Get Away for a Perfect St. Patrick’s Day – With 10% Discount!

By Lia

I remember a time – a younger, more carefree time when hangovers cured themselves – that St. Patrick’s Day was full of beer, laughter, and a touch of debauchery. Unfortunately, those holiday celebrations are becoming further and fewer between as I get older. It’s very sad, but it’s true…and it’s okay because I’ve embraced it.

Now, I like to celebrate holidays in new and different ways – no less festive, but a little more creative. Which is why I was so happy to hear of a gorgeous hotel called The Caldwell House located just a train ride away from NYC in Salisbury Mills, New York. Even though I’ve lived in New York for almost a decade, the quaint little towns and B&Bs of upstate get me every time. And with a most-excellent rating on Trip Advisor, this destination is on the short list.

CaldwellHouse4

Image courtesy of The Caldwell House, Salisbury Mills, NY

Once a refuge to an Irish family fleeing British persecution, The Caldwell House is marking St. Patrick’s Day with two fun weekends full of activities, and because they are fabulous, Pretty Delicious readers get 10 percent off their stay during the entire month of March when using the code IRISH10 when booking. (Call to reserve!) 

On the weekends of March 14-16 and then March 22-23, The Caldwell House has a front row seat to a number of activities in the town, ranging from the annual parade on the 16th to live music every Thursday nights at the Irish pub down the street. Throughout the weekend, guests will be treated to gourmet Irish breakfasts, complete with Irish Soda Bread, Irish coffee, and other goodies. The house also has a deep history you can learn more about!

Image courtesy of The Caldwell House, Salisbury Mills, NY

Image courtesy of The Caldwell House, Salisbury Mills, NY

Image courtesy of The Caldwell House, Salisbury, NY.

Image courtesy of The Caldwell House, Salisbury Mills, NY.

So if you’re like me – ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but maybe not in the over-the-top way of the past – visit The Caldwell House and let us know in the comments how you liked it!

What we’ve been up to…

By Erin.

So its been a while. We could make excuses, but really, they’d be just that. Excuses. To catch you up on my life, we’ll keep it simple: my baby is growing up (15 months now!), I’m still working full time, running as often as I can manage to sneak away from the house, trying to cook fancy things with no time, oh, and cooking another bun in the oven. Yep. 30 weeks pregnant. I know, I know, that was a bit fast.

I worked very hard to lose the weight after baby number 1, but was saddened to realize how quickly my body exploded with baby #2. So, when we planned a little vacation to Aruba at the end of the second trimester this time round, there was no hope that I was going to squeeze into my regular bathing suits.  I struggled to find something cute that wasn’t a million bucks. You know, it being the middle of the snowiest winter ever and all, no real need for a pricey new maternity suit.

I looked and looked, and finally Old Navy posted a few suite, including a cute  tankini on their site. Now, I’m not normally an Old Navy shopper. I don’t know why, its just not my thing. But last time I was pregnant, I got a maternity bathing suit from there that was so cute, and really, really good quality.  And, most importantly, the price was right. Sadly, I misplaced the top.

So I ordered this one in black for our trip. It was SO cute on. The V-neck covered everything important, but still showed enough cleavage that you didn’t feel like your grandmother.  The small fit perfectly around my large belly. (I was wearing a Small/Medium and size 6 in maternity clothes, if that helps you with the sizing!)

Photo courtesy of Old Navy

I got the matching bottoms in small, which fit perfectly. Covered my rather large bottom AND were low enough in the front to be comfortable below my full belly, but not indecent. The top was a little long on my 5’2″ frame, but not too long – and it NEVER rode up. Also imperative. No embarrassing belly shots!

In fact, I liked it so much I ordered this cute anchor print on express delivery right before we left.

Photo courtesy of Old Navy

Aruba was fantastic. The water was calm and crystal clear, there lots of food options, the beaches were close to the airport, and it was so easy to get around with the baby. It was however, crowded and filled with lots of chain hotels. If it had been just my sweet hubby and I going, I would have opted for something more secluded or adventurous (we went to Belize on our Honeymoon and are DYING to get back), but for traveling with children, this was the perfect beach vacation.  There were always other children around, and at the restaurants, so I never worried about how loud or messy mine was.

We stayed at the Westin, which was nice and a GREAT deal, but it’ll be closing in March and turning into another hotel.

My little chicken ate some sand, swam in the ocean a liiiiittle bit before deciding she hated it, and spent most of her vacation chasing lizards, picking up rocks and playing bocci ball.

Eatin’ and Drinkin’ My Way Through New Orleans

By Lia

So yesterday, we established that New Orleans is great for sightseeing, haunted houses and watching your football team let you down in the saddest of ways. But what it is AWESOME for? I mean, truly truly awesome for? Its food. Holy $*&# does this place have some amazing food.

For those who know Erin and I personally, you know that we never say no to two things: happy hour or a meal. No matter what else we have going on, if food or drinks are involved we.are.there. Even if we’re not invited. We just show up. It’s why we’re best friends, really. On a separate but related note, when I travel, I don’t buy myself anything but a keepsake Christmas ornament and occasionally, a funny gift for a friend. I don’t shop. I don’t buy art. I do something I consider way better. Food. I find the best-reviewed restaurants (cheap, expensive and everything in between) and I eat. The only souvenirs I ever bring back from my travels in addition to the aforementioned items? Five to ten pounds. When I came back from Italy in October 2010, I looked three months pregnant.

So when New Orleans was scheduled, I got down to business making reservations. I ultimately settled on three restaurants for official dinner and brunch rezzies:  Mike’s on the Avenue, Herbsaint, and SoBou. We also popped into Deanie’s Seafood, Cafe DuMonde, Somethin’ Else Cafe and various establishments along Bourbon and Frenchman Streets.  Every last place was delicious.

Deanie’s Seafood: Upon arriving, our bellboy at the hotel – who we tapped for suggestions since he said he was born and raised in NOLA –  said we should go to Deanie’s for lunch. So we did and thanked him every day thereafter. We were starving so we ordered a ton of stuff.  This started a terrible trend, which was order too much and worry about the consequences later. We got: one Bloody Mary a piece, shared a plate of fried artichoke hearts, and then I got calamari, oyster leek soup and a half-dozen raw oysters. My friend ordered a house salad and a red snapper po’ boy.

As discussed earlier this week, I’m a bit of a Bloody Mary fanatic, and this one was AMAZING. In fact, all of the Bloody’s we had in NO were amazing, but this particular one came with an olive, a pickled okra, a whole shrimp (head on) and was rimmed in Cajun seasoning. Paired with oysters, good lawd. At this point we had been in New Orleans an hour and I knew I was in big, big trouble. In fact, I didn’t take any more photos of the meal after this because I was too busy going to work. This whole post is going to be full of disclaimers like that. Sorry.

For New Year’s eve dinner, we had our first dinner reservation at Mike’s on the Avenue and followed their prix fixe menu. I found Mike’s via the blog, NOLA Food Porn, which was spot-on with its recommendation. I wish I had taken some photos here but we were so busy eating, drinking and being merry that I totally forgot. However, I did find this photo of the steak I ate on their site, which is their Marinated Sizzling Steak with Oyster Sauce. Cooked to perfection. Their cocktail list was also really good. I had one of their cocktails made with champagne and St. Germain, which is a delicious combo.

Image courtesy of Mike’s on the Avenue

The next morning, we had to pop into Cafe DuMonde to try the world famous beignets.  I am not much for sweets, but fried dough with powdered sugar and a hot coffee is pretty hard to beat when you’re hung over from New Year’s Eve ridiculousness. Definitely worth trying.

However, we were still hungry for regular breakfast, so wandering around the streets we found Something Else Cafe where we got the traditional two eggs, bacon and grits kinda breakfast. I also got a Bloody Mary that was just as delicious as the rest of we had on the trip. For 9.99, the breakfast is worth it. Check it out.

Later that night (still New Year’s Day) most restaurants were closed and for those that were open, a reservation was hard to come by. So when I found Herbsaint, named by the Times-Picayune as one of the top restaurants in the city, and open!,  I yelled bingo. I had to do a 5:30 reservation because that was the only time available. Acting like an old person has never been more worth it though. Again, unfortunately, I was too busy almost crying with happiness over how yummy the food was to remember to snap any photos, but my friend and I shared a plate of the Housemade Spaghetti with Guanciale and Fried-Poached Farm Egg and then I dove into the Slow Cooked Lamb Neck with Saffron Fideo and Tomato Confit as my main course.

Full disclosure because I am an animal: the lamb neck was so amazingly good, I ate as much as I could –  well, well past the point of being full. This resulted in not being able to even finish one beer (on three attempts) while listening to jazz on Frenchman street later that night and then even later on, waking up from a dead sleep to vomit because I literally ate too much. Do you know how many times I eat past the point of being full? Always. Do you know how many times I have vomited from that? Never. New Orleans finally broke me. It was worth it. You’ve never seen someone so happy while vomiting, I swear to God.

The following morning was game day and so we needed to eat early. Our last stop on the official tour was SoBou (also found thanks to Nola Food Porn) and the lunch was absoutely amazing. Truly unique combinations, like this mango tuna ceviche, topped with a scoop of avocado ice cream and served in a teeny tiny ice cream cone. I know this sounds weird, but it was sooooooo crazy yummy, I wish I had ordered it myself. Instead, I had to content myself with the bite that my friend gave me. I wouldn’t have given me a bite, if I were him.

For my own lunch, I chose something really filling since we had to make this meal last all day. So I went hard – even though at this point during the trip I definitely should have eased up. But that’s not how I liiiiiveeeeee. So I got fried chicken and then bacon mac and cheese. I housed the chicken like it was my job. J-O-B, job, because how could I not? Look how delicious it looks ! And it tasted doubly as good as it looked. I couldn’t make it through the mac and cheese, but luckily since our hotel was just around the corner I dropped it off so I could finish it later. (I couldn’t. But it didn’t feel right not to try.)

I would absolutely, 100 percent recommend any single one of these places if you have plans to be in New Orleans soon. And I highly recommend using local newspaper top 10 lists and local food blogs to find delicious places to eat, no matter what city are you in.

On a not-so-separate note, I’m running a half-marathon in February and the training is what’s helping lose those five pounds I gained. Wish me luck.

 

 

Gettin’ Down in New Orleans

By Lia

Visiting New Orleans has been on my bucket list for-ev-er. A town dedicated to nothing but having a good time? I mean…that is the motto of my LIFE. How is it that in my thirty-plus years, the opportunity hadn’t presented itself?

But when I found out my Gators were a lock for the Sugar Bowl in NOLA, me and my friends were on the job immediately. Within days, hotels were booked, flight plans were made and the countdown began. And it was worth it. New Orleans is unlike any other city I’ve visited in the US. The architecture is so different from anything else I’ve seen, the drinks were cheap and delivered in twos or threes for the price of one..and the food. Good God the food. We’ll get to that tomorrow because it deserves its own post. Today, we’ll talk about the rest of the trip. Seriously, the food deserves its own starring role.

First, I have to talk about how awesome our hotel was. We stayed at the Hotel Monteleone, located on the corner of Royal and Iberville. I can’t stress it enough – this was the PERFECT location. Getting anywhere from here was a snap because of it’s central location and the service was impeccable. Plus, it’s home to a fancy bar called Carousel Bar which rotates. We didn’t spend any time in there, unfortunately, but a lot of other people seemed to so I’m guessing it’s a hot spot! And Royal was a really awesome street, filled with really cute art and jewelry stores. It was a nice break from the otherwise hectic/busy nature of Bourbon Street which was one street over.

Second, I really loved the famed balconies around the city. No two buildings approached balcony decoration in the same way, which I thought was cool. Also, being that it was still somewhat of the holiday season, I thought we were treated to some extra pretty decorations still up for Christmas. No matter how pretty the balcony though, I couldn’t help but picture people leaning over drunkenly and raining beads down on everyone. This town was crazy for a Bowl Game. I can’t even imagine what Mardi Gras looks like.

Some other cool things I noticed around town included….

The Cornstalk Hotel. Apparently the owner built this cornstalk fence out of iron so his wife would feel more at home (they were from the midwest.I t’s hard to see in this photo, but every dot of yellow is corn.) I thought that was a pretty story.

I also thought that instead of regular bike posts, these horsehead posts were kind of cool/spooky/eccentric:

I also loved that we passed by this former residence of William Faulkner and where he wrote his first book in the 1920s. I love seeing where famous writers got inspired and hunkered down. Gives me hope that maybe some day there will be a plaque outside my current apartment one day haha. (There won’t be.)

Next on my list was a ghost tour! I am obsessed with ghosts and the paranormal, even though I never want to experience it first hand. One time I thought I heard a ghost in my apartment and I didn’t sleep for three weeks. Same when I saw the movie Paranormal Activity. (Also, the first night after I saw it I slept with the light on and fully clothed, jacket and all.) However, that didn’t stop me from wanting to see all the haunted places in the city.

My friend and I signed up for a tour with Haunted History. Our tour guide, Jerry, was super unique…I found him almost as amusing as the tour itself.  Jerry seemed to know a lot about New Orleans. And probably a lot about marijuana, too. Also, he had a lot of ghost stories. So put all together, I kind of loved Jerry. He took us to a few spots, including:

The Hotel Provincial, which was a civil war hospital when it first opened. Apparently, several guests have had elevator doors open to their floors…only to see a fully-operational civil war hospital busy at work. Doors close/doors open again – the scene is gone, replaced by the present day. Oooooooooooooh!

This bar and restaurant, which was a brothel when New Orleans was still a place for sailors. One young girl, waiting for her love to return from sea and take her away, committed suicide in the back when his ship came back without him because he had died. Ooooooohhhh!

Apparently she hung herself from this tree. She likes to flirt with males in the bar by tickling the back of their necks. So naturally, I spent the entire rest of the day finding ways to tickle the back of my friend’s neck while standing as far away from him as I could.

Perhaps the most truly spooky place though was the LaLaurie Mansion, which is really supposed to be the most haunted place in America. The home of a former socialite who used to torture her slaves, the home has passed from owner to owner to owner (including one Nicolas Cage) but no one will stay because of the horrors that are experienced within. It was actually the most interesting part of the tour, because it’s weird to see this huge piece of prime real estate sit totally empty. It did seem to be a really creepy place. Here’s a shot of the outside:

Here is an upclose of the balcony where one slave once jumped to her death. Despite my hopes, no ghostly face showed up thanks to the camera. (You wouldn’t believe how many window shots I took during this tour, all of which have been studied for apparitions with no dice. Yes, I know I’m weird.)

Even the the door is creepy. Check out those urns!

I also stepped right on this during the tour which made me say ew:

 

Another really gorgeous area of town was the Garden District, which is known for its huge and beautiful houses. This was on the complete opposite side of town from Bourbon Street and the French Quarter…and you can tell. It’s so calm and peaceful! A good friend told me residents of the Garden District avoid the other side of town like the plague.

 

Finally, after all this sightseeing it was time for the game! I’ll keep that short since it was the most disappointing part of the trip (hint: we lost) but here is all the fun we had until kick off:

 

A symbolic representation of the game we were supposed to have. If only it had actually been a collision. Alas.

Of course, the boys wanted their pictures with the cheerleaders. Some things never change.

Excited on the way in:

Our tickets, which we were hoping would be records of something memorable. Alas x2:

Gators running out:

And that is more or less where the fun ended until I SPIED TIM TEBOW ON THE SIDELINES AND THEN STARED AT HIM FOR FOUR HOURS.

Tomorrow, the food. Oh the food, you guys. The food.

The Grand Ole Opry

By Lia

I fell in love with country music my freshman year of high school by accident. I was traveling to a soccer tournament with one of my teammates and her parents, going from Boca Raton to Tampa – a four hour drive. About two minutes into the trip, they turned on a country music station and I instantly wanted to kill myself. I had never listened to country nor did I particularly want to start at that moment. Top 40 radio (which at the time included The Spice Girls, Wyclef Jean, Ma$e and other classic artists), was more my speed. I remember settling into my seat very angrily.

About an hour into the drive, though, a song came on called Jacob’s Ladder. It was about a boy and a girl, and the girl’s father didn’t approve of their relationship. It has something to do with a Bible verse, and a baby, and the father drives the daughter away somehow. Doesn’t matter. The song was really beautiful and it told an entire story. Something about that song made me fall in love with country music. Later on that year, LeAnn Rimes’ first album became my first CD. I also know every single song the Dixie Chicks have ever sang by heart. Just a fun fact about me.

But I digress. When I found myself in Nashville last week, the only thing I wanted to see was the Grand Ole Opry. I didn’t realize when I got there that they actually offer a tour of the new building. So we purchased one for about $17 bucks (per ticket, for an hour) and it did not disappoint!  I had an awesome time.

Our tour guide, Linda, was clearly a huge fan of her job, and of music, and so she made a great guide as we wound our way behind the scenes, onto the stage and in some of the other key areas of the site. Here were my highlights:

Just in case you forgot you were in Nashville, a few oversized guitars like this one greet you at the entrance to remind you:

The outside of the Grand Ole Opry, it’s new home after it left the Ryman Auditorium in 1974. I found it funny, however, that when you told folks from Nashville that you had been to the Grand Ole Opry, they all had to ask you if you mean the new or old one.

If you recall, Nashville suffered from a pretty horrific flood in 2010 when the Cumberland River overflowed its banks and damaged a pretty huge part of the city. The Grand Ole Opry received four feet of water, effectively ruining almost the entire building. However, given the history and meaning of the site, the community pulled together to restore it – and you honestly wouldn’t ever guess it had ever been damaged except for the few reminders they’ve kept to show you just how high the water came.

There is also a full sound stage behind the scenes, which is still in use. This was the home of Hee Haw…and also hosts parties. In fact, when Darius Rucker (I still love Hootie! Don’t judge!) was inducted to the Opry earlier this month this is where his party was held. I thought that was pretty exciting, because I am a huge nerd.

The Opry also keeps a full-on Post Office inside where fans can send letters to their favorite musicians. The boxes are in alphabetical order (with one exception for Lil Jimmy Dickens who is too small to reach the D’s.)  I went nose to the glass to try and figure out whose was whose, and almost screamed when I saw No. 163 was Dolly Parton’s. As a lady, I am obligated to love Dolly, of course, but also Jolene is one of my favorite songs of all time.

I thought one of the very best parts of the tour was the original stage of the Opry, taken from the old building and put in the new one so that new stars could stand in the exact spot as the original ones. When the building flooded, luckily the stage was able to be saved. Then, they let you stand on it, which of course I wanted to.

Then, of course, I had to stand behind the mic and pretend it was me looking out, like a real singer would. I can’t believe people perform these crowds this big (and bigger.) One time I did stand up in front of like 100 people and almost died from fear.

This is an obligatory shot of my girl’s plaque.

They also let you peek into some of the dressing rooms for the shows. This one is the room that someone performing on stage for the first time gets to use. There are others for when you are getting inducted, and then some people have special ones of their own as well.

Finally, here is a picture of a Blake Shelton family photo, just cause I think he’s pretty great:

If you ever find yourself in Nashville, the Grand Ole Opry is a great tour — even if you don’t like country! You may not know all the stars, but the guides give you plenty of background and it’s just neat to be a in a place with so much historic significance.

Must Do: Stand Up Paddleboarding

By Lia

While I love living in New York and the northeast, there is a large part of me that remains a Florida girl at heart. Growing up, I was hardly ever indoors if I could help it. I rode my bike to the beach almost every weekend until I could drive there. I played sports. Went fishing with my dad. And even though I’ve lived in New York for nine years now, I’ve never stopped missing the fact that in Florida the sun shines almost every day and you can take advantage.

So when I found myself there last week, knowing I was going to come back to a crisp Northeast, I was determined to get out on the water somehow, someway. I’ve noticed that just about every single person I know who lives down south has tried or posted about Stand Up Paddleboarding in the last two years. It looked kind of intimidating – like a mix of surfing and kayaking – but (and not to be mean) I’ve seen some of my more un-athletic friends give it a go and if they could do it, I know I could too!

We found an incredible place in Tampa called Urban Kai along the Hillsborough River. This appealed to me because in the ocean, you have to deal with keeping your balance with waves coming at you, but on the river, you can practice on flat waters. The shop is owned by a husband and wife team who not only rent paddleboards, but teach fitness classes on them as well (more on that in a sec!)

After a quick lesson – mainly just how to hold the paddle, maximize your stroke, and how to get back on if you fall off – we were off to the races.

I really think that hardest part was just kneeling on the board for the first time. Here I am celebrating my success for getting on without making a total idiot of myself:

After you get the hang of paddling and feel where your balance is, the next step is to actually stand up. This is harder than it sounds! First step, transfer your weight forward:

Then push up quick before you can think too much about it:

Then it’s just a matter of keeping your head up (looking at your feet messes you up!) and pretty much rowing. The beginner boards we were on is very stable:

When you get super advanced, you can even graduate to a board that has a built-on yoga mat. People actually do this! Here is what I’d look like if I lived in Florida and could actually practice.

Maybe. Ok probably not, but I can dream! Isn’t that amazing?

Image courtesy of Lululemon.com

If you are in Tampa, visit Urban Kai and visit their Facebook page here! You won’t be disappointed. Or, if you live anywhere near water, this really is a great form of exercise and very easy. You don’t have to do yoga, you can also just paddle around. Especially because you can’t bring your phone or anything of value with you in case you fall into the water – and it was so peaceful just to be out there with your thoughts. I really think that was the biggest benefit I took away!

Send us your snaps if you try it!

In Need of a Vacation: Some Sweet Deals….

By Erin

So, it’s been a bit busy in our lives the past few weeks. Lia is in full-fledged wedding planning mode, and I’ve FINALLY started to realize that there will be another person living in our house in TWO AND A HALF MONTHS.  So, as much as I want to sit around my living room and make Xmas ornaments and bake cookies, instead I’ve been shopping for baby bedding, baby room decor and trying to make our house a bit more baby friendly and organized. It’s a slow process, but its coming together and I’ll share some pictures soon.

In the meantime, Lia and I would both just like to scream out loud “I NEED A VACATION.” But sadly, right now, this isn’t in the cards for either of us.  But maybe it is in the cards for you…

The nice people from  Marriott and Renaissance Caribbean & Mexico Resorts emailed us their new promotion, the “100 Percent Chance of Savings Event.” They’re running some pretty sweet deals to the Caribbean and Mexico, and we wanted to pass on the information, in case you’re planning a little fall or winter getaway.

Through August 31, travelers can book rates starting from as low as $84-$199 per room, per night, based on availability, for travel from now through December 15, 2012.

The following resorts are participating in the promotion:

  • Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
  • CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort
  • CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
  • Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort & Emerald Casino
  • Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort
  • Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort
  • Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino
  • JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa
  • St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino

You can learn the exact price of those resorts, find out more details, book, and read all the fine print right here.  

Here’s a photo of the Aruba resort I snagged from their website:

And the beach in Grand Cayman:

This is what I’d really like right now. A snapshot from the Frenchman’s resort in St. Thomas: 

 

Urban Escape: City Island

I love the parts of New York that take you by surprise. The little areas, tucked away  in the corners. The places you have to know about to find them.

I had heard of a seafood lovers’ paradise called City Island for a few years, but located off of the Bronx it’s just far enough to be far.  However, when some good friends mentioned getting together for lunch on a recent Saturday, and said friends happen to own a car,  I suggested City Island as a means to a.) have fun with friends but also b.) avoid an hours-long public transportation outing.

Simply put: yum.  Our group traveled to Johnny’s Famous Reef Restaurant, which was at the end of the long avenue that spans the  length of City Island.  Johnny’s is set up cafeteria style, and similarly to Katz’s deli for those familiar, you go to the station where you want to order food and get it fresh from the stove/boiler/deep fryer.  Of course, I found a way to eat just about every single thing on the menu, either because I went ahead and ordered it for myself, or I ate off the plates of my friends with their grudging permission. And every single thing was delicious.

Here s a rundown of what you can find:

First, the view. The restaurant looks over the Long Island Sound, which is such a relaxing sight.  You don’t get these types of views anywhere else (I don’t think) in the five boroughs!

But more importantly, the food.

Fried clams: Perfectly cooked to a golden crisp, the clams were the right consistency with a delicious batter to go with.  Even better with a cold beer like you see in front of my friend Jackson.

Fried Whole Fish: What you can’t see in this photo is that underneath the one fish, is another entire fish. This was an incredible amount of food – more than my friend Michelle could eat!  She complemented it with some fresh watermelon.

Fried Softshell Clams (front right), Clam Chowder (front left) and Fried Shrimp (back): I consider myself somewhat of a shrimp connoisseur - I absolutely love them.  These were so outrageously yummy, I have dreamed about them since visiting. Plump, tasty and fried to golden brown, they were just amazing.  I also consider myself an exert in clam chowder.  And this one, while not thick, still managed to be creamy and well-seasoned. Even though it was hot out, I took the whole bowl down. Finally, while I’m not much of a softshell crab lover,my boyfriend is and he tucked right into these.  They were gone not too long after this photo was taken.

Whole Steamed Clams: Fun story about me. When I was three years old, my dad was eating a plate of steamers and I asked him if I could try one. He told me I wouldn’t like them and I started to throw a fit. So finally he gave in, put me on his knee, dipped ae clam in water and butter and gave me one.  In that one sitting, I ate 33 clams and my love affair with them has never ended.  There were a dozen of these and they were so, so delicious. The only thing was – they need to be steamed for 10-15 minutes and I ate so much food of the food we already had in that short window that I could only get down 10. I had to be convinced to leave the remaining two behind. I did so, but not very willingly.

Drinks: Giancarlo also ordered us a couple of daiquiris to go with our food. Don’t be fooled by the strawberries or generally slushy look of this drink. It was mostly pure alcohol. I actually had to forgo drinking it because I didn’t want to get too buzzed to enjoy my food – but look no further if you need a quick buzz. These are strooooong.

After we were done eating, we jumped back in the car with the intention of taking a walk down the main drag to digest. Everything kind of looks like this — which is insane because technically, we’re in the Bronx! How crazy adorable right?

We eventually stumbled upon this ice cream parlor, which my other three companions indulged in.  Due to my absolute pigout, I really couldn’t fit a single more thing into my stomach, so I sat out. But I have it on good authority that it was delicious.

The ice cream parlor also offered little fun things for kids, such as chalk and hula-hoops. Someone took it upon themselves to write “Ice Cream Is Fun,” which is true.

And that was the day! It’s not hard to get to City Island by public transport if that’s your only option – you just need to budget the time. But if you can take a car, rent one or convince a friend with one to go – you must.

 

Fly Creek Cider Mill and Orchard

Being down here in Florida for the July 4th holiday makes me miss the state for many reasons, but none more so than Publix. Sadly, sometimes I think I miss the grocery store more than I miss my own family. I wish I was kidding, but my family knows this and loves me just the same so you can stop judging. I’m half Italian and I’m hungry all the time.

In New York, it’s really hard to find a grocery store that hands out free samples or has its own delicious brands of foods. I’ve searched high and low, and though I’ve never found anything that matches the joy I get from visiting Publix, I did come close recently on my trip to Cooperstown with a visit to the Fly Creek Cider Mill and Orchard.  My friend Kaitlin originally posed visiting this place as a means to buy cider donuts for breakfast. And I love donuts as much as the next person, but they don’t really get my motor going. I’m more of a salt-lover than I am a fan of sweets.

HOWEVER. Once we arrived at the Mill, I realized I was in store for something much more than I bargained for. First of all, it’s over 100 years old which I always love. Coming from Florida, where nothing is really older than 1960, anything built at the turn of the century immediately is my favorite place ever. But more than that, they make all their own products. AND THERE ARE FREE SAMPLES EVERYWHERE.

To say I went a little nuts in the place is an understatement. I had to be dragged out. And my boyfriend actually removed things from my basket because I was going overboard. (I was mad at the time but he was right.)  If you ever find yourself near Coooperstown, you must go to this magical place.  Below, some photos of what you can expect to see:

The Outside

Here’s the entrance. This only gives a taste of how old the place is, it’s really quite adorable.

Out in the back there is a duck pond and ducks are roaming everywhere. While the smell is not great, the fly hairdos of some of the inhabitants are.

There is also a section of old John Deere tractors dating back 100 years. I didn’t quite figure out why these were here (too busy eating and chasing ducks), but they were very cool to look at.

I’m also a sucker for these types of things, of which they had several. Here are Jackson and Kaitlin looking pretty.

There are also a ton of rocking chairs camped out front so you can enjoy your treats before you head home.  Or just act like old men. Either one!

Here’s another duck that was just wandering around. I didn’t realize I liked ducks so much. I thought it was funny that they just kind of paused and posed like bosses everywhere.

The Inside

Now to the wonderland that was the inside of this place.  First of all, free samples were everywhere, from tomato sauces like the below (I bought one) to cheeses (which I ate that night) to dips (I bought two of those as well.)  Everything had to be sampled via pretzel sticks. How many samples did I have? Let’s just say I saw them replenishing pretzel sticks behind me several times.  **brushes off shoulders**

In a subject close to my heart, they had tons of pickled veggies. These are some of the items GC made me put back, rightfully pointing out that if I wanted pickled carrots and the like, I should make them myself instead. I conceded. But barely.

The store also had crazy combos of dips, which you could buy in the jar or via mixes.  I settled on some mixes eventually, which are sitting in my pantry waiting for the day when I decide dip for dinner is a good idea. This happens every six months-ish, so expect an update here soon.

The store also had a ton of tchotchkes, which I always find hard to resist. I was also made to remove a pair of salt and pepper shakers from my basket on the account that “we already had two that worked fine.” Lame.

Because they don’t look like this! I’m still sad I lost this fight.

They also had all these cute teas, which I self-policed myself on even though I really, really wanted one. I must have 10,000 flavors of tea in the pantry right now all purchased because “they look so cute!”

Finally, it was time to go. I left kicking and screaming.  To avoid the pain of driving away for a moment though, we tore into our original reason for coming — the cider donuts.  How good were they?  Do regular donuts make you do this?

Or dance or make faces like this?

The good news is, even though the Mill is a bit of a hike from NYC, they do have an online store.  You can use your best judgment when guessing if I’ve racked up quite a bill keeping my stocks of things high.

Photo Tour: Covert’s Moose Lodge and Downtown Cooperstown

By Lia

Every spring, GC and two of our favorite couple friends head out of town to upstate New York for a little vacay. Someone once dirtily named the annual weekend Wife Swap, even though only one couple is married and there is definitely no funny business of any kind. In fact, all we do is sit around, eat, drink and laugh our heads off. I look forward to it all year long.

This year, our friend J. discovered a place way up near Cooperstown called Covert’s Moose Lodge. The proprietors are a lovely couple, who basically built a second home on their property to cater to families playing baseball in nearby Cooperstown and for hunters looking for a home base. For six city dwellers it might as well have been outer space. I’ll let the pictures do the explaining.  We came to love it.

Here is the outside of the lodge, which unfortunately came out a little blurry in the twilight:

As you get closer, you realize you’re not in Astoria/Brooklyn anymore:

And the gun rack confirms that (as you can see, we instead used it for seltzer identification):

Inside, the reason why it’s called the Moose Lodge is immediately made clear:

As was the fact that this was a hunting lodge:

I made GC do his best deer face.  I think he nailed it.

There was also a wolf pelt, which is pretty badass:

After exploring the property Friday night (and getting used to the taxidermy), Saturday morning we were off to the Ommegang Brewery. All of us are pretty big craft beer fans and Cooperstown and its surrounding areas have a number of great breweries to explore.

We took a quick tour of the facilities, which was only $3 and included a tasting of six beers:

Needless to say, we enjoyed every last drop:

Some of us apparently enjoyed it too much:

And it made my one friend sassier than normal. See if you can spot him.

The following day, we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame (more on this next week) and then walked around downtown Cooperstown:

We found ourselves in a really cute waterfront park, where it wasn’t too hot and not too cold and we could all just sit enjoy. Here are all my friends! Aren’t they cute? I’m really patting myself on the back for the artistic-ness of this shot :)

Then my friend Kaitlin took the camera and captured some nice shots of GC and I. For some reason, we almost never take pictures together so I’m always happy to have a few new ones in our tiny arsenal. I really like the third one:

After the park, we went back to the Moose Lodge where I was able to steal away for a few minutes to take a really good look around. Coming from the city, this was so relaxing to look at:

We will be back! It really was an awesome place to spend a weekend with friends – happy to pass along the contact information for anyone who may want to head up there, too.   Next week, I’ll also share some cool shots from the Hall of Fame, because it really was a neat place for anyone who enjoys baseball…even if you’re not a super fan.