Ecuador

One of my favorite things about being a blogger is getting to re-live the foods, meals, restaurants, and experiences as I’m writing about them.  Sometimes it takes me a few weeks to blog about a new recipe I’ve made.  By the time I’m writing about it, I’m craving it again!  This is one of those moments.
 
I couldn’t be happier <finally> writing about our trip to Ecuador right now.  I’m sitting in our room with the windows open, warm and tucked under my blanket, football is on, my dog is snoozing in her bed a few inches away, and most of all… I’m clean!  I am showered and clean.  I am seriously enjoying the re-living of our Ecuador experience in quite a different situation than the actual first time.  
 
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m about to blow you away with some pretty gorgeous pictures of waterfalls and the jungle… but this trip of ours was just a little bit too close to “roughing” it for this princess.  It was certainly an adventure!  
Let me start off by telling you about our flights.  We were to arrive in Quito, the capital of Ecuador around midnight (cue the South American Capital song that only JUST got out of my head) via Philly > Dallas > El Salvador.  It was a total of 13 hours.  Not so bad?  After a long cab ride, we arrived in the Mariscal area or the “New City” and made our way to our first hostel.
ecuador world
Have I mentioned yet that we literally “backpacked”?  Like, we each had a back pack.  And that’s it.  Packing was a nightmare.  OMG!
Our first hostel, Kingdom Kichwa, we actually ended up staying overnight three different times throughout the trip.  We like to think it was our home base in Quito.  The owners were very nice and helpful.  After our first night’s sleep in our private room, we indulged in an amazing breakfast at the hostel.  *I picked this hostel, solely on the reason that in one of the reviews I heard they make their own cheese.  Not kidding* One of the owners, Chasky, had prepared an entire pitcher of FRESH fruit juice, a pot of coffee, fruit, warmed croissants, jam, and to top it all off- homemade butter and A WHEEL of cheese.  We were both in heaven.  And to think- we have TWO MORE breakfasts at this place!! I was “cheesin'”!
That's cheese!  One of the owners of Kingdom Kichwa (Luis)'s family owns a dairy farm in the Andes.  They make their own yogurt, cheese, and butter.

That’s cheese! One of the owners of Kingdom Kichwa (Luis)’s family owns a dairy farm in the Andes. They make their own yogurt, cheese, and butter.

The fruit juice was out of this world.  He used a different mix every day.  Craving it now!

The fruit juice was out of this world. He used a different mix every day. Craving it now!

We spent the day exploring Quito, first to the market in the New City area to shop around and then to the Old City area to see beautiful Spanish colonial style architecture, churches, and lots of gorgeous views.  For $.35 we got to try a traditional food of Quito called Llapingachos: thick pancake-like corn cakes stuffed with cheese.  They are so delicious!  We devoured the one we bought to share as we walked around the city.
Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal- there were about 10 aisles this long with tons of crafts.

Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal- there were about 10 aisles this long with tons of crafts.

We got to go inside a beautiful church in Plaza Grande in old city Quito

We got to go inside a beautiful church in Plaza Grande in old city Quito

The city was beautiful and the backdrop of mountains made it even better.

The city was beautiful and the backdrop of mountains made it even better.

YUM!  The cheese inside was similar to feta- not stringy and just a tad salty.  These pancakes were crispy on the outside and piping hot!

YUM! The cheese inside was similar to feta- not stringy and just a tad salty. These pancakes were crispy on the outside and piping hot!

A massive and gorgeous church.

A massive and gorgeous church.

Before we knew it, it was time to go back to the hostel to get picked up to go to our next destination.  But first, we ate a really yummy lunch at a classy cafe a couple stores down called Fried Bananas.  Dave ordered a Saffron Cream Pasta with Chicken and I got Ecuadorian style Rice with Shrimp.  The best part?  Each entree was not only amazing, but they were both only $5.60!

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Time for a great side-note.  Ecuador uses American dollars.  Weird, right?  This made our lives a lot easier!  Food is VERY inexpensive too.  Which is awesome.

After lunch, we were picked up by a driver to go to our next hostel in Riobamba.  The four hour drive took us to a hostel in Riobamba where we would sleep overnight in preparation for our big hike in the Andes.  Little did we know coming into this situation that Riobamba is certainly a “developing” area.  It was very run down and there were stray dogs everywhere.  We were only comfortable walking to the end of our block to get a bag of Doritos for dinner.  I was then kept up all night hearing them outside fighting one another 😦  … traumatizing!

One of the doggies that lived at our hostel.  She slept outside- I was worried about her all night! (obviously)

One of the doggies that lived at our hostel. She slept outside- I was worried about her all night! (obviously)

Loved this picture of the American flag in our cab in the middle of Ecuador.

Loved this picture of the American flag in our cab in the middle of Ecuador.

Waking up early the next day was exciting.  We were ready for our big hike!  The hike was to be two full days:  one 5-6 hour hiking day to a base camp, and the other day up the El Altar volcano and back.  We had our very own guide and a mule to carry our bags.  We had no idea what we signed ourselves up for.  When we were given rain boots and told to wear them instead of our brand new hiking boots… I should have figured it out.  About 95% of the trail to the base camp consisted of three foot deep clay-like mud.  The. Entire. Way.

I thought my biggest problem was my borrowed (ew) boots being too big as I would take one step and try to get out of the mud, only to have the boot stay in the mud and my foot come flying out.  Every. Step. I. Would. Take.  It only took about fifteen minutes for me to realize what my real issue would soon become:  the altitude.  For those of you who are following- I am in pretty decent shape.  I work out a ton and I ran in the Broad Street 10-Mile Race only a month prior.  I should be okay with this.  Except I wasn’t.  I became very sick very soon after we started our hike up the mountain.  Stabbing headache behind my ears, nausea, dizziness… not good.  The guide had to drag me for about an hour of the trek.

In and out of the mud, we made it to a clearing for lunch.  Once I took a rest and ate a bit, I started to feel better.  The rest of the way was by no means easy, but working together and deciding to stop for rest breaks more often, we made it to the base camp.  It was just beautiful.  Breathtaking.  Only one problem-  it was seriously 40 degrees.  Probably less.  Once we arrived, our tour guide got to work immediately making us TWO whole pots of hot tea and a surprisingly delicious hot dinner.  We met an older married Canadian (eh?!) couple who was also staying there and let me borrow a down jacket.  We went to bed at sunset (6pm) in about seven layers and a sleeping bag.

A quick pic after our lunch break (mid-hike)

A quick pic after our lunch break (mid-hike)

This is what most of the hike looked like , just beautiful!

This is what most of the hike looked like , just beautiful!

Finally arrived at the lodge.

Finally arrived at the lodge.

More tea and our HOT delicious dinner made by our guide.

More tea and our HOT delicious dinner made by our guide.

Happy to not be hiking anymore, but FREEZING!

Happy to not be hiking anymore, but FREEZING!

Dave looking a little better than me at this point!

Dave looking a little better than me at this point!

A panoramic of our view.  Even though we were FREEZING, sleeping in a cabin with this view was spectacular.  The hike to the lagoon at El Altar is to the left where the snow is!

A panoramic of our view. Even though we were FREEZING, sleeping in a cabin with this view was spectacular. The hike to the lagoon at El Altar is to the left where the snow is!

Dave made it to the lagoon at El Altar just in time for sunrise.  GORGEOUS!

Dave made it to the lagoon at El Altar just in time for sunrise. GORGEOUS!

It had been decided after the first part of the hike by our guide that he did not want me to do the climb to the volcano.  Of course we were disappointed but neither of us wanted to risk the altitude sickness again.  Dave left the following morning at around 4:30am to do the hike with the guide.  Turns out it was a very quick hike, but STRAIGHT up the volcano.  Dave was very happy I wasn’t there since my fear of heights would have totally gotten the best of me.  Instead, I spent the morning with our nice Canadian friends and my kindle.  I was still freezing but a very happy girl.  Dave and our guide came back and shared pictures while we ate breakfast and got ready for our muddy way back.  Downhill is always easier.

There was never any down time on our trip and our post-hike was nothing different.  Arriving back in Riobamba, we caught the first bus possible to our next destination:  Banos.  One of the many vacation spots for the locals with spas, hot springs, waterfalls, and good bars.  That’s something I can agree with at this point.  Our hostel in Banos was called Hostal Transilvania and is owned by Israelis.  *I picked this hostel on the advice of a review who talked about their cute puppy.  Again, not kidding.*

Some love from our Hostel Puppy!

Some love from our Hostel Puppy!

Arriving at night, we had a great dinner at a Mexican restaurant and got to bed early.  The next day was one of our busiest!  We woke up early and went white water rafting AND Dave did some canyoning (repelling down waterfalls with cables).  Although I’m always really nervous at first, I LOVE white water rafting!  The water we rafted in this time was really gross and dirty compared to the pristine glacier water when we rafted in Whistler… but it was still so much fun.  I wasn’t brave enough to try canyoning but Dave loved it!  After a dinner with some friends we met along the way, we relaxed and treated our aching muscles in the natural mineral hot springs.

Just a market in town... no big deal :)

Just a market in town… no big deal 🙂

This is what the streets of Banos looks like

This is what the streets of Banos looks like

Our last day in Banos started with a $20 for an HOUR massage- what a deal!  We also got to explore, walking through the city and going on a path where you can see the entire town from afar.  Dave also remembered my friend Melanie suggesting that we find the Pailon del Diablo Falls- a massive waterfall just outside Banos.  The falls were absolutely amazing!  We were soaking wet just from standing nearby for a few minutes.

This is a view looking at the city of Banos.  So many waterfalls... gorgeous!

This is a view looking at the city of Banos. So many waterfalls… gorgeous!

Pailon del Diablo falls was unreal.  The power of the water was just breathtaking.

Pailon del Diablo falls was unreal. The power of the water was just breathtaking.

A different view of the falls

A different view of the falls

Next up on the trip is our adventure in the Amazon Jungle, but first… we got to spend another evening at our favorite hostel- Kingdom Kichwa in Quito.  (More fruit juice and cheese!!)

The best part about getting to our Amazon adventure was the transportation.  Get ready:  First we were picked up in the morning by a taxi and were driven to the airport.  We then took a 1-hour flight to Lago Agrio- another area of Ecuador.  From there, we were picked up and driven by a small bus for two hours to the entrance of the Cuyabano Reserve park.  There we ate a hot lunch and were then taken on another two-hour ride, this time on a motorized canoe!  We saw so many animals along the way- it was so amazing!  The best thing we saw on the way in was a group of about 60 monkeys crossing the river by jumping from one tree and flying across the river to the next.  Every single monkey did it… it was so funny!  Even one fell in the water (he was okay!).

Gorgeous butterflies waiting for us to leave on the canoe

Gorgeous butterflies waiting for us to leave on the canoe

We're on a boat!

We’re on a boat!

Can you see the monkey!? :)

Can you see the monkey!? 🙂

We arrived at the Sionna Lodge which is situated just off of the Laguna Grande (big lake) in the Amazon Basin.  The entire area is just a flooded forest that dries up during the dry season.  It was amazing how it looked like trees were growing out of the water!  We spent 3 nights and 4 days at the lodge with some very interesting and fun people.  Luis, our guide was so knowledgeable.  He was with the group day in and day out for the entire trip.  He knew absolutely everything about every species of animal and plant- from their mating calls, average weight, colors, diets, lifespan, and even down to their scientific name.
Our hut- actually my favorite of all of our accommodations!  Screened in with lots of fresh air, mosquito nets, really nice bathroom, and our very own hammock on the back deck!

Our hut- actually my favorite of all of our accommodations! Screened in with lots of fresh air, mosquito nets, really nice bathroom, and our very own hammock on the back deck!

We had the most amazing tour guide- Luis.  This is the Wandering Brazilian Banana Spider I was telling you about!

We had the most amazing tour guide- Luis. This is the Wandering Brazilian Banana Spider I was telling you about!

During our stay at the Sionna Lodge we had several motorized canoe rides throughout the laguna and the jungle where we were able to observe tons of wildlife.  We saw so many monkeys (SO MANY MONKEYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), birds, butterflies, fish, dolphins, anacondas, insects, and even cayman (like an alligator or crocodile!).  We went on night walks where the only light in the jungle came from our headlamps.  We also took a sunrise boat ride and got to see the beautiful scene unfold over the laguna grande.  We went on a two hour ride even further into the jungle to see a native Shaman and a community where we got to learn how to make Cassava from yucca that we pulled out of the ground.  I could go on and on… this part of the trip was truly amazing, and my favorite for sure.
One of my favorite pics of our first night there.  Just before a storm.

One of my favorite pics of our first night there. Just before a storm.

Just one of the sights as seen on our night hike in the jungle.  SCARY!

Just one of the sights as seen on our night hike in the jungle. SCARY!

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

Shaman!

Shaman!

Peeling some Yucca

Peeling some Yucca

Making some Cassava- yucca flour pancakes

Making some Cassava- yucca flour pancakes

We got to try a few pieces of Cassava with some VERY hot chili sauce!

We got to try a few pieces of Cassava with some VERY hot chili sauce!

Sunset

Sunset

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Our jungle day walk- check out that tree!

Our jungle day walk- check out that tree!

Luis looking for wildlife- he could literally see the smallest camoflauged animal from 100+ yards away.  He knew everything about every species- unbelievable!

Luis looking for wildlife- he could literally see the smallest camoflauged animal from 100+ yards away. He knew everything about every species- unbelievable!

Back at the lodge, not only did we have comfortable, clean accommodations, but we had our very own chefs!  The group ate delicious, hot meals three times a day.  The food was outstanding.  I was in shock.  I wasn’t at all expecting to have such great food all the way out in the jungle.  We even got the chef to share his recipe for Aji- the hot sauce we fell in love with that is served with most food in Ecuador.
This was one of my favorite spots- the reading room!

This was one of my favorite spots- the reading room!

We were given a handwritten recipe for Aji- the Columbian hot sauce that we fell in love with.

We were given a handwritten recipe for Aji- the Columbian hot sauce that we fell in love with.

After our dream trip to the Amazon was done- we canoed, drove, and flew and drove back to our home base in Quito- the good ole Kingdom Kichwa!  On our final day in Ecuador, we spent some time walking around the old city of Quito.  We also had to take the opportunity for some last minute gorgeous photos at a lookout point- a cable car ride and 13,000+ feet above sea level!  The view was spectacular.  You could see the entire sprawling city, the mountains, and beautiful landscape.

Quito

Quito

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Enjoying some 5 cent Ice Cream on the street :)

Enjoying some 5 cent Ice Cream on the street 🙂

Loving this adorable city!

Loving this adorable city!

The view from the lookout point.  That's only a portion of it too... the city just goes on forever!

The view from the lookout point. That’s only a portion of it too… the city just goes on forever!

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After we came back down from the lookout point, it was pretty much time to get going to the airport.  What an adventure!  I was sad to go but happy to come back home and not wear these clothes for a very long time!!

If you are planning a trip or have any questions, feel free to contact us!  We loved Ecuador in so many different ways and definitely recommend it to anyone trying to go on a really fun and affordable adventure vacation.  Now the important question to leave you with here is… where should we go next?!??

 

Israel Trip Part 1: Negev & The South

In an effort to just BEGIN somewhere, today I’m going to show you Part 1 of my trip to Israel in March of 2011.  WTF, Beth… that was so long ago… right?!  I know.  I have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to start this off, and today is the day.  In just a few hours, I’ll be reunited with some of my good friends from our trip… my “Taglit Family”.  I cannot wait to see them!

For some of you, a trip to Israel might sound like a crazy, crazy thing.  1.  How did I afford that?  2.  How did I go with a group? and 3.  Why Israel?

Just a brief background:  One of the many great Jewish organizations is called Birthright Israel or Taglit.  They believe that every young Jewish person should have the opportunity to visit and experience Israel in order to build a Jewish Identity (answer #3).  The organization provides young adults ages 18-27 with a FREE trip to Israel (answer #1), where they can experience the country for 10 days along with a group of peers as well as Israeli peers (answer #2).  How awesome is that?  Did I answer your questions?  

Throughout each post about Israel, I’ll try to stop and explain some words, traditions, or some other confusing things as best I can.  Don’t be offended that I’m going to link you to Wikipedia.  Let’s not pretend we don’t all go there first. 🙂  And… post a comment if you have any questions!

 

I took my birthright trip to Israel with my boyfriend Dave.  We sat together on the direct flight, and 13 hours later we were in Tel Aviv, ready for our journey.  Our group thus far included about 40 21-27 year olds, plus two staff members, one Israeli Tour Guide, and one Israeli Soldier.  Our first two days in Israel were spent in the South part of the country, the Negev Desert.  Click here for an awesome Israel Map.

A little geography lesson for you: In this post, we are in the Negev in the South, and nearby the Gaza Strip in the West corner of the country.

We arrived at the Kibbutz* and had a buffet-style Israeli dinner.  I remember eating Schnitzel and a ton of Hummus.  MMM.  After dinner, our two staff members initiated a few ice-breaker games, and then let us go to the Pub on the Kibbutz, for some “after activities … but don’t get drunk” drinks.  The empty bar turned into a dance party not too long after- I guess this is when I realized this group of people was really something special 🙂

 

After a really fun night (and blowing out all 3 of our hair straighteners, warning: frizzy hair ahead!), the next morning (Day#2) we walked around the Kibbutz and learned all about the Kibbutz Farming and Lifestyle.  Our guide for the day took us to the house of mud he and his wife are building, in order to further “live off the land”.  A few from the group got to literally get their feet dirty and make mud bricks for the house.

Ready to roll on Day #2! My roomies and I: I would become friends with the two shortest people on the trip causing me to crouch down in EVERY picture! They both speak Russian too! 🙂

Kat used her feet to mix the straw and mud together and formed it into a brick. This is how the Mud House is being built!

The mud house has running water, a microwave, and some pretty used glass bottles as decor.

After the “Mud House”, we got on the bus and drove to a farm that is part of the Kibbutz where they grow potatoes and carrots.  Highlight of my trip:  Eating carrots right out of the sand they were growing in.  It doesn’t get more fresh than that!

Next on the agenda (and get used to that word “Next”… Birthright really jam-packs your days on the trip so we do A LOT every day!) was the Gaza Lookout / Memorial.  Each item on the columns here leading up to the lookout were taken from the homemade rockets that are launched into the area from the Gaza Strip*.  From the lookout at this memorial, you can see Gaza in the distance.  It was near this area that Gilad Shalit* was kidnapped out of the IDF by Hamas.  It was amazing how close we were but still I never felt unsafe. In fact, Dave and I believe that we felt safer in Israel than we do in some of our own cities in the US.

The city you can see way in the distance is Gaza.

Following our stop at the Lookout, we took a small nature walk.  We stopped along the way to say the “Shema” (a prayer you do the first time you do… anything really) and sip on some wine.  Back on the bus!

Eli and Dave lead the Shema Prayer for the group on our nature walk

Next up was a stop at Sderot.  Sderot is a small town literally right next to the Gaza Strip.  I’m glad I didn’t know we were going here until we were here.  On our exit of the bus, our staff members told us casually “hey if you hear sirens, just do what everyone else is doing”.  Later, we find out this means:  “You’re so close to the Gaza Strip in this town, that you literally have less than 30 seconds to find shelter when the guards see rockets coming our way.”  Wow.  Visiting Sderot was my personal wake-up-call as to how life in Israel sometimes has to be.  I could not believe people live this way.  Schools with no windows facing the strip, bomb shelters turned into playgrounds, graffiti artists trying to spruce up the shelters on the streets… it all just left me in shock.

From top to bottom: 1. The police station in Sderot saves all of the rockets that are launched into the area from Gaza. They are tagged and marked. This wall of used rockets covered the entire back of the building. 2. One of the bomb shelter bus stops that local artists have painted. 3. This is an example of the damages that can incur from the homemade rocket bombs coming in from Gaza.

We went to lunch here where I had my first Shawarma*.  I wasn’t writing this blog yet, but as you can see, I was totally already a blogger at heart- documenting many of our great eats of Israel.  We also visited a bakery… mmm!

Tables and tables of fresh Israeli Hamentashen!

Our last stop was to a playground where we played some more ice breaker games and took some seriously awesome group pictures.  While we were having our fun, we were snapped back to reality when we found out that the playground we were on was actually a bomb shelter.  It’s moments like this that make you realize how truly lucky we are in our lives at home.

Outside and inside the playground bomb shelter

All of us

 

Believe it or not, we’re at the end of Part 1 of our trip to Israel!  The night of Day #2 we went to bed early to prepare ourselves for the busiest day ever of our trip.  I can’t wait to tell you about it!

 

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Kibbutz:  A community or gathering of people who live and work together, traditionally based around a farm.  

The Gaza Strip:  This area to the West of Israel is run by the militant group Hamas and has a long history of violence with Israel.  Read here for more.  

Gilad Shalit:  An amazing story we got to see unfold.  When we arrived in Israel, Gilad had been held captive by Hamas for just under five years.  We learned about his abduction at the Gaza Lookout and several other times during our trip.  Less than a year after we left Israel, Gilad Shalit was released back to Israel.  This was a huge triumph for the people of Israel.  Read here!.

Shawarma:  A sandwich similar to a Gyro- sliced slow-cooked chicken from a rotating spit served as a wrap/sandwich with TONS of toppings, hummus, and hot sauce.  YUM!  This obviously deserved it’s own explanation.  You’ll be hearing a lot about this.

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Pizza: State College

A co-worker of mine from my Trader Joe’s days is moving to the Happiest of Valleys to State College to open up the first TJ’s in the area.  First of all… I’m insanely jealous.  State College is the best place in earth, and I wish IIIIIII were moving there!  Second of all… I can’t believe they’re getting a Trader Joe’s there, WHY couldn’t this happen during my 4 years at Penn State… WHYYYY!

Anyway, Chris is moving from New York and asked where to get good pizza.  While obviously nothing is as good as NYC pizza (I’ve only had it ONCE believe it or not), you can totally get a great pie up in Happy Valley.

Canyon Pizza:  No good SC pizza list would be complete without discussing Canyon.  Canyon Pizza is located in the center of “Beaver Canyon”, the main drag of apartment buildings off campus on Beaver Ave.  Starting at about midnight, you’ll find a line of 100 post-frat party drunk freshman standing outside waiting to get their $1 slice with Ranch Dressing .  You absolutely want to stay away from this whole scene.  The pizza itself is not bad, it’s thin crust and large slices.  They aren’t anything special but they are $1/slice and I’ll admit, you can’t say you’ve lived in State College without partaking in this tradition.

Canyon pizza:  5/10 Pizza Points

College Pizza:  Just down the road from Canyon on Locust Lane is another $1/slice establishment.  Talking in terms of $1 slice joints, I personally always have preferred College >Canyon, but that might just be me.  It also might be my lack of patience, because the College Pizza line is NEVER as long.  I’ll give College Pizza an extra point for knowing how to get the crowd movin’.

College Pizza: 6/10 Pizza Points

Bell’s Greek Pizza: I’m not sure what’s “Greek” about Bell’s, but it is probably the most unique pizza place in the area.  You can get slices here and actually have more choices than just plain or pepperoni.  Bell’s is greasier and has a thicker crust, so you’ll probably appreciate it (if you’re drunk)  if you’re into that type of thing.  I’m not.  Bell’s is my boyfriend Dave’s favorite and he still insists on grabbing a drunk slice when we’re visiting (I go to Pita Pit next door instead!).

Bell’s Greek Pizza:  6/10 Pizza Points 

Gumby’s Pizza:  While I’m still on the “drunk” pizza topic, I had to mention Gumby’s Pizza.  This place was always my least-favorite.  Friends always ordered Gumby’s because of their buy-a-pizza, get-a-pokey-stick deal.  This place is just a wannabe Pizza Hut, and the pokey sticks are just pizza without sauce.  The Pokey Sticks can be delicious if (like I mentioned…) you’re drunk, but the pizza will most likely make you sick with the tons of grease and thick crust.

Gumby’s Pizza:  4/10 Pizza Points

Inferno Brick Oven & Bar:  Okay so this restaurant was “Hi-Way Pizza” when I was in college, but I’ve been here several times visiting since then.  Inferno does NOT belong in State College.  With that being said, it’s probably the nicest pizza place you can find in the area.  The pizzas could be considered “artisan”, they’re small Brick-Oven style with the charred bottom crust and some interesting ingredient choices.  Great atmosphere and Inferno’s “Sin” drinks are amazing- so strong, delicious, and $5 on special.  Go here to drink!  Pizza comes 2nd.

Inferno:  7/10 Pizza Points

Faccia Luna:  While Faccia Luna isn’t in walkable distance from Downtown SC, it is totally worth the drive.  One of my favorite restaurants in State College, Faccia Luna’s pizza is fabulous.  Thin brick-oven style crust is the Faccia way, so don’t overload with toppings or it’ll get too soggy.  Other favorites here are their Chicken Caesar Salad and Pesto Bread app.  Great atmosphere and date-night spot.

Faccia Luna:  9/10 Pizza Points

Brother’s Pizza:  Another drive-worthy spot on Benner Pike (Take College Ave East until just before the Nittany Mall) is Brother’s Pizza.  While they have other locations, I think this is the best one.  Brother’s is your typical thin-crust pizza, nothing too special about it besides it being really consistently good.  This is your best take-out pizza bet, if you can get out there.  If you lived anywhere else, the 5-10 minute drive would feel like nothing but in State College, this will seem SUPER out of the way.  Suck it up and try it.  Dee-lish.

Brother’s Pizza: 9/10 Pizza Points

Margarita’s Pizzeria:  Saved the best for last.  Margarita’s is hands down my favorite pizza place in State College.  It was always a gamble if they’d even be open, but once you figure out their schedule (and they happened to be sticking to it), you will never want to go anywhere else!  Crispy-thin crust, well seasoned sauce, not too cheesy, not too greasy, just-perfect pizza is what they have here.  They also make the best Chicken Parm sandwich ever.  LOVE Margarita’s.  It’s close to Atherton on Beaver Ave so it’s never too crowded either.

Margarita’s Pizzeria:  10/10 Pizza Points!!!  Ding ding ding, we have a winner!

For your enjoyment, The School Philly’s post about the Top 10 Late-Night State College Joints

To my State College/PSU friends:  What is your favorite pizza and why?

To everyone else:  What type of pizza do you prefer?  Deep Dish?  Thin Crust?  Brick Oven?  Let the great-pizza debate begin!

 

LA (Revisited)

So I’m a little upset.

I was supposed to be on a plane right now flying to LA to visit my very best friend, Laurie.  Wahhhhhhhh!!

I made a very difficult but “big-girl” decision this week to cancel my trip.  We are trying to move out and into the city and taking a 5-Day vacation to the West Coast didn’t seem like a smart move financially right now.  

Although I know I made a good decision, I’m still soooooo wishing I was there right now!  

Laurie and I have been friends since she was born.  We grew up together and she is more like a sister to me than a friend.  I miss her now that she’s in LA, but we always make time to catch up or just chit chat on the phone.  Dave and I will be using my cancelled flight to go out and see her and her boyfriend, Shane later on in the year when we can afford to.  

I wanted to re-read and re-post my blog about our trip out to LA this past December.  We had SUCH a great time.  Here you go!

The oldest pic of Laurie and I that I could find on my computer! We were on vacation watching Halloween, all together in one bed… how cute?!

I know Jay-Z thinks that New York is the city where dreams are made of… but my dreams were made in L.A.!  In sixth grade, I visited Los Angeles with my camp.  It was then and there that I decided I was going to be a famous movie director!

I took those dreams all the way through college as a film/video major… but unfortunately, that’s where it stops!  I realized after graduating PennState that moving to L.A. or (let’s hear it for New Yooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrk) wasn’t going to happen for a while.  It only took me THREE whole years of convincing Dave to make a trip with me out to my CITY OF DREAMS!

I wasn’t the only person attempting to convince Dave to make the schlep out to the West Coast.  Dave’s Aunt Lauren has lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years and has been telling Dave to come visit her as long as he can remember.  Between the two of us, he finally gave in and we booked our flights.

Before I knew it, we were outside of Lauren’s office, which happens to be on Main Street inSanta Monica!!  I would not be able to work with the beach so close to me!  Dave and I were able to make it to the beach just in time for sunset- something we are not used to at the Jersey Shore.

Reminds me of the OC!

It was beautiful!  We took a nice walk on the beach and put our toes in thePacific Ocean.  I couldn’t believe we made it!  I thought there was no way we’d make it all the way out here and to the beach on our first day there… let me rewind.

We had HORRIBLE flight delays on the way out on Wednesday.  This year we have been stuck in the worst airports inAmerica… Philly leaving for Vegas for 5 hours (arriving there at 3am… oye), Vegas leaving for Philly for 4 hours (the old section of the airport… where there is nothing to do!), Pittsburgh for 4 hours (any Penn Stater from the Greater Philadelphia area will cringe at this just as much as we did)… and now to top it off, we were stuck in CINCINNATI (C-I-N-C-I-N-N-A-T-I,Cincinnati!) at 9am on our way out to the West Coast.  The worst part of this being that the airport had no wifi!!!  After getting off and on and off and on the plane, we were able to guilt the Delta Desk into switching our flights home from Saturday to Sunday.  Now that we were five hours delayed, we got back on the plane and safely took off.  In the end- it was great that this all happened since we now had the entire weekend to spend there!  (As excited as I was to switch our flight home, I couldn’t help but to notice our connection was in Detroit… another city I’d just LOVE to be stuck in!!!)

So now let me take you back to the Santa Monica Pier.  Beautiful!  We walked to the 3rd St.Promenade where we shopped around, looked at the X-Mas decorations, and sat to have a much deserved Peach Margarita.

Sunset at Santa Monica Pier

When Lauren was finished up at work, she and her friend Bee took us out to eat at a Southern Mexican restaurant called Tlapazola Grill.     We shared a delicious Salmon Vegetable Roll and the best Guacamole I’ve ever eaten in my life. We were also given homemade Chips & Salsa to munch on while we waited.

Fresh Guacamole!! MMM!

Salmon Veggie Roll with FOUR sauces

Lauren & Bee kept us entertained by drawing a map of L.A. on our paper tablecloth to help us learn our way around.  For our main courses, Dave and I split the Pollo en Mole Negro (Chicken in Mole Oaxaca Style) & the Sautéed Sand Dabs with Lime Caper Sauce (served with sautéed spinach and vegetable cheese enchilada).  I had never tried Mole before.  It is different than anything I’ve ever had, so complex and so many different interesting flavors are all mixed together.  The highlight of the meal for me (besides the guac) was the Lime Caper Sauce on the Sand Dabs.  The sauce was a little sour and tangy which went great with the taste of the fish.  Bee insisted on trying their Classic Flan which was perfectly creamy and really really good.

Pollo en Mole Negro (Chicken in Mole Oaxaca Style)

Sautéed Sand Dabs with Lime Caper Sauce (served with sautéed spinach and vegetable cheese enchilada)

Classic Flan with FOUR spoons, please!

 We were so tired from our long day of travel and after being up for over 20 hours, we passed out at Laurens right after dinner.

Thursday morning was like most of our mornings in L.A.  We woke up, showered, drove Lauren to work, and went somewhere fabulous for breakfast.  This morning, we decided to take a drive to Malibu-away from traffic and up the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway.

Gorgeous view on our drive inland… you can still see the ocean!

We took a scenic drive inland to WestlakeVillageto eat our brunch at Marmalade Café.  I was immediately impressed as soon as they brought out Dave’s iced coffee… accompanied by an entire pitcher of extra coffee!  This is my kind of place!  Dave went with the Tortilla Scramble (Three farm fresh eggs scrambled with tortilla strips, turkey sausage, onions, jalapenos & tomatoes served with black beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream & a side of corn tortilla) while I chose to create my own omelet (MY FAV!!!) including Honey Cured Ham, Cheddar Cheese, Avocado, Spinach, & Tomato.  I LOVE LA so far, if only because I’m in a place where it’s normal to order avocado in an omlet.  If you haven’t tried it yet, please do… it’s to die for.  My dish also came with marmalade potatoes and corn rye bread.  MMM!

MMM Avocado in my Omelet!!

Tortilla Scramble

Now that our bellies were full, we were ready to take a hike at the Malibu Creek State Park.  It was amazing to us how close the city is to nature and such an amazing hike.  We wanted to hike 2.4 miles to the MASH site, where the TV show was filmed.  After walking our asses off for what felt like 3 miles, it was time to realize we took a wrong turn and couldn’t find it!  We enjoyed the hike though and the peace and quiet we were surprised to get on a trip to such a major city.

My favorite picture of our hike in Malibu Creek State Park! I wish I could have a romantic picnic right here!!

Another view on the hike

Look at that sky… it was a beautiful day.

A little break to take a picture by the lake

Venice Beach was our next stop on our day.  Dave was so shocked to see what type of place the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk was.  For those of you who have never been,Venice is home to some hippies, smoking paraphernalia stores, people selling things, and a whole lot of people begging for money.  It took us about an hour before we had seen enough and headed back to the car.

Venice Beach

There was still some time to kill before we were due back in Santa Monicato pick up Lauren, so we walked down Abbot Kinney Blvdwhere there are plenty of little shops to spend our time.  We decided to settle down at a random Mexican restaurant for a late lunch.  Casa Linda and ended up being amazing!  One of the things I was looking forward to most coming to Cali was ordering some fish tacos, which is exactly what I did at Casa Linda!

Casa Linda!

I went with the Alaskan Halibut Soft Taco (3 tacos) while Dave did a burrito version which came with black beans, brown rice, and charred zucchini salsa.  Perhaps one of the best parts of this place was their salsa bar which included a spicy Toasted Chile Arbol Salsa and an even spicier Jalapeno-Avocado Salsa.

Fish Tacos, finally!

Dave is getting used to me making him wait to eat so I can take my pictures!!

I also ordered a watermelon drink which was bright pink but tasted exactly like a watermelon, not like candy… it was the perfect answer to my spicy dish.  I would definitely like to try to re-create the green salsa at home, it was spicy-hot but refreshing from the avocado at the same time.  We both loved it!  We still had some time to kill so per Lauren’s suggestion, we visited the Marina Del Ray at sunset.  This area reminded both of us of our favorite place in the world- Vancouver.

Marina Del Ray

Sunset in Cali is so gorgeous

After a nice walk on the pier, we picked up Lauren.  Lauren hopped in the driver’s seat and took us on a driving tour (in traffic, of course) of LA!  We saw Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, Century City, etc etc… unfortunately we didn’t get to see Hollywoodsince there was a movie shoot!  We also learned that LA is made up of areas of every nationality you can imagine- we drove through them all until we found ourselves at Lauren’s favorite Sushi bar, Hide Sushi.  Sitting at the bar, we got our very own sushi chef!  Each of us started with Yellowtail Sushi.

Salmon Roll… look how much salmon there is… wow!

Our Sushi Chef loved that I was taking pictures of his hard work for the blog! .. PS look how big that roll is in front of him! Not for us!

I cannot even begin to describe to you how fresh this sushi was… it was so amazing.  Lauren and Dave continued to order more sushi, but I was so full from lunch that I only ordered one more, a Spicy Tuna Roll.  We ate, drank green tea, and chatted and chatted.  After we were finished, Lauren took us to meet another one of her friends, Linda & her son Adam (another friend of ours’ EXACT Doppelganger… whose name is also Adam)… weird.  We hung out there and played with their puppies for about an hour then it was time to go home to BED!  This was of course yet another night we were too exhausted to go out after dinner!

Friday morning.  All I wanted to do was go see Hollywood.  We woke up, showered, dropped Lauren off, and headed to the Omelet Parlor  in Santa Monica for breakfast.  Obviously, we both got omelettes.  I chose the “Merlin” + Avocado (Spinach, Swiss, Mushrooms) and Dave chose “Bob’s BBQ Chicken” (White Chicken sautéed in BBQ sauce, Jack Cheese, Cilantro, & Green Onions) … yummy!!!

I love my omelettes!!

Both came with perfectly cooked potatoes and a wheat-nut English Muffin.  If you haven’t figured this out yet- I LOVE breakfast, and I LOVE omelettes.  This place was my heaven!  I even bought their t-shirt!

Instead of going to Hollywood like I wanted to, we spent the next few hours on a hike in Temescal Canyon. This hike, unlike the day before was pretty much all up a mountain!  It was pretty difficult, especially after being sore from our hike the day before.

We had no idea how many mountains there were right outside of LA

“are we there yet??”

If you look closely, you can see a little bit of water. This is supposed to be a waterfall!

I had to walk down the sides of the trail to get downhill on the rocks. Dave just stood there laughing!

We made it as high as we could but stopped since every time it seemed like we were reaching the top… it just kept on going.  We trekked back down, got in the car, and were stuck in traffic going to Hollywood for over an HOUR!

As we started getting closer to Hollywood & Vine, we realized a few blocks of Hollywood Blvd.were closed.  We parked and went closer to survey the scene.  It turns out just a few hours earlier (when we would have arrived there if I had my way), someone pulled out a gun and started shooting pedestrians and a man in a car.  If you’re interested, you can click here and read more about it. Thank DAVE for insisting on the hike which had us out of the area during the chaos!!  We were pretty creeped out, but not enough to keep me from my mecca!  Our first stop was to my first Cali Trader Joe’s.  It was huge, impressive, and I still can’t get over that they sell alcohol.  We grabbed two Vita-Cocos and were on our way down the Walk of Fame  to the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.  It was so fun looking down and getting excited when we saw a name we recognized.  I took a picture with some Transformers, measured my feet and hands against Tom Hanks, Shirley Temple, and my all-time favorite Jimmy Stewart.

L.O.L…. i know.

My favorite actor. This was so amazing!

Next on the agenda was a visit to the famous Pink’s Hot Dogs.  I was so so so excited!  I’ve seen Pink’s on more than one Food Network Special, and we were so hungry!  I went with the Nacho Cheese Chili Dog & a Spicy Polish Dog (which also had chili on it… jesus) while Dave choose a Chili Dog & the Pastrami Reuben Dog.

We were lucky and didn’t have to wait in the usual hour-long line.

We definitely didn’t need two each, but they were SO GOOD.

The Nacho Cheese Chili Dog was my fav! How ridiculous is this? Only on vacation!

I must really like Pink’s Dogs to allow this picture to be taken! MMM!

It was so disgustingly good, quite the guilty pleasure.  MMM!  We got stuck in another hour of traffic driving back to Lauren after Pinks.  For those of you counting, we are now approaching our 3rd hour of traffic for the day.

Lauren took us on another traffic-driving tour of LA, this time driving us through “downtown”.  We passed by the impressive Disney Concert Hall which was so interesting and beautiful.  In more and more traffic, we missed the closing time for Lauren’s favorite Thai restaurant for dinner.  The 4th hour of traffic mark has come and gone.

Lauren took us to a Korean supermarket for a much needed stretch of the legs.  Food shopping is my favorite thing to do so I loved it!  Looking at all of the different types of fruits, snacks, pastas, sauces, etc. was so much fun.  We tried a Korean yogurt drink and watched a lady pick out her hard shell crabs out of the center of the supermarket!  It was so cool.

Look at the size of that thing!

Since we were determined to eat Thai this night, we drove around until we found the next place after being in traffic for FIVE hours total for the day!! OYE!  Nariya Thai in Hollywood was the winner, where we sat down and ordered our dinners, immediately.  I couldn’t believe it was possible to be hungry after our Pink’s dogs… but we were!  Lauren tried the Spicy Mint Noodles (Rice noodles sautéed with sweet basil leaves, onions and chili, with chicken) while Dave and I couldn’t resist getting Thai Red Curry, my absolute favorite.  It was extra spicy and so so so so yummy.  After yet another exhausting day, Beth & Dave retire for the night immediately after dinner.  Lol.

Soupy, creamy, spicy Thai Red Curry. This is one of my new favorite dishes this year.

Finally weekend & DAVE’S BIRTHDAY!!  Did I forget to mention that one of my very BEST friends recently moved to LA?!  Laurie and her boyfriend Shane have been living in LA for about a year.  She and I grew up together, basically as sisters- and we still act like we are!  I was so f******* excited to see her!!!!!!  I may have been just as excited to meet their new puppy, Jaz… but that’s besides the point.

We said goodbye & a huge thank you to Lauren when Laurie & Shane picked us up Saturday morning.  After making a quick stop at the La Brea Tar Pits (like the Grand Canyon scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation) we went to – you guessed it- breakfast!  They took us to a West Hollywood café called Toast, where we had our best breakfast yet.  I ordered an omelet (duh) with Turkey Bacon, Avocado, Tomato, and Swiss Cheese.

Look how gorgeous that is!

Berry Wonderful is right!

Dave changed it up a bit and went with their Berry Wonderful French Toast.  Laur, Shane and I were jealous so we had to order a side of French Toast.  Their fresh fruit was awesome, it even had a little sliver of star fruit on top!

We then spent the day relaxing at their adorable apartment in the Jewish neighborhood (Holla… I mean Challah!!!!).  I finally got to meet Jaz who is a pitbull mix and such a sweetheart!  The four of us took Jaz to a dogpark where we played with her for a while until we tired her out.  She could hardly walk back to the car!  Not long after we got back to the apartment, we got ready and headed for our night out for DAVE’S BIRTHDAY!

Jaz was too excited she couldn’t sit down

Jaz waiting for her ball to be thrown

Laurie drove us to SilverLake, yet another area of LA.  We stopped at a little Mexican bar called the Gold Room.  The girls had unbelievable strong and spicy Bloody Marys and the boys drank some Scotch, Tequila… you name it!  We munched on peanuts and two entire bowls of olives… mmm!  I don’t think the bartender understood when we asked for olives to go with our bm’s.  Woops!

I love the Gold Room… who wouldn’t… Peanuts & a BOWL of Olives?!

Anyone who knows me … will know that TWO drinks for me is a lot! Yahoo!

Our next stop was our dinner at this little Italian place a block away called Masa.  We split some wine and beer, appetizers, and a deep dish pizza which is what they are famous for.  We chose the Mozzarella sticks, Artichoke Dip, Manchego Salad, and stuck with a Plain Cheese Deep Dish Pizza.  Everything was so delicious we ate and drank until we were stuffed.

Mozz Sticks

Artichoke Dip and a HUGE loaf of yummy bread

Wishing Dave a HAPPY BDAY!

Manchego is so delicious

Deep Dish Pizza!

Believe it or not, we still have not gotten to my favorite part of my trip to L.A.  All the food, all the hiking, sightseeing, etc… does not compare to what we did Saturday night for Dave’s birthday!  Laurie and Shane took us to see the 2011 Derby Dolls Championships!!!!!!  Apparently, going to the Rollerderby is the cool thing to do in LA (my very hero Anthony Bourdain did it when he was here!!)  We decided before going in that we were going to root for the “Swarm” to win over the “Sirens”.  Little did we know that the Swarm were from San Diego, huge underdogs and were playing the home team LA Sirens.  Woops!

On our “red carpet” … just like we always dreamed of!

The boys even got to take a quick pic with the Swarm before they started.

The boys bought fake mustaches because… why not! (even though they supported the police-themed “Sirens” team)

From the start of the game, we cheered, screamed, booed, and rooted for our team.  It only took about five minutes for us to get the hang of the game, with the exception of the point system- which I don’t think I’ll ever understand.  We were totally outnumbered which made it more fun, especially when the Swarm were winning throughout the first half of the game!  As the game went on though, the Sirens caught up and eventually won the Championship.  BOOOOOOO!  It was so much fun though, we all loved it.

At one point in the night, it was suggested by Laurie that we had to make Dave a birthday cake when the Derby Dolls were over.  It was also suggested by Dave that the cake should have “cookie dough icing”.  Hm… well of course I had to make this happen for my man on his birthday!  Laurie and I got to work when we arrived home, first baking a box of Vanilla Cake.  We took out the cake when it was just about cooked, smushed raw cookie dough, and placed it ontop.  The cake went back into the oven for about six minutes so it was still melty and gooey.  It was the perfect end to a birthday night and a ridiculously gluttonous vacation.

Birthday Cake with Cookie Dough Icing

And yes, it was as good as it looks.

We were so sad but the next morning, Laurie woke up with us at 5 am to take us to our 7 am flight at LAX.  I totally wasn’t ready to go home, I did NOT want to leave LA!  I love everything about this place!  Luckily, our flights home were smooth and effortless and we made it back to Philly to watch some Sunday night football and relax.

WHEW!  What an amazing vacation!  It was so much fun exploring anew city, eating all the food (my favorite part), seeing Lauren and spending time with Laurie and Shane.  Now, it’s time to get back to reality and back to the gym to burn off those Pink’s Hot Dogs!!!!

Vancouver, BC

“Vancouver?  Like in Canada?”

 
I remember one of our first conversations going something like that.  Dave’s father’s entire family is from Vancouver, and yes, the Vancouver in Canada.  At first, it sounded so foreign, I couldn’t believe he was actually CANADIAN?!  Weird.  I pretty much didn’t know anything about Vancouver either… what the weather’s like, what type of people live there, what they eat, what the scenery is… I had no clue.  
Just 2 months before our 2-Year Anniversary, Dave and I went on a vacation to Vancouver.  We had a couple of things on our agenda:  
 
1.  Visit Family & Grandpa Harry 
2.  See Vancouver  
3.  White Water Rafting 
4.  Peak 2 Peak Gondola at Whistler
5.  See Olympic Stuff 
6.  Eat Chinese Food
7.  Eat Fish & Chips
 
1.  Visit Family and Grandpa Harry.  
Dave’s Grandpa Harry sadly has passed away since we visited.  He was a truly amazing man who literally went from having nothing and living in a foreign country… to owning his own business, serving in WW2, and raising a wonderful family.  I am so happy and lucky to have met him and be able to spend time with him.  Dave’s two aunts are still living in Vancouver along with one of his cousins who have four kids.  We spent much of our time in Vancouver visiting with them.  We even got to have a Shabbat Dinner with them, which was really special.

Here’s Grandpa Harry on the left, and then a few pictures we took with Dave’s Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Ken

  2.  Vancouver.  I can’t believe I didn’t know about this place in my pre-Dave life.  It is honestly the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.  Vancouver is surrounded by the beach to one side and mountains to the other.  It is so gorgeous.  Most of the year, it is rainy… almost similar to the reputation of Seattle.  However, in the summer or when the sun is out, it is just amazing!  We had almost perfect weather the entire time we visited.  

What a gorgeous city! … laughing at an actual Canadian Goose!

 
3.  White Water Rafting.  I had never been before and had no idea what to expect… but I was SCARED.  OMG!  About halfway through our trip, we rented a car and drove North up the Sea-to-Sky Highway towards Whistler.  The trip down the Elaho River was so much fun.  I remember the BEST part about it was the part i FEARED the most… being out of the boat and in the river!  Our guide let us jump out during a class 1 rapid and float along with the boat.  The water was SO cold it literally took my breath away.  The most surprising part (besides the fact that I didn’t die during this and that I loved it) was the water:  it was the most amazing, fresh water I’ve ever had in my life.  The water looked just like “Glacier Freeze” Gaterade flavor… and I could not stop keeping my mouth wide open and drinking some.  

Such a beautiful drive!

We got to see some gorgeous viewpoints

We found these train tracks just before the meeting spot for rafting…

 

Look at that water!!

Along the way to rafting, there were tons of “Viewpoint” signs and little stop offs for photo ops.  We had left super early so we were able to stop at EVERY one to take some pretty pictures and explore.  
 
4.  Peak-to-Peak Gondola Ride in Whistler.  From our rafting excursion, Dave and I drove up to Whistler.  We stopped by one of the sites of the Olympic events then checked into our hotel, the Crystal Lodge.  The whole area of Whistler is adorable, with tons of cute ski shops and hotels.  We ate a pretty fancy dinner that night then went out to a bar.  The next day we took the Peak-to-Peak Gondola Ride from Blackcomb Mountain to Whistler Mountain.  We then took a ski lift up even higher, to then climb up more to reach the most unbelievable view ever.  I am a little bit afraid of heights, so it was really scary but so worth it!

… we though that this was as high as we were gonna go!

… this was alllll the way on the top!

5.  See Olympic Stuff.  Not only were we able to see some of the Olympic areas in Whistler, but we got to visit so many of the Olympic Statue signs and also the monument from the Opening Lighting Ceremony (you remember it… the with Steve Nash’s side not working?).  It was really awesome though, and it was only a few months after so we were still in the Olympic spirit!
 
6.  One of the most talked-about parts of Vancouver (from Dave’s stories) is how they have the best Chinese food ever.  Vancouver’s population is ONE-FIFTH Asian (thank you BBC) so I had some pretty high expectations for the Chinese food.  The area of town we were staying in, where Grandpa Harry lives (Oakridge, directly South of the center city) didn’t have anything open late.  Every time we tried to get some Chinese take-out… they were all closed!  One of the nights, we went on a mission to find one.  We found a place that looked open and walked in…  We walked in on a Chinese Wedding… during the beginning of a toast!!!!!!!!!!!!  We were mortified but ran out laughing hysterically.  Everyone turned around and looked at us.  Just like what would happen in a movie.
Dave’s Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Ken solved our problem and took us to a pretty delicious Chinese place the night after.  Of course, this was all pre-blogging so I didn’t snap a picture of every piece of food we ate. 😦  However, it was really tasty and  a much higher quality than the stuff we eat here.
 
7.  Eat Fish & Chips.  I had been hearing about how amazing the Fish and Chips were in Vancouver since I met Dave’s Dad.  On one of our walks, we discovered what we believe (and every top fish/chips list believe too) to be the BEST Fish and Chips in Vancouver, and what is totally on our “Best Thing I Ever Ate” list:  Go Fish.  Go Fish is a really tiny little shack of a place where you order, then eat your food outside along the water on picnic tables.  I could seriously rave about this place and what we ate for hours.

First Fish and Chips…

… the BEST Fish and Chips @ Go Fish! YUMMMM

Dave is actually in Vancouver right now (FYI in case you haven’t been paying attention!) and he happened to JUST call me about five minutes ago to tell me he ate lunch at Go Fish.  He said, “Don’t mind me but I have to GLOAT for a minute because you’re going to be SO JEALOUS.  I just had the best meal EVER”.  I am super jealous.  YUMMMMMMM!

 
We could have ended our trip at this point… with these 7 points accomplished.  What a great trip would that have been?  Now, of course I don’t have to tell you that vacations, adventures, and well… life… isn’t just about what you have planned.  It’s all about the surprises that come up along the way… 
 
 
So, besides the huge surprise of Vancouver being the BEST city ever… the first surprise I came across during our trip was Kernel’s Popcorn.  We discovered Kernel’s walking through the mall in Oakridge on our first day there.  It’s just a little popcorn stand in the middle of the mall, but it’s the best!  They start with low-fat popcorn instead of regular buttery stuff most places use.  They toss it with some amazing seasonings!  We went back at least twice during the time we were there, and even bought a seasoning for home.  A few of the nights we spent in our room reading books and eating Kernel’s Popcorn.  MMM!
 
How could I almost forget to tell you about JapaDog?  JapaDog is exactly what it sounds like:  Japanese influenced hot dogs.  Dave and I came across this place not too long after we ate lunch, and we still had to try it out.  Check out the menu, how could we resist?  I think we got the Terimayo which is their signature dog.  It was REALLY good.  They also have a few different types of asian-inspired sauces to top the dog.  YUM!  For those of you who are dying to try this, they just opened up their first location out of Canada, right next to NYU.

Japadog, I wish there was one in Philly!

Granville Island was probably my favorite section of Vancouver.  It is a small part of town where the Granville Market (farmers market), artists, and shopping are.  The Market was one of my favorite stops on our trip.  Duh.  

gorgeous berries

A totally different area that I loved was Steveston.  Steveston is a fishing town in Richmond, southwest of Vancouver.  We got to visit Steveston as apart of our day with Dave’s Aunt Sharon and Uncle Sol who (at the time) lived in Richmond.  Steveston was pretty amazing.  We had some really really good food on the pier, and walked around to all of the boats who sell FRESH fish right off of the boat.  I have never experienced anything like this before, it is really cool.  We also got to take a tour of the Cannery, where they used to can salmon.  I really liked this part too!  We took a gorgeous walk from Steveston to Sharon and Sol’s house who made us an awesome dinner:  the FRESHEST salmon I’ve had in my life, bought that day from Steveston.  YUM!

Get ‘cha fresh fish!!!

Hangin’ out at the cannery

Scenes from our walk from Steveston to Sharon’s house… gorgeous trail along the beach! (my dream house too!)

One of the “things to do” in Vancouver is to go on the Capilano Suspension Bridge.  Here’s the trick:  it would have cost us $50 to cross the bridge, so we went to the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge instead.  Lynn Valley’s bridge isn’t as long, or maybe isn’t as breathtaking as Capilano, but it’s FREE!  We spent a few hours in this area and took an awesome hike through the forest and the river.  I highly recommend this hike to anyone visiting Vancouver!

Another surprise activity was our trip to Horseshoe Bay.  Horseshoe Bay wasn’t very far from Lynn Valley so we made the trek out there after our hike.  We ate these amazing salmon wraps at a restaurant with seating overlooking the bay, and rented a boat! I was too nervous to drive the boat, so I made Dave do it for most of the time.  It was so beautiful and peaceful out there.  We even saw seals sunbathing on one of the rocks in the middle.  

had to represent PSU!

Seals!

 
TWICE during our trip, I let Dave take me to see the Canucks (Vancouver’s hockey team) practice.  Of course, this wasn’t the best part of my trip, but it was really cool to be there.  We also got to meet a few of the players when they were done!
Wreck Beach was one of our last stops on the tour of Vancouver.  Located west of the city and right in the middle of everything UBC (University of British Columbia), Wreck Beach is a “clothing-optional” park.  Now I’m reminded we’re in Canada, not the US! We of course… chose to wear our clothes.  You’d think this was a relaxing part of our trip, but you have to climb down (and then up!) 450 stairs just to get there!  OMG!
 
If the fabulous fresh fish and amazing food wasn’t enough to convince you to go visit here sometime, I’m sure the pictures did!  I love love love Vancouver, and hope that I’ll be able to visit there again someday soon!  
 
 
 
 

A Foodie Trip to Baltimore

My original plan for It’s Good to be the Cook was to do part recipes, part restaurants… and part travel.  Well, it’s true, 2 outta 3 ‘aint bad.

Times have been tough for both myself and my boyfriend Dave (or Dahv as I usually call him) for the past year.  We have been dating for almost four years and until 2012, we’ve taken too many trips to even count.  We’ve traveled to the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas (for <2 days!), Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Florida, and even Israel.  We haven’t been able to travel in 2012 YET, but to keep ourselves sane, we’ve planned a ton of little day and weekend trips that are affordable yet awesome.

A few weekends ago now, we ventured down to Baltimore to visit Donny.  Donny is famous on It’s Good to be the Cook at this point.  Dave and I met Donny on our trip to Israel and have been able to keep in touch and visit with him often.  He is one of the smartest people I know, I can never beat him on Scramble with Friends, and he is the most fun foodie to be around.  Donny introduced me to Slab Bacon, Homemade Corned BeefWhite-Trash Creme Brulee Pie, and now the Baltimore JFX Farmers Market.  OMG.  I died and went to heaven.  Seriously.

Let me start at the beginning of our weekend.  We arrived in Baltimore on Saturday, early afternoon.  The first stop on the agenda was to Tortilleria Sinaloa, a teeny-tiny little Mexican Taco place not too far from Donny’s house.  There were maybe 8 seats in the entire place.  The rest of the space is taken up by a giant tortilla-making-machine.  YUM!  We ordered a few Tacos- I obviously had to choose one of each:  Chicken, Steak, and Pork.  Each taco was amazing, and the tortillas were fresh as fresh gets.  The salsas were spicy but flavorful.  I couldn’t decide which I liked better.

After shoving our faces with tacos, we walked around town for a bit.  Outside one of the bars, they had a table set up for $1 OYSTERS.  🙂  How cute?  We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have DOLLAR OYSTERS ON THE STREET!

Dolla Dolla Oysters!

My only requirement for the weekend was that I had to have a “Crush”.  Crushes come in either Orange or Grapefruit, and are probably my favorite drink ever.  They are flavored Vodka (either grapefruit or orange), Triple Sec, Crushed ice, Soda, and FRESH SQUEEZED JUICE.  Like… they take a grapefruit… and muddle it all into the drink… then squeeze the juices of one in too.  MMMMMM!  They’re so refreshing!  We headed over to a really fun bar to satisfy my Crush craving- Alexander’s Tavern.  We grabbed 3 crushes and went upstairs to part of the bar that had tons of games.  We played shuffleboard & photo hunt and made friends with another couple from Philly.

Nothing like a Grapefruit Crush…

A few Crushes were crushed then we headed back to Donny’s to relax for a few minutes.  Next up, we went to a party with Donny’s co-workers in a gorgeous apartment.  These people had windows everywhere, such an amazing view of the city.  The three of us got a little hungry and went to Tapas Adela in Fells Point.  We enjoyed a pitcher of Sangria (which I made the boys drink) and a few tapas- Short Rib Flatbread, Blistered Padron Peppers, Crispy Artichokes, and Chilled Lemongrass Mussels.  We continued onto another bar, then not too long after took the walk home to catch up on some sleep for our BIG day coming up:  THE JFX FARMERS MARKET!

Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and VATS of the best Pickles out there.

I was amazed.  Donny is my new hero for introducing me to this amazing place.  There were several produce vendors, meat, cheese, pastries, dairy, seafood… anything and everything imaginable.  There were also so many vendors serving food to eat at the market we could hardly decide.  We shared a Gary’s Turkey Burger, a Garlic-Sage Biscuit (my favorite), and a pit-beef sandwich.  We also were introduced to the most delicious Ginger drink, with lime, mint, and blueberries.  It was super refreshing and I could have drank an extra one… despite how huge they were!

All of the ingredients ready to be filled up for the ginger drink

I wish I had this at home… and I’m not even a huge fan of Ginger!! Oh, the best part being that we’re drinking out of a giant Wonton Soup container 🙂

The best biscuit ever! Sage and Garlic Flavor. I could have eaten it all by myself…lol

Gary’s Turkey Burgers… so yummy!

Dave picked the open pit BBQ Sandwich… wow!

some amazing action at the JFX Farmers Market!

We had the best time ever, Donny won 1lb of free shrimp for trivia, we bought GIANT zucchinis, tomatoes, corn, goat chorizo, horseradish, beets, the best spicy pickles and olives ever, and so much more.  We dropped off our arsenal at Donny’s, then were back out on the town and headed for the Oriole’s game.  It couldn’t have been any hotter outside.  My clothes were literally sticking to me!

Despite the terribly humid weather, Camden Yards is one pretty cool place.  We had awesome seats up high behind home plate and (duh) ate some pretty awesome food… bacon on a stick!

This trip to Baltimore was one of the best yet, and now that I know about the farmers market… I’m sure we’ll be back really soon!

“Down the Shore” Week 1

So it’s Friday of Memorial Day Weekend and I’m stuck in traffic on the way “down the shore” (what all good Philadelphian’s call the Jersey Shore).  Every year I forget that I promise never to drive down this Friday!

Despite being stuck in traffic for over an hour, Dave and I finally made it down for our first official weekend at the shore this Summer.

Some “shore” geography:

Point A:  Seaside Heights.  Jersey Shore crew.  NOT my Jersey Shore.  Definitely Not.

Point B:  Ventnor City, NJ… my beach.  We are the beach sandwiched in between Atlantic City to the North, and Margate to the South.

We are about a half hour North of Ocean City, famous for their “family-fun” boardwalk of rides, hermit crabs, mini-golf, and fried food.

My grandparents have owned their Ventnor beach house 3 blocks away from the beach since before I was born.  I grew up vacationing here in Ventnor, and remember even writing a short story or poem in middle school about how the porch swing at the house is my “happy place”… it still is!

This long Memorial Day Weekend at the house was the best!  We had the most beautiful weather I can remember for MDW.  We spent all 3 days- Sat, Sun, & Mon on the beach.

Beautiful beach day!

My cousin Aidan getting ready for the beach

Besides my family & my Aunt Lyn’s family, we spent our time with one of our closest family friends (“Aunt” Cindy, “Uncle” Sammy, Becky, and Josh).  We had such a great time.

Dani and I are silly 🙂

Friday night, Dave and I went to a small little dive bar in Ventnor.  This is about as close to a dive bar as you’ll get in this town, but I love it!  The restaurant is really small, the menu is really small, but the drinks are delish and we can walk home if we wanted!  We devoured a bowl of mussels in red and a fresh made bloody mary.  MMM…

fresh blood(ies) !

Saturday, Dave and I took a 5-mile run on the Boardwalk, reaching the first casino of Atlantic City.  Although I made us stop a few times to walk a block or two, we did really well!  It isn’t easy for me but I’m trying to teach myself how to run.

Later on, we watched the Phillies game and had some drinks at our friends’ house.  We ordered a BBQ feast from the Back Bay BBQ on the way to Somers Point (south of us… if you’re still paying attention to your Geography lesson).  Before I tell you about how delicious it all was, which it was of course… I have to tell you that all FIVE Chicken halves that we ordered were NOT COOKED.  EW!  I’m so glad we checked instead of just digging in.  We had to cook them in the oven for at least 20 minutes longer… they were really not finished!

Once they were cooked though, the chickens were my favorite part of our meal.  They were seasoned really well and the BBQ sauce on the side was so tasty.  We think there is cinnamon somewhere in the sauce, which added to the unique flavor.

Sunday night we made the trek to the end of the Atlantic City boardwalk to the new casino, Revel.  It’s really a must-see.  It’s beautiful.  We had Margarita’s at Distrito & ate an unbelievable dinner at Village Whiskey (both Jose Garces’ places!).  More on that later.  Trust me, you’ll want the juicy details.  

Mom & Mel sipping on Distrito Margaritas

Becky & Josh excited to be at Revel. Yes, there was a DJ in the lobby.

Fishy faces @ Village Whiskey

Mel (my sister), Becky, and I at Village Whiskey

Foggy night driving home from AC

Monday was a more relaxing day, with a long walk on the beach.  We tried a new hoagie place, took a nap, and drove home at 10pm to avoid traffic.  Great move.  

My little cousin Dani loves her Ice Cream Sandwich from John the Ice Cream Man!

Keep your eyes open for the Village Whiskey post – you won’t be sorry! (or if you’re like me, maybe you will because that will mean you’re going to have to go gain 5lbs next weekend and go yourself. )