Key West #tbt

{alicia}

As you may have gathered, Alexis and I like to travel. And though we have different styles of planning (she waits the last minute to book hotels, and I feel faint at the mere thought), we can both agree that travel is the one thing you can buy that makes you richer.

With it being Throwback Thursday, it only seems appropriate to post about one of my most recent (and memorable) trips. Last October, my friend Heather got married here:

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This would be Key West (or the Land of Polydactyl Cats as I like to call it).

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I was only there for a long weekend, but since Key West is 7.4 square miles, it was easy to get to know the city. But if we’re being honest, I spent my first day getting to know the bars on Duval Street with the bride-to-be and company.

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Captain Tony’s was my absolute favorite. You mean I’m in the same bar where Hemingway, Capote, and JFK frequented? Delicious rum drinks? A live tree (rumored to have once been a hanging tree)? A TOMB MARKER FROM 1822? Bananas. Things get a bit fuzzy at one point, but I remember Heather finding alcoholic popsicles and making a guy sing Hang on Sloopy at us. I paid for this fun later, but it was well worth it.

The next day is when I got my bearings. First we fueled up with an amazing pre-wedding brunch at Banana Cafe (best béchamel ever), and then we all went our separate ways before the wedding ceremony. This was the ideal time for my husband and me to really explore. Sure, you can rent a golf cart, but I would recommend renting a bicycle. This is a super bike-friendly town, and I feel like we had more opportunities to meander…

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…and stop to take the occasional photo–which I did a lot.

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We also went to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum to check out a famous 5-lb. bar of gold, but some jerk had stolen it–this is why we can’t have nice things.

After this setback, we pedaled all over the island, had a near miss with a rooster, and topped it off with a chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick. We made it back just in time to clean up for Heather’s gorgeous wedding on Smathers Beach.

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The reception was held at the Pier House (I see you conch chowder), and we all had one too many drinks. This translated into an interesting experience in a lighthouse the morning after.

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Take it from me, friends do not let hung over friends climb up winding stairs in a lighthouse. Instead, we should have come up with a way to bring this friend home from the Hemingway House. We could call it a wedding gift.

Her name was Olivia.

Her name was Olivia.

Unfortunately, the cat wasn’t having it. Defeated, we spent the rest of the day in recovery mode. And since my favorite form of recovery is eating, we ended up at El Siboney for an authentic Cuban meal:

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I had three foodie goals when I found out we were going to Key West: have Cuban food, key lime pie, and conch. It’s actually embarrassing how much I talked about pie leading up to this trip (Maria knows), but I can honestly say real key lime pie tastes different from what we have up north. As a result, I’m ruined for life.

But back to this dinner at El Siboney. I couldn’t have timed it any better. Upon finishing our meal, we had just enough time to catch the sunset and shenanigans at Mallory Square. A perfect end to the trip.

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It’s a bit of tease looking back on this when it’s SO COLD here in Columbus. Heather and our friend Kari are going on a cruise on Monday, and while I’m extremely jealous, all I ask is that they bring back some warmth and sunshine when they return. That’s how it works, right?

Happy Hour at G. Michael’s Bistro

{alexis}

Happy hours are one of the sweetest simple pleasures in life, no? A heavy wooden door is opened by a handsome young man with a big smile, and you feel the heat hit you as you step up out of the cold. Soon your eyes adjust to warm bar lighting and you see, miraculously, two open bar stools waiting for you next to the nice looking gentleman with the white wine.

Or maybe this is just the experience at G. Michael’s Bistro. The husband and I are rarely home together in time to catch a happy hour, but last Friday we had an opportunity, so we bundled up and bustled on over to their bar. We were lucky to catch two seats next to each other — it’s not a large bar, and it’s very popular. And for good reason. From 5-7pm, you can get $5 small plates, $5 cocktails, $3 draft beer, $4 wine. And really, $5 for a real, well-done martini? $5 for a gourmet (small) dish? Done. Give me seven of each.

So here was our first round. I ordered the Vesper and he tried the Village Royale. His was much sweeter than I liked, and the orange flavor took me back to my dorm room freshman year of college (in other words, not my favorite), but he enjoyed it. Mine was a lovely mix of strong, but not bitter, and refreshing. Mine is on the right.

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Keep that orange slice away from me.

And then our food came. We shared two small plates. I chose the duck confit gumbo with Tabasco cream sauce, and the husband went for the pheasant pot pie. They don’t seem to be on their online menu at the moment, so I hope I’m getting the names correct. Check it out.

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I wish you could see the gumbo better. It was OUTSTANDING. I want a jar of that Tabasco cream sauce in my fridge to put on all the foods. The duck was perfect. Husband loved the pot pie, and was swooning over the pastry crust.

About halfway through the food, we ordered more martinis (because, happy hour). This time, I tried the Aviation. I didn’t love this as much the Vesper; it was a good deal stronger. Husband went with a straight gin martini, which was done well. Extra points for blue cheese-stuffed olives. Altogether, we were well watered and fed, with food of exceptional quality, for just over $30. Absolutely one of the better places in German Village.

I recommend this happy hour a thousand times over, but somewhat reluctantly, because I don’t need you all to come in and take up my bar space.

G. Michael’s Bistro is located at 595 S. Third Street. M-Th 5-10pm; Fri-Sat 5-11pm; Sun 5-9pm.

A Tale of Two Brunches

{alicia}

They say it’s unhealthy to live for the weekend, but I can’t help it. It’s the only acceptable time of the week you can sleep in, lounge all day with Netflix, and have excessive meals without feeling guilty. My breakfast during the week isn’t very exciting (overnight oats with chia seeds, nut butter, and berries without fail), so I like to do it up on the weekends. Last weekend was no exception.

Saturday greeted us with sunshine and springlike temperatures. This meant I could actually muster the energy to get dressed and leave the house for once in my life. My husband wanted to run some dreadful errands, so he bribed me with the brunch spot of my choice. Since we were going to be in the Hilliard area, I chose Starliner Diner (duh).

Here’s the thing with Starliner–it’s unexpected. When you pull up, you’ll see a crummy little building in an lot that desperately needs paved, and you may have doubts. Squash those thoughts, park your car in the weeds, and get your ass in there. Didn’t you learn not to judge a book by its cover? When you step inside, your senses will be assaulted by an awesome combination of kitsch and outer space:

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I am obsessed with that constellation globe.

We had a 25 minute wait, so I spent this time agonizing over what delicious thing I was going to shovel into my face. The menu has Cuban influences, so it was like do I get the Cuban French toast? Or Huevos Rancheros? Or both? Halp!

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Even the menu is fun.

After many (MANY) minutes of indecision, I went with one of the breakfast specials: a Cuban Breakfast Burrito. Let the record show I made the best decision ever.

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This masterpiece is a flour tortilla stuffed with brisket, egg, caramelized onions, black beans, jack cheese, (maybe) peppers, and topped with ranchero sauce and sour cream. I can’t look at this photo without wanting to eat it all over again.

Sunday morning was spent at Mozart’s Bakery and Piano Cafe with one of my “book clubs.” I say this loosely as only a handful of people actually read the book (me!), and the meetings revolve more around food and gossip than books. This particular outing was with my Bookish Bitchez Be Brunchin’ group (actual name), and we chose the venue to go along with our book of the month (The Soloist by Steve Lopez, GET IT?).

After that savory meal at Starliner, I was in the mood for something on the opposite end of the spectrum, so I decided to commit with a sugar-laden breakfast. Enter a delightful hot chocolate:

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Afterwards, the only logical course of action was the Belgian waffle dusted with powdered sugar and topped with fruit and berry sauce.

wafflesWhat’s that you say? There’s absolutely no way I could consume any more sugar? Ha! I accept your challenge, sir. Right before you leave, there is a seductive display of pastries and desserts by the exit, and naturally, I couldn’t leave without a souvenir:

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The Mozart torte: fresh strawberries and whipped cream layered with vanilla cake and studded with flaked almonds.

Confession. A few years ago, my husband and I went on a whirlwind trip to Europe, and I threw a hissyfit in a London bakery called Patisserie Valerie. We were tired from walking all day, cranky from lack of sleep, and I was absolutely hangry. I don’t remember what exactly set me off (must have been super important), but there I was in line to buy a slice of strawberry gâteaux, and next thing you know, I’m stomping my foot and raging out at him to the point he ditches me. I purchase my cake (seething all the while) and refuse to give him a bite when we catch up. This ends up being one of the meanest things I’ve ever done because this cake was A-MAZING. I still think about it to this very day (is that weird?).

Anyway, this Mozart Torte looked a lot like the gâteaux I refused to share, so I thought I’d be nice and try to mend old wounds. He accepted the peace offering and we laughed at the memory of my ridiculousness. The cake, while delicious, didn’t taste exactly like the one in London, so I guess that just means we’ll have to go back.

Starliner Diner is located in Hilliard at 5240 Cemetery Road. Closed Monday. Open Tuesday through Thursday from 9am-3pm and 5pm-9pm, Friday-Saturday 9am-3pm and 5pm-9:30pm, and Sunday 9am-3pm. 

Mozart’s Cafe is located at 4784 N. High St. Closed Monday. Open Tuesday to Saturday 8am-10pm, and Sunday 8am-8pm.

16-Bit Bar + Arcade and Dirty Frank’s

{alexis}

I know. It seems like I’m late to the Barcade party, but I assure you, I’m not! We live within walking distance of 16-Bit (both a blessing and a curse), and were there literally the day the opened it to the public. No, not opening day — the day before that. Fortunately, I was not technically a blogger then — I was a little too enthusiastic about the PBR, pinball, and Street Fighter, and I’m afraid my blog post would have been blurry, if not totally fictional.

Lucky for you, I’ve been back about a jillion times. A few of the husband’s co-workers had gotten a little sick of his raving about the place and insisted we all meet up for a few drinks and friendly challenges. Like a responsible blogger, I stayed away from the glistening cans of PBR, and focused on the frothy, fruity drinks that were on special. Behold the Cyndi Lauper.

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It was delicious. I typically prefer beer over liquor, but I could get behind this, which tasted like a grape popsicle, just as the waitress promised. Our group had split up so I took my drink and sidled up next to their respective games, sipping away. Folks, this thing goes down easy. Here are some adorable pictures of the bar.

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Every time I go in I take a lap. I mash buttons on Mortal Kombat, eat helicopters in Rampage, maybe I’ll try some Frogger if I’m really looking to get out of my comfort zone. I’ll wander around, fidget with my drink, try to keep myself from looking over my shoulder to that game in the corner. Then I look over at that game in the corner. Is it open? Is there a line? Are people using any team except for the Chicago Bulls?

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been away, I will always go back to NBA Jam.

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See these folks? They’re in my space. I cannot get enough of NBA Jam. Believe me. I resurrected my brother’s Super Nintendo just so I could hear that announcer yell Boom-shaka-laka! one more time. (Okay, Super Mario and Mario Kart made it worth my while, too.)

So now you know my other deep, dark secret. Not only do I calculate points for every food item (though not that Cyndi Lauper, cheeky retro cocktails are free), but I love me some video games. We’ve got the aforementioned Super Nintendo, the XBox 360, the Wii, the Wii U, and a PS3. Here’s where I hang my head in shame and confess that we do not have the One or the PS4 (it will be a One first). It’s my husband’s fault! I tried to buy him the One for Christmas but he dashed my gift-giving dreams. Wait till after Christmas, he says; the price will go down, he says. THERE IS STILL NO ONE IN MY HOUSE.

The point, however, is that I love video games, due in no small part to NBA Jam. From time to time, my brother would let me play with him. After much foot-stomping and Barbie-brandishing, I’d get lucky and he’d throw a controller at me. And I would start losing spectacularly. Usually, the SNES would take pity on me, and magically interfere with all his dunks (that boing-y bounce off the rim is so embarrassing for a 16-year-old boy), and it would let me pull ahead to win. Nothing was better than the sweet pity of the SNES.

Replaying all these memories in my head allowed those fools above time enough to finish their game so I could get my NBA Jam fix. Yes, I have it at home, but there is nothing more beautiful than the glow of the full-size arcade screen. See?

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SEE?! Tournament Edition and everything! So I got my husband to play on the Chicago Bulls with me. (We can’t play against each other — I have rage blackouts that some people like to call poor sportsmanship. At home these charming episodes are affectionately referred to as rage resets because somehow the game gets torn out of the console.) And you know what? We lost. For all my love of NBA Jam, I can’t play a lick. I’m terrible. I forget which button is which: I shoot from the wrong side of the court because I’m trying to pass, and am constantly jumping to block when I’m supposed to be stealing. I am probably the worst. And where was this machine’s pity? We lost by 18 points! That’s a slaughter in NBA Jam! I must have been spoiled by a very sympathetic console growing up.

We took our defeat to a table nearby to drown our sorrows in hot dogs and tater tots from Dirty Frank’s. A pretty good consolation prize, after all. We shared Slappy Pappy’s Super Sloppy and Sarva’s Tot-cho Dog. Truly, they are very good. This may sound strange, but Dirty Frank’s has the most wonderful jalapenos. They are a bright, beautiful green, and so fresh they crunch when you bite into them. Of course, they are hot as Hades, and will have you grasping madly for the sweet oasis that is your Cyndi Lauper, but good Lord are they good. I favored the Tot-cho dog, myself. Have a look.

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After licking the nacho cheese from our fingers and sucking up the dregs of poor Miss Lauper, we did another lap before taking ourselves home. NBA Jam knows I’ll be back. It knows. The Bulls will be waiting for me. And who can say? Perhaps if I replace Cyndi Lauper with Kevin Bacon or Alyssa Milano, maybe I’ll lose by less than 18 next time.

16-Bit Bar + Arcade is located at 254 South Fourth Street. Mon-Fri 4pm-Close. Sat-Sun 12pm-Close.

Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace is located at 248 South Fourth Street. Sun-Thurs 11am-2am. Fri-Sat 11am-1:45am.

Shabu Shabu at Ba Sho (Ba Sho)

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{alicia}

In the years I’ve lived in Dublin, I’ve driven by Ba Sho maybe eleventy billion times and thought “Huh, I should try that place sometime.” Then I would go along my merry way and promptly forget.

Fast forward to this miserable winter. I’ve been in a state of hibernation and craving every comforting meal in sight. Nothing like a polar vortex to put you in the mood for vats of hot soup (Alexis knows what I’m talking about).

Fun fact about me—I am highly impressionable. So when I stumbled upon a recipe for shabu shabu, I thought “Zomg, I need to eat this immediately! Buuut I don’t want to make it myself.” Yes, not only am I impressionable, but I’m also lazy. Enter Yelp. After a quick search, I found a list of restaurants serving shabu shabu, and Ba Sho was high on the list. A sign from the Gods, perhaps?

I tend to romanticize things (more fun facts!), and I envisioned sharing hot pot with my husband on a chilly evening while snow swirled and raged about outside. This is why you shouldn’t romanticize, friends, the night we went to dinner the entire region was experiencing a “heat wave,” and snow was melting at an awesome rate. It was positively balmy.

Once I got past this piece of witchcraft, I settled in for an appetizer of Shrimp Tempura Roll ($6.50) and the standard salad with ginger dressing. The roll was made fresh to order and came topped with spicy mayonnaise. Let’s not kid, anything smothered in spicy mayo is a win, but this was particularly tasty.

There are three options for hot pot: Suki Yaki ($17), Beef Shabu Shabu ($38 for two people), and Pork Shabu Shabu ($30 for two). We opted for the beef and were rewarded with a huge platter of thinly sliced meat, dipping sauces, rice, miso soup, and another enormous plate piled high with vegetables, tofu, and noodles. Give me all the things!

While suki yaki comes pre-made to the table, the fun of shabu shabu is cooking it yourself. The cooking agent is water, and once the meat and vegetables are ready, you  simply combine them with your dipping sauces for flavor and to create a broth. This is especially handy for people who are into clean eating. There’s a lot of control in what is going into your meal. But let’s be real, my greatest concern was what was going into my face, and we put on an impressive display of gluttony.

Ba Sho is located at 2800 Festival Lane, Dublin, OH. Lunch hours are M-F 11:30a-1:45p, Dinner runs M-F 5:30p-9:30p with Saturday hours from 5p-9p. Closed on Sundays.

On Eating

{alexis}

In winter, I’m a big fan of soup. It warms you up, and you can eat a ton of it without feeling like you have to swap your jeans for sweat pants. (Though there is something unsettling about hearing that slosh in your stomach after eating too much. What, just me?)

So I was going to share one of my favorite soup recipes with you (don’t worry, I will!), but it occurred to me that I should let you in on my deep, dark secret. Ready for this? It’s shocking!

I’m on Weight Watchers. Okay, I know: This is not exciting, especially if you know anything about Weight Watchers. Truly, the plan is a model of how humans should eat on a regular basis. Yes, you can have those six thin mints (WHY, GIRL SCOUTS, WHY?), but then you get lettuce for dinner (this may or may not have happened to me on Tuesday night). Sure, drink a bottle of wine: DO YOU. But say goodbye to those french fries. Generally it’s about balance, something most people could do better.

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I did the plan in college with my mom to lose five or so pounds, and I recommitted two years ago while I was planning my wedding. I was able to get down to my dream weight before the big day (no, not goal weight, my dream weight), but I started undoing all that work the day of the wedding. Hors d’oeuvres? Give me seventeen. Waiter, I know there’s more cake back there; I paid for extra. I am the bride who required the pretzel rolls out-weigh the plain in the bread basket, who drank beer out of a wine glass to avoid shaming my mother (it passes for white wine, no problem), and demanded several hundred meat balls at the day-after brunch. Needless to say, I ENJOY A MEAL.

Alas, after the holidays (Christmas calories aren’t calories), my jeans are tighter and my gym pants — honestly, who bought these gym pants? Surely it wasn’t me. So here we are again. Calculating food points and earning activity points.

But it’s fine, because the good news is, Weight Watchers actually works. To be clear, I am not overweight, and never have been. But I know myself, and I know that, with my love — nay, ZEST — for food, I have to keep an eye on that scale if I want to wear a certain size.

Essentially, this whole post is to warn you, brave reader (+100 if you’re still with me), that many of my recipes are going to be Weight Watchers points sensitive. (Though not that Valentine’s day shirred eggs recipe. IT WAS A HOLIDAY.) The recipe I’m posting here is no different. This lentil soup is quite literally my favorite soup recipe. It is good EVERY TIME (except that one time the lid came off the pepper). It keeps you full and is the best lunch ever when there’s snow on the ground (we can only count on our space heaters for so much).

You’ll need a bunch of vegetables and a slow cooker for this delicious recipe. I always add a ton of celery seed as well because it makes it more delicious. You’ll get 5 PointsPlus per 1.5 cup serving, which, for those of you who don’t speak WW yet (you will, reader), is great. Let me know what you think!

Credit to Weight Watchers

Credit to Weight Watchers for the photo.

Weight Watchers Slow Cooker Lentil Soup

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post. I am a real-life user of the plan. For more information, check out WeightWatchers online. 

The Little Donut Shop

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From the top, left to right: Samoa, Strawberry Shortcake, Cookie Dough, M&M, Cinnamon Roll, and Chocolate Pretzel.

{alicia}

Every now and again, my friend Maria bribes me with pie, and I come over to watch some ridiculous movie we think we want to see. This past weekend, I came armed with the 2013 remake of Romeo & Juliet and a box of doughnuts from the Little Donut Shop—because apparently something called crack pie wasn’t enough sugar for me.

Since last fall, I’ve been assailed with Instagram images of batshit doughnuts from said shop, yet have somehow resisted its siren song. Since Maria lives relatively close to the University District, I decided this would be the day I give in. Parking is a pain on campus, but I was willing to give it a go, and managed to snag a meter right around the corner. After a random Brutus Buckeye sighting and me nearly falling into a snowdrift, I made it to my destination (mostly) unscathed.

As you can deduce from my photo, I walked away with a half dozen outrageously-topped doughnuts ($6). My personal favorites were the cinnamon roll and strawberry shortcake (recommended to me by one of the workers). Unpictured is the Peet’s coffee ($2) I got to go, because while I adore Maria and her baking skills, I do not adore her Folger’s instant.

You know what else I don’t adore? This R+J remake (with the exception of Chuck Bass playing Tybalt). After the masterpiece that is Baz Luhrmann’s, why even bother. We spent a lot of time wishing we were watching that version instead, and I had a major sugar crash from the trifecta of coffee, doughnuts, and what was essentially sugar pie.

Aside from strawberry shortcake and cinnamon roll, I was indifferent to the other flavors, but to be fair, my idea of a perfect doughnut is a hot and ready from Krispy Kreme—two totally different worlds. These doughnuts are dense with the focus on the frosting and excessive toppings. My husband is in the cakey (and excessive) doughnut camp, so he was a fan of every single flavor. I’d ask him what he recommends, but he’d literally say everything.

The Little Donut Shop is located next to the Newport, and under The Big Bar at 1716 N. High Street. They are open Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.