Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pittsburgh - The City That Drinks/Eats/Looks Nice

A little break from the Middle East posts (but don't worry - I still have some gems lined up for you) to talk about a trip a little closer to home.

My friend Dr. Emily did her residency in Pittsburgh, and back in June she invited me to take a weekend trip up there to run the Color Me Rad 5k and visit her friends. 

By the way, I don't know what it is about all of these random runs (colors, mud, obstacles, zombies, etc.) , but I dig 'em. They seem to have become immensely popular in recent years, or maybe it's just that as a runner they're more on my radar now. 

Anyhoodle, so my friend Dr. Emily and I drove up one Friday evening in June. It took about four and a half hours to get to Pittsburgh. Dr. Emily docked me nine minutes for stopping at a Starbucks halfway (I REALLY, REALLY HAD TO PEE) and then tried to make up the time later on down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We did not make up those nine minutes, a fact that Dr. Emily reminded me of frequently throughout the weekend.

Our first stop of the weekend was the Hofbrauhaus. Now, I have been to two Hofbrauhauses - the original in Germany, and the clearly not original one in Dubai. I had no idea there was one in Pittsburgh. But there was. And it was pret-ty darn close to what you'd think of when you think "German Beer Hall." (Just in case you were wondering - the one in Dubai was NOT. The food was legit, but the atmosphere...not so much.)

The batteries in my camera were dying at the Hofbrauhaus, so my pictures are not the best, but here you go:

Live music - an oompah band playing everything from Top 40 to old Beer Hall Favorites and Favorite Wedding Songs, Volume 4. 
As expected, patrons stood upon benches and waved their beers in time with the music. Excellent German heritage.
After several beers, it was decided that we should go to a gay club called Cruze. I don't have any photos (because my camera died), but lemme say - this was the best damn DJ I have ever heard. And I've been to Vegas. This guy was mashing up Jackson 5 with Florence + The Machine and - I don't know, probably Nine Inch Nails or something. It was amazing. We danced for a very long time. Also, we learned that there is a whole LINE DANCE to "Wobble." "Wobble" is secretly the song that makes me pound it out on the treadmill. Don't know what "Wobble" is? Go ahead, I dare you. (DON'T JUDGE ME - I LOVE THIS SONG.)

After dancing all night, we headed out for late-night pizza (duh) and then went back to our home-away-from-home for the weekend - the apartment of one of Dr. Emily's Doctor Friends. She lives in basically the most awesome apartment building ever. Behold, Union Station:

Once a train station, it's now apartments, valet parking, and a wedding venue. Apparently.
Wouldn't you want to get married here?!

Or live here?!

Pittsburgh is really a beautiful old city that has somehow made it out of the wreckage of the Rust Belt that was once the production heart of America. Now, it's a fun city with plenty of character, in part thanks to one of its more famous former inhabitants:

The Andy Warhol museum is multiple stories of room-sized paintings and installations to scraps of paper, all meticulously curated. Seeing some of these works is like being in the unreal presence of a celebrity, only in Warhol's case they usually are just as big, just as beautiful, and just as stunning in real life. 
Naturally, we started the day off with Bloody Marys at Meat + Potatoes, which had not only a fantastical brunch but an epic make-your-own Bloody Mary bar. I can't remember everything that went into my vodka salad, but I know I used the bacon vodka and stuck a whole jalapeno pepper and a stalk of onion in it. The one on the left is Dr. Emily's, and the blob floating in it is an entire artichoke heart. I wasn't even that hungry after drinking my drink.

Homage to one of Pittsburgh's former industries 

Beautiful architecture downtown
The night before the race, I told our team about my usual pre-race rituals: plenty of water, a good dinner, and a decent night's sleep. They informed me that my pre-race rituals are overruled by their Saturday night rituals: Hot Pepper Hot Peppers at Round Corner Cantina, and pizza at Piccolo Forno. Since I love spicy things and pizza is technically 75% carbs, I decided that when one is in Pittsburgh, one must do as the partiers Pittsburghians do. 

A descriptive name.

I was pretty excited to see a Pimms Cup on the menu, but I was assured that THE REASON to go to Round Corner Cantina is their Red Pepper Red Pepper margarita....
...and the decor of the patio.
Red Pepper Red Pepper margaritas - Espolon Silver, Chartreuse, elderflower, basil, lemon and, of course, a chili pepper. I looooove the combination of sweet and spicy, and these things pack a punch.

It gets deliciously spicier.
Round Corner Cantina is conveniently located right across the street from Piccolo Forno, so we put in a reservation, had a couple'a Red Pepper Red Peppers, and then our table was ready. 

The pizza was amazing. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhmazing.

Tirimisu for dessert. You know, because we're running a big race tomorrow and need to be prepared.
After an evening of pizza and martinis, we were bright-eyed enough the next morning to fit in a trip to The Strip for some breakfast and Pennsylvania Macaroni Company.

This was in June. I guess pride all year round?


Yes please.

This is the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, the finest purveyor of imported Italian (and sometimes German, British, Polish, Turkish, Indian, Japanese, etc. etc. etc.) goods. We spent approximately 15 minutes in here, and I walked out with about $30 worth of random groceries including Italian cookies, ground hemp for smoothies, curry sauce, and dried mangoes.
And then it was time to head to the race, which was held a little outside of the city at the First Niagara Pavilion. On the way out, I was told that Pittsburgh is nicknamed "The City of Bridges." I can see why. Here are only two of the 10,003 bridges we crossed over the course of the weekend:

And the race

I am kind of competitive when it comes to races - even 5ks - and so I was absolutely delighted to learn that after our weekend rituals of Bloody Marys, museums, martinis, and pizza that this 5k is not timed. I have no idea how long it took me to run this race, but I'm betting it wasn't pretty. The point of the whole thing, however, was to get beamed with spray paint. We did good. Basically, the race was a sort of "obstacle course" roped through the parking lot with volunteers waiting to beam you with bags of dyed corn starch. Towards the end of the race, you get to run through the ampitheater - up and down the aisles - which was pretty fun.

Temporary tattoo. Everyone else put them on their faces, but I had a work meeting the next morning and didn't want to take any chances.
After this feat of athleticism, it was decided that we needed beer, more martinis, and some post-race pirogis at Harris Grill. Delightful.

And thus ended our weekend in Pittsburgh. It was a delightful time and, as always, I was glad to be traveling with, if not natives, people who had lived there for some period of time and knew just where to go. 

And seeing all that Andy Warhol made me want to be more eccentric. But that may have been my vodka salad thinking.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


After years of being a droid user, I woke up this morning and my phone was completely dead. Granted, it was so antiquated that the guy in the cell phone store laughed at it (WHATEVER, THAT THING SERVED ME WELL) and it did have one of those shift keyboards that made it extra bulky. I may have needed a new phone for awhile. I may have had to consistently delete updates because the phone couldn't handle them. Whatever.

Most technology I have was given to me in pity by my boyfriend. At work, as a communications manager for a nonprofit,  I am so up on every update, every new Adobe product, patches, social media trends, you name it...but in my personal life I just get lazy and don't feel like dealing with it.

I never knew I wanted an iPad until my Dad gave me his old one when he got a new one, and I fell in love. Aside from my nano, I've never been hard core Mac or PC or Droid or anything. But, dude, I really, really love that iPad. 

So, when it came time to buy a new phone, I kind of really wanted the iPhone but only because I love my iPad so much. So I got the iPhone 5. And have spent the last four hours playing with it. 

To be fair, I took a break to go see Elysium. Not bad. Entertaining. 

The whole point of this post was that I wrote it on my new iPhone. You're welcome. Siri, lets party. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013


The whole point of going to Dubai for the weekend, originally, was because we'd all bought tickets to go to Sandance. And although we wound up doing plenty that weekend, Sandance really was the culminating event.

A month or so before I flew out there, I'd seen that Florence + The Machine was slated to play Dubai. I saw F+TM open for U2 a couple of summers ago, and she is just as amazing in concert as she is produced. But not only that, she was appearing with a pretty fantastic line-up at Atlantis Dubai. 

Sandance is really an all-day event, but we went just for the night portion of it. Traffic getting out to Atlantis was pretty bad - it's located on the very outer ring of the Palm Island that Dubai is so famous for, and there is one way onto the island and one way off - a four lane highway/tunnel that was completely chock-a-block. We took cabs as far into the island as we could, and then managed to get out at Atlantis - but only because we happened to have a friend staying at the hotel. They don't let any other riff raff in, and the actual Sandance concert is located a half mile or so away on a beach. 


View Larger Map

Because we had a friend staying there, we were able to take an open-air little shuttle bus from the Atlantis grounds directly to Sandance. I'm not entirely sure how everyone else was expected to get there, but I'm told that for Sandances past, a lot of people wind up getting out of their cabs and walking the rest of the way.

I should also mention that it was about 90 degrees, at 9 o'clock at night, with about 80% humidity. Which was actually quite pleasant compared to what it could have been, believe it or not.

I think tickets were going for about $80 a person, and there were options to purchase tables (which come with varying levels of alcohol packages), but we opted for General Admission since we only went for the night portion. The dress, supposedly, was "beach attire" for daytime, but it seemed like everyone was barefoot in shorts or dresses. Also, I'm pretty sure Sandance might have been one big gathering for every ex-pat in the United Arab Emirates. Either that, or a looooot of people flew in from out of town for the event. Sponsored by Toyota, bee-tee-dubs.

The main stage. And 40 bajillion ex-pats.
Drinks were an interesting process. You could buy your drinks individually, standing in a long line and hassling for the bartender's attention, or you could purchase a party pack. Which consisted of this:

That's two bottles of vodka, cranberry juice, coke, and Red Bull. Kind of an excessive amount of sugary mixtures. 

So, basically, I drank vodka and cranberry all night. With some Red Bull.

Getting ready for the headliner!

And...there she is. (On the big screen.) Amazing. SHE IS AMAZING. AND PRETTY. AND AMAZING.
At some point, it was determined that our cooler of vodka and Red Bull was not going to be enough to sustain all of us, and so someone purchased a flat of Heineken. It did not take long for all drinks to disappear. At this point, I think we wondered if maybe the bottle service at the tables would have been a better choice.


The concert was pretty amazing, but to be honest, it was one of those large-scale festival-type concerts with a lot of highly intoxicated persons and so the music sort of took second stage. That also could have been because we didn't get there until late, when many of the younger and less-seasoned but more-voracious partiers had been there since like noon. Still, it was a pretty awesome time, the music was fantastic, and the port-a-potties had bidets in them. No lie.

The end of the night got a little hectic as the whole group somehow got separated, but we all made it back to the hotel in various ways. Some of us more efficiently than others (a network of buses and cabs took concert-goers back inland to Dubai, but there was some confusion about which bus was headed to which hotel, and blah blah blah), but we all made it back safely.

And thus ended #ballerweekend in Dubai. As spectacularly as it began.

Friday, August 9, 2013


In this picture, the holes in my earlobes are from misguided youthful choices. But if you look in the very top of my ear, there's a square of beige tape. That's an acupuncture tack.

So, I've been going to acupuncture.

A new place, Mend, opened near my office in Hampden, and after hearing good things, I decided to try it out.

There are a few things about acupuncture to know before going:
1. Know WHY you want to go. Acupuncture is for a specific malady or issue. I'm told you can go for preventative purposes, but I think it still has to be for something in particular. I, myself, decided to try it because I shall I put this....MILDLY EXTREMELY HIGH STRUNG. I decided to try acupuncture as a way of addressing my insomnia and MILDLY EXTREME HIGH STRINGINESS. 
2. The needles do not, usually, hurt. Sometimes it's like a mosquito sting, but only in certain places. While you're lying there, the area around the needles will sometimes itch a bit and some of mine do turn red for an hour or so after. But, other than that, there's no discomfort.
3. You don't have to DO anything.

The reason I state #3 is because, on my first visit, after a consultation, the acupuncturist put the various needles in me, and then told me to just lay back and relax. I asked her what I was supposed to do, and she said - Nothing. Just lie there, daydream, sleep, or bring some headphones or a book. Stay for at least 30 minutes. "The needles are doing all the work," she said.

I've now been 5 times, and I'm a total pro. I go, I get my needles for the day, and I zonk out on a ridiculously comfortable leather chair. For someone who can only nap for 10-20 minutes at a time, I completely pass out during acupuncture. Today, I napped for a record 40 minutes. Out cold. 

The acupuncture I go to is community acupuncture, meaning there are 7 chairs in the room and various other people napping and relaxing during their treatments. But it's very quiet, with soft music playing, and it smells really nice. The room is always just a little bit cool, perfect for napping, and there are deliciously soft blankets hanging on a rack if you need one. There's something strangely peaceful about napping in a room with strangers while full of pins. It's so relaxing. I can't explain why.

The ear tacks are a new part of treatment - she put them in this afternoon, and you can wear them for up to two days. There's a tiny little acupuncture needle on the other side of the tape, and it just stays in your ears for prolonged treatment. 

Does it work? I think so. In the five weeks since I started, I'm sleeping better, my late-afternoon tension headaches have faded, and I definitely feel several degrees less MILDLY EXTREMELY HIGH STRUNG.

I have a few sessions left, and then will re-evaluate how the whole process worked. But, so far, at the very least, it's not doing any harm and I get to go and take an expensive nap in a nice smelling room full of peaceful strangers. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Epic Brunch

To know me is to understand that one of my most favorite things in the world is brunch. Despite the fact that I worked the brunch shift at a restaurant in Baltimore for five years, which is saying something. 

I'm going to digress for a minute here and speak briefly on the topic of working a brunch shift. There are a few altruisms that exist:

1. The menu says "No Substitutions During Brunch." Everyone will order extensive substitutions, sometimes altering the dish to the point where it is something entirely new. No, you may not order a Belgian waffle with eggs and substitute the waffle for pancakes and the eggs for French toast. You may certainly order pancakes and French toast, if you'd like. No? You still want the Belgian waffle with eggs? WELL, SHOCKINGLY, THAT IS WHAT YOU'RE GETTING. NO, YOU MAY NOT EAT HALF OF IT AND THEN SEND IT BACK CLAIMING THAT IT WASN'T "WHAT YOU ORDERED."

2. That big, glorious sign that says PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED? It exists only in the eyes of the serving staff. 

3. Persons with extensive food allergies - wheat, dairy, legumes, nuts, cinnamon, citrus, and water - like to go out to brunch. It's your job to ensure that their food does not touch any of the above items, or is even in the same room with any of the above items. This means you will have to make a quick trip out of the city to the nearest organic farm, pick a bowl of perfectly ripe berries, and rush it back, in traffic, to the guest. For a 10% tip. No problem.

I digress.

My point: even though working brunch shifts for five years completely ruined parts of my soul that I will never get back, I still love brunch. Looooooove it. Mimosas, Bloody Marys, bagels, eggs, home fries, a lazy meal with friends and loved ones....totes fave.

And then I had to go to Dubai and have every favorite brunch I've ever experienced get totally blown out of the water. First, let's set the scene.

This was Day 2 of #ballerweekend in Dubai, and the morning of Sandance. My boyfriend, The Gentleman, had been to brunch at this establishment before for a going-away party and decided that no #ballerweekend would be complete without brunch at Traiteurs. (Pronounced - we think - as "traders.") Traiteurs is located in the Park Hyatt Dubai and has a pretty renowned French brunch. Brunch is held only on Fridays from 12:30-4pm (and you WILL be there the entire time), and it's something like $125 per person. This might sound slightly steep for brunch. It is. But just wait.

The Park Hyatt is totally breathtaking. It's an oasis of lush gardens and a blend of typical Arabic architecture with a Mediterranean bent. Greenery in the UAE is a measure of wealth and opulence - in the middle of the desert and backed up against the super-salty Persian Gulf, it's not the ideal location for plants. I'm always curious about the monthly water bill these places must rack up from the upkeep of the landscaping alone.

Located on the Dubai creek, and you can see part of the skyline in the background.

It's cool - you can park your yacht here.

I'm sure this is Arabic for "you will be stuffed to the gills with magnificent food items."

We made the reservation something like two or three weeks in advance, partially because there were ten of us, and partially because Traiteur gets booked up for brunch quickly. There are different packages you can buy - we opted for the Veuve Clicquot package which includes the four hours of buffet-style brunch and unlimited bubbly. We ended up ordering some other drinks too - Irish coffees and Bloody Marys - which can be added on. But the champagne is unlimited, bitches, and we made sure to take advantage of that.

Special Veuve Clicquot glasses. Classy.

Ahh, that's better.
 Forget everything you think about buffets. First of all, there were different rooms full of food (ROOMS) and a hallway with a giant cheese table. Everything was ridiculously fresh, beautiful, and enticing. I had no idea how anyone could spend four hours at brunch. I know better, now. 

The buffet is divided into different rooms, and some of the food is cooked to order. The rooms are themed, with a seafood room, carving stations, an entire roast pig on a spit out on the patio, a dessert room, and that massive marble cheese table. 

Let's dive into the courses, shall we?

To start - smoked salmon, oysters, some sort of cream fraish parfait with green stuff and a fluffy little biscuit, and foie gras creme brulee. 

A salad course with various French cheeses, peppered tuna ceviche, and mini sushi rolls.

Soup course - it was about 100 degrees outside, so I opted for the cold ones - a gazpacho-like tomato based soup and a basil-veggie-pureed something. Delicious and refreshing.

More French cheese (I freaking LOVE stinky blue cheese), foie gras, a foie gras benedict (I also freaking LOVE foie gras), and a quail's egg atop a ham hash.

Foie gras liverwurst parfait, oysters, shrimp with eyes, salmon sashimi, and bacon-wrapped dates.

Cheese, cheese, and more cheese. And quince paste, apricots, and salami. Soooooo happy.

Of course there was lobster.

You look delicious.
 And the dessert room. Ohhhh the dessert room. Chocolate fountains, ice cream sundae stations, and tiered platters of colorful treats. It was like Willy Wonka's factory. (Obviously, I'd be Veruca Salt.)
I don't even know what all of these are, but they were amazing. AMAAAAAAZING.

 We sat and ate for four hours straight. Plate after plate, resting in between to sip champagne with friends in this beautiful dining room in a beautiful hotel on the water. It was pure, unadulterated luxury. Also, I probably don't need to tell you that this was the only meal we ate that day. After four hours of stuffing ourselves silly, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the main event - Sandance (post coming soon). 

While pricey and ridiculously opulent, a Dubai brunch is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. Come hungry, and don't plan to eat for the rest of the way. Or the weekend.