Three Delicious Pumpkin Treats

So you want to bake some pumpkin treats?

We’re going to make:

  • 2 Pumpkin Pies
  • Pumpkin Muffins
  • Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

The 1975 Betty Crocker way!

You will need:

  • 2 9-inch deep-dish pie crusts (you can also make your own pie crusts, but I didn’t)
  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • 2 cans (15 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Necessary ingredients

Necessary ingredients

It all starts with a pumpkin

Make sure you buy a “pie” pumpkin from your grocery store – these tend to be smaller and rounder than their Jack-o-lantern counterparts.

Real Pumpkin for Real Pumpkin Pie

You’re gonna want to have a knife.

A big, sharp one. Also, a friend who can hold the pumpkin steady for you. If your knife is sharp enough, you shouldn’t have a problem cutting your pumpkin in half. If it’s not sharp enough (mine wasn’t) you might try a serrated knife (I used a big bread knife. I wouldn’t recommend it).

Pumpkin halves

Pumpkin halves

Eventually, after struggling to get the knife halfway into the pumpkin, I got frustrated and used the knife as a handle to bang the pumpkin onto the cutting board. It broke in half! Unfortunately, so did the wooden cutting board.

Pumpkin halves with insides removed

Pumpkin halves with insides removed

Use an ice-cream scoop

or big spoon to remove the guts of the pumpkin. Set them aside to sift out the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds later.

Place the pumpkin halves face down in a baking dish with about 1″ of water. Cover the dish and microwave on high for about 40 minutes or until the insides are soft enough to remove with a fork.

Cooked pumpkin halves

Cooked pumpkin halves

Cleanly scooped pumpkin halves

Cleanly scooped pumpkin halves

Strain your pumpkin insides

in a mesh strainer. Keep in mind that your pumpkin insides will be much more watery than canned pumpkin, and will yield more batter.

Straining the guts of the pumpkin

Straining the insides of the pumpkin

Once the pumpkin is strained to your satisfaction, scoop 4 cups of it into a mixing bowl (this is a double recipe, if you want to make only one pie, half all ingredients).

Mix, mix, mix!

Mix, mix, mix!

Add the condensed milk, eggs, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Mix until all ingredients are blended. Batter will be very liquidy. This is normal. Pour equal amounts of batter into your two pie crusts. Mine almost overflowed because I forgot to buy deep-dish. Buy deep-dish.

You can also wrap the edges in tinfoil to prevent browning or crisping of the crust.

Bake

Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until filling is set and pastry is brown. A good rule of thumb is to insert a fork into the center of the pie. If it comes out relatively clean, the pie is done. If the fork has a lot of pie on it, the pie could probably use some more cooking.

Sorry I forgot to photograph this step!

Now for the seeds!

Pumpkin seeds to be cleaned

Cleaned pumpkin seeds

Do your best to remove the guts from the seeds.

Removing the pumpkin seeds

Ingredients for roasted pumpkin seeds

Select Your Spices

You’ll need to select your spices to spread on your pumpkin seeds. You’ll need some kind of oil to help the spices stick and to prevent the seeds from burning. Place your seeds in a plastic bag with the oil and spices and shake ‘em up!
I used:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Canola Oil

Grease a cookie sheet and spread salted pumpkin seeds over it.

Clean pumpkin seeds ready to be roasted!

Clean pumpkin seeds ready to be roasted!

You can just toss these seeds in the oven under your pies if there’s room. Keep an eye on them, they burn quickly! When you notice them starting to brown, pull them out and flip them over to the best of your ability. Toss ‘em back in the oven for browning on the other side.

Enjoy your delicious pumpkin seeds!

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin Muffins

If there is a bit of leftover pumpkin, you can make some pumpkin muffins!
You will need:

  • 1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/2 C pumpkin (from your leftover pumpkin)
  • 1/4 C butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 C raisins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease bottoms of 12 medium muffin cups (2 3/4 inches in diameter…you don’t really have to be that precise. Just guestimate).

Pumpkin batter

Leftover pumpkin

Mix all ingredients

Mix just until flour is moistened. Batter should be lumpy.

In the mixer

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon sugar over batter in each cup. Bake 18 to 20 minutes. Immediately remove from pan.

Should yield 12 muffins, although mine was one short!

Making Pumpkin Muffins

There you have it!

Three delicious pumpkin treats all from one pumpkin!

Finished product - three pumpkin goodies

Finished product – three pumpkin eatables. (And no, I didn’t have one of those muffins before taking this photo)

Hot Damn, Hotlanta!

First night in Atlanta, GA

First night in Atlanta, GA

A week or two ago, I headed to Atlanta to work on a webseries called “Getting Out“. I had just finished working as a Stylist on a music video by musical artist Sean Cooney down in Savannah, and to keep myself awake driving from Savannah to Atlanta at 4 am for my 9am call time in ATL, I decided to write a rap. A few days later, I posted it on Youtube. Check it out below.

I was kinda going for a “cute and sweet” face before busting some rhymes, but according to my brother, it “just makes [him] uncomfortable”. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all. I’m planning to post another rap soon-ish. Maybe this week. You’ll know when it happens.

Getting Out…in Atlanta

I arrived in ATL barely ten minutes before call time and feeling slightly like death (but just slightly). Luckily, there was a little bit of down time during the shoot, and I napped on whatever was available to me (mostly chairs, the floor, face down on a table…). I did try napping standing up once. I wouldn’t recommend it.

The webseries is a college-y comedy about 3 roommates + a girlfriend (my character) who are just trying to get out of college. In the first episode, the guys get a new (female) roommate, and shit happens.

We made a promo where Connor, one of the roommates, tries to show us how to “Dougie”. The results are pretty hysterical. Plus I’m super awkward in it, my favorite thing. For your viewing pleasure:

On Set of “Getting Out”

It’s not a film project without a few bumps in the road, and “Getting Out” was no exception. But somehow we made it through a week of filming (plus a pickup day the following week), and I even got to do a little bit of makeup. I created a black eye for roommate Ian after a raucous party episode, and did Riley(new roomie)’s basic makeup on one of our shoot days. And I have to say, I do enjoy acting, but I think I get more out of the artistic/creative side of things. I love creating a character through their clothes and makeup.

Heath's black eye on Getting Out

Heath’s black eye on Getting Out – still need to practice making black eyes, but this is what I came up with on short notice.

Coincidentally, our boom operator/sound mixer/entire sound department, Bryarly Bishop, has a vlog and made a behind-the-scenes video for Getting Out. It’s mucho entertaining. Have a look:


Days off…Enjoying Atlanta

We’d planned to get all five episodes done in a 5 day week (a little ambitious, I know), and we ended up a little bit behind. So we made the following Tuesday our pick-up day, and I had a few days off to check out the town.

Midsummer Music Festival

I crashed on my friend Pam’s couch, and she, her roommate Broek and I headed to the Midsummer Music Festival in Candler Park, about a 5 minute walk from Little Five Points. On our way there we grabbed a beer at a pub, and Pam and Broek tried “Poptails”, alcoholic popsicles. When we got to Candler Park, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was celebrating their 35th anniversary, and we had a great time dancing along to their New Orleans brass.

MidSummer Music Fest in Atlanta, GA

Midsummer Music Fest

Indian Lunch Buffet at Chopaati

On Sunday, I met the cast and crew of Getting Out for lunch at Chopaati. According to Broek, Decatur is the best place to go for Indian food around Atlanta. Many of the crew had never had Indian food before, so I sort of became the “expert” even though I had no idea what any of it was. My whole reasoning behind going to a buffet instead of a sit-down Indian restaurant is so I can see the food before I put it on my plate! But everyone seemed to enjoy it, so I must have done something right.

Delicious Indian Food Meal at Chopaati in ATL

We attacked this meal. And it was delicious.

A Different Way of Riding

Later that afternoon, Pam and I went horseback riding, and I learned a few things about endurance riding, a very different style from what I do (hunter/jumper). In endurance riding, you ride for long periods of time – as long as 24 hours. Everything from the tack to the horse’s gaits are different, but it didn’t take me too long to figure it out, and we spent a lovely afternoon on the trails.

Touring Historic Oakland Cemetery

Pam & Broek suggested I check out the Historic Oakland Cemetery, so on Monday, after somehow failing to locate the High Museum of Art, I had lunch at a deli in midtown, then drove over to the cemetery and managed to find free parking.

Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA

Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA

I wandered around for a bit, then got a phone call from a good friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while and spent the next few hours chatting with him. And let me tell you, if you ever want to have a private conversation in a city where you don’t have any privacy, go to a cemetery. There’s usually only a handful of other wanderers, and they’re generally respectful enough to leave you alone. Plus you probably look like a crazy person talking to your dead relatives…or something.

Secluded path in the Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA

There is something about cemeteries that is so peaceful and calming that I absolutely love. Maybe it is how expansive they are compared to the number of wanderers there. Or maybe it is the absolute stillness that makes me feel connected to past generations. It is the only place that is simultaneously empty and crowded, and I love being alone without feeling alone.

Shadow-girl in the Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA

Dorn Brothers Photography Art Show

On Tuesday, we finished our pick up shots for Getting Out then headed to IHOP for some red velvet pancakes (not everyone in the cast is 21, so grabbing a beer was kind of out of the question). Afterward, everyone went their separate ways, and I had a little time to swing by the Dorn Brothers‘ “Ghost of Old Highways” Art Show wrap party at the Carroll St Cafe to say bye to Pam and check out some pretty incredible photography.

The Dorn Brothers were also the photographers on a music video I worked on called “Black Curtain” by the same musical artist, Lovett, and there seemed to be a handful of people at the art show who’d worked on both. So it was pretty cool to see some familiar faces.

On Wednesday I passed through Columbia to see my fam, then headed back to Wilmington for my next adventure.

Diet and Exercise: Finding the healthiest me

Losing the Poutine Fifteen

Over the past 8 months, I have been struggling to regain my college physique. (Too much Boreale and poutine in Montreal, I suppose). Now that I have (almost) gotten back to my college weight, I’m discovering how difficult it can be to maintain the weight and physique I want.

In college, I used to eat whatever I wanted and not have to worry about weight gain. True, I was also fairly active – horseback riding, playing various sports and being generally rambunctious (not that much has changed) – but I never had to think about the food or drink that I consumed. When I started college, I didn’t even know the difference between a carbohydrate and a calorie. Oh, how things have changed!

Making the Change

Back in September when I started this journey, I was under the misconception that it would only take a little bit of diet and exercise to return to my previous weight, and then I could go back to eating whatever I wanted. (Yes, it took me nearly 8 months to lose 10 pounds). Now that I’ve spent the last 8 months altering my diet, counting calories, avoiding sugars and starches and exercising regularly, I can’t really imagine going back to the way I lived before. True, it’s still difficult not to serve up that second plate at Thanksgiving dinner, but I have experienced a few – I would consider miraculous – changes that curb my appetite.

Noticeable Changes from Eating Healthier

First, the less I eat of fatty, starchy foods, the less tolerance I have for them and the less I want to eat them (thinking I want to eat them is an entirely different story, however).

Second, the more vegetables I eat, the healthier I feel overall, the more I enjoy their taste (I barely put any dressing on my salads now) and the less bloated/acid reflux-y I feel. As a side note, vegetables have very few calories in them. One pickle spear is only about 5 calories, and a whole head of iceberg lettuce is 90 calories.

Third – and this one I find to be most incredible – the less I eat of foods overloaded in fats, starches, sugars, grease and other equally unhealthy additives, the more nuanced my sense of taste becomes. Maybe it’s because my taste buds are no longer overwhelmed by one taste, but I’ve noticed a definite increase in the flavors I can detect in my meal.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve also been dabbling in vegetarianism. And, surprisingly, the less meat I eat, the less I crave sugars, and the less I crave meat. Course, I’ve been careful to include plenty of other proteins in my diet – particularly beans and quinoa, and I’m not saying I’m going to be a vegetarian forever, it’s just nice not to have that heavy feeling in your stomach after a meal.

What Tastes Good?

What I’m getting at here is that the foods I used to love, I no longer enjoy, and I think it’s for the better. Whenever I tell this to friends, they respond with a frown and say, “Well isn’t that sad?” But my honest-to-goodness opinion is, no, it’s not sad at all. Think about it, how many times have you said, “If I could make myself not like [insert favorite fattening food here], I would.”

Do I miss those foods? No, not really. Instead, I experiment with spices and herbs to create meals with plenty of flavor to roll around on my taste buds.  I eat slowly and enjoy every bite. To me, cooking is another way to express my creativity, and I challenge myself to make healthy, delicious, beautiful meals even if I’m only cooking for one.

Painless Lifestyle Change

Bottom line is, getting healthy and staying healthy is a lifestyle change. But it doesn’t have to mean a lifetime sentence to rabbit food and treadmills. It just means letting go of the idea of “tasty foods” and instead learning to be creative with healthier options.


Interesting Link : Diet Tips from Ultrarunner and Vegan Scott Jurek

Goal 1: Establishing a Fitness Program

TO TACKLE MY HEALTH & FITNESS GOALS I’ve decided to pursue a couple of things:

First, I am going to further my practice of yoga by attending at least one class a week, culminating in a teacher training course in mid June. This is something I’ve been considering doing ever since I began attending regular yoga classes in Montreal a year ago, and besides the benefits to my physical health, teaching yoga will help me grow spiritually as well.

Second, I plan to take up kickboxing, a sport in which I’ve always been interested – mostly because other martial arts I’ve tried move too slowly for me (I’m too ADD to try to perfect one move for the duration of an entire class). Not to mention, kickboxing is great for losing weight! Because of the interval-style training and the fast-paced competitive environment, you can burn between 600-800 calories in just one hour.

I bought a Groupon for ATA Martial Arts Kickboxing classes, and attended my first class last week. Loud pump-up music blared during our class with buzzers, bells, and countdowns played over it to signify when to change exercises. I learned some new exercises with nothing but a band, and I got to beat the sh*t out of a punching bag. What more could you want in a workout? The next day, though, I felt like I was 80 years old. Well, no pain, no gain, right?

As a side note, for those of you interested in trying it out but afraid to be the uncoordinated or unathletic one, the majority of my classmates were actually middle-aged women trying to get in shape. So don’t be intimidated! Go sign up. Ilovekickboxing.com has all kinds of deals running all the time.

Additionally, I’m finally taking care of my knee issues by going to physical therapy once a week so they can teach me exercises that will strengthen my knees and the muscles around them. They also give me lots of free things like exercise bands and pieces of styrofoam to roll around on (no really, this thing gives a killer massage). Once my knees get the OK from PT, I’d also like to start running again, and maybe even run a couple 5Ks. I’ve found that whenever I have a goal to work towards (even a small one), doing the work doesn’t seem nearly as daunting.

FOR ME, EATING WELL IS MORE DIFFICULT than keeping up a fitness routine. Ever since I started counting calories this past Christmas, I’ve been on a roller coaster of resolve. While I’ve been able to gradually change what I eat, I still find it difficult to control how much of it I eat. It’s all the snacking that gets me. I’d like to think that it’s our snacking culture that is the (or one of the) true culprit in American obesity.

When I studied abroad in France, my host mom asked me once why I was eating in the middle of the day. “It’s not meal time,” she said. This apparently makes sense to the rest of the world, but not here in the US of A. To be fair, I think that healthy snacks eaten at specific times of the day to ward off hunger are a good thing. For example, lately I’ve planned two healthy snacks (I love SlimFast snack bars – they taste like candy bars!) between breakfast at 7:30 and lunch at 1:30. This has prevented me from, say, buying a candy bar and a soda from the vending machine to try to assuage my hunger. And I eat them only when I am starting to feel hungry, not because I feel like eating.

IT’S THIS MINDLESS SNACKING THAT WE NEED TO AVOID. When I began tracking my meals, I became much more aware of how much each food is “worth” so to speak. Here’s a little list I came up with to help put things into perspective.

Foods that have 100 calories (aka 15 minutes on the treadmill):

  • 1 medium-sized banana
  • 1 average-sized (non specialty) slice of bread
  • 1 packet of mayo
  • 3-4 large tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz glass of 1% milk
  • 1 10 oz can of beets
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 1 1/2 Tagalong Girl Scout cookies
  • 1 1/4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce
  • 1 shot of tequila
  • 4 Tostitos Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips
  • 1 slice of sandwich cheese

Be my buddy on My Fitness Pal.

Read more on my goals.

River City: Richmond, VA

It seems as though with every new blog post I write, comes a new apology for not writing! This stretch between posts has been particularly long (I’m sure you all missed me very much). This time, though, I actually have a more legitimate excuse – I was working as Wardrobe Supervisor for a short film, and we worked 12-14 hour days almost every day! It was a great experience, though (you’ll hear more about it in later blog posts for sure), and I can’t wait to get started on another film project.

In the meantime, though, here is the wrap up post for my September 2011 road trip: Richmond, VA. Since I have been back and forth to RVA a few times since September, this post is really a conglomeration of my recent experiences there. Enjoy!

My final stop: Richmond, VA (AKA River City)

It’s hard to decide what to write about this city in which I lived throughout college, and of which I have so many fond memories. But I think I’d like to start with a video that will give you an understanding of what the city’s all about.

One of the reasons I left Richmond, though, was the feeling of non-movement I got from the city. It is very much a city whose inhabitants seem to get stuck in time, to stagnate in their mundane job/happy hour/lamenting about life cycle. Don’t get me wrong, Richmond is a great college town. There are a ton of hip cafés, bars, and hang out spots. There is an amazing park system, and Carytown offers a number of great shops, activities, and even a dollar theater (home to the largest French Film festival in the US)! But when you live in Richmond for a while, it’s hard to get over the feeling that you’ll never get out.

The other day, my feelings were proved legitimate by an article by The Atlantic : The 10 Fastest Growing (and fastest declining) Cities in the World. While it felt good to have my sentiments validated, I felt a pang of sadness to see Richmond listed as one of the 10 fastest declining cities in the world. There’s still that part of me that would love to see Richmond flourishing, to be drawn to return there, to relive the best of my college years in the city I loved. (I know, I know, this is starting to sound uber dramatic. Give me a sec to wax nostalgic. I promise things’ll get funny in a bit).

To be fair, I love visiting the place. I love lounging on the rocks at Belle Isle, and returning to our local haunts to indulge in $6 pitchers of PBR (with friends, of course), tots with hot sauce, and some of the best sushi I’ve ever tasted.

When I arrived in September, my first stop was Chipotle. My friends and I used to go here often after class, and Richmond was the first place I ever really ate here…so it seemed appropriate as a first meal in the city.

Chipotle in Richmond, VAI snapped a photo and sent it to a few friends who weren’t in Richmond to make them jealous. It worked.

I spent the rest of the visit just hanging out. After so much constant travel, it was nice just to be with friends without much agenda for a few days before heading back to Columbia.

In October, I returned to RVA for UR’s Homecoming Football game. My friends Kim, James, Sung, Bailey and I took some lawn chairs, a cooler full of homemade salad and wraps Kim and I assembled the night before, drinks, and a beer coozie necklace (courtesy James) to tailgate before the game. Eventually, we decided we should get some tickets, so James ambled over to the ticket office and somehow commandeered some for free. Our tailgate was cut short by campus police kicking everyone out as the game started, so we moseyed over to the stadium and got settled in. A minute later James had produced a hipflask, and we were receiving glares from more prestigious alumni as we loudly discussed James’s new book/light idea and how to sell it on Etsy.

Later that evening, we headed to a pub called Patrick Henry’s. It’s in a basement off E. Broad St and is the kind of place that feels full with ten people in it, the bartender lets you choose the music off her iPod, and the instant you walk in, you feel like the other patrons are old friends of yours. We sat at the corner of the bar, ordered drinks, and chatted about the day.

An hour or so later, James was talking about the Clash with his new best friends, and the rest of us were taking bets on whether or not James would break his two-week no smoking record tonight (OK, maybe I was just taking bets in my head). All of a sudden this guy appeared at my shoulder, “I like your headband,” he intoned, in what I assume he assumed to be a suave manner.

“Uh, thanks,” I said, not sure where to go from there.

“I’ve just been staring at you across the bar for the last hour,” he continued, “I just think you are beautiful.” He smiled at me vacantly, “I’m Albert, by the way.”

“Oh, uh, thanks. Nice to meet you,” I said, looking around for a little help, “Have you met my friend James?” I motioned to James, who was singing a Clash song with his new buddy. He waved cheerily. I turned my back on the two and returned to chatting with Bailey.

But my admirer was not to be thwarted so easily. He made a snide comment about my iPhone, and ten minutes later we were in an argument about whether or not social media is good for society. Or rather, I was arguing. I’m pretty sure he thought he was flirting.

I argued that though social media can reduce personal interactions with people, it also greatly increases the number of relationships one can maintain. How else would you be able to find little Billy from 3rd grade 15 years later and then maintain a working relationship? Yes, I’m a little biased because I’ve worked in Social Media Marketing and am extremely “plugged in” as they say, but think of all the connections people couldn’t have made in any other way. When I moved to Montreal, I knew no one, but somehow I left feeling like I knew the whole city. How? Social Media.

Albert’s argument was that he’d rather meet people “organically”. He said that social media creates a false, half-assed relationship with someone that is little more than voyeuristic. “What happens when I graduate from VCU med school [he made sure to mention he was attending med school about 10 times throughout the course of the night] and get married and move to Chicago and never see any of my old friends again?” he asked.

“That’s what social media is for!” I protested, “So that you can more easily keep up with the friends you no longer live near, and if it so happens that someone you know has also moved to Chicago, you can look him up and see him in person!”

Albert continued down his contradictory path of confusion, “But see, I’d rather just run into that person at a bar or something than look them up on Facebook first.” I wanted to smack his smug, idiot grin from his face. There is very little I detest more in people than a condescending tone, and very little irks me more than a man patronizing me. Especially when he’s wrong.

I barred my teeth at Albert’s steepled fingers and practically spat into his face, “Chicago is a huge city. The chances of you just-” I made quotation marks with my fingers, “- running into a friend passing through the city are slim to none. Social media is an enabler. Yes, plenty of people use it to live vicariously through others, but when used properly, it can enhance your current relationships rather than deplete them.”

Somehow, despite my best efforts, Albert refused to acknowledge the soundness of my argument. But the bar was closing, and we were being shooed outside. James was still chatting with his new friend – who turned out to be Albert’s wing man – and was smoking a cigarette in front of the bar. He turned to me, “Hey, these guys-” he motioned to Albert and his friend, “-live a couple blocks from here and have invited us over for a bit. You coming?” I rolled my eyes and looked at Bailey. She shrugged. “Yeah, okay, whatever,” I said, following them down the street.

The evening finally ended with Albert telling me various times how attractive he found me and me telling him that “too bad you won’t ever see me again because you can’t friend me on Facebook [and I wasn’t about to give him my number].” Apparently Albert saw that as a challenge. The next day, I had received not one, but two emails from Albert to two different email addresses (neither of which I had given him) that read simply:

Hey,

I want to talk to you . . . sorry that I didn’t get your email.

Albert

There was also an attachment. Scanned in on VCU med school stationary, was a handwritten ‘poem’.

Instead of adding my own commentary to this poem, I’d like to share with you a friend’s reaction to the whole situation. Unfortunately, she has requested anonymity, so I can’t give credit where it’s due. But please, enjoy the following.

Thank you for forwarding this; it pretty much made my week.

The bad rhymes, the back-handed compliments, the misspelled and sometimes straight-up fabricated words, the MCV letterhead – it’s all perfection.  

Also, can we talk about the body of “Albert’s” e-mail?  Why the ellipsis? Why no mention of the poem attachment?

Good thing this guy’s a med student and not a poet or in grad school for creative writing.  Yikes.  Also, where is he getting his tips on picking up ladies?  Wearing ‘biz cas’ to a bar, having a noticeably more attractive wing man, using “I like your headband” as a pickup line…it was all so bad, and yet so right.  

Maybe James gave him your e-mail address to be a troublemaker.  Otherwise “Albert” did some serious google research.  Did you tell him how your name was spelled?  

Oh Hail Storm, you come to Richmond for a few days and leave behind a trail of broken med student hearts.  Argument for moving back to Richmond: readymade med student boyfriend with a first name from the 19th century.

My Art Binge in Washington D.C.

Somehow I managed to make it to D.C. within an hour of dinnertime, completely catching my friend Kate off guard. Luckily for her, dinnertime in D.C. means one thing: traffic crawling at the pace of a slug. So in the hour it took me to travel a few blocks, Kate stopped by a delicioso Ethiopian restaurant in the cute up-and-coming neighborhood of Bloomingdale in which she lives and was ready to mangia by the time I arrived. We spent the evening catching up, chowing down, and watching Singing in the Rain (a great classic. If you haven’t seen it, jump on that!)

The next morning we spent breakfast at Big Bear Cafe oggling indie boys and discussing the world’s problems, and by 11 we found ourselves sitting on the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial trying to decide what to do next. Oh yeah, did I mention that the Washington Monument (the phallus-like structure that dominates the D.C. skyline) had apparently been affected by the August 23rd earthquake and was closed for repairs? Yeah, weird, I know. Maybe they will change the name to the “Leaning Tower of Washington” or the “Leaning Tower of Pisa II” (if they’re feeling particularly original). Ok, yeah, so it’s not actually leaning. But that would be cool, right?

I also got to experience the D.C. Metro – which is a bit like a nuclear fallout shelter crossed with something out of a sci-fi film. It also runs like a zebra in the Sahara being pursued by a lion: only because it has to. And it sucks most when the lion catches up aka a bridge is being worked on.

Spacy Metro System in Washington, D.C.

We walked down the mall next to the long stretch of museums. D.C. is awesome for a number of reasons, but I think by far the best thing about it is how FREE most/all of its museums are. This is probably an attempt to make up for how friggin expensive everything else is…but we’ll take what we can get.

I wanted to do something not every tourist does in D.C., so we decided to check out the African and Asian art museums that are situated right in front of the Smithsonian Castle (Arts and Industries building). On our way there, we passed through the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, a quaint walled public garden that had tree branches and vines hanging overhead, brick walkways, and a number of different species of plants. There were a handful of businessmen and women eating their lunches quietly on benches in the garden, and birds hopped around picking up crumbs. It was incredible to see such a beautiful natural space in the middle of the downtown area of a big city.

Mary Livingston Ripley Garden in Washington, D.C.

We also walked through the Hirshhorn and National Gallery of Art Sculpture Gardens on our way to the African and Asian Art Museums. I spotted another of Louise Bourgeois’ huge spider sculptures (you may recall I saw one in front of Ottawa‘s Museum of Art), a Rodin, and a number of other really neat sculptures (see the slideshow below to check ‘em out!).

We finally made it to the African Art museum and explored its multiple floors complete with video presentation before heading to Teaism for lunch. This is a must-do if you are close by and like sushi and/or tea at all. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but definitely worth it. They even serve you your meal in little sushi boxes just like in Japan! Seriously, go there. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Sushi Teaism Washington, D.C.

On our way to the Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, I was glancing around the street like a child with ADD, when I noticed two people waiting at the crosswalk next to us. I recognized the girl from somewhere – suddenly I realized that she was one of my friends from college! I flagged her down and we all decided to meet up for drinks later that night.

At the bar that night, Kathleen told Kate (whose full name is coincidentally Kathleen) and me that her boyfriend (another college friend) was working in Alexandria, and suggested we grab lunch with him the next day. Who knew this would be just a huge Richmond reunion?

The ridiculousness continued the next day when we ran into yet another Richmond friend having a coffee on the porch of a Starbucks on King street in Alexandria. Apparently Washington D.C. is where everybody goes after graduating from UR.

We also checked out a cute coffee shop called Misha’s that was expensive (I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record), but it had a really unique vibe and a line practically out the door.

Menu board at Misha's in Alexandria, VA

Later, we met Richmond friend Ryan for lunch at another Ethiopian restaurant (we really like Ethiopian food), spent some time catching up, then saw him off to his stage managing duties for a local theater company.

That night, I met up with a couple other Richmond friends I hadn’t seen in forever at H street bar Church and State, which was small, hipster and had real confession booths! The bartenders were friendly and the music was good, but it was very expensive. I discovered later that all D.C. bars are expensive (well, everything in D.C. really), but let me just say, $21 for a rail double G&T should just not happen. Especially when you can get a Hendrix G&T for $6 in other parts of the world *cough* Richmond *cough*.

The next day I said goodbye to Kate and headed off to Richmond, VA: my last stop before home!

Warren, NJ: Washington Rock and Zita’s Ice Cream

First, thanks a lot to Rise and Roam for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award! Since I was recently nominated by Rory Alexander, I’m not going to write a whole new post on it, but feel free to check out my post, The Versatile Blogger, if you’re feeling inspired.

Warren, NJ: Good Friends, Good Food, and Washington Rock

After leaving Ottawa, the 8 hours to New Jersey were uneventful. I did notice, however, that Pennsylvania is a beautiful, mountainous drive, and also that there’s somewhere called Buttzville, NJ.

I arrived at my friend Maria’s house in Warren around 6pm and she showed me around their yard while her mom got dinner going. They lived in a fairly suburban area with neighbors close by, so I was surprised to see that they had a vegetable garden in their backyard. “We had to put a fence around it because deer and other animals kept getting into our vegetables,” Maria told me. Definitely not what I expected from New Jersey.

We joked and chatted for a while, then headed in when Maria’s mother called us for dinner. Maria’s family is Portuguese, and they told me about their parish in Portugal as we ate a delicious meal of steak, rice, black beans and salad.

After dinner, Maria told me about this ice cream place in a neighboring town (but still close by) that makes all their own ice cream. “We have to go there,” she said, “It is the best.” Not one to pass up dessert, I agreed, and we jumped in her mini cooper and headed to Zita’s.

I told Maria how I’d seen a couple of moose on the highway in Quebec and then in Maine, and she told me how she thought deer were attracted to her car. “Seriously, though,” she said, “I was sitting at a corner not moving, and a deer just jumped into the side of my car and bounced off. Apparently they just go crazy during their mating season.”

When we got to Zita’s, they were just about to close. We bought our ice cream and hung out on the picnic tables outside as they cleaned up. The ice cream definitely lived up to its reputation.

The next day, Maria had to work, but she gave me a short tour of her neighborhood before heading to her 9-5. We saw old farm houses and historical homes; she told me about a tour she had taken as a teenager during which the guide would point out a historical site, explain its significance, then say, “but unfortunately we couldn’t raise enough money to keep that one, so it’s being torn down and developed next year.” For the most part, though, Warren and its neighboring towns were not very developed (apart from weird traffic patterns that make it impossible for you to turn left), and the neighborhoods still had plenty of flora.

View from Washington's Crossing in New Jersey

Our last stop before Maria had to go to work was Washington Rock State Park. From here, General George Washington had a 39-mile panoramic view of the valley during the Revolutionary War.

Plaque at Washington's Crossing in New JerseyIn June 1777, this advantage allowed Washington to instruct his troops to circle behind British General William Howe’s troops and cut off their retreat.

Information at Washington's Crossing State Park in New JerseyAfter checking out the park, Maria dropped me off at my car and headed to work. Next stop: Washington, D.C.

Jordan, ON: a Hidden Gem

After leaving the falls, I decided to take my time getting to Ottawa, so I followed some winery signs to a little town called Jordan, about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls.

On the first main road I came to, I discovered a cheese shop, The Upper Canada Cheese Co. I love cheese, so of course I couldn’t resist. I pulled into the parking lot and went in the store.

Upper Canada Cheese Co in Ontario

Turns out it was more than just a country cheese shop; the Upper Canada Cheese Co has its own brand of cheese which is made right here in the store!Making Cheese at Upper Canada Cheese Co in Ontario

While I was there, I sampled two cheddars, a dry-ish goat cheese, and an OKA-like cheese called Niagara Gold. I definitely remember liking all of them, but I especially liked a wood-smoked cheddar and the Niagara Gold, which I bought some of for the road.

Afterwards, I asked the lady behind the counter which winery was the best to check out, and she handed me a map of the town and circled one a few miles away.

I of course got a little lost, did some loops, and finally arrived at Malivoire Winery about 30 minutes later. I passed Wayne Gretzky’s Estate winery on the way there (OK, so you’re a sports celebrity…next step: open a winery). I didn’t stop at Gretzky’s Estate because the woman at Upper Canada Cheese said that his winery is not as established as some of the others. I would also imagine that she’d rather I gave my business to a locally grown company instead of to a celebrity who makes millions of dollars a year.

I’m no wine expert, but I’m glad I had already sampled some wineries in Quebec. However, I have still come to the conclusion that Canada is just not the best place to have a winery. Quebec is known for its ice wines (very sweet dessert wines), but its normal wine tends to be more sour and acidic tasting (it’s almost impossible to find a decent tasting wine for under $25 in Montreal probably why Sangria became my drink of choice).

I’m not sure that Ontario is known for any kind of wine, but this particular estate was very clearly trying to come up with something different. Don’t get me wrong, I think its important to try new things, but it’s also nice to have the option to revert to a classic if need be.

Winery in OntarioI found Malivoire’s reds to be too sweet for me, almost syrupy. Of the two whites I tried, the only one I remember, a 2008 Mottiar Chardonnay, caught my attention because I couldn’t tell whether I loved it or hated it. It had a strong, dry, oaky taste to it that isn’t normal of whites (or at least not of the whites I’ve tried) with a honey aftertaste. It was so peculiar that I ended up buying a bottle (it was cheaper after purchasing the tasting anyway). Haven’t tried it yet, but we’ll see how it tastes when I finally do pop it open.

All-in-all, I don’t know that I’d return to this winery. Besides their wines being not entirely to my taste, the tasting was fairly expensive (I think it was $10 or $15…it does include a significant discount on one bottle of wine, but that’s assuming you like them enough to buy one). Here’s to whatever suits your fancy!

Providence, RI: Artsy Fartsy New England

Capitol Building, Providence, RI

Have you ever been to Providence? If not, you should plan a trip there, now. This is one of the most unique, quaint little towns I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Unfortunately, I only had about 2 hours in the rain there and my camera battery died after only an hour or so. But I still managed to get a few pretty sweet pictures.

Quaint Square in Providence, RI

The town seems like a cross between New England Port town, Portland, ME and artsy-fartsy Asheville, NC. With its quaint, beautiful New England architecture and carefully-planned squares, as well as its narrow streets, Providence reminds me of a magnified version of Boston’s Little Italy (minus the good planning).

Mural in Providence, RI

At first glance, Providence seems like your typical homogenous New England town. But after wandering around for an hour or so, I began to notice little artsy stores and cafés run by people with tattoos and alternative styles of dress. I spotted murals like the one above scattered around the city, their designs far from the pleasant unassuming murals of many NE towns.

Flags in Providence, RI

Later, I mentioned my observations of Providence to a friend, “Well, I guess that makes sense what with the Rhode Island School of Design located there and all…” Huh, right. Then I remembered that Brown is also located in Providence – arguably the Ivy League with the most alternative methods of education.

Pretty Square in Providence, RI

Thinking about it now, it actually makes a ton of sense that Rhode Island would be a more liberal/free-thinking state. It was, after all, the first state to truly embrace the concept of religious freedom.

Small Point Café in Providence, RI

After wandering a while, I ducked into a coffee shop called Small Point Café, ordered a latte and set up my laptop. Later, I headed to the bathroom before leaving and was surprised by the artwork that greeted me.

Bathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RIBathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RI

Bathroom Creatures! How cool! There were about 6 of them scattered around the bathroom, each with a unique space-robot look to it. At this point my camera had died, so I had to bust out my cell phone because these guys just could not go undocumented!

Bathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RIBathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RI

After only a couple hours in this cool little city, I unfortunately had to continue my journey – staying in Hartford next! Can’t wait to make plans to actually stay in Providence sometime!

Park in Providence, RI

Chinatown, Boston, MA: Hot Pot Cuisine

After a few hours and a bit of grief spent in a Starbucks in Portland, ME, I finally find a place to stay right outside Boston, in Revere Beach, which I have never heard of, but it’s hard for me to say no to a beach. I arrive around 8pm, park my car on the street, and head into the city to find something to eat. I decide to head into Chinatown since I only recently got to see Chinatown in Montreal – and loved it, plus it is easily identifiable on the Train map, clearly marked “Chinatown”.

I’m gonna go ahead and say, I would not recommend going to Chinatown after dark as a single female traveler unless you have a specific destination in mind. This is one place where you absolutely do not want to look like a lost, helpless tourist wandering aimlessly. It didn’t take long for me to figure that out, so I quickly popped into the closest, cleanest looking restaurant I could find. The place was called Shabu-zen.

As I sat down at the sushi-bar style table (where the sushi chef prepares the food in the middle of a large rectangle along which sit all the guests), I observed what was in front of me: a bowl, a plate, a ladle, and a strainer. The waiter brought a small tray of sauces and spices and I noticed for the first time the hole in the table. hot pot cuisine

I looked at my waiter and said, “So this is my first time here. Can you explain to me how everything-” I gestured to the utensils, “works?” This inquiry clearly thrilled my waiter – who only seemed to speak enough English to get by – and he grabbed my menu and told me (pointed at) what to order. Then he ran off and grabbed another server – a girl whose English was a little better than his – and she explained how everything works.

For those of you who have never had hot pot cuisine, it is a lot like fondue. You choose a broth and a sauce and a meat and vegetables, and all of it is served to you raw with a bowl of steamed rice on the side. Then, you mix all of the spices into your sauce, toss the veggies into the stew – they take a few minutes to cook – and grab a piece of meat with your chopsticks. The meat is very thinly sliced – the way it’s served in most generic Asian dishes – so it only takes about 10-15 seconds to cook. hot pot cuisine in Boston's Chinatown

After the meat is cooked, you dip it in the sauce and eat it with whatever combination of vegetables and rice you desire. It is an awful lot of food, so I’d suggest you bring a friend or two to enjoy it with you, but I definitely did a number on it by myself because it was so good!

Afterwards, I finished up my meal with some delicious Japanese green tea ice cream – the kind that looks like a little pellet and has a doughy exterior. This was one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time and a great start to my stay in Boston!