Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

A Glimpse of Christmas Past…Dickens on the Strand

I’m not sure if I ever told you before, but I hail from one of the most charming towns in America. Bold statement, sure, but have you been to Galveston before? It’s really adorable, with sandy beaches, surf shops, Texas accents and a whole downtown area full of 19th century buildings and cobblestone streets. 
Of course as a kid, I never thought of my town as charming. I thought it was small, which meant it was boring. What a dolt I was. I view my hometown so differently as an adult, but my opinion of one Galveston tradition has never wavered. Every year, on the first weekend in December, there’s a Victorian Christmas festival called Dickens on the Strand and it’s the greatest thing ever. Please behold:

People dress up in Victorian garb and stroll the streets arm in arm. I would like to be this couple when I grow up.

I really want to ride one of these, but I’m only 5’3″. Think I could do it?
There are plenty of rockin’ tunes. 
And playful police brutality…
And adorable animals…
But the true heart of the festival are really the costumes.
They are just beautiful and I was so impressed by how many people went all out. 
Of course, some modern conveniences are hard to give up.
I wonder if this Galveston kid knows how charming his town is?
I wish I’d known then what I know now.
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Jenn’s Top 10 Tips for Eating in Barcelona

Here are my tips for savoring the best bites in Barcelona.

1. All things you’ve considered to be tapas are not necessarily called tapas. Some are called pinchos or pinxtos. Of course, it also depends which region of Spain you are in. Here’s where I link to information someone else has written on the subject, as I fear I will mess it up in the retelling.

2. Real paella should not be deep yellow. If it is, a restaurant is trying to woo you by making you believe they used a large amount of the incredibly expensive spice saffron. What they really did was shake colored powder into your meal .

3. Do not call serrano ham “Spanish prosciutto”. Also, don’t smuggle any pork products in your carry-on. A large man with no sense of humor will confiscate them at customs. We learned that the hard way.
4. If you are American, you need to understand the rules of European coffee. Your cup will be half the size and twice as strong. Order two at a time, but prepare to experience heart palpitations for 3-4 hours.

5. Try horchata. It’s this super-sweet, super-creamy milk made from tiger nuts. In a lot of cafes and bakeries it’s served out of a dispenser like this. It also comes in bottled form, but it’s way better fresh.

6. Buy some fresh fruit at La Boqueria, but go further back into the market to grab your apples and figs. Avoid shopping from the intricately displayed fruit cases up at the front. They purposely upcharge to unknowing tourists.
Avoid this one up front.
Go for these instead.
7. Please try churros y xocolat. It’s glorious sticks of fried dough dipped in hot liquid chocolate. It’s deadly, yet divine. 
8. Speaking of sugar, prepare your sweet tooth for eternal damnation. Bakeries are everywhere and they display their puffy meringues and crafty cookies seductively in store windows. The gelato is mind-numbingly good too. We had some almost every night.

9. Do your research before choosing a restaurant. We went to some stellar restaurants and we also stumbled on some extremely average ones. I highly recommend Taller Tapas, Senyor Parellada and the incredible traditional tasting menu at Alkimia. Cal Pep is supposed to have the best tapas, but we unfortunately missed that one.

10. Take a cooking class during your visit, so you can recreate the magic of Barcelona right in your own kitchen back home.

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Best of Barcelona…

Best of Barcelona…

Back in the beginning of summer I complained to Vin that I’ve never been to Europe. “Wah, wah, wah…any time I get days off from work I go to Texas to visit my parents” (who I adore, BTW). “I need to see the world!” He said something akin to “Quit your cryin’ whinypants” and planted the idea to go to Barcelona by year’s end. I told my aunt about it, who told my dad about it, and badda-boom! Problem solved. I’d get to visit family and see a new part of the world in one fell Spanish swoop.

Members of our motley crew: Aunt Renee and Uncle David, me and Vin (not pictured) and Dad and wife Angie

I was super glad to have my Dad along because he provides a great amount of comic value. His Texas accent combined with his (sorry, Dad) rudimentary grasp of the Spanish language resulted in a new dialect my boyfriend coined “Doug-lish”. My father had a habit of either adding an “o” or an “a” to an English word to make it sound Spanish or would just make up an entirely new word altogether, earnestly believing it was correct. In the end, his efforts were pretty fruitless (and even more funny) as they actually speak a language called Catalan in Barcelona.

We rented an apartment in Plaza Catalunya, steps away from the famous tourist alley “The Rambla” which was basically the Barcelonan equivalent of Times Square without the migraine-inducing lights.

It was a vibrant collection of human statues, flower stalls, tourists, and apparently, pick-pockets. I kept waiting for someone to gasp and yell “Oh no! Where’s my fanny pack?!” but it never happened. Guidebooks always blow that stuff out of of proportion.

The main reason to visit The Rambla, other than to hear the incessant whistle coming from the street peddlers trying to pawn off these unbelievably annoying noisemakers is The Boqueria. Into food? This place will knock your little athletic socks off.

Not far away from La Rambla was my favorite neighborhood–Bari Gotic. Oh, how I fell in love with this neighborhood! Tight, narrow streets filled with tiny shops, charming cafes and gelato up to my earlobes. Beautiful, gothic buildings and churches made with big stones and enormous doors crafted from heavy wood. If I were to spend another week in Barcelona, I would spend the entire time in this neighborhood.

All the doors have graffiti all over them, which is a fun contrast to the stately shape and size. 
But obviously a big reason to visit Barcelona is to view Antoni Gaudi’s unbelievable architectural achievements. We missed a few, but caught the big boys like…
Parc Guell
And the most spectacular place I’ve ever seen…
La Sagrada Familia
My friend Caroline told me skipping this famous church would be like going to India and forgetting to visit the Taj Mahal. I think she was right. 
It’s great to be all touristy and hit the sights that make a place famous to outsiders, but what I really love to do when visiting places is try to live more like a local. I’m so glad we chose to stay in an apartment for a week rather than a hotel, because it really made us feel like we were part of Barcelona, even if it was only for a week.
It’s a good thing we didn’t stay at Hotel Colon. My dad and I are positively Griswoldian.
That said, my absolute favorite part of the trip were the days that went unplanned. The times when we just wandered and observed and delighted in the things that make this city so vibrant, beautiful and special. I found the best time to do this was at night, as that’s when Barcelona really comes alive.
I heard a handsome man play Spanish guitar in a dark alley in Barcelona. It was, hands down, my favorite moment of the trip. We bought the CD afterward and listened to it in the car. Very nice, but it will never sound the same in a Honda driving to Long Island as it did in that alley when we just happened to walk on by.
As they say in Doug-lish, “C’est la vio”. 
**Stay tuned to my Barcelona tales…next up–COMIDA.
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I went to Barcelona and all you get is a crummy blog post.

I went to Barcelona and all you get is a crummy blog post.

I took a week-long trip with my family and boyfriend over Labor Day. I didn’t tell you about it, because I don’t announce plans to leave my apartment empty on the internet. It’s not you I worry about so much, it’s people who use search terms like “butternut squash phallic” and “congressman weiner pics” and end up on this page. But you? You are lovely.

Just like my sweet Barcelona.

There are certain places in this world that make you feel at home the minute you arrive there. Places so beautiful you lose your breath on every corner. Places so unique and strange and interesting that they nudge their way under your skin and stay there. Barcelona was that place for me.

It has everything.

Like beautiful buildings with unbelievable architecture…

Massive, marvelous churches…

Fresh, fantastic food…

Wonderful winding streets…

Beautiful beaches…

and love…
Barcelona has captured my heart and there is far more to write about it than can fit in one post. I’ll be writing about my trip all next week. Have a wonderful weekend, my friends!
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The Bed and Breakfast: When Two Favorites Combine

When I was 15, my family stayed at a bed and breakfast in Colorado. At the time I remember thinking, “Ugh, I want to stay at a Hilton with vending machines and a pool, not some prissy Victorian house with doily curtains and floral wallpaper.” I wasn’t keen on the idea of sharing a house with a bunch of people I didn’t know, and certainly didn’t want to eat breakfast in front of a group of strangers. What if I still had Clearasil on my chin from the night before?
Once we got there, I was pleasantly surprised. There were freshly baked cookies and teas laid out for us after a day of skiing. The house was really lovely with lots of skylights and plants–much prettier than any hotel room I’d seen. And turns out, talking to strangers from other parts of the country wasn’t even all that bad. Over breakfast I met an artist who was trying to collect enough underwear to string across the Grand Canyon, and in the evening I met a super-cute 17-year-old pianist from New Orleans. We made out. Don’t tell my dad. 

Since then, I’ve had a very positive association with bed and breakfasts and have made an effort to stay in them when possible. On our trip to Amish Country, we stayed in a fantastic B&B called the Amethyst Inn, which is part of the Adamstown Inns and Cottages.

Unfortunately, it was still a little too cold to spend time out on the patio, but it was super cozy and overlooked a quiet residential street.

This was our room. Ahhhhhhhh. No doily curtains. No floral wallpaper. Just quiet, cozy peacefulness. Loved it.

And a whirlpool tub! I’m still dreaming of this guy. The room had a massage shower too. And a massage chair. I was pretty blissed out by the time we left. 

I read Southern Living and Travel & Leisure while soaking in the tub by the fireplace. Not an entirely bad way to spend a Friday night. A very nice way to digest an Amish schmorgasboard.

I chose to omit the photo of vin with his bathrobe worn over his clothes like Hefner. Aren’t I such a considerate girlfriend? Just nod yes.
In the morning we were treated to fresh breakfast and coffee by a cozy fire. 
Sure beats the usual (aka, english muffin with peanut butter eaten over a pile of work at my desk).
But it’s the little touches that makes bed and breakfasts so special. On Saturday night, our hostess left a gift bag on our bed with a sweet little plant inside to take home. 
And sent us with a little goodie box of treats for our drive home. Seriously, how cute is that?
If you’re interested in finding a great weekend getaway, check out the inns on That’s where I have found several fantastic, warm, hospitable places. Have you stayed in a great B&B? Taking recommendations!

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Amish Eating: How I Split My Pants in 3 Short Days

Let’s talk about the real reason we go on road trips, shall we? Everybody knows it’s the food. The good, the bad, and the total guilty pleasures we’d never consider snacking on at home. I mean, when else am I going to snap into a Slim Jim or freeze my brain cells with a cherry Icee?

There was no shortage of eating on our trip to Amish country, and little of it would impress a dietician or someone concerned with cholesterol levels and clothing size. Please, follow me.

On Friday night, we had dinner at one of the many traditional Amish schmorgasboards, which is basically a fancy European word for “unlimited country buffet”. Amish main meals are typically built around hearty meat dishes like pork chops, ham, meatloaf, fried chicken and roast beef and accompanied by potatoes, buttered noodles, rolls and some vegetables. The meal did not rock my world, but it was a fun experience.

And it’s tough to complain when you’re given a window seat at sunset and this is the view. 

On Saturday morning, we got up early (which is pretty much necessary in Lancaster County–seemed like most activities closed by 5) and headed to the Central Market in the city of Lancaster. It’s the oldest farmer’s market in the country where local farmers and bakers sell their wares out of an old brick building.

One Amish guy at a deli counter had a hair net over his beard. He ruled.

The Amish may not have Kindles or “Sex and the City” reruns on demand, but hell if they don’t have fresh herbs.

And candy. Beautiful, rainbow-colored candy.
I loved these bad-ass Hershey Harley’s. 
And these super cute “for-dogs-only” doughnuts.
But it was the fresh flowers that really stole the show. 

Of course, the Amish are really best known for their baked goods. Unfortunately I didn’t hear about the legendary Amish Friendship Bread until after our visit, but we did manage to try almost everything else.

Whoopie pies are HUGE in Amish country, and we had our fair share.

Shoo-fly pie is also a major Amish specialty. I didn’t try it because anything boasting molasses as a primary flavor is definitely not up my alley. Know what is up my alley? Name-dropping. Prepare yourselves:  I totally know the guy who holds the current shoo-fly pie eating world record. His name is “Eater X” and he is expected to defend his title in Lancaster this summer. He also owns the tiramisu-eating record. Do I know people in high places, or what?

Dutch pretzels are also a major player in the Amish food scene. 
Get your minds out of the gutter and into this pretzel shop for a yummy treat. They even give tours and teach you how to twist your own pretzel.
Eating one requires no instruction. I got that down to a science. 

As you can imagine, the Amish are also really into canning stuff. Pickles, jams, jellies, salsas and some mysterious pickled delicacy called ‘chow-chow’.

We went to a neat place called Kitchen Kettle Village where they had every imaginable jarred good known to man, and everything was available to sample.

When all was said and done, we drove home with 3 bottles of jam, a jar of apple butter, 1 bottle of pineapple salsa and a big bag of tortilla chips, a half-dozen chocolate chip cookies, 3 whoopie pies, a bag of kettle corn, a two-pound bag of oats and a container of homemade butterscotch peanut butter. I feel like ralphing.

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Jenn and Vin’s Amish Country Adventure

One of my very favorite things about living in New York City is how close it is to so many other fantastic places, most of which offer a completely different feel than the city. Weekend getaways abound whether you want to go antiquing upstate, sailing in Connecticut, or fist-pumping on the Jersey shore. East coast, represent!
Since moving to the Northeast nearly 12 years ago, there has been one road trip I’ve always wanted to take. And as technology has advanced beyond recognition over the past dozen years (can we refer to years by the dozen, or does the measurement only apply to eggs and mini-muffins?), I have grown more and more intrigued by one quiet, peaceful, mysterious place: Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Vin and I drove there for three relaxing, eye-opening, wi-fi-free days last weekend, and I have to tell you, it was the most centered and calm I’ve felt in months. How ironic that I went to Amish country to recharge my batteries.

I learned quite a bit about the Amish way of life during our stay in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. First, visitors should know that it is considered quite disrespectful to take photos of an Amish person head-on. Therefore there will not be any pictures of Amish people in this post. And please don’t worry: these young women all signed model releases. 

We decided to take a buggy tour through the farm land and back roads to get a clearer picture of how the Amish live. The tour guide was the most precious 19-year-old boy named Caleb, whose father grew up on an Amish farm but decided not to be baptized into the church as an adult. It was really a pleasure to have a tour guide who knew so much about the area and the Amish lifestyle. Everyone on the tour was equally curious about the culture and we kept the questions coming.

The subway is my typical mode of transportation, so being driven by a horse was quite a different experience. Smelled about the same though.

Pennsylvania Dutch country is well known for its many covered bridges. After our tour was over, Vin and I went driving around the back roads, with the mission to find as many of the bridges as possible.

We are total bridge and tunnel people. People in the Tri-state area know what we’re talking about.

Anyway, back to the tour. These are typical Amish farms, complete with homes, stables and farmland. Old order Amish do not allow tractors on their farms, and still do everything with traditional horsepower.

{“Yes, I’ll take a quarter pounder with special sauce on a sesame-seed bun. Of course I want it super-sized, need you ask?”}

One of my favorite parts of the buggy tour was stopping at a roadside stand to purchase fresh baked goods and jellies from an Amish man and his young son. One common misperception of the Amish is that they want complete separation from the people who live in “English” society (aka: anyone who is not Amish or Mennonite). I found the Amish to be warm people who were happy to have respectful visitors glimpse into their culture. As long as you don’t gawk at them like monkeys in a zoo, they’re more than happy to pass a shoo-fly pie to a city girl with a big digital camera and a long-haired boyfriend.

PS: Their chocolate chip cookies RULED. I’m now surfing the interwebs for Amish cookie recipes, although I’m pretty certain they’re not uploading anything to Worth a shot though.

I took about 600 photos during this short little trip–far too many to incorporate into one post. I’ll be posting about our trip to Pennsylvania for the rest of the week, because I’m “English” and therefore totally addicted to the Internet. Guilty as charged. But that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t have a deep respect (and maybe even a secret yearning) to live a lifestyle resembling the Amish way. These “Plain People” have their values and morals in check, and their sense of community and freedom from material influence was truly inspiring.

If you’re as interested in learning more about the Amish lifestyle and community as I have been, you should check out this website, where many frequently asked questions are answered. Till then, stay tuned for more posts from Pennsylvania all week!

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Labor Day Weekend: Country Time

I journeyed out to the Catskills this weekend. Never heard of it? To sum up, it’s the area in upstate New York where hills roll, cell phone service takes a nosedive and Baby spent the summer carrying watermelons and breaking daddy’s heart by dancing provocatively with Johnny Castle.
We stayed in Palenville, a town so small the houses got official addresses only a few years ago.
It’s the kind of place where farmers sell fruit and vegetables a few feet away from where they’re grown.
And charge you a third of what city folks would.
We stayed here, at our friend Bridget’s country house. One of the greatest perks of partnering up with my boyfriend are the incredible friends he has brought into my life. Our group consists of his best friends from high school and their wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends. Everyone is smart and hilarious and we love each other like family. We’re lucky enough to retreat to this great house several times a year, and every time we stay here it reminds me of an 8th grade slumber party, only better, because we don’t have to sneak out to score beer or see cute boys playing guitar.
Recognizing the irony in a bunch of 30-something yuppies singing the blues in a country house, Mitch’s riff included a line about how difficult it’s been choosing countertop materials for his new kitchen.
This is my boyfriend Vin I’ve been telling you so much about.
He’s so adorable he can sing about whatever he wants.
Saturday morning, I got up early and took a quiet walk by myself. No Ipod, no cell phone, no distractions. It’s amazing what you can hear when you allow yourself to really listen. This little squirrel looks like it’s had its fair share of alone time.
So does this Chevy.
I stumbled on a great yard sale. Actually, I stumbled on about 15 yard sales. Seriously, if people aren’t shopping at a yard sale in this town, they’re having one.
Ol’ Smokey. Man, I haven’t seen him in a while!
On Saturday afternoon, a group of us toured an animal sanctuary on a 100-acre farm.
They housed the largest pigs known to man.
It was a special place, and I’ll be posting some gratuitously adorable animal pictures tomorrow.
Saturday nights in Palenville are “family dinner” nights. We plan a special meal and gather around a big table, like Jersey Shore without the fake tans and Ed Hardy t-shirts. Last Labor Day weekend we did a clam bake and lobster boil. This year we made three different kinds of grilled pizzas, a big salad, and tons of grilled vegetables. I’m the gal in the red shirt; it’s best you not see me from the front while I’m eating. Trust.
Pizza Party!
*Fig-blue cheese-arugula
*Pineapple-ham-red onion
Activities for the weekend included golf, poker, football and karaoke. True to my gender role, I also begged Bridget to take me into Saugerties to go antiquing on Sunday.
Rachel picked up this hot little number for nights at da club.
A parade of carousel horses lined the streets of Saugerties. They were so whimsical and cute.
If everyone smiled as much as I did this weekend, the world would be a very peaceful place.
How did you spend your Labor Day weekend?
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Weekend Recap: Kickin’ back in Connecticut

When you live in New York City, surrounded by steel towers and graffiti and smelly garbage bags heaved in the middle of the sidewalk, you begin to crave fresh air and open space like carbs and nicotine. So when our friends invited us to their family’s lake house in peaceful, sweet-smelling Connecticut this past weekend, we jumped on the opportunity. 
This is the view from their house. It sure beats the clothesline and brick wall I stare at everyday.

Our hosts wanted to show us around, so we hopped in the car and hit the open, uncongested road.

They drove us to White Silo Winery. I’d never been to a winery before so I was quite interested in the experience.

Before heading inside for a wine tasting, we got to pick fresh berries off the vine. There is something so relaxing and gratifying about picking fresh produce from where it is grown. Maybe I’ll be a farmer in my next life. I don’t know though; I’d probably have to wake up at the crack of dawn every day. Plus, I look awful in overalls. 

I wish everything was packaged in turquoise crates. Pasta, eggs, a big hunk of feta, anything. They make my day.

We headed inside to pay for our berries, and were greeted by a delicious selection of fruity wines. No grapes are used at this winery–just fresh berries and rhubarb, which we also found growing in the field.

We picked up a bottle of the sweet rhubarb, which I was told would make an excellent spritzer. I, however, have no plans to dilute that bad boy.

Chin, chin. 

So berry good. Had to take it there, sorry.
After the tasting, we headed back in the car to explore more of the area. Don’t worry folks; our winery hostess was very conservative with her pours.

New York City has great restaurants and shopping but is severely lacking in the babbling stream arena. 

A day is not complete without a luscious bite of chocolate. Check out those 100% chocolate bowls in the bottom right hand corner. I kinda want one for my bedside table.

Look! More fruit!

Loved this weekend. Life is so sweet.
What were you up to this weekend? 
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