Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cheap produce!

One thing we love about where we live is that Valli Produce is just down the road. The produce section is about 1/3 the size of the store (the store is the size of a regular supermarket), and the prices are crazy cheap, compared to what we would've had to pay in the Carolinas. We know some people who actually drive from about an hour away to go there, it's so cheap. We're still trying to get used to being able to just eat fresh produce without waiting for a super sale and planning a special way to use it or preserve it.

They have a great variety (lots of international options, like guava, papaya, and cactus). They also have other grocery items (including imported items--German, Polish, Mexican, etc.), but the sweetest deals are the produce items. And you can get chocolate cheese (yes, chocolate cheese--we sampled it) from their deli, among tons of other items.

Just a small sample of the sale items we've picked up since we moved here:
8 kiwi for $1
20 limes for $1 (we just got 10 limes, so 50 cents)
avocados for 69 cents each
Campari tomatoes for $1
3 heads of Romaine lettuce for $1
cantaloupe for 99 cents each
8 zucchini for $1

And we haven't even been here for peak produce season yet.

Is it weird that whenever someone is visiting, we think Valli is a must-see?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Deep-dish Pizza

Ed wanted some pizza a while ago, so we decided to make some deep-dish pizza. It turned out very well. The crust was perfect and it was filling. We used a 2-lb. recipe of pizza dough (made in the bread maker on the dough cycle--way easier when you're working all day), but we saved about a third of it to make focaccia. We "topped" it (in this case, filled it) with homemade sauce, ham, cheese, black olives, onions, peppers, and mushrooms.

One lesson we learned was that sometimes, even though it tastes normal by itself, certain store-brand shredded mozzarella cheese tastes weird when baked. We (well, actually, I'm the only one who seemed to notice/care) confirmed this theory with this pizza, because I previously noticed the weird taste when I made a breakfast casserole (hmm...sounds like a good idea...) with said mozzarella cheese and it had the same weird taste to it. Not sure why, but we've never had that problem with "brand name" cheese. Which kind of annoys me, because you know I'm all about saving a buck. I guess sometimes it doesn't pay off.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dominican Republic Trip Review

As promised, here is my review of the trip I took to the Dominican Republic in July of 2010. Expectations were, honestly, pretty low after reading some TripAdvisor comments. However, I was willing to give it a guarded chance.

I went for a work trip (a conference at which I was speaking) for four days. I flew into Santo Domingo (Las Americas Int'l. Airport) via Miami, then got shuttled to the town of Boca Chica (about a 20-minute drive). I stayed at the Oasis Hamaca Hotel, which is an all-inclusive resort.

Aerial view of Oasis Hamaca Hotel
The Room: It was huge. I don't know if they gave me a double bed room because they were out of single rooms or if I just paid the single rate for a double bed room. Whatever the case, it was very spacious. The room in the photo below is a pretty good representation of the room I stayed in. There is a bathroom and separate sink area near the door. Oh, and you have to use a card for the power to kick on.

A room similar to the one I stayed in
 Food: The food was pretty good at the buffet, which was semi-outdoors (it was under a pavilion). They had a few exciting items, like cassava and paella, so I tried those (when the paella line wasn't a mile long), but I mostly stuck with rice, beans, and vegetables. I'm sure they had plantain, but I just haven't been able to stomach it since childhood. There were also "restaurants" with themes like Tex-Mex and Italian. I tried the Tex-Mex place. It was alright, but I don't think it was their forte. I really wanted to try the local fare restaurant, but it was packed the whole time.

Beach: The "beach" area was very small (it wasn't much of a beach). And you have to pay to use certain areas of it. I'm not much into beaches, though, so that was negligible to me. I hear, however, that the northern coast of the Dominican Republic is where to go if you want good beaches. I did make it to one of the pools, which was nice (except for the fact that someone needed to take a net to it and there were children in it).

One of the pools
Language: There really wasn't much of a language barrier. Only one time did I have to get someone to translate, and that was conference-related. I did wish I could speak better Spanish, though (I use the term "better" loosely--I have a VERY limited vocabulary and don't know much grammar in Spanish).

The Good
  • The hotel staff were overall very nice and courteous.
  • No bed bugs (at least, not in the room/bed I used).
  • The weather was pretty good.
  • The only TV channel I found in English was Fox News, which I was happy with, since I didn't bring a laptop to keep up with what was going on in the world. It was also entertaining watching some Latin-American music videos.
  • I didn't get dengue. I consider this a huge success, since mosquitoes love me. I actually only got three mosquito bites.

The Bad

  • Ed wasn't there.
  • It took FOREVER to get checked in (at least two hours), but that was most likely because of the conference attendees.
  • I had a post-trip gastro-intestinal issue, and I'm not sure what I ate that did it. For all I know, it could've been the airport food in Miami.
  • It would have been nice to go into Santo Domingo and see some sights, but I didn't really have time.
  • The customs process was a little confusing (both entering and leaving the DR).
  • I didn't take a camera.

The ???

  • I don't know exactly what all I could have been doing if I were only there for recreation. I was mostly inside at conference sessions every day.
  • I think there may have been some local/Caribbean celebrities there one night. I don't know for sure, but I was eating at the buffet and suddenly a crowd of girls started screaming and swarming around these two oddly-dressed guys who walked in. So I assumed they must be famous.
  • The guy who was coordinating shuttle rides at the airport kept jokingly asking me if I was Jennifer Lopez when I told him my name so he could make sure my ride had been pre-paid. I don't know if that's some sort of common joke or what, but it's actually not the first time. Do I look Hispanic? Or is that just the most clever thing they can think of when I say my name is Jennifer?

Cost Breakdown

Airfare round-trip from Raleigh-Durham to Santo Domingo: $525
Hotel stay for three nights (single room rate): $354 (this may have been a conference rate)
Conference registration: $280*
Transportation to/from airport/hotel: included in conference registration (don't know how much)
Postcards: $0.50 each (2/$1)
Stamps: $2.50 EACH!
Tips/Miscellaneous: ? (negligible)
Total: approx. $1200**

*If this was a non-conference trip, one would have to pay for transportation, tips, and maybe a few other odds and ends. Even though this wouldn't be a factor for a non-work-related trip, I included it to make up for any other costs not accounted for otherwise. This may even be a bit higher than necessary, since the only thing they said it covered that wasn't directly conference-related was transportation.
**I tipped a few people, but I don't remember how much. I literally only bought postcards and stamps, for non-essential items (i.e., souvenirs).

The Verdict: Overall, it wasn't bad, but I personally wouldn't spend money to go on a vacation there. In my experience, you get a better "all-inclusive"-type vacation on a cruise. However, if you want to try a new place and like this sort of scene (or maybe you don't have sea legs), the price is pretty reasonable.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Applique Semi-Fail

I started to sew again recently, and I'm using a book to help me stay focused and re-build my skills. More on the book later. Anyway, one of the "mini-projects" at the beginning of the book is to do an applique. I chose to use an old tank top, in case I screwed up. I didn't want to spend money on something just to ruin it. I took an old scrap of fabric and cut a heart shape out of it. The heart shape was what they did in the book as the example, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

I used a darker, reddish thread to make the border. I should have used a tighter zig-zag stitch, but I was experimenting with a wider one (see the spaces between stitches?). Turns out you have to do this very slowly to make it look good. Too bad I was impatient and messed mine up.

So, I'm calling this a semi-fail, because the heart-shaped fabric is definitely attached to the shirt, fulfilling the objective, but it doesn't look respectable enough to wear in public (unless it is worn under another shirt).
Lessons Learned
  • Try a permanent stabilizer (I just used the kind you pin on and it bunched up a bit).
  • Go slower.
  • Use the smallest zigzag stitch available if you want the "satin" look.

 Oh, well. I'll post when I sew something else.