Monday, April 18, 2016

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore - Review

Last August I was winding my way through the check out line of Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon, clutching the meager three tomes that I had to choose from the basketful I had pulled from the shelves (sorry whoever had to re-shelve those :/ ). As I meandered forlornly through the bordering tables stacked high with bargain buys, I spotted a fun looking yellow cover.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan captured my attention. "I wish I knew of a 24 hour bookstore," the bibliophile in me sighed. So what did I do?
Well, I bought it of course.
I snatched that sucker up off that oaken table and deftly slide it between a fantasy and neo-gothic before my boyfriend could give me the side-eye and say another snarky comment on baggage weight regulations.

Patricia Wall/The New York Times

The last minute baggage roulette was completely worth it. This novel was the right book at the right time.  I just didn't know it until I got to its spot on my reading list and finally dived in head-first.

Mr. Penumbra is the mysterious owner of a twenty-four hour bookstore in which our unlikely techno narrator finds himself working the night-shift.  Boredom and mystery are often amazing bedfellows and through a series of inquires, adventure and a little deception, Clay (aforementioned narrator) finds himself on the cusp of figuring out a centuries old secret, stepping on the toes of a black-cloaked clandestine society.

The novel combines both new-fangled technology genius with old school paper and ink knowledge in an entertaining way that does not dismiss either, but shows how both are valid. Great news for a millennial like myself (am I a millennial? Who knows...) who loves her iPhone, but can't stand e-readers. Give me a book with pages that snap as I turn them and a heft in my purse that will eventually make me lopsided.

Illustration by Laura Terry.

The characters gliding in and out of the pages are realistic, if eccentric, and have believable relationships with each other and the world around them.  There is a sense of whimsy and of nerdom, all of which fit the subject matter and enhance the general feel of the story.

Reading this book will make you wonder at the idea of fate. Do specific things happen at certain times in our lives because they must? Does one step really lead to the next, if we are only open to listening and following? Being curious is just the thing a bored mind needs. It will bring you to your next step along fate's winding highway and on adventures that end where no one expects.

I can't help but think that there was a little bit of kismet working in the world that day. An unseen force that put that happy yellow cover right into my line of view. The perk to my mental outlook at a time when the year was dragging showed me that there are still adventures to be had. It was "the right book exactly, at exactly the right time"

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Watch This Space

I'm going to Disney!

Next week, Friday, I will be leaving the spring-like temperatures of New York to bask in the magic that is Disney World!

While in Orlando, I will be visiting: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot, as well as, Universal and Universal Islands of Adventure. (This Potterhead is going to break her neck seeing all the eye-candy at Wizarding World of Harry Potter!)

So, watch this space for upcoming daily happenings and food reviews!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Seattle Part 1- Things to Do

Hello again!

I am sorry I haven't posted in forever, but I finally have something interesting to share! I just got back from a Seattle, WA and Portland, OR trip and am eager to let you in on some experiences of what I did (and ate) in those places!

I love the idea of adding a travel element to the blog, so let's get started!

Our flight to Seattle was an late one, with us landing at 12:30am West Coast time.  Unfortunately, due to mismanaging at Hertz Car Rental, we ended up waiting 2 hours for our rental car! We were tired, hungry and not in very good moods! 

We stayed outside of Seattle, and while I would normally show you the accommodations, they were part of an affordable hotel chain, Coast Hotels, and very adequate, if nothing special. The people at the Coast Hotel Bellevue, were very nice, which made up for the fact that the hotel could use a bit of a refurb.  Also, the bed was incredibly soft; we dubbed it The Marshmallow Bed, which sounds great in theory, but wasn't too kind on our backs.

Back to the city, itself. 

Seattle is a beautiful city sandwiched between the Puget Sound (which leads to the Pacific Ocean) and Lake Washington. This was the perfect place for me as I am never happier than beside a large body of water! 

Driving through the city, you better not be afraid of bridges because they are everywhere, but man, do they provide for some stunning views!  Also, be prepared that as you get closer to the water (Alaskan Way in the main waterside strip) the hills get steep! Work out those calves beforehand!

The weather in Seattle was definitely cooler than here on the East Coast, but we welcomed the change. We didn't really experience any of the famous Seattle rain, but I would have benefitted from a sweatshirt at night as it got a little chilly, even in August!

I hear you: what are the things to do in this awesome, techy, green city?

We only spent a few days in beautiful Seattle, but I think we hit many of the major highlights, starting with the Emerald City's most important icon, The Space Needle!

The Space Needle was built in 1962 for the World's Fair in Seattle. It was built on purchased land within the fairgrounds, which later turned into the Seattle Center park. This was our first stop in Seattle, and I would suggest any tourist plan to spend their first day wandering the park which also houses an artistic themed children's playground, 

The International Fountain( a spray fountain),

the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, The Seattle Center Armory, the Pacific Science Center 

and the EMP Museum. 

We spent some time wandering before we got to the Space Needle, but I would suggest you head there first because the tickets are for specific timed entrances.  Around 3pm we bought tickets for 6:30pm, which gave us some time to wander and explore before heading back for a quick line up to the top.

The top of the Space Needle is very similar to the top of the Empire State Building, but with more amenities.  It is an observation deck through which you can get a 360 degree view of the city and the water that surrounds it. Inside there is a revolving restaurant, or if you are feeling less fancy, a cafeteria style food and drink counter at the top.  

Once you go up, you are allowed to stay up as long as you want, so it might be a nice idea to head up to the top for lunch (as long as you don't get vertigo!)

The Space Needle may be the most iconic spot in the Seattle Center, but it is not the most fun, or interesting, by far! We had lunch in the Seattle Center Armory, which at the time was hosting an Iranian festival. It was interesting and informative and definitely a feast for the eyes, with all of the jewelry and art stands.  There were also performances of women in brightly colored traditional dress whirling around like dancing petals in a stream.

One of my favorite places in the Seattle Center (and my last in this long post!) was the EMP museum.  EMP stands for Experience Music Project and is a Museum containing music, 
Sci-fi and pop culture. It also has a sound studio where kids and adults can experiment with music and sound.

While we were there we saw a Star Wars costumes exhibit, 

a horror exhibit (which I found interesting, especially the bit about the science behind our attraction to fear),

a fantasy exhibit, which was particularly exciting for a fantasy book nerd like myself,

and sci-fi exhibit, which was visually stimulating and showed some of the iconic figures of the Sci-fi genre, but was a little flat to me.

They had various music exhibits including a Nirvana exhibit (c'mon, it's Seattle) and a Jimi Hendrix exhibit (the shape of the museum is supposed to emulate the iconic image of Hendrix's guitar post stage smash, engulfed in flames, from above.  I didn't see it, may you will)

There was also a Chuck Jones exhibit and video game exhibit.

As you can see, the museum is eclectic and definitely strays a bit from its original goal of being an interactive music center, but I loved it.  I found that it really celebrated "nerd culture", which, being the huge nerd I am, really appreciated and found value in!

Ok, this post is already long enough, so I will leave it there for now.  More on things to do, see and eat in Seattle next time!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Stamford Food Carts

One of the things I am super excited about during my forthcoming trip to Portland this summer is the abundance of food carts.  Food carts are huge there, but are a relatively new thing here, and as such, I haven't had many experiences with them.

When I found out Three60 Events posted on Facebook that they were hosting a Food Cart Rodeo and Music Festival in Stamford, CT, I knew I had to buy tickets!

I went there with an empty belly, an unusual tolerance for the misty rain and way too much excitement over the prospect of trying new foods!

Entering the Mill River Park in downtown Stamford, I quickly took stock of the trucks and made a game plan with my fellow food aficionados. I wanted to try at least 8 trucks and thought that by splitting food items with my friends, I could juusssst do it.  Well, we'll see.

Our group diverged to start with half heading to CHOMPERS and myself and my friend Lauren off toThe Poutine King.  ( I couldn't find websites for these trucks, so the links are to Facebook.  There they have hours and locations to help you find them when hunger hits)

Beef, Cheese and Bacon
Chompers are somewhat like deep friend meatballs.  Melissa got the chicken, basil and mozzarella and her friend Jody got the beef, bacon and cheddar. Both balls (hehe..) are served with marinara and have a nice crunch when you bite into them.  The breading on the outside is like breadcrumbs, not batter which makes it so they are minimally greasy.  Lauren preferred the chicken, but I loved the beef, bacon and cheddar.  I found the textures and flavors better, whereas the chicken seemed one-note to me.

I have never had Poutine before, but have heard about it and desperately wanted to try it. We opted for the special with bacon and onions.  Honestly, I think we should have just gone with the original as the onions were extremely sweet and overpowering enough that it was difficult to get a good understanding of the actual dish.  Pushing some aside I was able to get a good taste of fries, cheese curd and gravy.

I thought it would be like any other cheese fries you would get at a diner, but it wasn't.  Cheese curds are...interesting.  They taste like cheese, but definitely don't feel like it in your mouth.  They squeak.  Which I am told is the sign of a good cheese curd. The gravy has a good brown creaminess and was not overly salty, which can be difficult to do.  Overall verdict? We liked it. Definitely enough to have it again.  The portions are HUGE, even with two people we couldn't finish the whole thing.

Cheesy goodness
After the fries, we made our way over to Lauren's favorite Szabos Seafood, for the much loved Lobster Roll. The lobster roll was $15 and came with fries and coleslaw.  We were fried out and the coleslaw was just your average type, so we ended up tossing them and focusing on the lobsta!

I really liked this lobster roll.  Chunks of bright red lobster piled on a buttery split hot dog roll is the stuff of dreams.  I  am not a huge mayo lover (I'll eat it, but am not one to be piling it on things) and I loved that this lobster roll had none. Zero. Just straight up lobster doused in butter. The way God intended. Lauren and I are not of the same mind on this and while she also liked the lobster roll, she prefers hers with just a touch of mayo.

Three carts in and we were going strong.  Definitely no longer hungry, but we weren't at our thresholds yet.  As we crossed to the other side of the field, Lauren and I split ways again with me going to The Melt Mobile and Lauren going to Pierogies on Wheels.  There were SO many options at Melt Mobile that I had difficulty deciding.  I went with the MonteCristo (and will definitely be back to try others - hopefully they still have the Madamoiselle special)

The Monte Cristo is herb baked country ham, farm fresh turkey and house cheese blend on Challah bread dipped in French toast batter and grilled. It is then sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with mixed berry preserves. 

Monte Cristo - Look at that French Toast crust!

Holy Mother of God.  This is AMAZING! I know some people are put off by the ham with french toast and powdered sugar, but I love a sweet and savory combo. It works so well.  The saltiness of the ham and turkey, the creamy goodness of the cheese, with the crunch of the french toast just melts (see what I did there...) together with the sweetness of powdered sugar.  Add the tang of red berry preserves and it is a complete, well rounded taste. Am I gushing?
Everything compliments and is such a pleasure to eat.  Yup, I'm gushing.

Again, portions are good sized.  I split this with Lauren and since we had already sampled other things, even forcing myself, I wasn't able to finish.

Attractive picture #1
Attractive picture #2 - Sexy

Lauren got the potato and farmers' cheese pierogis with a side of sour cream. They were perfectly fluffy. The insides were moist and the dough to filling ration was perfect! These were everything pierogis are supposed to be.

Ok, at this point we were full, no doubt about it, but I had only tried 5 carts! This would not do.  We decided to take a walk around the park to see if that would help ease our bellies and gear us up for round two.  It did not, we were so full there was no way we were going to last much longer.  It was decided that we would get dessert and leave as I admitted defeat.

Dessert came in the form of Orange Side Donuts.  Lauren plumbed for the Samoa Donut and I went for the Almond Butter Crunch.  The donuts were square! Both were delicious and while the donuts are fried, they have a very cake-y texture.  They are definitely best with a cup of coffee.  If I had to choose my favorite, I would say the Samoa, but honestly both were scrumptious. Big too!

Samoa Doughnut
Almond Butter Crunch
On the way out I grabbed some fresh squeeze lemonade bringing my cart total up to 7! I almost made my goal and there were so many other carts I wanted to try.

Maybe if we stayed longer I could have gotten a pizza made from a converted fire truck courtesy of The Fire Engine Pizza Co. Some friends of mine did get to sample it after I left and gave it two very satisfied thumbs up!

Anyone looking for food carts in and around the Stamford area for a quick lunch or to add a cool element to an event you're planning should follow the links provided as they will take you to sites with times, locations and contact info.

I was sorry to leave, but excited for my afternoon plans.  Lauren and I went to get tattoos! It was her first and my fifth.  She was nervous, but was such an amazing trooper.  Not enough to report to warrant a blog post, but below is a picture of my new ink.

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." - The Lorax

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Travel Bug

As a young'n I was a prolific reader (I still am), and my reading took me to many far off places and times.  It allowed me to experience different cultures and gave me a love for learning that has been vital to who I am.  Thus began the larva that would grow into my current travel bug.

The first trip I took by myself was in college, when I visited my roommate's home in Puerto Rico.  I decided that one day I wanted to move there.  Since then I have traveled to London, Paris, Portugal, Rome (I had been there before, as well as Florence, Venice and Calabria, with family), Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Bermuda and many US States. I have wanted to live in each place. Perhaps I have a gypsy soul.

I don't think I will be stopping anytime soon.  I am one of those people who would rather travel than have at home luxuries (e.g. a nice car, expensive clothes or jewelry), and while my debt is no small potato, I would rather use my tax return and extra income to travel than pay it down.  Does this make me irresponsible? Maybe, but at least I will have my memories and lessons learned to keep me warm in the poorhouse.

There are many places I would like to go and below are some of my current/future plans/hopes for the next year.  My vacations have to work around the school schedule so trips can only be taken in certain months.

This August, Paul and I will be venturing to the West Coast for the first time ever. We will be seeing the Pacific Northwest through Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.  My cousin lives in Portland, so I am looking forward to also visiting her and her adorable children.

This summer, since our big trip is to the West Coast, I also wanted to get in at least one weekend trip to tide us over until August. Since Philadelphia is only about 2 hours away AND I've never been there AND it is a great dog-friendly city, I figured that we could load up the car with overnight bags, the dog and ourselves and just pop over there for a weekend.

Paul and I have been on two cruises now and we both have enjoyed them immensely.  I like being able to hit a bunch of new destinations in one trip without having to go through the hassle of coordinating in between travel, and Paul loves how everything is at your fingertips, that and the fact that food is included. One less expense to worry about!

This February we are looking into going on a cruise out of New York the week I am off from school.  We have previously been on the Carnival Valor (Ah-MAZING) out of Puerto Rico and the Norweigan Breakaway out of New York.(Very good, but a bit large for us. - we rarely saw the same people twice, which some people like, but I like to make friends!)

This time we are going to check out the new Royal Caribbean ship: Anthem of the Seas.  I'm still doing price checks and probably will continue to do so throughout the year, to try and get the best rate.

Easter Break:
Now, depending on the cost of our February vacation (and my tax refund), I am going to try to cheaply book a trip to Manchester, England.  My cousin and her boyfriend and daughter moved their from Rome a few years ago and I haven't seen them since 2011. I really want to see how much the baby has grown (answer: a lot!) and feed my Anglophelia by exploring another English city.

I have MANY travel dreams, but some are more pressing than others.  I'm sure I will never be able to hit every place on my list but, I can sure try!

Spain (Madrid, Barcelona)

Edinburgh, Scotland



Australia (Sydney, Perth)

Austin, Texas

Charleston, South Carolina

Kansas City, Missouri

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Most of these "Dream" places have pictures pulled from Google Images. I can't wait go and take my own!
If you have any suggestions of things to do and see in any of these places, let me know, or link to your own blog in the comments!