Friday, January 29, 2016

How to: Visit NYC on a budget

Image found here.
I love visiting New York City, but we all know how expensive a trip there can be. However, I just went up a few weekends ago, and I kid you not: I spent less than $100 on a trip to NYC. Here's how I did it.

1. Buy cheap bus tickets. While traveling by train or plane is faster and more luxurious, it's also more expensive. I took the Vamoose bus, mainly because it leaves right from Bethesda, which is super-convenient for me. A round-trip ticket was only $40. You may even be able to find cheaper tickets from companies like BoltBus and Megabus; I've never used them, so I can't say.

2. Stay with family and friends. My grandmother has lived in Queens for decades, and whenever I have visited New York, I've always stayed with her. When it comes to hotels in NYC, especially over a holiday weekend, you can easily spend more than $100 just on a hotel room for one night! NYC is such a big city: I'm sure you know someone who lives there who would be willing to have you crash there for a few days.

3. Eat with family and friends (This goes along with #2.). My grandmother has always been willing to feed me any time I've stayed with her (Duh, she's a grandma. That's what they do.). She even fed me for several months when I lived with her during college when I had internships in New York. But now it's even better: she has since moved to a senior living center, where she gets three meals a day, AND meals for her guests. So the majority of my meals were free! And even when I did pay for food, like when I was out with my friends, we ate at the types of places where we weren't going to pay even close to $10 for a meal. And it's NYC, so the food is delicious, even if it's just a few bucks!

5. Take the subway. The subway in NYC is an icon. You've got to ride on it while you're in town just for the experience, but it's also super-efficient and well-priced. For a regular metro card, you'll spend just $2.75 for each trip, no matter how far you're going! It's not like in DC, where you pay more the farther you travel. It's just one flat rate, and the subway can take you into all five boroughs of the city. I only took two round-trips on the subway this visit, so that was just $11. Compare that to cab fare!

6. Shop smart. Of course many women love to visit NYC for the shopping. But, seeing as I'm a young professional who is trying to save money, I shop on the cheap. I shop in discount stores, cheaper brand stores, and ALWAYS on the sales rack. And although I love to shop, on this trip I only bought a pair of yoga pants from Macy's and an egg timer from Bed Bath & Beyond for my grandma (Note: I did NOT pay that much for the egg timer, and it didn't really work that well anyway, so I don't recommend it!). (You should also know that in New York City, clothing purchases of under $100 are not taxed!). So for shopping in New York, I spent less than $20!

So let's do the math:
$40 for a round-trip bus ride
$0 on hotels
$10 on food (since I mostly ate for free)
$11 for subway fare
$20 for shopping
= $81.

And that was for a long weekend in New York City. You can't beat that!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Concert: Cover band "Viper" performing the Top Gun soundtrack

I LOVE the movie Top Gun. It is definitely one of my favorites, and I probably watch it at least once a year. So when I heard that a cover band call Viper was going to perform the whole movie soundtrack at the Howard Theatre, I had to get tickets.

But I will admit this: I knew the show wasn't going to be very popular. I got my tickets off of Goldstar for around $10; you know when a show is on Goldstar that they're desperate to sell tickets. And sure enough, there were less than 100 people in this beautiful theater for the show. I mean, the place was DEAD. It also didn't help that the band was over 30 minutes late; people were getting annoyed (including me!). But there were some die-hard fans there, wearing aviator sunglasses, bomber jackets, and even costume flight suits, so there was still good energy in the place, even if it was a mostly quiet energy.

At least the show was entertaining. The band members played different characters from the movie, and throughout the concert there were bits of dialog from the film, so it wasn't just about the music! They were very creative, even if the singing wasn't Grammy-worthy. Here are some photos:

Zoe "Maverick" Friedman is the main singer.
Dominique "Goose" Scott also performed vocals.
Alex "Iceman" Prezzano. Clearly.
Marques "Sundown" Walls, helmet and all.
Jamie Mohamdein as "Charlie." Funny, but a bit disturbing.
During this song, the band threw beach balls that looked like volleyballs out into the audience. And while the video game in the background was fun, I think we all like the original scene better (see below). Yummy photos here.

We all remember this blue love scene. So this is just the comical version of that (see video below).

That blur is a little parachute with a tiny dead Goose hanging from it. :(
Goose as an angel returns, along with little toy jets to play out the last scene.
 It was definitely a fun show. I just wish more people were there to enjoy and appreciate it!

Click here to listen to the full movie soundtrack.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Buttermilk Recipes

Last week, in the shopping rush before the blizzard, I bought buttermilk instead of regular milk. So, rather than let it go to waste, I figured I'd make a couple of recipes that called for buttermilk. Here's what I made!
 Drop Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
  1. Heat oven to 475 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a 2-cup liquid measure, stir together the chilled buttermilk and melted butter until the butter forms small clumps. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula just until the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture slightly pulls away from the edges of the bowl.
  3. Using a greased ¼-cup measure, scoop out mounds of the dough and drop them onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1 ½ inches apart. Bake the biscuits until the tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the oven, brush with additional melted butter. Serve warm.
Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), melted and slightly cooled
  • Optional: blueberries, chocolate chips
  • Butter and maple syrup, for serving
  1. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and whisk until evenly combined.
  2. Place the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter in a medium bowl and whisk until evenly combined.
  3. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a spoon or rubber spatula until the flour is just incorporated and no streaks remain, about 20 strokes. (The batter will be lumpy.) Let rest for 5 minutes.
  4. Heat a large frying pan, seasoned cast iron skillet, or griddle over medium heat for about 4 minutes. Test to see if the pan is hot enough by sprinkling a few drops of water in it: If the water bounces and sputters, the pan is ready to use; if it evaporates instantly, the pan is too hot.
  5. Ladle the batter into the pan. Evenly sprinkle each pancake with blueberries or chocolate chips to your liking. Cook until little bubbles appear on the pancakes’ surface and the bottoms are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook the second side until the bottoms are golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Serve with butter and maple syrup.
Note: Originally this recipe said to prepare the skillet with vegetable oil. But because there is so much butter in these pancakes, I don't think you need to do that! The batter didn't stick to the pan at all!

Ingredients (Yields 12 muffins)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: blueberries, nuts, chocolate chips
  1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups, or line with paper muffin liners.
  2. Mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted butter, egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.
  3. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just until mixed (the batter will not be smooth). Gently stir in fruit/nuts/chocolate chips, if desired.
  4. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins; fill the cups almost to the top. Bake in the preheated oven until golden and the tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 18 minutes. 
Note: I don't like to mix the blueberries in the batter for fear of breaking them, so I just put a few on top of the batter once it's already in the muffin tins.

 Banana Nut Bread

Ingredients (Yields one loaf)
  • 3/4 cup nonfat or low-fat buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
  • 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Optional: nuts
Note: I did not have whole wheat pastry flour (Who does?), so I just used 2 1/4 cup regular flour. I also didn't have light brown sugar, so I used dark brown, and kind of measured it, but I didn't really pack it; I just sort of threw ~1 cup in there. The original recipe also calls for blueberries, but since I already made blueberry pancakes AND blueberry muffins, I was kind of over blueberries. So I added walnuts and craisins instead.

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk buttermilk, brown sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in mashed bananas.
  3. Whisk whole-wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Add nuts (optional). Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.
  5. Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Let cool for about 2 hours before slicing.
Note: I think 50 minutes was too long; the top of the loaf I made was slightly too brown. I'd try 45 minutes and then check on it!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Wineries Visit

Last weekend, I visited a few wineries in Virginia. I think the Unicorn Winery was the only other one I had visited in the Commonwealth (Note: While I love unicorns, the wine was awful!). Here are my reviews for the two I visited this time:

Image found here.

1. Pearmund Cellars

As you can see from the photos below, Pearmund doesn't have too much atmosphere. There's just an open room with a bar for tastings and tables for sitting. There were no other customers there when I visited, so it was kind of dead (although it was a rainy day...), which didn't make the place seem any more appealing...

Image found here.
Image found here.
The barrel room. Image found here.
As for the actual tasting, things didn't get much better. Of the nine wines I tried, I did not contemplate buying a bottle of any of them. I was disappointed that there were twice as many reds to try as there were whites (since I prefer white wine), and all of them were dry (whereas I like sweet wines). So the tasting was unfortunate.

I did appreciate the good customer service, and the girl helping with the tasting was somewhat knowledgeable and taught me some things I didn't know about wine. Another employee also tried to push their "Barrel Owner Membership." This means that if you pay $1,000 for an annual membership (for four years, so actually $4,000+ in the end), you get complimentary wine tastings, invitations to exclusive events, four cases of wine (one per year), and once your barrel (with your name on it!) is empty at the end of the four years, you get to keep it. BUT, seeing as I didn't like the wine, why would I want all those tastings and cases of wine? Or spending $4,000?!

I think the only thing remotely interesting about Pearmund was the fact that a Barbie doll was hanging from one of the light fixtures...

Did Barbie get drunk on Pearmund wine?

Image found here.
2. Mediterranean Cellars

I wanted to go to this winery because I had a Groupon deal that was about to expire. The deal included a tour, two wine glasses, a corkscrew, and a basket with sausage and cheese. Let me tell you this: the deal is kind of a scam. Here's why:

A. Since the deal was offered in the fall/winter, the tour is short since it's cold out; you also can't go into the cellar because it's too small for groups. AND most of their vines mysteriously died this year, so you couldn't even see the grape vines! The best part of the tour was petting the VERY fat cat on the property, Lucky.

Note the sad looking vines. Image found here.
B. The basket, sausage, and cheese I got were SO tiny! I don't think I've ever seen a smaller sausage or tinier wheel of Smoked Gouda in my life. And the basket is plastic and poorly made: I'd recommend just throwing it out. The corkscrew was equally as cheap and flimsy.

C. The tasting isn't included! I wrongly assumed that a deal for a winery would include the very reason anyone ever goes to a winery!

*Perhaps I shouldn't complain, since this WAS a deal and I didn't want to pay full price for this experience. But I've bought many Groupons before that I have been very happy with, so this one fell short.

But enough about the deal itself...

The space is actually quite nice! It's warm and inviting, homey actually. The winery was founded by a Greek man and his wife (the wife was actually there that day!), and I think they take great pride in this family business. 

The main room. Image found here.
A large side room for events, like birthday parties and the like. The carved table in the front of the photo is made from a 200-year-old olive tree! Image found here.
The barrel room. A bar is on the opposite wall (which you can't see). A blown-up photograph of the founder's parents is in this room, continuing to show his family pride. Image found here.
I love this table! I want a cork table! Image found here.
Not only was the atmosphere warmer here than at Pearmund, but the wine was exceptionally better! Here are my notes on a few of the ones I tried:

2011 Chardonnay: fruity, almost like a Kosher wine (if you've ever had Kosher wine, you know what I mean.)

2010 Pinot Grigio: clean and crisp

2011 Moscato: It's slightly pink because the grape skins were left in for a little bit. But it's NOT sweet! It's probably the only Moscato that I've ever had that I didn't like.

2010 Viognier: It almost has a thicker texture to it, and smells like gasoline. Ew!

2011 Chambourcin: You can definitely taste the blackberry flavor at the front of your sip. Yum!

2007 Romance: This is a mixture of four grapes (you don't know which ones or in what proportion; it changes every year).

2008 Sweet Lucia: This is the founder's grandfather's recipe. It's 13.5% alcohol, and is also Kosher-like.

2012 Penteli: This port wine from the mountain region of Greece is 17% alcohol (!) and made from a mixture of Cab Sauv/Chambourcin/brandy. It is SO GOOD! It is very thick, super-sweet, and because of the high alcohol content, you can't even buy a glass of it at the winery! (You can get a tasting or buy a bottle.)

There was also a Rechina (pronounced "ret-SEE-na"), which is a wine that is aged in clay pots. This is the only winery to make this wine in the US. I will say, I thought it was disgusting. I get that this must be the ancient way to age wine, but...I'm not a fan.

Here are the Premier Wine Club Benefits for this winery:

50% off two bottles of wine each month (chosen by the winemaker)
25% off one mixed case or more, your choice
30% off a case or more of the "Wine of the Month" (chosen by the winemaker)
Two wine & snack events each year
One winemaker's dinner at the end of the year
A traditional Greek recipe emailed to your once a month
10% when you buy 1-5 bottles of wine
15% off when you buy 6-11 bottles of wine
NOTE: Free tastings are NOT included!

So...really you just get discounts on stuff, some of which you may not even want! I think it's safe to assume that the wine chosen by the winemaker will be the stuff that's not selling (i.e. what people don't like). And paying for an e-blast?! Who ever heard of such a thing? I can Google "traditional Greek recipes" and have a million at my fingertips instantly! And tastings are what wineries are all about (in my mind), so that's the main thing that should be included! I should also note that neither on the website nor on the actual membership form is it stated how much the membership costs. I would recommend NOT blindly just writing down your credit card number on the form and handing it to them...

Visiting wineries is a fun way to spend an afternoon, but I'm not sure the drive was quite worth it this time. But if you visit either of these wineries, let me know what you think!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Recipe: Fall Vegetable Curry

Again, this is another recipe that I've had in my recipe box for a while but only just made it for the first time recently. I thought it came out quite well, even with all of my substitutions!

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup diced peeled sweet potato
1 cup small cauliflower florets
1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1/2 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato to pan and sauté for 3 minutes.

2. Decrease heat to medium. Add cauliflower, onion, and curry powder. Cook for 1 minute, stirring mixture constantly.

3. Add broth and add broth, salt, chickpeas, and tomatoes.

4. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

5. Sprinkle with cilantro/parsley; serve with yogurt.

I will admit that I barely stuck to the recipe, at least with the ingredients! The grocery store didn't have cauliflower, so I bought broccoli. BUT I didn't end up using the broccoli because I multiplied the recipe so many times that I didn't have room in the pan! I used a huge sweet potato (the whole thing!), a small can of peas (I left the liquid because I didn't use the broth that was called for), and half an onion. I also used WAY more curry powder, but in the end there was still only a hint of the curry flavor. I might recommend buying a curry sauce instead. Because the curry flavor is so mild, the yogurt really is unnecessary: you only need that for really spicy food! And I didn't bother with sprinkling the herbs.

Even with all these changes, I really liked what I made! So I recommend trying this recipe, even if you end up changing things as you go!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Recipe: Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

Image found here.
I cut this recipe out of a Taste of Home magazine ages ago, and only just made it for the first time. It is very yummy!

  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef (90% lean)
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 can (8-3/4 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • Dash each ground cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg
    • NOTE: I just used pumpkin pie spice, which was a lot easier! 
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Scrub and pierce sweet potato; place on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 10-12 minutes or until tender, turning once.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef and onion until meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the corn, tomato sauce and spices. Place in a 1-qt. baking dish coated with cooking spray; set aside.
  3. When cool enough to handle, cut potato in half; scoop out the pulp and place in a small bowl. Mash with butter, milk, salt and pepper. Spread evenly over meat mixture.
  4. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 2 servings.
Some of my own notes:

1. This recipe claims to make two (2) servings. Those are some HUGE servings! Mine made four (4) meals. It's about a quart of food!

2. I would recommend even using two (2) sweet potatoes. I bought a very large one, and it still wasn't enough to cover the top of the dish completely. So if you use two, just remember to use some extra milk and butter!

3. This recipe has no green food in it! I thought about adding something into the shepherd's pie, like peas, but I ended up just making brussels sprouts on the side. I recommend you do the same so this dish is a bit healthier!

Click here to find the recipe online.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Concert: St. Paul and the Broken Bones

The main act! Image found here.
I had never heard of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, but my friend likes them, so she bought tickets for us to see them perform at the 9:30 Club. I like most kinds of music, and this is a great venue, so I thought, "Why not?"

The opening band was the Seratones from Louisiana. The lead singer, AJ Hayes, had amazing energy and great stage presence. She has a great voice and is really fun to watch! She was pretty funny, saying things like, "It ain't rock 'n' roll if it doesn't hurt a little. My grandma taught me that, so you came blame her for all this rebel rousing." It was too bad that the music behind her was so loud: most of the time it was hard to hear the lyrics she was singing. But I really enjoyed watching them and would definitely see them again if they came back to D.C.

And then it was time for the main act! St. Paul and the Broken Bones are from Alabama, and they have a big sound! It's a large soul band, with a brass section and everything. Paul Janeway is the lead singer, and my friend said it best when she described him as a "Pentecostal preacher." He is so passionate and very expressive in both his singing and dancing. He was so over-the-top (in a good way), including his bejeweled shoes! At one point he went into the crowd, and it was like he was parting the Red Sea. The crowd was loving it, and although I couldn't stay for their entire set, I was so pleasantly surprised (since I didn't know what to expect in the first place). I thought they were very talented, and I'd love to see them again sometime to get the full experience.

Make sure to check both of these bands out on YouTube!

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year's 2016: The Metropolitan

Last year, my boyfriend and I went to the Metropolitan in Annapolis for New Year's Eve (read my blog post about it here). They hosted another party this year (info here), so we decided to go again.

At least I drank a bottle of this before heading over. Image found here.
I will admit: this year's party was not as good as last year's. For one, you didn't get a free shot of Piehole Whiskey, and the free champagne they had for the toast was horrible (I don't know what kind of champagne it was, but even André is better than whatever they were serving.). So the alcohol factor was definitely lacking. 

The saxophonist was not there that night.
Screen grab from
The music also wasn't as good this year. We only got to see two bands instead of three, so already I felt like we paid more than we should have (why pay the same price for less alcohol and fewer bands?). Sweet Leda was the first band to go on. The lead singer, Julie Cymek, took a few songs to warm up, but she has a great voice. I enjoyed when Alex Crean from the next band, the Kelly Bell Band, joined in with his saxophone. The later band was okay, too, but I felt like both bands played more slow songs than I would have liked. I wanted to feel some energy! 

And the DJs throughout the night weren't much better. The DJ who was playing before the live music started was mainly playing songs from the 70's (it was a much older crowd this year), and Marc Nfinit, who was the main DJ on the rooftop, was playing some obscure hip-hop songs, lots of Prince, and not enough top 40 hits. But, the best dancing was definitely up on the rooftop, where all the drunk young people were hanging out (don't get me started on the girl in the romper who was dancing on the tables...). My boyfriend and I danced throughout most of the night, so that was fun! And I loved showing off my sequin skirt from White House Black Market (especially since most people didn't make too much of an effort to dress up...).

I only paid $10 for mine at an outlet! Image found here.
Don't get me wrong: I'd rather go to any party than sit around my house for New Year's Eve. But after having so much fun last year at the Metropolitan, I was sort of disappointed this time around. It's hard to find another party for such a good price, though (only $10 a person), so I wouldn't be surprised if I come again next year...Old habits die hard, especially during New Year's Resolutions season.