Ellen's Stardust Diner Review

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For our July 4th holiday, the husband and I took a mini-vacay to the big apple where we took in more than just apples. :)

Not necessarily a big fan of anything particularly touristy (although hello! One WTC observatory! And broadway shows? Yes, please!), Justin and I decided, at the suggestion of my employer, Ellen's Stardust Diner, a diner in the middle of everything touristy at Times Square, where servers pull double duty waiting tables and singing as they go.

Even though the diner didn't sound that appealing to me, I was told the cheesecake was to die for. So, on our last day in the big city, we made our way into the long line that snaked around the building worrying we'd be waiting for hours…


"Whelp! There goes our remaining time in the city!" I thought. "This cheesecake had better be worth it!" :)

We had chosen the 11AM time because we thought the restaurant would be less crowded then. While the number of people in line suggested otherwise, within less than 30 minutes my husband and I had been seated.

The restaurant table seating is pretty cramped. In most cases to seat a normal-sized person, you have to pull the table out a bit so that one person can get through to the seat across from the other. Make sense?


Does a picture help?

(You only wish you could draw as good as me!)

It was cramped, but at 11AM not too crowded. We definitely had room to spread out and abuse the empty tables beside us (while they were still empty, anyway).

At first I found the singing waitstaff to be loud and distracting. However, Justin and I knew what we were ordering, so there wasn't much menu discussion. Plus, we were tired from a late night the day before, so entertainment was … entertaining. :)


The food here was a little expensive, so we kept our order simple, getting just the cheesecake (of course), a beer (for Justin), and an egg cream soda for me.

In case you aren't aware, an egg cream soda is a specialty soda drink found in NYC. It is typically made with milk, carbonated water, and chocolate syrup and was created by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. There is confusion as to how the drink got its name. One theory: the German "echt" cream soda was mispronounced. Another: "grade 'A' milk was used in its creation, leading to the name 'a chocolate A cream', thus sounding like 'egg' cream" (Wikipeda). Either way, I definitely recommend trying one while in NYC, just to say you did. :) My preference: vanilla. (It comes in three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. Chocolate is the most common since it was established as the "original" egg cream flavor.)


The cheesecake, while delicious and the perfect balance of sweet and cheesecake-y, was not something I would rush back to Ellen's Diner for in the future. It was simply too pricey for a dessert I'm not a huge fan of.

However, I did fall in love with the Ellen's Diner concept! Wait staff acting as entertainment? You never get bored! And the DJ was phenomenal as well!

Super funny, the DJ made sure everyone was aware that the song "Love is an Open Door" was "every mother's nightmare!"

And, of course, our waiter sang the male parts. :)


My favorite singer was Bianca Madison who sang "Killing Me Softly". I had the song stuck in my head for days afterward… She was an amazing singer! :)


What I came to find through this visit to Ellen's Stardust Diner is that not all tourist traps are alike. If you can't afford to see a show on Broadway, maybe this is a good alternative? If you have young kids, perhaps "dinner and a show" should occur all at once? No one likes fidgety, unsettled kids. However, if you prefer a more local version of NYC or places with unique (or exceptional) food, then perhaps you should skip this. There are definitely other, better, cheaper places in NYC to eat.

Prior to my blog review, had you heard of Ellen's Stardust Diner? Does it seem like a place you would be interested in going?

* I'm spending July writing my blog posts in response to all of the wacky (and not so wacky) national and international holidays that occur during this month. Today's image and blog post were chosen in response to National Cheesecake Day, which is actually July 30th! If you are looking for a good cheesecake recipe to try, I highly recommend Alton Brown's. Alternatively The Cheesecake Factory always does a promotion for National Cheesecake Day that you could also take part in. Free slice of cheesecake? Heck yeah! :) Will you be participating with cheesecake over the weekend in celebration of the most wonderful time of the year (says the person who isn't a big fan of cheesecake…)?!
** This post was written in advance. I am out of town and working full time most of this month. I appreciate your understanding if I am slow to respond to comments and questions. :)

The French Broad in Asheville

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Photo credit: cleverocity via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Last year, shortly after April A-Z, I began thinking more about my blog and where I wanted to take it. I started writing based on specific topics (Money Monday, Travel Tuesday, etc…) and I knew that to continue with that trend I would need new topics. In fact, having set topics encouraged me to think outside the box and delve into my surroundings in a new way. What could we learn from places we were already frequenting? What new experiences could be had so close to home?

And thus I began to research.

At the time we had a season pass to Biltmore Estates, so we were spending a lot of time in Asheville. Instead of just going and seeing my favorite things, I decided to actually do a bit of research. What was something new and different that we could do?

Well, for one we went exploring the local art museum. We ate at a vegetarian restaurant and we explored a book shop. Then, I saw the line for French Broad

I had read about it online, but there it was – the stately building standing there with, what was deemed to be one purpose: serving chocolate in every shape and form to the people of Asheville.

Believing that the lines would always be long (they aren't), Justin and I jumped into position and waited. An hour went by as chocolate menus were passed down and instructions from staff were given. Finally, it was our turn.

I ordered the milk chocolate liquid truffle hot chocolate, a caramel truffle, and a French macaron (with a sample of ice cream to taste). Justin ordered coffee, a dark chocolate truffle, and a slice of cake.

The idea was that we were going to try all of these different types of chocolate and discern whether or not French Board was worth the experience.

Photo credit: Jason Riedy via Visual Hunt / CC BY

One bite…

Two bites…

Three bites…

Four.

Disappointment slowly consumed us.

My truffle hot chocolate was too thick and too dark to be considered creamy or, in my opinion, delicious. Justin was pleased with his coffee, but I don't drink it… :( The cake was disappointing and the macaron was more like an American cookie than anything I've ever had in France. And finally the truffles were… intense.

Visiting the French Broad Chocolate Lounge was an experience like no other. From the long lines to seating yourself on couches or at tables to the servers who bring you your food. It was fun and I might return, but only if the lines aren't long.

As I said, the chocolate treats we tried were a let down, however, the ice cream was good. I'd be willing to go back and give the French Broad a second chance. Maybe my disappointment stemmed from the products I ordered rather than the chocolate itself? And, further more, maybe it was a blessing in disguise that I couldn't consume as much chocolate as I ordered?! I imagine one could get pretty chocolated out at a place like this! :)


At French Broad, they serve everything chocolate: cakes, truffles, brownies, ice cream, trifles, mousse, and, of course, hot chocolate. If you were to go, which would you choose? Do you have a chocolate shop like this where you live?

* I'm spending July writing my blog posts in response to all of the wacky (and not so wacky) national and international holidays that occur during this month. Today's blog post was written in response to National Milk Chocolate Day! Will you be eating any in honor of the festive occasion? ;)
** This post was written in advance. I am out of town and working full time most of this month. I appreciate your understanding if I am slow to respond to comments and questions. :)

Singing the Song of Summer…

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Walt Disney World, November 2015

Get up and Take Your Pants For a Walk toDay! You never know what you will find! :)

* I'm spending July writing my blog posts in response to all of the wacky (and not so wacky) national and international holidays that occur during this month. Today's image was chosen in response to Take Yours Pants For A Walk Day. What do you think you would find if you did just that? – took your pants for a walk, that is?
** This post was written in advance. I am out of town and working full time most of this month. I appreciate your understanding if I am slow to respond to comments and questions. :)

A Walk Through Savannah, GA

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On July 4th 2015, Justin and I found ourselves in Savannah, Georgia helping my brother move from his college apartment (complete with four other male apartment-mates) to a new apartment in preparation for the birth of my nephew. His fiancé had just moved to Georgia from Florida and they were excited about beginning a new life together at the completion of both their graduations from college.

While my family was pretty content spending most of their time between apartments, Justin knows me pretty well… and suggested that one morning, between moving the two lovebirds, that we go for a walk in downtown Savannah before my parents awoke … and just see what there was to see. As it turns out, from my experience that is, Savannah is a big party town. While we were up early exploring, everyone else was in their hotel rooms sleeping off a beer or… fifteen. :)

We began our walk at the top of the downtown Hampton Inn. We rode the elevator to the top floor just to get a view of the city from the rooftop. We enjoyed seeing the church steeple from our vantage point as well as nearby hotels (the Westin across the river, Holiday Inn Express beside us), the Talmadge Memorial bridge, the Savannah River, Savannah City Hall (with the gold dome), and, of course, the pool. How can you go on vacation to the coast and not spend time at the pool?






Then it was on to the real walking.

At first we decided to walk along the riverside, only to discover that that eventually ends… at a parking lot. :( Boooooorrring. (Though look at those trees overhanging the walkway!)



Then it was on to the 24 squares in Savannah… We didn't visit all of them, because I hadn't done any research going into this walk. Here are the ones we did see though…










By this point, my parents called letting us know that we needed to meet them at the hotel for breakfast. It was time to get on the road and help my brother and his fiancée with more moving. :-/

If you ever plan to visit Savannah, I highly encourage going on an early morning walk before everybody else wakes up. There is little that is more invigorating. It's truly a great way to start the day! :)

Have you ever gone on an early morning walk just to explore before everyone else in the city/town has woken up? Do my pictures inspire you to do so in the future?

** Linking up to City Trippers Mummytravels.com and Wandermum.co.uk

***Linking up with Lauren on Location, Marcella from What a Wonderful World, and The Sunny Side of This

* I'm spending July writing my blog posts in response to all of the wacky (and not so wacky) national and international holidays that occur during this month. Today's images were chosen in response to National Aunt & Uncle Day! My nephew was born in Savannah, Georgia, so it just seemed fitting.
** This post was written in advance. I am out of town and working full time most of this month. I appreciate your understanding if I am slow to respond to comments and questions. :)

The Power of Media In Choosing Travel Destinations

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Photo credit: Ed Yourdon via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Shortly after Justin and I got married, our lives became filled to the brim with activity. Justin's parents had plans to visit his elderly uncle in Boston and an aunt I had never met in New Jersey. Considering that quality time with family is something I highly value, I jumped on board despite the knowledge that we would be spending all of our money attending a wedding in Europe less than a year later. (As it turns out, spending time with friends is also something I strongly value. Go figure!)

When it came time to start planning, I began my research as I always do: online. Lots of google searching. Maybe even some pinterest searching as well. My goal: find the hidden gems that a big city like New York City had to offer and combine them with other touristy must-dos. Central Park? Check! see the MOMA? check! visit Times Square? check! I needed to find cheap things to do to fill time and keep us moving from activity to activity, but I really wanted and hoped to find charming activities as well. This was my chance to prove to the in-laws that I knew something about trip planning and could be trusted to do a good job at it; I could stay within budget and plan an exciting vacation.

One thing led to another and despite plans beginning as early as July of 2012, it took almost the whole year for the plans to really shape up into what they became. Justin's parents went back and forth confusing me: were we staying with his aunt in New Jersey? … or were we on our own? Were we sleeping at his uncle's house in Boston? … or not? How much time would we be spending in the actual city and how much in homes?

To make matters worse, just as we began planning, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City pretty hard that October. Would New York City recover in time for our summer vacation? How badly would attractions be harmed?

As terrible as Hurricane Sandy was, I found that I learned a lot about New York City through the clean up effort. In fact, one image from New York mesmerized me…

Photo credit: DeShaun Craddock via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Jane's Carousel all lit up at night and immersed in the high water caused by the hurricane.

From that moment forward, I knew whether or not we went in July 2013 … or at some other time, visiting this carousel and the DUMBO park area was definitely going to be included in my NYC bucket list.

How could it not?

I won't go into all of the intricacies that involved NYC trip planning or what it took to find DUMBO park and Jane's Carousel, but I did want to just put it out there that the media was very inspirational in my decision to find Jane's Carousel and DUMBO Park. As it turns out, you can find inspiration for travel almost anywhere and it doesn't necessarily need to come from a book of 36 Hours of must-see things in X city. You don't need to consult Condé Nast Travel or Rick Steves for all of your travel planning; sometimes you can just surf pinterest or pay attention to the news. Maybe a great idea for a place to explore could be found in your facebook feed…

I've discovered that sometimes some of the best locations come from the most unlikely places!

Have you ever discovered a bucket-list destination in an unlikely place? Where do you go when you are searching for things to do – either in your own city or one you are planning to visit in the future?

How to Live the Lime Life

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I'm currently on vacation in Europe, so today I'm sharing an old post. I absolutely love limes and … kind of love this post because it is all about them. :) I'm hoping one day to buy a whole box of limes and just make numerous delicious things! If you are with me in the lime love, check out the recipes I share in this re-post and be sure to share with me some of your favorites. :) Have you made any of these treats before?

The end of summer is quickly approaching, but I think there may still be a few days left to get my lime fix in. Nothing, to me, screams summer more than limes so when Btipsy offered to send me a Professional Jumbo Lemon Squeezer to test out, I knew a night of lime-euphoria was in the making.

First, I planned the drinks…

Lime Rickey, Cherry Limeade, Brazilian Limeade

And while I would be quite content myself to fill up on this decadence, I decided that a bit of guacamole would make for a lime-tastic appetizer. Something like this or this…


Grilled guacamole?!? Yum!! #heaven


Perhaps for dinner we could have chili lime chicken either with rice and black beans or served in tacos… I'd probably go light on the chili pepper and jalapenos though, since I'm not really a fan of spice.

Finally! Dessert! Now, how to choose which to make?

Atlantic Beach Pie, Lime & Coconut Ice Cream, No Bake Key Lime Pie in a Jar

Maybe all 3?!

In the end we just fixed Brazilian limeade with our Btipsy Professional Jumbo Lemon Squeezer. Oh well. Maybe we'll get around to some of the other recipes next time.


A few notes on the Btipsy Professional Jumbo Lemon Squeezer:

• It's super easy to use. Cut your lemon or lime in half, place the fruit doward into the squeezer, and squeeze. Instant juice! (And mess if you aren't holding over a cup!)
• It takes minimal effort. Remember way back when you would use your hands? This method is soooo much easier!
• The squeezer collects the seeds and prevents them from going into your food. No more fishing them out! Yay!
• It is dishwasher safe and has a hook from which you can hang it with.

I would definitely recommend this product AND having a fantastic lime (or lemon night) to boot! What delicious food and drinks would you make if you had a Btipsy Professional Jumbo Lemon Squeezer?

* I received a product for free in exchange for sharing my opinion and a review. All opinions are my own.

** I'm spending July writing my blog posts in response to all of the wacky (and not so wacky) national and international holidays that occur during this month. Today's image and blog post were chosen in response to National Hammock Day, because nothing screams "hammock" like laying on the beach in a tropical setting with a fruit drink in hand. (Then again, it's not like I go camping that much…)

*** This post was written in advance. I am out of town and working full time most of this month. I appreciate your understanding if I am slow to respond to comments and questions. :)

Todd Wilbur's The Best Of Top Secret Recipes

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Every year at Christmas time, Justin and I always receive that one item from that one person that is decidedly not unique and also very cheap. It's not that I need an expensive gift for the holidays … or even really a unique one, but it is nice if some semblance of thought has gone into the gifting…

This year for Christmas, just as I finally figure out what to do with last year's gifts (include them with a wedding gift that I did put thought into! hoozah!), we get another silly Christmas gift. The Best of Top Secret Recipes? Really? It's not that I had heard of the book before, but one look at the cover told me all I needed to know: junk food for the junk food chef.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all about the junk food. Give me cookies any day! And cheese fries! :)

But, Justin, not so much. And he's the one that does all of the cooking.

No, this book would not go over well in our household.

However, I decided to give it a try… What did I see in the Table of Contents? DoubleTree cookies?!? As in the hotel? Count me in! (Yes, that's all it took.)

Next thing you know we are in the kitchen two weeks prior to an actual stay at a DoubleTree Hotel and Justin's baking me cookies. Because, why not? He used pecans instead of the called for nuts, and these cookies were too die for! Delicious, melt in your mouth, and perfectly chocolatey. Only my grandmother's cookies can compete! And I'm not typically one to like nuts in my chocolate chip cookies!

This had to be a fluke! So last week, I had Justin make the Chili's (Restaurant) fajitas.


Another win!

While things like McDonald's milkshakes, Wendy's Frostys, KFC's fried chicken, and Krispy Kreme donuts are not high on are must-make list (nor should they be!), this book definitely managed to win me over. Yes, it is mostly made up of junk food, but the, few and far between non junk food items are definitely tasty and delicious. And when you actually want junk food, this is the book for you! The best part? You can find it on Amazon for as little as 1¢ + shipping! What are you waiting for? ;)

The one thing I would caution you about though is that the author, Todd Wilbur, recommends using name brand products in his recipes. Why? I ask you. Is he getting paid to push these products? Is the cookbook an elaborate ruse to sell products?

Well… whatever. I don't use name brands, and my opinion is that you don't have to either.

The point is: I will never doubt a person's not very well-thought out gift again!

At least until next year! ;)

Have you ever been surprised by the usefulness of what you thought was a ridiculous gift? What about a cookbook you thought had no place in your life?

Buy Todd Wilbur's The Best of Top Secret Recipes here.

* I'm spending July writing my blog posts in response to all of the wacky (and not so wacky) national and international holidays that occur during this month. Today's post was written in response to national Junk Food Day, because most of the food found in Todd Wilbur's The Best of Top Secret Recipes are … junk food. It doesn't mean they are any less good, I'm just referring to the food, on Junk Food Day, as what it is. :) Will you be making or eating any junk food today in celebration? :)
** This post was written in advance. I am out of town and working full time most of this month. I appreciate your understanding if I am slow to respond to comments and questions. :)