10 Days in LA

I’m embarrassed to admit that I lived for 29 years without visiting LA. I grew up on the East Coast, spoiled by the nearby New York City and content to explore the gems of Boston in my own backyard. Later, when I went to university in Vermont, if I was not frolicking in the snow on a secluded mountain, I was shopping (Underground City!) or eating (poutine!) or dancing (drinking age!) in the nearby city of Montreal. When I turned 22, I moved to Europe, and shifted my focus to exploring as many European cities as possible. Prague, Cologne, Milan, Paris, Berlin, Bruges, Istanbul, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Dublin . . . I am proud to say that the list goes on and on. However, up until recently, my travels were admittedly quite European-centric. I did go to San Diego, California once when I was a kid, where I was traumatized by a popsicle incident. We were spending the day at Sea World, and had just seated ourselves at the porpoise show, where a small child sitting behind proceeded to drop a large chunk of his chocolate Shamu popsicle down my back. It slid into my khaki shorts where it left a big, brown poop-like stain. I had to walk around all day in the smoldering heat, looking like I shat myself at a seal show. And that’s all I really remember about California, other than the numerous signs warming of snakes, and big, dirt-like mountains. So I never really had a desire to go back to the West Coast, even though lumping together and generalizing my distaste for three coastal states (one of which is 800 miles long), based on an unfortunate incident with a Shamu popsicle, was somewhat naïve. However, this past year on numerous occasions, my work travels brought be back to the West Coast, and one of those stops just so happened to be LA. IMG_5101Side note: I actually applied to jobs in LA when I stopped working at Sid Lee! I’m definitely ready to live in a warmer climate (sorry, Amsterdam), and LA is a great North American hub for advertising. Alas, LA was meant to be in my life in a different capacity at this time, and so serendipitously, I ventured there for a shoot with my new job at Booking.com. So let me tell you a little about LA . . . Continue reading

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A Weekend in Berlin, Part 1

As Germany is right next to Holland, I’ve crossed the border for many jovial long weekends away (read: here, here, and here). However, I somehow always seem to miss out on the Berlin excursions. Berlin is a quick 1.5 hour plane ride from Amsterdam, and often the fare is dirt cheap (around €50). I have friends who go for long party weekends, business trips, shopping adventures, or a simple change of scenery. And while I’ve been invited to Berlin a multitude of times, something else always seems to pop up!

When I got let go from my job a few months ago, I made a list of the places I wanted to visit in Europe before I left, just incase. There were ten places on the list, some more costly and exotic than others. I then listed them in order, starting with the top few I HAD to go to before I (hypothetically) left Europe, the others falling somewhere behind. I vowed to make it to at least two or three spots on the list before my visa was up. Guess what the top two were? Cinque Terre and Berlin :) If you’ve been following along on the blog, I’m sure you’ve read all about my Cinque Terre adventures. In fact, I was so taken by the stunning Italian countryside that I am planning a fall-2016 trip to Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, and Rome with some of the ladies in my family! And man, I can’t wait to go back :) Berlin was also ticked off of my European travel bucket list in mid-October, while Amie was visiting.IMG_1886 copyWe flew straight from Pisa to Berlin (believe it or not, a €24 plane ride), and quickly switched from a beachy-sunshine mentality to an urban-exploration mindset.  Continue reading

The Best Nachos in Amsterdam

A few months ago, I got a major craving for nachos. Unfortunately, Mexico is quite a ways away from Holland, so there are very few Tex-Mex or authentic Navajo joints sprawling about the city. Luckily, I’m a member of the Sid Lee Supper Club, and therefore have several culinarily inquisitive friends. Together, we decided to embark on an epic Mexican adventure – a quest to uncover the best nachos in Amsterdam. We famed our escapades the Nach’yo Average Pub Crawl, and mapped out several local Mexican haunts to visit around the city. Armed with score cards and sombreros, we kicked off our escapades on a sunny day, in search of crispy chips, melted cheese, and cool, creative toppings.IMG_6865

We planned to visit six spots around the city that served nachos – de Biertuin, Agabi Santa Maria, Cafe Harlem, Los Pilones, Waterkant, and Cannibale Royal. Some we’d been to before, some we’d heard good things about, and others we’d found on TripAdvisor.  Continue reading

Rockin’ Raining Rolling Kitchen

At approximately 3.15pm today, the sun came out. B and I were walking home from pilates. We had planned on spending the afternoon at IKEA, eating hotdogs and picking out curtains. But, swayed by a rare moment of weekend sun, we decided to head up to the Westergasfabriek for the annual Rollende Keukens instead. Rollende Keukens, or the Rolling Kitchen, is a culinary festival that takes place in Amsterdam every year, attracting colorful food trucks of all shapes, sizes, and cuisines. The entire Westergasfabriek is transformed into a big open air food festival, with countless mobile restaurants to choose from. There’s also drinking, dancing, and booze to boot!

At approximately 4.22pm B and I left the house. About 5 minutes into our adventure, it started to pour.
photoWe braved the weather all the way to the Westergasfabriek tram, and arrived at Rollende Keukens slightly damp and incredibly hungry. IMG_7306Despite the gloomy weather, lots and lots of trucks were sprawled out everywhere, serving up everything from tapas to fondue. IMG_7312We started our visit with a stroll around the park, checking out all of the food trucks, deciding what to dig into first.IMG_7314 IMG_7316 IMG_7324 IMG_7326IMG_7372We almost went for the pulled pork cheese burger, but bumped into friends who strongly advised against it. Tummies rumbling, we surveyed the scape, plotting our fist feast.IMG_7333 IMG_7336 IMG_7337It was hard to decide between gyros, risotto, or hot melty cheese pots. . . IMG_7338 IMG_7343The smoked fish and vegetables also looked fantastic. IMG_7346 IMG_7349However, our first conquest was a simple cob of corn, a yummy, salty, buttery aperitif! IMG_7350After our crispy corn, we blended into the crowd for a bit, enjoying a drink and listening to some music. As we swayed, the rain slowly stopped and the clouds started to burn off.
IMG_7355Which could mean only one thing. It was time for a BBQ! B dragged us back to a smoky American BBQ stall, where we got chicken wings, a pulled BBQ chicken wrap, and a HUGE pile of napkins. IMG_7358 IMG_7361 IMG_7364 IMG_7367We enjoyed our fare on a picnic bench, ‘ohhing’ and ‘aahing’ over tasty barbecue sauce and each rare glimpses of the sun.  IMG_7377Stuffed to the brim, I asked B if we could find some coffee. However, B’s belly is bottomless and he kindly explained that he had at least three more food truck stops in him. Yikes! Next up was nachos. IMG_7375These guys tasted like typical fair ground nachos – nothing special and way over priced.
IMG_7381 Always a champ, B dug in and killed every last crispy chip. Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 12.07.55 AM IMG_7382After a few more culinary pit stops, it was coffee time!IMG_7385As awesome as the pulled chicken was, this coffee takes the cake. I ordered a mocha. The barista made me a pipping hot coffee, and then proceeded to dump in two heaping spoonfuls of chocolate chips. Hello new favorite way to drink coffee!
IMG_7390Life lesson of the day? Food tastes good, rain or shine!! We will definitely see you again next year, Rollende Keukens! x

Restaurant Kronenburg

Last night B and I treated ourselves to a fancy pants dinner at Restaurant Kronenburg, a little culinary gem outside the city. We spend a lot of time in the heart of Amsterdam, which is great, but sometimes it’s nice to just hop in a cab and drive. Restaurant Kronenburg was a welcome change of scenery, and the food was pretty darn good. I drank way too much wine and we ate way too many sweets, but overall it was a lovely, lovely evening spent with one of my favorite people.

We had a delicious beetroot creme brûlée with duck, a crispy pan seared halibut, mustard and chestnut soup, a tender beef filet with vegetables, and finished our meal with a decadent little dessert selection and a hot cup of tea. Lekker! x

Vondelpark & Pannekoek

On Saturday, B and I decided to go on a little adventure. We bundled up tight, ready to brave Amsterdam’s baltic winter weather, and uncharacteristically left the house without a destination in mind. We wandered towards Museumplein, a pretty sight on a snowy Saturday.

IMG_3042We stopped to watch the children sled, and chuckled over the manmade ‘hill’ the kids had found. In a city that is known for being flat, the roof of a grocery store is sometimes the next best thing to a hill!IMG_3037IMG_3049The really daring kids passed on sleds, opting instead for giant bags of stale bread. These hungry birds were ruthless, pecking at one another and swooping down at the children, vying over every last crumb.IMG_3056After watching The Birds, we continued along Van Baerlestraat, past all of the swanky shops.
I dragged B on a little detour into United Colors of Benetton, where I fell in love with a little black dress. I bought it in black and red. Oops! After my mini shopping spree, we continued our wander. We came to the entrance of Vondelpark, looked at each other, and knowingly smiled. IMG_3111This was our destination! IMG_3099In the summer, Vondlepark is swarming with locals and tourists alike, all trying to soak up some sun. There are leisurely bikers, kids playing games, and large groups of friends enjoying a picnic or a chilled bottle of wine.IMG_3108However, in the frosty winter, we found Vondelpark to be quite abandoned! Aside from the lone runner or virtuous dog-walker, we had the park all to ourselves. It was a weekend gem, a bit of unexpected tranquility in the center of a bustling city

IMG_3085After more than an hour of aimless strolling, it was time for some coffee and warmth. We debated over cozying up in a brown pub, but our fat-kid conscious won. We noticed Grootmoder’s Pannekoek on the Overtoom and decided to give it a go. IMG_3132IMG_3183We were persuaded by the all-you-can-eat pancake deal, a well spotted one-off offer! The only thing better than a pancake, is an unlimited amount of pancakes!!IMG_3121B and I slid into a little red booth, ready to enjoy an unlimited pancake smorgasbord!

IMG_3153The atmosphere at Grootmoder’s Pannekoek is vibrant and clean. To be perfectly honest, I usually prefer a place that is a bit less plastic and a bit more cozy. I love big fluffy coffee shop pillows, mismatched chairs, jazzy music, and big eclectic coffee mugs. Grootmoder’s Pannekoek didn’t exactly fit the bill – it’s not the kind of place that invites you to linger. That said, it was the perfect spot to warm up and grab a quick bite mid-walk, and again, who could ask for more than unlimited pancakes?!

IMG_3157 We each started with a plain pancake, happy to dabble with the syrup selection provided on the table. I was elated to find that the pancakes at Grootmoder’s are what I perceive to be crepes. Thin, delicate sweet-treats, ready to sop up your gooey topping of choice.IMG_3169 IMG_3223Next up was an amazingly decedent ham and cheese pancake, that tasted somewhere between a pancake, pizza and grilled cheese.Each bite was a little fluff of heaven. 
IMG_3195For our last round we went back to sweet. B got a banana and Nutella pancake, I got plain, and we agreed to go halfsies on each.
IMG_3201The Nutella pancake was also exceptional. We’d had a similar treat while in Germany at the Christmas market, so we savored the final bites, reminiscing about our German holiday and dreaming of where we might go next.  IMG_3206The answer soon became clear, as we were both stuffed to the brim and it was time to brave the cold and trudge home!

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All-in-all I highly recommend and adventure day around Amsterdam. There are so many great things to do, see, and eat in the city, and you never know where the day will take you! x

Dining at Sumo

Have you ever seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi? Jiro is brilliant. He is a meticulous craftsman, dedicated to perfecting the art of sushi. At 85, Jiro still wakes up every morning striving for better. He is exhausting and inspiring, an entertaining perfectionist (Psst. Watch the movie!)

As much as I would love to dine at Sukiyabashi Jiro, Jiro’s flagship restaurant, I don’t live in Japan. I also don’t have 30,000 yen laying around. So, on Tuesday night when my routine sushi craving hit, I had to settle for something a bit more local, something a tad less fancy.

Enter Sumo, an Amsterdam sushi joint conveniently located right across the street from my office. Sumo is a weeknight booby trap. If I dare leave the office on an empty stomach, Sumo’s neon signs lure me in like a mesmerized moth. This past Tuesday was no exception. As it was an impromptu visit, I did not bring a snazzy camera. However, I did take a few insta-snaps of the meal.

Do I recommend dining at Sumo? Yes. Is it for the phenomenal taste and quality of the food? No.

The food is at Sumo is OK, and the service there is decent at best. But the really fun part is ordering, and the unlimited rounds of goodies that are delivered to your table, time and time again. Imagine a buffet, where all of the food is freshly cooked and served to you upon command. One flat price, all you can eat food made to order. My fat-kid heart is fluttering!

Sumo has a pretty decent menu, and ordering reminds me of playing mini golf. Each table gets a little score card, and you are asked to put a tick mark next to the dish you want to order. Each person is allowed 5 dishes per round, and there are 5 rounds in total. It’s fun to flip through the menu, carefully selecting the dishes you want to try. Working to fill out the corresponding score card makes receiving your food that much more rewarding – you’ve worked for it!! If you’re not a sushi fan, don’t be put off. There are just as many noodle, meat and seafood options on the menu. My top recommendations are the grilled squid, the tuna avocado rolls, and the sashimi salad.

The bad? You can’t get a glass of tap water, which is quite outrageous, considering they serve alcohol. They also don’t have a fun cocktail menu. I always crave a big fruity cocktail with my sushi! There’s a lot of mayo in the food, which is fair since this is Holland. But hidden globs of mayo in my sashimi salad can be a bit off-putting! Also, the lighting is red, which makes for a jazzy atmosphere but a poor picture. And lastly, service is very hit or miss. I’ve had two very good and two very bad service experiences at Sumo. My recommendation is to make a reservation for a bit later in the evening, and go on a week night. There are less people at these times, so your waiter will be attentive and available to  pick up your menu card and clear your table.

If you’re interested in checking out Sumo, there are two locations I have been to in Amsterdam, one in Leidseplein and a second (by my work!) on the Vijzelstraat. You can find the number to make a reservation here.