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travel: shamelessly in love with austin.

on my last vacation i discovered something.
i discovered that austin, texas is perhaps one of the greatest places i’ve ever visited.
and while oodles of people told me “you’ll love austin…”, i was still surprised that not only did i love austin, but i LOVED austin.
in fact, one drunken evening, i called my husband and told him “fuck vegas, all our vacations are to austin from now on!”

this city.
it’s the fucking best.
its pure rock and roll, the nicest people and the best food.
if it was in canada, i’d have moved there already.

so… the original draw to austin wasn’t the city itself, it was this festival.

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and this was incredible.  it was amazingly run, clean, efficient… just surpassed all expectations.
i’ve been to a lot of large scale events and this was hands down the best run.
i can not say enough good things about the management of ACL festival.

their food options were out of control… some of austin’s best restaurants and food trucks representing.  none with a lineup longer than 10 minutes even in the peak of dinner rush.

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the beer hall… and it’s important to note that this is a beer HALL, not a beer GARDEN.
because in the great land of america, you get to be a big kid and you can take your beer wherever you damn well please.
and they sold 20 different craft & local beers throughout the festival.
the main beer hall was over 20,000 square feet, again, with no line longer than 10 minutes even in the heat of the day.

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besides the festival, we did some shopping and eating at south congress… which was very cool and we spent a good couple of hours and some decent money in the little funky shops…

we also did the requisite tourist activity and visited the gorgeous capital building…

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and on our food tour we hit some really cool places and noticed that austin loves its infused booze.
and bar worth its salt was infusing their own liquor and some of the brews were wild.
some spicy, some insane and others complete genius…

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the craziest one we tried was the franklin’s brisket infused bourbon.  it was salty, beefy and smoky.  truly one of the most inspired and unique tastes i’ve encountered.

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but this… this is what i came for.
my beloved silversun pickups played on saturday and fucking owned it.
i had a spot right up front and took a million pictures…
the played three of my all time favourites.
they played 10 songs total, which i can’t complain about…
and they declared it to be their last performance until the new album comes out next year.
it was fucking worth every penny i spent.  i’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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in fact…
i already know i’ll be back next year.
thanks for the super awesome fun times austin!

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fabulous las vegas: including bon apetit vegas uncorkd 2013

you might not know if from my lack of posts, but the 2013 vegas crew did indeed survive our adventure.
i also answered the question – is 6 nights in vegas too long? with a resounding NO.  i was not ready to come home and could have lounged poolside for another week easily.

and once again, i headed to vegas with a to-do/to-see list that was a mile long and really only got through a handful of things.
but i did have an excellent time.

when we checked in at the cosmopolitan, the lovely lady at the desk asked if it was our first time.  we told her it was my 7th trip to vegas, but our first time staying at the cosmopolitan.  she leaned over the desk and whispered “you’ll never stay anywhere else again”.
and by george,i think she was right.

the cosmopolitan was top notch from start to finish.  excellent service, beautiful rooms with incredible pools and terrific restaurants.  i have zero complaints about our stay there. and yes, i’ll be back.

our room was over 1000 square feet with 2 bathrooms and a giant patio overlooking the bellagio fountains.  i pretty much never wanted to move out.  it was gorgeous.

(here’s our patio view)

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and a shot of the living room when we were about to check out… le sigh…

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anyways, like most things in life, pictures don’t do it justice, but lets suffice to say it was pretty kickass.

but, more than anything, in las vegas, we come to eat and drink.
and the bon apetit vegas uncorkd was a strong lure for us…
we decided to do two events, the grand tasting and the bellagio block party.  both were very cool and very different.  the grand tasting was a totally mind blowing experience.  celebrity chefs everywhere, throngs of people loaded up with pork belly and short rib and fine liquor flowing very freely.

here’s my partners in crime and i on the red carpet on arrival.

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it’s kind of hard to see and describe, but all the food is poolside in an outer ring and then the liquor was on the inner ring, hugging the pool.  lovely setting.

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this was the most i saw of gordon ramsay all night… he wasn’t exactly hanging out making conversation…

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no big deal… just bobby flay serving food for mesa grill…

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i don’t even know which restaurant this cookie came from, but it had a syringe of chocolate ganache with it and it was a delight.

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i resisted the urge to take pictures of my food and just experience the event instead.  by now, i know that no photo can replicate being there and tasting it, so i’ll just tell you that we enjoyed to the max and kept the camera in my purse pretty much the whole night.  this was an event, not a photo op. and i stand by that decision.

the next night was the bellagio block party… and it was fun!  much more relaxed than the grand tasting and much smaller, in both size and guests.  the food portions were also bigger, as instead of 200 restaurants, you only had about 30 to try from, so you got a bit more of an appetizer vs an amuse bouche.

here’s my crew (minus my husband who left to get a beer) at the block party.

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and then under the bellagio hidden driveway sign…

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yup.  fun times!

anyways… fill in the blanks with food, sun, pool, drinks and laughing… and that was vegas!  definitely always more fun with wicked people.

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food: fun with the juicer

so… on the weekend, i decided to buy a juicer.
this wasn’t an impulse buy per-say… my pal moonbeam fell back in love with her juicer at the beginning of the month and has been extolling the virtues to me for weeks now…

but i’ve honestly never been much of a juice gal. i’m not even a smoothie gal.
i have often cycled through buying oodles of frozen fruit in a misguided effort to start my day with smoothies, only to throw it all out a couple months later as a solid freezer burned mess.

actually overall, i’ve never been a fruit lover.
but i do love my veggies. and veggies make friends with a juicer too.

the other thing holding me back is that i have limited condo space and therefore i shy away from things that aren’t kitchen multi-taskers. and the juicer is very much a one trick pony.
buuuuuut… it was $99 and really isn’t *that* big, so i’m gonna give it a go.

so step one… obviously buying the machine.
step two… stocking up on fruit & veg.
step three… juice!

i started with a really husband friendly option in an effort to inaugurate him, as he often turns his nose up at my happy planet green juices. so i figured as long as it wasn’t super green i had a fighting chance.

so i went apple, orange & celery.

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they suggest you peel your oranges, so i did and there’s some debate about apple seeds, so i split mine in half and tunneled out the seeds and removed the stems. just to be safe.
celery just needed a wash and it was ready to rock.

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the results were delicious. the husband eagerly downed his glass and all were happy.

so i decided to take the leftover orange, apple celery base and green it up a little.
enter the addition of a couple handfuls of spinach, parsley, 2 carrots and a meyer lemon (skin and all)
to make…. this!

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definitely super yum.
the meyer lemon was definitely the most dominant flavour, but it smelled like parsley and celery. very interesting.
and i know you’re not supposed to “save” the juices because they lose vitamins or whatever, but i poured the rest into a mason jar and put it in the fridge for the next day’s breakfast.

last night, my two besties came over for hockey and one of them was sporting a bit of a hangover, so i whipped up a curing juice.

i decided on a couple apples, a cucumber, a few kiwis and a knob of ginger.
the kiwis were peeled, the apples de-seeded and the cucumber stem removed, but then everything was juiced together to produce this:

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i’m not entirely sure why it separated, but it sure was tasty.  the ginger made it spicier than i anticipated.  i used about a 1 1/2 inch piece and this batch yielded a little over a litre of juice total, but the ginger was the dominant flavour.
delicious, but a pretty strong after burn.  i imagine this would be awesome for if you were sick.

the kiwi maybe wasn’t the best plan ever.  the little seeds got caught in my blade and were harder to clean than i anticipated as they needed to be picked out of the teeth individually with my fingernail.

this morning, we went classic.  simple delicious orange juice.

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man, this is the best stuff.  just so good.

only downside is that i kept my box of oranges on the counter and i think i should move them to patio because my juice (obviously) is coming out at room temperature.

the next challenge is to find a good use for all the pulp i’m getting.
veggie pulp is easy… it can be added to soups, stocks, meatloaf/meatballs/burgers ect.
but the fruit pulp is something that will require some googling.

most of what i’ve read does say that the bulk of the vitamins & nutrients are coming out in the juice… but the pulp is pure fibre.  so while it might not have much in the way of flavour or vitamins, it’s definitely still worth eating.

also, wasting food really bugs me.  and since i don’t have a garden or compost, its making me feel guilty to pitch it.
the internet tells me that saving the pulp in freezer bags works too, and its good to separate it when blending juice… so like if i’m making a carrot whatever juice, do the carrots then stop and collect the pulp in a bag and then do the rest of the veg and store that separate ect.  makes sense.
i foresee carrot cakes in my future.

restaurants: mesa grill las vegas

i have long wanted to try one of bobby flay’s restaurants.
he’s not my favourite chef… his food looks amazing, but there’s just something about his cocky attitude that kinda rubs me the wrong way… but i can’t deny that the man has skills.

mesa grill in caesar’s palace has been at the top of my “i should eat there one time” list for years now.
i’ve had many plans to dine there that have somehow always been shuffled aside… i think its the location. i just never go into caesar’s palace.  i’m not sure why, but it just isn’t a place that i hang out.

anyways.  because we had a spa appointment booked in caesars for this trip, i thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try out mesa grill at long last.
and eating here for lunch works perfectly because you get the same great quality and cheaper prices.  win win.

the first tough decision… the drinks.
i’ve been on a bit of a manhattan kick lately and bobby’s certainly sounded enticing… but in that moment of sobriety, i just couldn’t justify a $22 manhattan.
that being said, i definitely regret not doing it now.
jeremy – if you go there, i’ll give you $22 to drink this for me and report back.

tough decision number two (not really) was when the bread basket hit the table…
since i’ve been off wheat, i have been avoiding the bread basket quite easily… but hot damn, i couldn’t avoid it this time, so i dove right into this little beauty…

its a cornbread muffin with two kinds of cornmeal.
mmmmhmmmm.
it was the first time in the meal that i shook my first with a *damn you bobby flay*

there was also a jalapeno cheese bread that was out of this world and was swiftly consumed by me.
so swiftly, there is no photo.
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for the real food… we started with a signature bobby flay item, the roasted duck in a blue corn pancake.

oh sweet baby jesus… there are no words.
this little mother fucker is one of the tastiest things i’ve ever eaten.
the duck is smothered in a hoisin kinda sauce and sweet and a little spicy and the pancake is just… ya.
and the sauces are so bobby flay.  pureed and seasoned to perfection and yum yum yum.
enter the second *damn you bobby flay*

next up, we had the chopped salad.
i enjoy a good chopped salad and this one fit the bill.
nothing crazy unusual about it, it was just a well done salad full of tasty morsels.

the other thing that we ordered was the ancho glazed salmon.
this wasn’t our first pick, but the waiter told us it was a signature item and very good, so we decided to take his advice.
and boy, we were glad we did.

besides being perfectly seasoned and delicious, it was also cooked to medium perfection.
really, the only way to eat salmon.

*damn you bobby flay* that was some delicious salmon!

after this, we were very full and very happy…
but, then the waiter came with a dessert menu…

okay, seriously.  *damn you bobby flay*

we were at a loss… even making a short list of what we wanted was hard.
so we asked for advice.
without a hesitation, the server said “sticky toffee pudding”
done.

seriously?  bobby flay, go eff yourself.
this one is not even fair.
the dulce de leche like substance around the plate was made with goat milk and salted, for a sweet, salty tangy sauce.
the cake, like some fucking ridiculous substance that shouldn’t exist in nature.
vanilla bean ice cream.  perfect.

in short, a ridiculous end to a ridiculous meal.
okay bobby flay.  you win.

restaurants: border grill las vegas

border grill in mandalay bay has been my favourite place to dine in las vegas since my husband (then – boyfriend) stumbled across it on our very first trip to las vegas.
we were walking to the shark reef and saw the cantina and decided on a whim to stop in for a margarita.  we started noming on chips and salsa and realized we were kind of hungry, so we ordered tortilla soup.

not just any tortilla soup… the best one i’ve ever had in my life.
and an obsession was born.

this restaurant is owned by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger who i knew from their cooking show Two Hot Tamales.  (side note – remember when the food network used to have actual cooking shows? i miss that)
since then, susan feniger has made appearances on top chef all stars, doing quite well for herself.  and its no surprise, her cooking is masterful.

the restaurant itself has two lovely outdoor areas.  one upstairs that is covered and i’ve dined in a few times, and also the downstairs outdoor patio that housed my wedding reception.  outdoor areas for dining are a rarity in vegas, so i always make note of them for my lists, as i love al fresco dining.
this is where we had lunch on my latest visit… the downstairs outdoors…

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as if the regular menu choices don’t cause me enough distress with all the yummy options, their specials menu gets offered to me.
oh my… what to do…

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well, obviously the pineapple strawberry sangria needs to get in my mouth.

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my mom went with the patron silver margarita, and said she preferred the one at hussong’s because it was simple.  of course, she ordered one with blood orange and other stuff, so its obviously not comparing apples to apples.

while we were waiting for lunch, we enjoyed the chips and salsa… i love their salsa.  all 3 of them.
they haven’t changed the recipes in years and i love them for it.  its perfect. not to be messed with.

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for the meal, we both decided on tacos, since it was lunch time and we were hungry, but not starved and wanted something kind of light since we were headed back to the pool.

i went with the carnitas with no onions.  because it was supposed to have guacamole on it which contained onions, they just put avocado slices on it for me.  which worked perfectly.
you have the option of pinto beans or black beans and i went pinto.

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my tacos were delicious and the pork cooked to perfection, although they were a little greasy.  they could have been drained a little better before going on the tortillas.
but in terms of flavour, preperation, tenderness, ect, top notch.

my mom went with the shrimp creole tacos and they were WOW.
she had black beans, also good, but i still stand by my pinto bean decision.

my mom’s shrimp was cooked to perfection and the slaw on top was crunchy and provided a great contrast for the rest of the taco.
we agreed that these were the superior choice between mine and hers.

stuffed to the brim, we headed back to pool for a lay down.
thanks for yet another amazing meal border grill.  i’ll see you next time.
cheers!

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restaurants: hussong’s cantina las vegas

i am a fiend for mexican food.
and all the awesome mexican and mexican inspired food is one of my favourite parts of traveling to the usa.
hussong’s cantina is a place that we stumbled upon a few years ago and wandered into for a margarita.
it turned out to be the best margarita i’ve ever had, and thus, a love was born.

the food is also not so shabby, although it does lean toward the american penchant for fat & deep fried more than for true mexican style preparations, but hey, there’s a time and a place for everything.

lets start with the margaritas.
this place boasts being the creator of the margarita. their wikipedia says:
Hussong’s is reputedly the place where the Margarita was created—back in October, 1941 by bartender Don Carlos Orozco. He concocted the perfect mixture of equal parts tequila, Damiana (Cointreau is used now) and lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico.

now, the las vegas location is not the original, obviously, but they still make a damn fine classic margarita.

for those poor souls that don’t know… a margarita is not a slushy sugar drink.
its a salty-sour-punch-you-in-the-face drink.
and this… will punch you in the face.

i like my margaritas with no salt and a sidecar of grand marnier to make a float on top.
and yes, this is a PINT of margaritas that was served to me.
< insert heavenly music here >

this is commonly called a cadillac margarita.  and its my favourite.

the beautiful and special thing about this place is that the bartender stands at the bar and squeezes the limes right into your glass.  there’s no bottled lime juice in this piece.  it’s fresh and simple and it makes a world of difference in the finished product.

we were served chips and 2 kinds of salsa at the table and tried not to stuff our faces too much, but it was damn fine salsa… but what i really wanted was the shrimp stuffed avocado.

ya, this definitely falls into the american style food… but wow is it ever something.
waaaaay too rich for a single human, but wonderful to share with a few people.

it is a half avocado, stuffed with a shrimp and cheese mixture, breaded and deep fried.  its served on a lovely salad with tomatoes, bacon and hominy around the outside.
and friends, it is GOOD.
we only made it about 2/3 of the way through it, but ate up all the salad.  the dressing is really nice on it, i wish i knew how they made it.

we shared this and also got an order of the chicken tacos to split.  mine, without onions, of course.

the chicken was nicely seasoned and i love fresh cilantro, but i must say that these lacked a sauce.  i used the dish of salsa on the table and it rounded it out nicely.
the beans and rice, while nothing special, were tasty.  and i totally dipped my chips into them.

hussong’s also has a restaurant.com gift certificate for them, so we saved $25 on our meal and walked out for about $20.  bargain!  this place is rad because the gift certificate is also good on the liquor.  so you could just come here with a GC and get margaritas.  hooray!

food: epic nachos

i think i’ve said this before, but yes, it has occurred to me that if i’m going to have a food blog, i should probably take proper pictures.
you know, staged and taken with a real camera and artfully arranged.
but then the other side of me says, fuck it.  it’s my dinner.

maybe one day soon i’ll get a new iphone and then my pictures can be lazy and still quality.
in the meantime, you must suffer through poor lighting and low quality.

last week, this is how lazy/hungover i was on sunday.
dinner was epic nachos.
ya, i know… nachos?  terrible/delicious dinner.

we started with the intention of tacos… i made the beef and was ready to rock… and then i thought… what if my tacos were nachos instead?  (this is also the point where i realized i forgot to buy taco shells)

so we laid out a pile of chips and loaded on cheese, beef, tomatoes, yellow peppers, green onions and jalapenos.

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and into the oven it went… until the smell was enticing and the cheese golden brown…

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and then, in the name of health, we loaded them up with shredded iceberg lettuce.
you know, so that it had greens on it.

we paired it with some delicious sioux city root beer and epic nachos were consumed.
note to my husband – i told you that was waaaay too many nachos for 2 people.
just under half ended up hitting the bin.
but the ones we ate were perfection.
three cheers for epic nachos for lazy sunday dinner!

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