Caviar part deux

Earlier this year, I spent something like $50 for one single bite of fancy caviar in Vegas – a mega splurge that didn’t give me much of a result. Whereas trying an expensive wine a year ago did teach me a thing or two about tasting wine, tasting fancy caviar only taught me that I’m a sucker. I’ve continued wondering, What am I missing? 

ANYWAY, have you ever watched 24 Hours of Gluttony? I recently discovered these dudes and was intrigued/disgusted with their Portland adventure (I mean, seriously, how do they eat so much food?!).

While watching this episode, I made a few notes, and last night we visited Kachka. In true gluttony-form, we opted to start with their “Ruskie Zakuski Experience”:
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They weren’t kidding; they really did cover every inch of the table with plates of food, and wouldn’t you know it – one of the many bites was caviar:

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And guess what? I still don’t get it. Every single other menu item was absolutely delicious, and yet the caviar was the one thing where I was like, “Okkkkk…….” What exactly should I be noticing? It feels like salty, wet bubble tea pearls.

Regardless, the experience at Kachka was overwhelmingly good and I can’t wait to return. At my former school, the Russian families would host an enormous feast once a year on teacher appreciation week, and I’ve developed an insatiable hunger for Russian food since. Sadly, there really have been no lasting restaurants dedicated to Russian cuisine (last year I literally hosted my own Russian food day with a few friends).

Finally I have an answer!

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This wasn’t even half of the Ruskie Zakuski experience.

On top of that, I was totally re-inspired to enter the table decorating competition at next year’s state fair. Think rustic Russian picnic.

The Best of Amsterdam

Live from Paris, it’s my blog!

A few years ago, I made traveling to a new (domestic) city part of my annual bucket list, but when my plans to sing karaoke in Tokyo fell through due to time and money constraints, I decided to give myself a traveling break…and then, naturally, I’m offered several chances to travel internationally for very cheap. Go figure.

Thus even though “Travel to a new International City” isn’t officially on my list, I think visiting a new European city (or two) seems bloggable – no?

Rather than give you a long winded (and somewhat narcissistic) narrative of my trip to Amsterdam, I will give you the highlights. If you are hoping to read about the underground secrets off the beaten path, move on. Also, I don’t do drugs – so don’t expect me to talk about the plethora of pot smoke on every corner. I’m just a simple American girl trying to figure out where to get mayonnaise on my fries.

Best way to get around:

We arrived by plane, rode by shuttle, canal boat, and Metro, and walked on foot, and left by train. The only mode of transportation we didn’t use were bikes (ironic for a city of 800,000 people and more than 1 million bikes). My preference? Walking.

It’s summer and nothing is air conditioned, which isn’t that big of a deal, unless you’re stuffed in a small space with no ventilation. For that reason, I did not like the shuttle or the Metro. Riding a bike seemed mildly suicidal unless you were a local. The canal boat gave us a good tour of the city, but that was more of a “look, don’t touch” kind of experience. Everything was centrally located so you don’t have to go far to find food, museums, shopping, etc. That being said, wear some good walking shoes and have your Google Maps handy.

Best Museum

We certainly didn’t go to all the museums, but in three days, we went to a lot. Personally, The Torture Museum was my favorite. Sure, we got to see Van Goghs and Rembrants at the bigger museums, but size of the collections were overwhelming (and packed with people). At The Torture Museum, we got up close and personal with all sorts of medieval instruments of torture – pretty cool! It’s dark and in small windy corridors, and every time we would turn a corner my mom would say, “Now that is the worst one…”

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The infamous “rack”

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People were forced to sit naked with heavy weights tied to their feet for hours or days

Also, personally, I think it’s super important that we (especially as Americans) are aware of the history of the terrible things people did in the name of government (*homeland security – cough cough*) or religion (*homosexuality – cough cough*). In hindsight, we know this kind of stuff was horrendous (and not effective); in 1,000 years, what will they look back and shake their heads on about our current practices?

Best dinner

Honestly, I didn’t have a bad meal. In fact, I had many great meals, but if I had to pick one, I would recommend an Italian place called PastiniThere are so many restaurants in Amsterdam that it’s overwhelming to a newcomer – but this one was off the beaten path (just a little). The service was friendly and easy going; the menu had entrees and small plates for sharing. Like every other place, there is indoor and outdoor seating, but be advised they are closed on Sundays.IMG_4842

 

Best Dessert

I didn’t eat too many sweets during our time in Amsterdam, but a small place called Chocolate Ganache right on the left side of the entrance to the Oude Kerk Church was a must-visit. For a few bucks, I basically got a Whitman Sampler on crack.

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*Bonus – there were a lot of cats outside.*

Best Historical Site

As an avid fan of medieval stuff, the Oude Kerk Church was also a must-see place (and since you’re probably going to go gawk at the Red Light District, it will be really convenient for you). It dates back to 1301, and around every corner there is something weird or old to look at, including engraved pews and thousands of gravestones (including Rembrant’s wife). They still hold Dutch church services so visitors can enter after 1:00pm.IMG_4816

 

 

Overall, Amsterdam was a super easy town to navigate. Everyone spoke english, and everything was written in english. My husband, Thor, has visited Amsterdam on business trips and came home complaining about almost everything (terrible restaurant service, bad food, angry bikers, awful weather) but I didn’t experience any of that. My biggest complaint? Too many American restaurants and retail stores.

Pro Tip: Always get the poached egg on your caesar salad.

On my way to being a Roast Master

I literally had to Google, “What is a master coffee roaster called?” Answer: a Roast Master.

It has now been a solid couple of months of roasting my own coffee beans. Initially, I was totally rocking amateur hour by sticking my arm into a 500 degree oven to constantly stir the beans, but luckily my friend, Amanda, bequeathed me her air popper to make the far job easier.

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I’ll admit the first time I used it, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Coffee beans were flying everywhere, and I let the popper get so hot it turned itself off. I yelled, “This SUCKS!” and even considered going back to my primitive cave roasting in the oven. But with several more tries, I’ve definitely gotten a rhythm down. I can’t believe I never learned how to do this before!

Here’s my process:

First, I buy raw coffee beans on Amazon (I can get 3 lbs of organic for about $25). If you know a better or more economical route – LET ME KNOW.

Then, I carefully use the measuring cup on top of the air popper to scoop and then add my raw beans into the air popper (trust me – that measuring cup is there for a reason). Before turning it on, I have a big bowl held up to the popper.

Once it’s on, it gets HOT…and FAST. A few red hot beans and a lot of the bean husks get spit out the popper so having a BIG bowl is critical to clean freaks like me.

The beans begin to crackle or pop, and once I see that the husks are pretty much done being spit out and the beans are beginning to smoke, I quickly unplug the popper and stick it under the stove vent and dump the beans into a bowl.

The beans are supposed to “rest” for one to three days, and I can definitely taste a difference when they have had a chance to sit for a couple of days.

All in all, I can roast about a pound of beans in 10 – 15 minutes.

And that’s it!

Yesterday, we made coffee with my Costa Rican blend. This morning, it was freshly ground beans from Vietnam. At least from my newbie perspective, my roasted beans are legit:

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I’m still fine tuning this process; it’s annoying that some of the beans are getting spit out amidst the husks, and I’m either leaving them to be totally wasted or picking them out like hot coals to throw back into the machine.

While I understand that some coffee snobs may be reading this thinking, She’s using an air popper? Oh please! I’m ok with that. I’m totally new to this whole “roasting coffee beans” thing and not only is it more economical, it’s also fun. And to me that’s all that really matters.

That being said, Amanda gets to be my first outside taste tester (other than my husband, Thor) since she provided me with the tools to make fire. (Cue the Strauss).

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#1 – Taste Expensive Caviar & #24 – See Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett Live. Checkkkkkk!

Live from Las Vegas, it’s my blog!

I’ll admit, Las Vegas is not my favorite town…but after a fabulous Halloween and this weekend’s whirlwind trip, it’s growing on me.

Last night, my friend, Kelly, and I checked into the Bellagio Hotel with our suitcases full of rented designer dresses and glitter heels in anticipation of a classic and glamorous Vegas experience: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga live, singing their new album Cheek to Cheek.

I had never seen Tony Bennett before, but I have seen Lady Gaga (blogged as one of my top five life experiences) and I’ve been dying to see her again. When Kelly invited me to see Gaga with Tony Bennett in Vegas, it was a no brainer. But we had to do it the right way.

First off, we both rented designer dresses from Rent The Runway, riddled with sequins, and booked a room on the strip. When we checked in, Kelly sandwiched a $20 bill between her ID and credit card and smoothly said, “Anything you can do to make our stay more enjoyable would be appreciated…” A few minutes later we were upgraded to a better room and given complimentary late checkout (because you know it wasn’t going to be an early night).

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We put on our party gear, and headed to dinner at a fancy place called Yellowtail. Now eating caviar was never in my original Vegas plan, but when I saw Toro Caviar on the menu, and there we were looking like we owned the place, I insisted we splurge a little…ok well a lot.

Last year I wanted to taste a fine wine, just to see if it was really that different, but it ended up being a memorable experience of “Remember when we ordered that expensive bottle of wine…?” I thought maybe tasting an expensive caviar would be a educational treat for a special occasion. Admittedly, I don’t know anything about caviar, other that it should come from a sturgeon, and Tom Hanks didn’t like it in Big. Our Toro Caviar wasn’t cheap, but when the server asked, “What can I bring you tonight?” and I replied, “Definitely the caviar,” it felt pretty baller.

We also shared several other fancy plates, but we really took our time with the caviar (as it was only 4 tiny portions):

photo After taking our first bite, we looked at each other (much the same as my wine experience) and went, “Well ok..I guess that’s good…?” Mind blowing, it was not; but perhaps that was because our palates just aren’t as expensively refined as we looked.

After dinner, we headed to the show, and it was awesome. Gaga changed outfits many times, each one as sparkly and feathery and classic you would expect. After seeing Britney Spears lip sync an entire show on that same stage in October, hearing Gaga and Tony Bennett actually belt out their tunes (and they both killed it) reminded me just how impressive their showmanship was.

With all the lights and movement, getting a good picture was impossible (but I didn’t want to have my phone out and miss the show anyway), but we had great seats and you could really see the Gaga’s glittery make up and their pretty distinctive chemistry. It’s hard to believe Tony Bennett is almost 90 years old because he sang like a rockstar (no pun intended) and Gaga’s voice puts other pop stars to shame. Ultimately, their silly banter with the crowd made it an incredibly entertaining show and you could tell they were having a good time, too.

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It was a night of extravagant luxuries in a variety of ways, and I’m headed back home in a couple hours. When I’m cutting coupons for groceries later this month, I’ll be remembering the taste of caviar and the sound of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”