The Travel Trifecta…..food, fitness and culture!

Hiking through the wild blue yonder!
Train ride through northern Spain
Train ride through northern Spain

Traveling has been an important part of my life for the last 20 years. When Jason and I got married, I spent hours and hours researching a warm, exotic, unique travel destination. In the last two decades we have travelled to Cozumel, Roatan, Italy, Spain, the Yucatan Peninsula and Mexico. We generally avoid big box hotels, frequent boutique inns and enjoy local food experiences. Once I started taking better care of myself, I struggled incorporating fitness into my travel plans. I would search for local yoga studios, go on a hike or a run, but it was always a struggle.

Barre3 in Mexico
Barre3 in Mexico

I finally decided to research fitness retreats. The problem with most of the retreats is that they seemed to be very focused on yoga, beach and relaxation. They bored me. I was craving adventure, spectacular locations and yummy food. Then I stumbled on Escape to Shape. Finally, a fantastic concept in fitness retreat that appealed to all of my travel senses! Run by Erica Gragg and Francesco Anchisi these retreats are perfectly curated for those seeking a well balanced vacation of culture and fitness, at off the beaten track destinations. Every detail is perfectly arranged, from the moment you are met at the airport, to the tasty and healthy meals, to the cultural tours, to the accommodations (generally at small, character hotels, that offer amazing food and services).

Our first trip with Escape to Shape was in March, to Cambodia. It was 7 days filled with amazing culture, exploration and yoga. Erica and Francesco were the perfect hosts. We. Were. Hooked. We immediately booked another trip with Escape to Shape and found ourselves on the far end of the earth in Patagonia in November.

19 of us made the long journey down to the tip of Chile in Central Patagonia to Explora, for 7 days of extreme adventure and exploration. All, but two of us, were repeat Escape to Shapers, with most having been on 5+ retreats. Our second trip did not disappoint! The location and accommodations were spectacular!! The Explora Patagonia is one of the most picturesque and remote hotels in the world.

Perched along Lake Pehoe, next to the Salto Chico waterfall, it overlooks Paine Massif and its granite towers. The water is the brightest, clear blue you have ever seen. Pictures cannot accurately reflect the magnitude of the beauty here. Need I say more?!

Unbelievable beauty!
Unbelievable beauty!

The large staff of trained guides to take you on any level of fitness adventure you desire. Everyday we had a wide variety of hiking excursions and horse backing adventures from which to choose, followed by an hour yoga class in the evening.

Battling the wind was a team effort!
Battling the wind was a team effort!

There was also plenty of time to relax, read, swim, sip wine or take a hot bath. It was honestly, the perfect blend of fitness, relaxation and exploration. Everyday we were in pure awe of our surroundings, whether enjoying the warmth of the sun, or pushing our way through 60 mph wind gusts and rain.

Hiking through the wild blue yonder!
Hiking through the wild blue yonder!

Unlike other Escape to Shape adventures, the cultural experiences consisted of educational lectures on the geography of the area, history of the indigenous people, and information on the variety of flora and fauna. The land is actually more fruitful than you’d think, given its harsh conditions.

Some highlights of my trip was a half day hike to a massive glacier and boating around its gorgeous blue crevasses….

The massive glacier
The massive glacier

Enjoying the picnic styled lunches on the trail, complete with hot soup and Bailey’s and coffee……

Hiking through a brutal wind and rain storm, then finishing the afternoon at the Quincho (wood BBQ heated cabin) to warm up and enjoy a Patagonian BBQ feast…..

My first horseback ride! A gorgeous day, skirting up and down hillsides, taking in the immense view on these beautiful creatures……

Sharing a cup of mate with the Gauchos after our horseback riding adventure……..

The gaucho preparing mate
The gaucho preparing mate

Now we are headed back home with our hearts full of beautiful memories and new friendships. And we have already booked our next excursion to Cuba in May! You should definitely check out the Escape to Shape website for future destinations. Consider being part of the tribe;)

Pickled Beets, Cucumbers, Shallots and Such!

A beautiful mix of two kinds of beets!

I have cucumbers and beets coming out of my ears! So I’ve been working on ways to efficiently use them up! So far, the best solution has been to quick pickle them. It’s quick, easy and allows you to enjoy them for a few weeks. They also look beautiful, displayed in the fridge and would be a great, last minute hostess gift:)

This week's harvest!
This week’s harvest! I have cucumbers and beets coming out of my ears! 

No matter what vegetable I’m using, each batch is made with an acid (vinegar and/or citrus juice), a TBS of honey or sugar and is differentiated by the combination of vinegar and/or citrus juice and herbs used.

Rose vinegar from the farmers market:)
Rose vinegar from the farmers market:)

For the cucumbers:
I simply wash, peel and slice the cucumbers. You can slice them any thickness you choose, just realize that they soften up substantially in the ‘pickling’ process. I’ve made 2 different batches, so far. One with seasoned rice vinegar, which is perfect on an Asian salad with sesame oil, mandarin oranges and greens….or simply on their own! The other batch was made with champagne vinegar and basil blooms.

For beets:
The beets are washed, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch slices. Then I steam them for 10-20 minutes, depending on the type of beet and the size of the slices. You can tell when they are ready by piercing them with a fork. They will be tender when they are done.

For the beets, I’ve been using champagne vinegar, with citrus juice of 1 lemon, grapefruit or orange. The citrus is just a perfect addition to the beets. For herbs, basil, mint, chives and thyme, all work beautifully.

You only need to fill the container half way with vinegar, lay it on it’s side in the fridge and rotate every few hours to evenly distribute the flavor. They develop the best flavor when soaked overnight.

Alternately, you don’t have to steam the beets! You can simply peel them down into ribbons or shred and pickle them to make a raw beet salad. The same process is effective for radishes and turnips;)

The beets are my favorite! I’m absolutely in love with their gorgeous color! I’ve been adding them to my quinoa salad, with feta, nuts and a hefty spoon of pesto and greens. Or they are perfect on their own, with mozzarella, a sprinkle of basil and a drizzle of olive oil, for a variation of a caprese salad. Plain Greek yogurt is also a good accompaniment. Even people who tell me they HATE beets, love these!

Other vegetables:
I’ve also tried ‘pickling’ carrots, green beans (steam for 5-10 minutes), radishes, shallots and red onion. Pickling the shallots, radishes and red onion are a great way to tame their strong flavor! They sweeten right up and can be easily enjoyed as a topping for salads, sandwiches, tacos, etc. they will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks!

Pickled Beets, Cucumbers, Shallots and Such!
A quick and easy way to make use of the abundance of summer veggies!
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Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. any combination of the veggies,
  2. 1-4 Beets, cleaned, peeled and sliced
  3. 1-2 Large Cucumbers, peeled and sliced
  4. 1-2 Shallots, sliced thinly
  5. 5-8 Radishes, cleaned and sliced
  6. Fresh herbs of your choice
  7. Basil, chives, garlic, thyme, etc or a spoon of pesto
  8. 1-2 cups of vinegar (just enough to submerge half of the veggies
  9. 1 TBS Honey or Sugar
  10. 1 tsp of salt to taste
  11. Large Mason Jars
Instructions
  1. Prepare veggies by cleaning, peeling (if needed) and slicing. Add veggies to a mason jar, along with selected herbs, sweetener and salt. If you are steaming veggies, they can go directly into the mason jar, hot. Add enough vinegar to fill the jar halfway. Close the lid and shake well. lay the jar on its side in the refrigerator, making sure to rotate the jar every few hours to evenly soak. for best results, soak overnight, but cucumbers generally take 30 mins! Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks!
Relish it http://relish.guru/

Pesto 101

Making use of all of my summer greens

I absolutely love pesto! I fell in love with it years ago as an easy condiment to keep in the fridge to use and nibble on throughout the week. It’s tasty, easy to make and it’s adaptable! The most basic version of pesto is basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, EVOO and a pinch of salt (I add a bit of balsamic vinegar, as well)! I quickly found myself adapting the basic recipe, mostly because I was missing one ingredient or another. The best part about creating your own pesto, is that THERE IS NO RECIPE NEEDED! Just a simple combination of your favorite ingredients, a blender or food processor, and you are set!

A jar of homemade pesto!
A jar of homemade pesto!

Here is what you need to make your own, personal style of “pesto”:
-Any kind of greens or herbs or combinations of the two (basil, cilantro, mint, tarragon, thyme, kale, spinach, etc).
-Any kind of nuts (pine nuts, almonds, pepitas, macadamia nuts, cashews, hemp seeds, etc).
-An allium (garlic, shallot, onion, scallions).
-Any kind of hard cheese (feta, cotija, Parmesan, manchego).
-An acid to add flavor and retain color (vinegar, lime or lemon juice).
-Extra flavor additions (olives, capers, peppers, chilies, etc).
-EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
-Salt

Once you get familiar with the flavor combinations you like, you can perfect the ratios of each ingredient. I love my pesto, super nutty and chunky, so I hardly use any oil and I just pulse the ingredients together, lightly. Sometimes I have tons of extra greens on hand, so I’ll make the pesto more green, with hardly any nuts. Macadamia nuts and cashews, are very rich and creamy on their own and do not require any cheese. These are great to use if you want to make a DAIRY FREE pesto. You really can’t mess this up! If you need extra flavor, add more acid, salt or cheese. Just play around with it!

Unlikely pesto ingredients....surprise yourself!
Unlikely pesto ingredients….surprise yourself!

Here are examples of some of the pestos I made this week! This pesto was made as a seasoning for some grilled chicken and shrimp. It’s really light and simple! No cheese or nuts were needed:) I guess it’s more of a paste, than a pesto:) I used leftovers to make a yummy salad dressing and to add a dash of flavor to my eggs:)

Salad greens
Lemon
Garlic
Thyme
Chives
Red pepper flakes, EVOO, salt

This pesto was made from the abundant supply of fresh and unfamiliar herbs I received from our CSA box this week:) (Be sure to remove the thick stems on the thyme, as best as you can, using just the leafy greens!) This pesto came out super lemony and fresh tasting. It would be perfect simply tossed into some fresh pasta, but being gluten free, I have my own plans! It will be used as a marinade for seafood later this week, added to tuna salad and used as a base for a tasty vinaigrette.

Making use of all of my summer greens
Making use of all of my summer greens

Thyme, Thai basil, Chives
Lemon
Purslane (a lemony succulent)
Macadamia nuts, Parmesan cheese
EVOO, salt

This pesto is Spanish inspired, with extra vinegar and tons of flavor. It is much richer in flavor. I’ll use it as a marinade for beef or pork, add it to a quinoa salad for extra flavor and use it as a base for a tomato salad dressing.

Spanish pesto ingredients!
Spanish pesto ingredients!

Kale
Shallot
Almonds
Manchego cheese
Sherry vinegar, EVOO
Espelette pepper powder, salt

As you can see, the combinations are endless! Have i inspired you to give it try? Make sure and let me know what you create! I’m going to experiment with using root vegetables next! Stay tuned….