Moonshine in Austin

My first meal in Austin was at Moonshine Grill and what a treat it was.  I had flown in the night before, had a One bar for dinner, went to bed, got up, went to the seminar, gave my lecture, and did some work while I waited for my beloved family member to arrive.  Beloved family member arrived around 12:30 and we agreed to meet at the Moonshine Grill.  I picked it because on my way from the Airbnb to the hotel, where the convention was, I saw it and it looked cute.  It was well manicured but not over done, it had a big porch and two charming patios.

By the time I arrived, I was tired, starving, sweating, irritated to be in a suit, and once again negotiating the bricks to protect my heels.  I sat down ready for a good meal and a tasty drink to wipe it all away – mission accomplished.

Walking in the place feels down-home and authentic.  It has heavy wooden chairs and tables, twinkle lights on the trees, a covered patio and indoor seating.  We sat on the patio and the friendly, good natured waitress came up immediately for our drinks.  She remained attentive and engaged through the meal – right there when we needed her.  And, she came right back at us with good natured teasing when we teased her for holding out on us over the appetizer special.

We went with the Hard Lemonade – vodka, mint, lemon and lemonade which was a tough choice given the moonshine drinks on the menu.  It was delivered quickly, it was super cold and hit the spot on a humid Texas day.   My spirits lifted from the drink, seeing my beloved family member, and from the huge great dane dog laying on the floor while his dad had lunch.  The whole scene was so comfortable.

The waitress clued us in on the appetizer  special – fried green tomatoes, with shrimp and remoulade sauce.  They were fabulous.  The coating was cornflakes.  The tomatoes were think and crispy, not soggy, the remoulade was plentiful and spicy.  The perfect companion to the Hard Lemonade.

Since we were starving, we also ordered the rosemary french fries.  The fabulous fries were think cut, crisp, not greasy and the rosemary was a unique addition.

I had the Berkley House salad which was greens, pickled veggies, avocado, cukes, tomatoes, sunflower sprouts with a lemon vinaigrette – I added grilled shrimp.  All the ingredients were fresh and the dressing was delicate and not too oily.

My beloved family member ordered the Backyard Chicken with pepper jack, avocado, poblano, onion, apple bar-b-que sauce, mayo and lettuce.  It came on a soft sweet roll and all the sauces blended perfectly together to create a hardy, flavorful sandwich.

Cant recommend this place enough.  I would go again – for sure.


To Be or Not to Be an Airbnb Guest

So, despite all the Airbnb hype over the last couple of years as the way to see and experience a place when traveling, I had yet to give it a try.  I would get on and look at the offerings in any particular city; but would inevitably chose a hotel.

On my recent trip to Austin with my beloved family member, finding no hotels in town, I decided it was the right time to try an Airbnb.  I searched on-line and found what appeared to be the perfect place:  located right in the heart of everything, exceptional reviews, well-appointed and clean – I was sold.  Once I signed up, I was even more by pleased with the owner’s responsiveness.  All was set for a promising Airbnb experience.

And, indeed it was a great Airbnb experience.  However, I learned something about myself.  (Is not that what travel gives us?)   I am not an Airbnb gal.  So my first Airbnb experience is likely to be my last.

  1.  I hated scrolling through my phone to find the pin to get into the condo complex while I juggled my luggage, my briefcase, and my bottle of water while balancing in my high heels so they would not go into the cracks between the bricks.
  2. I hated trying to figure out how the key pad worked while juggling above items.
  3. I hated hauling above items up three flights of stairs while asking myself how in the world does this place comply with the American with Disabilities Act.
  4. I hated getting lost looking for the unit since there were no signs explaining how the numbering worked; the numbers on the units were not in order; and the first, second and third floor units all started with “2” and not with the number of floor it was.
  5. I hated scrolling through the phone and juggling and balancing AGAIN while I looked for the pin to get into the condo itself.
  6. I hated trying to figure out how the key pad to get into the condo worked.
  7. I hated trying to figure out how to turn on all the lights in the condo.
  8. I hated that there was no soap by the kitchen or bathroom sink so I could wash my hands that were flithy from hours of airports, planes and a taxi ride.
  9. I like not thinking about getting into a building – i.e. walking right through the front door of a hotel, a door that is often opened for you by a doorman.
  10. I like being warmly welcomed by people at the front desk, who call me by name, even if they have never met me.
  11. I like being given a key card to simply wand over the pad to get into my room.
  12. I LOVE having a doorman get my luggage (even though I travel light) to my room.
  13. I love walking into a room with lights on, then into a bathroom with soap – right there, with towels right there so I can quickly wash the grim of travel from my hands.
  14. I hated that the fridge, although immaculate, was completely empty – not even a bottle of water to quench my thirst.  Let alone no little munchies like my favorite peanuts. (I did not want mildly cool tap water, does not quench my thirst.)
  15. I hated how there was no one I could call for guidance:  where should I go for dinner; how far to the yoga studio; the light bulbs are burnt out.
  16. I love being able to visit or call the front desk and ask about dinner, and yoga studios, and the best gelato and please replace the light bulb while I am out.
  17. I hated the postage size, sandpaper like, utilitarian towels.
  18. I hated trying to figure out the TV.
  19. I hated the ridiculously slow internet.
  20. I LOVE ripping off my clothes, putting on a plush robe, grabbing my bottle of water and peanuts and piling onto the big fluffy bed with the remote and accompanying instructions on how to get the TV going and where to find my channels. (and if I still can’t do it, I can call the front desk.)
  21. I love speedy internet.
  22. I love getting home after dinner and having room service bring me the ooey-gooey chocolate cake I read about on the room service menu.
  23. I love that I can get room service if I am too beat to go out.
  24. I hated coming back after an evening out without anyone welcoming me home.
  25. I LOVE seeing my new friends at the front desk and having them ask how my night was and if I need anything – why yes I do… whats your recommendation for a great cup of joe for tomorrow morning?
  26. I hated the scratchy sheets and hard pillows.
  27. I LOVE those fluffy hotel pillows and silky soft sheets.
  28. I hated having to figure out the logistics of getting myself back to the airport for a 0700 flight.
  29. I hated hauling my suitcase, briefcase, and phone  (no heels this time) up the street at 0515 to a hotel to get a taxi ( I don’t generally uber for reasons that parallel the above list)
  30. I LOVE calling down to the front desk and having them order me up a taxi.
  31. I LOVE leaving the hotel to the cheery good-byes of the hotel staff.
  32. Bottom line, I love that the hotel logistics are easy; that the hotel has my back; that they cuddle me; and that they are friendly and engaging.

Frankly, its a bit hard for a midwestern girl from a small blue collar town; who never traveled growing up; who had never stayed at a posh hotel until my husband took me to one when he was wooing me in my twenties because I never had a dime to spare, to own up to the fact that when I travel, I want the luxury.  But, its true.

And, given my background, I must defend myself, primarily to myself.  I work 50, 60, 70 hours a week on a regular basis.  I love what I do but, it is demanding and I am well compensated for doing it.  I love to travel for pleasure.  When I travel for business, I don’t want to have to think or worry about anything other than my business and I want my fluffy robe, bottled water, peanuts and chocolate cake.  What else am I going to do with my money, have someone put it in the casket with me?

So… for these reasons… I am a hotel chick.

(Side note: Of course – not all hotels deliver what I list out above; and some Airbnb might.  But odds are – you get my list at a hotel sooner than at an Airbnb. And, with travel, food and wine – its all personal preference anyway.)

Bat Crazy Austin – Loved It

Unknown to me, Austin, Texas Ann W. Richards Congress Bridge is home to between 750,000 and 1.5 million bats who many claim fly out from under the bridge every night to start their “day” hunting for bugs to eat.  Upon hearing this, I knew that on one of my nights in town, I had to head over to the bridge at the sunset to see the bat crazy scene.

My beloved family member and I headed over to the bridge, arriving at 7:30 pm to encounter a bridge jam packed with people looking down into a river with filled with bat cruise line boats, kayaks and canoes paddling around waiting for the bats.  Likewise on the walkways by the river, hoards of people gathered.

As more people walked, ran, biked and scootered to the bridge, a woman with her college age daughter blurted out:  “I hope the bats come out tonight because we were here two nights ago and they were a no show.”  Her daughter yelled at her for being a buzz kill.  I appreciated the scoop and took to Google immediately to determine if the bats were as regimented with their nightly exodus as we had been led to believe.

The answer from Google, the mom and now confirmed by my beloved family member and me is… NOPE!  The bats don’t come out every night.  Apparently, sometimes the bats decide to take a day off if its too cold, if there may not be enough bugs, or who they heck knows.  And, then, come November the bats migrant to the warmer clime of Mexico until their return in May.

My beloved family member and I were most disappointed that we did not see the bats.  But, the buzz and excitement of seeing all those people on the bridge, laughing and talking and staring over the edge; combined with a gorgeous view up the river while the sunset and the lights of Austin came on – was worth the trip – even without the bats.

And, I can say that for the whole visit to Austin – its weird, its quirky, with a big dose of Texas, its artsy, its musical, its easy to walk around with interesting sights (beyond the bats) and fabulous food.  Make the trip – its worth it.  You’d be bat crazy not to.

(Side note:  It is however with a broken heart that I must report, be ready to sit in a first row seat of the tragedy that is the opioid epidemic.  My eyes filled with tears, my stomach lurched with pain, my heart broke and my soul cried seeing my fellow humans struggling against the demons of addiction.  I felt so helpless seeing so many people passed out, tripping, or begging for money.  But it was not just the number of people suffering, it was the depth of their disparity – many so ravaged they were just skin and bones, well beyond many homeless that struggle on our streets; their skin sallow and covered with sores; eyes vacant and empty. Some were spinning aimlessly, others falling to the ground, or already on the ground passed out.  I prayed, racked my brain for what we could do as a society and double down on my commitment to humbly take my baked goods to locale shelters once I got home so those who make it to a shelter can every now and then, have a home baked treat.  So, if you go, when you return – give something to your local shelters.)

El Camino: Hip Mexican in DC

What I love most about El Camino in DC’s Bloomingdales neighborhood are the owners and the staff.   They take their role as a community restaurant seriously.  As a result, they are welcoming, attentive and engaging with their patrons.   As further evidence, they list  their “partners” on their site.  Their partners include the general contractor and the artists who designed aspects of the restaurant.

On one of my visits, the staff was having an animated discussion about how to stay engaged with the community, bring in business and be friendly toward their fellow restaurant owners but at the same time make sure their outdoor space was available for their patrons, not overrun with coffee drinkers from the coffee shop next door.   They endeared themselves to me as a result.

The restaurant does have a really cool vibe.  The light fixtures are hip chain link creations.  The place is small, dark, a great atmosphere with lots of funky, edgy art on the wall.  The tables are all a good size so you don’t feel like you are miles away from your dinner partner.  They have a decent sized bar which usually has folks sitting around in fun conversations.  But beware, for some reason, the phone rings at the bar, its a little startling even in these days of cell phones ringing everywhere – you just don’t expect a phone to ring right next to the liquor bottles.

The food, well – its a bit hit or miss depending on what you order.  The chips are always crisp, salty and not greasy.   The salsas and hot sauces are all made in house and are really snappy and zesty.   The hottest sauce a mango-habanera does not bring the bang you would expect but it is still unique and spicy enough.  I prefer the green salsa, I think the flavor is a bit more unique and spirited than the red salsa.

They also make their own taco shells, quesadilla shells, etc.  They are fabulous with a great corn taste and have much more heft than you usually get in a tortilla.  They are my favorite part of the meals.  An outstanding dish is the spicy corn.  A friend who regularly travels to Mexico declared it to be better than the spicy corn she buys from vendors in Mexico City.  I have to agree – super fresh corn and a real bite of spice.  The fajitas have been too soggy as are the salads  – just way too much sauce and oil.  It ends up drowning out any flavors of the dish.  I enjoy the quesadillas, because of the shell and the spicy salsa, although I had to add a lit of extra salsa and sauce to get it a real bite of salsa flavor.  The mushrooms and other veggies were well-seasoned.

The margaritas are often too heavy with the mix and too short on the hooch.

But, its still worth a trip to experience and to support this great local Mexican joint.

Butter My Bun & Call Me a Biscuit

I have tried to make a great buttermilk biscuit.  My biscuits turned out like hockey pucks.   (A game well-suited to the northern part of the U.S. – remember this.) My mother has tried to make a great buttermilk biscuit.  Despite her baking blue ribbon county fair pedigree, my mom’s biscuits are not that perfect light, feathery, buttery biscuit but are not as bad as my hockey puck.  My mom even had my dad’s southern kin teach her the secrets to the great southern buttermilk biscuit – it did not help.

But, just because we cannot make the ideal southern biscuit, does not mean we don’t love them.

I fell in love in Charleston with the consummate Southern buttermilk biscuit – buttery, moist, light as a feather, not greasy, just divine.  Then when my husband slathered butter and berry jam on top, the biscuit we were supposed to be sharing suddenly became land we were each trying to claim in battle – a fight erupted over each bite since neither of us wanted to give up one bite of that biscuit.

I have no idea how to replicate it.  My mother can’t either.  Perhaps it just cannot be done in the north.  Perhaps we need to stick with the snow, ice, rhubarb pie and hockey pucks and leave buttermilk biscuits to our southern kin.

But, that does not mean you cannot get yourself a great buttermilk biscuit up north.  The biscuit we split was in the Charleston City Market at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits.  Fortunately, Callie must know that up north, we cannot bake ourselves a decent buttermilk biscuit, so she will ship you her biscuits.


Gelato with a Dollop of Attitude in DC

I have been to Dolcezza at 14th and P for an affogatto about four times over the past year.  Each time, I ended up with a dollop of attitude, an expensive watery espresso, with a nothing special scoop of gelato.

The last time I went, standing by the bar to order, the barista did not even bother to look up at me and instead with great attitude asked what I wanted from behind the espresso machine.  When I told her there was no response.  Moments later, another employee came to ring me up and for some reason, charged me for two affogatos, she did not even ask what I had ordered.  I told her I ordered only one when the rude barista hollers over – “Oh, I thought you said two.”  Weird.  The cashier adjusted and charged me for one.  The cashier barely said a word to me and just flipped the tablet around for me to sign.  I have had a similar experience with the staff almost every time I have gone there – they project as if they are doing you a favor by making you a cup of coffee.

In addition to the unwelcoming attitude, the space is unwelcoming.  It is a weird lay out, like a galley kitchen and there is almost never any seating.  Then, although there are three doors, the staff will inexplicably lock one or two of them.  There is no consistency.

The other aspect that makes me crazy is that right by where you stand and order, is some type of drain for the milk or for the water used to clean the tools the barista uses.  So, as you are ordering and anticipating a delightful cup of joe, you get to watch the barista discard the unclean milk and water down this little drain.  It is right there, totally exposed by the cash register. Again – just weird.

Finally, the gelato is just ok, nothing to note.  Coffee is the same, kind of bland.

My recommendation when in the area of 14th and P and you need a coffee, duck into the Whole Foods and get a cup at the Whole Foods coffee shop.  The folks are friendly, the environment is more welcoming and the coffee is a lot better.

White-Chocolate, Lime FunFetti Cake – WOW!

I had funfetti in my kitchen.   It had been sitting around since a Christmas cooking baking extravaganza with friends.  Being motivated to bake, I decided to use it.  Knowing that to assure the funfetti got the stage it needed, I knew I needed a white cake.  I did not want it obscured by a chocolate batter.

I also usually go bundt since they are easier to decorate and to manage than round, tiered cakes.  But, I did not want the boring old flavorless white cake.  So, I decided to take a bundt cake and jazz it up with lime and white chocolate chips.

I started with the King Arthur Flour vanilla bundt cake recipe and doctored it up. (Note:  If you are a baker, you gotta check out the King Arthur Flour site.  They have fabulous recipes, with great directions.  Plus, it is a good, well-behaved company, the type I love to support.)  First, instead of vanilla, I used lime juice.  I put in about a quarter cup of lime juice.  Next time, I will use the juice and I will add some zest of the lime because I did not think the lime flavor came through strong enough.   I used sour heavy cream because I always have that in my fridge since that is my preferred add to my coffee, before it sours that is.  In addition to the lime juice I added about two-third of a bag of mini-white chocolate chips.  Then, I dumped in a ton of funfetti.

I made a white chocolate glaze for the frosting and then tossed more funfetti over the glaze.  Here is the white chocolate glaze recipe but, please note, I added more chocolate than this and then adapted with a bit more heavy cream until I got the consistency I wanted.

4 ounces of white chocolate chips
2 tbl  butter
1 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tbl lime juice
1 -2 tbl heavy cream

I personally found the cake to be super moist, light and yummy.  The funfetti made it an immediate party cake.  My guests loved it.  Its a make again.

Go Greek in Charleston, South Carolina

On a recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina with friends, our first night in town we went to Stella’s for dinner.   The food knocked our socks off.  The serve was – satisfactory but a little strange.

We arrived around 4 or 5 in the afternoon hoping to get seated for our reservations.  We were told we could not have our table because they were not serving dinner yet.  When we told them we were just as happy to sit at our table and drink until dinner was available, motion to sit at the table – denied.  So, we sat at the bar.  The bartender presented as somewhat annoyed and put out that she had to now get four people drinks. It was obvious enough that all four of us remarked on the ‘tude she was throwing off.

But, the bartender’s disposition was of no moment once we tried our drinks.  I had the Santorini –  vodka, fresh blueberries, fresh ginger, lemon and pomegranate.  A refreshing combination of flavors.   But it was tough to chose the Santorini as my drink given the great line up of creative but not over the top drinks.  My friends went with beer and were pleased with the selections.

When the appointed hour arrived and we were able to get seated, our waitress was friendly, willing to share suggests, and stopped us from ordering too much.  She was responsive but did not linger.

The menu is amazing – an extensive line up of Greek classics but also some twists on the classics.  We shared the hummus and tabouli, classic Greek salad and tiropita (spinach and feta wrapped in phyllo).  All authentic, all fresh, all delicious.  For our meals we ordered moussaka, chicken souvlaki and shrimp santorini.  Even though the four of us are a tough crowd to please, we were all thrilled with the food.  The chicken nor shrimp were over cooked.  Everything was flavorful but not overrun with spices or oil.

We had a tough time deciding what we wanted for dinner given so many great choices.   The servings are enormous, which is why the waitress advised that we not order so much.  We had three entres that we shared with four people; and, along with the appetizers and salad, we had too much.  We left some behind.  Had we been home, I would have asked for a doggie bag but we were traveling.

We passed on dessert because we were stuffed.

The atmosphere is casual and welcoming.  The booth were we sat was comfortable and with four seating together, we were not cramped.   You feel like you are in your Grandma’s home – that cozy.

Its a don’t miss when you are in Charleston.



Rumchata – Gotta Try It

Every now and then I try a drink that bowls me over.  When that happens, I go on a kick drinking the beverage on a regular basis.  The most intense and long lasting kick has been my Rumchata kick.

I first had the drink in a pumpkin martini last fall but still have such fond memories of the pumpkin martini and the Rumchata that was in it that I am compelled to write about Rumchata now.  (Especially since every time I open my refrigerator I see the bottle of Rumchata which is quite pleasing to look at.  It is a soft cream color with a gold font, gold lid and a gentle soft shape, a welcoming. relaxing, artistic bottle.)

The pumpkin martini consisted of three of my favorite things – pumpkin, vodka and cinnamon.  I knew this much from the menu so I was sold.  However, when the waitress brought the drink, it was far tastier and creamy than I had anticipated.  I fell in love.  I ordered another and shared both with my mom.  At the close of the evening, I found the bartender and asked her for the recipe for the pumpkin martini.  When she said Rumchata I had no idea what she was saying, she had to show me the bottle.  I took a photo of it and the next day I was at the liquor store buying it.

I then started making pumpkin martini’s through the fall.  Then, when winter hit, I had coffee and Rumchata with Butternut Schnapps.  Then, in the spring, muddled strawberries, Rumchata and vodka.  You get the picture.

I informed a friend about my find.  On her next evening out, she ordered a drink with Rumchata – bartender’s choice.  I do not know what the bartender made her.  But the next day, she sent me an email letting me know she had her first Rumchata experience and loved it.  Attached to the email was a photo of the inside of her fridge – empty (she is no cook, eats out all the time) but for a bottle of Rumchata.  Need I say more about Rumchata?  Enjoy.

Sette Osteria – Consistent, Cool Italian in the Capital City

I have been going to Sette Osteria in Dupont Circle in DC for years and to its location on 14th Street in DC since it opened.  I have never been disappointed and have always been thrilled.  It has no shtick, its not trying to be something its not, and its menu is not expansive – straight up well-done Italian.   It delivers a great meal, great service, great atmosphere ever time, year in year out.

Here is what I love.

The staff is always engaged and informative. They are committed to making your meal enjoyable but they do not hover and intrude.  They know the menu and the wine list.

Both locales have outdoor seating that is even comfortable in the heat of the summer because of the overhead coverings.  Whether inside or outside, the atmosphere is casual, comfortable, with a real buzz but not so loud that you cannot hear you dinner companions.  You never feel rushed.

As for food, the mozzarella has always been fresh and so creamy it could almost pass for burrata. It is usually just served with olive oil, a bit of balsamic, capers and basil which is my preference.  I feel that when a restaurant dresses up the mozzarella or burrata with honey or something along those lines, they are obscuring the great taste of the cheese.

Their salads are never drenched in dressing instead the dressing are light and simply enhance the greens.  My favorite is the arugula, fennel, parmigiana reggiano with a lemon dressing.  The caponata neapolitan salad is delightful with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, basil, oregano with  bits of a crunchy bread and a light olive oil dressing.

Since Sette’s pastas are homemade as are the sauces – you cannot go wrong.  When forced to choose, I always go for the scialatelli – fettuccine, basil, tomatoes, smoked mozzarella and eggplant.

But more often than not, since I am always trying to limit my caloric intake, I go for the grigiata – the grilled seafood with arugula, cherry tomatoes and olives.  The seafood is salmon, calamari and shrimp.  A marvelous Italian meal that is not pasta.  So, I still feel I am treating myself even though I passed on the pasta.

If you go for dessert, the pistachio gelato when they have it – is a cannot miss as is the tiramisu which they always have.

As for beverages, staying true to its mission, Sette offers mostly Italian wines and the prices are reasonable.  My last visit, I kicked off my evening with the blueberry mojito.  It was exceptional with a fresh blueberry flavor and not too sweet.  I was even able to nurse it through my dinner.  The waiter, wanting to make sure we were well taken care of, had advised that the mojito was not too sweet.  A great tip since many who seek a mojito expect it to be pretty sweet.

Finally, Sette has a kids menu – not often found in DC and, a good to know for those visiting in town.  And, the environment is certainly one where kids would feel comfortable, as would the parents since they won’t feel like they are crashing an adults only meal.

Love ya Sette!