Mexican Feasts

I am a bit of a lazy cook. Sure, I can spend all day making puff pastry to bake with, but ask me to make dinner and I’ll look for the easy way out. I prefer one-pot meals where you throw everything into the pot and walk away.

However, I also enjoy experimenting with new recipes, and I’m willing to spend some time satisying a craving. So when my desire for Mexican food (not something you can find in any nearby restaurant) overcame my laziness, I wandered over to to stock up on the necessary ingredients.

I had a couple dishes in mind that I wanted to try out. The first was a new discovery from a work trip to Durham, North Carolina, earlier this year. We had dinner at Dos Perros, where I was introduced to cochinita pibil. It was glorious. I have talked about making it basically since I arrived home from that trip. The second dish I wanted to make was a Chipotle chicken knock-off, mainly because I keep saying that I will cook myself well-rounded lunches and Chipotle’s burrito bowls seem tasty enough to be worth the hassle.

I decided to start with a cochinita pibil recipe from Rick Bayless, made for slow cookers. It was super easy: Drop a pork shoulder in the slow cooker, add sliced onion and a simple marinade (achiote paste, lime juice, and water), pour in a little water, and set it to cook for six hours. When I opened it at the end, it was pull-apart tender.

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Cochinita pibil — so much goodness in one dish!
I also made black beans, polenta, and pickled onions to go with it — but the meal was really all about the pork. We decided to freeze the leftover cochinita pibil to have next week, and I mixed the remaining sauce with the black beans to make them extra yummy for the next meal.

Plate with cochinita pibil, polenta, and black beans
Cochinita pibil, with sides of polenta and black beans
I decided to try the Chipotle-style chicken as a dinner tonight, so my husband could taste-test it with me. (It was also an easy dish to go with last night’s leftover black beans.) I’ll admit I haven’t had Chipotle in long enough that I can’t judge how good of a knock-off it was, so I chose a recipe from the comments section on because it touted the simplicity and looked good to me.

To prepare, before bed last night I opened a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped a few of them up, and added them to a bowl along with chicken thighs, lime juice, and spices. That went into the fridge to marinate until dinner-time today.

All we had to do this evening (I say “we” because my husband ended up taking over the cooking while I did other chores) was cook some rice and throw the chicken in a hot pan. Chop some vegetables, reheat the beans, throw it all on a plate, and there’s another very tasty dinner.

Chipotle dinner
My take on a Chipotle chicken burrito bowl
Given how easy both of these meals were, and how well they satisfied my cravings for Mexican food, I think they’ll both go into my regular cooking rotation. And I even have some avocados still ripening in the kitchen — guacamole on the weekend, anyone?

Climbing & Baking

My husband and I decided to go to the university sports centre this week for some rock climbing. It was his first time, and we didn’t want to wait for the next intro class, so we had a private class with one of their climbing instructors.

I appreciated the review — I’ve only climbed once recently and felt a little rusty — and I got to climb repeatedly while my husband practiced belaying. I went slowly as the instructor chanted, “Vee, to the knee, one, two, three …” with each belaying motion. It was delightful to scamper up the wall, and I had to hold back to avoid launching myself off the top (rappelling is the best part!).

As the hour ended I reluctantly took off my climbing harness and we went with the instructor to fill out the paperwork declaring us safe to climb on our own. We have a number of nearby climbing walls to explore, and I’m suddenly excited at the prospect of a new active hobby that we can do together. (Because despite loving tango more than anything, it’s hard to go weeks between each fix and have to drive hours to find a good milonga.)

A couple nights later, I rewarded myself for all that exercise with a night of baking. I have been eying a recipe for swiss cake rolls (my favorite guilty pleasure when I visit the US) but only recently got all the necessary equipment — I had gotten rid of my baking sheet in Germany because it didn’t fit in our comically small oven, and I finally got a new one. (Thanks, Mom!)

I can now empathize with all those bakers on the Great British Bake Off whose swiss rolls just wouldn’t … roll. The cake seems so soft and pliable, but as you start rolling it seems to have a tantrum and either breaks or refuses to do more than a single loop. That said, even the monstrous-looking cakes tasted heavenly, and I already regret sending half of them with my husband to work.

Making the cake batter
Spreading the filling on the cake
“Rolled” as best as I could
Glazed with dark chocolate and butter, mmmm

Llyn Geirionydd Walk

The day after our Capelulo walk, we decided to head to Trefriw and walk up to and around Llyn Geirionydd (walk #11 from Walking in the Conwy Valley). Living in the Conwy valley, I feel lucky to go so quickly between coastal walks and more inland, mountainous walks.

The walk started in Trefriw, headed up to Fairy Falls — a waterfall in town that gets its water from the River Crafnant (which also helps power the Trefriw woolen mill).

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Passing the falls and heading out of town brought us to an uphill trail climbing up the valley created by the River Crafnant and River Geirionydd. The most magical part of the walk was the carpet of bluebells covering a huge part of the forest we walked through. It was hard to capture how awe-inspiring it was.

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As we left the bluebell grove, we found ourselves surrounded by mossy rocks and trees.

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At the end of the trail up, we were rewarded with a walk around the edge of Llyn Geirionydd — a gorgeous, big lake full of walkers, kayakers, picnicers, and even some swimmers.

But the lake wasn’t the end! We peeled off the end of the lake and left the holiday-makers behind as we walked into a nearby conifer plantation and out the other end into a field.

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The walk continued past sheep, through someone’s front garden (the stiles on each side made it clear we were meant to walk there!) where we said hello to a woman sitting in on a bench in front of her house, and out toward a recently cleared section of Gwydir Forest. I glanced back to see the lake one last time in the distance before we continued on.

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The next big landmark on the walk was the Church of Saint Rhychwyn, one of the oldest churches in Wales also known as Llywelyn’s Church (after Llywelyn the Great).

At this point we were pretty much done with climbing up hills — we kept finding ourselves hiking up, sloping down, and then facing another uphill climb. We weren’t quite done, but we really only had one more big uphill. And then … then we had to go all the way back down, all at once. It was the one point where we doubted our choice of walks, as the trail nearly disappeared and the hill sloped straight down.

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But we made our way down, found the trail again, and headed back through the forest and into Trefriw. In the end, it was nearly 5.5 hours and 8 miles round trip. A beautiful walk, and well worth it!

Capelulo Walk

This summer, my parents came for a visit and I went with them on a walk to Capelulo — walk #4 from Walking in the Conwy Valley. We took a bus to Dwygyfylchi, and from there wound our way up through town to the start of the walk on Sychnant Pass. It was steep and plenty warm, but we were rewarded with a green, shady path at the official start of the walk:


We rose gently into some sheep pastures, and after spinning around to look across the river and out to the sea, we turned to head west across the North Wales Path.


We wandered the path, stopping to admire ponies and listen to a nearby cuckoo. We also took a minor detour to find a geocache not far off the path. Just before stopping for lunch, we crossed this stream:

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We eventually left the North Wales Path, crossing another stile to walk past a couple nearby farms toward the coast. As we joined a larger road again, we discovered a sign for a druid circle. How cool! We wandered in the direction indicated on the sign before realizing we had no idea how to get to the druid circle or how far away it was. We gave up and hoped that we’d be able to find it on a map and visit it another day. (Spoiler: We did!)

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As we continued on, we came across this curious symbol on a stone:

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We puzzled over it and gave up understanding what it meant, until we came across this sign a few minutes later:

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We had traveled from the other direction, but if you came up this road the other way, this sign would help identify which branch of the road to follow to your destination. How cool!

Our tired legs thanked us as we continued down a hill to the next landmark: Jubilee Walk.

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The walk curves around the sea-facing side of Foel Lus, between Penmaenmawr and Dwygyfylchi. The view is pretty impressive:


Finally, we wound down into the valley, through a forest, and back to Dwygyfylchi, until we came to the pub at the Fairy Glen Hotel. Of course, we had to stop for a pint to rest and gather strength for the last leg of our walk.😉 Meandering back through town, we arrived at the bus stop near the church and made our way home again.

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Locali(z/s)ed Gaming

I grew up playing (and mostly losing!) Trivial Pursuit Genus Edition. I loved it even though I was mostly clueless — the game itself was made before I was born and the trivia is pretty obscure for me. In the past I tried newer, more up-to-date versions, but they weren’t as fun to play. Until the Master Edition.

While staying with my parents recently we played the Master Edition and, for the first time ever, I managed to win on my own. I even took a photo as evidence:

Fast forward to a few days ago, when I decided to order the Master Edition for myself. We tried it out this evening and made a startling discovery: the version I ordered here in the UK is localized (er, localised) for a British audience. It makes perfect sense, but the packaging makes no mention of it and I didn’t even think about it while ordering.

The online reviews are a mix of complaints that the questions are too America-centric and reassurances that it is made for Brits. As an American who has played both this and the US version I can confidently say that (for better or worse) there’s no way an American version would include so much British trivia! I guess I’ll have a chance to learn more British history and culture, settle back into my losing streak, and perhaps (ok, most likely) try to get myself a set of the US Master Edition questions. Lesson learned!

Taming the Garden

Last month, I left for several weeks — several critical weeks when the weather was warmer and rainy and our garden was starting to come out of hibernation. When I got back, it had gone a bit wild:

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It isn’t just the dandelions (although, yowza!) — the foreground is a garden bed and shouldn’t be grassy at all.

I quickly got to work wrangling the eager dandelions, digging them out or just popping off the tops when I ran out of time. At least half a dozen still appear every day, seemingly out of nowhere, but thankfully I got to them in time. I also started pruning some of the bushes a bit, mowing the lawn, and killing the weeds growing in the cracks between patio stones (vinegar with a dash of dish soap does wonders on those).

But the biggest progress came this weekend, when I decided to tackle the grass. There has been some amount of grass sprouting in that garden bed since we moved in to this house, and I’ve never been able to fully tame it. This weekend I finally resolved to take care of it. So I got some cardboard, a lot of newspaper, and many bags of mulch. I had two days of full sun and warm temperatures that really helped as I worked in the garden, and although the end product isn’t perfect it’s already so, so much better than before:

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The result of my weekend gardening

Just look at those plants! The azaleas and ferns just pop out against the mulch, and hopefully any grass leftover from my weeding will die underneath there. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the ceanothus is in full bloom on the other side of the yard. I smile every time I look out the back windows now.