National Chicken Wing Day: Wings N Things

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
I was alerted on Monday by Hank On Food that it was National Chicken Wing Day.


As if I'd needed an excuse.

Aside from Domino's and frozen 'Anytizers (just buy some now from the grocery store, and don't ask any questions), I hadn't had any buffalo wings since my move back to Houston. So to celebrate this IMPORTANT holiday, I got takeout from Wings N Things off of 290 and 34th Street. I ordered a small army of buffalo wings in three different flavors - Original Spice Medium, Spicy BBQ, and Gold Fever with garlic spice. I also got French fries (duh), celery, and dressing.

After having creepily lurked around the restaurant, taking pictures, and scoping the place out, I was pretty stoked about my order. It was a little hole-in-the wall establishment, with lots of character, that seemed to hold the promise of a brighter tomorrow in the form of chicken wings and beer.


But to be perfectly honest, I wasn't crazy about my first helping. The wings seemed dry, and the fries were soggy and plain.

My second helping was a different story. The wings I took were from the bottom of the pile this time, so they had lots of sauce on them, and they were very enjoyable. Overall, the Original Spice Medium and Gold Fever with garlic spice were good, but the Spicy BBQ were AWESOME. While having a sweet barbecue-y taste, they also packed a nice punch. Simply delicious.

My third serving (if you can even call it that), consisted of me taking fries and using them to lap up the rest of the leftover buffalo sauce in the Styrofoam containers. And they were GOOD.

I clearly checked my pride at the door a long time ago.

Overall review of Wings N Things? Pretty good. Would I go back again? Yes, but I'd probably want to dine inside. I really dug the dive-y atmosphere, and they have great dine-in specials. But if ordering takeout again, would I rather just get Wing Stop? Guilty as charged. (I mean seriously, what DOES Wing Stop put on their fries?!?! UGHSOGOOD).



September 9th is National Weinerschnitzel Day. GET READY.

Texas Recipes: Cajun Bouchées à la Reine

Monday, July 29, 2013
My sister is deathly afraid of butterflies.

I'm sure her fear has somewhat subsided now that she is an adult, but if you mention one of God's Beautiful Creatures to her, to this day I swear you can see a flicker of fear flash behind her eyes.

When I think of Louisiana, I think of this.



Many many years ago, when my sister was about 4 or 5 years old, she and I went on a trip to Louisiana with some family friends. We were at a backyard barbecue, having a great time, when all of a sudden I heard my sister screaming. I looked over, and she was literally being attacked by a butterfly. It kept flying into her, over and over again, as she shrieked wildly and flailed about. I'm no psychologist, but if I were to pinpoint a moment from which her fear was born, I'd be willing to put money on this one.

She survived unscathed, just in case you were wondering.

But naturally, that's the first thing I think of when I think of Louisiana. The second thing I think of is Cajun food. Something that I was really missing when I was living in NYC.

For my birthday this year, my mom gave me a jalapeño corer to help me overcome my ill-fated relationship with jalapeños (A gift of True Love). She also gave me an amazing French cookbook called Paris to Provence by Ethel Brennan and Sara Remington. I was thumbing through the recipes the other night and came across one for bouchées à la reine, or as Jason likes to call them, Fancy Hot Pockets.

How can I get creative and southern with this delectable delicate French cuisine?




And then it dawned on me. Delicate…Butterflies…Sister's Irrational Fear...Louisiana...Cajun! French and Cajun! The perfect marriage!

Aaaaand that's how my brain works.

I used the recipe in the book for my French inspiration and this recipe from Feats of Feasts for the Cajun influence.



I was very nervous about how the heck this would turn out, but I have to say, the combination worked WONDERFULLY.

The flavors were very complex - between the flaky biscuit-like taste of the pastry puff, the creamy mushroom flavor of the sauce, and the hint of Cajun spice coming through with the chicken, my Cajun/French marriage was a match made in heaven.

The obvious next step would be for me to start a food dating service.



The sauce was  r i d i c u l o u s .  Never one for having any shame whatsoever, I found myself straight up eating it up with a spoon from the saucepan as we were putting dishes away.

I paired the dish with some arugula and orange cherry tomatoes, topped with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, some freshly squeezed lemon, cracked pepper, and feta cheese.

A word to the wise: The bouchées (or is it the reines?) are super filling and rich, so having one with a small salad is the perfect serving size. I was ambitious by putting two on my plate, but I only had the one for dinner. Totally out of character for me, I KNOW, but it is in no way a reflection on the quality of the bouchées. The little buggers are simply very unsuspecting in how filling they are. Also, I'd previously had 3 leftover pieces of CRISP pizza and some (many) slices of cheese prior to this, so that may have slightly impacted my appetite...


Oh, and definitely drizzle some of that bad boy sauce on top of the bouchées when they're done. You WON'T regret it.


Personally, I think they're more like Fancy Chicken Pot Pies.

Pizza Dreamin': CRISP

Saturday, July 27, 2013
You know what I MISS? What my heart aches for every day?? John's Pizzeria on Bleecker Street in New York. ERMERGERD, it's like nothing I've ever tasted.

Last night, I had my first flirtation with GOOD pizza since I've been back in Houston. It was completely different from New York pizza, but man was it awesome.



CRISP is a newer restaurant located in the Heights. The bf and I met up with my friend/"brother" Lenny (of Hyunh fame) and his wife Christy there last night. The inside of it is really cool - exposed brick everywhere (which is LITERALLY my favorite thing in the world), a 360 degree wrap-around bar, outdoor patio, and visible wine cellar. Also, It's located on Bevis St., which made Jason and I laugh the whole way there, because we're 12 year-old boys.

And when we got there at 8:00 on a Friday night, it was PACKED. For as trendy as this place is, the prices weren't bad either, which I'm all about!

Instagram photo taken closer to 11:00 after the crowds had cleared. 

Oh, also there was a guy playing the strangest mix of live music, and I totally dug it. Very cool, swanky ambiance. And we all know how cool and swanky I am.

No? Got it.

Another cool thing they have that I'll need to try one day is an enomatic wine dispensing system, which fully preserves wines, while allowing people to sample different ones before getting them. Brilliant.


The menu has way more than just pizza, but after discreetly (okay, indiscreetly) gawking at the other patrons' food, I determined that the pizza looked PHE-NOM. Aaaaaaaand (drumroll please………………….)

It was.

Even though the pizzas are big enough for 2+ people, the bf and I each got our own. He always crinkles his nose at my "fancy" pizzas, while he chows down on his meatloversexplosions, so there isn't a whole lot of room for compromise. And more for me!

So I ordered the Talleggio Florentine pizza WITH prosciutto (duh.), which was pure honey in every bite. WOW. The flavors were incredible. Taleggio cheese, creamy spinach, marinated artichoke, crispy onion, truffle oil, and prosciutto. These flavors came so beautifully together and were utterly delectable. If ever I cried over a pizza, this would be the one. But crying over a pizza probably falls under the Unacceptable Things to do in Public or Ever list, so I exercised restraint.

The pizza that dreams are made of.

Oh, and Side Note: I LOVE truffle oil. I could put it on anything. Seriously. I might start adding it to my coffee it's that good.

Okay, I just totally grossed myself out.

Again, this pizza is completely different from New York pizza, but absolutely incredible.

I also had a bite of Jason's San Fran's North Beach pizza (AKA: Meaty Monster Supreme).

Meatstravaganza.


I've gotta say though, mine definitely won in terms of ohmygoddeliciousness. SO GOOD.

I can't wait to have my leftovers for breakfast -- err, lunch.

All Aboard the Underbelly Train!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
When I was in college, all of my friends started talking about this amazing movie Garden State. The music! The actors! The scenery! So angsty, yet so uplifting! It's creative! It's smart! It's funny! It's the movie of our generation! YOU HAVE TO SEE IT!!

After hearing all of this hype for weeks, I went to see it. And...(please don't throw something at me here)...it was pretty good. I mean, I definitely liked it. And don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore Natalie Portman in everything she does, and I would totally marry her --err, I mean meet up with her for drinks -- if given the chance. But after all of that buildup, I guess I was expecting more. It was a classic example of the ever-dreaded Curse of the Hype.

On Monday night, my parents took the bf and me to Underbelly for my birthday. Which means - I have now officially joined the ranks of The Cool and have become a Trendy Houstonian.

Trendy menus made from book bindings

No? I haven't? You're right - I'm probably still a few Beer Can House visits away from getting there....

ANY-hoo, Underbelly. For the past several months, I have heard nonstop hullabaloo about this place. My parents talked about it. Every Houston blog mentions it. It has become a verb for crying out loud. It even made Condé Nast's list of 70 "Best New Restaurants in the World." Not city. Not state. Not country. WORLD. As in, Planet Earth, son!

And I lied. "Underbelly" is not, to my knowledge, a verb. But it should be.

So, as Garden State (or insert your own over-hyped, underwhelming item of choice here: Kanye West's new album, quinoa, the naming of the royal baby, etc.) has taught us, with all of this hype, I was bound to not love it, right?

Lucky for me, I enjoyed every bit of it. And side note: Did I just refer to a baby as "underwhelming"? Uhhh, yup. Sure did.

Crispy market vegetables, caramelized fish sauce

For those of you living in Houston who have been trapped under something heavy this past year, I'll give you a brief rundown of Underbelly. The Montrose restaurant, complete with wooden tables, dim lighting, visible open kitchen, herb garden out back, meat-curing room, and walls lined with pickled things, is known for it's funky fusion, farm-to-table, shareable dishes. Odds are you'll see Owner/Executive Chef Chris Shepherd while you're there (we did), which is pretty neat.

Here's the rundown of what we had to eat:
  • 2 bottles of red wine
  • Warm slow dough bread, roasted garlic, & leek butter
  • Slow cooked pork belly, watermelon, fish sauce, herbs
  • Crispy market vegetables, caramelized fish sauce
  • Korean braised goat and dumplings
  • Wagyu satay, cold soba salad, crushed peanut

And for dessert:
  • Chocolate ale whoopie pies, peanut
  • Caramel popcorn pot de crème, fried pretzel
  • Fig pecan fried pie, cajeta 

The ones emboldened were my favorites (Yes, including the wine, OB-viously). The warm slow dough bread is AHHHMAZING. The butter that comes with it is like a fancy version of Papa John's garlic butter sauce. Is that a crime to say? Are All The Trendy People going to band together and chase me down with pitchforks for comparing such an exquisite gourmet accoutrement to a greasy, disgustingly good, processed, fast food butter sauce? Oh well, it's true, and I LOVED it.

Korean braised goat and dumplings

The goat dumplings were out of this world. I've never had goat before so this was definitely a new experience for me. I'd say the dumplings were similar to gnocchi. And super spicy. And beyond flavorful. I was sharing a plate with Jason, and I swear with several bites still left, I turned my head away for 5 seconds, looked back, and they were GONE.

"Oh," he said innocently, "I thought you had finished." Then I stabbed him with a fork for underbellying the crap out of my dumplings.

I told you underbelly was a verb.

Caramel popcorn pot de crème, fried pretzel, AKA "Popcorn Ice Cream"
 
Popcorn ice cream. With fried pretzels. I can't even. I CAN'T. EVEN. Yes, it sounds completely bizarre, but just trust me on this one. It's complete BlissfulNot90sGrungeBand Nirvana.

Even though Underbelly is absolutely divine, I did have two qualms. Geez, Kim, way to RUIN things! Such a buzzkill! I know, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

But here were my qualms.
  1. The Pork Belly. Don't get me wrong, it was really good. But after I'd had a completely transformative, otherworldy experience with Le Cellier's pork belly in Epcot two weeks ago, I was expecting the same, if not better. I have to say though, Epcot won this smack-down, no contest. Underbelly's was still good, but not The Greatest. Dumpling-stealing boyfriend begs to differ though.
  2. The Crispy Market Vegetables. When we asked what they were, we were told it would be green beans and some funky pepper things. When the plate came to us it had green beans and okra*, which I guess can be considered funky in some circles, but definitely not what we were told and expecting. I like okra, so it didn't really bother me, but my dad is not a fan of the okra persuasion. I'm sure they just ran out of the funky peppers. Not a big deal, but at such a high profile place, you'd think they would have given us a heads up prior to bringing it out.
Regardless of my two minor qualms, the experience was fantastic, and I definitely see this becoming a staple "special occasion" place. Or, an "every meal occasion" place when (see that power of positive thinking?) I casually stumble into an unsuspecting large sum of money.


Underbelly. I know it's super trendy and totally hyped up right now but do it. It is truly an amazing dining experience.


*One time in NYC my dear friend Alice Ann was at a southern restaurant with some friends. Someone ordered fried okra as an appetizer. Alice Ann was completely disturbed, but was coming to grips with this during the course of the evening. As she inspected a piece of okra, she finally said something to the tune of, "I never knew killer whales were green on the inside!" Love her.

Happy Bird Day

Monday, July 22, 2013
For some (obvious) reason, birthdays always make me think of this:


Source
Oh, just look at you John Krasinski, with your dreamy smile and floppy locks. How are you even real? You're not. You're not. real.

SO. Today is my 28th birthday. The last year of my mid-twenties. Mid-twenties, you say? How is that possible? I'll tell you how. In fact, I'll give you a detailed bulleted* list to explain. You're welcome:
  • Early 20s: 20-24 years old
  • Mid 20s: 25-28 years old
  • Late 20s: 29-32 years old
  • 30: 33 years old
See? It's really very simple.

For the last year of my mid-twenties, I've compiled a list of places to check out in Houston/things to write about in this here blog. They are - in no particular order - as follows:


  1. Best Pizza
  2. Best Burger
  3. Best Barbecue
  4. Best Margarita
  5. Best Mexican
  6. Local Pour
  7. Hot Bagels
  8. Tony’s
  9. Beavers
  10. Underbelly - Going here tonight!!!!!!
  11. Ruggles Green 
  12. Lupe Tortilla
  13. Glass Wall
  14. Bernie’s Burger Bus
  15. Tandoory Taco (as recommended by H-Town Chowdown)
  16. Houston Marathon
  17. Memorial Park
  18. Night Walking Tour at Memorial Park Arboretum
  19. Top Golf
  20. Houston Zoo
  21. The Menil Collection
  22. Museum of Fine Arts Houston
  23. Museum of Natural Science

I'd love any recommendations, especially of places that you think might fall under my "Best" categories. The Comments feature on my blog has now been updated so that anyone can leave comments without registering for Blogger. I just had to change my settings. Welcome to technology, Kim!

I don't want to get too introspective here about my birthday. If anything I just want to say thanks to my mom for getting preggo, carrying me around for nine months, and having me. I hear the whole popping a baby out thing is not an easy process. In one of my absolute favorite books, My Most Excellent Year (Just read it. You'll thank me later.), T.C. says mothers should be the ones getting cakes on their children's birthdays. I completely agree. And Dads. I know mine sure has done a lot for the sis and me.

To Alex Trebek, Selena Gomez, and now the Royal Baby: Happy Bird Day to you all as well!


*Spell check has informed me that "bulleted" is not a word. But it's my party, and I can invent words if I want to.

Vivacious Vietnamese: Huynh

Saturday, July 20, 2013
A beautiful sight.


Okay everyone, say it with me now: Huynh. Who…In. Whin. Huynh. Make sense?

Despite my embarrassing failed attempts at pronouncing seemingly simple names correctly - which I swear I get from my mother who cannot pronounce "quinoa" to save her life - I can honestly say that Huynh is one of my favorite places to dine in Houston.

My first trip to Huynh was in April, when the bf and I had just moved back into town. My parents kept telling us we had to go, so go we did!

Now. I am not an expert in Vietnamese food. I am actually the opposite of an expert (Clueless? Probably). So when we went the first time, I received emails from my dad and de facto brother Lenny, telling me exactly what to order. Here's what my lists looked like:

Dad:

Crispy Spring Rolls as appetizer (Lenny, what number is that?).
Duck Salad
Chargrilled pork over noodles/vermicelli
Coconut Curry Chicken (medium spicy) (not on the menu, just order it. This is a must)

Len:

#1 is Vietnamese eggrolls
#3 is also amazing
I LIKE THE #52 W/ Fried rice. Its a chargrilled porkchop
Also the beef tenderloin chunks are great as well as the phoenix chicken and the beef shortribs.

Then my dad sent me a recipe for McDonald's burger seasoning. But I digress.

I took their recommendations, and everything was amazing. AMAZING!

So I went again with my Dad last night. I know I should be trying new things, but gosh darnit, I just can't stay away.



Oh, and did I mention it's BYOB? Yeah. That's a thing.


Last night we got two orders of the Vietnamese egg rolls as an appetizer. WOW. I mean, WOWOWOWOW. It was an explosion of egg roll-y goodness in my mouth. Just wow. I can't. 

But I MUST.

I ordered the chargrilled pork over noodles as my entree, and my pops had the medium spicy coconut curry chicken. Both were out of this world. 

Chargrilled pork over noodles

If you're looking for something lighter, I recommend the chargrilled pork over noodles. For a heartier dish, go with the coconut curry chicken. And feel really cool about ordering a super secret item that's not on the menu. A super secret item that is amazing. So amazing that after I finished my entire "light" meal, I finished off my dad's. 

That was clearly a joke. How could I finish ALL OF MY PLATE, then eat THE REST of a plate that couldn't be finished by a man who is 6'1"? 

Okay. I finished his.

Diiiiiiid I mention it's BYOB? <~~~~(See what I did there? That's called a "diversion tactic").

In addition to the phenomenal food, the service is outstanding. As cheesy as it sounds, the staff there treats you like family. The waitstaff is incredibly friendly and attentive, and if you ask for the (super sweet) owner Annie, she'll come out and chat with you for a few minutes if she's there. Overall, it's such an enjoyable dining experience. My only critique would be that the food came out almost too fast. The second we'd finished our (ridiculously amazing) appetizers, our entrees were out. Which is better than the alternative, but I do enjoy a good leisurely dining experience. 

Except when I'm at Chili's. Put that mushroom swiss burger in my mouth NOW.

But the food-coming-out-too-quickly thing is seriously very nitpick-y. I can't say enough how much I love this place. And it's super inexpensive to boot! Our meal of 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and a corking fee of $4 came out to $36. 

Located downtown across from Warehouse Live, Huynh is a definite Houston go-to spot!

Texas Recipes: Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

Thursday, July 18, 2013
In my next life I want to be a food blogger. But, as I am a mediocre cook and can be somewhat of a disaster in the kitchen, I'm pretty sure it isn't my calling. However, I occasionally manage to cook up something good (a fluke, I am sure). When that happens I would like to get a taste of my dream and share the experience.


But speaking of disasters in the kitchen.

My family is Polish, so every year for Christmas, we cook up the works: pierogies, golumpki, kielbasa, haluski, you name it (though please don't try). We always like to have this phenomenal red beet horseradish with our smorgasbord, specially ordered from Scranton, Pennsylvania. (God, we're strange). I remember four years ago, when my boyfriend and I first started dating, I thought it would be super romantic to cook him up a Polish feast one night. Because that's the most obvious thing to do when trying to woo a potential mate. It must be true love because he's still around, cabbage and all.

Back to the horseradish.

One year, my mother had this brilliant idea that we should make our own horseradish, bottle it up, and give it out to our Texas friends as a Christmas present. Because nothing says "Merry Christmas from the Ogonoskys!" quite like a side of homemade horseradish!

Some foods are very dangerous. That day I quickly learned that the horseradish root is without a doubt the most dangerous in all the land.

My mom and I started by trying to cut up the roots. When that didn't work (because you might as well be trying to cut tree bark with a steak knife), we switched to grating. And that's when the fumes came. When I say "It felt like our entire kitchen had been filled with deadly fumes and I was momentarily blinded by the severity of it," I assure you, I'm not being melodramatic.

So, without the ability to see (and therefore, grate), we (and by we, I absolutely mean yours truly) decided it would be a FANTASTIC idea to put the hard-as-rock roots into the blender to chop up.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next.

Sparks started flying. The blender started to screech. My dad and sister - who conveniently opted out of this activity - ran downstairs, only to run back upstairs screaming because their eyes hurt, their noses started instantly running, and tears were streaming down their faces. My house had become a site filled with hazardous material, the damage done by these unassuming little lethal suckers.

Spoiler alert: We lived. (Surprise!!!) Once the fumes cleared and we regained consciousness, we bottled up the horseradish and gave it to our friends. And although I'm sure they appreciated it, we vowed never to reprise "That One Time Mom Tried To Kill Kim With A Root."

Where am I going with this? Oh I'm going somewhere.


My boyfriend's friend recently had a birthday party out in the suburbs (League City, to be exact), and to celebrate, he held a "Meatstravaganza" at his house. Or as i kept referring to it - "Meatsapalooza."  ('Stravaganzas" and 'paloozas are one in the same, as I'm sure you know). And let me tell you, I felt pretty good about the concept - Everybody who comes brings a piece of meat, and we'll grill it up. The more unusual, the better. Phenomenal. I love everything about it.

So I decided to go the creative route (scary, I know), and made Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers, tweaked and inspired by Taste for Adventure and Chaos in the Kitchen.


Now. I know jalapeños. We've had some interesting times together. I've learned through trial and error to always remove the seeds (or you'll die), eat them in small bites (or you'll die), and wash your hands after working with them (or you'll inevitably touch your eye, ruin everyone's 4th of July, and die). Okay, the dying part *might* be a stretch, but these little peppers are pretty intense. I knew full well going into this that they fall under the Dangerous Foods list (right there with onions, lemons, garlic, and the ever-dreaded horseradish), but I felt fully prepared to take them on.

Wrong you were, Ogonosky!


Because I was working with such a LARGE amount of jalapeños, I hadn't anticipated the deep, visceral reaction I was going to have. I coughed, I sneezed approximately 57 times, and an unstoppable itch grew within the depths of my throat. Weird. But on a scale of one to horseradish, it was about a seven. Incredibly unpleasant, but definitely not the worst.

I will say though, the gosh darned poppers were the hit of the 'palooza! I mean, the little twerps were so. good. The crispiness of the bacon, the sweetness of the honey, the mild spice of the evil jalapeños, the cheesiness of the cheese? ohmygodsogood. And what's not to love? Bacon, check. Cheese, check. Honey, check. Jalapeños, well...


Next time i make them (heaven help me), I may add some honey or corn to the inside cheesy filling for a little more sweetness. And I also might wear a gas mask.

Ehhh, shoulda' coulda' woulda'.


Even though the experience was a bit harrowing, the end result was incredible. On the drive home, the bf told me the popper might be his favorite thing I've ever made. To which I replied: "Yeah, but I almost died making them." To which he replied: "Worth it."

The man of my dreams, ladies and gentlemen!



But you know what? The bf was totally right: They are so worth it. Just learn from my mistakes: Turn on a vent, open some windows, and for Pete's sakes, wear safety goggles.  

AND DON'T TOUCH YOUR EYE.

*Update, 7/21/2013: I made the bacon jalapeño poppers again for a party (because I'm both masochistic and hedonistic all at the same time) and added an entire ear of corn to the inside mixture. I definitely recommend doing this. It added another level of flavor and texture to this already complex tasting app. All you do is take one (uncooked) medium-large ear of corn, cut the kernels off, and stir into the cheese mixture. Voila!

Vacation Days: Disney World

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Hellooooo! I have been MIA for the last week because I was off gallivanting with my family in none other than The Happiest Place on Earth!




I, of course, will continue posting about my Houston discoveries and shenanigans, but I think it's only appropriate to pay homage to this amazing vacation I just came back from.

For my 21st birthday, my parents took my sister and me to Disney World in 2006. And now in 2013, my sister chose Disney as her 21st birthday celebration. Now I know what you're probably thinking: "Nerrrrds." But hear me out - People say Las Vegas is the Disney World for adults? Please. I say Disney World is the Disney World for adults. I was 15 years old when I went on my first trip to Disney, and I've been there seven times since. And let me tell you, it only gets better the older I get. So here are my (completely biased and not in any way objective) reviews of everything Disney I experienced. Only condensed. Because we packed an s' ton of stuff in while we were there.

Winner for Best Park:

Epcot, Epcot, EPCOT! Epcot has Future World which is pretty awesome, but the real draw of this "kingdom" is the World Showcase, which houses 11 different countries where you can eat, drink booze, shop, and see each country's attraction. My family loves Epcot somuch, that we visited it four of the five days we were there.

*Helpful Tip: If you are a lady and you want to get schnockered, order a drink from the guys at the stand in Morocco. Conversely, if you are a lady and you do not want to get schnockered, do not order a drink from the guys at the stand in Morocco.

The sis pictured with her "Sultan's Slushie" - Or as we lovingly referred to it: "Death."


Winner for Best Ride:

Soarin'. Hands down. This ride is located in Epcot's The Land, and it is quite a  magical experience. I still have the theme song of it running through my head, and I hope it never goes away. You are placed in airplane-like seats and lifted into the air in front of a massive concave screen that simulates flying over different parts of California. And it feels so real - When you're over trees you smell evergreen. When you're in the orange orchards you smell oranges. The whole thing is a complete otherworldly experience.

Runner-up for Best Ride:

Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios. The ride takes you through different "games" where you compete against the person next to you, wearing 3-D glasses, shooting at targets on different screens. It is an incredibly innovative and fun ride, and it translates well to people of all ages.

Winner for Best Show:

It's a tie between Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor in Magic Kingdom and Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot. I still have no idea how they do it, but the technology in these two shows is astounding. In both instances you are sitting in front of a screen where computer animated characters interact on the fly in real time with audience members. They're hilarious and fantastic.

Runner-up for Best Show:

Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom. If you are anything like me in that you (still) blubber like an idiot every time you hear Circle of Life, go see this. It's a non-negotiable.

Restaurant Reviews:

Jiko: Located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, this superfancy restaurant is phenomenal. The food is ohsogood, and the dreamy decor makes you feel like you are in an African savanna at sunset. On a scale of 1-5, it's a definite 5.

Le Cellier: Located in Canada at Epcot, this actually might be one of the best meals I've ever eaten in my entire life. Honest to God. It's not cheap, so save up because it's totally worth it. And get the pork belly appetizer. Your taste buds will be forever in your debt. (I don't even know what that means). All I know is on a scale of 1-5, it's an 11.

Biergarten Restaurant: Located in Germany at Epcot, this restaurant wins the award for Most Fun Ever. If you like beer, lederhosen, schnitzel, 10-foot horns, and making friends with everyone around you, this is the place for you. My sister and I came here on our own, and it was definitely one of my favorite moments of the trip. Solid 5.

Crystal Palace: Located in the Magic Kingdom, Crystal Palace is a great spot for character dining. Every Whinnie the Pooh character will make a point to stop by your table for that must-have Disney photo-op, so be ready. The food is served buffet style, and it is pretty decent. I definitely recommend this more for families with young children, but heck - seeing Eeyore lumber over slowly to me sure did warm my heart. On a scale of 1-5, I'd give it a good 4.

Men in lederhosen playing big 'ole horns? Always a bonus.

Lodging:

We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which was a real treat. The second we got into our hotel room, we were greeted with giraffes just outside our balcony. The service was incredible, and the lodge was gorgeous. My only beef with Animal Kingdom Lodge was the transportation to the parks. AKL is not located off of a monorail, so we had to get to all four kingdoms via bus. Sometimes the buses worked great, and sometimes we'd wait 30 minutes before one showed up. Even though the hotel is absolutely incredible, next time I'd like to stay at one located off of the monorail.

Mickey on the bed waiting for us.

Zebras outside our balcony.

Best Resources:

The 2013 Unofficial Guide to Disney: If you're going to Disney World, this book is a must. Not only does it have up-to-date information about everything Disney, but they have got the waiting-in-line situation down to a science. I recommend buying this book, then getting the "Lines" app, created by the people at the Unofficial Guide, on your smart phone to plan out your days at the park. It may seem a little neurotic, but trust me, you'll be grateful you got it as you're bypassing all the crazy lines and getting to do everything you set out to do while there.

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Written in 2009, this book is a little outdated, but it adds a lot of fun to the trip. The book is filled with interesting tidbits about all those extra little details the Imagineers put into the parks. It's a great read.

There are so many more things to talk about, but in an effort to keep this a blog post and not a novel, I should probably quit while I'm ahead. If you haven't been to magical, wonderful Disney World, I can't recommend it enough. Many of my fondest memories are from trips to Disney with my family and friends, including this most recent trip.

So start saving your pennies, and get on the Mouse Train!


And puh-lease get your family to wear matching themed shirts. God, I love those people.

A Trip to the Suburbs: Humble's Ginger Cafe

Monday, July 8, 2013
While I admittedly have a strong preference for living a fast-paced lifestyle in the middle of a city's cultural heart center (uh, hello, I lived in New York City for 5+ years), I realize my tastes *could* potentially change at some point, and that there are some really great things to be said about making a move to the suburbs. Current state, I am in my late twenties, unmarried, and living with my boyfriend Jason and dopey dog Newton. The extent of my "responsibilities" entail making sure the DVR is set to record the newest episode of the Bachelor and hiding my beef jerky from Jason since it will be gone in approximately 6.5 seconds if he finds it. Speed up to the far faaaarrrr (much to my mother's chagrin) future, throw a couple of kids into the picture, and I just might be whistling a different tune.

I do have a few friends who are at that next phase in their lives (read: actual adults) and are happily settling into suburban towns outside of Houston, living in homes they've purchased. Purchased. As in, bought themselves. I can't even fathom not throwing rent money away into nothingness every month. How does that work? AMAZING.

Yesterday, I popped out to Humble, a town located in Northeast Houston. And fun fact: Yours truly did her growing up there. The reason for this particular visit was to see my good friend Meredith from high school who lives out there. With her husband. In their house. That they purchased. Translation: She's a real adult. Luckily, though an adult she may be, she can still kick back with the likes of riff-raff like me.


I'm sure she had a good laugh at the text I sent her when I suggested meeting up at Ginger Cafe, because that's literally where we meet up every single time I visit. So I'm a creature of habit? What of it. The quiet atmosphere of the place is perfect for catching up, and she and I always have a great time together there.

Ginger Cafe is a little Japanese restaurant that is pretty comparable to the little Japanese restaurants you see littered all over New York City. Their lunch specials are on par with NYC's, as is the (great) food quality. Regardless, there are a few very specific things that make Ginger Cafe a slight notch better than all the others in my book. So read on!

1.  The Sushi Roll Combo Lunch Special

The 2 roll combo (at a standard, inexpensive $8.49) includes a side salad with that delicious ginger dressing we all know and love (seriously, what do they put in that stuff?!) AND a miso soup. Not to be confused with OR a miso soup. And. As in both. And to top it off? Lunch is served EVERY DAY. That means Saturdays and Sundays. Maybe this is completely normal for Houston, but it is very hard to wrap my fresh-off-the-NYC-boat brain around what is happening here.

2. The Hot Teas they serve you are GINORMOUS

Yes, I ordered hot tea in Houston in July. Guilty as charged! But you don't understand - I will literally die if I have sushi without hot tea or sake. And, as I was having an adult lunch in the suburbs, a small part of my brain managed to do its job and fire a signal to me that said No! Sake isn't a good option for 12:30 on a Sunday!! (Thanks brain!) So I went with tea. And it was the largest mug 'o tea I've ever seen in a Japanese restaurant. Mind blown. So even though their seaweed salads are minuscule (see below), the extra large teas definitely make up for it.


Smaller-than-average, but delicious seaweed salad

 3. Their Amazing Crunch Stuff

You know how when you ask the wait staff at a Japanese place to add "crunchy" to your sushi rolls, you get standard bits of fried stuff on top? Not so with Ginger Cafe! I have NO idea what it is they do that is so different, but their crunch stuff is incredible. It's crunchy, but moist, and so much more flavorful than the normal crispy stuff. It is a complete mystery to me, but believe me when I say it is pure magic in every bite.

4. Their peppered salmon

WHOA. This was the first time I noticed this on the menu (or any sushi menu for that matter), so I ordered 3 pieces of peppered salmon sushi. Ohmygodsogood. It was an absolute delectable party in my mouth. The next time I'm there, I'm ordering 27 pieces of it, promptly getting some sort of mercury poisoning, and never looking back.

Pictured counter-clockwise, from top left: Piece of octopus sushi, 3 pieces of peppered salmon sushi, and spicy tuna roll with crunchy stuff on top.

If you're a sushi fan, and you find yourself in the Humble area, Ginger Cafe is definitely a great place to go. Especially if you're wanting to catch up with a dear friend whom you haven't seen in a while. With all of the chain restaurants around (I mean, don't get me wrong, I could without a doubt live at Chili's if given the option and metabolism), this quiet, small, privately-owned establishment with a very friendly staff is definitely worth a visit.

And for God's sakes get the peppered salmon.

Cafe Brasil

Sunday, July 7, 2013
Things I love: Kettle chips. Summertime. Cold beer on a hot day. Disney World. Wine. The beach. Sundresses. Duck salad with goat cheese, blackberries, red onions, and balsamic vinaigrette. 

Okay, I didn't know about the last one until I met my mother for lunch at Cafe Brasil.



Tucked away on a corner in Montrose, and without any signage out front, lives Cafe Brasil. Parking is next-to-nonexistent (sorry to the house that I parked in front of…), but I'm telling you it's WORTH IT. Go. Right now. You will never have another regret in your life as long as you live, it's that good.

The inside of the restaurant is very nice, but the true magic of this place is the covered patio in the back. It's a real oasis, with trees, beautiful popping bricks, and fans to keep you cool during Houston's hotter days. 

Cafe Brasil is a counter service restaurant, which is fantastic in my book. And they have wine. Doubly fantastic. While ordering at the counter, my conversation with my mother went something like this:

Mom: What would you like to drink?
Me: I'll have an iced tea.
Mom: Oh. (pause) You don't want to have a glass of wine with me? It's always been my dream to have one of my daughters live near me, meet me for lunch, and have a glass of wine with me…

Now I may be many things, but I'm no dream-killer, so I happily obliged.


As previously mentioned, I decided to go with their duck salad for my meal, and believe me when I say it was incredible. The salty of the duck, mixed with the sweet of the blackberries and crunch of the onions, all coming together with the light creaminess of the goat cheese? HEAVEN.


The whole experience was divine. I can confidently say that Cafe Brasil can easily compete with the quaint NYC cafes lining the streets of SoHo.* 

And it was also on the relatively inexpensive side - My amazing salad came out to $12. Open for breakfast and lunch throughout the week, Cafe Brasil is definitely worth checking out a time or two. Or four. Or seventeen.


*When are New Yorkers going to finally learn that Houston Street is pronounced "Hyoo-ston" and not "House-ton"? #TheMoreYouKnow

Saint Arnold Brewery

Saturday, July 6, 2013


I am one of those fortunate people who got both July 4th and 5th off from work, so I wanted to do something fun on my additional day off. Is there a better way to spend it than by touring the oldest craft brewery in Texas? I think not.


The Saint Arnold Brewery is located off of I-10 and McKee, in an underwhelming industrial area. But fear not, because even though the location is a little dull, the actual brewery is great. And better yet - Parking is free. Getting Dwight Howard to the Rockets and free parking all in one day?? I'd say that's a win/win, Houston!

St. Arnold, Patron Saint of Breweries

The entrance fee is $8 a person. With this fee, the over-21 folks get a half pint glass (to keep!) and four drink tokens to sample four beers. So this $8 equals getting two full beers, a nice souvenir glass, and a tour of the brewery. That's a steal in my book!


For the more aggressive patrons, you can buy bigger (read: full-sized) glasses to bring with you next time that they will fill for you. These glasses range from $7-$25. Thus, you can potentially drink up to four full beers in the hour and a half you're there - But word to the wise, if you have a tolerance like mine, I assure you that's a disaster waiting to happen. I stuck with my baby glass.

Also, this happened:

*Hand-modeling, courtesy of Jeremy Grauerholz 

After we paid up, we were directed to a large room lined with family-style long wooden tables and benches. Get there in time to snag a spot because this place can get packed, especially on the weekends - During the week, the brewery sees about 100 people a day, whereas on Saturdays 1,000+ people enjoy St. Arnold's libations.


Once I had thrown a few back, I headed over to the tour (the boyfriend and the hand model had no interest in this portion of the visitation, so I flew solo here), which was led by Founder Brock Wagner. Seriously, how great is that? I'm sure the founder of a brewery set to make roughly 60,000 barrels in 2013 has got bigger fish to fry than leading a tour of half-sauced Houstonians. But he made the time to do it, which really says a lot. And who better to give us information about the brewery than the founder himself? Some interesting factoids I learned:

  • The brewery follows the German beer purity law of using only four ingredients: Malt, Hops, Yeast, and Water. The exception to this is for some specialty brews, where they add elements like pumpkin, spice, molasses, etc.
  • The building the brewery is now housed in was originally a frozen food house from HISD.
  • For 16 years, St. Arnold beer was sold in Texas only. A few years ago Wagner realized that Louisiana is actually closer to Texas than Texas is (har har), so it was added to the mix. Florida and Colorado will be added later this year.
  • Hops is a green leafy flower that grows on a vine. Who knew? (Not me.)

After Wagner spoke with us a bit, we were able to go down into where all the magic happens. The brewing cone-tanks (why yes, of course that's the technical name) are massive. And very shiny. And make delicious beer. That's pretty much the extent of the information I absolved in this portion of the tour. I was too distracted by the awe and wonder of the cone-tanks. It's the little (big) things…

The brewery offers tours Monday - Friday at 3:00 pm, and on Saturday at 12:00, 1:00, and 2:00. During the week they also open for lunch. If you're looking for something fun, saucy, educational, and different to do on the cheap in Houston, I definitely recommend coming here. I anticipate more St. Arnold trips in my near future!


A few additional tips for when you go:
  • During the week, you cannot go down to where the cone-tanks are if you are wearing open-toed shoes due to health codes. Dress accordingly (unless you decide to go the way of the bf and the hand model)!
  • Bring snacks! People bring in chips, pretzels, peanuts, and even whole pizzas to enjoy with their beers. Make a party of it!
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