We love Venison. And we love bourbon. And we love grilling, grilling planks and meatballs. What do you get when you combine them all? Magic. You can buy the bourbon barrel planks here on Etsy: Bourbon Barrel Grilling Planks (full disclosure – we sell them at this shop!)
1 Lb. Ground Venison (you can also substitute for another ground game meat, lamb, or grass fed beef)
1 Tsp Sea Salt (we use Himalayan Pink salt)
1 Tsp Black Pepper
1/2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 Tsp Garlic (granulated or diced)
1/2 Tsp Onion powder
Soak Bourbon plank for at least 30 minutes to an hour
Mix ground venison with the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix without overworking the meat.
Form into meatballs and place on plate and refrigerate one hour.
Preheat grill with indirect heat at 400F
Place plank on the grill to preheat for 10 minutes. As the moisture escapes the wood fibers it brings the oak and bourbon flavor out of the barrel plank and into your meatballs!
Once the plank is warmed up, place the meatballs on the plank
Cook approximately 20 minutes, or to your liking. I shoot for medium for meatballs, or 150F internal temp. Do not overcook them, Venison does not have the fat content beef has and they will dry out quickly!
They should be brown and glistening when you take them off. Enjoy them with naan and Tzatziki!
Please let us know if you try this out in the comment section!
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a great destination in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. We made this a stop on our way to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore so we weren’t there overnight. You can camp in the park if you are planning a longer trip. This is a beautiful area and would be worth a trip to the UP all on its own.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is around 50,000 acres stretching over 13 miles. Most of this land is forested and great for hiking. The highlight of the park is of course the waterfalls of the Tahquamenon River. There are two major viewing locations- the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls. There is a trail in-between the two if you want to hike and see both sites. The Upper Falls is one the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. A few miles downstream are the Lower Falls. The Lower Falls are smaller waterfalls surrounding an island. You can rent a row boat at the Lower Falls to view them from the water or from the island. Since we were only there for the afternoon we didn’t take advantage of this option. We viewed the falls from land. There are great viewing decks offering lots of opportunity for great photos!
Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub is right on site at the park and offers microbrews and standard pub style food. Of course you are in the upper peninsula so having a pasty is a must! A pasty is similar to an empanada or other meat and veggie filled pastry. The brewery has several microbrews on tap that are made locally. What specifically is available does vary based on the time of year you are visiting.
The park is open year round. Of course your best bet for hiking and camping will be in the summer. Check out this website for more information on activities to do in the park during all seasons http://www.exploringthenorth.com/tahqua/tahqua.html. If you are planning to camp we would recommend booking your campsites ahead of time as this is a popular summer destination in Michigan and campsites do tend to fill up. Use the MI reservations website to reserve your spot online https://midnrreservations.com.
For more on the Pictured Rocks check out our post:
The Calle Ocho Music Festival happens every year in March in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. We did not plan our trip around this festival but we happened to discover that it would be during our trip. We decided we should check it out since we wanted to see and eat in Little Havana anyways. The festival is the largest Latin American music festival in North America and it is free to attend. It takes place along several blocks on Calle Ocho. There are stages set up every couple blocks with live music. The festival is very crowded and can be a bit crazy as with any concert or music festival. We didn’t spend any lengthy amount of time at any one stage but when we did pass by the stages the music we heard was all very good. There were larger crowds around each stage and lots of people dancing and having a good time!
We were really there for the food! There are street venders along both sides of the street selling all sorts of wonderful food! You can find any kind of Latin American food you want at this festival. We saw Mexican, Argentinian, Puerto Rican and Cuban to name a few specifics. We spent our time walking down the street in search of great street food to try.
We had some really awesome carne asada- that was the star of the afternoon for us! We saw this meat grilling on a tipi shaped wood fired grill (pictured below) and decided we had to stop at this food stand. We got the steak which came with fried plantains, something similar to coleslaw with fresh cilantro and potatoes. It was a lot of food but we did manage to try a few other things as we walked. We also tried a sweet corn pie which tastes like a corn pudding that is fried like a pancake and then some cheese is melted in-between two patties like a grilled cheese. We also had a fried empanada. Shredded chicken was the only filling in the empanada we had. It was not bad but we were expecting a filling more like what we had in Chile where there was always meat and cheese inside not just the meat. We felt like it would have been better with cheese as well as shredded chicken. This is just our preference and of course different cultures make their empanadas differently. We also only only tried them from one food stand so maybe others had different fillings.
While at the festival, you can see Domino Park and the iconic Calle Ocho rooster statues which you always read about when researching what to do in Little Havana. It is good to know that a lot of the businesses and restaurants in Little Havana are closed during the festival. You can buy beer and other drinks from some of the bars in the area and from other street vendors. But if you are looking to sit down inside for a meal or a drink you will likely need to leave the festival to find something. We sat and enjoyed our carne asada at the Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park. This is a small park just off Calle Ocho with a memorial to those who fought for Cuban independence. It had a few benches with seating. A lot of the street food available is easier to walk around with while you eat. You can also find less crowded areas along the sidewalk to stop and eat your food if needed.
One big thing we definitely noticed was the lack of bathrooms. We were expecting at least one or two areas with porter potties or something since it was such a large festival. We passed a few restaurants that had signs saying $2 or $3 to use the bathroom. We finally came across a couple porta potties tucked back away from Calle Ocho. Those were free to use but were out of toilet paper. There happened to be a vendor selling soft drinks and water right next to these porter potties. He did have napkins he was charging for if you wanted to use some in place of toilet paper. So especially if you are drinking while at the festival just be aware that finding a bathroom may not be as easy or cheap as you expected.
We took an Uber from Miami Beach to the festival. Uber ride share is a great option to help keep your Uber costs down. Do be mindful that the festival is very crowded so the traffic getting there can be a bit crazy. Our Uber driver was able to drop us off within a block or two of the festival and then made sure we knew where we were going. A tip if taking an Uber away from the festival when you are ready to leave- walk a block or two away so that you can more easily be picked up away from the crowds. If driving yourself to the festival be prepared to pay for parking and we would recommend getting there early before traffic gets too crazy.
We had a great time at Calle Ocho! Whether you are there for the food, the music or just to have a great cultural experience it is worth a visit if you are in Miami in March. Again be prepared for big crowds. Knowing some Spanish is helpful when ordering food. If you don’t know any Spanish you can certainly point to what you want and still get by. We never felt unsafe or unwelcome while we were there. We saw lots of other tourists as well as locals. Our Uber driver recommended keeping your wallet in your front pocket and for women keeping your purse or bag close to you to avoid pick pocketing. We would second this recommendation and recommend not bringing a large purse or bag, just a small cross body bag for women is a good idea. Again we had no problems but this is just good advise whenever you are somewhere with a large crowd.
Check out or other posts for more information on the Miami Beach area:
We are typically pretty desperate for sunshine and warm weather by February/March since we live in Michigan where it is cold and usually snowing until mid to late April. We searched for a direct flight out of our local airport in hopes of a quick beach getaway and decided on Miami. Since we wanted a beach vacation we decided to stay in Miami beach not in Miami it’s self. We also wanted to see the historic Art Deco area so we landed on an Air B and B in South Beach. South Beach has a reputation for being a huge party area which is really not our scene. If that is what you are looking for you can definitely find it quite easily in South Beach. If you are like us and that isn’t what you are looking for don’t worry, there is way more to South Beach than just being a party town! Here is our list of what to see and do in South Beach besides just embracing the party scene.
Of course if you are staying in Miami Beach you are likely there for a beach vacation. The beach here is awesome! White sand, turquoise waters, and lots of space. The beach is wide and goes on for miles!
We stayed near Lummus Park which is right along the beach. The park has a large outdoor workout space with lots of equipment and lots of volley ball nets. There is also a nice bike path you can walk along to get views of Ocean Drive and the Art Deco without having to be hassled by the street vendors or restaurants trying to get you to come in or sit down for a meal with them (we talk more about this in our where to eat in Miami Beach post, you can find the link at the end of this post). There are public bathrooms with shower stations you can rinse off at after enjoying the beach. There are multiple points of entry to the beach on the island so wherever you are staying there will be public beach access nearby. The beach can get crowded but as we said it goes on for miles so if you happen to enter the beach in a more crowded area you can keep walking either north or south until you find a quitter spot. The beach is lined with life guard stations all decorated different colors going along with the Art Deco theme in the area. There are areas where you can rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards and jet skis on the beach if that is something you are interested in.
South Pointe Pier and Park:
If you walk all the way south on the beach you will come to South Pointe Pier. From the beach you can get to the pier and to South Point Park. You will likely see many people fishing from the pier. You can also get great views of the beach from the pier.
After walking along the pier you can take the path through South Point park. The path goes along the channel so you can see the boats coming in and out as you walk. There are lots of benches if you want to stop and sit while enjoying the views. As you continue walking there are a few restaurants and some green spaces where you will see people sitting in the shade enjoying a picnic or just relaxing. There is also a small park with some water fountains we saw kids running through and playing on. If you do have kids this could be something fun to do to if you are looking for a break from the beach. You will also walk past a marina full of very large, impressive boats/yachts which you can admire as you go. This channel is also where the cruise ships leave from. We saw multiple cruise ships leaving just about every day we were there. Since Miami is on the east coast of Florida you don’t get a sunset over the beach but if you sit on the benches at South Pointe park you can get a sunset over the city. We brought our own bottle of wine and had a relaxing time here watching the sun set.
The area of South Beach near Lummus Park is the historic Art Deco district. There is an art deco welcome center where you can get information about the area. We did not go in so cannot comment on everything they have to offer. We walked around on our own and were able to see all the major Art Deco buildings in the area. The majority of these buildings are on Ocean Drive and Collins Street. Most of the buildings are hotels, shops or restaurants. Ocean drive is quite touristy and is definitely where you will find the party scene. We suggest walking on the sidewalk along Lummus Park which is across the street from Ocean Drive. That way you can get better views of the Art Deco and take photos without being hasseled by street vendors or the restaurants asking you to come sit down for a drink or a meal. The buildings are lite up at night so even if you aren’t much of a night owl it is worth walking around this area once it gets dark so you can see everything lite up.
There is a lot of great food in Miami Beach! This is a very international area where you can find all kinds of different food. Of course Cuban food is a must! But outside of that pretty much anything you want, you can find. Miami Beach and South beach in particular gets a reputation for being an expensive destination. You can spend a lot of money on mediocre food here for sure. Also you can find great, authentic food for cheap if you know where to look.
A general rule for food in South Beach- Ocean drive is the main street near the beach and it where a lot of the Art Deco buildings are located. It is lined with restaurants and bars with outdoor seating. It is tempting to sit and eat, drink and people watch here but we would advise against it. You will find okay food catering to tourists who will most likely never be there again. A lot of the restaurants are serving very similar menus, nothing unique about each place. If you eat here, the food won’t be bad but it also won’t be great and you will pay way more than you would like. We ate on Ocean Drive our first lunch in the area before we really got our bearings. We shared one dish and drank just water and ended up spending approx. $50.
This area is also big for night life. A lot of these restaurants and bars have live music at night. The Art Deco buildings are all lit up at night which is also fun to see. We walked along to see the lights and ended up stopping into one bar to see some of the live music and get a drink. We are not big on going out, the party scene is not really our thing, but we thought while in South Beach we should enjoy some of the night life. We looked over the menu and quickly did some math on drink prices. A draft beer was $16 and so was a small cocktail. Most of these places serve giant cocktails in a large fish bowl type of glass. They charge $38-40 for one of these. If you are both going to get a drink you spend almost as much on two draft beers or two small cocktails so we opted for one giant cocktail to share. We got a mojito and again the drink was not bad but it was just your standard premixed mojito, nothing special about it so in our minds not worth $40. One last note is that there are a lot of street vendors walking around trying to see various goods as you are in the restaurants. A polite “No thank you” will get them to move on but don’t be surprised if you are haggled a few times. So if you feel like you must spend some time on Ocean Drive we would recommend doing one night for a drink or two at one of the restaurants/bars during some live music, nothing more.
Now that all that is out of the way, time to talk about the great food we do recommend. Walking even one street in away from Ocean Drive and the beach you can find some really wonderful food and much more affordable prices.
La Ventana Traditional Colombian Food- We loved this place, we walked by and it smelled awesome! There is outdoor and indoor seating available. We tried what we could call a sampler platter, listed on the menu as “Picada for two people”. It offered traditional Colombian sausage, blood sausage, pork chicharon, grilled chicken, plantains, potatoes and came with three traditional salsas to try. Everything was amazing! We were super excited to try the blood sausage since it is something we hadn’t had before and you can’t readily find in the U.S. It was our favorite thing on our platter of food. The restaurant also offered multiple other dishes and tapas options so if you wanted to try one or two of the things from this large sampler platter you could order just those things as tapas.
Las Olas Café- This is a Cuban cafeteria/café serving food all day long as well as espresso and freshly squeezed juices. There is a window you can just walk up to on the side walk and order coffee, juice and food to go or you can go in and sit down. The place is quite small with only a few tables and was crowded each time we went. For lunch and dinner there are multiple traditional Cuban foods you can chose from. These are already prepared and kept warm on hot plates and visible behind the counter so you can chose what looks good. They also have empanadas and other Cuban pastries. We went here twice for breakfast and once for lunch, needless to say we loved it! It is your typical small, neighborhood place that you can tell locals keep coming back to. We had a breakfast sandwiches the first time we went for breakfast and they were huge! We both only ate half and saved the other halves for the next day since we had a microwave in our Air BnB. The next time we had breakfast there we ordered one breakfast combo (since we had seen how much food this was the previous time we were there). This comes with a coffee or an orange juice, two eggs however you want them cooked, french fries or home fries, a choice of bacon, sausage or ham as well as Cuban toast on the side for about $7. We enjoyed both breakfast options that we tried and really enjoyed the espresso as well! We had americianos for our espresso each time we were there. They had all your standard espresso drinks as options as well. The last time we ate here we ordered a Cuban sandwich to go and ate it on the beach. This was by far the best Cuban sandwich we have ever had! We got one to share because again the portions are large. That was definitely enough food for lunch but it was so good we could have easily both finished our own. We would highly recommend this place. Great food, great atmosphere and affordable prices.
My Ceviche and SoBe hostel bar- My Ceviche is a small, hole in the wall kind of place with small counter you walk up to and order from. There are a few tables outside on the sidewalk. If those are taken the SoBe hostel is right next door which you can eat at as long as you order a drink from their bar. My Ceviche offers ceviche, tacos and poke bowls. We devoured our ceviche without stopping to take a picture, sorry! But it was awesome! We also had ahi tuna tacos which we did stop and take a picture of before eating. The food was really good, fresh and affordable. You could also easily take this to go and enjoy your food on the beach.
Gelato Go- For a good desert Gelato Go is a great option. We stopped here after our dinner at My Ceviche on our way back towards Ocean Drive to see the Art Deco buildings lite up. You can try three flavors if you order a large (you will get one scoop of each). They have fresh fruit flavors and more creamy and chocolaty options.
Babylon- Babylon is a Turkish restaurant with great food and also a very nice outdoor patio area. The patio is light up with string lights at night, not the best for getting great photos but it makes for a nice atmosphere for dinner. We would recommend the stuffed cabbage appetizer for sure! We also shared a Turkish meatball dish which was really good.
Taquiza- This taco shop is a bit further north than the places we have listed so far. It is near 14th street, an easy walk along the beach if you are staying further south like we did. It is a block off the beach and has both indoor and outdoor seating. They offer a variety of tacos. The tacos are priced individually so you can order as many as you want and whatever kinds you want. They had chicken, shrimp, veggies, crickets, carne asado beef, beef tongue, barbacoa, pastor and carnitas. We’ve had a lot of pastor in our travels to Mexico, and this pastor was the best we have found in the U.S.
Puerto Sagua- This is another Cuban diner serving food and espresso all day. There are tables you can sit at or there is a large counter area you can sit at. We had breakfast and coffee here one morning. Their breakfast is your traditional diner breakfast, they have several breakfast combos including eggs, hashbrowns or home fries, breakfast meats, cuban toast and a coffee included. Their café con leche is amazing! They bring you a cup nearly full of steamed milk and a small metal craft of espresso. You then pour the espresso into your milk so you could use less if you don’t like your coffee very strong or if you aren’t a big espresso drinker.
Lucali’s- As foodies we were surprised we hadn’t heard of Lucali’s before our friends filled us in, thanks @thepassportpair for tip! The original is in Brooklyn and people stand in line for hours waiting to try the pizza. You can watch this YouTube video to see why: pizza in its purest form . There is a restaurant in Miami Beach and so of course we had to try this pizza. The menu is straight forward, just pizza, calzone and a few side dish options. You can add basil and garlic to your pizza free of charge. You can also add peperoni, Portobello mushrooms, red bell peppers, onions and hot peppers each for a additional charge. The crust is thin and crispy, the sauce is delicious and the toppings add just enough favor without overpowering something else. Keeping it simple pays off for sure! We added garlic, basil and Portobello mushrooms to ours. It was a pretty big pizza and we ate it all while we were there! You can also get a good look at the pizza oven and see them rolling out the dough and making the pizzas while you eat. It is really impressive to watch. Well worth the short Uber trip away from the beach (the South Beach Trolley also goes right there!). The best pizza we have ever had hands down! We will be working this spring and summer to perfect our own pizza dough making skills at home in our pizza oven!
One last tip for eating in Miami Beach is that most of the restaurants include an 18% gratuity in the bill. They typically don’t tell you this when they bring you the bill. So if you aren’t paying attention you could end up giving a double tip.
We both have full time jobs in the United States, and due to that we have some constraints around how much time we can take off for travel. We have been experimenting with the idea of how to pull off a long weekend trip with two major constraints that everyone has: time and money. This only works if you are within driving distance of a major hub airport in the US (we are closest to Chicago and Detroit so we look at both fares when planning trips). This post is broken out into the top expenses and how we minimize them.
How to Find a Cheap Flight: $800 for 2 Round Trip Tickets
Usually when I talk to someone about traveling they think the flights are going to be extremely expensive to go to Europe. A lot of this is due to their inflexibility: you can easily pay over $1k per ticket to go over to Europe, or you can often pay less than $400. When I say flexibility, that means both time and location: in the summer you will have a harder time finding cheap fares. Also if you are not too picky on where you are going it broadens your options even more. Here is what we do:
Type in your nearest major international airport (Chicago O-Hare for us!)
In the “where to” box type in “Europe“
Type in your date range – we have been doing Thursday to Tuesday trips because most flights to Europe leave late at night (after 7 or 8 pm) and return during the day on the way back – remember you lose time on the way there but make it back up on your return.
For example: we found a flight from Chicago to Copenhagen that departed at 10:05 pm CST and landed at 1:20 pm CET. If you can power through that first day you can get a good (if not a bit delirious) afternoon at your destination before having the best sleep of your life Friday night.
When you hit “search” you won’t just get a list of flights. A map will pop up which has the cost of the flights from your airport to the different destinations. As you move/zoom the map, it will reload for those locations. If there is nothing looking good at the moment, change your date range a bit or look back in a couple of days. Flights prices change all the time. This is where you might need to be a bit flexible.
You can also add in a “non-stop” filter to make sure you are only looking at direct flights. This will narrow it down even more, but it’s just that much more time you don’t have to be in an airport.
Google Flights also lets you track prices if you find a route that you are interested in
Don’t believe us? Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights for inspiration. Also, here is a direct flight we found to Stockholm just doing a quick search:
Lodging $50-100/night = $300
It is a good idea to keep proximity to mass transit in your consideration when booking your lodging. Some countries are obviously more expensive than others which you should keep in consideration when booking your place. A couple of tips to keep your costs down:
Stay away from major hotels
Use AirBnB & Booking.com, find where you want to stay and sort/filter by price
Stay in a hostel if you are on the super cheap
Keep transportation in mind from a location standpoint: you can find a farmhouse out in the country for very inexpensive but you’re going to spend more than that on Uber/car rental.
Food: $50/day = $250
We are foodies. This is where we will gladly blow our budget and probably be willing to spend a bit more. You can definitely spend less than $50/day. There are a couple of key things you can do to keep your costs down:
If you are on the super cheap – go to a grocery store. You don’t eat out every day at home so you can save a ton by cooking at your AirBnB. Even if it is just some basics like fruit/granola bars/bread/wine (yes we know that last one isn’t food!) will save you a bunch of money in the long run. It’s also just fun to go into international grocery stores!
Look for lodging that includes breakfast (a true B&B) we always look at Booking.com
Avoid buying alcohol and ‘fancy’ mineral water at restaurants
Get to where the locals go. For example, if you’re in Athens, don’t eat in the Plaka neighborhood. A few blocks away you’ll pay 1/3 the price for a more authentic gyro. It isn’t too hard to find these spots, there are are a few things to look for
Away from the tourist areas (not filled with tourists… they are easy to spot)
Be cautious of TripAdvisor – we use it a lot and it can be a good for info, but it is heavily used by tourists so its typically skewed. Lonely Planet is a good second source that can be a bit more reliable.
This is not to say there aren’t really good restaurants in the touristy areas, but you will definitely pay a premium for them.
Transportation: Stick to a Plan $100
With transportation you typically have a trade-off: time vs. money. Public/mass transportation has economies of scale going for it, but it usually has the downside of not dropping you off where you need to be and taking longer than the alternatives. Bus/train/subway/etc. are all inexpensive options – especially when you are leaving the airport. The more individualized and faster but much more expensive option is Taxi/Uber. Maybe not nearly as available but what of a middle ground is an UberPool, which can be surprisingly economical but will take a bit more time. As for airport parking, you should look at parking at a hotel – we use Way.com with success. You basically rent a parking spot from a hotel near an airport and they let you use their shuttle service. We have paid as little as $5/day to park but the rates can vary.
Summary – $1,450 Total
$50 left over! You can travel on the cheap – and you will probably feel like a baller if you take a weekend trip to Europe. Most of the travel tips in this post are principles that apply to more than just Europe. Everyone has their own priorities to keep in mind when planning a trip.
Would you ever do a long weekend to Europe? Please drop a comment below!