I amsterdam sign

Amsterdaaaammmnnn, she’s gorgeous! 10 Fun Things to do in the City

Unlike Paris, where I was right before Amsterdam, Amsterdam does not have a long list of must-see attractions – and that’s what I love about it. You can take more time to just wander and really soak in the place. I guess for some, though, that would leave you with the question, “What do I do there then?” Don’t worry, there’s plenty! Here are 10 ideas.

Amsterdam scenery

1. Walk and marvel

I was completely unprepared for how beautiful every inch of this city is – I mean, every damn inch! (Hence the title of this post.) I swear I tried to take a picture every two or three feet that I walked. Between the historic architecture and hundreds of canals, every angle you turn in Amsterdam is scenic as hell. And this city was made for walking! Unlike a destination like Paris that can seem a bit overwhelming (but also freakin’ awesome), Amsterdam is very small and approachable. You can walk everywhere, seeing gorgeous sites wherever you end up, and you feel very safe the whole time. Nearly everyone speaks English, and fellow tourists are everywhere (in a good way).

She's a beauty!

She’s a beauty!

Even on a day that my husband felt like chilling in the hotel room and letting me do my thing, I felt a lot of camaraderie walking around, as I was far from the only one taking a ridiculous amount of pictures, buying mass quantities of cheese, and asking for directions. Amsterdam is so approachable that even I was giving out directions to people by my second day there. Whereas Paris is a place I’d return to in a heartbeat to visit, Amsterdam is a place I could live.

Just gorgeous!

Just gorgeous!

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Chinese New Year

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!

Happy Chinese New Year! This is literally one of my favorite holidays. I like to throw down a nice little meal every year. Despite my penchant for food and cooking, I’m no good without recipes, so here’s what I’m planning to make.

  1. Pre-marinated stir fry beef from H Mart.
  2. Store bought frozen dumplings of some kind. (They bring luck in the new year!)
  3. These Spicy Chinese Potatoes. (Mostly because I have leftover potatoes and I’m not sure what to do with them, so this sounds like a delicious option!)
  4. One of my fave brussels sprouts recipes. My husband and I both love these!
  5. Tyler Florence’s Mushrooms Sautéed with Garlic, Ginger and Soy. I haven’t tried these before but they sound superb.
  6. Oranges (also lucky in the new year), and of course, Fortune Cookies, because fortunes…and cookies!

Most of the ingredients for this stuff could be found at the regular grocery store, but I am planning to head to H Mart 1) because it’s more fun, and 2) to see what other goodies they might have to add to my little celebration. Maybe some nice, red table décor? Or a mooncake I shouldn’t eat but probably will anyway?

Do you celebrate this holiday? If not, you should. If so, what/where are you eating?

*Cover image by Matt Verrill

Croque Madame

Three Days in Paris – A Diary, Travel Guide, and Love Letter

Fresh Factor 10

I know this isn’t a news flash, but Paris is amazing. The second you leave the airport, you just know you’re someplace special. The ornate buildings immediately evoke the feeling that you’ve gone back in time, and the iconic landmarks are truly mind-blowing. To stand in the church that inspired Victor Hugo’s novel, or pose with a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, is like nothing else – even if you aren’t particularly interested in history.

Getting Our Bearings

Our journey into the city and to our hotel from Charles de Gaulle was a bit challenging. I had read that the train was fairly easy and by far the most affordable way to go. Ten euros per person didn’t seem that affordable to me, but away we went. Unfortunately for us it was rush hour, so the trains were packed like sardines – sardines who weren’t that fond of all our luggage – and we had to switch trains several times to get to our destination.

Still, there were many friendly Parisians who went out of their way to help us with directions even when we didn’t ask. And although we were standing on a train platform in the cold, wee hours of the morning with five pieces of luggage between us, not too confident about how to get to our hotel, and having been up for over 20 hours straight, I could not help but gaze in awe at the suburban French surroundings. It was so beautiful and authentic I felt like I was on a movie set.

Paris architecture

Pretty Paris architecture

More Paris architecture

Such a cool building!

More pretty architecture

So gorgeous!

We eventually made it to our hotel in the 17th arrondissement and dropped off our bags, exhausted but excited. I was a little bit nervous because I had read that you really should try to speak French while in France – which is only sort of true. A lot of times people would speak a good amount of English, but they would always start with French, and once in awhile after switching to English they wouldn’t exactly understand every word. I tried to speak French if possible, but even though I’d studied it for a decade in elementary and high school, I was really, really bad at it and found it very overwhelming to try (especially now going on 24 hours without sleep).

Speaking of sleep, I was traveling with my husband and therefore had a middle seat on the plane so I could sit next to him, so there was no way I could sleep on the way over even though I took a melatonin. It was just too damn uncomfortable – my back and hip were screaming at me the whole flight – too loudly to get any shut-eye.

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Revelator Coffee, Atlanta

Espresso & Tonic at Revelator Coffee

I paid a visit to Atlanta’s Revelator Coffee on a Saturday around 11am. I was there because I read online that they had a drink that mixed coffee with tonic, and I just had to try it. Apparently I was the only one, because there were only about 4-5 other people in the shop. Of course for us it was a great thing, but I’m not sure it was great for business.

Maybe it was because the menu is fairly limited – with a handful of coffees and just a few small food items. It certainly wasn’t because of the atmosphere – large, bright, comfy, hip – the space had everything going for it, including some really cool art on the walls.

IMG_5781

I loved, loved, loved the window seat where I could sprawl out and watch West Midtown come to life. I also enjoyed my drink, the espresso and tonic, which also included lime. Bitter as hell? Yes. Enjoyable? Also yes. It reminded me a bit of the recent coffee and lemon drink I had from Stand Coffee in New York, but better. Just as bitter, but sweeter and less watery. I usually like my coffee to be on the creamy side, but I’d order this again to switch things up.

Revelator Coffee

Espresso & Tonic, Revelator Coffee

Window seat, Revelator Coffee

Window seat!

My husband grabbed a bottled kombucha tea from the cooler. It was a local brew from Golda in Atlanta, which is quite good. Based on the lack of customers and menu items, I’m not sure how long Revelator will last, but I sure enjoyed it!

Staten Island Ferry, New York

New York City – Beyond Broadway…

Ahhhh, New York. How do you even begin to review the city that never sleeps???

Here’s how. I’m sure many of you have been to Manhattan, but have you spent much time in the other boroughs? As I have discovered, while Manhattan is of course an endless treasure chest of good times and great eats, there’s much to be said for the food and fun in Queens, Brooklyn and the other boroughs as well.

In fact, on my most recent trip to New York I never even set foot in Manhattan. It was all Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, baby.

Queens

Let’s start with Queens. Since my husband and bestie are both from there, I may be a tad biased, but their food game is more than a little serious.

Bagels

First of all, if you go to New York and you don’t seek out a good bagel, you are an idiot. I suggest that you get said bagel at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Co. (which oddly has no locations in Brooklyn). In addition to three separate spots in Astoria, Queens, there’s also one in Manhattan if you don’t feel like venturing out of the city.

Brooklyn Bagel

Brooklyn Bagel (in Queens!)

Despite their wide variety of bagel and schmear (as well as some decent coffee and bagel sandwiches), I always get the same thing. A plain or sesame bagel with bacon scallion cream cheese. Whoever first decided to marry bacon with scallions is a genius in the truest sense. These bagels are colossal and covered with way too much schmear, but it wouldn’t be as good any other way.

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Le Fat bar

Le Fat Made All My Dreams Come True

Maybe it’s because of my epic trip last year, but lately I am crushing hard on Vietnamese food. Usually in order to get the good stuff, you have to venture into an international part of town like Norcross or Buford Highway. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I do it all the time. But I was most impressed to find an upscale Vietnamese restaurant complete with complimentary valet right in West Midtown. Go, Atlanta!

The décor at Le Fat is very classy and vintage. The service is attentive. The drink choices are plentiful. And the food is wow. I was ultra impressed when I asked about a certain wine and our server said I could taste it first. This place is legit! I don’t remember seeing any Asian wines or beers on the list, though, which would have been a nice touch. (Thankfully they do have my fave, Vietnamese coffee.)

Le Fat decor

Le Fat decor

Le Fat decor

Le Fat decor

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Suwanee Park Tavern Burger

Suwanee Park Tavern

Fresh Factor 7

Out of 10

We finally went to check out Suwanee Town Center recently. In addition to a picturesque green space, some shops and some fountains for the kids to play in, it also has of course a bunch of restaurants. Many of them are chains – Ippolito’s, Mellow Mushroom, Five Guys, etc. – but there were also some originals too.

We decided to try Suwanee Park Tavern because well, beer, but also their outside seating looked so inviting. Inviting it was – with a nice awning for shade and a great view of the park. It was also super quiet, which we love. Our server was friendly, and the food was pretty good too. Overall, a nice spot.

Suwanee Town Center

Suwanee Town Center

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La Mei Zi

La Mei Zi – Works for me!

Fresh Factor 8

Out of 10

It seems like as soon as I discover and fall in love with a restaurant in this town, it changes its menu or closes. I loved the Taiwanese TJ House in Duluth when I first tried it, but before I could even return for round two, I heard that they had changed their menu entirely and were serving Cantonese food instead of Taiwanese. (I think they have even closed entirely since then.)

So I was pleased to find out that some of the folks behind the old TJ House had opened a new spot in Doraville called La Mei Zi. I was even more pleased to learn that they served a lunch buffet on the weekends. I love me a good buffet, especially an Asian one!

I’m happy to report that my friend and I were both quite pleased by La Mei Zi’s buffet, so hopefully they don’t shut down anytime soon. The buffet included several soups, about a dozen or so main dishes, and a few desserts. They also served free plum juice with the buffet. The dishes were a mix of Americanized and more traditional fare. I truly think it would please any palate.

La Mei Zi Buffet

La Mei Zi Buffet

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Sweet Chili Wontons and Crispy "Tiger" Sprouts

Ba Bellies – Norcross, Georgia

Fresh Factor 6

Out of 10

I’ve been hitting up Norcross hard lately. My latest stop was Ba Bellies near Peachtree Corners. Described as an Asian gastropub, and affiliated with the delicious Vietnamese restaurant, Nam Phuong, also in Norcross, it basically sounded like heaven on earth to me. However, they inexplicably only serve brunch on both Saturday and Sunday (instead of lunch), so brunch it was.

The brunch menu was a bit odd. Since Ba Bellies had been described by others as fusion cuisine, I expected to find traditional brunch dishes spiked with Asian flavors. But what I actually saw were some menu items that sounded purely American, and others that were purely Asian.

Needless to say I went for the Asian dishes ‘cause I can get a waffle anywhere. Some of the items I saw on the brunch menu online were not on the menu we were given in the restaurant, while others that weren’t on the brunch menu online made an appearance on the physical brunch menu – so expect to be surprised by the menu if you go. I went with the Crispy “Tiger” Sprouts and the Sweet Chili Wontons.

Sweet Chili Wontons and Crispy "Tiger" Sprouts

Sweet Chili Wontons and Crispy “Tiger” Sprouts

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Eggplant empanizado

Mojitos Cuban Bistro – Historic Norcross

Fresh Factor 3

3 out of 10

I love me some Cuban food, so I was excited to try Mojitos in historic Norcross. I was also excited because I had never been to this part of Norcross, but had seen it many times on one of my favorite shows, ABC’s Resurrection, which filmed there but was unfortunately not resurrected for a third season.

This area of Norcross is filled with buildings dating back to the 1800s, some of which were immediately recognizable to me from TV, so it was very exciting to check things out. I literally felt like I had gone back in time or stumbled onto a TV set. It was really cool.

While historic Norcross delivered, Mojitos did not. I did love the vibe of the restaurant though. The intimate space with brightly colored Caribbean art made me feel like I’d traveled to Cuba. That feeling unfortunately started to fade when I was served a lackluster pina colada. How do you mess up a pina colada? This one needed way more sugar.

Mojitos pina colada

Mojitos pina colada

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