Kickass Authentic Mapo Tofo

Ever since traveling to China, I’ve been addicted to my husband’s favorite dish. Some restaurants didn’t prepare it the same way I had experienced in China, so I saught out to find how it was made. I’m sure it might now be exactly how it’s done there, but it damn close and delicious!

Ingredients

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  • 1 cup of chicken broth stock
  • Few tablespoons of cornstarch
  • Teaspoon of ground white pepper
  • Red chili pepper flakes
  • Scallions
  • Garlic fresh
  • Firm Tofu
  • Minced pork (about 1/2 a cup)
  • Ginger fresh
  • Red Palm seed oil (optional
  • Red Chilli oil about 3-6 Tablespoons
  • Chinese 5 spice 1/2 Tablespoon
  • Hot peppers, red or green minced up
  • Doubanjiang (豆瓣酱), also known as spicy fermented bean paste and broad bean sauce, is the most important ingredient in this dish. Try to find “Pixian Broad Bean Sauce” at an Asian market. *I went to my Chinese Restaurant and paid for some of their supply. It came in a form of seed like hard pieces/balls. To infuse, I added about a Tablespoon to my Red chili oil.

The art to making a killer Mapo Tofu is all in slicing and dicing and much multi tasking in the kitchen. I first prepare by setting out all my ingredients in groups that go together. In the mean time you can have some white rice/Jasmine/ Basmati to counter balance the spicy of the dish cooking.

  1. Chop off the white ends of the scallions into tiny pieces. Chop up a few cloves of garlic, the hot peppers and ginger into fine pieces. Satay them in a light olive oil until soft and set aside.
  2. Brown/cook the minced pork. Break it up in the pan into fine pieces. Add the white pepper to your pork at this time.
  3. Blot your tofu with a towel to absorb the moisture and water. Cut it into cubes then softly fry for a few minutes to get warm/toasty.
  4. In a small fry pan, have your red chili oil slowly simmer with the spicy bean and five spice.
  5. Add the chicken stock to your tofu. Add the cornstarch to thicken. Add Red palm oil for color.
  6. Add the satayed vegetables, chop up green scallion tops and add them, as well as the pork, and the chili oil that is infused.
  7. Sprinkle on some flakes of red chili and voila!

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Your Mapo Tofu Dish is complete and ready for you to devour. Below is one of my latest batches. I don’t use exact measurements when cooking; I kind of toss in a dash of what I feel needs more or less in regards to the ingredients. You can put your Tofu mix on top of the rice, or on the side. A glass of milk will help with the spicy burn if it’s too much to handle. This is a great food for flu season!

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Surviving San Jose Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica is one of those cities where most travelers want to get out of just as quickly as they arrived. When you think of Costa Rica, images such as monkeys swinging off of lush vegetation and rustic deserted beaches with perfect swells for surfing may come to mind. Unless you have a direct flight to the Pacific coast into Liberia Internation Airport, wanderlust travelers must first make their way through the hectic capital of Costa Rica.

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San Jose isn’t on my top major city list, but there are some diamonds in the rough. First of all, if you are into cosmetic surgery abroad, this is a known destination for plastic surgery complete with many options for recovery in secluded havens surrounded by nature.

Men who are into the nightlife scene and the vast variety of legal prostitutes find themselves  in heaven at The Del Rey Hotel and Casino; it’s one of the largest brothels in Central America. Beautiful women from South and Central America travel to work at this popular pickup spot. I ventured out undercover a few years back as a working girl in The Del Rey Hotel. I got the inside scoop from the men who were in search of their evening delight and interviewed working girls on their view of the industry.

You can find my write up at https://www.amazon.ca/San-Jose-Nights-Emily-Turner-ebook/dp/B006ZOPA8W

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If you have some extra time during a layover or a few days stuck in the city, you can easily squeeze in some hiking and nature at Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo. It is just thirty minutes outside of the city. It is open from 8-4 daily with a $10 entrance fee.

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If you don’t have a rental there are easy options for a quick day trip. Public Bus: Any bus going to Guapiles, Siquirres, or Puerto Viejo will pass the Zurqui Ranger Station where travelers can pay their entrance fee and proceed to the hiking trails. Buses depart from the Gran Caribe Terminal at Calle Central and Avenidas 15/17 in San Jose. At the end of the day, just flag down a bus for the return journey. Terminal del Caribe Tel. 2222-0610

Taxi: Travelers can make arrangements with a taxi driver for round trip transportation to the park for around $50-$60 from San Jose.

Accommodations are easy to find, but I have two hidden great spots. If you have an early flight or connection and just need a place to crash near the airport, I stayed at a hostel which was walking distance to the airport. It had hot water and was safe. The owner is super cool and picked us up. http://www.hotelelcacique.com

If you want to stay in the downtown area of San Jose, I love this next spot. The neighborhood leaves something to be desired, but the lodging itself is great for the price. Hotel Aranjuez. http://www.hotelaranjuez.com It is what I would call a small boutique hotel/ bed and breakfast. You have the option of a shared bathroom for a lower price or rooms with a private bath. A single room with a shared bath is only  $32 a person, and it comes with a killer buffet breakfast, a safe in the room, and computer access with wifi.

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The shared bathrooms are super clean, and I never have problems when I need to use them. The gastronomic breakfast entices me to ensure I have a layover in San Jose. Click on this link for pictures. http://www.hotelaranjuez.com/DesayunoBufetGaleria

One of the great things about traveling through Costa Rica is the fact that the public transportation system is on point. The buses travel frequently and are reasonably priced. If you want to take the off beaten path and throw caution to the wind with a rental vehicle, I strongly recommend only considering an SUV. The roads can surprise you. One moment you are cruising down paved highway bliss, and the next moment you are dodging oncoming trucks, cattle, and flying over potholes through the dusty roads.

I’ve experience hell when first handily dealing with the rental car companies down in Costa Rica. The are beyond sketchy. We tried renting a car in the Nicoya from Hertz and the rate was over $90 for the day and it didn’t include insurance…which you totally need down there. We tried adding full coverage and they said they didn’t offer it there. I once rented a car from a company and paid for full insurance. I was glad I did, because I got in a costly accident. The owner of the rental company which was a sub owner of a major company (it’s tricky) tried hustling me. He had my bank account frozen and was trying to charge me for a whole month’s rental for the SUV; the time it would take to repair it he said. I was about to give up rentals in Costa Rica all together and stick with riding horses until I found the best rental car proprietor ever!     24715_10150170457795481_797465480_12039920_4875596_nI have been renting from Peter for over 7 years. His vehicles are maintained to the best care, and he is an honest and loyal expat. He will meet you in the San Jose area for your pick up and even drop you off at the airport. His prices are the best in the country; believe me I’ve shopped around, and it’s no bull shit. They come with full insurance, unlimited miles, and can handle the rough terrain. We’ve even had minor issues with scratches, or a random run in with a palm tree and he didn’t overcharge us for repairs, he is hands down the best rental company. If he wasn’t renting anymore, I would just take the bus. His prices vary according to how long you rent and what season, but you can call or email him through his website. http://www.amigos4x4suvrental.com

If you are stuck at the airport or near the airport, there is a cafe with free Wifi. A quick $7 taxi ride about five minutes away will take you to Hooters. I killed some time there by myself watching sports while munching on snacks and tossing downs a few beers to kill some time.

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There is also a shopping plaza with restaurants and a movie theater only a six minute drive from the airport. http://www.cinemarkca.com/es/citymall-alajuela/portada/

If you have a few days in the capital of Costa Rica by choice, or because someone stole your passport; lock those up in your safe travelers, there are a few other options to spend your time enjoying the culture of the city.

  • The Jade Museum
  • The Zoo
  • Explore local markets for great food and authentic items
  • Check out the PreColumbian Gold Museum
  • Visit Teatro National

While the beach or the mountains may be your main destination, San Jose Costa Rica doesn’t have to be a buzz kill. Enjoy the journey! Pura Vida

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My fall must haves

After the summer days fade away and fall settles in, I feel the need to detox and get into a healthy fall/winter regimen. The dog days of summer where I took leisurely jogs and enjoyed vino by the pool are gone.

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Instead of hibernating and slacking on my workouts and eating everything in sight loaded with carbs, I try to attempt a healthy frame of mind.

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Here are a few of my healthy lifestyle choices I take to stay on the right track.

  • Getting into a regular workout schedule. I try to workout at least 5-6 days per week. I tend to get super bored at the gym. There have been times when I have literally worked out shorter than it took me to get to the gym, say…12 minutes, but my theory is it is better than nothing, and it promotes that schedule thing. I try and do yoga at home 2-3 days a week. I swim 2-3 days a week, and then workout at the gym 3-4  days a week now that I have a baby keeping me busy.
  • Morning hot water with lemon and ginger. Viruses thrive in cooler bodies, so I like to start off the morning with a large mug of hot water with fresh lemon and ginger to cleanse my body, warm up, and protect with ginger.                   Image result for hot water lemon and ginger
  • Local honey.  I tend to have bad allergies and sinus problems. I find that when I incorporate local honey on a regular basis it alleviates congestion and a sore throat. I mix it in my homemade dressings, and I just take a large spoonful ( or squeeze straight out of the bottle more like it) into my mouth.       Image result for local honey
  • Edible Argan Softgels. I take this supplement year round, but I love it in the winter! Edible Argan promotes health and beauty from within. It is known to be liquid gold and for good reason, the oil is packed with great health benefits. It is high in omegas 3,6,9. It has great amounts of vitamin e, polyphenols, and antioxidants. It has been known to lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation. It makes my hair and skin lush in the harsh Canadian winters. http://www.Moroccanlifeproducts.com  tiny-argan
  • Spirulina. This is a superfood! I take it in a capsule form. It is a fabulous vegan source of protein. It boosts energy, eliminates Candida and leaky gut syndrome, and reduces inflammation in the sinuses. To top it off contains more essential amino acids, iron, protein, B vitamins, and vitamins C, D and E. Make sure you take a proper dose and consult your doctor if you have previous conditions because it has been known to thin blood when taken in large amounts.                                     Image result for spirulina super food
  • Probiotics. Most diseases and ailments start in the gut, so it is the first part of my body I like to keep healthy and clean. I take these a few times a week as well as a few fruit shakes made with low sugar yogurt. I like the brand New Roots Herbal. They have a great line of probiotics and they test all their ingredients for purity.   Image result for new roots herbal probiotics
  • Organic garlic. Luckily my husband loves garlic too, so we don’t have to worry about smelling like it after dinner. I love trying new varieties I find at festivals and the farmer’s market. I slice it up and incorporate it into many of my weekly meals, soups, and dishes to protect my body. It’s even helped me get rid of an ear infection!    Image result for organic garlic
  • Jasmine Green Tea. An old time favorite of mine. I love the flavour and the little energy boost. I’m not a coffee person, so green tea varieties are my favorite.      Image result for jasmine green tea benefits
  • Oregano oil. Anytime I feel the slightest sniffle, cough, or sorethroat coming on, or even have been around sick people I go straight to my cabinet and pull out my trusty bottle of oregano oil. If you haven’t tried it before, this stuff is potent! I mix it with water, gargle, and voila! I don’t seem to ever get full blown “sick.”
  • Exotic oils. I use these on my face religiously. They melt away wrinkles and leave my skin supple and fresh without causing blemishes. My favorite is Seabuckthorn oil, next to Argan and Rosehip. If I have a wound I use Tamanu. They are all excellent!  Image result for sea buckthorn oil

What are your health and beauty tips? I would love to hear from you!

Off the strip Vegas

When most people think of Las Vegas, certain ideas come to mind such as,

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A tropical oasis with an abundance of bright lights and one of a kind resorts.

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The capital of strip clubs. There is an over supply of scantily clad women.

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A candy land of casinos. Go big or go home.

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A broad range of entertainment to suit almost anyone’s creative preference.

And it’s array of high and end unique restaurants.

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With over 40 million visitors per year, Las Vegas is an adult’s playground. How could anyone get bored? After coming here with friends for years, then visiting friends that migrated out west for the weather, I actually got a bit tired of the same scene. Don’t get me wrong, the new resorts and clubs never cease to amaze me. There’s always a new lounge to check out, and the for old time’s sakes strip clubs and late night parties; after all, it’s not like you go to Vegas to stay in and play Scrabble. ( I actually did that one night with a friend who moved there. ) My last few visits to Vegas I have thrown caution to the wind, I’ve stepped outside the norm of the Strip, and found there is life outside of Las Vegas Blvd.

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Here is a list of some inexpensive, yet fun side trips when you want to enjoy life like a local in Las Vegas.

  1. Shoot a gun!  I grew up with a shooting range, but never was interested in my dad’s guns. In Vegas I decided to try it out at the Gun Store Las Vegas. It is located 2900 EAST TROPICANA AVE, an eight minute ride from the strip. There I was able to shoot an oozie and an AK47. I was so excited I was a natural; I shot the target in all the right spots and they let me take it home.                                             turner
  2. Take a scenic drive to the Valley of Fire. It is a beautiful 50 minute drive outside of the busy city of Las Vegas. A peaceful and windy trip on the highway, sometimes you are the only person for miles driving. The Valley of Fire is just phenomenal. You can simply drive through the rocks, or park and hike a bit. They have camping which would be totally fun for only $20 per car.red-rock 20151008_113212
     

     

  3. Hike through Red Rock. A quick twenty-minute drive outside of the city limits, you will find some awesome hiking trails of every level. We accidently missed the correct path and wandered up the cliffs at high noon in over 95% degree heat while I was 16 weeks pregnant. We had some nice views and cooled off in the ice box, another hike that led us into a valley of rocks that was significantly cooler.

  4. Play the Price is Right. Ever since I was three years old, and I watched The Price is Right with my grandpa, I have dreamt of being on the damn show. Well finally, in 2007, my dreams came true. My friends all flew home early, and I decided to test my luck and watch the show. I was the last person of the day called up to the podium. I was beyond ecstatic. Let’s just say you would have thought I won an Oscar, not that I was bidding for a popcorn machine. I didn’t win, but it was one of my finest memories in Vegas.                Image result for price is right las vegas
  5. Check out some local restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, The Strip has every food option you could desire. Don’t forget to check out the classic diner, The Peppermill. But if you take a cab or a fifteen-minute walk to Paradise, you will find some great local restaurants. Here are some of my favorite spots. This one is closer to the airport, Skinny Fat’s. http://skinnyfats.com/ It has a kickass menu at great prices $8-15 for some interesting healthy and maybe not so healthy dishes. From unique sandwhiches to breakfast platters, juices, and one of a kind eats, this place is sure to leave your stomach and your wallet full.    Image result for skinny fats las vegas                                                                       I’m a huge fan of In and Out Burger, it is just a classic west coast thing, you try it once, and you will make a habit of it every time you visit if you aren’t from the west coast. Fire Fly has a few locations, but the closest is on Paradise. It has a great atmosphere, outdoor seating, brunch, nightly happy hour specials, and a fun tapis menu that is great for sharing with just one or large groups. Some evenings they have local live music. The prices are reasonable, and the food and wine selection is great! http://www.fireflylv.com/  Image result for fire fly las vegas If you are into some authentic Moroccan cuisine and want a little side dish of entertainment, Marrakech Vegas has belly dancers and a sexy ambiance with the dim lit dining room. http://marrakechvegas.com/bellydancing/    Image result for belly dancing restaurant las vegas                                   Image result for gangnam bbq          One of my favorite spots is a Korean BBQ restaurant called, Gangnam BBQ. They also have a happy hour where the food and the drink prices are ridiculously low and great quality. Even the regular menu is priced well. Try the spicy edymame, cream cheese wontons, and the bacon wrapped asparagus. You won’t be disappointed; just thinking of Gangnam makes me want to book a ticket to Vegas now!  This hot spot is great for dates, families, and large parties.
  6. Clark Country Wetland’s Park. A free lush park that is home to hundreds of species of animals and plants. It is open daily from dawn until dusk. Some trails allow dogs, others are great with children. Clink on the link provided to see what trail might suite your needs. http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/parks/Pages/cc-wetlands-park-trailsmaps.aspx   Clark County Wetlands Park
  7. Drink with locals. Sin City is overflowing with great drinking spots. There are some fun local spots off the strip that is a quick ride away. The Golden Tiki, is near Chinatown. When you step inside you are transported to a tropical Caribbean island. Patrons sip on tropical cocktails in the pirate themed bar. They have light bites and weekly events and entertainment.   Image result for the golden tiki las vegas  Image result for the golden tiki las vegas20151006_220236
  8. Ski the snowy slopes of Mt. Charleston. In the morning you can be in hiking in the desert, and by afternoon you can be skiing. So cool right?  Don’t expect the same fluffy slopes that you’d expect in the Alps, but you can have the opportunity to ski, snowboard, and sled at Mt. Charleston, located just 40 miles from Las Vegas. Check out Lee Canyon http://www.leecanyonlv.com/site  The best months for skiing are from December through March. January is typically the chilliest month in Las Vegas.
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I used to get soo excited to play the slots Circa 2003
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Bigger is better! 2005
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When posing in parking garages was cool 2007
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2007 Oh my
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2011
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2013 with my husband

 

2015 I’m prego! Only sparkling water for me!