Monday, November 9, 2015

A Homemade Haunted House


You know how families have Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions? Well, my family has Halloween traditions. Every year on October 31, we host a "haunted trail" in the woods behind our house, which is located in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. About 100 neighborhood children flock to our house promptly at 8 p.m. – when trick-or-treating ends – to walk through our DIY scare machine.

My mom builds all of the props from scratch, re-using old items and buying new ones for cheap at thrift stores. We have about 20 different displays that begin in the tree-covered path behind our fence and wind through our backyard. Some props act as decorative items, while others move or make noise in an attempt to scare people.



Here are some of the displays featured in this year's trail. Although it happened at night,  I took most of the photos during the day so you see the details.

The Graveyard 

The Dot Wall 
An S-shaped structure covered with black canvas and fluorescent polka dots 

The "Carn-evil" 
Featuring Boo-loon Rides, Face-less Painting, Mis-Fortune Teller, Petting Zoo, Roller Ghoster, Kissing Boo-th, Rotten Candy, and Eyes-Cream
Miscellaneous Props 
As you can see, my mom goes all out for the Haunted Trail!

Now we don't expect to frighten the neighbors solely with stationary props. That's where my brother, his friends, and I come in. We worked the trail this year. Just like actors at a haunted house, we hid in various places and jumped out at people as they passed. We elicited countless screams – and quite a few crying spells from little kids as well.

Here's how everything went down:

THE DOT WALL:

The dot wall is an S-shaped structure made of black canvas covered in fluorescent polka dots. This is the most popular attraction every year. Due to black lights hung from the top of the structure, the dots glow in the dark while the rest of the canvas remains black. My mom constructed a dummy out of rods and pool noodles, and we dressed it in clothing covered in the same polka dot pattern as the walls. I also dressed in clothing with the same polka dot pattern, and I donned a black mask. I am pictured to the left, and the dummy is on the right – we're twins!

When I leaned against the dot wall during the night, you could barely see me. I was practically invisible. Taking advantage of this, I stood in one corner of the dot wall and blended in to my surroundings. We placed the dummy in another corner of the structure. We figured this could have two potential solutions:

1) People wouldn't see me or the dummy, and I would jump out from the shadows and scare        them.

2) People would see the dummy and think it was a person planning to jump out at them. While      they were distracted by the dummy, I would sneak up behind them and scare them.



The plan worked out great! Half of the people didn't see me or the dummy, and they nearly popped my ear drums with screams when I jumped out. The other half were so intimidated by the dummy that they didn't see me approach from behind. A couple of little kids were so scared of the dummy that they nearly turned around and went back to the entrance of the trail.

THE HIDDEN BOYS:

We host the trail in the woods behind my house, and the trees offer many hiding places. My brother and his other friends crouched in dark spaces and jumped out as people walked past. They were also equipped with cans of silly string – which was a hit with the kids. Since these boys weren't attached to a particular location, they moved around the trail as they pleased. That way, kids who went through the trail multiple times didn't know where, exactly, the scares would happen.

Excuse the grainy pictures...

The trail lasts about an hour-and-a-half each year. We usually have about 150 neighbors and their friends walk through, and the line for the trail can be backed up by 20 or 30 people. Quite impressive for a DIY haunted house, huh?

Here's a (low-quality) video depicting part of the trail. It's dark, but you can make out some of the props:

video

Every year, while the trail is under way, my parents throw a Halloween party underneath some tents in my yard. Candy, cookies, hot dogs, and hot chocolate await anyone who wants it. We also had a full-size keg and a pot of delicious apple cider wine for the adults! The night always end with a group of neighbors drinking and relaxing by a warm bonfire until the wee hours of the night.


My family is moving to Florida next year, so unfortunately this was the last annual haunted trail. I'm so glad I was able to travel home from college for the weekend to participate. I'll always keep my unique family memories of Halloween; the traditions have made it one of my favorite holidays. And who knows, maybe we'll end up hosting a homemade haunted house among the palm trees in Florida!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review: The Witness by Nora Roberts

Today I'll be reviewing "The Witness," a romantic suspense novel by Nora Roberts.

Overview: 
The novel opens with Elizabeth, an obedient teenage girl whose life is completely controlled by her mother. One rebellious stint at a nightclub makes Elizabeth a witness to events that will change her life forever.

Twelve years later, Elizabeth, now a software programmer going by the name Abigail Lowery, lives a secluded life in a small town. She catches the eye of police chief Brooks Gleason, who is intrigued by Abigail's secrecy, sophisticated security system, and impressive collection of firearms. Brooks soon realizes that Abigail has a secret, and he tries to protect her from whatever, or whoever, she's afraid of.


Opinion: 
This is the best book I've read (listened to?) in a long time! I loved everything about it – the suspense, the romance, the characters, and the plot. I was interested throughout the whole book, and I constantly wondered what would happen next. I can see why Nora Roberts is such a famous author; she created a vivid world of fiction with believable characters and an intrinsic plot.

Abigail isn't your typical protagonist. She's unbelievably smart, quirky, and socially awkward – and she talks with in a sophisticated and calculated manner. Similarly, Brooks isn't as smooth or dreamy as most male protagonists. But I think the uniqueness of the characters draws me to them even more. Both Brooks and Abigail are unforgettable because I've never seen other characters quite like them.


The Audiobook Experience: 
I listened to the audiobook version of "The Witness" during a long car trip, and I was very pleased with the narrator. She brought the story to life through her voice,  and she perfectly varied her accent between the characters. I can't even imagine listening to this novel with a different narrator. The audiobook lasted more than 7 hours, so it kept me entertained for quite a while. The best part about the audiobook was the price – I bought it for $5 on iTunes!


Rating: 5/5
"The Witness" is unlike any book I've ever read, thanks to the unusual characters and plot. This was my first novel by Nora Roberts, and I'm definitely planning on reading more in the future. I highly recommend "The Witness!"

Photo from Amazon

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My Currently List


Here is what I'm currently...

Watching: I'm halfway through the second season of Orange is the New Black (I know I'm a bit behind), and I'm loving it! I understand why every Netflix user is addicted to the series. After I'm finished with OITNB, I plan to start watching Scandal and The Originals.  

Reading: I just finished The Witness by Nora Roberts. I highly recommend this romantic suspense novel. Expect a review on the blog soon!

Listening: Spotify has taken over my heart – I love how the service allows users to make playlists of their favorite songs. Also, have you heard Selena Gomez's new song, "Same Old Love?" It's so catchy that I've been playing it on repeat. 


Eating: It's apple season in New York, and you better believe I'm taking advantage of it. I love buying new varieties of apples at the store to test out. My current favorites are Honeycrisp, Cortland, Macoun, and Paula Red. 

Drinking: So I recently noticed that coffee exaggerates the symptoms of some digestive issues I have. As an alternative, I've made the temporary switch to black tea. The subtler taste isn't nearly as comforting, but it'll do for now. 

Enjoying: Boots, sweaters, warm beverages, colorful leaves, and everything else about fall!


Wanting: Since I'm at college, I haven't actually carved pumpkins or roasted pumpkin seeds for years. I miss that fall family tradition! 

Wearing: It's that time to year to break out the riding boots and army-inspired jackets – like my favorite gray one from Target

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Story Time: A Lockdown on Campus


Happy Saturday! I'm ready to lounge in bed with Netflix and some popcorn after a crazy week full of midterms and projects. 

And also a campus lockdown.  

Let me explain. While I was at a meeting for a campus publication on Wednesday night, everyone's phone started to vibrate and ring. Texts, emails, and phone calls from my school flashed across our screens, warning of a safety threat in the area. All students were advised to remain indoors and avoid Oakwood Cemetery, which borders Syracuse University's campus.  Naturally, the other students and I freaked out about the vague message – especially considering the recent string of school shootings in America. My thoughts turned panicky. What? Is this really happening?  

The other students and I remained in the classroom, trying to stay calm in spite of the confusion. Our eyes never left Twitter, constantly stalking the site for updates about the lockdown situation. Even though our campus media tried to keep students informed as much as possible, many details remained vague and unconfirmed at this point. 

From what we gathered, the incident seemed to be drug- or gang-related. Although Syracuse University has a beautiful campus, parts of the surrounding area are notoriously unsafe. But what had happened? A drug deal deal gone wrong? A police chase? A brawl that turned violent? Countless rumors floated across my Twitter feed, and my anxiety heightened with every minute of not knowing the truth. 

Eventually, as we remained trapped in the classroom, the safety precautions on campus tightened. Students living in dorms that bordered the cemetery were advised to turn off their lights. A professor at my journalism school locked the members of my meeting in a windowless classroom, and he eventually moved us to the building's auditorium with nearly 100 other students. Faculty wanted everyone in the journalism building in the same place, just as an extra precaution. 

In the auditorium, students continuously perused Twitter for updates, refreshing the feed over and over again. A livestream of campus news played on the big projector screen. Why couldn't anybody confirm the facts? How dangerous was the situation? 

Finally, after being locked in my journalism school for two hours, the police department lifted the "shelter in place" warning at around 10:30 p.m. and allowed students to return home.

Only then did I really find out what happened. A drive-by shooting two miles off campus left one teenager dead and another injured. The police responded to the shots and began a car chase with two suspects, which resulted with the suspects running into the cemetery. The police lost track of the men and worried they might try to escape by cutting through Syracuse's campus. The shootings had nothing to do with Syracuse University or Syracuse students; however, the campus police issued the lockdown to ensure the safety of students and faculty. The police never caught the suspects, but law enforcement thoroughly surveyed campus before lifting the shelter and declaring the area safe for students. 

This incident showed me that a "bubble" surrounds my university. Although I'm knowledgeable of most campus-related events, I'm pretty clueless about what goes on in the greater Syracuse area. Apparently 20 homicides happened in the city this year, and I only knew about the one that came too close to the university for comfort. I think all college students should make an effort to understand the city in which they live – after all, it is your home for four years. 

Has anyone been in a similar situation? I'd love to hear about it. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

NYC Dining: Katz's Delicatessen


Among New York City's countless delis and sandwich shops, one place has stood above the rest for generations: Katz's Delicatessen. Located on the corner of Ludlow and Houston in the Lower East Side, Katz's serves "kosher style" sandwiches and meats – including its legendary pastrami sandwich.

It's also "where Harry met Sally."



The restaurant attracts hundreds of locals and tourists every day. The line often start at the deli's counter, continues out the door, and stretched down Houston Street. I lived a couple of blocks away from Katz's for two summers, and I never saw the place empty.

Who knew that thick cut pastrami piled high on rye bread could create such a stir?


However, ashamed as I am to admit it, I didn't eat at New York City's "most legendary" deli until my last day in Manhattan. Here's what I thought of Katz's Delicatessen.

My dad and I arrived at Katz's at about 11 a.m. on a Saturday. While the crowd wasn't as strong as usual, we still waited a few minutes to place our order. At least there was chaos to the madness – a "bouncer" at the door handed out tickets to everyone as they got in line. I'm not sure how necessary this was, but it probably makes everything run smoothly during the most chaotic hours.


Of course, I couldn't go to Katz's and not order the legendary pastrami sandwich. I cringed a bit at the price – nearly $20 for one sandwich. Then again, I never expected one of NYC's most famous restaurants to be cheap.


We didn't wait long for our food, and the entrees smelled amazing when the arrived. I haven't had much pastrami in my life, but this particular meat was mouth-wateringly delicious. It was tender, flavorful, and perfectly cooked with spices. The only downside was the crazy amount of fatty pieces. I understand that the fat is key to the flavor of the pastrami, but I found myself picking it out of the sandwich. My dad, who also ordered a beer, ate the entire thing and liked it a lot.

We also ordered homemade pickles, which were also good. But beware: they tasted much more like cucumbers than traditional pickles.



Overall opinion: I'm so glad I finally tested the landmark pastrami sandwich at Katz's. I enjoyed my sandwich and thought the pastrami was delicious, but I think the hype surrounding Katz's is a little exaggerated.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Five Senses of Fall



Over the last few weeks, blog posts about fall have completely taken over my feed.  I can't blame the bloggers, though, because I'm equally obsessed with the season. Autumn just strikes me as being cozy and comfortable – maybe it's all of the warm knit fabrics and hot spiced beverages.

Today I thought I'd share my own list of things I love about fall, but I'm branching out from the crowd and categorizing my list by the five senses. Here are my fall favorites:

SIGHT: 
FALL FOLIAGE. I go to school in Upstate New York, where the fall foliage bursts with bright red, orange, and yellow hues.

TOUCH: 
COZY CLOTHES. I love pulling out my oversized sweaters and light military-style jackets. Something about bundling up in warm clothes on a chilly day never fails to comfort me. And let's not forget the riding boots!

TASTE: 
PUMPKIN. During the fall, I crave pumpkin-flavored everything – the flavor just works so well in bread, cookies, and pastries. Plus, ordering Pumpkin Spice Latte just feels right on crisp mornings.

APPLES. I can't experience fall in Upstate New York and not talk about the state's famous apples. Dozens of varieties stock row after row of shelves at the grocery store during this time of year. My personal favorites are Jonamac, Pink Lady, and Zestar.


SMELL: 
SPICES. When the air feel a bit nippy, no aroma pleases me more than cinnamon, nutmeg, and other seasonal spices. Also, the scent of coffee seems even more inviting than usual during the fall.

SOUND: 
WIND. Hearing the wind rustling through the brittle leaves on the trees constantly reminds me to look up and enjoy the foliage colors.

AND MORE...
Fall also brings back some great childhood memories. When I was young, my family visited apple orchards every year to ride the tractors, climb the hay barrels, and get lost in corn mazes. We'd pick a whole bag of apples from the trees to take home, and of course we'd eat one or two along the way.

I remember stuffing my face with warm apple cider and freshly baked donuts. Carving pumpkins and having "pumpkin goop fights." Jumping into leaves that my dad raked into a pile. Getting overly excited when my mom baked a fresh batch of pumpkin seeds. Dressing up in a costume to trick-or-treating around my neighborhood. The memories never fail to make me smile.

Do you love fall? What are your favorite things about the season?

Picture on top: Climbing trees in Copenhagen, Denmark

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

Today I'm reviewing The Girl on the Train by British author Paula Hawkins. The novel is a psychological thriller revolving around a murder case, and many have dubbed it "the next Gone Girl." What's more, it spent 13 weeks as the number one book on The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2015 list.

I actually listened to the audiobook version of this novel, but it still counts, right?


Overview:
Rachel is an unemployed, divorced alcoholic in her 30's who pretends to take the London train to work during the week. One day, she sees something suspicious out of the train window. This occurrence lands her smack in the middle of a murder mystery case full of love, jealousy, and mystery.

The Girl on the Train  has three separate narrators: Rachel; her ex-husband's new wife, Anna; and the victim of the murder, Megan.

Opinion: 
For the most part, The Girl on the Train was exciting, suspenseful, and mysterious. I was completely drawn into the story and kept trying, unsuccessfully, to predict the results of the murder investigation. Since I listened to the book while driving, I actually found myself sitting in my car at rest stop parking lots because the plot was too good to turn off. That said, some pieces of the story were also dry and uninteresting. The first couple of chapters were especially hard to get through because they seemed to drag on.

In addition, all three narrators (Rachel, Anna, and Megan) are completely unreliable. I've never read a novel with so many unreliable characters, and it's a refreshing new angle that kept me on my toes. However, the unreliability made me dislike all of the characters in one way or another. I didn't feel emotionally connected with anyone, which made it hard for me to care what happened to them.

Another drawback is that the author jumped between characters and dates in order to advance the plot. In other words, the novel constantly went back-and-forth in time. This scattered timeline didn't bother me too much, but I read other reviews that said the skipping around confused them.

Finally, I never actually read Gone Girl (it's on my list!) so it to The Girl on the Train.

The Audiobook experience: 
I wanted to download an audiobook from Audible for a long car ride and decided on The Girl on the Train – partly because the plot seemed interesting, and partly because the 11-hour runtime would keep me occupied throughout the drive. Since the novel has three narrators, the audiobook has three separate speakers. Each one had a British accent because the novel takes place in England.

This was actually my first time listening to an audiobook, and I was quite impressed. My car ride flew by because the story managed to entertain me for hours. All in all, I had a nice audiobook experience.

Rating: 3.5/5
I enjoyed the idea behind The Girl on the Train, and the storyline completely engrossed me. However, I had problems with certain aspects of the book mentioned earlier: the unlikeable characters, the dull moments in the plot, and the skipping around between time and characters. I feel like the author could've told the same story in half of the amount of pages. Therefore, I give The Girl on the Train 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Have any of you read the book? What's your opinion?

Photo from Amazon 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: Eat Nakd by Natural Balance Foods



Natural Balance Foods, a UK-based company that embraces the wholefood movement, recently reached out to see if I'd like to try their Eat Nakd granola bars. Given my love for quick snacks, and the promising ingredients in the Nakd bars, I thought I'd take up the opportunity.

(Note: Natural Balance Foods sent me these bars for review, but all opinions are honest and completely my own.)

Eat Nakd bars are marketed as raw, natural, and unprocessed snacks. They have no added sugars or syrups (dates serve as a sweetener), and they're completely free of GMOs, gluten, wheat, and dairy. What's more, they're 100% vegan. The bars are simply made of cold-pressed fruits and nuts "smooshed" together. Also worth noting, the dried fruit and nuts are very iron-rich foods.

I'm really trying to improve my health and fitness this semester, so the nutritious benefits of the bar really excited me. 

Natural Balance Foods sent me an sampler kit with tons of yummy flavors, including...

  • Cocoa Mint
  • Cocoa Orange
  • Pecan Pie
  • Ginger Bread
  • Cocoa Delight
  • Cashew Cookie
  • Caffe Mocha
  • Berry Delight
  • Rhubarb and Custard
  • Strawberry Protein Crunch
  • Banana Protein Crunch
  • Apple Protein Crunch
  • Cocoa Protein Crunch 
  • Bakewell Tart
I tried most of the flavors, and I couldn't believe how great they all tasted! The texture of the Eat Nakd bars is soft and chewy, and I would describe it as cake-y and dense.


Since all of the bars contain similar dried fruits and nuts (mainly cashews), each flavor has only minor differentiations in taste. My favorite flavor so far is Cocoa Delight. The ingredient list is simple: dates (48%), cashews (29%), raisins (17%), cocoa (6%), and natural flavor. That's it! I could taste the chocolate undertones, but it didn't overpower the flavor of the dried fruit and nuts.

Some other especially tasty flavors were Rhubarb & Custard, Cocoa Mint, and Strawberry Crunch. 

However, I have one minor complaint about the Eat Nakd snacks; I encountered something hard about halfway through my Rhubarb and Custard one. The package warns that some bars may contain the odd shell or pit piece, and I immediately knew the object was part of a pit. I simply tossed the piece aside, which was a minor inconvenience but also testifies to the freshness and purity of the ingredients in the Nakd bars.

Overall, I would recommend the bar to anyone looking for a healthy snack. Natural Balance Foods As of now, they are available to American customers at www.eatnakd.com and www.amazon.com

Monday, September 21, 2015

Healthy Almond Butter and Banana Smoothie


I've never been a breakfast person. Throughout high school and college, I'd simply grab a granola bar as I headed out the door and eat it en route to class. Not surprisingly, the hunger pains would hit well before lunchtime. I knew I needed more sustenance in the morning, but couldn't bring myself to wake up earlier and whip up some scrambled eggs or a yogurt parfait.

The solution came when I got my NutriBullet and discovered breakfast smoothies. I bought a bunch of ingredients and came up with a smoothie recipe I love. Not only is the drink deliciously addictive, it also couldn't be simpler to make – all you do is throw the five ingredients into a blender and mix them together.


THE INGREDIENTS 
  • One tub (about 5-6 oz.) of yogurt. I prefer Greek, but feel free to use any type of yogurt you want
  • One medium-sized ripe banana
  • 2 tbsp. almond butter or peanut butter
  • 1 cup of milk (or milk alternative, like almond milk) 
  • Ground cinnamon 

You also need a blender or NutriBullet. Once you mix the ingredients together, the final result is a sweet, tasty, and somewhat thick drink. 


This smoothie keeps my hunger pains away until lunch, which is one reason I rely on it every morning. The almond butter and Greek yogurt pack on the protein, and the yogurt also provides calcium and probiotic cultures. The tasty cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, the banana adds sweetness, and the almond milk makes the mixture more liquid-like.

Perhaps the best part of the smoothie, though, is that it takes less than five minutes to prepare! 

Tell me: What is your go-to healthy breakfast?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day Trip: Finger Lakes Wine Country



Breaking news: wine slushies are incredible.

Last weekend, my mom and I ventured to the Finger Lakes, an area of Central New York that boasts several long and skinny lakes, to test out some of the region's famous wine. More than 100 wineries are scattered along three of the picturesque lakes – Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga – so the region naturally attracts a lot of tourists.

I go to school an hour away from the Finger Lakes but had yet to visit. The timing was never right, and I wasn't old enough to drink. However, when my mom came to Syracuse for the weekend, we thought the wineries would make a perfect day trip. What could be better than drinking wine all day? 


The Location:

My mom and I only had time to explore one of the Finger Lakes, so we chose Seneca – the largest and most popular. The Seneca Lake Wine Trail has 35 wineries, as well as a distillery and some breweries. Most of the wineries are located just off the highway and have great views of the water and green landscape. Not even the gray skies and continuous rain could hide the beauty of our surroundings. 

Seneca Lake is 40 miles long, and the vineyards are located on both sides of the water. Some closely neighbor each other, while others are spaced 5 - 10 miles apart. 

Three Brothers
The Wineries:

No two wineries on Seneca Lake are the same. While some feel more old-fashioned and proper, others remind you of a cabin in the woods. However, every single vineyard had a great view and friendly staff. 

Here are the ones we visited (in the order we visited):

Fox Run
The Wine:

Each winery has a similar wine tasting deal: you pay $5 to sample five wines off of the menu. The bartender serves your choices from white to red, and driest to sweetest. That way, your tastebuds can better adjust to the differentiations between the wines. 

The samples are actually a decent size. Added together, the amount of wine you get at each place is about equivalent to a full glass. A full glass of wine for $5? I'll take it!  

Although each vineyard had a unique menu, a few wines made appearances everywhere. The most reoccurring options were whites like Riesling and Gewurztraminer, which are the speciality wines of the Finger Lakes. Actually, the Riesling and Gewurztraminer were my favorite wines of the day. I prefer my wine smooth, semi-sweet, and white. 


Wine Slushie:

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the wine slushie at Three Brothers Wineries and Estates. My mom and I visited this location last, and it ended up being my favorite place of the day. The wine tastings were divided up by type – you could either taste dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. Unlike the other wineries, you couldn't chose the specific wines you wanted to try, but rather chose one of the pre-chosen groupings of wine. 


My mom and I chose the sweet tasting, and we loved all five of the options! The wines were smooth, flavorful, and fruity. The tasting ending with a sixth sample –a wine slushie! The bartender mixed their "Scandalicious" wine with ice and a slushie mix, and the result was chilled, sweet, and delicious. Honestly, it tasted like a gourmet raspberry icee. The drink was so refreshing and great that we bought a full-sized one at the Slushie Stand outside! 


Three Brothers


Tips:

Are you visiting the Finger Lakes wineries? Here are a few tips.
  • Go early! Most wineries close at 5 or 6 p.m., so make sure you give yourself enough time to explore the region.
  • Most wineries don't offer meals, and only a few have meat/cheese platters. I recommend eating before going to the wineries.
  • You can make the Finger Lakes a weekend vacation by booking a room in one of the hotels in the area. However, the hotels book up fast, so make sure you reserve a room early. 
  • Most importantly, don't drink and drive! I noticed that many large groups rented a party bus or limo to hop between wineries, but you could also have a designated driver or someone who only drinks a little. You have to drive between wineries, so make sure you do it safely!
Have you ever been to a winery? What is your favorite wine?

Monday, September 14, 2015

NYC Dining: OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria

When I was in New York City for my internship this summer, three different people told me that I had to eat at  OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria in Greenwich Village. They said the bustling Italian restaurant, owned by celebrity chef Mario Batali, had amazing thin-crust pizza in slightly strange combinations. I was eager to test it out – if three people recommend the same place, it has to be good, right?

I finally went to Otto with my dad, on my very last night in the Big Apple. We made reservations for 6:30 p.m. and were seated right away. Otto has a very calm, relaxed atmosphere. All of the signage and paper items feature the restaurant's signature red color. Even the lighting in the dining area has a slightly orangey tone. Compared with most other restaurants in New York City, Otto had a large and spacious interior. 


As we sat down, the waiter brought out bread and honey, and we also ordered red wine. Since my dad and I are completely obsessed with cheese, we naturally began our meal with a cheese platter. My dad simply told the waiter to bring out any five cheeses he wanted. I'm honestly not sure what we ended up with, but every cheese on the plate was delicious. Based off an educated guess, though, I think my favorite kinds were Tuada (sheep) cheese and Coach Tripe Cream (goat) cheese. Unfortunately all of my cheese plate photos turned out blurry... but here is a picture of the honey.


Moving on to the pizzas. The pies were medium-sized but very thin, so I think they are meant to be personal sized. We chose the Romana (tomato, anchovy, capers, chilies, mozzarella) and the Swiss Chard & Goat Cheese. I know the average person wouldn't find these appealing, but my dad and I are extremely adventurous eaters.

Both pizzas were incredible – savory, flavorful, and perfectly sized. I couldn't even tell you which I liked better. After having a slice of the Romana, I'd say, "This is definitely my favorite!" Then I'd take a bite out of the  Swiss Chard & Goat Cheese pizza and change my mind.  


I guess the two flavors are so different that you can't compare them. The Romana tasted like a traditional pizza with the added saltiness of anchovies. I'd stay away from this one if you aren't an anchovy fan! The Swiss Chard & Goat Cheese tasted unique, bold, and strong. If you love the taste of goat cheese, you'd absolutely love this.

Besides the awesome flavor combinations, the thing that really sticks out about Otto's pizzas is the crust. The thin layer was cooked to perfection – it was not too hard, not to dough-y, and had the perfect amount of char on the bottom. 


For dessert, we ordered the famed Olive Oil Gelato (well, technically, we ordered half olive oil and half vanilla). The combination of olive oil and gelato sounds gross, I know. But actually, the pairing worked amazingly well. The smooth, rich texture almost melted in my mouth, and the flavor reminded me vaguely of salted caramel... I guess it was the combination between salt and sugar. If you ever got to Otto, you must get this gelato!


The location of Otto can't be better, either. The great night life of Greenwich Village lies only a few streets away, and you'll find Washington Square Park right around the corner. 

Verdict: Believe all of the hype surrounding OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria! I've had loads of New York-style pizza in NYC, and the pies at Otto are my absolute favorite. In a world where pepperoni dominates, the unique toppings and flavors feel fresh and welcoming. I'd recommend the cheese plate and olive oil gelato as well. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Photo Diary: The National Mall in Washington, D.C.

I've visited Washington, D.C., a few times in my life, but my boyfriend and I decided to pop over during our Labor Day weekend together in Baltimore. We only had one afternoon to spend in the nation's capital, so we chose to pass on the Smithsonian museums (which we'd already seen in the past) and walk around the National Mall instead.

The sprawling green fields and iconic monuments inspired me to whip out my camera and take a few snapshots – despite the crazy 95-degree heat!

I couldn't help feeling overwhelmed as I stood underneath the Washington Monument at the center of the Mall. Turning my head, I could see countless historical landmarks surrounding me. In one direction, the United States Capitol building looks grand and opulent (despite some distracting construction on the rotunda).

Ninety-degrees to the left is the White House, with its flawless lawn and sturdy gates. Tourists, like me, lined the fence to capture some pictures.

The Lincoln Memorial stands across from the Capitol, behind sprawling fields and the Reflecting Pool. The World War II Memorial is at the base of the pool.

Many historical events, like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s  "I Have a Dream" speech, happened on the shallow steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And let's not forget Forrest Gump's experience here!

A marble statue of Abraham Lincoln flanks the back wall inside of the memorial. 

And, finally, the white bricks of the Washington Monument anchor the center of the National Mall. The structure glimmers in the Reflecting Pool.

Besides the memorials and structures, I love the clean landscapes, beautiful buildings, friendly atmosphere, and old-time charm of Washington, D.C. Have you ever been to D.C.? What is your favorite part?