Monday, January 31, 2011

Project Dinner Party - I Need Your Help

Hey, everyone! I am back from L.A. I'm having some "issues" as they relate to computer access(nothing mechanical just some other things), so posting may be light this week. Hopefully, it won't. In the mean time, please see below 'cause I need your help!

Remember when I mentioned that I wanted to entertain more this year? Well, we've started already trying to stick to our goals in the Try Anything Once household. This upcoming weekend, Husband J and I are going to be hosting a dinner party for some of Husband J's work friends/colleagues. To be honest, I've very rarely cooked for people that I don't know very well. Usually if you're a friend, and we've hung out before, you most likely like me; and so you won't care if I screw up a meal. :) Luckily, I haven't screwed up a meal YET! Our invited guests are coming from Manhattan on a what will presumably be a cold weekend night, I've never met them, these are people who see Husband J everyday. I want to make a good impression and not serve them garbage. Can you tell?

You all have been helpful in the past, so I'd love to hear what you think about whatI should do for this dinner party. Just to let you know, it will be Husband J and me as well as four other couples. The only dietary restrictions that I know of are no shellfish for one guy. So far, I haven't gotten any indications that there are any vegetarians. So.....

1. Mini-Buffet vs. One Pot Meal - When we entertained for a crowd the last time, I made several small dishes and had everyone dig into whatever they wanted. If you wanted a ton of chicken or roasted vegetables, then you could create the meal you wanted. I'm leaning towards this since there will probably be a variety of palates, and I want to cover my bases. The other option is making a large main dish that will probably include a veggie and protein and then make an accompaniment (rice, couscous, maybe some other pasta). The benefit of this of course is way less work for me. That being said, it's less variety for my guests. I know entertaining should be easy breezy, but I like the idea of having a little something for everyone.

2. Disposable Plates vs. Real Plates - Husband J suggested that we buy disposable plates instead of using what we've got here. Honestly we're all adults here; our guest count is pretty manageable; and we have a dish washer. If I clean up throughout the cooking process, it's not going to be that bad. I want to use real plates, but um...I don't think we've got a full set of ten. Er...Even our pretty china we inherited is only service for eight people. Perhaps maybe we just get some upscale disposable ones like these below?

3. Sure, Guest, You Can Bring.....- I know that people want to give the hosts a little something upon arriving. I usually ask for dessert or wine. I would feel awful though if someone dropped money on dessert and then someone else bought some bargain, but very good, Trader Joe's wine. Should I not be worried about that? Should I coordinate? Of course this is all 'cause this is a new group of people. If it was just my friends, I'd surely tell them what to do. :)

Let me know what you think! Am I over thinking everything?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Back Trackin', Cali Edition - Muir Woods National Monument

If you remember my posts last year about our Grand Canyon trip, you'll know that I don't really have much camping/outdoor experience, so I really appreciated our quick jaunt through Muir Woods National Monument on our way to Napa Valley from San Francisco. What was most striking to me is how rustic the Northern California landscape becomes, and you're barely a half hour from the outskirts of San Francisco. I will say that Husband J and I were quite smitten with the rolling green hills and winding tree-lined roads. You're beautiful, NorCal.

Muir Woods National Monument is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (By the way, when you hear the word "monument", don't you think of a structure or a statue? I do.). It was established by federal legislation signed in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and is named in honor of John Muir, a noted conservationist of that time. This area has been important to the coastal native Miwok peoples as well as became a part of the early tourism industry in California. It's still popular today, and we saw that with the small crowd we encountered early on a Saturday morning.

For me, this park is really about the trees, gorgeous tall redwood trees, something the Northeast landscape lacks. We were at Muir Woods in late November/early December, and I thought it was a nice time because there really weren't very many people there. Also going first thing in the morning helped. I say go early and in the off season because what was most memorable about our experience was the early peace and calm of the forest. Muir Woods' paths are paved making the park pretty accessible for all ages and abilities, which I think means that it's probably packed in the spring and summer months.

But do you blame people for wanting to come here? Look at this....

Looking up into the tree tops...

I will admit to you that I have never been so taken by trees before in my life. Just look at the bark. I imagine that this tree has been through a lot.

Here's a blurry pic of Husband J next to one of the tree trunks. I think that that tree is older than multiple generations of people. At least.

We finally found someone to take a picture of us. Don't I look tired? LOL!

I wanted to hide out in here, in this tree's hollowed out trunk, but we couldn't just jump over the barrier. Oh well!

I hope all of these pictures have inspired you to get outside into nature (it's 6 degrees Farenheit right now in New York, so I'll be trying to stay inside.). If you are in the Bay Area, hankering for some quiet and nature, definitely check out Muir Woods National Monument.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In My Hood/Food Porn Friday - Roman's

Roman's is an Italian restaurant that opened this past fall in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. It's from the same group of people who opened the offbeat Williamsburg, Brooklyn restaurant, Marlow & Sons and the traditional butcher shop, Marlow & Daughters, which specializes in grass-fed meats and makes its own sausage (they've got another restaurant, Diner, too...busy people!). All of these places are pretty well known and notoriously delicious, so I wanted to see how this team would tackle Italian cuisine.

Roman's doesn't take reservations, but my friend MY and I were there early on a weekday night. This restaurant isn't that big, so I can only imagine what it's like on a weekend night.

I will say that what I love most about my area are the many neighborhoody restaurants that it has. Roman's has the feel of a small neighborhood place, but they take their service seriously.

For our appetizer:

Warm Beets with Goat Cheese, Walnuts & Horseradish

Yum! Beets are the best of both worlds, aren't they? Sweet and a vegetable. Score!

Lamb Chops with Saffron Turnips & Brocoli Rabe

This was MY's dish. I had a smidgen of this and thought it was flavorful and quite tender.

My dish: Chicken Leg Polepettine

Definitely not what I imagined it would be. It was essentially like a chicken meatball wrapped in spinach in a broth. It was extremely simple but slightly salty for me (maybe I am losing my salt tolerance in my old age?).

Finally the dessert that MY and I shared:

If I remember correctly, this was a ricotta cake with baked pear and fresh cream.

What a perfect way to end a meal! The cream was so smooth and whipped to utter perfection. I could have had anything with that cream, and it would have tasted great. The cake was moist, spongy and had more of an almond vanilla flavor. Baked pear is really nice to have at this time of year, and dessert with fruit always makes me feel like I am eating something relatively healthy. Ha! :)

I am definitely going back to Roman's later this year, since the menu changes constantly (if not daily).

243 DeKalb Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where to Next? - Weesst Siiiidee!

That's right. I'm going to throw up a big 'ol W, and let you know that I will be making my first trip to Los Angeles in a VERY long time next week. It's been a whopping almost 8 1/2 years since I set foot in L.A. It's gone by so quickly that in some respects it seems like yesterday that I left. I'll be doing a little bit of "work" on Project X that I mentioned in my goals for 33, but I will also be visiting my wonderful friend, Big Mitts (obviously NOT her real name), a good friend who moved out to L.A. several months ago.

I've been trying to think about what I'd like to see while I am in L.A. Unlike many parts of the country, I actually lived in L.A. for two summers for a total of about six months, so I don't really approach my time there as a true tourist. Yet, I do want to see a few things that I haven't seen in awhile or a place or two that I've never been.

I've got my eye on possibly doing the following:

1) Heading to Venice Beach boardwalk/Santa Monica

Yeah, perhaps a little cheesy and touristy, but I like seeing L.A. not take itself too seriously. The Venice Beach boardwalk is good for that. :) Besides, I have not seen the Pacific Ocean in a very long time. We're about to get another snowstorm here and even being able to go to the beach seems glorious right now.

2) Gazing endlessly into space literally at the Griffith Park Observatory


Maybe I'll get my geek on and watch a cool movie at the Observatory's Planetarium.

3) Shopping

Melrose Avenue

Rodeo Drive

Well, more like window shopping and browsing than any actual real shopping. I've hit my self-imposed shopping hiatus for awhile. Unless it's something that will keep me warmer in the next few weeks (like a good winter scarf), I'm most likely not going to buy anything (but who knows?). Either way, I've never really walked around the Rodeo Drive area before, so why not do a Julia Roberts "Pretty Woman" stroll around just to say that I've been.

Also I've got to find some food!

I've already gotten some feedback on a few places already:

In -N Out Burger - When I lived in L.A. last, I was a committed vegetarian/pescetarian, so the one burger I had from In -N Out made me not feel so great. Not eating meat over time will do that to you. I'm DEFINITELY going to try this much beloved burger chain again. Is it really worth it to get their burgers "animal style"? ;)

Versailles - suggested by Cathy of Wifey Lifey

Some good Mexican would be great since apparently the West Coast has the East beat in this respect (at least this is what I am told). Any suggestions?

So yeah, with another 2-4 inches of snow coming tomorrow, I'm dreaming about low 70s /high 60 degree temperatures right about now. Let's hope there's no snow next week either. Sigh...

Any L.A. recommendations for me? What's your favorite place to eat or visit in L.A.?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tourist in My Own Town - Walking Across the Brooklyn Bridge

Having lived in Brooklyn once before, it amazed even me that previously I hadn't taken the time to experience one of its most recognizable monuments: the Brooklyn Bridge. Yup, an almost lifetime New Yorker had never walked across. One Saturday afternoon, Husband J and I got off our tushes, put on some comfortable walking shoes and set off.

Personally, I think if you are going to walk the bridge, definitely try to do so from Brooklyn to Manhattan. While I love my borough, I think the walk towards Manhattan is quite scenic. Definitely check out the DUMBO neighborhood and Brooklyn Bridge Park before entering the pedestrian walkway to the bridge near the corner of Washington Street and Prospect Street in DUMBO. There is also a bike lane on the bridge, if you want to get some exercise. Other than that, you'll just have to hitch a ride in a taxi to experience the bridge.

Actually for another pretty cheap and equally scenic vantage point of the bridge itself, I would take the subway. Yep! The N & Q subway lines both cross the neighboring Manhattan Bridge and actually give you a clear view of the Brooklyn Bridge. It's definitely worth $2.25 and the trip between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Many people had the same idea of crossing the bridge that afternoon.

If you're a fan of architecture, the bridge's design is really worth examining. It's still beautiful even after 125 years.

The bridge's easily famous arches

I find the suspension cables to be their own form of artwork.
Recognize someone?

This view from the bridge was taken a few years ago. This area is now Brooklyn Bridge Park, which I think is a big improvement over the unused pier. I wrote about my day there several months ago.

What's the main reason to cross the Brooklyn Bridge? The views!

Make sure to make it across the Brooklyn Bridge for a FREE and fun way to view the New York City skyline.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Remembering MLK

Hey, all!

I know many of you in the U.S. have today off in celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you are not working today, whether snuggling at home staying warm (for those of you in cold weather places), eating something comforting at a restaurant or at home, or traveling, I urge you to think a little about Dr. King and his message.

While he's most associated with the movement for civil rights for Black people in U.S., before his assassination, the ideas he was espousing were slowly be a part of a larger movement for eradicating poverty and promoting GLOBAL justice.

He's a little fiery in the speech below, and I think that's why I like it. :) This particular speech opposing the Vietnam War is a little long but fascinating given the past and our current national situation. I often find that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

By the way, I have a degree in African American Studies, so I'll be spending the next few weeks figuring out how to incorporate Black History Month into a food and travel blog. I'll figure it out somehow. :)

"See" you tomorrow.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Antigua Me Come From - Life Outside of the Resort

I think I may have mentioned before that peoples' perceptions of the Caribbean often make me uneasy. It's fascinating when I meet people, tell them where I was born and where my family lives, and then I get a variety of questionably interesting responses depending on who they are. My favorite was : "Wow, I just didn't think people lived there." Yes, Dexter who brought you your pina colada has to live somewhere, since he's not staying with you at the resort. ;)

Unfortunately, most Caribbean people don't all sit around smoking weed (a common Caribbean misconception propagated by too many people with Bob Marley posters in their college dorm rooms) and singing "Day-O." Folks who live in the Caribbean have jobs and lifestyles that often don't have anything to do with tourism and the tourist experience. Of course, this may sound rather condescending to say this to you, dear readers, but I have been a part of too many mind boggling interactions with many people to not reiterate this.

Someone who went to Antigua once told me that they felt bad for people in Antigua because they were so poor (luckily this was in an e-mail, and so I spared her some eye rolling). I can only speak for Antigua because it is the island I know the best, but I feel that I can say that folks there are doing okay. Is there more to be done in Antigua in terms of infrastructure and economic development? Yes. Am I an expert in international development? No. Does everyone there have a 2,000 square foot home, multiple cars and an HD TV? No, not really. (Actually I recently had someone visibly pity me for not having some of these things. I think I'll survive without them.)

People have small, modest homes that they've lived in all of their lives and may take the bus (even though the service is shoddy at times). What may look poor to some is perfectly adequate and comfortable for many of the people that live there. I have yet to see chronic homelessness, people lacking adequate running water, electricity and solid, basic shelter. After seeing some of these issues in other places I've visited in the world, I think Antigua is most definitely on the right track. There is more to be done there, and I hope the government and other interested parties help its growth.

ANYHOO, the person who felt sorry for my homeland also never left the resort while they were there, SO I am going to give you all a little look into what Antigua looks like outside the confines of a resort.

I spend a lot of time here. It's my aunt's home. She lives in a nicer area in the northern part of the island. She was one of the first people to move here.

Husband J and I decided to walk around her area one morning. She lives near a small cove.

One of the homes in my aunt's neighborhood. While there are a few expats in her area, this home is owned by an Antiguan.

I remember this house from when I used to visit my aunt years ago. Each little roof was painted in a different pastel color. I think the house is owned by someone else now. I miss the colors.

Shifting now, this picture is of a street in the village where my mother was born and where some of my cousins still live in our family's home. I think the yellow building is actually an ice cream place that opened since one of my prior visits.

This is the church my family goes to. My mother also went here as a little girl.

Since the village is called Sea View Farm, there are points where you can actually see the sea! :)

One of the days we visited my cousins, there was a car "rally" benefitting a family that was recently in a major car accident. Lots of car enthusiasts from around the island got together to drive around, show off their cars and raise money for this family. Here's one of the trucks with music leading the way. These large trucks blast some very loud soca and reggae and are quite common during Antigua's carnival in late July.

Some friend's kids trying to get a good view of the cars. The peach building is the village primary school.

This is my cousin's car, hence the the thumbs up. :) I still can't believe he drives. I still have the image of a six year old in my head, which is hysterical since he's in his 20's now.

Husband J watching along with some family friend's kids. By the way, I think he almost caused an accident. Someone in a car did a double take when seeing him. Persons of his hue (ahem!) are not usually seen in this part of the island.

Purposely small houses are pretty common. It keeps costs down and life simple, I think. Here's is one being built right in the middle of the island close to the capital city of St. John's. Oh yeah, the man in the picture is my Dad. I think I'll be visiting him here next time.

I love this picture because it reminds me a lotof what Antigua was before and what is becoming. We used to have a ton of farm animals near my family's home. Once a cow came in the kitchen! There aren't so many animals now but definitely lots of development and waaay more houses. I think it will be important that Antigua makes sure that the development is sustainable for such a small place, but that's just my opinion.

So, that is a little slice of island life. I do have more to say about Caribbean tourism and what I would think might be room for change. I'm still working through that in my head and how to express it all, but that is for another post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just Passing Through....

My attempt at being organized about blogging should not be lagging so early in the year, yet that has been the case for me this week.

I usually have and currently do have a list of proposed posts to be written, but many of these posts actually require thought and time. (What a concept?!) Plus, a travel blog that I admire asked for a guest post, which is quite exciting (actually I have several of those). I actually think I have so much that I am interested in expressing and writing about this year that it is maybe a little overwhelming. When I am overwhelmed, I procrastinate a little (or maybe a lot?). I also think all of this hard core cold weather is starting to affect me. Seasonal Affective Disorder, maybe?

Bloggers, how do you stay organized and motivated? What are your plans for keeping on track this year, if any?

I will say this. I'm not fretting, and I'm totally at peace with myself for having an "off " blogging week. Plus, it helps to have signs like these around:

Cupcake? Sounds like a plan to me! Happy Hump Day!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Back Trackin', Ireland Edition - The Cliffs of Moher

What is there really to say about the Cliffs of Moher other than it is one of the most frequently visited sites in all of Ireland and a beautiful one at that. Located in County Clare near the town of Doolin and in the geologically fascinating area called The Burren, the cliffs are just another aspect of Ireland's striking landscape. Ireland is truly a beautiful, lush country in its own special way, and I'm glad that Husband J and I got to this part of its western coast.

At their highest point, the Cliffs rise to over 700 feet (over 200 meters). I really could just sit here for a few hours with a book (and maybe a glass of wine). Check out these views:

I tried to get a close-up of the cliffs, but this is the best I could do with my old point and shoot.

There aren't just cliffs to look at. Like many parts of Ireland, there is always a castle structure around somewhere. O'Brien Tower was actually built in 1835 for tourists who would come to see the cliffs. People loved the cliffs even then! There is actually a viewing tower at the top, but we chose not to go up. Honestly, the view was great right where we were. If you do go there, know that there is a small fee to get to the top.

By the way, people crack me up. Check out this sign:

Apparently, it doesn't apply to everyone.

Don't mind me. My lawyer tendencies make me think everyone is supposed to follow rules and signs. :)

Do you tend to incorporate nature sights during your trips?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Food Porn Friday - Fish & Fries...I Mean Chips

I think Husband J and I are closet Anglophiles. We love British accents, period movies and Ricky Gervais. Maybe for me it's a subconscious thing, since I was technically born in a country that made me a British subject, and my Mom used to have to sing "God Save the Queen" in primary school. I guess it was no surprise then that Husband J almost lost his marbles when we visited Brooklyn Heights' Chip Shop.

Chip Shop is all about British cuisine, which I am sure can be a bit "challenging" considering that the Brits are not known for tasty, swoon-worthy food. The restaurant is known for its fish and chips, so I stuck with that for my first visit.

I'm not that into fried food that's breaded too much, so I tried to find a way to appreciate this meal for what it was. In an effort to fit some veggies in, I ordered a side of peas and carrots. There's curry sauce next to it, too. I used it as an alternative to ketchup, which seems like a pretty British thing to do.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who isn't into fried breaded foods.

A message above from the owners re: the preparation of the fish. Sorry, but while I am a "health conscious American," I'm not getting it baked.

Chip Shop was having a beer festival during our visit, so it was fun to taste some flavors that I wouldn't have banana bread beer!

Being an occasional beer wuss, I love flavored beer.

If you love British anything, you'll love the decor at Chip Shop.

There was also quite a bit of James Bond and Beatles items adorning the walls.

Of course, no place can be truly English without having soccer available for viewing. This bar "supports" Arsenal (gotta get the English lingo right) as evidenced by lots of Arsenal signs and scarves all over the bar area. For some reason, I do too. I guess 'cause my cousin's ex-boyfriend's cousin used to work for them? Oh, whatever. I just like the name.

Since Husband J thoroughly enjoyed himself, I think we'll be visiting the Chip Shop some more in the future for a little taste of England. Hail Britannia!

Chip Shop
129 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, New York
(There are also other locations in Park Slope and Bay Ride, Brooklyn)

Happy Weekend!

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