Of surfers and seagulls: Laguna Beach.

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Last weekend, I slipped the confines of my job and stole away to California with the best traveling mates in the world: my parents. My dad was headed to Laguna Beach to attend a conference, so someone had to come along to woo potential clients with her beauty, provide endless childlike zeal, and eat the chocolate left on the pillows. Obviously I’m talking about my mom, but they let me tag along, too.

It was a renewing trip in so many ways. Five days away from work was the longest break I’d taken since starting. I swapped running in circles with hamburgers to running through circles of seagulls. I traded serving for being served. And I was surrounded by Laguna’s stunning Pacific-Coast beauty.

Laguna Beach seagulls

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Equally as inspiring as the scenery was the conference itself. The conference focused on developing policies to reshape America’s future (with regard to immigration, economy, preserving freedom, and so forth), and the conference attendees were deeply passionate about changing America for the better. Airborne viruses aside, there are few things more contagious than passion.

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On the last day of our stay, we checked out of our cliffside accommodations and saw the region’s most famous historical sight: Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776 by Father Serra. The mission borders the neighborhood of Los Rios, which claims to be the “oldest neighborhood in California,” and is absurdly precious.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano

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Los Rios General Store

Los Rios General Store

I returned from California refreshed, mentally and physically. Walking into work the next day, the general manager cocked his head, peered at me over the rims of his glasses, and said, “You’re never allowed to leave for the weekend again.”

Oh boy.

Laguna Beach

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Muscle pizza and orange rabbits

The Orange Rabbit in all its glory. (No hating on my flip phone’s camera.)

Last week I went to Miami to apply for my visa, and I must say it was one of the least fulfilling trips I have ever taken. I do not, however, blame this on Miami. I arguably wasn’t even in Miami, but the district of Coral Gables (where the Spanish Consulate is). Coral Gables’ only attraction within walking distance of my hotel was Miracle Mile, a road of nice-enough shops capped off with a Denny’s. I did not even set foot on a beach. The only time I saw water was when it was being leached from my skin by the heat.

The good news is that my visa appointment went off without a hitch – ten minutes from start to finish. But do you know how irritating it is to spend a few hundred dollars to fly to a city for the sole purpose of handing someone ten pieces of paper? Very. Irritating.

Anyway. What’s done is done. The three highlights of my stay were seeing this orange rabbit (a reminder to us all of dangers of GMO carrots), passing a store called Coral Gables Juice Bar & Muscle Pizza (???), and visiting Books & Books, which, coincidentally, is not a part of Miracle Mile and (not coincidentally) wonderful.

Now I am a lady in waiting. Visa visa come to me!

-MB

More and more Charleston

As you know, Charleston left me in a bit of a food frenzy. But there are many other reasons I fell in love with this town, like the warmth of its people and the colorful facades of its houses. Kids at Waterfront Park

Patriot's Point Charleston houses

Patriot's Point, CharlestonCooper River Bridge, Charleston   French toast at Barbadoes Room

Rainbow Row, Charleston And I will leave you with a classic:Planking on the pineapple fountain, Charleston   P.S. Condé Nast rated Charleston the friendliest city in America. Which is probably why no one tackled me when I planked on the pineapple fountain.

P.P.S. Check out Charleston photographer Olivia Rae James’ blog for more gorgeous shots.

Gluten-free in Charleston

Charleston is a foodie’s paradise. Until a few years ago, that description would have held little appeal to me. As a longtime celiac, I gamble with my intestinal welfare whenever I eat in unfamiliar territory. This is rather irritating, since food is such an integral part of travel and culture.

Within the past five years, however, restaurant awareness has skyrocketed, and I was pleased to discover that Charleston can be a paradise for the gluten-free as well. When I went to Charleston back in March I blathered about how much food I ate, but I had barely scratched the surface. This time, with my family along for the ride, the surface was thoroughly pummeled. Here are places making it easy to be gluten-free in Charleston, followed by a list of those we heard about but didn’t get a chance to check out.

You know the drill though – things change all the time, so check with your server for the latest.

Magnolia’s – Whenever I told people I was visiting Charleston, Magnolia’s was the place they raved about. To my happy surprise, the restaurant had an extensive, mouthwatering gluten-free menu. Magnolia’s Shellfish Over Grits – so Charleston – is one of them, and oh so scrumptious. Gluten-free menu available.

Southend Brewery – Southend Brewery mixes the Charleston lowcountry food with traditional American fare. The restaurant carries gluten-free pizza crusts for build-your-own pizzas. I have also had their seasonal berry salad and shrimp and grits, both of which are tasty. Gluten-free pizza crust available.

Hominy Grill – Can you say gluten-free pancakes? Hominy Grill was easily my favorite breakfast stop in Charleston, and not just because of the delectable, cloud-like pancakes. The waitstaff went the extra mile to make sure my food was cooked in a contaminate-free environment. And those pancakes, y’all…those pancakes. Good food, good people. Gluten-free menu available.

Bull Street Gourmet – Bull Street Gourmet can best be classified as “elegant deli.” Both the chef at our hotel and wonderful manager of the Nathaniel Russell House recommended Bull Street Gourmet. Now I do too. Gluten-free bread was available upon request. True to southern style, I ordered a BBQ and coleslaw sandwich. Bull Street is also a great place to pick up munchies for the road. Gluten-free bread available.

Five Loaves – I had the pleasure of experiencing Five Loaves last time I came to Charleston, and it merited a return trip. Five Loaves is a gluten-free hotspot – most of their soups, sandwiches, and salads are gluten-free. To my delight, I was able to try she-crab soup for the first time (soup thickeners have always been an issue for the gluten-free). The reuben and roasted turkey (with cranberry spread and herb cream cheese) sandwiches are gold. Polish it all off with their flourless chocolate cake or Nutella torte. Gluten-free marked on menu. Gluten-free bread available.

Brown Dog Deli – Located on Broad Street, Brown Dog Deli is a quirky, casual restaurant. I ordered the Apple “Butter” Jeans sandwich (brie cheese, apple slices, apple butter, arugula, smoked turkey, honey ham, and prosciutto) and was blown away. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. The family and I ate our brown-bag dinner at Waterfront Park and watched the sun set. Gluten-free bread and wraps available.

Barbadoes Room in Mills House Hotel – I include this because nothing is more convenient than wandering down to the hotel lobby in your morning stupor to get breakfast. When I was there, the Barbadoes Room offered gluten-free toast, doughnuts, and muffins, though it may be advisable to contact them ahead of time to check availability. On a side note, Mills House Hotel has a great location if you need lodging. Gluten-free baked goods available.

Poogan’s Porch – Steps away from the Mills House, we hit Poogan’s Porch for our final brunch before leaving Charleston. Named for a stray dog who lived at the house during the seventies, Poogan’s Porch has a delightfully Southern atmosphere, and the delightful ability to cater to gluten-free diners. I ordered the Grilled Vegetable Omelet, along with a side of positively savory cheese grits. Familiar with gluten-free requests.

SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) – To SNOB I will give the honor of being my favorite dinner in Charleston. The Queen and I split the Grilled South Carolina Peach Salad. I ordered Pan-Seared Duck Breast with blueberry compote and Charleston golden rice. Both were perfect – and not too heavy (as Charleston fare is wont to be). Gluten-free menu available, online as well.

82 Queen Street – Beautiful outdoor dining, complete with string lights and a gazebo. I ordered jambalaya for the first time. Familiar with gluten-free requests.

Other rumored gluten-free establishments:

  • Patat Spot – According to their site, Patat Spot serves gluten-free falafel and even has gluten-free cookies available for dessert. Located near College of Charleston.
  • Basil Thai Restaurant – Named Best Thai/Vietnamese by the Charleston City Paper – three years running! Basil Thai marked their gluten-free options directly on their menu.
  • Cupcake – Located on King Street, the bake shop rolls out gluten-free cupcakes on Saturdays and Tuesdays (take note: they are not made in a gluten-free environment).
  • Fat Hen – On their menu, gluten-free items are marked with an asterisk. And there are quite a few.
  • Queen Street Grocery – Can you say gluten-free crepes?
  • Crave – Located in Mt. Pleasant (a 10 minute drive from downtown Charleston), Crave has a gluten-free and paleo-friendly menu that includes a layered coconut cake for dessert.
  • Burton’s Grill – Gluten-free treasure trove. Not only are they gluten-free certified (see menu), but they also carry gluten-free pasta and bread. You heard me.
  • Charleston Crab House – The bottom of their online menu says they have a gluten-free menu.
  • Purée Café – Also located in Mt. Pleasant, Purée is an organic café that makes good gluten-free and vegetarian grub a priority. Their extensive breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus say it all.

Enjoy Charleston!

Do the Charleston

During the first weekend of spring break back in March, eight of my friends and I drove up to South Carolina to explore Charleston. Nine girls in a one bedroom, one bathroom unit was quite the experience. But free accommodations in Charleston? On my college budget, I’d’ve take any inch of carpet I could get.

The inch of carpet I did get was in a condo right on the beach and a 20-minute drive from Charleston. The movie Dear John used the pier just outside our condo for filming. That’s right, plop a dollop of cool on top.

Speaking of dollops, let’s talk food. Let’s be real, eating is half the reason anyone travels. Charleston, however, is a food mecca. I would readily admit to eating my way through the city.

My favorite meal of the trip was at Five Loaves Cafe, a sandwich-soup restaurant with mason jars as glasses, baskets as lamp sconces, and food quotes pencilled on the table. And to top it off? Gluten-free bread for their scrumptious sandwiches. The menu was so gluten-free friendly that my stomach did a jig of joy.

Eli’s Table in downtown Charleston ran a close second, first for its bottomless mimosas and second for indulging my inner history nerd. Their dishes are named after famous historical figures – my salad was the Martha Washington.

One delicacy that missed my camera (but not my mouth) was the famous Charleston shrimp and grits. You can find them at just about any restaurant in Charleston, but you must give them a shot when you’re in town – you will not regret it.

But enough about food. Just take a stroll through Charleston and you’ll see why it’s a must-visit city of the South.

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Though we were only in Charleston for a weekend, I daresay it was a successful (and gluttonous) one!

Cheers,

MB

Shower cap required

Niagara Falls 2

Niagara Falls

Side of Horseshoe Falls.

Straddling Canada and the U.S., Niagara Falls is about an hour and a half from Toronto. In order to beat the hoards of tourists, we rolled in at ten, but the hoards would not be beat. Elbows were thrown and tourists pushed over rails. Kidding (probably).

Hoards aside, Niagara Falls is hypnotizing. There is no way to truly describe it. (Perhaps that is a personal shortcoming. After all, my best color comparison would be to Crest Kids’ Sparkle Gel toothpaste.) It booms and churns and roars and sails. But mostly, it takes your breath away and keeps it there.

As if you needed another reason to go, the Visitors’ Center had a vending machine of milk (bequeathed the “Dairy Goodness Centre”), which is significant because it’s weird and I love dairy. Really though, Niagara Falls deserves all the hype it gets.

Horseshoe Falls.

Horseshoe Falls.

When you go:

Arrive early. We arrived at 10:00 A.M. and there were already a good amount of people. By the time we ate lunch and left, it was 3:00 P.M. and overflowing.
Be prepared to be soaked. The mist from the falls is not a joke, so don’t wear anything that can’t get wet.
To book a tour or not? The most popular tour is Maid of the Mist. We didn’t do at tour because really, how much better can you see the falls from below than from above? Reviews are good though, so don’t let me hold you back. Otherwise, you really only need a couple of hours to walk the area and hit all the scenic vistas.

Happy Barreling!

-MB

The Fourth in the Peach State

July 4 is probably not the day you would pick to run a casual 10k. But at 7:30am in Atlanta, 60,000 people were doing just that.

The Peachtree Road Race has become something of a tradition in my family. My dad and I have been running it together since 2008. It follows Peachtree Street through the city of Atlanta, winding between buildings short and tall and streets lined with thousands of spectators (also short and tall), and finally ends in Piedmont Park.

Yesterday’s Peachtree Race was my fifth, and decidedly less painful than Peachtrees past. The weather? Superb. Curbside entertainment? Stellar. And the finish-line peaches? Absolutely savory.

Wave L starts the Peachtree Road Race under a huge American flag by Lenox Mall

The finishing area at Piedmont Park, with the skyline peeking through the trees.

Fruits of summer


We now interrupt this glorious account of European travels to bring you some red, white, and blue.

I went berry picking with a few of my friends and came back with two buckets and six stomachs brimming with berries. The strawberries burst with sunny sweetness, and rock the patriotism palate when you throw blueberries in the mix.

Here’s to food, friends, the Fourth of July, and the country I’m proud to call my home!