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Domenica: Indulgent Eats in New Orleans

November 20, 2014

I’ve been to NOLA now a total of four times. Thrice on trips to fraternity formals, and this last time for a conference. Whenever I go, though, I make sure that food and drink are priorities (then again, I could probably say this about anywhere I go. It’s who I am.)  From beignets and hand grenades to alligator sausage and turtle soup, from crawfish to oysters and, always, back to Abita… It’s a hell of a town to eat, drink, and be merry.

My first beignet! 2008

My first beignet! Cafe du Monde, circa 2008

This last trip, though, I had an opportunity to get super classy with one of my meals. Academic conferences are a great time to schmooze and network, and everyone knows that’s best over delectable dishes shared with colleagues. So here’s a tip: If you’re going for class, head into the Roosevelt Hotel and go straight to Domenica (bonus points if it’s from 2-5pm for half-price happy hour) and don’t skimp on trying as much as you can. For instance, we started with vegetables.

Fried Tuscan Kale with pine nuts, tomatoes, and Parmigiano Reggiano

Fried Tuscan Kale with pine nuts, tomatoes, and Parmigiano Reggiano

If all kale tasted like this, the french fry business would go bankrupt.

Wood fired eggplant filled with olive oil braised vegetables & tahini

Wood fired eggplant filled with olive oil braised vegetables & tahini

My fault for focusing on the fork over the eggplant. My hunger was getting the best of me… But that housemade tahini just WOULD NOT QUIT. It was like a rich, creamy, blend of all that is right with the world. Who needs the bread when the eggplant tastes that good?

I’ll tell you who. Me.

The true star of this veggie show was the cauliflower, though.

Fried whole head of cauliflower? Sure.

Whole head of cauliflower? Sure.

Simply listed on the menu as Roasted Cauliflower with sea salt & whipped feta… this was just so much more. We learned the head of cauliflower undertook some sort of brining process before roasting. A coworker referred to this dish as “The type that ends friendships”. I get it. Slap some of that whipped feta on there, and I don’t really know who I wouldn’t slap to get that last bite…

And then, after all that, we figured: let’s keep going.

Pizza party

Pizza party

This pizza, while picturesque, was probably the part of the meal I was least inspired by. Roasted carrots with goat cheese, red onion, Brussels Sprouts, beets, and hazelnut, it kind of tasted like a salad on top of a crust. Would’ve preferred the ingredients off of the crust, but who am I to tell John Besh how to top a pizza? Luckily, we weren’t done yet…

Lasagna bolognese with pasta verde, bechamel, mozzarella, pork ragu

Lasagna bolognese with pasta verde, bechamel, mozzarella, pork ragu

That casserole dish, right there? That is a SINGLE SERVING OF LASAGNA! Major props to the individual that eats this all on their own. The pasta verde was PERFECTLY al dente, and, unlike so very many lasagnas, it didn’t sloppily give up after one cut into the cheesy mass. But I couldn’t eat too much, as I had my eyes (and fork) glued to another dish.

Come to mama.

Come to mama.

Black squid ink tagliolini with blue crab & herbs. If I could put all the fish and wave emojis into this post, I would, but you’re just going to have to believe me when I say that I’ve never known what “tasting the sea” would be like. Until Monday afternoon, when I lived it. If mermaids made pasta, they would make this for Christmas under the sea. Triton would request it for his birthday. And Ariel would convince Sebastian to dabble in cannibalism for the crab bits flecked throughout. If you’re only going to get one dish…. get two. This, and the cauliflower. Invite a friend. Don’t leave a speck behind. Lick your lips, and then come back to this post to relive it all.

New Orleans, yet again, you delivered on the food front. I’m counting down the days until I can come back… In the meantime, this photo collection will have to do.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco Comes to Philly!

November 18, 2014
Gwen would totally love these tacos...

Gwen would totally love these tacos…

The first CD I ever bought with my OWN money (hilarious to think what a big deal that was growing up) was a Reel Big Fish album titled Turn the Radio Off. I have distinct memories of hearing these ska tuneskies and experiencing this uncontrollable desire to mosh with sweaty strangers. As I was about 10 years old at the time, I can’t say I followed up on that urge, but I always had this dream alterna-life where I was a Cali beach babe, maybe a hybrid of Hawaii hottie Kate Bosworth a la Blue Crush and Gwen Stefani. Other than a brief stint in during Halloween 2011, I can’t say I really embody this imaginary persona. But there’s a new spot in Philly that might let me live that dream, if only through my eats.

Wahoo’s Tacos, California’s premier fish taco joint, has somehow found their way to Philadelphia (specifically 3180 Chestnut Street). Recent graduate of UPenn and current employee in University City, I’ll let you know that few things excite me more than a new lunchtime opportunity nearby. And when I had the chance to check out UC’s newest West Coast transplant last weekend, I had no choice but to joyfully attend and snap photos when I wasn’t stuffing my face.

The story is nothing new. Just your standard Bro meets bro, one of those bros meets taco guru at snowboarding events, taco spot inspires bro, bro brings delicious taco spot (and guru) to City of Brotherly Love. We’ve all heard it, so I won’t bore you. But let’s get to the good stuff. The vibe is super Cali cool, skater and surfer and all that jazz.

Too cool, right?

Too cool, right?

Rad.

Rad.

The menu is simple and all about freshness. I learned that they literally only keep one small freezer in the back (for fries and onion rings). The rest of the stuff is straight up never frozen. Proteins, vegetables, slaw… All about that.

How is the food, you may ask? Well, luckily, I was able to try a bunch! (Though feel free to scan the menu yourself.)

Quesadillas and chicken taquitos!

Quesadillas and chicken taquitos!

Wahoo bowl and a delicious  Big Wave Golden Ale

Wahoo bowl and a delicious Big Wave Golden Ale

Can we just get on a new level about that spicy fish and that crunchy slaw? I really feel like slaw is what’s MISSING in my taco/burrito/bowl life.

Nachos topped with chicken, steak, and all the fixins!

Nachos topped with chicken, steak, and all the fixins!

With a full bar, some tasty brews on draft, and totally reasonable prices, I am certain this location is going to rock. But what really blew me away was the love that these two Philly owners, Bill Van Gilder and Jeff Mattes, seem to have for their franchise.

Pictured with Wing Lam, one of the original cofounders!

Pictured with Wing Lam, one of the original cofounders!

FESTIVE RIBBON CUTTING!

FESTIVE RIBBON CUTTING!

Listening to them speak about their new business is like hearing someone talk about their child. I can say that, having met one of Bill’s little ones….

Can't say no to this face, right?

Can’t say no to this face, right?

So come for the tacos…. stay for the atmosphere, the incredibly flavorful slaw, the taquitos, and maybe you’ll get lucky and stumble across the absolute cutest little Wahoo Mascot.

It’s a new addition to the Philly food scene that I will welcome with open arms. And an open mouth, waiting for spicy fish.

Healthy Inside, Happy Outside

November 11, 2014

in my attempts to get this whole Jan1 Challenge underway, I knew I needed to make sure I wasn’t just focusing on the superficial. Sure, just about anyone can reduce their caloric intake and pump iron/sweat it off at the gym. But what about what’s going into my body? And how am I treating it otherwise?

One of Claire’s mini-goals during our kickoff was to avoid couch sleeping, and make sure she got to bed for a night’s rest. And one of my goals as of late has merely been “get a full night’s sleep”. I’ve found that when I go out during the week, or when I’m eating my meals late at night, getting to sleep is a challenge. And staying a sleep is damn near impossible (oof. After that trip to Australia, I was a combo of jet lag and regular crazy. The bags under my eyes had bags. A veritable luggage set…)

out like a light

out like a light

Lately, though, through getting some early workouts in and feeding my body exactly what it needs, I’m enjoying 8-9 hour sleeps (a new record) without mid-evening wake-ups. And a trip to Eviama Life Spa this Sunday showed me a whole new way of looking at keeping my mind and spirit in good shape.

(photo stolen from Philly Loves Fun)

(photo stolen from Philly Loves Fun)

Spas aren’t something I normally treat myself to. Maybe I’m a cheapskate. Maybe I prefer THINGS over pampering. But typically, when I #treatmahself, it’s more about the food and the drink and the stuff than the self. And maybe it’s time for a change on that front. Luckily, Eviama really brought their A-game.

Bubbles and bites

Bubbles and bites

I know I was talking about more than just food, but let’s talk about the food and drink for a minute. As this event was a Sip and Spa Brunch, it wouldn’t be right to ignore the food and drank! Of course, I couldn’t help myself and indulged in a mimosa… but then I switched to sparkling water, so happy they offered a few different options. There were organic yogurts, gluten free crackers, more vegetables than you could shake a stick at, and all the foods were labeled for anyone with dietary restrictions. Love it.

We were offered the chance to enjoy “mini sessions” to try the spa services and, when I saw the words “Kansa Wand” I was… intrigued.

Promise, these are SFW

Promise, this photo is SFW

Kansa Wands, made with wood bases and copper/tin metals, are used on the face to “enhance health and strength, increase energy, and relieve stress”. After some essential oils were rubbed on my face, the wand was rubbed onto my face with repetitive long strokes and circles. Allegedly, this works to detoxify and works on the “subtle electrical system”. It was brief, though, so I can’t say I felt fully detoxified. But I felt relaxed, and the circles around my eyes especially were refreshing as that’s not exactly a place I focus much energy on during my day-to-day. I have no photo, but I felt as if I were glowing afterwards.

We had a great little talk with Jill Hoffman, a Naturopathic Doctor, about how your skin reflects your lifestyle. Definitely going to agree there. She highlighted the importance of real food, restful sleep, limiting sugar, and regular breathing and relaxation. These are all things that seem like common sense… so why don’t I do them? Life gets in the way. But the point of NOvember is making sure I say NO to the parts of life that might not be best for my body.

I’ll admit, after a trip to Australia and an upcoming one to New Orleans this weekend, getting an Eviama service is unfortunately not in my budget. It’s a high end spa with all natural, green focus and, though I’m a high end kinda gal… I’m balling on that post grad-school budget. Maybe if I came across some splurge bucks, I’ll hit them up… Until then, I treated myself to a brow wax.

For $5.

Baby steps to that inner peace and tranquility that comes from regular Kansa Wandings and natural sea salt scrubs, right?

Learning to Say NO(vember)

November 10, 2014

In case you’ve been following along, last week, as an homage to my Spartan warrior brother and a service to my body, I undertook a little Jan1 Kickoff Cleanse last week. In order to remind my body what whole foods were like, how to workout every day, and that not ALL meals have to center around cheese. I get that, for many folks, this might not seem like much of a challenge, but for a busy (but aren’t we all that’s such a copout) cheese loving lady like myself… it was certainly a wake-up call.

Yes, I'll vote for Brie for President.

Yes, I’ll vote for Brie for President.

Claire and I tracked our eating and activity for three days, with some simple rules.

No booze. Daily exercise. No coffee/soda. Whole/Unprocessed foods.

We each had bonus, personal goals. Mine were 50 each of sit-ups and push-ups and 15 flights of stairs.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Getting violently sick on the first day of a cleanse, while probably not typical, is also…. not beneficial to getting you on board. Yes, I unfortunately got “down with the sickness” Tuesday around lunchtime. This left me bedridden for most of the afternoon (luckily I’d exercised in the morning).
  • Woman CAN live on spaghetti substitutes and juice alone. Ok, lemme explain: Between the two of us and our 6 non-juice meals each over the course of 3 days, half were either spaghetti squash or zoodles (zucchini noodles, duh). Convenient, nutritious, and fun, these non-noodle noodles became a staple in both of our homes.
  • Trader Joe’s, while normally falling under my brain as a “Can do no wrong” establishment, may need to rethink the cold-pressed juice line.
    Not my best friend.

    Not my best friend.

    While, in a pinch, these proved decent sustenance in a hurry, I found myself retreating to my FAVORITE juice spot in the city, Ryan Crown’s Juice Club, at least twice. These bottled beauts from TJs are efficient, but they don’t hold a candle flavor-wise to a fresher juice.

  • The Big One: Fitting workouts in is easy…. when you realize you have to say NO to other things.

And so that brings me to the overall reflections on the experience. We will start with Claire’s thoughts, since I figure it’s nice to share a totally different view. So, from Claire (tidied up by me, since this was via a gchat):

Wise girl, right.

Wise girl, right.

I’m never, ever a dieter. I tend to just eat what I want, and consider “eating healthy” in a vague sense. It works out, and my general inclination is on the healthier side. That said, I’ve really lived life without reflecting on eating habits, just kinda feeling like “it’s fine” and letting it be. This experience was helpful in a “know thyself” way. Working within a framework, a prescribed set of rules, made it more apparent what my habits and inclinations are. It was really helpful to realize that VARIETY is my bugaboo, in the sense that I found myself so bored of the same salad or zoodles, and that I really need to mix it up in order to continue eating healthy. I feel like I CAN take on any kind of health/exercise challenge, recognizing that I’ll succeed as long as variety is taken into account

And now, from the horse’s mouth (in this case, I’m the horse):

Spitting straight fire

Spitting straight fire

have done the diet thing. I was a dedicated Weight Watcher for about a year, losing approximately 40 lbs in a very healthy, but very track-heavy manner (if you’re ever bored and feel like perusing my original foray into blogging, check at that sweet tumblr). I left this challenge feeling stronger, more in control. And it lasted well into the weekend where, other than an evening out for a buddy’s birthday, I maintained those healthy habits. I worked out 6 days last week. I didn’t feel bloated or puffy at all. I slept like a lamp. And while, for part of the week, I was going pretty track-happy with Claire, the rest I went off-book. But the reason I was able to do this was because I said NO to a handful of things. As a blogger and a general gal-about-town, the opportunities to splurge are borderline endless. It’s realizing that you DON’T have to go to every restaurant opening, every food and beer pairing, or you DON’T have to eat every dish served at that fun happy hour. In fact, you don’t even have to drink! THE HOUR CAN STILL BE HAPPY!

Real talk.

So that’s what this Jan1 Challenge will entail. Beyond a shift in focus to cleaner eating and consistent gym-hitting (even if it’s 20 minutes, even if it’s 15!), it’s the self-goal of learning to say NO. NOvember seems like a time to start, since it’s built into the name and all, but I think it’s the beginning of just what I need.

Finance Bros and Fitness Woes: Jan1 Challenge

November 4, 2014

Have I ever told you about my brother? Not the littlest one I visited in Australia. And not the Philly-based one, he’s the oldest (though I really still consider them all my baby brothers.) Nope, this is the middle brother, the middle child, Con.

I know, ladies. Calm down.

I know, ladies. Calm down.

After you’ve taken a moment to chuckle at my dad’s silly face in the background, you can admire that stud of a brother (my genetic pool is like… stupid good looking. I get it.) And then, you can reflect on this:

This 24 year old man is, and has been for the past 18 years, the most intense human I have ever met in my life (his first 6 years were pretty mellow.) When he wanted to pay his way to his high school French trip, he exceeded fundraising enough to get a digital camera for the stay. When he wanted to switch weight classes in wrestling season, he spent more time in the gym than any kid on the team, some of them combined. And whether it’s work, eating, going out, or hitting the gym…. he goes hard. He’s a finance bro to the core and, if you know any of them, you know the type. It was no surprise to me, then, when he and his friends committed to this concept. Something totally foreign to me. But something I’m finding pretty appealing at the moment.

It’s simply called Mar1.

Nah, it's not anti-radiation missiles. but this came up on google search so...

Nah, it’s not anti-radiation missiles. but this came up on google search so…

It stands for March 1st, but it really stands for so much more. It’s subjective to the participant but, at the core of Mar1 is this: Until March 1st, each individual committed to Mar1 lives a particularly Spartan lifestyle. They work hard in the office and harder in the gym, often opting for two-a-days OR two hour sessions. They aren’t overly indulgent because it’s sweater season. They’re eating clean, living off of salads and grilled chicken breasts. They’re not on juice cleanses, but they’re also not going out during the week. Instead of bears hibernating, this band of bros hitting the ground harder than before. And they’re my inspiration. See, the thing is, I may be a little bear-like in nature. When the weather gets cold and the days grow shorter…. I just want to climb into a cave full of blankets and emerge when it’s time to “spring forward”.  I’m no good at getting to the gym when there is darkness as I leave the office. And, though I’m definitely a morning person… where are the Zumba classes at 7am?! (Spoiler alert: they’re not at my gym!)

I'll be over in this closet with these 18 towels and blankets.

I’ll be over in this closet with these 18 towels and blankets.

But, though the austerity of a full dedication to Mar1 might not be in my wheelhouse…. I think I can confidently commit to a modified version. A Jan1 or “JanWun”, if you will. My dear buddy Claire and I (you might remember her from A BUTTLOAD OF MY LIFE) are kicking this JanWun off accordingly this week with a 3 day health kickoff. We’re getting started with the help of some TJs cold-pressed juices, a lack of dairy products (farewell, sweet cheese), a commitment to exercise each day (see you Wednesday, November Project), and a general “Just say no” to processed foods.

Yeah, it’s no juice cleanse. And we’re not the hardcore finance bros that have any interest in spending 2 full hours at the gym…. but I think we’re both ready for a little kickoff to remind our bodies that just because it’s cold outside, doesn’t mean we can let our inner bears out (I’ll try to refrain from my standard nickname of Claire-bear for a little while).

Yup. This is a picture that exists on the internet.

Yup. This is a picture that exists on the internet.

I’m not going to set any weight-related goals. I’ve done that in my life before and, while it’s effective, it turns me into a person I don’t necessarily want to be. But I AM going to commit to this. There’s been a lot of food and beers lately, but not very much sweat. And, come on, I wouldn’t write a blog about ALL THREE if they weren’t equally important! Right?

Right.

Good talk, I’ll see you on the other side.

What I Learned in Sydney, Australia

November 3, 2014

This isn’t a post about how to visit Sydney, because I get the feeling that I could go back time and time again and do it differently on each visit. Instead, it will be snippets and bites of one of the most unexpected, exciting trips of my life. My baby brother, Hunter, is studying abroad there this semester and when my dad pitched the idea of visiting him, I knew I’d be ludicrous to say anything but HELL YES! So, we went for 9 days. Here’s what I learned:

  • Hotels are for suckers. Airbnb is your BEST FRIEND! Find the right spot, and you’ll not only save major dollars, you could see a different part of town other than the center of the city. And you might just get the view of a lifetime.

    Not too shabby, right?

    Not too shabby, right?

  • When minimum wage is $17/hour, prices are gonna seem pretty steep. Also keep in mind, tipping is not expected anywhere and sometimes, on weekends and holidays, prices at restaurants will be 10-20% higher. Plan accordingly.
  • Sydney’s best by bike. I’m not just saying this because I had an absolute BLAST on our bike tour (but we really did, Bike Buffs if you’re curious). It’s a great way to bop all around the city, on the bridge… That said, go with a guide. I’m not sure it’s as “bikable” as Philly…
    Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 7.35.45 PM
  • Don’t toss your change. Because sometimes, if it feels like a dime, it’s actually $2. Yeah, my brother has a “change pile” on his desk that could probably buy a fancy dinner for two.
  • Summer is winter. Spring is fall. But I didn’t notice a single toilet flushing in any interesting manner. Rats.
  • The birds may be beautiful. But they are also incredibly annoying and woke me up every. single. morning.

    SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP

    SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP

  • Timtams. Eat them all.
  • Speaking of eating: Noodles and soup dumplings. When it comes to Pan-Asian cuisine, Australia’s only rival is in Asia. It’s incredible.

    This is a really sexual picture. For a borderline sexual moment between me and a soup dumpling.

    This is a really sexual picture. For a borderline sexual moment between me and a soup dumpling.

  • Other than those classless birds… the rest of the wildlife is pretty sweet. Try to mingle with these critters a bit…
    hey there lil buddy!

    hey there lil buddy!

    Lunch at the eucalyptus tree? Cool, meet you there.

    Lunch at the eucalyptus tree? Cool, meet you there.

  • If you roll up to a deep house DJ set and think “Wow, maybe I’m too old for this scene.” chances are… you are WAY too old for this scene. That said, it’s a great way to interact casually with folks 7-10 years your junior.
    Weird.
  • If you’re lucky enough to go with people you love, no matter what you do, you’ll have an incredible time.
    IMG_0350IMG_0208

Tennis (Lessons), Anyone?

October 28, 2014

I’ve been an athlete my whole life. It’s something in which I take pride. Whether manning the goal in peewee soccer games (easily distracted, I wasn’t too great at this position and was known to wander from my post), flunging my way down the strip during fencing, or (my favorite) blocking the spike dreams of shorter, less awesome girls on the volleyball court, sports have always given me a thrill, a team, a purpose. And while most of my athletic endeavors these days tend to be off the assorted courts and in group fitness rooms or the occasional steps of an art museum, I think that the athletic aspect of a person doesn’t ever truly fade away.

So when someone from MyTennisLessons.com reached out to let me know about their site (which allows users to book tennis lessons with all sorts of different instructors based on distance, cost, experience, etc) and offered me a chance to give it a try, the competitive juices started flowing, and I immediately said yes. Sure, my hand-eye coordination at the ping pong table isn’t too great, but I’m long. I’m strong. I’m basically a Maria Sharapova in the waiting… Bring it on!

So what do I do with this thing?

So what do I do with this thing?

The process of booking a lesson was incredibly simple, and the user-interface of the site is basically fool-proof. Put in your zip code and you’ll get instructors from your area, as well as suggested courts close to you. Luckily, I live right down the street from one of the public courts in Philly, so before I knew it, it was time for my (very first ever in my whole life) tennis lesson. I invited my mom along for moral support and we hit the court.

Talk about 15-LOVE HER!

Talk about 15-LOVE HER!

I’ll say this right there: Lesson 1 showed me pretty quickly that, regardless of your past experience with sports, the tennis court isn’t a place to be proud. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to swing and hit the ball out of the “containment area”. You’ll hit it into the net. You’ll hit it into your mom (THAT WAS ONE TIME!) And sometimes, you’re gonna swing and not hit it at all.

I mean... almost?

I mean… almost?

Tennis uses parts of your body that are different from almost any sport I’d ever participated in before. Oddly enough, the sport it reminded me most of was fencing. The short bursts of energy, the closed stance. The fact that you’re using a tool as an extension of your body.

I like this one because it actually looks like I may have connected with the ball!

I like this one because it actually looks like I may have connected with the ball!

It was initially a little disheartening to not be instantly great at something. That said, I had a pretty fantastic instructor. Nick, my instructor, took a special trip out to Philly (as his normal radius is a little closer to where I grew up around Delaware County, PA) to help this first-timer learn the ropes. It was obvious that he was a total professional, coming armed with rackets, a super sweet set of tennis whites, and enough balls to let me go a little buck wild with the occasional POWER SWING. Patient and experienced, Nick spoke in a way that even someone who had never watched a match would understand. That someone was me.

MOTHER DAUGHTER DOUBLES!

MOTHER DAUGHTER DOUBLES!

The coolest thing about the site, I think, is that you can read reviews from previous lesson-takers. This makes sure that you’re getting the ideal experience, and you can choose not only someone who is convenient to you, but someone who has been vetted by other folks. There seems to be instructors for everything from a beginner to someone who really wants to step up their game.

Little close to the net... but look at that focus!

Little close to the net… but look at that focus!

It was really exciting for me to eventually, over the course of the hour, start to connect with the ball, and play a little tennis with my mom (who’s been playing for years now and basically showed me up the entire time). I can definitely see myself hitting the court again (and, come on, who can resist rocking those little skirts?!)

If I were trying to get into tennis shape, I would absolutely use this service. I also think it would be great for people who are trying to get their kids into a sport but might not know where to start.

Thanks, Nick!!

Thanks, Nick!!

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is… if anyone needs a mixed doubles partner, I might not be your first choice. But if you wanna see a 6’1” gangly gal flail wildly with racket in hand, and periodically put together a solid volley… well, after my first lesson, I’m ready.

I totally look ready. Right?

I totally look ready. Right?

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