Friday, May 25, 2018

Lola Empanada – San Tan Valley, AZ

D.Rough and I were driving back to Phoenix from a visit to family in Tucson. D.Rough had been looking at food destinations off the beaten path between Tucson and Phoenix and kept seeing Lola Empanada come up. We left a little early to make sure we had time to stop by Lola and check it all out. I’m so glad we did.

The place wasn’t busy when we arrived and the woman working was having her really awesome and friendly young kids help us out. They were adorable. It took us a minute to decide on lunch, but we figured it out with some compromising, so we could try more things.

We got:
  • Chicken bacon jalapeño popper
  • Green chili chicken
  • Spicy beef
  • Spicy beef bean and cheese
  • Yucca fries with garlic aioli

D.Rough also got a fresh margarita. We weren’t sure it was going to be good when it arrived, since it was  a little “clear”. But it honestly was fantastic. Really wonderful fresh lime taste and not overpoweringly boozy. Really awesome and refreshing.

The yucca fries were very generous (size-wize) and went really well with the garlic aioli. The dip was pretty magical. The outside was very crunchy and the inside was nice and fluffy like mashed potatoes. A wonderful choice and one I’d recommend (as long as you have someone to share the giant portion with).

Each of the empanadas were wonderful. I’m really impressed with how fat they were with fillings and also how well they were fried. They were flaky and crusty, but didn’t fall apart (and weren’t greasy tasting). D.Rough’s favorite was the green chili chicken one and my favorite one was the spicy beef with beans and cheese. We were extremely full after eating all of these, but it was worth it.

This place is a hidden gem that deserves more attention. Great work, Lola!!!

And then, just before we got back to the rental car place, a giant hawk slammed into the side of my car while I was on the highway and rocked my door. This is why I always get the insurance on rental cars. WEIRD STUFF ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME!!!

Lola Empanada
5452 E. Skyline Drive
San Tan Valley, AZ 85140

Friday, April 20, 2018

Iceland – Land of LIES (Day 7)

Our last day in Iceland was very uneventful. We were concerned about the weather and the cancellation of the previous day’s planes ruining things for our flights, but we had no problems at all. We packed our stuff, cleaned the house really well, forgot the bag of food in the fridge that we were going to bring with us, and made it to the rental car place and airport without any problems.

Seriously, look at how beautiful this mountain pass of doom is today in the sunshine!!!

We even had enough time to pull over, so D.Rough could trespass on someone's private property and snap a photo of a cute little camper trailer similar to ours!

It was such a beautiful day out - sunshine for miles! ...Oh wait!... I forgot it hailed on us when we were walking outside from the bus to the airplane on the tarmac. Hahahahaha. One last jab from Iceland.

So that makes for a really boring blog post, right? I’m going to do what I can to fix that, so you aren’t bored by our last day in Iceland. I’ll do that by talking, once again, about penises. I’m clearly not trying for an Icelandic Tourism Bureau position. In fact, I’m BURNING ALL THE (one-lane) BRIDGES!!! So, I might as well keep going!

This vacation, without question, was the most penis-filled vacation I’ve ever been on – and that isn’t even including the Icelandic Phallogical Museum in Reykjavik. I’ve mentioned a few times all of the amazing geothermal pools we went to and the rec center by our house – all of those places have very strict requirements about showering BEFORE you get into the pool without your swimsuit. So strict that many of the pools, including the Blue Lagoon, have some sort of monitor in the shower area to make sure you adhere to this rule. There are signs up showing you which parts of your body to address before getting into the geothermal pool, complete with red circles and pointers.

It’s totally normal in Iceland, and you probably shouldn’t get bent out of shape, but I like to at least warn people, since I know people can be very locker-room averse. The geothermal pools generally don’t use chemicals to clean and purify the water (like U.S. swimming pools use tons of chlorine), so the idea is that you wash away as many of your naturally-occurring body oils before getting into the pools. Makes total sense. So, every pool that you go to will have a swimsuit-less shower requirement before getting in. And, at least all of the pools we went to on this trip, there are separate locker rooms for both men and women, if that eases your fears at all.

Pro-tip for those of you that have “concerns” about being in the locker room with a lot of naked people: Don’t choose a locker on the bottom level. …  …just think about it – you’ll figure it out eventually.

Just deal with it. Don’t make it a big deal, because no one else from any other country will make it a big deal. And, because it isn’t a big deal.

Secondly, despite all of the complaints about the weather and the extremely dangerous driving, we truly DID have a great time. I WILL say we had a much better time once we got to where we were going, but the getting there was really the only bad part. We saw some amazing waterfalls, soaked in some incredible geothermal pools, ate delicious food, met some truly wonderful and hospitable people, stayed in an amazing rental house, drove the cutest 4x4 car ever, saw the ocean from an angle we have never seen before, saw icebergs shortly after their birth, saw seals, had a great time with friends from Minnesota, laughed our heads off at so many ridiculous situations, stole a baby iceberg, tried without success to pronounce every Icelandic word we saw, ate ice cream with cows, petted some dogs, took a sauna every day, baked bread in the earth, saw a geyser, saw Icelandic horses battling in the snow, learned about sustainability and environmentalism, saw a TON of penises, drank tiki drinks, and ate a ton of Icelandic butter.

My wife thinks I tell the story of our trip in such a way as to make people think we had an awful time. We didn’t. We encountered some awful weather and driving, but that was it. We were prepared for the cost, which I know is expensive – but we were mentally prepared. I DO tell the story of our adventures in such a way as to let people know that Iceland can be hard. VERY hard. But we were there in February. What do people expect? It’s cold and windy here in February, just like it is a lot of places. Our mistake was thinking that just because we’re from Minnesota that the warnings that people generously bestowed on us were for Florida-travelers, not Minnesota-travelers. This is the first vacation that has ever broken me – day ONE, in fact. That’s really hard to do, since I’m a pretty adaptable traveler and can drive, sleep, and eat pretty much anywhere. But Iceland is on another level with its weather.

The week before we got to Iceland, they closed the entire island because of a blizzard. It sounded and looked awful. Far worse than we even had. So I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that my friends that went three weeks after us had an amazing trip and they want to move there. It isn’t Iceland’s fault.

I laugh because I fully expected to see all of THIS in Iceland:

But instead, I got this.

And, I wouldn’t change it. I survived and came out stronger at the other end of this trip that almost killed us multiple times. It’s going to make our next beach vacation THAT much better.

I have a feeling we’ll be back, Iceland. Maybe not in February next time, but there are still things we know you are hiding from us. Iceland didn’t lie, it just did what my friend Coach enjoys doing – not telling the whole truth. I’m guessing the tourism bureau ran out of room putting pretty pictures on its flyers and couldn’t find the space to put all the terrifying ones in there. Probably smart on their part, hahaha.

Go to Day 6

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Iceland – Land of LIES (Day 6)

I was pretty excited for this day when I woke up. Yes, I knew we’d have to wait before we did anything because all of the roads were probably going to be closed… wait… I’m checking now… yup, all closed! We had a good breakfast and relaxed before our adventure day in Reykjavik. To get there, we knew we had to drive through the mountain pass of doom (see previous posts for an explanation if you skipped ahead), so we took our time. We were going to meet our friend Loose Change in town for some of our adventures, but we figured she was staying in town and probably saw some of the touristy things we wanted to hit quickly. I’ll also mention that this was my birthday, so I was pretty excited for some of our shenanigans I had planned on for the past few months.

We drove the death-defying highway over the mountain and despite the country’s best efforts, we made it safely. All the snow and ice had turned into rain by the time we got to Reykjavik. Our plan was to park somewhere central and then do some walking to where we needed to go. We scored a really close parking spot near the famous Hallgrimskirkja – the largest church and one of the tallest structures in Iceland. My mother was probably thrilled when she heard I was in a for-real church on my birthday.

We waited in line to go to the top of the tower, and were actually lucky enough to catch the organist practicing. That was pretty slick.

While we were waiting in line, we ran into a family we had seen at the Fontana Spa on Wednesday. They said that night they lost control of their car and it slid far off the road – thankfully, not a roll-over situation – and they had to walk a few miles to a hotel that charged them $500 to stay. Then the following morning had to pay a farmer to pull their car out of the ditch. See? This stuff happens all the time in Iceland, but it isn’t in the brochure!

The elevator only holds like six people and costs $5-7 per person, but I’d say just suck it up and pay for the great view of the entire city and harbor. It was worth it to us. (People are such complainers!)

We finished up at the church and did some shopping while walking towards our destination. We had called Loose Change and she was going to meet us. But we had some people to buy souvenirs for and needed to look at Icelandic sweaters and such. We popped into a few charity shops – which the US refers to as consignment or goodwill shops. It’s a very walkable city and we had a good time walking in the drizzle.

While walking towards our most exciting destination ever, we stopped at the Big Lebowski Bar – it’s a bar themed after the movie of the same name. It’s decorated in all kinds of bowling and Big Lebowski movie props and they have an awesome list of like 20 different white russians (drinks). We were a little bummed that the staff didn’t seem to be into it at all, despite working at what appeared to be a really fun bar. But it didn’t matter, we had fun and that was all that mattered. They had a spin-the-wheel-and-get-whatever-drinks-you-landed-on situation here at the bar, but I decided against it and just got a standard white russian. D.Rough got a hot version and loved it. I do love a good booze wheel, though… Next time.

We walked past the Chuck Norris Grill. I’m guessing it’s got some good kitch, but D.Rough and I make it a rule that we don’t eat burgers outside of the U.S.  Not because we’re scared of what they put in the meat, but because they DO put things in the meat that makes it taste NOT like a juice burger form the U.S.  Apparently, I’m a burger nationalist. (But I’ll pretty much eat all the local and ethnic food I can get my hands on.)

We grabbed some awesome chips (french fries in the U.S.) from Reykjavik Chips – which comes highly recommended. They’ve got a ton of different sauces and the fries were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside – just like in Belgium (or in Astoria, Oregon’s Frite & Scoop). They’ve got some decent beers there, as well. The guy working was super personable and friendly and they’ve got old school rap/hip-hop on the speakers This place did tons of business while we were there, so we were lucky to get a table – with holes in it to put your chip cones. Fantastic place.

We heard from Loose Change and she was ready to meet us at our ultimate Icelandic destination – the Icelandic Phallogical Museum. Yes, it’s a museum dedicated to penises. It’s a very scientifically displayed collection of penises from different animals. The most impressive/terrifying were the whale penises, but they had all kinds of other animals – mammals, lizards, birds (sort of), insects, and human. It’s a large room full of formaldehyde glass jars with descriptions next to them.

There are three or four other smaller rooms with specific collections in them. My favorite was the folklore room. It’s basically a room where they’ve collected penises from animals and monsters that don’t exist. Some are clearly stitched together and some are very creatively shown, but it’s really an interesting way to demonstrate these things.

The hilarious thing is that the gift shop is about one step away from being a bachelorette party shop.

Most of us had a good time there, but D.Rough had to tap out early. She got a little grossed out and overwhelmed. Completely understandable. I heard about this museum when I saw a really good documentary film called the Final Member. If you can find a copy, it’s worth watching.

The bar we (mainly me) wanted to go to wasn’t open yet, so we had to kill some time. By this time of day, it was absolutely POURING down rain and sleet. Combined with the howling winds, you really couldn’t hear each other talk when you were outside.

We headed down near the harbor to get a photo of the Viking ship sculpture. Thankfully, the rain was keeping most of the people away, so we got great photos of me shirtless in front of it. It’s funny when you whip your shirt off in an inhabitable weather situation and people cheer for you. Try it sometime!

We were getting extremely soaked at this point, so D.Rough and Loose Change did some clothes and souvenir shopping.

We walked past the birthday-boy’s-chosen bar, called Bar Ananas a few times before they actually opened (like 45 minutes late). It’s Iceland’s only tiki bar, so I knew I had to hit it for my birthday. For its location, on what is literally the almost exact opposite side of the globe from French Polynesia, it does a good job of tiki décor. I was pleased we made it here. The tiki cocktail menu only had 8 drinks on it and 4 of those were not available, so our decision was made much easier.

Loose Change and I got the drink that involved fire – which we got too much of the ingredient that causes the fire because we had to ask for a second attempt so we could get better photos – and D.Rough got the Flamingofant.

We were all ok with our drinks – nothing to rave about, but they did fine. The space is pretty cool and multi-leveled, but it’s no Mai Kai or Trader Vik’s.

Some bars put deodorant hockey pucks or ice cubes into their urinals, right? Well Bar Ananas puts pineapple in their urinals. That’s going the extra tiki mile!

We said our good byes to Loose Change, since we had to drive back over the mountain pass of doom, and headed towards home. We thought we’d check out a restaurant near our house in Selfoss for a nice birthday dinner. Thankfully, Kaffi Krús was able to get us a table and treated us very well for the night. I got a ridiculously-priced fancy beer and D.Rough got something a little more reasonable. D.Rough went with the Duck Pizza, and I got the Filet of Icelandic Lamb. It was my birthday – what did you expect!?

This was the best meal we had had in Iceland – the food and the service were just amazing. They made sure we were both well taken care and there was an attention to the food that was pretty outstanding. And since my wife believes you can’t celebrate a birthday properly without dessert, we both got uour own dessert. There is a pretty spectacular display case full of desserts and cakes and they also have a sort of set dessert menu to choose from. I honestly have no idea what D.Rough got – it’s some sort of skyrcake (like cheesecake made with skyr Icelandic yogurt) and cookies and chocolate crumbled on it. It was ridiculously good and probably came out of the magic dessert case.

I got the white chocolate and strawberry mousse, which was my favorite dessert I’ve had in a really long time.

These people can make some serious food. I’m so glad we came here and didn’t skimp on my birthday.

The weather was getting really rough outside (since it was after dark), so we got home as fast as we could. We had a message from Loose Change saying the airport had shut down today due to the weather and we should be on high alert for our flights that left tomorrow. Uh oh. It also turns out that Loose Change and her friend went out in the storm to get outside of the city and potentially snap some photos of the northern lights (since the weather had not been cooperating all week). The pair was out late and the weather continued to get increasingly awful and they had to get escorted back to the city by some sort of good samaritan highway patrol vehicle, since they couldn’t see the road they were driving on. I’m glad they made it home safe at like 4 am. D.Rough and I were long asleep by then, despite the wind rattling our house most of the night!

Day 5   |   Day 7

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Iceland – Land of LIES (Day 5)

We woke up to more weather and road closings, but we were making the most of it, right? New attitude and such (at least for me). D.Rough made us an awesome breakfast and we just had a very slow-moving day.

We soaked in the sauna for a bit and relaxed.

Before we knew it, it was the afternoon and we wanted to check out this famous greenhouse where most of the island’s tomatoes come from. It seemed interesting to me, but I wasn’t sure I was completely on board. There was a small break in the weather and the greenhouse wasn’t a long drive, so we went for it. It was a challenge finding the right entrance to this place, since there are a lot of service entrances, but we figured it out by following a tour bus in (and then running into the building while it was parking to beat all the passengers on that bus.)

They were really busy, even in the winter, so they asked if we could wait possibly an hour. Of course we could. We had nothing else to do and it was crazy snowing outside. We put our name in and walked around the greenhouse for a bit. They’ve got all kinds of cool hydroponic things and bees all over the place. They do more than just tomatoes at this greenhouse, so there were other kinds of plants around.

There are boxes full of bees that potentate all the plants and just come and go as they please. Pretty wild.

Of course, we ended up at the bar after our little jaunt around the greenhouse. They’ve got a few tomato-based drinks – think bloody marys – and some wine and beer. We both stuck with some Icelandic beer.

We didn’t wait very long at all before they came over and seated us. A very friendly waiter came over and asked us if we’d been there before. We said no, so then he asked us if we wanted the full story of the greenhouse or if we just wanted to dine. We told him we wanted the full experience. He gave us all the details and facts and figures. It’s a very interesting place, honestly.

We looked at the menu, of which everything is tomato based. We decided on the unlimited tomato soup (I know, right, but we made the right choice) and bread, and I got a green tomato bloody mary (which was one of the “healthy” ones).

The soup was, as you’d expect, the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, bar none. That being said, the even better part was the ridiculous breads that they had there next to the soup. They were all covered in melted cheese and seasonings or olives and I ate waaaaay too many pieces. Seriously, like 10 giant pieces – I don’t regret it one bit. And they have basil plants at the tables with herb-cutting scissors, so you can snip off fresh basil leaves and put them in your soup. It definitely added to the experience.

We were very intrigued by the tomato-based desserts, so I ended up getting a little clay pot of cheese cake covered with a green tomato jam, cinnamon, and lime. It sounds really weird, but it was fantastic. We both loved every bite of it. It was a dessert to remember, without question.

We checked the weather map when we got ready to leave and it sounded like the winds were picking up. We really only had one place to hit on the way home. It’s a huge crater (caused by an underground explosion) sort of in the middle of nowhere – the Kerid Crater. You have to pay a small fee to park there and check it out, but you can do it pretty quickly. You can walk around the whole crater in like ten minutes and you can even go down to the water – which is frozen in the winter. It looked like some people already had done that and written fun stuff in the snow. Hilarious.

It was incredibly windy and cold at this crater. The sun was starting to go down and the wind was definitely howling. We didn’t last long here at this crater out in the elements. We headed home to make some dinner and go to sleep, since we had an exciting day tomorrow – We’re going to Reykjavik!!!

Day 4   |   Day 6