Khinkali: Georgian Dumplings

Posted by on Oct 18, 2015 in Eat, Travel | 0 comments

Khinkali: Georgian Dumplings

In Georgia, khinkali is a staple menu item and available at most Georgian restaurants. These “Georgian dumplings” are usually filled with minced meat or cheese, but some newer restaurants offer other types of khinkali filled with mixed vegetables, mushrooms and more.   Khinkali reminds me of the typical Shanghai soup dumplings I’ve eaten quite often in New York City’s Chinatown, however, the dumpling skin of khinkali is much thicker and it’s eaten differently. During my stay in Georgia, I learned from my friend Sopho that legend has it among the younger generation, “Eating kinkali is how you make out with someone.” Now, every time I eat khinkali I just laugh and that’s all I think about!  Most restaurants have a minimum number of khinkali you can order, which I found is often five. The locals joke around about how many they can eat at one sitting. Our friend George says 20 khinkali is about his max! For me, it was about six. Just never try to order two khinkali at a restaurant or the waiter might laugh at you (learned that the hard way). So, how do you eat khinkali? You hold the top part of the khinkali with your right hand, and lift the bottom part with your left hand. Slowly and carefully, bite a small hole in the khinkali and began sucking out the soup. Gradually work your way around the khinkali, repeating the process. I also learned that you should not eat the top part of khinkali (the part you hold). The dough is very thick and locals say the “peasants” of Georgia only eat this part. Personally, my favorite khinkali is the one filled with meat (lamb or beef), cilantro, onions, parsley and dill. Of course, you have to sprinkle a hefty amount of black pepper on top like the locals do when eating khinkali.  I highly recommend trying khinkali if you can find it in your city, or just book a plane ticket to...

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Travel Lessons and the Nicosia Nightmare

Posted by on Oct 17, 2015 in Travel | 0 comments

Travel Lessons and the Nicosia Nightmare

After traveling for over 9 hours from Georgia, Courtney and I finally arrived to Cyprus’ Ercan airport. First travel mistake: even if you think everything will be okay, don’t land in a foreign country at 1am. Yikes.  We waited in line at customs and were successfully admitted into the country around 1:30am. Our Airbnb hosts were so gracious and decided to stay up late to greet us, they just wanted us to call them as soon as we landed. So, I went to a counter to purchase a SIM card. The man at the counter was nice enough to also hail us a taxi and convinced them to take us to our host’s house so late. He haggled with the cabbie and finally settled on 200 Turkish lira if we wanted to ride with two other people going in the same direction. The price was steep but we knew this was our only option so late at night. Besides, it was also the last taxi available. We dropped off the two other passengers and it’s just Courtney and me left in the car. The taxi driver asks me to move up next to him so I can give him directions. I hesitantly moved to the front seat and opened Google Maps to my host’s home. Second travel mistake: always make sure you have a full phone battery upon landing in a foreign country. Of course, my phone dies as we are beginning to approach the host’s home. Thank goodness the cabbie had a USB plug so I was able to turn on my phone. The funny part about Cyprus (really just horrible) is that it’s split between a Turkish side and Greek side. We crossed over the border with the cabbie and then my worst nightmare happens, my phone has no service. Those assholes! They never told me the SIM card wouldn’t work on the Greek side. Third travel mistake: always do research about which SIM card company is best and how far service extends in the country. I had a bad feeling as we approached what we thought was our host’s home. The taxi driver dropped us off, refusing to allow us to call our host with his cell phone. He also began arguing that we owed him 220 Turkish lira when he had already agreed on 200. Stranded without cellular service, we walked around for a few minutes frantically looking for house number 59 on Stadiou Street. It was 3am at this point and all I wanted to do was sleep or break down crying. Thank goodness a man was walking down the street who gave us advice to walk a few meters to a 24-hour taxi stand and ask for better directions.  We entered the taxi stand looking quite distressed. We asked two men sitting at a table puffing on cigarettes if they could help us find 59 Stadiou Street. The man looks at us and shakes his head while saying, “Ohh no. That’s on the other side of town.” I threw my bags down and plopped on the disgusting, ripped couch holding my head in my hands. What the hell were we supposed to do now? We already spent the majority of our money on a taxi and now we were on the other side...

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Oni, Georgia: A Lesson in Spontaneity  

Posted by on Oct 12, 2015 in Travel | 0 comments

Oni, Georgia: A Lesson in Spontaneity  

Traveling isn’t always as glamorous as it seems. After two guided weekend trips to explore the mountains of Georgia were canceled, Courtney and I decided to take matters into our own hands. Without any real plans, we arrived early in the morning to Tbilisi’s Didube bus station. For 15 GLE each, we purchased bus tickets for Oni, which is part of the historic highland province of Racha in western Georgia. We crammed into a bus with no leg room that was filled with locals (27 to be exact) and headed for the hills. Luggage was strapped to the top of the bus that I was certain would fly off after each sharp turn. Luckily, no bags were left behind. The ride was over 5 hours through the winding hills with loud Georgian music keeping the bus driver (and passengers) awake. I must say the funniest moment of the trip to Oni was when we stopped for a bathroom break. Courtney and I paid the WC attendant for a wad of toilet paper and access to a filthy Eastern-style toilet (ahem, hole in the floor). Thank goodness we weren’t nauseous because the smell of the bathroom was enough to make you lose your breakfast. After we attempted to wash off the bathroom grime, we made a run back to the bus and Courtney exclaimed, “They should pay ME 30 cents to use that bathroom!” Preach it girl. After our horrible bathroom experience, we finally made it to Oni and walked to a cozy guest house, Famili Hotel Gallery. The owners greeted us by offering a home cooked meal and wine. We even sat by the wood burning stove to warm up as we discussed plans for our trip in Oni. Temur, the owner and incredible handyman, took Courtney and me on an adventure after we warmed up and relaxed from the bus ride. Without any clue as to where we were going, we trusted Temur as he handed us tall rubber boots and spoke in broken English, “Tall mountains and waterfall. Go!” We followed him along a rocky path covered in rust colored leaves and I had a feeling we were in for quite the experience. After hiking through Racha’s gorgeous mountains, sliding down rocks and wading through mud, we stumbled upon two magical waterfalls thanks to our incredible Georgian host. The waterfalls were breathtaking and I appreciate the cool drops of water that danced on my skin after a long, strenuous hike. Temur is 61 years old and trekking just isn’t a problem for him. We were so impressed by his physical strength! He literally hops around the hills like a rabbit. He’s lived in Oni for the majority of his life and navigating the mountains is like second nature to Temur. During our hike, he also taught us basic lessons in foraging, like how to find walnuts and which berries were edible. Temur even introduced us to local villagers from cattle herders to beekeepers. Everyone lives off the land, including Temur. It was fascinating to meet these people who live many miles away from the nearest town and on the tops of mountains. When plans don’t go your way, don’t freak out. It sounds cliche but everything happens for a reason. Being spontaneous usually works out for me, especially when traveling. These moments spent...

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Cave Hiking Adventures in Oni, Georgia

Posted by on Oct 12, 2015 in Travel | 1 comment

Cave Hiking Adventures in Oni, Georgia

During our second day in Oni, Temur and his wife brought us to one of the most incredible sights we’ve seen so far in Georgia. Temur’s wife has a sister who lives in a small village on the Caucasian mountainside, which is only a few kilometers away from the Russian border. After winding through the hills in Temur’s muddy car and dodging huge puddles and pot holes, we arrived to her home and parked the car. Cows and pigs roamed the land and Temur picked apples and berries from the trees for us to eat before our long hike.    We headed uphill in tall rubber boots and Temur stopped to pull two sticks out of the brush he had hidden. These would be our hiking sticks (or lifesavers!) throughout the upcoming trek. Gorgeous snowcapped mountains and changing red and yellow leaves painted the clear blue sky as we made our way to a hidden cave.     The entrance of the cave was spectacular. Water ran out of the entrance and down a tall mountain into a stream covered with mossy rocks.  With no hesitation, Temur jumped down into the cave and motioned for us to join. We walked through the cave wading in muddle puddles and climbing slippery rocks. I admired the changing colors and shapes of the rocks. We also met a few bats along the way!    After spending over an hour exploring the cave, we hiked down the mountain to a stream. Temur and his wife prepared a wonderful picnic that satiated those hunger pains I was beginning to feel.     Boiled eggs, khachapuri, roasted chicken, cheese, and fresh cucumbers and vegetables lined the blanket. We toasted, “Gaumarjos!” and drank Temur’s homemade Khvanchkara semi-sweet wine.     Although our hosts only speak a few words of English, their company is much appreciated and we wouldn’t have been able to complete the trek without them by our side. ...

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Churchkhela: Georgian Snickers

Posted by on Oct 7, 2015 in Eat, Travel | 0 comments

Churchkhela: Georgian Snickers

After winding through the streets of Tbilisi’s Old Town, I noticed a sausage-like food hanging from multiple shop windows. The odd shape along with the vibrant purple and red colors caught my eye. What were these interesting foods? When I asked my Georgian friend Vladimer he exclaimed, “Those are Georgian ‘Snickers!'”     Churchkhela is a traditional candy originating from the Caucasus region. It is a very popular food, combining two of Georgia’s favorites – grapes and nuts. My Georgian friend also explained that it’s commonly eaten during New Years and Christmas celebrations. Georgia is known for their grape cultivation and incredible wine. Of course, churchkhela includes Georgian grown grapes. It is made by repeatedly dipping a long string of nuts in concentrated fresh grape juice, and then hung to dry.     I decided to give churchkhelas a taste when I visited a nearby town called Mtskheta, which houses the famous “Church of the Holy Cross.” This sweet treat is a perfect snack (especially for a hungry tourist!) and quite nutritious. Legend has it that Georgian warriors carried churchkhelas with them because they contain enough calories for one man in a day.    If you find yourself traveling to Georgia, definitely give churchkhelas a try and even bring some home to...

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Introducing VINEBOX: The First Wine by the Glass Subscription Club

Posted by on Oct 5, 2015 in Drink | 0 comments

Introducing VINEBOX: The First Wine by the Glass Subscription Club

Do you love trying new wines? I have some great news for you! VINEBOX recently launched on September 15th as the world’s first wine by the glass subscription club. With VINEBOX, you can discover elegant wines from around the world — without booking a plane ticket. Curated by a team of expert sommeliers, every VINEBOX includes three hand-selected tasting vials. The vials are each equivalent to a perfectly measured 100ml glass of superior wine from internationally-renowned vineyards across France, Spain and Italy. By introducing these signature vials, VINEBOX is restoring the tradition to winemaking, and highlighting vineyards around the world that are not typically accessible without spending a fortune. With both the wine novice and connoisseur in mind, VINEBOX specialists have crafted an accessible tasting notes menu, along with detailed varietals and regional breakdowns, for effortless use. So, how do you join? Simply go to www.getvinebox.com and become a member. Members can discover wines and refine their palate by subscribing online for $35/month. By focusing on unique wines, unparalleled quality and member preference, VINEBOX will deliver a truly personalized flight each month. Make sure to share your VINEBOX experiences and let me know which wines you love. Cheers! (Post originally from...

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Fall Perfection: NeverSink Spirits Apple Brandy Pie

Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 in Drink, Eat | 0 comments

Fall Perfection: NeverSink Spirits Apple Brandy Pie

Fall has finally arrived! Yes, that means pumpkin spice lattes are back. But I’m more interested in pie and brandy. Impress your friends with this recipe for Apple Brandy Pie. Because I love drinking and my Grandma Barbara Baughman, I decided to add a little brandy to her French Apple Pie recipe. But not just any brandy — NeverSink Spirits‘ unaged apple brandy made from 100 percent New York State apples. Based in Port Chester, NY, this new distillery is serving up something quite special. NeverSink Spirits has their own orchard with over fifteen varieties of apple trees. Some are bittersweet/bittersharp, some are “crab” cider apples, and some are heirloom dessert apples.  Their unaged apple brandy uses a blend of apples grown directly from their orchard, which creates several layers of flavors like cut green apples, spice, vanilla, woods and pear. Because the apple brandy is so flavorful, this pie recipe only calls for the addition of a little cinnamon. Apple Brandy Pie Recipe Ingredients  3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup plain flour 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon Pinch of salt 4 apples, peeled and sliced thin 1/4 cup apple brandy 1 unbaked pie shell Directions Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt and apples in a large bowl. Pour filling in an unbaked pie shell. Topping Ingredients 1 cup plain flour 1/2 cup butter (softened) 1/2 cup brown sugar Topping Directions Mix flour, butter and brown sugar together in a bowl. Using your hands, break apart small one inch pieces and sprinkle the crumbles on top of the pie filling. Bake at 400 degrees F for 50 minutes. Now, all you need is some of Bobby Flay’s Bourbon-Maple Whipped Cream to top it all off! I hope you enjoy this special treat and the cooler season ahead. Cheers! Post originally from...

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Durham Distillery Launches Products with North Carolina ABC System

Posted by on Aug 25, 2015 in Drink | 0 comments

Durham Distillery Launches Products with North Carolina ABC System

Founded in 2013, Durham Distillery is a craft gin and liqueur distillery located in Durham, North Carolina. The company produces premium gins leveraging a differentiated two-step manufacturing process combining time-honored gin making traditions with techniques borrowed from modern chemistry to create spirits that are both classic and contemporary. Yesterday, Durham Distillery announced the arrival of their products in the North Carolina ABC system. Owned by Melissa and Lee Katrincic, Durham Distillery launches with two innovative varieties of premium gin and three varieties of flavored liqueurs. The gins are packaged and sold under the brand name CONNIPTION, and the liqueurs under the brand name DAMN FINE. The distillery will officially open its downtown Durham location for public tours and tastings starting October 1. Durham Distillery is unique in the U.S. craft distilling industry because it is rethinking how to make great gin. Their small-batch gin distillation begins in the 230-liter custom-designed German copper pot still and includes foundational gin ingredients, such as juniper, coriander and cardamom. The vapor infusion method used by the Durham Distillery, as opposed to the standard maceration techniques, produces a cleaner, crisper premium-tasting gin. Added to the base are a variety of delicate botanicals; all vacuum distilled at room temperature to retain integrity and flavor profile. Durham Distillery’s CONNIPTION gin brand products are American Dry (44% ALC/VOL, 750 ml) and Navy Strength (57% ALC/VOL, 750 ml). They retail for $33.95 and $38.95, respectively. Durham Distillery’s line of premium liqueurs, DAMN FINE, are available in coffee, mocha and chocolate flavors, and are made with ingredients sourced from local area favorites, Slingshot Coffee Company and Videri Chocolate Factory.  Gluten-free with no artificial flavors or sweeteners, each 375 ml bottle (16-17% ALC/VOL) retails for $23.95. Cheers! I hope you’ll pay a visit to the new Durham Distillery location when they open in October...

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Beer of Champions: Meet HefeWheaties

Posted by on Aug 14, 2015 in Drink | 0 comments

Beer of Champions: Meet HefeWheaties

Remember eating a bowl of Wheaties every morning before school? Seriously, it’s the “Breakfast of Champions,” and would get me through my hunger pains until the lunch bell rang. Now, Wheaties-owner General Mills has teamed up with Fulton brewery in Minneapolis to release a new beer, the HefeWheaties. My childhood in a beer, could it be true? The HefeWheaties is a Hefeweizen, and according to General Mills, this style is “typically brewed with over 50 percent malted wheat, making it a natural fit for Wheaties.” Although Wheaties is not actually in the beer, there is wheat, and that’s the connection that allowed both brands to collaboration. The HefeWheaties will include malted wheat, malted barley and hops from Germany, the U.S. and Australia. HefeWheaties will only be sold in Minnesota’s Twin Cities market for a limited time. Why? According to Ryan Petz, president and co-founder of Fulton brewery, both the brewery and General Mills are Minneapolis companies, and all raw ingredients for the beer and cereal ultimately start from the same city. Beginning August 26, HefeWheaties will be available in the Twin Cities market in a 16oz. tallboy can. 4-packs will be sold at limited retailers in the area, and HefeWheaties will not be available for shipment or purchase outside of Minnesota. If you’re in the area, we suggest you pick up a few cans! Post originally from...

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Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen Makes Bushwick’s Best Brisket Banh Mi

Posted by on Aug 5, 2015 in Eat | 0 comments

Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen Makes Bushwick’s Best Brisket Banh Mi

Let’s face it, moving sucks! 200 bucks in fees and numerous, sharp hunger pains later, I was all moved in to my new Bushwick apartment off the Myrtle-Wycoff stop. Luckily, I discovered a pho banh mi sandwich to appease my aching belly and wallet. One of my favorite things about Bushwick is walking around the neighborhood, eating at the plethora of taquerias and exploring the 99 cent stores. But this particular day after moving boxes, I just wasn’t in the mood for a carnitas taco, I wanted something filling and delicious. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m obsessed with tacos!) When I stumbled upon Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen off Irving Avenue, I knew I was in for a real treat. Wonderful smells were pouring out of the charming shop, which said “Lucy’s” in cursive writing, surrounded by a heart. I walked inside and was greeted by a smiling Vietnamese man standing behind the counter. Chef Johnny Huynh was raised in Bushwick by his grandmother, Lucy. He’s bringing his love and passion for delicious Vietnamese food to the neighborhood at Lucy’s Vietnamese Kitchen. Lucy’s serves classic dishes inspired by Chef Johnny’s family along with his own flair. The menu is written on a chalkboard hanging on the wall next to Lucy’s small counter. The pho banh mi sandwich caught my attention and Chef Johnny explained that this sandwich has been quite a hit. Although Lucy’s has only been open for about three months, they’ve already won Best Vietnamese Restaurant in New York City at the Taste of Asia awards! When my pho banh mi sandwich arrived to the one large table in the small restaurant, a huge smile emerged on my face. This was exactly what my hungry belly was craving! The star of the sandwich is the 16 hour smoked brisket sautéed in pho broth, hoisin sauce, sriracha and Thai basil. After one bite, I looked at the strangers sitting next to me at the communal table and said, “Oh my gosh, that is some damn good brisket!” With their mouths also full of banh mi, everyone at the table nodded along with me in agreement. The sandwich is served with typical banh mi toppings like jalapeño, cucumber, pickled carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro and house garlic aioli. The bread is also key; it’s flaky and proportionate to the other ingredients. I’m never a fan when there’s too much bread. But seriously, the brisket is incredible. I’ve eaten brisket in Texas and Lucy’s rivals some of the top, award-winning BBQ joints. I know it’s a bold statement, but you’ll just have to taste it to believe me. I fear for my waistline now that I’ve discovered Lucy’s is less than a block away from my new apartment. I’ll definitely be back for the phenomenal brisket and I hope you will too. *Post originally appeared on Chopsticks and...

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