Heading South

July 26, 2012

My favorite mode of transportation is a tie between walking and taking the bus. You can see so much more as the passenger instead of the driver and walking really takes it to another level in terms of actually being in and interacting with your surroundings. My ideal way to get home from DC is a bus ride across the river and then a walk from North Arlington to my home in South Arlington. On this particular day I walked from Dupont Circle to Foggy Bottom, then took a bus through Georgetown and across the Key Bridge to Clarendon, and then walked the 1.5 miles through Lyon Park to my apartment. It was a perfect DC summer day - hazy and humid but not too hot - and I love how the scenery gets less urban and more natural as you leave the city.

A mode of transport I am too wimpy to use in the city
If only metro buses were open top ...
The new DC, peeking out from behind the old
K Street and Pennsylvania Ave - not just the names of mediocre shows about politics
The sun shines lovingly on this enchanted bus
East-facing view from the Key Bridge towards (in order) The Watergate, the Washington Monument, and the Kennedy Center
West-facing view from the Key Bridge towards the Three Sisters rock formation and up the Potomac towards Great Falls

Stonewall Jackson Shrine, Fredericksburg, VA

July 17, 2012

The National Park Service did an amazing job preserving the home in which Confederate General Stonewall Jackson died. You'd never know that you're just a few miles from I-95 and urban sprawl. We visited on Memorial Day Weekend and were the only people there so we had the house and the Park Rangers to ourselves. Why oh why didn't I become a Park Ranger? Such an interesting job.

The home in which General Jackson died was an outbuilding on the Chandler Plantation

Jackson was carried several miles to Lexington, VA for burial

The bed in which - and blanket under which (!) - General Jackson died

A view from the window in the room in which General Jackson's doctors slept

The office used to plan Jackson's course of care. The furniture is period but not original to the Chandler Plantation. The books, however, are.

Couer d'Alene, Idaho

May 31, 2012

 

The best thing about traveling for work is the opportunity to go places that you may want to go in theory but would probably never go in actuality. Recently I was lucky enough to go on a trip to the extremely lovely, remote, and all-around exotic (no, really) Coeur d'Alene Resort in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

CDA (as the locals call it) is located in northern Idaho.  It took a full 6 hours of travel time to get there, the same amount of time it would take me to get to parts of Western Europe. I am sad to say that I have been to Western Europe vastly more times than I have been to the Pacific Northwest United States; I cannot stress enough how strange it was to me to be flying to Minneapolis, and then Spokane, and then staying in  Northern Idaho.

Much of CDA had what I've always thought of as an Alaskan/Canadian vibe - snow-capped mountains in April, pine trees, glacial lakes, moody cold weather, remoteness. At only 113 miles from the Canadian border, this makes a good amount of sense.

Though this was a work trip designed to evaluate the resort, I did manage to eat off-property at Hudson's Hamburgers on Sherman Ave. Burgers and pie are the only things on the menu; pickles, onions, and cheese are your only burger toppings. While I ate, I read the local paper, The Spokesman-Review; I make a point to read local papers and watch local news when I travel - you learn a lot about a place when you find out what they consider news. For CDA? Migrating caribou and the lack of rural doctors.

It might seem a sharp contract to have a beautiful luxury resort right in the middle of the wilderness but Coeur d'Alene Resort does a fantastic job of incorporating the scenic beauty into their buildings via huge windows, multiple fireplaces, a gorgeous lakefront dock, and design touches that remind you - oh yes! - you are in a Pacific Northwest wonderland. And the wine cellar, rated second best in the Pacific NW, does a great job of reminding you that nothing goes better with rustic scenery than a good glass of wine.

 

New York State of Mind

May 9, 2012

The sun smiles on lovely brownstones. The sun has good taste.

Recently I spent a relaxing weekend in Manhattan with my sister, eating some good (but not fancy) food, walking in Central Park, seeing a show, and generally hanging out in an unfantastic-so-therefore-totally-fantastic manner. This was NYC as I hadn't experienced it before.

Though my family hails from the NYC area and I myself lived in close proximity for the first few years of my life, I wouldn't call myself a "New Yorker;" I tend to find it overwhelming. So visiting "The City" has become an event, replete with agonizing over what to wear, where to eat, and how to pay for it all. I normally stay with a good friend in Park Slope, Brooklyn where the artisanal butcher shops, Maggie Gyllenhaal sightings, and impossible hipster coolness are both exciting and intimidating. It's like going to Paris - I enjoy myself, but I am not relaxed, careful not to look like a tourist while knowing that I'll never look like a local.

This gritty photo belies the snazzy nature of this business: http://russanddaughters.com/
So when my soon-to-be grad student sister was given comp tickets to the hilarious Blogologues - they performed one of her posts from her blog, 2 Birds 1 Blog as part of the show - I thought, well here is a chance to maybe do NYC a little differently. "Let's try not to spend a lot of money" I said, and so our weekend in NYC became less of an experience-hoarding whilrwind and more of an exercise in relaxed expectations. We stayed in a friend's apartment on the Upper East Side on York Avenue one block over from Sotheby's and with that lovely neighborhood as home base I lived out my NYC fantasy - I had a good old-fashioned low-key time.

Hello Sotheby's, you're every bit as chic as I thought you'd be.
Saturday morning we had a leisurely brunch at yummy and affordable UES diner The Barking Dog followed by a hours-long walk through Central Park. This flow of meal-into-exercise puzzled me initially - I normally agonize over what I wear in NYC because I want to look cool but not like I'm trying too hard, which is basically impossible and definitely does not involve sweat-wicking material. So when my sister donned workout clothes for our brunch/walk spectacular I was skeptical ... until I remembered that, this time, I was doing it differently: on went the sneakers and Smart Wool. And it was comfy and great!

I was puzzled by these boats - do you rent them? Do you bring your own?
After Central Park, we got NYC's famously affordable mani-pedis ($25 for both?! DC listen up!) and grabbed a bottle of wine from the local corner shop to drink while getting ready for the evening. The evening was a blur of laughing our butts off, beer in hand (I do love drinking while being entertained), meeting up with friends at The Dove Parlour in Greenwich Village, and a delicious late night burger dinner at the UES dive bar J.G. Melon. No pretense at all. Just good greasy burgers and cottage fries.

Add the cost of this mani-pedi to the cost of my Bolt Bus ticket and they're still cheaper in NYC.

I think in trying to experience all the awesomeness that is NYC, I normally build it up to this extreme level of glamorous opportunity: so much fabulous stuff to do! But when I finally relaxed myself and my expectations I actually had an even better time. On future trips to NYC I'll probably mix a little of the high brow with the the low brow; I will continue to drink artisan pre-Prohibition cocktails with homemade bitters in Brooklyn because it's fun, and yummy, and I saw Ethan Hawke at a trendy brunch spot once and that was awesome. But now I know that I can also grab a bagel and schmear in my sweats, hang in the park, meet friends for a relaxed drink and still enjoy what NYC has to offer. Mind blown.

That's right - green olive cream cheese. God bless a good deli.


Three Cheers for (Chicago's) Belgian Beer

March 30, 2012


Last night I happily accidentally attended a Goose Island beer tapping event at Liberty Tavern in Clarendon; my work event took less time than I thought so I just crashed Geoff's plans - his buddy had invited him out for this beer tapping last minute and I was more than happy to join them.

David McGregor, manager and beer director at Lyon Hall, Liberty Tavern's sister restaurant, was pouring three of Goose Island's new, Belgian inspired beers - this is news not only because Goose Island has three new seasonal beers (including a very good saison-style beer, Sophie) BUT Goose Island has recently been picked up for wider distribution in the mid-Atlantic area, including Lyon Hall and Liberty Tavern - good for us! I first had Goose Island last December on a work trip to Chicago, where they're based; I am all for more good local breweries coming our way, even if they're not "local" for us, especially if they make Belgian-style beer. 
 A tall cold Sophie would be delish with a plate of Lyon Hall's schnitzel, a thought that I shared with David. He informed me that they launched their new spring menu last night and it features a seasonal schnitzel; he couldn't recall the specifics but, as I said to him, "doesn't matter - pound it thin, fry it, top it with lemon juice and I am there." Kind of a strange thing to say to someone you just met but, as he drank his Goose Island Nut Brown and I drank my Goose Island Matilda, I got the feeling he was right there with me.

Charleston, SC Part II - To Eat and Drink in SC

March 29, 2012

As I alluded to yesterday, Geoff and I ate a lot in Charleston. Like, a lot a lot. Charleston has a craft beer scene, a farm to table scene, a locavore scene - maybe it's because it's a small city but I've never seen such a concentration of restaurants proudly and consistently offering local products. They love the Lowcountry down in that there Lowcountry. For all the down-home grits and collards places there just as many places serving what I would consider "classic fancy dishes" (coddled eggs anyone?) modernized with super fresh and creative ingredients. I wouldn't call this food "accessible" to your average eater (coddled eggs anyone?), but it's quite a treat for those who are into that sort of thing. I will say a fair amount of this kind of food is served with a side of snootiness - I chalk this up to their being the "hot new city" and, ever so slightly, buying into their own hype.

A very cool thing about Charleston is that there are gulf oysters at every turn; gulf oysters are larger, saltier, and fishier than cold water varieties and therefore, in my mind, superior (sometimes bigger is better.) When you are down there hit up the happy hour at Pearlz Oyster Bar on East Bay Street - a dozen raw oysters for $8 and $3 glasses of champagne. And what better way to celebrate being on vacation than to eat oysters and drink champagne at 4pm?

Oysters aside, there are some extremely nice restaurants down there (too many to name here) but one great treat was that I was lucky enough to plan a private dinner at McCrady's, one of James Beard Award-winning Charleston super-chef Sean Brock's places. The dinner was in the Historic Long Room, where George Washington dined on his 1791 trip through the South. We had to do a tasting during last year's site visit - you know, for science. Even more exciting was our trip to Husk, Brock's new spot that was voted 2011 Best New Restaurant in the US by Bon Appetit Magazine. We had lunch - not the best way to judge a place - but it was a good lunch full of classic punch cocktails, every appetizer on the menu (me + pimento cheese spread = true love), and an almost missed flight home. Would've been worth it.

Although I felt lame, I was not the only taking a picture of the sign

Sean Brock was kind of enough to locate Husk in my dream home, what a peach

When smoked chicken wings are on the menu, you order them. End of story.

Charleston, SC

March 27, 2012

Yes, in fact I would live on this street in Charleston's Historic District
Geoff and I just got back from my association's annual convention in Charleston, SC and we had an awesome time while we were down there. A colonial-era town that feels like it belongs on a Caribbean island more than in the continental US, Charleston is definitely having it's "moment" right now; the week of our trip I saw not one, not two, but three travel shows about it in a two-day span. Tip - if you only watch one, watch the Bizarre Foods America, not No Reservations - Tony's NY-ness admittedly predisposed him to view this quintessential Southern city through a lens of snark (people smile at strangers and make chit chat?), whereas Andrew's Midwestern-ness gave him a more understanding view (people smile at strangers and make chit chat!).

We stayed at the Charleston Place Hotel, a very swanky place indeed that was a great base camp and headquarters hotel for the convention. Though I worked pretty much straight through, we managed to eat about 4 tons of oysters and various other fried seafoods and do a little sightseeing. We dined on fried chicken and corn pudding under a tent full of twinkle lights to the sounds of the fantastic Bluestone Ramblers at the gala I planned for my group, held at the beautiful Gibbes Museum of Art (see, work can be fun). We attended a cocktail party (that I did NOT plan, such a treat to be a guest!) at the stunning William Aiken House and took embarrassingly full advantage of the oyster bar, cigar bar, and bourbon tasting.

Most of what we did in Charleston (heck, in life) centered around eating & drinking - the city loves good food and drink and there are a lot of talented folks there doing a lot of great stuff (more on that tomorrow). But when we weren't eating (which, admittedly, was not often) we strolled through the streets and admired the gorgeous homes, the bright colors, the hidden alleys, the grand churches with their spooky-cool graveyards, and the general sense of easy-breezy the city exudes. We'll be back, and you should go too.
Azaleas - this color pink captures Charleston perfectly

Geoff taking a picture of me taking a picture of him - love the turquoise paint and authentically chipping stucco

I was surprised there weren't more above-ground graves

If I were to get another tattoo ...

Fun Fact: to be a graveyard, it must be adjacent to a church, whereas a cemetery can stand alone

Hanging lanterns, cafe lights, ivy covered brick walls - perfection

The carriage house at the William Aiken House - that's a big carriage!