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The White House

Each year my mom and I like to take a trip just the two of us. This year’s excursion led us toWashington,D.C. My last visit to D.C. was a work-related trip in 2004. Yes, the year the periodical cicacads reared their ugly heads. With no work and no cicadas this year, we were already off to a great start!

We arrived on a Thursday night and dined at Cafe Italia on 23rdStreet in Arlington. Our cozy table on the enclosed patio made for some interesting people-watching. This restaurant has an authentic menu and food so good I would have gladly “kissed the cook.” Mom’s Gnocchi Alla Pomodoro (homemade potato pillows cooked with basil, sun dried tomatoes and black olives in a garlic tomato sauce) was warm and flavorful…perfect for a chilly evening. I couldn’t resist the Manicotti Alla Florentina (pasta crepes stuffed with fresh spinach and ricotta cheese and baked in a tomato sauce) and it certainly did not disappoint. I would go so far as to say this could be the epitome of Italian comfort food.

The next day, we headed off to the zoo to view the pandas (among other exhibits). Afterwards, we milled about, making a stop at the beautiful and historic St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

St. Matthew’s Cathedral

Lunch was an unexpected delight…Noodles & Company. I relished the Pasta Fresca with chicken breast. I could not believe the quality of the food and the speed in which it was served. This was the perfect fit for a quick lunch where we didn’t want to feel weighed down. Oh, and the price…very, very economical. Refueled and not ones to waste vacation time, we spent the afternoon seeing the sights courtesy of D.C.’s hop on-hop off bus tour. We hopped off at the World War II Memorial and enjoyed views of the Washington Monument

WWII Memorial and Washington Monument

We walked to the Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Veterans Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial

That night, we returned to 23rd Street for dinner at the Crystal City Sports Pub where we gnoshed on Southwest Chicken Egg Rolls to start followed by the crab cakes for mom and a burger for me.

Saturday was highlighted by the Cherry Blossom Festival. Afterwards, we took a quick stroll through the National Gallery of Art.

Me & mom at the National Gallery of Art

It was a gorgeous day so we lunched in the garden surrounding the Smithsonian Castle. While the crowd at the Castle Cafe was nearly overwhelming and the fare was expectedly overpriced, their black bean salad is quite delightful (DISCLAIMER: the salad is chock full of red onion so eat this at the risk of your companion!).

A beautiful day at the Smithsonian Castle

Then, we were off to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the National Mall, and finally a stop by The White House. I love the Natural History Museum so much I would have been happy to visit it every day of our trip! They offer a spectacular butterfly experience which I highly recommend.

Do not touch the butteflies, but if they land on you it’s okay.

The culinary highpoint of our trip came courtesy of Old Ebbitt Grill. This iconic D.C. establishment was recommended by a local I chatted up on our flight up from Atlanta to D.C. Her recommendation was spot on. I devoured The Norwegian sandwich (smoked salmon, hardboiled egg, olive cream, onions, arugula, & tomatoes on pumpernickel bread), but mom’s order of Spring Vegetable Ravioli (asparagus, oven roasted tomatoes, roasted onions, portobello mushrooms, Pecorino Romano and citrus olive oil) stole the show. Old Ebbitt Grill certainly tops the list of places to return on our next trip to D.C.

Sunday we went into Old Town Alexandria as suggested by a friend. Unbeknownst to us, this area likes to ease into Sunday. All of the stores were closed expect for the obligatory corner Starbuck’s. We enjoyed the scenery nonetheless – a walk along the waterfront, traipsing through Founders Park, and exploring Carlyle House.

Carlyle House

Before I knew it, it was time to board our flight and return to the Gulf Coast. It’s always exciting to leave town in search of adventure, but it doesn’t take long before I’m jonesin’ for sweet tea and Southern hospitality. If you plan to visit the D.C. area in the near future, I suggest the DCRider app for your smartphone. It’s absolutely free and makes navigating the metro a breeze.

Our first meal in Greenville was breakfast at Coffee Underground on Main Street. I couldn’t resist their Mediterranean omelette (spinach artichoke dip, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, & portabellas), home fries, and a Chai tea latte. Trust me, the iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice. This charmingly funky café has it’s fair share of character. Personally, I love the Red Room with it’s dim lighting and exotic Middle Eastern flair.

After stuffing our bellies full, we wandered around the farmers’ market. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a city to be envied for it’s market if nothing else. With a diverse array of vendors, one can find virtually anything from farm fresh eggs and pickled green beans to lotions and candles to pitcher plants and fresh herbs.

That night we went to Jill’s favorite sushi restaurant, Tsunami. We started with the Asparagus Yakihitashi before feasting upon numerous varieties of sushi. Afterwards, we sauntered over to Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria to shoot some pool (man, I’m rusty!) and have a few drinks. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to go to a bar and not come out reeking of smoke. Don’t worry, I’ll refrain from jumping on my soap box.

The next day, I set out for a little shopping. I tried my first bubble tea at O-CHA Tea Bar. While the barista was kind enough to guide me through the seemingly endless bubble tea options, her questions started sounding a little weird. Do you want it creamy? Do you like pearls? How about some jellies? All I wanted some tea! Somehow, I convinced myself she wasn’t a pusher using street lingo for drugs and instead of fleeing, I ordered a blueberry tea with both pearls and jellies. Give me a merit badge for bravery. 😉 After all that anxiety, I really didn’t care for the drink, but now I can say I’ve tried it.

Perhaps the best meal we had on our trip was lunch at Poppies Gourmet Farmers Market. After a fun morning of waterfall hunting, we’d worked up quite an appetite. With more adventure on the horizon that day, this was the perfect place to grab a quick (and delicious!) lunch while enjoying their lush garden. I was torn between the fish tacos and  the black and bleu burger so Kevin graciously agreed to order the burger while I ordered the tacos. It worked out perfectly since we switched plates halfway through our meal.

Our last taste of South Carolina was breakfast at Spill the Beans. This shop has quite possibly the best location in Greenville, right next to the breathtaking Falls Park. The atmosphere made up for the staff’s lack of enthusiasm. This is certainly not the place to go if you’re in a hurry. Luckily, we weren’t. A funny miscommunication between our friend and the barista led to an order of oatmeal generously topped with whipped cream. There’s no better way to start your day than with a good belly laugh and an attempt at healthful eating gone awry.

Countless laughs, oodles of food, and a whole slew of treasured memories! I’m ready to go back…like right now.

Wishing you all a gorgeous, fun-filled weekend and a Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, most especially mine.

Chicken Toscana Soup

Last week was my turn to host game night which meant I got to toss around menu ideas (one of my favorite hobbies, incidentally). I knew I’d be making an Italian dessert so after contemplating several ideas, I decided to make the entire meal Italiano.

Two of my favorite dishes at Romano’s Macaroni Grill are their chicken Toscana soup and warm spinach salad. The soup is a creamy chicken soup with gnocchi, tomatoes, and spinach which compliments the salad – fresh spinach wilted and tossed with prosciutto, roasted garlic, fresh lemon and extra virgin olive oil then topped with toasted goat cheese – perfectly!

Lucky for me, I was able to find some “copycat” recipes. Thanks, Google and RecipeZaar!

Quick & Light Chicken Toscana Soup Inspired by Macaroni Grill

Serves 8


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil 
  • 2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 90 ounces low-sodium low-fat chicken broth
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 4 cups cooked chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken from Fresh Market)
  • 16 ounces 1% low-fat milk (I used whole milk)
  • 16 ounces mini gnocchi
  • 10 ounces baby spinach (fresh, half bag)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil (if you only have dried, rub approx. 3/4 tsp. between palms and add when you add the milk)


  1. Cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until transparent (5-10 minutes). Add the chicken broth and bring to boil. Add chicken and tomatoes; bring back to a good simmer for 5 minutes. Add gnocchi; cook for 1 or 2 minutes if mini size, a little longer if larger.
  2. Add milk and heat until steaming. Stir in spinach just long enough to wilt. Ladel into bowls and top with parmesan cheese and fresh basil if you have it.

Warm Spinach Salad

I wilted a ton of fresh spinach in my wok then dressed it in a roasted garlic lemon vinaigrette (recipe below). I toasted several slices of goat cheese (instructions to follow), crisped the prosciutto, and voila!

Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette Inspired by Macaroni Grill


  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 ounce roasted garlic
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, juice of


Place vinegar, honey, salt and roasted garlic in a food processor. Puree until the garlic is chopped very fine. With the food processor still running, add olive oil and lemon juice. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To Toast Goat Cheese:

  • 12 oz. goat cheese
  • 1/2 c. dried bread crumbs
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, ground fine

Slice rounds of the goat cheese with a sharp knife that is placed under hot running water after each slice is made. Pat the rounds so that they are firm, with rounded edges, and about 1/2 inch in thickness. Combine the bread crumbs and ground walnuts. Brush the goat cheese rounds with a bit of the walnut or vegetable oil and coat with the crumb mixture. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until the crust is brown. (Instructions by

I tried baking the goat cheese in the oven, but found that browning it on the stovetop in a small non-stick skillet worked much better. Click here for the chicken Toscana soup recipe and here for the roasted garlic lemon vinaigrette recipe. Buon Appetito! Come back soon for the Italian dessert – 100% made from scratch. You won’t want to miss it!

My brother-in-law arrived in Mobile yesterday so you know what that means – we had to celebrate my birthday one more time. I know, I know…I really need to get over this birthday thing, but I’m an only child so what can I say? At any rate, when he visited us last month, Mike inquired about Fuji San. Kevin and I have driven past it many times, but never thought much about it.

So, last night we decided to give it a try. Kevin and I ordered the red dragon (tuna, asparagus, and fried shrimp), spicy tuna tempura, smoked salmon ngiri, and the rainbow roll (tuna, avocado, salmon, and snapper – very pretty). Kelly and Mike ordered seaweed salad, the black dragon, spicy tuna roll, and the special (unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of it).

Don’t let the drive-thru sign fool you, this is some seriously good sushi. The service was on the slow side, but everyone was very courteous and appeared to be working dilligently.

We even got dessert on the house – green tea ice cream and vanilla ice cream. The ice cream was quite unusual having a gelatin-like outer layer with an ice cream center. After a little googling, I discovered this was most likely Japanese mochi ice cream. So what exactly is mochi? According to Wikipedia, mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and molded into shape. While I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t like it enough to eat more than two bites.

This merely whetted our appetites for a frozen treat, so we headed downtown for gelato at Serda’s. I enjoyed the biscuit tortoni gelato – rums, cream, and coconut cookies…well, that just had my name written all over it! Kevin ordered the caramel banana praline while Kelly had the European brut and Mike chose the vanilla with cookie dough. All were fabulous, but the biscuit tortoni is my new fave.

Trying a new restaurant, being introduced to new flavors, and good times with family, does it get any better? Not if you ask me. So, has anyone tried a new restaurant or food lately?

Remember those pictures I posted in May from my night at the Dauphin Street Taqueria? Silly me, of course you do. You may also recall, that dinner was material for a restaurant review I wrote in hopes of landing a cuisine editor position with one of the local papers. I wasn’t offered the position (much to my dismay) so I figured I’d share the taqueria fun with you. Enjoy!

Wednesday night means one thing – Mexican! I wanted to mix things up a little by trying a new restaurant (well, new to me at least) so we headed downtown to the Dauphin Street Taqueria.

Located in the Ok Bicycle Shop, the Dauphin Street Taqueria abounds with authentic Mexican cuisine and lively atmosphere. The weather was perfect for dining alfresco, which made for some excellent people watching. We even saw a PT Cruiser driving the wrong way on a one-way street! Too many margaritas, perhaps?

We kicked things off with a round of premium margaritas. It was absolute torture trying to decide between these tantalizing concoctions: fresh lime, blackberry mint, habanero pineapple, hibiscus lemon, strawberry basil, and ancho mango. I ordered the strawberry basil margarita as our server suggested. My dining companion, however, threw caution to the wind and ordered the ancho mango margarita. Both turned out to be excellent choices, but, surprisingly, I liked the ancho mango the best. Who’d a thunk it?

If you’re not in the mood for a margarita, wait, did I really just say that? At any rate, DST has you covered with a wine selection and full service bar.

Things got even better with the arrival of a huge platter of homemade chips, salsa, and fresh guacamole. We’re not talking about some puny chip here. No sir, these were thick, crunchy, served warm, and liberally salted. Just the way I like ‘em. The guacamole is made to order and that made all the difference. I have never, I repeat never, had guacamole this fresh and delicious outside of my own kitchen. Kudos, DST!

For my entrée, I chose the smoked duck tostada – a crispy corn tostada with smoked duck, goat cheese, and arugula salad. The duck was cooked perfectly without a hint of the gaminess duck is so often associated with. The smoky flavor of the duck paired perfectly with the creaminess and tanginess of the goat cheese. The tostada was piled high with arugula and drizzled with a spicy dressing. So tasty, my manners went out the proverbial window.

My companion ordered the chicken and steak tacos. The chicken taco was loaded with grilled chicken breast, spinach, avocado, and habanero salsa. It wasn’t too spicy at first, but this is one of those dishes that gets hotter the more you eat. The steak taco was filled with grilled flank steak, roasted peppers, onions, and chimichurri sauce. A flavor explosion!

When I go back (and I will be back), I think I’ll try the black bean empanada with feta cheese or maybe the crawfish quesadilla, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll get crazy and order both.

Saturday night, my husband and I were looking for a casual place to go for date night. After tossing around a couple of ideas, we decided to head over to MaGhee’s Grill on the Hill.

We were thrilled to see an available table in the corner. No waiting on a Saturday night? Sweet! Our server quickly arrived to take our drink orders and informed us we could order from either the dinner or lunch menu. Nice…the more options, the better. I ordered the blackened tuna entree off the dinner menu while Kevin chose the filet sandwich from the lunch menu. While enjoying my wine, I thought, “Wow, we’re off to a great start.”

As if on cue, our server politely informed me they were out of the salad dressing I had requested. No problem, I can be flexible too. Then, it happened. Iceburg lettuce reared its ugly head – the salad consisted of white iceburg lettuce, a few bits of tomato, a little grated carrot, and a package of T. Marzetti’s dressing. Eee, gads! Now, I wouldn’t have been so taken aback had this happened at, let’s say, a cafeteria, but this is a big no-no for any restaurant “on the Hill”. My husband snickered as I grimaced at my so-called salad. A sudden streak of panic ran through me as I realized we had just ordered two dishes we frequently prepare at home (and are quite proficient at cooking, I might add). What were we thinking? Had we gone stark raving mad?

I didn’t have much time to wallow in my anxiety as our server soon appeared bearing two heaping plates of exquisite-looking food. My skepticism melted away with the first bite I took. The tuna was cooked perfectly – a tasty seared crust on the outside, rare and tender on the inside. But what really stole the show for me were the potato cakes. The texture of the cakes was phenomenal…creamy and crispy at the same time. When our server returned, I asked her how they prepared them. She guarded their recipe as if it were the key to eternal life [but do not be fooled, for a diet rich in these potato cakes will certainly not result in eternal life]. I did manage to eke out a little information from the noble guardian – the cakes contain ranch and cheese.  I’m adding them to the top of my list to be recreated at home. Sorry, tuna nachos

Kevin was gracious enough to let me try his sandwich. While delectable, it couldn’t compare to the tuna and those dreamy potato cakes. We’ll definitely go back, but next time I’ll forgo the salad. There are plenty of other menu choices that sound yummy – shrimp alfredo, rosemary chicken, and pasta primavera just to name a few. We’ll see if I’m able to resist the tuna next time, but I doubt it.

MaGhee’s is located at 3607 Old Shell Road in the building formerly known as Hennessy’s. Want to find out more about MaGhee’s? Then, check out David Holloway’s review.

first course

I took my mom and grandmother to our favorite tea room, Shamrock, Rose, & Thistle, for Mother’s Day. I ordered the Serene Green – Chinese green tea, chamomile, lemon grass and peppermint. The flavor of the peppermint was prominent but not overpowering. I could definitely detect the chamomile and lemon grass. Amazing aroma and heavenly taste! My mom and grandmother chose the iced Crime of Passion (Papaya pieces, sunflower petals and criminally exotic passion fruit notes infuse superior green tea) and gave it rave reviews.

tea sandwiches

We enjoyed the Abbey Garden Tea with a first course of tomato-basil soup, ham & leek quiche, and lemon-poppyseed tea cake. Our second course consisted of a three-tier tray with scones (served with lemon curd, Devonshire cream, and jam), tea sandwiches – smoked salmon with capers and cream cheese, baguette with brie and peaches, and roast beef on wheat, and last, but definitely not least, the desserts: toffee-coconut blondies, chocolate cake with fresh raspberries, and fresh fruit served with mascarpone cheese in phylo.

dessert tray

Afterwards, I began pondering what the pros do to get that perfect cup of tea. Lately, I’ve been hooked on Earl Grey by Bigelow Tea with a teaspoon of local honey. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty pleased with my daily cup, but being the inquisitive girl I am, I couldn’t help but wonder how I could make it better.

Well, I found exactly what I was looking for at the Mark T. Wendell Tea Company. I paid particular attention to the brewing tips for black and green teas as I favor those. MTWTC recommends steeping green tea for 2-3 minutes in 170-180° F water and 4-5 minutes in 190-200° F water for black tea.

Now, I’m thinking I should make the switch from tea bags to loose tea using either a French press or filtering the leaves after brewing in a teapot. Why would I want to do this when tea bags are so convenient? Check out Bagged Tea vs Loose Leaf at The Tea Scoop. Need more convincing? Watch Alton Brown’s tea tutorial.



hot vegetable salad with croissant

A favorite hobby of mine is recreating meals I’ve had in restaurants. (Wow, that makes me sound really dull, doesn’t it?) I discovered another inspirational dish while dining at California Dreaming recently- Hot Vegetable Salad. I’m absolutely dying to make this at home. Picture this – red and yellow peppers, snow peas, squash, artichoke hearts, scallions & garlic sauteed in white wine and butter served hot over hearts of palm, fresh mushrooms, tomatoes and mixed greens then topped with Romano cheese.

croissants with honey-butterNot only does this salad look amazing, it tastes out-of-this-world! It’s very satisfying…especially when you order extra croissants like mom and I did.

LOVE carbs! As if you didn’t already know that. 😉 And speaking of croissants, just look at these perfect golden clouds drizzled with honey-butter goodness…be still my heart.

Want more of my restaurant-inspired dishes? Check out these beauties: my take on Cafe Bluebird’s Mandaberry waffle, my attempt to recreate First Watch’s Wheat Germ Pancakesgrilled baby artichokes inspired by Bricktops. What restaurant dishes inspire you?

Spot of Tea

After completing the 10K Azalea Trail Run Saturday, my friends and I deserved a treat so we headed to Spot of Tea for brunch. This is hands-down my favorite place for brunch…well, except for brunch at my place. 😉 But more on that tomorrow…

bananas foster french toast

I ordered the bananas foster french toast with bacon. Yum!! Even though the restaurant was packed, our food came out quickly and was hot and tasty. I couldn’t have asked for better food or more efficient service.

They’ve recently rennovated (greatly improving the atmosphere) and added an “after five” menu I’m eager to try. I’ll definitely be back…hopefully sooner rather than later.

Be sure to visit me tomorrow to find out the latest addition to my brunch recipe arsenal – you’re gonna love it!

Last night, I had the unfortunate experience of dining at The French Market Cafe. I should start by saying anyone who works in a restaurant in the French Quarter should be highly offended by this restaurant’s name. I’ve been to New Orleans more times than I can count and I have never had such an atrocious dining experience in the Big Easy.

I was particularly eager to try this restaurant since I’ve tried unsuccessfully to get in three times before. There were four in my party and each one of us had a dreadful time. So, what went wrong? Let the list begin!

1. My friend ordered the fried shrimp platter. The shrimp were minuscule and icy. Icy! We could have traveled 2 miles to Captain D’s and had better shrimp and probably better service.

2. My friend’s husband ordered the steamed shrimp platter. First, they brought out a fried shrimp platter instead of steamed, but it didn’t make its way to the table as the server dropped it, narrowly missing my husband and myself. They returned with the correct order, but, once again, the shrimp were served icy.

3. My husband ordered the BBQ shrimp poboy. Kevin asked our server if it came with fries or any other side(s). Our server explained their 12-inch poboy is hollowed out then stuffed full of shrimp. He said, “There’s no way you could finish it and have room for anything else.” The poboy was 6-inches at best and looked as if it was prepared by children. The bread was torn haphazardly then sprinkled with a few morsels of cold shrimp. Honestly, I’ve had better shrimp at a Chinese buffet.

4. I ordered the 1/2 roast beef poboy and creole gumbo. My sandwich was lukewarm at best and they did not bring my gumbo until I inquired about it.

5. My friend ordered a dozen beignets and requested they be brought out with the rest of our food. The beignets never appeared.

Our server came back to check on us only once – that’s when I asked the whereabouts of my gumbo. My husband inquired if his poboy was supposed to be the same as the server had previously described. The server made no efforts to remedy any of our concerns other than bringing me a bowl of gumbo that I suspect had just been nuked. He did not return after that, not even to refill our drinks.

Since this is a diner-style restaurant, you pay your check at the register. Upon checkout, no one bothered to ask how our meal was which I found very unusual. The MIA beignets were on our ticket so we requested they be removed. They would not take them off our ticket until investigating the  whereabouts of our beignets. What results did their investigation yield? They hadn’t even started preparing them! Bottom line: these people simply do not care about their patrons.

Bad food, I can forgive. Bad service, I cannot. This portion of our evening was nothing short of disastrous. We left hungry and extremely disappointed. The folks at The French Market Cafe can rest assured I will not give them a second chance. I urge you – do not go there, that is unless you want to pay a premium for small, icy shrimp, a flippant attitude, and abismal service. Consider yourself forewarned!

"Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." ~Voltaire

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