Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Field Trip = Food Truck 2.0

Another day, another field trip.  It is just that time of year.  I, yet again, made a point to take advantage of being downtown to have lunch at another food truck.  Knowing where we'd be, I chose to walk over to L'Enfant and just sample whatever was there.  I roped a couple of chaperons into my obsession and off we went.  There were a ton of trucks there, so we had a lot to choose from.  I went with the Big Cheese Truck for a grilled cheese sandwich.  Obviously, cool people go there.

The menu is pretty impressive, for bread and cheese.  But, I decided to go with "barely buzzed" which is the classic cheddar on sourdough bread.  I love a good grilled cheese, so I was ready!  It was a BIG sandwich, definitely at least twice the size of your mom's Wonder Bread.  The bread was buttered perfectly, toasted just right and the cheese was oozy and melty and just yummy.  My only complaint was the balance of cheddar with the sour in the bread - it needed maybe more salt in the cheese or less sour in the bread, or something.  A solid sandwich, but missing just a tiny something.  I will 100% be back though because all the other delicious-sounding items on the menu are calling me.  I also like the fact that the cheese comes from local sources - we like buying and eating local when we can.  8/10 for the sandwich, but 10/10 for potential for next time!

One of my comrades chose to eat from the Austin Grill Truck.  He ordered a chicken burrito bowl and said it was good, but "a little too bean-y."  He gave it a 6/10.

And, what hot day is complete without a popsicle?  The Pleasant Pops truck pulled up as we were ready to leave, so obviously we stopped.  I had the strawberries & cream, and the other two tried the honeycrisp apple and the Thai coconut curry.  Mine was great, not too sweet, and a good balance of flavors.  The apple one was "like eating applesauce" and the Thai curry was "like eating a curry dish on a stick."  Trust me, those were positive comments! 

2 more food truck converts.  I. Need. Help.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Trip to Occoquan

My friend, our daughters, and I took a trip down to the road to Occoquan today.  It is a very small little town with cute shops and restaurants and even a ghost or two.  My parents were doing a book signing for their cookbook, so we decided to make an afternoon of it and go.

We had lunch at Cock and Bowl, a little bistro that is fairly new.  The space used to hold a teeney Belgian place and they seem to have taken advantage of the outdoor space, which was smart.  We ate on the patio since it was such a lovely day, so we did not see the inside.  The plastic picnic tables are covered in checked table cloths and everything is shaded by large trees, so no table is in direct sunlight.  When I walked up with a stroller, I was informed that they did not have high chairs, but could remove a chair to place the stroller "tucked away."  Thanks for making a space for my kid, but why couldn't she be like everyone else and sit at the table like a normal human being?  That was annoying.  Occoquan has always been a family place.  You see lots of strollers around and many of the events held there, craft fairs and such, are kid-friendly.  I get the idea of not wanting tons of screaming kids in your restaurant but to not even have a high chair to offer is just wrong.  There are definitely some restaurants I would never take a baby to, but this was not one of them.  Thankfully, my girl was an angel the whole time and sat in my lap and checked everything out and then sat in her seat while we ate.

Our other little one at the table, who is 7, had a Belgian waffle topped with caramel.  She said it was "fabulous." 

Her mother and I both had the croque fromage, which if you recall from your high school French class is a grilled cheese with bechamel sauce on top. 

They also had a croque monsieur (add ham) and a croque madame (ham and a fried egg).  The sandwich came with fries as well.  The sandwich was everything a grilled cheese should be - crunchy buttered bread toasted just right and gooey, stretchy cheese (this was gruyere).  The kicker was the bechamel - decadent white, butter sauce, baked on top.  The whole thing together was awesome, but did make me feel like my arteries were clogging with every bite.  The fries were also good, but not consistent - some were much crunchier than others.  The sandwich was a tad on the expensive side, but looking at the other menu items, this was not the case for everything.  Other diners were eating mussels, which appeared to be the specialty, and I saw quiche, soups and steaks available as well.  The selection of Belgian beer was also excellent and the servers appeared very educated on what drinks to choose.  The setting was fantastic and I would definitely recommend this as a great date location.  8/10 - would've been 10/10 if they were a little more family friendly.

After lunch,we checked out a couple of shops.

 - Fetch is a dog store that carries cute knick-knacks and unique pet-related gifts.  They even sell their own homemade dog treats.  Very cute if you have a dog, which we don't, but hope to one day.
- Royal Confections was right next door and had all kids of homemade candies and fudge.  A small store with a very friendly owner who was eager to tell us her favorties.   I tried a small piece of the baklava and it was pretty good.
- Salt and Pepper Books was the location of my parents' book signing.  A very cute store, only selling books with a cooking theme, but also offering some cooking tools and other related stuff.   We met the owner and she was very nice.

Three cheers for Occoquan!

Friday, May 20, 2011

May Book Club Review

As it turns out, the lovely host of my May book club meeting chose a book I mentioned previously, House Rules by Jodi Picoult.  I didn't care for this book the first go-round, but I figured maybe I'd like it better if I reread it, and it would be fresh in my mind for the discussion.  Sadly, my feelings did not change. 

I reeeeeeeeally wanted to like this book.  When I saw Jodi speak a while back before it came out and heard her talk about this book's premise, I was really excited.  In a nutshell, the story follows a teenager with Asperger's Syndrome who has been accused of murder.  In typical Jodi fashion, she changes narrators with each chapter and you really get to know each one well.  I don't think she accurately portrayed someone with Asperger's but I realize it would be difficult to do so.  I also figured out the ending almost immediately, which was disappointing.  I love the twist on the last page that normally happens, but it was just too obvious here.

I think this is an important book in the sense that it draws much needed attention to Autism Spectrum disorders, which are more and more prevalent today than ever before.  Jodi does a good job of educating the reader about these disorders and what life is like for the family.  But, as a complete story, it falls short.  4/10.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Field trip = food truck!

Today I had the pleasure of joining a large group of kids from my school on a field trip into DC.  I was excited to go, as this presented an opportunity to possibly check out another food truck.  So, armed with my itouch (no, I don't have a smartphone because I work in education and a data package is too spendy - didja hear that Verizon?!) and praying for free wi-fi somewhere, I rode the charter bus downtown.  After a spin around the monuments, the bus driver dropped us off at the Portrait Gallery in the Penn Quarter.  My sources told me a handful of trucks were just a few blocks away and with 3 other chaperones in tow off I went.  We came upon Sauca first, but having already enjoyed a meal from them, I moved on to the next truck, Fojol Brothers of Merlindia.  The line was long, which to me is always a good sign.  The men and women inside the truck were wearing fake turbans and mustaches, which was appropriate as they call themselves "a traveling culinary carnival."  One of the other chaperones with me happened to be Indian and she said back in the day the size of your mustache signified how strong a person you were.  These people in the truck musta been pretty strong!

I ordered the buttered chicken and peas & cheese, which came served on top of basmati rice.  For $7, I was really happy with the huge portion.  It was enough that 2 skinny people could share, or one really hungry person.  The service was excellent, they were cracking jokes and being generally jovial.  I ended up taking my meal back to the gallery to eat in the awesome courtyard.  It was amazing!  Definitely one of the best food truck meals I've had.  The chicken was tender and the sauce was just the right amount of spicy.  The peas were the big surprise to me - also in a spicy sauce and mixed with chunks of mild cheese.  Yum yum yum.  10/10 for Fojol!

And of course, being me, I stopped for a cupcake on the way back.  Crumbs was right there and I got a margarita cupcake, which was good but not outstanding.  The sea green color of the icing was a little odd too, but it was pretty good, and the cake as more moist than the last trip there.  7/10.

So, I enjoyed my trip and enjoyed the food.  It was fun to introduce my food truck habit to other people and they really loved it too.  A good day was had by all!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

April Book Club Review

This one is a little late, obviously, but worth discussing.  Last month's book was Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. 

This was definitely not a book I would normally choose for myself.  It has a western flavor to it and I am not a fan of anything having to do with cowboys and indians, so that turned me off right away.  But, the story generally sounded like something I could get into.  In this book, the story is told by Reuben, an 11 year old asthmatic boy, and his father and sister, as they journey to find his older brother who is on the run from the police for murder.  There is a strong spiritual theme and miracles factor prominently, but I wouldn't call it a religious book specifically as I think anyone with any beliefs could appreciate the story. 

At times, it was a little slow.  And some of the decisions made during the journey are questionable, but there is closure at the end and that is always important to me.  The best part about this book, in my opinion, was the way the author uses language.  I was constantly marveling at the way he'd phrase something or choose the way to describe something.  I would never in a million years think to put words together the way that Enger did and it made turning the pages all that much more interesting.  The little sister, Swede, is a wonderful character who narrates the story in her own way by writing an ongoing poem that mirrors everything else going on.  A solid book, not my favorite, but it was worth reading.  7/10.

Happy 1st Mother's Day to me!

Here's last week's dinner review a little late.  Oops.  BJ wanted to make sure my first Mother's Day was extra memorable, so he decided to take me out to a nice restaurant.  He chose Bastille, in Alexandria, and I was very excited to be going.  We both got dressed up and enjoyed the thought of table for two instead of a table for two and a high chair.  Bastille calls itself a "contemporary bistro and wine bar," which I definitely agree with.  The menu on Sundays is prix fixe and 3 courses, all of which looked delicious.  The atmospehere is lovely, like being in someone's home in their chic dining room.  Our server was very attentive and answered all our questions.  For our 1st course, BJ had a trio of rillettes and I had a goat cheese pana cotta with a salad.  Both were fantastic and I knew that if that was any indication of what was to come, this was going to be a success.  For our main course, I had the flat iron steak and frites and BJ had a ribeye with bernaise sauce and veggies.  My meal had a lot to live up to, as one of my most favorite meals of all time is the Onglet (hanger steak) and frites from Les Halles (RIP the DC location, but it is still around in NYC).  Bastille did a good job, as the steak was tender and well cooked, but it was not very memorable.  The shallot sauce also was sweet and salty and not in a good way.  The frites were good though.  Next time I'd order this again and ask for it without the sauce.  BJ's meal was excellent, he especially liked the vegetables.  For dessert, we both ordered the pot de creme, which was one of the best desserts I've ever had.  Dark chocolate heaven, topped with dark cherries and whipped cream.  I could've eaten that all day.  This was an excellent, decadent meal and we had a nice, adult evening.  Even though my steak wasn't perfect, I would highly recommend this restaurant - 9/10.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A mom and a pop

Happy Mother's Day!  As this is my first one as a mother, it is certainly special.  BJ was away this morning at our dear friend's graduation (Congrats S!) so the Luce and I decided to check out the Columbia Pike farmer's market in Arlington that just happened to have a food truck vendor....funny how that worked out that way....  We took a stroll around the small, but busy market and saw the Pleasant Pops freezer cart positioned right in the center.  A nice young man told me his favorites for the day were the pina colada and Chongo, which was a Mexican sweet cream and cinnamon.  I went for the pina colada and was not disappointed. 

It had a bright pineapple flavor and while the coconut was not quite as strong, the overall flavor was good.  The Luce enjoyed it as well! 

It was also well-packaged in a Pleasant Pops wrapper.  At $2.50, it was slightly expensive, but a recent visit from the neighborhood ice cream man tells me that about $2.00 is normal, so this wasn't a terrible price.  We perused the rest of the market, bought a few things, and went back to the stand for a Chongo. 

WOW!  It was amazing.  A great balance of sweet and spice, similar to the awesome cinnamon ice cream my dad makes.  I was sad when it was gone.  And, I felt good about buying and eating their product because that they use all natural, local ingrediants, so there are no weird chemicals to worry about and I'm supporting farmers in our area.  Two thumbs up for Pleasant Pops - 9/10 overall.  A nice start to a wonderful Mother's Day :)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

OBX - Duck, Duck, Luce!

The second half of our spring break was spent with BJ's family in the Outer Banks, specifically Duck, NC.  We're not necessarily beach people, but we love OBX and have always had a good time.  This was the first trip for the PA family, so it was fun for us to see them experience it for the first time.  If you've never been, let me describe it for you.  OBX, for the most part, is pretty "rural" as far as beach towns go.  You have a handful of shopping areas and a grocery store or two, but it is mostly restaurants and big houses.  Instead of getting a hotel room or a condo, most people rent these enormous homes and share them with family and friends.  We're talking upwards of 20-25 people can fit in some of these suckers.  We call them wedding cake houses since they have multiple balconies on each floor and are often pastel colors.  You pretty much go to veg and spend time with whoever you came with, as opposed to the kind of beach experience where you can play putt-putt and walk a boardwalk and play arcade games (i.e. like Myrtle or Ocean City). 

This was the Luce's first trip to the beach, which was pretty exciting for us.  We had a lovely time relaxing and hanging out with the family, spent some time walking on the beach and in the pool.  We also had the opportunity to eat out a couple of times.

1.  Duck Deli & BBQ - This was just up the road from our house and very convenient to one of the shopping areas in Duck.  We wanted some North Carolina BBQ and since the sign jumped out at us, we stopped.  The NC style was very vinegary, maybe more than it should've been.  The meat was tender though and served in generous portions.  I opted for the Kansas City style beef and it was also just okay, the meat was stringy and not as tender as it could've been.  The wings were well received, as was the smoked chicken.  When we told some friends who are often in OBX that we went there, they said it is not the first choice among the locals.  6/10.

2.  The Rundown Cafe - The same friend met us for lunch here.  They recommended a couple of dishes from the very diverse menu and we ordered confidently.  I had jerk chicken with cocnut rice and beans.  It was excellent, perfectly cooked, and the rice and beans were great when mixed together with their salsa.  BJ raved about the Rundown Soup so much that I've forgotten what else he had.  He said this soup, which was fish, coconut and sweet potato, was the best seafood soup he'd ever had.  He even ordered a pint to go.  AND we liked it to much, we took the rest of the family back for dinner the same night.  I tried the sesame noodles with coconut fried chicken then as it was fantastic, even better than lunch.  Just the right amount of spicy and sweet.  I believe everyone else was happy with their meals, but I was too busy eating mine to notice!  We will definitely make this a stop every time we come down.  10/10.

A great trip and some pretty great eating!!

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Trip to Harrisonburg, Va

Last week was Spring Break and boy did we need it!  I have no idea how you people who don't work in schools do it.  BJ and I had previously purchased an Escapes deal from Living Social, way back before the Luce was born, and decided to use it over the break.  We were really looking forward to it, as we are familiar with H'burg with many friends who attended James Madison University there.  Here was the package, which was really a very, very good deal considering:

- 2 nights at the By The Side of the Road Inn in the main house.   Because we had the baby with us, we were told we had to stay in the Bishop's Retreat, which is further away from the rest of the house and has 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting room, as well as a small fridge and microwave, which are not included in the other rooms.  The house is very nice, but situated in a residential area of town, which was kind of weird, but it was fine.  The owners, a husband and wife and their daughter, were exceedingly nice and helpful.  They were really sweet about the Luce being with us and gave us suggestions for places to visit.  The 2 breakfasts we had, an herbed egg souffle with sausage and pancakes with orange cardamom sauce, were delicious.  It was served at 9 am though, so that was hard for us to wait for with a little one who wakes up at 6.  The room itself was nice, though perhaps not at luxurious as other B&B's we've been to.  I didn't see the other rooms though and wonder if they are more what we're used to.  I guess a "family room" doesn't really need to be swanky.  7/10 for our experience there.

- $10 to the local farmers market.  This was fantastic.  The market is in the center of town and is open more than just weekend mornings.  They had tons of fresh salad greens and flowers and baked goods.  We spent our gift certificate on cheese from Mountain View Farms.  The Swiss-style "McClure" was amazing.  9/10 for the market.

- $10 to the local ice cream joint, Kline's Dairy Bar.  We loved Kline's.  We went both nights and had delicious homemade ice cream in the weekly flavor, which differs by location.  We had Cherry Nut and Raspberry,and both were awesome.  10/10.

- Tasting fees waved at 2 wineries.  One was closed while we were visiting, so we made it to just one of the free vineyards - Bluestone.  They're fairly new but the tasting rooms was very nice and they even carried the McClure cheese we loved so much.  Our favorite wine was the Beau, named after their dog.  The owner was very sweet and didn't bat an eyelash at our bringing our baby in.  8/10.  Not part of the package, but recommended by another guest at the inn, was Crosskeys Vineyard

The setting was gorgeous and the wine was tasty, but the service was horrid.  I think the woman doing the tasting could have been drunk.  She was slow and flighty and did not pay attention to what she was doing.  Plus, when a little girl visiting with another couple knocked something over and could have been hurt, she showed no concern and ignored it completely.  Rude.  9/10 for the wine and the setting, 0/10 for the service.

- $60 to one of 2 restaurants.  Because we had the baby, we chose the more casual L'Italia.  Our hosts had gushed about the food earlier in the day, so we were really looking forward to it.  We started with bruschetta, which was enormous and pretty good.  BJ had the lobster ravioli, which he found had zero taste.  My steak Gorgonzola Alfredo was also off.  The steak had no seasoning at all and the sauce was sweet.  Bleh.  To finsh out our gift card, we ordered cannoli to go but had to toss it because it was also bland and kind of tasted like paste.  Talk about disappointed.  I feel badly about this review, because it was hyped to us so much, but you can't help what you like.  2/10.

We also at a meal at Jack Brown's Beer & Burger Joint, which was the culinary highlight of the trip.  They only serve burgers, beer and fried oreos.  The burgers are also served with a variety if intersting toppings.  We tried one with cream cheese and pepper jelly.  The burger was delicious, flavorful and juicy.  BJ likes it so much he ordered another one.  I also enjoyed my very first fried oreo, which was kind of like an oreo flavored donut.  Great service as well.  10/10.

Another note - Harrisonburg is perhaps not the best place for a romantic OR a family getaway.  It is a good base for hiking, but I think there are more charming towns.  BJ felt like we were in an agricultural version of his hometown, and not in a positive way.  So, now we know.  We had a decent time over all, but won't be back.