Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. This past weekend we finally went to see The Martian. We both thought it was a fantastic movie.

2. Last week we watched Mad Max: Fury Road. We both thought it was one of the worst movies ever and were surprised because we seem to remember wonderful reviews last summer - ? I've never seen the other Mad Max movies; SP has. I ended up ignoring the movie and reading while SP watched but every so often, there would be some awful dialog or ridiculous action and I would start snorting and laughing. Not much of a plot, no character development, just ugh.

3. Last night at nearly 9 pm our doorbell rang. We both were surprised because we were not expecting anyone, it was 9 pm, we had no outside lights on, and the solar lights along the walkway were not shining because there wasn't any sun yesterday, I have no idea how this person safely found the front door in the dark and didn't trip over the uneven ground. It turned out to be some woman walking around the neighborhood reminding/urging people to vote next Tuesday. She tried to keep talking to SP, presumably about her candidate, but he was so annoyed to have this kind of crap at 9 pm that he cut her off and shut the door in her face.

We always vote, but the annoying political ads on TV, the littering of the landscape with signs staked into seemingly every lawn, the junk mail from candidates... and now this, visits at 9 pm. Ugh.

4. It's Halloween weekend! Since we've averaged one trick-or-treater a year for the last 7 years, we've decided to leave the lights off and hide inside (or go out somewhere). No one likes our side of the street. I see them, walking to homes on the other side, but our fairly busy street seems to keep them from crossing to our side. Bonus: we won't be eating leftover Halloween candy at Christmas. Or Valentine's. Or Easter, like we did one year.

5. This week I read The Survivor, another novel written by someone filling in for an author who passed away (Vince Flynn). Kyle Mills did a nice job and I enjoyed the book, reading it in one day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ivy Market Grill

It's been over a month since we returned from London, but it's still very much on my mind. Partly because it was such an amazing time and partly because the London photos keep scrolling through on the digital frame. One of the better meals we ate was at a place in Covent Garden called The Ivy Market Grill.

I remember it was a Monday and we had been to Windsor Castle and then St Paul's Cathedral. SP & I wanted to walk around and do some shopping but mom was tired, so she took a cab back to the hotel. Of course not long after that it got very windy, cold, and rainy. So that wasn't much fun. We ended up at Covent Garden and decided to find somewhere there to eat. We settled on The Ivy Market Grill, walked over, and were seated right away, without having a reservation, around 6 pm.

By now you're noticing the lack of photos in this post. That's because as we entered, SP saw a sign requesting no food photography. I didn't see the sign, and I see see photos posted on other sites, but SP insisted he saw the sign. So as much as I would have loved to document this delicious meal, I kept the camera tucked away and even refrained from trying to use my cell phone.

I mentioned, cold, windy, rainy, so of course we ordered hot tea, which somehow just tastes better in London. SP also enjoyed a beer, I think it was this one: Meantime Pilsner. Here's what we ate:
  • We started by sharing Heirloom Tomato Salad (crumbled feta, watermelon, black olives, mint and pomegranate dressing). Delicious!
  • I chose Market Grill Shepherd’s Pie (slow braised lamb shoulder with Keen’s Cheddar and
  • potato mash). yum! Browned cheesy potato mash atop the lamb. There were little sprigs of rosemary sticking up from the dish, like little trees in a cheesy potato desert. The lamb part was maybe a bit oily/greasy but it was quite satisfying. SP liked my meal, too, and was happy to keep helping me finish it.
  • For his meal he chose a starter which our server offered to turn into an entree portion and SP agreed: Seared Scallops (crushed garden peas, crumbled chorizo, crème fraîche and pea shoots). His scallops were very good and nicely seared (I tried a bite of one) and he really like the mushy peas and chorizo.
There are a lot of restaurants in Covent Garden, some are what I would call "fast food" and some are what I would call "fancy/pricey need a reservation and no jeans" and some are like this, good food, reasonably priced, no reservation necessary, and tourists in jeans looking damp and bedraggled are welcome. Our service were fantastic. I'd go back if we are in London again.

The Ivy Market Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 26, 2015

Atria's

We used to go to Atria's 4-5 times a year, but then the Robinson one closed, the Peters one was super crowded a couple times, the Wexford one was disappointing once, and then we just kind of lost interest. We went maybe once a year. A couple weeks ago after an appointment near the Meadows, we decided to have dinner at Atria's in Peters. We were on the early side for dinner so we were seated right away. We stared with iced tea and a bread basket and then this:
Atria’s Salad (bacon, onions, egg, cheddar jack cheese, tomatoes, croutons). It wasn't as good as I remember and there was a cold fork on the side of the plate - ? Is it possible they served me a salad another diner rejected after sampling? It looked a little dilapidated and that cold fork on the side was just so weird.
SP of course ordered Sherry Crab Bisque and said it was as tasty as he remembered.
Atria's was still offering their Oktoberfest menu, so we shared an order of Schweizer Schüblig (grilled with bacon and Swiss cheese wrapped in a puffed pastry and served with Bavarian mustard and kraut spätzle). It was OK. The sausage seemed different than the last time we had it and I didn't enjoy it as much.
But the puff pastry, bacon, Swiss, and mustard were tasty!
For his entree, SP ordered Chicken Piccata (tangy lemon sauce, smashed redskins, asparagus spears). He substituted potato pancakes for the smashed redskins. He enjoyed the chicken piccata, he loves capers, and enjoyed the potato pancakes.
I opted for Weiner Zwiebelschnitzel (tender, hand breaded veal medallions topped with crisp fried onions, grilled roma tomatoes and gravy over German potato pancakes). This was huge and I managed to eat only half, which left me a nice lunch for the next day. I always enjoy this when I order it (our once a year visit seems always to coincide with Oktoberfest at Atria's).

We ordered dessert to go, thus, no photo, because I forgot at home: Ofenfrischer Apfelstrudel (served with French vanilla ice cream). This was a yummy fall dessert.

Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Atria's, except for the strange salad, and our service was, as always, good. If there was still an Atria's close to us we'd probably go more often, butt here isn't, so you'll probably find us there again in a year, at Oktoberfest time, ordering the same Oktoberfest dishes!

Atria's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, October 23, 2015

EAT

It's Friday and it's lunch time and I am not too excited about my usual turkey on English muffin sandwich so I'm staring at photos on the computer and thinking about tastier lunches. Like the tasty sandwiches we had for lunch in London. So this is another post about a good place to grab a quick, cheap-ish lunch in London: at EAT. There are many around the city. We ate at the one near the entrance to the Tower of London. Sadly, it's not wheelchair accessible, but there are outdoor tables so I grabbed a table while SP and mom went down the steps and inside to order food.
SP had soup. I don't remember what kind. The receipt says "small bold" so that doesn't help much. Looks like some kind of chicken soup and he said it was good.
SP & I shared a Smoked Ham & Jarlsberg sandwich on wheat bread. It was tasty and filling.
My mom had Brie, Tomato, and Basil Baguette. She said it was very good but too big for her to finish for lunch.

Quick, cheap, convenient, tasty. What more do you need for lunch?


EAT. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

1. This week we made Chicken Piccata with Lemon Pasta. This is one of our favorite meals. I love the lemon flavor and the salty bite of capers.

2. This week I caved in and ate Fritos. Begged SP to buy them. I just had to have Fritos.

3. I finally started reading again. There was a long hiatus because of our vacation and then the post-vacation recovery time. This month I've read:
  • The Catch and The Doll by Taylor Stevens
  • The Girl in the Spider's Web
  • Make Me by Lee Child 
I have stack of 3 unread library books next to my chair. I'm enjoying Stevens' Vanessa Michael Munroe books, so those 2 were good. I loved the latest Jack Reacher novel. I started reading during the Steelers game and I couldn't put it down. I even read all through watching The Leftovers (which, I just kind of don't get and it's so... depressing. And confusing). Lee Child doesn't disappoint.

The Girl in the Spider's Web was good, too, and I got engrossed and couldn't put it down. I couldn't decide if I wanted to like it because I love the original trilogy or if I wanted to not like it because I feel like Larsson's estranged father & brother and his publisher are just exploiting his characters and legacy for all they're worth and not being fair to his long time partner. My dad enjoyed the book a lot, too, after being skeptical of a book based on Larsson's characters but written by someone else.

4. As for TV:
  • We gave up on Minority Report 
  • We are enjoying the new season of Fargo
  • We still have a lot of laughs watching Brooklyn Nine Nine, Modern Family, and Big Bang Theory
  • I want to quit The Leftovers but SP is undecided. He might have to watch it by himself.
  • We both are still enjoying Quantico and trying to figure out who framed Alex
  • We both are cheering madly against Green Team on Amazing Race
  • I can't wait for this Thursday's Grey's Anatomy after last week's ending!
5. A couple of the Thanksgiving issues of the magazines to which we subscribe arrived. I'm not ready for Thanksgiving! I need to get through Halloween and then my birthday and then we'll figure out Thanksgiving. But there will for sure be pumpkin pie, apple pie, and sausage stuffing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Blondies

Growing up I loved brownies. Any kind. Thin & fudgy, thick & cakey, homemade, Pillsbury, Duncan Hines, whatever. Brownies were chocolaty goodness. One day I heard of this dessert bar called a blondie. Like a brownie, but blond. Seriously? Blondies could not possibly be as good as brownies.
That was my thought, so I never, ever baked blondies. Or bought them. But as I've often said, my tastes have changed, and brownies no longer excite me. One weekend, I wanted to bake a dessert for the week, but nothing too complicated or too time consuming. Bar cookies are good for quick & easy. I consulted my recipes and cookbooks and suddenly, I wanted to make Blondies. Specifically, the Blondies in Baking Illustrated.
These ones have white and semi-sweet chocolate and pecans, but we omitted the pecans. The pecans probably add a nice flavor and a nice crunch, but it's just my personal thing against nuts in baked goods. These also do not require a stand mixer or electric mixer, just some good old fashioned elbow grease. That's what SP is for. I measured, he mixed, and then we waited. Ours baked for 30-35 minutes, longer than the recipe says, but we wanted to be sure they were done. After cooling, I used a bench scraper to cut the 13 x 9 rectangle of blondies into 24 bars.
These are gooey and buttery, sort of like a fudgy brownie is gooey. I like the two kinds of chocolate, a little bit of creaminess from white chocolate, a nice bite of chocolate from the semi-sweet chips. Lots of brown sugar flavor. I especially like the crisped edges.
These are good eaten straight form the container or reheated for a bit in the oven, which is what we did in the evenings for dessert with our evening tea. These were a hit with both of us and are definitely a make again.

Recipe here or here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prezzo (A British Bravo)

I think of Prezzo as the British equivalent of our Bravo Cucina restaurants: a sit-down, waiter service, chain Italian restaurant. There is one near Trafalgar Square, on Northumberland Avenue, so we found ourselves dining there on three occasions during our two week trip. It was within walking distance of our hotel and a reservation wasn't necessary. This location is wheelchair accessible. And finally, it was reasonably priced with decent food.
They do have beer, wine, and cocktails, but at the end of a busy day sight-seeing, I usually do not want an alcoholic beverage because it'll put my already tired self right to sleep at the table. I always ordered hot tea, an English Breakfast or Afternoon tea, with sugar and milk. SP ordered tea, too, and sometimes beer, and when my mom dined with us, she ordered wine.
One night we started with Mozzarella in Carrozza (mozzarella in breadcrumbs lightly fried with pomodoro sauce). Four good sized wedges of fried cheese with marinara sauce - yum! The cheese could have been a little hotter and gooier but it was fried, melty cheese so a win in my book.
Our first dinner there, SP & I shared a pizza and a salad. Above is the Prosciutto e Funghi Pizza (prosciutto ham, mushrooms, olives,  rosemary, mozzarella and tomato). The pizza can be ordered one of three ways: Classic, Light, and VIP. We went with Classic. Below is a special seasonal salad. It was Heirloom Tomatoes with cheese, arugula, mint, and avocado.
Both were tasty and ended up being the perfect size for the two of us to share. We ate everything and were full. The rosemary was a nice flavor with the prosciutto & mushrooms.
For my second dinner there, I ordered Chicken Milanese (with rocket, cherry tomatoes, red onion, bella lodi cheese, parsley and lemon; served with spaghetti, in either pomodoro or bolognese sauce).
The chicken milanese was huge and delicious. It was much bigger than in photo above because I started eating and it took me a while to remember to take a photo. The salad was just the right size for me. I focused on the chicken and salad, which filled me up, so I had just one bite of spaghetti and it was OK.
For both meal #2 and meal #3, SP chose Chicken Calabrese (Calabrese sausage, roquito chillies, peppers, red onion,  rosemary, spinach, and cherry tomatoes in a pomodoro sauce) and a Mixed Salad side.
He said the chicken with all the peppers and chili and spice was delicious, especially with the sausage. The mixed salad side is quite nice, it's something I ordered on our final meal there. It's lettuce, olives, tomato, cucumber, peppers, and onion.

For my third and final meal at Prezzo, I ordered Grilled Chicken Funghi (mushrooms and spinach in a marsala wine sauce) with the mixed salad. There's no photo. It was delicious. Lots of mushrooms and wilted spinach in a delicious marsala sauce.
One night for dessert we shared Salted Caramel Arctic Slice (vanilla cream, salted caramel and golden honeycomb sandwiched between two slices of light sponge). I didn't expect vanilla cream to be ice cream, I thought it would be a pastry cream. I liked the cake and caramel and honeycomb but since it was a chilly evening, I didn't much care for the ice cream part.
Another evening we shared Blood Orange Polenta Cake (topped with candied orange peel and served with raspberry coulis).
This is more of an SP dessert. I had only 2 bites because I was so full and it was just OK to me but SP thought it was fantastic, full of orange and raspberry flavors.
The night that my mom joined us for dinner, for dessert she ordered a mini dessert: Vanilla Cheesecake (with fresh raspberries and raspberry coulis or salted caramel sauce) and a hot beverage. She chose raspberry coulis and cappuccino.
This, too, was quite good. It was a very nice mini size, perfectly fine for sharing if you want only a few bites of dessert, which she did, or if you wanted a small dessert all to yourself.

Overall, we quite enjoyed our three meals at Prezzo. The staff were always helpful in opening the wheelchair door and accommodating our requests (no garlic and salad before entree). We were always seated right away, no fuss with a reservation or long wait time, asked if the table was OK for us, and we left feeling full and happy. Plus, it was so darn close to the hotel so it was super convenient. I think on our second dinner, SP was served the wrong entree, but he pointed it out right away, they apologized and quickly brought him the correct entree. A problem, yes, but one that was quickly corrected and he had his salad to munch on while it was corrected.

Another solid suggestion if you're visiting London and not sure where to eat. I'm a little surprised at some reviews I read because we found service to be quite good, we were able to relax and linger, the portions were on the large side but not too large and the food was good. As I said, a British version of Bravo Cucina.

Prezzo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cafe Io

Dinner this past Saturday was easily decided thanks to Alex at everybody loves you.... Friday evening he Instagrammed photos from Cafe Io. The food looked yummy, it's a new-to-us place that has been on my "To Try" list for a very long time (but I never seem to remember it when we're debating where to go for dinner), and it's not in the city, it's in Mt. Lebanon on Beverly Rd. So when Saturday came and we were done with our errands and chores and afternoon appointment and the "Where do you want to eat dinner?" debate began, I was ready with an answer: Cafe Io.

There is street parking on Beverly Rd in front of the cafe, but we parked in a metered lot behind where Bado's and Scoops on Beverly and Party Cake (love their donuts) are located and walked over to Cafe Io. We arrived a bit before 6 pm and were seated right away at a table for two in the very front in a nook bordered on 2 sides by windows. It was sort of separate from the busy restaurant and quite cozy and private. Plus, natural light for cell phone photos, and then a nice bright bright street light came on and shone in, helping with light for photos!
We both ordered iced tea to drink and it was very good fresh brewed iced tea. SP started with a cup of French Mushroom Soup (mushrooms, onions, house made croutons, parmesan cheese, mushroom broth). Even though I like mushrooms, I find mushroom soup too much of tasty, earthy thing. SP loves it, and he said this was delicious, earthy and mushroomy with large croutons soaking up the broth and parmesan cheese slowly melting on top.
We shared the Crispy Parmesan Polenta (San Marzano tomato sauce, shaved parmesan cheese), I really, really liked this. The polenta was crisp on the outside and so creamy on the inside, and the tomato sauce was so darn good. Fresh basil and slices of parmesan are always welcome. This was one of those appetizers that I regret agreeing to share with SP. I mean, I love SP, but... I wanted the whole thing. But I shared and he agreed that it was excellent.
We also shared a small House Salad (organic mixed greens, grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber, shaved carrots, crispy onions, balsamic vinaigrette). I liked the crispy onions on top and the peels of carrots. The salad was nicely dressed and the greens crisp.
For his meal, SP chose a special of the day: Grilled Salmon topped with 2 grilled shrimp and sitting atop rice. It was a bit spicy - spicier than he expected since he kind of coughed/choked on his first bite and said it had more of a kick than he expected! I think it was sort of like a jambalaya sauce and the salmon had lots of pepper seasoning. But he said it was delicious and cleaned his plate.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that I honed in on the grilled cheese part of the menu. I chose the Monster Grilled Cheese (gouda and cheddar cheeses, bacon, egg, pulled pork, tomato, caramelized onions, spinach). I chose Tomato Basil Soup for the accompanying side. The soup was excellent, pureed smooth with a bit of texture and fresh basil. So nice to have fresh basil since ours is dead on the deck!
Not a great photo of the sandwich interior but the egg is on the top slice of bread I pulled off and then the bacon and everything else is on the bottom slice. It was really good. I love breakfast sandwiches plus this one had tasty pulled pork and caramelized onion - so good. I really like ordering dishes with caramelized onions when we're out because we can never seem to get them as nicely and evenly caramelized at home. I wanted to keep eating and finish it but since I was filling up, I stopped after half and took the other half home for brunch on Sunday.
There isn't a dessert menu, the server just tells you what they have. Limoncello Raspberry Cake sounded good so we shared a slice. Layers of raspberry jam and limoncello cream and cake. Lighter than I expected, which was good, and we ate the entire piece.

We really enjoyed Cafe Io. Our food was tasty, the iced tea fresh and strong. Our server was friendly and efficient. She was kept quite busy since it was crowded but she never seem harried or hurried. Some reviews I read mentioned the number of children, and yes, there were a lot of children, but fortunately, since we were in that little front nook and since the table behind us was only adults, we were not bothered by children. It was a lovely, casual, relaxing date night at a new-to-us restaurant to which we will return.

Cafe io Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, October 16, 2015

Indigo Coffee House

My original plan for our London vacation day trip to Cambridge was to have lunch at The Eagle Pub, a traditional English pub dating back to the 16th century that boasts many historical features including the RAF bar with its famous ceiling, the room in which the 'secret of life' was announced, and a ghost - it all was explained to us on our tour. Of course by the time our tour ended we were starving and we kept thinking the pub was kind of far away (it wasn't and we should have gone but extreme hunger = lack of brain function) and we just wanted food NOW. So we ended up down an alley at this tiny coffee shop: Indigo Coffee House. It's tucked away and we walked past the alley twice - even with the GPS we had trouble finding it, even when it was right in front of our faces!
Sadly there are a couple steps to enter so it's not wheelchair accessible but they have a few tables outside, so we grabbed an outside table & SP went inside to get food. For me, Brie, Bacon, and Tomato on ciabatta with side salad and chips (above photo) and for SP Bowl of Salad with olives, feta, and cherry tomatoes, classic vinaigrette and French Bread (below photo):
We shared our plates of food and we both found everything delicious. Fresh greens, lots of red tomatoes and big chunks of feta, fresh ciabatta with creamy brie and bacon (more like ham to us). We ate everything and felt much better, ready to set off and see the rest of Cambridge.

Definitely a good lunch choice and we highly recommend it (but a wee part of me is a wee sad we didn't return to The Eagle Pub)!

Indigo Coffee House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Today there is only one thought: My Aunt G.

Over the weekend, my Aunt G passed away. The funeral was yesterday.

We had not seen/talked to her in quite some time and a few years ago, she stopped sending holiday cards. Families. Complicated things. But still, sad. I'm not sure how to explain it, other than that my whole life until SP entered the picture, my family was 8 people: mom & dad, brother, grandma & grandpa, and aunt & uncle. My mom's dad died before I was born and her mom walked out on them when my mom was very young, so I never had grandparents other than my dad's parents. My mom has one brother, but he has lived in CA with his wife & 2 kids my entire life. I've seen them maybe 4 times in my life. So really, my only aunt was Aunt G. My only uncle was her first husband, W. I have no understanding of what it's like to have cousins. Aunt G didn't have children.

Yes, there were some changes over the years, but those changes didn't start until I was 28 years old. Eight family members became nine when my brother married P, and then 9 became 11 when my niece and nephew were born. Aunt G and Uncle W divorced and Aunt G married J, but at that point, J wasn't really an uncle, just Aunt G's new husband.

Now my grandparents are gone. Uncle W is gone, Aunt G is gone. There are no more ties to the traditions from my youth. No more grandma's house. No more holidays with grandma's blue & white china. No more crazy Thanksgiving pinecone turkey centerpiece I made in Brownies and I glued the felt beak-wattle on upside down and every year everyone made fun of me and my artsy crafty inabilities. No more cookie baking with grandma and Aunt G. No more cross-stitch talk with Aunt G. No more lingering over cups of hot tea and trays of homemade cookies in grandma's kitchen while figuring out what we're all going to bake next.

As I said, family dynamics often can be difficult. I find it very hard to forgive, to let go of anger, to move on. As I talked to my brother Monday evening, with his help, I came to sort of let go of the issues of the more recent years and instead remember the good things from years past.
Like the bunny cake Aunt G made for Easter one year, with coconut for "fur." As a 4 or 5 year old I was SO SAD because I hated (and still hate) coconut so I had to scrape off all the frosting.
Little me, so unimpressed with coconut on the bunny cake
Like all the times we went over to her townhome and she took us to the community pool and we swam in the pool and then went home exhausted and sunburned but so darn happy because we got to swim all day and eat hot dogs at Aunt G's place.

Like every holiday when Aunt G was in charge of using the electric knife to carve the turkey/ham. She'd always stomp on the floor in grandma's kitchen and that was "the signal." The signal to dash upstairs for a "mistake" - the piece of meat that she "accidentally" messed up cutting that we'd get to sample before dinner while we carried all the food to the table.
Aunt G in grandma's kitchen carving Thanksgiving turkey
Like playing pinochle with her against my dad and grandpa. Serious card games because no one in my family likes to lose.

Like all the late night penny poker games at grandma's, sitting next to her (or dad or grandpa or mom) and learning to play poker when I was 6 or 7 years old.

Like the camping trip to Maine when I was 4 and her and my dad showing off the fish they caught.
Aunt G & fish she caught in Maine
Like all the times we were at grandpa's cottage near Erie and tubed/rowed on the creek or roasted marshmallows or went to Presque Isle or all the trips to Dairy Queen, riding in the back of the pick up truck.

Like the fact that she was at every "major" event in my life - high school graduation, birthdays, weddings, etc. And when I broke my femur and things were difficult in every sense, she came over every day to help.

I've cried several times the last few days. I'm sad she didn't get to live longer (she was only 63), but then again, she smoked, a lot, for 40~45 years and at times, for years at a time, drank a lot. It really affected her lungs and heart and I think she really suffered at the end. That makes me cry.

I'm sad because sometimes, I think she wasn't happy, I think maybe because sometimes, it's hard to live with consequences of decisions and actions, but only you can fix things. Other people can't fix them for you.

I still have a crochet throw blanket she made for me when I was 7 years old. We still use it. It was on my bed growing up, it went to college with me, then it was in storage while I was in Japan and CA, but since I moved back to Pittsburgh, it's been on the bed or a couch. The colors don't really match my decor, but it doesn't matter. Sometimes the comfort of an old blankie and the memories it has are more important than it matching the color of your furniture.

I hope Aunt G is at peace.