A Long Weekend in Asheville

Get a sneak peak into my long weekend in Asheville, filled with lots of good eats (biscuits!!) and gorgeous hikes off the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Hi guys! I know today is usually my day for a #wellnesswednesday post, but after a crazy three of weeks of travel, client work and wrapping up not one or two but THREE big writing projects (phew!) my brain just isn't in the mood to get deep into intuitive eating, mindfulness or really anything that requires more than 15% of my brain cells. Actually, I was really looking forward to a light day of working from home, catching up on some mindless tasks until a HUGE storm came through last night and blew out our internet with this crazy lightning strike. So instead I'm here at the office. Womp womp.

I know I've already shared a few recaps of trips to Asheville (one and two), but what's one more? I ate at a few new restaurants I must tell you about and did a couple new hikes, so alas, here's Asheville recap numero tres?

The trip started as a quick-mother daughter Thursday overnight to go to a craft fair, then a few of my friends decided to tag on a trip to the backend, so we rented a house and stayed the weekend.

First stop in Asheville: food. Duh. My mom had been talking about this restaurant called Biscuithead for well over a year, so I was pumped to finally check it out. They specialize in biscuits (shocker) and all sorts of fancy jams and butters. There's even a condiment bar (!!!!) filled to the brim with different hot sauces, jams, compound butters and honeys. There was an old deadhead sitting next to us at brunch literally doing shots of the chocolate blueberry. They have a ton of biscuit sandwiches on the menu, so my mom and I shared the fried green tomato biscuit sandwich with brie, poached eggs and tomato hollandaise and the fried chicken biscuit with sriracha slaw.

Fried green tomato biscuit and fried chicken biscuit with sriracha slaw with a side of watermelon habanero bacon and a little kale salad...for balance?

Fried green tomato biscuit and fried chicken biscuit with sriracha slaw with a side of watermelon habanero bacon and a little kale salad...for balance?

Then it was off to the Southern Guild Craft Fair, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. We had been years ago and really enjoyed it, but this year it just seemed really old fashioned. I'd say I was the youngest person there, but actually, I think my mom was too!

Since we were done with the craft show way early, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring downtown Asheville, grabbing a glass of green juice followed by a glass of rose (normal), and then catching an indie film (The Innocents - highly recommend!).

For dinner, we met up with family from the area at Limones, a Mexican restaurant with a California spin. Didn't take any pictures, but we shared a bunch of appetizers and a few entrees - brussels sprouts with smoked bacon, beet salad, bbq shrimp with grilled watermelon, braised lamb with fresh pasta and a Mexican fish stew. It was really tasty and might have to make a special trip to Asheville for their lobster enchiladas....

The next day we hit up another popular breakfast spot, Sunny Point Cafe, where I had the second best heuvos rancheros in the nation (aka the best breakfast of my life). Bonus points for the blackberry mimosa 👌

Heuvos rancheros with chorizo, roasted potatoes, smoked green tomato salsa, avocado, and cilantro crema

Heuvos rancheros with chorizo, roasted potatoes, smoked green tomato salsa, avocado, and cilantro crema

From there, we spent the morning and afternoon wandering around the River Arts District in West Asheville. If you haven't been there before, it's an Asheville must. Tons of really affordable art...and some pieces that made me consider selling a kidney on the blackmarket.

Got two beautiful lace pressed porcelain vases from this guy!

Got two beautiful lace pressed porcelain vases from this guy!

For a light lunch before my mom headed back to ATL, we went to All Souls Pizza. They had polenta pizza on the menu which I've tried (and failed) to make at home. Should have asked them their secrets! Ours was topped with kale, cremini mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic and red onion.

From there I waited around for my friends to arrive from Columbia at our airbnb. We stayed in a house in West Asheville. Have you stayed in an airbnb before? This was my second or third time and I'm a fan. Plus, we got to sleep with a pet beta fish in our bedroom so there's that.

Once our friends arrived from Columbia, we grabbed dinner at Gan Shan Station, a new Asian restaurant. You know those restaurants where you just sit there looking at the menu because the idea of choosing a single dish gives you major FOMO? This was that kind of place. We spit an order of pork dumplings and roasted cauliflower dumplings between the table and I finally settled on the spicy drunken noodles with shrimp. I sweat profusely just thinking about it.

After that it was off to my absolute favorite craft brewery, Wicked Weed. I’m recently obsessed with sours and saisons, which they have a huge selection of. I had a beer with beets and mango and a sour brewed in cabernet barrels.

The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed for yet another breakfast at Biscuithead. I wanted a plain biscuit so I could fully indulge in the condiment bar. On the side (😉 ) I ordered their special of pimento cheese grits with roasted poblanos and eggs and the bacon of the day (strawberry jalapeno!). Which I then proceeded to douse in their smoked jalapeno hot sauce.

Jam bar!! I love to imagine Joey from Friends in this situation.

Jam bar!! I love to imagine Joey from Friends in this situation.

We spent the rest of the day driving the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiking. Our first hike was up Craggy Pinacle.

Enjoying the view and the company at the top of Craggy Pinnacle!

Enjoying the view and the company at the top of Craggy Pinnacle!

From the top of Craggy Pinnacle

From the top of Craggy Pinnacle

Then we took a drive to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Sadly, it was really cloudy and starting to rain, so we really didn’t get the full view. But we did get a really lovely flute solo from a shirtless guy in a beanie. Oh Asheville…

Our view of the horizon from Mount Mitchell

Our view of the horizon from Mount Mitchell

From there, we hiked Deep Gap Trail to Mount Craig, which was a pretty tough hike for North Carolina, but well worth the views. And the forest we hiked through was SO pretty – pretty sure it may have been enchanted.

Taking a breather at the top of Mount Craig!

Taking a breather at the top of Mount Craig!

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After we got back and showered up, us ladies split off while the hubs went to a couple breweries, we visited the Grove Park Inn for wine and sunset. If you haven't heard of it, Grove Park is a historic inn from the early 1900s and it is GORGEOUS...but I'm also pretty sure it's haunted so for that reason (and the fact that it's crazy expensive) we don't stay there.

Afterwards, we met back up with our SOs and grabbed dinner at LAB. I wasn’t very hungry after appetizers at Grove Park and needed something green before I actually turned into a biscuit, so I got their kale salad with tahini dressing and roasted chickpeas.

The next morning, the rest of the crew headed back early but Scott and I wanted to hang around Asheville for a bit. Curate, a Spanish tapas place,  is my favorite restaurant in Asheville. It usually has a long line so when we saw a couple empty seats at the bar we snagged them. It's my favorite spot to eat there anyway since the bar overlooks an open kitchen. We split a few small plates – fried potatoes with prosciutto and a fried egg, octopus in olive oil and paprika with potato puree, and a fresh green salad with compressed watermelon, goat cheese and heirloom tomatoes.

Fried egg with prosciutto and fried potatoes

Fried egg with prosciutto and fried potatoes

Pulpo with potato puree

Pulpo with potato puree

Before we hit the road back to Columbia, we had to make one last stop – French Broad Chocolate Factory! It’s essentially Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for adults! They have a huge menu of chocolates – chocolate truffles, chocolate cookies, chocolate cakes, chocolate drinking truffles, hot chocolate...you get the point. I usually get their Xocolatl, this frothy, bitter chocolate drink made with almond milk that I’m obsessed with, but it wasn’t on the menu. Waaaah!! French Broad, if you're reading this, do something about it! Instead, I ordered their Mexican spiced hot chocolate and the hubs and I split a mint chocolate chunk brownie and I felt slightly better!

Have you been to Asheville? If so, I'd love to hear any new restaurant recs? Any amazing hikes we missed? 

A Week in New England: Boston, Maine and New Hampshire

A recap of our trip to New England for my little brother's wedding, with stops in Boston, Acadia National Park, Portland and New Hampshire! 

View from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

FYI: If you're interested in joining our first Joyful Eating, Nourished Life group, it's almost full so make sure you sign up soon to reserve a spot! 

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I spent a week road tripping through New England. My little brother was getting married in Boston, so we decided to make a trip out of it and drive up the coast to Acadia National Park before the wedding weekend! I've always wanted to go to Acadia, and now I'm determined to get back there again to see the leaves change. Any of my dietitian friends want to road trip up when we're in Boston for FNCE? ;)

We flew into Boston the Saturday night before the wedding and spent the night with my brother and my now sister-in-law, who live in Fenway Park. After catching up over wine, we walked a few blocks away for an incredible meal at Hojoko. It's a kind of hipster-y tavern that sells fancy cocktails and has a Japanese influenced tapas menu. Everything was SO good and I really wish I got pictures, but we were much too busy eating and enjoying being together for the first time since my brother moved to Boston. Some of the highlights were a foie gras and pineapple sushi roll, bacon, shiitake and yam okonomiyaki, crispy chicken tails with truffle salt and spicy salmon rolls with smoked pasilla chile mayo.

The next day, while my brother and SIL were wrapping up last minute wedding stuff (I promise we offered to help!), Scott and I took a walking tour of Boston following the Freedom Trail. It's a 2 1/2 mile trail through Boston that links the most important historic sites like Boston Common, the Granary Burying Ground (resting place of basically everyone from 6th grade American history class), Paul Revere's house and the Old South Meeting House, where the Boston tea party was organized. We stopped a couple times along the way for refreshments, first at the extra touristy Cheers in Faneuil Hall for a beer and to cheer on Arsenal, our favorite soccer team. We got a good giggle over the irony of cheering on British guys in red while visiting some of the most important Revolutionary War sites. Then we took a brief detour off the trail for lunch at Boston Public Market. There were SO many delicious looking food stands it was hard to decide, but ultimately we took my brother's recommendation and got a smoked bluefish roll and smoked salmon burrito at Boston Smoked Fish Company then a vanilla bean Union Square Donut for dessert.

Granary Burial Ground

Boston Common

Cheering on Arsenal at Cheers! Go Gunners!

Smoked bluefish roll and smoked salmon burrito

Vanilla Bean Doughnut

After our tour, we picked up our rental and started our trek north, first stopping in Merrimack, New Hampshire where my aunt and uncle live. My little cousin was there too, healing after she fell off a mountain in New Zealand (I kid you not). We enjoyed an incredible Venezuelan fish stew made by my uncle from a recipe my grandpa taught him (he wasn't Venezuelan, just adventurous in the kitchen, especially for a man born in the 1920s).

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The next day, we slept in a bit then hit the road for Maine, first stopping in Portsmouth New Hampshire, one of the many adorable little coastal port towns. It was really windy and cold that day, so we grabbed coffee and a bacon scallion scone at a cute little coffee house then wandered around the Strawberry Banke museum, a neighborhood of restored homes built in the 1600-1700s.

We stopped just across the river from Portsmouth in Kittery, Maine for lunch at When Pigs Fly Pizzeria, where we got crispy soy sesame brussels sprouts and a wood fire pizza topped with mozzarella, dates, sopressata, and spicy honey. It was SO good! They also run a bakery next door that sells 40 different types of bread. Most of them out for sample so I think my husband, who is weirdly obsessed with bread, was in heaven! I'm surprised they didn't kick him out for oversampling! 

Crispy soy sesame brussels sprouts

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Going back for thirds...

Detour to Nubble Light House on our way to Portland

We then drove another hour to Portland, Maine. It's basically a mecca for craft brews and since Scott and I love craft brews, you know what we spent the rest of the day doing ;) Unfortunately, most of the breweries were closed on Monday, but we were able to check out Shipyard and Rising Tide for a couple flights.

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After hitting the breweries, we took a long walk along the Eastern Promenade, eyeballing all the old Victorian houses we wished we could afford. For dinner, we went to Portland Lobster Company on the recommendation of basically everyone. We enjoyed our first and favorite lobster of the trip, dubbed Lionel, along with a bowl of lobster stew and fried clams.

Strolling the Eastern Promenade

Real estate envy...

Before

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We woke up bright and early the next morning, which wasn't too difficult since our hotel was filled with sunlight by 5 am. So, we went for a 3 mile run along the promenade, ending with a big breakfast at Local Sprouts Cooperative. We couldn't decide so I got an egg sandwich with local oyster and shiitake mushroms, greens and sharp cheddar, Scott ordered heuvos rancheros with Maine baked beans and we split an order of the most heavenly vegan pancakes.

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From there, we hit the road to Acadia, stopping in Camden along the way. Y'all, Camden is one of the cutest towns I've ever seen. For my fellow Gilmore Girls fans, it's like Stars Hallow on the water. After walking around town and enjoying a lobster roll and Asian fish taco from Harbor Dogs on a bench at the pier, we drove to the top of Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park. The view was EVERYTHING. You could see all of Preboscot Bay and even parts of Acadia across the bay, which was still another couple of hours (scenic) drive away.

Check out that claw meat ;)

Camden

Camden Hills State Park

We arrived in Acadia National Park midafternoon. After a brief stroll around Bar Harbor and a snack on fried local seafood at Thirsty Whale Tavern (I swear we did more than eat and drink...), we drove the Park Loop Trail, a 27 mile road that takes you through the prettiest part of the park. I think we stopped at every overlook along the way! Sandy beaches do nothing for me, but rocky coastlines give me all the feels!

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It was kinda cold! Decided against copying the Canadians at the beach and hopping in!

Because we're those weird people who get really excited about tents and sleeping bags and campfires, we decided to camp in the park. Plus, by letting Scott think he talked me into it, I convinced him I deserve a fancy meal and a bottle of rose ;) We went to McKays Public House, a farm to table restaurant in a historic Victorian house on the main drag. We split lobster baked brie with leeks for an appetizer and a triple duck dish of roasted duck breast with duck sausage and sweet potatoes cooked in duck fat (holy coronary!). Then on the lighter side, a salad topped with hazelnuts, golden raisins, gorgonzola and a truffle dressing.

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The next day was our mountain climbing day - we climbed three of them! But they were all less than 1,000 feet so don't let me sound too impressive ;) First up was Beehive, a super steep trail that requires climbing up metal rungs and scooting along cliffs. It was SO much fun but maybe not the greatest for those who are afraid of heights! Our next stop was North Bubble and South Bubble which overlook Jordan Pond, this gorgeous glacial lake. At the top there's a massive glacial erratic, this huge granite boulder precariously balanced at the edge of a cliff. It looks like you could tap it and it would fall right off, but it's been there for over 10,000 years. Still, even knowing that and how many tourists have taken the same picture, I was kinda nervous I'd be the one to send it crashing!

The Beehive from below

Scrambling up the Beehive

View from the Beehive of Sand Beach

We made it!

Bubble Rock

Jordan Pond from the top of the bubbles

For lunch, we stopped at Jordan Pond House for seafood stew and popovers (Scott) and pepita crusted scallops with kale, bacon and quinoa (me). Definitely recreating that one! After lunch, we drove on the western, more populated side of Mount Desert Island to hike Acadia Mountain then visited the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. If you're doing the same trip, right nearby is a place called Thurstons Lobster Pound where you pick your own lobster and they steam it for you. We got a ton of recommendations from instagram followers and friends, but unfortunately they weren't open for the summer when we were there - sad! So, we went to Geddy's back in Bar Harbor for a big bowl of steamer clams and a pizza topped with shrimp, scallops, spinach and roasted garlic.

View of Jordan Pond and North and South Bubble from the Pond House

Pumpkin seed crusted scallops

For sunset, we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain (hey, we hiked enough mountains that day!) and watched the most incredible sunset. It was a perfect end to the day! We debated going back for sunrise, since it's one of the first places to see the sunrise in the United States, but we just didn't get our act together. Another reason to go back!

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The next day, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Cafe This Way (the omelette with smoked trout, red onions and tomatoes - do it!) then started the long 5 hour trip back to Boston. We broke up the drive with a quick stop in Cape Elizabeth, where one of my dietitian friends here in Columbia is from. We went house shopping on Shore Ave. (with the two million dollars we don't actually have), stopped at the Portland Head Light, and snagged yet another lobster lunch at The Lobster Shack. 

 

Once we got back to Boston, the wedding festivities began! My brother is just 18 months younger than we, so we oscillate between hating each other and being best friends. His now wife, Skyler, is absolutely wonderful - between her and Scott's sisters, I've seriously lucked out in the sister-in-law department! Everyone who was in town that Thursday met up at Harpoon Brewery, then our huge group went to the Barking Crab for dinner. Fried clam roll for me - no such thing as enough seafood when in New England!

My newest seester!

The next day we slept in a bit and after a late brunch at Paris Creperie, where all the crepes have pop culture references (see below), we took a long walk across the river to Harvard. It was graduation weekend so the campus was bustling. We decided to play a game we called "Smart Kid, Family, or Regular Bostonian." We'd like to think people thought we were Harvard grads and not tourists ;)

Top: thyme mashed sweet potato, pesto, avocado, goat cheese and red onion. Bottom: sharp cheddar, avocado, broccoli, asparagus and spinach

Too much

Doing my best Haaaavad impression

After the rehearsal, we had a HUGE family style Italian meal for the rehearsal dinner at La Famiglia Giorgio's followed by a late night at a nearby bar. It was a small wedding so it was great to catch up with family, Skyler's friends who I met at the bachelorette, my brother friends I've known since elementary school. Even my grand little from my sorority at Clemson was there after her fiance and my brother randomly became close friends in law school!

All rehearsed and ready to get hitched!

On Saturday, we had a good bit of time before the wedding so we snagged brunch with my friend Kara (aka The Foodie Dietitian) and her fiance at Zaftigs, a Jewish deli. We met as roommates at Blog Brulee almost two (!!!) years ago and have kept in touch ever since. It was so great catching up!

Lox and potato cakes with dill cream

Blog Brulee roomie love!

After brunch, Scott and I walked down to the Gardner Museum, an art museum founded by the socialite and art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner in a mansion she designed to display her collection to the public. It was probably the most unique museum I've ever been to. It felt like we were sneaking around a rich person's house! Plus it was really neat learning about Gardner, who was kind of a bad ass. There's one story they tell about how she threatened an art collector with a knife to get him to sell a piece that she wanted - can you imagine a wealthy woman in the early 1900s doing such a thing?

Inside the courtyard of the Gardner museum

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Finally came the big event! They got married in a cute little park in their neighborhood with perfect weather and a really sweet ceremony officiated by a close friend. I read an poem during the ceremony and tried really hard not to laugh because I had been threatening to do it in an accent. The reception was held at Mistral where we had an incredible meal. It was really the perfect night for the two of them!

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Salmon with clams and bacon

Hope you enjoyed getting a peek into our travels! Any other Boston recommendations? I'll be going back for the Clemson vs. Boston College game and our national dietetics conference in the fall, so I could use more recommendations of things to do and of course places to eat! Feel free to share in the comments!

 

Phoenix, Sedona and Grand Canyon Recap

A recap of our impromptu trip to Arizona for the college football national championship game, complete with stops at a snow covered Grand Canyon, hiking in Sedona and lots of yummy Mexican food! 

Grand Canyon in winter
Grand Canyon in winter

Okay, so I promise this is the last travel recap you'll see for awhile! We really weren't planning on going anywhere after our string of travel this fall....but then Clemson made it into the national championships for the first time in 30 something years, so, we decided to make a trip of it!

We took an early morning flight out of Columbia and arrived in Phoenix around lunchtime. Lucky us, the in flight magazine had an article about new Phoenix restaurants, so we took notes and decided to check out DoSoto Central Market, an indoor dining hall. It's a really neat concept if you haven't been to one. I was in the mood for Asian so I got steamed buns from Adobo Dragon, a latin-asian fusion stand. I ordered one with green curry carnitas and another with roasted mushrooms and soy-adobo. They were good, but not great - a little disappointing for how tasty the ingredients looked! Scott definitely won the meal with his roasted pork dip from the larder and the delta. Normally a sandwich piled high with meat and no veggies just isn't my thing, but his was filled with perfectly cooked pork and the most incredible relish.

Steamed buns from Adobo Dragon
Steamed buns from Adobo Dragon
Sandwich from the larder and the delta
Sandwich from the larder and the delta

With full bellies, we hit the road for a 3 hour drive to the Grand Canyon. A 3 hour drive after a long day of travel normally wouldn't be something to write home about, but the drive was gorgeous! The highway took us through deserts of saguaro cacti, then all of a sudden, we were in forests freshly covered with over a foot of snow. It was so gorgeous I couldn't stop taking pictures out the window!

Sagauru Cactus
Sagauru Cactus
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It was dark by the time we got to Grand Canyon, so we just checked into our hotel and set out for food. Everything looked really touristy (why oh WHY don't national parks ever have good food??), so we were excited to stumble upon Sophie's Mexican Kitchen with a giant sign exclaiming 'VEGETARIAN FOOD!" We ordered $1.50 craft beers (yes really) and a massive vegetarian feast - a vegetarian taco on Indian fry bread with green chili sauce for me and a vegetable and black bean bowl for Scott. I don't think I'll ever eat a non-fry bread taco ever again.

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The next day we woke up (not so bright) and early to meet with our friends from Clemson and watch sunrise at the Grand Canyon. The sunrise itself wasn't memorable since there weren't a lot of colors in the cloudy sky, but what WAS memorable was just how cold it was! Our car thermometer registered at 3 degrees! There was actually a point where I was concerned my toe may have fallen off! But it was totally worth it to see the Grand Canyon freshly covered in a layer of snow. Really, there are no words. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, so I'll just let the pictures do the talking for me.

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After warming up and grabbing a quick pizza lunch, we took the scenic route down to Sedona. I still couldn't get over all the snow, so it was another long drive with my camera glued to the window, stopping at every overpass we could find.

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Once in Sedona, we all went out to eat at Mariposa, a latin restaurant with the most incredible sunset view of the red rocks. Since it was early, we all split tapas and a bottle of wine. Wish I took pictures of the food because it was pretty incredible - fried avocados with pimento aioli, corn and queso empanadas, picadillo empanadas, shrimp ceviche with spicy popcorn, and yuca fries.

After that, we went to Oak Creek Brewery for local beers before heading to El Rincon for dinner. I was pretty full from tapas, so I just ordered a corn tamale with green chili sauce - so yummy!

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The next day, all of us went hiking at Cathedral rock. If you've never been to Sedona, it's surrounded by all these incredible red rock buttes. Cathedral rock with it's four massive spires is one of the most famous. The trail is a steep scramble up the rock face - my old rock climbing skills definitely came in handy!

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock
sunrise at cathedral rock
sunrise at cathedral rock
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For breakfast, we refueled with a hearty meal at Red Rock Cafe. I had blue corn tortillas chilaquiles in green chili sauce (are you sensing a green chili sauce trend?) with the crispiest hash browns and an extra side of vegetables.

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After the rest of the group went down to Phoenix, Scott and I went on one more hike to the top of Bell Rock. If the hike to Cathedral rock was crazy, this one was insane! Parts of it were really steep with hardly any footholds. There was one part that we literally just slid down because there was no traction whatsoever! But again, the danger was well worth the view.

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Obligatory yoga pic
Obligatory yoga pic
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We came. We saw. We conquered.
We came. We saw. We conquered.

From there, we headed off to Phoenix for all the Clemson fun! We stayed at a condo right by the stadium with Scott's family and it was so much fun to be immersed in everything Clemson. Our fans have so much pride, even when we don't have a national championship team. I mean, I know everyone loves their college, but ours is actually the greatest. I think it's official. Or at least it's what I think, so that's as good as official :)

I hope you got a chance to watch the game because it was truly one of the best national championship games of all time (and that one's not just my opinion!). Even though we lost, there was so much energy and passion in that stadium, and I truly believe if we played that game 10 times, we would have won 6 or 7 of them. Can't wait for the natty next year in Tampa, cause you better believe we'll be there!

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The next morning we woke up a little sad so we drove out to Scottsdale to drown our sorrows in the worlds best English muffins at La Grande Orange. I am so mad at myself for not picking up a bag to freeze! We also split an heirloom brown rice and quinoa bowl with greens, black beans, pistachios, feta, a fried egg and harissa. If I lived in Scottsdale, I really think I would eat here every day!

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After brunch, we went out to meet up with friends at Desert Botanical Garden. It was really pretty fascinating to learn all about desert biology. After wandering the garden and taking a break to check into our hotels, a few of us went to Craft 64 for local beer and the most delicious fig, ricotta and arugula pizza.

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I found the perfect cactus!
I found the perfect cactus!
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From there, we wandered around old town Scottsdale with our friends Todd and Tara. It was kinda of a touristy town, but we had a fun time exploring it regardless. For dinner, we stopped at Bandera after the guys spotted them roasting whole chickens in a giant woodfire oven. I tried a few bites of Scott's, but I was in the mood for lotsa veggies, so I ordered the vegetable plate, which came with the most incredible green pepper salad, sauteed red cabbage with goat cheese, roasted red peppers with feta and kale salad. We also split their cornbread, which comes overflowing from it's own cast iron skillet. The perfect way to cap off our trip!

We had such a great time in Arizona, we definitely want to go back and spend more time there. Have you been to Arizona? If so, would love to hear your travel tips and recommendations!

A Week On Maui

Check out all the beautiful sights and delicious food we enjoyed while spending a week on Maui for my sister-in-law's wedding! 

Check out Part 1, a recap of our time on Ohau and Kauai.

After island hopping on Ohau and Kauai, we few out to Maui to meet up Scott's family and kick off the wedding celebrations! On Maui, we stayed in Lahaina, the best town for shopping on the island and also the ancient capitol of Hawaii. Front Street, which goes along the oceanfront, is lined with art galleries, cute little cafes and, of course, souvenir shops. It looks like a touristy town, but there's so much hidden history. Scott and I can't walk by a historical marker without stopping to read, and we're so glad we did. Things that looked like a run down old building or a abandoned field turned out to be an old missionary house or the site of a ancient Hawaiian temple.

After arriving in Maui, we grabbed lunch at Pacific'o, an upscale beachfront restaurant with farm to table cuisine. Our waiter told us how a local fisher had carried a freshly caught, giant mahi in during happy hour the day before, right through the middle of the restaurant. So obviously we both got mahi! Scott ordered a mahi sandwich with sriracha aioli while I had a tom kha-style mahi in a creamy Thai coconut sauce.

From there, we spent a couple hours on the beach with family before heading out to the Old Lahaina Luau for a welcome dinner. For someone who generally avoids shows at all costs on vacation, this was actually really entertaining! And the food was really good too! We had some Hawaiian dishes we enjoyed earlier in the trip on Ohau, like pork laulau, poi, lomi lomi salad and ahi poke (double portions plus seconds of the poke, obviously!), and also got to try a few new ones like chicken long rice, purple sweet potato, and pahole (fern) salad. Afterwards, a big group of us went out to a bar in Lahaina and probably stayed out a bit later than we should ;)

The next morning we had the best hangover food breakfast of all time - fried rice with fried eggs and Portuguese sausage loco moco at 808 Grinz Cafe. And lots of coffee, of course. Then we headed off to Olowalu Plantation House for the rehearsal. Y'all, you could not dream up a prettier place for a wedding (see evidence below).

Portugese sausage fried rice, fried egg, and ALL the sriracha.
Portugese sausage fried rice, fried egg, and ALL the sriracha.
View from the wedding site. TOLD you it was stunning!
View from the wedding site. TOLD you it was stunning!

From there, Scott and I jetted off on a solo adventure driving around West Maui. We heard it was even prettier and more rugged than the popular road to Hana, and it definitely didn't dissapoint! The road takes you on a sparsley populated road that circles the coast of West Maui and cuts through central Maui. Big chunks of it are a one-lane, cliff hanging, hair-pin turning road. Good think I only get airsick, not car sick (see Kauai post!)

After driving through miles of sugar cane fields, we stopped at Iao Valley State Park for a quick hike to see then Iao needle. Then we grabbed lunch at narby 808 on Main (trendy spot, food was only so-so). For there, we hit the coastline, stopping at every cutout we could find to enjoy the view. We went hiking on Kahakuloa Head, even through there wasn't exactly a trail! The views were worth stomping through knee high shrubs! From there, we went swimming in the Olivine Pools, deep tidepools in a volcanic rock cliff. Forget beaches - I'd take this over sand any day! From there, we drove out to Nakalele Point to see the blow hole and hike around. The blowhole was neat, shooting water about 50 feet up in the air! What I loved the most was hiking around that area. Our guidebook described it's appearance as 'an alien acid warzone.' We thought the author was maybe on something, but after seeing it, I can say it was a pretty accurate description of the terrain!

Iao Needle on Maui
Iao Needle on Maui
Kahakuloa Head
Kahakuloa Head
Kahakuloa Head
Kahakuloa Head
Swimming in the Olivine Pools in West Maui
Swimming in the Olivine Pools in West Maui
Volcanic rock by the Olivine Pools
Volcanic rock by the Olivine Pools
'the acid alien war zone' described in our guidebook. I see it!
'the acid alien war zone' described in our guidebook. I see it!
Nakalele Blowhole
Nakalele Blowhole
Hiking Nakalele Point
Hiking Nakalele Point

For dinner, we went out to Down the Hatch in downtown Lahaina. If you find yourself in Maui, I hope you'll stop by! I was friends with one of the owners at Clemson, so it was great to catch up and see the awesome place he's created! It's perfect if you're looking for a place to eat dinner and to go out afterwards. I had the ahi tacos and Scott had the lobster and crab grilled cheese sandwich, which I am drooling thinking about right now.

The next day was Caroline and Neil's wedding, which was absolute perfection, for an absolutely perfect couple ;) Truly, I am hard pressed to think of a couple that complements each others strengths and weaknesses than the two of them.  The ceremony was underneath huge palm trees overlooking the ocean. Scott was one of the groomsmen and I was one of the bridesmaids, so it was fun to walk down the aisle together again :) From there, we enjoyed sunset cocktails, dinner, then danced the night away!

<3
<3
Aren't the tables gorgeous?? My mother in law did them herself! I'm about to pull her out of retirement and force her to be a wedding planner!
Aren't the tables gorgeous?? My mother in law did them herself! I'm about to pull her out of retirement and force her to be a wedding planner!

The day after their wedding, we had planned to do the Road to Hana, but we had a wee bit to much of the delicious Martinelli wine (Caroline's sister in law's family vineyard in Sonoma) and the idea of winding roads didn't sound so smart. Instead, we finally tore ourselves out of bed for some deep dish pizza at Lahaina Pizza Company then spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beach. Hey, gotta have one day of doing nothing on the beach! For dinner, we went to Lahainaluna Cafe where I had a salad with avocado, almonds and a lilikoi vinaigrette while Scott had a Korean barbecue plate. The best shave ice on the island was right next door, so we had to split a cup. We went full on Hawaiian with a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream with li hing mui, passion fruit and pickled mango syrups for our ice!

Hawaiian Shave Ice
Hawaiian Shave Ice

The next day, the whole family took a boat tour out to Lanai, the smallest of the populated Hawaiian islands, most of which is owned by CEO of Oracle. Must be nice! We spent the afternoon snorkeling at Hulopoe Bay, one of the best spots for snorkeling in the world, and exploring nearby Princess Point, where supposedly an ancient Hawaiian princess was buried by her heartbroken lover.

Princess Point on Lanai
Princess Point on Lanai
Sunset over Lanai from the boat
Sunset over Lanai from the boat

The last day on Maui was definitely my favorite on the island! We woke up bright and early (like, 2:30!) and drove 1 1/2 hours out to the summit of Haleakala Crater to watch sunrise ABOVE the clouds. It was absolutely incredible watching the horizon, first with the faintest bit of red then slowly exploding with colors.

From there, we took an 11 1/2 mile hike from the summit, down through the crater and back up the crater walls on the other side. We didn't see anyone on the trail for the first 7 or so miles that weaved through the 7 X 2 mile wide, 2,000 foot deep dormant (but not extinct!) crater. The scenery was like nothing I've ever seen before. It felt straight out of a set for The Martian. Prepare yourselves for the massive photo dump ahead - there were so many beautiful spots I just couldn't pick which ones to share!

Starting our hike above the clouds.
Starting our hike above the clouds.
Cinder cones in the crater
Cinder cones in the crater
A blooming silver sword. This endangered plant is only found in Haleakala and blooms just once in it's 50-70 year lifespan, so we were pretty excited to stumble across one in full bloom!
A blooming silver sword. This endangered plant is only found in Haleakala and blooms just once in it's 50-70 year lifespan, so we were pretty excited to stumble across one in full bloom!
Scene from the newest Star Wars or my husband trying to prevent sunburn?
Scene from the newest Star Wars or my husband trying to prevent sunburn?
Nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose. This one was pretty desperate to get a bite of my KIND bar, coming just inches from me!
Nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose. This one was pretty desperate to get a bite of my KIND bar, coming just inches from me!
We are LITERALLY hiking into the clouds!
We are LITERALLY hiking into the clouds!
You can almost see where we started, all the way in the distance!
You can almost see where we started, all the way in the distance!

For the last 3 uphill miles of our hike, all I could think about was ahi poke. Seriously, I think I would still be passed out on the trail if it wasn't for the motivating factor of fresh fish! Luckily, the best ahi poke on the island is right by the airport at a food truck called Like Poke? We got classic soy-sesame poke and spicy poke, perfect way to refuel before our long flight back home. We thought it would be rough hiking 11 1/2 miles then immediately hopping on a plane, but it was actually a great idea because we slept the entire way and arrived in South Carolina feeling relatively refreshed!

Have you ever been to Maui? Would love to hear your favorite places on the island so you can give us an excuse to go back :) 

Oahu and Kauai Recap

A recap of our trip to Oahu and Kauai, including all the delicious food and gorgeous sights we enjoyed! 

I don't think I mentioned it on the blog, but a couple weeks ago, I was in Hawaii for a week and a half. I promise, I haven't become a total jet setter! My older sister-in-law got married on Maui, so Scott and I used it as an excuse to go island hopping. I went to Hawaii when I was in high school with my mom and brother, but Scott had never been before. I remember Hawaii being beautiful, but it was so much more incredible than what I had remembered! Of course, if you know us then you won't be surprised to hear there was very little beach time and a whole lot of eating, hiking and exploring.

The food was pretty incredible! I was expecting it to be really touristy, but because Hawaii is such a melting pot, there's tons of fusion cuisine and authentic Asian restaurants. Oahu was littered with hole in the wall ethnic restaurants and Kauai with food trucks selling awesome food made with local ingredients. With it's pretty much perfect climate, the produce is fantastic too. Oh, and those avocados....

Today I'm sharing a recap of our first few days on Oahu and Kauai, then next week I'll give you a peek into our time on Maui.

OAHU

Scott and I left early Thanksgiving morning and hopped on a flight to Oahu. After 14 hours of travel, we landed in Honolulu, late afternoon on a rainy day. Since most places were closed for Thanksgiving, Scott and I went for a nice long run along Waikiki's main drag, then up to Leonard's for malasadas, a type of Portuguese donut. I'm not even a donut person but these were heaven - warm, yeasty, fluffy and sprinkled with sugar! We couldn't decide what to get, so we ended up with ones stuffed with coconut cream, custard and another sprinkled with li hing mui, a kind of salted plum candy popular in Hawaii. Probably not the greatest idea to run with donuts and custard in our belly, but somehow we made it back to our hotel for the most spectacular sunset of our trip.

Malasadas at Leonard's in Honolulu
Malasadas at Leonard's in Honolulu
Waikiki sunset
Waikiki sunset

Our Thanksgiving dinner was kind of untraditional - sushi at Yanagi Sushi, one of the best sushi restaurants in Hawaii. Hey, there were lots of carbs involved so we were happy!

Sushi at Yanagi Sushi in Honolulu
Sushi at Yanagi Sushi in Honolulu

The next morning, we got up at 4:30 (which wasn't as bad as it sounds since we were up at 3:00 with jet lag anyway) and hiked to the summit of Diamond Head Crater for sunrise. Unfortunately, about 16 tour busses had the same idea we did. Despite the crowds, it was a pretty epic view and we found a nice, somewhat quiet spot to enjoy it. If you're going, it's definitely worth getting there early and (please don't sue me if you get hurt) hopping on top of the covered overlook at the top to avoid the crowds of tourists filtering through.

Sunrise at Diamond Head Crater
Sunrise at Diamond Head Crater
Sunrise over Oahu from Diamond Head Crater
Sunrise over Oahu from Diamond Head Crater
Our Uber driver told us Diamond Head was the greenest he had ever seen it in the 25 years he lived in Hawaii. I believe it!
Our Uber driver told us Diamond Head was the greenest he had ever seen it in the 25 years he lived in Hawaii. I believe it!

We were pretty hungry at that point, so we enjoyed a yummy breakfast of avocado toast with dukkah and potato rosti with mushrooms and eggs at Tucker and Beevy, the cutest little cafe (they also have a great pickup place on Waikiki for lunch!). After waiting in a long line for tickets to Pearl Harbor, we visited Iolani Palace, built by a former king of Hawaii, and wandered around Chinatown and downtown Honolulu.

You can't see how much avocado is on there. It's like two whole avocados worth. #heaven
You can't see how much avocado is on there. It's like two whole avocados worth. #heaven

Because apparently we didn't get enough Vietnamese food when we were in Vietnam, we grabbed lunch at this incredible Vietnamese restaurant, The Pig and the Lady. The sweet and sour broth in my vegetable noodle soup with pineapple, tomatoes and lemongrass was possibly the best broth I've ever tasted. I also got a lemongrass tofu banh mi, while Scott had a more traditional banh mi with bacon, a fried egg, and shallots and a bowl of bun bo hue soup.

Vegetable noodle soup and lemongrass tofu banh mi at The Pig and the Lady
Vegetable noodle soup and lemongrass tofu banh mi at The Pig and the Lady
Bun bo hue noodle soup and a banh mi from The Pig and the Lady in Honolulu
Bun bo hue noodle soup and a banh mi from The Pig and the Lady in Honolulu

After lunch, we took the trek back out to Pearl Harbor to visit the USS Arizona memorial. It's a very somber place, but pretty incredible to hear the people who work there talk about the dwindling number of survivors who still make it out there.

USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona Memorial
Black Tears at the USS Arizona Memorial on Honolulu
Black Tears at the USS Arizona Memorial on Honolulu

After a sunset walk along the beach in Waikiki, we enjoyed a local beer at our hotel rooftop, which had a perfect unobstructed view of Diamond Head. Then we walked down the street to Ono Hawaiian Foods for some of the best Hawaiian food on the island. Anthony Bourdain says it's true so it must be! Scott and I split a combination plate which came with pipikaula (beef jerky), lomi lomi salmon (salmon and tomato ceviche), kalua pig, pork lau lau (pork cooked in taro leaves), hot chili and vinegar sauce, and poi, the somewhat interesting puree of fermented taro. It was served with very specific instructions of how to eat the foods in a specific order 'until you fall asleep,' which we just about did after a long day of hiking and adventure. For dessert, we had haupia, a type of coconut pudding.

Combination plate at Ono Hawaiian Foods in Honolulu
Combination plate at Ono Hawaiian Foods in Honolulu

KAUAI 

Oh my goodness guys. Kauai is actually heaven. I had heard so many great things about Kauai and it exceeded all my expectations. I wish we had another couple weeks (or forever!) there to explore! It was easily the most naturally beautiful place I've ever been.

Right off the plane, we hopped straight on to a helicopter to tour the island from the air. Taking a helicopter tour of Hawaii has been on my bucket list ever since I saw Jurassic Park as a child, so we went all out with a private, doors off helicopter. Seeing the island from the sky was spectacular. We flew over and into Waimea Canyon, through Na Pali coast, into an extinct volcano crater and past what seemed like a bazillion waterfalls. Unfortunately, I got a little airsick. More than a little airsick. Like, I threw up. Twice. I think I impressed our pilot with my ability to puke and rally, because I wanted to soak up every minute in the air, nausea and all! Still, it was still the highlight of the island and one of our favorite things we did in Hawaii And frankly, I kind of did it to myself. They told me to stare at the horizon when you start to feel nauseous, but the scenery was so gorgeous I couldn't take my eyes off of it!

Mauna Loa Helicopter tours in Kauai
Mauna Loa Helicopter tours in Kauai
Waterfall from Jurassic Park in Kauai
Waterfall from Jurassic Park in Kauai
Waterfall from helicopter tour of Hawaii
Waterfall from helicopter tour of Hawaii
Na Pali Coast from helicopter tour
Na Pali Coast from helicopter tour
Volcanic crater from helicopter tour of Kauai
Volcanic crater from helicopter tour of Kauai

For lunch, because clearly I had some room in my stomach after our helicopter tour, we went to Fish Express. If we had another week on the island, I would eat there every day! They had the most epic deli with all different kinds of poke (fish salad), bento boxes, and fish plates, all made with freshly caught local Hawaiian seafood. We picked up some ahi poke (because raw fish is known for settling an upset stomach...), I got macadamia nut crusted ahi and Scott ordered cajun crusted swordfish.

ahi poke from Fish Express on Kauai
ahi poke from Fish Express on Kauai
Macadamia nut crusted ahi from fish express
Macadamia nut crusted ahi from fish express
Cajun swordfish from fish express
Cajun swordfish from fish express

We took our picnic lunch out to Waimea Canyon, aka the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. I think Hawaii was in the mood to show off, because we got to see a huge rainbow over the canyon! We spend the rest of the day driving back into the canyon, stopping at every viewpoint we could find. We couldn't get over all the gorgeous colors in the canyon! Unfortunately, by the time we were getting to the end, storm clouds were rolling through and there was zero visibility. If you're going there, I suggest going early in the day or driving all the way to the back, then working your way towards the shore, where it's usually pretty cloudless by the end of the day.

Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon
Rainbowl over Waimea Canyon in Kauai
Rainbowl over Waimea Canyon in Kauai
Rainbow over Waimea Canyon
Rainbow over Waimea Canyon

For dinner, we were still dreaming of poke so we went to Ishihara Market to pick up a picnic dinner to enjoy with sunset on the beach. Spicy ahi poke with fish roe, seaweed salad, and two types of octopus poke for the win!

Poke picnic on the beach in Kauai
Poke picnic on the beach in Kauai

The next day, we woke up super early to hike Kalalau Trail. On the way out, we stopped at Java Kai for coffee, an acai bowl with local granola (me) and a braised pork burrito (Scott).

Acai bowl from Java Kai on Kauai
Acai bowl from Java Kai on Kauai

The entire Kalalau trail is an 11 mile hike in (then 11 miles out) along the Na Pali Coast, the most rugged (and beautiful) area of Kauai where massive sheer cliffs meet the ocean. Since we weren't really equipped, we took a shorter version, in 2 miles to a rocky beach, then back inland 2 miles to a massive waterfall. The hike was absolutely insane! The trails were soaked from recent rain so it was basically like hiking in a mud pit! We just said 'F-it' to our shoes and went straight into the ankle deep mud. It's okay because they were washed clean in the 8 or so creeks we had to ford!

Hiking the Kalalau Trail
Hiking the Kalalau Trail
Kalalau trail in Kauai
Kalalau trail in Kauai
Hanakapiai Falls on the Kalalau Trail
Hanakapiai Falls on the Kalalau Trail
Kalalau Trail
Kalalau Trail
Na Pali Coast from the Kalalau Trail
Na Pali Coast from the Kalalau Trail

On our way back, we stopped at a few of the beaches and viewpoints along the northern coasts, then for a seared ahi nori wrap with Thai iced tea with coconut at Mermaids Cafe. We then drove out to a few more waterfalls near our hotel, and stopped at the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian heiau, or temple. Back at the hotel, we enjoyed much needed beers and a shower before dinner.

Sunset and waterfall on Kauai
Sunset and waterfall on Kauai

For dinner, we went out to Verde, a Mexican-Hawaiian farm to table fusion restaurant. I am still dreaming of my vegetarian sopapillas filled with crispy fried taro, cheese, guacamole and spicy chili sauce.

Vegetarian sopapillas

Vegetarian sopapillas

The next day, it was so hard to say goodbye to Kauai! We drove as much of the coastline as you possibly can, but I still felt like there was so much more to explore. But it was off to Maui for wedding festivities and family time. Can't wait to share a sneak peak next week!

Good Eats in Vietnam

We fell in love with the street food, markets and cafes in Vietnam! Check out our favorites including links so you can try your hand at authentic Vietnamese food at home. 

For a recap of what we saw and did in Vietnam, check out part 1, 11 Days in Vietnam

On the first day of our tour, our guide went around the group and asked us what we were most excited about experiencing in Vietnam. I'd say a good 50% of our group said street food. Yup, Vietnam has quite the reputation when it comes to food and let me say, it did not disappoint!

Because Vietnam has been influenced by many other cultures including China, Cambodia, France and eastern Europe, the cuisine is quite complex and unique. Like many Asian countries, Vietnam integrates the principles of yin and yang into their cooking, which seeks to attain balance in the body through the use of 'warm' and 'cool' ingredients. It's also influenced by the Asian philosophy of five elements, which balances the five tastes in each dish - bitter, spicy, sour, sweet, and salty.

From a nutrition standpoint, I love how herbs were often treated as a main ingredient. Not only are they delicious, the pungent compounds in herbs are powerful phytonutrients. Although we ate a lot more meat than we normally do at home, mainly because we were trying to eat the specialties of each area, it was usually treated as a condiment, rather than a main course. I also loved that they ate so many small meals throughout the day. Everywhere you looked there were packed street food stands. People were constantly eating - my kinda place!

Here's a look at what we ate, drank and some fun market finds!

HO CHI MINH CITY/SAIGON:

We had just one day in Ho Chi Minh City, which made me sad because I had a ton of great recommendations for food!

For lunch, we ate at Hoa Tuc, a really cute restaurant near our hotel. For the most part, we were unimpressed with restaurant food compared to street food, but this one was an exception. I'm slightly obsessed with dill, so I ordered fishcake wraps over rice noodles served with a mustard and dill fish sauce. Scott had banh xeo, a type of eggy rice flour pancake wrap thats stuffed with shrimp and bean sprouts. We also split an order of ca nuong, silky braised eggplant served with spring onions, garlic and chili.

Vietnamese fish cake wraps over rice noodles with mustard dill fish sauce and ca nuong.
Vietnamese fish cake wraps over rice noodles with mustard dill fish sauce and ca nuong.
Banh Xeo
Banh Xeo

For dinner, Scott and I went hunting for banh mi - one of my favorite foods! We went to Hyunh Hoa, considered by many to be the best in the city. Banh mi, along with pho, are the most famous foods from Vietnam. Banh mi, a sandwich made with various types of Vietnamese meats, pate, chilies, pickled vegetables, mayonnaise and baguette, it's a classic example of Vietnamese-French fusion. Hyunh Hoa is literally a hole in the wall. You just go up to the door, show with your fingers how many you want, they ask if you want chilies or not, you say yes to the chilies because chilies are delicious, then they get to work assembling your sandwich out of the massive mis en place of various meats, pate, vegetables and sauces. We took our sandwiches back to the main city square, beautifully lit up at night, and dug in. I have to say, it was seriously delicious, the best I had on our trip, but I was kinda wishing it had more veggies, especially pickled daikon (my fave!). If we ever have the opportunity to go back, I want to try all the banh mi's in this post and taste test!

Hyunh Hoa - literally a hole in the wall.
Hyunh Hoa - literally a hole in the wall.
Banh Mi from Hyunh Hoa
Banh Mi from Hyunh Hoa

Another little bite to mention because it was SO tasty - these fried banana fritters we enjoyed on our walking tour. They were so crispy and delicious with just the right amount of sweet!

Choui Chien - fried banana fritters
Choui Chien - fried banana fritters

HOI AN

So many fun eating experiences in Hoi An, from friend dumplings called money bags (which made me giggle because their currency is called the dong...I really need to grow up) to our street food Vespa tour to hunting down durian.

For lunch on our first day, we had our second banh mi of the trip at Banh Mi Phuong, considered the best banh mi in the city known for having the best banh mi. I actually preferred the one we had in Saigon, but this was still pretty darn fabulous!

Banh mi mis en place
Banh mi mis en place
It was amazing how quickly she whipped these together.
It was amazing how quickly she whipped these together.

One of our favorite things to do in Vietnam was explore each cities market. In Hoi An, we tried longan, a fruit related to the lychee, and Scott had the guts to try balut. Those of you with strong stomachs can click on the link. Otherwise, we'll just pretend it's some type of tropical fruit. We also tried, wait for it....DURIAN! Yes, that rotten egg smelling fruit that even Andrew Zimmern had a hard time choking down. It wasn't as awful as I expected, but it was still the worst thing I've ever tasted.

Dragon Fruit in Vietnam
Dragon Fruit in Vietnam
Longan fruit
Longan fruit
Longan fruit at the market
Longan fruit at the market
Durian. It even looks disgusting. Like a weird organ or some sea creature.
Durian. It even looks disgusting. Like a weird organ or some sea creature.
Eating durian in Hoi An Vietnam.
Eating durian in Hoi An Vietnam.
Eating durian in Hoi An
Eating durian in Hoi An

One of my favorite meals of the trip was lunch at Ba La Cafe. The service was incredible as was the food. There's no menu. You just sit down and they serve a plate of thit nuong (pork skewers) and nem nuong (Vietnamese pork sausage) on skewers, the best banh xeo we had and ahh-mazing spring rolls called ram cuon (someone PLEASE send me a recipe that doesn't use wonton wrappers!). All this is served along with a giant plate of herbs, pickled vegetables, a peanut and chili sauce and rice paper wrappers. The server demonstrates how to use the rice paper wrappers to wrap everything up with herbs and sauce. She will make a beautiful little tightly wrapped cigar and you will make something resembling an overstuffed burrito from Chipotle. It's okay. It still tastes the same.

Grilled pork skewers, spring rolls , and pickled vegetables, ready for wrapping and devouring.
Grilled pork skewers, spring rolls , and pickled vegetables, ready for wrapping and devouring.
banh xeo at ba le cafe in Hoi An
banh xeo at ba le cafe in Hoi An
Banh Xeo at Ba Le Cafe in Hoi An
Banh Xeo at Ba Le Cafe in Hoi An
Found this hanging across the street at lunch. I guess VIetnam hasn't upgraded to the plate!
Found this hanging across the street at lunch. I guess VIetnam hasn't upgraded to the plate!

One of my favorite experiences of the trip was a vespa street food tour. It was recommended to me by a friend of the owner, who is from Charleston (yeah SC!). HIGHLY recommend taking this tour or one of their many others in Hoi An, Saigon and Siem Reap. Our friends from the tour Caitlin and Mike joined us and we had so much fun zipping around town on the back of our vespas. We started off with passion fruit motijos at their headquarters before heading next door for a plate of banh can. It's a type of mini fried pancake with a quail egg at the center. It was served topped with a green papaya salad and Vietnamese sausages, which look gross in my picture but were actually pretty tasty. They cook them wrapped in leaves to keep them tasting fresh.

Cooking banh can in Hoi An
Cooking banh can in Hoi An
Banh can topped with green papaya salad and sausages
Banh can topped with green papaya salad and sausages

Next stop was White Rose Restaurant, home of the white rose, one of Hoi An's local specialties. It's a little dumpling made from a silky, translucent white dough filled with spiced shrimp paste, which is formed into a shape that resembles a rose. They let us try to make our own, which didn't exactly turn out as pretty as theirs. If there is one thing Hoi An taught me, it's that I have no future as a Vietnamese chef!

White Rose dumplings in Hoi An
White Rose dumplings in Hoi An

The next stop was my favorite, a spot right on the Thu Bon River. We were served a big plate of rice crackers along with a river clam salad (my favorite of the night). The river clams are teeny, teeny tiny, but really delicious. You eat them by scooping up the clams with rice crackers. We also enjoyed a plate of really flavorful calamari. The tentacley ones are the best!

River clam salad, rice crackers and calamari.
River clam salad, rice crackers and calamari.

After that, we went to a restaurant for bo nhung giam, a beef hot pot. We're served a plate of raw, sliced beef, a bit pot of flavorful broth bubbling away at the table, along with rice paper wrappers and more herbs. The broth is crazy delicious - the secret is lots of vinegar! First you fish the cooked beef out of the broth and make wraps out of it, then you enjoy the broth as a soup - the best part! Another cool thing about this dish - one of the herbs served with it they call 'fishy lettuce.' The first bite tastes just like fish (really odd!), but after a second or so, it tastes citrusy and delicious!

Bo Nhung Giam
Bo Nhung Giam
Bo Nhung Giam
Bo Nhung Giam
Bo Nhung Giam bubbling away
Bo Nhung Giam bubbling away

Our last spot of the night was a barbecue venison dish, which was cooked wrapped in some type of leaf right at the table. I was pretty tipsy at this point, so that's all I've got!

Vietnamese BBQ Venison
Vietnamese BBQ Venison

If you get a chance to go to Hoi An, I highly recommend this tour!

HUE:

Before going to Hue, I knew it was famous for it's vegetarian food and had watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain where he gave a few food recommendations, so I was really excited for food in Hue!

The first night, we wandered around the city with another couple from our tour. At the market, we enjoyed a bowl of bun bo hue, which Anthony Bourdain referred to as his favorite food in Vietnam. I liked it, but not as much as the banh canh, the crab and tapioca noodle soup we ate next. I just love those fat, chewy noodles! We also ate banh trang nuong, one of my favorite bites of the trip. It's basically a Vietnamese pizza, made on a rice paper round topped with egg, caramelized shallots and chilies, pork and other unidentifiables. You don't ask in Vietnam, you just eat.

Bun bo hue
Bun bo hue
Banh canh, hard boiled quail eggs, and banh chung (stuffed sticky rice wrapped in leaves). All this and four beers cost $10. For four people.
Banh canh, hard boiled quail eggs, and banh chung (stuffed sticky rice wrapped in leaves). All this and four beers cost $10. For four people.
Banh Trang Nuong. Vietnamese pizza - how could it not be delicious!
Banh Trang Nuong. Vietnamese pizza - how could it not be delicious!

The second day in Hue, we took a boat tour of the Perfume river, stopping at pagodas and emperors tombs along the way. For lunch, we ate an incredible vegetarian lunch prepared by female monks. After a few days of indulgence, all those vegetables were much needed!

A vegetarian soup made with mushrooms, carrots and lotus seeds.
A vegetarian soup made with mushrooms, carrots and lotus seeds.
Fried vegetarian dumplings, seitan wrapped in leaves, a braised tofu and vegetable dish and rice. Always rice.
Fried vegetarian dumplings, seitan wrapped in leaves, a braised tofu and vegetable dish and rice. Always rice.
Green beans and mushrooms.
Green beans and mushrooms.

For dinner, I was still all over this vegetarian cuisine, so Scott and I went to Lien Hoa, considered to be the best vegetarian restaurant in Hue.  The menu is pretty extensive, so Scott and I just looked at the English translations and ordered whatever looked interesting. And by interesting I mean we had no clue what it was and wanted to find out. We ordered fried nem, which turned out to be a vegetarian spring roll, curried mesan (we still don't know what that is), fried jackfruit (holy smokes it's good!), and vegetable banh cuon.

Vegetarian meal in Hue
Vegetarian meal in Hue
Fried nem
Fried nem
Fried jackfruit
Fried jackfruit

HANOI:

Hanoi is known to have the best pho, the famous rice noodle soup. So naturally, the first thing we ate in Hanoi was pho. Our guide recommended pho thin, which serves pho bo (beef pho). We all loved it! Most of us on our tour went there twice. One guy ate two bowls, which I totally would have done if I had more room. I've had many a pho in my life, and this was the best.

Pho Bo at Pho Thin
Pho Bo at Pho Thin
Pho Thin. They cook the soup in a giant pot in the front window. You can see the fire that heats the soup in this picture.
Pho Thin. They cook the soup in a giant pot in the front window. You can see the fire that heats the soup in this picture.

Later that night, we wandered the area around our hotel, stopping for street food and beers along the way.

Enjoying banh bao, a steamed dumpling filled with sausage and egg.
Enjoying banh bao, a steamed dumpling filled with sausage and egg.
Pizza cones? Gotta do it. Not the best thing we ate in Vietnam, by a long shot. More like a bologna cone. At least I came up with a good jingle for pizza cones!
Pizza cones? Gotta do it. Not the best thing we ate in Vietnam, by a long shot. More like a bologna cone. At least I came up with a good jingle for pizza cones!
Crappy, watered down cheap beer is always more fun with friends.
Crappy, watered down cheap beer is always more fun with friends.

One of the coolest things about Hanoi were the markets. There were so many new fruits to taste and crazy ingredients  to see!

This machine chopped crazy amounts of garlic. I can't tell you how badly I want one for my kitchen! I would eat olive oil and garlic sauce every day!
This machine chopped crazy amounts of garlic. I can't tell you how badly I want one for my kitchen! I would eat olive oil and garlic sauce every day!
dried fish and shrimp in Hanoi
dried fish and shrimp in Hanoi
Buddha's hand, a type of citrus. You can't eat it other than the zest, but it's often used for offerings. And it smells fabulous! I used to pick this up at the Atlanta international farmers market to make my apartment smell good!
Buddha's hand, a type of citrus. You can't eat it other than the zest, but it's often used for offerings. And it smells fabulous! I used to pick this up at the Atlanta international farmers market to make my apartment smell good!
Tried. Didn't like. But isn't it pretty??
Tried. Didn't like. But isn't it pretty??
Artichoke buds
Artichoke buds
A big 'ole plate of sausages, just sittin' in the sun. This is probably why our tour guide carried around a medicine he called 'concrete pills.'
A big 'ole plate of sausages, just sittin' in the sun. This is probably why our tour guide carried around a medicine he called 'concrete pills.'
Chopping bamboo shoots at the market
Chopping bamboo shoots at the market
I think these are banana blossoms, which I had a salad of earlier in the trip.
I think these are banana blossoms, which I had a salad of earlier in the trip.

If you're nervous about trying street food, check out Quan An Ngon, which serves street food from all over Vietnam in a nice, restaurant setting. We ate lunch there and although it wasn't as good as the legit street food, it was still pretty tasty. We had mien xao luon (stir fried cassava noodles with eel), banh cuon (a steamed rice roll filled with pork), green papaya salad, and a beef summer roll.

geen papaya salad and beef spring roll
geen papaya salad and beef spring roll
Green papaya salad
Green papaya salad
Stir fried cassava noodles with eel
Stir fried cassava noodles with eel
banh cuon
banh cuon

Bun cha is another local specialty in Hanoi. We were told it was a must eat by a friends friend, who described it as 'a bowl of porky, noodley goodness.' I can think of no better description. We were served a bowl of pork meatballs in the most incredible, sweet and smoky broth, along with the standard giant plate of herbs, rice noodles and fish sauce. Scott said this was his favorite meal of the trip! We ate it at Bun Cha Dac Kim, considered to be the best in the city. Just don't go next door - they are imposters as multiple signs will tell you!

Bun Cha in Hanoi
Bun Cha in Hanoi
Bun Cha in Hanoi
Bun Cha in Hanoi

Next we went to another place that was recommended by our friends friend was The Unicorn Pub. We were told to get the pho cocktail, which despite the name, did not involve any beef or noodles but did involve lots of yummy spices, lime juice, and fire!

Pho Cocktail in Hanoi
Pho Cocktail in Hanoi
Pho Cocktail
Pho Cocktail

For a late night snack, we went in search of more pho, this time from a place recommended by our vespa guide in Hanoi. I think I liked the first pho we had just slightly more than this one, but they were both the two best I've ever had!

Pho in Hanoi
Pho in Hanoi
Pho in Hanoi
Pho in Hanoi
Pho in Hanoi
Pho in Hanoi
Pho in Hanoi
Pho in Hanoi

Cha ca la vong is another Hanoi speciality and it just might be my favorite meal of the trip! Fish seasoned with turmeric is cooked with tons of green onions and dill at the table, then served with rice noodles, herbs, peanuts and fish sauce. We heard the place where it originated has gotten pretty touristy and the quality has gone down, so we went to Cha Ca Thang Long, which is now rated higher.

Cha Ca cooking away at the table
Cha Ca cooking away at the table
Cha Ca
Cha Ca

One of the most fun things about Vietnam is trying random street foods and having no idea what to expect. Walking along the street, hungry for a snack, Scott and I picked up a random, fried ball of dough sprinkled with sesame seeds. We thought it would be savory and filled with some type of meat, but to our surprise, it was the worlds most perfect donut - banh cam! Just barely sweet with a crispy exterior, chewy interior with a filling that we thought was almond paste but google tells me is actually mung bean paste. We were so obsessed we hunted them down three more times! Usually they were sold as one bigger donut, but this one lady sold us a bag of mini donuts. We kept them in my purse and snacked on them all day!

Banh Cam - the most perfect donut!
Banh Cam - the most perfect donut!

Another crazy food we tried in Vietnam was egg coffee. Yes really! Our guide told us it was something we just had to have, and although I had no desire to try it, Scott had to hunt it down. I was expecting something like egg drop coffee or bulletproof with an egg instead of butter, but it was nothing like that. We ordered egg coffee both hot and cold. Both were a small amount of very strong brewed coffee topped with the most incredible, creamy and frothy egg whites you can imagine. We tried it at Giang Cafe per our guides recommendation.

Cold Vietnamese egg coffee
Cold Vietnamese egg coffee
hot vietnamese egg coffee
hot vietnamese egg coffee

Phew! Now I'm hungry!

For those who have been to Vietnam, would love to hear your favorite foods! Anything I missed? I need an excuse to go back. For those who haven't gone, what Vietnamese foods are you most excited to try?

Chicago Recap

A recap of what we saw, ate and did on a short trip to Chicago and Highland Park.

A couple weeks ago, my little cousin got married in Chicago, so my mom and I decided to head up a little early and explore the city for a few days. I hadn't been since high school, so it was really fun to see the city with fresh eyes.

After catching an early morning flight, we finally arrived in Chicago mid-afternoon. We drove out to my aunts house in Fort Sheridan, this really neat neighborhood that was converted from an old fort. Wish I had the pups with me so we could walk all over the neighborhood and check out all the houses. With the wedding coming up, we helped out a bit with the little things that had to be done. Really difficult tasks like checking on the order of popsicles from the Mexican ice cream store and tasting every flavor of ice cream while we were there. I know, my aunt is truly a horrible person to ask us to accompany her on tasks like this. For dinner, we went to Lucky Fish Deli, a seafood restaurant with a cajun inspired menu. After a stressful day (this was the start of my 2-week computer drama), I was in desperate need of some mood boosting omega 3s, so I ordered the blackened salmon with house veggies, which rather than a boring mix of steamed broccoli and carrots, was caramelized fennel, onions and red pepper.

The next morning, my mom and I took the train out to the city to take a boat tour of the city, hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The tour takes you along the Chicago river, pointing out architectural highlights and historical events along the way. I've always been fascinated by architecture, but mostly in houses and in much older buildings. Skyscrapers never did much for me until this tour. It was really interesting to learn the inspiration behind the buildings and notice the little details I wouldn't otherwise pay attention to. If you're in Chicago, I'd say this is the first thing you should do! You'll look at the city in a totally different way.

After the tour, we stopped by Frontera, Rick Bayless' restaurant, for lunch. As soon as I heard we were going to Chicago, this was one of my requests. There are few things in life I love more than authentic Mexican food! We started with a tamale filled with plantains (my favorite dish) and mezcal drinks, one with grapefruit, chile and coriander for my mom and one with tamarind and ginger for me. For our main, we split pork mole tacos, which was really good, buy maybe a little too rich. I kind of wish we got the garlicky mushroom tacos, but now I have a reason to go back :) We also split a side order of tatume squash with poblanos and crema. Since the orders were small, we had room for dessert, two mini-flans - one almond and one cinnamon.

Tamal with Plantains at Fronterra

Tamal with Plantains at Fronterra

Pork Mole Taco at Fronterra Grill

Pork Mole Taco at Fronterra Grill

Tatume Squash and Poblanos in Crema

Tatume Squash and Poblanos in Crema

After lunch, we took another tour by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Intersections of Old and New. It was really interesting to learn more of the history of Chicago's buildings and explore the city on foot.

The State Building

The State Building

The Pavillon in Millenium Park

The Pavillon in Millenium Park

Chicago skyline from Millennium Park. Love the contrast of man and nature!

Chicago skyline from Millennium Park. Love the contrast of man and nature!

Millennium Park

Millennium Park

Millenium Park

Millenium Park

For dinner, we wanted to eat at Girl and The Goat, Stephanie Izard of Top Chef fame's restaurant, but it was booked out something like 3 years in advance. Okay it was 2 months, but still. So we ate at The Little Goat, her casual diner. The menu looked great for diner food, but that wasn't exactly what I was in the mood for at the time. My mom got a goat patty melt and I got a big noodle bowl packed with veggies and yummy stuff! It was pretty tempting not to finish the whole thing! I'd love to go back and try their tofu noodles with pattypan squash and nectarines, but it was one of those dishes that was either really good or really disappointing.

The next day we went back to the city to meet up with my mom's second cousin who lives in Chicago. We spent the morning exploring the Art Institute of Chicago, which was absolutely stunning. I'd love to go back and spend a whole day or two in there! The highlight for me was their exhibit on sculptor Charles Ray.

Chicago Travel Guide: Charles Ray at Chicago Institute of Art

Chicago Travel Guide: Charles Ray at Chicago Institute of Art

Chicago Institute of Art

Chicago Institute of Art

For lunch, we walked across the street to The Gage, kind of a fancy pub. Definitely the kind of place I'd like to go for drinks after work. I had a wild mushroom sandwich with truffles and pecorino. YUM! Their side salad was also really tasty with cherries and gooseberries.

After lunch, we went to the Chicago Cultural Center, which was absolutely incredible! The rooms were covered in Tiffany mosaic and almost glittered in the light. It made me sad to look back at my pictures, which in no way captured how gorgeous it was in real life! While we were there, they had an exhibit on Archibald Motley, a Harlem Renaissance artist in the jazz age, now one of my favorites. There's so much color and life in his paintings. It's hard not to feel happy looking at them!

Cultural Center

Cultural Center

Archibald Motley at the Cultural Center

Archibald Motley at the Cultural Center

The rest of the trip was spent in wedding related festivities for Asher and Daniella. It was a really cool blending of cultures at all the events. My cousins family is reformed Jewish and very involved with their synagogue. Her family is Jewish and from Iran, so we were treated to an incredible Persian meal at her house. I really need to figure out how they made such delicious rice! And it was so much fun catching up with family I hadn't seen in awhile, especially my cousin Kinneret whose been my partner in crime basically since birth. Here's a couple peeks at their gorgeous wedding!

The gorgeous bride and groom!

The gorgeous bride and groom!

The synagogue. Isn't it gorgeous?

The synagogue. Isn't it gorgeous?

My cousin and I at a family dinner.

My cousin and I at a family dinner.

All that light...

All that light...

Camping in Blue Ridge & Campfire Potatoes, Veggies & Halloumi

A recap of our weekend hiking and camping in the Blue Ridge mountains, plus, a vegetarian campfire recipe for potatoes, veggies and halloumi cheese. 

You may have noticed the lack of a Sunday Paper this past weekend. That's because I spent the weekend camping in the Blue Ridge mountains with Scott (and Charlie!) to celebrate our third anniversary and my 31st birthday. Each year for our anniversary, we take a mini-trip somewhere in the South in lieu of trading gifts. The first year it was Asheville and last year it was Charleston.

Now just so you know, this was no "glamping." We did legit camping - tent, sleeping bag, peeing in the woods - the whole shebang. Okay, so there was a $40 bottle of wine involved, but other than that we were roughing it! Especially when the temps dipped into the twenties at night and we only packed our lightweight sleeping bag...thank goodness for a 135 lb Saint Bernard to spoon with.

After setting up camp on Friday, we hiked in Graveyard Fields to see both the waterfalls. Back at camp, we enjoyed our bottle of wine and a yummy campfire meal (recipe follows!). I was planning on making these halloumi and vegetable skewers from Naturally Ella, but we realized we left Scott's mini-grill at a friends house right before we left. So, we wrapped everything up in aluminum foil and threw it in the fire! I know this is my second zombie apocalypse reference in less than a week, but let me say, with my campfire cooking skills, you'll definitely want to protect me in the event!

The next day we woke up early and did some more hiking are Moore's Cove and to Skinny Dip Falls (no, we did not skinny dip, pervs). After spending the morning hiking, we decided to head into Asheville. We enjoyed a flight at Green Man Brewery and split a cubano from Melt Your Heart. Then we took Charlie on a walk around downtown, where he quickly became a local celebrity. At one point, we had 15 people surrounding him - to think that some family gave him up boggles my mind! We had an awesome dinner at my absolute favorite brewery on the planet, Wicked Weed, then closed out the night back at camp, enjoying the campfire and a slice of Theos olive oil chocolate cake from French Broad Chocolates! 

Keep scrolling to enjoy some of the pictures of our trip and get my recipe for campfire potatoes and veggies with halloumi cheese.

The Lower Falls and Graveyard Fields

The Lower Falls and Graveyard Fields

Waterfalls at Graveyard Fields

Waterfalls at Graveyard Fields

Graveyard Fields Blue Ridge Parkway

Graveyard Fields Blue Ridge Parkway

Upper Falls in Graveyard Fields

Upper Falls in Graveyard Fields

Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah

Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah

Hiking to Moore's Cove

Hiking to Moore's Cove

Moore's Cove Waterfall

Moore's Cove Waterfall

Skinny Dip Falls Blue Ridge Parkway

Skinny Dip Falls Blue Ridge Parkway

Dinner at Wicked Weed Brewing

Dinner at Wicked Weed Brewing

Campfire potatoes, veggies and halloumi

Campfire potatoes, veggies and halloumi

Campfire Potatoes, Veggies & Halloumi Cheese

Serves 2 hungry hikers

Simply make packets of the ingredients and toss it over the fire. If you have a grill, feel free to make kebabs or put the packets directly over the grill. Our campsite had a metal grill pan that went over the campfire. If you don't have one, just make sure the vegetables are in a cooler part of the fireIt's best if you can keep it slightly If you can't find halloumi, a type of Greek cheese that stays firm when heated, swap feta. It won't stay in chunks but it'll be delicious!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, quartered or cut into eighths

  • 2 large zucchini, cut into 1 inch chunks

  • 1 large red onion

  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 10 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • Garlic powder

  • Smoked paprika

  • Salt and black pepper

  • Plenty of aluminum foil

Instructions

  1. Spread a large piece of aluminum foil on the ground. Add the potatoes, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder and smoked paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the aluminum foil so it's sealed then shake to combine. Throw it into the fire.

  2. Make another packet with the vegetables, season the same way and throw into the fire with the potatoes.

  3. Make another packet with the halloumi, omiting the olive oil. Throw it into the fire.

  4. The potatoes and vegetables will be done in about 10 minutes. If you need to peek, use a clean stick or long fork to open the packet a bit and give it a good stir. The cheese only needs a few minutes to warm.

  5. When vegetables and cheese are cooked, open and pour the cheese and it's juices over the potatoes, then enjoy!

A Week In Costa Rica

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Corcovado

So I finally made it through my thousands of photos from Costa Rica and am excited to share with you all the beautiful sights and delicious bites of our trip! This was the first international trip we took with Scott's family - his mom, two sisters and their boyfriends all came. It was also the first international trip for some of them, so it was exciting to see them catch the travel bug!

I know this is technically a food blog, but travel is my other great passion. I'm one that tends to chatter incessantly about my trips, so apologies in advance for the long post!

Day 1: San Jose --> Volcano Arenal

After arriving in San Jose, Scott, Daniel (one of the boyfriends) and I drove to Volcano Arenal to meet up with the rest of the group. The three-hour drive took us through the heart of the gorgeous green countryside, giving us glimpses of the beautiful country we would spend the next week in. Along the way, we grabbed a late lunch at a soda, Costa Rica's equivalent of a diner. Throughout the trip, we found these inexpensive, open-air restaurants serve the best, most authentic Costa Rican food. Our first meal was a great introduction. I enjoyed crispy chicharrones, or fried pork belly, fried yucca (similar to a potato but 1,000,000 times better) and a simple salad topped with pico de gallo, all washed down with local Imperial beer. Everything was so simple, with no more than 5 ingredients, but delicious!

Lunching at a soda

Lunching at a soda

Just as the sun began to set, we arrived at the Tree Houses Hotel. I highly recommend this as a place to stay. Our room was basically a big tree house with an outdoor shower and wrap around porch in the tree tops - perfect for birdwatching! We ate dinner at Lomas del Mapache, a restaurant just down the road, where I had a simple avocado salad. When we got back to the hotel, one of their employees, Ronaldo, took us on a private nighttime wildlife tour of the property. We saw frogs, a giant iguana sleeping in a tree, birds, and a sloth slowly moving from tree to tree. It looked like it was doing yoga! Too dark to get a picture of it, but it was such a cool sight!

Day 2: Volcano Arenal

After an early morning hike through the hotel grounds, we enjoyed one of the best meals of our trip at the hotel - perfectly ripe fresh fruit, creamy scrambled eggs, cheese and peppers in a freshly made tortilla, super crispy patacones (fried green plantains), pureed black beans and zucchini bread. With full bellies, we drove to see La Fortuna waterfall. With a crystal clear swimming pool and dense jungle greenery, it was exactly what you would imagine a rainforest waterfall to look like. We went for a quick swim, which was abruptly interrupted when we spotted a coral snake nearby. Props to my husband for catching the coral snake photobomb. I'm glad to know when his wife's life is at risk his reaction is to create a hilarious photo-op.

Costa Rica Travel Guide waterfall
Clearly we haven’t noticed the coral snake

Clearly we haven’t noticed the coral snake

We all wanted to do different things, so Caroline and her boyfriend Neil went hiking around the volcano in the area destroyed by the 1960s eruption, Rebecca, Daniel and my mother-in-law went zip-lining, and Scott and I hiked to Cerro Chato. Cerro Chato is a dormant volcano right next to Volcano Arenal. The hike up is strenuous, although not as bad as some Trip Advisor reviews would have you believe, so don't be afraid if you're not a mountaineer! The first part takes you through the hotel property with gorgeous views of Volcano Arenal and the surrounding countryside. About halfway up, the trail enters the dense rainforest. Once you've made it to the top, it's not over! There's a nice view of Volcano Arenal, but the real treat is down a steep path - at one point there's a 10 foot drop with nothing but roots and a rope step strategically placed about 2 inches past where my leg can stretch! What you're rewarded with was one of the highlights of the trip - a emerald green swimming pool in the extinct volcanic crater. Unfortunately, my camera didn't capture the gorgeous color on the cloudy day, so you'll have to take my word on it! We played in the water with a few other 20 to 30-something American tourists, laughing about the tough hike and sharing wildlife stories (our coral snake photobomb won, of course).

Volcano Arenal in the background

Volcano Arenal in the background

Swimming in Cerro Chatto

Swimming in Cerro Chatto

We met up with the rest of the family at Baldi Hot Springs and Spa, where they have 25 different pools heated with volcanic mineral water to different temperatures. The hot water was exactly what we needed after the strenuous hike! We especially enjoyed the water slide, which I'm fairly sure wouldn't be legal here in the states! Pretty starving at this point, we stopped at Choza de Laurel, which was okay. Scott had a nice (and huge!) meal, while my fajitas and fried yucca was edible, but pretty dry.

Costa Rica Travel Guide springs

Day 3: Arenal --> Monteverde

After a yummy breakfast of mango stuffed French toast, we hopped on a bus to Lake Arenal, then took a boat across the lake, giving us a fantastic view of the volcano and cutting off a few hours of the drive. On the other side, we got back on a bus which took us through some of the most gorgeous countryside of our trip! Thank goodness we were on a bus cause otherwise I would be stopping to take a picture every five minutes and we NEVER would have gotten there!

Costa Rica Travel Guide arenal

Once in Monteverde, we ate lunch at Restaurant Don Luis. I thought it would be really touristy and simply picked the restaurant for it's convenient location, but it was actually really good! Scott had a plate of local Monteverde cheese, as the town was founded by cheese-making Quakers from the United States, then a bowl of beef and plantain soup. I ordered a vegetarian casado, which is a typical Costa Rican meal that generally consists of beans, rice, plantains, salad and some type of meat. This one had black beans, rice, avocado salad, Monteverde cheese, a creamy sweet plantain, fresh tortilla and these delicious stir-fried vegetables.

Costa Rica Travel Guide monteverde restaurant
Costa Rica Travel Guide monteverde restaurant

The rest of the group went to visit the hanging bridges in Selvatura Park, while Scott and I went for a hike in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. A cloud forest is a rare type of rain forest located in mountainous areas that allow for near constant cover by clouds. Unfortunately, climate change has put these ecosystems at risk, increasing the temperature and causing the clouds to dry up. I'm not sure if it was because of this, or just that it was a rare, clear and sunny day in the rainforest, but we didn't see any of the famous clouds. Still, we had a lovely time exploring the small reserve. We didn't hike through a large area, so it was amazing to see how drastically the forest changed in appearance with each turn in the trail. We were one of the lucky 4% who spot the rare resplendent quetzal, a gorgeous brightly colored bird. We also came upon a group of Geoffroy's spider monkeys, a type of endangered monkey. They were literally right above our heads, so it was pretty hard to get a good picture.

Costa Rica Travel Guide monteverde
Costa Rica Travel Guide Monteverde endangered bird
Costa Rica Travel Guide monteverde

Back at our cabin in Los Pinos, Scott and I explored their organic hydroponic garden, eating all their strawberries (sorry!) and picking a little basil and mint to make cocktails before dinner. We then went to the Tree House Restaurant & Cafe, were I had this incredible casado.

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Day 4: Monteverde --> Dominical

After a fresh fruit smoothie breakfast, we piled into a car and drive down to Dominical, a beach town on the southwestern coast of Costa Rica. Along the way, we stopped at Guacimo soda for some of the best guacamole I've ever had and my favorite casado of the trip - this one with shrimp stir-fried in a delicious sauce, red beans, rice, a fried vegetable omelet, plantains and thick, corn tortillas made with local honey. As delicious as the food was, we drenched it in our newest discovery, Lizano-style hot sauce.

Costa Rica Travel Guide guacamole
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Right down the road from the restaurant we crossed a bridge over the Tarcoles river, where we stopped to watch the dozen or so crocodiles that live beneath it get fed a fish. However, we watched from the safety of the bridge, unlike these crazy fools. 

10426323_10101453145192308_1411676967618187343_n.jpg

We arrived at the The Lattice House, the beautiful house we rented for the rest of the week. It was incredible. Located on a private reserve and decorated in a modern Bali style, it was amazingly luxurious place to stay, and surprisingly reasonably priced. The back porch (and infinity pool!) overlook the whale's tail, a sandy stretch of land shaped like a whale's tail, where whale's actually like to hang out. You could even see all the way out to Osa peninsula, not another country as someone (we won't name who!) originally guessed! We spent the rest of the day enjoying the pool and getting settled after the long drive.

For dinner, we had cooks come to the house and prepare us a delicious Costa Rican meal. We started with another amazing guacamole (two guacs in one day = probably the best day of my life) and fresh salsa. For our main course we enjoyed chicken fajitas with black beans and rice, a salad with hearts of palm and avocado and my new favorite, picadillo. I can't seem to find the right recipe, but this seems fairly close, just without the beef.

Day 5: Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica's smallest park, but most visited. The main trail goes through the forest, home to dense concentrations of wildlife, and out to a rocky outcropping flanked by two expansive, sandy white beaches. As soon as we entered, we were treated to a show by about twenty white-faced monkeys. They were just feet from where we stood! The highlight was when one swooped down from a tree, grabbed a lizard and started eating it tail first while it was still alive! A guide later told us this was a pretty unique thing to see.

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10389479_10101455128812118_5573378194745537991_n.jpg

Then we spent awhile enjoying the beach, where iguana sightings quickly became old news. The beach was one of the most beautiful I've seen, bright blue water  and an expansive, sandy beach lined by rocky outcroppings. The lush forest grew right up to the sand. Dead trees were whitewashed by years of salt, water and wind. On our way out, we spotted crab-eating racoons, a viper (the most poisonous snake in Costa Rica), a deer, more white-faced monkeys and tiny, adorable squirrel monkeys.

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10432970_10101455129580578_2163541211050653243_n.jpg

For dinner, we went to La Mancha, a soda just right down the road. Scott and I shared a plate of ceviche. Since we were right by the coast I couldn't pass it up. Then we shared a plate of whole fried red snapper, which was awesome. Lightly breaded and perfectly crispy skin with a moist interior, nothing like the heavily breaded stuff we get at home.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Fish at a Soda

Day 6: Dominical

I was a little hesitant about spending the day on an ATV tour. Witnessing a horrific motorcycle accident and a few too many episodes of Rescue 911 as a child have left me horribly fearful of moving vehicles in which my body isn't protected by tons of steel and airbags. But this day actually turned out to be one of my favorite days of the trip! Our guide, Carl, an ex-pat from Tennessee, was fantastic.

We started off on an unpaved road that gave us incredible views of the mountains, valleys and the massive Diamante waterfall in the distance, 700-feet tall if I remember correctly. Our first stop was San Luis waterfall, a 250 foot series of falls you could climb to the base of. It was a really slippery climb up, so I pulled the nagging wife card and made hubs help me to the top. We were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside and a perfect moment of solitude.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: San Louis Waterfall
Costa Rica Travel Guide:

Back on the ground, we enjoyed a snack of perfectly ripe fruit and hibiscus tea, then drove off to an organic coffee farm. Considering it's something I consume daily, I knew very little I knew about how it's farmed. Did you know they plant banana trees next to coffee to increase yield and combat the effects of climate change? Me neither! We stopped at a tiny store to pick up a few bags of organic coffee to take home.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: coffee

We then drove the ATVs up a mountain and through an area that totally reminded me of Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, my husband didn't get it when I started quoting lines from the movie the entire way up. At the top, we waited a few minutes for the clouds to clear and reveal a gorgeous view of the coastline for a few minutes before getting covered back up with clouds.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: ATV
Costa Rica Travel Guide:

We then drove on to Nauyaca Waterfalls, a 100-foot falls in a secluded canyon. The water was gushing like crazy from that mornings rain, but we were still able to go for a swim in the shallow end of the pool.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Nauyaca Falls

On the way back, we stopped for a late lunch at Restaurant Tres Amigos and plenty of fresh fruit juice and beer to cool us off! The perfect end to our day.

Day 7: Corcovado National Park

For me, this was the highlight of the trip. Considered to be the wildest, least accessible place in Costa Rica, Corcovado is often called Costa Rica before tourism. It's one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, home to 2%-3% of the worlds biodiversity. We took a boat to the park, much more convenient than the other option - a full days drive that involves fording rivers and ending in a 10 mile hike.

A clearly haunted boat on the way over to Corcovado

A clearly haunted boat on the way over to Corcovado

We hiked a trail that ran through the forest near the coastline, then walked back along the rocky beach. Within the first thirty minutes, we already saw all three types of monkey's present in that area - spider monkeys, white faced monkeys and howler monkeys - AND a crocodile! We also spotted rare tapir footprints, lizards, white-faced coatis, frogs, a common hawk, and macaws. One of the neatest things we saw was actually leaf-cutter ants. We had seen them every day on our trip, but never such a huge line of them. It was fascinating to learn all about their complex world from our guide!

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Corcovado
Costa Rica Travel Guide: White Tailed Cudi
A long line of leaf cutter ants

A long line of leaf cutter ants

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Corcovado
Costa Rica Travel Guide: Corcovado

The area itself was stunning and would have been worth a trip even without the wildlife. I could have spent hours on the rocky shoreline. After a delicious lunch of fresh fruit, arroz con pollo and delicious oregano herbed potatoes, we took the boat back to shore. Our wildlife spotting wasn't done - a couple dolphins put on a show for us on the ride back!

On the way back, we stopped at the beach for swimming and one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. The waves were crazy! Ten feet high and that's no exaggeration! We were having such a lovely time and if it wasn't for the swarm of mosquitoes that came out after dark, we could have spent the whole night there.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Sunset Beach

For dinner, we went to Jolly Roger, an American run wing & burger bar. Scott and I weren't too keen on it. Being in Costa Rica, we had no desire to eat American food. But Carl, our ATV tour guide recommended it and the rest of the group really wanted to go, so we begrudgingly joined. So glad that we did because they were absolutely the best wings I've had! I ordered the sriracha-lime wings while Scott had the honey-habanero, and we ended up swiping everyone elses leftovers!

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Restaurant

Day 8: Dominical

A day of relaxation before heading back home. We started our day with an incredible breakfast at Cafe Ensuenos, a soda near the beach that caters to the many surfers of the area. It was there that I had The Best Smoothie Of All Time. Yes, it was that good. It was so thick it was overflowing the glass. I chose banana and coffee flavor while others had banana chocolate and strawberry banana. I also had gallo pinto, a traditional breakfast dish of black beans and rice, served with a seriously delicious sausage, despite it’s appearance.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Restaurant

We then went back to the house for poolside yoga. Jennifer, our amazing instructor also runs Community Carbon Trees, an organization that carefully plants indigenous trees in deforested areas. They do it in an incredibly smart and responsible way, planting trees in degraded farmlands where poorer people live and choosing many plants that also provide food.

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Yoga

After yoga, we went to Playa Ballena to surf and swim. Unfortunately, the skies opened up to the most torrential downpour I've ever seen just a couple hours in! It literally poured the next five hours, so we ended up stopping at a restaurant for really awesome braised beef nachos and chifrijo, a bowl of pinto beans and brown rice topped with chicharrones and pico de gallo. With the rain, we unfortunately couldn't explore the sea caves at playa ventanas, but I guess now we have a reason to go back!

Costa Rica Travel Guide: Yoga

Have you ever been to Costa Rica? What were your favorite places? Any delicious Costa Rican foods you enjoyed? 

Good Eats in Asheville

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A couple weekends ago, Scott and I went to Asheville to celebrate our one year anniversary.  Those who know us may remember our anniversary is in March, definitely more than a couple weeks ago.  Why so late?  It's kinda a funny story.  You see, Easter seems to always fall on otherwise special days...my birthday...our dating anniversary.  This year was no exception.  We've never been big on romantic holidays, so our plan was to spend Easter with family and do a small anniversary celebration at home.  The next weekend, we would take a quick anniversary trip to Savannah with the dogs.

The celebration we planned was our idea of perfect.  We would trade gifts, drink our rehearsal dinner champagne, and eat leftover wedding cake while watching Game of Thrones.  We did none of this.

First, my gift to Scott hadn't arrived in the mail. Then we forgot the cake at his moms house, where we had been storing it since our wedding. Then I started to get and took a Tylenol, so that nixed our champagne toast.  And after our TV froze, we couldn't even watch Game of Thrones.  The icing on the cake - our plans for Savannah fell through when all the pet friendly bed & breakfasts downtown were booked up!

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In the end, we planned a weekend in Asheville, one of our favorite cities in the south!  We turned lemons into lemonade and had a really lovely weekend.  We stayed in a gorgeous mountain house in Barnardsville, about 20 minutes outside the city.  Saturday morning we wandered the city with the dogs, following the Urban Walking Trail, then spent the afternoon at the art museum and Highland Brewery.  Sunday was spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest.  I'm sure you would love to hear all the details, but alas, this is a food blog, so I'll stick with what we ate.

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North Asheville Tailgate Market

The best local farmer's markets I've ever been to. Shocking, I know, since Asheville totally isn't known for it's locavore movement. Tucked away in a corner of the UNC-Asheville campus, the North Asheville Tailgate Market has an incredible variety of local produce, heirloom seedlings and artisan foods. For the picnic we planned to do on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we picked out a whole grain boule and ramp goat cheese. The goat cheese vendor had other interesting and delicious flavors including lavender and honey-walnut, but figured we would stuff ourselves full of ramps for the short time they are in season! I also bought a bunch of beautiful purple asparagus and a few seedlings.

Our favorite vendor was Gagliano's, an incredibly friendly man who blends the most unique pestos I've ever tried. He basically forced us to try every flavor - not that we minded - before settling on a mustard green pesto. Other standouts were stinging nettle, basil and watercress and a vegan pesto made with mixed wild greens. We also bought a jar of his heirloom tomato sauce made with squash, zucchini, carrot and kale from his garden, which we later used to make lasagna pie.

For breakfast, we split a pastry from Farm & Sparrow, a bakery and mill where breads and pastries are made with stone-ground, heirloom grains.  It was difficult not to order one of everything, and if I wasn't low on cash, I honestly may have. Since I had to pick my favorite, I chose a cornmeal tart topped with potatoes, ramps and cheddar, which was fantastic.  If I had more cash (and a bigger stomach), I would have loved to try the puff pastry topped with gorgonzola, pears and bee pollen and one of their croissants, which they filled with fun things like garlic scapes & cheddar kim-chi. We also split a spinach and feta empanada from the food truck.

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Curate

Who would guess the best tapas outside of Spain can be found in Asheville? The (female!) chef at Curate was a former neuroscience phD student who dropped out of her program to pursue her passion for cooking. She trained with world famous Spanish chef, Jose Andres, which is why her tapas is so authentic. We sat at the bar, which overlooks the kitchen, a fun place to watch the chefs at work. We kinda felt like we had front row seats for Iron Chef! We started with piquillo peppers stuffed with creamy goat cheese and drizzled with pesto. The next course was our favorite, a canneloni style pasta filled with chicken livers, ground beef and ground pork in a creamy manchego cheese bechemel. Next, we split a fried squid bocadillo (Spanish for sandwich), served on perfect crusty bread! Our last course was fried eggplant drizzled with local honey and rosemary. Sounds like an odd combination, but the eggplant was creamy inside with no hint of bitterness, so it felt almost like dessert. If (aka when) we go again, we will try their spicy chorizo wrapped in potato chips, pan con tomate (one of my favorite breakfasts) topped with manchego or anchovies and grilled asparagus with romesco, which, is in my opinion, The Greatest Sauce Ever Made.

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The Market Place

If you are looking for a fancy, but not overly stuffy restaurant in Asheville, I definitely recommend The Market Place.  It's tucked away on Wall St., where they have served local foods since 1979. We started our meal with gnocchi served on beet puree with an arugula and orange salad.  Scott remarked "How come your gnocchi doesn't taste like this?" Thanks, Scott. The main dish I ordered was the highlight - thick hand-cut pappardelle in a brothy pesto sauce with sweet confit tomatoes, roasted oyster mushrooms and tender braised lamb. Scott had a little case of food envy, although his roasted quail with chorizo and brioche stuffing was pretty darn good. 

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French Broad Chocolates 

If anyone (ahem, Scott) would like to buy me a box of chocolates for a special occasion, make sure it's from French Broad! French Broad makes the best truffles I've ever had, and trust me, I've eaten my fair share of truffles. Save room for a brownie too, as French Broad has perfected the art of making dense, fudgy brownies. This time, we split a coconut macaroon brownie, but my personal favorite is the spicy nibbly brownie with cocoa nibs, cayenne, and cinnamon. We were in dire need of a caffeine fix, so we split a cup of xocolatl, a traditional Aztec chocolate drink. It's rare I see something on a menu that I've never heard of before, so of course I had to try it.  Xocolatl (pronounced sho-ko-laht-el) is a frothy chocolate drink made with bitter chocolate, corn grits for thickening, chili and other spices in house-made almond milk.  I am determined to recreate it at home, and I promise to share the recipe if it's a success!

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Well-Bred Bakery and Cafe

A few miles from where we stayed in Barnardsville is a cute little town called Weaverville.  I visited with my mom and aunt a few years ago for the annual Weaverville Art Safari. We wandered into this bakery and were really impressed with their food. Their baked goods look fantastic (hellooo chocolate eclair the size of my head!), but we stuck to breakfast items. I ordered a tomato and smoked gouda quiche with a cucumber salad and Scott had their breakfast platter, which comes with a sampling of quiche, strata and french toast casserole. Along with it, I had the WORLDS BIGGEST LATTE! It literally came in a soup bowl!  I could have easily served two people...could have but didn't.

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Although we didn't make it to these restaurants on our most recent visit, I couldn't write a post about Asheville without mentioning them.

Tupelo Honey

We stumbled across Tupelo Honey on our first trip to Asheville and immediately claimed it as "our restaurant" since Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison is "our song".  Little did we know it's basically the most popular Asheville restaurant, and with good reason. Tupelo Honey specializes in updated southern food, highlighting local produce. My favorite entree is their vegetable bowl - a heaping serving of stone-ground goat cheese grits topped with sauteed greens, okra and black-eyed pea salsa. And we never leave without picking up a browned butter pecan pie to go.

Early Girl Eatery

My favorite spot for breakfast in Asheville, and luckily it's served all day!  Early Girl specializes in farm-to-table southern cuisine (am I sounding like a broken record?). The best item on the menu is their grits cake topped with spinach, poached egg, avocado and tomato gravy.  For the carnivorous folk, they make a mean sweet potato, sausage and shiitake mushroom hash. Order a basket quick breads to share between the table - the pumpkin ginger is sooo good!

The Gourmet Chip Company

A great place for a quick lunch while shopping downtown.  Choose your favorite pressed panini (the Parisian, with brie, bacon, and apples is mine) and pair it with freshly made gourmet potato chips. Their freshly made fried potatoes are garnished with toppings like blue cheese and lavender honey or truffle oil and herbed goat cheese.

Wicked Weed Brewing

If you enjoy unique craft beer, Wicked Weed is a must-do on your next trip to Asheville.  Actually, it might be worth a trip alone.  In a town with more breweries than stoplights, Wicked Weed stands above the rest with it's creative, yet perfectly crafted beers.  Always on tap are their hoppy IPAs (try Freak of Nature), spicy saisons and difficult to find wood aged beers, like barleywine.  The menu is upscale bar food, which they will gladly help pair to your beer.  Their veggie burger is one of the best I've had, although I'm sad they switched up the toppings - it used to come with crunchy okra chips on top!  The fried chicken and kimchi sandwich and smoked trout wedge salad with avocado ranch are great too.