole Cooking class
      Preservation Hall
      Frenchmen Street
      Market Street
      Garden tour

    Travelogue: Omaha. Eating veg in beef country.

    Yup, the glamour of a hockey mom, weekend trips to Omaha.

    The magic of low expectations is that it’s really easy to exceed them. Honestly, 12 hours in the car through cornfields sounded wretched. Wind power accounts for 8% of energy used in Iowa, who knew?

    But it was actually pretty fantastic. Which says a lot about how much food has changed. There are so many more options than just 20 years ago and it’s even possible to get a fresh salad at the gas station.

    We discovered that Omaha is quite a charming downtown with old stone buildings and a solid art and food community. Very walkable.

    We found a cute cafe for breakfast (Culprit Cafe) with awesome donuts and beignets. The orange chai white chocolate was a surprising combo. And steel cut oats with fruit set the day up right.

    But the real wow’s of the trip we’re finding an awesome ramen shop (Jinya Ramen Bar. I did add a seasoned egg to my creamy vegan noodles, extra spicy)

    And 2 new chains–Freshii juice bar and Even hotels, which offers exercise equipment in every room. I was skeptical but actually appreciated being able to sneak in 30 minutes of strength training in private.

    And it was a lovely sunny fall day of almost 70 degrees. Not bad for a $200 weekend. Maybe Av will be a UN-O Maverick. I like the mascot, no BS 😉

    Travelogue: Isla Mujeres, Mexico

    Isla Mujeres is a small island just off the coast of Cancun in Mexico. While it’s a sunspot destination for folks like us from the northern US, it’s generally not built up in large resorts like most of Mexican beach towns. In fact, most people get around via golf carts and cash only is the norm. There’s only one grocery store.

    We were fortunate to find a wonderful condo on VRBO on the southernmost point of the island that had views of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea for sunrise/sunset. I spent most of my days lounging with water views of some sort!

    For a small island, the food scene is decent too. There are 150+ restaurants of all kinds but mostly tacos, seafood and bars. I did not stay vegan (fish, eggs and some dairy. It was almost impossible with limited veg options 😔). Some highlights:

    • Nachos at The Joint, just across the street from us. We could hear the live music from our place. Along with giant mojitos with fresh mint!

    • Breakfast at Green Verde with chilaquiles and huevos rancheros with scratch red chili sauce, yum!

    • Dinner with the fancy boating types at Marbella. Stone crab, hamachi sashimi, red snapper, hog fish fillets and lime pie. I couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was. An insight to how wealth runs the world and the relativity of that wealth in the world. We’ll never take clean drinking water for granted again.

    • Ceviche at Maria’s Kan Kin at a little hotel on the beach. I loved the octopus in it!

    • Fish tacos with fiery salsa at Jax. Really fresh fish, perfect avocados and too many margaritas (2). Yup, still a lightweight. Alec discovered he likes a Miami Vice, a mix of piña colada and strawberry daiquiri. Basically a booze smoothie. (The drinking age is 18 here).

    • 6 different Beers at Isla Brewing, the only brewery on the Island. The IPAs were solid and the hibiscus was unique.

    • Finally a shout out to Rosa Sirena’s, a new spot with a fun rooftop palapa bar. Somehow the Ambrosia cake got eaten before I got a pic, baked by owner Debbie-who’s super friendly and finding her way in a second career after retiring from trial law (“much less stress”). The boys were happy with large portions of chicken and pork chops. We’re on vacation after all!

    Speaking of which…I think this might possibly be our last family winter vacation together. 12 days of sunshine and beach and pool and eating and fun with friends…it went by fast. All 18 years of it.

    Food Travelogue: Chicago 

    As we waited for our donuts and cold press at Do-Rite Donuts in Chicago, a fellow customer asked where we were from. Our response prompted a compliment: “Minneapolis has the best Farmer’s Market I have ever been to.” 

    I had never thought of my hometown as more “foodie” and more of a farm-to-table destination than my one-time adoptive home (during college), and arguably the only city worthy of a pitstop in what coastdwellers call the Midwest: “flyover land”. The Windy City, home of Da Bears and Michael Jordan. 

    But a long weekend eating out showed us that Chicago’s food traditions—old and new—are gluttonous and actually quite different than Minnesota’s health-oriented cuisine. Thankfully, we got lots of steps in touring colleges and walking along the river and lake while eating our way through the city.


    • Craft beers, cheese curds and potato chip nachos with Merkts cheesespread while watching the Cubs fall apart to the Dodgers. 😔
    • Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich’s Italian food emporium, Eataly. What could be more awesome than food shopping with a glass of wine?! We had salted caramel-chocolate and chocolate chip gelato, pistachio cannoli and sun-dried tomato-olive foccacia. I could spend weeks sampling from the pasta, salami, cheese, coffee—real Italian cappuccinos—pizza, fish, salads, sandwiches…ohhhh so many fantastic packaged items to tryout at home too.

    • The valhrona chocolate and pistachio-lemon donuts from Do-Rite were fantastic. Birthday cake with sprinkles and a good ol’ fashioned rounded out breakfast.

    • A classic, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, was a nice surprise (expectations were low). The spaghetti and meatballs were well portioned for 2 teenage boys, as was a 12 oz steak, but the corn brûlée stole the show.

    • A quaint diner serving breakfast all day, chorizo skillet topped with 3 eggs and a side of 3 pancakes. (= “My stomach hurts”.) 

    • The boys horked down chili cheese dogs from Portillo’s as an afternoon “snack”. Fast food wieners…hmmm…yes, this is Chicago.

    I’m glad to be home. A good warmup for Thanksgiving, I guess. 😉

    Fair Food 

    The Minnesota State Fair–aka the Great Minnesota Get Together–is the largest (and of course best, IMO) fair in the country. Nearly 2 million people attend its 12 days–that’s almost half the population of MN! We love our fair, which is equally about our ag heritage as it is about “fun”–in the form of unique and overindulgent foods, art and creative activities and entertainment like Stevie Nicks, Garrison Keillor and John Mellancamp. To give you an idea of the scale, some of the food vendors do nothing else because they make an entire year’s income in 12 days!

    I’m not the average fairgoer (best summer job ever–working in PR at the fair! I met fantastic people, from pig farmers to Tim McGraw)…here are some highlights from this year’s trip:

    Fair basics

    These are the “have to” get every year:

    • Pronto pup (no, this is NOT a corn dog. It’s made with regular flour batter, making it lighter). Mustard only!
    • Chocolate malts from the Dairy Barn or Kiwanis booth
    • Roasted corn on the cob
    • Fresh french fries (watch them peel potatoes!)
    • Mini donuts (preferably before a ride on the world’s oldest tunnel of love, Ye Old Mill)
    • Cheese curds (must be shared)
    • Sweet Martha’s bucket of cookies, accompanied by the all-the-milk-you-can-drink stand
    • Fried pickles with ranch (trust me)

    Must see activities:

    • Creative Activities winners. From home cook food entries to gorgeous quilts and woodworking, it’s inspiring. Maybe I will enter my snickerdoodles next year
    • Fine Arts show, which gets better every year! I always find 2-3 artists to check out
    • Animal barns, we happened to arrive as the 6-horse hitch was getting prepped. Wow, draft horses are amazing! Biggest boar weighing in over 1,000 lbs, I always find the llamas interesting too, along with handlers–interesting people to talk to in the barns passionate about their animals 
    • DNR, the fish pond is stocked with rare to find species like the paddlefish
    • Crop art. It’s somewhere between kitschy and incredible for its meticulous detail. A Prince tribute section caught my eye.
    • Scarecrow contest (make America grate!) and display of vintage seed bags so cool! Grab a craft beer, hard cider or view wine winners in the Ag building.

    And because no trip to the Fair should ever not include something new:

    Nitro cold press and blueberry corn creme eclair, yum!! Can’t wait til next year! The official end of summer…