the great DC food tour // months 7-9

This is a big week for DC's restaurant scene.  It was announced earlier this year that our city would be getting its own Michelin guide, which is a huge deal since it is one of only a handful of American cities to receive that prestigious recognition.  I kind of love the drama of the whole idea - Michelin basically deploys an army of undercover incognito restaurant critics to sneakily hunt down the best food in the city.  

The guide is slated for publication this Thursday, the 13th.  Though there are still so many places I want to eat here and I'm obviously in no position to make any kind of predictions, I'm hoping that the site of the best Indian food I've ever eaten - Rasika - will garner at least a star.  We were pretty excited that some of our more casual favorites - China Chilcano (my favorite of Jose Andres' numerous restaurants here) and 2Amys (Jason's favorite pizzeria) - were recognized on the Bib Gourmand list last week (Michelin's kind of "cheaper eats" award).

Anyway, it's an exciting week all around for food.  Here's a few new places we ate over these past three months:

Where we went:
 Let's Mix Bibija
This is a little place on Penn Ave that's relatively new to the neighborhood.  It's super casual and nothing fancy at all (definitely kid-friendly).  There were a few people in line for the dinnertime rush, but service was really quick.

What we ate:
It was tough to choose between banh mi, pho or ramen, or the bibimbap bowls (how great that they have all four options at one tiny restaurant?!).  I ended up with the bulgogi bibimbap, and Jason decided on the chicken teriyaki.  We both liked it a lot! - me probably more so than him, just because I looooove Asian dishes and he would 100% of the time prefer a hamburger and french fries instead. (It was National French Fry Day, so maybe he felt a bit cheated.)  I love that you can request allll of the vegetable options at no extra charge (YUM), that they offer brown rice, and have a big variety of sauces to choose from at the end of the pickup counter.  Prices were good - though banh mi isn't as cheap here as it is out at our favorite place in Falls Church - and service was quick and friendly.  I will absolutely be coming back on nights when we need a quick/easy/healthy dinner.

Where we went:
We realized around mid-August that it had been a long time since we had gone out for pizza.  That is highly unusual for us, because let's face it, pizza is one of the Great Food Inventions of the World.  This pizzeria out in Arlington is a regular on the best-pizzas-in-DC lists, and since we were out there anyway one evening running errands, we decided we were overdue for some pizza!  We showed up at around 7:30 or so on a Saturday night without a reservation, so I was a little worried we'd have to wait. There was definitely a line, but it moved along very quickly and there was plenty of seating.  In the meantime, you got to watch the masters at work!:

I really loved their little outdoor patio space.

What we ate: Sooo...we were pretty hungry.  We started with Salad #3 (fresh grapefruit, apple, arugula, shaved parmesan, a light citrus dressing) and ordered two pizzas: a red and a white.  This sounds like a ton of food, and we definitely took home some leftovers, but the pizzas are actually not large - about 11" and Neapolitan, so thin-crust and really light.  (They recommend one pizza per adult.)  The red was meatball with ricotta + mozzarella, and the white was buffalo mozzarella with sweet cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil.  I couldn't get over those tomatoes - late-summer, in-season tomatoes are seriously manna from heaven.  Everything was delicious.  100%, totally recommend this place.  I only wish it were closer to our apartment!

Where we went: 
Holy Cow
One Saturday we went apple picking with friends, and afterwards everyone was saying how hungry they were.  One couple started raving about a burger joint they had recently visited, and even though J & I had plans to go out for ramen, I could tell from the look on Jason's face that he realllllly wanted a hamburger. haha!  And so we drove straight to their recommended place - this casual restaurant in my absolute favorite part of Alexandria, Del Ray.

In a stroke of luck, this happened to be the same day of Del Ray's Art on the Avenue street festival. Since Holy Cow is right in the middle of the festival, it was totally packed, but it was worth having to wait because we got to walk up and down the street afterwards and enjoy all of the local vendors, artisans, and live music!  I love neighborhood festivals with all of my heart and soul.  Also, one thing I like about this restaurant is that they donate 25 cents of every burger sold to a local, Alexandria-based charity.  You even get to pick which charity from a big list at the register.  Community engagement ftw.

What we ate:
For Jason, garlic fries & the "Popper" - ft. cream cheese, bacon, fried jalapeΓ±os. For me, sweet potato fries & the Roma Melt, which is their grilled chicken sandwich.  I think it's safe to say we'd give them both at least 8.5/10 stars - definitely delicious.  But my favorite thing was the sweet potato waffle fries, because I cannot turn down sweet potato OR waffle fries and this combined them and it was amazing.  

^ (Though they give you marshmallow dip, which I frankly am not into. I guess I am only a savory sweet potato fry kind of person.)

^ Those are the garlic fries, and even though we both love garlic, we would not get them again.  Overpoweringly garlicky.  However, we have now decided that cream cheese on burgers should be  more of a thing.

Months 7-9, out! I can't believe it's already October.


A few things I've stumbled across recently that I really love.

1 // Shopping: Dear Mushka
I am super picky about jewelry and I don't wear a lot of it; I gravitate towards simple, subtle pieces, and as in 99% of things, I prefer to support small businesses wherever possible.  I randomly found this Nashville-based, handcrafted jewelry store (through Instagram, maybe? can't remember) and at first I just loved the aesthetic. Then, I realized that each piece Katie creates is inspired by a verse of scripture, and that the proceeds from her work are helping her family raise the funds to adopt. I love so many things about this: clean, beautiful design; pieces that are meaningful without being obnoxious or obvious; a heartfelt, family-centered cause; and being able to support another woman's work.  Shine theory in action, y'all.

2 // Cooking: Making homemade everything.  
Lately, we've been making so many things from scratch, and I'm a little obsessed with it.  This includes: bread (obviously), salad dressings, pastry dough, protein bites/bars, spreads, and many others.  Everything just tastes so much better when you make it yourself, right?  

We went to a nearby farm recently with friends and picked WAY too many apples from their orchard.  I went a little crazy making alllll the apple-y things. (Sorry, Snapchat followers.)

But seriously, though - that apple butter is delicious.

Also, I've made a few galettes for dinner lately in an attempt to use up leftover vegetables, and I cannot get enough of that pastry dough + ricotta/garlic spread + roasted vegetables combination.  YUM.  (Plus, you can use the leftover dough to make little baby dessert galettes! Nectarines + raspberries is a current favorite, with a generous dusting of turbinado sugar.)  I'll share some recipes and photos asap.

3 // Reading: A Short Stay in Hell
Of all the books I've read so far this year, this is the one I'm still thinking about months later.  It's short - more of a novella than a novel - and in it the author imagines what it would be like if Hell were one massive, massive library.  This sounds kind of wonderful, of course, except there's a catch - you're stuck in the library forever, unless you find the one single book that can lead to your release. It's written by an LDS author but is not LDS-centric, and it is haunting and thought-provoking in so, so many ways.

If you have a Kindle, it is well worth the $2.99.  I promise.

4 // Thinking: Forced From Home
Doctors Without Borders has a temporary exhibit up on the Mall, just across the street from the Washington Monument; they are trying to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis and the work MSF does in so many countries. The exhibit is about an hour long, guided by MSF nurses/doctors, and fully interactive.  Upon entering, you are given a "new identity" as a refugee from a particular country (such as Honduras, South Sudan, or Syria) and you learn more about the current crises in those countries throughout the exhibit.  

Additionally, at the beginning of the tour you have thirty seconds to select five "belongings" that you want to take with you on your refugee journey (symbolic, of course, of how so many families are forced to flee their homes at less than a moment's notice, grabbing what they can along the way).  

But as you progress throughout the exhibit, those belongings are one by one taken from you - by the smuggler you need to get you across the border, by the person who has arranged the boat trip across the Mediterranean, by the individual who threatens violence to you or your children if you do not provide payment.  

^ They even have a legitimate boat there in the exhibition, the exact kind that so many refugees find themselves stranded on in the middle of the Mediterranean.  They encourage every tour group to get in and imagine what it must be like for so many families, especially when the life vests are often utterly non-functional, people are hungry and sick and even dying, and few know how to swim.

^ Our guide, Mary Jo, who has worked with MSF for more than a decade and told us stories from her time spent in the furthest corners of this planet. She was so inspiring.

All materials and displays throughout the exhibit were brought from real MSF locations around the world, from the tents to the medical supplies to the toys that children in the camps had pieced together from trash and other abandoned property.  They even begin the tour with a 360-degree movie, and end with an optional virtual reality experience.  I have been genuinely heartbroken about the ongoing crisis, and this was such an incredible opportunity to learn more about current issues around the world.

It's open through this Sunday, October 9 - if you're in or around DC this week, I can't recommend it enough.  (I believe it's also traveling to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston later this fall.)

5 // Random: Funny Farm
A friend from college recently reminded me of this online puzzle game that I had completely forgotten about. If I remember correctly, it took up hours and hours of the winter of our freshman year, and I'm not sure if we ever completely solved the thing.  If you're one for puzzles or trivia or other word-association-ish games, give it a try. No cheating! 

#meetthedangers on martha's vineyard

Less than 24 hours after we got home from Shenandoah last week, I boarded a plane to Boston on my way to Martha's Vineyard.  One of my very favorite friends from law school got married, and it was the. best. weekend. ever.

MV is not easy to get to.  The most financially reasonable option for me and a few other friends was to take a plane to Boston, a bus from Logan airport to Woods Hole, MA, and then a ferry from Woods Hole to the Vineyard.  (And then a taxi from the harbor to Edgartown, where the wedding took place.)  Whew!  It was so fun though.

A big group of us stayed at this beautiful old house in Edgartown, less than 10 minutes' walk to the church and the harbor.  Everything was pristine and so charming.  We spent what little free time we had biking or walking down Main Street, or out to Lighthouse Beach, or along the water.

^The whole house was quaint and darling and full of light like this.  I loved it.  10/10 would recommend.

The long weekend was full of events, from tennis to brunch to drinks on the water.  It was so fun to have so many excuses to dress up with friends and visit so many parts of the town.  (On that note, I had another great RTR experience for this event.  Two designer dresses at a great price & fantastic customer service. [insert thumbs-up emoji here])

^ Doesn't B look so pretty?!

The wedding itself was so lovely, in an old church just a few blocks from the water.  The reception was at the local yacht club, right in the harbor, with beautiful views of the Sound and plenty of natural light.  

Also, there were a lot - a lot - of group photos.

...Including repeated attempts to master the staggered selfie.  I think we did a pretty respectable job.

I'm so happy I got to spend time with all of these wonderful people before we all started working in different cities for different employers.  It also didn't hurt being in such a beautiful, beautiful place.  Definitely a weekend to remember forever!

oh shenandoah

I feel like I'm going to need approximately 48 straight hours of sleep to recover from last week, but it was so worth it!!! because it involved some really, truly beautiful moments (and scenery).

Early last week Jason had some time off of work, so we decided to get out of town and spend a couple of days backpacking in Shenandoah along the Appalachian Trail.  This is by far our favorite way to camp - pack up and head deep into the mountains for a day or two, scouting out campsites along the way and feeling wonderfully cut off from things like busyness and work and technology.  Car camping is fun and definitely has its place, but we really do love - and crave - a good, multi-day backpacking trip.

We stopped on the way out there at Luray Caverns, which is near Shenandoah National Park and apparently is the biggest underground cavern network in the US? (or at least that is what the overly-enthusiastic tour guide told me.) I have mixed feelings about the whole place.  It was super corny - imagine every single touristy gimmick you can think of, down to the penny-pressing machines & mandatory green-screen tour photo that you know is going to cost $20 for one 5x7 print, and they were present in Luray.  However, I do have to say that parts of the caverns (and hour-long, hilariously melodramatic guided tour) were pretty cool.  I think it's one of those things that you have to do once, and then probably never need to do ever again.

^ We did think this part was neat.  It's called "Dream Lake," and there is a pool of water at this point in the cave that creates a perfect reflection of the stalactites above. Several members of our tour group, all of whom had a good thirty years or so on us, thought this was downright miraculous and took approximately 5000 photos. It was hilarious.

Afterwards, we headed out to the trail.  It was perfect end-of-summer timing - warm enough that we didn't have to worry about bringing along cold-weather camping gear, but late enough in the season to have that perfect chill in the air.  We hiked the Riprap Trail circuit, about an hour and a half south of Luray.  I can't say for sure exactly how long it is -- a few websites and notices listed it as about 9.5 miles total, but we're fairly certain it's not quite that much.  (Though admittedly, Jason's GPS predates our relationship and is probably totally outdated at this point, so I am dubious about its reliability.)  Regardless, the trail starts with a nice decline down into the streambed, where there's a waterfall and a natural spring that doubles as a swimming hole when the weather is warm.

We stopped on top of Chimney Rock just a little bit before sunset.  It was beautiful.

Our campsite was cute and isolated and perfectly situated on a ledge overlooking the babbling stream.  I would also describe it as quiet, except it wasn't, because the cicadas were out in full force.  FULL FORCE.  A better word would be "deafening."

^ Also, here is proof that the leaves are starting to change. (!!!!!) I SEE YOU, FALL.

And, on the way home, I am equal parts embarrassed and proud that we stopped by our hands-down favorite barbecue place for lunch.  As in, we specifically drove out of the way so that we could eat there.  It was just as good as we remembered.  Shawn's, please never change.  Also please never open up a DC location.

What percentage of blog posts here do you think end with something related to barbecue? I am afraid to check.

the navy-air force half marathon

This was an extremely last-minute decision.

Three weeks ago, I felt like it had been forever since I last ran a race. Technically, this wasn't true - Cherry Blossom was in April; Phoenix, February - but I think I had a series of weeks (months?) there in late summer where I just felt really cooped up, stressed, and stifled for a lot of reasons.  (Bar studying being one of them. July was rough.)  I knew the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon was coming up, but by the time late August rolled around the prices were pretty high and I figured I had missed out on the opportunity to run.

But I honestly kept having this craving for a good race and everything that comes with it: the nervous thrill of the starting line, the joys of seeing all of the signs and cheering friends & family, overhearing excited conversations and muttered out-loud pace calculations, intense competition, the city in the early morning light. I really missed the unmatched feeling of that last half-mile or so, when the crowds grow thick and the finish line is in sight and the pain just kind of fades away for a brief second while you sprint to the end.  I LOVE RACES. And I thought I had missed this one - until, serendipitously, a chance at a super-discounted entry fee popped up just two & a half weeks before race day.  It was totally a sign (/answer to a prayer?), and I totally took it.

The expo was a little different - instead of a convention center, it was inside the Nationals stadium. It was very small - only a few sponsors for this race - but really fast and friendly.

I felt a special sentimentality for this race because of the military focus.  When I signed up, I got to register as a military dependent and received a little bit of special recognition on race day with many other military family members.  I thought of my dad the whole time.  Also, the very first wave belonged to a group of Wounded Warriors, and I legitimately teared up watching them line up at the start and then sprint away at the ring of the Navy bell.  So inspiring.

Obviously, I was not well-trained for this.  Though I run pretty consistently, I was only able to fit in three (not-long-enough-)long runs (6, 8, & 10) in the short time leading up to the race.  Sunday morning dawned cloudy, hot, and humid, which is a bad combination for me. I biked to the start line, but my bike ended up with something of a flat tire about two blocks away, so I ended up doing a mad awkward walk/run/pull-the-bike-along situation in order to get to my corral on time....which meant I showed up with already-exhausted quads. ha! Terrible recipe for a race.

Sure enough, it was slow. But all of my favorite ingredients were there - the crowds, the signs, the music, the sunrise, the athletes. I love DC races because the course is always pretty much the same (Hains Point, Arlington Bridge, under the Kennedy Center, up to Rock Creek Park, then back to the Mall) but there are multiple out-and-back points where the road is split and the leaders of the pack are sprinting back down the other side from you.  I love being able to see and cheer for the athletes blazing past who are almost certainly going to win or place - so inspiring. (and humbling!)

For a large portion of those thirteen miles, I just kept thinking how grateful I was to be running.  I'm so grateful for health; for a family that raised me to value strength and ability over appearance; for a husband that loves to be active as much as I do; for a body that can get out there and run thirteen miles on less-than-ideal training, no problem.  My legs definitely can't fit into size 0 jeans, but who the hell cares, because they can walk out the door and run for a damn near effortless eight miles on a random Saturday simply because I'm craving a good hard run.  I know sometimes I don't shut up about it, but I swear running is infinitely superior to any other kind of therapy. It is my one absolute guarantee for good mental health, and I'm so grateful for it.


^ Cue an extremely stereotypical, embarrassing gym-mirror photo, solely because I was so grateful at that minute to be healthy and able to be in the gym.  Race on, friends.