A Visit to Aoon Pottery

I'm working on few posts about some of my favorite things we did while on our honeymoon in Thailand but I wanted to start off by sharing a really special spot that isn't something I'd normally expect to find in Bangkok. Aoon Pottery is a small and tranquil cafe and ceramics studio nestled just around the corner from some of the most bustling streets in Bangkok's Chinatown, and was one of my favorite spots we visited. We headed there just a few days before the Lunar New Year so it was especially busy with locals buying gifts and food from the markets nearby in preparation for the holiday. 

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The cafe is quiet and breezy, and to the back of it, they keep their kiln for firing pottery. Upstairs, there's an incredible studio space with lots of great pieces for sale. Upon learning we were interested in the ceramics, the owner of the shop led us upstairs, and allowed us to take our time looking through all of his work. Seeing his workspace and part of his creative process was so amazing, and though I wanted to buy everything, we stuck with one piece just to make sure things didn't get broken in our luggage. 

We chatted with the owner for a bit who was kind enough to give us recommendations for the areas we were visiting next, and tell us a bit more about his work. If you're in the Chinatown area of Bangkok (or just in Bangkok in general), I'd highly recommend a visit. I can't imagine a better place to get a custom ceramic piece to take home with you. If you're okay with cafe hopping, just a 5-10 minute walk away is CHATA Coffee, one of my favorite cafes in the city. 

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Bringing the Tropics Home

Once your trip ends and you trade the lush, tropical paradise of Cozumel or mornings on your cruise ship balcony for a snowy city or a messy home, things can feel a little bit depressing. You’re back to the grind, you have a pile of dishes to do, and you’re craving that feeling of relaxation and calm, and sunshine in the Caribbean.

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Though you can’t fully replicate the relaxation, and slowed-down pace of a cruise, you can bring some of that Caribbean goodness home. It’s amazing how much our surroundings can impact our mood, so why not spend a few hours bringing some of that tropical wonder back home. With just a few quick adjustments, you’ll be back on island time right in your very own home.

Surround Yourself with Plants and Lush Greenery 

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I firmly believe that you can never have too many plants in your home, and most people definitely don’t have enough! In the winter time, plants and greenery bring so much life to my 700 square foot apartment, and in the summer, they really bring the outside in. I loved seeing all of the beautiful, tropical plants at the ports I visited in the Caribbean, and made it a point to set up my own after coming back home to a dreary, wintery city. More than anything else, they can really help your space feel lush, and more like a vacation spot.

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Though certain tropical plants don’t thrive indoors or without proper sunlight, there are plenty of low maintenance plants that give you a tropical vibe without needing a tropical climate. Most palms are a great pick along with Snake Plants and Bromeliads. I have a few set up in each room, and alternate on sizes and heights to give them more depth. Think about spots like the bathroom or kitchen where you wouldn’t think of adding in plants, and tuck a few in there too! It’s nice to pick up an extra arrangement of tropical flowers from the grocery store here and there too for added Caribbean vibes.

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Have Your Favorite Memories on Display

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Remember when we talked about creatively displaying your vacation photos? Having a beautiful image from your cruise up will really help bring the tropics back home. Remember, you don’t have to be a photographer or an artist to take and display a beautiful, meaningful image. Other great options are larger scale palm or leaf prints that you can get for relatively cheap.

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This doesn’t just limit you to your walls though! I love storing desk supplies like paperclips or thumbtacks in the sea shells I found while on my cruise. I try to find a vintage market or two while on trips, and always make it a point to bring back a little trinket I can display in my home. An old, refinished jewelry box from St. John or a some vintage plates snagged on a trip to the Dominican Republic will give your home a global look, and remind you of your time on your trip.

Sneak in a Surprising Detail 

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You’ll notice that in hotels or on cruise ships, there’s often a surprising, quirky statement piece in each room. It could be an interesting vase or a chandelier made of sea glass, but it’s that little touch that makes the area feel special and different. So often with busy lives, we make our homes functional above anything else, but adding in something a bit different and bold can really give your home that extra touch. To give your home more of a Caribbean, tropical vibe, aim towards getting pieces that contain natural elements (shells, agate, driftwood, stone, etc.), and remember, just one accessory or fixture can really change up a space. The details don’t have to be large or expensive either. A new woven tray on your coffee table that was woven in the Caribbean or a jute rug in your bedroom can go a long way.

I found this flamingo sculpture (it doubles as a jewelry holder!) a few months after my cruise, and it reminded me of my travels right away. Sure, it’s a bit silly, but it’s a fun touch that people always love and comment on. It was under $30, and though it’s a small detail, it goes such a long way.

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Remember Your Other Senses

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Though the most obvious thing you think of when trying to bring a touch of the Caribbean to your own home is changing up what you see, remember your other senses, and the factor they can play in how you feel in your home.

For example, I always loved waking up on the ship, opening my balcony door, and immediately getting that scent of salty ocean air. To bring that feeling back home, I added in a few ocean-scented candles to my home. I also got an oil diffuser that really helps transform my apartment into a tropical oasis. There’s something pretty amazing about smelling grapefruit and tropical scents after walking into your place after a long day. Pour yourself a cold drink, and you’ll be feeling like you’re right back on a ship!

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Another option is to pick up some of the music you heard while on your trip, and play it around your house while you’re cooking or reading. I find I tie certain music to specific trip memories so it’s always a good way to relax and reflect.

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind. Head on over.

Caribbean Style Grilled Fish

Firstly, I’ve got to admit that cooking a whole fish can be a daunting task for even a skilled home cook. Will there be more prep? Will it be flavorful enough? What about the bones? While the dish itself can look impressive, preparing a whole fish could not have been simpler.

Back in St. Thomas last year on our Carnival cruise, a local food vendor came by to chat with us during our stay on Coki Beach, and when we asked about a lunch menu, he recommended the catch of the day. 20 minutes later, we were presented with a beautiful, whole fried fish, a side of rice and peas, and stewed vegetables. One of my fondest memories from the trip was eating this delicious, fresh fish right on the beach, and thought it was time to replicate it.

We’ve seasoned the fish with several of the spices that make up jerk seasoning (cumin, cinnamon, etc.), but you could easily purchase a jerk seasoning mix if you want to make the process even more streamlined! We decided to serve our fish with veggies, rice and coleslaw but you can easily change that up depending on what you have on hand.

Ingredients (for fish):

  • 2-3 lbs of any whole fish (tilapia, porgy, snapper, etc.)
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (or 1 inch piece freshly grated ginger)
  • 1/2 habanero pepper, seeds removed (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 medium onion

Ingredients (for coleslaw):

  • 1⁄2 of a small cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1⁄2 of a mango or 1⁄4 of a pineapple, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1⁄2 of a red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1⁄2 habanero pepper, seeds removed (optional)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Directions for fish:

  1. Heat a large cast iron pan over medium heat, add oil to the pan until it is about 1⁄2 inch deep (oil should be about 350 degrees). Note: you won’t fully submerge the fish in oil. Instead, it will be flipped halfway through cooking.
  2. Rinse the fish under cold water, make sure to remove any remaining scales. Split the fish down the middle to create a cavity between the filets.
  3. Mix together the allspice, cinnamon, sugar, cumin, ginger, habanero pepper, garlic, black pepper, salt, and vegetable oil into a food processor and blend to combine.
  4. Use a brush to thoroughly coat the entire fish with the blended spice mixture inside and out.
  5. Place the flour on a plate and coat the outside of the fish in the flour.
  6. Stuff the inside of the fish with 5-6 lemon slices and a healthy portion of fresh thyme.
  7. Place the fish into the oil and cook on one side for roughly 7-10 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Flip the fish and continue cooking for an additional 7-10 minutes on the other side.
  9. Remove the fish from the pan and set onto paper towels to dry.
  10. Add the chopped tomatoes, red pepper and onions and saute for 2-3 minutes, just enough to get them to pick up the leftover spices from the pan.
  11. Serve the fish surrounded by the cooked vegetables, squeeze lemon over top if desired.

Directions for coleslaw:

  1. Combine the cabbage, carrot, mango, red bell pepper and habanero pepper (optional) into a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together the honey, vinegar, and salt and pour the mixture over the vegetables.
  3. Cover bowl and marinate for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind. Head on over.

5 Creative Things to Do With Travel Photos

After a vacation, it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll end up with hundreds of travel snaps on my phone’s camera roll (in addition to the hundreds on my camera’s memory card!), and for a long time, a lot of them would stay there. Now that most of us take a majority of our travel snaps on a smartphone, it seems like less and less of our travel photos actually get printed (or even seen) after vacations end. Last year on the Carnival Breeze, we stopped at four major ports, and I found myself pretty overwhelmed with the amount of photos I came back with. Because each port was so different, I took a lot of photos on my regular camera and on my phone (not to mention the snaps I got while on the actual boat).

From the plane’s landing at Maho Beach in St. Maarten to the peaceful turquoise waters of Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, I had a lot of digital files to work with. Rather than let these memories stay on the screen and be forgotten, I decided to make it a point to figure out how to make sure that didn’t happen. High-quality prints and framing can get expensive quickly though, and the last thing most people want to do after a vacation is spend hundreds more just on photos.

To combat this, and to get photos off your screen and into your hands quickly and easily, I’ve come up with five ways to creatively integrate your travel photos in your home and life.

Go Big (and Bold) With An Engineering Print

While phone snaps can be great, they aren’t always the highest of resolution which means they can look blurry or pixelated if you print them too largely. Lean into the pixelation, and create a large-scale, black and white engineering print. Engineering prints are large, gray scale prints that are more commonly used for engineering or architectural projects (think architectural blueprints, etc.), but they make for amazing, unique photography prints.

These prints are inexpensive (I recently purchased a huge engineering print of some palm trees for about $7.00), and can be ordered from most printing companies. Remember, these prints are meant to be in black and white, and are going to appear imperfect and grainy. This is part of the charm! You can easily get one framed or even clip them up with oversized binder clips as pictured for a relaxed look. There are lots of creative ways you can hang these (washi tape, wooden dowels, decorative tacks, etc.) depending on your existing decor, and since they’re so inexpensive, it’s easy to update and swap them as you take new travel snaps.

Go Old School with Instant Prints 

On a recent trip, I brought along my instant camera, and noticed that more and more people around me were doing the same thing. Now, I make it a point to take my instant camera with a few packs of film along with me on all my trips. It’s so great to come back with physical, printed photographs from trips, and they have a fun vintage feel to them. Collect a stack of your favorites, and corral them in a pretty dish or bowl on your coffee table. I rotate mine out periodically, and friends who come over always comment and leaf through them.

Create a Grid of Images 

As we all know, frames, printing large, high-quality prints, and getting custom artwork put together in general can be very expensive. If you’re on a budget, you can still get the large scale impact by creating a grid (or another shape) with your favorite snaps. A little mounting putty or tape (just make sure not to damage your wall paint!), a stack of prints, and a half hour, and you’ve got yourself an easy DIY photo wall. You could easily add to this after each trip, and end up with a wall full of travel snaps.

Frame Your Favorite Gram 

We’re all so used to viewing images in square format these days (thanks, Instagram!). Why not get your favorite Insta shot from your travels printed and framed for your home? It’s a great way to force yourself to really hone in on your favorite, most special shot from your trip, and the square frame is a fun, modern touch.

Lots of retailers and printing companies have become savvy to this trend and as result, you can get great square mats and frames for relatively cheap. Several printing companies are now even allowing you to connect your Instagram straight to their order system meaning you can get your photo, printed, framed and sent to your doorstep with about five minutes of effort!

Send a Postcard 

It might be a bit old school, but I still love sending postcards to friends and family either during or after a trip. The problem is, most postcards are a bit cheesy looking, and though the sentiment is still there, a lot of people may not want to keep a tacky looking postcard on their fridge for very long.

Instead of buying postcards, I decided to start getting some of my travel images printed on cards to send to loved ones right after the trip. People still love receiving them, and love that they get a custom photo of my actual trip versus a standard, old school stock image. Lots of printers allow you to get custom postcards made or if you have a good printer at home along with some cardstock, you could even DIY the project! For an extra touch, I love using vintage stamps on these.

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind. Head on over.

AN EASY COCONUT SHRIMP RECIPE

For me, there are few other dishes that evoke the feeling of summer, dining al fresco, and a lazy vacation day quite like coconut shrimp. Back when we sailed on the Carnival Breeze last year, we ate tons of amazing seafood and all the shrimp we possibly could, but the coconut shrimp at RedFrog Pub was a favorite. When we returned back from our trip, I figured it was time that I learned to make the dish at home.

Though it’s one of my favorite ways to prepare and eat shrimp, coconut shrimp can be a bit unhealthy in its traditional fried form. Here, I’ve opted to bake the shrimp instead. You get the same great crunch and coconut flavor, but it’s a lot healthier and in my opinion, a lot easier to cook as well!

I’ve found that this is a great dish to serve as an appetizer while entertaining. It ends up looking a lot more impressive and difficult than it actually is (preparing it really could not be easier), and it’s been a crowd pleaser every time I’ve made it for guests. I like to prep it with two different sauces: a tangier one and a creamier one, but you could experiment with other flavors and sauces to your liking. It’s a really versatile dish so the options are pretty limitless!

Baked Coconut Shrimp Recipe:

Ingredients (for shrimp):

  • 1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1⁄2 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1⁄2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp all purpose flour
  • Olive oil

Ingredients (for tangy dipping sauce):

  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp marmalade (we used guava jelly but orange or lemon marmalade would work nicely too)
  • 1⁄2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Ingredients (for creamy Sriracha mayo sauce):

  • 1⁄4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp Sriracha (you could add more if you want the sauce to be spicier)
  • Juice from 1⁄4 lime

Directions for shrimp:

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 2. Rinse and devein the shrimp, and lightly salt after deveining. You can remove the tails at this point if you prefer. 3. Combine coconut flakes, panko bread crumbs, powdered ginger, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and remaining salt in a bowl. 4. Whisk egg into the second bowl. 5. Place flour into separate bowl. 6. Spray or spread olive oil onto a baking pan. This is where you’ll be placing your full coated shrimp.

7. Start the battering process by dipping the shrimp into the flour to coat it evenly. Then, drop the floured shrimp into the egg; dip one last time into the panko and coconut flake mixture. Lay the breaded shrimp out onto your baking pan.

8. Once all of your shrimp are breaded, place them into the oven, and bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until the tops start to turn golden brown. 9. Turn the shrimp over after they’ve cooked 8-10 minutes. Place them back into the oven for 6-8 minutes or until browned and cooked thoroughly. 10. Combine your ingredients for sauces, and serve the shrimp immediately with lime wedges.

Directions for tangy dipping sauce:

1. Combine rice wine vinegar, marmalade of your choice and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and stir.

Directions for Sriracha mayo sauce:

1. Combine mayonnaise, Sriracha and lime juice in a small bowl and stir.

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind. Head on over.

A Summer Grill Out

This post was sponsored by Bota Box. All opinions and thoughts expressed are my own. 

During the summer months, we try to spend at least a few nights a week up on our building's rooftop grilling dinner. We have a few go-tos in the rotation (bbq chicken, grilled veggies, flank steaks, etc.) but grilled shrimp is always at the top of my list. This time, we opted to have a couple of friends over, and change things up with grilled shrimp tacos instead. They are SO ridiculously easy to make, they're fast, and they're perfect to have on a hot summer night. Through my partnership with Bota Box, we poured some wine to go along with, and had the perfect evening.

I hadn't tried Bota Box before, but was really excited to find that the packaging is 100% recyclable, and creates 85% less landfill waste than traditional glass bottles. We've really been trying to reduce our carbon footprint, and use recyclable packaging and materials as much as possible so it's definitely a big selling point on that end. Best of all, the wine was delicious (the pinot noir is a personal favorite, but the pinot grigio went perfectly with the tacos). I've included the taco recipe below and you can visit www.botabox.com if you're curious about where to find a box near you!

GRILLED SHRIMP TACOS 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. jumbo raw shrimp
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • 6-8 flour tortillas

Directions:

  1. Begin by soaking your wooden skewers in water. Soaking for at least 30 minutes allows the skewers to not burn on the grill as easily.
  2. Rinse, peel and devein the shrimp. Remove the tails.
  3. Combine the dry spices with the vegetable oil and stir to combine.
  4. Add the shrimp to the spice mixture and toss to coat evenly.
  5. Skewer 4-5 shrimp on each wooden skewer, leaving some room between each shrimp
  6. Fire up your grill on high to heat to roughly 400 degrees. Once grill is heated, turn burners down to medium.
  7. Place the shrimp skewers onto the grill. Cook for roughly 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the shrimp start to lightly char around the edges.
  8. Serve the shrimp immediately by placing 4-5 shrimp on each grilled tortilla. Top with sour cream drizzle, fresh cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

We served the tacos with chips and, guac, grilled corn and watermelon slices but extra grilled veggies, fresh salsa or grilled pineapple would work well too!

A Visit to Roanoke

Last month we traveled with Curio Collection and Global Yodel to the beautiful, historic city of Roanoke, VA. We spent the weekend there hiking the Blue Ridge, taking in the local food scene, and generally just getting in a lot of relaxing. You can read my full Roanoke guide here, but I thought I'd round up a few of my favorite snaps from the trip as well!

Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshorn

On Tuesday evening, the Hirshorn invited me to a preview of the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibit. I'd been dying to see the Kusama's art since I'd heard about it, couldn't have been happier I got to check it out. Six Infinity Mirror rooms make up the exhibit, and you experience each one on your own (or with a friend) on a timed basis. It was completely immersive, and totally unlike anything I'd seen before. These photos do it absolutely no justice, and I'd urge you to pay a visit if you're in DC. I will certainly be going back (the exhibit runs through May 14)!

"Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos." - Yayoi Kusama

 

Traveling with Photo Equipment

As most photographers will attest to, traveling with photography equipment is a tricky, and occasionally anxiety inducing thing. I’m always expecting extra security searches or worry about somehow damaging my camera. With a few trips coming up both domestic and international, I thought it would be helpful to put together a post about how I keep all of my work equipment safe while traveling and on a day-to-day basis.

I realize it’s vain, but I really don’t want my equipment to scream “I’m a photographer!” and would prefer for the stuff I carry around to mesh well with my regular, everyday style. With that being said, here are my favorites. 

Away Carry-On

Away recently sent me a piece of luggage to try out, and I was really blown away. Firstly, it’s beautiful. I opted for a dark blue, and the color is so understated but striking in real life. Secondly, as every friend and family member I have will attest to, my phone is about to be dead 90% of the time (including now) so a suitcase that can charge my phone is a real godsend for me. Thirdly, the hardshell makes it perfect for keeping photo equipment safe.

The carry-on I have works for domestic and international planes so I feel totally safe putting cameras and lenses into it without worrying about someone forcing me to check my bag. There’s lots of little compartments, and I genuinely feel like my stuff is super secure. I’ve started using it during local shoots that require lots of props, and it’s made things so much easier and more organized.

Caden Camera Bag Insert

Full disclosure, there’s nothing pretty about this thing but luckily, no one will ever see it. This little guy is one of my favorite things in the world because it has allowed me to turn every bag into a camera bag. I throw my camera in this, toss it in a bag, and go. Most often, I put it in my Everlane backpack (my day-to-day camera bag), and it fits perfectly. While traveling, I’ll put it into some of the leather totes I have and it works wonderfully. And it’s less than $20!

Everlane Snap Backpack

Though there are finally some cute camera bags out there, I’d never found one that was quite right. Thus, I decided to turn my Everlane backpack into a camera bag, and it works really well for me. You can easily fit a body and a couple of lenses in it plus a laptop, and any little accessories you may need, and its $65. I love it, and it gets more compliments than literally anything else I own.

Thomas Paul Case

I’ve bought an actual memory card holder on Amazon in the past, and it was not great. It fell apart almost immediately, and I found myself searching for a replacement soon after. My sister gifted me this cute little pouch for Christmas one year, and I’ve found it to be perfect for storing memory cards. I actually keep spare business cards in it too, and it’s way better than any dedicated memory card organizer I’ve seen. I label my cards so I have an idea of what's what, but your milage may vary if you need to keep your cards separated.

Other photography and non-photography gadgets I love:

Notebooks - I try to always have a notebook on me because no matter how much I utilize notes and to-do apps on my phone, nothing works for me quite as well as a paper to-do list. I’m embarrassingly particular about my notebooks, and have been loyal to Rodia notebooks for a while because they have graph paper. I recently got a notebook from Appointed, a DC-based company (!!!), and I am loving it. It’s also graph paper vs. lined, and the cover is so ridiculously beautiful. They sent me one with my initials embossed in it, and I’ve been carrying it everywhere.

Pilot P-500 pen - This is as ridiculous as being particular about notebooks, but I’m a pen snob too. Seriously, just go buy this pen, and making grocery lists will become 100% better.

Transcend Card Reader - A good card reader really makes a big difference. This one is about a billion times faster than my old one, and it’s under $20 on Amazon. It’s tiny, lightweight, and does the job without issue.

Dulla Phone Bank - As I mentioned, my phone is always dead. I carry this little phone bank with me pretty often, but especially when traveling. A lot of my Instagram photos are just iPhone snaps so I really try to make sure I have this at all times. It holds 4-5 iPhone charges, and it’s pretty cute as far as phone banks go.

That's everything! I'm sure things will change and get updated as time goes on, but hopefully this is somewhat useful if you travel with equipment and want it to look semi-cute!

Disclosure: I was gifted an Away suitcase; however all thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.