Thursday, September 30, 2010

Food Review: Lebanese Taverna

Lebanese Taverna
719 S. President Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

We had a nice meal at Lebanese Taverna, after walking along the Inner Harbor to Harbor East. The weather was just perfect for sitting on the outside patio area.

Dinner out

We were promptly brought fresh pitas with dipping oil. When you first try the pitas, it was sort of like "Well, these are pretty good" but by the end, I was thoroughly enjoying their pillowy softness and delicious lemony salty taste with the olive oil dipping sauce. They are definitely unlike pitas I've had anywhere else.

Pitas and Dip

Now onto the main course. Though I was tempted by the Hummos Bar, I ordered the Vegetarian Mezza platter (~$14). This included (from their website): fatayer b'jibneh, m'saka, foole m'damas, baba ghannouge, hommos, fattoush, fatayer b'sbanigh, lebneh, and falafel. I only knew what the grape leaves (one of the things in the listing must have been substituted with grape leaves- perfectly okay, it was delicious), falafel, hommos, and baba ghannouge were, but everything tasted good, and the presentation was nice!

Vegetarian mezze platter

In addition, the hummus was some of the best I've had- a wonderful smoky flavor, and very thick. Fantastic!

Kevin went with the Lamb and Beef Shawarma ($17) which is served with tahini and garlic sauce. It was tasty, but not particularly memorable. I did think the leftovers next day served with some hot sauce was delish!

Beef Schwarma

The service was decent, and overall we enjoyed the food. Nonetheless, our general impression was that we could get cheaper and slightly better Mediterranean much closer to us- at our favorite Lebanese place in Fed Hill, Byblos. I love that place so much! Still, I would recommend trying this place out if you're in the Harbor East area. And try the hummus for sure. It rocks!

Lebanese Taverna on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Austin, TX: UT Campus & Barton Springs

After eating some delicious BBQ, we walked through the University of Texas campus to see the UT Tower. Though it's currently undergoing renovation, you can usually go up to see the view, and to learn about the grisly sniper incident that happened in 1966. An ex-Marine barricaded himself in the tower and killed 14 people by shooting them with a sniper rifle (this was after he had killed both his wife and mother). Freaky!!! The tower was much bigger than I expected....

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On the main building: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free".

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UT Campus

We were pretty tired by now and it was getting too hot (it must have been about 100F) so we took the bus back to our hotel, and grabbed our swimsuits. Then we were off to Barton Springs Pool! Apparently there are quite a few of these ground-fed spring pools in the Austin area, and they are perfect places to spend really hot summer days. It has a year-round temperature of 68F, so it's a little chilly (when you get in there's definitely that sense of "oh my god it's freezing!"). But then you get adjusted, and it feels so cool and nice. And the pool is huge, so there's a lot of room to swim around.

Barton Springs

One thing that you kind of have to get over is because the water is natural (there's no chlorine or anything) there are areas where there is a lot of seaweed. Apparently this very leafy stuff helps to keep the water clean from various parasites, but it's a little freaky when it wraps around your ankle. :)

Barton Springs

After enjoying the pool for a couple of hours, we attempted to go to a popular Tex-Mex restaurant, but it was too busy (over an hour wait!). So we opted for the next door food truck, "Kate's Southern Comfort".

photo by Michelle

Oh, this might have been one of my favorite food experiences on the trip. We got the fried pies, which are some kind of Southern dish, but basically they are like empanadas- fried pastry shells with something delicious in them, like collard greens and sweet potatoes, or chicken and green chilies, or boudin and blue cheese. Kate makes them fresh, so you have to be careful not to burn your mouth. They are delicious!

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As we headed back to get ready for the evening, I stopped to take this picture of the train. I love how the blur of the train contradicts the saying on the bridge "Focus on One Point and Breathe".

Focus One Point and Breathe

On our last night, we went to get some drinks and dessert at Peche, a popular bar that sells absinthe (I didn't actually try any though, as I'm not a big fan of licorice). Peche does an all-day happy hour on Sundays, which worked out nice ($5 drinks instead of $10!). We also had this bizarrely delicious crepe cake with bacon. Yum! We finished the night on a rooftop bar with appletinis. :) Sorry for the blurry photo!

Girls' Night Out
photo by Michelle

I loved Austin and I hope to get to go back soon! Thanks Courtney and Michelle for a really fun weekend!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Austin, TX: Whole Foods, Texas history, and BBQ

Read about our first day at the Farmers' Market, and on South Congress.

Our second day, we started off by visiting the first Whole Foods in the country. Okay, doesn't sound that cool, but let me tell you... this is also the best Whole Foods in the country. I mean, the one in Baltimore doesn't even sell (a) homemade tortilla chips, which is pretty much the reason to go to Whole Foods, or (b) pizza dough. Pizza dough! Even our local grocery store sells pizza dough. Whole Foods fail.

Number One Whole Foods

But, at this Whole Foods, they had everything I've ever seen at a Whole Foods, and more. Like free healthy snacks for the kids, and a "make your own trail mix" bar.

photo by Michelle

Why doesn't my Whole Foods have this?

Then they had the usual beautiful arrangements of chocolate (which I was eyeing) and cheese, and then... an entire "tapenade" bar. Just for tapenades. If I lived in Austin I think I would be eating happy! Not to mention they had an entire part of the store devoted to wine and beer...

Whole Foods Chocolate
photos by Michelle

After enjoying our breakfast and coffees at Whole Foods, we started a fairly long walk up to the Texas State Capitol building and the Texas History Museum.

At the first Whole Foods

The Texas State Capitol wasn't open yet, so we enjoyed the sculptures and sights outside. It was pretty hot, so we decided to head on to the Texas History Museum.

Ride em' Cowboy

The Texas Capitol Building (they were doing some work on the dome):

Texas State Capitol

The Texas History Museum was better than I expected. It seems pretty new, and all the exhibits are really well-done. Everything is organized in a chronological pattern. I feel like I learned something! The best part though: we went to see a little movie there called Wild Texas Weather (being the weather nerds we are). It was pretty funny, because they actually had strobe lights for lighting, vibrations in the seats, and mist started coming out during one of the thunderstorms on the screen! Very interactive. We were laughing a lot. It was fun!

Texas History Museum

We were getting really hungry by the time we left, so we walked north past the University of Texas campus to Ruby's BBQ:

Ruby's BBQ, Austin, TX

I got the ribs, and I was very happy with them:

Ribs!  Ribs! Ribs!
photo by Michelle


Up next: the last part of our girls' weekend in Austin!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Scavenger Hunt Sunday

This week's Scavenger Hunt was a little hard for me, but I think I did okay (except for the "bedhead" category. There is a severe lack of hair in my household. But I figured my cat looked like she would have had bedhead if she had any hair. So it will have to do).

The categories for this week are:
1) Miniature
2) Water droplet
3) Bedhead
4) Colorful
5) Eyes

1) Miniature. There was a yacht show in the Inner Harbor this week. This little boat was so cute next to all the big ones!


2) Water Droplet. I had fun following Digital Photography's Water droplet studio. I had to take about 50 shots to get this one!

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3) Bedhead. Karma looks either sad or grumpy here. Probably because Bixby just jumped on the bed.

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4) Colorful. There was a big festival at the Baltimore Inner Harbor (this was actually like a week ago), complete with a water show by the Fire Department boat. But I thought there were a lot of colors in this photo.

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5) Eyes. The American Visionary Art Museum is a really funky art museum in Baltimore just down the street from us. This one could have been in the "colorful" category as well!

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Can't wait to see what everyone else came up with!!

Sunday Meditation: Michael Salcman

Cutting Apples
Michael Salcman

My father always carried a penknife
to pare his green apples, raising their skins
in perfect spirals. He never drew blood
slicing his bananas for breakfast,
their dark-seeded cores like little faces
dropping into the milk, one more item
in a life of a thousand chores,
one more notch in a life advancing
by millimeters or inches, not seconds or days.
I watched him turn himself as carefully away
from violence as a lathe on a table leg,
cutting each curve and flourish
from the flat face of a block
clamped in his hand. His hand and its thumb
never shied from the blade; he knew
that what you do with any tool gives it its value,
like a life—not too eager or afraid.

photo credit

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: City of Ashes

Happy Friday! Hello to everyone "hopping" around. :) The question this week is whether I write reviews while I'm reading or only after I finished reading- I definitely have to wait until I'm done reading! But I do try to mark the page of favorite passages and things like that while I'm reading to refer back to later.

My book review today is for "City of Ashes", book #2 of The Mortal Instruments series. Read my review for book #1 here.

Summary from Goodreads: Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what's normal when you're a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who's becoming more than a friend. Clary's only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil -- and also her father.

Review of City of Ashes

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really have a love/hate relationship with these books. On the one hand, I can't put them down. They're totally addicting. There's a lot of action, lots of angsty teenager relationships, mystery, and cliffhangers. I like the main characters even more in the second book. I'm certainly going to read the next book, because I have to find out what happens after that ending!

But... sometimes the dialogue is so terrible! Like, I-find-myself-expecting-a-laugh-track terrible. I try to picture the characters actually saying these cheesy comebacks in my head and it's just so awful... no one would ever talk like that. At least not all the time- in this book it's like every character has a snappy response to every comment. Also, it often seems like the book was either written really fast or just edited poorly. I can't put my finger on it exactly, because it's not like the book has no merits- it just feels like the writing wasn't always done with care.

One of the reviews on Goodreads said: "My inner-fangirl was squealing the entire time, while my inner-book critic was scoffing." Yep, that pretty much exactly sums up the book for me.

Overall, I think the good things about the series do outweigh the bad- so I'll keep reading. I did like this book more than the first, so I can hope the trend continues onto the third!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kevin's Favorite Recipes - BBQ Chicken Pizza

Amy and I split the cooking in our household, we're each responsible for one dinner per week (with enough for leftovers). Amy is adventurous, always looking for new recipes. I have found about 6 good meals that I make again and again. There are four major criteria I use to evaluate how much I like a recipe; taste, cost, convenience, and how healthy it is. I am going to start sharing my go-to recipes, and I'll tell you what I think of how each one rates in the four categories above. Starting (in no particular order) with BBQ chicken pizza...

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Taste: 5/5
Convenience: 4/5
Health: 2/5
Cost: 2/5

Pizza dough (My favorite is the dough from Whole Foods, but most stores will carry some kind of raw pizza dough)
BBQ sauce
Red onion, sliced thin
Chicken (I use rotisserie in a pinch, ideally you have some chicken on hand)
Smoked Gouda
Bacon (optional)

It's kind of a no-brainer, you toss or roll out the dough (you should aspire to toss), spread on the BBQ sauce, and add the chicken. Shred the Gouda and spread it over the sauce. Place the sliced onions and bacon on top of the cheese, and bake at 500ยบ for about 10 minutes, rotating halfway through. The fancy cheese and rotisserie chicken make this recipe a little pricey, and I can't claim that it has a lot of nutritional value. But it's really delicious, and can be assembled and baked quickly. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Austin, TX: South Congress & Evening Activities

After exploring the Farmers' Market on our girls' weekend to Austin, we headed down South Congress across the bridge.

South Congress Bridge
photo courtesy of Michelle

On the other side of the bridge, you get a lovely view of downtown Austin. This bridge is actually home to thousands of bats that fly out at night (it's quite the tourist attraction). Our hotel was that Radisson in the photo- very convenient, though run-of-the-mill.

View of Austin

Everything in Austin seems to be designed to be hip. Even the outside walls of restaurants are painted cool. And the signs are funny:


The painted walls provide great photo stops though:

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South Congress is home to dozens of adorable, suave, and hip shops. None of us are big shoppers, and we still had a great time checking out all the unusual wares.

Store Love
photo by Michelle

Of course, cowboy boots were not in short supply:

Cowboy boots
photo by Michelle

Shopping in SoCo

We were having a great time in this costume shop being silly, but then we got yelled at for taking a photo. Illegal photo below, y'all!

Costume Store!

And just so I'm not just embarrassing Michelle and Courtney, here's me being a pink Cowgirl:

Cowgirl in Pink

Of course, we had to stop for ice cream at Amy's. Both their lemon basil ice and their dark chocolate salt flavors were fantastic!

Amy's ice cream

Of course, we had ice cream before lunch. We walked about another half-mile or mile to lunch at a highly-rated food truck, Texas Cuban. Oh, it was good. Huge Cuban sandwiches, served with hot fried plantains (the best fried plantains I've ever had), and a very friendly owner:

Texas Cuban

By this time we were all very hot, as it was about 98 degrees outside (and the food trucks are outside). So we headed back to crash in the air-conditioned hotel. We were so full from lunch and ice cream that we didn't even need to eat dinner.

Once we had relaxed, we went to grab a drink at one of the many trendy bars in the Warehouse District, and tried to see the bats on South Congress bridge- to no avail. Perhaps we arrived too late. Nonetheless, we did get a very pretty sunset:

Sunset over Congress Bridge

Finally we headed to 6th street for a night at the comedy club- Esther's Follies. It's like a political satire-variety show combined. I think I liked the magic tricks the most but some of the comedians were pretty funny too.

It was a really busy first day!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Scavenger Hunt Sunday (eep, or Tuesday)

Ashley of Rambling and Photos does a really fun photo scavenger hunt every Sunday-Tuesday. For the last few weeks I keep meaning to post, and usually have about half the photos collected by Sunday, and then I run out of time. But I'm squeaking in under the wire.

This week, the items were:
1) wish/dream
2) clean
3) currency
4) pair
5) square

1) Wish/Dream. This was actually pretty easy- Kevin's dream is to be a doctor. He works hard! I know his dream will come true.

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2) Clean. One of the "hazards" of owning a sphynx cat is that you have to bathe them regularly. Good news: they've been getting baths every week since they were kittens, so they're used to it. Bad news: they're still cats, and they hate baths.

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3) Currency. I collect currency from the different countries I've been to... I've been to 28 different countries so far. I don't think I have currency from all of them though- I usually just keep the change that's left after trying to spend it all before I get on the plane. I think the coolest one I own is from Cuba (there are also some coins from places I haven't been- like Malaysia- which my husband brought back for me).

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4) Pair. I'm cheating on this one and using an image from a couple of weeks ago, because there were 3 "pairs" in this photo.

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5) Square. Okay, I really had to stretch for this one- there are lots of different square shapes though! Plus I used a photo from my recent Austin trip. I thought the photo processing was kind of cool though.

Old Time Austin?

Thanks Ashley for hosting! I had fun. Hopefully I can actually be more on time one of these weeks.