Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday Travel Pinspiration

Lately, I've become slightly obsessed with Pinterest. For those who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook, you may know that I mentioned that I've recently started pinning all kinds of images. Pinterest is essentially an online bookmarking/scrapbooking space. It's so simple, but you'd never guess that you might end up glancing at tons of images late into the night looking for just the right picture of the Pyramids of Giza or discovering a new recipe. Pinterest pulls you in without you realizing it.

I've been finding some really great food and travel related images through the site, and I'll share some of my favorites with you from time to time.

Here's a fabulous piece of travel photography that made me gasp:

I don't mind heights, but whoa! I'm not sure if this necessarily makes me think of Norway (although I'm not sure what would), but doesn't it pull you in and make you want to know where this was taken? How did that dude get there in the first place, and is it safe? Would you pose for this picture?

More beauty and things to salivate over soon....If you are on Pinterest, please put a link your boards in the comments, and I'll follow you!

***Hey there! I'd love for you to follow me on TAO's Facebook page, on Twitter or here on Pinterest. I can't wait to hang out with you on those sites, too. Thanks!!!***

Monday, January 30, 2012

Back Trackin' - Viva Las Vegas!

I somehow have written this blog for over a year and a half and never shared anything about my trip to Las Vegas. I think I mentioned that it wasn't exactly somewhere that I connected with, but I can say that I am very happy that I went. The happy part stemmed from the fact that I got to meet many of my blogging friends that I've made through Weddingbee.com (for those of you who don't know, I started blogging by blogging about my wedding. Check the tab above). It was wonderful to meet so many of these ladies from across the country in person. Links to their blogs are in my Blog Love section.

For my first time in Sin City (as it's called), I just wanted to see the casinos. I'm not a gambler, and I wasn't interested in spending a ton of money that weekend. "Over the top" is really all you can say about the Las Vegas Strip of major hotels and casinos. To me, the casinos are attractions themselves. Here's a run down of what I saw in photo essay form:

The Paris Hotel & Casino. Still sad I missed Manilow. Okay, I'm not.

The fountain show at the Bellagio. Lovely! I got the Ocean's Eleven feeling. Unfortunately, neither Matt Damon nor George Clooney were with me.

A flower show inside the Bellagio

Outside of Treasure Island (Do you see me?)

The Luxor. This casino hotel blew me away.

A replica Brooklyn Bridge outside of New York, New York. They did a pretty good job. The real one is definitely better. :)

The replica Statue of Liberty at New York, New York

I took no food pictures!! I wasn't blogging about food then anyway. I went mostly to buffets and hats off to the buffet at the Wynn, which was beyond ridiculous. Imagine unlimited king crab legs and more dessert than you could stomach.

I think the next time I go to Las Vegas, I'd like a totally super luxurious 36 hours of spas, great food and a show or two. Now I just need someone to pay for it.

Have you been to Las Vegas? Do you have a favorite casino hotel? What's your favorite thing to do in Las Vegas that doesn't involve gambling?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kutsher's Tribeca

Having grown up in New York City, I feel like I know my way around Jewish cooking. I do not suffer a bad bagel. I eat my matzoh with butter (or just plain), and I know the difference between rugelach and hamentaschen (and by the end of this post, you will, too!). While I still haven't been to a Passover seder, I do like a good brisket. With the largest Jewish community outside of Israel here in New York, it's hard not to have access to or a basic understanding of Jewish food.

I love a good bagel.

When I heard about the opening of Kutsher's Tribeca and its attempt to re-imagine many traditional Jewish dishes in a fresh, contemporary gourmet style, I knew I had to check it out. I also knew that my dining companion had to be New Friend M, after hearing stories of her mother's legendary latkes back in December. Plus, it's Restaurant Week(s) here in New York, so the perfect time to sample a new restaurant's menu.

Kutsher's Tribeca - I love the ceilings.

By the way, big props to the staff at Kutsher's who were both friendly and knowledgeable. The service was great all around.

I was so torn about what appetizer to get. I told New Friend M that I had never tried gefilte fish before. Why? Well, much of the gefilte fish I'd seen was usually sold in these awful looking jars. Fish in a jar? No, thanks. At the same time, if stores stock it, someone must be eating it.

Something about fish in a jar just doesn't sit right with me.

Gefilte fish is essentially a poached fish ball/almost pate-like spread made of deboned minced white fish (and/or pike fish), breadcrumbs or matzo and onions. It's usually served as an appetizer with grated horseradish mixed with beets and a dash of lemon juice.

Wild Halibut Gefilte Fish
with horseradish beet tartare

New Friend M mentioned that her mother makes her own gefilte fish from scratch and that this was a pretty close second. I am a total gelfilte fish convert now. Kutsher's uses halibut instead of the traditional pike, includes bits of carrot, and there was nothing preservative-laden at all about this fish. It tasted fresh and homemade to me. The horseradish had a just a hint of bite and was not overwhelming in the least. It was not going to overpower that fish, and that made it the perfect partner.

I admired New Friend M's matzo ball soup from afar. I'm going back for this. She said it was superb. Usually matzo ball soup has more than one ball. :)

We were both hungry, and I couldn't leave there without having Kutsher's latkes especially since New Friend M loves them. I didn't get a picture of the latkes, so you'll just have to see a better version below. :)

The latkes come with a trio of caviar as shown here or with apple compote (the more traditional option that we had)

For the main course, we both had the

Wild Mushroom & Fresh Ricotta Kreplach
with walnut pesto, olive oil schmaltz, and fresh black pepper sheep's milk cheese

Despite my familiarity with Jewish cuisine, I'd never had kreplach before. New Friend M told me to imagine tortellini or dumplings, but Kutsher's version surprised us both. These were like huge filling pieces of potato filled "ravioli" (but not really...it's hard to describe). This is such a comforting dish and again made me feel as if I was eating something more homemade than anything. The cheese and the pesto worked quite well together. I had to tell myself to save room for dessert, so I left some on the plate.

Yay for dessert!

Cookie Plate
from left to right: rugelach, hamentaschen and rainbow/tri-color cookies

Rugelach is made of a cream cheese dough that is shaped almost like a mini-croissant or rolled like a wrap, and the filings range from dried fruit to cinnamon. My mom loves these, but we always bought them at the supermarket. These are the freshest rugelach I've ever had. Ever. Apparently, they are baked daily at Kutsher's. I can tell.

Hamentaschen are cookies shaped into a triangle with a fruit filling. I'm not into tri-color cookies, but I can appreciate anything with a layer of chocolate on the top. I also think they are traditionally Italian-American (maybe?).

Black & White Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich
with a thick chocolate dip

I love black and white cookies, and then there's vanilla gelato wedged in the middle. Yes! Plus, chocolate sauce? Fuggedaboutit!

Zach Kutsher (the grandson of the owner of the original Kutsher's, an upstate New York country club) and his partners are on to something here. This is just good food period, and I hope Kutsher's stays around long enough for me to learn even more about Jewish cuisine.

P.S. - If you keep kosher, I don't think this place is kosher certified.

Kutsher's Tribeca
186 Franklin Street
New York, NY

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

To DSLR or Not to DSLR

I am going through an internal debate that many bloggers and amateur or wanna-be photogs probably do at some point. I'm considering whether or not to get a DSLR camera. These bad boys are NOT cheap. Not in the least. Therefore, it means that I am going to be hemming and hawing over the decision to invest in a "fancy schmancy" camera as I'd like to call it.

While I enjoy using my "point and shoot", it occasionally bugs me. When you blog primarily about food and travel, you want the pictures to be as inviting as possible. I'm occasionally surprised at some of the shots I've ended up with like this:

From last year's wedding anniversary dinner. Check out the rest of the meal here.

Or this:

In Cappadocia, Turkey - no photo editing. Not too awful, right?

At the same time, occasionally I'd just like a little more camera power. I'd love to be able to take more pictures in settings with low light (Restaurants at night have mood lighting). I'd love to be able to get crisper photos. I want a little more, and I feel like you guys deserve more, too. Oh fine! Who am I kidding? I also have blogger envy. I want my pics to be pretty, too. (Insert pouty face)

My current camera

At the same time, I realize that it's not just about the camera. It's also about the technique. Is this just an issue of me getting more out of the camera that I already have? Do I need to learn about some of the manual settings on my point and shoot? They do actually exist. I'm not sure how to use them, though.

Here are some of the issues holding me back from making the DSLR plunge:

1. DSLRs are pretty big.

Did I mention that I am lazy? A DSLR may turn me into a pack mule, and I swear there is a cottage industry out there just for camera bags. Since I walk everywhere, especially when I'm at home and often when I'm traveling, the thought of adding yet another bag to my shoulders doesn't really seem so fun. I want a more powerful camera, but do I have to sacrifice my shoulders to do it? I like to throw my current camera into my purse or travel day bag, and just go. Plus, I find a big camera can scream "TOURIST", and sometimes I just want something I can hide away quickly when in certain places.

A cloudy day at Copacabana Beach. I liked not having the big "Look at me" camera in Rio.

One day after reading one of my favorite food blogs (especially for food photography), Cumi & Ciki, I recently found of out about micro four thirds cameras designed by Olympus and Panasonic. They have the power of a DSLR but are more compact and can fit suped up lenses just like a DSLR. I've been loving Cumi and Ciki's pictures now for months, and I was completely sure they were using a big honking DSLR. Nope. I was shocked when they revealed that they have been using an Olympus EP-3.

Olympus EP-3. Pretty, isn't it?

There's a nice write up on the relatively new Olympus micro four thirds Pen line here.

At the same time, I'm sure if you add a good lens or a special flash that might negate the weight issue, so maybe a micro four thirds camera might not be the answer?

2. Cost

Uh...retailers are not exactly giving these cameras away. Even the Olympus EP-3 isn't exactly cheap (EP-3s are actually the top of the line for Olympus micro four thirds cameras, so maybe it's not a good comparison). I recognize that to get more out of technology, I'll need to invest in it, but even I get a little nervous about big purchases (Don't shake my hands after I buy an international plane ticket. My palms sweat). Most DSLRs start at about $400 USD for older models but can go above $1,000 USD. I'm DEFINITELY not spending $1,000 USD on a camera unless I'm changing my name to Annie Liebovitz. Even $700 still makes me cringe a bit.

A Nikon D5100, another camera option

This Nikon D5100 above is retailing for about $650 USD for just the body.

3. Sweating the technique

As I mentioned above, if I'm going to invest the money, I guess I need to invest the time to learn how to use an expensive camera correctly. I know that buying a DSLR doesn't make you an expert photographer overnight. I've seen some pics taken with DSLRs, and let me tell you that I don't know if I really saw much of a difference from "point and shoot" quality.

Does this mean that I have to invest in a class or spend more time that I might not already have (or make sure that I free up the time) to learn how to use my future camera?

4. Everybody's got a favorite.

Sometimes I wish I could get a straight answer about which camera to buy. There's no right or wrong answer because everyone's got a favorite. One person swears by Canon, while another would never give up their Nikon.

So, I ask you, my lovely online community, do you own a DSLR? What brand? What you do like most about your DSLR? What do you like least about it? Any words of advice for a camera buyer? Anyone own a micro four thirds camera? I have to admit I might be leaning towards one of those....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Back Trackin' - Central Dublin

Even though I've written about Ireland before, I don't really think I've written much about our time spent smack dab in the center of Dublin. I don't really know what I was expecting Dublin to be like. I thought it would feel similar to the hustle, bustle and grandness that is its neighbor, London. I'm sure the Irish hate being compared to the English, but that was my only point of comparison. Instead Dublin felt more like a large town, and I liked the large village feel.

We started our first morning by wandering around the center not too far from our hotel. We ended up at St. Patrick's Cathedral. We have a St. Patrick's Cathedral right here in New York City, so it was enjoyable seeing its Dublin namesake, which having been built in 1220, is a whole lot older than New York's.

That's me

The interior of the church, which is actually Anglican and not Catholic, is definitely worth exploring.

For those of you into history and literature, make sure to pass by the bust of Jonathan Swift. He was the Dean of St. Patrick's (meaning that he was the church's chief resident clergyman) and is most famously remembered for writing Gulliver's Travels (I haven't read it. Have you?).

We kept on wandering and finding lots of courtyards and castle-like buildings that I am forgetting in my old age.
Hmmm..don't remember where I was, and what I'm actually doing here. I'm guess I'm doing "The Price is Right" hand flourish. :)

At one point, we made it over to Trinity College, widely considered to be Ireland's most prestigious university.

Trinity College is open to the public to wander around, but I would take advantage of the student-led free tours.

The last portion of the tour takes you to the library, which is a sight in itself.
The exterior of the library

You're not really allowed to take pictures within the library due to its collection of old manuscripts. Make sure to take a look at the Book of Kells, one of the greatest examples of Medieval manuscripts of the New Testament Gospels and other important readings. It's beautiful.

At this point, I think it was time for a pint, which is why Husband J is smiling. :)
outside of the library

If you've been to Dublin, what was your favorite part of the city?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Food Porn Friday - Peaches

I like southern food, but I had a really bad run in with grits when I was a kid. The woman who babysat me would make them, and I would refuse to eat them. Grits were like tasteless mush to me. I swore them off for years until probably a few years ago. I don't think we really have a Caribbean equivalent (others who may know this, feel free to check me on that).

I finally had a chance to go to Peaches, a restaurant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy (as it's called here) is changing very rapidly. It's definitely not the same Bed-Stuy that the Notorious B.I.G. once mentioned in his songs. I think it bodes well for the neighborhood, but change can be hard, too. That's for another post.

If you are looking for a laid back southern jazz brunch, please come here. The band was great albeit a little loud for such a small space. It was still a nice atmosphere (Jazz for free? Thank you!), and I loved my dish.

Grits & Blackened Catfish
with spicy tomato salsa

I've said before that I'm not a southern food aficionado, but these grits were goooood. Silky and buttery. The catfish was seasoned wonderfully (I don't care if it's a bottom feeder). Even though I had overcome it before, I have definitely been cured of my grits phobia. :)

Happy Weekend!

393 Lewis Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I think I may have mentioned that I am enthralled by the Ironman Championship.

It's a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile run, and a marathon back to back. Don't worry. You get 17 hours to finish. :)

Maybe it's the dramatic NBC tv editing?

There I was crying like a baby on a Saturday afternoon last month watching a woman who had just finished battling cancer; an 81 year old man doing his 22nd Ironman; and a woman who had just lost hundreds of pounds cross the finish line. I'm such a sucker for people accomplishing things they thought they couldn't, or maybe I'm just a weirdo who has a secret death/pain wish or an untapped masochistic streak. That video doesn't really help either.

No, I'm not doing an Ironman anytime soon. I still haven't done a second 5k! It doesn't mean that I don't think about it though. :)

It could be a great reason to go to the Big Island of Hawaii, too. Anyone been to the Big Island and not just Oahu? Do you know anyone who's done an Ironman or even finished a half Ironman? Have you ever done a triathlon?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mary Queen of Scots

Nope, this isn't a European history lesson. I was pretty tickled at the idea that there is a gastropub with a Scottish touch that opened last year here in New York. When I think of Scotland, I'm usually thinking of golf, tartans, kilts and pretty scenery. Food? Not so much. Since they are cousins of the English, I'm just not on the lookout for quality Scottish food. Now I'm thankful that Mary Queen of Scots (MQS) opened to show New York City what good Scottish inspired food can be.

The booths at Mary Queen of Scots are fun for a group.

The bar area

I went to MQS unintentionally twice in one week, and I can say that if this is how they eat in Scotland, I'm on my way there. My second time, I went with New Friend M, and we started out with cocktails and some of the small plates. New Friend M saw something that she recognized on the menu:

Devils on Horseback
Devils on Horseback are essentially a riff on bacon wrapped stuffed dates. Some recipes call for prunes instead of dates (I'm glad MQS went with the dates), and the stuffings vary from mango chutney to cheese, almonds or smoked oysters.

We also made sure to include a veggie (why not?). I'd had this dish only a few days earlier, but I was ready for another taste.

Fried Boozy Brussels Sprouts
with whole grain mustard

As I get older, I am so happy to have discovered Brussels sprouts. Fried and with tangy mustard? A revelation. I'm always looking for news ways to enjoy this vegetable, and I may need to try make this at home.

New Friend M had to run leaving me to stuff my face alone.

Roasted Duck Breast
with Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seed Dressing & Honey and Sage Jus

I was pretty shocked at the size of the duck. It was so thick and so succulent it reminded me more of the texture of a pork chop. MQS' duck was so juicy, and the jus added a nice sweet herb taste after a dipping. Fun!

Banofee Pudding
with Coffee Caramel Sauce and a Graham Cracker Bowl with a dollop of freshly whipped cream

I am not a pudding person, but for some reason I was in the mood for banana flavors. Usually pudding is so thick and reminds you of the type of pudding that Bill Cosby used to hawk on TV. MQS' pudding was airy and smooth as silk. Perfectly whipped cream is always a great topping.

Is this authentic Scottish fare? I'm not sure, but I'm sure the beauty of Scotland sure makes for some good inspiration.

Mary Queen of Scots
115 Allen Street
New York, NY

Monday, January 16, 2012

Taking the Time to Remember MLK

Today in the U.S. many people have the day off from work and school in remembrance of this man.

Unlike last year when I blogged about one of his speeches, I thought I would leave you with something I found with some of his more notable quotations along with pictures.

For those of you with plans to visit Washington, DC this year, I hope you'll pass by the new Martin Luther King Memorial. I know I will when (and if) I get a chance to visit DC this year.

Wherever you are, I hope you'll take a few minutes today to remember Dr. King's contribution to the U.S and to the world.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fantasy Travel Friday - Luxe Amazon River

When I think of the Amazon River, I think of lots of bugs and deforestation. Not really the best mental images or assumptions, huh? It's just not on my radar; and, for that, I feel bad.

Aqua Expeditions has totally changed my idea of what it means to explore the Amazon. Their 3, 4 and 7 day cruises sail down the second longest river in the world and epitomize river cruising with swagger. Aqua Expeditions' cruises orignate in Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon (I usually don't associate Peru with the Amazon. Do you?), and the boats make their way through its various tributaries and on the Amazon itself.

I can already tell from this picture that one's sleeping quarters and bathrooms will not be shabby in the least. Not a bad way to wake up, right? Lying in bed and watching the Amazon go by isn't a bad thing.

My first thought would immediately be lounging a fair bit. It's a cruise, right?

Aqua Expeditions recently released a cookbook of dishes served on the ship, so I suppose they are not playing around when it comes to food either. The menu boasts gourmet Peruvian cuisine.

A sample dish from their menu

Eventually, I am sure that I would have to get off the boat and explore, but I think the deck chairs would be calling me.

I would finally be coaxed off of the boat to enjoy visiting local villages, fishing, bird watching or just observing the Amazon's unique wildlife.

I think Aqua Expeditions cruises would be the right way to get an education about this ecologically important part of the world. Anyone want to come with me?

Has anyone been to the Amazon? What's it like?

Happy Weekend!


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