Last week was my last spring break, probably for the rest of my life, and I went to Arizona to spend 6 amazing days with my boyfriend. It’s been a long time since I’ve lived like the locals anywhere outside of New York City, and I had forgotten how easy life can actually be. We have a lot of conveniences within a short walk here in NYC, but getting there is like playing a game of Frogger: dodging kids on scooters and oblivious adults walking with their noses buried in their phones. Then, when you get to your destination, there’s almost always a crowd. Don’t even get me started on the public transit. Being bumped by, having close physical contact with, and inhaling the coughs and sneezes of everyone on a packed train is glorious.
In Arizona, we had so much space! We had to drive everywhere, which is both good and bad. Clearly, there’s the benefit of avoiding the aforementioned public transit scenario, but it is more expensive and less environmentally friendly. And the stores and restaurants are big and not always crowded…it’s incredible. The only complaint I have was the heat. It hit 100 degrees at least three of the days I was there…in April. Summers there must be miserable.
Anyway, we kicked off the trip with a visit to the zoo. Yes, we are adults, but we still love the zoo. We got there when they opened to avoid the crowds for the main attraction – the baby animal nursery. They had baby jackals and hogs and lions! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures because I was too busy squealing and trying to figure out how to get through the glass that separated me from them, but trust me when I say they were all ADORABLE!
Next, we went flying!!! My BF is out in Arizona training to be a commercial pilot. He already has his private license, so he took me up for a nice tour of the Phoenix area. This is the first time I’ve flown with him and, to be honest, I was a bit nervous. Not because I don’t trust his abilities, but because those tiny planes scare the crap out of me. I don’t know what I was worried about, though. We had smooth skies and it was incredibly peaceful. Such a great experience!
To end the trip, we drove up to Sedona for a fun little hike to a swimming hole called ‘The Crack’. The day we went was much cooler than the rest of my visit, which was good for the hike but not so great for swimming in cold water. It was nice and relaxing to sit on the rocks and enjoy the the cool air and sunlight, though. We had the place to ourselves for a while and it was so tranquil. We were surrounded by the mountains with gorgeous red rocks and we had the background noise of the stream running over the rocks below us. If you’re ever in that area, I highly recommend it.
Throughout the trip, we ate really well and stayed active. Another perk you wouldn’t find in NYC without paying an arm and a leg is a gym in his apartment complex. Oh, and swimming pools with grills. We made good use of all of it. We grilled steaks and fish, we swam, we hit the gym every day. We ate out a few times, too. There’s a lot of Mexican food in Arizona, so we took advantage of that. One thing that bothers me at Mexican restaurants is the rice. They usually give you a side of Spanish rice and beans with your meal, and the rice is almost always really bland. It’s usually an orange-yellow color, and they sometimes toss in some chopped vegetables – bell peppers or corn or carrots. At most restaurants, though, I have to dump an entire bowl of salsa on the rice to give it some flavor. It’s disappointing because I do love a good, tasty rice dish. So, I made my own Spanish rice and it is so flavorful you won’t even think about adding salsa. It makes a great side for tacos, enchiladas, fajitas…really anything. It’s also pretty easy to make and a lot of the ingredients are things I usually keep on hand anyway, so sometimes I throw some beans in and eat over spinach for lunch or dinner in a pinch. This version has a bit of spice to it, so if you don’t like spicy foods, you can skip the cayenne pepper and/or jalapeno. You can also use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth for a vegetarian option. Enjoy!
Simple Spanish Rice
Serving Nutrition: 111 calories, 2.8 g protein, 0.9 g fat, 23.2 g carbohydrate
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 cup chicken broth
1-1/4 cup water
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 medium bell pepper (any color), diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
1. In large saucepan, add olive oil and onion and cook until onions are translucent.
2. Add rice, chicken broth, and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in tomatoes, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, spices, and 1/4 cup water. Cover and simmer another 25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro.