It’s a Pizza Party

Despite what it may look like on the blog, I don’t always go out to eat with my friends.  I actually spend quite a lot of nights making basic dinners, and I’m most definitely a bag lunch kind of girl.

Now that I live with my parents, we have taken on a new tradition of pizza night.  Growing up I always loved dinners that involved all of us helping and making the meal together.  Taco night and pizza night were my favorites.  My mom would line up all the toppings and we would make the tacos and pizzas ourselves.  This past weekend we were babysitting my niece and nephew, and I thought it would be so fun to do a pizza night where they could actually help make the pizzas.  This would also also be a great girls night dinner activity with friends.

But I have a little secret.  These semi homemade pizzas are made with crusts from The Dollar Tree.  I know what you’re thinking… ‘that sounds down right terrible!’  And, trust me,  I thought the same thing when my parents told me about them, but after trying them,  I’m hooked.  They are a little thicker than a flour tortilla and perfect for that thin crust pizza.  They also stay very crispy even when loaded with sauce, cheese, and toppings.

I will be the first to tell you, I am in no way, shape, or form a professional pizza maker, but I AM a professional pizza EATER!  I don’t know how to make dough or exactly what type of mozzarella works best, even though it is mostly about preference, but I do know how to turn a normal night into a Pizza Party kind of night.

I also really enjoy the whole wheat and the herb dough from Trader Joe’s, but I find it to be messier and harder to cook especially if you are making it’s with kids.  It does however, make a delicious pizza on the grill.  Grilled pizza is so delicious and a more ‘grown up’ version of pizza night for your get together and parties.  Or if you’re really fancy and you have one of those small wood fire ovens for our patio you could use that too.  If you do, please invite me over-I want to be best friends.

There are endless possibilities for toppings and different types of pizzas.  I searched some of my favorite pizza places for ideas, and eventually it just came down to what my family liked.  We decided to do one prosciutto and arugula, one cheese with mushrooms, and one  pizza loaded with vegetables and Italian Sausage.  We agreed on broccoli, red onion, chopped tomato, kale, fresh mozzarella, and Italian Sausage.

Since these were semi-homemade, some of the ingredients were already prepared for us.  We used pre-made crusts, canned mushrooms, and already shredded mozzarella cheese for the mushroom pizza.  My family likes their mushroom pizza a certain way, and this is it.I really like a white pizza with arugula and lemon, but we decided to do prosciutto and arugula with balsamic drizzle.  I recommend getting a good quality prosciutto for this.  Something like a Prosciutto di Parma or San Daniele Prosciutto.  You don’t need to go crazy and spend a ton of money since you are putting it on a pizza and baking it, but make sure it is  decent quality and not too dry.Personally I like pizzas with a variety of toppings. I like some vegetables, some meat, and usually red sauce with cheese.  Depending on my pizza mood- I like contrasting components. There was a pizza at Lena’s Wood Fire Pizza in my old neighborhood that had Diavola Pizza on their menu I just couldn’t get enough of.  It was topped with sopressata, fried kale, and hot ghost honey.This was my first time putting broccoli and kale on a pizza, and I found that if you boil the broccoli for a just a couple minutes, and you massage the kale with olive oil first before adding ti to the pizza, the broccoli is easier to eaty, and the kale doesn’t burn as easily.Wine with pizza is a must.  I love a slightly sparkling, off dry Lambrusco, but I found this Zinfandel from Sonoma County that was really complement to pizza night.  It’s balanced nicely and not too heavy.  I really enjoy it on it’s own, but its also great as a fun pizza wine.

So what is your favorite kind of pizza?  I’d love to hear all your favorite pizza combinations so I have some ideas for next time…

 

~Lauren

The Great Wedding Dress Dilemma

May is right around the corner, and that means bridal showers, baby showers, graduations, bachelorette parties, MY BIRTHDAY, many other peoples birthdays (seriously though..have you noticed how many people have birthday’s in May?  Something about that Summer Love in August), Memorial Day, and so many other festivities that just make the month of May one of the craziest times of the year for me.  And this year, I get to do some traveling in May, which I’m really looking forward to.  I’m going to Charleston for one of my best friends bachelorette parties, and I honestly can’t wait.

Sara is getting married in September, and everything for her wedding is pretty much set, except for one main thing…the wedding dress.  And as horrible as I am at making decisions…she might actually be worse.

Our weekends last month were  filled with traveling near and far to various department stores and boutiques trying on dresses of all colors, styles, and tulle levels.  And to be perfectly honest..there is never enough alcohol involved for the high level of indecisiveness.  Luckily, for me, there is always lunch or dinner involved, but that comes at a price.  This is usually involved sitting and debating and analyzing that days dress selection over and over…AND over.  And sometimes we take a break from the dress drama and discuss what’s really more important to her-what water bottle she should buy.  I can’t even make this stuff up.

The engagement ring decision was slightly better (Sara was able to pick out what type of engagement ring she wanted), but the dress drama at this stage is almost comical.  I’ve never known anyone to try on THIS many dresses, and still just not know.

The first run was to a small boutique and Sara had no idea what she wanted so we started from scratch.  Getting a basic idea of neckline and design of dress, but with no luck on anything else specific, we made our way to DC for brunch at Sally’s Middle Name on H street. Sally’s Middle Name is a quaint little restaurant on H street that reminds me a little bit of a diner.  The food and drink menu is written on the wall and changes daily.  The coffee is delicious, the food is comforting yet creative, and I love the open kitchen.  The wine is a bit pricey and pours small, but sometimes that is to be expected in DC.

I got the Korean Hash with poached egg, Sara ordered the mixed greens salad with apples and almonds, and we shared the most delicious warm lemon glazed donut.  I highly recommend their house hot sauce with the Hash.  I love my food spicy, and this definitely did the trick. 

The second run was to Nordstrom’s on a Sunday night.  A night where I was feeling pretty down about my somewhat broken relationship at the time, and not one part of me wanted to watch  girls trying on wedding dresses.  But this was not about me, and I sucked it up and put on a happy face.  Later we had dinner at Seasons 52 where I wanted to drown my “Woe is me, I’m going to be single forever” sorrows in their delicious, yet not at all traditional, Old Fashioned. Their Old Fashioned’s are made with apple bitters and come with a rock candy stirrer.  We shared a couple salads, flat breads, and appetizers, but nothing was particularly great.  I find the food at Seasons 52 to be mediocre and feel everything is either seasoned too much or too little. 
Seasons 52 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

On our third dress run I was accompanied by our other friend Diane, and we visited two more stores, but again, with no luck.  The only luck we had that day was the beautiful Antipasti Market Board at Carluccio’s in Old Town.  I am very fond of Carluccio’s and love it’s  trendy Mediterranean vibe.  The restaurant has only been open a few years, but it is exactly what Old Town needed.

Except for the one time I actually had dinner there, I always sit at the bar, I always order a few things to share-usually the antipasti board and a seafood item, and I always get the Planeta Rose.  It’s never steered me wrong. This time we got the Deluxe Market Board to share along with some salads.  The Deluxe Antipasti board includes chargrilled vegetables, roasted peppers with pesto, bruschettine, buffalo mozzarella, marinated olives, anchovies, Napoli and spicy salami, roasted ham and focaccia.  The Insalata Abruzzese with Tuna, beans, and sweet peppers was a great salad choice as well.  Really refreshing and hearty at the same time.

Carluccio's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Lunch would not be complete with out some Sara indecisiveness.  However, this time  the conversation wasn’t filled with wedding dress decisions, but a more intense conversation about what water bottle she should purchase for her sparkling water consumption.  It was a real toss up between the ever so sturdy Tervis or the Contigo with straw.  There was even a pro and con list involved. Yes, this actually happened.

I’ve only been dress shopping with Sara three times, but she’s been a handful of other times on her own or with her mom, and she’s also had numerous dresses mailed to her in which she tries them on, sends us pictures, and then sends the dress back.  It’s not a normal day if I don’t wake up to more pictures of dresses and pro and con list for each one.Like I said…not enough alcohol.  Maybe if Diane McMartin could have told us “What goes with your Great Wedding Dress Dilemma we would have made a decision on a dress already…

At least I’ve been able to spend time with my friends and eat delicious food.  But seriously Sara..make a decision already!

~Lauren

Another Asian Sunday Funday

Spring is in full bloom in DC, and I really hope it is here to stay.  My friends and I have been trying to schedule more ‘Work Out’ Dates and less ‘Happy Hour’ dates, but sometimes the two get combined.    There is so much to love about a glass of wine after yoga. It’s called balance…right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Sunday we had plans to do yoga and then healthy lunch after, but somehow that just turned into Brunch and Sunday Funday.  In our defense, we did have a yoga date the following Tuesday and checked out a new juice and vegetarian shop for dinner-no wine included.But on this particular Sunday, after MUCH deliberation (we are 4 girls who are people pleasers and cannot make a decision) we decided on Hazel in Shaw.  In the last year or so Shaw has received a face lift and so much to offer between all the new trendy dining spots and shops.

Hazel offers a ‘Dim Sunday’ Brunch, and was one of the better meals I’ve had in DC in a while.  And so the Asian kick continues…

Not at all what I’m used to with traditional Dim Sum, but various small dishes with creative Asian influences, and all super tasty.  We were lucky to get a table in their beautiful outdoor space and just enjoyed an afternoon of eating and catching up.


We started with a bottle of Rose from Corsica.  This was my first time having a Rose from Corsica, and it was very good, but not my favorite.  I think my friends enjoyed it a little more than I did, however it did grow on me over time.  If I had to describe it in one word it would be CLASSY.  Extremely pale pink, light body with pretty floral notes, very dry, and a soft lingering finish.
Since there were 4 of us we went with the Whole Shebang which is a fantastic deal.  You get one of everything on the menu for $95 and when divided by 4 it’s extremely reasonable for the amount of food you get.  The dishes were creative and interesting and all super tasty.  We all had our favorites, and they all happened to be different.

Asparagus Salad, Shaved Red Onion, Fragrant Herbs, Nuoc Cham, Peanuts- delicious and fresh!Smashed Cucumber Salad, Fried Garlic, Chile Oil-  one of the better smashed cucumber salads I’ve had due to the high intensity of flavor and layers.Kimchi Scramble, Garlic Aioli, Crispy Shallots, Shaved Bonito FlakesBreakfast Donburi: BBQ Short Rib, Fire Panda, Pickles, Sprouts, Rice – A favorite from the meal.  The Short Rib was so tender, and I loved the pickled vegetables with the eggs and meat.Beet Cured Gravlox, English Muffins, Yogurt, Pickled Red Onion– outstanding in every way.  So creative and well executed
Crispy Tots, Black Garlic Ketchup, Chives– it’s hard to mess up tots, but this black garlic ketchup I could put on everything!Pork Sung Buns, Garlic Aioli, Scallions, Fish Sauce Caramel-unbelievable combination of savory and sweet, and so very creative.  I mean..Fish Sauce Caramel?  It was delicious!Grandma’s Zucchini Bread, Foie Gras Mousse, Chamomile Gelle, Bee Pollen– another super unique combination, but surprisingly fantastic. So decadent.Mapo Eggs, Szechuan Pepper Lamb Sauce, Fried Eggs, ScallionsDonuts, Black Sesame Custard, Matcha Glaze– Messy, but outstanding.  Enough said.Duck Muffin: English Muffin, Duck Sausage, Baked Egg, Fire Panda Mayo

It wasn’t the crazy type of boozy brunch that sometimes occurs in DC, but it’s was classy, delicious, and exactly what we wanted that day.  The food was so good that I am excited to go back for dinner.

The REST of the day was not so classy and filled with more Asian snacks , more wine, and DC rooftops as we jumped from place to place visiting old friends and enjoying the sun.
Hazel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

~Lauren

It’s All About the Company

Sometimes when I sit and think about the American lifestyle I get pretty depressed.  I wake up, go to work, sit in cubical, drive home, make dinner, do the dishes, pack my lunch, watch TV, go to bed. Or some variation there of. And if I’m  lucky-then I’ll fit the gym in there somewhere.  And I’m sure if you’re a parent with kids, it’s 10 times worse.

It feels like Groundhog Day, every day.  This is the reason it is important to find a job you love, people you love spending time with, and cherish any and every moment you have that allows you to step out of this routine-even for just a little bit.Lately, I’ve been trying to find my balance now that I’m back in the 9-5 working world, living with my parents, and searching for that happiness I once had abroad.  It’s not that I’m not happy.  I’m generally a happy person, but this sort of routine lifestyle, dealing with looking for a job that I’m passionate about, maintaining friendships, and dealing with the ups and downs of a new relationship can sometimes wear on me.  I’m digesting all the memories that flood my brain every day of my backpacking trip, analyzing ways of how I can be a better friend, how I could have been a better girlfriend, how I want to travel again, squash thoughts of how I want to run away, and then realizing that I’m not getting any younger and I’m way behind on life.  It’s daunting and these thoughts definitely get me down.   Deep down I know I have a great life, but I’m also human and this is how I feel from time to time.

I have to find ways to keep my spirits up and dining out or even just going out with friends is a way for me to relax, laugh, and feel good again.  Running and yoga does this too, but this is a food blog after all, not a work out blog.I get excited when I have plans to go out. I dress up a little bit. I check out the menu beforehand. It’s probably a similar feeling to someone who’s into fashion buying a new pair of shoes.   But even though I love tasting new dishes and chef’s inspirations, it’s not always about the food for me.  It’s about the company and time with friends and family.  I went out to dinner with a former colleague and a friend of hers at Garrison in Eastern Market a couple weeks ago, and it was the perfect example of how the company really makes the evening special.

Here is the problem…if I hadn’t taken pictures of the food that night, I may not have even remembered what we ordered.  Not that the food wasn’t good…it was!  But more so because we were completely and totally enwrapped in conversation.  It never stopped.  We talked about just about everything, laughed, ordered a bottle of delicious Rose and just kept on eating and chatting until we closed the place down.  These certain experiences are memorable for me and always make me to feel happy again.

We started with cocktails and bubbles.  And most definitely one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. Basil and lemon are such a fresh combination. All of us starving- we wanted to order one of everything.  Having decided against the tasting menu, we just started naming off dishes we wanted, and as it turns out…we were all on the same page. Scallop Tartare with Avocado, Citrus, and Crispy GingerFennel Salad with Citrus, Pistachios, Arugula, and Chili’sGrilled Ramp & Spring Onion with Fresh Ricotta, Peas, and RadishesPan Seared Cauliflower with Virginia Peanuts, Black Quinoa, and Sweet OnionRabbit Pappardelle made with Emmer Wheat, Fennel, Coriander, Porcini, and OlivesRed Wine Braised Bison Short Ribs with Fingerling Potatoes, Smoked Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms.  Easily one of my least favorite dishes of the night.Salt Roasted Gilfeather Turnip with Apple Cider, Hazelnuts, Tarragon.  This  dish was probably the most memorable of the evening for me and one of my favorites.Smoked Black Cod with Spring Peas, Preserved Lemon, Creme Fraiche, Caviar, House-made sprouted Rye Bread.  A crowd pleaser and one we all agreed was outstanding.We eventually transitioned to the Domaine du Pegau ‘Pink Pegau’ Rose.  A Rose I hadn’t tried before, but was recommended by the sommelier, and a fantastic recommendation at that.  Full of body, very dry, and a great complement to our dishes.

And even though I was too full to eat anything else, we ordered dessert.  Pear Strudel with Caramel Custard, and Vanilla Ice Cream.  I did taste the custard and it was delicious.I thought all the dishes were good.  I definitely had my favorites and not so favorites.  I could go through each dish and tell you what I enjoyed or what could be better.  But at the end of the day..none of that mattered.  What mattered was the memorable evening I had with and old friend and a new friend.

It’s not always the food or the place, but the company.  Meeting a friend of a friend, having a delicious meal, sipping on a gorgeous Rose and one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had, in a warm and inviting environment.  Was this one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in DC? Absolutely not, but it was definitely a night I will remember.

~Lauren
Garrison Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mixed Feelings in Shaw

When you’re in love with the restaurant industry and food as much as I am, you have a list of places you desperately want to try.  I actually have this list on my phone-no joke.  Sometimes you’re disappointed, sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised, and sometimes you’re blown away.

A week or so ago I met up with my old friend and colleague for our bi-weekly dinner date as we are trying to get together more, dine out more, and fall in love with the industry again.  Well… I’ve always been in love with food, but sometimes when you work in the industry you can get side tracked on why you fell in love with it as with any industry or job.

We agreed on a place I’ve heard a lot about, in Shaw, called KyirisanTry saying that with a mouth full.  Wasn’t even able to ever write it properly until writing this post. This Chinese/French fusion restaurant was opened by the same couple who opened Water and Wall in Arlington.The restaurant has a similar feel and décor to a lot of DC restaurants these days, but it definitely had a warmth about it.  We got a drink at the bar. ””Whiskey and Weird” for her, and Rose on tap for me.   Because…who says NO to Rose on tap?!!?

After sitting down and chatting, we finally made a decision on dinner with help from our server who graciously discussed the entire menu, the restaurant concept, and some of his favorite items.  The menu is French-Chinese, but even more so, it’s just downright different and very creative.

After starting with the Raw Royal Seabass and Scallops,  I was pretty pleased with our choices so far.  The Raw Seabass had a variety of flavors and textures and was served with a brunoise, orange segments, radish, and a fish sauce aioli, which I’m pretty sure was the secret to making this dish pop.  Fish sauce is not so pleasant on its own, but it can really bring a dish to the next level.The scallops were cooked perfectly with a coconut risotto, basil ice cream, and scallions.  A lot of times you see vanilla being paired with scallops, but coconut was an interesting surprise, and the basil and scallions added so many layers.  Even though this was sweeter than I usually like, I couldn’t stop scooping up spoonfuls of the decadent risotto and buttery pan seared scallops.We then were served complimentary bone marrow, which looked so beautiful, but neither of us were bone marrow fans and were already getting full with two more dishes on the way, so we had to pass.Our second two dishes were good, but not as good as the first two.  We ordered the Duck Confit and the Buddha bowl.

The duck confit was the gorgeous arrangement of Sous Vide Duck Confit (sous vide to obtain the most perfectly cooked meat) , Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Apple Cider Gastrique, and topped with a burnt blood orange.  As beautiful as this was, I wanted it to be better.  Duck Confit is already very heavy and decadent and the apple cider gastrique just made the dish a little too sweet and way too heavy for me.  We only ate a couple bites and had to box the rest.The Buddha Bowl was glass noodles, my favorite, with a bunch of vegetables, chilies, and peanuts.  Again…good, not great.  It was the first time I didn’t really enjoy eating the glass noodles.  I think I prefer them cold in more of a Thai style dish with lime and fish sauce.  Again, we had to box this one up.As we were finishing our 1 small bottle of sake, quite conservative for us but it was a school night, the server brought us over complimentary dessert. Not sure why we were getting treated so well, but I’ll take it!

For not being a big “sweets” person, the dessert was one of my favorite things I ate all night. Pandan Cheesecake with a chocolate crust and chocolate glaze, pandan anglaise, Szechuan whip cream, and candied hazelnut.  This dessert was not only beautifully presented, but delicious.And to add to the fun, the dessert menu is also a guest book where people can write notes to the restaurant.  It was a fun way to end the evening.Overall I really enjoyed my experience at Kyirisan, and thought the service was great, drinks were great, and atmosphere was fun, but something was lacking in the food department.  And I feel if I’m going to pay an arm and a leg for dinner in DC, I want it to WOW me.

But I didn’t mind my leftovers for lunch…so that’s always a plus!

Kyirisan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Made it to Maketto

Everyone loves brunch.  And when you stay the weekend at your foodie friends apartment in DC, you’re bound to have a fabulous Sunday Funday brunch.  I’m not sure what’s in the air, but my friends, along with myself, are on an Asian food kick lately.  And with all the noodle and dim sum restaurants popping up in DC, we have all the base’s covered.After a Saturday night in of heavy wine drinking, the only thing we were craving the next morning was Ramen.  Warm, salty, spicy, hearty, fatty ramen.  After listing out all our options my friends and I decided to veer off the noodle path and hit up a trendy dim sum restaurant on H street called Maketto.  If you know anything about restaurants and food in DC, then I’m sure you’ve heard of Maketto.This is a restaurant, cafe, and clothing store all in one.  And they serve a dim sum brunch that is worth the hour wait.  We hit up a coffee and cocktail bar across the street while we waited and once our text came that our table was ready, so were we!

We sat in the back of the restaurant, with the open kitchen, past the patio and even though there were problems with the heat that day, the restaurant did everything they could to make sure we were satisfied and happy.  After perusing the menu and literally wanting everything, we started making our list.  One of everything for this group!Maketto is a fusion of Taiwanese and Cambodian food and on Sundays they serve a limited and seasonally changing dim sum menu from 11:30-3pm. I was pleasantly surprised as the prices were pretty reasonable; all ranging between $4-$10 a plate.  There are also larger plates like their famous Taiwanese fried chicken that is an absolute must, but be prepared to take some home.  It is just that big.

We started out with beers, and I got a Tiger, which made me miss my traveling days.There were four of us so we ordered a little bit of everything, and shared it all. We got the Pork Shumai, Shrimp and Pork  dumplings, crystal shrimp dumplings, wok fried noodles, steamed pork bun, steamed leek bun, strange eggplant, turnip cakes with XO crumble, and the fried chicken, obviously.

Because I’m trying to get better about my chopsticks, I even got chopstick 101…All the dishes were absolutely incredible.  A bit different than your traditional Chinese dim sum, but very similar dishes with elevated the flavors. Every single bite wow’d my taste buds with components of savory, sweet, spicy, herbal, crunchy, and comforting.  And the biggest surprise for me was the turnip cakes.  I’m not a fan of the texture of the authentic turnip cake, but these were amazing.

The drinks, the food, and the conversation was flowing.  We all agreed that we could have done with out the strange eggplant, which just reminded us of a basic baba ganoush, but we were very happy with everything else.  The fried chicken was very good, but by the point we received it I was beyond full and it was a bit too heavy and fried for me.  However the flavors were out of this world, and I was so happy to have ordered it.

With our hangovers gone, our bellies full, and just happy as clams we decided to finish our Sunday Funday at the next bar.  I was really impressed with our experience at Maketto and would definitely go back when I want dim sum on the net level.  

……. and then…….

Till next time..

~Lauren
Maketto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Cocktail Confession

If you know me, even just a little bit, than you probably know I have an absolute love for wine.  I was in the wine industry for 6 years, but I fell in love with the delicious juice long before that.  And I don’t just like drinking it, although I seem to do a lot of that, but I love learning about it as well.  And lately I’ve felt like I’ve been cheating on wine a little bit.  I’ve been intrigued by other adult beverages. ..like craft beer and cocktails.  I got hooked on beer when I was in Asia, mainly because wine is absolutely terrible in Asia and beer was better for my budget.  But I’ve also been ordering cocktails lately as  I am excited to learn and taste more.But I’m also seeing a cocktail trend lately.  Not sure if it’s just because I’m interested in learning (and drinking) them more or if cocktail bars, and cocktails in general, are becoming trendy and very popular.  I’ve always been a vodka and clear liquor type of girl…always ordering my drinks tart, citrusy, herbal, and maybe a little floral.  But I’m expanding my horizons and the man friend has me interested in bourbon and more of the classic cocktails.  His go to drink is an Old Fashioned, and I have to say..I’m slightly hooked.
I think my new found love for cocktails started when I was in Hong Kong.  The man friend and I checked out two amazing cocktails bars while over there and the rest is history.  I think we even went back to both of them twice!

So with this new found love for Bourbon, an old friend of mine and I visited Jack Rose Dining Saloon in DC a couple weekends ago.  We had such a wonderful night catching up while  drinking cocktails, indulging in my very first  whiskey tasting, and enjoying some really good small plates.

We shared the Supper Plate while sipping cocktails and catching up.  I went with the man friends tried and true.  No sphere shaped ice cube, but it was a VERY  well made Old Fashioned.The Supper Plate was a beautiful arrangement of pickled vegetables, marinated olives, spiced nuts and kettle corn, deviled eggs, cheese, crackers, and charcuterie.  The perfect amount of snacks, but leaving us just enough room for some small plates.  We asked our server for some recommendations on a whiskey tasting, and he took it upon himself to pick us both out a flight of whiskeys ranging in taste and origin.  And before having us try them all, he went into great detail about each one.  The favorite of the night was a smooth medium to full bodied whiskey from Taiwan.During our 2 tastings, which we shared we tried the Roseda Farms Steak Tartare, Warm Peekytoe Crab Salad with corn veloute and fennel relish, Crispy Brussels Sprouts with chile, lime, and fish sauce, and the buttermilk biscuits of course.  

The food was all very good, but nothing that really blew me away.  However, I genuinely loved this restaurant and the feel of being in an old Saloon.  The server was fantastic, the dark saloon ambiance is cozy and the whiskey wall, filled with 2, 687 bottles of whiskey is quite astonishing.  It was trendy with out being pretentious and we really enjoyed  some nice whiskeys, good cocktails, and I loved the Supper Plate for some bites while we chatted.

This whole cocktail thing is getting to be an expensive hobby!

~Lauren

Jack Rose Dining Saloon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Family Trek to Laos

My last blog post in South East Asia left me off in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  And from Chiang Mai I SLOWWLLYYY made my way to Luang Prabang, Laos by boat…the slow boat that is. file_006 I fell in love with Laos, and it was probably my favorite country, overall, out of all the countries I visited on my trip.  I thought it was an absolutely beautiful country, the food was delicious, the people were lovely, and I had some of the best experiences of my entire trip when I was there.  It’s a country you definitely should not skip if ever visiting South East Asia.
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img_3468I was really excited to get there because it was a country I really didn’t know anything about (besides loving the food at Thip Khao, one of my favorite DC restaurants). I really enjoyed Thailand, but there is something so special about Laos. It is less built up than Thailand, the locals seem to live a much simpler lifestyle, it actually seems to be a little cleaner (trash wise), but still terrible pollution, and the locals here are really lovely and try really hard to understand you.  There is a sense of community, hard work, and love in Laos.file_004

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file_009My trip to Laos started with a 3 day trek on a slow boat from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. There are a couple ways to get to Laos from Thailand, but I really wanted to experience the slow boat. I had no idea what I had signed up for besides a boat trip on a slow boat, but for about $53.24 USD It in included a mini van to Chiang Khong, accommodation for a night as well as dinner at YOLO bar (which ended up in a debauchery of a night-I’ll get to later), breakfast and lunch the next day, a tour guide that helps you through the entire visa process as well as passport photos and exchanging money, a taxi to the border, a taxi to the slow boat, and then the slow boat for 2 days. Not a bad deal!

What I also didn’t realize was the package included three days with the best group ever. A group that quickly became family.img_1918

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img_2249I couldn’t tell if I kept getting lucky in the groups I was put with, or if there were just amazing people all around me all the time. Coincidentally Alex, who I met in Chiang Mai, was in my van to Chiang Khong, and we ended up being on a very chatty bus in which everyone exchanged facebook info. Little did I know I would be running into these people and hanging out with them for the next couple weeks all over Laos.img_1889We stopped at the white temple, Wat Rong Khun, which I had already seen, but still just as amazing the second time, and made our way to Chiang Khong, a small town that literally has 2 or 3 restaurant/bars.img_1884

img_1901We had our dinner at YOLO bar and that was the beginning of the family friendship. The night ended up being a night of many free tequila shots, a drinking pool game, cards against humanity- the UK version, and immediate connections and friendships.file_005-8Mostly backpackers in their 20’s and 30’s like myself, but also a son bringing his 70 something year old mom on a vacation in Laos, and she quickly became mom to all of us.

The following day, heads a bit foggy, we made our way to the border, applied for our Visas, and headed to the slow boat..beer in hand, obviously. Beer Lao is THE beer in Laos.file_000-3

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img_3115There are a couple other beers sold in Laos, but this is the main one you see everywhere. And I actually like it! I like it so much I found myself craving it every day. It’s not too hoppy or yeasty, and it has more flavor than Singha and Chang in Thailand.Apparently it was low season so even though the boat ran out of seats, they still piled us on this very old wooden boat with removable bus seats.  A group of us got put in the room with the engine and all the luggage for the next 6 hours, and even though it was so loud and pretty smelly, we made the absolute most of it.img_1953 That might actually be an understatement. We really did have the best time. We played card games, sang, listened to music, and drank rum and beer, once we found out there was a toilet of course.  I found myself connecting with a group of strangers I would probably never even have talked to at home. I had to get away from the cigarette smoke and engine fumes so I found a comfy spot on top of the luggage near the window and ended up taking a lovely nap as we sailed across the Mekong River.img_2006

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img_2078We spent the night in Pak Beng , which is an even smaller town than Chiang Khong, and half way between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang. Even though it caters to tourists who are coming through on the slow boat, it doesn’t have much more than a couple food stands, some guest houses, a few restaurants (which are usually owned by the people who live in those houses), and one bar.  I enjoyed my first Laotian meal and a night out drinking shots of rum with the restaurant owner, but I managed to go for a beautiful run the next day to get a better view of how the locals live.img_2018

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img_2022After our second slow boat ride, in actual seats this time, we made it to Luang Prabang. We wanted one last ‘family dinner’ together and decided to eat at the night market and make our way to the very popular bar/lounge called Utopia. We THOUGHT this was our last night together, but again, little did we know we would just keep running into each other over and over. for the next 2 weeks.img_2056

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file_005-1The night market in Luang Prabang was heaven to me. Multiple “buffets” of every kind of vegetable, noodle, and rice, and many different types of barbecue. It’s exactly what I imagined a food market in Asia would look like.file_003

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file_000-1That 3 day trek was something so special to me. And getting to know these people from my group individually over the next two weeks is something that changed me and my trip completely. I grew such strong feelings and friendships, learned so much from each person I met, and even though it’s always so sad to say goodbye, I can only hope we stay connected and meet up again in this life or the next. I never would have thought that this “hippie” (even though he swears he’s not) standing in front of me in line at a rest stop with elephant pants on would become someone I will never forget for not only making me laugh so very much, but for opening my eyes to non judgmental friendships, finding myself (not in Pai- apparently EVERYONE finds themselves in Pai), and for making me believe in happiness more than I ever thought I could.img_2060 His free spirit and charisma were contagious, and I hope to emulate those traits some day. And he’s just one of the many from that group that will forever remain one of the greatest parts of my travels. Memories that will last a lifetime.

~Lauren

Around Town and Back At It

Food has always been my passion and somewhat of a hobby.  I surround myself with people that love food and beverages just as much as I do.  And even though I vowed to start eating better and saving money when I returned home, I should know myself better than that.  The “Welcome Back” tour is in full swing, there’s a new guy in my life who loves food as much as I do, and anytime I get together to see friends, we always try to pick a new restaurant or bar to try.  Needless to say I’ve been dining out quite a bit lately.file_000I’m currently living in Annapolis, MD, and even though I live here, I don’t venture much into Annapolis outside of the towne centre where I live.  Luckily there are some decent places to dine, one being Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant.  Fairly new, maybe open a year or so, I checked this place out for the first time on Valentine’s Day with the new boo.  In the past we’ve enjoyed Paladar or Gordon Biersch for some late night fun, but we decided to go classy and do some wine flights on this night instead.file_000Even though the restaurant and bar were packed, 2 seats opened up at the bar when we arrived-it was meant to be. We each got a wine flight-1 white and 1 red-and shared them.  Surprised at how large the pours were, these wine flights were around $12-14/each and it was more than enough for both of us. Not only were we surprised at the large pours, but also how decent the wines were.  The reds would be better with food, but the whites were nice supping wines.  The Pinot Gris won over my heart and the crisp Sauvignon Blanc won over his.

Later I visited again with my friend Diane for a much needed girls night out and Happy Hour.  You can’t beat $5 glasses of wine, and a large happy hour food menu.  We ended up chatting too long to get the Happy Hour prices on the food, but we were pleasantly surprised at how good the food was in general.  The calamari was the largest I’ve ever seen, coated in a thick batter, fried, and covered in a sweet chili sauce.  We also ordered the shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Parmesan and Marcona Almonds, and the Buffalo Mozzarella, Golden Beet, and Arugula bruschetta.file_008

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file_006The salad was  light, crunchy, and my favorite-I could have eaten 3 more of those, the Bruschetta was tangy, creamy, and flavorful, and the calamari was very good, but a little too heavy for me.

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Ever since I’ve been home, I’ve been craving Asian food, especially Vietnamese.  I never really fancied noodle soups before my trip, but now I can’t get enough of them.  Luckily my craving has been taken care of by the THREE times I’ve visited Pho Real in Silver Spring in the last 2 weeks, one of the best Pho restaurants in the area, or so I’m told.  There was one weekend where we went 2 days in a row…It’s just that good.  I always get number 11 which is slices of eye round steak and well done flank steak.  I’m not that adventurous when it comes to my meat, and this is exactly what I want every time.  Each bowl is served with a plate of fresh basil, jalapeños, bean sprouts, and lime wedges. The broth has so much flavor and freshness that once you add the sweet soy sauce, spicy Sriracha, and the basil, jalapeños, bean sprouts, and limes, it’s the perfect combination of sweet and spicy and savory and salty-it’s Umami in your mouth and the most comforting soup in the world.file_001-11-38-52-am Great for rainy days and definitely great for hangovers, trust me I would know.  The soup and experience make me miss the flavors of Vietnam.  I’m just happy to get my fix here.

But sometimes when you have Pho Real for lunch on Saturday, Iron Age Korean BBQ on Sat night, and Pho Real again on Sunday, you just want a pizza.  So the male friend and I headed to Facci Wood Fire Pizza and Wine Bar in Laurel for an impromptu date night.  Really it was just the two of us having dinner, but I’ll use any excuse for a date. And when you get quality time with your significant other at a restaurant, and drinks are involved…it’s a date to me.

Luckily we like to share and try everything, and we both enjoy sitting at the bar, which is definitely my style.  However our eyes are always bigger than our stomach and we always over order.  Still ok by me because we get to taste many dishes and take home a doggy bag. Although somehow that doggy bag ends up in his refrigerator-probably better for my waist line.

We ordered the Calamari Fritti, -do you see a trend here? Between Diane and the male friend I am pretty sure I’ve had my fair share of fried calamari this year and it’s only February.  We try it everywhere to find the best.  Sugar (Bar+Deck+Lounge) in Hong Kong still wins by far with its pillowy Salt and Szechuan Pepper squid with Worcestershire dipping sauce…but I digress..file_005We also shared the Torre di Tono, which is a tower of seared yellowfin tuna, avocado, fresh cilantro, wood -fired peppers, and a lemon aioli dressing.  This was really good on it’s own, but I loved it on top of the Old Bay Seasoned chips that were served to us earlier. And I sipped on an outstanding Rose from Calabria while he had a Pilsner.file_000-11-38-52-am

file_003And we settled on a white pizza, Salsiccia e Rapini, which was fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, smoked mozzarella, Italian fennel sausage, and broccoli rabe.  This was really good, but oh so cheesy. I love anything with broccoli rabe and the bitter greens balanced out the smokiness and richness of the mozzarella well.file_004
Facci Ristorante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
And as if that wasn’t enough…last week there was a day trip to Saint Michaels, MD with a quick stop in town at Eastern Shore Brewing Co.  Great beers, super fun atmosphere, and the service is top notch.  I can’t believe I had never been here before even though my parents have lived in Saint Michaels for almost 6 years now.  If you plan to visit Saint Michael’s, be sure to check this spot out.And a Sunday Night dinner with friends at a new seafood restaurant called Hudson Coastal Raw Bar and Grille in Columbia , MD.  Again-sharing fried calamari, fresh ceviche, the smoked salmon sandwich, and a pound of seasoned shrimp.  The shrimp were plump and really juicy, and I loved the salmon sandwich with red onion and arugula.  The atmosphere of the restaurant reminded me so much of Whaley’s Raw Bar in DC-really clean colors and decor and bright raw bar ocean type feel.  The service was a bit slow, the drinks were just ok, but I’ll cut them some slack since the place did just open.  It certainly has a lot of potential, and I’m sure it will be cranking by the summer. Either way, it’s fun to have some fresh new spots in that part of town.file_0001But even with all this eating out, I have been enjoying being back in the kitchen cooking up my usual Everything but the Kitchen Sink Veggie filled meals.  Balancing nights out with nights in is always key.file_001

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file_003I think after never having to cook for 3 months sparked my desire to get back in the kitchen again. Now, I just need to start cooking some delicious Asian inspired Meals! Food is about memories, feelings, and emotions, and all my food experiences are tied to great ones.

~Lauren

Back in the US of A – It’s Hard to Describe

After 100 days backpacking around South East Asia..7 countries, 36 beds, numerous trains, planes, buses, vans, boats, and countless memories, I’m finally back in the United States and doing my best to get back in to the groove of things.file_002-3100 days is not that long for most backpackers, but it was long for me.  It was long enough to get used to the easy breezy lifestyle, the food, the culture.  It was long enough to get used to never having to cook a meal, never having to make a bed or do your own laundry.  It was long enough to not have to worry about anything, really,  besides what you were going to eat for your next meal and where you were going to sleep that night.  Although, I have to say, sometimes hostel shopping did get quite tiresome.  But if that is all I had to worry about…life was pretty good.file_001-2

file_000-4My ipad keyboard broke when on my way to Hong Kong (story for another post, but something to do with bed bugs, a bath tub in a kind of creepy hotel in Vietnam, and netflix…), and I was already so behind on blogging that according to my blog I’m still in Thailand and on my way to Laos.  There is so much to catch up on, and I will do my best to recap the entire trip with travel tips, highs and lows, and the REAL truth about traveling South East Asia as a 32 year old.

Being back doesn’t feel as weird as I thought it would be, but I can’t say it’s been easy.  I put on a happy face and pretend everything is ok because in reality, no one really understands what I’m feeling inside. No one really understands the internal struggle you feel because you’ve changed so much, but nothing around you has, and you want to feel the way you did when you were away. There are days I wish I were still traveling, days I wish I were still meeting new people who inspire me and challenge me and surprise me.  Some days I wish I were lying on a beach looking at bright blue water with the warm breeze while drinking a beer-yes a BEER-who am I? In my defense, they really didn’t have good wine there.file_005Some days I feel like I’m falling apart.  Like I’m falling into the same sticky low place I was in before I left…anxiety, routine, not feeling a drive for anything, consumed with pleasing everyone but myself, depression, self loathing, not feeling good enough, and just getting caught up in the same old BS.  Of course there are days when I’m happy to be home and spending time with my friends and family.  It feels normal and good.  But my hardest struggle right now is taking all the lessons and experiences I learned on my trip and applying  them to my life here at home when I start to feel myself slipping away.  But as we all know…that is much easier said than done.

I’ve been home for two weeks and the new and shiny is wearing off.  The barrage of preliminary questions has subsided-  “How was it?” “What was your favorite?” “Tell me everything!!”  – but then the secondary set of questions start to surface “What are you going to do now?” “Where are you going to work?” “What’s your plan?”

And to be honest, this is very hard for me.  There was so much that happened each and every day I can’t even remember it all.  I remember feeling so many highs and lows through out the entire trip and meeting some absolutely incredible people, funny people, thoughtful people, crazy people, but most of the experiences I had are indescribable.  It’s hard to describe how you perceive people differently when traveling, even how you perceive yourself differently.  It’s hard to describe the habits you’re happy you lost, and how wonderful of a feeling it is to feel like you accomplished so much doing it all alone, yet at the same time it seems like nothing at all. I read a blog post recently, and honestly, I couldn’t have written this better myself…

“there’s no way to describe the way your spirit evolves when you leave everything you know behind and force yourself to use your brain in a real capacity, not on a written test in school. You know you’re thinking differently because you experience it every second of every day inside your head, but how do you communicate that to others?
You feel angry. You feel lost. You have moments where you feel like it wasn’t worth it because nothing has changed but then you feel like it’s the only thing you’ve done that is important because it changed everything. What is the solution to this side of traveling? It’s like learning a foreign language that no one around you speaks so there is no way to communicate to them how you really feel.

It’s hard to describe just how blue the water is in Thailand.file_005-6

file_004-7It’s hard to describe how you felt jumping off a super high cliff where you almost peed in your pants, but did it because you were scared.  Because you decided to do everything that scared you on this trip.  It’s hard to describe the feelings of all the adventures: Ziplining, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, hiking, and climbing in countries you’ve only dreamt of visiting.file_006-4

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file_000It’s hard to describe what it’s like to become friends with a local in Laos, visit and eat dinner with his family in the village he grew up in 45 min outside of town. file_004-12It’s hard to describe just HOW GOOD THE FOOD IS!file_004-6

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file_001-12It’s hard to describe what it feels like to get blessed by a monk in Cambodia and participate in a cleansing in Bali.file_000-2

img_7592It’s hard to describe what it’s like visiting some of the places that show up when you google “most beautiful places in the world” or only see on screensavers.file_003-1

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It’s hard to describe how it feels to live in a world of no judgement and to have people accept you for exactly who you are and to finally FINALLY feel comfortable in your own skin.file_003

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img_4165It’s hard to describe the feeling you had living at an Ashram for a week spending your days doing absolutely nothing besides praying, chanting, meditating, and sleeping.img_6665

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It’s hard to describe how it felt riding down a bumpy dirt road in Laos on the back of a scooter of a guy you just met with all his friends, playing deep house music on your portable speakers while taking in the most beautiful mountainscape around you.  Seriously-I got chills riding home that day because I was so overwhelmed with happiness at everything going on around me.file_005-2
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It’s hard to describe the struggle of lugging a 17KG back pack and a 5kg day pack around everywhere and switching hostels every few nights. Don’t be fooled by this smile…I was in pain.

file_000-1It’s hard to describe what it felt like spending many nights sleeping on public transportation especially overnight buses in Vietnam that stop every few hours, but you have no clue where you are and they yell at you to get off and switch buses at 6am and force you to pay for another ticket even though you’ve already purchased one, but the last bus driver took it. Yes, this happened.file_006-1

file_005-1It’s hard to describe what it’s like to eat at these ‘said’ rest stops with filthy tables, VERY questionable food, and bugs crawling all over the sauce containers.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be a female in these countries that have no toilet paper and squat toilets.img_1659It’s hard to describe the feeling of having someone special from home fly all the way to Hong Kong just to spend the holidays with you.file_000-4

It’s hard to really describe the idea of always being around strangers who become your closest friends every. single. day, and meeting people from all over the world that you connect with immediately.  Becoming friends with people you would never even think about talking to at home.  Because it’s different when you travel-it’s open, it’s friendly, it’s comfortable.

It’s hard to describe how close you get to people so quickly.  Like the two Lithuanian girls who you sat next to at a small cafe in Hoi An, Vietnam, chimed in on their story, and end up spending the next few days together and meet up again in Saigon.file_001-4Or the guy from Bristol you met through one of your hostel mates, feel an instant connection and friendship with and end up traveling for 2 weeks together.  Or how about the couple from the UK  you meet on the slow boat from Thailand to Laos who you connect with so well that you could see yourself being best friends with them if they lived closer (But they live in Australia now so maybe I should move closer to them!). And end up meeting up with them a month and half later in Cambodia. img_1889

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file_004-9Oh and I could never forget these two… who made me laugh till my stomach hurt and still do to this day.file_002-7And the two Swedish guys  you met while exploring a cave, you were amused by the strong sent of their clothes, which later becomes a topic of conversation as the perfume they put in the laundry in Vietnam is astounding, but  later found out they are staying in your hostel so you end up hanging out with them for the next few days.  Next thing you know your tubing down a river at night holding hands and eating schnitzle while watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. at a local restaurant down the street from your hostel.file_005-7

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file_005-3It’s hard to describe how every single person on my journey had a positive impact on me and helped change me in some way or another.  It’s hard to describe  just how small the world is-when you keep bumping into the same people at the most random places at the most random times.  And its REALLY hard to describe just how wonderful it is to be able to do what you want, when you want, with who you want.file_005-8

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file_003-5I know it sounds quite simple when I’m writing it here, but its hard to describe the actual feelings that go along with all these experiences.  And as I sit here typing them out, I long for those days again.  To be care free, to be back there, doing it all again.  It’s hard to describe what it feels like being home and not being able to really communicate with anyone what you feel inside.  What it’s like to feel more lost at home than you did in a foreign country.   

I look forward to sharing my adventures through the blog and hopefully the great memories I had will help drive me to a better and happier place here at home.“If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.”-EPL

~Lauren