Sunday, July 18, 2021

Beach bum life in Destin, Florida!

Being a beach bum is my ideal chill vacation. For the past several years, Micah and I have been vacationing in Destin, Fl. because it's an easy vacation for us. We usually rent a pet-friendly vacation rental for a week in September (after the peak summer season), get a rental car and load the dogs up for the 12-hour drive to the Florida Panhandle.
Micah grew up going to Destin with his family but stopped in the late '90s. He introduced me to Destin more than a decade ago and about five years ago, we decided to revisit the area and since then we've made it an annual vacation spot. 

As far as vacation rentals go, I usually book through a local vacation group in the area since they've provided consistent and good service. We prefer townhomes or single family homes instead of condos. With the dogs, it's easier to just open the door and let them go potty. No elevators needed!

For the past three years, we've stayed at this rental with Holiday Isle. While the Southbay by the Gulf townhome community is older, this unit is updated and is in a great location. We love being able to walk around and there are grocery stores nearby. This condo is located on the pond so it's nice to have the two patios—we keep our inflated SUP boards on the 1st floor patio so it's perfect! 

View from Southbay by the Gulf Unit#62

These townhomes are also a short walk across the parking lot to the private beach entrance. No crossing streets! 

Emerald Coast Vacation Rentals is another great local rental company that we've used to book another unit at Southbay. 

Here are some of the reasons why we love vacationing in Destin! 

1. The beach. It's called the Emerald Coast for a reason. The water is super clear and the sand is soft. Some years, there is seaweed and sometimes there are jellyfish, but it's still always a good time! 


2. Seafood is plentiful! We always hit up Dewey Destin's (the original location) for simple, fresh seafood. If we want a fancier dinner, we'll go to Lagniappe. 

There are numerous seafood markets around town, so I always pick up pounds-on-pounds of Gulf shrimp for a boil! A few years ago, I also learned that I might be allergic to a specific red shrimp. I still at it though. #YOLO

Shrimp boil at home.

Fish plate at Dewey Destin's.

3. Other yummy restaurants! We frequent Craft Bar to see what beer they have on tap and their food is also good. And I know it's a chain, but in Miramar, there's my favorite pizza joint: Grimaldi's. I know Austin has one now, but it's nice going to the Grimaldi's there and then walking around the area for the evening. 

Beer at Craft Bar.

The only pizza Micah will eat. Grimaldi's.

4. Activities! If you have kiddos, there is fun to be had at several small amusement parks in the area. You can find them in Destin and Fort Walton Beach. We usually battle it out over putt putt at the Track location right down the street from our rental. 

We also bring our SUP boards with us but you can rent them at numerous locations. When we have family with us, we rent extra SUP boards from Blue Crab rentals

Since Micah and I like a challenge, we actually take our SUP boards through the harbor side and out to Crab Island (where the party people are!). Crab Island is just a shallow area on the northside of the 98 Bridge in Destin. Boats anchor there and people just walk around and have a good time. 

Crab Island life.

5. RELAX AND CHILL. Our usual Destin day means waking up (me, earlier than Micah, always). Eat breakfast, walk the dogs and then we try to hit the beach around 11/ 12 p.m. We make sure to bring our cooler with plenty of beverages and snacks. Even though the unit is close, going back is still annoying! 

We'll stay out for at least 3-4 hours, where we'll SUP, swim, walk the beach, etc. I usually always have a good book in hand as well! 

Then we'll head back in late afternoon, get cleaned up, take a nap, get ready for dinner and the evening. Of course our dogs' evening walk is in there too. They actually don't love the beach (and dogs aren't allowed on Destin's beaches), so we don't take them out there very often. 

Spark is annoyed.

Beach sunsets.

There are other areas of the Florida Panhandle that are just as gorgeous, but we stick to Destin since it has close proximity to restaurants, bars and other activities. 

When we go in September, it usually isn't that busy, but Labor Day weekend is. Last September—during the pandemic—was the busiest we've seen Destin. It makes sense though since people weren't flying as much and wanted to vacation without going too far. Normally there would only be one or two rows of umbrellas where we stay, but last year there were three rows during Labor Day week! We expect this upcoming year will be back to normal. 

If you're looking for a great beach that is family-friendly, check out the Florida Panhandle! You won't regret it. In fact, we've been able to meet my cousin and his family in Destin a couple of times since they vacation there as well from Indiana! 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Bitches be brunchin'

A couple of years ago, I was talking with a friend about why I love to cook and entertain. I love being able to sit around a table and catch up with friends without having to worry about sitting at a restaurant's tabletop too long. I lamented how in this foodie age, people love going out to eat but not enough people host, cook and in turn share it with friends.
I'm a dork and even had tanks made!
That's how my brunch club was born. I extended the invite to five friends -- all of us have a TV news background. Our club meets the first Sunday of every month and the hostess for the month rotates depending on who is available to host. If the first Sunday lands on a holiday, etc. we sometimes slide it into the second Sunday. 

Ever since we've started, we've only skipped a couple of months and I know I've only missed a couple! While everyone can't make it every single month, it's still fun to have a smaller group of girls to chat with. In some cases, we'll go out to a restaurant if there's only a few people available for the month. 

When I host brunch, it gives me a chance to try new recipes. I know some of the members will see a fun brunch recipe somewhere and save it so they can try it for their next brunch! 

Besides the food, the best part is just being able to settle in with a mimosa and catch up with friends for hours! We talk about work, relationships, politics and the moms in the group talk about child rearing things. 

Sometimes we'll have our significant others attend, but most of the time it's just 'bitches be brunchin.'  On some occasions, if we have other friends in town, we'll invite them to join the party as well. 

In the nearly two years we've done this, people have had life changes but brunch has been a constant and for me, it's a job and something I look forward to. Even though I initiated the club, it's our group and our energy that has kept it going!

A baby shower brunch for Sarah when she was preggo!
Thank you to Larissa, Erin, Mandy, Alicia and Sarah for all being awesome women who I love to spend lazy Sunday mornings with. 

What's one of the best things I've made for brunch club? This Potato Basil Frittata from Ina Garten. It's delicious. I usually ramp up the greens by adding fresh kale or spinach to it!

I also tried a few of Ina's recipes from her Party cookbook for another brunch:

I made her raspberry french toast and mini Italian frittatas.

I was thinking it'd be fun to have a future brunch be based on a new cookbook. Everyone would pick a brunch recipe from the book and make it for that day. OR everyone picks recipe from a new book, make it and bring printed copies of the recipe for people to take home. So many ideas!

Erin made this beautiful fruit tart the last time she hosted:

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Vienna: My favorite type of sausage in a can

The last leg of our April European adventure landed us in Vienna. When Micah and I were planning our trip, I threw around the idea of ending in Budapest but Micah wasn't enamored with that idea so we settled on Vienna, since it was a mere 4-hour train ride from Prague.

When we got into town, we took the subway to our hotel, which was the Hilton Vienna Plaza. It was perfectly situated along the Ringstrasse — a road that encircles the historic center.

Beautiful arrangements at the Hilton Vienna Plaza
Our friends Kat and Will were staying at a different hotel so we would coordinate meetups at various places for the rest of our trip.

The Basics 
Time there: 3 nights
Where we stayed: Hilton Vienna Plaza

Day 1

After putting up on things, Micah and I went to grab some dinner at Beaver Brewing Company at the recommendation of some people we at a beer store in Prague.

It was a brewpub that served burgers and had very American-centric beers on tap. Burger was really good but the beers were nothing special for us.

That evening, we walked around the area and saw Votivkirche, a neo-Gothic church across the street from Sigmund Freud park.

We ended the night at a brewpub called 1515 Brewing. What's odd about Vienna is that it still allows bars to have separate smoking rooms. YUCK! At one bar we walked into, you had to walk through the smoke-filled room to get to the non-smoking section — but we all know smoke permeates everything so even that section will leave you walking out of there smelling like an ashtray. Get into the 21st Century, Vienna!

Day 2

On our first full day in Vienna, we decided to start it off with a proper Viennese (not Vietnamese, but close!) breakfast. We walked to Cafe Landtmann and had a beautiful breakfast with proper cafes. 

I had the salmon eggs benedict and Micah had an omelet. 

In a city full of museums, it's hard to pick one or two to visit, but I ended up making Micah go to the Kunts Historisches Museum with me. 

If you love art history, this place is for you. Most of the collection dates back to the House of Hasburg and their private collection. 

When you walk in and look up, you'll see murals done by Gustav Klimt, which are gorgeous. 

My favorite piece in the museum.
After making Micah suffer at the museum for several hours, it was time to get some traditional Vienna beers. A travel pamphlet mentioned 7 Stern Brau as a place that brewed traditional Austrian beers, so we made a beeline there.   

We enjoyed most of their beers but I did have to send one back because it was infected, however, they didn't give me a refund. Apparently, the Viennese do not believe in refunding bad beer.

I also had their goulash here and it was delicious. It had the quality of a Vietnamese beef stew, which I really enjoyed.

Kat and Will met us up at the brewpub and Kat had her 20th goulash (I jest, I think it was her fifth).

After 7 Stern Brau, we went to a brand new beer bar called Ammutson.

The bar owner, a lovely Egyptian with a head of curly hair, had opened the bar just that week and it was already seeing a decent crowd. He doesn't believe in big beer and all the beers he has on tap are made by small businesses he supports. Some of the best beer we found was at this bar.

Day 3

Since we had nice breakfast the morning before, we settled on McDonald's for Day 3 breakfast. Unfortunately, McD's in Austria do not carry my fave: sausage McMuffin with egg. T'was a sad morning.

It was a beautiful spring day, so we just spent the time wandering around the center and made a stop at St. Stephens Cathedral. We didn't do the catacombs, but our friends did and they said it was worth it!

And because I couldn't leave Vienna without trying their famous desserts, we had a mid-day snack at the famous Cafe Demel.

I ordered the apple strudel (which reminded me of that scene in Inglorious Bastards) and a tea sandwich with salmon on it. Both were divine.

After taking a nap, we took a stroll along the graffiti-laden bank of the Danube River. I love graffiti art and they sure do it right in Vienna.

Micah had one other brewpub he wanted to try called CraftMuhle, but before we got there, we walked around a vibrant open-air food market called Naschmarkt.

It had everything from spices to Mediterranean foods. Numerous vendors trying to sell you dried figs and other goods.

Menu at CraftMuhle
Inside Beer Street

Once we made it to CraftMuhle, we had a few beers (Kat and I switched to Aperol Spritz) and then made our way to a place called Beer Street, which has tons of beers on tap. Be forewarned though, they ONLY accept cash.

For our last meal in Vienna and our trip, we ate at this adorable place called Brezelgwolb Cafe, tucked away in a busy area of the city.

To start off the meal, you get a fluffy, salty pretzel. One of the best pretzels I've ever had.

I ended up getting a pork dish and Kat went for her last goulash of the trip.

We ended up going back to the hotel for one last nightcap before calling it a night for our early morning flight out of Vienna.

That Saturday morning, we missed the bus we were supposed to take to the airport. Frustrated that we might miss our flight, a lovely young man tried to help but we ended up getting an Uber and we made with plenty of time to spare. Crisis averted, even though Micah and I almost killed each other that morning.

When people ask me about Vienna, I have to reply that it was unremarkable for me. The city is clean, pretty and has tons of great museums, but it lacked a certain quality that I'm looking for in a European city. I know the city was heavily damaged during WWII bombings, so much of the city is "new." But for me, it wasn't Prague. It wasn't Paris. It wasn't Brussels. It wasn't Munich. It just wasn't special. I'll skip it next time and go to Salzburg instead.

I also realized I never ate ANY sausage in Vienna. I fail at life.