Take Me Away

Superb Saint Petersburg Saturday

Welcome to another edition of why my weekend was totally wonderful. (and I sincerely hope yours was too!)

On Saturday I traveled down to St. Petersburg, Fl to spend some time with the beautiful ladies of Yoga Moves, as they embark on a new journey in their studio: Aerial Yoga.

Denise, myself and Tara- modeling the studio tee shirts
We spent the day exploring the benefits (and flat out fun!) of introducing aerial yoga into your established yoga practice.
I’ll be doing a full review on my experience of the aerial yoga workshop soon, but it was an amazing experience I would suggest to any yoga lover.
Since it was Saturday, I was excited to visit the downtown farmer’s market, during the break between the workshop’s two, 2 hour long sessions. 
The St. Pete Farmer’s Market is one of the best I’ve seen in Florida. It is a mix of farmer’s market, art show, and food festival, all set to to tune of live bluegrass.

After drooling over all the wonderful options, and reminding myself I still had 2 more hours of flying ahead of me…

…I ended up choosing a Mixed Vegetable Empanada and a Raspberry Iced Tea, which I enjoyed in the shade of a beautiful oak tree, in a park across from the St. Pete Harbor.

One of the things I miss most about St. Petersburg is all the beautiful parks and green spaces. So relaxing and perfect on a sunny, fall day.

After a second amazing session of freeing “anti-gravity” yoga, Tara, Denise and I, along with a few other attendees of the workshop headed down to Bangkok Thai for dinner.

This was just icing on the cake for me, since Bangkok Thai is one of my favorite Thai restaurants, anywhere.

I happily devoured an order of Nam Sod (a spicy ground chicken “salad”), plus a Yummy Roll (sweet potato and avocado with eel sauce) and the Futomaki Roll (krab, tamago, asparagus, carrot, radish and cucumber) while chatting away about yoga, travel, high schoolers and Facebook, relationships, cruises and fur coats. It was a blast!

A day in St. Pete is always worth the 6 hours of driving in my opinion. A HUGE thanks again to the ladies of Yoga Moves for such a great day!

Love to all,
~the, “flying high” on life gal, Jess

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Food and Wine 2011: The Do’s and Don’ts Edition

We all probably know by now that I think the EPCOT Intentional Food and Wine Festival is a huge DO in my book.

I only go every single year, and refer to the festival as it’s own season. This year I was getting worried that it was going to be the year that I became the DON’T by missing it for the first time in 6 years! First it rained, then I was sick, and then I ran a triathlon.

But wait, attending a huge food festival is totally a DO after a big race, so bestie Jenna and I loaded up after my tri (and a blessed 2 hour long nap!) and headed out to the Happiest Place on Earth to meet up with a few other friends to eat, drink and be mousey merry all around the world!

Here are a few of my tips to make your experience at F&W a huge DO!

DO stop by the awesome cranberry bog, sponsored by Ocean Spray.

DON’T be too disappointed that the cute Ocean Spray guy (Justin Hagan) isn’t there, even if he is your future husband.

Isn’t he just the cutest? 
I’ve heard from sources that in “real life” he is just as goofy as his commerical character!
DO stop by the Canada stand to get a cup of Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup.

This may have possibly been the best batch I’ve had, as this soup is a staple for me at F&W. 
DON’T mind my chipped “tiger striped” nails, leftover from Homecoming week at my school of employment! 

DON’T bother stopping at “neighboring” Greece, because they took both the Spanikopita and the Boutari Santorini wine off the menu this year. Boo.

DO get your seafood and comfort food fix all in one amazing dish with Ireland’s Lobster and Scallop Fisherman’s Pie.

This small portion is incredibly filling, has a fantastically complex flavor profile for such a traditional and rustic dish and is even prettier mixed up!

DON’T get suckered into standing in the left hand line at the Ireland stand….it is the beer line and all they have is Guinness. I adore Guinny, but I’m not about to stand in line for 25 minutes for a beer I can get at nearly any decent bar/restaurant!

DO brave the line at France. The Escargots Persillade en Brioche and Sparkling Pomegrante Kir are a must every year!

DON’T be sad that the rest of the usual “festival crew” (aka the drunk and rowdy boys) are too busy doing tequila shots in the “not so secret anymore and now packed” taqueria in Mexico to come join you, because you won’t have to buy double plates for sharing this year! More for me = a huge DO.

DO get your beer fix at the Belgium stand with a refreshing Hoegaarden because the line is short, the smells of waffles are free (and totally satisfying!) and Belgium beer is delicious! 

DO get excited about the new Portugal stand, at first.

DON’T bother with the Calamari Salad with Fennel, Smoked Paprika and Olive Oil because while it sounds tasty and refreshing, it’s just an oily mess with no hint of fennel.

DO recover from the Portuguese mess by stopping at the Hops and Barley stand to pick up the Sam Adams 16th Anniversary Festival Beer-Boston Ale and Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce.

DON’T worry about the let down of the 16th anniversary festival beer, since it tastes just like regular Sam Adams Boston Lager, because the Pumpkin Mousse is really the star of the show.

I would have named the “mousse” a trifle, since it also included some layers of spice cake, but what ever you call it every tiny bite was a tasty combination of classic fall flavors, without being too sweet. I would certainly get this again and am considering making something similar for an upcoming work social.

DO ask a friendly fellow park goer to take the picture of your group, as we all know “if you don’t take a picture, it didn’t happen.”

DON’T forget to jump back up on the bench, since your cute boots won’t be shown off if you are standing.

DON’T bother getting the Kiebasa and Potato Pierogie with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream if you’ve ever “met” the lovely Mrs. T and her frozen pierogies, because I’m fairly certain that these are the same thing.

I’ve raved about this dish in the past, but I’ve declared this year to be the last that I visit the Poland stand.

DO stop at the South Korea stand and get the Lettuce Wrap with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw if you’ve taken my advice and skipped Poland. DO email me to remind me of how wonderful it is, how bright and tasty, the perfect balance of savory, sour and spicy with a wonderful crunch. I knew this dish was a DO when I tasted it for the first time in 2010, so DON’T make my “I ate too much already” rookie mistake.

Any day spent with my best friends, enjoying tasty treats and eats is a DO. So, DON’T miss out on all the yummy tastes and “travels” that EPCOT has to offer during the International Food and Wine Festival.

Love to all,
~the, “I guess all those years of Glamour subscriptions are rubbing off on me” gal, Jess

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Epic European Vacation-2011 Edition: By the Numbers

Counties Visited: 5

Cities Explored: 8.5 (Fussen, Germany is the 0.5: we were only there for a couple hours, to see castles!)

Passport Stamps Acquired: 5 (2 from France)

Airport Screenings: 7

Bottles of Cava Consumed: More than 5!

Baguettes Noshed On: about 4 too many!

Churches Inspired By: 4 Cathedrals and too many beautiful chapels to count

Backwards Routes Discovered: At least 3 in every city!

Maps Required to Navigate Amsterdam: 5 (too many alleys/side streets that aren’t on maps! ahhh)

Pictures Taken: Just shy of 1,800

ONE Sweet (super abridged!) slideshow:

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf
ps. clicky the “thought bubble” to see the captions!

Love to all,
~the European Traveling Gal, Jess

PS. Number of New Post Labels: ONE– I’m not going to do huge summary reviews on my trip, but tie in ideas and concepts I learned, etc sprinkled throughout my posts the next few months. If you want to see ’em all choose the label European Epicuriousness and Other Musings on the sidebar!

Categories: European Epicuriousness and Other Musings, Take Me Away | 2 Comments

She’s Packed Up Her Bags….

…and she’s heading out to EUROPE!

My best friend Ashley and I are hitting up 5 countries (8 major cities) in three weeks, meeting up with friends and family along the way.  Sadly, Harvey (my Mac) had to stay at home for this trip so I’ll see you lovely, lovely people on the flipside, when I’m back stateside. See what I did there?

In the meantime, if you are looking for some domestic travel, check out my favorite places to visit in St. Petersburg.

Love to all,
~the “I’m finally jumping the pond” gal, Jess

Categories: European Epicuriousness and Other Musings, Take Me Away | 1 Comment

An Ode to St. Pete…

…and all it’s delicious eats! (and things to do, and places to stay!)

Regardless of if you have been reading my blog for 2 years or 2 weeks, you have likely picked up on the fact that I adore, love and cherish St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Pete is my “birthtown” –I can’t call it my hometown, because my parents moved when I was one, so I don’t actually remember living there as a child– and I moved “back” in the fall of 2008 to work at the Children’s Research Institute. That is also the time when I made my blog public, after writing it’s predecessor over at Zanga all through college.

I honestly loved living in St. Pete. The local, vintage vibe of the downtown and old northeast regions, mixed with the nearby beaches and hustle of Tampa, all washed with sea salt laden breezes is truly a “perfect fit” for this gal. So, when I moved back to my actual hometown to start my new career of teaching, it was very bitter sweet. I knew I was going to miss my gem of a condo, my yoga studio, my favorite bars, and all the wonderful dinning establishments and other random eateries, but I reminded my sad self that it was all only 2.5 hours away, just waiting to be visited.

In May, nearly 2 years after I moved away, I finally made good that promise to visit, as bestie Christine and I took a girls weekend away to celebrate my 25th birthday. Here is a rundown of our adventures, plus a few of my other St. Pete suggestions.

Lodging:

Seeings as my condo is now rented by someone else, Christine and I opted to stay downtown and got a great deal at the Ponce de Leon Historic Hotel. This hotel is a “boutique” hotel, and each room is done slightly differently. I loved our tiny little room, with it’s quirky mix of vintage and modern finishing.

 

Other suggested lodging: The Vinoy on the Bay 

Speaking of the bay, walking along the bay and Beach Ave, taking in the harbor, marina and wildlife is one of my favorite St. Pete past times.

After strolling the harbor, you will need Gelato:

My favorite gelato shop in the whole state just happens to reside on Beach Ave. So we stopped in. 

Thank you Paciugo, thank you.

If strolling isn’t enough of a “workout” for you, please swing by my home yoga studio: Yoga Moves. I dragged Christine to the 10am Saturday class, and it was totally worth setting the hotel alarm clock. If you love Iyngar style yoga, and getting in touch with the roots of all yoga poses, go take a class with Denise, you will not regret it.

If you are looking for Beach Time here are my suggestions:

For easy (paid) parking and “beach amenities” (aka showers, restroom, water fountains) and a more “family friendly” vibe the public St. Pete Beach is a great option. Gulf Blvd- across from the Dolphin Shopping Plaza

If you are looking to spend more time with young professionals than young families while soaking up the sun try hitting up Treasure Island instead. Parking can be more tricky (you likely will have to “valet park” in one of the two nightclubs that are closed during the day-obvs- and walk the few blocks to the beach access), but you can bring coolers (be subtle….the signs say “no coolers” but it’s not enforced), there are public volleyball nets and most people set up cornhole, etc. Everyone is friendly and it’s a good time.

But you guys know me by now. I’m really only here for the food. And my, my does St. Pete have some wonderful eating options. The following are all located downtown, walking distance from either the Ponce or Vinoy (or any of the other lodging options downtown).

The Eats and where to get them:

The Garden If you can, sit out on the patio, even in the heat of summer, the lush garden patio is cool, green and tropical perfection.

Z-Grille Oh Z, I love zee. Seriously, all cheeseballin’ aside, Z-Grille might be my hands down favorite restaurant. They have a modest menu that changes frequently and hello, daily deviled eggs. Which I’ve raved about before.


Cafe Alma is another local favorite. They have a wicked good Sunday Brunch with a Bloody Mary bar. Oh and they also have great late night tapas and a wonderful beer selection.



Lucky Dill Deli is another favorite, for both locals and tourists alike, thanks to it’s Dagwood Challenge. I wasn’t down for copious layers of meat and cheese, but breakfast sounded good. And it was.



Kahwa Coffee is another great place for a quick breakfast or lunch. My panini sandwich went unphotographed, as I was fighting off seagulls for it. Bold, feather boy, but not very smart. You don’t mess with this gal’s sammy.

Other great food/drink establishments:

Red Mesa and The Cantina are owned by the same family and they are both fantastic. The Cantina turns into a “club” scene later at night, if you want to dance the night away. Cantina (link is my previous review) is also downtown, but Red Mesa (link is an older review I did, no pictures though, sniff) is in northern St. Pete, closer to where my condo was and I frequented this wonderful restaurant very often.

The Independent also holds a very special place in my heart. This beer and wine bar (link is another old review, with few pictures) is where I first cultivated my love for imported and craft beers, not to mention a great many conversations at the central table, super conductive for meeting people!  

And honestly that is just the tippity, tip-tip of St. Pete’s cultural world. I miss my beloved ‘burg quite a bit, but as of right now have no plans that would have me returning to live there, sadly. Until then, I can dream of salt breezes, yoga bliss and food heaven, all served on cobble stones and lapping bay waters.

Love to all,
~the “home is where the heart is, or maybe even where you were born” gal, Jess

PS. Yes, it is only a 2 hour drive from Gville, but food oriented gals that Christine and I are, we couldn’t “road trip” with empty stomachs. That and I really shouldn’t go Fresh Market hungry.

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Practice for Summer

A Saturday spent floating on the Santa Fe River/Ginnie Springs….

….followed by an amazing Jerk Burger at the Great Outdoors Restaurant?

House ground pork, smoky bacon, Vermont cheddar, apple slaw, served with sweet potato fries.

It’s going to be a good summer.

Love to all,
~the “summer is so close I can taste it” gal, Jess

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A Picture is Worth One Thousand Words?

Sorry Mr. Barnyard, I don’t have any pictures to share from my fabulous weekend, however I promise to keep this under 1000 words!

Why My Weekend Was Wonderful (aka WMWWW)

5 hour long drives (2x) are a breeze with the right company: one Chubby Checkers mutt plus the crooning voices of Mumford, Janelle and Florence.

My best friends are the strongest people I know, both physically and emotionally.

Checking out the cuties at the NAGA contest, while supporting said friends.

Going out with said friends for a night on the town.

Free drinks and no cover during the night on the town.

Great outdoor benches (if wobbly) and cider, also found on our night out.

Whole Foods salad bar and corn bread for breakfast. wahhhhh, why is the closest WF 2.5 hours away?

Wedding hair.

Gossiping about being young, fabulous, fun teachers over soup, salad and sandwiches.

Shopping, even if unsuccessful.

Speed dog walking.

Spending time with my “big brother” and having my childhood and adult friends meet to share a beer and some crazy “junkyard” fries!

Using a 3 day weekend to my best advantage….if only every weekend was 3 days long.

Happy President’s Day!

Love to all,
~the “I sure hope that was under 1000 words, I hate to break a promise” gal, Jess

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Charlotte Botanical Gardens-A Winter Wonderland

If you haven’t figured it out yet, one of my favorite things to do is travel. And trust me I’m making 2011 the year of travel. Fall 2010 was just a warm up. One of my favorite places to visit in any region are botanical gardens. I know, I know, can’t I see well groomed foliage at home? And yes, this is true…however, I’ve never been to any botanical garden (not to mention well flowered farmers markets or hopping local nurseries) without seeing a unique twist or regional specific species.

It goes without saying then when Abigail suggested we visit the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont NC (one of the neighboring regions of Charlotte) that I was more than game. And before you start questioning the fact that it is indeed winter and the fact that there was ice on the ground that morning, just have a little trust.  That and I was promised a “Holiday Lights at the Gardens” specular.

As I’ve also mentioned both Ab and I are quite the up and coming shutterbugs, so we were women on a mission. We wanted to capture the transition of the garden from lovely day to specular night. We arrived at 4pm and the very kind lady at the front desk let us pay one admission price, since the evening event was starting in just an hour. Thank you sweet lady, and thank you AAA discount that go us in for only $10! (Sadly no student or teacher discounts at DS….my only complaint about the facility).

So, enough with the jibba-jabba….let’s look at some beautiful botany in action!

Winter Cabbage. 
I don’t know what it is about this plant, but I just love them. 
So elegant and statuesque.

In the orchid house.

On the Orchid waterfall wall.

The biggest bird of paradise I’ve ever seen! 
(this picture does not do it justice, honest)

I’m not sure what this beast is, but it’s very striking.

Orchids, Orchids everywhere.

These are miniature orchids. Use my fingernail as a size reference.

Edible plants! Banana and coffee.

Moving out to the grounds of the garden:

Both George and I just wanted to roll in this beautiful sorrel. 
So soft and inviting.
I had to be dragged away.

This red berry shot is my absolute favorite of the day. 

 Keep this pretty little dish garden in your memory banks….you’ll see why once the sun goes down.

The drunken Christmas Tree, oh so charming.
 I call this next series the Billy Ray: Focused in the Front, Fuzzy in the Back

After doing a complete circuit of the grounds in the daylight we headed back into the main center to warm up and admire the Orchid Tree.

 Pictures do not do it justice….over 300 orchids and ferns. Breathtakingly beautiful.

A quick stop at the “coffee bar” was essential,too. 
Hot mulled apple cider and a divine little eggnog cupcake. 

Folks, I’m not a big cake eater unless it has the word “cheese” proceeding it. This modestly sized cupcake rocked.my.world. Most tender vanilla cake with a light, fluffy and just the right level of sweetness eggnog icing. Cuppie, darling, will you marry me? Sigh.

Oh wait, we are here to talk about plants. My b. The lights are out now (aka, the sun is set….for some reason I kept saying “when the lights turn off” as we walked about the garden in the sunlight. I’m so well versed in the English language. ha.)

I didn’t take too many pictures, as the lights and my camera weren’t playing very well together, but it was stunning and I can truly appreciate all the hard work that goes into setting up this holiday event.

Remember the dish-garden we inspected above. Hi you sexy, electric thing!

This is my favorite of the lighted images I was able to capture. This archway led down to the arched fountains I posed under with my trusty umbrella earlier in the day. Winter magic.

Love to all,
~the “yes, I’ll get lost in a winter wonderland with you” gal, Jess

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Three Cheers for Ri Ra

It’s a chilly day in Uptown Charlotte and as you wander the streets, admiring the oversized Christmas trees, ornaments and other items of holiday cheer. Hunger strikes.

And what better to quiet the belly beast than with classic Irish fare, in a certified haunted building, with really cute waitstaff? You down? Come on!

I started things off right with a Flat Tire on draft. Yes, I know, Flat Tire is an American craft, not Irish, but Flat Tire isn’t available in FLA, so I have to get it while I can.

Yum. Amber and delicious and much less hoppy than one (and by “one” I meant myself, obvs) would expect.

Sweet bar, right? It is over 200 years old and was imported directly from Ireland for Ri Ra’s. Oh and it has a resident “protective entity” in the form of a 30-something bar-tender ghost. The upstairs bar apparently has a few ghosts too, including a little girl who practices her penmanship on the draft chalkboard.

This mess, that I dove into before taking a picture, was one of the lunch specials: Fried Haddock Sandwich with house cut “chips”. So good. The fish was flaky and delicious, and the chips were tender and flavorful. Amen.

Abigail got the special of the month, otherwise known as “The Roast,” which was a 1/2 cow serving of the tenderest beef I have tasted in long while, with mashed potatoes, which bled into the roasted beets.  And were amazing. The beets, not the bleeding part. I’m so roasting beets when I get home.

Stay tuned for more excitement from Charlotte, NC.
Love to all,
~ the good Irish gal, who loves the Queen City, Jess
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The Fun Never Ends in 2010….

…. at the 2010 Food and Wine Festival!

You saw my sneak peak at F&W after the Wine and Dine 1/2 Marathon, however that was just a teaser for us all…so, sit back, relax and grab a lime, cause 2010 was the Food and Beer/Tequila festival for this semi-abnormal gal. 

I’m so in love with this picture!
BUT it wouldn’t be a Disney day without some attempted jumping shots!

Ok, so this wasn’t our day for the jump shot, but it was fun getting strange stares from the other park goers!

But enough of my cute friends and I, let’s get down to the business at hand, food and wine tequila.

Got to get something in the belly before the tequila….so I popped by the Brazil stand for some Shrimp Stew Coconut and Lime.  Tasty, filling but not very coconut-y. I was pleasantly surprised by 4 count shrimp plating and gladly shared with my fellow festival foodie friends (hello alliteration!). I mean, I wanted to save a little room for some tequila….
Ok, fine, here is the tequila, so I’ll stop yapping about it:

Served up with lime, salt and the oh so tasty sangrita , which may or may not be one of the driving forces behind standing in line for the “secret” taqueria inside Mexico, which considering there are “cattle lines” set up outside isn’t so secret anymore!  (psst, I’m really loving this picture, too!)

Cheers, friends!

Next on the menu: Poland and the infamous Kielbasa and Potato Pierogies with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream. If you are at F&W you must try this….seriously, even my veggie heads, the sausage is cooked separately, so just ask for it without, cause those onions are to.die.for.  I really must learn how to properly caramelize onions. Drool.

I didn’t get anything at China (although I gladly helped Ash take down the Gingerita) but this label cracked me up- “Pure Draft Beer” in a bottle? conflicting message much? Yep.

There is nothing conflicting about how amazing the new South Korea stand is. Hello Lettuce Wraps with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw, yes, I will eat you everyday. Umk?thanks.

And thank you sir, for this lovely pour of South African La Capra Pinotage, my only glass of vino the entire evening.

And what is better to follow a glass of African Red than with a tasty Altenm├╝nster Octoberfest?

And what is a beir without a sausage? Not much! hehe. And while this N├╝rnberger Sausage in a Pretzel Roll may have been lacking in, ahem, girth….well, it was satisfying in the flavor department, so what more does a girl need?

Ash seemed to be a satisfied customer, at least!

Then we wandered around to Belgium where Dr. Smith  another photogenic cast member poured me a 6oz glass of Hoegaarden. Now before you go lecturing me on the fact that Hoegarrden can be enjoyed at nearly any decent restaurant, but I don’t usually order it for some odd reason. I should, because this so hit the spot. Such a lighter yet more malty contrast to the heavy, hoppy Octoberfest of Germany. 

I also had a taste of Steamed Mussels with Roasted Garlic Cream at the new Belgium stand. The mussels themselves were very tender and flavorful, but the toast points were rock hard, which made it difficult to enjoy the lovely garlic cream.  The girls really enjoyed the Belgium Waffle and I kind of wish I had ordered it instead, but eh…I’m not sure waffles go with beer!

While we were standing in line for Paris the announcement came on to “take small children by the hand”….Jenna and I obeyed of course, and we enjoyed the fireworks show with our Escargots Persillade en Brioche and Sparkling Pomegranate Kir

(Recycled picture from last year-enjoyed in the same spot, but without the sunlight)
Unfortunately we didn’t know the start of the IllumiNations show would mean the end of our night at F&W, since all the booths sneakily (in my opinion!) shut down while the fireworks had us entranced.
No worries…we still had more fun in store:
Like being silly on the tram….

….and dancing the night away with friends at Bar Louie (where I may or may not have had more tequila shots….a lady never “shoots and tells.” hehe)

Now that is what I call a successful freakin’ fun day with some of my favorite girlies! (and guys).

Love to all,
~ the, “why can’t I eat around the world everyday?” gal, Jess

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