Friday Fancies!

24 July 2015

Happy Friday!  It's been a really crazy week at work at at home.  My husband and I are starting wheels in motion to look into buying our first home.  It's a long, wild road in front of us, but it's exciting to see homebuying on the horizon.  It's just a full time job to look!

Diving the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize

13 July 2015

Who says second isn't good enough?  Sure, we've all heard about the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but if Australia is out of your price range (or you just don't want to fly for 18+ hours)...look no further than Central America! The snorkeling and diving in Belize is really world class and it's something you should not miss. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world. It is home to over 100 coral species, 500+species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrate species.

One of my main draws that lead me to Belize was the search for the majestic whale shark.  In the spring months, the southern Belize reef is the spawning zone for whale sharks.  It was my dream to be able to swim with them.  Even though I tried, it wasn't mean to be this time.   Even though the whale shark eluded me this time, I did get to have some amazing underwarter experiences in the reef!

I chose our hotel in part because it was the home to the tour company - Tsunami Adventures.  It was a fantastic choice.  The hotel was affordable, beautiful, and right on the water...everything I could have hoped for in paradise.  Tsunami Adventures was a perfect choice as well.  They took care of everything for us and gave us an unforgettable day!

We set sail on our boat with our captain and tour guide and small group (8 of us total) and headed into the sea!  It was our second day in Belize and what an amazing introduction to the country.

Our first stop was within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  As soon as we arrived there, it started storming.  Pouring down rain, but we persevered and our fearless guide explained that was just part of living in Belize and guided us into the water.  The first glance into this underwater world was pure magic. Even though dark clouds loomed, the world underneath us seemed so unaware of it and vibrant fish and corals danced below us.  Eventually the storm let up, but the dance below kept my full attention.

Next stop was a visit to a popular sea turtle watching spot.  I came face to face with a hundred year old sea turtle!

From sea turtles to Shark and Ray Alley.  Maybe my favorite spot!  The nurse sharks are harmless, but absolutely beautiful.  I've never been so close to a shark before!  My favorite thing was just watching the rays move through the water - they were so graceful and seem to just fly through the water (see the video below!).

Disclaimer: I'll be honest, I struggled a little with this magic moment - the sharks come up to the boats because they know that they will be fed and each of the boats threw snacks overboard so that their groups could get up close and personal.  I don't think I did enough research before I left about this and I was torn about the situation because feeding wild animals can be a really unethical practice.  As always, I advise you do your own research.

The last dive stop was the Coral Gardens.  It seemed like an endless space of alien terrain full of so many types of corals.  Every inch was just full of little creatures hiding out and making their homes there.  I was completely enthralled in the adventure of the coral reef.

On the way back to the hotel, we took a beautiful slow ride around the mangroves on the northern side of the island with a glass of rum punch.  We got to take a different perspective of the island and hear stories from our captain about what it was like to grow up there.  We also had a surprise visit with a dolphin mama and baby and our captain happily went out of our way to create some wake for them so we could watch them surface.  

Belize was full of a lot of really breathtaking moments, but this day on the water was definitely one of my favorite days there.  

Although video is not my strong suit, I got some fun underwater video that I managed to stitch together and capture some of the beautiful movement:

Easy Homemade Ricotta: 5 Simple Steps

06 July 2015

Easy Homemade Ricotta

Homemade ricotta is kind of a game changer.  It is much better than anything you can get in the store and it is really easy to addictively easy.  There is no need for super fancy special equipment and ingredients - you probably have all of it in your kitchen already!  If you've ever dreamed of making your very own homemade cheese, this is the perfect place to start!

What you need:
1/2 gallon of milk (I prefer organic. Pasteurized milk is fine, but be sure avoid UHT ultra-pasteurized because it will not allow the curds to set up)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar, OR 1/2 teaspoon citric acid (all of these will work just fine, so whatever you have on hand)
1 teaspoon salt

A large stockpot
candy thermometer
slotted spoon
cheese cloth
large mixing bowl

Here are the 5 simple steps to making perfect ricotta cheese:
Easy Homemade Ricotta

  1. Warm the milk to 200°F : Try not to let it boil, but just get a foamy heat going. 
  2. Add acid: Remove the milk from heat and add your acid of choice (lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid) + salt.  Stir to combine.

    Easy Homemade Ricotta

  3. Sit for 10 minutes: After about 10 minutes of sitting undisturbed (no stirring!), the milk will start to separate into curds (the white chunks) and whey (thin, yellow, watery liquid).  Use your slotted spoon to lift a bit of the curd and if you still see a lot of unseparated milk, you can add an a bit more acid (1 T lemon, 1 T vinegar, OR 1/4 t critic acid) and give it a few more minutes.
    Easy Homemade Ricotta
  4. Strain: Set up a strainer over a bowl and line it with cheese cloth.  Carefully scoop the large curds out with the slotted spoon and into the strainer and then pour the rest of the contents of the pot through the strainer.
    Easy Homemade Ricotta
  5. Drain: Let the ricotta sit and drain out the whey for 10 minutes to an hour - depending on how dry you like your ricotta.
Easy Homemade Ricotta

That's it! You've made beautiful homemade ricotta! Add to pasta, make a dip, or just serve it on toast with a bit of honey!

You can also very easily take one more step to make your ricotta into a more sturdy farmers cheese or paneer. All you need to do is twist up the cheese cloth and add weight and give it a few more hours to fully dry out and solidify a bit.
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