Category Archives: Vacation

Bouchon v. Levain

As you may or may not know, a week before my dad’s passing, Binks and I went to NY for a cousin’s wedding.  We took 4 days for the wedding and an additional 3 days of non-wedding time (can we say too much extended family time?).

Call it a Babymoon if you will – I will not.  Rather, the appropriate term would be my search for the best food ever.

I have an affinity/bias/love-affair with NY.  When my family first moved to America, we moved to NY for about a month.  We didn’t stay long but it left a lasting impression.  From things I remember as a kid, I remember having the best Indian food in NY (heard of Jackson Heights anyone?), obviously killer pizza and the like.

This time, was really my first time in NY.  Usually we spend our time with family and were deemed too young to travel outside of Queens.  So, Binks and I made full use of the times we got alone to walk the streets of NY.

One day, as were heading out of our hotel, a girl walked passed me with the most delectable chocolate chip cookie in hand. I wanted one.  Not just one.  I wanted to try as many chocolate chip cookies as possible and find the best in NY.  Call it pregnancy cravings if you will – I will not.  It’s just me being me.

Here are my requirements for the perfect chocolate chip cookie:

1.  Texture – Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside.  This is a balancing act like none other.  And, while I enjoy a good slightly under-cooked center as the rest of us, I don’t want the whole cookie to rest on that.  (You should remember that Otis – although I will devour you any day and in anyway!)

2.  Chip/cookie Ratio – Definitely more cookie that chip for me.  If it’s too much chocolate chip, then I miss the whole point of a cookie.

3.  Taste – buttery, deep, not too sweet, hint of salty – I know you know what I mean.

My first stop – Bouchon Bakery.

Luckily we had a bakery just one block from our hotel.  Talk about tastefully convenient!

And speaking of tasty – this was just that.  Dare I say perfect?  I do.  The dough is fantastic – sweet but not overly so with a nice rounded out flavor.  What stood out the most was the chocolate.  Far superior to any other chocolate chip I have had.  Overall, I was one happy NY foodie tourist.

Then, came Levain.  Known to many as offering the best cookies ever, I had to try.  We were walking around the Upper West Side (Binks wanted to see where Seinfeld lived), we trekked south towards our hotel before catching a bus to the airport.  With our time constraint, and the distance, I was sure we wouldn’t get time for a visit.  But, this is when determination hits hardest.

I told Binks that I would gladly walk another 4 miles just to get this cookie.  And, Binks being Binks, obliged.

Meet the chocolate chip walnut from Levain.

This is a beast at the least.  Heavy and dense.  A Goliath among chocolate chip cookies.  I broke into one to discovery an ooey and gooey center.  Yes, “ooey” and “gooey” is the ONLY way to describe it – I dare you to say differently.  It quite literally melts in your mouth.

I loved it.  The taste was there.  Full of chocolate chips and who could ever complain about portions?  Perfect?  Umm…..don’t hate me but No!  While nothing less than delicious, Bouchon ruined me (maybe for life).  I prefer a thinner chocolate chip cookie.  Levain was more like a giant dough ball.  Again, while I love an under-cooked center, this was too much.  And, there might have been too many chocolate chips.  Binks, the president of the chocolate addict club, agreed.

I said don’t hate me!

Would I ever deny myself one in the future?  Nope.  But if standing in a line offering Bouchon or Levain – Bouchon for me, please!

I do have to say there were many places we didn’t get to try:

–  Max Brenner
–  Pret A Manger
–   Almondine

Tasting only two cookies in my quest for the perfect cookie.  Call it a failure if you will – I will not.  Rather, I’ll be back – with a vengeance.

Tell me about your favorite chocolate chip cookie.  What do you look for?

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Filed under Cookies, Favorites, Vacation

I Should Have Yelped.

To Yelp Or Not To Yelp.   That was the question.

Throughout the San Francisco to San Diego road trip, I was glued to my iPhone.  My phone served as a map and most importantly – a restaurant rater.  In Dallas, I rarely Yelp.  But, in an unknown place, I Yelp.

Needless to say, Binks got severely irritated and like I said, around Big Sur, got sick of it.  And, I got it.  I’m on a scenic road trip and I spend most of my time looking at a tiny phone screen.  I too got sick of it.

After walking down State St. in Santa Barbara, we worked up a small appetite.  Binks said he would pick a place (sans Yelp) and it would be great.

Binks is a liar.

He picked Uncle Roccoco’s.

You know Binks and his pizza.  How bad could a pizzeria be you ask?

Red Flag 1:  Offering New York Pizza in Santa Barbara.

Red Flag 2:  New cheese on top of old cheese on top of an old pizza slice.

Red Flag 3:  It tasted gross.

Let’s say after this colossal failure, Binks never complained about using Yelp again.

Do you Yelp?  Are you addicted to your phone?

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How To Eat A Cheese Steak Sandwich by Oliepants

A road trip from San Francisco to San Diego would be nothing without stopping at one of the most iconic and scenic locations along Highway 1 – Big Sur.  No word would better describe Big Sur other than ‘picturesque’.

And it’s like this all along the way.  Talk about beautiful.  Binks and I got out numerous times to take pictures.

There are a couple of different things we did not know about the Big Sur areas.

1.  Restaurants are few along the coast.  

Luckily we stopped (Binks insisted without Yelp help) at Ripplewood Resort.

A quaint place for a quick lunch.

I ordered the cheese steak sandwich.  There goes any healthy eating out the window.  When on vacation, you can just about guarantee that if a dish comes with fries, I will order it.

Fact: I’m addicted to french fries.

I pretty much got fries with a side of sandwich – just the way I like it.

Binks got the fries also, with a side of ‘kobe’ burger.

Before I tell you my new favorite find, I want to tell you another story.

When I was in college and gaining the Freshman 50, I was obsessed with ranch.  I really would just use it as a condiment for everything – fries, sandwiches, chicken nuggets, veggies.  You name it, I could dunk it in ranch.

Now, I’ve given up those days and changed my routine a bit.

But, some things will never change.  Like this:

There is no better way to eat a cheese steak sandwich than my way.  I’m sure of it.  It requires (1) ranch and (2) Tabasco sauce.  

First, the ranch.  You can’t pick up any old bottle of ranch (you could, but it wouldn’t be exactly the same).  You gotta pick up your favorite ranch – the creamy, drippy, buttermilk ranch.  You just gotta.

Second, the Tabasco.  It has to be the red Tabasco – the Original.

Now, the process.  There are two ways you can do this.  First, you dunk your bite of cheese steak into the ranch, then, you lift it and add Tabasco to the dunked area.  Then, take a bite.

The other way is to mix the ranch and the Tabasco together so you can save your self some time and judging eyes by other patrons or spouses.

Either way, it’s delicious.  I’m drooling as I type.  Judge me.  But, then join me.  You won’t look back.

Now, Ripplewood Resort had no idea I was coming.  I don’t think anything would have been different if they did – but moving on…

The ranch wasn’t runny.  It was thick.  It will do.

The Tabasco was not Tabasco.  It was better.

Meet my new favorite find:

I had no expectations as I was looking forward to Tabasco.  This was OFF THE CHIZZAIN!!  I could clearly taste the freshness.  The garlic and pepper really stood out.  Perfection in a bottle.  And if you know me, you will know that I can go ape shit for hot sauce.

Mind you, I’m not from California and I have never tried this.  For you California residents, is this normal in your neck of the woods?  This hot sauce might be reason enough for me to move there.

Binks was in love too.

He ended up using it on his burger.

I became my college-self.  Dunking bread, beef, fry and every vegetable into the pepper sauce.  Except this time, I could have cared less about the ranch.  Other patrons, namely the one guy sitting to my right, were watching.  I stopped out of embarrassment.  But not without putting one last fry into my mouth.

I looked up the Pepper Plant upon arriving to Texas and I think I’m going to order a few bottles (i.e. Original and Habanero Hot).

Are you a fan of ranch?  What do you use it on?  Is it a guilty pleasure?  Are you willing to try my cheesecake routine?  

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Filed under Favorites, garlic, Life, Lunch, Uncategorized, Vacation

My First 100th Bay 2 Breakers!

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that Binks signed us up for the annual Bay 2 Breakers 12K.  This year was especially special because it was the 100-year anniversary.  Pretty crazy huh?

The only other race I’ve participated in was a 5K.  I walked/ran it.  We had every intention of walking this as we had not properly trained to walk/run or run it.  We also had every intention of sticking together, because with a sold-out 50K participant race, you will quite easily lose one another in this massive event.

Now, the 12K amounts to about 7.5 miles.  I wasn’t worried about that.  Binks and I walk about 8 miles per day on a vacation just touring a city.  We’re insane like that.  But, San Fran is not just any other city.  If you have climbed any of its streets, you know what I mean.  I was winded after one.

So, when I heard/read that the B2B has a 11.5 grade incline known as the dreaded Hayes Hill, I was worried.  Real worried.  I can walk but after my experience with San Fran hills, I was shaking.

Despite my worrying, we started.

It was a beautiful day too.  I enjoyed the weather.  I enjoyed the scenery.

I enjoyed the costumes.

I enjoyed the lack of costumes.

Mind you, I was warned/aware of the nudity.  But, I never got used to it.  All I could think about was chaffing, sweating and odor.  No one said my thoughts had to make sense.  It kept me entertained.

Which is exactly what I needed to conquer the Hayes Hill Beast.

This picture does not do it justice.  After you walk for 2.5 miles, there are 5 blocks of hills.  One right after the other.  So, me, being me, climbed one hill right after another.  And, before I knew it, it was done!  I can tell you that it was a proud moment for me.  🙂

Finally – the finish line.  And quite well for my standards.  I don’t run and have never walked a 12K.  I didn’t practice all that much for this 12K (meaning the days before, I walked about 2-3 miles a day with my dog).  I maintained a 3 mph pace and was done in less than 3 hours.  I was quite pleased.

Although this finish line is a bit of a farce for me as a walker because you do have to walk about another 2 miles to get to the vendors and collect the medal.  So….I paced and timed and measured myself.  All in all – that day, I walked 9.9 miles.

It was a glorious day.

Afterwards, I went back to my hotel, showered, packed up and headed out for the road trip.

But, not without food.  We stopped for sandwiches just after getting out of San Francisco.  We found a local place in Pacifica called Colombo’s Delicatessen.

Binks had the Sicilian, which consisted of italian sausage and ricotta cheese.

The peppers made this sandwich.  Yes, that is my bite of HIS sandwich.  I believe in sharing.

I had the chicken Parmesan sandwich.  I usually don’t order this but it was their special for the day and I had to try.

Can I say saucy-licious?!

The best part was the bread.  This family owned and operated shop bakes their own delicious soft bread.  It made all the difference.

Although, I didn’t know it was going to be so huge so we saved the other half for later.

And, then we were off down the coast with nothing but blue skies.

What’s the craziest/longest/most challenging race you have completed?  Why was it so crazy/challenging for you?  How did you feel after?  How did you prep (physically and mentally for the race)?

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Wrapping Up San Fran

I’m 90% sure I could spend a whole month in San Francisco and still have more to see.  So, I think the best thing to do is just to move here.  Ah…I’m in love.

The weather is magnificent.  At first, my Dallas-acclimated-body was not ready for the cold (and neither was my coat-less packed luggage). But, after some time, I really got used to it and realized it’s more of a breeze and less of a harsh cold like I have encountered in Dallas, Chicago or Boston.

All in all, I visited one of the most beautiful places ever – both inside…

…and outside (the city).

Ate delicious food.

{A carne asada super burrito from Mission’s Taqueria El Farolito}

All wrapped up by a walk through Chinatown.

Next up is the road trip from San Fran to San Diego.  Remember the to-do list?  Let’s see how much Binks and Olie gets done.

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San Fran: Day 2 – How I Budget My Vacation

This trip to San Francisco has been a dream trip of mine.  I have been planning this trip since Binks first went to San Francisco and said he wanted to move there eventually.  That was 3 years ago.

Just like my wedding, all dreams come with a price, and this girl has to budget her dreams.  I’ll be gone from May 12th – May 18th and that means a lot of hotels, a lot of eating out, a lot of gas, a lot of excursions and a lot of miscellaneous.

Tip 1: Save on hotels.

During this trip, I’ll stay at 4 hotels.  In total, I have paid $120.  How?  Well, when I had my dream wedding (at a Marriott), I accumulated a lot of rewards points that I used up for this vacation.  Every hotel night has been ‘paid for’ by my Marriott points.  The only hotel I have paid for is my hotel at Monterey.

And, I used Priceline for that.  Priceline is my best friend when I don’t have points saved up.

Tip 2:  Book hotels that offer free breakfasts. 

Especially when breakfasts include delicious oatmeal with toppings for a waffle bar.  I loved this bowl with some chocolate chips, strawberry sauce, walnuts and a banana.  Delicious!!

Tip 3:  Balance overspending with left over breakfast.

That title makes no sense.  I know.  On day 1, we ate out for breakfast (at the airport), lunch (Boudin), and dinner (Firenze at Night).  We spent more than we expected to spend.

So, in an attempt to balance out that damage to the wallet, I made some lunch with breakfast items.  Meet my lunch for Day 2.

My favorite sandwich – the pb&j, with half a muffin that I shared with Binks.

Tip 4:  Pack snacks.

Tip 5:  Take advantage of natural (free) sights to see.

Meet my close encounter with death – the Twin Peaks.

I climbed up one and thought, I’m going to die – either of loss of breath or the wind blowing me onto the road below.  But, just looking at the second Twin made me think, I had to conquer that beast.  Once, I did, the view was worth a million bucks.

Mind you, we splurge on things here and there, but it’s all about the balance to ensure that we aren’t left with nothing when we get back to reality.

What do you do to save money on trips?  What do you splurge on?

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Filed under Breakfast, Cookies, Vacation

I Woke Up At 3:00 a.m. So United Could Sleep In

Remember when I said my flight to San Fran was at 6:30 a.m.?  In order to get to the airport on time without panic, I had to get up at 3 a.m.  So, I got up at 3:00 a.m.  Then, I get to the airport and find that my 6:30 a.m. departure was delayed to 8:42 a.m.  Reason:  The pilots need to sleep before the flight.  I understand the legal ramifications of pilots and sleep, but how this could not have been anticipated is beyond me.  Needless to say, there was a lot of uncomfortable airport sleeping.

But, I got my second run once we landed in San Francisco.

Because we landed prior to check-in, we went straight to Fisherman’s Wharf.

As Binks and I were quite famished by the time we landed, we stopped off Boudin for a quick lunch.  While waiting for lunch, we were happy to see what was next door.

I ordered the California Veggie sandwich for lunch.

The sandwich was exactly what I needed after the flight.  Yummy bites of cucumber, tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, pepper jack cheese, sun-dried tomato spread, onions and balsamic vinegar really made this sandwich the deliciousness that it was.

Binks got the half special: (1. half sandwich and 2. half soup).  Of course we had to try the famous clam chowder.

This sandwich totally reminded me of this.  Boudin, you really did not hold back at all on portions, did you?  Binks and I should have just split a meal.

After our large lunch, we walked.

And met a new friend.

We took a boat cruise tour, and enjoyed sites that we could not fit into our trip to San Fran this time around.  Like Alcatraz.

We walked to the Ferry Building but only to realize that the Farmers’ Market had closed. I have had my heart set on a bit of a Frog Hollow Farm pear.

After wandering, we checked into our hotel and rested.  An hour later (fighting any and all temptations to just fall asleep for the night), we left the hotel room to tour around more…and eat dinner.

After some considerable Yelp-ing, we found Firenze by Night.  This was one of the best Italian meals I have ever had.

I ordered the eggplant dish (the name of which I cannot remember).  Basically, it’s breaded eggplant, layered with caramelized onions, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.  It’s heaven on a plate.  Although my picture doesn’t do it any justice at all.

And in the north-eastern portion of my plate, Binks shared his ravioli with meat sauce with me.  This meal was magical.  So magical that it stopped Binks in his tracks from just hoovering his food in 5 minutes.

After this hectic day, it’s time to unwind with some mindless TV and much-needed sleep.  Good night everyone!  🙂

Are you a clam chowder fan?  Have you tried Boudin?  Any suggestions in the Bay Area? 

A big thank you to Rice Kernel’s mom for the Bay area suggestions!  🙂

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Filed under Bread, Italian, Vacation

Mumbai Revisited

During my trip to Kerala, I stopped off in Mumbai for a couple of days on my way back to the states – I have family there.  Of all places I have been in my life, my trip to Mumbai was the most interesting, eye-opening and fun!

I’m sure many of you have seen Slumdog Millionaire as I have.  The actual living conditions of everyday people did not hit me in the movie until I actually saw it for myself.  And, it then hit me like a ton of bricks.  Just my first day there I saw people living in ‘homes’ made of branches and the shirt off their back.  I saw people eat OFF the street while traffic is going in full volume – and there is some mayjah traffic issues there.  There are slums galore.

But, the moment of truth only came when we were driving down a busy intersection and I saw a 2-year-old kid walking through the intersection between the lanes in his diapers.  This baby was covered in dust and seemed like he was not bothered in the least.

Mind you I had every opportunity to take his picture to show you but for some reason I felt it not right.  So, I don’t know if you will feel what I felt, but all I know is that I won’t ever forget.

Lesson No. 1:  I am really lucky and blessed to have everything I have.  Lesson No. 2:  You make it work.

So, without further ado, here are the highlights from my trip to Mumbai:

Binks insisted on getting a samosa at the airport before arriving in Mumbai.

Then we arrived.

We were immediately greeted by a street vendor attempting to sell us re-printed/copied books.

He stayed for a long time because again he knew we were Americans.

I must say the traffic was the worst I’ve seen in any city.  There are so many people living in Mumbai that it’s unbelievable just how they live.  For instance, for a 750 sq ft. apartment, there may be 5-7 families living in one apartment so that they can afford a space.  Or, you have situations where someone has a three bedroom home and 3-4 families live in one room while renting the other space out to make income.

And did I mention they have corruption issues with the government?

I think the sign is problem No. 1.  Did you “sspot” it?    🙂

We started the day with a tour of the areas that were hit by the 2008 terrorist attacks, including the Gateway of India, Taj Hotel and Leopold Cafe (for lunch).

Then came Leopold Cafe.  Let me preface this by saying that Binks is not a foodie.  At all.  How we get along is beyond me! 🙂  But, to this day – he cannot stop talking about Leopold Cafe.  You again have to take my word on it – it was THAT good!

Leopold Cafe was another site of the terrorist attacks.  The attackers actually had lunch in the cafe before they began their tirade on restaurant, killing at least 10 people.  The windows where the bullets went through still remain.

The menu was thorough and had plenty of cuisines.

The drinks were offered in volumes.  I think this was the pitcher – of Kingfisher, nonetheless.

I swear it was full prior to this picture.  *burp* *hiccup*

The service – awesome and attentive without being pushy!

The food?  There are no words.

And, obviously there is no food – thanks a bunches Binks!

Then we took time to go to Juhu beach, the most famous beach in Mumbai.  Now, Juhu is a suburb of Bombay – and let me tell ya – rich to say the least.  The movie stars live here, but unfortunately I didn’t see any.

And no, it isn’t the cleanest beach.  But it is crowded – as are most things in Mumbai.  We of course made sure to hit up the vendors at the beach.

Enter the recent favorite – the gola!  Gola is the Indian version of a slush/sno-cone.  It’s ice that’s slushed and smushed on a stick, which pretty much looks like a Popsicle.  Then, the Gola wala pours any flavor of syrup (pictured above) onto the ice and you slurp on the flavored ice.  I got the chocolate flavor.  I still dream about this.

Then the classic lemon soda.  Simple lemon juice, soda water, and chaat masala.  Yum!

My cousins ordered more but I could only handle so much.

Binks and I was really fortunate to have family here to stay with and show us the lay of the land.  After the snacks, we were on our way home.

So, goodbye Mumbai with your gritty exterior and soulful interior.  One thing I know for a fact is that I’m coming back – even if it’s just to eat at the Leopold Cafe and try the chocolate gola at Juhu Beach.

If you want to get the real feel of India with tons to do, go to Mumbai.  I heart it.

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Filed under Indian, Vacation

The American Tax in India and the Best Meal EVER!

Almost everything in India is negotiable.  If you don’t want to pay full price on that ice cream, just tell them what you want to pay and most likely, (if the amount is reasonable) you get your ice cream!

I of course paid full price for that ice cream because I really wanted to try delicious Indian mango ice cream.  Take my word – it was delicious!

Like I said – all things are negotiable save oneThe American. Whether you’re white, black, brown, orange, green or blue, once the Indians get a whiff that you are from the states, it’s over.

Case and point – Binks and I wanted to mozy along on a houseboat for a long afternoon.  My aunt and some family wanted to join.  So, we all went to the houseboat office to ask for the price.  Despite the fact I’m dressed in a salwar and am not talking, there is something that caused the manager to stare at me and Binks, and tell my aunt: “‘The price for everyone is 18,000 rupees.”  (Approx. $400!)  Ridonkulous!

There were about 5 of us, and my aunt had gone previously for less than half that price with more people nonetheless.  And for once, no one was willing to negotiate.  Everyone thinks, the Americans have dollars and it rains money there.  (A post on this later.)

Needless to say, Binks and I high-tailed it out of there.  We went to Alleppey beach instead.

After being in the sun, I needed a refreshing snack.  Enter the orange:

It looks monstrous but if I told you that these pruney wrinkly things uncover the most delicious orangey orange you have ever eaten, would you believe me?  You must! I think I had one-a-day.  They were that delicious and because I like oranges! 🙂

Now for the kicker, after the beach, we drove about 3 hours to the shopping city – Ernakulam/Cochin.  Upon arrival, everyone was hungry and my aunt suggested lunch at the Grand Hotel.  It has of the best and most reputable restaurants in the city, I dare say the state.

First, the fabulous and lengthy menu:

It has everything you could want and more.  Indian and not.  I went for the usual/classic – The Meal and The Fish.  At first, I had no idea what that meant, but I was all in.

We were started off with light airy papads.

Then arrived The Fish.  It arrived wrapped in banana leaf, which the waiter carefully opened.

I don’t think you can imagine all the steam that came out after they unwrapped.  This was the most delicious fish I have ever eaten to date.  Believe me because I ate the whole thing myself.  And, I have no regrets.

Turns out my meal was the traditional thali, which consists of rice and several Indian side dishes, including but not limited to the following:

different vegetable thorans, fish curry (not pictured),

and different chutneys.

My aunt ordered the mutton biryani.

All of the food was so delicious and totally makes me want to come back!  Such great service and a great presentation.  I will definitely make the 3 hour trip back when I go again to visit (post coming soon).

We went shopping galore.  Spent way too much money for pretty things, and finally made our long  journey back to the house.

After that big meal, an evening snack was sufficient.

That looks like an unripe banana, but it was wonderfully ripe on the inside.  You have to trust me on that.

I’m an American, and it’s non-negotiable.

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