My husband and I got married the day after Christmas, 2014 in a park in Las Vegas, Nevada. You might be wondering if there was some romantic sentiment to this idea, but you’d be wondering wrong. We are both relatively economical people, with very logical thinking, and when we were planning our wedding (the 2nd for us both), we knew we didn’t want to spend an enormous amount of money, or be bothered with pleasing hundreds of relatives and friends who were just after a freebie on our dime. I know this sounds so terribly romantic (sarcasm implied), but we wanted our money to be spent on us not other people. Long story short, Vegas at Christmas gave us a TON of bang for our buck, and because it was both of our 2nd marriage, it also meant that every other year we’d be kid-free for the week of Christmas, allowing for future ‘just the two of us’ vacations with no guilt on our anniversary. Jump forward 2 years from what turned out to be a pretty damn romantic wedding and we were all set to take our first vacay kid-free for an anniversary. We don’t love the tourist-trap type of places, so most options that were cheap affordable were out. We also didn’t want to have to worry about renewing passports, both of which were outdated, so we wanted somewhere that was a US territory or location. HELLO PUERTO RICO!

WWII Tanks on Flamenco Beach

I am the type of person who gets actual fulfillment from the list-making and planning involved in decision-making; vacation is no different. It is a guarantee that any vacation I plan, I have spent hours working to find the most authentic and off-the-beaten-path option to truly create lifetime experiences at the lowest possible cost! I’m risking my own personal paradise by telling you about this, but Culebra, Puerto Rico is hands-down my favorite place I’ve been on this planet. One day I will own property here and spend some of each year basking in its natural beauty!

It’s an adventure in and of itself to even get to Culebra. There are two ways to end up here, but both require flying into Puerto Rico (most likely San Juan) first. Then you need to either take a small puddle jumper plane or drive 2 hours to a port on the east side of the island and hope you can get tickets on the local ferry. We chose the small plane route because the risk of actually making it across on the ferry (which by definition only runs half the time it’s expected) was too questionable. Once you get to the actual island what you’ll find is incredible. If you’re ‘thing’ is constant entertainment, tourist options, and tons to do, then this island IS NOT FOR YOU! If, like us, you love to explore a culture, eat some of the freshest foods, and experience nature in a way you never have before, then it’s 100% your thing. The typical day consisted of roaming around the 7 mile square island on a rented golf cart (the primary mode of transport for everyone, including locals) to hike a secluded path to an even more secluded beach and snorkel for most of the day. Each of the 10 or so beaches is vastly different, and offers new interesting things to explore. After a long day snorkeling with sea turtles, a rainbow of different ocean fish, and seeing some of the last undestroyed coral systems in the ocean, we would head back to the little efficiency apartment to take a quick shower then head to dinner at one of the handful of restaurants on the island.

Krusty Krab – seafood caught fresh daily!

On an island this small, you end up knowing everyone. From the fantastic character who drives around the small island playing music from giant speakers in the bed of his pick-up (Feliz Navidad at 4am anyone?) to the flamboyantly gay chef at the Krusty Krab who is an expat from Columbia (and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met)…this island is full of color and vibrancy and life. To say we fell in love with Culebra is an understatement!

The exterior of Zaco’s Tacos – in the heart of Dewey (the only city on Culebra)

I miss Culebra at least once a week every week since first laying my eyes on Flamenco beach on our arrival through two small mountainous areas, and I’m not sure that will ever change. Our anniversary trip in 2016 was an adventure like none I’ve had before, and while I could tell you about the interesting and touristy time we had our final day in Old San Juan, my heart lies in Culebra. In honor of the island and its many, many beautiful souls, I created a taco recipe in hopes of honoring Zaco’s Tacos, but honestly still not doing it justice. I hope my Crispy Mushroom Tacos will inspire you to explore the world around you, and if you ever get the chance to visit Culebra and support a community like none you will ever see anywhere else, I recommend it. It’s worth every memory you will create!

Crispy Mushroom Street Tacos

Ingredients

4 large Portobello mushroom caps

1/4 C Olive Oil (I use EVOO)

Crispy Mushroom Tacos

2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

1 Tbsp Onion Powder + 1/2 tsp

1 1/2 tsp Cumin Powder + 1/2 tsp

Salt & Pepper to taste

2 tsp Dijon Mustard

1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce (Vegan brand)

1/4 C Veggie Stock

1/2 tsp Paprika

White Corn Tortillas for serving

Slaw mix 1 pkg. or around 8-10 oz.

1/2 C Vegan sour cream or plain yogurt

1 jalapeno, finely diced and insides discarded

1 tsp lime juice

2 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, roughly chopped

1 Roma Tomato, diced

Optional toppings: Avocado slices, roasted corn, fresh cilantro, Cotija Cheese (if you eat animal products)

Directions:

  1. Remove stems from mushroom caps. Mix first 9 ingredients after the mushrooms in a large gallon-size Ziploc bag, then add the caps in and carefully move around to fully coat the mushrooms. Put in refrigerator for at least 4 hours, but up to 24 hours ahead.
  2. Once mushrooms have marinated long-enough, mix the additional Onion and Cumin along with the vegan plain yogurt, jalapeno, lime juice, Cilantro, and any other seasonings you want to add until nicely combined. I like to taste-test this and adjust seasonings for my mood every time. After you are satisfied with the flavor, mix gently into the coleslaw mix until completely incorporated. Place slaw, covered, in refrigerator until ready to serve.
  3. Heat oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit. Remove marinated mushroom caps from bag and slice into long 1/4-inch slices, arranging on a baking sheet once sliced. I use Silpat for baking as nothing sticks to it and its better for the planet than alternatives.
  4. Bake the mushrooms at 400 degrees until the tops start to lightly brown and you can see a slight crust forming underneath. Mine took around 20 min with a Convection oven, but it may take slightly longer or shorter time depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them so they don’t end up shriveled.
  5. Warm the corn tortillas (use a tortilla warmer if you have it) and serve the Mushrooms in the tortillas with a small amount of slaw, diced tomato, and fresh cilantro on top. My husband likes to also drizzle some Habanero sauce or lime on his. I prefer them just as they are or topped with avocado, corn, and black beans (as seen in the pic above).

I hope my tacos take you to an island place during this dreary time of year, but feel free to leave me a message and let me know what you think and what types of recipes you’d like to see in the future! I’m always looking for ideas.

Amber