Monday, 17 April 2017

Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley

This post is going to be a photoessay on our impromptu trip to Arizona and Las Vegas 😄. Impromptu trips almost always turns out to be the best ones, don't you think? In this post I will be sharing only the pics from our trip to Arizona and not Vegas, as I have already shared pics of Vegas on my blog from our previous trip few years back.

In the month of February there was a long weekend, hubby had 4 days off and the same weekend was also my birthday. I had no special plans for my birthday or for the long weekend. All I had in my head was spending some quality time with hubs or maybe go out for dinner some place decent and maybe catch up with friends. To my surprise out of nowhere he suggested that we go somewhere instead of staying home. It had been a long time since we did a short trip. Our last vacation was in June 2016 to Alaska with friends (you can read all about it here) and since then we had not been to any place. Both of us were really missing all the fun of traveling and exploring. So this was the right time and opportunity to plan one and hence we didn't think twice. That is how the same night we found ourselves sitting on the sofa with our laptops planning our 4 day trip to Arizona and Las Vegas. Since all this was last moment, the flight tickets turned out to be the expensive part of the trip. The other drawback of impromptu vacation planning, the WEATHER. Although Arizona was not that cold as compared to what we have here in the East Coast, we were certainly not expecting any rains. Unfortunately the weather for the entire weekend predicted rain showers and clouds. Now this was something that we had no control on. With flight tickets and accommodations all booked, we could only pray that the weather would change its course.

Anyhow in the end this trip turned out to be all that we hoped for. The weather gods were kind enough to us.


We landed on a Thursday night at Phoenix, Arizona, stayed the night at a hotel near the airport and headed to Page, Arizona the next morning. Next morning we went to the airport to pickup the rental car that we had booked and from there it was a 4 hr drive to Page, Arizona. We both decided that each of us will drive for 2 hrs. As we were nearing Page it started raining. Our excitement slowly turned into disappointment because of the weather.

On our way to Page
As soon as we reached Page it was lunch time. Grabbed a quick lunch at John's Texas BBQ (a must try at Page, loved every bit of it) and then we headed to our hotel, La Quinta to freshen up. By this time to our delight the rain had started to dwindle and stopped completely after a while.

My Birthday Lunch :P
Finally the rain stopped and it was time to explore. The horseshoe bend was only around 2 - 2.5 miles drive from the hotel and we decided to spend the evening there. It was a very cloudy day hence no chance of witnessing the sunset. Nevertheless we didn't let the weather spoil our mood. The horseshoe bend overlook was about a mile (roundtrip) from the parking spot. The walk or hike if you may say so is fairly easy, however we would suggest you wear good hiking or sports shoes. Parents who are visiting with kids please be very very careful because the overlook doesn't have any form of rails to hold onto.

On our way to the overlook
Although we went on an off season, we were pretty surprised to see many tourists. So if you are planning to visit this place in the summer be prepared to come across hoards of tourists. Nevertheless the sight was certainly beautiful and one of a kind, just like the pictures you come across on Instagram. We spent a good 1 - 1 1/2 hr at this spot. Later we headed for dinner, went back to the hotel booked tours for Upper and Lower Antelope canyons for the next morning and called it a day.

The Horseshoe Bend

Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons:

The next morning after having light breakfast, we drove to the office of the tour company from where we had to take the bus for Upper Antelope Canyon. Once we reached there, we collected our tickets and waited for the bus. Just so that you know, there are no restrooms near the canyons so use the ones available at the tour office before you hop onto to the bus.

For the Upper Antelope Canyon there are basically two tours to choose from one is the regular scenic tour and the other is a photography tour. We are no professional photographers, so we did the regular scenic tour. You cannot go in alone to visit the canyons. The canyons can be visited exclusively through guided tours only as the canyons can flood very easily during monsoon season and this can be very dangerous. The tour operators that we chose for Upper Antelope Canyon was Navajo Tours.

It was a cloudy day and the sun was nowhere to be seen. Although the Upper Antelope Canyon was beautiful, it was very very dark the whole time and hence we hardly got any good pictures. Sunshine or not, the whole experience was totally worth it. On the other hand the lighting at the Lower Antelope Canyon was much more better and as per our opinion the Lower Antelope was even more beautiful that the Upper. Its simply hard to believe that these beautiful structures and its mesmerizing grooves were formed primarily by erosion of the sandstone as a result of flash flooding. These canyons are simply nature at its best. Take a look at some of the pictures and you can decide for yourselves.

Tip: Cover you cameras with your scarves or bandanas to avoid the crevices of the lenses to be filled with sand at the end of the day. 

Some pics of the Upper Antelope Canyon:





Lower Antelope Canyon:

Even for a very cloudy day, the Lower Antelope Canyon was much more brighter and clearer as compared to the Upper. It is a little longer and narrower in some spots. Unlike Upper Antelope Canyon, this one requires climbing up and down a few flight of stairs. I think overall its fairly easy but it may be a tad bit difficult for people with knee problems or who find climbing a few flight of stairs daunting. The guide we had was very nice. She gave us a lot of info and once inside the guides will also tell you how to adjust the settings of your camera as well as your phone camera. In addition to that they will also help you click pictures of yourselves. The tour operators that we chose for this tour was Dixie Ellis'.













Exiting the Lower Antelope Canyon. Awesome experience.
Monument Valley, Utah:

We finished the Lower Antelope Canyon tour by afternoon and since we had some more time left for the day we decided to check out Monument Valley in Utah which was about 2 hrs from Paige, Arizona. Once we reached Monument Valley we did the Monument Valley Loop Drive which consists of 11 stops/overlooks. The loop drive is pretty much straight forward and all the stops/overlooks are numbered. It is the best and the quickest way to explore this spectacular place. The drive along the loop can get a bit rough in some areas but nothing that a regular car cannot withstand. Although a 4x4 would be much more easy I would say.

Monument Valley is one of the most popular and a must see place in the west coast of USA. Many Hollywood movie scenes were shot at this stunning place. The sand dunes and buttes are super huge and you will only realize its sheer size once you see this place for yourself. It was a very surreal experience. I would highly recommend this place. A must see indeed.












I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any questions or just want to say hi, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Collecting memories and experiences (not things) - My Bucket List for 2017

Hello Everyone!!!!! It's March already can you believe that??? But wait... where is Spring? 😑 Just when I thought it was here we were hit by snow showers last week and a big snow storm 2 days back. The temperature has dropped drastically and all I can think about is Summer!! But I am sure it will be here before we know it. 

So before summer greets us into its warm embrace, I am all ready with my bucket list of activities and events that I wish to experience this summer. Now when I think about it, this is actually a very good way to sit back, contemplate and think about all the experiences that you wish to have rather than impulse buying for a change. Give that expensive bag or a shoe or any "thing" that you may see on an Instagram feed or Pinterest or any social media for that matter a pass this time around. Simply think about what truly makes you happy. For me its the small, simple moments of life. One of my blogger friends (Sonal) had asked me to list 10 things that make me happy on Instagram some time back. Without thinking twice I listed 10 things that make me happy only to realize later that I had listed my "memories and experiences" and not "things". Some may find my happy list very simple and mundane but when you think about it, it is the little moments of life, the times that you spend with your loved ones, family and friends that you will remember and cherish forever. 

Someone very aptly said that - 

"Fill your life with experiences and not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show"

We have already kick started this year by attending a Bollywood dance workshop, an impromptu trip to Arizona and Vegas and played very fun point scoring game of golf with friends for the very first time 😀.

So this is my bucket list for Summer 2017:

1) Travel to a new country - By now you all know how much I and my husband love traveling. We have been planning to visit Europe (at least one or two countries) for a while now. We feel a bit lost and incomplete if we are not traveling. Traveling is something that we are very passionate about. Hoping that this time around everything will fall into place (fingers crossed) and we will soon be on our way to a new place, learning about a new culture, tasting new food and most of all collecting new memories.


2) Celebrate Holi, Festival of Colors - Holi was celebrated few days back in India. Holi, the Hindu festival of colors is celebrated to signify the victory of good over evil, arrival of spring and end of winter. I simply cannot remember the last time that I celebrated Holi. Goshhhh that was a long time back. I do miss all the fun of playing with colors, water and not to mention the delicacies that comes along with it. Spring is yet to arrive in my part of the world so it was kind of impossible to celebrate Holi at this time of the year. However, there are some upcoming Holi events in the month of April and May in NYC. Definitely planning to attend one with our friends this time around. 

3) Go biking at Central Park - We enjoy biking and did it on a regular basis when we lived in Austin. However after moving back to New Jersey we haven't gone biking even once. Sighhh... I do miss biking a lot. Can't believe that it's been a little more than 2 years already. This is something we think about doing every summer but somehow never gets materialized and we end up canceling it or simply plan other things. This summer though I have decided not to give this one a pass. It is happening for sure. 


4) Go Cherry or Berry Picking - This is definitely a fun activity which can be done with your partner, friends, family and kids. Something surprisingly we still haven't done.

5) Go Hiking - We are not regular hikers but we both thoroughly enjoy it. Hiking almost always finds its way on our travel plan. This is best way to get close to nature and most of the time to catch a glimpse of some of the most beautiful sceneries. We hiked in Peru, Kauai and Alaska as well. Although we still have to decide on a spot but I am sure this one will also be definitely checked off from our list this year.





6) Go to a Chocolate festival - Yes. This one is a must do on my list. Being a foodie and a chocolate lover this one should have been off my list a long time ago. But it's never too late.

7) Go to a Street Fair - We have been to some of the street fairs before and we certainly don't mind going again. Being big time foodies how can we possibly miss this. I am already day dreaming about all the yummy wonderful food that we will be having.

8) Play an "Escape the Room" game with friends - So here's the thing. I am pretty sure that you must have played an Escape the Room game on your smart phone some time or the other. I totally love this game, finding hidden clues, solving mystery puzzles and then finally finding the key to escape. Now what fun it would be if you actually get to do all of it. Ohhhhh soooo exciting!!! Isn't it? The moment I came to know that there are places in NYC and NJ were you can go with your friends and play this interactive game, I knew I had to do this no matter what. 

9) Go on a picnic - Sounds mehhh right. But with all the travel, biking, hiking, cherry picking I think by the end of it a small picnic would be really nice 😀. But no, I really do want to go on a picnic. I love everything about it. Be it preparing and packing lunch, to sitting and relaxing under the shade of a tree some place near a lake, followed by few games of badminton or frisbee etc etc. You get the scene right? 

These are some of the activities that we want to do this summer. There are ofcourse more options, so many more activities, events and we might end up doing some other things as well. But I think we are good for now. 

So what is on your Summer Bucket List of 2017? Need ideas? Then simply head over to Eventbrite to see if there is anything of your interest, which I am sure there will be. Eventbrite is a free resource that has all of the tools that you will need to plan amazing experiences for your family, friends and even your community. Want to run a marathon? Want to join a cooking class? Or want to go to a dance workshop? EventBrite has got you covered. Search for various events be it music festivals, food, fundraisers, games, workshops etc. You can even plan and upload your very own events and even search numerous other events that are happening around you! So what are you waiting for?? On your mark, Get Set........EXPERIENCE!!!!

Thank you so much Eventbrite for suggesting such a wonderful blog post idea. This idea was something that I could relate to so much and I thoroughly enjoyed writing it!!! 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup

Ever since I tried the roasted bell pepper soup from Trader Joe's (a grocery store here is US) few years back, I had instantly fallen in love with the flavor and the simplicity of the soup. Believe it or not my first experience of this soup was right out of a tetra pak carton 😛. Its quite amazing how just the roasting procedure gives such a boost of flavor to the the peppers and the soup. 

So today I will be sharing my version of roasted red bell pepper soup. The first time I made this soup I had included tomatoes as well but somehow I didn't like the addition of tomatoes or I think I may have added a little too much tomatoes as compared to red bell peppers.  So this time around I made the soup only with red bell peppers and skipped the tomatoes and kept it very simple using very few ingredients. I also have not added any kind of cream in this soup. The end product in itself is so creamy that you will not need cream at all. This soup is perfect for this weather with the warm smoky taste of the red bell peppers and its beautiful creamy texture. Top it off with any of your favorite soup toppings or with some garlic croutons. 


This is a small recipe and serves 2 -3 people.

Ingredients:
3 large red bell peppers
1 medium onion chopped
1/3 cup of chopped carrots
3 - 4 cloves of garlic minced
3 cups of low sodium chicken stock/vegetable stock 
1/4 tsp of smoked paprika (optional)
1/4 tsp of chili powder
2 tbsp of chopped cilantro/coriander leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 - 3 tsp of oil 
Croutons and cilantro leaves for garnishing

For variation in flavor you can also use fresh thyme, bay leaf and or basil. 

1) First step is roasting the bell peppers. This is the only time consuming part of this recipe. There are 3 ways in which you can roast the bell peppers. 
Stove top: You can roast the bell peppers on the stove top by placing it directly on the gas burner (just like the way we roast eggplants for baingan bharta). Roast and the keep on rotating till the all the sides of the bell pepper has blisters all over and is charred.  

In the oven: Pre heat the oven to 500F (260C). Simply wash the bell peppers cut them in half deseed and remove the core. Toss and coat them in little oil and place them cut side down on to a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 25 to 30 mins until they form blisters. Another way is you can place the whole bell pepper on to the baking sheet and put it the oven for 30 - 35 mins. 

You can also roast the peppers on a grill if you have one.


So far I have tried the first two methods, stove top and in the oven. Personally I think it is much more easy and less time consuming when they are roasted in the oven.

1) Pre heat the oven to 500F (260C). Wash and wipe the bell peppers. Coat them with little oil and put them on a baking sheet (I did not cut them) and place the baking sheet on second from the top rack of the oven. Set the timer to 30-35 mins and remember to keep turning the bell peppers every 10mins with the help of tongs so that they are roasted evenly. 

2) Once they are nicely roasted remove them from the baking sheet and place them in bowl and cover the bowl with a cling wrap or lid and let it rest for 10 - 15mins or until they are warm enough to handle. This process will help to peel of the skin of the peppers very easily. 

3) After 15mins or so remove the peppers from the bowl. Cut them in half deseed and remove the core. And then start to peel off the skin. Repeat this procedure with the remaining two peppers.

4) Once all the peppers are cut, deseeded, cored and peeled, roughly chop them and keep them aside. Also do not throw away the liquid that oozes out during this process. 

5) In a stock pot or a heavy bottomed pot heat up oil. I used my everyday cooking oil but you can also use olive oil or even butter. Once hot add the minced garlic and cook it on a low to medium flame for few seconds. Now add the onions and saute them for a min. Now add the chopped carrots. Cook until the onions are translucent. 

6) Add the smoked paprika and chili powder and saute for few mins. Now add the chopped cilantro and saute. Finally add the roasted red bell peppers with its juice and saute for a min or two. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

7) Finally add the chicken stock or vegetable stock. Let it simmer on a low to medium flame for about 15 mins. Check for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if required. Switch off the flame and remove the pot from the stove. 

8) Now if you have an immersion blender or hand blender you can blend the soup right inside the pot. If you don't have an immersion blender then blend the soup in batches in your normal countertop blender. Before you start blending the soup keep it aside for a while to cool down a bit. Do not try to blend the mixture when its too hot.

You have to be very careful while blending. DO NOT fill the blender more than half else your soup will be over the kitchen. Use a kitchen towel to hold the blender and the lid to save your hands from the steam. Also here is a tip, initially give it a few pulses then open the lid and let the steam out. This way there will be less vacuum created because of the steam. Do this a couple of times and then go ahead  and blend the soup until it looks smooth and creamy. Remember to blend the soup in small batches. 

9) Transfer the soup again to the pot and reheat as required. Check again for seasoning. 

Serve hot with you favorite soup toppings or simply with some croutons. I quickly made some homemade croutons with some left over multigrain bread by using some butter, minced garlic and grated parmesan. 





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