To the beach!

Just returned from a week at Outer Banks.
View from the balcony
It was my first time ever going to North Carolina. The place we stayed was right along the shoreline so even though I’m not a big beach person, we still managed to go out for a walk along the beach and play in the waves a little each night. And each night, we got a little wetter than the night before until on our last evening there, I got wiped out by a particularly strong wave and fell in the water. I consider that a full on beach experience. We found sand in our dryer when we did our laundry.

It rained the first day we were there so we mostly stayed in. The only excursion we went out for was to see the Wright Brothers Memorial National Park.
Model of the Wright Bros. Airplane
The park ranger lady here gave a great presentation about the Wright Brothers and how they came to Kitty Hawk to make their flying machine. (Some of the main considerations were the soft landing sand, windy conditions, and privacy in the middle of nowhere.)

This is the Nature Conservancy’s Nags Head Woods. We visited it on our second day.
Duck weed in the waters
It was one of my favorite parts of the trip. There were many trails to hike through and we saw frogs and mushrooms galore. The majority of this was nice and shady. While we walked, a park ranger and his faithful lab walked through the forest cutting down overgrowing tree branches and overgrowths to keep the trails clear.

After the hike through the woods, we drove past Jockey’s Ridge (sand dunes) to Roanoke Island. This is the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo.
Lighthouse in Manteo
It’s just a small building with a little light on it. I was expecting the traditional tall swirly building along a rocky cliff with rough waves breaking along the shore. Nope. It’s along a peaceful bay by Roanoke Sound. Not much to ooh and ahh over really.

Right next to it is the Roanoke Island Festival Park where they have a sort of Colonial Williamsburg type display of how the colonists lived, how the Croatan natives lived, and the rinky dink Queen Elizabeth II sailboat that brought the men over to Roanoke Island.
Elizabeth II Replica
This ship (boat) had some guides on it who described the living conditions of the 50 men on board. I can’t imagine how 50 clowns squeezed into that thing. Even the captains quarters was tiny. They drank short beer and did their business at the front of the ship through wooden slats. The trip took 100 days to cross the Atlantic. Clearly the Disney movie Pocahontas had one more thing wrong. The scale of that ship needed to be way smaller. It wasn’t the same ship, but back in the day, their ships were all pretty small.

Finally, we rounded out the Roanoke Island tour exploring the Elizabethan Gardens.
Elizabethan Gardens
Started the day with a hike and ended with a hike. A more groomed version of the Nags Head Woods.

Oh, and I couldn’t leave North Carolina without getting a full on Brew Thru experience.
Brew Thru
You drive your car into the car port, turn off your engine and shop for beers and wines as the staff loads up your car. I took a picture as we pulled in and the lady asked, “Let me guess, this is your first time here?” Ah-yup! And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just hope we enjoy the local Outer Banks beers too. We got some Weeping Radish beer.

The Silver Line

Ta-daaah!
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The Silver Line started operating 2 weeks ago. I took a leisurely ride out to the Wiehle-Reston station just to check out the sights and new stations. I was hoping to ride in a new train too but they aren’t out yet.
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Since it was just the second day of operations when I did this, there were many people like me aboard. Riding just to ride and take photos.

Finally it’s here.

Anticipation for the Silver Line

The Silver Line is starting on Saturday. That’s THIS coming Saturday. 3 more days. I’ve been hearing about this Silver Line since 2001. (I’m sure talk of it started way before then.) Still, it was just talk. “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Well, this week, the Orange Line has been running Silver Line practice runs that end at East Falls Church where the Orange and Silver Line split off. That’s real enough for me.

Amish Country

May. That’s when I started planning a trip to Lancaster, PA. I picked it because it was within easy driving distance and some friends had gone there and recommended it. July seemed so distant at the time I can’t believe the trip has come and gone. We knew we wanted to check out the Amish countryside. Bird-in-Hand. And since we were doing small town, I thought a bed and breakfast would fit the bill too. Then I found the Fulton Theatre. Turns out they were showing Les Miserables. Sold! I nailed down the weekend we would visit based on the availability of better seats for that show. I built the itinerary around the show. We pre-watched song performances on YouTube in preparation for the show. As you can tell, this was the trip highlight.

So with one full day there, here’s what we did.
First, we went to Bird-in-Hand and rented bicycles. We biked around to their farmer’s market. Walked around that for a bit. They had knick knacks for tourists and sold jams, jellies, mustards, pretzals, sandwiches, cheeses. Y’know. Amish stuff. Then we biked over to another little market that had a little petting zoo right next to it.
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The market wasn’t too different from the previous one, but the goats running around with the chickens were pretty cool.

The nice thing about bicycling around Amish country is, when you’re off the main road, there aren’t too many other cars or horse drawn buggies. I haven’t biked in years so even though I still remembered how, I was wobbly on it. We eventually got comfortable enough on them, even passed a buggy (going real slow, obviously). The roads weren’t too hilly.

After returning the bicycles, we drove to downtown Lancaster to explore yet another Amish market. Even though I generally love grocery stores and markets these weren’t all that interesting to me. Not a large variety of produce. The most interesting stall was a guy selling celery. They looked smaller and homegrown. That’s all he sold. We were in and out of the market pretty quickly. Next stop, Spring House Brewery for lunch and some beers to cool us off after that bike ride. They had some interesting flavored stouts. Egg Nog stout tasted like sarsaparilla. Yums.

And then, the pièce de résistance: Les Miserables at the Fulton Opera House.
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This theatre was built in 1852. It’s old and beautiful on the inside. And the best part, it’s small. Not a bad seat in the house. I had managed my expectations about this show, thinking more high school production and less Broadway act. It turned out to be more Broadway act (or so it seemed based on what I saw on YouTube). My goodness, the music was amazing. I cried throughout the whole thing. The lady next to me cried. Everybody died. It was spectacular. For the Fulton Theatre alone, I would come back and do this whole trip over again. For a different performance of course. Les Miserables has great songs but it’s emotionally taxing. Once for sure, and once is enough.

For dinner, we went to the John J. Jeffries restaurant located at the Lancaster Arts Hotel.
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Fresh ingredients make tasty dishes. We practically licked our plates clean.
By 8 PM we were back to our room at the B&B. It was a long day for us. Long, fun, and memorable.

Estimated Costs:
Gas: ~$40
B&B (2 nights): ~$200
Dinner (2 nights): $110
Lunch and beer: $30
Bicycle rentals ($10/hour): $25
Fulton Theatre: $120
TOTAL: ~$525

Austin

I enjoyed visiting Austin. New experience. The weather was pretty much perfect. I drove up and down the highways getting lost during my shopping excursions and learned my way around town a little bit.

Among the most memorable things we did:
Olive oil tasting at Texas Hill Olive Country.
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Wine tasting
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The wines were great. It wasn’t really Austin wine since their grapes came from central California. That might explain why it was good though. We got a few bottles.

Hot sauce tasting at Tears of Joy.

Eating.
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We had breakfast tacos every day.

Enjoying live music.
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Shopped at Central Market. A huge grocery store that can only be described as a cross between Whole Foods and Wegman’s. It has everything you could imagine and more. Central Market had me envisioning living in Austin.

But it’s just a fleeting thought. Although I wouldn’t mind living there, it wouldn’t be my top pick. Food and mass transit being two of the bigger reasons.
As much as I say we have a dearth of good restaurants in this area, there are even fewer there. Their renowned bbq spot, Salt Lick was good.
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Look at all that meat! But we actually have some pretty good BBQ places here too. We weren’t blown away by Salt Lick. Food is pretty inexpensive though. Breakfast for 2, $10 (including tip). Lunch for 2, $20. Dinner for 2, you guessed it, $30.

Everything is fairly spread out. Even their “city” is fairly suburban. It’s very bike friendly but I’m not sure it’s realistically walkable. And although they do have a bus system, I don’t think it goes out very far and I wasn’t aware of any metro system.

They weren’t kidding about the live music though. We didn’t even have to really go out of our way to see it. Even on the streets, people were playing violins or guitars and singing. All in all, a fun weekend visit.

Tejas

I’ve never been to Texas. It’s such a Confederate state. Kinda’ scares me. Do I need to shop for Kevlar? Yipes! This coming from a Confederate state resident so yeah, I’m totally pot calling the kettle black. But I’m scared of the unknown. Ignorance does that. Gonna fix that next week though. Going to go and educate myself first hand about the second biggest state in the U.S. who somehow got a new drug supply for their death penalty even though the drug companies refused to sell it to them, so they won’t say where they got it from. One can only guess their shady ways. Guess the 6th commandment was lost to them somewhere in there. Political differences aside, I’m looking forward to taking in the local culture.

Ever since we booked the tickets, I’ve been reading up about places to eat. And shop (Lent is over soon!) and eat. And eat. Bbq! (So much for cutting back on meat.) Mexican food! And definitely a big helping of live music at the live music capital of the world.

Austin here we come! I promise not to come back with cowboy boots, a ten-gallon cowboy hat, and an obscene belt buckle.

Blacksburg

I got to visit Blacksburg last week. It was about a 4.5-hour drive into the middle of nowhere with the most scenic views. It would’ve been even better in October or November. We stopped by Harrisonburg on the way there and ate at The Little Grill Collective which serves some vegetarian/vegan entrees.
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The decor was very different, kinda’ like a place forgotten by time. I noticed the people actually talked to each other while dining rather than stared at their mobile devices. I rather liked that.

By the time we got to Blacksburg, it was close to 10PM so we stopped by Sharkey’s for a beer and to check out the college town. Then we checked into our motel. It was pretty nice. Nothing fancy. The next morning, we headed over to their complimentary breakfast station. Even at 9AM, it looked like they’d cleaned most of the stuff up. Everything except for a still-hot Belgian waffle iron and right next to it, a pan of waffle mix with bits of sausage in it. Yum! Sausage waffles. That’s a new one. I proceeded to eagerly spoon the batter into the iron, then shut it. After maybe a minute, I flipped it and the batter drip dripped all over the iron. Flipped too soon perhaps. Then I smelled sausages. And it was still dripping. I opened the iron, and oh geez, it was a bad time. I said quietly, “Oooh, I think I’m done with breakfast. Let’s uh.. go. Act cool. Walk slowly and be cool.”
It was sausage gravy, not waffle batter. Their waffle iron was in bad shape.

I went to Chick-Fil-A for oatmeal. Then I shopped at TJ Maxx for like 3 hours. Then Target. Then the Dollar Tree. Then Applebee’s for lunch. Then Lowe’s. Then Ann Taylor Loft. I concede, I was shopped out. It isn’t fun shopping alone either. But I got some cool deals. Lots of soaps and salon-fancy hair products as well as some shirts and a dress for $7.50 at Target! I love Target.

On our way home, we stopped at Staunton for dinner at Mrs. Rowe’s.
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We shared half of a fried chicken, which was delicious and tried spoon bread. Our waitress described it as a corn meal bread/mash you eat with a spoon. That was pretty much what it was. Corn bread you eat with a spoon.

The whole trip was fun, visiting somewhere new, but I’m glad I didn’t come to college here. It reminded me too much of my high school. Small town. Low diversity. Seemingly friendly people, but I could see them frowning on the non-assimilators. Perhaps I’m the one who is being small-minded for broad brushing them, but that’s the general feeling I got from having been there one day. I wouldn’t mind going back though. I just couldn’t see myself living there. It’s funny because I felt like State College, PA was also rather small-towny but for some reason it didn’t give me the heebie jeebies as much. I felt like Blacksburg reminded me more of Poolesville. Maybe it’s that southern feeling.

Loving that shopping a little too much

For some reason, when I’m around my sister, I really get into shopping. I think it’s having a shopping buddy who is interested in stuff I’m interested that feeds into that. Gathering is a social activity. Plus, being away from home makes every shopping moment feel so fleeting so I have to get it or I won’t ever have another chance and then I’ll regret not buying it.

First stop – the Ferry Building in SF. I got these dried beans at the Rancho Gordo shop. They were labeled heirloom, many I had never heard of before and since I love cooking with dried beans, I got a couple to try. Scarlet Runner and Pinquitos. Organic dried beans are usually $2/lb. These were $6/lb. We also got a bottle of spicy chili olive oil.

So a side story about the beans. The family laughed at me for hauling dried beans up the hills of SF to the House of Prime Rib for dinner that night. Of all things to buy in SF, I buy beans! Seemingly ubiquitous little things. Then we went to Napa to some fancypants Meadowood restaurant and what do we see during our tour of the kitchen? Rancho Gordo beans!
Rancho Gordo beans
BAM!
The assistant chef guide told us they were highly coveted beans, even in the kitchens he worked in in NYC. Vindicated. I will be cooking my fancypants beans for Thanksgiving. Thankyouverymuch!

Next, Napa. I got 2 whites (sauvignon blanc and semillon), 2 reds (cabernet franc and sangiovese), a rose and rosato (same thing?) and a sparkling from Mumm.
Miner, ZD, Conn Creek, and Rutherford

As if that wasn’t enough, we dipped into a Beverages and More shop and got 4 more bottles of reds a couple days later. They were buy one get one! That I only got 4 bottles was a feat of self-control.
Californian reds

On to the Farmer’s Market for more olive oil. This trip was all about the olive oil. I got the best tasting olive oil from a vineyard in Napa years ago and have been looking for something like it again ever since. I ended up getting a bottle from two stalls as well as some olive oil face cream from one of them. Bariani. I love their face cream and have gone through many jars.
Olive Oil, beans, hot sauce

We also went to a hot sauce shop that gave hot sauce tastings. If hot sauce is your thing, you gotta check out Heat. We got a sweet potato hot sauce and a jar of chili seasoning spice mix.

On to the non-edibles. I went to this little Japanese yen ($1.50) store called Daiso. It has tons of tchotchkes galore! None of it seemed of very good quality though, I only got some needle threaders which I needed for my sewing kit. Then we went to Body Time, which is a little boutique soaps and lotions and fragrance shop. I didn’t want to get any more liquid bottles of stuff considering I already got so many liquids so I stuck to bar soaps.
Body Time
They smell so nice I’m actually using some of them as drawer fresheners.

My sister’s latest weird obsession is fountain pens and after playing with her 4 or 5 pens, I wanted to get one.
Fountain pen
I ended up taking one of hers because a free pen was the best deal I could find. Of course, you can’t walk around with a fancy pen without a fancy notebook. Everyone seems to be carrying one around these days. My coworker. My sister. Her friend. That about covers everyone. All going old school on me suddenly! Notebooks and fountain pens?? I started journaling again because I want to use the pen.

And while I’m on the subject of taking my sister’s stuff, here’s a few more items I pillaged.
Nail polish and lipgloss
Toxic-free nail polish. I love the orangey red color and got compliments from people on it! It’s called Mai Tai, made by a brand called Nailtini. I’m sporting it in the picture. I also love this Juice Beauty lip gloss which tastes good and isn’t sticky!

On our last day there, my sister and I walked by a small shoe store, Model Shoe Renew, in Berkeley which had sale signs posted all over their windows. With no intention of buying anything (isn’t that always how it starts?) we took a look and quickly spotted these very cute wingtip oxfords (OTBT Hammonds) which I’ve been coveting for months. I have shopped far and wide for this style of shoes and here they were, exactly the style I wanted, cushioned soles, and on sale.
Wingtip Oxfords
They are made of very soft comfortable leather and make my feet look narrow.

So as we shopped I never really concerned myself too much about the packing. I figured we’ll figure it out on the last day and what I can take, I’ll take and what I can’t, lucky sister! We were able to pack everything but the sparkling wine and everything made it back home in tact. Phew!

Ankle biters

My niece and nephew have fleas.
Flea bitten varmints
They suspect the fleas maybe have followed them home from outside or from when they were boarded for a week at a rabbit sanctuary. Some of the rescues at the sanctuary at the time brought in fleas and shared it with the rest of the bunnies.
Flea Bitten Varmint
So now I have about 15 or so flea bites on my body, mostly around my ankles and feet.

I can’t believe how big she’s grown.
Fluff vs. my size 7 foot
She was just a baby when I saw her 3 years ago. Now she’s a full grown Flemish Giant.

Hellspawn still scares me but he’s a lot nicer. I can actually pet him.
Hellspawn

We also hung out with the neighborhood cats a lot. They get food from my b-i-l so they have become regulars around the house.

This kitten they’ve dubbed Shorthair, is the most frequent visitor.
Shorthair

Eating gluttonously in Cali

We ate like Pac-Man.  If I were to do a quick rundown of the trip, it would go something like this: Eat.  Eat.  Pet bunnies.  Eat. Eat. Pet kitties. Eat. Drink. Pet bunnies. Eat. Eat. Play games. Drink. Eat. Pet kitties. Play games.  Eat.

In fact, if I were to milestone this trip it would be based on our dining experiences.

  1. Barney’s – great burgers. Barney's burger
    We thought it was comparable to BGR.  Bad falafel.  Skip the fried vegetables, go for the sweet potato or curly fries.  Excellent shakes.
  2. Ippuku – izakaya.
    Natto pocket
    Love the ambiance, it’s like they replicated a street scene.  This is definitely on my list of places to revisit on the next trip.
  3. House of Prime Rib – gluttony to a whole new level.
    English Cut
    Here I am trying to not eat (too much) meat, attempting to transition to a mostly plant-based diet and BAM!  Fail.  I ate the most tender, juicy, flavorful cow.  And I liked it.  I wish I didn’t, but I did.  Dammit.  The food was so enjoyable and the service was so friendly. It was quite the experience.
  4. The Restaurant at Meadowood – Gotta go to Napa, gotta eat in Yountville.  The food was fantastic, the wine pairings were amazing!! They opened some fancy wines some as far back as when I was in high school.  The service was incredibly friendly, they even invited us to the back to check out the chef in action.  I want to say this though, it wasn’t as good as French Laundry.  Each of the dishes at French Laundry were delicious.  It ranged from good to wowza!  Meadowood’s dishes had fewer wowza’s and a few okays and one or two I spat out or wanted to.
    Prawn was wowza.
    Spot prawn summer curryPotato had me licking my plate.
    Potatoes cooked in beeswax assorted sorrelsChoked down this adductor.
    AdductorAnd… I spat out the green thing.
    Plate of local fruit
  5. Pepple’s – vegan donuts.  What better way to cure a wine-tasting hangover than Phil’z Coffee and some fritters and donuts.
    Cinnamon Roll and Apple Fritter
    I wasn’t a fan of the donuts but I loved the banana and the apple fritters. Washed it down with some good black coffee. Then it was off to the farmer’s market.
  6. Slow – I wish I took pictures but the sandwich was so good we gobbled it up before we had the chance.  This is another place I plan to come back to on my next visit.
  7. Cafe Gratitude – Aside from the cheesiness of the dishes (What the heck kind of dish is”I Am Enchanted”??) the food was great.  I was so jealous of the delicious vegan/vegetarian options available out here.  This is another place I’d like to come back to on my next visit, or maybe another vegan restaurant.
  8. Grilled at home.  We had grilled ribs, steak, and sausages and stole some Chinese broccoli from the bunnies to grill as well.  Yum yum!  Eating in was fun and we got to play a lot of Dominion after dinner.
  9. Dimsum – I don’t know where but it was good.  I mean, dimsum, y’know.  Chicken feet and tofu skin with shrimp.
  10. Little Star Pizza versus Zachary’s.
    Zachary's (left) and Little Star (right)
    I have been wanting to do this throw-down of Berkeley’s best deep dish pizzas for a long time.  Reviewers seemed to really feel strongly one way or the other and I wanted the final say.  And I say Zachary’s (the one on the left).  The sauce is better.  Little Star’s sauce was too tangy.  Zachary’s sausage was savory and flavorful.  Little Star’s had a strong beef taste.  Little Star’s crust, though it held up better, because it was stiffer cornmeal crust, wasn’t as tasty as Zachary’s flakey dough crust.  I have not had better deep dish pizza anywhere.
  11. Angeline’s Kitchen – Louisiana.  Good fried chicken.
  12. Kirala – Still one of my favorite sushi places.
    Robata Squid
    This is my favorite, the grilled robata squid.
  13. Asha Tea House – I came here about 3 times this visit.  It’s like Starbucks but for tea, and it’s not a chain.  Their teas are so fragrant and made just right.  Even the temperature is just hot enough but not scalding. I’ll be back here for sure.