Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spinach Quiche Muffin Things

I love this recipe for, what I call, Spinach Quiche Muffin Things. This recipe comes from a family friend and previous teacher of mine! I brought these to my staff party a few months ago and they were gone in minutes. Pretty quick and easy to make as well.
Mix together in one bowl:
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Whisk together in another bowl:
2 eggs
1 cup milk
a few dashes of hot pepper sauce
still in 2 cups grated cheddar
1 pkg frozen (thawed and drained chopped spinach
1/4 cup chopped red pepper
4 chopped green onions
Pour this over the flour mixture and stir.
Spray mini muffin tins, fill with batter, bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick comes out clean (about 15 min). Can be cooled and frozen. Microwave for a few seconds to reheat before serving. Makes about 18.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Grand Tour #2

If you missed The Grand Tour #1, read it here!

In today's tour I will show you the rest of our place which includes the main level and a small front yard. Ready... set.. go!

When you walk in the door, which is to the right of the tv, you will see our living room. Not bad, not bad. Love the red couches that we found on craigslist. The fireplace also works, but you'll read further down why that's not important anymore.
Next up is a very romantic picture of our dining room area, which has only this lamp now since our light fixture broke and the landlord won't fix it.
And below is our teeny tiny kitchen. I hate this spot the most in the whole place because it's so small! Once you're in here you can't hear anyone talking to you either, which drives me nuts. HUH??? WHAT??? I CAN'T HEAR YOUUUUU. The fridge, stove, and dishwasher are too close to each other and you have to constantly move one or the other in order to fully open the doors. Also, our silverware tray doesn't fit any drawer, so it sits on the counter all the time. The washer and dryer are also in the kitchen on the left hand side.
And last but not least is our fenced in front yard, which is really handy for Bama the dog and is a nice place to sit and relax. I have a laundry line up to dry clothes and we just bought that BBQ yesterday, also from craigslist.
So that is our place in Chicago, but it's being torn down soon!!!!!!!!! So, we found a new place about 10 doors down and are moving on October 1st. Kill me. Moving once is bad enough. Anyone wanna come help? Pizza and beer is on us :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Oh yesssssss, The Big Easy...
We recently travelled to New Orleans for M's annual fraternity convention. Usually he goes to these things alone, but heck no, I wanted to go to New Orleans too! We stayed at the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street, which was pretty much the perfect location and close to everything.
Bourbon street in the early mornings reminded us of Barcelona - totally empty with a lingering smell of urine, sweat, and vomit. It was great.
The convention kept M pretty busy but I walked around a lot and became pretty familiar with the French quarter by the end of our four days. Jackson Square, in the picture above, is full of artists, horse carriages, and homeless people :)

One of the organized events for the ladies was a 2.5 hour bus tour, which was a great way to get a feel for the city. The tour took us to the 9th Ward which was hit extremely hard by Katrina and it's unbelievable to see the damage that still lingers, 5 years later.

The tour also let us off at a cemetery for a bit, kinda odd, but it was interesting to see how different their tombs are from our gravestones.
One evening, the fraternity arranged a dinner for us at Mardi Gras World, which is essentially a warehouse full of old Mardi Gras parade floats.
It was so creepy.
Straight out of my nightmares.
If you ever travel to New Orleans, you should take the St. Charles streetcar up past the Garden District to Audubon Park, where you'll see a ton of historic mansions and plantation houses. Just beautiful! I walked around the park for a while, then crossed the street to visit the Tulane University campus, which was so pretty with all of its old buildings. I love this tree that I found with hundreds of Mardi Gras beads hanging from it!
I also visited a free exhibit at The Historic New Orleans Collection called Katrina + 5 which documents the recovery efforts made over the last five years, with tons of pictures and audio clips from the first responders. Ugh, so sad, but hopeful too. This museum was a great place to spend a couple of hours, I'd highly recommend it.

We (mostly M) also did a lot of drinking - hurricanes, hand grenades, 190 antifreeze - you name it, we drank it! I loved the bars that had 30+ flavours of daiquiris spinning around in the machines. I tried a peach colada and almost went into a sugar coma, but it sure was delicious!
N'awlins is amazing - full of history, culture, and music (and booze and stippers) and FOOD! I'll get to that is a later post though!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba Review

Ohmygosh why does Chicago have to have so many good restaurants?

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba is a Spanish tapas restaurant, but who cares about the food - what I'm interested in is their sangria. It is like nectar from the fruit gods.
As I get older and wiser, or just plain older, there is not much alcohol that floats my boat. Wine is basically my go to drink, but this sangria.. oh my.. this sangria is delicious, delectable, simply wonderful. I go nuts just thinking about it.
See, don't I look at peace with the world? Sangria makes everything a-ok.

I am not the only one who thinks this, considering when we went on a Friday night, there was an hour and a half wait! The patio is fabulous, it feels like you're transported straight to Europe.
The food is really quite delicious as well. In the picture below are some bite size tapas called pintxos, including a chorizo wrapped date, short rib stuffed pepper, and a mushroom and rice croqueta.

Here is a cheese platter we ordered and although it doesn't look very pretty in the picture, it was oh so yummy.
The second time we came to this restaurant with M's parents we ordered the paella, which was excellent as well.

But still, I go for the sangria. The food is just a nice bonus.

Try it out if you're ever in Chi-town!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kilimanjaro: That's a Lot of Walking!

What do you think about when walking, walking, walking for seven straight days? Not a lot! Often the extent of my thoughts would be something like this:

1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2

A lot of the time I simply focused on each and every step I took. Sometimes I'd get a little crazy and to keep life interesting I'd switch to:

left - right - left - right - left - right

And other times if the pace was quicker:

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

How exciting, eh? I found these little chants inside my head really helpful because I was able to time my breathing with my steps. Walking on rocky ground can take a lot of concentration!

Now, how about those times when the terrain was less demanding? Facebook statuses! That's what I thought about, if you can believe it! We live in a sad, sad world :) For example:

"It's safe to say that I've now mastered the art of peeing while squatting."

I can't even begin to count the number of times I peed behind a bush or rock, but I do know that I went through almost two jumbo rolls of toilet paper! We're talking once or twice every hour. When you're drinking between 3 - 5 litres of water a day, it's gotta go somewhere!

"I'm a savage! My fingernails and hands are crusted with dirt, yet I'm still eating from them."

It gets dirty, really dirty, and you'll just stop caring. I went through a lot of baby wipes during my morning "shower" each day, plus they provided warm water and soap, but the dirt just sticks. The first real shower you have after your climb is magical.

"Never again in my life do I want to eat soup, white bread, porridge, popcorn, cookies, or tea."

The food that was prepared for us was very good, but it did start to get repetitive after a while. What can you expect though, you're on a mountain! I can't believe I'm admitting this, but I actually CRIED (just for a minute, lol) at dinner one day because I knew I had to eat, was still full, but didn't want to make the cooks feel like their food was bad. Team Kilimanjaro feeds you an exorbitant amount of food because you're burning a lot of energy and they told us that eating helps let oxygen enter the bloodstream or something - but really - soup twice a day, every day? Tea four times a day? Eight million slices of toast for breakfast? Plus porridge, eggs, and sausage?! For the love of God, bring chocolate with you! I would have died for some :)

What's for dinner? Can you guess?
We noticed that a lot of the companies handed out boxed lunches everyday. Team Kilimanjaro served us warm food, at a nice little table for every meal. Excellent. I miss our assistant cook, Phillipo, who would introduce each soup as... fresh of cucumber, or fresh of carrot.
Above is an example of a main course for dinner. Pasta, vegetable beef sauce, and quiche of some sort. Believe me, this was only scraping the surface of food. I betcha, left in the pot was at least 6 more servings the same size. Plus some type of dessert.
This was my favourite lunch - grilled cheese! Plus soup to start, of course, and fruit for dessert.
Look, I'm so happy, there's popcorn for snack! Little did I know, there's be popcorn for snack every.single.day :) Plus 12-15 cookies.

Do you ever think up facebook status updates in your head, or am I just weird?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kilimanjaro: Reaching The Summit

The entire time on Kilimanjaro you're mind is on one thing: THE SUMMIT! Will I make it? Is my body strong enough? Damn, I guess I should have trained a bit harder for this....

It's hard to explain, but climbing Kilimanjaro isn't exactly a huge physical challenge. The climb itself is actually quite doable (like I've mentioned before, going down is the difficult part), although dealing with the altitude can be tricky. The lack of oxygen, the shortness of breath after taking the smallest steps, the mental determination needed to continue on in the freezing cold after only a few hours of sleep - these are the real challenges.

For me, giving up was never an option. M joked that even if he had to cut off his own leg and carry it up with him, he'd reach the summit. All of those people who doubted his ability only helped fuel his drive to succeed.

I thank my lucky stars that I felt great the entire way up the mountain. I felt badly for the people who were obviously ill from the altitude and even worse for the people who were headed back down the mountain after only a few hours. I could hardly believe it when we saw a woman climbing down the mountain ALONE, in the pitch dark, at about 4am. I hope she found her way down safely. I strongly believe that if you take the proper route, go pole pole, and are in okay physical condition, you can successfully reach the summit.
Taking a break at about 5 or 6am.

The climb to the summit is long (8 1/2 hours for us), cold, and a bit solemn. Other than the sound of breathing or an occasional "How's it going?" from the guides, it's pretty silent (by choice I suppose - can't waste energy on talking). I wore three layers on the bottom and six on the top. Imagine stripping it all down when you have to pee. Not fun. I also wore two layers on both my hands and feet. At one point I remember concentrating so hard on wiggling my toes for a good 20 minutes before the numbness went away, only for it to return again in a few minutes. It went a bit like this... step - wiggle, wiggle - step - wiggle, wiggle - step - please don't let me get frostbite - wiggle, wiggle. This process repeated itself the entire climb.
Seeing the sunrise gave me so much hope!
Sun = warmth! I like warmth! Plus, no more headlamp necessary!
Our guides from Team Kilimanjaro were great. They offered to carry our camelbaks to lighten our load, constantly encouraged us, and force fed us redbulls. Blech! Jonas also acted as our photographer, which is where most of these pictures came from!
At some point, maybe six hours into the climbing, our guides starting singing the Kilimanjaro song. I love this song! It's all about the route you've taken, starting from the first camp you stayed at to the last. Listening to them sing made me so emotional because it reminded me that - holy crap - I'M CLIMBING MT. KILIMANJARO! THIS IS AN AMAZING JOURNEY! I'M SO FORTUNATE TO BE HERE! I got a big lump in my throat, which made me almost start hyperventilating because I couldn't get enough oxygen. So yeah, for future reference, don't get all sappy while climbing a mountain or you won't be able to breathe!
Glaciers. Huge, huge glaciers.

At the seventhish hour, I started to get antsy. How much longer?!? Our guides kept saying that we were almost at Stella Point, but I misunderstood and thought they meant we were almost at Uhuru Peak, which is the very highest point. Once we reached Stella Point I realized we still had another hour to go and I pretty much wanted to kill someone! Luckily, that last hour was the easiest and we saw a lot of people who had just been to the summit who kept encouraging us, saying, "It's so worth it! You're almost there!"
And we were almost there! You can see Uhura Peak in the distance in the picture above. We just had to do some more of this...
and then some of this...
and voila, we made it! Easy peasy :)
Our guides, Thomas and Jonas, and us of course.

Here's the video I took when approaching the summit. It's just a short, simple old thing, but I love it (even though I call it Uhuru Gate instead of Peak). I've watched it countless times and I really, really love it. Reaching the summit is quite unbelievable. You're exhausted but so relieved and happy. You've accomplished what you've set out to do and that's the most rewarding thing in the world.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kilimanjaro: Helpful Tips

Before leaving for Kilimanjaro I spent a lot of time searching the internets for little tidbits of info that might help me survive the climb :)
Now I'm passing along my own tips in hopes that someone finds my blog in their preparations and that it may be of some help. Here's my list of 6 things you should remember to bring:

1. Plastic Water Bottle
At night, fill a bottle with hot water and toss it into your sleeping bag. I cradled my nalgene like a baby every night because camping on a mountain is COLD! In the morning, after it had cooled, I'd add an electrolyte flavour tablet and carry it with me to drink throughout the day. Your taste buds will thank you for having something different to drink other than plain old water or tea! Also, my camelbak tubing froze on summit night (even with blowing the water back through), but the water in my nalgene was fine.

2. Entertainment
Bring something to do while you're hiding in your sleeping bag after dinner, trying to keep warm. I brought my iPhone and played games to keep me occupied and also downloaded a few Gossip Girl episodes to watch. If you don't bring some sort of entertainment; a) you'll fall asleep at 7pm every night, or b) you'll freeze to death trying to do stuff outside of your sleeping bag. Playing cards was a no go, but then again, we're big wimps.

3. Gaters
Buy or rent gaters ($1/day). They are worth every penny and keep dust and stones out of your shoes and socks. I wore them everyday and was thankful for them everyday.
See, look at how dusty I am!
4. Diamox
Our guide suggested we start taking Diamox (altitude sickness medication) only if/when we started showing signs of sickness. On the third night we had slight headaches and starting taking a half a pill each morning and night, except for on summit night when we took an entire pill. This removed all signs of sickness and we pretty much felt 100% after starting the medication. I'm not sure how our climb would have played out without the Diamox, but I do know there were plenty of sick people up at the top. FYI, it's easier and cheaper to pick up Diamox once you get to Tanzania, rather than getting a prescription at home.

5. Snacks
Lots of snacks, bring em. After walking for a few hours you'll need energy and you'll also need to replace your electrolytes if you're sweating. We brought shot blocks, goo, nut clusters, fruit leather, etc. Gum was also a nice treat, especially when the water wasn't tasting so great. Bring enough to share with your guides. They get hungry too.

6. Hire a Toilet
For $10/day you can have your own private toilet tent! Sooooooo worth it, in my opinion. I've never in my life been more happy to see a wooden seat with a pail under it. However, you'll need to bring your own tp.
I hope this short list of things to bring helps somebody out there and that I didn't just bore all of you readers who have no intention of ever climbing a mountain!

Kilimanjaro: What to Expect?

When deciding to climb Kilimanjaro, first things first, you need to choose a tour group to work with. We made the decision to book through Team Kilimanjaro rather quickly due to their reasonable prices and excellent reviews. This was a great decision in the end - the company was very good to us, everything ran smoothly, and I'd highly, highly recommend their services.

Next, you need to decide which route up Kilimanjaro you're going to take, keeping in mind that some routes are much more difficult and dangerous than others. Team Kilimanjaro recommended we take their 7 day Rongai route because of its relative ease and high success rate of climbers summiting. On this route, climbers summit from Barafu camp, which has a 98% success rate of climbers reaching the summit, compared to a 70 something % success rate when climbing from the more popular Kibo camp (according to our guides, anyway).

My biggest fear about this whole climbing Kilimanjaro thing was that I was going to spend a crap load of money and my body wouldn't be able to acclimatize quickly enough, I'd feel sick the entire time, and I wouldn't reach the summit. On this route, thankfully, I felt perfectly fine, which is likely due to the extra day that is allocated for acclimatizing (some routes are only 5 or 6 days in total). If you have the time for a longer route, take it!

The climbing/hiking/trekking itself was honestly not that difficult. Coming down was way, way, way, WAY more painful that going up. The name of the game on Kilimanjaro is "Pole Pole" which means "slow slow". I've never walked so slowly in my life, but it certainly paid off in the end. Because the air is so thin, once you're out of breath it's difficult to get it back. On summit night, we'd have groups of people pass us, only to see them throwing up 15 minutes later, or being led back down the mountain due to sickness. There's definitely no reward for going quickly.

As for what to expect about the amount of time spent walking and the difficulty level each day, here's a short description of our 7 days...

Day 1: 4 easy hours on relatively flat ground
The picture above shows a family of baboons we passed while walking through the forest!

Day 2: 8 long hours of fairly easy walking

Day 3: 4 1/2 hours of slow, steady, uphill climbing.
You can see the porters in the distance ahead of us, carrying all of our supplies on their heads.

Later that evening we did 2 more hours of steep climbing in order to acclimatize.
Here we are after climbing high, getting ready to go back down to sleep low.

Day 4: 4 1/2 hours of downhill walking to lower elevation. This was more difficult than the previous 3 days because going downhill hurts!

Day 5: 7 hours of slow, very steep, uphill climbing. This was still not overly difficult
because the climbing was so slow.
Follow the trail! When it seems to disappear, that means a lot of rock climbing ensues!

Day 6: Summit day! This day was the most difficult because you leave camp around midnight, after an already tiring day, with very little rest. This is a slow, very steep, cold uphill climb that took 8 1/2 hour. The day doesn't end there though. It took us about 6 hours to climb down to our campsite and that was just ridiculously painful. I hurt thinking about it :)
Almost to the top!
So close I can taste it!

Day 7: The last day is also quite painful because your feet and knees are so sore from the previous day. It's all downhill for 5 hours.
Stopping for a picture in the rain forest!

As for the trail conditions, from the pictures above you can see that you can expect anything from a flat neatly groomed trail to uphill rock climbing. The craziest part, which I regret not taking a video of, was coming down on extremely loose scree. We basically had to downhill ski through rocks and that is the only time on the whole trip that I was panting for breath! That is also the only time I fell (and ripped my pants - so sad!)

There you have it - that's basically what you can expect while climbing Kilimanjaro if taking the Rongai route! If I can do it, anyone can!