Thursday, October 23, 2014

New York Adventures

Sunday night, we returned from a quick trip to New York City. In our 48 hours in town, we squeezed in as much fun as we could manage (this usually took the form of food) and had a great time! Most notably, I achieved what can only be described as a dream come true -- seeing Ewan McGregor perform on Broadway!  So without further ado, here are the highlights from our getaway:

1.Dinner at Gramercy Tavern
Gramercy Tavern seems to be an institution in the New York dining scene, and I was thrilled when I managed to get a reservation for Friday evening. We each ordered a 6-course tasting menu, one Seasonal (including meat and seafood) and one Vegetable, and we shared each plate. What an absolute treat! The food was fabulous and so beautifully plated, the wine recommendations were excellent, and the staff was incredibly warm and friendly.
After the relaxed meal drew to a close, some of our favorites were an oyster chowder with trout roe, a plate of radishes and turnips (surprisingly my favorite dish of the night), a fried green tomato, the seared duck breast, and an ash-rind goat cheese. We were even sent home with pastries for breakfast the next morning!
2) A beer at Auger's Well
After dinner and a failed attempt to visit Death and Company for cocktails (we weren't up for a multiple hour wait), we ducked into the nearby Auger's Well, a tiny little place pouring interesting local craft beers. We loved the Kim Hibiscus Sour from Queen's brewery SingleCut (a new one to us).
3) Breakfast at Russ and Daughters Café
I was never up for standing in line at the original Russ and Daughters, frequently lauded for making some of the best bagels and smoked fish in NYC, so I was incredibly excited when they opened a sit-down restaurant. Finally I could see what all the fuss was about! We started with a first for me, Matzo Ball Soup. Not quite breakfast fare, but gosh was it good. It's basically the Jewish answer to Chicken and Dumplins right?
Next, we tried the classic bagel and smoked fish boards. I went with the smoked salmon (The Classic) while my husband tried the smoked sable (The Shtetl). We topped our toasted plain bagels with a thin layer of cream cheese, strips of the delicately smoked fish, tomato slices (perfectly ripe somehow in the middle of October), and a sprinkle of capers. I ditched the onion, because, to me, it overpowered the fish which was so good, that I had to eat a few bites of it all by itself. During breakfast we even caught the end of a proposal. When they entered the cafe, everyone broke into applause and cheers!
4) Coffee at Berkli Parc
After breakfast, we needed more coffee, so we spent a lazy morning chatting over lattes in wine glasses (??) at a cute coffee shop down the street from Russ and Daughters Café.
A confusing Subway ride and a short walk later, we arrived at a fountain ringed by autumn trees, just in time for lunch. Luckily, we were right across the street from one of the best pizza joints in Manhattan (or so we've read).
I'll be the first to admit that I'm no connoisseur of New York pizza (heck, I grew up eating Domino's), so I can't definitively confirm that this is indeed the best pizza in Manhattan. But I can tell you that we loved it. So much so that we returned to the counter for a second slice. I know the crust is supposed to be a big factor in New York pizza, but I think my favorite thing is how light and...zesty?...the sauce is. Whatever the secret is, I like it!
6) The Friends building!
Since it's only a couple of blocks from Joe's Pizza, I couldn't resist finally paying a visit to the apartment building used in the exterior shots on Friends. Interestingly enough, there were quite a few other girls on that corner, all in their late 20s or early 30s.
7) Drinks at The Library at the NoMad hotel
Next we headed to The Library, a gorgeous bar lined with books. As it was still early, we had one of New York's premiere cocktail bards entirely to ourselves for an entire hour! Pretty incredible! We cozied up in the corner by the spiral staircase and whiled away the afternoon sipping cocktails.
While all of the drinks were wonderful, our favorite two were hands-down The Jitney (mezcal, Campari, dry vermouth, coffee-infused dry vermouth, and absinthe) and the Loisaida Avenue (mezcal, tequila, Chartreuse, lemon, and angostura bitters).
8) Dinner at Fedora
While not quite comparable with Gramercy Tavern, we enjoyed a pre-theater dinner at this cozy, bustling little spot. The local burrata drizzled with walnut pesto appetizer was fabulous, and the serving size was so generous that we couldn't even finish it!
10) Ewan!
I don't even know where to start on this one. Ewan has been my favorite actor for about 15 years now. Saturday night still feels like something out of a dream. But what I can say is if you find yourself in New York before January 4th, please go see the Roundabout Theater Company's production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing! What a fantastic play! The cast is great (along with Ewan, Maggie Gyllenhaal was pretty phenomenal). The dialog is dense and quick and witty. You really have to pay attention, but it's so dang entertaining and funny and thought provoking. (And as an added bonus you do get to hear Ewan sing a little bit!)
We just had the best time, and the play was over all too quickly. Afterward, we made our way to the stage door to see Ewan and for autographs. After Maggie and Cynthia Nixon made their exits, Ewan was the last to leave the theater (surprisingly along with John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, who made a quick exit in front of him). He kindly made his way around the group signing Playbills (even though some rude people pulled him away for a photo right as he was signing mine).  Once he finished, instead of ducking into a private car like the other actors, he hopped on his bicycle and rode away into the night. After watching him go, we made our way out of the craziness of Times Square and back to the quiet of our hotel room where I tried to process what all had happened that evening. 14 year-old me wouldn't even believe me if I told her!
11) Catching up with Philip
Last but not least, we met up with my friend Philip for brunch at Jones Wood Foundry Sunday morning before catching our flight home. Philip and I grew up together, and I love getting to catch up with him whenever we visit New York!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Broadway!

Folks, if you feel a little extra crackle and excitement in the air, it's because big things are happening this weekend. We're flying up to New York to see none other than Ewan McGregor in the Roundabout Theater Company's production of "The Real Thing" on Broadway!
(photo from
I've been a huge fan of Ewan ever since my teenage heart fell in love with Christian in Moulin Rouge (ok, I'll be's really been since my Star Wars-loving heart met the new Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1999), and I'm tickled pink to finally get a chance to see him perform live on the stage after missing out on his performances in London. Also while in New York, we'll eat and drink our way around the city, and we'll get to spend some time catching up with a friend I grew up with! All in all, a lot to be excited about this weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Barley Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Shrimp

So there's this salad I really love from the gorgeous blog What Katie Ate. It's absolutely perfect, and I won't judge you if you want to go make her recipe instead of mine. But if you're like me and have the hardest time finding Spanish chorizo, please consider my recipe as a humble substitute. You see, when I was in Boston, I could find Spanish chorizo but never Mexican chorizo. Now that I'm back in Texas, I have the opposite problem. What's the difference between the two? To vastly oversimplify it, Mexican chorizo is crumbly while Spanish chorizo slices into pretty rounds. Both are delicious and wonderful, but in this instance only one will do.

Instead of chorizo, I opted for lovely gulf shrimp seared in bacon grease. I also left out the Puy lentils. This salad is light and refreshing but plenty filling. If baby heirloom tomatoes are still popping up at your grocery store in their pretty reds and yellows and oranges, toss those in, but I'm sure cherry tomatoes would work just as well. Maybe try lime juice instead of lemon. Skip the radishes if those aren't your bag. Or go for different fresh herbs. It's a salad after all, so it's perfectly tweakable. Enjoy!
Serves 2-3
1 cup pearl barley
1 lb of baby heirloom tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), halved
Handful of radishes, very thinly sliced
Handful of green beans, ends trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 Tb bacon grease
1/2 lb shrimp, shelled and patted dry
2 lemons, juiced
1 Tb olive oil
2 Tb cilantro, minced
2 Tb mint, minced
Preheat the oven to 280F.
Spread the halved tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and roast them for 1.5 hours, until soft and beginning to caramelize. Remove from the oven when done.
While the tomatoes roast, blanch the green beans by bringing a saucepan of water to boil. When boiling, dump in the green beans, and lower the heat to a simmer and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove the green beans, and plunge into a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and set aside.
Next, add the barley and 3 cups of water to a saucepan (I use the same one I used for the green beans to cut back on dirty dishes), and bring the water to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 35 minutes, until the barley is chewy and tender.
When the barley is almost done, whisk together the juice from one of the lemons with the olive oil, and season with some salt and black pepper.

Then heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the bacon grease, allowing it to melt and warm up. When hot, add the shrimp to the pan, searing them for about 2 minutes per side. When done, remove the shrimp to a plate with a slotted spoon.
Pour the juice of the remaining lemon into the pan with the remaining bacon grease, stirring to combine. Let cook for a minute or so, until heated.
When the barley is done, drain off any remaining water, and toss it with the lemon and olive oil mixture.
In a large bowl, toss the barley, roasted tomatoes, blanched green beans, radish slices, and the warm lemon juice and bacon grease mixture.
Serve topped with the shrimp and with a good scattering of cilantro and mint.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Feeling Fall-ish

Even though it's October, the temperatures around here are still climbing into the 80s and 90s, and leaves are still as green as can be. But because it's October, I'm bound and determined to bring a little fall into my life, even if it's just through the internet. Here are some things that are making me feel fall-ish!

These pencils! Don't they just capture everything you love about fall?

How beautiful is this Butternut Squash and Sage Pizza? Even though I'm sad to leave okra and tomato season behind, I sure do love when winter squash arrives at the grocery store!
(Photo from Alexandra Cooks)

I've got to get a pair of these Long John Pajama Pants. Wouldn't they be perfect for lounging around the house when it's chilly out?
(Photo from Hanna Andersson)

I would love to have one of these gorgeous cable-knit throws for curling up with a good book and one of these rustic plaid throws crisp fall picnics.
(Photos from Pottery Barn (1) and Patron Designs Scoutmob Shoppe (2))

While I may not be able to go apple picking in New England, my grandparents brought back a huge bag of apples from a recent visit to Colorado that they were generous enough to share with me. I can't wait to use some of them to make my favorite Homemade Applesauce.
(Photo from Simply Recipes)
I usually take a crafting break during the summer, so I'm ready to pick up my craft supplies now that fall has arrived. I love knitting (something cozy like this ribbed cowl), and I also want to make this lamp shade for the library!

Fall also means steaming mugs of hot tea or mulled cider. Two of my favorite ciders are this Mulled Apple Cider for a crowd or this Hot Ginger-Apple Hot Toddy.
(Photo 2 from The Kitchn)

With Halloween approaching, I love to decorate the front porch and the house with pumpkins. If we get in the mood to carve some, how lovely are these?
(Photo from Southern Living)
Once the weather gets a little cooler, I tend to crave hearty greens, especially swiss chard and kale. I love these Brown Rice Bowls with Swiss Chard and Nutty Romesco Sauce and this Pumpkin and Kale Pasta with Lemon Goat Cheese Sauce. I'm looking forward to trying these two soups: Spicy Pork and Kale Soup and Cavolo Nero and Cannellini Bean Soup.
(Photo 1 from The Kitchn, Photo 2 from Eat, Live, Run, Photo 3 from Whole Living)

Finally,  I can't wait to sit by a crackling fire. We have our very first fireplace in our new house, and I'm itching to put it to use!
(Photo from The Bungalow Blog)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Four Years and Counting

You know, in some ways it's hard for me to believe that four years have passed since our wedding day. It still feels so fresh in my memory. In other ways, it seems like we've been married much longer than that (in a good way, I promise). To celebrate our 4th anniversary, we had dinner reservations in the city, but nature had other plans in mind. That afternoon, a crazy storm swept through the area that we had no desire to battle on our way into downtown, so we moved our reservation and spent a quiet night at home instead. My husband even offered to cook which is an offer I cannot refuse.
Due to a failed attempt to beat the storm, I got home Thursday night after driving through the worst part of it to find a stunning bouquet of flowers on the counter (because the 4 years is the flower anniversary), a bottle of wine, and a handsome man chopping vegetables. Is there a better sight?  He made us one of his specialties, pasta with bolognese (we love Mark Bittman's recipe in How to Cook Everything) along with Caesar salad and bread studded with roasted garlic.
Saturday we went out for our delayed dinner at FT33. It was, in a word, amazing. By far the best dinner we've had in Dallas (though, admittedly, we haven't tried all that many restaurants yet). We were seated side by side at the chef's table looking directly into the kitchen, which was really interesting (though not exactly a serene spot). We sipped on a barrel-aged cocktail while browsing the menu. The Final Say was a delicious riff on one of our favorites, the Last Word, with gin, Chartreuse, and lime, and for a place seemingly known more for their wine, we were very impressed. We shared a pretty unbelievable charcuterie board featuring seven homemade treats along with pickled okra, green tomatoes, and cucumber and smears of whole-grain mustard and stone fruit jam.
My entrée were two giant pork short ribs along with corn, arugula, and crumbles of dehydrated corn shortbread (it sounds weird, but it was airy and crunchy and very good). The tender, rich meat was even better when swiped through the  puddles of arugula chimichurri on the plate. Our recommended wines were both unique and perfect pairings (though I will say that these are some of the most expensive wines by the glass that I've ever seen). At nice dinners, we usually compete to see who picked the better dish, but this is one of the few times that we felt like we both walked away winners, me with my pork and him with his Wagyu beef. The evening came to a close with a cheese board served on a gorgeous wood plank along with honey, spiced nuts, and some more of that fabulous stone fruit jam. Our favorite was a cheese from Utah with a tea-rubbed rind!

It was an absolutely lovely evening, and even though we had to modify our plans a bit, the weather gave us an excuse to celebrate our anniversary twice, which made for a pretty special way to kick off our 5th year of marriage. I will say that I feel pretty lucky to have found this man, and I look forward to where the coming years will take us together!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Southbound 35

Last weekend, we made the trek southbound on 35 to Austin so we could attend Grammy and Pampa's monthly "Last Saturday of the Month" get-together with the whole clan on my father-in-law's side of the family. It was our very first to attend, and with 24 folks in attendance, it was such a fantastic opportunity to catch up with the whole family! Moments like these are exactly why we moved home, and I'm so thankful for them! And as an added bonus, we got to have some fun in Austin!
We drove down Friday afternoon with the puppy in tow, and he behaved like a champ for his first longest roadtrip yet. As we pulled into Lakeway, we promptly got stuck in Lake Travis homecoming traffic, but we finally made it past the stadium and pulled into Sandeez Hamburger Hut, one of the last Lakeway restaurants remaining from my husband's childhood. It's the cutest little place with picnic tables out front, and the burgers are just the greasy burgers you would hope for from such a place. You can go classic or you can go with something like my Guacaholic smothered with guacamole and queso.
Saturday we headed into the Austin city limits to attend a book signing with Lisa Fain, the Homesick Texan, at the Byte of Texas book fair. I ran into a sweet friend from college, Kathryn, who was involved in the conference, and she was kind enough to bestow upon us an amazing goodie bag that was chock full of treats like Yellowbird Habanero Hot Sauce, Stubb's Wing Sauce, Michele's Granola, and little baby pies from Royer's Pie Haven.
We lucked out and were the first people there for the signing, so we had a great time chatting with Ms. Fain until other admirers arrived. It was such a treat to meet her, as she and her wonderful stories and recipes were so instrumental in my survival away from Texas for so many years!
After the book signing, we popped into Freedmen's for some BBQ, because "when in Austin..." For those of you who, much like us, do not have the patience or the perseverance required to wait in a 3-4 hour line at Franklin, but still want to try a new BBQ spot in downtown, give Freedmen's a shot. The chopped beef sandwich was heavenly. Their sauce, while not necessary for the meat, is delicious with a great kick. They make their own pickled cucumbers, onions, and jalapenos that pair well with the meaty brisket. The pit chili is smoky and spicy and appropriately topped with fritos, grated cheddar, and a sprinkling of red onion. While very good, the cocktails probably won't change your life, but that chopped beef sandwich sure might!
Gosh I love adventures with this guy!
To ward off a meat coma thanks to stomachs full of chopped beef and chili, a pit stop at Quack's 43rd Street Bakery was in order. While I studied at almost every coffee shop around Austin during our time at UT, my most frequent haunt was Quack's, and it holds a dear place in my heart. I hadn't been back since before graduation, so it was a glorious reunion and walk down memory lane. I was relieved to find that the little coffee shop really hadn't changed much in the past 7 years despite how drastically Austin itself has changed. It's still a quirky spot full of quirky people, and they still make the best gingerbread cake I've ever tasted.
Once our coffee mugs were emptied, we headed back to Lakeway via another walk down memory lane, this time for my husband. First he took me to the base of the Lake Travis dam. Before the neighboring bridge was built, driving across the dam was the only way into Lakeway. In the base of that "new" bridge is a time capsule containing student contributions including one from my husband! Next, we went to the top of the dam where you can still see the little two lane road running its length (though gates now restrict access) as well as views of the lake.
Finally that evening, we joined the family at Grammy and Pampa's for chicken spaghetti and family bonding. We brought Charlie with us, and he had a blast playing with the 5 great-grandkids, all under the age of 5. I've never seen him as pooped as he was after chasing them around all evening! We loved catching up with folks and finally being able to attend a family event rather than being "those weird cousins/grandkids/kids that live in Boston that never show up for anything." Like it or not, they better get used to seeing us a little more often these days!   

Friday, October 3, 2014

My 10 Favorite Things in September

Another month has flown by! Here we are in October, the month of pumpkins and pies! September was a lovely one around here, as we're slowly easing ourselves into fall (rather than jumping in head first like we would in New England).  So I'll relive my favorite September memories one last time before moving on to whatever fun October has in store! Happy fall everyone!

We wrapped up a date night this month with this little piece of heaven. Please go try this pie. Sip on French press Cultivar coffee and savor the butterscotch, caramel, and brown sugar meringue.
2) Charlie's first car ride in the front seat
This was a big day for Mr. Charlie, as it also included his first trip to the dog park! He handled it all like a champ!
3) Meeting Lisa Fain, the Homesick Texan!
Lisa Fain, with her stories and recipes, was such a God-send when I moved away from Texas 7 years ago. What a treat to finally meet her for a book signing at the Byte of Texas conference.
4) Family visiting!
We got to host my husband's family a couple weeks ago. They were our first overnight guests in our new home! What a fun weekend!
5) Catching a college football game
And not just any college -- our college! For my husband and I, this was our first UT game to ever attend together (other than those years we were both in the band). Better late than never! After being away from home so long, I had forgotten just how crazy and fun college games are!
6) Baker's Drive-In
This place, y'all. It's so great. You drive in. You park. You walk up to the window of  a little building that's showing its age. You order from a menu that's American fine dining at its best. And then you go eat in your car. And it's just the absolute best. I loved the steak fingers and onion rings while my husband had a great looking cheeseburger. I can't wait to go back!
7) Adventures in Austin with this good looking guy
This past weekend, we had such a wonderful time hanging out with my husband's family and hanging out in Austin. We attended Grammy and Pampa's "Last Saturday of the Month" shindig with the whole clan on my father-in-law's side. We tried an amazing new BBQ place named Freedmen's, and we took a walk down memory lane at Quack's. We even visited the top of the Lake Travis dam!
8) These Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Steaks
If it's still grilling weather where you are, please do not pass go before throwing a few slabs of cauliflower on your grill. And douse them in lime, cilantro, chili powder, and cotija cheese!
9) Brunch with one of my favorite people
Joseph! So glad he joined us in the Dallas area! And so glad we got to finally try CBD Provisions!
10) Bookshelves in the library
Our little library crossed a big milestone this month. It now has bookshelves! Full of books! I still need to finish framing and hanging prints, and I need end tables and some other things, but I'm dangerously close to having a real life library of my very own!