Navigate / search

Broncos? I’m Pretty Sure They Should Be The Denver Dogs.

Did you know that the song, “Build Me Up, Buttercup” always puts me in a good mood?

It doesn’t matter that my allergies have practically crudded my contact lenses to my eyelids and my husband’s in Afghanistan and the dogs have been waking me up at 5:30 every morning so they can drag me 2 miles around the neighborhood.

Ultimately, it’s The Foundations — not the sunrise over the lake or the smell of my morning coffee or any amount of caffeine — who put the spring back in my step.

Which only further proves that I was born in the wrong generation.

Technology makes me nervous, and I’m pretty sure that a poppy-seed from my bagel just got stuck inside my keyboard.

That wouldn’t have happened with a typewriter.

Of course, then this whole blog thing wouldn’t be happening either, and I’d probably be haphazardly wandering the streets of Fayetteville talking to anyone who will listen about the merits of Poo-Pourri while shoving photos of family vacations in their faces.

But instead, I get to shove them in your faces, which is much more gratifying.


After our first day in Colorado was spent guzzling free alcoholic beverages at the Coors brewery, we decided we needed some culture in our lives.  My mother, her boyfriend Ed, Justin and I hopped on a train that speedily dropped us in the heart of downtown Denver.

(Can I just say for a second how much I love public transportation?  Seriously.  My dream is to live in a city with clean, efficient public transportation — where I can jet from one place to the next without worrying where to park my car, how much it’s going to cost, or whether I might lose the drag race I just accepted with a 60-year-old man.  True story.

I won.)

Denver Public Transportation

 Just one of many modes of Denver mass transit.


Our first stop in the Mile High city was for food.

You know my priorities.

Justin, always the advocate for anything highlighted on the Food or Travel networks, opted for Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs.  We were searching for their street cart at the specified location, but ended up walking several city blocks to the actual restaurant when we learned it was an off-day for the food cart.  Turns out this was a wise decision, since I’m pretty sure they don’t sell beer from the food cart.

But I’ve been wrong before.

The decor is minimal and industrial, but their main food is hot dogs.  What do you expect?

An interesting juxtaposition of good ol’ “Amurcan” cuisine, gourmet ingredients, and several oddities you’d be more likely to find dead on the side of the road than in Manhattan’s finest establishments make up the simple menu.

Tip:  The larger the selection of food on a restaurant’s menu, the crappier it will likely be.  Smaller, more selective menus are generally where you’ll find the best food.

Biker Jim's Menu

I ordered the Weiner Wellington — an insanely delicious rib eye steak brat with mushroom duxelle and grainy Dijon cream wrapped in puff pastry and drizzled with Bordelaise.  I don’t know what most of that is, but I do know this: It tasted like heaven wrapped in fluffy clouds dipped in gravy.

For $8.50, this is not the most I’ve spent on a dog, believe it or not.  Nor is this the widest selection of toppings I’ve seen.  But it was, my friends, the tastiest.

Take one.

Wellington Dog

Take two.

Take… *burp*

Now.  I honestly can’t remember what Justin and Ed ordered.  It may have been the southwest buffalo.  It may have been the Wild Boar.  Maybe the smoked bacon Bat Dog, with avocado puree, tomato cream cheese, caramelized onion, and bacon bits.  And I know the idea of the rattlesnake and pheasant dogs were at least discussed.

But I do know they were delicious.

Pretty sure this is the Bat Dog.

And… um… boar, maybe?

But they weren’t quite as good as mine.

It was the puff pastry that sealed the deal.

If this is Denver, consider me a fan.

Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs - The Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for… BEER!

I wouldn’t say I’m a beer snob, but if you stick a can of Coors Light in front of me, I’m not going to lie — I’ll ask you to bring me a glass of water instead because it tastes the same and has far fewer calories.

Unless it’s a hot summer day and I’m craving a cold light beer to get me through a project or a giant, juicy hamburger, I’m usually going to pick a darker, heavier beer.

So when Justin said he wanted to tour the Coors Brewery while we were in Colorado, I was intrigued because I hadn’t been since before I was of legal drinking age, but also secretly wishing we could have gone to some other brewery.

Turns out, though, that this one was worth the trip.

We arrived at the complex in Golden, Colorado, parked, and waited in line for about 20 minutes before getting on a tour bus.  The folks at Coors run a smooth — and free — operation.  My only complaint is that the outdoor waiting area wasn’t covered, hence my first high-altitude sunburn of the trip.  Our tour guide was hilarious, taking us on a quick run through downtown Golden before dropping us off outside of the brewery.

Coors Brewery

Hey, red shirt guy.  Get out of my shot.

Since the last time I was there, they turned the brewery part into a self-guided tour.  The nice thing was that we could meander as we pleased, listening to our little self-guided tour speakers.  Coors also had stations set up throughout the walk where employees could answer any questions we might have.

Of course, I don’t remember anything I heard through the speaker, so let’s just look at the pictures, shall we?

I have no idea who this woman is.  But she wouldn’t move, so I took the picture anyway.  She happens to be pointing to the label of what I’ve since discovered is a very awesome beer.

copper kettles

 The infamous copper kettles.  All I remember is that there were a lot of them, and you could determine the various purposes of each by looking at the size of the shaft.  (Ha!)  Also, the big red signs.

We’ll call this Mission Control.  I’m pretty sure that guy was watching football.  Or porn.  Or both.

Hmm… how does one test the quality of beer?

By drinking it, I imagine.

About halfway through the tour we came upon the Fresh Beer Room, where we were able to sample exceedingly fresh Coors or Coors Light, straight from the source.

I’ll admit it was tasty, fresh as it was, but it was still just Coors.

One of the coolest parts was the packaging room.  The maze of conveyor belts, gears, and complicated looking machinery had us mesmerized for several minutes.  Waaaay up high in the back, we could see cans coming in.  Then stuff would happen and suddenly they’d be in boxes.


By this point we were getting antsy and ready for the final stop of the tour — the bar.

The coolest part about the entire experience, aside from seeing that it’s actual people — not elves — who are responsible for putting beer in my fridge, was the fact that everything was free.  Including 3 pints each of our choice at the end of the tour.

The Colorado Native was good, but the Batch 19 was phenomenal.

Couple of Batch 19s.

I asked the bartender how they manage to keep the locals from stopping in every day for some free beers, and he said that they don’t!  Guests are limited to one visit per day, and he said there are students from the Colorado School of Mines who show up daily.


Dude.  I totally went to the wrong college.

Chicken & Waffles: Like Socks With Sandals, It Just Makes Sense.

Last weekend, a baby and her adorable parents took us to lunch.

See how cute those parents are?

In Durham, NC, there’s a place that, while the menu had grown over time, specializes in exactly 2 things:

Chicken ‘n Waffles.

Say, what?

Sounds strange, but Durham people know that Dame’s Chicken & Waffles is something special.  Which is why we weren’t too surprised to see the gigantic line outside.

Bummed, but not surprised.

How long is the wait?

So we waited.

And we watched people eat.

And we studied the menu.

And we became mildly concerned that we were going to starve to death, right there on the street, watching people devour heaping plates of fried chicken and waffles.

Jesus, my husband has to stop looking cute while holding babies.

We became delusional from the hunger, gnawing on mice and stray appendages.

Have I been reading too much Hunger Games?

They called us just in time.

And all was right with the world.

So I’ll get right down to it.

The place has a great atmosphere — tiny, crowded, and cramped enough to see what everyone else is ordering.

(Pssst – I’ll give you a hint:  Chicken.  And Waffles.)

Alaina and I got started with champagne and lemonade.  You know, to celebrate getting in.  We were going to go with mimosas, but our waitress killed us on the up sell.  The great thing is that they ended up being less than $7.00 each, and we were able to carry our mini wine cooler-tasting bottles of champagne through the Durham art show, taking nips to dull the pain of my poor choice in footwear.

I’m glad our drinks were light, because the meal was certainly not.

First came the sides.

A bowl of incredible fresh fruit — plump, ripe strawberries and sweet, juicy pineapple.  The cheese grits (left) were delicious — not gritty at all, which, in my non-southern humble little opinion, is the only way grits are tolerable.

The spicy greens, while not exactly aesthetically appealing, were divine, if you like that sort of thing.

spicy collard greens

Judge with your mouth — not with your eyes.

And the mac ‘n cheese.  Oh, my.  I could’ve had this as my meal.

mac 'n cheese

But we were just getting started.

On the back of Dame’s menu are several suggested chicken ‘n waffle combinations, including the “Orange Speckled Chabo,” served with a fried chicken cutlet, sweet potato waffle, honey-dijon mustard, and orange-honeycomb schmear, or the “Buff Brahmas,” served with your choice of wings or cutlets drizzled with whiskey cream sauce, a classic waffle, and peach apricot schmear.

The Buff Brahmas.

The verdict?

My fried chicken was cooked perfectly — nice and moist inside.  Unfortunately, it was a little soggy due to the whisky cream sauce, which, while mighty tasty, definitely took away from the texture of the chicken.  But everyone else loved theirs.


Let me tell you about the waffles.

And the schmear.

What’s schmear?  Well.  According to me, they’re little flavored dollops of mouth exploding gastrogasms.

To Dame’s, they’re flavored dollops of whipped sweet cream butter.

I schmeared my peach apricot schmear all over my beautiful waffle (and I’m not normally a waffle person), topped that with some maple syrup, and died.

Dame's Chicken and Waffles

Then I came back to life to eat some more.

Then I died again.

It. Was. Incredible.

Justin order the “Orange Speckled Chabo,” and we both felt that the sweet potato waffles were inferior to my classic ones.  Though his orange schmear was zesty and delicious.

But mine?  That combination of peach apricot schmear, whiskey cream sauce, and maple syrup was phenomenal.

A plate full of artery-clogging, diabetes-triggering deliciousness.

I wouldn’t take it back for a second.

In the end, we all felt like this.

But it was well — well worth the wait.

Have you had any excellent meals lately?

Dame's Chicken & Waffles on Urbanspoon

Better than Alive.

My apologies, but I’ve had no real time to write or edit photos — Headed to Baltimore in a few!

Isn’t this always the conundrum of someone who wants to write about travel?

When you’re traveling, where is the time for writing?

But I can tell you this — I feel great.  Alive.  Better than alive.  The road is better than any rejuvenating facial cleanser sold at the local drug store.

In the meantime, check out this killer crab cake sandwich I stopped and ate on the drive at a place called Java Jack’s Coffee House:

Taken with my iPhone.

In a last-minute decision to take Hwy 301 North from Williamsburg, VA to Annapolis, MD so I could avoid the ever-terrifying experience of I-95 around D.C. (though sadly bypassing the IKEA there as well), I passed through a little town called Tappahannock.

No, I don’t know how to pronounce that.

It’s perched along the southern edge of the Rappahannock River.

No, I’m not making this up.

Anyway.  I saw this little white house once I passed the inevitable slew of fast food and American family style restaurants and entered the older part of town.  I was greeted with a smile and told to seat my self.  I was, by far, the youngest patron there on a Monday morning at 11:15.  Sadly, I’d just missed breakfast, which I’m convinced now would have been spectacular.  I was just about to ask whether they’d make an exception to their 11:00 lunch rule when the waitress informed me that one of their specials for the day was a crab cake sandwich.


I hadn’t technically crossed the Maryland border yet, but I figured my 15 minutes late for breakfast was a sign I should partake an hour early in some famous Maryland crab.

For all of my culinary expertise, this may have come from a can.

Taken with my iPhone.

But I can tell you this:  It certainly didn’t taste like it had.

With a full belly and more solitary scenic driving ahead, Java Jack’s proved an excellent Virginia sendoff.

Oh, and the bathroom was spectacular.

Taken with my iPhone.

Java Jacks Coffee House on Urbanspoon

I Tasted Carolina. And Then I Ate it All. (Part 2)

Okay.  So where was I on my fantastic Taste Carolina food tour?  I believe we were carrying Alfred’s pecaaaahn pie over to the Carrboro Beverage Company to wash it down with a brewski.  Because nothing goes with sweet pie better than a bitter stout.


Probably not.

(If you missed Part 1, check it out here.)

The Carrboro Beverage Company is owned by Tyler’s Tap Room, which is apparently a very popular tavern in the area.  I’ll have to go back to try it out.

You know, for research.

Unfortunately, I feel a little like this is where the tour started going downhill.  We were becoming full and tired, and then we introduced alcohol into the mix.  The guys working here were very friendly, but they seemed unsure about what they were supposed to serve us, so they just started handing out samples of whatever they had on tap.  There also happened to be a wine representative in the place, so we had more than our fair share of samples, but combine all of that with a slice of fresh pecan pie, and they almost had to roll me out of there.

Carrboro Beverage Company
Carrboro Beverage Company
Carrboro Beverage Company

They rolled me right into the place I’d been most looking forward to on the tour — Acme.

We’d eaten there with Alaina and Dirk once before, and from what I remembered, the food had been spectacular.

Which is why, needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed when they came out with what basically amounted to glorified nachos.

Acme Nachos

Sure they looked pretty, and the taste of the homemade chips dusted with goat cheese and a squeeze of fresh lime was good, like goat cheese, and who doesn’t like goat cheese, but it just… wasn’t what I’d been expecting.  I suddenly felt like the annoying neighbor who’d dropped by unexpectedly, so our hosts rummaged through the fridge and threw together whatever they could find.  And after a morning of service by enthusiastic and prepared artisans who were incredibly proud of their products, this just felt like a letdown.

That said, I’d still recommend them if you’re planning to spend some money.  The food really can be phenomenal, and they have a gorgeous courtyard out back.

The next 2 stops, Miel Bon Bons and Jessee’s served more as an interlude for all of the gastronomical craziness going on.  We sampled tiny macaroons and chocolate confections at the little patisserie with its stunning displays of pastries, candies, and the most beautiful wedding cakes I’ve ever seen (which they wouldn’t let me photograph, but you can see plenty on their website).

Miel Bon Bons

At Jessee’s, we took a rest and sipped refreshing flavored iced teas.

This was the reprieve we needed, apparently, because I felt rejuvenated.  Which was extremely fortunate, because for the next stop, I needed my energy.

Welcome to Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe.

Now we’re back on track.

We were able to meet Vimala herself, who opened this restaurant with the help of the community.  After emerging — alive — from an abusive marriage, family and friends encouraged her to open this cafe, where her motto has always been, “When Vimala cooks, everyone eats!”  She will feed anyone who comes through her door, regardless of whether they can afford it or not.

But her generosity is not a cover for lack of flavor.

This was just… the best.  And my biggest regret is not taking sufficient notes so I could accurately describe to you the deliciousness that we ate.

All I can say is if you like Indian food, or you think you might like to think about liking Indian food, this is a great place to start.

Then finally — finally — we were nearing the finish line.

Our guide stopped us on a corner to talk about the place we were about to enter, the Open Eye Cafe, but I couldn’t concentrate due to the food coma my brain was trying to fight off, so I took photos of bees instead.

Dudes.  I totally felt buzzzzzed.


So we entered the coffee shop, and I’ll be honest — I wish this would have started the tour, since they by far had the lengthiest and most informative presentation.  But after 9 stops and countless indulgences, I wasn’t sure the Open Eye Cafe could… well… keep my eyes open.  Which is a shame, because they took us into the back room, where a more conscious mind would have learned from a true coffee connoisseur how to brew the perfect cup of coffee.  From selecting the best free trade beans from individual farmers around the world, roasting their beans in-house, and adjusting the brewing water temperature to suit the particular bean — they knew it all.  Really.  This place could be more intimidating than a winery, and their super-trained and certified baristas do, in fact, hold tasting competitions with coffee.

It’s that serious.

He brewed a couple of different samples for us to try, and even my husband, who is not a black coffee drinker, had no problems getting this down.

If I learned nothing else, I did learn that coffee-making is an art much more complicated than pouring a glass of wine.

And, if done right, can lead to an exceptional tasting experience.

We drove to Dirk and Alaina’s to see the baby, but there’s a chance I might have wandered out to their porch by myself, stretched out on the couch, and took a nap.

Hey.  Don’t judge.  Eating Carolina is exhausting.

I Tasted Carolina. And Then I Ate It All. (Part 1)

It’s times like these.

Times when it’s cold, and the forecasters predict that later today it will progressively get colder, because there’s this evil thing called a COLD FRONT and it’s headed this direction and some time — some foreboding time later this afternoon — it’s going to actually start feeling a little bit like winter, and even though it’s already mid February, which means I’ve had months to prepare for this, I realize I’m still not prepared and I feel like it would probably be best for everyone if I just stayed snug under my 35″ high covers until April.

That’s right, we’re still sleeping in the guest room, in case you were wondering.

The progress on our bedroom is slow, and not very steady, but I promise you there is progress, even though it occasionally/all-of-the-time gets hindered by wine by the fire and new episodes of Revenge and me spilling baseboard paint on the carpet.

Yes, that happened.

Yes, I will tell you about that little fiasco one day soon, when I’m ready to share some more positive progress.

But anyway.  Not only do I have the overwhelming urge to hibernate this time of year, but I also reminisce.  I reminisce on happy times of yore, like just 4 months ago when it was pleasant and warm and sunshiny — when I could wake up with the bright morning rays, stand outside in all of my barefooted glory, sip my coffee and stretch to greet the world.

Nearly 4 months ago, on the weekend of my 29th birthday, we did something we should probably be doing a lot more frequently.

The concept is simple.  I’ve heard it called “taking a ‘staycation,'” in which the participants are traveling, but not, because they’re staying at home.  But I don’t really like those cutesy terms people come up with to make a concept stick — like “Brangelina” or “frenemy” because they make me feel lazy, so really.  I’ll call it what it was.  It was a day trip.  Something fun we could do without the cost of booking a hotel or packing camping gear or sleeping in the car.

I know.

It sounds like we’re taking all of the fun out of travel.  But hear me out.

See, with my unending itch to explore and discover and be moving all of the time and Justin’s desire to… well… not, we discovered this extremely enjoyable and compatible compromise that earned us at least 2 weeks worth of patting ourselves on the back for how awesome we sometimes are at being married.

We both love trying new foods, so when I heard about gourmet food tours by Taste Carolina, I knew exactly what I wanted for my birthday.  We opted for the walking tour of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, which is about an hour and a half from where we live, for $44.98 per person, which earned us over 3 hours and 8 stops at amazing, locally owned eateries.  That’s less than we would’ve spent on a “fancy” night out at our local Red Lobster.

We were pretty psyched.

Now this is where I’m a bad blogger.  Bad.  I actually managed to take many pictures this time, so no worries there, but notes?  None.  I didn’t expect to wait 4 months before blogging about it.  So, sadly, I don’t remember many of the details about what we ate, but I will try my best to explain and then let the pictures speak for themselves.

Our very first stop was one of the best, in my humble little opinion.  I was a little camera-shy at the start, so I didn’t get a photo of the place, but it was called Neal’s Deli.  I was a little disappointed that the tour didn’t take us inside the establishment, but instead we were parked on some benches outside.  My disappointment quickly faded when I bit into one of these:

On the left, we have what I believe to be some type of homemade pastrami with mustard.  The beef was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted — full of pressed spices and divine on the homemade buttermilk biscuit.  The other was some type of egg and cheese, with a buttery, melty consistency that made me want to eat one of these every morning for the rest of my life.  It made me very, very glad that I don’t pass Neal’s on my way to work.

Next, we headed to the renowned Carrboro Farmers’ Market, established in 1996.  It’s held every Wednesday and Saturday morning in the “town commons” (no joke), and it felt like stepping into a type of fairy land filled with fresh produce, vibrant blooms, hand-made crafts, and local meats, cheeses, and an impressive variety of gourmet delicacies.

Carrboro Farmers' Market
Carrboro Farmers' Market
Carrboro Farmers' Market

Our first stop in the market was at the booth of Chapel Hill Creamery, a company I love because I love to say its name.  Go ahead.  Say it out loud.  Sounds like something you might say if you’d lived in pioneer times, like in the game The Oregon Trail. “I’m off to the Chapel Hill Creamery to fetch some cheese before we leave,” you’d say, not knowing that you’re destined to die 3 days later from a broken leg you suffered during a wagon axle accident while fording a river, and you’ll wish you’d just stayed with the happy cows at the creamery, because California is probably overrated anyway.  (It’s not.)

My favorite was their Dairyland Farmer’s Cheese, which was very simple, creamy, and would probably taste delicious melted over some frijoles negros and tucked inside a burrito.

Next, we were treated to a very generous sample from The Pig, a restaurant with a booth at the market serving up fresh grilled pork franks made from local, hormone and antibiotic free piggies.

The Pig Menu
Sam from The Pig

Of course, I tried the Reuben frank because it marries one of my favorite sandwiches (the Reuben) with one of my favorite foods (the Hot Dog) to create this orgasmically inspired offspring:

Reuben Frank

They say you can taste the difference between real meat and the kind you buy discount packaged at the grocery store, and now I’m convinced.  You can.

(Remember this?)

I’m pretty sure if I were going to buy tongue, it would NOT be from my neighborhood Food Lion.

Moving on.

Our last stop at the market was at that of the fantabulous Alfred De La Houssaye’s Sweetwater Pecan Orchard.

If I remember correctly, he started the orchard because he loves pecans and he loves oriental persimmons.  Ignoring the fact that everyone told him he would not be able to successfully grow those things here, he managed to do so and to do so quite successfully.


With pizzaz.

Sweetwater Pecan Orchard

And I love him because he insists that the correct pronunciation of the nut is pecaaahn, with a soft “a” and not the harsh, biting hard A that so many southerners use.

And also because he makes these chocolate pecan chewies, which I couldn’t stop eating.

And also because he gave us each a slice of pie to take to our next stop, the Carrboro Beverage Company.

Carrboro Beverage Company

But this post is getting a little long, methinks, so I’m going to save the second half of the tour for next time.

Oh, but trust me.  It’s worth the wait.

There’s more! Click HERE for Part 2.

I’m Still Alive. I Think.

*In case you’re wondering, no. I did not reach Miami and just keep on drivin’ — cruising along 1A with its bars and beaches and bars some more, dancing a jig along the twists and turns of this country’s southeastern tip before winding my way to Hwy 1, then following it across actual oceans of water, the highway like a big strand of drool dripping off the goatee of Florida, passing Key Largo and Islamorada and Duck Key and maybe stopping in No Name Key before reaching Key West because, let’s face it, No Name Key is probably more my style.

Not that I would know.

I did not do any of those things, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.

I wrote this post last Wednesday. Today is Sunday. I’m posting it today because I finally have some internet access on a computer. Travel, while awesome, isn’t always convenient for blogging. And I do believe this is the longest I’ve neglected the blog in… ever.

Many things have gone down since I wrote this 5 days ago, but we’ll start here:

I drove to Florida yesterday — a trip that, theoretically, should have taken over 12 hours to complete, but instead only took around 11, including the 45-minute pit stop to catch up with an old college buddy off of I-95. It is for this very reason that I cannot bring myself to shun social networking; while the number of Facebook “friends” tallied on one’s wall has little to nothing to do with one’s real life social circles, it really is a fantastic way to touch base with people you would otherwise probably never see again.

Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not quite sure. But at least it’s interesting.

See, while most people don’t mind letting acquaintances slip away, I have this very odd way of wanting to hang on to people — of wondering how they’re doing, of what’s happened in their lives since we last intersected orbits — and Facebook provides that lost connection.

It keeps people neatly tucked inside my radar screen.

You think that makes me a stalker. I think that makes me… curious.

Okay. I have to interrupt myself for a second. I just took a bite of one of the most delicious items I’ve ordered from a menu in a long, long time. My sister has to work today, and my mother and brother don’t arrive until tomorrow, so I’m finding myself inexplicably untethered for the first time in a while.

And what’s a girl to do when she finds herself in a strange city with an entire day to indulge in whatever she chooses?

Head to the apartment pool? Nah… there’s plenty of time for that.

Walk one of the many miles of gorgeous ocean shoreline? I’m pretty sure sand is overrated.

Lie out, relax, and attempt to expose some of this pasty whiteness to the miracle of UV rays? For my skin, I’m afraid, the situation is hopeless until next May.

Plus, I think I may have divulged by now — I’m not your average girl.

So. Instead of celebrating what Florida is best known for — that brilliant, white-hot sunshine — I plopped my ass back in the car and headed 40 minutes north to West Palm Beach in search of a cafe I read about on Urban Spoon.


I had a feeling it would be worth my time.

Casper's on Park on Urbanspoon

And it is.

When I finally arrived at Casper’s on Park after many turn-arounds and indecision about whether I should really drive this far, I no longer cared about what I might be getting myself into. I didn’t care, when I pulled up, that the restaurant was nowhere near the water or any of the more fashionable areas of West Palm. I didn’t care that there wasn’t a single other patron in sight, or that they don’t have wi-fi (the owner/chef, Giuseppe, informed me he hopes to change this soon), or that it was too balmy for my northerner-at-heart self to sit outside on the dog-friendly patio.

Casper, by the way, is the name of the owner’s dog.

I was so hungry by the time I walked in that I asked Giuseppe to bring me the best item on the menu. After debating out loud between the gumbo and the jambalaya, he selected the slightly higher-priced (though not expensive at under $10 for the bowl) pasta jambalaya.

Alex, the co-owner, poured me a glass of sangiovese while I set up shop at a corner table facing the patio. He also brought me this:

Photo taken with iPhone.

And I think that maybe a part of me fell in love.

Some dreamy French music was playing when I arrived, but after multiple issues with skipping CD’s, they switched to something — a sultry almost-techno slow dance something-or-other — that was significantly less palatable, but who the hell cares because here comes my jambalaya.

I originally felt slightly ridiculous as the steaming bowl of bowtie pasta, hot sausage, shrimp, Parmesan cheese, and other New Orleans delicacies was brought to my table on this balmy afternoon, but now I feel like I am probably the most brilliant person anywhere with an 100 mile radius.

Photo taken with iPhone.

Another couple has just arrived and is sitting on the patio with their cocker spaniel. They ordered sandwiches. And while I’m sure he sandwiches are delicious, it’s taking all of my willpower to not run out there and tell them how crazy they are for not ordering Creole from a transplant.


Do I sound like a snob?

I’m pretty sure I can’t help it.

If it’s any consolation, I don’t look like a snob with my nose running from the not-spicy-but-not-not-spicy jambalaya.

It kind of sneaks up on you.

But I finished the bowl.

And now there’s no way I’m squeezing myself into a bathing suit.


If there’s anything I learned about travel, it’s that you should never rule anything out.

But for right now, I’m perfectly content to finish my glass of wine, watch Giuseppe lovingly pet the couple’s dog out on the patio, and wash everything down with the complimentary shot of espresso (looks like it’s been softened with something like cream — thank God) they just placed in front of me, which is exactly the motivation I need in order to plant my butt back in the car and head to Hollywood.

Hollywood Florida, that is.

P.S. It’s not espresso. Giuseppe informed me that it’s chocolate wine. Cocoa di Vino. Which pretty much tastes like a shot of Bailey’s.

And this just became my favorite place ever.

Here’s the Beef

You want to know where the beef is?

Well, here it is.

I have it.

With you.

Yep, you heard me.

I have a beef with some of you.

Want to know what it is?

I’ll tell you anyway.

Too many of you now, after I share a delicious recipe post, have left comments about them here or on Facebook.  And while many of the comments are thoughtful and nice, others are not.  Not nice at all.

Comments like, “Wow, that looks amazing! I know I could never make something like that myself, but wow!”


“Hey, that looks like another delicious recipe. I’d love to try it, but I’d never make it for just myself.”

What?  You think those comments sound nice?  Well they’re not.  Because think about it:  Saying you can’t do something a Domestiphobe can do, is like admitting you weren’t potty trained until you were eight.


Those comments are mean to the people who wrote them.

And my beef is, whenever you deny yourself a pleasure simply because you think it’s too difficult to do or because it’s not worth the effort if no one else is around to enjoy it, you are doing YOURSELF a disservice.

And I have a beef with that.  I can’t help it.

First, basic cooking is not difficult.

I didn’t learn this fact until I was 25-years-old.  Until then, I’d thought of cooking as this mysterious kitcheny task with which only certain people were burdened gifted, and that I was a soul relegated to takeout, convenience foods, and depending on my husband’s sporadic cooking spells for sustenance.  (Justin enjoys cooking, too.  Just not with vegetables.  Ever.)

Knowing that I was a quarter-of-a-century old and thereby not getting any younger, a diet based on meat, potatoes, boxed meals and restaurant food was not the best thing I could do for my body.  Or our budget.

So I started looking up recipes.  And following blogs with step-by-step cooking photos.  And looking up things I didn’t know on Youtube, like “how to blanch asparagus” and “how to dice an onion.”

I had to look up everything.

But, once I saw someone else do it, I realized it wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d thought.

The mystery had made it seem unattainable.  But once that curtain was raised, it was like an entire slew of mental obstacles were removed and finally, I was able to try.

Just try.

And really, that’s all you need to do.  Will you (or I) ever be a gourmet chef?  Certainly not.  That takes a natural talent and passionate dedication I know I’ll never have.  And will I mess up?  Certainly.  Many a meal has turned out less-than-savory or completely inedible due to mistakes on my part.

But, just like anything else, mistakes are how we learn.

What bothers me more, my friends, than a lack of desire to try (after all, that’s your prerogative) is the lack of desire to make an effort for just yourself.

The military takes my husband away for the occasional week or 6 at a time.  And, when he’s gone, I live like a single person — a single person who’s not allowed to date or have sex with anything other than a battery operated device.  So.  You think I’m just going to keel over and subsist off of nothing but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Tuna Helper for the duration of his absence?

Heck no.

I mean, I keep those things around.  Don’t get me wrong.  And sometimes I do resort to making them, especially on nights when I’m feeling particularly lonely and nostalgic for the simplicity of the boxed meals of my youth.

But the truth is, the nights I feel the best are the nights I take the time to do something for myself. When I get home, pour myself a glass of wine, turn on some music or the news, and set to work.

For me.

Work, it turns out, isn’t so bad when you get to enjoy the fruits of your own labor.  And the process itself is a great wind-down from the day.  Start boiling the pasta; set a pan of bacon sizzling on the stove; mince up some garlic; grate some Parmesan; saute some frozen corn; toss it all together with some egg yolk and pasta water, and we have a creamy, satisfying pasta carbonara for one.

It sounds like a lot of work, but this can be done in 15 minutes.  Just buy yourself a decent knife and take the time to learn the basics — like how to mince a clove of garlic and how to boil a pot of water.

Trust me — if you can learn to follow directions, you can learn how to cook.  That is to say, if I, Ms-how-much-water-do-I-need-to-cook-pasta-and-what-pray-tell-is-a-“pinch”-of-salt? can do it, than you most certainly can do it.

If you want to.


Go to the “Living and Learning” tab at the top of my page.  Click “Down the Hatch.”

Then, pick one.

Make a half batch of this chili.  Bring the rest to share with co-workers, or live off of the leftovers for days.

Make yourself a Grilled Veggie Sandwich.  The flavor will surprise you in a very, very good way.

California Grilled Veggie Sandwich

Feeling daring?  Make this pizza.  Six ingredients never tasted so good.  Your tastebuds will thank you profusely.

Or, do like I did last weekend and make yourself a mini appetizer plate — mine had mixed olives, smoked salmon, dill cheese, and chocolate.

Best. Dinner. Ever.

The point, dear friends, is that you really are worth it.  So much more than shampoo, feeding yourself well makes you feel good from the inside.

You only get one body, and consistently stuffing it with processed junk isn’t doing it any favors.

Besides.  If YOU’RE not worth the effort, then who is?

I’m Pretty Sure My Dog Was the Happiest Dog

So.  Even though I didn’t get to tell you about the most wonderfully delicious hot dog ever on Tuesday because I was distracted with 2 flat tires (no, not Fat Tires — flat tires. big difference.) and ended up turning hot dogs into a philosophical discussion on life, the post still spurred some interesting and impassioned hot dog comments.


I hope you didn’t lose steam, because this is the actual hot dog post.  I kind of love it when you comment, because it validates my existence or something.  And I look forward to reading every single one of them.


I love me a good hot dog.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s a rare occasion that you’d ever find one of those pink, plasticy, compressed impersonators that squeak when you bite into them sitting inside of my fridge.  I’ll eat those, yes, but that’s not a proper hot dog.  I’m talking about big, brown, juicy beef franks with real meat grease and manly grill marks.


See what I mean?

The best dog I ever ate purely for the meat taste factor was actually at a Five Guys restaurant.  Yep, a fast food joint.  Once I moved mentally past the oddity of a hot dog split lengthwise down the middle, the thing was gone in 3 bites flat.  It was insanely good, to the point where it probably didn’t need a single topping.


The great thing about hot dogs is that your options are really limitless when it comes to dressing it up.  It just never occurred to me how limitless until my brother took us to Happy Dog in Cleveland.


When he parked outside of the dark, corner bar, I was thinking, Great!  Pre-dinner drinks!

I definitely wasn’t thinking, Great!  Dinner!

Until, that is, I saw the menu.

I’m sorry once again for the blur.  It was pretty dark in there, and all I had was my cell phone camera.

For someone who’s terrified of making decisions, this menu was daunting, to say the least.  The first part was easy — I just had to choose between a veggie dog and a real dog.  Um… do they even know me?  (No, but they probably should.)

I checked the circle for the real dog and moved on.


So many things to try!

What’s Brazilian chimichurri?  And would it taste good with Oaxacan red chile and chocolate mole, topped with Polish ‘cwikla?

And is it socially acceptable to order a hot dog chopped with Korean kim chee, Greek feta cheese, and Marcella’s grape jelly and chile sauce?

Are we allowed to mix ethnicities, or is this a segregated hot dog joint?

Is this going to end up with me mixing a bunch of things I like but they don’t actually taste good together?

What’s more, if I don’t know what these things taste like alone, how am I going to know if they’re good together?!


Then, just when I started to break into a cold sweat, the server told me they had a suggestion menu.

My savior.

Among the suggested options were:

“Childhood Favorite”: ketchup, traditional yellow mustard, chopped onions, Spaghetti O’s, and nacho cheese.

“(no title)”: Bertman’s Original Ballpark mustard, killer steak sauce, bourbon baked beans, habanero pickled red onions, and Frito corn chips.

Justin ended up choosing the “Happy Dog Favorite” with Cajun mayonnaise – Remoulade, bacon spiked southern style beans, smoked Gouda cheese, and a sunny-side-up fried egg.  Or maybe it was the one with chipotle hollandaise, cheddar cheese, Nueske bacon, and a sunny-side-up-fried egg?  I can’t remember.  But it definitely had an egg.  And I’m pretty sure he ordered Gouda.


I ended up getting a bit fancy, choosing a title-less suggested combination of bacon-balsamic marmalade, pineapple-ginger chutney, caramelized onions, and French brie cheese.

And then I died.

And then I came back to life so I could finish the dog and name it “Sweet ‘n Savory a la Bacon with a ‘Stache.”  I’m not sure why.  It just works.

And then I died again.

I still have dreams about it.

My only complaint is that the bun wasn’t fantastic.  In fact, I had to finish the dog with a fork and knife, which is like… hot dog defamation, but what’s a girl to do when her brie is jumping ship?

Happy Dog really should invest in some sturdier buns, or even toast them to ensure they can handle the smorgasbord of deliciousness that gets piled on top, making even happier dogs.

After all, you can’t build a skyscraper on a soggy wetland.  Otherwise you get… I don’t know… The Leaning Tower of Pisa?

On the back of the menu is a simple choice of sides: tater tots or french fries, followed by a not-so-simple choice of dipping sauces and toppings.  I especially enjoyed the saffron aioli and the raspberry crunch mustard.

Just not together.

Pair your custom dog and tots with a Stella Artois (for me) or your beverage of choice, and the result is one happy dog.

Thanks, brother.  You know me so well.

A Domestiphobe’s Tips for Throwing a Budget Shindig. Because You Can’t Fake Success.

Yesterday, we opened the windows.

Sure, it was still probably 90-degrees out in the afternoon, but the nights have been decidedly brisker, it’s taking quite a bit longer for the heat to get uncomfortable during the day, and we just couldn’t help it.  We wanted fresh air.  The house has been taking on the stale, ice-box smell that happens when it’s been breathing processed air for too long, and I’m sure our lungs were doing the same.

We made it until about 5:00, which is when we decided that a sweat-soaking-into-the-sofa smell would be far worse than stale icebox.  Oh, the problems of the lower-middle class…

Speaking of lower-middle class problems, I feel exhausted from the sheer number of parties I’ve thrown this summer.  Okay, so it was only 2 parties and a couple of get-together celebrations, but for someone as decidedly un-Martha as myself, it felt like a lot.

On the plus side, I’ve managed to maintain a modicum of sanity by avoiding — at all costs — actually hosting the largest of these parties at my own house.  The baby hot tub bash was held at the guest of honor’s house (I know — it’s a good thing Martha doesn’t read this blog — she would roll over in her grave.  If, you know, she were dead.  Which she’s not.  And that’s a very good thing.).

See, Alaina lives about an hour away from me, and it just made more sense to have it where all of her friends live.  Not to mention the fact that her lakeside setting was pretty picturesque.

No real babies were harmed during the party.

My husband’s intimate graduation party lunch was at a restaurant downtown, followed by an unforgettable steak dinner on our back deck.

And, if we’re going to be honest, that’s really my favorite kind of party.  Just a few close friends, amazing food, and wine to suit the occasion.  Which is pretty much any wine.  Any wine you like.

But sometimes, you can’t get away with just an intimate gathering.  Sometimes the occasion — or in this case, tradition — calls for something a little bigger.  See, this has been a pretty big year for Justin.  Not only did he graduate from college, but he made his next rank in the Air Force.  And, as is custom for Air Force promotions, the addition of a stripe called for — nay, required — a celebratory shindig.

Fortunately for his domestiphobic wife, my husband wanted the party at our neighborhood’s lake, which saved me the huge hassle of trying to make our house guest-worthy.  And not just regular guests, but higher ranking “superior” type guests who, even though they try their damnedest to put on an air of casualness in off-duty, lighthearted social settings, still make me nervous that I’m going to say or do or think the wrong thing in my liberal/hippie fashion that would land Justin on some type of unmentionable blacklist for people of uniform.

And we wouldn’t want that.

So I donned my party planning hat for the third time this summer and went in search of an affordable way to host the festivities without breaking the bank.

Fortunately, I didn’t really need to do as much work as I expected due to a few key people:  My friend Danielle and the ladies behind the deli counter where I shopped.  I’m sworn to secrecy about the place, since technically they cost their store money by talking me out of the over-priced sandwich and cookie platters in lieu of a DIY quick assembly that ended up looking great and saved me mucho dinero.

Anyway.  I’ll spare you the wordy details since, as per usual for a semi-stressful event, I neglected to take pictures.  Seriously bad blogger.

But I do want to share a couple of quick tips if you ever find yourself needing to throw a casual, budget-friendly party for 20-30 people and you don’t want to cook.  Because while I might not be able to fake a thriving, lucrative and successful writing career, I learned I can certainly pull together a successful gathering on a dime.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

1)  Have a good friend to help you the day of the party.  I don’t know what I would’ve done without Danielle, who picked up last-minute items from the store and assembled 45 mini-sandwiches and overall kept me laughing and at ease throughout the morning (as opposed to becoming a discombobulated wreck of a stressball).

2)  Don’t splurge on the “fancy” party trays when you can make your own for a fraction of the cost.  The awesome deli ladies let me in on their secrets — buy as many little Hawaiian rolls as you need, plus one slice of meat per sandwich.  I wanted to make 45 sandwiches, so I bought 25 slices of turkey and 20 slices of ham.  I also bought 20 slices of cheese which, when split in half, covered 40 sandwiches.  (Who knew sandwich assembly was so math intensive?)  One slice of meat and cheese was plenty for each tiny roll.

The morning of the party, Danielle assembled the meat, cheese and buns on tray, then filled another tray with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and sliced onions.  Provide condiments on the side, and viola!  People can create their own little sandwiches to their taste.  The deli ladies were even kind enough to give me one of their plastic lidded trays for free.  I also bought a bunch of cookies and put them on another tray.  Add chips and a couple of sides from generous friends (thanks Christie for the pasta salad and baked beans!), and people will have plenty to munch on throughout the day.

3)  Kegs are overrated.  What?  You heard me.  They’re expensive and you usually need to order them a week or two in advance, and who’s coordinated enough to do that?  Actually, the lady at the military liquor store was kind enough to talk me out of buying one pricey keg and instead buy a variety of beer bottles to put in coolers.  Not only would people have a choice of beverage, but any leftovers (there weren’t any) wouldn’t go to waste.

Seriously, have you ever heard of more helpful store people?  I wanted to leap over their respective meat-and-liquor-laden counters and give them the most heartfelt, squishiest hugs of their lives.

And I’m not really a hugger.

4)  Make a special drink just for yourself (and your helpers).  Whether it’s alcoholic or not, you deserve something apart from what you’re serving the masses.  Don’t ask me why, but it just feels good.  In this case, it was basil-infused peach sangria.

Don’t worry.

The recipe is a-comin’.  And it couldn’t be easier.