a night out at union station

After all our travel in August, we are trying to settle back in at home and "get ready" for our baby boy who is slated to arrive sometime around Halloween. There's painting to do, a few furniture pieces to buy, and lots of other misc tasks we "need" to get done. Also high on the priority list is squeezing in a few nights out. Last weekend, we headed to Union Station to check it out. If you live in Denver, you know exactly what I'm talking about, but for those of you from elsewhere: the historic downtown railway station re-opened in July 2014 after many years of redevelopment. The "new" station is a hub for bus, train, and light rail lines, but also includes several restaurants, bars, and retail establishments. There's a great article on the project here.

We didn't have a reservation anywhere for dinner, but of course wanted to first give Stoic & Genuine a try.  It's opening earlier this summer was arguably one of the "most anticipated" in Denver in a while, and seeing what "the best" fresh seafood in a land locked state tastes like seemed like something we needed to do (although, given my pregnant state, it wasn't exactly the best time to go to a seafood place, but oh well).

We lucked out and right away got two seats at the bar, which gave us a chance to taste the food and check out the scene, although perhaps not the same experience in terms of service. The drinks and food were indeed impressive, but our service was a bit lacking. The bartender helping us seemed a bit aloof and when we asked a few questions about the menu the answers we received were short and perhaps a tad condescending. But nevermind that tiny complaint. The food was stellar! To start, I had the grilled sardine with lemon pureé, fennel, and pinenuts. It was quite a generous amount of fish for $6, and the grill and seasoning was perfect. I also had one of their specials: a dungeness crab and mango salad which was phenomenal. It was pricier ($17) but totally worth it. Dan tried some west coast oysters which didn't disappoint (we love you Puget Sound) and a tuna crudo.

The seafood was indeed quite fresh. (Although we did take a few seconds to acknowledge the environmentally unconscious nature of our eating choices that night.) The preparation was impeccable. The menu was a bit difficult to take in: they had three different pieces of paper for us to read, which seemed a bit excessive. There were also "sauces" listed on the menu without prices nor guidance on how to apply them to the dishes (this was one question our serve didn't/couldn't answer well). Also of note, the clientele seemed a notch fancier than what I typically see out and about at Denver's trendiest restaurants. Perhaps that's the Union Station vibe?

The station itself was definitely happenin'. In the main terminal is the Terminal Bar, which has seating inside, on a patio, and also offers drinks "to go" that you can then sip while sitting in the station's main lounge. The grand hall is outfitted with new, vintage-style furniture which I can only presume is on point for a certain chosen decade. There are lots of cozy sitting areas, and in the center there are two shufflepuck tables that apparently you can play for free. Fun!

Before we left, we hit up Milkbox Ice Creamery for some salted oreo (they serve Little Man) and enjoyed the outdoor fountains. It was a beautiful summer night.

I was so happy we finally had a chance go check out the scene down there (always a bit late to the party these days). In the station itself, you can easily see that the redevelopment project has resulted in a space that's trendy and new, while preserving the historic character of the building. As for actual transportation, I've read that the number of passengers coming and going on bus, light rail, and train are increasing every month. But still, being there on a Saturday night, I couldn't help but feel slightly odd as I saw people like me drinking martinis on wooden benches who had likely driven there and parked in a parking garage (like me also, although we found a street spot for cheaper!). The nature of cities and transit have unquestionably changed so much in the last fifty years, and although we're trying to bring it back, it often feels like an uphill battle. Sure, people will come for a drink and a great dinner, but will they stop to have a drink before they get on the bus or train hope? Will I? I hope so.

a weird but wonderful weekend

This weekend was odd. Lots of fun moments, but some awful ones as well.

Friday night we met up with friends at our local nanobrewery. It was great fun, but in bed a few hours later, I did not feel good. I thought to myself, could it really be two beers making me feel like this?

The next morning, we got up early and battled the traffic on 70 (ugh) to snowshoe at Lily Pad Lake trail (thanks for the great recommendation, Megan!). It was an absolutely perfect day to be outside. Blue sky; not too cold. But midway through our hike, I wasn't feeling so hot. The altitude? Once we were done, I felt worse, but thought maybe I just needed some lunch. Nope, that wasn't it, either. I spent the rest of Saturday in bed. Not fun.

On Sunday, things looked up a bit, and we took advantage of another beautiful Denver day by taking a family bike ride. We are so excited to have a new bike seat for Willa! And we finally found a helmet for her as well, so we were good to go. [Side rant: finding a helmet for a toddler is not easy. Apparently the more simple you want the helmet to be, the more you have to pay. The cheap ones at Target have Minnie Mouse, Dora, or some other sparkly princess on them. Or cars or superman. Ugh. And the nice, not ridiculous, gender neutral ones are $60. We probably would have splurged on that one, but we didn't want to wait for shipping, so we settled on this one from REI. It still has monkeys on it (not to mention skulls and crossbones!?), but at least it's gender neutral? And, also, why must a bike helmet be so gendered? Triple ugh.]

We ended the weekend with Char Kuih Kak for dinner, and of course, Downton! And thankfully, I'm feeling all better today. Here's to a good week!

P.S. As you'll note in one picture above, a 19-month old is not always super keen on something like snowshoeing. She was flailing and annoyed until she finally took a little snooze. Then, later, she had another moment of ruining the peace and quiet...I think she must have gotten cold. Just wanted to make this known, lest you think my toddler was somehow a non-crier, which is what I always tend to think when I see pictures of peoples' happy kids on their blogs.

the source

A couple of years ago in Seattle, Melrose Market opened on Capitol Hill. It was pretty darn awesome, but not that notably unique for Seattle's food scene. Several food purveyors and restaurateurs devoted to all things artisanal opened up in a building that was formerly an auto-repair shop. Locally-focused, trendy, and so Seattle, I of course loved it. My favorite Seattle restaurant, Sitka & Spruce was one of the main features of the market (it'd relocated from its previous space by Lake Union), and Dan and I went there for our first night out after Willa was born.

Since moving to Denver, I've missed Seattle's food culture. And places like Melrose Market. But Denver continues to surprise me, and months ago I was estatic to hear news of The Source. When I read about the project, I knew it'd be very similiar to Melrose. I've been dying to check it out for the past few months, and I finally got there the other day. My sister was still in town (which was awesome) and I thought The Source would be a fun place to spend a few hours. And thankfully, but not surprisingly, it was.

The Source does, indeed, have all the same fantastic traits as Melrose, but with a Denver flair. In a converted factory building-- it's BIG. There's apparently room for 25 vendors, but the dozen or so that currently occupy the space already offer up a great deal. It was kind of an amusment park for people who love food. Coffee! Fresh bread! Meats! Beer! Kombucha! All local. All delicious. And actually, shockingly, all reasonably priced.

^^lunch at acorn^^

^^high five from the butcher!^^

^^these photos make me so happy. it was such a lovely morning; family and food. good times. we'll definitely be back. often.^^

been celebrating my birthday...

Last week, I turned 30! That's right folks, I'm in my 30s. Watch out. People have asked how I feel about it, and honestly I haven't felt much. I mean, excited of course. A bit proud too I think, because 30 just feels more accomplished, like I'm actually an adult now. I have heard rumors that your 30s are the best decade, so here's to that! But mostly I just like a reason to spend time with the people I love to celebrate and to eat cake. Thankfully, I have a lot of fantastic people who love me and want to celebrate with me, and who have been providing me with cake. This birthday has brought not just one, but three celebrations! Seems fitting, right? A celebration for each decade I've been me! This post is about celebration numbero uno. With my parents! Since they knew I'd be out of town for my birthday because of Thanksgiving, Willa and I took a trip up to Fort Collins earlier in the week to spend time with them and to par-tay.

^^ in the afternoon we visited an awesome park, and willa had a ball running down the hills. she fell forward a few time and caught air before crashing onto her face, but luckily the grass was nice and soft! ^^

^^ my mom made us a delicious dinner: fish taco rice bowls. like chipotle, which we both love, but better. ^^

^^ after dinner, it was time for the girls to hit the town. the big girls, that is. my mom wanted to show me some of her favorite places in fort collins, so we started with social. it was super hip. you know: reclaimed wood, steel, mustachioed bartenders (although that might just have been because it was november), and exposed lightbulbs. all things i like. the entrance was a bit hidden, with only this small sign, so you felt like you were stumbling upon a secret place. (pretty sure that's what they're going for. but it works.) ^^

^^ this is a S.S.B.S. (strawberry-saffron basil shrub). saffron infused gin, fresh lemon, strawberries, basil, honey syrup, and balsamic vinegar. the waitress highly recommended it as one of their most popular drinks. it was quite good, but actually a bit bland i found despite the ingredient list. i prefered my first drink: a hendrick's martini with a twist.^^

^^ we ended the night at cafe vino. sitting at the bar, we chatted with a bartender my parents have gotten to know. he makes a delicious gimlet. he also was kind enough to bring out this chocolate cake. cafe vino also has duchesse de bourgogne on draft. i love the duchesse. and my mom knows that. it was a great night! (but we did miss my sister. a whole lot.) ^^


On Saturday afternoon, we hit up Local 46 for their first annual Oktoberfest.

Who doesn't like an Oktoberfest celebration? I can be a naysayer about many things, but even I can't find anything wrong with celebrating the coming of fall with beer and brats, friends and music.

We got there around 5:15pm, and the festivities were in full swing. There were kids everywhere. It was most definitely a "family-friendly" event, but there were several childless groups as well. The event was to benefit Centennial Elementary, so it was great to see so many local kids running around. So much great energy!

Local 46 was serving a variety of superb fall beers, including some from Prost Brewing, a Denver microbrewery that specializes in German beers. I first tried their flagship beer, a German Pilsner, which was very drinkable and perfect for a late summer afternoon. I have to try some of their other beers at some point - looks like they have lots of good ones. To go along with the beer, they were serving Continental Sausages -- we tried an elk sausage and a smoked sausage. Both were delicious, but the buns they were served on were not. Why is it, when serving food, someone decides to take a great item and put it together with a mediocre one? Not smart. But minus the buns, they were quite enjoyable.

Willa's favorite part of the event was the bocce court. She kept making her way over there, even if there was a game going on. And I couldn't believe how well she lifted up those bocce balls. She's getting strong. Someday we'll play bocce together for real. But in the meantime, we did some dancing and work on her jumping. She's determined to get her feet off the ground, but hasn't had any success yet.

If you missed Oktoberfest, just go check out Local 46's biergarten when you have a chance. It's a fantastic outdoor space for lounging, laughing, and enjoying a beer with family or friends.

Lastly but not least, I want to wish my Dad a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY! A post about Oktoberfest is not not fitting, so I am dedicating this one to him. Love you, Dad! Cheers!

spring drinks

Today is my sister’s birthday. Some might know today as Cinco de Mayo, but seriously people, how many of you can tell me the meaning of the holiday? Googling it today taught me it's an American Civil War holiday, but I'm still not convinced it's a necessary festivity. But I might just be being stubborn since I have more important things to celebrate on May 5th. But either way, today does come at a time of the year when everyone is anxious to throw off the winter blues and bust out with some spring cheer. In most some parts of the country, the sun has peaked out and temperatures have risen. Here in Seattle, we have some glimmers of spring, but not much yet. It’s coming though. We can taste it. I plan to be fully prepared for evenings on the deck celebrating a multitude of events, big and small. There are several drinks I look forward to having in my glass as I raise it for a toast, and one of them just might be enjoyed tonight. To wish my sister a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

tried and true & some to try

Gimlet Soda.
4 oz. vodka
2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
~1/2t agave nectar
top with seltzer or club soda

Vinho Verde.
Traditionally (always?) from Portugal, Vinho Verde wine is light and refreshing, with a lower alcohol content than many other white wines. It’s usually relatively cheap – I like the Broadbent Vihno Verde which is less than $10.

Skinnygirl margarita.
For a long time I thought I hated margaritas. Turns out I just hate José Cuervo margarita mix. And all other mixes for that matter. But, Skinnygirl, the brainchild of BravoTV star Bethenny Frankel, is different. It’s a classy margarita in a wine bottle – really just tequila with some lime juice and agave. A bit hard to find in Seattle, but it’s readily available on the east coast, and absolutely delicious. (I have some on hand because my sister sent it to me. Have I mentioned she's the greatest?)

Boozy Cucumber Cooler.
Shutterbean created a boozed-up verison of a drink from Heidi Swanson’s new cookbook Super Natural Everyday.

Salud. ; )

bainbridge island

In our nearly three years in Seattle, we've been lucky enough to have a good number of loved ones come visit. One of my go-to activities is to take the ferry from downtown to Bainbridge Island for brunch.

I love grabbing a coffee at Starbucks on the corner of 1st & Marion before walking down the walkway to the terminal, buying a $5 round trip ticket from the electronic kiosk and then walking aboard the ferry. The views of downtown never disappoint, and within 35 minutes (just about the time you realize you're freezing), the boat docks. After disembarking (I love that word, fyi.), it's a short 5 minute walk into the town of Winslow, where all the stores and restaurants are easily accessibly along Winslow Way for browsing and strolling.But the thing is, if it's a weekend, and you're heading to Cafe Nola, which is where you'd be crazy not to be heading, chances are you're not the only one. Awhile back, Giada De Laurentiis did a weekend guide of where to eat in Seattle on the Food Network. To be fair, she's the one that deserves the credit for the brilliant Bainbridge Island brunch trip. But, anyway, whether it's because of Giada or just good marketing and word of mouth, lots of Seattleites head to Cafe Nola for brunch. So when you get off the ferry you have to hustle. I invariably am annoying my companions by insisting we speed walk. "Hurry!" They always thank me. Because we get to Cafe Nola and get one of the last open tables, and we're enjoying our amazing bloody marys while the other suckers are loitering in the entryway waiting for a table. Brunch at Cafe Nola is devine. Their bloody marys are fantastic; the kind with a garden growing upwards out of them. They have different variations to choose from too, like one with beef juice dripped in. I always go classic though. And as far as food goes, it's all good. But the must-order here is the Carmel Pecan French Toast. It is life changing. I promise. It comes with orange bourbon butter. Don't waste any time being indecisive. Just order it. You won't be disappointed. Especially after running from the ferry dock.

This past week, my dearest friend Alli was in town for a visit. We really wanted to take a ferry somewhere, so Bainbridge was the natural choice. But, it wasn't the weekend. That meant having brunch at Cafe Nola was not an option. We decided to head there anyway (not walking as fast off the ferry though), and arrived around 2pm. Our friendly waitress popped up to our booth with "Hi! Would you like a Guiness!?" Huh? "In honor of St. Patrick's Day!" Oh. No thanks. We instead looked at the menu. $1 PBRs!!?! You're kidding me. "You basically lose money if you don't order one," advises our server. We'll have two. Lunch food was delicious. We had an arugula salad with roasted squash, blue cheese, and lemon caper vinaigrette accompanied by the more indulgent bacon wrapped chorizo stuffed dates. Yum. But the real clincher was the $1 PBRs. It wasn't like they brought out the can from the back room. They poured them into the coolest high ball glasses. (It kind of made me want to get some of the same glasses. Until Alli reminded me I have way too many glasses already.) Duly noted: lunch at Cafe Nola is just as amazing as brunch.

Another advantage to the afternoon trip to Bainbridge, we discovered, is wine tasting. Apparently Bainbridge has a growing wine scene, with 8 wineries on the island. We ventured into eleven, where the friendly sommelier Kevin got our tasting started. There are a few other tasting rooms within steps of the ferry (see this guide from Sunset magazine) and I'm sure they're all nice, but I recommend eleven. The wine was impressive, the prices reasonable, and Kevin provided fantastic service.

We opted to taste all 9 of the available wines (at $1 a taste, why not?!). We sipped away while Kevin told us about the winery, where they source their grapes (all from Eastern Washington except those that make their Pinot Gris port), and life living on Bainbridge. The wine was really good. My favorites were their Pinot Grigio and a red blend called La Ronde (65% Malbec, 28% Syrah, and 7% Petit Verdot). Alli treated me to a bottle of the Pinot Grigio and I bought a bottle of the Sweet Sarah port, so we have two bottles of Bainbridge wine to enjoy at some point this spring. Moral of the story is this: if you live in Seattle or come to Seattle, make the day trip to Bainbridge Island. While there, eat at Cafe Nola. After some delicious fare, there are many other fun things to explore - one of which is wine tasting!


restaurants i wish i could fly to

Earlier this month, the New York Times ran an intriguing article: 10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride. I must admit, I haven't been to any of them, although one happens to not require a plane ride for me (just a ferry) and another is within affordable striking distance. Reading the article of course got these restaurants on my radar, but mostly it got me to thinking about what restaurants I wish I could fly to from time to time. I'm certain I'm omitting many delicious eating experiences I've had, but here are the places I can't seem to stop missing despite the innumerable delicious Seattle eating establishments:

THE MIDDLEBURY BAGEL DELI - Middlebury, VT I feel pretty strongly that you haven't truly experienced a breakfast sandwich until you've had a bagel-egger from the Bagel Deli: Best. Breakfast. Sandwich. Ever. My preferred order is a bagel egger on poppy seed with bacon and cheddar. Their self service coffee is delish and the donuts make a delightful breakfast appetizer.


BLACK SHEEP BISTRO - Vergennes, VT Clearly I'm partial to this place, since it was the site of our rehearsal dinner. The atmosphere of this Vermont restaurant is both cozy and classy. The food is comforting (fry wheel!) but elegant at the same time. They change their menu regularly and are one of those great places that has a list the options by course, all with the same price. I love that. I'm bad enough with decisions as it is, let alone when I have to decide if I want the duck $4 worth more than I want the pork loin.


PLAN B - Hartford, CT You don't know what you've got till it's gone. That pretty much sums up this place for me. We went all the time when we lived in Connecticut. Burgers, beer, and bourbon. Done right. Exceptional tap list and delicious burgers chuck ground in-house daily. They've expanded to three restaurants in the Hartford area, and according to their website they'll be in Boston, DC, Atlanta, and Chicago soon. So many flight options!

1844 HOUSE - Canton, NY Not a place you'd expect to find fine dining, but this place is a gem. Great service, top-notch food, and an outstanding wine list.


MIAN KU (NOODLE LOFT) - Beijing, China With two (or three?) locations in China's capital, this is a must stop right up there with Tiananmen and the Forbidden City. We first heard about it before our 2006 trip thanks to Anthony Bourdain, and had an adventure or two trying to find it (remember, Amber!?). But it was worth all the headache, the Shanxi noodles were like none I've ever had before. They're hand-tossed at the bar. Kind of like pizza is in New York. I haven't had them in five years (thus the hankering for the plane flight to taste some noodle goodness) but word on the street is they're still going strong. (Check out this recent blog post at the tiny urban kitchen.)

CHALET LA PRICAZ - Montmin, France High atop a mountain in the alps, in July 2010, I devoured the most delicious meal I have ever eaten in France. And from a girl who gain nearly 20 lbs. as an exchange student there before college, that's saying a lot. We celebrated Bastille Day with family following a cousin's wedding at this restaurant famous for it's tartiflette.  The owners have a herd of Tarine cows, who make reblochon cheese on location (farm to table anyone?). Tartiflette is a local specialtiy where the reblochon cheese is melted over potatoes and pancetta. Most of the men at the table ate only 3/4 of their individual cast iron skillets of goodness. The ladies consumed 1/2 max. I ate my entire dish, plus the 1/4 Dan left. I don't regret it one bit. I might never have that meal again. (We were led there by our French hosts, but turns out the restaurant was raved about in the New York Times in 2007.)

Where would you fly?