Sunday, July 31, 2011

New England Vacay

BJ has a competition he likes to participate in annually that is held in western Massachusetts, so this year was the 2nd time we've made a week-long road trip out of it.  We try to hit some cities and towns we haven't seen before, spend time with friends and of course, eat.  Here were some of the highlights:

1.  Frank Pepe's New Haven Pizza - this was the only bright spot in our stop in New Haven, CT.  We'd always known the city around Yale was kind of ghetto, but walking by the bus stop area along the city green and seeing multiple drug deals in a matter of minutes just confirmed that.  Frank Pepe's made the trip worth it though.  Huge pies, delicious cheese, thin crust with thick, bubbly edges.....yum!  The Luce even enjoyed it. 

BJ says this was one of the best pizzas he's ever had. It was definitely on par with Lombardi's or John's in NYC.

2.  Bella Gusta Select Oils and Vinegars in West Hartford, CT -  this was a nice little surprise.  We had some time to kill near the Hartford airport and we came across West Hartford, which is just outside the city.  There is a lovely street full of unique shops and restaurants that is not unlike Old Town Alexandria here in our area.  Taking a stroll, we wandered into Bella Gusta, lured in by the sign that said "Free Tasting."  We're suckers.  The store is lined with stainless steel barrels with taps that held many varieties of balsamic vinegars and olive oils.  We sampled several and chatted with the owners about their favorites.  We loved the traditional and fig vinegars and picked up some to take home.  I am not a balsamic fan but these were fantastic.  The oil suggested to us was one of the single varietals that came from Sicely.  It was like sipping a cloud - so smooth.  We learned that the olive oil from your local grocery store is normally several varietals all mixed together, so by cooking with just one type allows the eater to notice the nuances better.  We also brought some of that home.  The owners were wonderful, so friendly and happy to share their thoughts and knowledge.  It was a great find and now we're wishing they'd open a store here.  A side note - we have used both vinegar and oil several times since coming home and the vinegar is so delicious, you can use it instead of salad dressing, no oil needed!

3.  Herrell's Ice Cream - Yelp told me this was the #1 resturant in Northampton, Ma. so of course we had to stop.  The reviewers pointed us towards the chocolate pudding and burnt sugar & butter flavors.  We tried both and were so happy we did.  They were so rich and flavorful.  I think I liked the chocolate pudding a little more, but both were winners.  We'll make this a stop every time we're up that way.

4.  Flo's Steamed Hot Dogs - a friend of mine suggested this to me when I mentioned we were going to be driving around Maine one day of our trip.  She said her husband saw it written up in one of the famous foodie magazines and he waited 45 minutes in line to try it.  So we went.  Flo's is the tiny shack of a place on the side of a road in Cape Neddick, Me.  Luckily for us it is near York and Nubble Light, which we love, so it was "on the way."  Again, we were helped by the Yelpers who told us the owner is very specific about how to order.  You tell her how many, wait, and then when the dogs are cooked you tell her what you want on them.  Order the house special.  It is the relish that has made Flo's famous. - sweet and a little savory, unlike anything we've tried before.  The hot dogs are small, you can eat 2 and still have room for dessert, but inexpensive and definitely worth the trip.  The place gets packed fairly quickly, so be there early!

5.  Newburyport, Ma - Newburyport is a cute, charming little coastal town that is also similar to Old Town Alexandria - a theme perhaps?  There are lots of wonderful stores, no chains allowed, and beautiful views of the water.  We enjoyed checking out the bookstore, consignment shops, and of course, ice cream.  We had lovely gelato from Dolce Freddo - I had canteloupe and watermelon flavors that were perfect for a summer day.

6.  New England Aquarium - this is the awesome aquarium in Boston.  The Luce had never been before and completely fell in love.  I've never seen her so interested and still! 

The aquarium has a large cylindrical tank with a spiraling walkway top the top, with sharks and rays and turtle and of course fish inside.  Along the way, on each floor, are other exhibit tanks showcasing a lot of New England's coastal environments.  There are also seals outside to check out and an optional IMAX movie.  A new feature is a hands-on shark and ray tank, which was packd with kids reaching their hands out as the animals swam past.  We loved it and will now be saving our pennies to take The Luce to the big aquarium in Baltimore.

7.  Rino's Restaurant in East Boston, Ma. - BJ was dying to check this place out after he saw it in Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Guy thought it had killer lobster ravioli, so obviously we had to try it.  The key to Rino's is to get there early.  They open at 4 pm and when we arrived at 3:45, there were already 3 parties ahead of us, and they only have about 10 tables.  Luckily we got a table without a problem.  The menu is lovely but the specials menu is just as long!  BJ got his lobster ravioli and practically licked the bowl.  Our table also sampled the stuffed chicken, bolognese pasta and baked ziti with meatballs.  Everything was winner except the ziti, which happened to be mine.  It was good, but needed more red sauce, which was very delicious.  I would definitely go back and try something else next time.  The funny part about Rino's was that we ended up going outside to walk The Luce around as we waited for our meal and when we went back in, the people in line were throwing us daggers with their eyes, they were jealous we had a table!

Along the way and in between, we spent quality time with good friends, hit up 4 colleges and bought t-shirts, saw a children's museum, drank some blueberry beer, watched men in skirts throw rocks, saw the last Harry Potter movie, and visited the ER (everything's fine, we promise).  A great trip was had by all!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July Book Club Review - The Murderer's Daughters

Last week, we met to discuss the July selection for Book Club - The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers.

Upon reading the summary on the back, I thought that it sounded interesting, but probably not one I'd pick up on my own.  I started it and got through it fairly quickly - despite the ominous title, it is a swift read.  This is the story of Lulu and Merry, whose father killed their mother, and the consequences of that act on their lives over the next 40 or so years.  The reader gets both girls' points of view and sees how differently each one internalizes their family tragedy.  There are some awful characters and situations that made me cringe, but overall the characters are very real and engaging.  You want to find out what happens next.  I learned after finishing it that this was based on a real life incident where the author's father attempted to kill her mother but was unsuccessful.  She always wondered "what if?' and began to write.  That added a whole new layer to the story and made it more meaningful.  It was not quite as gripping as I imagined it would be, but a very solid read that sparked some really good discussion.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Buzz Bakery - Arlington, Va

A couple weeks ago we went to a friend's house for a bbq and since we couldn't go empty-handed, we picked up some cupcakes.  I remembered that Buzz Bakery had just opened a new location in Arlington, their first being in Alexandria, so we stopped by.  The choices were very overwhelming.  Everything was decorated so beautifully and I knew from previous experience that they would all taste good, so I got a half dozen based on the prettiness. 

Because we have a baby and she turns into a pumpkin as the appointed hour, we did not get to stay and taste all the flavors, or hear what others thought of them.  I did however, sample the one shown on the bottom right which was called "The Katy Perry."  Any cupcake with a glittery cherry on top is for me.  It was vanilla cake with a cherry filling and cherry icing.  It was fantastic.  Truly one of my favorite fruit-flavored cupcakes.  Most places do not get fruit right, but Buzz does.  Really awesome!  We'll certainly be back to try more.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Florida's Greatest Hit List

Between the two of us, we have a number of relatives who live in Florida, and have had friends there as well, so we make it down there fairly often, at least once a year anyway.  This past week, we made the journey to visit my Aunt and Grandma, who live near Gainesville.  We had a nice little getaway and got to spend quality time with people we love, which is always a plus.  We had to travel through Orlando though (cheaper flights!), so we were able to hit up all of our favorite places along the way.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1.  Too Jays - Florida's answer to the Jewish deli.  BJ's parents turned us on to this place and we make a habit of going at least once, sometimes 2 or 3 times, when we go south. We wish desperately we had one near us.  Sure, there are some descent substitutes here, but nothing that really compares.  And, don't shoot me, but on this trip BJ even admitted he liked it better than the 2 famous delis we've tried in NYC.  I always get the same thing - a turkey sandwich with cheddar on challah.  BJ gets a variety of things, but says the pastrami and corned beef are good.  We also give thumbs up to the matzo ball soup.  Because we were near the University of Florida, I couldn't resist the "black and white" cookies.

2.  Sweet Tomatoes - Also suggested to us by BJ's parents.  This is an all-you-can eat salad and soup bar, with a couple of extras.  They have prepared salads, make your own, pasta and potato salads, at least 5 kinds of soup, mac and cheese, fruit, and soft-serve ice cream.  The majority of it is healthy and rarely has there been an item we've tried and didn't enjoy.  A bonus for us this time was that this is the perfect place to take a baby who is eating table food and wants to try different things.  The Luce discovered she likes raw onions and lentil soup!  There are locations all over the country, but unfortunately none in the DC area.  If we had one of these close to us, I'd probably be eating there a couple times a week.

3.  Bahama Breeze - Also a small chain, with none in close driving distance to us (but really not that far either), is this island-themed restaurant completed with tropical fish tanks and steel drum band.  We'd been here previously with BJ's cousins and my friend Rick a couple years ago and liked it so much we went back on this trip.  The paella, chicken with cilantro crema, coconut shrimp and rice and beans were all big hits.  

4.  Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly - this seems to be Orlando's answer to all the cupcake madness.  We'd been here a long time ago when it first opened and liked it and then lo and behold, the owner ended up on the Food Network as the winner of Cupcake Wars!  My mom and I went again last fall and loved the minis we tried, so BJ and I  decided to get "nightcap" on our last evening.  We tried vanilla vanilla, s'mores, cookies and cream, and strawberry.  The overwhelming thing about these cupcakes is that they're all extremely dense and buttery and the icing is supersweet.  I feel like perhaps they've changed the recipe recently or my memory is failing me, because they were not good.  The first couple bites went down fine but as you kept going it just became arduous to finish.  Definitely not my idea of the perfect bite - everything else was taken over by the taste of the icing.  I had chosen s'mores because I'd had it before and it was great, but it was just too much this time and sat like a rock in my tummy the rest of the night.  Oh well.  I think we got that out of our system, at least. 

We spent some time at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, which was perfect for The Luce and nice and shady, and we tooled around Downtown Disney, which is great if you're cheap like we are but want to feel like you went to Disney World.