November 3, 2014

Calvert's Charismatic Chef

I found myself in Calvert, Texas because of an assignment for my Travel Literature class. A leisurely afternoon spent walking up and down the storefronts on historic Main St led me to COCOAMODA, the only high-end restaurant in the sleepy little town of 1,100. Upon entering, I heard a rumbling coming from the kitchen, and out walked a tall, slender man. He was dressed in jeans, a traditional white button up chef jacket, and a black apron, with a pair of thin glasses on his aged face. His gray hair had been slicked back with comb and gel, but most noticeably, he was missing half of a finger.
Ken Wilkinson moved from the United Kingdom after forty years of culinary experience throughout Europe. So naturally, my main question was what he was doing in Calvert, Texas. He responded, telling me that he moved there for the tranquility and the erudite people. Seconds later, he burst into an uncontrollable hiss of laughter, covering his mouth with four and a half fingers. Calvert is smack-dab in the middle of the Texas triangle, he explained to me, giving him a unique opportunity to market himself to Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. I learned a little more about his fine restaurant, perfectly placed on a corner at the only stop light in the town. Construction took over two years and had its ups and downs. When you’re a chef with no kitchen, he remarked, you have no job. So Ken had a two-year holiday, though he had little time to rest. He took the project on himself and hired outside help in order to reduce costs. There was one incident with a saw and his left pointer finger, but the transformation of a 19th century bank building into a truffle shop and restaurant was a success.
When Ken wasn’t informing me about his business ventures, he told me about his passion for cars. Specifically, fast cars. On a drive from Houston to Calvert, he was overtaken by a car, a rare occasion. Normally, he would give it little thought, but this car was a Corvette (in Ken’s words, a “vette”), and there is nothing he despised more than a vette. Without breaking a sweat, Ken kicked his machine into high gear and roared passed the vette going 195 miles per hour. He kept the pace, wanting to prove a point, and wanting to distance himself from the eyesore. On another occasion, he made his trip from Houston to San Francisco a little more entertaining by setting his cruise control to a leisurely 140 miles per hour. To Ken, if he had money, there was nothing better to spend it on than a machine that could making driving into a sport.

July 22, 2014

California for the 4th

Where is a better place to spend the Fourth of July than California? I'll tell you- nowhere! Annie Scott was gracious enough to invite a few of us to her house for the holidays and it might have been the best Fourth I've ever had. As soon as we flew in Thursday, we kicked off the vacation with a lunch at Facebook. We met up with Will Siegfried and he showed us around the campus.  If any of you don't know what Facebook headquarters looks like, let me paint you a little picture:

- One million restaurants
- Two million people
- Five million super cool things that you look at and go, "WOAH!"
- One Mark Zuckerberg

Those facts might have been a little exaggerated, but it really was the coolest place I have ever been. They provide everything their employees could ever need from a bike rental system to unlimited snacks and drinks. Will gave us the tour, fed us, and then sent us on our way back to Annie's house, where the entire family came together to have a pizza cook off. Katie Johnson and I, aka team Spicy Paradise, went for a delicious assortment of cheeses with jalapeños and pineapple slices sprinkled atop. Needless to say, ours was the best.

Group pic!

On the Fourth, festivities were in full swing at the Scott household by 9 am. There were World Cup games to be watched, beer pong tournaments to be played, and hot dogs to eat. Everyone was decked out in their red, white, and blue, feeling more patriotic than they ever had before. By six, we were all ready to carry our celebrations over to Sharon Heights Country Club. Paul made sure we got the VIP treatment, which included unlimited food, unlimited balloon hats (Annie and I really capitalized on that one), unlimited face paint (again... we divulged), and unlimited drinks. Needless to say, we were having the time of our lives, which eventually led to tearing up the dance floor after an exquisite fireworks show.

Vince and the gals

A trip to San Francisco was planned for Saturday, so off we went. Vince volunteered to give us the grand tour, including a delicious meal right on the water at Hog Island Oyster Co., a look inside the local bar scene, and a final descent down Lombard St.

Maude and Paul took Annie, Katie Johnson, and I to the beach and the views were absolutely breathtaking. We walked along the beach, watching families fly kites, picnic, and splash around in the freezing water. Vince met us for lunch at Sam's Chowder House and we walked off the lobster rolls and clam chowder by exploring the Maverick, the location of some of the largest waves in the world. Sadly, it was pretty calm, but it provided a nice walk after lunch.


After that, it was time to head back to Dallas. It was one of the most memorable trips I've had, and I can't wait for more Chronics next year! x

January 25, 2014

Long Overdue

As with any other school, the closing of term kept me very busy. So now, after being in the states for a month, I'm missing Europe more than anything. Which makes this the perfect opportunity to reflect on my favorite places.


Favorite Activity: Berlin, you got me. I can't come up with a favorite activity because I loved them all. But, if I had to choose, I would have say the Jewish Museum. The part that stuck the most with me was the bottom level, which was dedicated to the Holocaust and its victims. The emptiness and daunting feeling inside of the Holocaust Tower was indescribable. I also couldn't believe how terrifying of a noise the metal faces made when clanking together in the Fallen Leaves room. It really made me think about how many lives were lost and how the world has suffered since.

Favorite Restaurant: With all that Berlin had to offer, its restaurants did not disappoint. Everywhere we ate was unique and delicious, but the best was Chipps. We went for breakfast and it was the perfect start to our day. The restaurant was very modern in design, with shades of gray and clean cut edges throughout the space. This might have been the best breakfast I had the entire time I was in Europe.


Favorite Activity: Without a doubt, Anne Frank's House. We were told by multiple people to go early, so we heeded their advice and woke up hours earlier than we normally would, resulting in a small 15-minute line. Walking through the house where her diaries were written was unbelievable. I walked through trying to soak everything in, but it was all so beyond belief that it left me breathless the entire hour I was inside. The best part of the tour was her room, which they prefaced with a quote from her diary, “Our little room looked very bare at first with nothing on the walls; but thanks to Daddy who had brought my film-star collection and picture postcards on beforehand, and with the aid of a paste pot and brush, I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful…”
Photograph by Anne Frank Museum
Walking into her room and seeing the actual pictures that she posted on the walls was so surreal and made the experience that much more intimate.

Favorite Restaurant: One morning, all we wanted was brunch, as brunch is the best meal ever created. So, we looked up the best brunch in Amsterdam, and we were not disappointed. The restaurant, Fraîche, was adorable and had a happy, young vibe going on. The food was great and we left much happier than we came.


Favorite Activity: We only had two days in Paris, so we didn't have all that much time to explore. However, being the first-time-to-Paris tourists that we were, Hailey and I had to climb the Eiffel Tower. We weren't going to take any of that elevator nonsense, so we trekked up the 710 stairs to behold the amazing view that was waiting for us at the top. After we spent a good five minutes catching our breath, we walked around looking at the maze of beautiful French buildings surrounding us as far as they eyes could see.

Favorite Club/Bar: Hailey and I didn't know much about the night life in Paris, so we did what we thought would be the best idea: ask our Parisian concierge where to go. He seemed to be around our age and was always very friendly when we walked into the hotel, so we asked him. After talking to him, we struck out with our instructions to "walk down the street until you see Gap, take a left, and you'll see a crocodile on a wall." Turns out, we were directed to an Australian bar, Café Oz, that was filled with people dancing everywhere. The dance floor, on tables, on chairs, everywhere. Needless to say, Hailey and I spent the entire night laughing and dancing until we couldn't dance anymore.


Favorite Activity: Marrakech was unique because my grandmother hired a guide for us for the entirety of the trip. And when I thought Berlin was different, man was I wrong. Marrakech was unlike any place I had ever been, which made everything that much more magical. I don't think I would ever be able to pick a favorite because it was all so amazing. Abdul, our guide, took us to the souks, the Atlas Mountains, traditional Berber medicinal markets, old palaces, Ben Youssef Madrasa, Jardin Majorelle, and to an open expanse of desert in which we got to ride camels. However, I think the experience that stands out the most is when Abdul took us into this tiny opening in a wall on a random street. Standing from the outside, you would never know that anything could even be inside that wall. However, we walked into this dark room with a giant fireplace where two old men were baking bread. Abdul told us that all of the women in the neighborhood would make loaves of bread in their kitchens and their children would take the bread to be baked in this bakery. When the children came home in the afternoons, they would pick the bread up and bring it back to their families to eat for dinner that night. What was even more fascinating was that the children knew what all of the neighbors' bread cloths looked like, and would bring their bread home for them if it had not been picked up yet.

Favorite Restaurant: When we were in the Atlas Mountains, Abdul took us to his friend's restaurant that was situated on a lake and overlooked the other half of the mountains. It might have been my favorite view of the trip, as it was stunning. We all ordered traditional Moroccan plates, which were brought out in beautifully decorated tagines. I took the most amazing pictures of our view, but my puppy, Pearl, decided my SIM card would be her chew toy for the day, so I lost them all. This picture from Google will have to suffice for now.

Rome & Florence

Favorite Activity: While we were in Italy, we spent most of our time learning about the history of the cities. In Rome, we had a tour guide take us around the city, which was the best way we could have possibly immersed ourselves in the city. Without his extensive knowledge, we would have no idea what the old rocks we were looking at used to be. I loved how condensed the city was. You could walk from the Pantheon to the Colosseum in twenty minutes and pass six other ruins on the way there. In Florence, our hostel was a five minute walk from the Duomo, so we were able to get everywhere in less than ten minutes. One day, we decided to walk up what felt like a million steps to a mountain that overlooked the entire city and we couldn't believe how beautiful our view was. That's another view that I will never forget.

Favorite Restaurant: The absolute best restaurant I have ever been to in my entire life is in Florence, Italy. And that's not an exaggeration. I was told by a family friend that they knew of a restaurant in Florence that we had to go to and that we were required to order the Pear and Gorgonzola Ravioli. Not something I would normally choose off the menu. However, on our last night in Florence, we obliged, went to Coquinarius, and all five of us ordered the ravioli. The owners of the restaurant ended up giving us a free appetizer to accompany the two other appetizers we ordered and a plate with five pieces of a different ravioli so that we could all try another dish on the menu. Appetizers: great. Other ravioli: delicious. Pear and Gorgonzola Ravioli: words cannot describe how heavenly this dish was. The sweet of the pear and the bite of the Gorgonzola created a taste that is incomparable to anything I've ever eaten.


Favorite Restaurant: When we were in Spain, we decided to do as the Spaniards do and sleep until noon, eat a lot of food, and go out until the sun was threatening to rise. We ate at a lot of restaurants and I have to say that the tradition of tapas is not my favorite that I've experienced. That being said, my favorite restaurant was Rosa Negra, which was not a tapas restaurant. Instead, it had margaritas for €3.50, which was a huge selling point for us. The food was good too, which was a plus. My favorite thing about Rosa Negra though was the decor. One word that would describe it would be kitsch. Bright colors, flip flops hung on walls, sombrero chandeliers. Everything just worked and gave the restaurant a very fun vibe.

Favorite Club: If there was one area of Barcelona that we thoroughly explored, it was the club scene. Without fail, we took a cab to the beach and hit up the clubs every night. The one I had the most fun at was Opium because it was always just packed with people. The music was great, the view was great, and we couldn't have had more fun dancing all night. Plus, we were able to take late night walks on the beach, which was always the perfect way to end our night.

As cheesy as it is, this entire experience was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me and I'm literally counting down the days until I get to go on some other grand adventure somewhere in the world. Who knows what that will be, whether I make an impromptu road trip to Enchanted Rock or I fly across the world to Australia. Either way, you can be sure there will be a post about it!

Ciao for now!


October 21, 2013

Get Ready...

Chances are, this blog post is going to be a novel seeing as how I haven't posted in two weeks. So if you're not feeling that ambitious/don't have much time/don't really care, I'll give a little table of contents for you to glance at. For everyone else, get comfy!!

What I've Done:
1. Nina Nesbitt concert at KOKO on October 10
2. Weekend including seeing Marshall and Drew, Camden Pub Crawl, and the London Film Festival
3. Bastille concert at O2 Academy on October 15
4. Dublin, Ireland

1. Nina Nesbitt

Taylor, Rachel, Hailey and I went to KOKO to see Nina Nesbitt perform. To say we stood out is a bit of an understatement. Considering Nina is only eighteen, the entire crowd was filled with fourteen-year-old girls and their bored parents. Waiting for the show to start was a little awkward since we felt ancient, but once the music started, all the weirdness melted away. She had two opening acts, Daniel James and Olivia Sebastianelli. None of us had ever heard of either of these bands, but they were excellent.

First up was Daniel James. His sound was somewhere between Ed Sheeran and Mumford and Sons. It was just him on the stage with his guitar and he was incredible. I would definitely see him again if he played somewhere close to me.

Following Daniel was Olivia Sebastianelli. Weird name, weird girl. But her music was really, really good. I wouldn't say she was as good as Daniel, but definitely enjoyed her performance. Plus, her drummer's facial expressions could entertain me for the next ten years.

Then was the main event. I only knew a few songs going into the concert and since then I've basically listened to her CD on repeat. Nina is just literally the coolest girl I have ever seen. She's so young and cute, but she's also super tough. She really got the crowd into the show and absolutely smashed it. Plus, seeing a concert at a venue like KOKO is unbelievable. It originally showed theater performances, so the acoustics and smaller feel to the venue makes the concert all the more awesome.

2. The weekend I did A LOT of things..

I got a Facebook message early in the week from my friend Drew Cowan, who I went to middle school with, saying that she was visiting London for the weekend (she's studying in Barcelona). So, Saturday morning, I hopped on the tube and met Drew and Marshall at the Borough Market! We walked around tasting everything we could get our hands onto, and then settled for a grilled cheese to share between the three of us and a hot dog. No, not a hot dog, the biggest hot dog I've ever seen in my life. A GIANT hot dog. After we sat and ate our dogs, we got goat milk ice cream (so beyond delicious) and made our way to Tower Bridge, where we took the obligatory tourist shots.

Covent Garden was next, where we walked down Portobello Road looking at everything they were selling. I stopped in to get a tea at my favorite cafe, Charlie's, and drank it as went moved on to Harrod's. I've never been to Harrod's, so I figured this was the perfect time. I've never been to a bigger store in my whole life. I'm literally trying to find a word to describe it and I just cant. It's a maze? It's over the top? It's overwhelming? I don't know, but it's awesome. They will literally have anything you could ever want. I also got my first macaroon there. I wish I had never tried it because I literally want them all the time now.

Saturday night, Catherine, Ailee, Hailey and I did the Camden Pub Crawl! We've all heard from tons of people that it's really fun, and they weren't lying. The people doing it were kind of weird but they made for great people watching. I ran into a friend from high school and she introduced me to a bunch of her friends from Notre Dame, and they were really nice! One of them even congratulated Hailey and I on our big win over OU (Hook 'em!!!!). The first bar we went to was Barfly, and it had a really cool mural on the wall.

The second place we went was AWESOME!! It's called Soundtracks and they are only open on Saturday nights. It is exactly what it sounds like- they play the best songs from the best movies ever made. That means Grease, Ferris Bueller, Dirty Dancing, all the classics. I didn't stop dancing the entire time I was there and it was so much fun. After Soundtracks was Proud, the old horse hospital. That was really fun too, but since we had been there before, it was nothing new. Still, it was super fun and it was a great way to end the night.

Sunday, I did homework (swear Mom & Dad, I haven't forgotten about school over here) and then went to the London Film Festival with Marshall. He's a lot cooler than me and has a lot of tickets to showings during the festival and was nice enough to invite me to the premiere of The Zero Theorem. Before the movie, Marshall, Hailey and I had a nice Mexican dinner at Benito's Hat, and then Marshall and I went to Leicester Square (pronounced Lester. I've made that mistake before.... clearly a tourist) for the movie. There was a red carpet because the director was attending, so it made the movie feel very important. The movie was great, but if you asked me to tell you what it was about, I don't know if I could. It was so weird, but in a good way. There's just no way to explain it. But, I will say, after seeing the movie, the trailer makes so much more sense. It's kind of hard to follow if you haven't seen the movie.

3. Bastille concert

I think it's safe to say that I was so incredibly excited for the Bastille concert, nothing could ruin my mood. I looked this concert up back when I was in the states, so I've been looking forward to it for a L O N G time. But then, disaster struck. Apparently, there are two O2's in London. Who knew? Not Hailey or I. After the hottest 30 minute tube ride ever, we stepped into the iconic O2 arena ready for the show. We walked around the arena for about fifteen minutes, noticing that not many people were there. Okay, Bastille isn't that big yet. Totally understandable that it's not packed. But after passing closed entrance after closed entrance, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. We weren't in the right place. As Hailey and I were both in heels, we shuffled as quickly as we possibly could back to the tube station and took another 30 minute ride to the other O2. However, after relaxing for a minute at the venue and buying awesome t-shirts, we were feeling good. Once again, there were two opening bands, and neither let us down.

First was Bipolar Sunshine. They easily out dressed both Hailey and I and were the coolest guys ever. They had kind of a reggae-ish feel to them and they were the bomb. After them was To Kill A King and they were equally as great. They were banging on drums all over the place and their music was incredible. I was really, really happy we didn't miss either of the openers (what a miracle).

And then, BASTILLE!!!! Oh my goodness I love them so much!! When I listen to their CD, they're great. Incredible artists. Then you hear them live, and they kill their CD. A million times better live, which is so hard to find. Literally just a band that is SO AWESOME. Everyone was jumping around and singing at the top of their lungs. Everyone was so alive and having the best time ever. Easily one of the best concerts my life. The venue was also really cool (although I'm still bitter about the whole two O2's thing..) because it was built to look like you were outside. The ceiling and the top of the walls were painted black, so it looked like the night sky, and the walls were painted like stone walls with palm trees. Basically, I'm praying they go on tour in the US next year so I can see them again.

4. Dublin

Once again, we made a pretty spontaneous decision to make a trip to Dublin. None of us (Ailee, Rachel, Hailey and I) were particularly excited to go to Dublin, but we all knew we wanted to go while we were in the UK. Turns out, it's one of my favorite cities ever. First off, when we were going through Irish customs, the officer made a dirty joke while stamping our passports. We knew from then on it was going to be an interesting weekend. Then, we hopped in a cab with potentially the most friendly cab driver ever. His accent was excellent (yer hostel's about turdy minute from ere) and he told us a million fun things for us to do. We got to the hostel at 10:45, so we ditched our bags and went straight to dinner. Time Out Dublin told us to go to a place called Bobo's, which did not disappoint. Then, after the friendly waitress told us all the fun places to go (I'm telling you, everyone was so friendly), we decided to go to the Village, a club right around the corner. The rest of the night consisted of all of us just dancing like crazy people together and it was so, so much fun.

The next day, we took the advice from our cab driver and took a train out to Howth, Ireland. It was about a "turdy" minute train ride from Dublin and we ended up in the cutest little fishing village. All the buildings were painted cute colors and everything had a sea theme to it, as it was right on the Irish Sea. Rachel hadn't made it to Ireland yet because she had to take a later flight, but Ailee, Hailey and I ate at Aqua, where we had a glass of wine as we looked out onto the Irish Sea. It was really beautiful. We even saw two seals swimming!!! Then we walked around the village until we decided to go back to Dublin. Sorry for the overload of pictures, but I think they're cool.

 Really cool chess set at a restaurant outside the train station

 So serious

Back in Dublin, we went to a traditional Irish pub and had a pint of Guinness and then met Rachel at the hostel. We then went to a really fun Thai restaurant and then hit the town, dancing the night away once again. The next morning, we missed breakfast because we slept in too long, but we went to The Merchant's Arch for lunch, a pub right on the River Liffey (so fun to say with an Irish accent). There was a guy playing his guitar there and we immediately became best friends. We were sitting at a table on the second floor, so we could look over a railing down to where he was playing. Every time we looked at him, he'd look up at us and laugh. He mostly played Irish songs that none of us knew, but towards the end he covered Rihanna, Passenger, Ed Sheeran, and Van Morrison. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed every one of these covers better than the real songs.

After lunch, we went to the Guinness Storehouse and learned all about how Guinness is made. It turned out to be more of a museum than I thought it would be, but it was really interesting and nicely done. On the first floor, there were a lot of metal tank things that were used in brewing the beer, and they all had plaques on them that said "Spence Dublin." Obviously, I thought it was super cool and made Rachel take pictures of me by them. Only when I got back to London did I learn that my Uncle Robby took the exact same picture sixteen years ago.

So weird, right? But anyway, we got to learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness in six steps (did you know it takes 119.5 seconds to pour a pint of Guinness?) and take our glasses up to the seventh floor, which was a giant circular room that let you look over the entire city of Dublin. It was breathtaking and I really felt like I was IN Dublin at that moment. Funnily enough, I ran into one of Kathleen Ashcraft's friends from Notre Dame there!!

 View from one side of the top of the Guinness Storehouse

After the Guinness Storehouse, we caught a horse drawn carriage to the oldest pub in Ireland- the Brazen Head! It dates back to 1198... unreal. We spent hours there talking over dinner and then spent our last night in Dublin dancing once again. However, we lost track of time and ended up at home at 4 am... when we had to wake up for our flight at 5 am... it was a rough morning of traveling, but I think all of us would agree that Dublin was worth it.

My best attempt at taking a picture with the horse...
 Our brief visit to Temple Bar, a more touristy but awesome area of Dublin
 Snagged a pic of Christ Church Cathedral on one of our walks through the city

Hopefully y'all enjoyed this! I promise I'll try to post more often so they're not all a million pages long.