How to Prepare and Eat Artichokes

Someone asked me recently how to prepare and eat artichokes as an appetizer. I do this often but I had a hard time explaining the process using my words and gestures. I am pretty sure this person went home, followed my terrible instructions, and now hates artichokes forever. I will carry that burden of tainting one person’s view of preparing artichokes… but I’m going to try to remedy that by posting a tutorial here for all future artichoke lovers:

  1. Cut about 1/4 off the top of the artichoke and bottom of the artichoke
        
  2. Using scissors, cut the top of the rest of the petals so there are no more pointy tips
       
  3.  Wash artichoke thoroughly and squeeze juice of half a lemon into a bowl (optional)
       
  4. Place artichokes and half squeezed lemon in boiling water with the stem down. After 45 minutes, carefully remove artichoke and place on plate to let cool a few minutes.
          
  5. Tear off each petal and dip into aioli, melted butter, or any sauce you prefer (if making aioli – add 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon paprika, and 1 clove minced garlic to lemon juice)
          
  6. Pull each petal through your teeth to strip off the soft white meat. The edible part is ONLY the white area of each petal and the artichoke bottom, also known as the heart (we will get to that later).
       
  7. Continue taking off each petal and eating the soft white meat until you get to the purplish center.
       
  8.  Take off all the purple petals (be careful they are sharp!) until you get to the hairy center
       
  9. Using a spoon, scoop off the hairy center completely to get to the artichoke bottom or “heart” The entire bottom is edible and is the most desirable part.
       

Enjoy!

Disneyland with MaxPass

Eric and I recently went to Disneyland for PIXAR Fest and it was amazing!! I can go on forever about my love for PIXAR but I am here to talk about MaxPass… which improved our Disney experience significantly. It’s an add-on for the Disneyland app that costs $10 per person per day. What you get:

  • PHOTOPASS: Unlimited pictures taken around the park by any cast member, rides, or character meet. The pictures are automatically uploaded onto the app and you can save it on your phone easily or print online. No copyright issues here. We walked around and found plenty of cast members holding cameras and happy to help you pose and snap high quality pictures. This was refreshing compared to our usual selfies and asking strangers to take badly framed picture for us on vacations!
  • FASTPASS: Ability to select your Fastpass on the Disneyland app (instead of walking over to the ride to get the Fastpass in person). Right now, any one can go to the popular rides and pick up a Fastpass that indicates the return time window to come back and skip the line for that ride. With MaxPass, you can be waiting in line for one ride while picking Fastpass for another ride. This add-on saved so much time and walking that it was well worth it!! I usually set an alarm on my phone to alert me when it’s time I can pick another Fastpass.

Pro-tip: Don’t purchase MaxPass with your tickets online with your 3 or 4 day passes because you will be forced to add this onto every day of your trip (even if you don’t need it). Instead, you can download the Disneyland app and purchase MaxPass only on the days you need it (and only for the people who want it). For a family of 4 that does not care about the Fastpass benefit and only wants the pictures, one person needs to purchase the MaxPass. That saves a lot of money!

Even without purchasing MaxPass, I highly recommend downloading the Disneyland app for your trip (works for California Adventure too despite its name). First of all, the maps and show times are listed so you don’t have to carry any paper around (that inevitably gets lost or wet anyways). Secondly, the Disneyland app very clearly states the wait times for each ride (in real time) and also the return time for each Fastpass. This is tremendous information when deciding which ride to go on next and saves a lot of time having to go check the boards in the park. Personally, I would choose a Fastpass for any rides above 60 minute wait while heading over to line up for rides that are under 30 minutes. You can continue to monitor crowds and lines on the app in real time. I have noticed that lines are shorter in the morning before 10AM and also during parade / fireworks time. Note that after selecting one Fastpass, you will be eligible for the next FastPass at the start of your “return time window” or 2 hours later (whichever is earlier).

With some planning, it’s quite possible to finish all the rides in one park in one afternoon, even if you start your day around 10:00 AM (which we did).

Healthy Smoothies for One

Purple Blendjet Portable Blender

So I recently purchased a Blendjet One, which is basically a 12 oz powerful blender that’s portable. I actually saw this on my Facebook ads many times while scrolling through my feeds, but each time I told myself “No, don’t fall into the gimmick. It’s never that good!” I must say, Facebook sure knows how to do targeted advertising. Each time I see the Blendjet ad, I would linger a few seconds longer. I don’t know how Facebook ad tracking works but I imagine it’s something similar to an evil robot calculating (scheming) how many more times it has to show it me the ad before I succumb, cackling each time I linger longer. Well, here we are. Thankfully, this turned out to be a worthy purchase. The Blendjet is light and portable (as promised), seems well-made (locally in Alameda!), and the blender blades are powerful (crushes ice like nothing). Best of all, it’s fairly quiet and recharges quickly any where with USB plug. All in all, I am quite happy with it! So technically, I win, you evil robot!

Naturally, I’ve been researching a ton of healthy smoothie recipes recently. I couldn’t even sleep last night because my head was full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and dairy possibilities. I am not sure why I was so excited but I guess if I were a superhero and I had a weakness, kitchen gadgets might be it. Anyways… I will share a few recipes I’ve tried so far. For most smoothies, I forgo ice because I use frozen fruit instead (just make sure to have some liquid in there when blending anything frozen including ice). I also try not to add any additional sweeteners like honey or agave unless absolutely necessary. You will notice the same ingredients popping up, that’s because I’m just using whatever is in my fridge and freezer (with a couple of perishable purchases). Each recipe is perfectly portioned for the Blendjet as one serving:

Ultimate Healthy Breakfast Smoothie (adapted from CookingLight)

  • 5 baby spinach leaves
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk (blend with spinach first)
  • 1/2 medium banana (fresh or frozen)
  • 5-6 frozen strawberries or mangoes
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter

Beginner’s Luck Green Smoothie (adapted from 100DaysofRealFood)

  • 10 baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup water (blend with spinach first)
  • 5-6 frozen mango
  • 5-6 frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 banana (fresh or frozen)

Strawberry Banana Oatmeal Smoothie (adapted from WhattheFork)

  • 1/4 cup oatmeal (blend this first into powder)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 5-6 frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 banana (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Starbucks Mocha Frappucino Healthy Copycat Smoothie (adapted from WellPlated)

  • 1 cup strong black coffee, chilled
  • 1/2 medium banana (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon honey to taste
  • Ice (as necessary for thickness and consistency)

What’s your favorite smoothie recipe? Post in the comments below!

 

Let’s talk cruise deposits!

Thinking of going on a cruise?

Refundable cruise deposits are a no-risk option to ensure your vacation goes smoothly. Just make sure you triple-check with your agent that the deposit is fully refundable before final payment date (usually 2-3 months before sail date). At Open Suitcase, we never charge any fees for cancellations or changes.

  1. You get to pick from the best rooms in your price range. Whether you want inside rooms, oceanviews, or balconies… each room type has many categories and lots of rooms to choose from. Simply put, if you reserve a room earlier with the refundable deposit, you will get a larger selection of room choice. Since you are paying the same amount anyways, why not pick a better room that is not under a noisy night club? We will always work with you to pick the best room possible in your price range.
  2. It’s highly likely the cruise will be cheaper when booking earlier. Prices tend to get higher as the sail date comes closer. We also monitor and track prices for you. If there is a sale or if the price of the cruise goes down before final payment date, we adjust it for you. By placing the refundable deposit, you are locking down the lower price and a price guarantee.
  3. There’s a limited amount of 4-person or 5-person cabins, and they are likely to sell out. These are very popular cabins with families and young singles looking for a cheap getaway. It’s cheaper to book only one cabin for 4 rather than two cabins of 2 since the 3rd and 4th guest is heavily discounted (and sometimes free!). But, in addition to the limited amount of 4-person cabins, each floor also has a maximum occupancy due to fire codes. So often times, 4-person rooms are all booked up one or two years in advance. Placing the refundable deposit guarantees 4-person rooms are still available and your plans won’t be foiled.
  4. You are more likely to get your preferred dining time. Most cruise lines have a dining room that offers a main dining and second dining time. Main dining starts between 5:30-6:00 PM and second dining starts between 8:00-8:30 PM. Most travelers prefer main dining time so that usually fills up quickly. Booking your cruise earlier with the refundable cruise deposit means you get to reserve a table in your preferred dining time and avoid eating at a undesirable time.
  5. You have more time to plan! A cruise is not just about the ship. You also have to think about flights, hotels, car rentals, and excursions. The same logic applies that those reservations will be cheaper if you book earlier. Many budget-friendly cruise port hotels book up fast during busy seasons. Excursions do not increase in price, but the popular ones do have a chance to sell out. Once your deposit is made, we can help with recommending flights, car rentals, hotels and excursions. We also place a flight tracker on your cruise dates to monitor airfare prices.
  6. There’s no limited to how many deposits you can make. Not sure which sailing you want to go on? Place deposits on multiple ships and sailings until you figure it out all the details with your family and travel companions. It’s okay, we will remind you well before final payments are due so you can cancel the ones you decide not to go on. Remember we do not charge any fees for changes or cancellations.

When you add it all together, it’s easy to see why cruise deposits are the game changer between a mediocre cruise and an amazing one. Room location, dining time, and fun activities make a big difference. There is no reason NOT to place a refundable deposit on a sailing that you are interested in, and everyone should take advantage of this no-risk investments that cruise lines offer.