Coffee Break

A few weeks ago I took a week staycation. It was lovely to have time off to do nothing. To refresh and recharge, and overall relax for more than a day at a time. I was hoping that by April I might have at least one or two decent days to do some stuff outside. Unfortunately, to say that the weather did not cooperate would be the understatement of the year. The entire week was so cold, and rained or snowed most days. At the end of the week we had a sleet/hail/snow storm with tons of school, church and work activities were cancelled. I was quite disappointed with the whole weather situation. But that's April in Michigan for you. You never know what you're going to get. 

Due to the nasty weather, I was able to enjoy a few extra coffee shops as there was not a whole lot else I wanted to do! It was the perfect weather for that at least. Lara and I also took a morning for a special afternoon tea at one of our favorite spots, the cutest little macaroon shop just down the street called Le bon Macaron. If you are ever in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor or in East Lansing where their other shops are located, I highly recommend a stop for some of the best macaroons you'll ever had. They are fantastic. And the whole shop is styled in the cutest French inspired way. A pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon. Our "tea" consisted of scones, crackers, cheese, tea, and macaroons. So good, and so fun! Overall, I tried to make the best of the less than ideal week! Good coffee certainly helps!

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Finally got over to the West side of Grand Rapids to check out a new coffee shop called Corridor Coffee. It's a very cute little place with a lot of charm. The actual coffee is not the best I've had, but I'd go back for the atmosphere for sure. And they sell some delicious local baked goods, some that are allergy friendly if that's important to you. 

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Tea Time at Le bon Macaron! Such fun, and delicious! Really the best macarons I've had. They know what they're doing, and the shop is the most adorable place you could imagine. 

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Did just a little bit of work as well while on vacation. Not ideal, but at least I found a cozy place with delicious coffee to make it more palatable. Lightfast Coffee is another great place in Grand Rapids. If you look beyond the coffee in this picture you can see the lovely weather I was up against this week... ick. 

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Finally a sunny day! It was cold, but beautiful! Went out for breakfast with my mom to Nonna's Pantry in Ada for some delicious baked goods. All house made and delicious. The coffee was nothing special, but altogether a lovely morning. 

Happy 30th Birthday

A few weeks back, Lara and I celebrated a milestone birthday, we turned 30. That still sounds a little strange, but I'm getting used to it. The whole weekend I kept thinking about the moving 13 Going on 30, and reminding myself - 30, flirty and thriving! :) 

To celebrate, we both took a few days off work and headed up north to have a little fun! We stayed at the cutest little Airbnb in downtown Traverse City that was just steps away from the main drag downtown, and walking distance to the beach. It was absolutely perfect. The weather was unbelievable and contributed to our short but wonderful celebratory vacation. 

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The cheese cellar at Leelanau Cheese

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Beautiful drive up to Black Star Farms

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Taste Taste Taste

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Stopped for a fantastic MadCap latte at Blue Bottle Coffee Co

The setting was perfection! And the food spot on!

 

Fish Town! The smoked trout was killer!

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Our perfect Airbnb. Our host even left us a birthday bottle of wine!

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Dinner was one of the best pizzas I've had. The setting didn't hurt either. Pleasanton Bakery had just a few options for pizzas. About 3 or 4 topping options, and only one size - 18 inches! We went with the Margherita and it was perfect.
Dinner by the bay, watching the sunset over the trees. 

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Morning coffee on our little porch after a morning run. Then it was off to Sleeping Bear Dunes for a fabulous hike!

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The highlight of the trip was probably lunch at 9 Bean Rows in Suttons Bay. It was abdolutely amazing. Got the soup special which was wild mushroom with sweet corn. On the side was a half sandwich for each of us - housemade pastrami with housemade sourkraut on housemade bread. Wow. I would drive the 2.5 hours simply to eat this again. One thing's for sure - I'll be back!

Vacation at Lake Macatawa

Intern year is over! In some ways it went super fast, and in other aspects it was incredible slow. Regardless, I can hardly believe it's over. I'm ready to start year 2. It's crazy to think that by the end of this next year I'll be 2/3 done with residency, with only 1 year to go. To celebrate, Lara and I were able to get a few days off and we decided to spend these rare days off at the lake. My aunt and uncle generously allowed us to stay at their lake house in Holland, MI. Although the weather wasn't the most ideal for a lakeside vacation, some a little rain, a lot of clouds, it was still about as relaxing as possible, the perfect way to end out the year. Enjoy the pics!

 
 

 

Our first day included a trip to the local farmer's market after which our kitchen was overflowing with produce. Subsequently we ate very, very well! 

 

Europe Trip 2016: France

It took me a while to finally make it through all of my France pictures but I finally did it. Enjoy!

This is the 3rd and final installment in my Europe Trip 2016 series (if you want to see the first two post check them out here and here). After a full week in the Netherlands Lara and I were so excited to be headed to France, Paris in particular. It was sad to leave the Netherlands, but we had a full week there and felt like we got a good feel for the country. 

We arrive via train in Paris and had a driver all scheduled to pick us up to bring us to our hotel. This is definitely the way to go, no stress about finding a taxi, or figuring out public transit. He drove us to our hotel, giving us a mini tour on the way, pointing out different attractions along the way and asking us if we had any questions. We made it to our hotel, The Hotel Louison, with no problem and were checked in by Pierre (!) and headed up to our small but lovely room with a gorgeous view. 

We quickly dropped our stuff off at the hotel and headed out to explore the city. First things first, a stop at the first crepe stand we saw to check one "must eat" off the list. Lara and I split a ham and cheese galette (the crepes savory sibling) which was hot and cheesy and so delicious. 

Yum!

These are a few of the other treats that were for sale at the crepe stand. I wanted to try them all. 

I also "needed" to try a Parisian croissant, so on our walk to the Luxemberg Gardens we stopped off at a corner bakery for a quick bite. 

Spent some time walking through the Luxembourg Garden which was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, it started raining a bit while we were there, but it wasn't too bad. 

 
 

From the Luxembourg Garden we made our way to Notre Dame, one of the few "must sees" on my list for this trip. It was very impressive. I know nothing about architecture, but seeing this building up close was unbelievable. What a building, inside and out!

 

Just strolling along the Seine!

Made it to the Louve. Didn't feel the need to go in, but I had no idea how big the place is! Wow!

 

Although we were trying to save money, and be smart about what we spent on the whole trip, Lara and I knew that we wanted to have one really nice meal while in Paris. Since there are a million restaurants in the city we weren't sure how to go about narrowing down the choices. So we decided to ask Pierre at our hotel if he had any suggestions. He was very happy to assist. After asking us what kind of place we were thinking, he immediately picked up the phone, called a nearby restaurant and made us a reservation. It turned out to be a lovely little place called L'Epi Dupin. We could only get a reservation out front, outside the restaurant. Although it was a little chilly, it was still a pretty nice day so we were okay with this. 

We each order a three course meal and a glass of wine. The meal also came with bread and an amuse-bouche. Everything was so delicious, and the atmosphere was wonderful. It was the perfect night. 

I tried to remember what we ordered, but I don't know if I got it all right. I had to guess on what some of it was since it wasn't written down anywhere, at least not in English! The amuse-bouche was a chilled carrot ginger soup with parsley cream and a radish. Then you can see my three courses down the left side of the collage below: scallop soup with either sweet potato or squash puree (I can't remember which) - very light and delicious, followed by the vegetarian main which was an assortment of several things, an Asian cabbage slaw, quinoa, parsnip puree with what looked like fried bananas, cheesy celery root mash, an artichoke carrot salad, sauteed pears, and some sort of crunchy crackery thing, and I finished things off with a speculaas cookie with poached apples, caramel and vanilla ice cream. 

Lara's three courses are down the right side below; she had a raw vegetable first course with beet sauce, some kind of fish for her second course, and grapefruit dessert with mango sorbet. 

 
 

Enjoying the City of Lights after our wonderful meal!

 

Breakfast was absolutely perfect the next two mornings at the hotel. The food and the selection was fabulous. Meet and cheese, boiled eggs, several types of bread and pastries, yogurt, fruit, fresh juice and coffee. I had to make a real effort not to gorge myself!!

 

Right after breakfast I grabbed an umbrella and we headed out the door on a long but lovely walk to the Eiffel Tower, a second item on my "must-see" list of the city. Although I was a little worried about rain, the morning turned out to be perfect for walking. And the Eiffel Tower was certainly worth the walk! Again, I was impressed, it was much larger than I was expecting, and amazing to look at. 

 

We decided to go up the Eiffel Tower and I'm so glad we did. I think it was worth it. The view was great, and it was a really fun experience. 

 

After the Eiffel Tower we did a lot of walking around and looking at whatever we could find. Thankfully we found a wonderful cheese shop where someone spoke a little English and we picked up a couple cheese to try! Oh how I wish we could find cheese shops like these in the States!

We picked up 2 different cheese from the HUGE selection. I wanted to try them all but we had to be realistic. We decided on the Epoisse Gaugry and a wonderful Roquefort. They were both amazing, and we ate them for several meals in a row!

And after even more walking Lara and I found a wonderful and unassuming little coffee shop. Up until this point in our trip the coffee has been good, but it had all been automatic, no hand crafted beverages in site. But finally at Cafe Fines we were able to sip on a couple of handmade cappuccinos, as well as a financier. The sweets case at this wonderful coffee shop was wonderful, I wanted to try them all. 

For lunch we went for the next of our "must-have" foods, a baguette! This was probably what I had been looking forward to the most. I love love love good bread. And I can say that baguettes will never be the same again. this was the best baguette I have ever had. The flavor, the texture, the chew, it truly was amazing. I can't even begin to explain why it was so good (I'm sure the location had something to do with it), it just was. We went back to the Luxembourg Gardens to eat lunch and it was just beautiful. The weather was cooperating, the sun was shining and the food was amazing. 

We did a little reading in the park after lunch to rest our feet, and then we were off with some more walking. This walking included some snacks of course! We had to get a canelé because Lara had never tried one (I'd only had one once before). They are just so good. Custardy and almost chewy and gummy inside (it really is good, I promise!) with the delicious flavor of rum shining through and a deep, dark and caramel-y exterior. I also couldn't resist the giant palmier. It was so crispy, sugary and light. A wonderful snack for that mid-afternoon slump. 

 

 

 

After a long day of lots and lots of walking, we made it back to our hotel. It was nice to just sit and relax for a little while after putting many miles on our feet in one day. 

On our last full day in Europe, Lara and I went on a tour of Normandy. It was a wonderful tour. Our tour guide was excellent and really knew the history and the area. The weather was absolutely perfect for our tour. I could not have asked for a better day. 

It was a fairly lengthy drive from Paris to Normandy, but it was easy and the countryside that we drove through was beautiful. Our first big stop was Omaha beach. I just can't imagine what it looked like on that June day so many years ago. On this day the sun was shining, the English channel was blue, and the beach looked pristine. 

 

We visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. A beautiful but solemn place. The crosses help put into perspective the loss that occurred during the invasion. 

 

 

 

 

 

Many, many names. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And many, many crosses. 

 

After visiting Omaha beach we kept driving up the coast toward Point du Hoc. This is the highest point between Omaha and Utah beaches. There are still many old bunkers scattering the cliffs, and lots of craters that indicate where bombs landed. I was surprised that it was still so obvious after so many years. 

 

 

There was still one bunker there that was intact that we could walk through and get an idea of what it may have been like. I really didn't truly understand how a bunker was set up until I walked through this one. Very interesting. 

Here we are, overlooking the beaches. On the left we are looking down toward Omaha beach. On the left is a memorial that is at the tip of Point du Hoc, right on the edge overlooking the cliffs. I can't imagine what it was like for those American Rangers who climbed up these cliffs while under fire. 

After this it was time for lunch!! I had been looking forward to this because I was excited to try some of the Normandy specialties; cidre, camembert, seafood, and apple cake. The restaurant we stopped at delivered it all! We stopped in Arromanches at a place called Hotel de Normandie and feasted on all of these delicacies. I couldn't have asked for a better lunch. 

There is really no way to express how beautiful the countryside was. The views were stunning. 

After the long drive back to Paris it was time for one more quick meal. I wanted more crepes so we found a little creperie within walking distance of our hotel and settled in for a few more crepes and one last glass of cidre. 

We decided on one sweet and one savory. For the sweet one we had to try the crepe Suzette (homemade orange marmalade, flambeed with Grand Marnier). Lighting food on fire is always fun! As for the savory crepe, I kept it simple with sausage, onion jam and a mixed green salad on top. A great way to end the trip. 

Unfortunately, our shuttle to the airport arrived so early the next morning we missed breakfast at the hotel. I was bummed about this. But we managed to fit in one last French meal at the airport. The last of our French pastries. 

 

It was time to go home. But have no fear, I will be back!!

 

Europe Trip 2016: The Netherlands, Part 2

If you haven't seen Part 1 of my trip to the Netherlands check it out here. Now, continuing with pics from the trip. We still had lots of exploring to do in the Netherlands and our next adventure was a trip to Gouda. Lara had a contact, the family of a friend from church, so we decided to go visit and also get to check out the town where one of my favorite cheeses is from! 

Unfortunately, it was not the best of days weather-wise. We took the train from Amsterdam to Gouda and soon after we arrived it started to rain pretty steadily. We tried to wait it out at a cute little outdoor cafe with red fleece blankets on the chairs, and small fires scattered throughout for warmth. It did manage to stop raining for a few minutes, allowing us a chance to see the cheese market and try some yummy samples. We weighed ourselves on the cheese weighing scale and looked at all the big wheels of cheese that were for sale. I would have liked to have been able to explore the city a little more, it looked nice, but it started to rain again, putting an end to those plans. 

A homemade meal of a spiced meat patty, fresh salad, and rosemary roasted potatoes awaited us when we returned to Oostzaan that night. This was perfect after our long and cold day of travel. Filling, hearty and warm.

Knowing how much Lara and I love cheese, Henk and Frankje were excited to take us to Alkmaar the next day for more cheese adventures at the Alkmaar Cheese Market. This is apparently the largest cheese market in the Netherlands, much larger than the Gouda cheese market from the day before. 

I really enjoyed the morning at the market, it was so much fun to see all the cheese lined up in the market square, and the cheese guys (do they have an official name? I don't know!) carry the big wheels back and forth to the scale inside the nearby cheese building (probably also has an official name). When we first arrived it was still raining but thankfully after half and hour or so the rain let up for the rest of the day and we were able to enjoy the show. It was the first cheese market of the year and there were a lot of tourist from all over watching. There was a lady explaining what was going on in at least 4 or 5 languages, very impressive. 

 

There was obviously plenty of cheese for sale as well, and we were able to sample them all pretty much. You could almost make a lunch out of all the samples if you wanted to! 

One of the other Dutch specialties Lara and I were determined to try while in Europe was raw herring. I love pickled herring either in vinegar or sour cream and I was excited to try the fresh stuff. As a little snack in Alkmaar we were able to dig right in. You could get it on a little bun, or just plain on a plate with raw onions and pickle, and this is what I went with. 

 
 

I know a lot of people would find this disgusting, but I loved it. Made me wish I lived closer to the sea! Yum, yum!

As we left Alkmaar, we stopped at another great little bakery to pick up some baguettes (Henk's favorite) for dinner that night. I was already excited!

From Alkmaar we traveled south to hit up the Keukenhof in Lisse. It is one of the world's largest flower gardens. They plant 7 million bulbs every fall, and in the spring it is open for 8 weeks so tourists from everywhere can can and enjoy the beauty. When we were almost to the Keukenhof, Henk pulled over on the side of the road so we could get a picture with the blooming hyacinths. They are beautiful, and smell amazing. 

The Keukenhof itself was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, we were a week or two too early for the splendor of all the tulips, but we still got to see quite a few tulips, tons of hyacinths, and daffodils as well. I would recommend the Keukenhof to anyone traveling in the Netherlands in April or May, it was definitely worth visiting. 

After our long day in Alkmaar and at The Keukenhof we returned home and had a delicious dinner of cheese fondue using some cheese that Henk bought in Alkmaar and the baguettes he bought at the bakery there as well. There was bread and cheese for an appetizer as well, a delicious French cheese called chaumes. So it was a bread and cheese kind of night, pretty much my favorite thing ever. This was our last night in Oostzaan, and it was the perfect way to end our stay there. 

The next day we were off to Rotterdam. On the way we stopped in Maasluis. This was a MUST for Lara and I because this is the town my grandpa grew up in and where he worked as a fisherman. We stopped at the local bakery (of course) and picked up a few tasty treats, as well as a package of windmill cookies to take home for my dad. We spent some time exploring the city and really enjoyed getting to see where my grandpa came from. 




View of the Groote Kerk from the oher side of the channel. 

And then we were in Rotterdam. We booked a couple of nights at the Hotel New York. I wanted to stay here because this building used to be the headquarters of the Holland America which is the company that my grandpa used to work for before the war. It felt like a fitting place to stay. 

The hotel is just full of charm. The rooms are all different, but with nautical themes (at least the two I was able to see were) and there is so much history running through the building. They also have a very nice restaurant on the main floor which is always a good thing!

When I originally planned our trip, I discovered that the Rotterdam marathon was being run on April 10. Since I didn't really care when we went to Europe, I figured this was as good a time as any, so I planned the whole trip around the marathon! Actually, around the quarter marathon. I'm a big runner, but I don't care for marathons all that much. Just too long for me. I do love 1/2 marathons however, and when I saw that the Rotterdam marathon also offered a quarter marathon I knew it was perfect. This is pretty much a 10K and a good distance to race when on vacation in another country in my opinion. 

After hitting up the race expo and picking up our bibs we went exploring in the city. So many ships and boats along the river and canals, crazy. My favorite part was probably Markthal, a large residential and office building with a market beneath that is full of food stalls and restaurants, basically my favorite thing ever. Shops selling cheeses, meats, fish, bread, spices, dried fruit and nuts, sandwiches, salads, sushi, fruit, vegetables...

For dinner the night before our race I mentioned that I often like to eat pasta the evening before I run a race. Henk knew just the place to take us. La Stanza was a beautiful Italian restaurant with amazing food, including my requisite pasta! 

The next morning we were off to the races! I had my typical pre-race breakfast of bread (usually a bagel, but had to go with the baguette this time!) with peanut butter and a banana. It was the perfect morning for a run. Low 50s, sunny, no wind. I couldn't have asked for a better day. It was a nice course too, ran through the city and around a nice sized lake with a park. I didn't have my phone with me so I couldn't really get any pictures, but thankfully Frankje managed to get a few, so I have a couple to share. 

At this point it was time to say goodbye to Henk and Frankje. They headed back to Oostzaan, while Lara and I stayed another night in Rotterdam before heading to France. After they left we treated ourselves to a delicious "lunch" of appeltaart and coffee at the dining room of the Hotel New York where we were staying. A great post-race meal!!

For our last dinner in the Netherlands, Lara and I went back to the Markthal and bought ourselves a few little things to bring back to the hotel and dine al fresco in the garden they had overlooking the channel. It was the perfect night to eat outside, and we had all of our favorite things to enjoy. We bought a couple fresh baked mini rolls, a small wheel of buffalo camembert, prosciutto and a container of strawberries. It was perfect!

And like that, we were off! Onto our next Europe adventure. We boarded the high-speed Thalys train in Rotterdam and rode our way into Paris. More on that...soon!

 
 

Europe Trip 2016: The Netherlands, Part 1

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was recently in Europe. My sister Lara and I started planning this trip last summer as a graduation present to ourselves. We have both been wanting to visit the Netherlands for quite some time. My family, on both sides, emigrated to the United States from the Netherlands. On my dad's side this occurred fairly recently, my grandpa (my dad's dad) moved to the US in the 1940s after World War II. He actually fought for the Dutch during WWII, and met and married my grandma during the war in New Jersey where his ship would sometimes dock. As you might guess, we still have family there, and my dad has gotten to know one of his cousins quite well. He and his wife were in the US last summer and told me that we were welcome to stay with them if we ever wanted to! I didn't need any more encouragement! Soon after this we started planning a trip for this past April. 

I just wanted to share some pictures from my trip, especially food pictures! Most people don't really care to see all the pictures of food that I took, so I figured my food blog was a very fitting place to present them so anyone who is actually interested can take a look. Enjoy!

ready, set, let's fly to europe!

We were picked up from Schiphol airport by my dad's cousin Henk and driven to Oostzaan and our home away from home for the week (their house is on the left below). First things first, Henk and his wife Frankje prepared us a light lunch of toast, Gouda cheese and smoked salmon. It was perfect. 

After lunch we got right to it! We headed to the Zaanse Schans, a little community that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries that is full of wooden windmills, barns, houses and museums and built in a typically Dutch style. These buildings were apparently relocated here piece by piece since 1961. A cute little touristy place, full of shops with plenty of souvenirs and knick knacks. I just wanted the food - A fresh and warm stroopwafel (below, left) was all I needed!

One of the many impressive windmills at the Zaanse Schans

We stopped on a awesome little bakery on the way home to pick up a little treat for coffee time. Lara picked the carrot cake which turned out to be pretty amazing, perfect with a strong cup of Dutch coffee. 

 

What's more fun then checking out a foreign grocery store? Not much in my book! 😊

Did a little shopping at the local Albert Heijn on the way "home" the first night. 

Dinner on the first night was Turkish Pizza from a small local shop. I'd never heard of it before, but it was delicious! But not the "pizza" I was expecting! More like a spicy veggie wrap. I loved it. 

 
 

Every morning that we stayed and Henk and Frankje's home we were treated to freshly squeezed orange juice (amazing!) and yogurt with fruit and muesli. It was perfect since this is basically what I eat at home for breakfast every morning (sans fresh squeezed orange juice unfortunately). 

Day 2 and off to Amsterdam!! We took the bus into the city and walked all day!! It was a fun city to explore, especially with someone who lives there and grew up there. It was great to be shown around by a local. We stopped at Holtkamp bakery to pick up some treats after a little walking. Jan Hagel's are my dad's favorite, so had to get a shot for him! Henk also bought us a couple cookies called Gevulde Koeken (see below). To me they seemed like little hand pies filled with an almond filling. I love almond so I was pretty pleased with these buttery little treats. 

 

Burger's for lunch at The Uptown Meat Club. Great burgers and fries. 

Cooked to order!

After lunch we spent some time exploring the Rijksmuseum, checking out the Vermeers and Rembrandts. I'm no huge art lover, but it was a great museum, and The Night Watch was most impressive. 

And the Amsterdam exploration continued with lots of bikes, lots of canals, a canal cruise and some lovely Delft painted tunnels.

For dinner Henk and Frankje brought us to a beautiful restaurant called THT. We took the ferry from Amsterdam central station across the channel and were dropped off right in front of the restaurant. It's a tapas/small plates restaurant so we were able to try a few different things which was fun!

From left to right:
Dutch croquettes with grain mustard mayonaise
Eggplant fritots in chickpea batter with pomegranate and tahini sauce
Bulgur with chermoula and halloumi marinated in Ras el hanout   
  

Lara and I let it be known that we wanted to try some good and traditional Dutch croquettes. Henk obliged and drove us to the North sea the next day. It was one of my favorite stops! We feasted on smoked salmon, beef carpaccio and croquettes at De Schelp Paviljoen Aan Zee. Everything, from the view, to the atmosphere at the restaurant to the food was amazing. 

It was a little rainy, windy, and cold at the North Sea, but that made it even more memorable (I think I was eating sand for days!). 

After lunch we did some driving around the countryside, on what appeared to me to be more of the "back roads," through small villages and past many farms, on our way to the town of Volendam. It was very picturesque and beautiful, lots of sheep and goats with their furry little babies by their side. The weather hadn't improved much when we reached Volendam it was nice and rainy, with a fairly brisk wind. But we made the most of it. There definitely weren't any other tourists to worry about though, we had the town pretty much to ourselves!

We were shuffled into a little shop where they immediately started dressing us up in the traditional clothing of Volendam and then sat for a picture. Don't you just love the hat? 


One of the foods Lara and I grew up eating was poffertjes, they are little mini pancakes made in a special pan (seen above) with lots of little indentations, kind of like Æbleskiver, the mini Danish pancakes (which I've actually never had). Poffertjes are usually eaten by kids, but that didn't stop us. I like them best with simply a good knob of butter and tons of powdered sugar. Yes, they were just as good as I remember!

After this long and chilly day exploring the country we headed back to Oostzaan where we were treated to a real fire in a real fireplace along with a delicious spaghetti with tomato and pepper sauce all prepared by Henk himself. It was warm, hearty and filling. The perfect end to the day. 

This is just the beginning of our trip. I shall share more photos in my next post. Stay tuned...!

Check out Part 2 of my trip to the Netherlands here

Winter Trip to Chicago

Over Christmas break, Lara and I took a short trip to Chicago to visit our cousin Anna, and to just enjoy walking around downtown, do some shopping and of course eat some good food! We were only there for a little over a day, but we did manage to sneak in some tasty treats in that short amount of time.

We arrived in downtown Chicago in the morning, and after some shopping, we were ready to find something for lunch. We found a cute little place called Toni's Patisserie and Café which was perfect. This place was loading with the most fabulous looking pastries, cookies, breads and chocolates. When I saw baguette sandwiches on the menu I knew we had found lunch. We decided to split the Le Breton sandwich, a chewy baguette with ham, salted butter, cornichons and gruyere, delicious!

Since we split lunch, that meant it was okay to get dessert of course! Since this was over Christmas break, something festive seemed like the right thing to eat, so we got the eggnog tart, creamy custard in a cookie crust with chocolate and whipped cream. A beautiful end to this delicious experience.

As we continued our walking around, I was just starting to get a little tired when I saw the sign for Magnolia Bakery. Of course I've heard about Magnolia Bakery numerous times, and even though we weren't in New York City, I decided I needed to check it out and see what all the fuss is about. It was a very cute little shop, with tons of people working behind the counter. I wanted to stay and watch them make the cupcakes. I picked out the gingerbread cupcake with vanilla bean butter cream to try. To be honest I wasn't all that impressed. While I loved the light and creamy buttercream, the actual cake was pretty dry, and not anything all that special. At $3.50 a pop I think I'll stick with my homemade cupcakes when I'm feeling a cupcake craving.

Even though the cupcake wasn't that great, I'm glad I got to stop and see what Magnolia Bakery is all about. I know I didn't visit the original, but at least when I read about it again, I'll have some idea what everyone is talking about.

After a day downtown, Lara and I were ready to head to my cousins place to relax, and of course eat dinner. We ended up at a place called Rocks, which Anna said she'd been wanting to try. It was too dark in there to even try to get a photo so I can't share any pictures of my delicious burger. It was the signature Rocks burger which was a cooked to order 8 ounce patty on a soft pretzel roll with bacon, pepper jack cheese, onion strings, lettuce, tomato and a side of giardiniera and fries of course. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for anything on a pretzel bun and this did not disappoint.

Our final food stop in Chicago was for breakfast before we headed back to Michigan. In my opinion, all a fabulous breakfast needs is a delicious pastry and some good coffee. The Floriole Cafe and Bakery in Lincoln Park delivered just that. I found this cute little place online and knew I had to visit it before leaving. Walking in the door, we found a display case piled high with croissants, calfoutis, scones, galettes, pound cakes, sticky buns, quiche and tartines. I was in heaven.

Since I was feeling like something a little lighter for breakfast, I went with a basic croissant. It was fantastic, buttery and flakey, crisp on the outside, soft and light on the inside. Lara decided on the almond croissant, a twice baked croissant soaked with rum syrup and filled with almond cream. To. Die. For. 

Sitting in the front window, breaking into beautiful pastries and sipping delicious coffee, it was a wonderful way to end the trip. A perfect ending to a fun couple of days.

I would recommend any of the places we went on this trip. In fact, I want to go back right now and do it all over again!

The Grand Hotel

Last week I was able to go on a mini vacation with Lara up north to Mackinac Island. It has been a while since I've been up there so it was nice to be back. We both had a glorious time, the weather was perfect and the experience was just wonderful. Our lodging for the night we were there was at the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel is a beautiful, historic hotel that was built in the 1880s and claims to have the world's longest porch.

The Grand Hotel, from the ferry

The overnight package that Lara and I got including a night at the hotel, as well as dinner the night we arrived, and breakfast and lunch the next day. The Grand Hotel has a dress code at night; after 6:30 all men must be dressed in a coat and necktie, and all women must wear a dress, skirt and top, or suit. Some people might find this weird and stuffy, but I enjoyed it! It was fun to see everyone dressed up for dinner, no blue jeans in sight.

Dressed up for dinner

One of the best parts of our whole experience at the hotel was the food (of course). They did a superb job with each meal we enjoyed. I couldn't help but take lots of pictures of everything I ate so I could post them here. Our first meal was dinner the night we arrived:

Dinner:
Appetizers:

Goose Liver Pate en Croute, Sauterne Aspic and Fennel Slaw

Smoked Mackinac Trout, Eggplant-Heirloom Tomato Tartare

Soups:

 Chilled Strawberry and Banana Soup, Vanilla Syrup

Grilled Sweet Onion and Truffle Soup, Gruyere Crostini

Salad:

Mackinac Wedge: 
Iceberg lettuce, roasted beets, Crispy Serrano Ham and Blue Cheese Herb-Ranch Dressing

Entrees 

Cornish Game Hen Breast and Leg Confit, Mushroom Ragout, Nueska Bacon Jus

Lava Lake Ranch Lamb Tenderloin Vegetable Bolognese, Red Wine Shallot Sauce

Desserts:

 Warm White Chocolate Bread Pudding Crystallized Ginger Sauce

Strawberry Shortbread Parfait Vanilla Sabayon 

Breakfast:

 My Caramel Peach Cream Cheese Brioche French Toast with Sausage Links

 Lara and her Nutella Crepes with Strawberries and Cured Bacon

We got a yummy bread basket too, and I got mango juice which was delicious

Lunch:

Lunch was an awesome buffet that would have been a lot nicer had we not been seated at the same time as a very large school group. There were kids everywhere, making the lines super long, and the food run out before I could get to it. It was still very delicious, but a little stressful too. 

 A few pictures of the food: Fruit, deviled eggs, oysters, marinated veggies, chilled seafood salad, smoked salmon...

 Lara's first ever oyster!

Second plate: mixed veggies, roasted potatoes, cheese platter rice, and a creamy hot seafood salad

This was probably the favorite at lunch, scallops and shrimp in a cream sauce, absolutely delicious!

 Can't forget dessert! Bread pudding, cannoli, chocolate dipped strawberries...

...tirimisu, cream puff, chocolate cake, to name a few!

The whole experience was just wonderful. If you ever have the chance to go to the Grand Hotel, or just to Mackinac Island, be sure to do it. Cars are not allowed on the island, so make sure you take your bikes along if you can, so you can bike around the island. 

Trying to work off a little of all of the food!

Ladies Slipper

Bleeding Hearts

Beautiful!