About Me

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Lansing, Michigan, United States
I am a Lansing townie, lawyer, and restaurant reviewer for the City Pulse. I love traveling, reading, yoga, and baking, but my favorite hobby is stuffing my face.

Friday, August 24, 2012

SC- fun's over

I have become the world's worst tourist. Back when I first started traveling at the tender age of 20 (jeez my skin was amazing) I used to photograph everything. Eiffel Tower? 98 pictures of it. University of Kansas welcome sign? 56 photos. Hell, crazy homeless man singing at the top of his lungs on a street corner in Switzerland? I took a video.

Somewhere I lost this. Sure, I will snap pictures of my food, of my fingernails, and of signs that are particularly funny, but they're all on my iPhone. When I drive past a monument, I rarely give it much more thought than a 5-second cursory examination. I gotta get better at this. This is my one picture of Charleston-
I know. Stupid. I will work on this.

After I ate my body weight in oysters, loving every second of it, the next day we went to a little golf tournament. Ok, it was a bigger deal than "a little golf tournament." Even I, golf idiot, can appreciate that. We went to this-
 I KNOW. I sent that photo to two of my best golfer friends. They were incredulous. I felt like a big shot. (PS that particular J Crew lorelei in the background took a beating that day. It was alternately covered in sweat and in rain. Sorry, little buddy.)

I'm into life experiences. I like to do things that I wouldn't normally do if left to my own devices. I love to people-watch and talk to everyone that I see. I was happy to go to this golf tournament, although what I know about the sport of golf you could literally write on the back of a business card.

Guys, Southerners can dress. Seriously, Michiganders, what are we doing with ourselves? This is more directed to my Yankee men, since my girlfriends know how to look cute. Take a gander at your closet this afternoon. If you see any jorts, cargo shorts, or solid-color tshirts, and you wear these items with regularity, you've got a problem. Google "Southern Men Style" and take some inspiration.

Of course, everybody makes mistakes.

Get serious. You're so gross.
The golf was on an island, and it was more humid than anything I have ever experienced in my life. I tried to keep my mouth shut. At some point Crazy came out and it became apparent that I had to go inside, on the double, or I was going to derail. I tried to collect myself.

The rest of my time in the South was punctuated with a lot of fast food (yes, I ate a Chick Fil A. No, I absolutely do not support their ridiculous outspoken bigoted views on gay marriage), some sushi, some okra, and a walk through Greenville, where I took a video of a waterfall.

Unfortunately for all of us, I have remedial computer skills.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Palmetto State is my Oyster

After breakfast in Greenville, I experienced Pickens and Woodruff before making it to Columbia, home of the University of South Carolina. The campus is lovely. The football stadium is immense. My stomach was growling and my hunger was making me quickly turn the corner into behaving like a demonic troll.

I ate a few emergency almonds from my purse, which afforded me a extra 20 minutes of human being behavior. The clock was running out.

We went to a place called Rockaways. There was no sign outside. Honestly, I like that sort of place- it makes me feel like I have an inside scoop that nobody else has. Makes me feel like I have my own reality show (incidentally, I would LOVE my own reality show. Somebody please make one for me.)

A pimento cheeseburger was the plan, since the only bite of pimento cheese I had ever had in life was a few weeks ago at The Publican in Chicago. I was handed a menu and noticed a hand-written sign shoved down the front of it- "Oysters, 50 cents each."

50 cents. Two for a dollar. Do you know how much oysters cost in Lansing, Michigan? THREE DOLLARS EACH.

I asked if this was a true advertisement, or if the menu was a relic. I didn't know what to think. I was starving and I couldn't determine whether or not this was actually happening. Guys, it was true. They were 50 cents each. We got a dozen, and we got a pimento cheeseburger, and we got pimento cheese fries.

That's a little ramekin of jalapenos on the side. I like it.

The cheese was a little much for me. I expected it to be somehow- chunkier? This cheese was creamy. I've been told that mayonnaise is mixed into it. A miracle occurred and I haven't gained 78 pounds in the last week, and I'm not really sure how that happened. I did my best to outgrow all of my clothing.

The real showstopper was these little guys. I ate almost all of them. There was no mingonette, which I thought was odd. But I found some later in the day, when I ate another dozen oysters.

I wonder if pimento cheese fries are typically crinkle-cut? Probably. Makes sense that crinkle-cut fries would hold more cheese, right? Again with the science. Maybe that will be my next degree.

As we continued on our statewide tour, we got back in the car (me with my personality fully restored and acting as nice as I can be expected to) and drove to Charleston. When we got there, we went to Pearlz. I, being the pig that I am, ate more oysters.

I was full and happy and could be my usual charming Yankee self. I proceeded to talk to people from Ann Arbor, in Charleston on vacation (she was a lawyer), a woman with a Spartan coozie on her beer who is from Grand Rapids and lives in SC, and then it got really real and the singer at the next bar we went to announced that was going to play a song by a group from Detroit, since it's "so close" to his hometown.

His hometown? Mason. I used to swim dual meets in their pool. I was tickled. Right after he and I discovered our Mitten State commonality, two middle-aged men in the crowd stood up and announced that the live in Bath, just north of Lansing. Ahh, life. You get me every time. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Palmetto State

Last week I went to South Carolina to visit a friend from law school. His wardrobe includes bow ties, Croakies, suspenders, and boat shoes. I like everything that is on that list.

Annoyingly, I had to fly from Grand Rapids to Detroit to Charlotte. Flying from Grand Rapids to Detroit is obviously a super great use of my time and the world's nonrenewable resources. (Is "nonrenewable resources" applicable here? I'm trying to sound like I know something about science. Just call me Bill Nye.)

Anyway, the Detroit plane was seriously delayed. Like 2.5 hours delayed. But I fancy myself a great traveler and I made the best of it. I busted out a book that my good girlfriend had lent me and dove in.

What book, you ask?

Don't tell Grandma Johnson. Actually, don't tell GRANDPA Johnson.

You guys, I know. I'm embarrassing. But look at that great yellow purse on the floor. She's a beaut, Clark. (By the way, this book is totally demented. I'm grossed out with myself for reading it. The second one isn't nearly as difficult to justify, since it's a trilogy and by God I've got to finish what I started.)

I eventually got to SC. It was super late. I fell into a mini coma and awoke the next morning, fresh as a daisy.

That's a lie. I got no sleep and SC is BRUTALLY hot and humid, but I'm trying to have a positive attitude. 

My tour guide was horrified that I had never been to a Waffle House. I had to remind him that, as a Yankee (yes, they actually use the word "Yankee" to refer to people who live in the North) I've rarely ever SEEN a Waffle House. The next morning we went there. I ate this.

On the left is a waffle. I know, good thing I have an education worth 150k, right? It has chocolate chips and peanut butter chips on it. I really do like a sweet breakfast.

On the right are hashbrowns with jalapenos. After I made my order I was informed that my chosen combination was disgusting and I should be ashamed of myself. In looking back, that's fair enough. This is a totally gross combination. I was nervous, I was in the South and was scared that my sassiness was going to get me smacked, and I hadn't had any coffee because apparently there are still people in the world who don't have a coffee pot in their house. Those reasons I offer in my own defense.

The Waffle House employees were lovely. They were tickled that it was my first visit and they gave me a hat. I liked that you can sit right up at the counter and watch them prepare your food. Right before we left, two ladies came in to pick up a to-go order and began speaking French to each other. I immediately started listening to their conversation and was two seconds from jumping in.

I like attention.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Spoon Cap

Sometimes, in between trips to see friends, I bloom where I'm planted. I recently took three trips in rapid succession- Chicago, Iowa, and South Carolina- but while I was home I found the time to eat two dinners at my longtime favorite Soup Spoon.

You know I love it. 

The first dinner was the evening I got back from Iowa. It was a hot day and I jumped in the shower immediately after jumping out of my car and throwing a box of doughnuts at my mama and her bff, whom we lovingly refer to as my "Real Mother."

Why? Because she likes purses, and shoes, and makeup, just like I do. My actual biological mother can't be bothered.

Anyway, I put on one of my favorite J Crew lorelei dresses and went to meet some of my favorite fellow former Junior League of Lansing board members for our monthly dinner. We always go to the Soup Spoon, this was no exception.

While perusing the menu for the zillionth time, I realized that, embarrassingly, I had never ordered the salmon entree. This is strange. I am known for ordering the salmon more often than not. It came with potatoes dauphinoise, which is a sort of cheesy, creamy, melty potato gratin. We all know that I'm not a cheesehead, but I do love a good potato gratin.

The salmon was so slammin that I ordered it the next week as well. I don't know how it escaped my consciousness for so long, but I regret the error.

A few days ago I had dinner at the Knight Cap, my second favorite local restaurant. I hadn't been there since celebrating my favorite (shh) cousin's graduation from Michigan State in May, when I had some disappointing tournedos. I figured that I would stop trying to branch out when I already know what I like at the Knight Cap and have never been disappointed by it.

I made my triumphant return to the petit filet. Rare. Vegetables on the side. Starter was a cup of the chicken gumbo, which comes overflowing and stuffed with a chunk of cornbread. It is four-alarm spicy, so don't order it if you can't take the heat.

The vegetables were particularly great. Sliced zucchini, yellow squash, purple onions and cherry tomatoes, cooked to retain a snap. I love a vegetable with a snap. Don't give me any mush, please.

Fun fact- I don't care for sauce on meat generally. If I'm indulging in a steak, I want to taste the flavor of the steak (with a little added salt, maybe.) I will occasionally dip the tines of my fork into the Bearnaise, but I could happily do without.

Sadly, the desserts at the Knight Cap are sorry. Honestly not worth the calories. I know how teensy the kitchen is and I'm not mad at them for having awful desserts, but I would be happy to bake something and bring it in for them to serve. Not kidding.

On another note, I heard that my beloved KC is struggling. Economic downturn, unsophisticated diners, general sloppiness of downtown Lansing. Who knows. If it's true, I'm sad. The next time you're in the market for a fine meal (lunch OR dinner), think of them. It's a tiny, quirky, wonderful restaurant. Let's help them maintain their place in Lansing lore.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa.

A few weeks ago I decided to push my Midwest tour into full swing and head to Iowa the morning after coming back from Chicago. I have a bestie in La Porte City, IA, and she has two little munchkins I've never seen before. So last Monday I threw a bunch of stuff into my car, grabbed my bursting-at-the-seams book of CDs so I could take a trip down memory lane, and drove myself to The Hawkeye State.

You don't want to know what I ate in the car on the way there. Oh, you insist? It's gross, but I will tell you. I stopped in Kalamazoo to see some of my favorite Johnsons and ate a Wendy's grilled chicken sandwich. What is that disgusting sauce on there? Steer clear of this sandwich unless you hate yourself.

En route I had a lime Refresher at Starbucks (why? I don't know), a Cantina Bowl from Taco Bell, AND a vanilla ice cream cone from McDonald's. Not only did I throw caution to the wind, but I actually threw myself a little bit closer to ending up on The Biggest Loser.

I'm also not particularly proud of the musical selections I made when I was still purchasing CDs. I have some truly atrocious music. Ashlee Simpson. Jock Jams. Nelly's entire discology, including both "Sweat" AND "Suit."

Actually, I'm going to stand by the Nelly tunes. I still know every word and I still love him.

The day after my arrival, Tayls and I packed up the two kiddos and headed to Cedar Falls for lunch. After eating super healthy stuff like a breaded buffalo chicken sandwich and beer-battered french fries, we topped it off with a trip to Scratch Cupcakery.

I wanted the Peanut Butter Cup, but Tayls is allergic to peanuts. Alas, we went with a Vanilla Chocolate and an Oh Happy Day. She also bought a half-dozen more, so I could continue along my path to total obesity.

These cupcakes were better than the ones I had at Sprinkles in Chicago. And pals, this is in IOWA. Who woulda thunk?

Scratch also has a gelato counter. I tasted the basil gelato, because I couldn't resist, but I wish I wouldn't have. It was covered in ice crystals and the flavor was awful. The girl behind the counter told me that they don't make it themselves, and I think they probably shouldn't be selling it either.

Maybe I'm not holding them to a fair standard, because I've been completely spoiled by Iorio's in the Lansing City Market.

I did go for a run the next morning. We went to Zumba the same day. Is anyone into Zumba? I didn't love it.

Before I Nelly-d myself back to Michigan on Thursday, I stopped at the La Porte City Bakery just down the street from Taylor's beautiful old farmhouse. While running by the place the previous morning I had been lured in my the aromas, and I stood in the doorway in my sweat-drenched running clothes until someone paid attention to me. That someone was a little old man- the owner- and I hit him with a thousand questions.

Do you make everything here? Yes.
Is it all made fresh daily? Yes.
Can I move into your kitchen? I have my own neon LL Bean monogrammed sleeping bag (not kidding)? No, you weirdo.

I bought a dozen doughnuts. I knew that I would be getting back to Lansing around 4pm that day and wanted to bring them back to my friendsicles. Truth be told, they only had 9 to choose from. I scarfed 3 of them somewhere around South Bend.

You made my 8-hour drive so much more enjoyable, you gorgeous little babies.
We also ate some delicious guac made by Mr. Taylor, some errant Goldfish crackers thrown on the floor by two-year-old John, and Trixie's famous tuna salad. I love Iowa. Well, maybe it's just my friend that I love. Either way, the La Porte City Bakery will be getting more of my business on the regular.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chicago Brunch. Best meal of 2012.

That's not an overstatement.

For years, I have been reading about The Publican. I have literally had that website bookmarked for years. When we decided to Sunday Brunch before heading back to Michigan, I knew where I wanted to go. We got a reservation and I was quiet with excitement as our cab made it way across town, laden with our huge Vera Bradley duffel bags (I like the bright colors, ok?) and huge asses after gorging ourselves on hot dogs and cupcakes (see below.)

We got to The Publican quite a bit early for our 11:00 reservation and waited at a standing bar where we could stare at the plates being served to other diners. We ordered coffees, mimosas, and after I started shouting out things like "the pork rinds are supposed to be incredible!", we ordered the pork rinds. Misstep. I don't know if I'm missing something, but these things were like giant, super-crunchy Cheetos. We also ordered the pub pretzel with pimento cheese, because Miss Kitty went to school in the South and couldn't resist.

I had never had pimento cheese. It was good. I would eat it again.

The rest of our party rolled in and we were seated at long tables shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers. I love it, so I can stare at their food, their baby, their eyeglasses, whatever catches my eye. And I can listen to their jacked-up conversations, like the dapper man next to me telling his son that Obama is going to blow the general election by making voters think that if they don't vote for him, they're racist.


I couldn't concentrate on sending hate vibes his way, though, because I was too excited with the prospect of my red wine poached eggs. I love eggs. No, I LOVE them. You don't understand. And I never order them poached, because when I'm confronted with an overly-poached yolk, I lose my patience. I knew that they would be perfect at The Publican, and I was dying.

Look at those little beauties. Atop grilled bread, with hollandaise (so lemony) and alongside a little salad and prosciutto. I don't think I have ever before willed my stomach to stretch in order to accommodate the last bites of my meal. This was, without a doubt, the best meal I have had this year. If you find yourself at The Publican, order this. If you know how to make this, come to my house. I will make you some cupcakes, serve as surrogate, whatever you want.

I also ordered the ricotta and zucchini bread, which that week came with mint, blackberries, and honey, for sharesies with the table. The texture was awesome- it was light and sweet and you could really taste the honey.

I slathered the ricotta like whipped cream.
I drove around Chicago a few days after this trip and looked up The Publican's hours so I could try to sneak in a quick lunch. Sadly, my schedule wouldn't allow for it. Mark my words, I will return before the end of the year. And I will bring my Thanksgiving eating pants.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Happy Christmas (Bar is Over)

A week and a half ago I took the Michigan bar exam. All of my time since mid-May had been completely devoted to learning as much law as I could, which meant no trips, no going up north, no yoga (until I started going nuts and Mom directed me to return to a few classes a week), and no hanging out with friends. My meals were unvaried- oat bran, salad, tofu. Vats of coffee. I even started drinking an occasional Diet Coke, which I have since remembered is disgusting. That temporary habit has been abandoned.

My bestie, whom we lovingly call Kitty, is getting married in September. She had been a dreamboat in understanding that my wedding-planning involvement would be minimal until post-bar exam, but after the exam, I would throw myself into my Maid of Honor duties. So, two days after I emptied my brain and poured it into bluebooks, Team Kitty headed to Chicago to celebrate her.

I hadn't been to Chicago since I was in high school. I know. It's three hours away, get with it. Well, the Windy City has come roaring back onto my radar and I will be sure to head there more often in the future. We got in on Friday night, cleaned up and changed into dresses and heels at the hotel, and headed to Las Palmas on the advice of a true Chicagoan. See, Kitty's got a real thing for Mexican food. I myself could generally take it or leave it, so when we eat Mexican in the Lansing area (which is always at Kitty's insistence) I always just order whatever she ordered.

This time I decided to read the menu and order something different. Ok, the real motivation was to order whatever Kitty told me to order, so she could taste it. She's the bride, she gets anything she wants.

We were starving when we arrived at the restaurant and immediately ordered guacamole. I've never been more impressed by a mashed-up avocado. It was the creamiest, most fresh-tasting guac I've ever had. I'm not saying that I'm a guacamole expert or anything, but it. was. slammin.

We ordered it with medium heat and it worked for me. Some of my wimpier friends thought it was too spicy. I told them to grow up.

My entree was the BARBACOA DE CORDERO- Braised lamb in guajillo peppers, maguey and avocado leaves served atop Mole de Mayo with asparagus & a crispy arepa (Voted best mole in Chicago 2011.)

The fork sneaking in is Kitty's. She couldn't wait.
 The lamb was tender. The dish was flavorful. I'm always intrigued by the idea of chocolate in my mole, and I couldn't resist a statement like "best mole in Chicago 2011." I think the asparagus was kind of a weird addition, but I cleaned my plate.

The next day we headed to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game. Kitty talked about eating a hot dog 67 times before we got to the game, and her excitement was only ramped up when I read her a report from infallible Four Square that Wrigley and Yankee Stadium have the best stadium hot dogs in the country. After watching the actual baseball for .7 seconds, we turned our attention to the concessions.

You haunt my dreams. 

It was incredible. I scarfed it. Then we sat in the bleachers until we all started sweating, at which point we went downstairs and stood around trying to decide what to do with ourselves. During this interlude, I ate ANOTHER HOT DOG. That was one of the best decisions I've made. The last bite was the best bite of anything I had taken in days.

On another note, the employees at Wrigley were wonderful. They were so welcoming and delightful. I'm not kidding. I hope that the employees at Tigers Stadium, errr. . . Comerica, are as nice.

Later in the day we ate some inconsequential pizza. Much later, after spending several hours watching Olympic swimming, we went downstairs to the restaurant in our hotel, the Westin on Michigan Avenue. I didn't have high hopes. It's a hotel restaurant, after all. Kitty and I love oysters on the half shell, and I knew they were available. I thought maybe a half-dozen and a salad would satiate our 10:00pm hunger. Then this happened-

me: "Do you want a salad? Maybe the panzanella?"
Kitty: "Sure." (long pause) "Do you want to split a steak instead?"
me: "Thank God you said that."

We had a bleu cheese and herb encrusted filet that was delicious. I knew when I cut through it that the meat was perfectly prepared. The accompanying spinach mashed potatoes were good, but they were an afterthought. After focusing on the half-dozen oysters (yes, we ate those too) and hoovering the filet, the potatoes remained on the plate.

Earlier in the day, after the game, we headed to a few stores to look for wedding shoes. We were hungry. We were tired. We needed a snack. The heavens opened and we found ourselves standing smack in front of Sprinkles, which I had never heard of but is apparently "the progenitor of the haute cupcake craze." Thanks for showing me that you know the word "progenitor," Los Angeles Times.

I am always disappointed with commercial cupcakes. I fancy myself quite a baker and what I make at home is, without fail, better than what I find for sale. This place was no different, but it was a darling bakery and the banana cake with dark chocolate frosting could give me a run for my money.

We chased that cake, and the strawberry (dry and meh) with coffee and their last glass of skim milk.

Blood sugar savior.
 This little snackie fueled us up for our trip to Bhldn, Anthropologie's bridal shop, so my crazy friend could contemplate a $300 pair of shoes. We still live in Lansing, Michigan, right? Who balls that hard?

We ate on Sunday, too. But I want you to come back and read about that later. And you should, because it was one of the best meals I have ever had.