coco cabana

one thing was on my mind all week. Cuban food. Black beans, jerk-mojo spiced pork, Ropa Vieja, rice, fried plantains, croquettas.  I decided to create a probably-less-than-authentic-but-still-bomb version of some Cuban grub. So I got out my new *ombre-turquoise* Le Creuset pot and started a hearty black bean soup.

I have a soft spot for a warm, silky soup in the winter. I also have a soft spot for….toppings. Toppings can make or break a dish in my opinion.  I decided to make my version of a robust Cuban-spiced black bean soup, loaded with some of my favorite toppings: Monterrey Jack cheese, salsa, cilantro, avocado (because I put avocado on everything), and a mango-red onion salsa to amp up the Cuban-ness of this dish. It kind of steered off road, into the direction of a Mexican black bean soup.  If it was up to me, I would have put some jerk shredded pork or succulent mojo grilled shrimp on top of my soup mound to highlight some extra Cuban flavors. And some crispy plantains. Instead, I worked with what was available, and I loaded it right up with my toppings. I paired my soup alongside brown rice and some chicken fajita leftovers that I had.  I don’t ever use recipes (“what kind of food blog is this?”). Personally, I operate best by mixing, matching and playing around with my own ingredients and flavors. One day I will write my pairings down and create a recipe. For now, I will link some creative actual recipes for a mean black bean Cuban soup below.

My soup base consisted of black beans, fresh tomatoes, canned Rotel tomatoes, onions, garlic, shallot, chicken broth, 1/2 of a bell pepper, and lots of cumin, all simmered together and then blended into a thick soup. I chopped up a perfectly juicy mango, a handful of red onion, a few stalks of chopped cilantro and tossed it with lime juice to create a bright salsa for my meal.  In the end, my dish ate more like a burrito-bowl on steroids but it sure did hit the spot. (recipe links below)

Vegetarian Cuban black bean soup

Chicken & kale black bean soup w/ friend plantains

black bean soup with chipotle & chorizo

Pumpkin & coconut milk black bean soup

Sriracha, coconut black bean soup with sweet potatoes

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mango salsa prep

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AOE (Avocados On Everything)

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the land of smiles

August of 2015, 2 friends and I decided to quit our jobs and venture on a journey across the globe together. One area of the world that has always intrigued me: Southeast Asia. My initial interest was peaked, as it usually is, by food. My taste buds matured in middle school, and I’ve been obsessed with Thai food ever since.  On almost every birthday of mine, I’ve found myself celebrating with friends and family over a hot plate of asian fried noodles, or stir-fries spiked with ginger and lemongrass. As I grew older and became more interested in fashion and design, bohemian prints and styles alongside vivid pops of color began catching my eye. After reading countless travel magazines and watching episodes of Anthony Bourdain, I finally connected my likes with a certain vibrant area of the world.  Laced with street markets, colorful fabrics, and lush terrain dotted with orchids, Thailand easily made it’s way to the top of my wanderlust list. Lucky for me, 2 of my friends shared the same desire and we soon all had no job and a month-long round trip ticket booked.

Thailand truly is one of the most exquisite countries I’ve ever experienced. Not only because of it’s natural beauty, but the culture and people are so lively and exhilarating. Thailand is also known as the “Land of Smiles”, because of the friendly spirit of the natives, along with their genuine desire to learn and engage with new people. This area of the world is exactly how I expected it, and more. Street vendors selling bright orange mangos and freshly cracked open coconuts, plates filled with random parts of unidentifiable birds and fried bugs, strange, often gag-worthy smells, fresh orchids everywhere, monkeys crawling up the sides of buildings, no traffic laws and motorbikes stacked high with 7 + people, and rich coconut soups and robust, aromatic curries around every turn. We spent a week in the capital city of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai. We then ventured on an island-hopping expedition, which included the breath-taking islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan, and Railay (Ao Nang).  We ended the trip by going out with a bang in the capital, Bangkok (pun most certainly intended).   If you are seeking an eye opening travel experience and a look into a tantalizing part of the world, I cannot recommend Thailand enough. Here are some of the highlights of our colorful wanderlust journey, complete with a few of my personal must-dos. (look out for later blog posts on the food and inspirations I gathered from Thailand)

1 //  Chiang MaiThe largest city in Northern Thailand.  We spent a week here and fell in love.  (The culture in the North of the country is different than other areas of Thailand, so in my opinion this city is a must see).  We spent a good 5 hours at the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market, on Rachadamnoen Rd. A taxi driver recommended this to us and it did not disappoint.  It’s the largest market in Thailand (and only happens on Sundays!). Super authentic, with far less touristy items than other markets we went to. If you are looking for handmade jewelry, tie-dye blankets, hand painted pottery, fresh spices, bohemian clothing, fried tarantulas on a stick, or anything in between, this is your place.  We also took a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai, at Sammy’s Organic Cooking School. Hands down one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, considering I am a food fanatic. This is a day long course led by a hilarious Thai man.  The day begins with a tour of a food market, where you will learn about local ingredients and how they are used.  You then get piled into the back of a truck and driven into the countryside (not as sketchy as it sounds-I promise) to Sammy’s farm.  It is an absolutely beautiful setting, complete with banana trees, orchid vines everywhere, and hammocks set up in the middle of a lush tropical garden.  Here, Sammy and his wife teach you and help to prepare a 5 course Thai meal. I absolutely cannot recommend this enough if you want an authentic Thai experience.  Lastly, we did a day long trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.  Here you get to play with, feed, and bathe rescued elephants. The sanctuary focuses on No Riding and only promotes the safe care of the rescued elephants–another must do for a unique Thai experience. (Note: you will get completely covered in mud from head to toe when bathing the elephants. RIP to my favorite bathing suit). Also, Stay at the Diva Guesthouse in Chiang Mai–amazing hostel with delicious food and a beyond helpful staff.

2 // Koh Tao Island– My favorite island, with a laid back vibe that is far less touristy than others. Boasts a cool, relaxed beach bar scene where you can walk along the beach and experience different music and party atmospheres. Go to the Sunset Beach Bar, complete with a 2 story high dive.  Maybe a safety hazard after a few drinks but promises to be an awesome night out.  If you are looking for more upscale accommodations complete with resort style, curtain veiled beds and cabins in the jungle, stay at the Charm-Churee Village. While on Koh Tao, be sure to venture down to the beach for a thai massage while the sun goes down.

3// Koh Pha-Ngan– More touristy island but a must visit if you are looking to party at the world-famous Full Moon Party, which happens once a month. Just as it sounds: A 24 hour party on the beach, featuring glow in the dark body paint, minimal clothing, a plethora of illegal substances, non stop dancing and complete chaos. Stay at the ShiraLee Backpackers Resort for the full on travelers experience, where you are guaranteed to meet fellow adventure-seekers from around the world.

4// Koh Phi Phi The most beautiful of the islands we visited.  If you are looking for brochure-worthy views and stunning turquoise-emerald green waters with jagged cliff scenery, this is the spot.  Take a day trip on a long boat to Maya Bay, the location of the movie The Beach. No cars or taxis are allowed on this island, so it has a very relaxed feel.

5// Railay Beacha hidden, tiny beach village that can only be accessed by a small boat from the larger neighboring town of Ao-Nang.  It is worth the venture to isolated Railay Beach just to eat at the Mangrove Restaurant.  This is where I experienced hands down my best meal in all of Thailand, and probably one of the tastiest and most memorable meals of my entire life. After our first dinner here, we went back for every single meal for the rest of our stay on Railay. Be sure and order the huge portion of red curry coconut soup-this dish was literally life changing.  I still daydream about it.  

5// BangkokDon’t save all of your shopping for here! We were only in the capital city for 2.5 days, but found it to be entirely too touristy and focused heavily on the sex industry (can be a good thing or bad thing depending on what you are looking for here *wide eyed face emoji*, *dancing girl in red dress emoji*) The markets were tourist focused and so-so, nothing to that compared to Chiang Mai, in my opinion. Do visit the Red Light District (Soi Cowboy) for a fun, truly unique, and “eye-opening” night out (ladyboys, enough said). And be sure to take in the vibrant skyscrapers and expansive light network of Bangkok at night from one of the many luxurious rooftop bars and lounges.  [All photos below taken by me]

food // fruits 

scenery // culture 

A Souper Summer

One of my favorite parts about summertime is the food.  The juices from fresh fruits drizzling down my chin as my taste buds soak up the sweet nectars, veggies & meats & seafoods hot off the grill with beautiful char marks & nothing but a drizzle of olive oil & a sprinkle of sea salt, sweet & savory gourmet popsicles in flavors like Kiwi Banana Honey & Grapefruit Orange Blossom Margarita (King of Pops, hands down the best popsicle you will ever taste, is an Atlanta icon…have a browse and/or drool at  their genius flavor pairings here).

But above all, one thing I always find myself craving on those days when you step outside and it’s so humid that your sunglasses fog up, is a cold home made soup.  You can almost taste every fresh fruit & vegetable that goes into a home crafted chilled soup.  It’s like taking all of the best, plumpest, proudest growings from the garden & inviting them to an exclusive summer party in the form of a bowl of soup.  One of my favorites is the Spanish legend, Gazpacho.  Slurping Gazpacho takes me back to last summer in the brutal dry heat of Madrid, Spain, sitting under a patio umbrella slowing eating a bowl & with every bite really appreciating all of the components that marry together to create the perfect bite (or slurp).  So simple yet so refreshing. It’s never a bad idea to wash it down with a large glass of fruity Sangria, either.  I recently made my own batch of my Spanish favorite, & it came pretty close to hitting the same spots on my tastebuds & in my heart as it did that summer in Madrid.  I didn’t use a recipe…but I have included the links to an array of creative takes on a beautiful bowl of gazpacho. Enjoy!

Classic Gazpacho

With Shrimp

Watermelon Peach

Mexican Style

Zucchini & Sweet Pepper

Heirloom Tomato & Avocado

Smoky Gazpacho with Chorizo

Sweet Corn Basil
My gazpacho prep

My gazpacho prep

Blending everything together

Blending everything together

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Add some sliced avocado, fresh cilantro, red onion, a few diced jalapenos & a drizzle of olive oil!

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Final Product!

Madrid Style

Madrid Style