Amatista Tostadas Coyoacán

The brightly painted door is open, though the placard reads “cerrado”. A lone waitress wipes the last of six white tables pressed against either blue tile wall.
“Please come back in five minutes.”
We buy tomatoes a few corners away and return. “Closed” still hangs in the window, but she waves us towards a table. The painted front window signs reflect the name and the menu right-way round again in the eye-level mirrors reaching back along both walls.
“The lunch menu, it comes with two tostadas?”
“Only one.”
“That’s fine.”
The waitress reminds us of old friends, strong and tattooed and perhaps as comfortable on the frontier as on this street rumbling with buses. A sweet creamy dressing tempts from the table in anticipation of the salad. Two enameled bowls, layers and spokes of crunch and fruit, greens and citrus, black and white. We find new tastes in each uncovering. Neatly drilled mason jars of playfully inventive agua fresca up through colorful straws. Each table is neatly set with four chairs, a pitcher of dried flowers loosely matched. We are the only diners, the owner comes to greet us, we lie and say we are from Chicago as a pact against blank stares for Atlanta.
“Thank you for opening early for us.”
“Oh we opened on time, but thank you for noticing the sign.”
As she flips it over while sliding the door closed to keep out the summer chill. She returns to the table nearest the open kitchen. A woman enters, leaves, returns; a pair of animated women sit across. The soup is simple and filling, a nod to experimentation hidden in a wave of cumin. Salsa, smoke and vinegar, the heat to follow. The owner asks if we enjoyed the salad, too late I remember,
“I do not have the words.”
Lingering memories of flavor as our tostadas pile higher in preparation, elegantly delicate presentation of basic simple food. A shot of broth and beans accompany the sqaure tortillas to echo the midpoint between soup and sandwich we have mmm’ed halfway through, trading first bites, exchanging plates for the last. All the tables full and humming now. Dessert is sufficiently small and light. As we finish I ask the owner,
“Lemon and what else?”
“Chia, it is a seed.”
“Ah, yes, a small black seed.”

Driving South

An assortment of moments captured as we made our way from Philadelphia to Milledgeville:

Wednesday 9:02am: The movers arrived in Philadelphia to help us load our U-Pack pod. We’ve narrowed down our belongings significantly, and with Luke’s predetermined layout, were able to (just) fit everything into the crate.

Luke loads the last of our belongings into the pod

Luke loads up the pod

There goes our little pod - see you in Georgia!

There goes our little pod – see you in Georgia!

Wednesday 6:25pm: Our last night in Philly, we headed back to Monk’s Cafe for Belgian beers and food. Delicious!

Monk's Cafe

Monk’s Cafe

Thursday 12:26am: Road construction continued for the second night this week. We’d sold our a/c units, so keeping the windows open was a necessity. Sadly, the city chose this week to strip and repave our street. Doubly painful, they worked at night when there were fewer cars on the road. Jackhammers, the beeping of machines backing up, and the yells and whistles of the construction crew woke us up throughout the night.

Thursday 12:37pm: On the road! Irritated by the constant construction of Philadelphia, we made a pact to state things we’re thankful for during our year-long adventure here. For me, it was a year to discover what I want to do for a career, to set personal goals, and to continue developing the confidence I need to achieve them. For Luke, it was a year to explore the east coast, take advantage of our proximity to the Italian Market, and have meaningful conversations about our future.

Thursday 7:30pm: Dinner at Evening Star in Alexandria, VA. Good conversation with great friends and yummy food. Nights like this remind us how important it is to make time for the folks we care about, and to make a solid effort to be social in our new town.

Friday 11:02am: Stuck in traffic outside Richmond, VA. Laughed together at the lyrics to “How Many Drinks” by Miguel.

Friday 5:30pm: After a long day of driving, we set up camp at Badin Lake in North Carolina. Luke made a fire, and we played Gin while waiting for the thunder to turn to rain.

Badin Lake campground

Badin Lake campground

Friday 9:02pm: Fell asleep to the sound of rain plopping off our tent.

Saturday 5:30am: We’re the first site to wake up at the campground. We had the showers to ourselves, followed by breakfast and coffee around the fire. Ready for the drive to my parents house in South Carolina!

Saturday 6:45pm: A full homemade Southern dinner at Mom and Dad’s, including baked ham, potato salad, fried green tomatoes, crowder peas covered in hot chow-chow, cornbread, and peach blueberry crumble.

Sunday 9:15am: A full homemade Southern breakfast at Mom and Dad’s, including biscuits, gravy, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs with cheese and green onions, fresh tomato slices, and cantaloupe. With full bellies, we made the final (and easiest) leg of the trip down to Milledgeville.

Saturday 4:32pm: After unloading the car in our rental cottage on the lake, we drove into the downtown area for exploring. A trip to the grocery store on the way home, followed by settling in back at the cottage.

Relaxing at the lake house

Relaxing at the lake house

We’re happy to be in Georgia, and look forward to sharing more of our adventures here with you soon!

Spring Break in San Francisco

After a bumpy flight across the Rockies, we landed on Friday afternoon to a beautiful sunny day in Northern California. Our itinerary was nicely divided into three parts – weekend tech conference in Santa Clara, three nights in Marin County with our friend Andy, and four nights in Oakland with our friend Nicole. Sunshine every day, and a much-needed break from school and job applications…welcome to my Spring Break!

With lots of great Chicago friends in town for the conference, it was nice to catch up with everyone over dinner. Luke attended many sessions, networked like a grown up, and ran a 5k. I ordered a lot of room service and took many naps. Off to a great start!

Luke just after completing his first 5K

Luke just after completing his first 5K

Sunday afternoon, Andy came to collect us and drive us up to San Francisco proper. We stopped at the Dovre Club for beer, whiskey, and twice-baked potatoes (it was St. Paddy’s Day, after all), then drove to the top of Twin Peaks for a panoramic view of the city. Dinner at an amazing Thai restaurant, then a walk to the end of the Ferry Building for a view of the Bay Lights, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to the Fairfax/San Anselmo area to Andy’s home.

Andy's apartment

Andy’s apartment

Sunny and bright apartment with greenery out every window

Sunny and bright apartment with greenery out every window

Luke, Andy, and I all worked during the days, then spent the late afternoons and evenings together.

Luke and Maddie hard at work

Luke and Maddie hard at work

Among our many adventures, we drove out to Point Reyes for a beautiful view of the coast:

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Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

Point Reyes lighthouse

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Quite the nice digs for the Park Ranger, Point Reyes

Quite the nice digs for the Park Ranger, Point Reyes

We hiked along the hills behind Andy’s house (sliding in places, but worth it for the views):

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Andy and Maddie

Andy and Maddie

Luke

Luke

We spent a nice afternoon in Sausalito, delighted by the Heath Ceramics Factory Store and the Bay Model Visitor Center:

Bay Model, Sausalito

Bay Model, Sausalito

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

followed by a tour of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio:

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Luke on a steep bridge, Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Luke on a steep bridge, Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

And we all curled up to watch “About Schmidt” with steaks, wine, and Cowgirl Creamery cheese. I still say that movie’s a comedy. Andy and I also went to Open Mic night at Peri’s. It was all magical.

Wednesday night, we drove across the bridge to Oakland, where Nicole was there to greet us! A group dinner at Homeroom (at last! I’ve heard so much about it) before Andy left us in Nicole’s care. Her new apartment is also lovely – brand new hardwood floors and appliances mixed with old-school California character.

Nicole was also able to work half-days, which meant lots of great time to catch up in person! On Thursday, we ventured out to Bakesale Betty for an unbelievably good sandwich.

Fried Chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty

Fried Chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty

Then we walked through Temescal Alley and over to Rockridge for coffee and a good heart-to-heart. We stopped into George and Walt’s for a beer, then decided to stay for another, along with an exciting bit of March Madness. Next, we walked down to Piedmont for a snack before meeting up with Luke for pizza at Boot and Shoe Service. We ended the day with a nightcap at Smitty’s, although we left before our selection, “2 legit 2 quit,” came up on the jukebox. I’m sure the other patrons enjoyed it in our absence.

Friday, Luke finished work early and we headed up to Rockridge for beers at The Trappist.

Yummy!

Yummy!

Luke at The Trappist

Luke at The Trappist

We returned home to find Nicole with freshly dilated pupils from her eye exam. At least she can rock the optometrist’s shades.

Nicole, who can't see in this photo, but looks gorgeous nonetheless

Nicole, who can’t see in this photo, but looks gorgeous nonetheless

That night, we enjoyed food trucks, beers, and salsa dancing as part of the Oakland Museum of California’s Off the Grid. Then we bar hopped, enjoying drinks at Beer Revolution, Liege, and Nick’s Lounge, where one of my favorite Nicole rituals resurfaced–Karaoke to “Baby Got Back.”

Terrible photo, but I love that the lyrics came through

Terrible photo, but I love that the lyrics came through

Saturday, we rode BART to the Mission, where we toured the awesome murals in Clarion Alley.

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Luke in Clarion Alley

Luke in Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

We grabbed lunch from Ike’s Place (check out their incredible sandwich selection) and picnicked in Dolores Park. Then we strolled around the local shops before settling in for yummy desserts at Mission Pie. Nicole headed home to prepare for that night’s dinner party, while Luke and I meandered through Bernal Heights and daydreamed about our future.

Our last night in San Fran was the perfect combination of good friends, food, and conversation. Andy rejoined our group for dinner, and returned again ridiculously early to drive us to the airport for our Sunday morning flight. It’s nice to be reminded what incredible friends we have – Andy and Nicole went out of their way to make us feel welcome, toured us around their favorite local haunts, and took time away from their busy lives to have great, important talks over pints of beer. It was a lovely break, and we can’t wait to do it again!

An Owl and Penguin Christmas

Luke and I spent a quiet Christmas at home this year. We’d both been working long hours with little rest or relaxation, so a four-day weekend cozied up in our pajamas came at exactly the right time.

Friday afternoon, we walked to the markets to gather supplies for our holiday feast. Eggs, cinnamon, ginger and apricots would soon start turning our apartment into a bakery of delights!

Up first, gingerbread cookies in the shapes of our three favorite things – Owls, Penguins, and Wisconsin!

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Stamping out Wisconsin cookies
Photo credit: Luke

Saturday morning, we started our annual holiday puzzle. The theme for this year was Penguins in Space. Holiday music and/or romantic comedies played in the background — When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — but we did stop puzzling long enough to give our full attention to our favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Putting penguins together while watching movies

Putting penguins together while watching movies

We opened our presents under the tree with a bottle of Prosecco on Monday night, and woke up early Tuesday morning to check our stockings. Our very own version of Hoyle’s Rules of Games meant it was time to learn something new – starting with 7 Up.

Happy face! New Sauté Pan!

Over the course of the weekend, we took full advantage of our (small) kitchen. Our yummy meals included:

Mushroom Stroganoff with Salad

Roast Chicken with Sage Cornbread Stuffing

Porterhouse steak with Potato-Leek Gratin

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

and Pozole (a delicious spicy Mexican soup with a hominy base).

Luke also baked up a storm, including: Chai Cinnamon Rolls, Coconut Cupcakes (a mini version of my grandmother’s famous cake), a Roasted Butternut Squash Pie, and Julekage (which is the most delicious bread filled with apricots and cranberries soaked in brandy).

While Luke was in the kitchen, I was nearby to serve as sous chef, bartender, dj, and cleaning assistant. I tried my hand at a few new dishes and also made my go-to all-time favorite Caramelized Onion Dip to spread on everything. I do love dips!

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes
Photo credit: Luke

Another indulgence – reading for fun! After a long conversation about books we love, I decided to revisit a few of my old favorites, including A Moveable Feast (liked it even MORE this time), Murder on the Orient Express (still great), and The Housekeeper and the Professor (nice, but not as satisfying as I remember the first read being).

On Christmas afternoon, we bundled up for a walk in the fresh air. We ventured over to the Schuylkill River and walked north to the boathouses, passing the famous Waterworks along the way.

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Waterworks
Photo credit: Luke

The dam, with the boathouses in the background

The dam, with the boathouses in the background
Photo credit: Luke

The weekend was a great time to reflect on the year, and to dream about possibilities for our future. Happy holidays, everyone!

Philly Restaurants – Rave Reviews

Although I don’t love the word “foodie,” Luke and I do love to try new restaurants, order unusual dishes, and try to recreate them at home. Since we’ve been in Philly, we have been cooking most of our own meals, but on special occasions, we’ll venture out to try new-to-us places. Recently, we’ve enjoyed two incredible meals within walking distance of our house.

Little Fish

Little Fish is a charming BYOB seafood restaurant that specializes in using fresh ingredients in inventive new ways. There are only ten tables in the place, and the tiny kitchen is a two-man-band of awesomeness.

Little Fish – a lot of magic happens in their small kitchen

We started our meal with a sampling of East and West coast oysters alongside homemade bread with chimichurri sauce. Our starter plates consisted of a red snapper ceviche and (heavenly) seared scallops in a corn chowder with pistachios. Our entrees were halibut served with a fish cake, tomatoes, and olives, and shelled lobster served with seared duck (!) and rice. Just as we were about to shy away from dessert (so full!), we learned that the pie selection for the evening was huckleberry served with fresh cream. So, yup, we made room for that, too.

I captured each dish with my camera, but the dark atmosphere of the restaurant (which I enjoyed!) didn’t make for great photos. So you’ll have to use your other senses to imagine the loveliness of this meal.

Zahav

We went to Zahav Monday night for our anniversary dinner (yes, we like to celebrate!). Our friend Veronica recommended it after reading good reviews, and we received generous gift cards from family and friends to help us plan a perfect meal out. The restaurant recently received a James Beard Award, and I must say, it was nothing short of spectacular.

The tasting menu ($39/person) met all of our needs and then some. We started with salatim (8 small salads) and hummus-foul, brought deliciously to life with fava beans. For our mezzes, we enjoyed watermelon salad with feta and pistachios, crispy haloumi served over dates and walnuts, sweetbread schnitzel, and roasted zucchini with cheese, hazelnuts, and white anchovy paste. Then the entrees! I had seared salmon with spicy tomato stew and couscous. Luke went all out with duck kabobs seasoned with foie gras, pistachios and saffron.

Dessert was a combination of nectarine sorbet with Turkish Delight and rugelach made with hazelnuts and dates. We also sampled delicious cocktails from their bar, including the Desert Rose (gin, hibiscus, grapefruit and cucumber), Smoke on the Water (cachaca, Hungarian pepper, and lime), and A Wee Saint’s Dram (scotch, cinnamon, honey and lemon).

No pictures for this one, either. We were too busy enjoying the food and celebrating our first year of married life. (Clink!)

If you are planning a trip to Philadelphia, and you should be, I highly recommend both restaurants for your “must-do” lists. Yay for foodies!