Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Trick or Treats? Treats. Definitely Treats.

Sometimes you can't travel as much as you want due to time or money limitations. This becomes increasingly difficult when everyone you know on Instagram is in Vancouver at the same time and when the people on The Amazing Race are walking with lions in Zambia while you sit on your couch and type out a blogpost.

But one of the things I've learned over the years is that there's a way to travel in between trips, and that's through food! I often travel in my own zip code in between traveling outside of it by finding a great restaurant with cuisine from a place I've never been in my Global Bites without the Flights series. And now, I can also experience snacks from a different country each month with my Treats subscription box! I waited to open the Treats box until I was with my sampling partner, Ryan, and I'll tell you, those few hours before I knew what country we received were rough. Ryan guessed the snacks would be from Malaysia while I went with South Korea. We were both wrong, but on the same continent, for when we (finally) opened the box, we discovered snacks from Japan.

Treats offers two sizes of boxes. A Standard Box costs $12.95 a month and includes 4-5 snacks while a Premium Box costs $24.95 a month and comes with 8-10 snacks. My premium box actually came with a variety of 11 snacks. This would come out to about $2.30 a snack, some full-sized and some single serving packages. The price point is not bad in comparison with NatureBox and Graze, as both those plans come out to about $5 for a shareable bag, with Graze also having individual servings for about $1.75 each.

Now, on to the snacks themselves!

The best-smelling snack was the Fruit Gummy Assortment from Kasugai with individually-wrapped lychee, mango, and strawberry gummies. I'm a big fan of gummies and these were pretty good - way denser than both gummy bears and fruit snack gummies. To go along with the best-smelling snack, the worst smelling was definitely the Baked Shrimp Chips from Calbee. They were tasty and we ate them in one sitting during an episode of The Wire, but it's not advised to stick your nose in the bag and inhale.

Cutest snack? This one was a tie. First are the Pocky Tsubu Tsubu Ichigo from Glico, which are long cookie biscuits shaped like hearts on the ends, dipped in strawberry. I've had the chocolate Pocky before, but this was my first time with the strawberry and it was one of my favorite treats. The other cutest snack was the Kinder Happy Hippo, which looked like the hippos from the Hungry Hungry Hippos game. This was a cookie filled with different layers of chocolate in different sections. It was the only snack that I didn't share with Ryan because I ate it too quickly.

The Moringa Milk Caramels were the least exciting snack of the group. They were definitely delicious and it was a good sized box, but nothing about them aside the packaging screamed "this is international," and you could find something similar at any grocery store. 

The rice-iest snacks were the Himemaru rice crackers from Amanoya and the Kaki-no-tane rice crackers from Uegaki. Though both are rice crackers, they do not taste the same so I did not feel shorted. The Kaki-no-tane have quite a spicy kick if you eat enough of them at once. Both of these snacks came in decent sized bags for sharing, if you choose to do so.

The Jagabee Butter Soy Sauce Crisps were basically dried french fries in a bag, but tasted more like McDonald's fries than American versions of potato crisps I've had - probably from all of the salt. These were also eaten during an episode of the Wire.

The Giant Caplico Strawberry from Glico was the most oddly shaped snack. It was like a Drumstick Ice Cream Cone but clearly wasn't frozen. When we unwrapped this one, I half expected melted ice cream to run down my fingers, but instead of ice cream in a cone, it was what tasted like the yogurt-like coating on yogurt-covered raisins on top of a regular cone. It was kind of strange because the main snack was what we would normally take in small doses as just a coating, but I can't say I hated it.

The snack we were most apprehensive about trying was the Watapachi Melon Soda from Meiji. It had the craziest cartoon design of exploding sodas with faces and no words we could identify. I was expecting a Pixie Stick situation, but it turned out to be a sour apple cotton candy with something resembling Pop Rocks at the bottom of the bag. I'm sure you were supposed to mix it up, but I kept getting mouthfuls that were one or the other.

There's one snack that arrived in my apartment a month ago that still remains mostly uneaten and that is the Cola Puccho package from Uha. It's supposed to resemble the taste and feeling of drinking a soda but it's a gummy with a seltzer-ish center that froths up when you bite into it. It's not a great taste or a great feeling. Ryan had tried these before and basically refused to try them again, but I caught him with his mouth open during a yawn and tricked him into eating one. Thankfully he does not hold a grudge.

What I like about Treats that's different than other snack boxes is that it's a surprise as to what country you'll receive and what snacks you'll get. Because you rate snacks on NatureBox and Graze, you end up being sent some of the same snacks over and over. And even if some of these Treats snacks are Cola Pucchos, the majority of what I had from Japan are awesome and foods I wouldn't have experienced without this subscription box service.


Arigatou to Treats for sending me a box to review. Opinions are always my own. Readers will receive 15% off your first box with the promo code: HELLLOVEATOWN 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My Favorite Ghost Stories

I don't love Halloween. Growing up, I was scared by *everything* and I didn't like wearing a turtleneck underneath all my costumes due to the temperature. Nowadays, I *almost* enjoy being scared, though I still hate turtlenecks and when adults go to the store and buy a full costume instead of being creative and making one.

This year, I'm dressing up for the first time in ages, something I've been able to avoid in recent years. It just so happens that I have a party to attend and someone who wants to do a "couples costume" with me, and I'm actually pretty excited about it. In "spirit" of this new attitude, I've collected my favorite blogposts about things that go bump in the night...
  • Marie's Crisis, You're the Top: The West Village bar wherein Thomas Paine died, footprints are heard when no one is around, and a woman may still haunt the basement ladies' room.
  • New Orleans Beyond Bourbon Street: Many New Orleans bars boost about their ghosts, but the scariest one has to be at the oldest bar in the country, where sometimes red eyes, glowing with blood (!), are seen in the fireplace.
  • Something Evil's Lurking in the Dark: My second, and most recent, time watching the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, featuring an appearance by a Transformers taxi cab man and Pauly D. This year's parade is on Halloween night at 7 pm.
Have you ever been somewhere that's said to be haunted? What was your experience like?


Sunday, October 18, 2015

An ExBEERience in Chicago

Not only was I lucky enough to participate in a food tour when I was in Chicago last month, I also had the opportunity to do a beer tour, which is something I'd never done before while traveling. I am definitely a beer girl over any other type of alcohol (read about my Struggle with Port Wine), but I also am now in my 30s and (very) unable to drink as much as I did in my college glory days, so I was curious how the day would go.

Kristyn and I prepped for our Chicago Beer Experience tour of Lakeview & Lincoln Park by lining our bellies with carbs at Elly's Pancake House. All geared up for a day of drinking, we met our tour guide, Phil, and the rest of the group at Harrigan's Pub. I loved the place immediately because of the Irish coins decorating the bar, underneath the glass. I learned the most at this first stop because as the day went on, I became more affected by the intake of beer and stopped being such a good listener, which I imagine was also the case for the rest of our group.

It was at Harrigan's where we learned how to taste beer, which strangely enough is not by chugging it down quickly after the opposing team sinks a shot during beer pong, or via a funnel. First, you look at it to see the color and cloudiness, then you smell it, then you sip it and "chew" it. I wouldn't recommend using the chewing beer method on a date, but it allows you to experience the flavor way better than just sipping. Phil also told us a fun story, which may or may not be an urban legend, about a man who, for Lent, gave up eating and drinking everything, except for beer. After the 40 days, he went to his doctor for tests, and he was in great health and had even lost 15 pounds. The only thing he was at risk of was scurvy, which theoretically, could be helped if the man had eaten some sliced oranges on the edges of his beer glasses, like those served with Blue Moon & Hoegaarden.

The bartender at Harrigan's served us four beer samples, all of which I enjoyed. The first was a mystery "Award-Winning Chicago Beer," which I won't reveal the name of, in case you are going on this tour as well. The name or reputation of something as a cheap, college beer can cloud your impression of it, so making this a blind tasting was a good idea. The second beer was a "properly-poured Guinness." I've certainly had Guinness a few times, but typically in carbombs or sips from others' glasses at dive bars, and it's quite possible I haven't had one that is properly poured. I always thought I didn't like Guinness, which made me feel like a bad Irish person. Instead, it turns out I do like it, which is awesome and makes me feel like a *good* Irish person, although I still am iffy on Jameson. Our third tasting would have been a 312 Urban Wheat Ale from Goose Island, but the keg ran out, so it was replaced with a Green Line American Pale. I had ordered the 312 Urban Wheat the night before, so I was happy to be trying something new, although I liked the 312 a lot. Our last beer was an Elliot Ness Amber Lager - named, cheekily, after the famous Prohibition agent.

The next stop on the tour was Paddy Long's, where we sampled not only three beers, but also three types of bacon. We had a Krankshaft Kolsch paired with Irish thick slab bacon, a Dark Horse Pale Ale with peppercrusted Bacon, and an Old Chub Scotch Ale Nitro, with jowl bacon. At this point in the day, my pancakes were just a memory, so I may have been more focused on the bacon-tasting than the beer-tasting. The peppercrusted was my favorite, but I wouldn't have been upset to have another serving of any of them.

We then walked to Bodega Ramos, our only stop on the tour which was not a bar. It is a specialty store offering craft beer, wine from smaller vineyards, and creative spirits. It was here where we learned more about the ingredients of beer and how beer is actually made, but it was also here where things became a little blurry for me. Three more beer samples were provided to us: Oktoberfest Revolution, Domaine DuPage, and Cain and Ebel, the last two from Two Brothers. We also received a snack pairing here - though sadly, not more bacon - some spicy peanuts from Bee's Knees Food Company.

During the last two stops, I got a little caught up talking with our other tour group members, most of whom were from the Midwest and the South and had way cooler accents than I do. But I think this is part of the joy of the tour. Everyone loosens up a little and has a great time, with folks you wouldn't necessarily meet otherwise. At Atlas Brewing Company we had three more beers from the brewing company themselves - Oktoberfest Marzen, Diversey Pale Ale, and Glasgow Kiss Scotch Ale - and learned all about the history of Prohibition in Chicago.

We ended our tour at Delilah's, where a bar has been in the building since the 1800s, and a speakeasy for a few years during Prohibition. We wrapped up with a Stevens Point Oktoberfest while the bar went wild over the Buffalo Bills game.

{via @chicagobeerexp}

Despite our pancakes, the bacon, and the peanuts, Kristyn and I needed to fill up on food desperately after drinking as much as we did on the tour. Luckily, the day before, we had gone to one of the 12 famous Garrett Popcorn shops and each purchased a bag of half caramel, half cheese popcorn. When we got back to Kristyn's place, I went to town on my bag and everything was wonderful.


Thank you, Chicago Beer Experience, for hosting us on this tour. At the time of this post, tours are $59.90 per person, $39.90 if attending without the beer tastings. Chicago Beer Experience also offers a tour of the Bucktown & Winter Park areas of Chicago. Opinions are always my own.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Out, Out, Damn...Shot Shot Shot Shot Shot

"O god, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains. 
That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!"
- Cassio, Othello by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare was no stranger to drinking. According to the interwebs, there are over 350 references to alcohol in his writings. One wonders, then, if he would approve of Drunk Shakespeare, the live show that I recently attended in Times Square, where cast members get wasted before the performance. If he's into organizing as much as I am, Shakespeare would have at least approved of the event space, decorated with as many books as Belle had in her library, but all grouped by color.

There was a VIP experience up for bid for the performance, which started at $15 and was won with $40. The highest bidder and a friend had the opportunity to sit in the throne on stage, becoming the King and Queen and therefore part of the show. They also received a bottle of champagne with cool horn goblets, fine chocolates, and hand massages (!). On another night, I might have thrown my name in the hat, but Ryan and I were seated on the floor right next to the throne and I felt like we were going to be part of the action already.

The cast introduced themselves and let us know we were going to be seeing a performance of Macbeth. Not having read Macbeth in school - let's be honest, who among us has read Shakespeare past Senior year - I thought it might be difficult for me to follow. I had forgotten, of course, that I was at Drunk Shakespeare and not Sleep No More, which I experienced a few years ago. We learned that our cast member who was going to get drunk was the woman playing Lady Macbeth, Monique. She was served five shots of Fireball Whisky, and although someone from the audience took one to confirm it was Fireball, I'd venture to say it might have been switched with something less alcoholic after the first shot. Lady Macbeth drank throughout the show as well, and those drinks seemed to be authentic.

The show started out normally, with the witches in the woods, but somewhere along the way, hilarious things began to happen. There was definitely some improv involved, but it seemed like some of the bits had been done before, and will be again, so I won't give away too much of the actual show. But please know that people were laughing the entire time. One of the things I'll give away is that Lady Macbeth demanded that one of the actors perform as different Muppet characters. There was also a dance battle and a hula hoop. Another hilarious (and disgusting) moment was when the cast took audience members' drinks to pour into a cup on stage for the potion. It was like the end of a game of Kings in college, but Macbeth actually drank it instead of everyone just staring at it.

Sure enough, Ryan and I did become part of the show. The actor playing Macbeth asked us to kill Banquo and his son for him. Macbeth asked Ryan, "Did you kill Banquo?" and he answered affirmatively. I was then asked, "Did you kill Banquo's son?" and I also answered affirmatively. Macbeth then asked me, "Have you read the play?" to which I was forced to admit, "I have not..." and everyone laughed. Macbeth said, "Okay, you didn't kill Banquo's son," and asked me again, and I gave the right answer this time. I was a little embarrassed but was provided with a new beer for being put on blast so I felt good about that.

Even with the silliness, the show was as good as any representation of the play. These actors, though able to joke around, are no joke themselves. There were plenty of serious moments that made you forget for a second that Dr. Bunson Honeydew, the scientist from the Muppets, had just been on stage a minute prior. Lady Macbeth's famous monologue was especially poignant, considering how much the actress had imbibed.

In the end, I'd say Willy would approve of Drunk Shakespeare for sure, at least to the level that he approves other interpretations of his works like West Side Story, She's the Man, and 10 Things I Hate About You. I'd recommend looking on Groupon and other sites for discount tickets as there are many deals available. And you should know that you don't have to pay extra for the VIP treatment to get your picture on the throne, like the royalty you are:


Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Charming Turn in Swiss Lucerne

Lucerne is known as the tourism capital of Switzerland and it's easy to see why. It's right out of a fairy tale. I only had a few hours to spend in all its charm, but I think I made the most of it. If you find yourself in Lucerne, make sure you check out the following:

Chapel Bridge

I've seen a few bridges in my day, but Chapel Bridge has to be the absolute cutest. Chapel Bridge is one of four to connect the new town and the old town across Ruess River, but it's the only one that has been around since the 14th century. OH OKAY, no big deal. As if that wasn't enough to make me love it, the bridge is wooden, covered, and has an awesome tower and huge paintings in the rooftop every few feet from the 17th century. Sadly, many of the paintings were destroyed in a fire in 1993, though some were safe in storage at the time and some have since been restored. I am a little bewildered at how, aside from the fire, the paintings survived for this long out in the elements, but that just adds to the fairy tale feeling of this city.

The Lion

"The lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, 
but nowhere so impressive as where he is."
Mark Twain

Another Lucerne icon reminiscent of fairy tales, and one Disney movie in particular with a terribly depressing scene of a lion dying, is *the* lion. I'd only heard of Lucerne's lion when I started researching my trip, but I knew it would be one of my favorite things I saw while in Switzerland. The memorial to over 600 Swiss Guards lost during the French Revolution was carved directly into a cliff in 1820. The lion is suffering a slow death after being attacked with a spear, a part of which remains lodged in its back. The lines in the stone in the cliff seem to mirror the spear to indicate hundreds more spears heading its way. The carving itself is huge, spanning over thirty wide and twenty feet tall. It's a powerful monument, made even more powerful by its secluded area in front of a reflecting pond. So secluded that I walked by it several times before eventually asking someone how to find it. I'm glad I spent time with the lion. Mark was right.

Lake Lucerne

It felt like everywhere we went in Switzerland, we were by a lake, but Lake Lucerne was one of the prettiest. This was partially due to the manmade aspects of the town - the charming architecture lining the water, the adorable bridges, and the extendable dam that controls the waterflow for all the lakeside villages. I sat watching the powerful waterflow for quite some time. It's an intricate system to control the snow melting from the mountains nearby, which is the main source of water for the lake. The mountains in the background of the lake enhance its beauty, as do the swans, said to be a gift from French King Louis XIV, the Sun King, as a token of thanks for his Swiss Guards.  

Lucerne is an extremely easy and relaxing daytrip from the hustle and bustle of Zurich. I've already mentioned the town is a fairy tale, and work with me here on this last line...

Damsel in distress? Try damsel in DEstress. (Sorry.)


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Global Bites without the Flights: Moroccan Food at Cafe Mogador

My frousin (friend & cousin) Christie and I were in Europe at the same time this spring. Christie was gallivanting in Greece and I was frolicking in France and Switzerland. In order to recap our trips properly with each other, we got together over the cuisine of yet another country - Morocco. This meal made Morocco the tenth country in my Global Bites without the Flights series, which I promise to make more regular from now on.

Morocco is known for its unique cuisine, a mixture of influences from surrounding areas - the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and Spain, its closest European neighbor, just 9 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar. When asking around for Moroccan restaurant suggestions, one place kept coming up: Cafe Mogador. This restaurant has two locations - one in the East Village & one in Williamsburg. Christie and I met up in the East Village on a pleasant summer evening. The place was packed and we were hoping to eat outside but we settled for a cozy table in the back because we were HUNGRY.

To start, we shared the Mixed Platter to share with tabouli, babaganoush, hummus, and salad. Although we keep changing our minds about which was babganoush and which was hummus, we wiped the plate completely clean with our khubz and the extra khubz that we requested.

Christie ordered the Chicken Tagine, a popular stew made in a traditional North African pot with a large cone lid. Christie's dish was great, but I won the ordering contest at this meal with my pick of the Bastilla: "layers of crispy filo pastry stuffed with chicken, eggs, and almonds, and seasoned with an exotic blend of herbs and spices." I had no idea if I'd enjoy it, but it seemed like something I'd never had before so I wanted to give it a shot, and knew it is one of Morocco's most popular dishes. It's also referred to as Pastilla, Bestilla, & Basteeya, if looking for it on a different menu. 

When it arrived, I was immediately excited by the looks of it and then when I started to eat, forget about it. This dish was definitely something completely different to me, which is the ultimate goal of Global Bites. The "exotic blend of herbs and spices" tasted like cinnamon to me, which I'd never expect to have with chicken but worked so well with the flaky pastry. The egg inside was similar to the egg in fried rice and the almonds were sliced into very small pieces, perfect for me because I don't like whole almonds unless they're covered in ranch seasoning. This dish is not one to be missed and might be my favorite discovery of all the Global Bites I've done so far.

Thanks, Cafe Mogador for 'Roccan my taste buds. I'll be back for sure.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

The (Deep) Dish on Chicago Food Planet

Last weekend was my first time ever in Chicago, visiting my friend Kristyn who moved there about a month ago. I'd wanted to go several times before, including last fall, when my cousin Em ran the marathon. With my luck, of course the marathon was the same weekend as a wedding I was in. Neither party would reschedule, so I chose the wedding. Since it took me so long to get to Chicago, I knew I had to make the most of it when I finally arrived.

This is why I wanted to take a food tour with Chicago Food Planet. The Chicago food scene is intense and taking a food tour ensured I would sample much of it in a short period of time. Chicago Food Planet offers four group tour options - Gold Coast & Old Town, Bucktown & Wicker Park, Chinatown, and Lincoln Park. Kristyn and I chose the Gold Coast & Old Town tour since it would help her get more acquainted to her neighborhood.

The tour started off at Lou Malnati's to see what Chicago "pizza" is all about. Living in New York and growing up in Jersey, I am used to thin crust and slices that you fold down the middle and eat on the sidewalk off of a paper plate. New York pizza is no frills. Chicago pizza is all frills.

The first thing we were served at Lou Malnati's was their signature salad - the Malnati salad - with romaine, tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, salami bits, gorgonzola, romano, and Lou Malnati's homemade sweet vinaigrette dressing. I'm not a big salad fan normally, but if there hadn't been a full day of eating ahead of us, I would've taken down the whole plate. Since I had to save room, I only made my way through half of it.

Then, the pizza came out and I was wildly excited for the buttery crust and the sausage underneath the layers of cheese and tomatoes. I cut into it, brought the fork to my mouth, closed my eyes and had an immediate flashback to the 1990s. It tasted exactly like when my family would go to Pizza Hut on Saturday nights after my sister and I had read enough books in the BOOK IT! program to earn free personal pan pizzas. I mentioned this to Kristyn and someone else at the table said, "don't let Lou Malnati hear you say that." For the record, I *loved* getting personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut and I *loved* Lou Malnati's.

While we were finishing our pizza and I was looking over my shoulder to make sure no one who worked at Lou Malnati's heard my comparison of their pizza to Pizza Hut, our awesome tourguide Jess "dished" about the history of pizza in Chicago, Lou Malnati's, and the difference between deep dish and stuffed pizza. Stuffed pizza is something I need to try the next time I go to Chicago, that's what Giordano's is famous for.

The tour then stopped in a number of specialty food shops. At Tea Gschwendner, a loose leaf tea shop from Germany, we enrolled in Tea 101. My sister has an entire shelf in her cabinets dedicated to tea, but I'd never thought too much about it, aside from knowing that sleepytime tea gives me nightmares and chai tea lattes give me patience. I had no idea that the four true tea varieties (white, black, green, and oolong) come from the same plant and are simply at different levels of oxidation.

At Old Town Oil, we sampled what felt like a thousand different types of olive oil and vinegars - with baguettes fresh from La Fournette bakery - including walnut, lemon, garlic, blood orange, olive oils and red apple, pomegranate, tangerine, and strawberry balsamic vinegars. My favorite was the tuscan herb olive oil for sure.

The Spice House could be smelled from down the street and I could have spent a lot of time in there trying out all the samples. If I lived in Chicago, I think I'd cook a lot more than I do in New York, just because of all the rubs and seasonings they have that would enhance a simple piece of chicken, which is basically all I can make. I know you're thinking that I could certainly find a spice store in New York, but that would take a little googling. Just like with the tea, I've never given any thought to how things like pepper and cinnamon just appear on our kitchen tables. Jess took us to the garden to share the stories of some of our favorite spices and for taste tests of different varieties.

At the Fudge Pot, our group had the opportunity to go behind the candy counter which is every kids' (and travel bloggers') dream come true. While most candy shops these days just buy their goods wholesale, the Fudge Pot makes all their candy in-store. What's really cool about this family business is that it was started by the folks who created the original Three Musketeers bar for Mars. We tried their most famous candy, the toffee, and it melted in my fingers and mouth and all was right with the world.

We also went to the first sushi bar in Chicago, Kamehachi and tried their spicy tuna roll, a shiitake mushroom roll, and hot sake. Many other folks on the tour had not had sushi before, but I have it a few times a month, so this stop was no shock for me. What was a shock to me was how many people didn't want to even try it.

We ended our tour at Delightful Pastries where I expected to have a sweet treat, which we did receive by way of French macarons, but where I didn't expect to have two of the best pierogis I've ever had. We were served a mushroom and sauerkraut and a potato pierogi and I surprisingly wanted seconds on the pierogis before the macarons, which are typically one of my favorite treats.

If you find yourself in Chicago being overwhelmed with their fantastic food offerings, look no further than Chicago Food Planet, and let someone else Chicago Food Plan-it.


Thank you, Chicago Food Planet, for hosting me on this tour. At the time of this post, the Gold Coast & Old Town tour is $45 for adults, $48 on Saturdays, with discounted prices for the kiddos. Opinions are always my own.
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