I have a confession to make. Every once in a while I make my down I4, past Disney World, to Universal Studios Orlando. I never had any desire to go to Universal Studios until they opened The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even the first couple times I went to the park I only went to the Harry Potter section. Finally I went and spent the day at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I had such a great time and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
Never mind how amazingly, awesomely, fantastic The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (separate post on this to come later) is and how that revitalized Universal Studios Orlando, the rest of the two parks and City Walk are really worth seeing as well. Universal definitely has the thrill rides. They actually have some really interesting and innovative rides that use technology for a very thrilling experience. I also enjoy walking around both parks as they each have their own interesting theming. Universal Studios has different city-themed areas (New York and San Francisco) while Island of Adventure has different themed islands like Dr. Suess, Marvel, and the Lost Continent.
While I was in school I had the opportunity to travel through the beautiful country of Ghana. I visited Accra, Kumasi, and Bolgatanga. I also crossed the border into Burkina Faso. If you don’t know where any of these places are, it’s okay. They are not well known countries. While I was going through airport security the TSA officer had never even heard of Accra. I hope to inspire some to at least learn more about Ghana and its culture!
This trip quickly became one of the most interesting I have ever been on. Traveling through a developing country, meeting and working with locals, and really getting to experience a culture is a truly remarkable experience.
Traveling with a group can make or break your trip. This trip was actually a travel course that I took through my university, so my group was 8 other students and 2 professors. Our group got a long really well, in my opinion, and that made the trip much more enjoyable. Traveling in general can be stressful, but being in a developing country with no comforts from home can really take a toll on you after a while, so having a good group with you can make the trip much better. We had plenty of fun times and also times where we sat around and reminisced about how nice the bathrooms are back home.
You must be flexible, especially while traveling through a developing country! Our trip started off with the flight from JFK to Accra being diverted back to Atlanta. While we 5 hours into the flight. Over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I literally took a 10 hour flight from NYC to Atlanta. The flight was originally supposed to be 9 hours, but 20 hours later I finally made it! We had one bus that was ours for the entire two weeks. The air conditioning broke on the bus. One night we all had to get behind the bus and push it down the road to get it to start. There was one road we had to drive down that for almost 30 minutes was completely unpaved. It was like being on a un-fun roller coaster. Most of us got the dreaded traveler’s diarrhea (TMI? Sorry.) I was without phone and internet for 5 days. Our flight back home was delayed almost 12 hours. You can’t let it get to you. Just gotta roll with the punches.
Talking with the locals and seeing their day to day lives is the best way to get the most out of your trip. This trip was a travel course so I had a project that I had to complete while we there. Because of this I got to really know some of the Ghanaians. One day was spent in a kiosk in the Kumasi market working with a makeup saleswoman. I also spent a week in Bolgatanga with a woman who is a local shop owner. I learned so much about the country, the culture, the government, and their day to day lives through this experience. At times it was sad because it is a developing country and the standard of living is way below what we have in the United States. However, everyone was so friendly and pleasant and thankful for what they did have. It really helped me put things in perspective when I got home and is something I still try to continue today.
Go out! Find the local hot spot. We ended up at nightclub one night in Accra that was filled with prostitutes. We had the best time dancing, drinking, and people-watching. Throughout this trip I actually went to quite a few really fun bars and restaurants. A complete stranger came up to our group one night and invited us to a reggae nightclub. I had the best time! You never know what the night will bring (just make good choices!).
Read about the country and the culture that you are going to be experiencing. Obviously this applies anytime you travel, but this helped me out a lot before I went on my trip to Ghana. There are many cultural differences (and similarities!) that I experienced and it was good to have a heads up before I went so that nothing was shocking. For example, did you know that the cars have the right of way in Ghana? That is something you definitely have to get used to! Also, when you are at a restaurant they bring the dishes out as they are ready, not all at once. This is because they do not have big kitchens like we do in the U.S and can only make one or two dishes at a time. So obviously you do not wait for everyone to get their food before you begin eating because you might be waiting a very long time.
Ghana is an interesting country to visit with very friendly people. However, it is very underdeveloped so keep that in mind if you travel there. This trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am thankful I was able to visit the country of Ghana.
Healthy Eating at the EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival – Yes it is Possible!
Food & Wine festival is one of my favorite times at EPCOT. I love the energy and excitement that goes along with trying different foods and wines from around the world. I enjoy the classes and tastings and everything about it! The World Showcase is my trip around the world when I need a travel fix and the Food & Wine Festival just adds to the international vibe. As a devotee of a plant-based diet, the fest can be a bit of a challenge. It is usually one of the few times during the year I bend and eat seafood. I am especially disappointed they did not bring back Terra, the vegan booth. Oh well, no use in looking back!
The Traveling Gals Tip: Select wines, beers or ciders. The cocktails tend to be heavy in syrups, sugars and other additives. I myself prefer to stick to trying new wines!
The following are my suggestions for healthier fare:
Australia – Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp with pineapple, peppers, onions and snap peas
Dominican Republic – Pescado Con Coco: Seared Grouper, peas and rice with coconut
Greece – Vegetarian Moussaka with Gardein sausage crumbles
Hawai’I – Tuna Poke with Seaweed Salad and Lotus Root Chips
Japan – Spicy Tuna and Salmon Rools and Miso Udon with steamed shrimp, vegetables and noodles
Patagonia – Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri
Disney in general seems to slowly be coming around to healthier options mostly via allergy friendly offerings. For the most part I still bring most of my own food, but I dine out at least 1-2 times per trip and have been finding it easier to make special requests and obtain healthier meals. The addition of the Erin McKenna’s BabyCakes vegan bakery at Downtown Disney (or should I say Disney Springs!) is key. It is the best place to go for a healthy treat or to stock up to bring back to your room. I especially recommend the vegan scone with vegan butter. It is fabulous! It may take some planning ahead, but it is very possible to eat healthy at Disney and the Food & Wine Festival!
Vegan Burger Inspired By a Special Request at the WAVE
I recently had lunch with my Mom (the first Traveling Gal!) at the Wave in the Contemporary Resort. I had a taste for a burger (but Vegan of course!). The Wave has the bison burger on the menu, but no alternatives listed. I asked our server if the chef could prepare a vegan burger and she said yes! It was wonderful. In retrospect, I should have asked for the ingredients but we were enjoying our meal and then in a hurry to get back to our pool and the sun. I like the Wave, but we always feel like we are missing out on a beautiful day when we are inside this first floor restaurant.
When I returned home, I started researching possible ingredients for this burger which had a texture closest to ground beef that I have had in a vegan version. It was suggested in a few places to try black rice. I like black rice and the texture and look seemed to fit so I decided to try it. This is the recipe I put together:
VEGAN BURGER Inspired by the Wave
1 cup black rice
1 cup lentils
1 can black beans
I can cannellini beans
Mushrooms (or any vegetables you like to add)
Garlic powder (or any seasonings you like)
Add ¼ to ½ cup of oatmeal to keep the burgers together ***
I cooked the lentils and black rice together in 4 cups of water. I decided not to sauté the mushrooms and onions so I added them as is. I am sure they would taste great sautéed too.
In a large bowl I mashed the black beans, cannellini beans, rice and lentils with a potato masher. I then added the veggies and seasonings. I shaped into patties and put in the refrigerator for a couple hours. Cooling the patties seems to help them keep their shape.
In the meantime, I decided to make healthy french fries. I cut up russet potatoes into strips and seasoned them lightly with garlic powder and sea salt. Since I needed to use the oven anyways, I thought I would try baking some of the burgers and frying some of the burgers to see which was better. I would really like to try these on the grill. I can only imagine they would taste great. I have never used the grill and I am a bit uneasy to try it. Maybe that will be one of my next projects!
I baked the french fries in the over at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes and added the burgers in the oven about halfway through and baked them for 10 minutes and then flipped them and baked the other half for 10 minutes. In the meantime, I also fried burgers on the stove in my Scanpan which does not even require oil.
The finished product looked and tasted very good, however it did not stick together well enough. It ended up being like more of a sloppy joe. The baked version turned out to stick together better than the fried. Next time, I will add some oatmeal to keep the burgers together ***. I used avocado as a topping on the burger and it was a perfect complement. The fries added a lot too. Cooking is always a learning process!
We moved from Chicago to Sarasota about 6 years ago. Although we love the big city, we hate cold weather and were looking for a change of scenery. While Sarasota may not be on your radar when you think of Florida, this small city has a lot to offer! If you are planning a trip to this coast of Florida, you definitely should make a stop here. Check out our top 3 things you should in Sarasota.
Downtown Sarasota: The downtown area of Sarasota is quickly growing and expanding with new hotels, shops, and restaurants on the way. If you are here just for the weekend, it definitely is worth taking a walk around. Every Saturday there is a great farmer’s market, and during the busy season there are always arts and crafts festivals that are fun to walk through and grab some gifts from local artists. There is also the Bayfront Park which is so beautiful to walk through and don’t forget to grab a drink at Kary’s favorite spot, O’Leary’s Tiki Bar.