Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

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!

Business Visits

My mother has been a permanent telecommuter ever since our family moved from Baltimore to Pittsburgh when I was five. At some point earlier in our relationship, Kirios asked why my mother didn’t come visit me more frequently and just work from my apartment during the day so we could see each other more often. It seemed like a reasonable question – if you can’t walk into a coffee shop without seeing someone camped out with their laptop barking on a conference call or number crunching while rocking out to his or her iPod, why wouldn’t she take over my living room every once in a while?

I explained to him that my mother started working from home in the early 90s and it was a completely different deal than what you see with teleworkers today. Mom’s company ships her desktops and reimburses her for a land-line phone number.  For several years a Fed-Ex delivery woman stopped by our house every morning during the week to drop off packages for my mom – lengthy reports printed on reams of paper, sometimes CDs. Every afternoon Tom, another Fed-Ex delivery person, would come to pick up packages going out. One day we gave Tom a peach fresh from Georgia, another time we gave him a coveted box of Girl Scout cookies. I remember when we had a replacement package picker-upper while Tom was on his honeymoon. Over time, the pick-ups and deliveries slowed down. I didn’t completely understand back then, but it’s pretty obvious now as an adult who works for the Postal Service… Mom’s company was just starting to use e-mail when we first moved to Pittsburgh and she could hardly send attachments. Over the years, that all changed.

Fast forward to present day – my mother recently finished working on a multi-year government contract and was assigned on a new project based in Washington DC. Mom needed to meet with her new team and customer to kick-off the project. She opted to stay with me, her one and only daughter, rather than at a hotel. She drove up on a Monday afternoon and arrived just in time for dinner. We ordered a pizza. Afterwards we watched a movie on Netflix. Mom checked her work email online from her personal laptop. We both scrolled Facebook and looked at people’s pictures over each other’s shoulders. In the morning, Mom walked to the Metro with me and I helped her buy a farecard. (I know, she really needs a SmarTrip, but they don’t sell them at my station.) I reminded her to stand on right and walk on the left for the escalators, and hurried her off the train at her stop. I continued on to work and Mom grabbed a coffee, her meeting didn’t start until later in the morning, and I arrive at work at 8:00. An hour later, she called to ask for directions to her meeting location. She had printed out walking instructions from the Metro station, but got disoriented and confused by the street numbers. I checked Google Maps, and she made it to her meeting location.

Early that evening I met Mom downtown. We had a delicious dinner at Founding Farmers (It was near her customer’s office and it’s so yummy there I had to take her) and Mom told me that for this project, they wanted her on site weekly meetings for the next month. Suddenly, Mom was transformed into a 21st century contractor. She ordered a company laptop and began wondering if it was time to upgrade to a smart phone (no progress on that yet – she doesn’t even text.) Next she wondered about transportation. Driving to the DC area and back to Pittsburgh over the course of 36 hours is a bit much for her to do on a regular basis. Her company prepared to book $400 roundtrip flights. She suggested taking Megabus instead, which costs a whopping $21 roundtrip.

Mom has now become a master at her new exhausting routine. She drinks less coffee and limits her water on Megabus days and eats salty snacks to ensure she doesn’t need to use the bus’ facilities. She squeezes everything she travels with into a roller laptop bag and a back pack, and she event metros between my apartment and the city on her own.

Having mom in town about once a week has kept me busy entertaining her in the evenings and doing extra laundry with her linens. I’ve also been able to show Mom my new purchases, like my exercise bike and the new pair of shoes that I bought last weekend. And it’s led to some fun dinners out. (You knew I couldn’t resist talking about food for the whole post!) During her last visit, she took Kirios and I to Red Tomato Cafe. We were particularly impressed with their Panzanella Salad of roasted fennel and tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, fresh oregano, Parmesan, and  croutons will olive oil, pesto, and balsamic as well as their interesting preparation of homemade gnocchi in a cream sauce with candied walnuts, grapes, and Parmesan. For dessert, Kirios made his homemade crepes, which we filled with caramelized figs, pomegranate seeds, and our new blueberry balsamic. This week Mom and I had dinner with my cousin in Rockville at La Tasca, sampling a lot of their tapas dishes.

Mom is returning home tonight after her latest trip and, and has two weeks at home before she returns. I can’t say I’ll have too much time to miss her – my dad will be in town for 3 nights next week and I have my own business travel the following week. She’ll be back before I know it!

Playing in New York

This year I spent Memorial Day weekend in New York City with my cousins.  Weekend getaways are always fun, and New York is typically an exciting destination with lots to do. That weekend was no exception. I haven’t traveled to New York on my own in a couple of years, but in the past I usually took the Amtrak. This time I jumped on the discount bus bandwagon, finding it extremely convenient that the Vamoose Bus departs for Penn Station within walking distance of my apartment. I boarded a 7am bus on Saturday morning and was in the city before 11. Not bad for a holiday weekend! Plus I was even able to read without getting car sick for a good portion of the trip!

I packed light, only bringing my purse and a backpack. My cousins met and we went out for lunch before heading to a matinee on Broadway. In all of my 25 years that I’ve been traveling to New York to visit relatives, I’ve actually only seen two shows on Broadway. Both were during my 8th grade class trip. So when my mom was in town a few weeks earlier and saw a show with some family, I knew I wanted to do the same. We saw Sister Act. Raven Symone played the lead, she wasn’t Whoopi Goldberg, but she was great. She’s come along way since the Cosby Show and ABC Family Channel movies… I guess we all grow up. After the show we met up with more family for dinner and spent the rest of the night hanging out and catching up.

Sunday was quite the to-do. I joined a group of 10 ladies to celebrate with one of my cousins in bachelorette party fashion. We met for brunch at The Smith. After donning my hot pink “Team Bride” pin, I ordered an omelet with wild mushrooms and fontina. It came with a side of home fries. I’m always a sucker for potatoes at brunch. The omelet was quite tasty – better than most, but the large pool of oil on my plate made it slightly less appetizing. The brunch special came with a choice of drinks. I ordered the freshly squeezed blood orange mimosa, which was bitterer than I had hoped. One of my cousins ordered the passion punch – it was heavy on the rum but a more refreshing choice.

After brunch we took the bus to the East End to complete our bachelorette scavenger hunt. Although we were all one team, so it was more like a bucket list. We visited candy stores, clothing stores, vintage boutiques and so forth, forcing the bride to pose with cute and sometimes crazy things. I think the best pictures were of her in neon pink leggings, a neon yellow tank top, a neon green fanny pack, and of course a side pony tail. Equally entertaining was the flamboyant thrift store owner eager to teach us all the trick to wearing any hat. (According to him, even the most ridiculous shower cap looking thing is high fashion when tilted to the side of your head). This scavenger hunt of course included a caffeine/bathroom break at Starbucks, and ended with frozen yogurt. It was super hot that weekend, so both were needed.

Following the scavenger hunt, we took the Subway to Williamsburg and surprised the bride with a jewelry making class at Brooklyn Charm. Their patient staff taught us how to make wire wrap bracelets with the beads of our choice. Half of the group took a basic assembly course instead, making necklaces with dangling charms. Although learning to wire-wrap was a bit of a challenge for me, I usually have a hard time finding bracelets small enough that they won’t fall off my teeny tiny wrists. My do-it-yourself project fits snuggly. We finished our jewelry class by popping open two bottles of champagne and toasting the bride.

Since it was so hot out and already 8pm, most of us started to feel the champagne and were eager to head to dinner. We went to baci & abbraci (Italian for hugs and kisses… appropriate, I suppose) and shared a variety of vegetarian pizzas as an appetizer. Their vegetariana with eggplant, zucchini, and peppers was my favorite, but their focaccia tartufata is also worth mentioning; a thin layer of dough with creamy robiola cheese, topped with another layer of crust and truffle oil on top. My main course was exceptional gnocchi violette, made with red beets and goat cheese in a cream sauce with wild arugula. It actually deserves to be said again – it was exceptional. I even found a restaurant review with the recipe for it here. I don’t generally make cream sauces at home, but if I ever feel ambitious and like making an exception… The dish was even better when paired with a nice malbec. I cleaned my plate, and didn’t even leave room for the enormous tiramisu cake the restaurant prepared for us. I did enjoy the waiters singing “Happy Birthday” to the bride. Somehow the theme of the party had escaped them, despite all of our fanfare. I don’t think the point of a bachelorette party has ever been to blend!

Despite our bridesmaid planners’ best efforts to pick out a bar for post-dinner cocktails; no one had the energy for another stop after a full day of festivities. We left the restaurant after 11pm and my cousins and I splurged for a cab to return to their apartment building in Washington Heights. I was glad to sleep in a bit the next morning!

Monday morning I packed up and hung out with my cousin a little. I used some of the super fun glitter nail polish she had on all weekend. Then I met up with a good friend of mine who previously lived in DC for a year for sushi and catch up time. Only my friend had trouble deciding if he wanted sushi or pizza. I chose sushi, since I had several Italian style pizzas over the weekend already. But I was sad not to have real New York pizza. Luckily for me, my friend decided to grab a slice before having sushi, and he was eating it when I met him. I had one delicious bite and felt more satisfied with my trip. After lunch, we stopped at a small bakery and I bought a cookie that looked as much like the colorful sprinkle cookies my Zaydie used to buy at Lord’s Bakery, and I saved it for later. As a kid, we used to take a whole box of them back home with us following a trip to Brooklyn. I headed back to Penn Station to catch my bus in the afternoon. It was my first solo trip on the subway, which seems silly to acknowledge as someone who’s been riding the DC metro everywhere for 7 years now, but let’s be honest; the subway is WAY more confusing. I picked up a New York bagel to eat for dinner on the bus, and in just a few more hours I was home.

Seven Countries in One Day

Not everyone has the vacation time to enjoy 3+ week vacations on the other side of the world. I like to travel and explore. But I’m a business major, so when I plan a trip, I like to get the most bang for my buck. And that’s exactly what I did earlier this month when I played tourist in seven countries in one day: South Africa, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Ghana, Pakistan, Brunei, and Egypt– in that order. 

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. The rest of you are skeptical. I’m not lying. But there is a catch. I visited the embassies (technically not U.S.soil) of all of these exciting places as part of Passport DC’s World Embassy Day. Every year the embassies in Washington DC open their doors for a Saturday in May to hold an open house showcasing their nation’s culture through art, performances, food, and drink. Even the buildings are beautiful. In addition to World Embassy Day, Passport DC also sponsors EU Embassy Day the Saturday closest to EU day, exclusive to the European embassies.

I was introduced to EU Embassy Day back in college when I decided to tag-along with my roommate who was attending with her older brother and his friends. We started with a tour of the Belgium embassy which featured samples of chocolates, cookies, fruit nectars, and beers. We finished in Romania, which had a full lunch buffet complete with wine. My mind was blown; it was the best event ever. And it was FREE (although some embassies sell food and goods).

EU Embassy Day was so amazing that I told everyone about it. This had mixed results. Once, I started telling a stranger about it at a party. Before I left, he asked if he could email me to get more information about the event. We ended up meeting again to go to Embassy Day together a few weeks later. I now call him Kirios. True story. Happy anniversary, agapi mou <3

Unfortunately, in addition to complete strangers, I also told a bunch of coworkers and friends about how great EU embassy is. Word spread and the lines to get into the embassies got longer. Kirios and I noticed it last year; we were hungrier and waited longer to get into our favorite embassies. This year it was so bad we only visited Portugal and Greece. I’m not giving up on EU Embassy Day just yet, but I definitely screwed up letting the cat out of the bag on that one!

Now where was I… oh yes, World Embassy Day. Last year my parents visited in May and asked that Kirios and I take them around the city to partake in normal weekend activities for us. Because we’re super cool and always do fun things. (Is it possible that used to be true?!?) They actually chose a great weekend to visit and we were able to take them to World Embassy Day, among other events like the city’s largest Greek festival. We visited Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Croatia, Argentina, Rwanda, and so on. There was dancing and food and we ran into lots of friends – including childhood friends from Pittsburgh who had relocated to the area, which was exciting for my parents too. Kirios even wrapped a snake around himself and ate a Rwandan delicacy with worms. Possibly. Whether he actually ate it or not remains a secret. The parental units and I of course declined since worms are not kosher. World Embassy Day has more embassies open, which means shorter lines.

So this year I was looking forward to my almost free trip around the world. The day of the event, Kirios had an unexpected obligation and was unable to go. So I called up a few friends who I had already blabbed to about how amazing Embassy Day is, and by 1pm we assembled a motley crew to sightsee together. A childhood friend, and post-college friend, and new friends they brought along. We took turns caffeinating at Starbucks (i.e. every time someone got off the metro and met up with us, he or she wanted to stop and pick something up) and we embarked on an epic journey. Or at least an exciting walk around a few blocks.

The South African Embassy is currently undergoing renovations, but they temporarily took over the lobby level of a fancy schmancy office building. They transformed it with music and costumes, vendors, and a full lunch buffet with white corn grits, a wonderful salmon dish, super spicy vegetables, and at least four desserts to try. They did run out of utensils, but someone managed to find a spoon for me. They also gave out samples of liquor which tasted like Baileys, so after sipping it, we all dumped the rest of our cups into the Starbucks drinks we were still carrying around.

Next we visited Ethiopia, so I immediately texted my one Ethiopian friend. Then we sampled Ethiopian coffee, which we expected to be very strong. But it was actually quite smooth and delicious. I don’t drink coffee anymore since it upsets my stomach and the whole Crohns’ thing can be a bummer, but when I did, I always drank it with milk. I only took a sip of this coffee, but I had it straight, and I would drink it black. Also at the Ethiopian embassy, we enjoyed traditional music playing and most of us splurged and spent $2 for a cup of Tej, honey wine. It tasted like iced tea with a lot of honey it. An Ethiopian woman came over to us multiple times warning us to sip it slowly so it wouldn’t go to our heads. I followed her advice. At least one member of our group didn’t, and admitted to feeling fairly tipsy by the time we entered Indonesia.

Indonesia had a pretty building and lots of colors. I was feeling full and the food was for sale so I skipped it. We ran into another friend who bought a purse there. She looked inside and it said “Made in Thailand.” Fail.

Ghana gave us a chocolate candy when we walked in. Plus one. They also had a couple people playing drums, dancing, and chanting. The main performer had a wonderful smile that made me want to be his friend. Or at least allow him to entertain me. By then it was also raining a little bit, so we were happy to sit and enjoy for a while.

Next we went to Pakistan, and that was a PARTY. A Pakistani dance troupe from Georgetown Universitywas performing under a big tent. They had bright costumes. Their dances combined Pakistani songs with top 40 ones, so everyone could get into it. And they had some interesting props they used in their dances too.

We went to Brunei at the suggestion of the friend we ran into at Indonesia. She told us there was lots of chocolate there. When we arrived, we were disappointed to see it was the Three Musketeers, Twix, and Milky Way sampler. We were more interested in Brunese chocolate. Microsoft Word tells me that Brunese isn’t a real word, but I think you understand. Their building is absolutely gorgeous, and even has a waterfall wall out back. Before we left, they did bring out Brunei foods – shrimp chips, which I didn’t eat because they’re not kosher, and a sesame covered dessert ball thing. The dessert was warm and airy. There was a filling inside which we thought was fig. Later in Egyptwe learned that the filling was actually red bean paste. Who knew!

Our finally stop was in Egypt. (Although we stared curiously at the outside of the UAE embassy which wasn’t participating in the open houses. We imagined opulence at its finest.) In Egypt, we promptly started taking pictures with the mummy artwork. We watched a short movie that was probably created by their national tourism department. Then we checked out the goods they were selling in their marketplace. I tried on a fez, but decided my head is a bit too small to successfully pull it off. Aladdin looked better. Some of the folks in our group bought picture frames with interesting designs. Then we discovered their patio, around which they hung a bunch of colorful cloths creating a bright tent. There were pillows and things which looked like bean bag chairs but featured hieroglyphic style designs. If we were actually in Egypt, there would probably be a bunch of middle age men smoking hookah in the tent.  It was sunny and breezy and pleasant, so a bunch of us sat down and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying this Egyptian tent. Embassy Day ended at 4pm, and we slowly shuffled out of the tent, reentering U.S. soil. The vacation was over, we were home.

Now please, forget everything you just read about how awesome the DC Embassy Open House days are and stay home come next May. Long lines are no fun!

Santa Fe Finale – Day 3

After much delay, the final installment…

Sunday was our last full day in New Mexico, and Kirios and I wanted to make the most of it. After breakfast at the hotel, we drove out to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Basically, there are cone-shaped rock formations on mountains that were caused by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Some of the tent rocks were just taller than me, and some were massive multi-story formations. The tent rocks also show layers of volcanic material, with different colored bands along the face of the cliffs.

When we arrived at the Tent Rocks, Kirios and I scarfed down the leftover pizza from our expedition to Taos the day before. And then I discovered that there was no running water at the National Monument, and Kirios and I rationed off the rest of our water bottle. There were two shorter trails near the visitor’s center, the Slot Canyon Trail which features a “steep climb” and increase in elevation, and the 1.2 mile  Cave Loop (half of which has a path wide enough for a wheelchair). Kirios crammed all of his business and sight-seeing clothes into one small carry-on; he only brought one pair of shoes toNew Mexicowith him – nice but comfortable leather shoes appropriate for the office… so we decided to explore the Cave Loop. It didn’t disappoint, leading us through the desert mountains to exciting views of the Tent Rocks and surrounding forest. We spent a lot of time taking pictures, including some with Kirios’ lightweight travel tripod so we could pose together. The day started to warm up, and by the end of our journey we had ditched our gloves and ear warmers, and even unzipped our winter coats!

Afterwards we drove to the closest gas station for some bottled water and took advantage of the cheap gas too – I got excited every time we saw gas under $3.00 so we kept topping off the tank. To get to the gas station, we passed a large dam, so we drove back to it to explore for a few minutes before enjoying the scenic drive back to Santa Fe.

Although we could have used a little R&R after our journey, Kirios and I decided to make the most of our last day in Santa Fe before all of the shops and attractions closed around 5pm. We did a quick drive through Canyon Road, known for its many funky art galleries. Then we toured the Loretto Chapel known for its Miraculous Staircase – really an architectural marvel! Afterwards, in desperation to send me home with a souvenir and frustrated because 99% of the jewelry in Santa Fe is handmade and well beyond our budget, we spent some more time in the shops near by the plaza. Kirios started to grow frustrated that my ears aren’t pierced and my wrists are too thin for most bracelets, when finally we found a store with a case full of rings on sale, some of which were small enough for my little baby fingers. Kirios immediately found one he loved – a funky Santa Fe-esque design with inlaid stones including turquoise (super popular in New Mexico) and opal (a personal favorite of mine, plus Kirios has already given me other opal jewelry it matches with!). He humored me and let me spend 20 minutes or so trying on the different rings before I agreed that his pick was by far the best. And I picked up a little arrowhead necklace for him at the store too before we left. Once my hand was adorned, we went back to shops with other novelties, and I picked up some dried green chile and other herbs for a birthday present for my mother. (She had told me a few days earlier that it had been worth her visit to Santa Fe many years ago if for no other reason that she started cooking better when she returned!) and I also bought a colorful little bowl for Kirios to put his wallet and keys and things in when he visits my apartment since he liked the one at the hotel so much.

The sun started to set and the shops closed down, so Kirios and I made a quick stop at World Market (the only place still open, if only for another half hour) to pick up some nuts and chips to snack on before our 8pm dinner reservations. We headed back to the hotel to enjoy our snacks and rest while watching Madonna’s half-time show and the second half of the Superbowl. Conveniently, the game ended right when it was time to leave for our dinner reservations!

For our final dinner in New Mexico, Kirios and I went to La Boca, a small tapas restaurant and wine/sherry bar. (They really like their sherry out there. Ick.) Our waitress advised us that their tapas portions were pretty large, so we each ordered two dishes and they were served as two courses. For our first course, I had roasted butternut squash cazuela with fresh sage, melted mahon, & pumpkin seed oil. It was hardy and well seasoned. The mahon cheese complimented the sweet squash flavor, and there were a few pumpkin seeds which served as a nice change of texture. I did think the portion was a bit big, and despite the delicious taste, after a while I couldn’t help but think I was eating baby food. Kirios’ first course was grilled semi boneless quail with pomegranate molasses & harissa cous cous. Kirios had never tried quail before, and although he selected many tempting finalists on the menu, he decided to go for it and try something new. (When he asked whether I thought he should order it, I said, “You like duck and chicken, what could go wrong?!?”) In the end, he said the quail was juicy and succulent, but he was a tad frustrated at how little meat there was on such a tiny bird, and how difficult it was to get to it with all the bones.

My second dish was bruschetta with crimini mushrooms, fried egg, truffle oil & reggianito, and let me tell you, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Instead of a slice of bread with neatly chopped vegetables, cheese, and an egg topping it, I was served a bowl full of a thick creamy mushroom sauce blending with a warm runny egg soaking a piece of toast at the bottom of the bowl. If I had known it would be like this, I probably wouldn’t have ordered it, but I’m glad it did. The thick flavorful dish had elevated ingredients and flavors, but an overwhelming homey-feel. In fact, while eating it, I kept having flashbacks of my parents making rocky mountain toast on a griddle years and years ago. Meanwhile, Kirios was having a completely different, albeit enjoyable experience on the other side of the table. He ordered one of the evening’s specials, pork medallions with a fig reduction topped with cheese. We can’t remember what kind of cheese it was, but I’m thinking parmigiano or something similar. Anyway, Kirios just went crazy about the dish. It was light and simple, perfectly balanced. He was on cloud nine. He was, however, still a tad hungry and interested in ordering an additional dish. My dishes were much heavier than his, and he decided it wasn’t worth getting another tapas plate if I wouldn’t also, so instead we shared a Spanish torte with strawberry sauce for dessert. It was pretty good, but I’m not in love with cream that isn’t sweet as a dessert component. All in all, it was a very nice meal. We did note that the meal end up costing the same as it would have if we had ordered it at a similarly nice restaurant in Washington DC – which is overall a more expensive city than Santa Fe, but we didn’t mind a little vacation splurge!

We made our way back to the hotel and I’ll admit, I fell asleep in a blissful food coma before Kirios had even finished packing up his suitcase. In the morning, we enjoyed our last “Mountain Sunrise” breakfast at the hotel before driving to the airport inAlbuquerque. We had as pleasant of a travel day as could be expected, and made it back home around 11pm EST, but not exhausted since the time zones went backwards!

Last Saturday, Kirios and I woke up in Santa Fe and enjoyed breakfast at our hotel before hitting the scenic High Road to Taos. Most of the day consisted of us listening to a Spanish radio station while Kirios drove our rental SUV and I attempted to capture the beautiful landscape with his dSLR and fancy schmancy lenses. There was lots of desert, tumbleweeds and cacti, and snow capped mountains. It was gorgeous.

Our first stop was at El Santuario De Chimayo. Chimayo is a small town known for chile peppers and this church. Both the Native Americans and the Catholics believe the church was built on sacred ground with healing powers. The grounds are beautiful – they included a horse which happily posed next to Kirios for several photos, and a serene outdoor gathering place. The sanctuary was quite pretty, and next to the chapel there were small rooms with pictures of loved ones in need of healing, crutches and casts allegedly left behind by people who were miraculously healed at the church, and a pit of “holy dirt” which visitors bag to take with them.

After admiring the church in Chimayo, we resumed our journey on the High Road, pulling over at a couple of scenic overlooks for photo opportunities. We arrived in Taos around 2pm and immediately saw signs of civilization. It had the first McDonalds we had seen since Santa Fe! (Although we did pass quite a few Post Offices… but I’ll leave that discussion for the workplace…) Obviously, we were not interested in stopping at the McDonalds, but it was lunchtime, so we stopped at Taos Pizza Outback, just past the downtown area, and frequented by tourists and locals alike. We decided to order a small pizza, meant for 2-3 people with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and toasted walnuts. But Kirios wanted to try a different pizza on their menu too, the Pizza Vera Cruz marinated chicken breast, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and a honey chipotle chile sauce, covered with mozzarella and smoked cheddar. I informed Kirios that it would be entirely too much food, and he seemed fine with taking back leftovers for a snack the next day. But he didn’t listen when I told him to look at the size of the other patrons’ pizza slices, so he was dumbfounded when his slice of pizza arrived, covering the entire plate and piled at least an inch and a half high. Despite the excess quantity, the pizza was pretty good. The crust contained a lot of sesame, which gave it a unique taste, and it was also twirled in a pretty pattern. We washed down our pizza by trying more local beer from New Mexico.

After our lunch we drove to the Taos Pueblo. There are several Native American Pueblos in New Mexico, we mainly decided to visit the one inTaos because it is the only one which is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pueblo has been continuously inhabited by Native Americans for over a thousand years, and we walked around to see their church, cemetery, and homes (from the outside). We caught up with the last tour group of the day, and heard a college-aged tour guide describe a little bit about their government, rituals, land, and their 50-year legal battle to reclaim their land in the mountains. (I have to admit, it disappointed me a bit to hear that only members of the tribe, not even scientists, are allowed to visit the acres and acres of beautiful mountains they have). We visited Native American artists in their shops and admired their handcrafted works. We also learned quickly that they all had additional homes on the reservation, since there was no electricity in the Pueblo.

We left the Pueblo at five and stopped at the Taos town plaza, with shops. A friendly shopkeeper informed us that people hardly ever receive parking tickets in Taos, and although Kirios has incredibly bad luck with parking tickets, we successfully chanced it. We spent more time looking at artwork, jewelry, and souvenirs. (We did this so frequently on our trip, because New Mexico is really full of beautiful things.) We even stopped in a chocolate shop and sampled green chile peanut brittle. I liked it a lot, although Kirios claimed his piece wasn’t as spicy as mine. We purchased a bag of dark chocolate flavored with lemon and pepper (in honor of Kirios’ Greek heritage – he believes all food should be made with salt, pepper, oregano, and lemon juice!).

Finally, I convinced Kirios it was time to head back to Santa Fe, since it was getting dark. There was one sight left unseen in Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Unfortunately, without city light pollution, there wasn’t much we could see in the dark. So we started out on the less scenic route back to Santa Fe… this involved a “highway” unpaved spiraling down the side of a mountain. In the dark. With a little bit of snow blowing. Kirios stayed calm and drove really well (For those of you that know him as an aggressive DC area driver… trust me, it wasn’t his driving that made me nervous at all!) while I sang along to the radio and tried not to turn my head to see the side of the cliff…

We made it back to Santa Fe safely. But a tad hungry. Kirios scarfed one of the leftover slices of my pizza, and we headed over to the hotel bar, Del Charro. Turns out the hotel bar actually is one of the best night life scenes in the heart of Santa Fe – that may not be saying too much, but sometimes it’s hard to believe the hotel websites… The bar was filled with young locals and Kirios and I played “spot the tourists.” To embrace the Southwestern spirit, we ordered tequila drinks. I had a tequila sunrise, Kirios tried the margaritas. And then we split an order of tomato soup and grilled cheese. Kirios’ soup was delightfully spicy, and those of you who grew up with me know that grilled cheese is my absolute comfort food. (Although Kirios is winning his war against my American cheese habit… I haven’t bought any for months!) A very home-y finish to a great adventure of a day!

After wrapping up a very busy January, Kirios and I kicked off February fabulously – in New Mexico! Since most of our travel weekends over the summer were filled up with weddings, we had been discussing a winter getaway for several months. We brainstormed a lot of cities to visit, but hadn’t actually sat down and made any real plans – after all, we usually keep busy! But a couple of weeks ago Kirios learned that he needed to travel to Santa Fe for a Wednesday through Friday business trip, and I jumped on the opportunity. “Stay there. I’m coming out to join you,” I told him.

And that’s exactly what I did. Kirios flew into Albuquerque on Wednesday and headed to Santa Fe in his rental car via the scenic Turquoise Trail, where he grabbed a Southwestern burger at the Cowgirl BBQ before preparing for a day of meetings on Thursday. I went in to work on Thursday morning with my suitcase, and left the office at 1:30pm. One train, 2 planes, and two busses later, I made it to our hotel, Inn of the Governors, in downtown Santa Fe at midnight – Mountain Time.

Originally, Kirios was scheduled to work Friday morning, so I planned to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, walk over to the Georgia O’Keefe museum, and window shop before meeting him for lunch. Luckily for us, his coworker’s flight was moved to earlier in the morning, and he got the whole day off. There was fresh snow on the ground in the morning which quickly turned to slush in the desert sun, and we skipped over puddles all the way to the museum. The museum was small but beautiful, and had a fairly comprehensive collection.

After we finished up at the museum, we headed over to the Plaza, where we admired the artwork of the Native Americans sitting out in front of the Palace of the Governors and the art and gift shops filled with beautiful things. We meandered a couple more blocks to have lunch at Ristra, an elegant restaurant blending French and Southwest flavors. We started with the appetizer special, a delightful creamy mushroom soup with chipotle croutons. I had the portabello burger with rosemary eggplant caviar, manchego cheese, and a spinach salad. It was not a bad sandwich, but it didn’t seem particularly special when compared to Kirios’ Crispy Duck Leg Confit served with a salad including dried cranberry, pumpkin seeds, and a raspberry vinaigrette. Duck is one of my all-time favorite dishes, and it saddened me that this wasn’t kosher so I couldn’t try it. It looked, smelled, and sounded (the crunch of the crispy skin!) excellent. But don’t feel too bad for me, we still shared a strawberry-rhubarb crepe with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Mmmm. I need to make another strawberry rhubarb pie one of these days…

After lunch, we spent some more time admiring the turquoise and opal jewelry in shops on the Plaza, and taking pictures in the snow before retreating to our hotel for its daily “tea and sherry” hour. I’m not a fan of sherry, but if you are, apparently Santa Fe is a good place to get it! Kirios enjoyed sampling the sweet and the dry, and we both took advantage of the R&R.

Most of the museums in Santa Fe have extended hour and are free from 5-8pm on the first Friday of the month. Kirios and I took advantage of this by visiting the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors. The New Mexico History Museum is very new, it opened in 2009. It had a lot of interesting information about the history of the land, and the Native Americans and Mexicans who lived there. I was a bit surprised that its message was so anti-US. I probably shouldn’t have been, considering the state history, but I guess my textbooks and museums back East have all have more patriotic philanthropists funding them… Unlike the museum, the Palace of the Governors was extremely old, having been used as a government building back in the 1600s under Spanish rule. We didn’t have too much time there before it closed, but it was interesting to see how the building was built and used.

Finally, we had dinner at La Plazuela at La Fonda before calling it a night (La Fonda is a big hotel right on the plaza with shops, a café, and a bar in addition to the restaurant). It was our most authentic Southwestern meal. Kirios had chicken and beef fajitas with an extra side of green chile, and I had a roasted red bell pepper, stuffed with sautéed winter greens, leeks, shiitake mushrooms and sweet corn, served with butternut squash puree, poblano chile-potato gratin, cauliflower flan, quinoa pilaf and roasted tomato-sweet onion sauce. It was a lot of different tastes of vegetables and spice flavors, extremely interesting and tasty. We both ordered New Mexico beers to go with our dinner, and sat by the fireplace for at La Fonda for a little bit before returning to the hotel and succumbing to a food coma.

Princess Ilana

Kirios and I drove up to Pittsburgh for a visit with my parents over Martin Luther King Weekend. I hadn’t been to Pittsburgh since the end of September, for Rosh HaShana, and I was long overdue for a visit. I hadn’t seen my parents and several of my friends since September. Also, Coco, my little white Ford Focus who is domiciled with me in Maryland but has not yet given up her Pennsylvania residency, needed her annual check-up. (Not to mention the unsettling whistling sound she made during our drive up)…

I always love visiting home. I love Pittsburgh and visiting my parents’ house, visiting my favorite restaurants and shops from growing up, seeing what’s changed, and.being treated like a local celebrity when I run into people I haven’t seen in ages. Going home with Kirios is even better because I get to share this special part of my life with him. And because I feel absolutely surrounded by people who love me. Since I don’t get to see my parents every day anymore, they’re excited when I have a chance to visit. From hanging around in the morning and having breakfast together to planning elaborate Shabbat dinner parties, they’re happy to spend time with me. Kirios always dotes on me, so when we’re all together, I feel pretty lucky. I feel like Princess Ilana.

Anyway, as I was saying, I was holding court in Pittsburgh over MLK weekend and had a really lovely time. My parents planned a lovely Shabbat dinner with my two favorite Pittsburgh gals and their significant others, along with some other friends. Mom made Moroccan lamb tagine, her traditional post-Thanksgiving Shabbat dinner, since we weren’t together over Thanksgiving this year. My dad made his famous blueberry tart, since the South American blueberries were peaking. A rare winter treat!

Saturday morning my father and I dropped off Coco before enjoying breakfast with Mom and Kirios. We all went to synagogue, but took our time and arrived on the late side. I was excited to show Kirios the building that I spent so much time in while growing up. And I was glad to see many old family friends as well. Following services, we all headed over to best friend Sara’s apartment to visit boyfriend Jason’s rambunctious English bulldog Waldo. (And Mom wanted to snoop around their apartment as well, of course.)  Afterwards, Dad and I picked up Coco (who apparently needed new break pads). By the time we returned to the house, Kirios and Mom had almost finished preparing a special lunch of sweet crepes, fruit, and Nutella, using my new blue steel crepe pan which we brought up from Maryland with us.

My parents braved the Pittsburgh cold for their traditional Shabbat afternoon walk with friends, while Kirios and I rested for a bit and watched the classic “An American President,”one of my Mom’s favorite DVDs which Kirios had never seen. Then we met up with three other couples, all good friends of mine, to go out for dinner. Following dinner, we grabbed a drink at Sing Sing!, a dueling piano bar I had never visited before. It was quite the entertaining evening, and it was great to spend time with old friends.

Sunday was equally exciting. Kirios and my parents and I all went out for pizza in East Liberty before heading to the Carnegie Science Center. We visited the Robot Hall of Fame, a submarine, the train village, and SportsWorks. It’s been entirely too long since I visited there! Bringing Kirios to Pittsburgh is a great excuse to indulge in tourist activities! 🙂

Sunday night Kirios and I went to dinner at the Silk Elephant in Squirrel Hill with his friend from high school that moved to Pittsburgh and her fiancé. Naturally, her fiancé went to the same high school as me, so between Pittsburgh and Bethesda, we had plenty of fuel to fire our conversation.

Monday morning we packed up the car and had lunch at the Bagel Factory with the parents. Mom actually had a business trip in Maryland Tuesday and Wednesday, so we took her down to Frederick and dropper her off at a Rental Car station. Although Mom stayed with me Tuesday evening before her meeting in Bethesda, the work week blues had already struck me. My princess time had come to an end. But it sure was a lovely weekend!