It’s an exciting day because I finally get to tell you what I’ve been working on … I HAVE A PODCAST! It’s called Passports & Pizza and I’m co-hosting it with my friend Laura of the travel blog Roam + Golightly. Our tagline is “a podcast about everything by two carb-loving, carry-on only gals.” While we’ll touch on all kinds of topics, you can expect a lot of fun food and travel-related content on there.
While Cake Over Steak is first and foremost a (personal) blog centered on food, I’ve been adding more and more travel content over the years. Between the Feast of St. Pizza and the various trips we’ve taken recently, travel has become a bigger part of my life and it’s a huge part of the food content I like to share on here. One of my favorite parts of a trip is taking pictures of the delicious things we’re eating and then taking notes so I can spill all the details in a blog post when we return. (See: London, Cleveland, Chicago, etc.)
Laura and I are inverses of each other in that way: while I’m a foodie who loves to travel, Laura is a world traveler with a serious appreciation for food. We’re a perfect fit to join up with our two main passions for this podcast. We also have a ton of other things in common and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, so we’re pumped to have an outlet for discussing allllll of the things that are exciting us. So even though food and travel will be a big focus, we’re not putting ourselves in too much of a box for the topics we’ll cover.
Passports & Pizza is a casual, conversational podcast. Our one and only goal for this podcast is to HAVE FUN, so hopefully that will extend to the listener as well. We want you to feel like you’re hanging out with your friends when you listen. It’s something you should want to put on at the end of a long day for your commute home when you just want to chill out. It will have a similar feel to podcasts like The Shepod, the original Joy the Baker Podcast, and Forever35 (if you’re familiar with any of those). If you could describe Forever35 as two Gen X-ers chatting with an overarching theme of self care, then ours has a similar vibe except it’s two Millennials and our overarching theme is food and travel. Hopefully that gives you some kind of an idea of what to expect.
But if you really want to get a feel for it, head over and listen to our trailer, which is out now. Go get a taste of what’s to come and hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcast app so you can get all the new episodes in the future. Next Wednesday (March 27th) we’ll be releasing our first four episodes so you can binge them and get hooked. The first full episode is a fun one to help you get to know each of us better, and the other ones touch on a few of my favorite topics: pizza, fitness and whiskey. (Super on brand for me, haha!) We’ll have another new episode the following Wednesday (April 3rd), and then after that we’ll be releasing new episodes every OTHER Wednesday.
You can also head over to check out the website for the podcast. In each episode we’ll be taking listener questions (about anything!), so you can send us an email (email@example.com) or even leave us a voicemail (717-964-0215) to ask a question, leave a comment, or even just let us know if there’s something you’d really like us to chat about. There’s a contact form on the website if you’d like to use that. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram and Twitter.
I have to say a HUGE thank you to my uncle, Bill Ecklund, who took a bunch of amazing photos of us at the gorgeous Fahnestockhouse in Lancaster for our website. If you ever need a portrait photographer in the Greater Philadelphia Area you should hire him, and if you’re ever staying in Lancaster you should rent one of the Airbnb flats at Fahnestockhouse (so freaking pretty).
So that’s the big news! I’ve been an avid podcast listener for years (find all of my recommendations here, here, here and here), so it feels surreal to be announcing my own. I never really thought I’d end up being a podcaster myself (even though I had toyed with the idea several times), so I’m super thankful that Laura was willing to jump into this adventure with me. We had joked with each other for a while about starting a podcast together until we realized we weren’t really joking anymore … and now we’re here. We’ve been working on it for a few months now so we can’t wait to share it with all of you! Ah! *happy dance*
After 5 years of planning the Feast of St. Pizza in various cities (I’m currently in the planning process for year 5), I’ve become a bit of an expert on planning pizza crawls. And, since I love to spread the pizza love, I want to share my secrets with all of you. My original intention was to tack this onto the end of my Old Forge recap post, but it ended up being way too much info and deserved a post of its own.
While our pizza feasts always include ten spots, you don’t have to be crazy like us – Feel free to take these tips and adapt them to your own needs. Even if you’re only visiting five places instead of ten, a lot of these tips should still apply to help your day go more smoothly. If you have questions or thoughts I haven’t addressed, please let me know in the comments and I’d be happy to answer them.
PICK A DATE
First and foremost, you must settle on a date pretty well in advance. If your friends are anything like mine, they all want to join in on the fun but they’re also all extremely busy. Get a date figured out (ideally one that works best for your core group) so everyone can get it on their calendars, ask off of work if necessary, etc. You can fill in the rest of the details later. I make a Facebook event and invite my friends to get it on their radar, and then I just fill in the details on there later as it all comes together.
Now here’s where the real work begins: figuring out which pizza places you’ll actually go to. If you’re doing your pizza crawl in your hometown or a nearby city where you have a lot of friends, I like to start by asking for personal recommendations. If you ask the locals what their favorite pizza place is, the answers are usually pretty solid. (Facebook is helpful for this as well.) I also go the typical route of just googling “Best pizza places in [name of city].” TripAdvisor and Yelp will help you out in that department, but sometimes you’ll also find articles from other publications, or perhaps a profile on a specific pizza place. Oh, and obviously – TAKE NOTES.
MAKE A MAP
When I start to narrow down my research I like to make a custom map with Google Maps. This can be really important because in some cases (like with our Lancaster feast), location can be a primary factor. If you want everything to be within walking distance or in the city proper, you’ll want to make note of their actual locations to help you decide. Plus, once you’ve picked your ten places, the map comes in handy as you plan your route for the day.
MAKE YOUR SELECTION
Once you’ve done all the pizza research for your chosen city, it’s time to narrow things down. For my crawls I’m always narrowing it down to ten, which is usually quite difficult. If you’re going to fewer than ten places you’re going to need to be especially ruthless. I often have about 3-5 that are definite choices, like the places that are obviously most popular, or perhaps a newer place that’s making a name for itself, and therefore I know I want to throw it into the mix.
The second half of my selection is where it gets hard. Usually during my research I keep a tally of how many times each place is mentioned, and the ones mentioned most often make the cut. Overall, though, I go with my gut. Some of it is a numbers game but ultimately I have to make the decisions about where we’re going, and part of it will be subjective. Again, some if it might depend on location (see above). Feel free to come up with your own system, but this is how I do it. Keep in mind, though – it’s not a bad idea to have 1 or 2 backup options in case a place is totally packed or closed for some reason.
DO SECONDARY RESEARCH
After you’ve nailed down your ten places you’ll need to do some further research to help with your planning. This means making note of opening and closing times for each place, whether or not they are cash only, if you’ll need reservations, or if you can/need to order ahead of time. Do you need to wait in line before they open (like we did with Pizzeria Beddia in Philly)? Is a certain place usually swamped at a certain time, so it might be better to go there at off-peak hours? These are all things to keep in mind.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
Now this is the REALLY hard part. Here’s where you have to take into account hours of operation, reservation times AND location. I obviously start with whatever place opens the earliest, and I try to keep the place open the latest for last, just in case we’re running behind schedule. In between you have to factor in everything else while also trying to plan a route that makes sense. I usually try to allow for as much walking as possible. But then you might also have to consider how to get back to your starting location if people left cars there. (Or you might be able to use a ride sharing service or public transportation.) Sometimes it helps to kind of start in the middle and work your way around so you end up back in the middle. It all really depends!
This part can be difficult but I weirdly enjoy figuring out this puzzle. And because I’m a spaz I also color code my pizza map in a rainbow pattern so I know which order we’re going in. The first stop is red, second is red-orange, third is orange, fourth is yellow, etc. (See below.) It makes it easier for me to visualize our route on the map.
MAKE A TIMELINE
With your route nailed down you now have to make a more specific timeline. In order to stay on schedule you’ll want to know exactly when you’re aiming to be at each location. I shoot for a minimum of an hour per location so we’re not rushing around too much. If two places are just a five minute walk between each other, you could easily shoot for being at stop #2 an hour after the first one. We did this a lot during our Lancaster feast since everything was so close. If you’re going to a fancier place where you might have table service and you’re ordering drinks, etc., then plan for more time at that location. Also keep in mind if you’re doing a long walk from one place to another or if you have to drive, etc. This timeline step kind of happens in tandem with the previous one. If a place only opens at 5pm and you want to get there when they open, you’ll have to factor that into your route.
MAKE NECESSARY RESERVATIONS
Once you have the timeline figured out, make reservations wherever you might need them. This is where it also becomes important to know exactly what time your friends may be joining you. My numbers often fluctuate throughout the day. In Lancaster I had anywhere from 12 people to 30 people, depending on the time of day. This is also the time to place an order ahead if necessary. (This is not as common, but I’ve had to do it a few times over the years.)
PROVIDE INFO FOR YOUR ATTENDEES
Make sure your friends are aware of the official timeline. If they can only join you from 12-3, that way they’ll know exactly where to find you when they’re joining the group. Let them know if there are reservations so they don’t just show up without informing you.
It’s time for the big day! This goes without saying, but … stretchy pants are a must. Wear comfy shoes if you plan to be doing a lot of walking. My friends and I often wear some of my #feastofstpizza branded t-shirts, which are available in my Society6 shop. You’re going to be out all day (these usually take about 13 hours total), so wearing layers for the chillier hours is a good idea. Bring a water bottle to stay hydrated, and you might want to bring containers for leftovers if that’s a thing you think might happen. You might also need sunscreen … we learned this the hard way.
Download a payment app like Venmo so you can pay your friends back, and bring some cash for cash-only places. As far as payment goes, we’ve found it’s easiest for one person to pay at each place. We then divide the amount by the number of people at that spot, and everyone pays their share via Venmo to the person who paid for it.
STAY ON SCHEDULE
Now that you’re moving along and eating your pizza, it’s very important to stay on schedule. If you’re running a little late for each place, that will add up and set you way off schedule by the time you get to stop number ten. As the official organizer I’m always in charge of keeping everyone on schedule. My friends are very accustomed to me yelling a ten-minute warning so people can chug the rest of their beers, close tabs, grab the check, etc. Everyone is here for the same cause so as long as you have one taskmaster to be in charge of keeping everyone together, people tend to fall in line. Just make sure there’s at least one person keeping a close eye on the clock.
This really goes without saying, but please be considerate of the establishments where you’re enjoying pizza. In our experience most of the places have been extremely happy to have us, but it can still be overwhelming for twenty people to show up at a mom-and-pop corner pizza shop. We usually fill people in on what we’re doing, and most pizza shop owners are excited to play a part in it. Just be courteous and I’m sure you’ll have a great time.
HYDRATE AND PACE YOURSELF
It’s easy to feel excited as you get going on this journey, but once you hit stop 5 or 6 you’ll probably start to feel some pizza fatigue. Drink as much water as possible and take your time. If you’re somehow ahead of schedule, just take it easy. No need to rush. (This is why walking helps so much.) Ideally you should be able to fully appreciate each pizza place – You don’t want to be forcing pizza down your throat with 3 more places to go. Enjoy the ride, my friends! Also, pro tip: we will often order one pizza and ask for it to be sliced into 12 or 16 pieces instead of 8 (if possible). This helps dramatically with portion control.
DOCUMENT IT (IF YOU WANT TO)
Obviously one of the best parts about these pizza crawls for me is taking pictures, making podcast episodes, writing blog posts and documenting the whole thing. It’s fun for me to have these posts to share with all of you, but also just for my personal memories and enjoyment. If you’d like to share your pizza crawl, please feel free to share with the hashtag #feastofstpizza. I want to see!
REST AND RECOVERY
Congrats! You’ve just completed your first pizza crawl. If you’re able to, schedule plenty of time for R&R the day afterwards. Get plenty of sleep, continue drinking tons of water, and maybe avoid pizza. (Although I’ve been known to eat pizza the day after on more than one occasion.) Maybe have a salad ready for you in your fridge, because you might be craving it. But also remember to be proud of your accomplishments, ya know?
So that’s it: my system for planning the yearly Feast of St. Pizza. Apparently I had a lot to say on the subject. Please let me know if there’s anything I didn’t cover. Happy feasting, pizza lovers!
Illustration at top created with pen and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) can be found in my Society6 shop.
My friends and I hosted our fourth annual Feast of St. Pizza event back in May (almost a year ago), which has become a major yearly event. (In fact, I’m in the thick of planning this year’s feast.) If you’ve been following along you know that the first year was in Lebanon, PA (my hometown and current place of residence), the second year was in Philadelphia (my second home, aka where I went to college), last year was in Lancaster, PA (About 45 minutes from Lebanon and where many of my friends live), and this year we went to Old Forge, PA (outside Scranton). Check out the post from year one for a refresher on how this tradition got started. But the gist of the event is that we eat at 10 pizza places in a single city in one day. It usually takes 12-13 hours from start to finish and it’s a blast.
After the success of our Lancaster feast, we opted for another small city that would be highly walkable. We were intrigued by Old Forge, PA, which has dubbed itself the “Pizza Capital of the World.” They have their own style of pizza there, and it’s all rectangular instead of circular. Rather than a “pie” it’s called a “tray,” and instead of a “slice” it’s called a “cut.” They’re also known for two kinds of pizza: a red and a white. The “red” is what you would consider a “normal” pizza, and the white is more like a stuffed-crust pizza … but if the entire pizza was just the stuffed crust. It’s a bunch of pizza dough with gooey cheese in the middle, and it’s often sprinkled with herbs or onions on top. (It’s basically like a huge calzone.) We tried to sample both reds and whites at as many of the places as we could.
It was an interesting year for us, and honestly overall it was the worst pizza we’ve had compared to other years (which is hilarious, considering their title of “pizza capital”). Usually all of the pizza during our feasts is generally pretty good, but in Old Forge there were some polarizing spots where some people hated the pizza and others loved it. It was a real mixed bag. Some of it was absolutely delicious, but we also had some pizza that was straight-up bad. But I will say this: our time in Old Forge was probably more fun than any other year so far, and the people of Old Forge welcomed us so warmly and were some of the best people we’ve come across in our pizza travels. These people love pizza and they love their town. (Just check out this fun video feature for proof.)
To be honest, their pizza style is a bit unique and I bet if you grew up with it, you would love it. Not being from there, it didn’t speak to us the same way as it would to a local, so please take our criticisms with a grain of salt. Also, the general spirit of the #feastofstpizza is to find your personal favorite pizza spot, which is almost never the same as someone else’s. We’re just trying all of them in the hopes of leading you to your best option.
The cool thing about Old Forge is that it has a lot of family-owned pizza shops, and they’re all right near each other. (Like, basically right next to each other … it’s a very small town.) From what we learned, everyone eats at all of them, and even the pizza shop owners eat at the other pizza spots. The town is like a big pizza family, which really warmed our hearts. Apparently it’s customary for families there to eat pizza together on Saturday nights (take-out), and they often order their pizzas ahead of time, like on a Wednesday. “I need a tray of red and a tray of white for Saturday at 3pm!”
We caused a bit of a stir walking through town all day with our matching pizza shirts. One pizza shop owner said he had seen us walking around and was wondering when we would stop by. At the end of the night, some ladies outside a bar yelled to us, “Are you the pizza people?!” It was a super fun day and we made some great memories.
As always, I’ll walk you through our day of pizza, sharing our thoughts and our overall takeaways. Like I said, Old Forge was a real mixed bag, but sampling their main pizza shops with friends is a great way to spend a sunny Saturday if you’re up for it. Here we go:
Our order: 5 flatbreads: (2 bacon, 1 hot wing, 1 BBQ chicken, 1 with green peppers and salami)
Thoughts: Our first stops on our pizza tours tend to be crowd pleasers, and this one was no exception. Since Althea’s is more of a sandwich shop, their pizzas were technically flatbreads and not the traditional rectangular pizza of Old Forge fame. We’re no strangers to flatbread pizzas from previous feasts, and this ended up being one of our favorite stops of the day. It had a fantastic crispy crust, plus an interesting cheese blend (mozzarella, “brick” cheese …?, cooper sharp). The BBQ chicken was the crowd favorite; the sauce was nicely sweet and not overpowering. We kept talking about that one throughout the day. (Fun fact: this great lunch spot has a heavy Grateful Dead decorating theme, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Thoughts: Mary Lou’s is takeout only, so we did our classic eat-pizza-on-the-sidewalk move here. Mary Lou is the grandma everybody wants, and she makes the pizzas herself, with some help from her grandson. I had ordered ahead from her, so she kind of knew what was going on with our pizza crawl. When I tried to pay she said it was “on her.” For two huge pizzas! I asked if I could tip her and she said “Well my grandson is coming in later …” so we left her a decent tip for her grandson. Then as we were eating the pizza on the sidewalk, she kept coming out with free bread she was trying to get us all to take home with us. I’m telling you: THE GRANDMA EVERYBODY WANTS.
Overall we had some mixed reviews here: some loved the white pizza, others didn’t. I thought it was very nice and her crust was buttery, plus it was our first true taste of Old Forge pizza. I feel like I’d have to try her pizza again sometime to form a better opinion on it, but I guess it ended up kind of in the middle of the road for us. It also did truly feel like a pizza your grandma made for you (in a good way). But Mary Lou’s holds a special place in my heart because after a great time at stop #1, Mary Lou just solidified for us that we were about to have a great day and that there was something special about the people of Old Forge.
Thoughts: Here’s where things started to get dicey. I might go so far as to say that I hated this pizza. It was very garlicky and I think it had a lot of American cheese on it. (NO THANK YOU.) Someone described it as an “open faced grilled cheese.” While plenty of people (like myself) were not fans, a few people loved this pizza. It’s entirely possible that we made a bad choice with what kind we ordered, and maybe if I had eaten a plain pizza from them I would have loved it. But the tomato basil one? Hated it.
Thoughts: Cusumano is a nicer Italian restaurant, but they have a “cellar bar” open for lunch, which is where we ate. We basically had the run of the place and were chatting a lot with the bartender/server. He was giving us a lot of gossip about the town, and helped steer us to a new pizza shop since one of the places we were planning to visit, Ghigiarelli’s, was closed due to the mysterious disappearance of the owner. Crazy stuff! The bartender was great and felt like your favorite Italian cousin, if you’re the kind of person who has Italian cousins. (I’m not.) I really liked this pizza and it had that homemade quality to it. The crust was crispy and airy and reminded me of a Pizza Hut crust, which is definitely a compliment.
Thoughts: Here was another fantastic place with character. It was kind of a hole-in-the-wall take-out place, but there were picnic tables outside, which is where we ate. Their dough actually comes from Agostini’s Bakery, which is common for a lot of the pizza shops in town (although I’m not sure exactly which ones). True to Old Forge hospitality, one of the owners brought out some homemade red wine for all of us to sample, so that was a lot of fun. This place won the Stretchiest Cheese Award after my brother-in-law had a piece of cheese connecting his “cut” (slice) to the rest of the “tray” (pie) that was at least 6 feet long. Their white pizza was a big hit with our crowd, and some people named this their favorite stop overall.
Thoughts: We ended up here as a replacement for Ghigiarelli’s at the recommendation of our buddy from Cusumano. It was a bit of a fancier restaurant, and we opted to try their thin crust since we were starting to hit our mid-day wall. I personally wasn’t crazy about this pizza. I thought it was just decent and the sauce was a bit too tomato-heavy, without much complexity. I think some people enjoyed the sausage a lot, but it just wasn’t for me in that moment. This is another place where I feel like I’d have to try it again with a different pizza topping.
Thoughts: I don’t think anyone had any profound thoughts about this one. Later in the day is where you start to feel that pizza fatigue, so unless the pizza is spectacularly good or bad, you often feel pretty “meh” about it. This falls into the “meh” category. I enjoyed the sweet sauce which was enhanced by the onions, but it had a creamy cheese blended in (possibly American again – that’s common in Old Forge) that would stick to the back of my teeth, which I didn’t like.
Thoughts: There was a lightness to this pizza and the bottom of the crust had a nice, subtle crunch. They went lighter on the cheese here, which was a welcome change after the previous stop. Overall this one was pretty good, although I don’t think it soared to the top of anyone’s lists. (Pizza fatigue is a real thing.)
Our order: thin crust red, double crust white, mini cannolis
Thoughts: Here’s where things picked up again. I’m not sure what it is about the number 9 slot of our feasts, but they’re always a sleeper hit. A&G is one of the original pizza shops in town and one of the most beloved, and I can see why. The owners took extremely good care of us, bringing out a double crusted white to make sure we tasted theirs, plus some mini cannolis for dessert. (This was not a small place and it was around dinner time on a Saturday – so they definitely went out of their way to make sure we had a good time.) The red pizza was my favorite of the entire day, the white pizza was great and similarly stretchy to the one at stop #5 (Elio G’s), and I loved their cannolis even though I’m not normally a cannoli fan. The crust was REALLY good and the cheese seemed to be of higher quality compared to other stops of the day. The red pizza in particular seemed more like the pizza we know and love, but in a different shape. This spot easily rose to the top tiers for a lot of people in the group.
Thoughts: Oh boy. Since we started our day with a bbq chicken pizza and we all loved it so much, we figured we’d order another one to compare. Sadly, that was probably the worst decision we had made all day. By the time we got there (around 9:30 at night), Augustine’s had become a bar/nightclub, so it was dark, loud, and it took forever for our pizza to arrive at our table. The pizza seemed to be slathered with generic bbq sauce and then topped with some cheese. There was WAY too much bbq sauce (it was completely lacking the perfect balance of our bbq chicken pizza at Althea’s), and it was so bad that a few of us described it as “garbage.” BUT – once we left and got outside, our friend Ryan confessed that he really liked it. Hah! Once again, another polarizing spot. It all depends on what you like. I honestly think I probably would have been totally fine with a different pizza from there, but that bbq chicken one gives me nightmares. We do like to switch up our pizza orders throughout the day so we’re not eating plain the entire time, but this is the risk you take. Order with caution.
MY PERSONAL FAVORITE
Arcaro & Genell – This place was for sure my favorite. It is a well-established mom & pop restaurant, it feels like the heart of the town, and the pizza seemed special to me. If you can wow me like that at a #9 stop during a Feast of St. Pizza, there’s something extraordinary about you. Their hospitality was just the cherry on top of this pizza sundae. If you’re going through Old Forge and can only eat pizza from one place, this should be it.
Althea’s – Even though this wasn’t traditional Old Forge-style pizza, it was fantastic and everyone seemed to agree that it was one of the best spots of the day. If you want to get a personal-sized flatbread pizza for yourself for lunch some day, Althea’s would be great for a “treat yo-self” moment.
Elio G’s – This was a classic Old Forge pizza shop, much like A&G. The owners are real friendly characters and the pizza is top-notch. A great stop.
In the next tier I’d probably put Mary Lou’s and Cusumano. They both have that great homemade grandma quality to them, and they’re just lovely people.
We truly had such a wonderful time in Old Forge, walking around, getting sunburnt and eating way too much pizza. May will be here again before I know it so it’s already time for me to start brainstorming where we’ll be feasting for 2019. I can’t wait!
Illustration at top created with marker and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.
Welcome to the 4th annual Virtual Pumpkin Party! If you’re not familiar, this party is a day in October where a bunch of food bloggers (about 60 this year) band together to shower the internet with a ton of new and exciting pumpkin recipes. If you thought pumpkins were just for pie and PSLs – think again, my friend. Every year I’m always so amazed by the creativity of the bloggers who contribute recipes. This year our selection includes everything from soup to quesadillas to croissants. You can find all of them (plus the full catalog of recipes from past years) over on the Virtual Pumpkin Party home page.
Over the winter I had an idea for a recipe I wanted to include this year, and I had even started testing it months ago. Unfortunately, due to some digestive issues I’ve been sorting out, I’ve been following a low FODMAP diet more or less since April. Two main food groups to avoid with that diet are gluten and dairy, and let’s just say my initial plan for this pumpkin party involved a LOT of gluten and dairy. Please pray for me that I don’t have a gluten intolerance so I can hopefully finalize that recipe for next year’s party.
Instead of my original plan, this year I turned to a riff on a recipe I’ve been making a lot lately: a pumpkin version of my favorite protein waffles, which happen to be gluten-free and dairy-free. As much as I love sharing recipes for more special occasions (like my double chocolate cake with raspberry jam), I also love to share my favorite everyday recipes. I make these waffles a lot on the weekends for a breakfast that feels special and indulgent while also filling me up. They often follow a morning workout, so I like having that protein in there for sticking power. This pumpkin version is a nice way to switch things up for the cozy season ahead of us. Plus it’s a great way to use up leftover pumpkin if you only used part of a can for something else. (If you’re looking for the regular, non-pumpkin version of this recipe, you can find it over on my Instagram.)
Like I said earlier, they’re naturally gluten-free and dairy-free. I usually make them with almond flour, but it’s not great to have a ton of almond flour on a low FODMAP diet, so I tried it with oat flour. The recipe works wonderfully both ways, so feel free to try either one (or maybe even try it half and half).
This recipe is single-serving, so it’s a real treat-yo-self moment. Sip some coffee or kombucha, listen to a podcast or your favorite Saturday music, and whip these up for yourself. That’s how I like to do it. It starts my weekend off right and then I can boss the rest of my day since my workout and breakfast are out of the way.
Be sure to head over to the Virtual Pumpkin Party home page to check out all of the other participating recipes from this year and past years. In fact, you might want to just go ahead and bookmark that page so you can get ideas for your pumpkin cravings all season long. If you’re a blogger and you’d like to participate next year, you can sign up to be on the list to be notified right here. You can also follow along with the fun on social media by following #virtualpumpkinparty.
As always, I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who participated. It always warms my heart to see so many bloggers coming together to stretch their creative recipe muscles. Happy Pumpkin Party-ing!
Illustration at top created with Illustrator and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustration (as well as other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.
For your waffle iron: non-stick cooking spray like coconut oil or olive oil spray
Heat up your waffle iron while you prep your batter. I use this waffle iron and put it to heat setting 4.
In a medium bowl, whisk together your almond meal or oat flour, protein powder, chia seeds, baking powder, sea salt, cinnamon and other spices.
In a small bowl, mix together the almond milk, pumpkin puree, oil, vanilla and egg until smooth.
Add your wet mixture to your dry mixture and stir with a spatula until thoroughly combined.
Open your waffle iron and spray the top and bottom generously with cooking spray. Place ⅓ cup of waffle batter into the center of your iron and then spray the top of the batter with more cooking spray. This helps to prevent sticking. Close your waffle iron and cook until it beeps/changes color/whatever your waffle iron likes to do.
Repeat two more times with the rest of the batter.
Enjoy with butter, maple syrup, etc!
• I use the Tone It Up plant-based vanilla protein powder for this, which works extremely well for baking. (I prefer their organic version in my smoothies, but I use the regular kind for waffles and their other baking recipes.) It's readily available at Target and on Amazon. If you're using a different protein powder, you may have to tweak the recipe slightly to adjust for sweetness, etc. This recipe is pretty forgiving, so play around with it to suit your favorite protein powder. • adapted from Tone It Up via Teen Vogue
Robert and I had the pleasure of visiting Germany (and Austria) back in March of this year. While it hadn’t been on our short list of places to visit, the opportunity arose due to a work trip for Robert and we took it. I am SO GLAD we did. We absolutely loved Germany. I’m not sure if it’s my German heritage or the fact that I’m from PA Dutch country, but it felt so comforting and familiar to me. I felt like THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. I was so happy to be in the land of soft pretzels, spätzle, sauerkraut (which it turns out I like even more than I thought I did), and wheat beers (< the only kind of beer I REALLY enjoy – and I discovered I also love dark wheat beers). It was a pure delight to be there.
My feeling that Germans were “my people” was further cemented by my coffee shop experiences. As I’ve mentioned in past travel recaps, my favorite activity in new cities is getting coffee and a pastry at their best coffee shops. I did this again on this trip, and it was my favorite way to spend an afternoon, especially while Robert was working and I had time to kill. I saw more than one local person hunkering down with a cappuccino and a huge slice of cake, just like myself. It struck me because I thought, “These people aren’t even on vacation … they’re just living life right!”
When I got home I immediately ordered the cookbook Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss (because obviously). In her intro she describes this German cake and coffee ritual, which I didn’t realize was such a part of everyday German life. At least “back in the day” it was a common tradition for workers to take a break around 3pm for cake and coffee at the closest bakery before going back to work for the day. This excited me because that’s exactly what we do at my day job, except we serve Tastykakes and it’s at 10am instead of 3pm. That tradition at my office began in the 1950s (I believe) with my boss’s dad, so I asked him if his family had German heritage. Turns out – they totally do. Did this German tradition make its way across to America and find a new life in Central PA? I guess so.
We also loved Salzburg, Austria. We began our trip there for a weekend at the suggestion of Stefan, Robert’s work partner. It’s a gorgeous, fairytale kind of town. Our Airbnb building was from the 1400s and built into a huge rock wall. Going up the stairs inside you could see the back wall was all craggly and misshapen from the way they had to cut into the rock. It was so easy to walk everywhere and there were soft pretzels on every corner. One thing I’ve been loving about old European towns is that there are steps everywhere. (Not exactly handicap accessible, but very cool.) You’ll turn down an alley and there’s just a set of stairs. We explored an alley staircase one day and ended up walking to a high point on the edge of town. It was just beautiful. Salzburg is one of our favorite cities we’ve visited together so far.
Then Robert had to go to work in Traunstein, Germany for a few days, so that’s where we spent the middle portion of our trip. Some might consider it a bummer to work on a “vacation” (although the purpose of this trip was obviously because Robert was doing a job there), but don’t feel bad for Robert. He was in his happy place. He was doing weird fantasy/sci-fi photo shoots with makeup artists and special effects, and then Photoshopping for a couple days. (Robert’s happy place is photography/Photoshop and mine is eating cake and drinking coffee in European cafes.) He was filming a tutorial for composite photo shoots and Photoshop work for Raw Exchange. Stefan, the creator of Raw Exchange, was our lovely host. He offered to be our personal driver for all portions of the trip, which was a HUGE relief. (Thank you, Stefan!)
Traunstein is a small town and it was super cold and snowy while we were there. When I wasn’t just chilling in our hotel room reading, working out and taking showers, I would walk around town a little, get coffee and pastries, go to the local book shop, etc. It was probably the most leisurely I’ve ever been on a European trip. For the last two days of Robert’s work portion he was Photoshopping at Stefan’s home office, so I spent a lot of time there as well. I would just hang out and read, spend time with Stefan’s partner and their adorable children, and try not to get too freaked out by their large, friendly cat. We really enjoyed our time in Traunstein – it’s a lovely little town with a cute square, and again very walkable. In American terms it reminded me of a place like Wayne or Malvern on “The Main Line” outside of Philly.
After Robert finished his work we ended our trip with a quick weekend in Munich before flying home. We had a nice time there, but it didn’t feel like anything super special to us after being in Salzburg and Traunstein. While it has areas that are walkable, it’s much larger so it was hard to see a lot of it in about 24-36 hours. Plus we kept doing that thing where you can’t pick out where to eat because you’re not sure what you’re in the mood for and then you just get hangry … do you guys do that? It was still great, although it didn’t charm us nearly as much as the other two cities. But it did have one of my favorite espressos, my favorite pretzel and one of my favorite meals of the trip. Can’t complain.
So you know the drill – I’ll lay out all of the places we ate in each city and give you a run-down. If you want to see more snippets of this trip, I have my Instagram stories saved as highlights on my profile. If you ever get the chance to go to Germany, DO IT. Especially if you like soft pretzels, cake and coffee. (< Hi, that’s me.)
What we ate – Round 1: Mac n cheese roll (mac n cheese, cheddar and mozzarella, guacamole, paprika, pico de gallo, black beans, corn, sour cream, lettuce), California Sunshine Waffles (rosemary sea salt with caramel) What we ate – Round 2: cappuccino, burrito bowl (rice, beans, lettuce, pico de Gallo, paprika, corn, pulled pork, guacamole, bacon, cheese sauce, sour cream), rosemary sea salt waffles (again)
This place was right inside of town and around the corner from our Airbnb, so it was a perfect stop for lunch when we arrived and were waiting to get into our room. We also finished our trip in Salzburg by having lunch here again before heading to Traunstein. It’s an interesting spot with a cool vibe – funny, though, because we were in Austria and it had a California-Mexican theme to it. I wasn’t really a fan of their burrito options, but the rosemary sea salt waffles were BOMB. We basically only went back the second time so we could get those again.
I knew about this place because of Molly Yeh’s honeymoon recap post. And thank god for Molly because this place was hard to find, so I doubt we would have stumbled upon it ourselves. It’s the 800-year old bakery that’s part of the famous Abbey in Salzburg, and I believe they only serve two options: their classic sourdough bread and then the sweet brioche like what we had. Also the bakery is really just a kitchen with a little corner where you can purchase bread and the smell is intoxicating. I would just stand outside in the hallway all day if I could.
What we ate: 1/2 deep-fried chicken with potato-corn salad, wiener schnitzel with parsley potatoes and cranberries
Since this was described as having “the best fried chicken in Salzburg,” we had to try it. It was pretty darn good, although I’m not exactly a fried chicken connoisseur. I felt like we were truly hunkered down in a historic old European town while eating this meal. The restaurant was extremely cozy and our meal was great. I’d highly recommend it.
What I drank: cranberry kombucha What we ate: “Sweet Town” (sweet waffle with banana, maple syrup and caramelized walnuts), croissant with butter and jam, fried eggs
Just down the road from our Airbnb, this restaurant is connected to the Natural History Museum in Salzburg. We had a very nice breakfast there and I was happy to drink some local kombucha, which they served to me in a wine glass.
What we ate: Mürbe Topfentasche, pretzel
There were a good handful of bakeries in town, but we went to this one across from our Airbnb twice. It seemed pretty old and to the point – just a counter with a bunch of delicious-looking baked goods. I believe we chose the pastry we got the first time (not the pretzel) because the woman working there said it was one of her favorites when we asked for a suggestion. It reminded me of a cream cheese danish kind of thing, and I’m delighted to report that when googling a translation for it, it came back as “tenderizing pot pocket.” Upon further research it seems to be related to kolaches (a Czech pastry) and, indeed, cheese danishes in America. Some places called it a Quarktasche, aka a “Quark bag” aka a “cheese bag” in American terms. (Quark is a German cheese product similar to cream cheese or cottage cheese.)
What we drank: Greenspot Irish whiskey (on the rocks with a splash of soda) for me, and a Murphy’s Irish Stout + a Guinness for Robert
While I normally wouldn’t have chosen this hole-in-the-wall bar to go into during a visit to Salzburg, we went for an afternoon drink because it was St. Patrick’s day. Consequently I think we found all of the other Americans in Salzburg that day. It was like being in another world because this place was so decked out for St. Patty’s day while the rest of the town certainly couldn’t give a crap. We had a good time and got a little afternoon buzz going on.
What we drank: cappuccino, chai latte What we ate: plum cake, prosciutto ciabbata sandwich
This was the most hipster coffee shop in Salzburg and was quite busy, despite being tucked away into an obscure corner in town. The first time we walked in we actually walked right back out and chose to come back later since it was so crowded. On our second attempt we were lucky to be seated right away. (It was a coffee shop, but a little more formal with a hostess who would seat you.) Everyone (like usual) was extremely friendly and I was happy to be able to get my coffee and pastry of the day there. It lived up to the hype.
What we drank: light lager What we ate: BBQ ribs, knödel and sauerkraut from Familie Pavlovic, cheesy pretzel rod from Backerie Raha
Augustiner Bräu is the large brewery in Salzburg, located in a former monastery. There’s a big wall of beer steins where you pick whatever size you want before going over to the bar for it to be filled up. Then there’s a small fountain thing for rinsing your beer cup between drinks if you’re switching to a different brew. A few large dining halls are surrounded by various market stalls where you can get food. We got a traditional meal of knödel, meat and sauerkraut, plus a pretzel twist. The pretzel was one of my favorites of the trip, with cheese on top and possibly some fennel seeds, giving it an interesting flavor.
• signature cocktail with whiskey, elderflower, grapefruit and mint
• gin cocktail with elderflower, bamboo bitters, tonic, mint
• variation on an old fashioned with grapefruit, rosemary, sugar melon
• gin cocktail with blueberry and ginger
• mojitos (strawberry and classic)
• whiskey sour
• cucumber martini
This tiny cocktail bar was one of our favorite parts of the trip. It was our last night in Salzburg and we planned to start the evening with one drink here, but we had so much fun sitting at the bar and watching the bartenders (plus chatting with our new American friend who sat near us), we just stayed there for four hours and hung out. The bartenders here were true artists and they worked their butts off. (We tipped our guy a full 25% – super high by European standards, especially for drinks – making this our most expensive outing of the trip and probably making his month. He invited us to come back every night, haha.) This place was magical because despite drinking four cocktails each, we weren’t super drunk at the end of the night (just pleasantly so), and had no trace of a hangover the next day. They were some of the best cocktails we’ve ever had and so much care went into each of them. It was also a few doors down from our Airbnb, which made it even better. Highly recommended!!
After our drinking adventures at Mentor’s we needed a bedtime snack, so we went a few doors in the other direction from our Airbnb to this pizzeria. They have a window on the sidewalk where you can walk up and order slices. PERFECT for late-night drinking. The pizza was great and even better that it was so easy to acquire. This, combined with the cocktail bar, was the perfect end to our last night in Salzburg.
SOME RANDOM MARKET STAND
What we ate: a vanilla cream pastry shaped like a pretzel
Thankfully we hadn’t planned to spend much of Sunday in Salzburg because most places were closed. We weren’t leaving until closer to lunch time, so we snagged this pastry at a little market stand before grabbing lunch at Escobar (see above). It was like a cream puff, but shaped like a pastry. We inhaled it, it was so delicious.
Hotel breakfast consisted of: croissants, breads, cake, cheese, meats, pickles, olives, yogurt, cereal, fruit, hard and soft boiled eggs, sausage, etc.
This was the hotel in the center of Traunstein where we stayed while Robert was working. It was from the 1800s and very charming. As we’ve come to realize, the Europeans do hotel breakfasts way better than we do. We had a lovely spread to choose from each morning, and we often went to our standby from our time in Paris: croissants with brie and jam, plus some fruit and eggs, etc. The hotel is a great choice if you’re ever staying in Traunstein, and it’s just down the street from the market square.
What we drank: local white and dark wheat beer What we ate: schnitzel with portobello and spätzle plus green beans, fried polenta balls with roasted vegetables and parmesan
We went here our first night in Traunstein with Stefan and his family. It’s a cute beer garden that surprisingly serves all vegetarian food. It was off the beaten path and we were grateful that Stefan chose to take us there. Everything we ate was delicious and it was nice to drive through the countryside on our way there.
Hello again! It’s been a while. I’ve been spending time this spring and summer doing some back-end work on the blog, a little freelance work, relaxing, working on small projects around the house, etc. I’m back with a post I’ve been meaning to share for a long time now. I want to talk about three things: a fantastic vegetarian cookbook, cookbook clubs, and a skillet cookie.
In case you weren’t aware, Alex and Sonja, the husband and wife duo from A Couple Cooks, are two of the sweetest bloggers on earth. Their first cookbook came out this spring, titled Pretty Simple Cooking. Much like two other favorites of mine, Love Real Food and the Love and Lemons Cookbook, it’s vegetarian and PERFECT for beginner cooks or people looking to add more easy, meatless meals to their lives. This one has a cool feature: within each chapter the recipes get progressively more difficult and/or time consuming. That way you know if you start in the beginning of a chapter you’ll be safe. (That is, if you’re a little nervous in the kitchen). It’s also great when you know you need a quicker recipe, or maybe if you’re looking for something slower so you can enjoy some wine on a lazy Sunday evening while you cook.
Shortly before the book came out I started a cookbook club with some friends. I knew we had to cover Pretty Simple Cooking at one of our meetings because it was actually one of Alex and Sonja’s blog posts that convinced me to finally start a cookbook club in the first place. (FYI – a cookbook club is a regularly scheduled dinner party where you and all of your friends cook recipes from the same cookbook to create a meal.) I had been stewing over the idea for a while, but reading their post made me text my friends Char and Kelley and just commit to the idea, no matter how imperfect it might look for us.
For the record, we’ve only had two meetings so far. At the first one (back in November) we tackled Love and Lemons (one of my favorite cookbooks of all time) and the second one was with Pretty Simple Cooking in March. (It was merely a coincidence that both of our first books were vegetarian.) We have a third tentatively scheduled for September. We’ll be grilling pizzas with help from the book Pizza Camp (my favorite pizza book!).
Here’s what has helped me to actually start and somewhat maintain a cookbook club:
MAKE IT A SMALL CORE GROUP
I reached out to two other couples we’re very close with to dive into this with me. They’re four friends who are similar to Robert and me in their enthusiasm for home cooking, cookbooks, and experimenting in the kitchen, who also happen to be living in town where we are. We have a LOT of close friends (#brag) who all like to eat good food, but we kept the core group to 6 of us, which is a great number for a dinner party. The idea is that we pick a date and time that works for all 6 of us, and then we open it up to a bunch of other friends. Whoever can make it will also come and contribute. But if no one else can do it, the 6 of us can still have a dinner party by ourselves. So far that’s worked well for us and we’ve had 10-12 people at both of our meals.
KEEP THE PRESSURE OFF
We went into this knowing that we would only be able to do it once every 2-3 months or so. There’s no way we could have worked it into all of our schedules and done it once a month or something like that. We keep our meetings to weekends so it doesn’t feel rushed on a weeknight, and it gives us plenty of time to prepare. It also allows for people traveling from out of town to be able to make it. (We have a few friends who like to attend who live 45 minutes to an hour away.) While we could have done it more frequently if we did the meals on weeknights, it wouldn’t have been as fun or relaxed for us.
Based on my experience, those two things are key. (Small core group + low pressure = a happy cookbook club.) Cookbook clubs in general are pretty chill, which is great. It’s a wonderful way to have a dinner party with friends but NOT have to cook the entire meal by yourself. It’s essentially a curated potluck party. If you’re considering starting one with friends, just go for it and keep it relaxed – it doesn’t have to be a huge production every time. If you’re a cookbook hoarder/lover like me, it’s such a good way to try out a bunch of recipes from one book without having to make them all yourself. Plus then you can let each other know if the recipe tripped you up in any way or if it was easier/harder than you expected. I love it!
For our Pretty Simple Cooking party, we did a brunch. Here’s a look at our menu:
Creamy Artichoke Hummus + a veggie platter for appetizers
Moroccan Sweet Potato Stew with Quinoa
Homemade Whole Wheat Naan
Kale Caesar Salad with Paprika Croutons
Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Skillet Cookie
Affogatos with homemade Creamy Chai Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream
Our general rule is whoever is hosting will also be in charge of the entree because that’s harder to transport. (After that it’s kind of a free-for-all and people chime in with what they’d like to bring.) Since Robert and I were hosting, we made the sweet potato stew and the quinoa. I also made the skillet cookie, which I’m sharing with you today. I had my eyes on that from the moment I got the book – y’all know how I feel about chocolate chip cookies, especially when there’s flaky salt on top. This skillet cookie is also a winner because it’s gluten-free. I’ve been experimenting more with gluten-free baking so I’m excited to have this recipe in my back pocket.
The original recipe for this skillet cookie requires an 8-inch skillet. My cast iron skillet is ten inches, so I wanted to adapt it to fit mine. Even though I could have done it in an 8″ cake pan or pyrex, I wanted to make it in our cast iron because we’re obsessed with it. Plus, a bigger skillet = a bigger skillet cookie. So I did a little math and scaled it up. (I love doing that.) I bumped it from an egg white to a full egg just to keep things easy, plus an egg yolk helps to keep things moist (sorry) and chewy. I also swapped half the light brown sugar for dark brown because I can’t leave well enough alone. This comes together quickly and it’s soooo good.
As I was testing and tweaking this for blog purposes, the guys at work became very attached to it and were thrilled whenever I brought in leftovers. They were all amazed that it was gluten-free, too. I found myself eating half the pan, nibble by nibble, shortly after it came out of the oven, so it was good that I could share it with my coworkers. Needless to say, it’s a crowd pleaser (and it goes well with ice cream).
Alex and Sonja’s book is a gem and we’ve cooked from it quite a bit beyond the cookbook party. Our favorite recipe (besides this skillet cookie) is probably the turmeric rice bowls with tempeh, kale, broccoli, and a lemon tahini drizzle. It was our first try at making tempeh and now we’re hooked. You’ve gotta try it.
If you’re looking for a solid vegetarian book with everyday meals, it’s a great one to add to your list.
Thanks for sticking around these parts as I figure out where blogging fits into my life these days. Even though I don’t post as often as I’d like, it’s great to know I can dip in and out as necessary and you guys will still be here to follow along. Remember you can always keep up with me on Instagram and Facebook, where I post frequently even when the blog isn’t super active. And if you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can get all my new posts via email by signing up here. I should hopefully have a few more posts on here soon, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer. xoxo
Illustration at top created with pen and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (along with other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.
A deliciously simple, gluten-free cookie to be made in a 10-inch skillet
Recipe type: dessert
2½ cups almond flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ tsp coarse kosher salt
1 large egg
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1¼ tsp vanilla extract
2.5 oz (about ½ cup) chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chps
heaping ¼ tsp flaky sea salt (like Maldon)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a medium bowl, stir together the almond flour, both brown sugars and the kosher salt.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg, melted butter and vanilla extract. (Be careful to make sure the melted butter is not too hot or it will cook the egg.) Add wet mixture to the almond flour mixture, along with most of the chocolate chunks. (Reserve some for pressing on top later.)
Using a spatula, stir until no more dry spots remain and the dough sticks together in a big lump. Press the dough evenly into a 10-inch nonstick skillet. (I use my cast iron one.) Scatter your leftover chocolate chunks on top, and then use the bottom of a glass to flatten the top of the dough. Sprinkle the flaky sea salt on top. (At this point you can let the cookie dough sit out for twenty minutes or so until you're ready to bake it, or even cover it with plastic wrap and store it in the fridge for a longer period of time. I've let it sit out for 30 minutes before baking, and I think it gives a slight improvement on texture. Definitely not necessary, however.)
Bake for about 15-17 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Allow to cool for 30 minutes so the texture can set. Slice into wedges and serve, or just top with some ice cream and place on the middle of the table to dig in with some forks and the help of your friends. Enjoy!
To finish out our two-week European trip back in September, we spent a short amount of time in both Amsterdam and Bruges. We had two nights in each city, and really only about a day and a half total with each one. We probably could have used a little more time in Amsterdam, but Bruges we were able to max out with the time we had. Although they were very short visits, I’m glad we squeezed them in during our trip.
Amsterdam was pretty unique compared to other cities I’ve visited, and I was obsessed with their bike culture. When I was in college, biking was my main source of transportation in Philadelphia and I loved it. I wish more American cities could be closer to the biking level of Amsterdam. Their bike lanes are bigger than the sidewalks and they have their own traffic lights. It was fascinating. Being able to rent bikes while we were there meant we were able to see more of the city in our short amount of time, so that was great. We did a 24-hour day rate for our rentals and just kept them overnight. On our second morning we rode across town to our breakfast place, and it was so cool to be part of the morning bike commute with all of the locals (even though I’m sure they got annoyed with us a few times for being newbs).
In Amsterdam we did our only real museum visit of our trip, which was to the Van Gogh museum. It worked out perfectly because it was pouring rain while we were in there and had cleared up by the time we left. We opted for the audio tour (only costing about 5 euro each), and we feel like we got 1000% more out of the museum by doing that. I’m so glad we did it. Other than that, our only other non-eating adventures in Amsterdam were biking around and then walking through the Red Light District like the tourists we were. We also visited a cute little shop with a lot of plants, called Wildernis.
Bruges was also great, but surprisingly was the most expensive city on our trip. Although perhaps it should not have been surprising because it’s such a touristy town. It’s one of those places where they will charge you a lot for every meal, but not all meals are even close to being worth the money. It took us forever to pick a restaurant the first night, but I think we ended up with a great choice. We were excited to visit this “fairytale town” because we are both fans of the movie “In Bruges,” which we obviously re-watched shortly before our trip.
The town is tiny (the heart of the city is only 1.5-2 miles wide) and cute as hell. Bruges reminded us a lot of St. Malo from our honeymoon with its narrow cobbled streets, plus the way we just wandered around all day, eating stuff and often walking down the same street twice. Despite how tiny it is, we logged about 7 or 8 miles in total on our last day just by walking around. We also ventured to the top of the Belfry, which is a necessary activity if you’re visiting Bruges.
By the way, our Airbnb in Bruges was probably our favorite. It was technically a “private room,” but it was really like having a beautiful hotel room in a guest house. The owner had an office on the lower floor of the house, but the rest of the floors had rooms all made up as “private room” Airbnbs. There was a communal kitchen and dining room plus an extra bathroom on the first floor. But this place was awesome because you only needed a code to get in the front door, and then when you got there your room key was IN the door, so you let yourself in and then just leave the key in the door again when you check out. We never even had to interact with the owner. We had a nice big bed, and the bathroom had a shower PLUS a bathtub that had a little skylight over it. It was gorgeous! And it cost us like $80/night. So cool. This was one of our biggest lessons from this trip: Don’t overlook the private rooms on Airbnb – just make sure it has a “private bathroom” and you’re basically booking yourself a hotel room. If you’re going and you’d like to know exactly which one we stayed at, just shoot me an email for more info.
As you should know by now (see parts one and two of this trip), our version of traveling is just eating and walking around, so I’ve listed all of our food stops for both cities below.
What I drank: Strawberry Bloom (Bloom gin, east imperial tonic, strawberries and basil leaves) What we ate: Big Fat Veggie Burger (carrot, cucumber sweet sour mayo, fries) + Woodyburger (cheddar cheese, rum sauce, French fries, homemade mayo – excluded jalapeños and added bacon)
Our friend Laura suggested this place to us and I was delighted to discover that it was only half a block from our Airbnb apartment. We arrived in Amsterdam around dinner time, so this was an easy choice for our first meal in the city. Walter’s is known for their gin and tonics and I had been coming around to them on this trip, so I went for that lovely strawberry/basil version (a great choice). My veggie burger was SO GOOD – I never thought I’d eat a carrot burger but holy crap was it good. And that pickle-y mayo? Omg.
What we drank: green juice (celery, apple, cucumber, lime, mint), orange juice (carrot, orange, ginger, goji berries, cinnamon) What we ate: The “New York” (buttermilk pancakes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, banana, honeycomb butter), + The Sweet BLT (bacon, sweet bacon syrup, lettuce tomato, mayo, brown bread, added avocado)
This was a pleasant breakfast spot and allowed us to do our fav of ordering a sweet (pancakes) and a salty (BLT) option for breakfast and then go “halvsies.” The pancakes were a real standout here – especially with that honeycomb butter. I think all butter should be honeycomb butter.
What we drank: chai latte + a cappuccino What I ate: a brownie (NOT a pot brownie hahaha)
This cafe was exactly the kind of place I’d love to open one day, if I ever get the chance: bright, airy and friendly with just a few REALLY good drinks, and some pastries available for sale. The cappuccino I had was the best I’ve ever had in my life. Considering I was really looking forward to sitting in a pretty Amsterdam cafe for a late morning coffee and pastry (my favorite part of the day), this one hit it out of the park.
What we drank: True Blue Kiwi Mojito (kiwi/blueberry) What we ate: classic chicken and waffles (Southern style fried chicken and cheddar waffle with apple/celery slaw, drizzled with maple syrup)
This place was super cool: It’s a bar AND barber shop in a really old building where they serve New Zealand-inspired brunch. It was the first installment of our “appetizing” our way through the afternoon and evening, so we just split the chicken and waffles, which were AMAZING. (So was the mojito.) It was so delicious it was probably one of my favorite meals of the trip. And the location was so interesting, I’d highly suggest popping in for at least a drink at the bar (I hear they also have really good coffee) if you’re visiting the area.
Robert’s pancake: apple crumble, vanilla ice cream, cinnamon My pancake: grated Dutch cheese or Camembert, lemon honey, raspberry sauce
This place was also recommended to us, this time by my brother and his girlfriend who had been there. These Dutch style pancakes were more like crepes – the size of a dinner plate and very thin. Robert’s was basically like apple pie, and mine was like a cheese plate in a pancake. So good!
What we ate: Formaggio di Capra Pizza (mozzarella, goat cheese, roasted sweet potato, thyme oil, balsamic onions), codfish (with corn, cabbage lettuce, langoustine gravy) What we drank: frozen mango (ketel one vodka, mango, lime and honey), frozen strawberry margarita
We discovered this place because it was about a block from our Airbnb apartment. It looked really interesting and inviting so we decided to do a late dinner there. The inside is very lush with a tropical feeling – lots of rich upholstery, dark greens and huge plants. I wasn’t blown away by the food but I would recommend popping in at least for a drink so you can hang out in there for a little while.
What I drank: coconut coffee (double espresso shot, coconut milk, agave and ice) What we ate: french toast (brioche soaked in organic eggs, fried up with seasonal fruit, ricotta, almonds, lavender, honey and basil), scrambled eggs avo (served on sourdough with miso paste, crumbled feta cheese, avocado, drizzled with olive oil – omitted the olives)
This was where we biked to for breakfast on our second morning. I loved my coconut coffee drink and the french toast was soooooo delicious and interesting. If anything has ricotta, lavender, honey and basil in the description, I’ll probably order it. This place was also just really unique with multiple floors. It was formerly a cinema built in the 1920s, and now it’s a super cute coffee shop that makes you feel like you’re in California or Hawaii (lots of surf vibes).
This is just a little PSA – if you’re looking for a cute grocery to buy some light lunch food or if you have a place to cook while you’re in town, these Marqt places are great. They remind me of a small-scale Whole Foods kind of place. It’s full of fancy groceries and snacks, and of course I had to pick up a few things. I bought some snack bars for our upcoming flights, a chocolate bar, and a ginger shot from their fresh juice section.
We were taking forever to pick a place for dinner, so we decided to buy a pastry to tide us over until we could make a decision. (Well … I decided.) This bakery was nearby and looked delicious, but I think they were about to close because they were almost out of everything. The lady behind the counter was very sweet, and even though she didn’t speak a ton of English (and we definitely had no skills in Dutch), she was able to recommend this pastry to us. They had a handful of mini pies left, but this was the only one of its kind left (so it must have been popular) and it looked interesting, so it seemed like a good option. Like I said, we were having some communication issues, so we really had no idea what it was. Once we started eating it we realized it was basically just a pie with rice pudding baked in the middle of it. (Ummm okay! Yes please!) Thankfully a friend of mine knew what it was and identified it on my Instagram post as a “rijst taart,” aka rice pie or a rice tart. Writing this post led me down a google search, and the best recipe I could find online that seemed most like it is this one. It was delicious so I definitely want to try making it sometime, and I know my rice pudding-obsessed Dad would love to try it. (With this photo I continued my #pastriesonthestreet series.)
What I drank: gin & tonic (I think it was served with lemon tonic and mint?) What we ate: Flemish beef stew with salad and fries, duck a l’orange with croquettes and salad
We finally settled on this place for dinner. It was a bit pricey (like I mentioned earlier, Bruges is kind of expensive), but based on reviews it seemed like it might actually be worth the money. We were very happy with it, and the atmosphere was lovely. All of the buildings in that town are super old, and this one was no exception. Beautiful high ceilings, stain-glassed windows, mood lighting, etc. My Flemish stew was so hearty and delicious, and it felt like exactly the right thing to eat for dinner on my first night in Bruges. Plus, I love any meal that comes with fries.
What we drank: a flight of 5 beers: Belle-Vue Kriek (cherry lambic), La Chouffe (special blond), Rodenbach (old Flemish brown), Gulden Draak (strong dark), Waterloo Recolte (Saison)
If you’re going to be in Bruges, you HAVE to go to this bar. It’s in a cellar from the 13th century and has exposed vaulted brick arches. They have over 100 beers available from all over. We were warned that Belgian beers are stronger than American beers, and our flight kind of proved that point. I don’t even think we finished it and we were definitely feeling a buzz. My favorite was the cherry lambic because it reminded me of kombucha. (I’m not a beer lover, in case you can’t tell.) Weirdly enough, there were a ton of other Americans in this bar when we were there. Apparently that’s where we all hang out.
What I drank: iced caramel latte with whipped cream What we ate: bagel sandwich with bacon, egg, cheese and sundried tomato; “best dressed chicken” (roasted chicken, sundried tomato pesto, apple, lettuce) on toasted bagel
This is where I had the best iced latte of my life! It was kind of on the smaller side, which I think resulted in a smaller amount of milk compared to the espresso, and it was perfection. Sometimes lattes are too milky for me, but this one was excellent and the caramel really brought it home. I wish I could drink that thing every day. Our bagel sandwiches were also great, and we sat by the window looking out onto the cute city of Bruges. Wonderful spot!
What I bought: an assortment of chocolates by weight
Bruges is littered with chocolate stores, which means I was destined to visit this city at some point in my life. I don’t understand how they all do enough business (although I guess Bruges does get hit with a ton of tourists) – we even stumbled upon one on a tiny little alley street. I mean, how does that one get enough business? It baffles me. I randomly settled on this one to purchase some goodies, and I kept them in my backpack for snacking. I can’t really compare it to the other ones, but I was certainly happy with the chocolates I chose.
In the afternoon we wanted to grab a beer at one of the bars, so we picked this one. In the moment we completely forgot our many warnings about how strong Belgian beer is, and we ordered a pint. The bartender was a little surprised, but we insisted, confusedly. Later on we realized why – the Belgian pints are larger than American ones (20oz versus 16oz), and we were getting drunk halfway through a beer we were SHARING. Then we remembered (haha). Oh well – what is vacation for but for getting accidentally drunk in the afternoon?
What Robert drank: Brugs white (wheat) beer What we ate: Cheese-O-Naise (egg based mayo, old Bruges cheese, chives), Old Bruges Topping (old Bruges cheese, mustard cress, bacon)
Belgium is known for its french fries, so we knew it had to be on the menu at some point during our stay. We found this bar that only really serves fries, so this was kind of our lunch. The baskets of fries were quite filling, so in retrospect we probably should have ordered one to share. We enjoyed the fries here, but they were fairly close to ones we’re used to here in the states. I was hoping they’d be a bit more “Belgian-ish.” But tasty and fun, nonetheless!
What we drank: dirty chai latte, vanilla chai latte
We went here for an afternoon pick-me-up. After our chai latte experience in Wales, we were encouraged to try other ones to see how they compared. We’re discovering that chai lattes vary wildly from place to place, and it’s hard to find one you like, especially after having the best one in the world in Wales. We weren’t huge fans of these ones, is what I’m trying to say. However, the place seemed really cool and I bet I would have loved their other espresso-based drinks.
What we ate: waffle with milk chocolate sauce, caramel sauce and whipped cream
Since we had officially eaten fries in Belgium, we had to move on to Belgian waffles. LIFE CHANGING!!!! We obviously expected them to be good because we were smelling them constantly as we walked around, but we didn’t realize what we were walking into. Turns out we’d never had a true Belgian waffle (aka Liege waffles), which is not something you can get at your local IHOP. It’s a whole different animal – essentially caramelized brioche dough with sugar pearls in them. These waffles are a pastry all on their own. I have yet to make them myself, but that WILL be happening. (I’ve bookmarked recipes from Smitten Kitchen, Food and Wine, etc.) We stood on the sidewalk and ate this in a stupor (much like our experience with the kouign amann in London) and then immediately kicked ourselves for not eating them earlier in the day. Had we started with waffles earlier, we surely would have made a point to eat more throughout the day.
What we drank: strawberry mojitos What we ate: potato wedges with mayo
We were wandering around, trying to find somewhere to hang out and get some small bites to eat for “dinner,” when we stumbled on this pop up bar. It looked so cozy with its twinkly string lights and outdoor seating. We went to check it out and it turned out to be a great way to end our night in Bruges and our trip overall. Since we were at the true “yolo” point of our trip, we had more fries and mojitos for dinner. (“When in Bruges …”) These “fries” were actually enormous and perfectly crunchy potato wedges … aka probably the most glorious form of potato I’ve ever eaten. The mojitos lived up to our high mojito standards and reminded us of our honeymoon, which was chock-full of strawberry mojitos.
After our waffle experience from earlier, I knew I had to get another waffle before the day was out, and I knew I had to eat it plain. I could tell from before that those things needed no adornment, and I wanted to taste one in its truest form. I definitely did NOT need to eat at this point of the day, but I also knew I couldn’t go to bed on my one full day in Bruges and then leave town at 5am the next morning without getting another one of those waffles in my body. (If I could have had access to them at 5am, I would have gotten several on our last morning.) Eating a plain Belgian (Liege) waffle while walking through the streets of Bruges is a religious experience. You should do it if you ever get the chance.
So that wraps up our wild European trip from back in September. Amsterdam and Bruges were a great way to end it. In case you couldn’t come to this conclusion on your own, I felt like total crap the morning we left as a result our final-day-diet of booze, chocolate, caffeine, waffles and french fries. BUT …. no regrets. Thanks for following along!
Illustration at top created with Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.
Welcome to my 4th annual list of my favorite (new to me) podcasts. Over the last few years, my podcast choices have shifted away from food and more into politics and news. If you read my End of 2017 Wrap-Up post, then you know that 2017 was a rough year for me, and a lot of that had to do with what’s going on in our country these days. I’m an anxious person and all of this drama doesn’t exactly put me in a great place. I like to squash my anxiety by gaining control of situations, so for me right now this means surrounding myself with as much political information as possible, and especially in the form of podcasts. I know some people with anxiety about our current state of political affairs would probably want to jump off a cliff if they listened to as much political gossip as I do. It’s definitely a balancing act for me as well, and some days I have to turn off the news and listen to an interview or a silly podcast instead. I’ve got a little bit of everything for you down below.
In other podcast news, has anyone else HAD IT with the Apple podcasts app?! Especially after I updated to iOS 11, my podcast app would constantly freeze up and quit on me. I’m happy to report that I’ve switched to the Overcast app and it is a LIFESAVER. I can’t even explain the luxury of opening my app in the morning, seeing my new podcast episodes fall smoothly into my feed, downloading them without the app quitting, and then when you hit “play” the episode plays IMMEDIATELY. What is this life?! So if you’ve been having issues with your podcast app, I highly suggest making the switch.
As for the illustration above, here’s a little explanation: If you’re a fan of Crooked Media, then you’re well aware of their “Friend of the Pod” t-shirts. (You’ll see more about them below.) When I got my shirt in the mail and put it on, I realized “Friend of the Pod” could be my superhero name and putting on that shirt felt like donning my uniform. I am a friend to MANY pods, in a way that feels a little superhuman, if you ask me. My podcast habit is a bit obnoxious and I probably annoy my friends with how often I talk about them. Have you ever seen this meme? That’s me all the time. So this year’s illustration is the superhero/real-life version of me, and shows me the way I often listen to podcasts at home: with an apron on in the kitchen, my phone in the pocket, t-shirt and leggings on so I can be comfy AF. It’s a pretty true self portrait, except for the cape. I borrowed that from Robert.
As always, please let me know your recommendations for other shows in the comment section. I’ve gotten some good ones there in the past.
If you want even more recommendations, check out the archives:
– Michael Barbaro, the host of this daily news podcast from The New York Times, has been described as “America’s Podcast Sweetheart.” I think that’s really accurate. This show delves into one or two major news stories each weekday, and the way Barbaro talks to the guests and other reporters brings a real human touch to the news cycle. You’ll hear him get surprised or choked up, or even giggle at something silly. He cracks jokes with his fellow reporters. He sounds like a real human person digesting the news. In my opinion, this is some news podcasting at its finest. You don’t just hear the news, you FEEL the news. FREQUENCY: every weekday FAVORITE EPISODE: any of these ones
– This super-popular political show from former Obama staffers has kind of taken over the podcast world. (They have several shows now under their media company titled “Crooked Media.”) Their Nintendo-esque patriotic theme song has become a source of comfort to me over the last year as I trust them to break down the news for me in a digestible way, while also giving me a couple laughs and helping me to understand what the heck is going on. They have a focus on activism and have really made a difference in some more local elections across the country. If you need one good political show to listen to, it should be this one. FREQUENCY: Mondays and Thursdays FAVORITE EPISODE: a good place to start would be their interview with Obama
– This show is kind of the OPPOSITE of Pod Save America. Best friends Julie and Brandy break down the news each week like they’re talking about reality TV. These women are what I think would be described as “extra,” and while they may not be for everybody, I love listening to them when I’m tired of hearing people talk rationally and logically about the news, and I just want to hear somebody rant about how crazy everything is. With segments like “The Eye of the Shitstorm,” “Gay Guys and Their Feelings,” and “Julie’s On Her Period and Wants to Yell at Somebody,” they bring an interesting brand of humor (as well as some interesting perspectives) to the wild world of politics right now. FREQUENCY: Tuesdays FAVORITE EPISODE: Reclaiming Our #TimesUp with Julie Bindel
– Negin Farsad, a Muslim Iranian-American comedian, sits down each week with two other people (usually comedians) to discuss a couple news stories from the week. Her show is thoughtful, light-hearted and funny, and it has become one of my new favorite shows that I look forward to each week. Her background gives her an interesting perspective on foreign policy and American politics that’s often hard to find these days. The tenor of this show falls squarely between Pod Save America and Dumb Gay Politics, in case you’re looking for something that splits the difference. FREQUENCY: Fridays FAVORITE EPISODE: You Get a Car!
– Jon Lovett, aka “The Funny One” from Pod Save America, has his own show on the Crooked Media network. Always a live show, it’s part panel discussion, part game show, part interview show. Each week he has a group of about three comedians/actors/writers, etc. to help him go through the news of the week, break down video clips of weird things that happened, or complain about stuff via “The Rant Wheel.” Audience members participate by playing games, and overall it’s just a fun way to wrap up your week with a lighter version of the news. FREQUENCY: Saturdays FAVORITE EPISODE: He Can’t Say Anything To Your Face
FEMINISM + LADY RAGE
– I used to listen to this feminist show a while ago but then fell off the wagon a bit. This year I began listening again because they got new hosts, Emilie and Bridget. These two are in their early 30s (or late 20s … I’m pretty sure) and have brought a fresh millennial voice to the show. Each episode touches on something from a feminist perspective and a little bit of a history lesson, whether it be women and whiskey, #MeToo, role overload, problematic favs, or trying to figure out where the heck the pockets are on women’s clothing. FREQUENCY: Wednesdays and Fridays FAVORITE EPISODE: The Magnificent History of Women and Whiskey
– Hosts Cristen and Caroline were the original hosts of Stuff Mom Never Told You (see above), and now they have a brand new podcast. This one takes some of the ideas of SMNTY and pushes them a little further by talking to other people who have actually lived through the topics. It answers the ultimate question: “What happens when women break the rules?” As the t-shirt from my women’s college says, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” I can’t wait to see where this podcast takes me. FREQUENCY: Tuesdays FAVORITE EPISODE: How to Pay for an Abortion
– When I first heard about this podcast I was immediately intrigued but then got a little worried that it would bum me out. Every episode (only a few minutes long each) is a compilation of voicemails from women who have called in to voice some rage about anything from being catcalled on the sidewalk to bad chicken nuggets. But, I’m happy to report that listening to the show feels like venting with your girlfriends, and it manages to be simultaneously funny, thought-provoking, enraging and sad. I’m loving it. FREQUENCY: every other Friday FAVORITE EPISODE: Voicemail Spotlight: How to Not Talk About Your Universal Experience
Mouthy Messy Mandatory– I discovered this one after reading host Katie Anthony’s viral article about Aziz Ansari, “Not That Bad” (which you should all read, in case you haven’t). Each week she sits down with her cohost, Ronit, to go over general lady business stuff and news from the week with a feminist angle. This show has quickly become one of my favorite places to find thoughtful perspectives from smart, funny ladies about everything going on right now. FREQUENCY: Fridays FAVORITE EPISODE: Good Guys, Bad Guys, & Aziz Ansari
LIFE STUFF (LIKE FOOD, FITNESS & MONEY)
– I found this show because of the hosts’ other podcast, Pantsuit Politics. While that one touches on all things political, this sister show of theirs is about everything else. One of the things that keeps me coming back to Pantsuit Politics is the way Sarah and Beth treat each topic with nuance (hence the name) and care, and I generally appreciate their thoughtfulness about the human condition. Getting to hear them bring that perspective to non-political topics is a pure treat. FREQUENCY: Wednesdays FAVORITE EPISODE: Let’s Talk About Sex
– Tally, Zanna and Vic, aka the #GirlGains crew, discuss fitness, intuitive eating and body confidence in this fun “wellness” podcast. Each host has struggled with her own version of disordered eating or body dysmorphia, etc., and use this podcast to spread body positivity and a more mentally healthy version of the fitness life. They talk about listening to your body, eating what you want without guilt, using food as nourishment, and how women should lift weights (if you’re into that kind of exercise). It’s a new show, but I’ve been enjoying it so far. (Plus it’s from the UK, so the accents are fun.) FREQUENCY: Wednesdays FAVORITE EPISODE: Why Weights Make You Badass – Not Bulky
– My friend Chrystina is a master at bringing people together, and her podcast with Jessica is all about that: gathering people together. In each episode they talk to people about hosting parties and staying in touch, but with more of an emphasis on REAL people. This is not about Pinterest-perfect parties. It’s about planning parties you’ll actually have so you don’t get too stressed about them, and where you can focus on the real point of the party: being with people you love. FREQUENCY: monthly FAVORITE EPISODE: shameless plug: on Episode 5 I talk about my cookbook obsession and how I plan my pizza crawls
– I don’t listen to this one religiously, but I’m always glad once I’ve started an episode. Mandi and Tiffany talk about all things financial (personal finances, business, etc.), but they also throw in a good dose of general life chatter and things that come up naturally as friends. It’s a nice, light financial podcast. FREQUENCY: Wednesdays FAVORITE EPISODE: The Student Debt Show of Your Dreams ft. Financial Aid Expert Angela Howze
MEDIA + ENTERTAINMENT
– You should already be well aware of my love for the Gilmore Guys podcast. But I wanted to bring it up again this year because they are currently discussing Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (an Amazon Prime original), from the creator of Gilmore Girls. Instead of Kevin and Demi (the original hosts), Kevin is hosting with Alice Wetterlund, fan favorite from the original Gilmore Guys run. If you were a fan of Gilmore Guys, you need to watch Maisel and then listen to these fun discussions of the episodes. FREQUENCY: Mondays FAVORITE EPISODE: Maisel Goys 102: Ya Shivu v Bolshom Dome Na Kholme (with Jamie Lee)
– This is Crooked Media’s new pop culture podcast hosted by Ira Madison III. Each week he breaks down some pop culture news and gossip with the help of some friends, but of course it touches on political stuff because it’s from Crooked Media. There are only a few episodes out so far but I’m enjoying it. FREQUENCY: Wednesdays FAVORITE EPISODE: Sex and the Petty
– Robert became obsessed with this one and then forced me to listen to it during a road trip … and I loved it. This is a 3-part musical DESIGNED for listening via podcast, starring Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton. I’m already a fan of Jonathan and now I’m a big fan of Jessie as well since she has one of the most unique voices I’ve heard in a while. The story follows this couple through the unfolding of a deep dark secret, and as they try to repair their relationship through the 36 questions that made them fall in love in the first place. It’s beautiful and it will make you cry.
– When I found this podcast it practically made my year. The way Kelly and Molly manage to bring humor to the haunting TV series Handmaid’s Tale (AND the book in separate episodes) is life-giving and exactly what I needed in 2017. Their chemistry is fantastic and they make me laugh so much in the way they discuss the show. Plus, as avid readers, they bring up a lot of books that I read in my childhood, so that’s a bonus. They’ve also recapped some movies that came up a lot in their discussions (like Ever After), as well as Alias Grace, the Netflix original series also based on another Margaret Atwood novel. FREQUENCY: sporadic – episodes often released binge-style all at once FAVORITE EPISODE: Hulu Recap 1: I’m Your Puppet + Ever After Movie Recap: Wave at the Gate
– This is a recent find and has quickly become one of my favorites. Friends Kristen and Jolenta pick various self-help books and live by them for two weeks, and then report on their experiences through the podcast. It’s extremely honest and funny, and they often share personal recordings of themselves throughout the weeks trying various things from the books and discussing everything with their respective spouses. Things get REAL from time to time, but overall it’s really fun and then at the end they give their verdict on whether or not they would recommend the book. Every other episode highlights listener feedback from the main episode. FREQUENCY: Thursdays FAVORITE EPISODE: The Five Love Languages
GETTING TO KNOW PEOPLE
– Obviously Katie Couric is a champ at interviewing people. In her podcast she talks to people with the help of her cohost and coproducer, Brian. They have a very cute dynamic together and it brings that casual intimacy that makes me love podcasts to this show. If you like interview format shows, then this is a great one. FREQUENCY: Thursdays FAVORITE EPISODE: Wonder Woman: Amy Schumer
– If you didn’t listen to Making Oprah, DO THAT RIGHT NOW. It’s in the same feed as this one. Making Oprah is one of my favorite podcast series of all time, so I was over the moon when I found out that Obama would be their next subject. These episodes are taking us through the rise of Obama BEFORE his presidency. The show is only partially released so far, but I’m loving it and I can’t wait to learn more about that part of his life.
– Guys I have a confession … I’m pretty sure I enjoyed this podcast from the creators of Serial MORE than Serial. It’s completely different, though. This show starts as one story and takes you in an entirely different direction, which is exactly what happened to the reporter. The journalist from this show brings the same human quality to the podcast as Michael Barbaro does to The Daily (see above). I would describe it as a story about people, and it just sucks you in. And, the best part about it might be the original score.
Illustration at top created with Illustrator.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.
Welcome to Part Two of my European travel recap! Part One featured the London portion of our trip. If you read that one, then you know our friends Niall and Loren came to spend the last day in London with us. The next part of our journey was to go back to Wales with them to Niall’s house, and then from there we took a train to Salisbury, England, which was where we were staying for the main event: the wedding at Stonehenge! I’ll take you through each part separately from here, so keep scrolling for specific details about each place.
We only had a day and a half in Wales, so it was fast and furious. We stayed with Niall and Loren at his mom’s house in Llandudno (<< please don’t ask me how to pronounce that). Since I was with three conceptual photographers and we were in the most GORGEOUS landscape, we went on a photo shoot. I was happy to tag along, and even took some more traditional photos of my own. I also modeled for some other photos for people (here’s one that I modeled in for Loren).
We ended the photo shoot portion of the day by climbing a mountain filled with purple wildflowers. Robert convinced me to put on a pink dress Loren had brought with her so I could model for him there. If you know Robert, you’ll recognize that this is probably the most important thing I ever could have done for him. Because I love him and because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity (just LOOK at these pictures), I changed into a dress on top of a mountain and then posed barefoot for 45 minutes in the cold and extreme wind. I literally almost blew away at one point when the wind caught my skirt between my legs and Robert had to steady me so I wouldn’t fly away. The pictures turned out super well, so it was a success. (Loren took some too, which you can see here and here.) I felt like I was fulfilling a Pride and Prejudice fantasy. AND – Robert also has a blog post out today featuring a couple of the photos he took of me.
In addition to the photo shoot, we also had a proper afternoon tea with Niall’s dad at a castle/mansion kind of place. Later we went to dinner with Niall’s extended family, which was so much fun. His family reminded me of my own in the way they tell stories and joke with each other. (Except his brother and sister-in-law live in a fairytale cottage in Wales – You should see these little back roads; the streets have walls made of enormous hedges.) Niall also took us to an awesome hipster coffee shop (twice) where I had the best porridge of my life. You know I’m mostly anywhere for the food. (Although I was definitely also there for the landscapes in Wales. OMG.)
Below you’ll find the details about our food stops in Wales:
What we ate: barbecue pulled pork with “barbecue pit beans,” fries, coleslaw, mac n cheese
This place was hilarious so I had to include it. We arrived in Wales around 9pm, so there weren’t a whole lot of places open for dinner. Niall felt bad for bringing us here but I’m so glad he did. I love that the tagline for this restaurant was “The Southern Tastes of America” – but it was pretty spot-on. The food was good and it did feel weirdly like being in America, except for the accent of our waitress. And I’m always happy to eat pulled pork with coleslaw and mac n cheese.
What I ate: smashed avocado on toast with poached egg, bacon bits, goat cheese, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, balsamic drizzle
This was a cute little cafe where we ate breakfast. It reminded me of the kind of place where my parents would eat breakfast every weekend if it was in our town. Very welcoming and bright with a local vibe, and right near the ocean, so that was a plus.
What I ate the first time: a cortado + a slice of dark cherry and marzipan sponge cake What I ate the second time: a chai latte + “pimped up porridge” (soaked oats, brown sugar, omega seed mix, chopped mixed nuts, fruit of the day, yogurt, honey) + salted caramel bubbles (a Twix-like treat with milk chocolate, shortbread and caramel)
This is Niall’s favorite coffee shop and it became our favorite place as well. All of the baked goods were amazing (and so was my cortado), their chai lattes actually made me like chai lattes and probably ruined me forever because it was the best one in the world, and same goes for the porridge – it helped me realize what a bowl of oatmeal could actually be and now I need to try to recreate it at home. If you’re in the area, get yourself to this coffee shop asap.
What we ate: English Breakfast tea + tea sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, jam, desserts, etc.
Niall’s dad treated us to this lovely afternoon tea spread at this mansion place … On their website they refer to it as a “country house.” We had the library to ourselves for our tea, and we drank our fill of English Breakfast while gorging on all of the treats they prepared for us. It was like something out of a movie. And then afterwards we walked the gorgeous grounds and took some photos. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
This was the Italian restaurant where we ate dinner with Niall’s family. It was a small, quiet place with a retro vibe where we felt free to hang out and enjoy some good food while we spent time together. The staff was extremely friendly and even boxed up most of my huge portion of carbonara, which was very sweet. (A lot of European places don’t give doggy bags, but they were excited to tell me that they “do take away!”) It seemed like the kind of place that likes to take care of its regular customers.
Salisbury is the small, very old town where we stayed during the duration of the wedding stuff. From there it’s only a 15-20 minute taxi ride to Stonehenge. During our three-night stay we were in two different Airbnbs. One was right off of the town square and the other one was about 1/4 mile from the square. They were both “private rooms” in beautiful old homes and both hosts were so incredibly nice and helpful. The people in England are seriously the friendliest. Our one host even called and arranged for all of our taxis related to the wedding. If you need recommendations, please email me and I’ll hook you up with our hosts because they were amazing and definitely earned their 5 stars. They both offered tea and light breakfast in the morning as well as great restaurant recommendations and whatnot. It was definitely our best Airbnb experience to date.
As much as I love bigger cities like London or Paris, I REALLY LOVE visiting smaller towns like Salisbury where you can get very familiar with it in a short amount of time. It reminded me of St. Malo from our honeymoon. (Actually, Bruges was even more like St. Malo – recap of that coming later.) Salisbury has a cute town square with super old pubs (like from the 1300-1500s), and the town is known for its cathedral from the 1200s, which was absolutely mind-blowing. There is a cute “town path” that led out of the city a little bit, where you could walk along a little stream past fields of sheep. It was another Pride and Prejudice moment for me – I felt like Lizzie walking to visit Jane when she’s sick at Netherfield. With the grass and sheep everywhere plus the cathedral in the distance … I loved it so much.
Out of every country I’ve ever visited (and I felt it especially on this trip since we technically visited four different countries), I’ve never felt a kinship to anywhere like I felt to England. I could feel it in my BONES that my family comes from there, and I felt it the most when we walked along the Salisbury town path. The trees, the grass, the architecture, the climate … It was a very strange feeling, but so pronounced: a sense of belonging. If you look at my family tree, I’m a mixture of Irish, English, Scottish, German and Swedish. Of all the countries I’ve visited so far in my life (Italy, France, England, Wales, The Netherlands and Belgium), England is the only place I’ve been so far where I have heritage, and it’s the only place I felt that sensation of kinship. It was not at all something I was expecting to experience, and it kind of washed over me without warning. Now I’m especially dying to visit Ireland, but we’re visiting Germany in March so I’m interested to see if I feel something similar there. Have any of you ever felt that way when visiting a country of your heritage? I think it’s so fascinating!
I think it’s partly for that reason that I especially loved Salisbury (in addition to London). Below you can find all of our foodie stops from that cute town:
What we drank: William Elegant (gin) with apple and Fevertree elderflower tonic, Beachcomber zesty golden ale What we ate: Bertinet breads, balsamic, olive oil, salted butter, the Chalcedon Farm Burger (HSB Gouda, Mrs. Owton’s bacon, gem lettuce, tomato, red onion, gherkin, challah bun, fries), olive oil gnocchi (Laverstoke mozzarella, peas, shallots, broccoli, pine nut pesto)
A recommendation from our Airbnb host, Ox Row Inn is one of the older pubs in town (from the 16th century) and is situated right on the market square. They had a whole menu of gin and tonic pairings, so I figured I would go that route even though I’m not always the biggest fan of gin and tonics. The one I had here, however, was AMAZING. It turns out in England they know how to do their gin and tonics. I’ve been meaning to order myself some of that Fevertree elderflower tonic ever since we got home. The food was also great (and we were SO hungry that night) – we were a little skeptical of ordering gnocchi there, but it was what we were in the mood for at the time so we went for it. It was probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever had. I highly recommend this place!
BREAKFAST: mocha, vegetarian breakfast (grilled tomato, field mushroom, falafel, wood-roasted peppers, fried potatoes, baked beans, eggs with toast), Rather Elegant Brunch (bacon and avocado with herbed spring onion and chive rosti, baby kale, fire-roasted tomatoes, sundried tomato dressing on the side, topped with a poached egg and pumpkin seeds)
TEATIME TIPPLE: crispy macaroni cheese balls with BBQ mayo, pigs in blankets in a sticky cider & honey mustard glaze, beef and pork meatballs in a rich tomato and red wine sauce, burnt orange and vanilla sour (Evan Williams bourbon with Solerno blood orange liqueur, marmalade, orange bitters and lemon juice, candied orange wedge and mint), English Garden (Hendrick’s gin, pressed apple juice and elderflower over ice, finished with cucumber), passion fruit mojito, Pimm’s Cup (Gosling’s rum, made with a banana and ginger ale twist)
POST-WEDDING: maple and pecan old fashioned (Bulleit bourbon infused with chocolate bitters, toasted pecans and maple syrup), Pina Colada, crayfish pappardelle (with fire roasted and cherry tomatoes, basil and parmesan in a lobster and prosecco sauce), roasted beetroot and goat cheese salad (with butternut squash, baby kale, edamame, and a balsamic and honey dressing)
We loved this place so much we went three times! We ended up there our first morning because it was one of the only places serving breakfast/brunch at the time. (I think it was a Sunday morning so a lot of places were closed.) While eating breakfast we saw they had a fun “teatime tipple” special (like a happy hour), so we made plans to come back later. That was one of our favorite moments in Salisbury – drinking good cocktails, snacking and playing Scrabble together. After the wedding, no one had really made plans for dinner so Robert’s cousin asked us to recommend somewhere in town. We knew the Cosy Club had great food, a varied menu and lots of space, so it worked out perfectly for a post-wedding meal. Everyone loved it and they were able to accommodate our group of about 17 people. I was a BIG fan of the cocktails here.
What we ate: spring rolls, apple and elderflower sponge (cupcake) made with gin, chai latte, flat white, salted caramel slice (some pastry thing), “The Sozzled Pig” (pork slowly braised in westcountry cider with fresh crisp salad and topped with apple and caramelized onion chutney)
We have a knack for stumbling on food festivals and markets on our trips. It just so happens they were having a food festival in the market square on one of our days in Salisbury. We love opportunities like that for trying lots of different things, so we did just that. We took our time wandering around and I think even came back to it once or twice throughout the day.
What we ate: Pad Khing (shredded ginger, spring onion and black mushroom stir fry), coconut rice, chicken pad thai
There are a handful of really good Thai restaurants in Salisbury, and to be honest we kind of ended up at this one because we couldn’t get into other ones. While everything we had was good, it wasn’t fantastic so I would suggest hitting up some other ones in town before settling for this one.
What I drank: a piccolo (a small flat white, like a cortado) What I ate: toasted cinnamon bun
As you probably know from my London post, I love to get a coffee bev and a pastry around mid-morning when Robert and I are traveling. It’s one of my favorite parts of our day: trying a fun new coffee shop while getting my caffeine and sugar buzz for the day. This one was great and we sat at seats by the window looking out onto the square. It was lovely. I’ve also decided that piccolos/cortados are my perfect espresso-based beverage: not too milky, not too bitter, and they’re the perfect size.
What we ate: butternut squash and fennel salad with citrus dressing; duck pate with chutney and bread; local venison sausages with mash, roots and onion gravy
This is the oldest restaurant in Salisbury, established in 1320. Rumor has it that it’s where a bunch of the men who were working on building the cathedral spire used to live and eat at the time. There’s soooo much history in this place: a mummified hand in an old bread oven (from a man who cheated at a card game), marble floor tiles originally from the cathedral, and ceiling beams older than the building itself which came from an old ship, just to name a few interesting tidbits. You could also tell how old it was by how crooked the floors were. We loved it here and had a great lunch. We obviously had to get venison, and it was fantastic. We also ended up here after the wedding with a few people to get drinks at the bar.
What we ate: apple strudel slice, raspberry dodger
We stopped at this bakery on the square one day for my afternoon pastry fix. It was hard to pick from all of the options, but both of ours were good choices. Man, I miss having access to European pastry shops in the afternoon.
Now for the main event! The whole reason this trip came about for us is that Robert’s cousin, James, was getting married to his lovely partner of several years, Kara, at Stonehenge. Somehow they learned you could get married there – IN the actual circle (a lot of the locals apparently didn’t even know this was a thing), and they knew right away it was a perfect fit for them to tie the knot. (And it truly is perfect for the two of them.) They asked Robert to come along and photograph it for them. Obviously I was going to come along, so I offered to bring my camera as well and act as Robert’s second shooter for the wedding.
When you get married there, you’re only allowed a certain number of people as guests (about 15), so we were extremely lucky to be among the few who were able to witness the event. They’re very strict about it – James and Kara had to jump through quite a few hoops to make this happen – and you only have an hour in the circle (that includes the ceremony + photo time). There’s actually a chance you may not be able to do this anymore; apparently they’ve had some issues in the past, so we may have been at one of the last weddings to ever be held there.
Needless to say, it was an incredible experience. It was super windy, but we lucked out because we didn’t have to deal with any rain. Robert and I were so focused on getting the photos that it was kind of hard to take it all in when we were there. Thankfully in one slower moment I was able to grab one of the other guests to take our picture. It didn’t really hit us until afterwards what we had just done. We are so grateful to James and Kara for inviting us to their special day, and it provided the perfect impetus for us to plan this amazing two-week trip we took together. As you can see from the wedding photos, it was pretty wild.
As I was perfecting the recipe for my single serving (vegan) chocolate chip cookie, I hit a point where I realized, “This is so good, it would be amazing if I could make a whole batch of cookies like this.” It was a bit of a lightbulb moment: now that I had successfully engineered a single serving cookie recipe, I now wanted to reverse-engineer that recipe and scale it UP to a full batch. Thanks to the simplicity of the original recipe, I figured it should be pretty easy to scale up and extremely easy to make, just like the single serving version. Stir together dry ingredients, stir together wet ingredients, combine them, scoop into cookies and bake. Easy-peasy. It would be the kind of recipe you can whip up on a weeknight because you feel like it, or last minute for a party, and bonus points because it’s VEGAN. Once I had this idea in my head I couldn’t let it go.
So I did some research and some math (I love this part), and I typed up a scaled version (roughly multiplied by 12). I gave it a shot and they turned out perfectly on the first try. (Shout-out to research and my math nerdiness.) I was sooooo excited. They even stay moist remarkably well, for like a solid 3 or 4 days. (My original non-vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe starts to go downhill after 48 hours.) I sent the recipe over to my resident vegan blogging BFF and recipe-tester, Abby from Heart of a Baker. She has since made them like five times because they’re so easy but also because her coworkers and non-vegan husband love them. (Thanks Abby!)
I had been getting a little worried that I’d become so used to my single serving cookie that even though I loved it, some people might find it odd, especially as a full-blown batch of cookies. So I was very encouraged by the reviews from Abby. My parents also loved them, and Robert got mad at me for making them, which translates to: he likes them too much to have around as a temptation. My coworkers even gobbled them up – one of them said to me after eating one, “Sara what WAS that; it was so good!” I especially enjoyed letting them eat the cookies before breaking the news that it was a vegan recipe. They were definitely not expecting that.
So that’s how I accidentally came up with my ultimate vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. It’s surprisingly similar to my original “ultimate” cookie in texture and flavor, especially for a vegan cookie versus one with brown butter. They’re not exactly the same, of course, but they both have the crispier edges with a chewier interior that I love. These vegan ones are smaller and a little thinner, but they still have the toffee/caramel notes I go for thanks to coconut sugar, dark brown sugar, vanilla and olive oil. And it obviously has that salty-sweet factor going on since I top them with my flaky vanilla salt, just like my originals. I guess my initial chocolate chip cookie experiment really helped me to figure out what I want from a chocolate chip cookie. I know what I like!
If you’re vegan or non-vegan or maybe just avoiding dairy, I hope you give this (super easy) recipe a try. I love having it in my back pocket for last-minute cookie needs, or at least for when I need a bigger batch than the single serving option. (By the way, you should try that too if you haven’t already.) I also like to convince myself that the amount of olive oil in these cookies means they’re good for your cholesterol. I hope you love them as much as I do!
Illustration at top created with pencil and Photoshop.
Prints of my illustrations (plus other products with my work on them) are available in my Society6 shop.
1½ cups (267g) chocolate chips (make sure they're vegan if you're trying to be vegan)
¾ cup (140g) coconut sugar
¾ cup (153g) dark brown sugar
¾ cup olive oil
⅓ cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
flaky salt for topping (preferably vanilla flaky salt - see note)
Heat your oven to 350°F. Prep one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, flaxseed meal, kosher salt and baking soda. Add the chocolate chips and toss to coat.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the coconut sugar, dark brown sugar, olive oil, water and vanilla until it is emulsified. It will take a minute or two, but just be patient and then all of a sudden it will come together.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and use a spatula to combine until there are no more visible streaks of flour.
Using a medium cookie scoop, place 12 scoops of dough onto your parchment lined baking sheet, 1-2 inches apart. Top each dough mound with a little sprinkle of flaky salt.
Bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges are just starting to brown.
Let them rest on the cookie sheet for three minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool.
Repeat with the rest of the dough. Enjoy!
To make your own flaky vanilla salt, just mix some "caviar" from vanilla beans with some flaky sea salt, like Maldon. I use 2-3 beans for about ⅓ cup of salt. It'll keep in your pantry forever (but you're gonna start using it on all of your cookies, I promise).