Category: Uncategorized

Let us eat cake

Between my birthday (today), Australia Day (tomorrow), and National Chocolate Cake Day (the day after tomorrow), I thought I would leave this recipe for Lamingtons here to commemorate all three.  I haven’t used this recipe, but I can verify that Lamingtons are delicious.  Maybe as a variation, make the cake chocolate instead of vanilla dipped in chocolate so you can use it to celebrate Chocolate Cake Day!

For those who are unaware, this fabulous cake-based dessert came from Australia.  Read more here:  Lamingtons (Wikipedia).  Fun fact:  Proper Pie Co. in Richmond serves them because the owners are Kiwis and a variation of the dessert is popular in New Zealand as well.

Apparently I registered this blog on WordPress five years ago to this day, so I’ll celebrate that with cake too.

Until next time…  Aussie Aussie Aussie!  Oi Oi Oi!

Hard Reset

You remember that post I wrote last year about non-negotiables?  Well, a few weeks ago I quit my job with no backup plan because my boss had driven me to the breaking point.  It was a miserable environment to work in and it just wasn’t worth it to stay there anymore, despite having awesome co-workers, a nice paycheck and amazing benefits (plus I had already met the deductible on my insurance 😥 ).  But truly, I am so much happier and better off for having left, and despite all my fears and doubts about pulling the plug on my job with no new job to go to, I have no regrets about it.

So what have I been doing in the meantime?

  • I have a job at a gourmet cheese shop (hard life, right?)
  • Applying to jobs
  • Reading up on the ins and outs of being a freelance writer/editor.  It makes sense to pursue that considering that’s where all of my professional experience has been so far, and I’m good at and enjoy both of those things anyway.  But SO many people have blogged/written about freelancing that you slog through reading it, especially when they’re all trying to sell you something.  “Buy my e-books about freelancing and how liberating and lucrative it is!”  “Get this e-book for free when you sign up for my e-mail!”  (I can’t tell you how many of those I signed up for… -__- )
  • Taking classes on travel writing for publications and screenwriting.  Screenwriting has been something I’ve been meaning to get into for ages and just never have.  I figure it’s time to get more serious about it so I can try and get my ideas out in the world.  In July, I start a continuing education class at Georgetown, which I’m really excited about.  (Not going to lie, I was really hoping I could get a Georgetown ID out of it so I could be like, “Oh yeah, I’m a student at Georgetown” and get student discounts.  Oh well, I’ll have to settle for a Georgetown e-mail address.)
  • Reading.  After not having read Dean Koontz in years, his Ashley Bell has me hooked. I’ve also been keeping an eye on the contents of the little free library in my local organic grocery, by which means I have finally obtained a copy of Gone Girl.
  • Having lots of singalongs in the house when my roommates aren’t here.  This afternoon it was John Mayer’s Room for Squares, that high school-era quintessential album for millennials trying to figure out their lives; haven’t listened to it in years and still remember all the words.

I haven’t planned any trips as of yet, but I hope to go somewhere before the end of the summer.  We’ll have to see what happens!

What are your exciting summer plans?

To buy or not to buy?

The premise of cheap tickets to Australia this week has been awfully tantalizing.  The chance to revisit old haunts (Sydney, Balmoral Beach, Hobart) and find new ones; catching up with my former roommate Lulu; just being in Australia again; getting dark chocolate Tim Tams).  But one of two things holding me back is I’d be afraid i wouldn’t want to come home (which is itself an up-in-the-air concept as I attempt to figure out my next move).  I was so disappointed with the fact that I came home after only four months last time; I still think about Australia all the time (it doesn’t help that it’s all over my Instagram feed).  The other:  I’ve done a terrible job saving money.  I haven’t had a car loan for six months and haven’t taken advantage of that fact.
But the flights are so cheap i almost can’t help myself.  I was actually able to find the sale fares on United because I searched for it as soon as The Flight Deal tweeted it out (I happened to still be awake and on my phone after 11 pm last night).  Two tickets for an 18-day trip starting November 1 were less than $1200 roundtrip from Seattle.  (Sure there were day-long layovers in San Francisco on some of these flights.  Still not much of a downside there.)  Even my parents agreed it was almost too good to pass up.  That’s cheaper than one normally-priced roundtrip ticket!

But would I go back to Australia for a fourth time when there are still so many other places I haven’t been?  I’ve been to two countries in Europe.  That’s it.  (Yes, I know. #privileged) And for the money I’d spend in Australia, could I stretch it further somewhere else?  (Well, probably not anywhere on the Euro…which eliminates most of the places high on my list.) Currency exchange rates now are $1 American to $1.32 Australian (compare that to €.88)…but it’s still an expensive country.  But it’s Australia, a country I’ve been obsessed with since I first visited in 2001, nearly half my lifetime ago.

Like most things worth considering in life, there is no easy answer.

To be continued…?

All About Asheville

Did I really just accidentally take another four-month break from the blog?  Sigh.  Time does fly.  How is it 2016?  Weren’t we just celebrating New Year’s last year?  At any rate, happy new year!

So yes, my trip to Asheville was several weeks ago, and it was lovely.  I made a last-minute decision not to head to the Biltmore since I had already been and even discounted tickets were crazy expensive.  This worked out really well, because I discovered on this trip that there was a lot more of Asheville I hadn’t gotten to know (and a lot more beer to drink).

I got in several hours late Friday night as a flight was delayed (next time, I’m driving…), so the fun part of my trip didn’t really start until Saturday morning with a fabulous breakfast at Mamacita’s.  I noticed that people were lining up on sidewalks with chairs and cold weather gear and was told that the holiday parade was later that morning.  I walked around for a bit, discovering a whole part of downtown I hadn’t seen when I had been there four years prior.  I got some sustenance from French Broad Chocolate‘s new fancy and fabulous lounge (I dare you to read their menu and not start drooling).  The parade was much longer than I expected (nearly two hours!) and I ditched a bit early to get lunch at Farm Burger, which was easily my favorite meal of the whole trip.  The burger was delicious and came with gourmet free toppings such as roasted garlic and paprika mayo (there were even fancier toppings that were definitely not free).

In wandering around after the parade, I found a rally called Unchain AVL. Asheville is full of boutique stores (even several awesome local bookstores like Malaprop’s) and locally-owned businesses and restaurants.  An Urban Outfitters had just opened and locals were worried that its arrival would mean an influx of chain stores.  I hadn’t realized it previously, but in order to go to any chain stores like Target, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, you had to leave downtown.  It seemed to me like a rally was unnecessary–if you don’t want a store to survive, don’t spend your money there.  But I guess they want to ensure the livelihood of all the local businesses there, and it’s hard to say no to that.

That night, I went to the North Carolina Arboretum to see their Winter Lights display.  I’ve seen displays that I’ve liked much better, but it was a good way to spend an evening.

I had stayed at the Asheville Hostel and Guest House during my first trip to Asheville and had loved how easy it was to walk everywhere from there. Its proximity to downtown was ideal, and parking wasn’t too much of a fuss.  But if you’re a beer lover, now there is the added bonus of being close to loads of breweries.  I think someone told me there were seven breweries within a few minutes’ walk of the hostel!  I only visited a couple (I wish I had gotten to Highland, but it was outside town) but was overall impressed with the quality of beer in the area.  Wicked Weed Brewing, one of the more popular local breweries, was so full Saturday afternoon I left without trying any of their beer; same with Burial.  I didn’t make it to Green Man, but did have some of their porter at Farm Burger, and it was delicious.  I did get to Twin Leaf but wasn’t a fan of their stuff–not my style.

Top Tip:

If you want delicious doughnuts, beer and barbeque in Asheville, go hang out on Banks Ave.  I started my Sunday at Vortex Doughnuts, had lunch at Buxton Hall Barbecue, and then had amazing beer at Catawba Brewing.  They’re all in the same building, so you don’t have to go too far!

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 4.11.44 PM
Google Maps results for breweries in Asheville.  (Asheville Hostel and Guest House is to the right of Asheville Brewing Company’s tag; one block apart, you can see ABC from the hostel’s front yard.)

My last morning in Asheville was spent the same way it was during my last trip:  Driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I didn’t get very far, turning around after I reached the visitor’s center (which was very nice, by the way) and heading toward the closest location of Tupelo Honey, a local restaurant.  Conveniently, they now have a location in Arlington, so I can satisfy my curry fried chicken craving and have a taste of Asheville whenever I want…although I might have to have French Broad send me some of those coconut macaroon brownies.

To sum it up, Asheville is a cute small city in the mountains with an interesting mix of hippies and hipsters, all of whom love their food and beer and want to source locally as much as possible.  Hard not to admire that.

 

Want to read about my previous exploits in Asheville?  Click here.

Non-negotiables*

I turned 30 earlier this year, and to be honest, 2015 so far hasn’t been quite what I was hoping for.  Things can happen unexpectedly, sometimes completely out of your control.  But sometimes trials and annoyances make you reconsider where your life is versus where you want it to be.  We make lists of non-negotiables for potential partners–why not for our own lives?

Ideally, I’d be living out west (Portland specifically, but I’d consider moving elsewhere) working at a job that allows me to be creative…and pays enough for me to be able to live alone and still have a comfortable life (it helps thinking that my car is FINALLY almost paid off).  Life doesn’t always allow you to check all those boxes at once, though, so you consider what takes priority.

Am I really so afraid of earthquakes that I won’t move to Portland?  Er…possibly?  Do I really think I could get by financially without having a roommate ever again?  Probably not.  Can I promise myself I’ll never have a mind-numbing, boring office job again (no more Excel spreadsheets ever again pls)?  No, but damned if I won’t try.

As we move into the last third of the year (!), I’m thinking about a game plan for the coming 6-12 months.  I’ve never been good at life pre-planning or long-term goal-setting (which is essentially why I came home from Australia after only four months), so this will take a lot of effort on my part.  But it needs to happen.

So, what are your non-negotiables?

Passing the Time in Portland

The train ride to Portland was nice and comfortable (the train wasn’t very full, which helped) with great views.  I loved that there were tv screens throughout the cabins telling you what you were looking at as you passed by.  And the four-hour ride was only $26!  Hard to argue with that.

I got a cheap cab ride to my hotel and lamented that the area I was in didn’t look like it had much character or much going on.  I was completely wrong.  At first, I thought there were just divey bars or places that didn’t interest me very much.  I had thought Besaw’s, just two blocks from the hotel, only served breakfast and lunch, but it turned out they also served dinner most nights of the week.  I told myself I would have leftovers for the next morning, but my burger mysteriously disappeared.

The next day, I set out early to rent a car–I was tired of dealing with public transportation and also figured I’d be driving out a bit beyond its reach anyway.  I hadn’t made a prior reservation, so the woman working at Enterprise told me they only had a luxury car or a truck.  Neither of those sounded great to me, but I knew there was no way I could confidently drive a truck, so I chose the luxury car, a BMW.  Now, I have a poor opinion of people who drive them–many of the ones in Northern Virginia just tend to think they own everything and that you and the rules of the road are inconveniencing them–but man did I quickly come to enjoy that car.

I went to the Japanese Gardens and arrived just in time for a free tour to begin.  I was really glad to have had such an informative tour guide, because otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated what I saw nearly as much.  The International Rose Test Garden is in the same park, so I found my way over there and ran into someone from the Japanese Garden tour and we palled around for a little while, eventually going to Dwaraka to get lunch from the buffet.  (I enjoyed the food until I found a hair.)

The pagoda near the entrance of the Japanese Gardens.
The pagoda near the entrance of the Japanese Gardens.

I had dinner plans with a friend that night, so I went back to my hotel to shower and chill for a while.  I wish I had made better use of my time that day by going to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, but oh well–next time.  I got a cab to Pok Pok, and the driver told me all about how Portland isn’t as great as it used to be now that all these new people are moving in, but he also made sure to tell me to get Pok Pok’s fish sauce wings.  Sounds weird, but he was right–they are delicious!  After dinner, my friend and I moved on to Noble Rot, a fantastic wine bar situated right outside downtown; in the evenings, you can get a view of the sun setting over the mountains behind the city.  We got the last table, so we lucked out, and we’d arrived just in time for sunset.  The atmosphere was nice and not too stuffy, and the waitress was really cool.  Again, the bar is in an industrial area and on the fourth floor of a building, so you kind of have to look for it, but definitely worth seeking out.

I was sad when my last full day of vacation rolled around–I had just gotten to Portland and now I had to get ready to leave.  I had breakfast at Besaw’s (on its last day open 😦 ) and took the car for an enjoyable drive out to Multnomah Falls, which I was only familiar with because I’d read about it in a novel.  I wanted to drive out to The Gorge, or at least deeper into the mountains, but hadn’t realized quite what a commitment that would be, so Multnomah Falls, 45 minutes outside Portland, was a good compromise.

Multnomah Falls

I came back to the hotel to shower and change before having a wander around.  From a map I’d seen of the Nob Hill neighborhood, a lot of interesting cafes and restaurants looked really far away, but weren’t at all.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to eat, but as I walked by Southland Whiskey Kitcken, I was enticed by the thought of BBQ and whiskey (and the ’90s-era Mariah Carey song playing outside).  I only wish I could’ve finished my dinner; it’s a shame to throw away good food.  I did manage to finish most of the local Oregon whiskey from my sampler though (the primary reason I didn’t was because the first had a bug in it).  I enjoyed the Burnside Bourbon sample best of all.  I was going to get ice cream from Salt & Straw, but the line didn’t move much in the 10 minutes I stood there, so I sauntered on until I found Moonstruck Chocolate (kind of regretting that decision upon seeing Salt & Straw’s flavor list now, but oh well).

Saturday morning, my friend met me at my hotel and we walked a few blocks over to the Industrial Cafe* for breakfast, where once again, my eyes proved bigger than my stomach**.  I managed to eat the side of bacon I’d ordered and one of the three massive slabs of French toast (I made sure to eat those candied walnuts though), and my friend ate another.  Before I knew it, I was back at the airport and genuinely bummed to be leaving.  I definitely look forward to going back.

*Apparently on this trip I visited at least two places (Ezell’s Chicken in Seattle and Portland’s Industrial Cafe) that Guy Fieri had featured on his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I did enjoy my meals from both places, but please let it be known that I hate that guy.

**I’m sure I would have finished more of my meals on vacation if not for my allergies, but it turns out I’m allergic to the Pacific Northwest, which is a shame, because I really like it there.

Seattle

Ah, Seattle.  The best continuous calf workout of my life.  Seriously, they hurt pretty much the entire time I was there because of all the walking I did.  And the hills.

Saturday afternoon I just wandered around the city going to places like Pike Place Market and just generally getting a feel for things.  But I crashed by 7:45 since I’d been awake for 19 hours.

Sunday I went to the EMP Museum (f.k.a. the Experience Music Project), which was one of my main attractions in Seattle.  I was beyond excited to find out that there was a Star Wars costume exhibit that was having its world premiere there (shoutout to the Smithsonian!), and I geeked out during the entire walkthrough.  I had always loved Padme’s clothes and could have stared at her outfits all day.  But there were yet other interesting permanent exhibits at the EMP, such as the fantastic Fantasy exhibit, which features outfits and props from Game of Thrones, LabyrinthThe Princess Bride, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, and more.  The exhibit talks about the different character archetypes in fantasy stories (The Fool, The Maiden Warrior, etc.) and you can take a quiz to determine which one you are.  The Infinite Worlds sci-fi exhibit was cool, although I was personally disappointed that there were only two props from Doctor Who, a show that’s been on for over 50 years.  But there were a lot of other things to check out, like outfits and props from TerminatorAlien, and the more recent iteration of Battlestar Galactica.  There was also a whole exhibit on Nirvana, which I feel like as a music nerd I should have found more interesting, but the grunge movement happened when I was too young to understand or appreciate it.  Maybe you had to be there?  There’s the Sound Lab, where you can attempt to make music with a number of different instruments, and you can even record a song or video and take it with you! The ultimate souvenir, right?

After leaving the EMP, I found my way back to Pike Place and bought souvenirs at the original Starbucks, which itself is not much to see–they offer a lot of memorabilia and coffee drinks and that’s about it.  It might be a little disappointing if you want the full “Starbucks experience” after you’ve been standing in line for about half an hour.  I also found the amazing Seattle Public Library Central branch downtown–in looking it up to write this post, I just found out there were tours of it, and I wish I had known that while I was there!  It’s a curious architectural marvel of oddly-angled glass and metal.

That evening, I hung out with a friend and former roommate who last year moved to the Seattle area, and we drove to West Seattle since the skies had cleared a little and the views out that way were really good.  But we found that the views weren’t quite up to what he’d hoped, and also that everything in West Seattle closes by 8 p.m. on Sundays, so we went to Taqueria el Rinconsito, a local Mexican chain.  The tacos were tiny, but they did not skimp on flavor.

Memorial Day was overcast and I had my friend drop me off at Boeing’s Museum of Flight, which is an excellent way of spending a bad weather day.  It reminded me a lot of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center out near Dulles Airport.  There’s a lot to see, and if you’re an aviation nerd, it’s a must-see. You can explore a plane that used to be Air Force One, a Concorde, and one of the 787 Dreamliners!  There were lots of fun flight-themed finds in the museum gift shop too, and I could have easily spent even more money than I did.  After I had finished exploring the museum, I caught a bus up the street to Georgetown, a part of town that requires a wander before you realize it has a record and comics shop and lots of great bars and restaurants like the excellent Fonda la Catrina (the mole sauce is amazing!), where I saw the staff from The Hangar Cafe, where I’d had fabulous breakfasts two days in a row.  There’s even a bar with old arcade games in it! (Apparently that’s a thing now. I’ve heard about them in other cities too.)

On Tuesday, my last full day in Seattle, the weather cleared some early in the morning, so I got an early start and was one of the first people to go to Columbia Tower Sky View Observatory that day.  It’s both cheaper and taller than the Space Needle (which I didn’t think looked that impressive in person), and it does have pretty sweet views.

I also took the ferry to Bainbridge Island, which is very picturesque and quiet, with a lot to offer. There’s an art museum, a walking trail, boutique shops, restaurants and bars, and wine tasting rooms and distilleries.  It would easy to fill at least one day here!

My friend came by that night to pick me up and we went to dinner at Ezell’s Chicken, which was indeed tasty, and I got a glimpse of the views from his apartment parking lot. This picture doesn’t even compare to his.

The view from my friend's apartment parking lot.  Horrible, right?
The view from my friend’s apartment parking lot. Horrible, right?

The next morning, my friend picked me up again and we ventured into the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle, which was super cute–my friend said he would even considering living there.  Not as industrial looking as Georgetown, with yet more shops, cafes, restaurants and bars lining the streets.  The buildings were more attractive, and the area had a lot to offer.  We were able to have a leisurely breakfast before driving around Seattle a little more.  We drove by a waterfall garden park right in the middle of downtown–I wish we’d had time to check it out, but I had a Portland-bound train to catch.

Seattle felt like a missed opportunity since the weather was less than ideal for views. I didn’t do much outdoorsy stuff in terms of going to parks or seeing views (shoutout to Chris at the Chocolate Box for giving me all these suggestions though).  Downtown Seattle to me felt like pretty much any other downtown area, but the neighborhoods were what made it for me.  I’d go back.  What did I think of Portland, you ask?  You’ll just have to read on!