Thanksgiving in L.A.

Here we are winding down on the year 2020. It has been 11 months of social distancing, catastrophes and no international travel. Despite all the disasters this year has thrown at me, I still remain with a smile on my face. I am truly happy and blessed that have the opportunity to work from my fabulous Mid-City home and I’m healthy. Although I may not be able to do all the traveling that my soul thirsts for and I am thankful to live in one the world’s most sought after travel destinations, Los Angeles. I am grateful to take advantage of the great weather and backdrop that defines Southern California.

Of course Thanksgiving and the remainder of this year’s holidays are going to be different than the normal. Most of the expected socialization and traditions will have to be postponed at least until the new year. Usually my California family on my mom’s side hosts a huge Thanksgiving pot luck where everyone brings their assigned dish and we all eat like kings and queens. I, like many others, will be celebrating at home with a much smaller crowd this year. California is the land of perpetual sun and produce. Being that it is November and I am still holding down the 213, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to try some new, healthy, plant based recipes for Thanksgiving. 2020 has given me perspective and motivated me to put myself and my health first. I spent some time deciding on how I was going to be able to enjoy all the taste of the traditional food feast but keep it fresh and hearty. I came up with this menu below for my plant based Thanksgiving dinner. You can also find my step by step video and complete recipes below.

MENU

Directions

For the Lentil Loaf: Place the lentils in a large saucepan of cold water. Bring the water just to a boil over high heat. Carefully drain the boiling water and rinse the lentils. Meanwhile, in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat, bring the broth to a boil. Add the rice and return the liquid to a boil. Decrease the heat to low, cover the rice, and gently simmer without stirring for 10 minutes. Stir in the shallots, onions, carrots, bell pepper, celery and lentils. Cover and continue cooking without stirring until the rice and lentils are tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes longer. Turn off the heat. Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Cover and let stand for 5 more minutes.

Meanwhile the rice and lentils are cooking, make the greens.

For the greens: In a large pot or dutch oven heat up 2 tbsp. of olive oil on medium heat. Add finely diced onions and cook until fragrant and translucent, for approximately five minutes. Reduce heat to medium/low and add vegetable stock, chorizo, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and allow stock to simmer for 20 minutes. Add greens to the pot and place lid back on. Allow greens to cook down for additional 25-30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread butter/ olive oil (vegan option) over a 10 by 4 1/2 by 3-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, gently mix the lentil mixture, spinach, breadcrumbs, eggs/ flaxseed gel (vegan option), poultry seasoning, sage, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake uncovered until the loaf is heated through and the top is starting to brown, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile the lentil loaf is baking, make the cranberry sauce glaze.

For the glaze: In a small saucepan on low heat, add cranberry sauce, juice of fresh squeezed orange, juice of fresh squeezed lemon, honey/ agave nectar (vegan option), two sprigs of thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan and allow sauce to simmer until sauce is heated through. Using hand or stand mixer, blend sauce until smooth. Remove sprigs of thyme. Allow glaze to cool and thicken slightly.

Once lentil loaf has browned on top, pour on cranberry glaze and cook for an additional five minutes. Allow to cool.

Turn greens off and remove plant based sausage. Allow to cool.

For the sweet potato tart:

Crust: In a large bowl mix together flour, sugar and salt. Add in vegan butter to the flour and combine using your hands to rub butter into flour until mixture is texture of wet sand. Next add enough flaxseed gel until the dough comes together in a ball and peels off the side of the bowl. Take the dough out of the bowl and lightly knead dough into a smooth disc. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Take dough out of the refrigerator. Let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes. Roll dough out into a 12″ diameter circle about 1/8″ thick. Place dough into 10″ tart pan and blind bake (cook dough weighed without filling) crust at 350F for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile making the sweet potato filling: Using a hand or stand mixer, in a large bowl whip together sweet potatoes, avocados, brown sugar, flaxseed gel, vanilla, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until complete combined and smooth. Spread filling evenly into tart pan over crust. Bake tart at 350F for 30-35 minutes. Allow tart cool in fridge until time for dessert. When breast to serve tart, top with coconut oil whipped cream or nice cream.

Devour and enjoy!

I hope you have a safe and fabulous Thanksgiving!

Happy World Vegan Day

Another Fall month is upon us which means another chance for change. The leaves on the trees change from greens to reds, oranges and golds. I look at November as another opportunity for improvement in my life and health. I may not be able to travel, but that just provides me more moments to work on self care and my overall happiness at home.

Today just so happens to be World Vegan Day. Since I shared so many delicious but not necessarily healthy baked goods last month, I decided to balance that out by sharing more nutritional recipes this month. Check out my outright favorite Fall soup recipe, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. I absolutely adore this soup because its so easy to make but full of delicious flavors. The vegetables roast and caramelize in the oven which provides the perfect Autumn palate. This recipe is vegan but you don’t even notice because its so hearty and so good.

Recipe is below.

Roasted Butternut Squash soup
Music: Bed Peace- Jhené Aiko

Ingredients

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed.

1- 16oz. bag of baby carrots

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 purple onion, peeled and half diced/ half chopped

1 quart of vegetable stock

½ quart of water

2 sprigs of fresh sage (approximately 7-8 leaves)

Olive Oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F.

Using a large roasting pan, toss butternut squash, carrots, garlic cloves and half onion in olive oil to coat. Add salt and pepper to vegetables. Roast vegetables in oven for approximately 30-35 minutes until vegetables are soft and caramelized.

While vegetables are roasting, in a large pot or dutch oven and olive oil on medium heat. Add other half of onion that has been chopped to pot. Add pinch of salt. Cook until onions are translucent and fragrant. Add vegetable stock and water to pot. Cover pot and turn heat down to low to allow stock to simmer.

Once vegetables have finished roasting in the oven add them to the stock. Add sage to the pot and stir. Using a hand blender or standard blender, blend soup until smooth but not completely pureed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add croutons (optional)

Devour and Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut Squash soup

A Safe Staycation

It’s October of the longest year ever recorded in history and it was time for a break! I was at a point where I needed a change of scenery. I was beginning to feel like I was starring in Groundhog Day, waking up to the same four walls and same routine. Aside from visiting my mother last month and the occasional trip to the grocery store for supplies, I was feeling as though I was stuck. It was time for me to get away. I knew I needed some personal time to just disconnect from the weight of 2020. I required relaxation, nature and to de-stress. I decided to book a few days somewhere close by but feeling as though thousands of miles away, Terranea Resort. I spent Thursday through Sunday here for a little staycation and left feeling refreshed and renewed. I decided to spill my little secrets into why I cherish this place so much!

My Terranea weekend highlight reel
Music: Pink Matter by Frank Ocean
  1. Location, Location Location- Terranea Resort is located approximately 20 miles outside of Los Angeles right on the Pacific coast in Rancho Palos Verdes. The Palos Verdes Peninsula to me feels like being transported to Eastern Europe. Check in time is 4pm, so even with traffic you’ll be arriving in about an hour from the city. This leaves plenty of time to settle in your room and walk the grounds before sunset. You’ll never want to miss a sunset here. Who can resist watching the Autumn colors slowly fade into the liquid abyss of the ocean? Every sunset I’ve witnessed has been absolutely amazing. The sunrises come in a close second. I love being able to leave my patio door open and fall asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing to shore. I also love just being able to wake up, step outside and be encompassed by the ocean.
  2. Nature comes first- Terranea Resort prides itself on keeping the essence of California as close to authentic as possible. This extremely eco-friendly resort was founded on the philosophy of ecological sustainability. I love coming here because you truly see the beauty of Mother Nature and are reminded of how important it is to keep her that way. They also offer several nature activities like kayaking, archery and fishing. Terranea’s minimal impact ideology “is dedicated to protecting the valuable coastal resources that define the Palos Verdes Peninsula and make this singular destination one of the most valued natural locations in the world.” Only at Terranea do you get to see so many different plant and animal species while relaxing by the pool, meditating or my favorite, going for a hike. Which brings me to my next point.
  3. Exercise- Terranea has been a favorite of mine since my first visit a few years back because of its hiking trails. There are several hiking trails incorporated into the landscape of this resort. Not only that, every hiking trail comes with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The trails are clearly marked and as easy to follow. There are also several pools to choose from to get a nice swim. The pool at the gym actually has one of the best views and is literally adjacent to the ocean. Although the gym is technically closed at this time because of Covid, the staff is still there to provide cleaned equipment outdoors for use. There are also sanitized spin bikes set up outside the gym that overlook one of the nature trails and the ocean as well.
  4. Health and Safety is priority- Terranea Resort opened up after the COVID hiatus in June of this year. They spent time making sure that when re-opened they would follow every CDC / LA County guideline, but still allow for optimal relaxation. From my personal experience I felt extremely safe here. From my first step on grounds all staff were masked up. The reception area had a thermal infrared temperature check in the lobby before check in. At the actually reception desk, after a thorough check in with safety updates, you are given a sanitary pack with wipes and a fresh mask. While on grounds you are required to where a mask at all times except when eating, lounging at the pool or in the pool. There are signs posted throughout the resort grounds as reminders as well. It was mandatory to wear masks to the pool bar and bathroom. Even while poolside and in the pool, social distancing was maintained. Because Terranea was built with nature first, maintaining social distancing was easy and didn’t require much change to the traditional atmosphere.
  5. Pink for October- This was my first visit here since COVID and during the month of October. I wasn’t ready for the surprise. Terranea has several efforts in store during this month that support the breast cancer community with proceeds benefiting Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. They have specialty pink food items at the restaurants and the coffee shop. I recommend the pomegranate hibiscus margarita featured in my video that tasted incredible! They also have proceeds from spa treatments and rounds of golf. The hueless highlight of the weekend was the main fountain in the foyer turned a perfect shade of pink. I genuinely appreciate every effort made to continue the fight against this disease that affects us all in some way.

I truly do enjoy this property every time I visit. I am in no way being compensated for this blog post. I want to share this information so everyone will hopefully get a chance to enjoy as much as I do. Especially if you’re like I was and desperately need a change of scenery. One day here can make a difference. Even if the resort is too pricey and not in your price range, you can always make reservations for dinner.

More information on Terranea Resort click here.

Pumpkin Spice Beignets with Caramel Sauce

Here we are in the middle of my favorite season! The days are definitely getting cooler and shorter. To my standards that means I need to be surrounded by pumpkin. From the windows to the walls I need pumpkin spice everywhere in the Fall. I don’t feel there is a thing as too much pumpkin spice when it comes to baking during this season. I try to incorporate pumpkin in as many culinary concoctions as I can.

I was rummaging through my pantry and found some Café Du Monde beignet mix I still had in my possession from a Mardi Gras party earlier this year, pre COVID lockdown. I love this mix because every time I make these beignets, it transforms me back to the French Quarter where I first experienced all that Café Du Monde has to offer. After one bite of beignets, I also get the sense of being in Paris at a quaint little French bistro. What a fantastic way to mentally escape and travel the world.

Me at a quaint bistro in Paris

I also obtained a large tub of pumpkin pie flavored hummus from Costco a few weeks back. Since I was moving at a glacial pace eating it all by itself, I thought the perfect way to use both of these ingredients is with a new recipe. I decided to combine both the pumpkin pie spread with pumpkin puree and stuff it inside some authentic beignets. Then I would top them off with cinnamon and powdered sugar for that beignet authenticity . Not only that, I decided that these fried masterpieces needed to be topped off with a caramel dipping sauce to add even more flare.

I must say that I was even impressed with results of these treats. I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie at all, but I would eat these Fall inspired beignets any day of the year. Check out my recipe and DIY video below.

Music: Meet Me in Paris- Darien Brockington

Ingredients

(Make approximately 12 beignets)

Beignets:

2 cups Café Du Monde beignet mix

7 oz. of water

Filling:

1/2 cup of Delighted By Pumpkin Hummus (Buy some here)

1/2 cup of pumpkin puree

1 quart 1 liter vegetable oil for frying

Topping:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 tbsp. cinnamon

Caramel Sauce (optional):

(Click here for recipe)

Cosmic Shimmers (optional)

Directions

Make caramel sauce (optional) .

Make topping by combining confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon in a small container or shaker. Set aside.

Using a large bowl, following package directions on beignet mix to make the dough. Once dough has formed set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together pumpkin pie hummus and pumpkin puree. Mix together until fully combined.

Roll out dough onto floured surface in a form of a large rectangle approximately 1/8″ thick and 11″ x 14″ in size. Using floured knife, cut large dough rectangle into smaller rectangles approximately 2″ x 3″ in size. Using a tablespoon, spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons onto each rectangle. Fold and seal up each beignet to prepare for frying.

Using a large pot or Dutch oven, heat up vegetable oil to 370F. Fry beignets 2-3 at a time for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and puffed up.

Place beignets on rack to allow oil to drain and cool. While beignets are still warm cover them with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon topping.

Dip beignets into caramel sauce or drizzle on top of beignets.

Devour and enjoy!

Pumpkin spice beignets with caramel dipping sauce

Pumpkin and Crispy Tofu Curry

I can’t believe we have reached October of this year! It has been a long and hard road stuck here in California not being able to venture out across the world. I am thankful that I am safe at home, but I miss traveling with a passion. My last trip before I would be handcuffed to the West Coast was Southeast Asia. I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to spend three weeks overseas for an unforgettable adventure. I was able to visit Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore and eat and explore to my heart’s content.

Going through travel withdrawals for these past nine months has required me to be inquisitive on how to cure my addiction. I made travel shadow boxes which features some of my most treasured collectables from my worldly explorations. (Here’s the link to my DIY guide). I even rewatched seasons one through twelve of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown for the 100th time, which definitely is one of my favorite series. After all that I still have a longing for packing my colorful suitcase and waking up someplace new. If I can’t travel somewhere why not at least create something for my tastebuds to travel to.

Curries of Thailand

Since it’s my absolute favorite season I decided I would incorporate Fall’s favorite fruit into my dish. I brushed off one of my latest cookbooks from my last trip and decided to try my hands at pumpkin curry. To be honest living in L.A. has allowed me to never have to make my own Thai food as there are some amazing places to order from. I rather enjoyed making this dish. As I chopped up the pumpkins and squashes, I was reminded of when I was in Chiang Mai at an elephant sanctuary feeding elephants of all ages out of my own hands. After I took my first bite of this curry, I was brought back to my fabulous curry dinner I had in Phuket. This curry dish is spicy, hearty, flavorful and its definitely worth giving a try!

Step by step video
Music: Yellow- India.Arie

Ingredients

Broth

1 quart (32oz.) of vegetable stock

4-5 sprigs of lemongrass

2 cups (approximately) of celery stalk

Curry

1 pack extra firm tofu, drained and dried out

2 tbsp. curry powder

2 tbsp. ground coriander

2 small/ medium sized pumpkins

4-5 large dried chilies, soaked in water to soften

2 tbsp. (2 cloves) garlic, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. seaweed powder (substitute for shrimp paste)

2 tbsp. of lime zest (approximately 2 limes), finely chopped (substitute for kaffir lime zest)

2 tbsp. of lime juice (approximately 2 limes).

¼ cup peeled shallots, finely chopped

1 ½ tbsp. lemongrass, finely chopped

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. of fish sauce (use seaweed powder for Vegan option)

28oz. (2 cans) coconut milk

1 tbsp. of coconut sugar

¼ cup basil leaves (substitute for Thai basil)

coconut oil

salt/ pepper to taste

additional vegetables of your choice (optional)

cilantro

Directions

In large pot simmer together vegetable stock, lemongrass and celery stalks until it comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow stock to cool completely. Refrigerate overnight if possible, otherwise let sit for a few hours.

Pat dry tofu. Cut tofu into bit size pieces. Add tofu to a medium sized bowl. Add 1 tbsp of curry powder, coriander, salt and pepper to taste. Mix tofu and coat with coconut oil. Bake tofu at 425F for approximately 40-45 minutes.

Cut pumpkins in half and clean out seeds with spoon. Coat pumpkins in coconut oil and add salt pepper to taste. Add pumpkins to baking sheet and bake at 425F for approximately 20-25 minutes.

While tofu and pumpkins are baking, in a large pot or dutch oven heat oil oven medium heat. Add peppers, garlic, bay leaves, shallots, lemongrass, remainder of curry powder, coriander, cumin, seaweed powder, half of lime zest and lime juice and salt/ pepper to taste. Stir-fry until fragrant. Deglaze pan by adding half of vegetable stock. (Save other half of stock for making your rice). Remove bay leaves and chilies from the pan. Add coconut milk.

Once pumpkin is finished cooking. Remove outer rind, chop it up and add it to the curry. Continue to stir-fry. Add remainder of lime zest and lime juice and season with fish sauce (seaweed powder) and coconut sugar. Simmer over low heat until pumpkin is very tender. Add tofu, basil and additional vegetables of your choice. Turn off the heat.

Make jasmine rice according to package instructions with additional vegetable stock. Serve in a bowl. Garnish with basil and cilantro.

Devour and enjoy!

Central California During COVID

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting my mother during her birthday weekend. I must say that although I was looking forward to the time well spent with my fabulous matriarch, I was anxious about traveling during the middle of the continued COVID pandemic. These last past months I remained bunkered down in my Los Angeles chateau only venturing outside when absolutely essential and of course masked up. This trip not only would be my first time traveling outside L.A., it would also serve as my first time back on a plane since the Coronavirus reared its ugly head in the U.S. I, being the experienced traveler that I am, made sure to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 traveler requirements for myself and the airlines. I was also weary about all the fires along the West Coast and how that would affect my travel plans as well as my allergies. I booked my ticket, got my masks cleaned and packed, secured my Flonase and prepared for a wonderful and safe adventure in central California.

My Central CA Trip
Music: Blessed by Jill Scott

Where I stayed:

Carmel, CA- A quick 20 minute drive from the Monterey Airport and nestled inside Monterey County lines off the coast of California is the small city of Carmel. Fun fact, Clint Eastwood once was the major of Carmel. Another fun fact, my mother being born and raised in San Francisco always wanted to retire in this naturally beautiful city. Although she may not be retired just yet she bravely moved here a few years ago and loves her community every day. Carmel is naturally picturesque with views of 100+ year old evergreens on the mountainsides and the beauty of the world renown California coastline just a short five minute drive away. What she and I also love about Carmel is the sincerity that comes with its quaintness. People are indeed friendly to not only each other, but the environment and definitely dogs. There are also some great natural hiking trails intertwined into the Carmel Valley landscape. On Sunday, my mother and I went for a nice hike along a trail by the Carmel Valley River.

(Here’s more information on the city of Carmel, CA) 

What we did:

Paso Robles- About an hour and half drive away from Carmel is the valley laid city of Paso Robles. This was my first visit to this city and it definitely won’t be my last. Paso Robles is home to several well known wineries including JUSTIN and Halter Ranch Vineyards to name a few. This particular visit to Paso Robles was for another venture so we saved the wine tours for a different time. My mother and I happened to stumble upon the downtown area after I looked up a dinner choice on Yelp. I enjoyed the small town vibe, but there were also tons of good food options with outdoor dining and excellent wine selections. I must also say that this city was on top of their COVID safety practices. Everyone outside was wearing masks, all of the restaurants had only outdoor dining available and were cleaned well. There was also social distancing being upheld in the large park located in the heart of downtown.

(Here’s more information on wine tours available in Paso Robles)

Sensorio- Honestly this place has been on my radar for longer than I can remember. My mother and I were discussing, and I can’t recall how I originally found out about this experience, but I am so thankful that I did. I originally had plans to visit Sensorio last year but couldn’t fit it into my busy physician schedule. Sensorio was also temporarily closed during the beginning of this year, of course related to the pandemic. It is now open and rightfully so. If you are unfamiliar with this place, imagine Willy Wonka meets National Geographic in this intersection of art, technology and nature. Its an outdoor exhibit filled with colors and wonderment. I purchased two general admission tickets about a month prior to our visit as there are limited amount of entries daily to allow for social distancing. I honestly don’t think the VIP tickets are necessary. From what I observed, VIP status allowed for a 5 minute head start upon entry and a patio to observe the Lights. Luckily if you arrive at least 15 minutes before 7pm, you will have front line access to entry to the Field of Lights. There is also plenty of seating inside the exhibit. My mother and I found a large bench and sat in the middle, so we could have the perfect view to watch the Lights come on. The exhibit also has strict COVID guidelines. Everyone was required to wear masks at all times inside the exhibit, except for when eating or drinking. Upon entry to the exhibit everyone underwent thermal temperature checks as well. Social Distancing was observed also in the food truck dining areas not only the exhibit. The Field of Lights is definitely a must see to anyone who enjoys art, nature and chromaticism.

(Here’s more information on Sensorio.)

Posing at Sensorio
Field of Lights

Carmel Beach- Although this natural treasure is technically located in the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carmel holds the fame of the name. This beach is renowned for its good surf and breathtaking sunsets. This beach is also surrounded by the architectural and unique homes of Carmel-by-the-Sea which makes for a great backdrop and walking views. This beach does have limited parking so get here early. I like this beach because it not as busy and known as beaches frequently visited in Big Sur, CA, which is about a 20 minute drive away.

Masked up on the beach

What we ate: 

TASTE! Craft Eatery located in downtown Paso Robles. 

I discovered this place after searching for some nutritious vittles on Yelp nearing the end of our car ride. I made the right choice and would definitely recommend this place to anyone planning a trip to Paso Robles. TASTE! Is located in the heart of downtown and directly across the street from the park. There was plenty of available outdoor seating with social distancing in mind. I loved that all the staff was masked up as well. The staff also cleaned every table throughout each dining experience, which was reassuring. The food at this place was also very satisfying. This place offered a variety of healthy and vegetarian food options, from their sliders to their salads. It was also my cheat day, so I also indulged in some local red wine and garlic fries.

(Here’s my complete Yelp review here)

I am continuing to send my thoughts and prayers to all those in California and along the entire West Coast directly affected by the continuing wildfires. I pray also for all the fire fighters throughout the state and country on the front lines of these catastrophic natural disasters. Climate change is real! Do your part to decrease your carbon footprint.

(Here’s more information on how you can do your part)

The Best Time to Visit Fiji

Fijian boat ready to sail off

The Best Time to go to Fiji

Fiji is a land made of up of more than 300 tropical islands. It inhabits the South Pacific Ocean and has some of the best resorts worldwide. Fiji also offers unforgettable snorkeling / scuba adventures, great nature parks, breath taking beaches and much more. With so much land and islands to explore, choosing the best time to visit is essential to guarantee a great time. No matter the time of the year Fiji is a beautiful nation to visit and experience at least once. Here are some things to consider before booking your next vacation

1.  “Fijian Winter.” 

Many consider best time to visit Fiji is during the dry season, between the months of May and September; this is known as Fijian Winter. Since Fiji is a tropical climate, it remains warm and humid year round. The average temperature in Fiji is 77°F (25°C). During the summer months (December and January) the temperature can average above 86°F (30°C), not taking humidity into consideration. During Fijian Winter the climate is less humid and slightly cooler making it a pristine time to explore. Since this time is considered ideal for travel, you can expect more tourists and higher prices during your trip. This time is also considered winter break for many Australians and New Zealanders so expect more families during your stay. 

Some events to check out during this time: Bula Festival (July), Fiji International Jazz and Blues Festival, Fire Walking Festival (July or August), Hibiscus Festival (August), Sugar Festival (September).

2.  Cheaper Travel

November through April constitutes Fiji’s typhoon season. During this time of year, you are more likely to run into warmer days and daily storms. Although the weather during this time is not ideal, if you are looking for a travel bargain this is the time go. Many airlines and hotels are looking to fill empty spots so you are more likely to get discounts on your flight or accommodations during your stay. Also are you not only able to get more for you money during this time of the year, you are more likely able to take advantage of the less crowded, secluded beaches. There are less people visiting the many islands of Fiji during this time so it can feel almost like your own private island. 

Some events to check out during this time: New Year’s Day, Holi (February /March), Easter (March/ April). 

3. Diwali 

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is a very celebrated tradition in Fiji. With approximately half of the population of Indian descent this celebration is celebrated by both Hindi and non-Hindi.  The five day celebration is observed every year in early autumn after the conclusion of the summer harvest and coincides with the new moon. This celebration is considered one of Fiji’s major festivals and is displayed with fireworks; homes and businesses light up and fill with gatherings and course amazing food. Diwali is very festive time in Fiji and one the most important holidays to witness. 

Getting my henna for Diwali

4. Fiji Day/ Week 

This is a public holiday that celebrates the anniversary of Fiji’s independence from British colonial rule in 1970. This holiday includes a week of festivities centered on Fijian and Indian cultures that concludes on October 10th. This holiday includes celebrations expressing the countries diversity including parades, street parties, traditional dances, and singing performances. Most local cities and towns have their own unique way to remember this important day. 

Fiji has something amazing to offer everyone any time of the year. Embark on your dream Fijian vacation with myself as your Acanela Ambassador!

One Day Guide to London

London, United Kingdom is a great and well known travel destination. There is Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the famous London Bridge, left sided driving and double decker buses to intrigue any traveler to visit. London also has an underrated thriving food scene. If you are someone such as myself, you might have been to and through London on many different traveling adventures. London Heathrow airport is the second busiest airport in the world when it comes to international travel and serves as a major layover hub. Frequent travelers have probably done and have seen the expected tourist traps and are not interested in the same.  Whether you’re just passing through London for a stopover or its your final destination, sometimes it can seem overwhelming trying to decipher what to see and eat in this major cosmopolitan city. Whether your time in this large metropolis is limited or not, it helps determining and coordinating where you want to go ahead of schedule. I decided to assist anyone interested in spending 24 hours in London by providing a day-guide below. Cheerio! 

London

Morning

Crosstown doughnuts– Definitely start your day off early with some much needed vittles. This donut shop has many locations located throughout London and for good reasons. Crosstown is well known for its freshness and creative flavors. This shop prides itself in sourcing its ingredients locally so everything is super fresh. They feature vegan and non-vegan original flavor varieties as well. The doughnuts are so amazing that they usually sell out within a few hours. During one of my visits to London I learned my lesson the hard way as I traveled to three (I was determined) different locations late in the day only to discover that all of the locations were completely void of any doughnuts. That being said, start your day off right so you don’t miss out on this fried dough bliss.

Oxford St.- After stuffing your face with fried deliciousness burn those calories off with some retail exercise. Oxford St. is London’s most famous shopping street. This point of interest features miles of high and low end retail shops, along with pubs and restaurants. You could easily spend your entire day on this one street. Oxford Street is a great place to scoop up some souvenirs or just window shop if you’re not looking to spend all those pounds. It is easily accessible via the Tube system which is also a bonus. This area can get busy and filled with tourists so plan your day accordingly and start early before it gets too crowded to appreciate. 

Afternoon

Collin’s Room– You can’t go to London and not experience a traditional English tea. The Collin’s Room tea at The Berkeley Hotel features an afternoon Prêt-à-Portea, a delectable homage to the world of fashion.  I had the pleasure of enjoying an afternoon tea here with my mother during her birthday trip and its positively worth the visit. For anyone who loves food and fashion, such as myself, I recommend this afternoon tea extravaganza. This special tea features amazing sweet and savory treats inspired by the freshest designs from Fashion Week. I truly appreciated the vegetarian options and the expansive worldly tea menu.  The décor and atmosphere make it an unforgettable experience. I would definitely make reservations for this enticing memorable experience. (More information here) 

Evening

Chalk Farm, London– This area is a diverse community located on the northern end of Camden Town’s famous, expansive market. The wide array of stalls in the Stables Market sell vintage fashion, crafts, and antiques. Chalk farm road features cool vintage boutiques and cafes without the pretentious hipster feel. You can’t visit this area of London without checking out Amy Winehouse’s statue and a show at the famous Roundhouse Theater. The Roundhouse Theater is a famous performing arts center that features up and coming live music performances, circus acts and alternative theater.  When my mother and I visited London for her birthday celebration we had the opportunity to see one of my favorite artist Janelle Monae perform. I appreciated the Roundhouse theater because of its smaller, circular venue. I was able to see Ms. Monae up close and the acoustics were amazing.

Janelle Monae

The Mayfair Chippy– After the show enjoy a delicious night cap at The Mayfair Chippy. This quintessential restaurant features some of the best beer battered fish I’ve ever had in my life. It has great ambience and amazing food. The mushy peas will change anyone’s negative option about the green vegetable because they are so well seasoned and a great accompaniment to the fish and chips. I especially love the curry dipping sauce that came with my fish basket. This place is absolutely worth a visit, but make sure to place reservations at one of their two locations. Also be sure get here before closing time at 9:45pm, as everyone is trying to get a seat at the table. (See my Yelp review here)

Haddock Fish and Chips

*Bonus- If you have more than 24 hours to spend in London I highly suggest booking a day trip to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and not far too from the city of London. My mother and I also had a chance to spend the day there on her birthday during our trip, which made it even more remarkable. The best way to travel there would be the train in my opinion. It’s a very scenic trip that allows you to view the plush and green hillsides of England. Just make sure that you buy the correct train ticket to the city of Salisbury from the London Waterloo station. Once you arrive in Salisbury take some time to visit this adorable quaint little town. You can also book a Stonehenge Bus tour which provides you a guided tour of the city of Salisbury on your way to Stonehenge and picks you up right outside the train station. Stonehenge itself has wonderful grounds, a visitor center and shop for you to enjoy your full day visit. 

Stonehenge
On the way to Stonehenge

5 Activities To Make your Paris Trip Extraordinary

Eifel Tower

Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world! This cultural mecca is known for its amazing museums, restaurants and shopping. I first fell in love with the ‘City of Love’ when I decided to take my first solo trip there for my 30th birthday. I planned this amazing all accompanying trip that included my favorite activities. Since it was my first trip I made sure to include all the worthy tourists attractions, but I also included some other unique experiences. There was just so much to do and see! As mentioned in my previous article (see My Top 5 Solo trips) I have been coming to Paris every year for the past 6 years because it’s my favorite city. During every trip I try to include some uncommon activities to keep my spirit intrigued and wanting to return. I have listed those below so others can enjoy the magic that is Paris.

Streets of Paris
Bistro in Paris
  1. The French Open– During my first trip to Paris I came at the perfect time. I went during the last week in May for my birthday (Yes I’m a Gemini) and had the privilege to visit and experience Roland-Garros. This was my first major tennis tournament and I’m glad I took the time to plan this event into my trip. My experience at the French Open is one of the reasons I fell in love with Paris. I had a chance to see one of my idols, Serena Williams, crush her competition on the main court. (She even one the French Open that year!) Besides all day matches to watch, Roland-Garros has beautiful grounds to stroll and savor. There are also tons of cute cafés and shops in and surrounding the grounds. Roland-Garros is easily accessible from the city via public transportation; which I recommend using in Paris because it’s the best way to get around town. If you get the opportunity to visit Paris in the Spring I highly recommend incorporating the French Open into your trip.
Me at the French Open

2. A cooking class– French cooking is the epitome of cuisine. Paris hosts a number of Michelin star restaurants, although I honestly prefer the perfect corner bistro for cuisine. The most enticing part of French cuisine to me is their wonderful breads and pastries. I had the amazing opportunity to roll up my sleeves twice for two different cooking classes during my visits. The first class I signed up for through La Cuisine Paris was about French pastries and desserts. We concocted everything from macarons to pain au chocolat. The second class, by Cook N with Class, I joined during a separate visit focused on French breads. I learned how to make the classic baguette and some bomb brioche. Truly both experiences were amazing. The instructors were extremely personable and I was able to take home all the recipes we made with tons of samples. I had a blast learning about French food and was able to stuff my face at the same time. Immersing one’s self into a culinary experience brings you closer to that country’s culture. You not only are able to be a part of the food but it also becomes a part of you.

Learning how to make French baguettes

3. Versailles– France and Paris are known for its amazing historical architecture. When I visit Paris, I love to walk through the city in awe of all the old buildings and beautiful parks intertwined. The Palace of Versailles is the cherry on top of French design and composition. Versailles is located only about 30 minutes outside of Paris and it is definitely worth the trip. Plan to spend a whole day here because there is a lot to see and a lot of people who want to see it as well. The Palace of Versailles is a World Heritage Site where you can view fabulous and famous gardens, The Hall of Mirrors, The Royal Opera, regal chambers, etcetera. I had the opportunity to book a tour here using TripAdvisor that included roundtrip transportation and the entrance fee to Versailles.  I would definitely suggest booking ahead of time as well. Check out more information here. 

4. Catacombs– Paris is known as the ‘City of Light’ but who knew underneath lived a dark past filled with remains of millions of Parisians. The catacombs are a unique site and a great change of scenery to the hustle of the city. It is literally an underground maze filled with billions of bones. I encourage a visit to anyone with an inkling of an interest in history. I went a few years ago and I had a fascinating experience. I had the pleasure of a guided tour which is a must. Otherwise you are stuck wondering around confused underground. My tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and made my tour more enjoyable. The catacombs are easy to access via Metro. Once again I recommend booking your tour ahead of time otherwise the wait time can make the excursion unbearable. More information here. 

5. Champagne– This last trip to Paris I thought I would treat myself to an original cultural experience. As I stated in a previous post I fell in love with Rosé after visiting the Côte D’Azur. After popping and sipping several bottles over the years, I was intrigued to learn how to make Rosé and its bubbly cousin champagne. I went to my go-to TripAdvisor and found a tour to Champagne, France from Paris. During this all-inclusive tour I had the opportunity to visit a private vineyard, learn and visualize the process in making sparkling rose and sip on some the best champagne I’ve ever had! I also visited the Moet & Chandon mile long champagne cellar and sampled more champagne. This private tour also included a visit to the city of Champagne, one of the oldest chapels in France and also Dom Perignon’s grave site. It was truly an unforgettable trip and I recommended it to anyone visiting Paris.