Monday, July 21, 2014

Behind Closed Doors

Maybe it's just me, but I've always wondered what goes on in the private airline lounges. Up until yesterday, I could only picture the version I'd seen in the movies (Up in the Air) or television (Mad Men). When I opened a United credit card (50K bonus miles and no foreign transaction fees), it came with two free one-day passes to the United Club. On my way back from Turin, I had two spare hours in Chicago -- after clearing customs (love my Global Entry card), rechecking my bag, and going through security -- which seemed like the perfect amount of time to check it out.

Through the frosted, glass doors lies a giant airline living room full of a variety of seating to suit any mood -- leather chair? upholstered chair? desk w/chair? barstool? -- along with free wifi, snacks, drinks, magazine/newspapers and a private set of bathrooms. Probably the best part though, it being Chicago O'Hare, is that there were probably two available outlets per person, which if you've ever hunted for an outlet in this airport in particular (even the vacuum cleaner outlets are locked when not in use), you know how rare that seems.
With the timezone change, my body was unsure of what meal it was supposed to be on so the available snacks took the hunger edge off. I was a little sad to have to pass up the free beer/wine but I figured my jet-lagged body couldn't handle that and allow me to make my flight back to Kansas City. The rest of the people looked pretty normal - no celebrity sightings or high powered meetings going on. It was relatively quiet, clean and made for a pleasant way to pass the time. I'm looking forward to using my second free pass in the near future.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Turin - Day 6

After the morning adventure at Eataly, I spent the afternoon packing, working and getting ready to head home tomorrow. In the evening, I met up with a new friend from the symposium and we headed out to see a bit of the city. After some walking and shopping, we stopped in the piazza San Carlo for a drink (prosecco and strawberries) and were treated to an array of tiny appetizers (making up for the 10 Euro drink price). While we sat and watched people walk by, we listened to the Festival Mozart rehearsal, which was pretty amazing. See it for yourself, check out the video below:

After a little more shopping, we sat down at another cafe for a drink and for two more Euros, we got access to the buffet - what a deal! While I did not love my drink (apparently I don't like Campari), the food was yummy and plenty for dinner. We headed back to the hotel to finish packing and get a little sleep before the 4:30am taxi to the airport. Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Turin - Day 5 - Eataly

When I lived in Rochester, NY I had access to the best supermarket ever - Wegmans. Not only did they carry every grocery item you could ever want, they also had amazing prepared foods (a variety of which you could eat in the store), bulk foods (which allowed me to get all the gummy candies without buying multiple bags), beautiful flowers and produce, beauty products and enough for the home that you could skip a trip to the hardware store. Upon graduation/marriage/moving across the country to California, Brian said he would miss Wegmans the most. Since then, we have certainly found grocery stores and specialty food stores that are reminiscent but never quite the same. This was until I walked into something better today - Eataly.

This store is next to the hotel I am staying in and chock full of the most amazing meats, cheeses, fish, pasta, kitchen gadgets, pastries, produce and chocolates I have ever seen. I'm a vegetarian and even looked at the smoked and cured meats for ten whole minutes. While I doubt you could do your regular shopping here, prohibited mostly by price, the place is rather captivating. I walked around the two-story building (one floor is just wine, beer and liquor) for about an hour and limited myself to only buying the tiny treats that would fit in my suitcase.

Around the store are food stations where you can get a glass of wine, a plate of freshly cut meats and cheeses, or a full meal. Even the fancy soaps, shampoos and books - all of which I couldn't really figure out what they were - were fun to look through.
Not planning a trip to Italy soon? Never fear, you can find Eataly in New York City, Chicago, Dubai, Istanbul and 10 stores around Japan.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Turin - Days 3 + 4

The past two days have gone by in a blur of symposium (they pointed out today that was not a conference) and work emails. I am a bit bummed that I won't see much of anything while I am here but I guess it's an excuse to come back another time. For now, I will leave you with my favorite treats from the past two days:

Chocolate gelato, tiramisu, quattro fromaggio pizza, and pasta with pesto.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Turin - Days 1 + 2

I've always had some luck with landing canceled/delayed flights, passenger oddities (I did tell you about the woman who lost her teeth on an 18-hour flight from India, right?) and several overnight "bonus" vacations in cities I wasn't supposed to be in - Memphis, Johannesburg, Chicago. However, my luck has increased lately to include something happening on every trip for the past year or so. My trip to Italy was no exception with flight delay, then maintenance, than a cancellation, a switch to a different airline and a lost bag. I really don't mind, as it makes for funny stories and I am still alive and well to tell them.

Before I could sleep, I had to have some pizza so I headed to Rossopomodoro which was one of the only places I could find open for an early dinner at 8pm. It was nothing fancy, it was mall food after all, but it was delicious.
After a fitful night's sleep, I spent the day learning, listening and meeting microfinance colleagues at the conference I am here to attend. After ten hours of that, it was time for dinner. I headed out with one of my co-workers, a woman we met from the States who is living in Tanzania and an Italian man living in Azerbaijan to Bastian Contrario. Up in the hills overlooking Turin, this restaurant was an interesting experience. The food was great but the characters surrounding it added additional flavor.

The meal started out with a glass of prosecco, fried sage and a buffet of 69 hot and cold appetizers. The waiter was not pleased at the amount of food we had consumed and refused us the pasta until we had reached a level of acceptability. We were then brought three pastas - gnocchi with roasted zucchini, ravioli with mint, nuts and cheese, and spaghetti with truffle sauce. The second course started with rabbit (which I did not eat) and then we ended with dessert, homemade ice cream, chocolate ganache and hazelnut crunchy bits. Washed down with plenty of red wine and a small glass of liquor from an ice-encrusted bottle, we left four hours later and headed for bed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Around Arizona

We woke up in Sedona after a nice night's sleep. L'Auberge de Sedona has a half-mile creek hike that we planned to do after we got up. We watched the ducks for a little while, sat by the creek and then started our hike. Unfortunately, Brian found the mud quickly and we had to head back for some sink laundry before we checked out and headed south to Pheonix.
We hadn't had any Asian food on the trip yet, so I looked for a good Japanese restaurant for lunch. We ended up at Nobuo at Teeter House and were not disappointed. The waitress gave great recommendations and everything we had was so delicious and fresh. From the top, right corner (clockwise): my panko-fried soft shell crab sandwich on homemade focaccia with cucumber and kanzuri aioli; teeter tots - fried tofu in a spicy miso sauce; and the grapefruit and hamachi with avocado and white truffle ponzu oil. The building is a charming house with calming decor and has a wonderful dinner tasting that I'd like to try next time.
After lunch we drove to Scottsdale and walked around the mall before catching "Begin Again" at the movies. It was cute, I would recommend it if you liked "Once". Afterwards, we had a light dinner at The Herb Box in Old Town Scottsdale (which looks like a really fun place to walk around). The Vegan Nosh was amazingly good and we finished off all that healthy with a piece of cheesecake with a cashew caramel crust and a scoop of salted beer ice cream. With that, we dropped off our rental car and headed to our airport hotel. Thanks for traveling along!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Scouting Sedona - Day 3

We woke up the morning of July 4th to a basket full of patriotic breakfast. After a yummy bite to eat, I used the working payphone to call and say 'hi' to my parents. Because there is limited cell phone signal in the area, the owners keep the pay phone on with free calls to anywhere in the US, no coins needed.
I've shared this before, but I love using Yelp when I'm looking for a great place to eat, especially when I'm away from home. It always helps me find the best, local places that I would've never found on my own. I was excited to find a raved about, hot dog stand called Simon's Hot Dogs inside a brewery, mostly because they serve vegan, veggie and beef hot dogs. I ordered the traditional Colombian style with a veggie dog - pineapple, cheese and crushed potato chips - it was so delicious. Once you've ordered your food, you sit inside the brewery where there is a little bar and a big television. Since the Colombia/Brazil World Cup game was on, we stayed to route on Colombia (Brian is watching and couldn't pose for a head-on photo).
After lunch, it was time to check into L'Auberge de Sedona, where we had decided to celebrate our anniversary early. The top photo is of the tent that we had our creekside massages under - taking photos during a massage is awkward - and when I walked back after getting dressed, everything was already cleaned up. The other photos are of our room and the fancy sign/waterfall that is outside the lodge we're in.
Our creekside dinner got rained out, but the food tasted just as good inside. My meal was as follows (from bottom left, clockwise): dungeness crab crepe with roasted tomato, fennel, butter-braised shitake; goats crème with cherries, watercress, basil, rye milk jam poached new potato; smoked Scottish salmon with buttered peas, grapefruit, fennel bulb, roasted baby beets; and a chocolate gateaux named after the pastry chef with a salted wafer and sea-salt caramel sauce. The food was very good and we left full and satisfied. Happy 13 years, Brian Beard!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Scouting Sedonda - Day 2

At the "yet-to-be-named" place where we're staying, breakfast arrives in a basket outside your door each morning. If you get up early enough (thank you 2-hour time difference), the pastries inside are hot and fresh. After breakfast, we checked out a couple of parks to find the perfect place for a picnic/swim day. The first park, Slide Rock Park, had been near the wildfires so the swimming area was closed due to the runoff from the fires upstream. Although it will reopen in September, it is rumored to be so busy you can hardly find a spot. We did find lots of cute lizards like the one above though.
The next park we visited was "the one." It has everything we need for the whole family to enjoy a day together hiking, swimming, site seeing and having meals together. My favorite part is that we'll have our own covered picnic area with private parking and compost toilets. It also has spectacular views of one of the world's most photographed red rock formations - Cathedral Rock (above).
We hiked around the park and checked out all three swimming holes (although a stream runs through the park and you can pretty much get in wherever you want). After checking everything out we were getting quite hungry so we headed to Oak Creek Brewing Company for a couple of giant and yummy salads - Brian had the BBQ chicken salad and I had the Baja shrimp salad. Afterwards, we walked around the shops in the area and then headed back to our cabin.
The property where we're staying for the reunion owns a half-mile of creek across the road. Brian and I cooled off before a storm rolled in and we got evacuated in case of a flash flood. We stuck close to home for the night and enjoyed a casual dinner and beers from the camp market. I worked on the reunion schedule and Brian read. I think we'll be ready to share the details with the McGoldrick clan within the next week or so. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Scouting Sedona - Day 1

Starting back in 1989, Brian's mom's side of the family has a reunion every three years. His mom is the oldest of seven children and so far the gatherings have rotated through the siblings to plan. Two years ago, the last 'kid' in the family hosted, and the torch was passed along to the next generation -- literally, there is a construction paper torch in our basement now. Brian is the oldest of the grandkids, so we have the honor of planning the 2015 reunion. The rules are fairly simple - the host picks a place and plans it out, everyone find their way to the chosen spot and then we enjoy a fun weekend together. When we figured out when our turn would be, probably ten years ago, I had picked Sedona.

I've been here twice, once with my mom and my aunt and once with Brian for our 10th wedding anniversary. It's such a beautiful place, teeming with things to do, amazing food to eat, drinks to drink and sunsets to be savored (sunrise is probably nice too but that happens way too early). When we announced the destination to the rest of the family at the end of the last reunion, as is tradition, everyone seemed excited, so we began planning the adventure that is a weekend, destination reunion for 37 people (if there are no births, adoptions or marriages in the next 12 months).

When planning a trip for a wide range of ages and interests, variety is key - indoor/outdoor, active/passive, etc. After a stop at the official visitor's center, we hopped on one of the Trolley Tours routes and got a closer look at some of the rock formations, while evaluating the fun-factor of the trolley itself. Afterwards, we were parched so we stopped in at the oldest operating restaurant in Sedona, The Cowboy Club, for a prickly pear margarita and some fried cactus. Yum!

We checked into our cabin (not giving it away until it's posted on the official reunion website) and took a tour of the place. We rested up for dinner with a nap and headed back down (in elevation) to the Elote Cafe, which we had come to three years ago and Brian has raved about ever since. Unlike many amazing things the second time around, Elote did not disappoint. From the Elote (fresh corn dip) to the ginger margarita to the grilled ahi tuna tacos, every flavor was perfect. My only regret was that I was far too stuffed for dessert. Maybe next time!