memorial day weekend highlights

// Willa had her last day of her first season of soccer. She did great with all the drills and practice, but had trouble with the scrimmages against other teams. Glad she tried it, but don't think we'll be signing her up for another season for awhile.

// We got bánh mì at Vinh Xuong Bakery 2. So good. I love the spicy tofu with added avocado. I think they're the best in Denver, but please correct me if you know better! Last time we were there the kids didn't love their sandwich, so this time we got them pork egg rolls and sesame balls, which were both a hit. Willa even asked us to order her a second egg roll! Dan also got a quail egg and pork bao from their refrigerator case to eat a couple days later and reported it was delicious. Also, if you go for lunch get their coffee! The best. 

// After Vinh Xuong, we walked across the parking lot to the Pacific Ocean International Marketplace. I was delighted to find frozen radish cake so I can make Char Kuih Kak soon, and then we bought way too many sweet treats. The best thing about Asian cookies, let me tell you, is that even though they have plenty of crap in them, they don't taste super sweet. They're just the right amount of sweet. The kids also loved looking at the live sea creatures for sale. Cam was squealing as he watched the crabs scramble overtop one another.

// On Sunday, we made a cherry galette and lots of other deliciousness for a BBQ with my sister. Dan grilled Colorado trout and corn, and Alison made a fantastic salad. Willa set the table and was very proud of her (plastic) flower arrangement centerpiece. We also made delicious cocktails and mocktails with cherry juice. The kids were floored when I rimmed their mini martini glasses with sugar. Livin' large! 

// On Monday morning we hit up a newish playground which was a ton of fun for all. Then in the afternoon I drove wayyyyy too far to get Willa a bike for her birthday (shhhhhh don't tell!) at REI. 

// 20.5 weeks! Told ya I was ready for maxi dress season ;)

Hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend! 

halfway! :: pregnancy update

How far along? 
20 weeks and 1 day. Past halfway, actually! Woot. 

How big is the baby?
The length of a medium-sized banana (6.5 inches) from head to heel. Apparently starting at 20 weeks you measure from crown of the head to the heel, not the rump anymore. Those legs have uncurled and are kicking me more and more!

Total weight gain/loss?
About 15 pounds. 

Maternity clothes?
Yes. Not many of my non-maternity clothes fit very well anymore. I have just few pairs of pants that are tight enough to stay up but not so tight that they make me uncomfortable. I seriously hate pants without waistbands though. I've heard that the over-the-belly panel works for some people, but they just doesn't make sense to me. They don't stay up! I bought a pair of maternity yoga pants and even those won't stay up (don't recommend!). It's getting hotter though, so maxi dresses from here on out.

I'm feeling a tiny bit less tired, so I'm managing to get up at 6:30 most days instead of begrudgingly rolling out of bed at 7. It's hard to avoid back pain from sleeping on my side, but once I get to sleep at night I do ok. Thankfully the nausea has subsided enough that I'm not taking Unisom anymore so I wake up feeling well rested.

Best moment this week?
My anatomy ultrasound last Friday! It was so reassuring to see the baby wriggling about, and all my measurements matched perfectly with my due date (October 12). Afterwards we went out for Pho, just randomly trying the closest place with good reviews, and it was absolutely delicious. Check out Golden Bowl II if you're ever craving Vietnamese in Wheat Ridge or find yourself passing by on i-70! 

The nausea has definitely eased, but it refuses to go away 100%. I still get pretty queasy at night, starting around dinnertime until bed. Eating dry cereal after dinner helps...But otherwise I've been feeling pretty good! No more headaches, and, as I mentioned already, I'm feeling a tad more energetic. 

On a more negative note, I've been definitely struggling with patience and emotions. Mindfulness is not something that comes naturally to me, and so I've worked in the past few years to cultivate that skill, especially in regard to parenting. I'm not sure if it's fair to blame hormones or fatigue, but whatever the reason, I've been very impatient and reactive lately. Deep breaths. 

Food cravings?
Not really...Dan actually mentioned recently that I haven't sent him out to buy anything. Gotta play that card before this pregnancy is over!

Food aversions?
I'm still not very interested in sweets...we went out for ice cream last weekend and I got a small cone (Side note: the sizes at Sweet Cooie's are totally out of whack! I ordered the "little dip" after seeing what size the gal handed Willa and Cam and Dan got the "kids size" which was HUGE.) but I didn't really enjoy it. Spicy food is tasting a bit better.

Still thinking it's a boy...we thought we might have seen something on the ultrasound, but you never really know. Could have been a foot!

Getting to 20 weeks. A month or two ago that felt soooooooo far away, so I'm glad to be here. 20 more weeks does feel like a long time, but, summer!? 

Oh yeah. A couple weeks ago I was feeling enormous, but now, for some reason, I just feel appropriately big. Here's to a healthy growing baby!

tulum, mexico :: places we went

Just one more post about Tulum. We gotta talk a few deets: Places to go! Things to see! It was our first visit, and we were only there a week, so we are obviously the farthest people from experts on the area. Nevertheless, there were several places we really enjoyed during our trip, and I want to share them. Some are places I found before our trip through online research, while others we stumbled upon while there.


PLAYA MAMBO ECO CABAÑAS There are lots of hotels in Tulum, and all of them are small and locally-owned. No big resorts. But there are lots of choices. We wanted to be right on the beach, and somewhere that was more rustic, so Playa Mambo sounded like a good choice from what I'd read online. It was.

We reserved through and rented a bungalow with ocean view. There are two of these available. Both have the beach and ocean as their front yard. They are also a bit bigger than "cottage" options because they have a sleeping loft. I thought this would be a good option for the kids. It was a small loft with a window, accessible by ladder. It worked out well for Cameron; he slept up there in his travel crib and it was good for naps because we could go in and out of the cabana without disturbing him. Willa was freaked out. She slept on a mattress by our bed.



  • Location. Playa Mambo's beach was beautiful. They had a small number of beach chairs/beds with umbrellas. There were several good restaurants nearby, as well as a mini-mart just outside the gate for cheaper beers and other snacks.
  • The hotel provided breakfast to guests. Coffee, fruit, and pastries. Eggs and such were available at an additional cost.
  • The staff were efficient and friendly. Our room was cleaned daily. The staff offered the kids beach toys on our first day.
  • Overall, Playa Mambo had a great vibe. It was laid back and casual while still being stylish and well kept. It seemed to attract friendly people; we enjoyed interacting with many of the other guests staying there at the same time.




  • No fridge. No cold drinks. No way to store perishable food.
  • Breakfast. We wanted to enjoy it because it was part what we were paying for, but it wasn't quite enough. It was our first breakfast and then we'd go find a second breakfast.
  • Cash only. I alluded to this in a previous post. It is absurd that a place that charges what Playa Mambo does per night would not take a credit card. Or at least PayPal or some other electronic option. This was really to their detriment though; we would have bought many more piña coladas if we could have paid with plastic.
  • Value. While we really enjoyed our stay at Playa Mambo, it didn't feel like a great deal. It was "eco-chic" which, in some ways, just meant "budget." There was no air conditioning. The shower was a trickle. We only got new towels every few days. All of this was totally fine for us, but I'm not sure it matched the price point.



RINCÓN POBLANO I didn't want to spend a week in Tulum and only be at the beach. (However, the beach was really nice!) We ventured into town one of our first days to check things out. The town definitely had a less tourist-focused vibe.


My favorite thing to do when I travel is to do everyday activities like locals would, so it was nice to just walk into this random restaurant off the main street and have lunch. It ended up being a great choice. It was relatively empty; just us and one Mexican family eating lunch. The man working was quite friendly and the food was delicious. We ordered taquitos and a mole. And beers. And a smoothie. Willa got quite into smoothies on vacation!






LA OÑDA A few doors down from Playa Mambo, this place advertised "Best Pizza on Earth." Now, I'd have to disagree with that bold statement, but the pizza really was quite good. The service was friendly and the beers were cold.




BOLAS DE POSTRE (Balls of Dessert) Being on vacation was no different than real life; the words "if you X, you can have ice cream" somehow at some point were uttered by some parent. That was much easier said than done however. On Tulum's beach road, everything is run by generator, so freezers are few and far between. Willa was a good sport about it, but we did feel compelled to find ice cream at least once during the week.


We'd seen an ice cream cart when we were driving to and from town, so on one of our last afternoons, we finally decided to walk down the road to find it. It was a bit of a walk; Willa was asleep in the stroller by the time we arrived, but it was so worth it!




They called it "superfood ice cream" and all the flavors we tasted were divine. The Vegan Papaya Almond Bliss was my favorite, but the Cacao was also good and the Tamarind Jamaica was really delightful and refreshing. Willa initially said "yucky" when the chocolate came out (3 year olds!) but I think she was just thrown off by the nuts and other textures. She ended up devouring it. As did Cam.


There were no real cons about this place for us, but my only somewhat negative thought was that all the soymilk they were using might not fly in a trendy American city, but that was no problem for me (tofu foreva!).


ZAMAS The New York Times told me to go to Zamas in the morning for the view and the huevos rancheros. So that's what we did. And, unsurprisingly, NYT was right. The service was great, the food delicious, and the location on the beach was fantastic. This breakfast is a really happy memory for me; I'm so glad we went. (Notably, Cam cried through most of the meal. See, another vote for traveling with kids! Even when they cry it's still a happy memory!)





LA EUFEMIA While Tulum was overall a great travel destination, and we really enjoyed our time there, there's no getting around the fact it's quite touristy. Perhaps it was once off the beaten path, but beach road is now the path. It's full of folks from Brooklyn or London (or Denver), looking for some tasty tacos. Luckily, just a few places down from our hotel, was La Eufemia. It ticked all the boxes for me: casual, fun, delicious food, good drinks, reasonable prices, and an authentic vibe. It was the only place we went twice. It was also the only place we spotted the young, hip staff from our hotel eating after they clocked out.



They had a 2x1 drink special the first night we were there, and we didn't really think it through before Dan ordered a piña colada and I ordered a mojito. So when 4 drinks came to the table, we were like, "hey, I guess we're having a big night!" The second time we went, we were ready and just ordered one piña colada. Although I don't judge anyone who enjoys multiple. They were good!




LAGUANA KAAN LUUM The morning I did my paddle boarding + yoga outing, they took us to this public lagoon. SUP Tulum has their own private lagoon, but it was quite windy that day, and Kaan Luum was smaller therefore less wind.


It was beautiful. When we arrived at 9:45am we were the first ones there. By the time our class was over, around 11:30, there were probably 20-30 locals there swimming. The sandy bottom of the lagoon was pretty squishy, which took some getting used to, but the water was gorgeous and a perfect temperature.


SOL Not a place, but I feel compelled to note that while on the beach, the refreshing taste of Sol made it my preferred cerveza.


Salud, amigos!

reflections on our week in tulum, mexico

We're just back from a trip to Tulum, Mexico. As Denverites, we feel a to need to get ourselves to a large body of water from time to time, and all the better if it's in a tropical locale. We somewhat spontaneously booked this trip a few months ago, and were so excited to take the whole family south for a week.

Traveling with the kids is challenging for sure, but I think it's only by getting out of your comfort zone that you learn and grow. That goes for both the little ones and the adults. The challenges are part of what make it fun and memorable. (They're also what can make it momentarily miserable, but you do your best to just move forward, right?!) Making memories and having experiences together as a family always outweighs the inherent difficulties of embarking on an adventure with little ones in tow. (If it sounds like I'm giving myself a pep talk here, that might be somewhat the case.)

When Willa was 20 months old, we traveled to Costa Rica. After that trip, I wrote a "things we learned" post. Looking back at it now, all those things are still true, and definitely applied to our trip to Tulum. But with this trip fresh in my mind, here are a few reflections I want to remember:

Just because you travel well with kids doesn't mean your kids travel well. That might be a bit harsher than I really mean, because, actually, I think our kids do travel pretty well. But what I sometimes need to remind myself is that I can't control my kids or their feelings. It is possible that they won't like traveling. They might not like sand (Cameron). They might miss Denver way more than I do (Willa). I can't make them have fun. I can give them the opportunity and guide and teach them to the best of my abilities, but that's it.

Do you really want to eat out for every meal?Some people like to. I don't. Even before kids, I don't enjoy eating all my meals in a restaurant environment. Most days we ate the continental breakfast at the hotel and went out to dinner. We went to the grocery store and bought fresh fruit and snacks to eat throughout the day. However, our cabana didn't have a fridge, so our options were limited. (This also resulted in some beers consumed earlier and faster than necessary after purchase since we lacked refrigeration.) We know we like having a kitchen, but there were a few reasons it didn't work out this trip. We need to make sure it works out next time.

Strollers can be great. I've been known to be a bit anti-stroller. For a long time, I didn't travel with one. But, now that we have two kids and Willa is older but not a solid long-distance walker, it's often really helpful to have a stroller. We used it in the airport on our travel days, for exploring Mayan ruins, and for walks down the main roads in Tulum. Willa enjoyed a nap or two in it, and Cam occasionally took a turn rolling.

Baby carriers are the best. At the last minute, I packed my beloved Solly Baby Wrap. (Actually, I put it on as a scarf on our way to the airport.) It was so nice to have a lightweight wrap to wear Cam in the heat, and we were happy to have two carriers so we could walk along the beach with both kids. Perhaps we're doing a disservice to them by not mandating marching, but we enjoyed covering some ground with the sand between our toes and the waves crashing against our legs.

Research how you'll pay for things at your destination. Duh, right? Tulum was totally "cash only." I knew many of the smaller restaurants would be, but we were surprised how many places, including our hotel, wouldn't take credit cards. Even the large gas stations on the highway back to the Cancun airport were cash only (or so the attendants said!?). We failed to plan ahead for this as much as we should have, and it caused a few wrinkles in our trip. Lesson learned.

Plan some adventures. But not too many. Before we left for the trip, I booked myself a morning outing to stand up paddle board. I knew if I didn't have it scheduled, I'd probably not end up going. It was a great decision; SUPing was fantastic and easily doable during our week-long stay. Likewise, Dan spent a morning golfing. As a family, we took a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Coba.  But otherwise, we mostly stayed at the beach. I often feel compelled to do a bunch of side trips and outings when we're in a place where there's "so much to do" but then I remind myself that staying in a hotel right on the beach is an outing in and of itself. It's always important to balance relaxation with activities, and that balance likely shifts on each trip for a variety of factors. But for us, it's been important to just "be" on vacation.

burmatown, california

Last month, I went on a trip ALL BY MYSELF to California. I was there for some work stuff, but also as a mini vacation and a chance to spend time with family.  And I was so lucky: they really made sure I had a fun and restful stay. On my first night there, they took me to Burmatown in Corte Madera.


Obviously, I love an Asian restaurant! And San Francisco boasts numerous exceptional ones. During a previous visit, we went to Burma Superstar in the city, but I dare say Burmatown was better. It was sensational. From the ambiance to the food, everything was divine. The service was exceptional too. And the tea leaf salad! Who doesn't love tea leaf salad? Well if you haven't had one, you probably don't know you love it...But you should try it. Preferable this one. (Although I imagine one in Burma would probably be pretty darn good too...)

Anyway! Everything about Burmatown was delightful. Perhaps I was influenced by the profound enjoyment of dining without little kids to wrangle. But, it doesn't really matter. A fantastic eating experienced is colored by several factors, and the stars all aligned that night. Thanks so much R + B for such a wonderful dinner and visit!

spicy pork lettuce wraps

There are many, MANY reasons why I am not and could not be a food blogger. One of them is that I never remember to take pictures of food while I'm making it. Sometimes I strike upon a great dinner by chance/luck/skills and I'm like, "man, if only I'd taken pictures, I could blog about this!" But then again, since my blog has no real specific direction, I can blog about whatever the heck I feel like, pictures or not. Right? Right. A week or so ago, I made the best (BEST!) pork lettuce cups. I often make some version of stir-fried ground meat with Asian seasonings and serve it in lettuce leaves. But, for years, I've never really had a go-to recipe. I've made different ones, or just improvised, but I've never found a go-to, staple recipe. The wait is over. This one is it. A keeper. It was so good. Easy to make, yet super flavorful. Pretty much what we're all striving for in the dinner department, no?

And then, icing on the cake, I made it again the other day and remembered to take pictures. So, basically, I am a food blogger?

Spicy Pork Lettuce Wraps Serves 2-3. Easily doubled.

1lb ground pork
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1c shredded or sliced carrots
2 garlic cloves, minced
2T minced peeled ginger
1t Siracha 1t sugar
2T fish sauce
2t sesame oil
2T plus
1T grapeseed oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2T oyster sauce
1/4c (large handful) mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/4c (large handful) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4c (large handful) fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
24 Boston or iceberg lettuce leaves

1. Mix the pork, red bell pepper, carrots, garlic, ginger, siracha, sugar, fish sauce, sesame oil, and 2T grapeseed oil in a bowl.

2. Heat remaining 1T grapeseed oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the bowl of meat, vegertables and seasonings. Stir-fry until the pork is cooked through. Don't stir constantly; allow the pork to brown in spots.

3. Remove from heat, and add the oyster sauce, scallions, mint, basil, and cilantro. Stir to combine. (Alternatively, allow meat to cool to room temperature, and then add the herbs. This will keep them from wilting as much.)

4. Serve alongside lettuce leaves, with additional Siracha if desired.

frikadelle + other fun

FRIKADELLE!!!! That's German for "meat patty." Apparently, during the industrial revolution, German immigrants in NYC needed a way to eat them faster and on-the-go, so they put the frikadelle between two slices of bread, and the hamburger was born. We had frikadelle a week or so ago, thanks to my friend Marret who was visiting for a few weeks last month. She's from Hamburg, Germany, and was an exchange student with my parents 10 years ago (what!? 10 years!?). It was so fun to have her here to spend time with us. We were able to reconnect, have a lot of laughs, and eat a lot of good food. And it was amazing to watch her get to know the kids. (The day we took her to the airport, as I was getting Willa ready for her nap, she suggested we take "a lot of planes" to Germany "next weekend." Melted my heart.)


^^There's the frikadelle. On greens with roasted butternut squash and potatoes. It was delicious. Marret made the disclaimer that it wasn't really a "German dinner" that she made us. But, I say, she's German and she made a dinner that she would make at home, so that's pretty much a German dinner. No? Whatever you call it, it was healthy and delicious and it was so nice of her to do the cooking. (Not to mention all the dishes she did while she was visiting!)^^

^^There was a sunny hike with Willa's playschool group. And on another day, a trip to the mountains to snowboard!^^

^^Falafel was made! ^^

^^And a marzipan cake! (Willa is always game to help with baking. She loves to cook and/or knows she'll get to lick some batter.)^^

^^We went to Union Station and hit up Zoe Ma Ma for lunch.^^

^^Willa learned where Germany is. Or at least that Germany, is.^^

^^Pizza salad and gelato at Parisi!^^

^^Girls' night out at The Source. Comida tacos of course. Hold the cilantro for Marret. And the avocado thanks to my newly developed intolerance (aka the worst development ever!).^^

^^Most importantly, chocolates were exchanged.^^

THANK YOU for coming to visit Marret! We loved having you!

great chinese food in denver?

Do you know how hard it is to find a decent Chinese dumpling in the United States? It's hard. Really hard. And once you've had a real deal dumpling, you can never go back. Don't even try to serve me your thick-skinned, meatball-y center nonsense. Obviously, there are good dumplings to be had in New York City. In California. In Seattle. There is great Chinese food all over the world. But there's a lot of really bad Chinese food too.

I'd pretty much given up on the idea that I could get really, REALLY good Chinese food in Denver. I had, however, heard there was a good place in Boulder: Zoe Ma Ma. I kept meaning to get up there to try it out...

But then, a second Zoe Ma Ma opened by Union Station. Score! Last weekend we took the bus down there (yay public transit and no carseats!) for an early dinner.

^^fun decor! and yes, it's empty. but it was also 4pm on a sunday.^^

It was good. Really good. The owner, Edwin, was welcoming and friendly. His goal with Zoe Ma Ma is to celebrate his mother's cooking (周妈妈 Zhōu māmā = Mama Zhou!). I gather they have roots in both Taiwan and northern China, and that's the food they're serving. Northern Chinese classics and some other crowd pleasers.

^^炸酱面 zhá jiàng miàn^^

^^红烧牛肉面 Hóngshāo niúròu miàn - Braised Beef Noodles^^

Zoe Ma Ma nailed it. Homestyle Chinese food with high-quality ingredients. Everything is made to order and tastes fresh and delicious. I can't wait to go back.

Oh and the dumplings? Fantastic.

buchi cubano café

Given the recent change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, it seems like a fitting time to talk about Cuban sandwiches! Or, perhaps, it's a totally inappropriate time? Either way, it's happening. We went to Buchi Cubano Café recently, and I can't stop thinking about when I can go back again. Cuban coffee! Pressed sandwiches! Delicious!

My friend Alli was visiting to meet Cameron, and one night we decided to be super wild and stay up late (10pm) watching the movie Chef. I'd remembered hearing great things about the film, and was really excited to see it. Turns out, the buzz was mostly about the stellar cast and the big-name foodies behind the scenes. It was a fun watch, with especially good music, but really the only takeaway we all had was: we needed a Cuban sandwich STAT. We immediately hatched a plan to walk to Buchi the next morning.

The weather was relatively mild for December, and given that we had our dog and expensive stroller in tow, we decided to sit outside. It took a few minutes to get service because they were so packed, but the server did not forget about us. She apologetically rushed outside with waters and menus, and then promptly returned to take our order. We all, except Willa, decided to get the Cuban Mix: Cuban roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, onions and mustard. Willa went for the side of beans and rice, obvi.

They have rich Cuban coffee available with any amount of milk you desire. I had the café con leche this time, but in the past I've greatly enjoyed a cortado. Interestingly, they use powdered milk (I found this out when I tried to order a milk for W). I'm not enough of a Cuban coffee expert to know whether or not that's typical (it probably is, I'd guess?) but it's delicious.

Walking there and back made me feel justified in having devoured my entire sandwich. Those with more self-control might be satisfied to share one.

I'll be back to Buchi soon for sure, but right now I'm going to go make an espresso with eggnog to satisfy my sweet coffee cravings...

burma superstar

I had Burmese food last weekend! It was sensational! I'm very excited about it! Can you tell by the exclaimation points!? On Thursday, we flew to San Francisco for a family wedding. Our flight left early in the morning, so we were on the ground in California by 9am. We opted for a rental car this trip so we could have some flexibility, and the timing worked out perfectly; we pulled up to Clement Street at 11:20am, and Burma Superstar opens at 11:30. Rumor has it there are usually long waits, but due to our lucky impeccable timing, we were able to snag a table right away. Willa was a bit out of it from the morning of travel (and the fact we woke her up from her carseat snooze), but luckily she settled in happily once she heard rice was involved.

^^rainbow salad. we weren't sure which to pick - this one or the tea leaf salad, but we wanted to be sure to try some noodles, so we went with the rainbow. i'd say it was very good but not out of this world. it could have used a tad more kick.^^

^^chicken and tofu kebat. now this dish was FANTASTIC. it had so much flavor it was unbelievable. i used the spoon to eat every last drop of the sauce.^^

^^willa would like you to know that the coconut rice was also quite above average.^^

^^when we finished lunch there were a good number of people waiting outside. it really is a destination restaurant but i'd say the hype is justified. it's impressive how good their food is after being open for over 20 years.^^

^^after lunch we enjoyed walking around the neighborhood (clement street in inner richmond). we found a great cantonese bakery where we enjoyed an egg custard and a black bean cake. oh and also, i'm pregnant. haven't i mentioned that? 28 weeks in this pic!^^

makan malaysian cafe

I found a happy place on Saturday. A place that made me giddy. I place I wanted to stay awhile. A place I plan to go back to many, many times in the future.

Dan and I were able to go out for dinner just the two of us for the first time in a long while. Life has been pretty full lately, and we hadn't been out on a "date" in over a month.

While looking for available reservation times on OpenTable, I saw a listing for Makan Malaysian Cafe. I'd never heard of it, so immediately I checked the reviews. (How did I miss a Malaysian restaurant open almost 2 years!? Shame on me!) People had great things to say, so we obviously had to try it. It's down on South Pearl street, near Park Burger, in a strip of small restaurants and shops interspersed with houses. A friendly waitress and modern Ikea and Asian decor welcomed us into to the mostly empty restaurant. We were seated next to the open kitchen on one side, and a cheery lime green wall on the other.

We could not decide what to order. The menu was packed with all the most well-known Malaysian dishes. From Char Kuih Tiao to Mee Siam and Roti Canai, they had it all. We were tempted by the $60 for 2 tasting menu, but ultimately decided against it.

Each dish was prepared in a wok just a few feet away, and then promptly brought to our table. It was homestyle food in the best possible way. Everything was piping hot and completely fresh. And each dish was cooked all at once -- no flavorless protein thrown in at the last minute. Not only were all our dishes superb, but everything that came out to the other tables made me envious. Why didn't we order that!? 

^^popiah appetizer.^^

^^nasi goreng with tofu // char kuih tiao^^

^^sambal green beans.^^

It wasn't just us loving the food. The restaurant filled up from 6:30 on, and everyone around us was raving about their dishes. A regular next to us talked about how he'd come every Sunday since back when the owner just had a cart at the farmers' market. This place is good.

I was most impressed with the fact the menu didn't include any dishes to appease an American audience. Every dish on there is something I'd seen served in Malaysia. The menu does have long descriptions of each dish, so no experience with Malaysian food is necessary. But good luck trying to decide between all the great options! And the drink menu was enticing too: Australian-style coffees and Malaysian Tea Tarik as well as wine and beer. This would be a great brunch place. Plus they have a happy hour menu where you can get "mini" versions of dishes like Laksa. Must go back for that, too.

Also! If you sign up for their "club," you get a card that give you 10% of everything for a year! No restrictions.

Happy place.

no more bottled water.

I'm a rule follower. When someone of authority tells me to do something, I do it. And when I break rules or recommendations, I do so only with intense anxiousness. Before we left for Costa Rica, I called my doctor's travel clinic to talk about our trip. We had all the necessary vaccinations, but the lady I spoke with emphasized that we should not drink the tap water there. I asked a few follow up questions, because what I'd read had made me think the tap water was safe in Costa Rica, but this woman insisted there were serious health risks.


^^costa rica sunset. february 2014^^

I hate buying water. I hate creating unnecessary waste. Both of these principles are hard to stick to when you're traveling in a place without potable water. I've spent a good deal of time in China, and it's actually not hard there, because boiled water is readily available. When I studied abroad in Harbin in 2003, I'd fill my Nalgene with boiled water and stick it out on the windowsill to cool off. Sure, bottled water was cheap. But think of all the people in China. If they're all drinking water from bottles, imagine how many plastic bottles that is. Where do they all go?

^^woman sweeping up trash at the forbidden city in beijing. taken by my mom when visiting me in december 2003.^^

But back to Costa Rica. While there, we bought bottled water. 6L jugs of it usually, so only 4 or 5 were needed to get us through the 10 days. But still, those bottles made my heart hurt. Especially when an expat in line at the supermarket lectured me about how Costa Rica's drinking water was totally safe. I know, lady, you're preaching to the choir. But I didn't want to risk it with Willa, and getting sick was not in our vacation plans. I didn't want to go against what my doctor had advised.

^^selvatura park. monteverde, costa rica. february 2014.^^

But during our trip, I vowed I'd do something different the next time. Once home, I went through my bookmarks and favorited tweets, and found two fantastic organizations I'd previously heard about: Ban the Bottle, and Travelers Against Plastic. I've been following Ban the Bottle for a few years since I support their mission of: "eliminating plastic bottles in schools, offices and public areas...[so] we can eliminate unneeded waste in landfills." Travelers Against Plastic has a different, but potentially even more important slant. Their mission is to "educate global travelers about the harmful impacts of plastic water bottles usage and encourage travelers to be prepared to clean their own drinking water."

^^GUILTY! penang, malaysia. july 2011.^^

On their resources page, they recommend a few methods: a SteriPEN, which is likely familiar to those who go camping, as well as old fashioned iodine tablets. We used to use those when I went to summer camp, and the water always had an odd taste. But apparently they're more advanced now and you can get neutralizing tablets which elimiate it.

As someone who cares a lot about these types of issues, I am mad at myself for not thinking more about this before our trip. It would have been so easy to buy a $50 SteriPEN or pack a few iodine tablets which are even cheaper! But even I didn't think of it. The only way to make change is to educate people. I'm glad I've been thinking about it lately. I hope you, too, will think twice before buying a bottle of water?

things i learned in costa rica

We just got back from Costa Rica! (Well, we got back Saturday, but I picked up a cold somewhere along the way, and Bryna got sick at the dog-boarding place, so it took a few days to get back into the swing of things.)

It was a long-planned adventure for us, and a lot of firsts: Our first international family vacation. Our first big trip with a toddler. Our first trip to Central America. The first time we'd been on a beach vacation in a long while. Our first time relying primarily on a rental car for transportation in another country.

We flew in and out of San Jose, and spent the first and last nights of the trip at the Holiday Inn Express by the airport to make arrival and departure easy. From San Jose, we drove to Monteverde for two nights, and then spent six nights at Playa Negra in Guanacaste, just south of popular Tamarindo.

There's lots I want to write about the trip, and many pictures to sort through, but while they're fresh in my mind I want to share a few things I learned on our first international family vacation. These won't apply to everyone, but they're thoughts I want to remember and keep in mind for our next big trip!

It's worth it. Despite the challenges of traveling with a toddler (and there definitely are challenges!), it's totally worth it. The ups and downs and the memories you make will bring you all closer together.

Even if your "worst case scenario" comes true, everything'll still be fine. Our 6-hour flight to Costa Rica left at 4pm, and Willa had had an early nap. I'd told friends before we left that, "worst case scenario," if she didn't sleep the whole flight, we'd arrive at 9pm Denver time. Sure enough, she didn't sleep the whole flight. And she stayed awake until 11:30pm Denver time. But we all made it through in one piece. Everything carried on as planned.

Kids can be better travelers than adults. We were a bit worried about how Willa would do during our three 4-hour drives. She did great, and on one drive, we dubbed her "MVP," because she was happy and content the whole drive, whereas Dan and I got a bit crabby because we needed a bathroom and were hungry etc. etc. And, although this trip was probably an exception, usually Willa sleeps much better than we do while we're traveling!

You might want to splurge on A/C, but it'll be okay if you don't. It was a little tricky figuring out how to get Willa to nap. At her usual naptime, 12ish, our bungalow at the beach was extremely hot. My initial response was to curse myself for not paying the additional money to rent a bungalow with air conditioning. But really, all we had to do was move her nap a little earlier. If she napped around 11, it wasn't yet that hot in the room. This worked well, too, because she woke up at 5:30 or 6 most of the week (ugh!) since it gets light so much earlier there. We also took her for late afternoon walks in the carrier, which gave her a chance to catch a few more minutes of sleep if she needed it. But still, when you have little ones and need to be in your room midday, it could be a good option to have A/C.

Carefully selected toys are key. You can't take many toys on a trip. (Well, I guess you could, but that would just be silly. And we all know I strive to pack light.) So you have to make sure you pick ones that serve many purposes. The main players for us this trip were stacking cups, an AquaDoodle, and a Sesame Street coloring book.

I really like breakfast. The places we stayed for the first three nights had breakfast included. I really like rolling out of bed and having coffee and breakfast treats available at my fingertips. At the beach we bought groceries and had breakfast on our porch each morning. That was also nice, but not the same.

Give things time. When I travel, I sometimes feel a lot of pressure to be having an "amazing time" every single moment. But for me, it takes time to settle in to a new place and to a new schedule. Even when all you're doing is relaxing on the beach, it might take some time to figure everything out. Just let it happen. It will.

khao soi

A few months ago, I discovered the Burmese-influenced Thai dish khao soi (khao soy / kaw soy). It would be a much cooler story if I could say I ate it on our trip to Southeast Asia in 2011, like Char Kuih Kak, but that'd be a lie. I discovered khao soi at the Denver Thai restaurant, Swing Thai. I was sick of our usual orders and wanted to try something new. Kaw soy sounded promising. It's now pretty much the only thing we order.

Once I enjoy a dish out in the world, I feel compelled to figure out how to recreate it at home. Sometimes, it's a total flop. Some things just don't taste as good when they're made at home. Khao soi is not one of them. It's even better made at home. Because here's the thing: you simmer the protein in the sauce. Think about it. When you go to your favorite Thai or Indian or Chinese restaurant, every dish can be ordered with the choice of chicken, beef, or tofu. And maybe shrimp or pork too. How does that meat get incorporated into the dish? It gets thrown in at the last minute. So what does it taste like? Not much. Even the delicious Swing Thai is guilty of this. Their kaw soy sauce is superb, but the protein? Lackluster.

So go on, try and make your favorite curry dish at home. Maybe it's not khao soi. But you should still make it. It's good. And easy. Someday I'll eat it in Thailand. Gotta get to Chiang Mai. I bet I can find a place where the meat is simmered in the sauce. Right?

Khao Soi
Adapted from The Kitchn

4T peanut oil
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3-4T Thai red curry paste
2T yellow curry powder (see recipe below)
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
2t fish sauce
3t sugar
15 ounces fresh egg noodles (don't read the ingredients, a little yellow 5 won't hurt you now and then!)
Chopped peanuts
Lime wedges
Chopped green onion
Pickled cabbage

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan or wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until fragrant; about 30 seconds. Add the curry paste and powder and cook for another 30 seconds. Add coconut milk, broth, chicken, fish sauce, and sugar.

2. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a bit more broth if desired.

3. Meanwhile, boil water and cook noodles according to package directions. If fresh, noodles shouldn't take more than 1 minute to cook.

4. Put noodles in individual bowls and top with curry. Add garnishes.

Yellow Curry Powder
4t ground coriander
2t turmeric
2t yellow mustard powder
1.5t adobo chile powder (use any chili powder, but just make sure it's just ground up chiles, no other spices)
1.5t cayenne pepper
1t ground cumin
1t cardamon


After a failed attempt to have a late lunch or early dinner at Lao Wang Noodle House ("Come back Wednesday." -- Apparently they close earlier on Sundays than Yelp indicated. Reminder: never put too much trust in Yelp.), we ended up at a place we know would welcome us with spectacular service and delicious cuisine: DaLat Vietnamese Cuisine.

We first tried DaLat several months ago, after Eater alerted me to its existence with their list of "Denver's Hottest Ethnic Restaurants." And yet, despite this press, we were the only people in the restaurant during both visits. People of Denver, where are you? You are missing out! DaLat is some of the best Southeast Asian food I've had outside of Southeast Asia. And the ambiance is great; casual and warm. They make you feel very welcome there. Even when your toddler is dropping noodles on the floor.

Their menu is extensive, so it's hard to know if you're ordering the "right thing," but everything that comes out of the kitchen has explosive and complex flavors that perfectly complement whatever other ingredients are in the dish. Both times we ordered the Chicken Salad, which is essentially Larb, and a perfect starter. Today Dan felt a bit adventurous, ordering the Goat Curry special. I was skeptical, but was undeniably proven wrong. It was unbelievable. Hearty; with the perfect balance of sweet, salty, and spicy. It was served with rice but also had rice noodles mixed in the curry, which added a nice thickness to the sauce.

I enjoyed the Tofu Noodle Bowl, which could have been a bit more spicy (the Siracha was missing from our table and I didn't realize it was on others), but the tofu was well-seasoned with lemongrass and the ratio of vegetables to noodles was perfect. And the Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk hit the spot, obviously. But if you're not there midday like we were, I highly recommend a "33" beer. Whatever you order, I'm pretty convinced you can't go wrong. They know what they're doing at DaLat.