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Visiting Kansas City

June 2, 2014

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Now that summer is in full swing, I’m afraid that I’ve been getting a little behind on posting recaps from our happenings over the past couple weeks. We had been meaning to visit Joe’s brother, Jason, and his wife, Ali, for a while now, and I’m glad we took advantage of the extra day of vacation over Memorial Day weekend to spend with them in Kansas City. I don’t think we could have asked for a better start to the summer season!

Colalge1*Please note: My pregnant sister-in-law is not drinking those beers. Just carrying them to the table for the boys. 😉
Joe and Jason spent a lot of time golfing and going to golf shops, while Ali and I did a lot of shopping, browsing around for new cosmetics, getting pedicures, working out and eating really tasty food.

Before our trip I was a little nervous about seeing Jason and Ali for the first times since our miscarriage, but I prayed deeply leading up to our trip that our time together would be blessed and that our relationships, which have always been close, wouldn’t be impacted by the differences that life has put between us.

I’m thankful that our time together was so sweet and not in the least bit awkward or strained. Ali is one of the most gracious people I have ever met, and although it was strange to talk about the contrasts in our lives right now, it was really healing, too.

Collage3Where We Ate:
Cafe Gratitude
This place was the perfect spot for lunch! The menu was a dream, filled with vegan and vegetarian options, certainly a place that Ali and I appreciated a little more than would have been appreciated by Joe and Jason.

What We Did:
Boulevard Brewery Tour
We arrived at 10 am on Sunday to stand in line for tickets, which are free. We got into the first tour of the day at 10:45. The tour was really interesting, especially for someone like me who doesn’t know a whole lot about beer.

Where We Shopped
Lush Cosmetics
I can’t believe I had never been into a Lush store before! Where have I been? Ali and I had a great time trying out all their products and I came home with a few different face scrubs and sprays that I’ve really been enjoying. The “Let the Good Times Roll” face scrub/cleanser is my new favorite and smells like a dream.

Madison

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E&C Travels: Austin, Texas

May 1, 2014

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We returned from Austin, Texas on Tuesday and are still talking about what an amazing time we had. I had been to Austin once previously on a work trip a few years ago, but this was the first trip for Joe and the first time I got to experience Austin on vacation terms. The food, the weather, the clothes, the general feel of the place, I loved it all!

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Thanks to a few good friends (I’m looking at you, Dessert for Two and Urban Wife) who are experts of sorts on Austin, we didn’t have a single bad meal on our trip. In case you’re planning on taking a trip to Austin (and you should) I’ve put together a little guide to help you avoid bad meals and bad hotels, too. Let’s get to it!

Stay
Hotel San Jose
Sometimes a hotel is just about a place to lay your head at night (like when you’re traveling through Europe) and sometimes it’s about the experience. For this vacation, we wanted our hotel to be a part of our experience, so we opted for a slightly pricier option in the Hotel San Jose. It’s certainly not cheap, but I really loved the hipster vibe that felt in sync with the entire feel of the city.

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This hotel isn’t big on extra fluff (no fitness center, small reception area, no spa) but it did deliver on the funky room, great outdoor lounge for happy hour and pretty (albeit small) pool for laying out. It’s also perfectly located on South Congress near great restaurants and shops. We didn’t rent a car and walked everywhere, so the location was perfect.

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Eat
Stubbs Barbeque
I loved this place! We went for lunch on Sunday and enjoyed a great buffet that was part brunch part traditional barbeque fare. We also loved listening to the live music while we ate.

Guero’s Taco Bar
I ate here a few years back when I was in Austin and again when we first arrived last weekend. It’s quick, delicious and great for lunch or dinner. They have breakfast on the weekend, too! Don’t miss the salsa bar for unlimited refills on a few different types of salsa.

Iron Works BBQ
Iron Works is a great option for a quick and relatively cheap dinner. You order as you go through the line and get your food right away, then find a seat to eat. We both got the brisket and agreed it was some of the best of our trip!

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This burger, beer and salad restaurant was packed every time we walked by (it was only a block from our hotel) so we figured we couldn’t miss out. Seriously, the line was out the door most of the time we were there. I was so happy the food didn’t disappoint! Joe ordered a burger, and I got a baby kale salad and added a black bean patty. We split and order of fries, too. Everything we ate was so good, and I can see why it’s so popular.

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I shouldn’t put this one last because it was the best meal of our trip. It’s “modern Japanese cuisine” which also includes sushi. We ate early, around 5:30 on a Monday and happened to come during their happy hour specials. The waitress suggested we order one of all 11 items on the happy hour tasting menu, and I’m so glad we did. Eating 11 different dishes throughout the meal was a great way to get a feel for the restaurant all at once.

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Coffee
Jo’s Coffee
Tom’s Coffee

Drinks
Hotel San Jose Lounge
Like I mentioned, they have a great outdoor lounge with music playing, small bites and drinks.

The Driskill Hotel
We walked after dinner one night to the Driskill Hotel for a drink in their hotel lounge. It was such a fun atmosphere in a really old-country way, complete with, you guessed it, more live music.

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I think that’s all I have! We packed a lot in our three days in Austin, but I could have easily stayed and eaten for another few days. We wanted to make it out to Salt Lick in Driftwood because we’ve heard great things, but we had to settle for Salt Lick in the airport for breakfast (not the same) and we were also hoping to spend a day biking around the city, which also never happened. Next time!

If you have any Austin recommendations, leave them in the comments below for people who may be traveling to Austin sometime soon!

Madison

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Chicago Part 1 (and a little blogging break)

March 16, 2014

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Hello, hello! I took a little blogging break, did you notice? It wasn’t really a planned blogging break, but it seems that life turned into a perfect storm of events, getting sick, being incredibly busy at work, and feeling a little creatively burnt out, mandating a break from structure and the constant push to churn out great recipes and content week after week.

One of the questions I get most frequently is where I find the time to maintain a blog while also having a full-time job as a food editor and a thousand other things on my plate. Most of the time it feels effortless because I’m bursting with ideas I want to share beyond the scope of the recipes I develop at work. But sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

Sometimes all the great ideas I have floating around in my head end up getting poured into what I’m working on at work and I’m left out of ideas and inspiration for a time. Perhaps it also has something to do with March gloom, when winter seems like it will never end and we’ll be stuck eating root veggies forever. Are you with me, friends?

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I always find that taking a little trip and trying some new foods refreshes my creativity. My work trip to Chicago couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m spending a long weekend with my co-workers in Chicago at the yearly International Association of Culinary Professionals meeting (IACP) and we’ve being eating our way through the city. We are half way through our trip so I thought I would do a little recap of where we’ve been and eaten thus far.

1. Chicago French Market 
The minute after we landed and dropped our bags off at the hotel we headed to Chicago French Market for lunch. It’s a great indoor market that has a bunch of food stalls where you can order a quick bite to eat. There’s also a small seating area to eat after you get your food. It was a fun place to go with a group because we were each able to order what sounded good to us and try a bunch of different foods.

2. Phoenix Restaurant, Chinatown 
My co-worker, Mary, lived in Chicago for five years so she led the charge on where we should eat on our trip. I’m certain I would never have ventured to Phoenix in Chinatown without Mary’s guidance. There’s certainly nothing impressive about the building or atmosphere, but the food was great! My favorite was the Moo-Shoo Vegetable, my standard order at any Chinese restaurant.

3. Eataly Chicago 
I’ve been to Eataly in NYC a number of times but the Eataly in Chicago is certainly worth a visit, too. It’s a huge, two-story building filled with everything Italian you could hope for. It also left me with a strong desire to return to Italy. Did I mention they have a Nutella bar?

4. Hot Chocolate
We didn’t actually go to Hot Chocolate, which I’ve heard is wonderful, but we did have the pleasure of taking an afternoon class about savory sweets with the chef of Hot Chocolate, Mindy Segal. She made us an apple pie with a smoked bacon fat crust and a chocolate cake that dreams are made of. If this is any indication of how good her restaurant is, I would highly recommend going. An added bonus: Mindy sent us home with a recipe for the chocolate cake. You better believe I’ll be re-creating it soon!

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5. Lyfe Kitchen 
Lyfe Kitchen has five locations around the country but this is their only location in the Midwest. I loved the health-forward, casual approach to their menu, and it totally catered to all types of eaters including vegans, vegetarians and gluten-free eaters as well as meat-eaters. Plus, the entire menu lists calorie counts so you know what you’re putting into your body, and everything is under 600 calories max!

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Our Trip to Italy: Rome

September 18, 2013

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I’m back today with the second installment about our trip to Italy! As you already know from my last post, Joe and I flew into and out of Rome. We found the best prices on flights from Minneapolis to Rome, with few stops and reasonable layovers, which guided our decision. When I was researching hotels in Rome and Florence, the two large cities visited, I had a tough time finding a place for us to stay. Joe was all about finding a place to stay that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and I was looking for luxe, spacious, clean and unique place to rest our heads.

Finding a hotel that met my expectations but fit into our budget was looking like an impossible task, until I decided to give AirBNB a try. Our friends Mike and Laura used AirBNB on their three week trip to Europe and said they had a fantastic experience. At first the idea of staying in an apartment that someone else owned in a foreign country without the typical luxuries of a hotel, staff and check-in desk freaked me out, but Mike and Laura assured us that as long as you read the reviews on each apartment (and picked a place with a lot of reviews) that you couldn’t go wrong. And they were right!

We used AirBNB in both Rome and Florence and had an amazing experience! Both places we stayed were used by the owners/hosts as a source of professional income and operated the apartments a lot like a hotel, so it didn’t feel like we were just staying in someone’s home while they were away, which I really appreciated. And we were blown away by the locations and space we got for our money. We paid around $150/night at both places and had a ton of space compared to small Italian hotel rooms. This was especially true for our place in Florence, which had an extra bedroom and bathroom that we didn’t even use. It could have easily been split between two couples. If you’re interested in our place in Rome, you can check it out HERE.

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Our first night in Rome we were so exhausted we could barely keep our eyes open through dinner. We found the nearest place in our Rick Steves guide book, ate a bowl of pasta and then went straight to bed so we could get up bright and early for a see-it-all-in-one-day tour of Rome. Our first stop was the ancient city, which is made up of ruins and portions of old buildings that were constructed around 2,000 years ago. It was crazy to see history that was so, well, old.

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We didn’t spend much time in the ancient city. Instead, we strolled through on our way to Rome’s most iconic sight, the Colosseum! It was only a couple miles from our apartment and hard to miss with its massive size and impressive structure. We didn’t pay for an audio tour or guide through the Colosseum, which I think was a big miss on our part. Although we had limited time that day, I think we would have gained a lot from a little extra information and history. As it was, we paid a lot to get in and just walked around for 30 minutes before heading on to our next site. Obviously we were aware of the basics of the history of the site, but the extra info would have been nice.

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After our time at the Colosseum it was on to the Pantheon, which was a stop on our way to the Vatican. Like I said, we walked a lot! I think we calculated that we walked somewhere between 8 and 9 miles that first day, which totally justifies eating pizza, pasta and ice cream all day. 😉

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I got a few questions about the “skirt” I was wearing in my photos from the Vatican and Vatican Museum. If you look closely, you can see that it’s not a skirt at all. It’s actually the scarf from my purse wrapped around my waist and clipped with a paper clip. The skirts worn in these places are supposed to be past your knees, so a lot of people end up wrapping scarves around their waists as a temporary solution!

In addition to visiting the Vatican Museum (mainly to see The Sistine Chapel) we also went on The Scavi Tour of St. Peter’s in the Vatican. The tour, which is not very well known and feels very secretive, was the best tour we went on while we were in Rome. Actually, it was probably the best tour we went to the whole trip! It came as a tip from one of Joe’s co-workers, who is Catholic. He tipped us off to this tour, which takes small groups of 14 or less on hour-long tours through the hidden levels below the Vatican and St. Peter’s. We even got to see St. Peter’s bones they excavated in the 50’s. Crazy, right?! If you are looking for an awesome tour, check out The Scavi Tour. Make sure you sign up in advance (a month or two at least) and follow all the instructions that are e-mailed to you closely.

Where we Ate:
1. Trattoria da Lucia: Great traditional Roman Italian food with modest prices for main dishes. Tucked away on a little street in the Trastevere neighborhood.
2. Dar Poeta Pizzeria: ohmygoshpizza that is known as some of the best pizza in Rome, according to the locals we spoke with and our Rick Steves guidebook. Go and eat great pizza, like the pizza in the first photo of this post.
3. Duecent Gradi: Amazing (I mean amazing) sandwiches near the Vatican and Vatican Museum. Hunt this place down, grab a sandwich and eat it outside in the sunshine.
4. L’Antica Birreria Peroni: When you hubby is craving a beer in a pub-type atmosphere, you head here. It was located near the Trevi Fountain and was a fun, cheap change of pace from the food we ate at the beginning of our trip.

Those of you who have been to Rome, what did I miss? Share your tips below!

Madison

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Traveling Italy: Siena

September 10, 2013

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Settle in, friends, and get ready for a bunch of posts about all things Italy and travel. Before I get to the specifics of our day in Siena, let’s talk a little bit about our trip in general. Joe and I have been thinking about taking a trip to Italy since we got married two years ago. Italy was the natural choice. I mean, what’s not to love? Amazing food, beautiful countryside, tons of history and super friendly people. Count us in!

I’m planning on covering the specifics of the costs of taking a trip like we did in another post, but for now, let’s talk about the fun stuff! With a little (okay, a lot) of help from Lauren over at Aspiring Kennedy, we planned our time in Italy accordingly:

Thursday, August 29th: Leave for Italy on the red eye flight
Friday, August 30th: Arrive in Rome at 4 p.m.
Saturday, August 31st: Full day of sightseeing in Rome
Sunday, September 1st: Travel by train from Rome to Florence (1.5 hour train ride) with afternoon sightseeing in Florence
Monday, September 2nd: Day trip to Siena (Tuscany region of Italy, 1.5 hour bus ride)
Tuesday, September 3rd: Day in Florence
Wednesday, September 4th: Travel by train from Florence to Cinque Terre (2.5 hour train ride)
Thursday, September 5th: Day on the beach in Cinque Terre
Friday, September 6th: Travel from Cinque Terre back to Rome (4.5 hour train ride)
Saturday, September 7th: Depart from Rome for home

Since I’m editing my photos out of order, these posts are probably going to come out of order. Let’s just overlook that, okay?

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Joe and I agreed that our favorite day in Italy was our trip to Siena. Since we had three full days in Florence, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a look at the Tuscan countryside and spend a day in a smaller town filled with a whole bunch of charm. We took the bus from Florence to Siena in the morning and took the last night bus back to Florence, giving us a full day there.

We didn’t really have an itinerary while we where in Siena, and I would suggest the same if you ever find yourself there. It’s a small town filled with a ton of adorable little clothing shops, cafes and places to stop and people watch. When we arrived in Siena, we each grabbed a slice of pizza and a Diet Coke and headed to the city center to people watch. There are no cars allowed in the center and people lounge around as if they are at the beach.

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After lunch we did a little window shopping, then, at the advice of Rick Steves, we set out in search of the Tuscan Wine School to sign up for a class on Tuscan Wines. It was a little on the pricey side (40 euro per person) but totally worth every penny! The two-hour-long class gave a brief history of wine in Italy and Tuscany and then proceeded to let us taste six different wines grown in the area. The wines we sampled were high quality wines and we got generous pours of each wine, so I think that’s 40 euro well spent! My favorite wine? The vin santo, a sweet, straw-colored dessert wine.

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We had a great group of people at our wine class, including a great couple from Switzerland (hello, Daniela and Fabian!) After our class wrapped up we grabbed dinner with our new friends at Zest Ristorante and Wine Bar. If you like good food and awesome ambiance, this is your place. Side note: Italy has now given me a true appreciation for the meaning of “al dente” pasta.

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We hopped on the last bus out of town and found ourselves back in Florence by 10, full and happy from an amazing day. When I read about Siena, everyone had amazing things to say about the town. And now, you can add me to the list of those who have fallen head-over-heels about Siena. You better believe we’ll be back!

Madison