Monday, June 30, 2014

@DinnerLab: A First-Timer's Experience in Nashville

Disclaimer:  I purchased my own Dinner Lab membership, so this review is purely my own.  I'd love if you would use my referral link to sign up/learn more about Dinner Lab, so I can earn $ towards future events!

Recently, Dan and I had our first Dinner Lab experience.  Recommended by my friends at work, we paid for a subscription to Dinner Lab events, and made a reservation for Chef Ryan Haigler's "The Market Room: Taste + Technique + Tradition" meal.  Chef Ryan is part of a current chef's tour for Dinner Lab, competing for a chance to get funding for his own restaurant.

Menu, Scorecard, and the Chef!

The way Dinner Lab works: It's basically, as Forbes put it, a modern-day supper club.  You pay for a year-long subscription ($100-200 depending on where you live), and they e-mail you about upcoming events.  You then make a reservation (they sell out fast), ranging from $50-95 per person.  Your meal price includes a minimum of five courses, an open bar, and gratuity.  They e-mail you the venue location 24 hours in advance (lovely mystery!) and then you just show up and give your name.

The venue was 506 Events Gallery, located in what appears to be a former industrial building converted to the space and some apartment lofts.  It was near the river, and there wasn't much else around but public works buildings and other industrial complex stuff.  Unique, to be sure!

We kicked off with a half hour of cocktails and mingling.  It's open seating, so it's nice to get to know the people around you.  Dan had some beer (note: they pour it in little glasses unless you ask for can/bottle) and I had the Planter's Punch.  I love that Chef Ryan was raised in the Lowcountry, because this punch reminded me of Savannah!

Soon, it was time to eat!  We kicked off with a first course of Burnt Pepper Sambuca Sausage, paired with a pilsener beer from Germany.  Chef Ryan has been hunting/butchering pretty much since he could walk, and he ran the butcher program at Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico for two years.  As we ate this delicious sausage, complemented by pickled giardiniera and fresh mustard, he recounted how he learned to make sausage from his grandmother the old-school way, filling casings using an old cow's horn!  This was definitely a delicious course.  Dan felt that with the pickles a pairing with a more tart beer would have been even better.

I was a little nervous about the second course, a Chilled Avocado & Yogurt Soup.  The thing is, I don't I don't like cold soup, or green stuff.  But with the cayenne crema on this, the cold soup had a spicy kick to it that kept me from thinking, "I'm a carnivore trying to be polite and taste this green stuff."  I had more than a few spoonfuls!  As people who know me will tell you, that is a surprise unto itself.

I don't eat a lot of seafood, but I was excited about the Crab & Mascarpone Crepe.  Crab is one of the few seafood meats I eat, so long as I don't have to get it out of a shell.  Dan was skeptical about this course, but he was pleasantly surprised; he cleaned his plate!  The filling was slightly warmed,and the pepper & spring onion jelly on top was delicious.  Seriously, I'd eat it on toast.

The main course (you read menus ahead of time) is what sold me on the meal.  Black Garlic Stuffed Pork Shoulder, served on a Carolina grit cake with braised greens and pot likker liaison.  The pork was so tender, you didn't need a knife.  The grit cake was delicious, and surprisingly not soggy from everything else going on the plate.  The course was paired with a California Chardonnay.

Dan and I were both floored by dessert.  iPhone photos simply don't do it justice.  Peanut Butter & Jelly Cheesecake, with a blueberry-jalapeƱo jam, peanut butter candy, and malted marshmallow?  DIVINE.  You could hear people's spoons clinking against the little jars as they scraped every last bit into their mouths.  The guy next to me (originally from Iowa) and I agreed that the filling reminded us of a tasty Midwest peanut butter sheet cake.

Throughout the meal, you fill out comment cards on each of the courses.  Was it tasty, creative, restaurant-worthy?  It feels kind of weird judging a chef's meal, given we aren't trained like they are... but these ratings and comments are the constructive criticism they gain to improve their craft.  I think that's why they come to Dinner Lab.  It's great exposure, but it allows experimentation without too much risk.

On the way home, Dan and I discussed this first experience with Dinner Lab.  First, we discussed how the portion sizes were perfect; after five courses and plenty of drinks, we both felt full but not stuffed.  Second, we thought that Chef Ryan Haigler absolutely nailed it.  The meal was creative, but not overly pretentious.  It reminded us of the time we each spent near Savannah.  Lastly, we both agreed we want to do this again.  When we did the mental math, it was cheaper than other upscale dining experiences we've had in the past.  It's a great way to taste unique flavors and live out foodie fantasies.

Dinner Lab is currently available in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, DC, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and St. Louis.

Disclaimer:  I purchased my own Dinner Lab membership, so this review is purely my own.  I'd love if you would use my referral link to sign up/learn more about Dinner Lab, so I can earn $ towards future events!

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Influenster's Vow VoxBox

Don't you just love getting pretty boxes in the mail?

I love mail!

I've received an Influenster VoxBox before, but I really like what's in this latest "Vow VoxBox", aimed at bridesmaids and brides with events this year.  My cousin S gets married in the fall, so I am really digging what they included in this kit.

  • Olay Regenerist Tone Perfect Cream:  I have some dark spots from acne scarring, so I'm hoping to see some results from this luxurious cream.  It smells fantastic, and a little goes a long way!
  • EcoTools Pure Complexion Facial Sponge:  When I first looked at this hard sponge, I didn't know what it was going to be like.  It felt like a pumice stone!  But once it's wet, it's the perfect exfoliating facial sponge.
  • Pure Silk Shave Cream:  I don't use shave cream, and I need to.  This really does help make legs smoother (I've already used it!) and I am less likely to nick myself with an old razor.
  • Tide-to-go Pen:  What can I say?  I have like 4-5 of these.  They are especially handy in the office, or during DAR conferences when all us page girls are wearing white!
  • Riley & Grey Promo:  I don't need to build a wedding website, but man is their offering gorgeous!  Check it out; it's way more luxe than the typical website builders like The Knot.
  • Sally Hansen Complete Manicure in Barracuda:  I squealed when I saw this nail polish, because it's my favorite.  The brush is flat so it's easier to apply in one swipe, and it really does last longer than other polishes.  My favorite color is Commander-in-Chic, and awesome grey-purple that goes with everything.

Influenster really nailed it with this box, featuring some brands that I really love.  I'll be posting on my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as I used some of these, so stay tuned!

Disclaimer: I received these products complimentary from Influenster for reviewing purposes.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Budgeting Bloggers: June 2014

This month was a happy shopping month for me.  There was a kate spade Surprise Sale, and I finally took the plunge and bought some vintage-inspired shoes to rock with my dresses.  I also got a couple of freebies from Mom, who is a bargain hunter who shares her spoils.

  1. kate spade Charm City Ostrich Graham - similar, in Strawberry Daiquiri (originally $68, paid $29):  I have a couple of these tiny card holders from Coach wearing out, so I was excited to find this for a song.  They are great for use in your wristlet or small bag to carry your ID and cards going out.  I get so many compliments on the color!
  2. kate spade Call to Action Terry  - exact via eBayin Tequila (originally $248, paid $99):  Can you resist this bag?  I couldn't.  And it's true... Tequila is not my friend, and bacon, egg, and cheese is one of my favorite combos in existence.  I thought this would be a great travel bag, and it's definitely big enough for an overnight.  Sure, it's not exactly work appropriate, but it's like they made this bag for me personally.
  3. B.A.I.T. Hansel in Yellowsimilar ($72):  I've been looking at these shoes forever.  My friend Amanda has reviewed the brand on her blog, and I've seen them on multiple blogs.  I love this color yellow!  I ordered a half size up per reviews and recommendations.  The quality is great too.  They are my new favs.
  4. B.A.I.T. Ida in Coralsimilar (originally $63, paid $32):  These shoes happened to be on sale in my size, and though I had some doubts about how versatile the color would be, I had to grab them.  I was right to be skeptical on color; they are VERY bright!  But I've still managed to work them into my rotation for work.
  5. J. Crew Factory Charley Sweater in Geometric Print (valued $75, paid $37):  I bought three tops from J. Crew Factory to wear at work, because my office is chilly and I need sleeves!  I thought the value during the website's sale was too good to resist.  These tops will be well-worn as the other J. Crew tops in my closet.  I needed to replace some tops given the number I've culled for sale/donation in the last six months.
  6. J. Crew Factory Clare Cardigan in Navy (valued $55, paid $25)
  7. J. Crew Factory Colorblock Baseball Tee (valued $40, paid $20):  This top and the geo print one are very light sweaters, so I can wear them even here in TN!
(not pictured)
C9 by Champion Yoga Layering Top (originally $23, paid $18)
C9 by Champion Tank (originally $20, paid $15)
C9 by Champion Workout Top (Free, from Mom)
Macy's Black Top (Free, from Mom)
Target Pineapple Favorite Button Down Shirt ($23):  Yes, the one all those bloggers have!
Target Striped T-shirt ($9)

$379 spent - $83 earned = $296
$308+ savings

Quarterly Budget: $500 - $95 April - $108 May - $296 June = $1 under budget

I sure cut it close this quarter in spending!  I've gotten a lot in the past few months, but I also had some solid months of blog earnings and Poshmark sales.  My inventory on Poshmark is very low, but occasionally I'll add something here and there.  I also have another full bag of clothes to donate to Goodwill.  I like the progress being made in my closet!

I am currently searching for a red circle skirt, a replacement leopard skinny belt, some vintage-inspired frocks, and more work-appropriate tops.  I really wish we had some Canadian clothing shops like Simons and Joe Fresh that would ship to the U.S., because I feel like they're really nailing my aesthetic (and price range!) more than my former European favs like ASOS.

Check out a couple of photos below featuring my BAIT Footwear shoes.

In my Coral Ida shoes
I posted a photo of my Hansels on Instagram, and the brand regrammed it!
Click here to see the rest of the Budgeting Bloggers via Franish!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tivoli Theatre in Spencer

The heart of most Indiana counties seems to be centered around a town square courthouse.  Sadly, so many of these squares are full of empty storefronts, not the hubs they once were.  In Spencer, that feels like the case sometimes.  Not far from where my parents live in Bloomington, there isn't much going on downtown in Spencer.  But the Tivoli Theatre, restored by funds from Cook, is quaint enough to attract my parents to go to a different town to see movies!  Tivoli shows first run films on the weekends, and it's only $5 for adults.  There's definitely a line and a crowd.  I can't believe this place was once at risk of teardown.

Old Photos from Tivoli Website

Mom and I went to see Maleficent.  The movie was okay, but I was mostly impressed by the theatre.  It seemed a lot of attention to detail was taken in the restoration, and the entire operation (minus one employee) is run by volunteers from the community.  Ticket takers, popcorn wranglers, even the projection and cleanup crews are volunteers.  Talk about a real gem.  There's also old movie posters (I wonder if they're from the old shows at the theatre) and retro tiling in the bathroom.  They even play the old "Let's All Go to the Lobby" concessions cartoon before the movie.  It feels like stepping back in time!

If you live around Bloomington, it might be worth a trip to check this place out.  It's wayyyy cheaper than the big theatres in town, and you're supporting historic preservation.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Scholars Inn Bakehouse in Bloomington

The Scholars Inn Bakehouse is a Bloomington institution.  That is, it is to me!  It's been on the square since I can remember...  and we arrived in Btown twenty years ago.  While I was home, I met up with my friend RM for breakfast at this great little bakery/restaurant.

There are a wide variety of breads and pastries, but there's also an all-day breakfast menu!  You can order lunch (sandwiches, etc.) too.  You order at the counter, then take your number to your seat to wait for the deliciousness.

RM ordered the biscuits and gravy.  I don't usually go for those north of the Mason-Dixon line, but these looked delicious!  She added some hot sauce, and it was a hearty meal.

I ordered the Bakehouse Oatmeal and a side of scrambled eggs.  I like to have protein for breakfast to keep me feeling full.  I was pleasantly surprised by the slice of toast included, because the Bakehouse has amazing breads.  The oatmeal could have used a little more water, but the strawberries were incredibly fresh and perfect.  The granola was so good, I may add it to my oatmeal in the future!

If you're in Bloomington for a visit, I'd say that coffee/breakfast here is a must-do.  It's what the locals like!  It's perfectly located to enjoy festivals downtown and even the Farmer's Market too.

Scholars Inn Bakehouse on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Best: Workout Wear

I didn't have a moment to take a 'real' outfit photo this week, since I was at school in Indiana for my MBA residency.  But when I went for a bike ride with my parents yesterday, we snapped a photo that I realized could showcase one of my workout outfits.
Over the past couple of years, I have gotten rid of a lot of my hodgepodge old workout clothes and pajamas and replaced them with mix 'n' match separate and matching sets.  There's just something about cute workout gear and matching PJs that makes me incredibly happy.  This outfit is from Fabletics, which I have reviewed on this blog before.

Clear Creek Trail

Top & Running Skirt: Fabletics (click here for my referral link)
Sunglasses: H&M
Shoes:  Asics
Bike:  Trek Verve Hybrid

My outfit took me from shopping at Target, to breakfast with a friend, to bike riding with my parents for 5 miles on a local trail.  I don't usually run errands in workout clothes, but this running skirt and top combo didn't feel too out of place as I was all over town.  Plus, it was nice and functional for the bike ride.

I think what I've learned from this week's edition of Sunday Best is that you can feel good about how you look even when you're working out!  I definitely felt comfortable yesterday.  And we were even able to take a group selfie:

Check out the rest of the bloggers linking up for Sunday Best at The Modern Austen!

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bea's Soda Bar in Bloomington @beafizzy

As I was walking to and from the Bakehouse to meet my friend, I noticed an adorable little camper selling homemade sodas.  On my way back to my car, I had to get a taste of Bea's Soda Bar.

You guys...   Strawberry. Rhubarb. Soda.  I'll let you imagine this refreshing drink.  I love seeing local entrepreneurs bringing concepts like this to towns I love.  It reminds me of when Dad would take me to the old fashioned soda fountain in his hometown in a way.

I opted out of hanging downtown for Taste of Bloomington, because it was already becoming a madhouse (and Mom was cooking goodies at home) so Bea's was my refreshing "something new" from my latest trip home.  Follow Bea's on Twitter here!  Such a sweet little business.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bicycle (Mis)Adventures

Almost a year ago, I bought my first adult bicycle.  Now I'm to the point that I want to ride it more.  I even took a couple of informal classes from some volunteers at work (for National Bike Month or something) to try to work up the courage to do an occasional bike commute.  Still working on that one, but all in all I'm just trying to drive less and ride more.

With the best of intentions, I decided I would take my bicycle to Indiana with me for my MBA residency.  I knew I could ride my bike with Mom at least once.  Dan installed my trunk rack and off I went.  I'd never driven my bike more than 2-3 miles before, so getting onto the Interstate was a whole other story.  My rack was not a great fit with my women's bike and its adapter, so it kept coming loose.  SCARY STUFF, people.  On my third forced exit off the highway, I called Dan almost in tears trying to figure out how to get either to Indiana or back home in defeat.

YOU GUYS.  I removed the front wheel of the bike.  I KNOW THIS IS SUPER EASY BUT I DIDN'T KNOW HOW.  I had to Google a YouTube video.  You have to unhook the brake thingy and stuff, y'all.  But I did it, then attempted to get the bike into the Corolla.  No dice.  I removed everything I'd packed for the week from the car, put down the back seat, then managed to cram everything back in.  WHEW.  I felt so accomplished!  Then I drove through the worst traffic and construction ever and finally got to Bloomington.  (Note: It was Friday the 13th.)

The next day, I rewarded myself with a new trunk rack that works much better (from our local shop, Bikesmiths) and a ride on the B-line with Mom.  I knew I needed a new rack to get me back to TN.  I'm hoping to have a chance to ride again before I go home.  It felt really good despite the terrifying car trip where I thought I'd lose my first real bike.  So I suppose that's progress.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh

Hungry for a late-night bite to eat after visiting friends and their brand new baby, we headed to Church Brew Works.  It came recommended to me by Marissa at The Modern Austen, and Dan remembered that it was a pretty cool place with good pizza.

I'm a little obsessed with old historic buildings repurposed for new causes.  While it probably started with the old firehouse converted into mansion circa The Real World: Boston, I've always liked the idea of living or working in a historic place.  Church Brew Works, as its name implies, is a brewpub in an old church.  You're definitely struck by the unique setting when you walk in.

While the beer is great, they're also noted for good food.  We were starving, so we started with the Bison Corn Dogs, served with honey mustard, pickled veggies, and a chipotle ketchup.  They felt like saltier, meatier versions of state fair corn dogs, and I liked the subtle kick from the ketchup.

My absolute favorite part of the visit was the brick-oven pizza.  We chose the Garden Plum Tomato Pizza, which had garden plum tomato sauce, basil, garlic, olive oil, and some really fresh mozzarella.  The whole pizza tasted super fresh, and the ratio of cheese and sauce was spot on.  My favorite part was the crust.  They are used some beautiful dough here, because it was pretty much my ideal consistency for pizza... chewy, with a fluffy crust!

Church Brew Works on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Best: Pittsburgh & a Print Dress

Once again on Sunday Best, you get to see how much of a failure I am at getting outfit photos.  This is the part where I swear I am going to get my DSLR and tripod out with a remote sometime soon.  But the truth is, I simply haven't been home!  This outfit is what I wore to a high school graduation party for Dan's niece during our long weekend in Pittsburgh.  (Hence the gift bag from Tiffany's!)

So bright out, my eyes are closed!
Closeup of my jewelry, plus a bathroom selfie with eyes more open

Dress:  Lizard Thicket
Jewelry:  from Kuwait/Iraq
Belt: Charlotte Russe - similar
Purse:  H&M - similarsplurge
Sandals:  via DSW - similar, similar

Minus the high-karat gold jewelry from my travels overseas, this outfit is a total bargain combo!  This dress has paid for itself because I wear it so much for both work and play.  And when it's warm, you can most likely find me wearing some kind of gladiator sandal to let my toes breathe.  This outfit is one I have worn again and again, and it's definitely a travel staple.

And since I don't have another Pittsburgh post other than a restaurant review, here's a snapshot from our day at Sandcastle, an old water park on the river, as well as an airport shot of my travel accessories.  :)  It was a great trip, but next time I'll be sure to give Marissa some advance notice so I have someone to take my Sunday Best photos, eh?

I got a Dole Whip float!

My bags are literally statement bags.

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