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Posted on Jan 28, 2014 in Food, Recipes, Reviews | 68 comments

Butternut Squash and Beer Mac & Cheese (Giveaway!)

*The winners for this giveaway have been announced! Please check this post to see if you won!*

‘Ello gov’nah! This morning I have a very, very special post for you, complete with giveaway! As some of you may already know, the illustrious, fantabulous Cassie from Back to Her Roots recently had her first (of many, I hope!) cookbook published: Cooking with Greek Yogurt.

Cooking with Greek Yogurt by Cassie Johnston

Not only is it impressive to get a cookbook published in the first place, but Cassie did almost EVERYTHING when it came to this book: the writing, the recipe creation, the photography, AND the design/layout/font selections/you name it. And as anyone who has visited her blog or has seen her design work in the past (including the cover of my own book!) knows, she has an amazing aesthetic and her personality shines through every page of this cookbook. The colors are vibrant, the photos are gorgeous, the tone of the writing is playful but easy to understand, and the recipes are pure gold. This is one damn beautiful cookbook, ladies and gents.

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I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of the book, and spent days poring over each recipe, trying to figure out where the heck I was supposed to start. Ultimately, I gave a few of her smoothie recipes and sauce combos (Sriracha spiced greek yogurt?! Why didn’t I think of that!) a spin before making the following recipe and knowing THIS was the one I had to share with all of you.

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Lo and behold, Beer & Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese. Right? RIGHT?! It was tastes just as awesome as it sounds, and with the amazing addition of hidden veggies AND the protein-packed Greek yog, it’s just about the healthiest mac and cheese I’ve ever had!

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I paired it with some chicken meatballs and it was soooo good. Creamy and cheesy without being heavy, and just a little bit tangy… mmm. Even Sean loved it, and I’ve never known him to willingly eat butternut squash anything in the entire time we’ve been dating! It complements the dish that well. So, without further adieu:

beer & butternut squash mac and cheese
From Cooking with Greek Yogurt by Cassie Johnston (reprinted with permission)

The inspiration for this fun twist on mac and cheese comes from my love of local beer. The cheese sauce combines Greek yogurt with wheat beer, butternut squash, and a mixture of two cheeses to get an incredibly unique dish.

INGREDIENTS:
1 (12 ounce) package whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and cubed
3/4 cup wheat beer
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
3/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup shredded Romano cheese
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare a 9 x 9-inch baking dish by spraying it liberally with cooking spray. Cook
elbow macaroni according to package directions, omitting fat and salt. Drain and set aside. In a large
saucepan, combine squash, beer, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and
simmer until squash is very tender, about 25 minutes. The mixture may begin to separate; this is fine.
Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, or a standard blender with the
steam vent removed, blend squash mixture together until very smooth and creamy. Pour mixture into a
large mixing bowl and stir in yogurt, Gruyère, Romano, and butter until cheeses are melted. Add in elbow
macaroni and stir until well coated. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs
evenly over top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and crunchy, and sauce is thickened.

Nutritional info per 1/8th serving: 245 calories, 13g fat, 17g carbs, 15g protein.

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I ended up making just a few adjustments based on what was available in my pantry (and because I have a REALLY hard time following recipes to the tee… I guess I’m just a kitchen rebel like that), but they were really small. I used two cloves of garlic instead of one (love my garlic!), didn’t have skim milk and didn’t think that vanilla almond milk would go very well haha, so I used 1/2 a cup of heavy cream + 1/2 a cup of water, and I ended up realizing after the fact that the box of pasta I used was larger than a normal 12 oz. package of macaroni elbows (’cause I got it from Costco). So there just wasn’t quite as much sauce per bite as there normally would have been, but really that worked out in the end because MOAR LEFTOVERS FOR ME BWAHAHA.

Either way, it turned out DELICIOUS, was incredibly easy, and VERY filling — the absolute definition of win-win-win! So I give major thanks to Cassie for giving me an awesome new recipe to add to my repertoire, and YOU are about to give major thanks to her too — because it’s GIVEAWAY TIIIIIME!

Yep, Cassie and her publisher are giving away two free copies of her cookbook! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post answering this question:

What’s your favorite way to use Greek yogurt?

I’ll announce the winners later this week. Good luck!

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Posted on Jun 1, 2012 in Dear Diary, Reviews | 44 comments

6 Things You Should be Watching on Netflix

It’s over.

TV season is pretty much over. And now that the stampede of shocking (Vampire Diaries), joyous (How I Met Your Mother), hilarious (Community), and tearful (Glee) season finales that have been washing over me for the past couple of weeks has finally begun to subside, only one question really remains: WTF am I going to watch all summer?

Oh sure, there are a few summer season shows that are worth a gander, but why wait in boredom from week to week when there is a whole world of streamable entertainment right at your fingertips? I long since gave up bothering with the physical main-in DVD service that Netflix once made its name on. Streaming is what it’s all about, and I’m here to share a few of my favorite finds with you all. I consider these gems that, without Netflix or some other sort of video-streaming service (I hear Amazon’s is getting pretty good these days!), I would probably never have uncovered. The following selection is pretty varied in terms of target demographic and genre, so hopefully there’s a little something new for everyone.

I feel it’s apt to note here that I’m not like, a Netflix ambassador or anything. I just thought this would be a fun post to do. Hokay! Here we go!


The Vampire Diaries

I know, I know. I just had to get it out of the way first. Vampire Diaries isn’t REALLY part of this list, since it’s still fairly new, you guys have all probably heard of it, and there’s a ton of hype surrounding it (deservedly so!). Only, it IS on the list, in that it’s part of every list of anything I ever recommend to anyone, ever. The first two seasons of the show are available on Netflix, and now that Season 3 is over (OMGAHHHHH), I’m sure it won’t be long ’til it’s added to the queue as well.

General early plot goes like this: Welcome to Mystic Falls, VA, a tiny and historic southern town that has more than its fair share of garden parties, cotillions, and “animal attacks”. Follow abnormally gorgeous human Elena Gilbert as she struggles through her love for not one, but two panty-droppingly gorgeous vampire brothers. Of course, after about four episodes, you start to realize that there is so, so much more to it than that.

I know I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: this show is NOTHING like Twilight. It’s barely even like the books that it’s based off of (thank goodness, haha). Just watch it, okay? You can thank me later.


Doctor Who

Sean and I started watching this show together after we started dating, and we’ve already flown through the first four seasons. This 2005 version is a straight continuation of the original series that began back in the early 60s. I’d heard a lot about how good it is, but was skeptical and had it sitting in my Instant Queue for a long time. Finally, Sean expressed interest in starting it up so I bit the bullet. I’ve never looked back. It is truly engrossing stuff: funny but surprisingly dark, full of intellect and glorious British wit.

I don’t think I really need to describe the premise but the basic one is this: The Doctor is a time traveling alien adventurer (say that 10 times fast!) who, along with his various companions, frequently saves Earth and the universe from general mayhem and destruction. You’ll have to look past the terrible production value of the first season (when their budget was obviously rather thin), but if you can make it through that, you’ll get to see what the Doctor and his “blue box” really have in store.


Archer

How do I even begin to describe Archer? It is rip-roaringly hilarious, totally inappropriate, borderline offensive, and absolutely genius. It’s an animated show set in an ambiguous time frame (clothes and setting seem to place it sometime in the 60s, but they often make modern-day pop culture reference and utilize current technology) about an independent spy agency called ISIS. It stars Sterling Archer as the titular character, a womanizing boozehound who is somehow incompetently the best spy in the world. ISIS is run by his alcoholic, smothering mother Mallory, and employs his kickass ex-girlfriend Lana, amongst other hilarious supporting characters.

The voice cast is really pretty amazing. H. Jon Benjamin (you’d recognize his voice) plays Archer, Jessica Walters (Lucille from Arrested Development) plays his mother, Aisha Tyler plays Lana, and Chris Parnell and Judy Greer play fellow ISIS employees. If you’re at all a fan of shows like Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or the like, in which the main characters are all thoroughly terrible people but still somehow sidesplittingly hilarious, you’ll like Archer.


Lost in Austen

Any girl who loves herself some Jane Austen, period romances, or romances in general, will LOVE this show. Well, actually, this isn’t really a show, per se. It was a miniseries that broadcast on BBC, and on Netflix it’s all compounded together into one 3-hour long block. I devoured it in a single sitting the first time, and have re-watched it at least three times since. It’s just so romantic, so clever, and so much FUN.

The story follows modern-day Londoner Amanda Price, an avid Jane Austen fan who is obviously unsatisfied with her life. She magically gets transported into the world of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice right at the beginning of the book, essentially swapping places with Elizabeth Bennett. You do have to be at least slightly well-versed with the story of P&P to fully understand everything that happens, but the premise really works and the music, staging, and costuming is all very well-done for a TV miniseries. It draws of parallels to the Keira Knightley P&P film (which was mentioned back on my Favorite Movies post, if you remember).


Battlestar Galactica

The summer after my Freshman year of college, my brother and I sat down to watch the first episode of Battlestar Galactica, a remake of the campy 1980s sci-fi show. We had heard good things about it, but hadn’t had a chance to see it yet. Well, within two weeks we had blown through the first two seasons. It. Is. Fantastic.

Back when it was still on the air, it drew nonstop praise from critics that, despite it airing on SciFi, it held up to Lost, 24, and all the other mainstream hit dramas on TV. There are only four seasons in total, and while I think it’s fair to say that the first two seasons are really where it struck gold, the show as a whole is just fantastic. For a television show, it brought to light a lot of really deep concepts, tackling things like war, religion, survival, and the basic tenant of what it means to be human. It’s not only a spectacularly done show, but it’s… moving, you know?

I really don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who might watch it, so I’ll just recommend that you all watch the miniseries, which introduces most of the major characters and general plot, before you watch the very first episode of the actual show (which is entitled “33 Minutes”). The miniseries is much more slow-moving than the show itself, so don’t be discouraged by it. It just sets everything up really perfectly, IMO.


My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

As if I would end with anything else. It’s official, you guys. I’m a total, full-fledged Brony. Or, you know, whatever the girl-version is. I was a fan of the 90s version of My Little Pony (you know, back when it was age-appropriate for me, haha), but you can blame my boyfriend for even introducing me to the current concept of MLP: FIM. He didn’t ask me to watch the show, he didn’t watch it himself, all he did was mention that this subculture of twenty-something guys and gals who were totally obsessed with it. And with that knowledge alone, I knew I had to check it out.

You guys. It is so fracking adorable. I can’t even. Yes, it is a show that was originally targeted at five- to eight-year-old girls. But there are so many references, characters, and animation elements that are clearly meant for those of us who are just slightly older than the show’s target demographic. (There’s a character named Doctor Whooves, for crying out loud!) The animation is flippin’ cute, but it’s more than that. The show is just so sincere, it’s not super weird like most kids shows are today. It’s refreshing! And the songs that are included in occasional episodes are damn catchy, too. It took me like, one week to catch up on both seasons that have aired so far. Perhaps I’ve lost credibility with 80% of you after posting about My Little Pony with such fervant adoration, but I don’t even curr. It’s glorious. GLORIOUS I SAY!


(source)

So there we are. Six vastly different, but equally enjoyable streaming-ready things for you to enjoy… or not! Have a fantastic weekend, everyponybody!

Do any of you have recommendations for TV shows/movies/miniseries that I should catch on the ‘Flix?

PS: Episode 2 of the RTB video is up, and it feature a ton of me and my super attractive tomato-red face! For your viewing pleasure:

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Posted on May 10, 2012 in Food, Reviews | 15 comments

Chasin’ Tails

Happy Vampire Diaries Day Thursday, everyone! Today is a particularly bittersweet one, because it holds the much-anticipated and much-feared season finale of my beloved TVD. This is a show that KNOWS how to do a season finale (I still remember yelling at my TV after the first season finale), so I’m already nervous about what’s going to happen and who they’re going to kill off. Eeep!

In other, non-teenager related news, I got to have a super fun dining experience last night! I met up with the fantastic Kate last night, marking our first foray into real-life interaction. We’ve been blog buddies for a while, and live so close to each other that we finally realized we had no excuse not to get together! The two of us met up at Chasin’ Tails, a Cajun/New Orleans-style seafood restaurant in Falls Church/Arlington (On 29, where the Bear Rock Cafe used to be, if you’re familiar with the area).

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We are having crawfish, woman, not HAM. Tsk.

Their motto? “No plates, no forks, no rules.” It’s quite apt, since they just bring your order in a big bag, which you then dump onto your paper-lined table and knock yourselves out. It was very reminiscent of those crab boil places in Ocean City where you sit at a table lined with brown paper, you get a bib and a hammar, and they just dump a bucket of crabs in front of you. It always makes for a fun, if rather messy, dining experience! Chasin’ Tails also gives you a big metal bucket to dump your trash in, as well as a roll of paper towels that was WELL UTILIZED.

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Their menu concept is pretty simple: the main feature is the “Bayou N’ A Bag”, where you pick your seafood (crawfish, shrimp, crab legs, lobster, mussels, clams, etc) in 1 lb. amounts (no half-pounds), pick a sauce (cajun, lemon-pepper, garlic butter, or the whole shebang which combines all three), and pick your spiciness level. They also have a bunch of fried side items and appetizers, and serve gumbo and jambalaya as well (you get a spoon for those, haha).

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We ordered a pound of crawfish (it was both of our first time trying it!) and mussels, the former done cajun style, and the latter done in the “Whole Shebang” sauce. We got them both medium spicy, and we are SO glad we did. The spice really built up, so I can’t even imagine how hot “Hot” is… let alone “Nawlins Hot”, which was the top level of spicy you could order. ::shudder::

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Each bag came with a little cob of corn, a slice of andouille sausage, and a baby potato in them as well. They were both SUPER delicious! We had to get our waitress to show us how to eat the crawfish (is it pronounced craw-fish or cray-fish?), which looked to me like the mutant lovechild of a lobster and a shrimp.

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Right??

I was initially wary of trying “mud bugs”, as they are apparently called sometimes, though I’m not really sure why? I guess I just don’t love eating anything that really looks like an animal… which I’m sure is making all of my vegetarian readers shake their heads in shame. Turns out that I really had no reason to be squeamish – they’re easy and you really get used to the spindly legs and whatnot. The process for eating them evidently goes like this: Pull the tail and head apart, suck the juice out of the head, then pull the meat out of the tail!

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Kate, proud of her handiwork! 🙂

The meat from the tail tasted just like shrimp to me, though perhaps a little less delicate in texture. Really yummy, though I’m not sure I would eat it again for the meat itself. I think it was more about the experience. Otherwise, it’s a lot of work for very little meat!

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Neither of us had a very good concept of how much was appropriate to order, and it turned out that the seafood alone didn’t end up being too much. After all, it’s not like you’re really eating and entire pound of seafood MEAT, the pound includes the weight of the shells/casings/whatever. So I think that ordering three lbs of the seafood dishes between two people would be a good amount (so there would be 1 1/2 pounds each, that way).

We ended up ordering a couple of side items halfway through our seafood chow-down because I could tell that it wasn’t going to be enough. Chasin’ Tails doesn’t really have any non-fried side items though, other than the corn and stuff that comes in the seafood bags, so in the future I’ll definitely make sure I order enough of the main dishes to go around.

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Kate and I ended up splitting an order of the cajun fries and six chicken wings, both of which were incredibly delicious but obviously super fried and terrible for you, hahaha. Our waitress was really talking up the wings and sold me on trying them. Three wings for each of us isn’t TOO bad, right? 😉

I would definitely come back here. It’s a pretty unique restaurant for this area, and while I’ve never been to New Orleans, or really had THAT much experience with cajun food, it all seemed pretty delicious to me! I think it would be super fun to take a bigger group of people to, so you can all get different kinds of seafoods to share. The food was flavorful (the Whole Shebang sauce was epic!), our waitress was really nice, and they definitely know what they’re doing in terms of spiciness. My recommendation would be to order conservatively on the spice level if you’re at all wary about it.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Posted on Apr 30, 2012 in Dear Diary, Food, Reviews | 11 comments

Hikaru Sushi

Hi-dee-ho there, neighborinos! Happy Monday! Or, as I usually say instead, “It’s Monday.” I hope that everyone had a great, relaxing weekend. Mine was a little more low-key than they have been lately, which was actually pretty wonderful. I spent some time with the fam, Sean got me thoroughly engrossed in an amazing video game (Heavy Rain, I know I’m late to the party), and I got to spend Sunday afternoon with FOUR doggies at the Shirlington Dog Park (Harry, Daxter, their cousin Oreo, AND his friend Casey that my sister is dogsitting!). My boys even ventured into the stream next to the park for the first time. I was very proud.

My weekend kicked off, however, with a new (to me) restaurant and some wonderful company. I met up with my Freshman year roommate, Joanna, and her twin sister Aileen (you might recognize them from my Harry Potter birthday party a couple weeks ago) for dinner at Hikaru Sushi!

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Me & Jo

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Aileen!

Since you know I am ALWAYS game to test out new sushi places (and size them up against my beloved Koi Koi, hehe), I was really excited when Aileen suggested this place. Hikaru is a cute little place located in Arlington right near the Courthouse AMC Movie Theatre.

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I think there was a little bit of a mix-up about who our server was supposed to be at first, but eventually we ordered some sake and all was right in the world, hehe.

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We also shared an order of edamame (which was a HUGE plate — great value, IMO!) to start, and Jo and I got seaweed salads as well. Nom.

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As for the sushi list itself, I had a really hard time deciding! They definitely had a lot of really interesting specialty rolls. The pricing for their specialty rolls was a little bit higher than Koi Koi, but other than that I thought that their offerings were really comparable.

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I ended up going with the Eel Cucumber roll (love me some unagi!) and the Fruity Maki roll, which had mango, apple, and avocado inside (as well as being wrapped in avocado). It was SUPER delicious! The fruity roll was really refreshing, almost like dessert sushi. Now that is something I can CERTAINLY get on board with!

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One touch that I really loved about this place is that when they brought out our check, they gave us each a little box of this Asian gum. This was hugely nostalgic for me, because I used to get this gum all the time whenever I would accompany my mom to the Asian grocery store. I would always beg for it when we got to the register, as I did with all the other crap I had thrown into the cart as we went down each ridiculously tiny aisle. Pocky sticks, strawberry koalas, these little candy discs that my sister and I called “pepperonis”, and VitaSoy boxes were my jam. (Hmm, I think I need to take a trip to Great Wall soon…)

Is there any particular food or candy that is particularly nostalgic for you? In addition to my strange (read: awesome!) Asian candy obsessions, I also have a very special place in my heart for Kinder Eggs, which remind of my elementary school days in Warsaw, Poland. I would bike down our cobblestone street to the convenience shop on the corner, spend my allowance on an egg or two, and kept a whole little collection of the toys you find inside.

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Posted on Apr 24, 2012 in Food, Giveaway, Reviews | 11 comments

Woodberry Kitchen

Good morning lovers. Now, I know you are all anxiously awaiting to hear who the winner of the Sparkle Gift Pack is, but you’re going to have to wait just a smidge longer. As a bonus, however, there is lots of beautiful food in between now and then! Though technically, I guess you really could just scroll down to the end. It’s like I’d ever know. I place the choice firmly in your hands. 😉

So! Aside from my awesome rock climbing adventures from this weekend, I also got to spend a little QT with my “big” sis (the word “big” is loosely applied here, as she is 7 inches shorter than me). We spent Saturday afternoon scouring Old Navy and Target for swimsuits for our upcoming St. Maarten family vacation (I found a neon pink bikini that I am in lurrrrve with) and then chilled out in her apartment with the dogs while we made sushi. Mmmm.

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That night, while the skies opened up outside, we watched My Week with Marilyn, which was excellent! I am a HUGE Marilyn Monroe fan, and I found the movie/story really interesting. I want to read the book it is based on now! It also helped soften me towards Michelle Williams a little bit, who I don’t actually like very much as an actress (blasphemy, I know). I just can’t see past her Jen Lindley ways, I guess? Hahaha.

The following morning, after carting Harry & Daxter out in the freezing rain to do their biz-niz (if I ever move into an apartment, I am not even kidding about getting one of those fake lawns to put on the balcony.) I decided that I MUST have crepes. I whipped up a bit o’ batter with some whole wheat flour, milk, and an egg, and went to work.

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One sweet crepe filled with raspberry preserves, and one savory with sauteed mushrooms, spinach, and a sprinkle of cheese. And a runny egg (and pickles, hehe) on the side. Nom! I wanted to make sure we had enough to eat so that we wouldn’t be starving by the time we got around to lunch. Jenny had made a 1:30 lunch reservation for us at Woodberry Kitchen, an awesome restaurant in the sketchiest part of Baltimore, hehe.

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Woodberry Kitchen is a sustainability-focused, locally-sourced restaurant with a rustic American menu. On weekdays it’s only open for dinner, but on Saturdays and Sundays they also serve brunch from 10 to 2. The location is, as even Jenny admitted, rather obscure. It’s amidst this beautiful new development of row homes and higher-end shops… which is smack-dab in the middle of this run down, super sketchy area. There’s a huge warehouse with smashed windows and boarded up doors just a block over, haha.

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The whole place has a very farm-like feel to it, with a large, open main dining room (that has a small upstairs balcony area where we were seated), an open kitchen, and vintage decorations. All the servers wore plaid shirts (the guys) or skirts with handmade-looking aprons over them (the girls), which was pretty adorable. You can probably already tell that there was a definite hipster aesthetic to the whole place, which I dug!

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They had live music playing, which made for a really nice ambiance.

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From our upstairs seat right along the edge of the balcony, we could see right into the balcony, which was super fun for me! They prepared all their eggs in little cast-iron skillets which they put directly into their woodburning oven.

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They offered complimentary house-carbonated seltzer, so I was pretty much in love after that point. Jenny got a Bloody Mary which was really peppery and delicious, too. I also loved their house-made hot sauce — spicy! They boast that everything they serve is made in-house, although when we asked for ketchup it definitely tasted like Heinz to us, hehe.

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To start, we shared a piece of monkey bread which was so good, I wanted to wrap myself up in it and die. Holy moly, it was amazing. Fluffy and buttery on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Homina, homina, homina.

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Jenny ordered the Asparagus Croissant Sandwich, which came with goat cheese, spinach, chile oil, and skillet potatoes on the side. The goat cheese tasted SO fresh, it really rang out.

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I ordered the Egg in a Hole, which was made with Pullman Bread and had sauteed asparagus and ramp leaves. It also came with this sweet onion cream on the side, which I think our waiter called bisous (?). It. Was. Incredible. For the sauce, our server said they just cook down onions and blend it with cream, and it was so delicious — sweet and light and I just wanted to take a bath in it. I also got a side of scrapple, hehe.

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The food really was excellent. I obviously can’t speak for their dinner menu, though I’ve heard rave reviews from Jenny as well as others on that, but their baked goods are incredible. The monkey bread, croissant, and the bread in my dish were all outstanding. I’d say that between the two dishes we got, mine edged out Jenny’s just a little bit, only because the goat cheese masked a lot of the other flavors in her sandwich. Not that goat cheese doesn’t taste delicious on its own, but I guess we were just expecting a little more complexity. Either way, I definitely recommend Woodberry Kitchen if you’re looking for a new place in Baltimore and are willing to brave the drive there, hahaha.

Okay! For those of you who have survived this post thus far, here we go. Out of the most entries that I’ve ever had on a giveaway EVER, the randomly drawn winner of the V8 V-Fusion Sparkling gift pack is…

Dani! Congratulations! Shoot me an email (gretchen@honeyishrunkthegretchen.com) with your address details, and we’ll take it from there!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and I’ll try to come up with another fabulous giveaway soon! Have a great day, everyone!

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