2016 in Review: Top 4 books I read

books

I did a bad job at reading this year. Each year, I set a goal to read [blank] number of books. I didn’t even set a goal this year. Womp. BUT I did manage to pick up a few, and here are my favorites. (Want to see my favorites from last year? Check ’em out.)

A Little LifeFour friends move to New York broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter; Malcolm, a frustrated architect; and withdrawn, brilliant Jude. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, especially with Jude. By midlife, he’s a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.  

A Little Life is HEAVY, both in actual weight and in intensity. It’s not an easy read and it took me some time to get into, but WOW. It’s good. I love coming of age books and this one is no different. You will gasp. You will cringe. You will be shaken and intrigued and in need of a little time to process the story. Don’t expect puppies and butterflies at any point, but expect this one to stick with you.

The Royal WeAmerican Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it’s Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain’s future king. And when Bex can’t resist falling for Nick, she’s propelled into world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

I am shamelessly obsessed with the British royals, especially Kate Middleton. I never wanted to be a princess, but she makes me reconsider. I cannot imagine the stress and microscope she’s under every day, but this book allows a little glimpse. It’s basically the more gossipy version of Will and Kate and what we imagine might go on behind closed (palace) doors. I read this while in Turks & Caicos; it’s the perfect beach read. (Side note: The authors are the creators of the blog, Go Fug Yourself. That should help you understand the humor.)

The Little Paris Bookshop: Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. 

This one is another good beach read (although I actually read it in London).  It’s a cute story of an older man who has held onto his long lost love and he deals with it by “prescribing” books to help others heal. I love the idea and wish I could find a bookseller to do the same. It’s a beautiful love letter to books and those who enjoy them.

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates writes a letter to his adolescent son and shares the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

This book has been everywhere, named to every list, nominated for every prize — and is so deserving. I, like so many others, have tried to figure out what the hell has happened in the past year (in many ways), and books like BTWAM give a little clarity. I was shocked to read about the pure prejudice and injustice Coates faced growing up and how he managed to overcome so much and go on to teach others.

Honorable mentions:

 

 

2016 in Review: The best (sometimes random) food in Baltimore

2016-in-review

What better time to come back to blogging than to talk about the best (and most interesting) food in Baltimore in 2016?

Best Fries: The skinny fries at CaliBurger remind me of McDonald’s. They so thin and salty and delicious and so addictive.

Best Classic Cocktail: Bee’s Knees at B&O American Brasserie is a light mix of gin, lemon, and honey. Does Brendan ever create something that isn’t amazing?

Best New Restaurant/Bar in Canton: Lee’s Shell and Pint is way nicer than I expected. I was actually able to order a decent bottle of wine!

Best New Restaurant/Bar in Federal Hill: Urban Deli has so many delicious sandwiches AND sells THB bagels! The owner is so nice, too.

Best New Restaurant/Bar in Harbor East: Sweetgreen may be a chain, which I’m generally against, but IT’S SO GOOD.

Best Go-To Restaurant: Wit & Wisdom always makes me happy. I like the drinks, I like the food, I like the view, I like Zach, I like Julie. It’s all good.

Best for Celebrations: Gunther & Co. has so many options! I’ve been there for a company holiday party, a girls’ dinner, several lunches, and my OrderUp goodbye happy hour.

Delicious #charcuterie board at @sobomarket 👌🏼 + $5 house wines during #happyhour!

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Best Competition for Ryleigh’s Orange Crush: Boathouse has a variety of crushes, and the orange crush is pretty close to Ryleigh’s, which is my personal favorite in Baltimore.

Most Exciting OpeningR. House in Remington is another welcome Baltimore food market. Mt. Vernon Marketplace and R. House seem to have spurred unrest in older markets, with Broadway, Cross, and Lexington Markets all in renovation talks.

Best Surprise: Arba opened at R. House! Farid opened another restaurant! I’ve frequented Baba’s for years and always said we couldn’t leave the neighborhood because I’d miss it so much. If we ever end up back in North Baltimore, at least we have Arba.

Best Wine Flight: La Cuchara has a flight of three delicious Tempranillos, my favorite Spanish red. Paired with their delicious pinxtos, you have a hit.

It's a beauty unlike any other.

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Best Baltimore Dessert: Kinderhook Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies are the best thing ever and I miss them dearly. The Kinderhook crew would deliver them fresh to the OrderUp office, while the layers of chocolate were still warm. The most amazing treat.

Most-Liked Baltimore Food Instagram Pic: Fancy coffee at the opening of Order & Chaos had everyone pretty excited.

He ❤️ me.

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Best Way to Eat My Feelings About 2016: Machado’s soft serve ice cream is made of the tears of butterflies or something else magical. It’s apparently just soft serve Hershey’s with sprinkles, but I think there’s some kind of crack in it.

What were your favorites in Baltimore this year?  

Review: Stitch Fix #17 (WITH VOTING!)

SF17

If you recall, my last Stitch Fix was just a total bust. I was ready to give up and emailed them, exasperated. They offered to waive my styling fee to give ’em another shot, so here I am. Ready for #17?

HAILEY 23 Kerrigan Dress, $78

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Steve: “You could get this at Old Navy, right?”

Yes, he’s kind of right. I love the top, but the bottom is a little heavy and maybe a little matronly.

 

BRIXON IVY Cristen Shirt Dress, $68

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I was so excited when I took this out because I love the pattern and shirt dresses are fun, right? The fit feels a little off, though, and I’m not sure how I feel about this much mint color.

Steve: “So they stopped sending prison stripes and are just sending flowers now? This looks like a Victoria’s Secret kitchen apron.”

SKIES ARE BLUE Pagan Back Strap Chambray Top, $48

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Sorry, not ironing these before posting, so wrinkles it is! I LOVE the chambray, but the metal holes in the bottom are a little odd. I like the t-back design. Would you pay $48 for this?

Steve: “This looks like it was made out of a pillowcase.”

 

MARKET & SPRUCE Benni Crossfront Knit Top, $48

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I love grey! I love the feel of this top! But again … $48? Seems a little steep for a plain grey top …

Steve: [Grabs the front] “You could put a baby kangaroo in here!”

 

SKIES ARE BLUE Klide Woven Back Knit Top, $48

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Steve: “This is the clothing version of a mullet — business in the front, party in the back.”

I can’t even talk about this. I dislike it even more after trying it on. The green is too bright, the sides are weirdly high, the pattern is not my style — negative.

 

I don’t know, guys. I’m torn on a few pieces. I was feeling really optimistic when I opened this one, but now — a little less so. Help!

StitchFix #16 (or the one where they didn’t listen to anything I asked)

STITCHFIX

Another day, another StitchFix (technically, it’s two words — Stitch Fix — but pretty sure everyone under the sun spells it as one word). After the last one and sending back the shirt because it had a hole, I was feeling pessimistic but decided to give SF another chance. (Maybe I’m a masochist?)

I asked for: 1-2 dresses for summer weddings, short-sleeve or sleeveless tops, mostly solid colors (no red, orange, or yellow), and all V- or U-neck (crew neck is not flattering on me). Here’s what I received:

PIXLEY Pestova Knot Back Top ($44)

StitchFix review

Well. This is a pattern — and a very busy one, at that. It’s an odd fit, too; the sides expose bra and it’s a little short in the front.

Steve: “Why do they keep sending you shirts that look like you’re going to Woodstock?”

PAPERMOON Neptune Racerback Top ($38)

StitchFix review

Another pattern. I do like this one, and the back is a cute racerback with a solid blue section. (I didn’t show it because I had massive cupping marks.) I guess it’s kind of U-neck, but I don’t love the cut or the pattern.

Steve: “This might be the only thing I’ve ever liked.” WHAT!?

41 HAWTHORN Arlinda Textured Dress ($68)

StitchFix review

You can’t really tell, but this is black with a dark purple pattern. I’m okay with a pattern on the dress, but this is very dark for summer weddings. It’s cute, but not sure if it’s cute enough.

Steve: “PURPLE RAIN, PURPLE RAAAAAAAAAIN!” (I’m laughing because he was singing.)

LE LIS ZULA DRESS ($64)

StitchFix review

My eyes are dizzy just looking at this. #1 – Pattern. #2 – Heavy, not summery. #3 – Not really nice enough for a wedding. #4 – Crew neck!

Steve: “Why do they also keep sending you stuff that looks like you’re a zebra or in prison? I don’t get it.”

DOE & RAE Aliza Knit Textured Dress ($68)

StitchFix review

THIS DRESS IS SO HEAVY AND SHORT WITH A CREW NECK AND NOT AT ALL SUMMERY WTF

I think Steve mumbled something along the lines of LL Bean making this.

Guys. This sucks. I’ve loved SF SO MUCH, but these last two Fixes make it hard to not pull the plug. What say you?

Must-try: New restaurants & menu items in Baltimore

Charm City is continually upping its culinary game and local chefs are pulling out all of the stops. I recently tried new menu items at Rusty Scupper and B&O American Brasserie and attended a media preview of Gunther & Co. (opening 5/20!) and was impressed with what I saw/ate/drank.

B&O American Brasserie

Chef Mike Ransom is really one of my favorites. He’s such a nice guy and is constantly coming up with new ideas for dishes. His recent additions didn’t disappoint.

We started with a Wagyu carpaccio with apple pear, watercress, shaved yolk, kewpie mayo, horseradish, and harissa with house crackers. It’s shaved so thin and Mike explained how they shaved the yolk, as well. (I can’t describe it. You basically cure it and can then shave it.) We also loved the giant English peas and fresh herbs in the mixed greens salad.

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To Steve’s delight, grilled calamari was added to the menu. We waxed philosophical with Mike about how much better calamari is when grilled rather than fried. Why hide the deliciousness with fried breading??

IMG_4061There were several new entrees, so it was tough to decide what to try, but I went with the market fish (rockfish) with warm potato salad, more English peas, and corn shoots. The corn shoots are fascinating; they’re from the top of corn and taste exactly like it but look nothing like corn. The potato salad wasn’t mayo based; it had a light lemon dressing.

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Steve went big with the center-cut New York strip and didn’t regret it. He loved the duck fat potatoes, giant asparagus, and roasted maitake mushrooms.

Per usual, Brendan and his team behind the bar mixed up amazing cocktails for the season. (Listing them as Paris in the Springtime made me even more excited to go back to Paris in a month!) I started with the Purple Rain, which was actually created and named before Prince’s death. The lavender infusion was so light but packed a kick. Steve had Learning to Fly with Aviation gin and lemon, which was really light and fresh.

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I was talking with Eric Fooy, who was heading the bar that night, and mentioned a drink, the Horsecar, that Brendan made about five years ago but was only on the menu a short time. Eric found the recipe and whipped up the blend of gin, thyme, blueberries, and simple syrup and, to my sheet delight, presented me with the drink I’d had dreams of for years.

Gunther & Co.

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Gunther & Co. is the new concept from owner Nancy Mola of 8407 Kitchen Bar in Silver Spring. The awesome team at Collins + Wilson invited me and others in to check out the space, menu, and amazing drinks.

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We started with champagne and oysters in the bar and were treated to head bartender, Shaun Stewart, whipping up amazing drinks. He used the new Sagamore Spirits whiskey to create a version of the Meet the Beet-alls, swapping the gin but keeping the Cynar, beet liquor, rhubarb bitters, and fired orange peel. I could drink this … a lot. It’s dangerously good. He also created a light, tropical-esque pineapple drink with Papa’s Pilar rum and reverse egg white … you just have to go to understand.

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We sampled several menu items throughout the evening as we moved through the space, including my favorite, roast pork with mango chutney on a buttermilk biscuit. (I’m having a love affair with chutneys recently.) The roast duck was cooked perfectly and accented with citrus and olives, a unique combo. The shrimp and lemongrass potstickers were a surprise; I wasn’t anticipating Asian influence on the menu. The chocolate pave and buttermilk panna cotta with citrus for dessert made for a perfect ending as we checked out the view from the mezzanine.

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I’m excited to get in to Gunther & Co. to try the full menu — especially brunch. The bar opens at 4pm followed by dinner service at 5pm on Friday, May 20, so prepare yourself to be there!

Rusty Scupper

Rusty Scupper has been the go-to seafood restaurant at the Inner Harbor for decades and, with new executive chef William Wilt at the helm, are coming up with innovative new dishes.

Rusty Scupper William Wilt

Steve and I chatted with Ed, the GM, who is always so nice and welcoming. We had the chance to meet William, as well, and he was really excited to share his new dishes and spice up (no pun intended) the classic menu. Chef is changing up the menu each month; below are the May offerings.

APPETIZER

Soft Shell Tempura – Tempura-fried jumbo soft shell with spicy cabbage slaw, Sriracha sauce and wasabi aioli

ENTREES

Corn Flake Crusted Whale Soft Shell – Whale-size soft shell crusted with a corn flake-fennel crust served over corn and crab risotto with grilled asparagus and sun-dried tomato basil beurre blanc

Crab Stuffed Soft Shell Saint Michael – Jumbo soft shell stuffed with lump crabmeat dredged in seasoned cornmeal and pan-fried, served over whipped potatoes with warm corn and tomato salad with red pepper coulis and lemon-caper aioli

MARKET

Blue Point Oysters/large plump salty

Oyster Sampler with Blue Points/large plump salty

 

 

Run Baltimore: 10.5 miles on the BWI Trail

BWI Trail

I needed a change for my long run and texted a friend who had run the BWI Trail by the airport. With her report and a Google search with some in-depth info, I had a continuous loop to get in my 11-mile long run.  I started at the Thomas A. Dixon, Jr. aircraft observation area and ran opposite the road.

Note: This is technically a bike route, so there are a lot of bikers, but they were good about passing.

Pros

  • 1 big loop with little stopping
  • Lots of bathrooms (including 2 port-a-potties at the start)
  • Pretty flat — only two hills
  • Really well marked

Cons

  • Little protection from wind or sun
  • Noise from airplanes (obviously) and busy roads
  • Boring in some spots
  • No water available

BWI Trail

Mile 1 – The fist mile kicks off through a wooded area (and by “wooded,” I mean some trees to mostly block the road noise) and winds along a mostly flat trail. It’s pretty and if you forgot to use the bathroom before starting, there’s a Royal Farms right before you hit mile 2.

Miles 2-4 – This was the most boring part for me. Get it out of the way early, right? Pro: There’s a Subway and 7-11 right after mile 2 in case you missed that Royal Farms. Con: It’s almost all open and along a pretty busy road. Unless you like street noise, I recommend some music.

Mile 5-7 – This is where the horses are! I saw pics and heard about them, but I didn’t actually think there was a real horse farm — but there is it. Tons of horses and more wooded areas. There’s a decent hill going up to open wildflower field with a winding downhill. It’s really open to the wind with an ugly view of the airport parking, but I’ll always take a downhill. You’ll hit a turn by the Amtrak station; go left to keep on the trail or right to the station if you need a restroom break. (If you have cash, you could grab something from the vending machines. Maybe there’s a water fountain?)

BWI Trail

Mile 8 – After the Amtrak station, you hit mile 8 and the other hill. Again, nothing major, but worth mentioning. You’ll hit a bridge where you make a sharp right or left, but the sign is very clear to go left. These are some winding side roads on the way south back to the park.

Mile 9-10.5 – The remaining miles are on quieter side streets (rather than 4-6 lane streets) with a few cute wooden bridges. It’s certainly not scenic, but it’s better than the busy-ness of earlier miles. There’s a small shopping plaza with a gas station and Burger King if you need a bathroom or drink. You wind back around at about 10.4 and do a final 0.15 in to the park and watch the plans come in.

BWI Trail

Overall, it’s a nice loop to get in longer miles without having to stop to cross streets, wait for lights, etc. I also hate out-and-back runs; I get way too bored. I wouldn’t want to run this in the summer with no shade, but it was good for a mid-50s run in February.

Review: La Cuchara at Meadow Mill at Woodberry

La Cuchara

Restaurant: La Cuchara

Neighborhood: Meadow Mill at Woodberry

Architecture/Ambiance: La Cuchara means “the spoon” and there are awesome old spoons on the walls. There’s whitewash wood to balance the dark colors of the mill, and, being an old mill, there are soaring ceilings.

Service: Our server was very attentive and knew everything about the menu. She was able to describe everything in detail. She did seem a little annoyed that we weren’t ordering entrees, but we were full after having all of the below.

Food, food, food: The food. It’s hard for me to write this because I just want to go back and eat more. I’m so grateful that Ben Lefeneld, the chef and co-owner, brought Basque food to Baltimore.

We ordered a gin & tonic (for him) and the Tempranillo flight (for me). The flight was:  Toro Crianza, Arbucala, “Origen,” 2012, Ribera del Duero Crianza, Valduero, 2011, and Rioja Gran Reserva, Bodegas Faustino, 2001. I LOVED the Ribera and definitely plan to find a bottle.

La Cuchara

Steve’s favorite thing in Barcelona was the olives, so we ordered those to have with the bread selection. There are four varieties of bread, baked in-house by baker Carrie Goltra. There was one with a little bit of salt that was delicious (and would be amazing with avocado).

We moved on to the pintxos, which are only $2/each (or $1 during happy hour!) and ordered the jamón croquette and the smoked Rockfish rillette on pumpernickel with a mussel on top. The croquettes were perfectly crisp on the outside and gooey with cheese on the inside. The mussel on top was delicious, but I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the rillette. It was kind of like tuna salad, which I didn’t love. (It’s similar to pate.)

La Cuchara

Even thought it’s not Basque food, we had to have the raw oysters, so we ordered 1/2 dozen, which were slightly sweet and had an amazing pickled veggie side. Next, we hit up the charcuterie and did Serrano ham, Valdeón, a blue cheese, and Manchego in a membrillo (quince) sauce. The ham with the Manchego might be what I want for my last meal. I’d be pretty damn happy to go out after having it.

La Cuchara

We opted to order two appetizers, which were definitely larger than normal apps. The charred octopus with white coco beans, lemon, and sage was the favorite of the night for both of us. They were bite-size and perfectly chewy and the lemon and sage made the dish feel really fresh. We were so full at that point that we could only indulge in a few of the beets.

La Cuchara

Since we opted to skip the entrees, I decided that I had just enough room for dessert. I went with the fruite gateau mousse, which is almond cake with Morello cherry. What? What is this magic? Like cake, whipped mousse, overall deliciousness.

Biggest pro(s): I’m obsessed with Basque food. Give me ALL THE JAMON, please! I love the smaller plates that are easy for sharing and keep you from over-indulging. There’s something very European about eating small dishes over a few hours and lingering.

Biggest con(s): It’s tricky to find, hidden in the back of a former mill building. It’s NEAR Woodberry Kitchen, but not in the same “complex.” Both Ubers there and back had a tough time finding it. (There is a helpful map on the website.)