Archive for September, 2012

Will Travel for Cheese

The last trip Kirios and I made in August (although most of the trip was September) was to visit friends in Madison, Wisconsin. This was Kirios’ third trip to the area and my second. We had been there eleven months earlier in November and were looking forward to warmer weather. Unfortunately, it was too warm – temperatures were in the 90s most of the week. It was even hotter than DC! Despite the weather, we had a really nice trip.

We flew direct to Madison’s small airport on Friday afternoon and relaxed for a bit before dinner at Bomber’s. At Bombers, our server sat us and told us that at “P-Nut Bomb” would be sent. She shouted “R2D2,” and an employee behind the bar sent a “bomb” painted like R2D2 flying across the ceiling. It hit a bull’s-eye near us and proceeded to dump peanuts out from inside it. Some landed in a metal bowl which was brought to our table. Others sprayed across the floor and stayed there. In addition to the peanuts, we started off with an order of fried cheese curds with a chipotle ranch dip. The cheese curds were tasty, lighter than those at The Old Fashioned, which we had previously dined at specifically for their cheese curds. We especially enjoyed the chipotle flavor in the dip. The dip tasted a little too good, we even double checked that there was no meat in it! For dinner, I had the Stuffed ‘Shroom – a crispy fried portobello stuffed with cheddar and muenster cheese (and lots of it), along with lettuce, tomato, and the signature “Bomber Sauce.” It tasted like the ‘shroom burger Spike Mendelsohn serves at Good Stuff Eatery, but oozed with extra cheese. Wisconsin style, I guess! Kirios had the Mad Sconnie Burger which actually had bacon blended into the patty along with fried pickle slices on a spicy cheese bread roll (see below for more on the roll). He was a pretty happy camper.

Following dinner we strolled over to the University of Wisconsin Student Union and enjoyed popcorn and a pitcher on the terrace (the Badgers are big on their beer gardens!). When I told my mother we were going to the Student Union, she suggested we were a bit old to be hanging out there. But in fact, it seemed like there were just as many parents as there were students enjoying the beverages, beautiful weather, and sunset over the water. There was a reggae concert but it didn’t start until 9pm (which was 10pm in my normal time zone!) so we left as it was beginning.

Saturday was a lazy day for all of us. We were originally planning to kayak on Lake Monona, but we were wimpy and liked the idea of canoeing more than being strapped in to a kayak that would inevitably flip over. There weren’t any canoes available, so we bummed around the house for a while before heading into town. We checked out a used bike sale and then looked for treats at the local food co-op. Kirios and I bought a large spicy cheese bread and had almost half of it in one sitting. This stuff is legendary around Madison and there’s always a long line for it at the Saturday farmer’s market. We visited the farmer’s market during our last trip to the area, but they were already sold out of the good bread by the time we reached the Stella’s Bakery booth. This year we even stocked up, bringing a loaf back to Maryland with us, chilling out in my freezer as we speak!

After eating at the co-op we went for a drive and found ourselves at the Madison arboretum. We didn’t spend long there, but by the time we left we were in the mood for a bike ride (everyone is always biking in Madison). We signed up for a 24 hour pass for Madison’s bike share program B-Cycle and drove over to a bike station next to a 20 mile bike loop. When we got there, we saw a free promo code for the 24 hour passes… Too late for that though. B-Cycle offers 30 min rentals and then charges additional money for extra time beyond that. We planned to bike for just under an hour, which would be an additional $2 charge. The trail was lovely and there was even a scenic field we stopped to take pictures at before turning around. (I’m way too slow to attempt the whole 20 mile loop!) We didn’t account for picture-taking time though so we hurried back to compensate and prevent an additional automatic $5.00 charge for our bike rentals. The sign on the handlebars which said “Tick tock you’re on the clock” didn’t make us feel better either. We made it back before the hour was up, but decided that the bike share program wasn’t a great solution for a leisurely ride.

Saturday evening we had dinner at Ha Long Bay which serves Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian food. Mostly we needed to detox from excessive amounts of Wisconsin cheese, and this did the trick. I ordered crispy fried noodles, veggies, and tofu like I get at our favorite Vietnamese place in Pittsburgh. I still ate too much, but I didn’t need any lactaid pills!

We biked to downtown Madison on Sunday morning taking advantage of our 24 hour passes. It was a scorching hot day already and unlike the bike trail we were riding on streets and sidewalks with hills and bumps for which the 3-gear B-Cycle bikes weren’t ideal. By the time we returned our bikes, I was exhausted and ready to walk. I’m still a pretty new biker and I thought I did pretty well by riding three different bikes during our three different trips in August!

When we got to downtown Madison, it was filled with people for the Taste of Madison event in Capitol Square. There were four long blocks of food vendors and three stages with different themed live music lineups. Kirios and I cooled off with locally brewed beer. Our friends had at least 3 different smoothie/ices treats. We headed to The Old Fashioned’s booth for the best cheese curds in town while looking at the other options around us. We ended up making a full circle before purchasing more food, making frequent trips into the capitol building to refill our water bottles, use the restroom, and cool off. Kirios had a slider with friend onions. I had a really tasty Indian corn fritter served with rice. One of our friends and I ventured over to the “Melted: An Urban Grilled Cheese Shop” booth. (This won’t shock anyone who knew me growing up.) The shop is scheduled to open in Madison this month and won a blue ribbon at Taste of Madison. And that’s how we wound up in a 30 minute and growing line for half a grilled cheese sandwich. The line was so big people decided to join just to see what it was all about. It was a combination of buzz and inefficient serving practices. I got the “American Caprese” sandwich with cheddar and cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and green pepper. The jalapeño cheddar also sounded like a good option. My sandwich was pretty tasty. The sun-dried tomatoes provided a nice flavor, but there weren’t enough of them to take away from the buttery bread or creamy cheese. I was disappointed though overall – the veggie empanada I planned to try next was sold out by the time we got out of the grilled cheese line. It also wasn’t enough food to justify spending $4.00. Plus it was still incredibly hot outside. Our friends rode their bikes back home, leaving Kirios and I at the event for a while longer before they picked us up. Kirios made a B-line for the chocolate covered bacon on a stick. I opted for some Wisconsin-made ice cream to get over my empanada-less disappointments. Kirios was glad to help me attack my duo of flavors. He noted that while I shared with him, I was pretty focused on my solo enjoyment of the ice cream. Oops.

Monday, Labor Day, we drove to Beloit,WI to visit our hostess/friend’s mom. We took the scenic route there and it was interesting to drive through the small towns. It was also incredibly telling and sad to see the short brown cornfields which suffered from this summer’s oppressive heat waves. These are not things that Kirios and I see everyday living in the densely populated D.C. metro area. Once in Beloit, we went for a walk in the woods at the property. We cooled off with snacks and drinks and we had a lot of fun topping our own pizzas. Kirios was particularly proud of his pizza mountain with layers upon layers of toppings.

Tuesday we returned home to Maryland with spicy cheese bread and a bag of cheese curds after almost 3 hours of flight delays. We were tired from all of our traveling adventures and looking forward to the arrival of cooler autumn weather. And of course, we were very thankful for our wonderful friends for having us and making it such an enjoyable trip!

P.S. Miss the pictures? Me too. Tell Kirios to hurry up and upload some!

Beach Bums at Bethany

Less than a full week after returning from our Virginia getaway, Kirios and I repacked our overnight bags to join my best friend from and her boyfriend at Bethany Beach. Besty and I have been friends since my family first moved to Pittsburgh 20 years ago, and she and her boyfriend still live in the neighborhood we grew up in, so it was extra special to see them.

A few days before leaving for the beach, I emailed Besty to see if she had any plans in mind for the weekend so we could pack accordingly and properly be excited. She informed me that her boyfriend wanted to go to a black light party at Seacrets in OceanCity on Friday night, and other than that, they didn’t have any specific plans in mind. Kirios and I don’t spend a lot of time at the beach so neither of us had ever been to Seacrets, but everyone is always talking about it and they make it seem pretty fun, so we were game. Even if a black light party seems a little undergrad for this 25 year old.

Thursday morning, the day before we left, I casually mentioned to my boss (an overgrown hippy who’s my parents’ age) that I was going to the Delaware beaches. He asked where we would be going so I told him we were staying at Bethany and planning on going to Seacrets but didn’t have any other plans yet. “Seacrets?!?” he asked. “Well, everybody makes that mistake once.” My boss strolled down memory lane telling fond stories of weekends at Dewey Beach and one less fun day in Ocean City where he found himself at Seacrets with a bunch of “squares and jocks” or something like that. Then my boss called his youngest sister to tell her that his employee in her 20s was headed to Delaware for the weekend. I only heard half the conversation, but there was a lot of laughter and smiling. When he hung up, he presented me a weekend agenda – Friday happy hour at the Taco Toss at the Lighthouse; Saturday afternoon at Bottle & Cork, his favorite; followed by Saturday happy hour at the Starboard. I tried telling him my petite Jewish girl genes could never live up to his Irish ones for a weekend like that, but that I would pass along his suggestions. And then my boss was in an exceptionally wonderful mood for the rest of the day. True story.

Kirios and I got a somewhat late start on the road Friday afternoon, but once we got going we had a fairly uneventful drive up. We spent some time relaxing with Besty and Boyfriend and then the four of us went out to dinner at a Mexican place in Ocean City. There was a long wait, but it was gorgeous outside (significantly cooler than the July heat wave!) so we didn’t mind. An order of margaritas and some burritos later we made it to Seacrets. There was a reggae band playing when we came in. We made our way past that area to a not very crowded bar with people in the 40s. We passed that area and found a cover band playing to a densely populated dance floor. We hung out in the corner near the bar and avoided the dance floor where confetti was flying all over the place. We danced a bit and judged people’s outfits. I was disappointed that I wasn’t wearing anything with a cool black light glow. I was also disappointed at how unattractive everyone’s teeth look when they glow a weird yellow color. We weren’t super into the Seacrets scene, but that was probably because it was already pretty late by the time we got there. On another day, in another mood, I think we might have made “that mistake” again.

Saturday morning we slept in for a good long time. Then the four of us went to “downtown Bethany” and ordered crepes for breakfast. We also filled up a bucket of Fischer’s popcorn. Mmmm caramel peanuty popcorn. We took the crepes to go and enjoyed them back at the condo. By the time we were ready to head out to the beach it was already early afternoon. It was a cool day in the low 70s and we went to a private beach, so it was not crowded at all. We all sat and read for a while. It was very relaxing. Besty and I stood by the water with our feet in. It was cold, so we didn’t want to swim, but not so cold that I minded the water on my feet. Kirios and I went for a walk along the beach and he told me how much he despises sand. He also wouldn’t get his feet wet. It was a nice walk anyway though. At one point Besty and I filled up little water guns in the bathroom and sneak attacked Kirios and Boyfriend. We attempted to play keep it up with a beach ball, but the wind wasn’t cooperating. Kirios and Boyfriend fell asleep, Besty and I read some more. Then in the late afternoon we decided it was time to swim so we headed to the pool. Besty was a lifeguard and swimming instructor. She showed Kirios how to float since he claims to have forgotten. She also made me swim with my head underwater, which I hadn’t done in years and years – I usually like to wear my glasses in the pool so I can see and play.

After the pool, everyone went back to the condo to shower and change for the evening. I decided to take one of the beach cruiser bikes out for a quick test ride, since we were planning to go for a bike ride in the morning and was still a bit uneasy after my challenging bike ride the weekend before. Kirios watched me pedal around the parking lot and gave me some pointers on using the pedal breaks. It was a lot easier to use than the bikes in Virginia, especially since there wasn’t a hand break also to confuse me and everything was flat.

We had dinner at a Greek restaurant close to the condo. Kirios was super happy about having Greek food. We made some cocktails and then Kirios, our designated driver for the night, took us out to Dewey Beach to explore the bar scene my boss had raved about. We parked next to the Starboard and got out of our car. Three groups of ”older people” walked by us. Naturally, we got back into the car dismissing the bar as an old person hangout. We went to Bottle & Cork instead; a rock bar where everyone seemed to be drinking cheap cans of beer and then throwing them on the floor. There was a loud but decent cover band playing that Besty had seen perform in college. Kirios and I ran into a friend from the DC area, and we stayed out enjoying the music until the band finished playing for the night. I knew my boss would be proud.

Sunday was another late morning. We all went for a bike ride together. I was slow but did fine. I left my mom a message saying I did fine but I ran into a tree, but it was fine/not a big deal. I was stopping anyway and I didn’t get hurt or anything. It was just there, in front of me. Mom didn’t believe me, got nervous, and left a voicemail for Kirios asking if I was okay. Parents! We went out for lunch at The Cottage Café, which apparently Besty and Boyfriend go to every time they’re at the beach. And sadly, after lunch, Kirios and I returned home so we’d be ready for work in the morning. Besty and Boyfriend stayed at the beach for the rest of the week. Lucky friends!

Where Did August Go?

I bet I’m not the only one out there who’s still scratching their head wondering what happened to August, or the whole summer for that matter! School is back in session, football has started, and although I haven’t had either yet, discussions of pumpkin lattes and pumpkin beer are frequent. Hello autumn! Honestly, the fall is my favorite season and now that I’m not in school anymore, I’m not ashamed to admit it. This summer in particular was too hot to enjoy most outdoorsy seasonal celebrations. (Did I mention how sweaty those outdoor weddings were?!?) I’m hoping for a fabulous fall to make up for that. But I won’t complain about the summer too much, there were still a lot of great times.

If you’re curious what happened to Challahbear during August, the answer is a lot! I’ve been visited by my Mom and my Dad (separately – they had business trips on different weeks), and Kirios and I went away for three long weekends! Work has been busy too, and the weeknights have been a struggle to keep up with all the packing and unpacking, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. It’s been a fun month, but it wouldn’t hurt to stay in one place for a little longer! I’ll be packing up again in just over a week to head home for Rosh HaShana, so I can’t say things will be calming down too much just yet. Oh well!

Here’s a recap of the first trip Kirios and I took to Wintergreen Mountain, VA. (True fact, I’ve been reading A Song of Ice and Fire, the first Game of Thrones Book, and wrote Winterfell the first time around. Oops.)

Kirios and I spent two nights at Wintergreen Mountain Resort in early August.  It was a little over three hours from where we live, and the temperature was much cooler up the mountain, thankfully!  We arrived Friday evening and visited Wild Wolf Brewery for live music and beer sampling. I was a big fan of their beer, even their hoppier brews went down smoothly with nice flavor.

The next morning we had breakfast outside on the porch before heading over to the Nelson County Farmers’ Market. We sampled cheese and fruit and jams. We decided to buy some jams, mostly because we found blackberry and hot pepper to be such a fun flavor. We also got crabapple jam and “bluebarb.” Kirios negotiated with the nice old man who sold it to us and was satisfied he was getting a good deal. Following the farmer’s market, we prepared large turkey sandwiches with lots of veggies for lunch, but not before trying more of our new jam. Then we went to the resort’s lake at the bottom of the mountain. We rented bikes by the lake and I had a bit of a meltdown…  I never really rode a bike as a kid and Kirios made it his mission to get me riding again over the past few summers. Because it was so hot this summer, we hadn’t had a chance to take our bikes out this year and I was quite nervous. To make matters worse, this bike had one hand break, but really stopped by pedaling backwards. I was only used to hand-breaks. Anyway, I screamed a lot going downhill, and struggled for the hour we had the bikes, but I did keep riding. It wasn’t my favorite part of the trip, but I’m glad I got back on the bike. At the very least, it made my other trips a bit easier! I rewarded myself by jumping into the lake for a swim. Kirios and I jumped on a huge lake trampoline which was fun, but super disorienting. He also climbed up an inflatable rock wall and then slid down it. It looked hard to pull yourself up and I was tired from the bike ride, so I cheered him on from below.

After the lake we attended a lovely wedding for Kirios’ friend and former coworker, the reason for our excursion in the first place. The ceremony on top of the mountain was beautiful and intimate. The reception was in a big tent by another brewery at the bottom of the mountain. There was a colorful sunset above the mountain during the cocktail hour. There were sentimental speeches, silly photo ops, and fun dancing. The evening ended with the bride and groom exiting through a line of guests holding sparklers.

When Sunday morning came around, we weren’t ready to end our trip just yet. We packed up the car and checked out of our room, but then we stopped at the resort’s mini golf course! After mini golf, we headed to Delfosse Vineyards for their French Crepe Day. Kirios and I love crepes, and I was especially excited to have found out about this event. I’d like to say doing research in advance pays off when planning a getaway, but this was a big disappointment. The vineyard was beautiful, I had high expectations. But the dining room/tasting area was madness. Our waitress ignored us most of the time, and gave Kirios mean looks from time to time. We ordered a cheese platter, two savory crepes, and one sweet crêpe for dessert. She was unable to accommodate our request to have the cheese first. While we enjoyed the cheese platter and it was quite large, it only featured cheeses available at Trader Joe’s. We had tried most of them before. It also looked like the fruit wasn’t washed.  Since we still needed to drive home, we shared one glass of wine. We prefer red and ordered the Cuvee Laurent. Neither of us liked it. Mom always complained about the Virginia wines. I guess we’ll have to try white next time. Although I wouldn’t mind skipping the VA wineries and heading straight for Napa Valley…  Anyway, the whole thing was a fiasco. But we were full when we left and satisfied that we had made the most of our weekend.

Besides, we had another trip waiting the following weekend!