Nov 29, 2013

Historic Quito

One of the first things your body might notice when you land in Quito is the altitude (roughly 9000 feet). I spent the better part of my time here with a nagging headache and gasping for air after going up one flight of stairs (although the fact that I haven't seen the inside of a gym since 2009 may have contributed to that). We didn't have much time in Quito but we were able to walk around the old town – which was actually the first named UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site – and peek into many of the elaborately decorated churches.

There's something about walking unfamiliar streets that makes me pay even closer attention to the light and street scenes. I don't consider myself much a street photographer but I do really enjoy it when traveling. I am moved by the locals in the streets, colors, and the play of light and shadow. I rarely ask for permission so I do try to be as discreet as possible.

The street with all the flags was a charming area/pedestrian street called Calle la Ronda. It's more alive in the night time, but even when we walked by, there was a nice buzz and tons of shops, bars, and hole-in-the-wall eateries serving local delicacies.

We also stumbled across this restaurant/bar, Café Dios No Muere, and I was naturally taken by the simple kitchen set up.

The next morning, we left quite Quito early and I couldn't help but rush out of our car to shoot this pigeon feeder in the San Francisco Plaza. Just moments before, the man with the green hat stormed through and scared all of the pigeons away. When I grabbed this photo, the pigeons were just re-settling in. I had posted this scene on Instagram and someone mentioned that this man is there every morning to feed the pigeons. I don't know why, but that thought really tugs at my heartstrings. I can still see this scene very vividly in my mind. I hope he is happy.

Nov 25, 2013

South America Travelogue

I've just returned from a whirlwind trip in Ecuador and Peru (and my first time in South America!). If you've been following along on my Instagram, you'll have a pretty good idea of what I've been up to. And here, I will try to recreate some of the highlights of this trip so you can experience it with more context. I must thank LAN and TAM Airlines for inviting me on this trip to experience some of the incredible sights that South America has to offer.

Our trip began in Quito, Ecuador after a quick stop in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador. From the Quito airport, it was a rocky 90 minute drive to Casa Gangotena, a historic 1920s mansion converted into a 31-room luxury hotel in the old town section of Quito. From the tin ceilings to the winding staircases to the wood panelings, the design elements of the hotel had me gasping at every corner I turned. My room itself was perfectly charming in a soothing color palette with exquisite wallpaper. And how do I not have photos of the marble-clad bathrooms!? Well, they were white, airy, even a bit modern-like, and beautiful. From the hotel's terrace, you get a great aerial view of San Francisco Plaza and the houses on the hills (which actually reminded me very much of our own San Francisco, CA). On the ground floor, there is a little outdoor garden with colorful blooms.

We had a little lunch at the hotel's ground floor restaurant with our guide from Metropolitan Touring before heading out for a walking tour of the city. The huge corn kernels in our sampler were a delight, some almost potato-like. And who doesn't love some good old shrimp empanadas? This meal was pretty indicative of what we'd be having over the next week - lots of soup, lots of ceviche.

Next up, scenes from Quito.

Nov 12, 2013


It has been a while! I've been struggling a bit trying to update my blog more regularly. I can't tell you how many times I've started to put together the post and arrange the photos in Photoshop, only to scrap it and decide it wasn't "blogworthy" enough. But where's the fun in that? I have all these iPhone photos from Denver that I've decided should see the light of day. Back in September, I found myself with a hot second to spare in Denver. I had no idea what to expect, and was completely wowed by the coffee scene and how cool of a city it felt in the short bit of time I had.

My only real plans were to meet the lovely team behind Artifact Uprising for a casual lunch. Their office is an a collaborative space near downtown Denver. We chatted about their future plans and I got to see many of the beautifully printed products in person. They introduced J and me to Ninety Plus Coffee, one of their neighbors in the space. We had an impromptu coffee tasting and got schooled in the art of coffee farming by Steve Holt (yes that is his real name), the VP and Brand Strategist. It was a fascinating discussion, and one of the coolest facts I learned was that Taiwan and South Korea are actually the big buyers of some extremely precious and expensive beans (we're talking like $100/lb beans pre-roasted).

After we successfully caffeinated, we headed downtown to check out some shops. We hit up Ironwood (a neat home goods shop) and Sweet Action Ice Cream, where I had the best ice cream I can remember having. It was a creamy Salted Butterscotch with just the right amount of salty balance, and J and I fought over every bite.

Oh yeah, and then we caffeinated some more. Surprise surprise. At Novo this time, where we had two cortados with different single origin beans for comparison's sake. In NYC, you would be hard pressed to find a cafe that used single origin beans in your espresso+milk drink. I've seen a few places that do pull single origin shots, but almost never for your cortado. These were indeed dramatically different from your usual cortado in flavor profile.

Meanwhile, as I'm posting my adventures on Instagram, I get a few tips to check out Steadbrook, a men's clothing store with a coffee shop inside. At this point, I've hit my caffeine limit, but we decide to head over anyway to see what the buzz is about, especially as the owner himself has commented beckoning us in (really got to love Instagram when I'm traveling for things like this).

The shop/cafe is impeccably designed. Minimal with great wood surfaces, as well as stunning afternoon light. And that box! (It has its own hashtag natch.)

I couldn't have asked for a better few hours spent in Denver. I'm looking forward to going back someday and actually being able to spread out my coffee consumption. :)

Nov 4, 2013

Coffee talk

It's no secret that I'm passionate (read: a snob) about coffee and I enjoy spreading the passion when I can. I will tell you to dump out that extra-hot triple-shot vanilla soy latte from Starbucks and try a "real" cup of coffee. I get a handful of emails asking for recommendations on coffee gear and starter kits, so I thought I'd do a little post on what I personally use at home. Note, this is not comprehensive in any way and I won't go over actual techniques (there's plenty of professionals who have written about and youtubed that), but it's what works for me. It's a ritual I greatly look forward to.

My preferred method of home-brewing is the pour over. Specifically, I use the V60 ceramic dripper from Hario. But before I get ahead of myself, let's talk some other basics.

Scale: I use a .1g scale to weigh out my beans and measure the amount of water I end up using for the pour. Another, perhaps better, option is the scale from Hario because it has a built-in timer.

Grinder: The grinder I use is not the best for drip coffee and is intended more for espresso, but it gets the job done. During the power outage last year from the hurricane, we bought a Hario hand grinder so we could continue the morning ritual. It's much more wallet-friendly and it doesn't hurt that it sits prettily on the counter. For something in between, I have heard good things about the Baratza Virtuoso and the even cheaper Encore. I also try to clean my grinder every once in a while with Grindz.

Kettle: For pour over, you really need a gooseneck kettle. I have three (oops). But, what I really use now is the Bonavita electric kettle. It lets me set the temperature for the water and hold it there. For more traditional and "Instagrammable" versions, you can get the one from Hario or this particularly beautiful one that Blue Bottle sells.

Got all that? After that, all you really need are V60 filters and the optional range server.

And of course, now that you have your Porsche setup, you can't go putting any old engine oil into it (please excuse the horrible analogy); for beans, I regularly buy from Stumptown and Blue Bottle and always check the roast date. When I travel, I always try to bring back a bag of beans from a local roaster that I enjoyed.

Finally, you get to have fun with collecting mugs and saucers to hold your delicious cup of coffee. :)

P.S. I moved apartments. Again. More on that to come.