Three Evenings, Many Years

There was a stretch of time during middle school when I would watch Grease after school almost daily. As a result, I can recite every line and lyric – which is quite horrifying as an adult because the movie is quite problematic well beyond 30-year-olds playing teenagers. And because of this, it is impossible for me to think of summer nights without quoting at least one line from the infamous song. A few weeks ago, I signed the kids up for an evening three-day Vacation Bible School and I crossed my fingers and toes that the Army wouldn’t send Clay away during those days so we could have some kid-free summer nights – at least for a couple of hours.

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Well – the stars and moon aligned and Clay was actually home those three days. After our children excitedly joined their friends, we waved goodbye and promptly went out for dinner and drinks every.single.night. It was absolutely glorious and a reminder of what our lives were like before deciding to expand our team. The first night, we ended up at El Paso eating chimichangas and drinking margaritas and then we hit up the grocery store for pints of ice cream – obviously a super hot date.

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Because we only had 2.5 hours each night, we chose places in our little pocket of Northern Virginia. If we were cooler (and wealthier!), we’d be closer to the district but instead, we’re leaning into our young-family-with-two-kids-and-a-dog-wanting-good-schools personas and find ourselves living on the other side of the Potomac. The second night, we made reservations at Mike’s American Grill, which is our favorite local restaurant.

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I had a traditional martini and Clay had his favorite IPA. We ate crab dip, filet, salmon, and too much bread. And as I wrote on Instagram – we talked politics, we goal-mapped, and we tried to out-do each other with pop culture references. Between our jobs, the kids’ schedules, and day-to-day responsibilities, there are times we wonder where the teenagers from 17 years ago went. But then whenever we manage to grab a moment together – just the two of us – we realize that we’re just still two young kids in love, albeit with more wrinkles and gray hair.

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On our third kid-free evening, we went to Taco Bamba Taqueria. We freely admit that while we weren’t the biggest fans of Texas, we do miss the tacos terribly. But having Taco Bamba nearby helps because they are by far the best tacos we’ve had in the DC area.

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I had a local Fair Winds Quayside Kolsch and Clay had a west coast IPA. Our tacos were coco loco shrimp, barbacoa, Ricky Bobby, taco bamba, and hail to the hog. My favorite is the barbacoa taco and Clay’s is the taco bamba but they’re all really good. And I am forever indebted to their salsa verde – I could put that stuff on anything and everything.

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This picture of us from 2001 is one of my favorites. We had been dating for about a month and I was completely infatuated with the guy – I knew I loved him more than I could love anyone else. And thankfully almost 17 years later, I still feel the same way. There’s nobody else I’d rather eat chimichangas, filet mignon, and street tacos with and I’m thankful that the timing worked out and we were able to enjoy three evenings out in a row. It felt like a callback to our dating days and first five years of marriage. The responsibilities of parenthood can sometimes make us wonder where these carefree teenagers went. But it turns out that they didn’t go far – they just have more refined tastes in beer and food.

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Growing up, Brussel sprouts weren’t a staple in our house. In fact, they were only served once. Us four kids weren’t impressed by the bowl of boiled Brussel spouts on the table (nor the accompanying smell) so we entered into negotiations with my parents. My dad – apparently not a fan of mom’s boiled Brussel spouts – agreed to our terms. If our dog (who ate everything) refused to eat one, then we didn’t have to finish the serving on our plate. We whooped with delight when our dog promptly spit out the boiled mini-cabbage and walked away into the other room. It would be 15 years before I ate another Brussel sprout.

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I can’t remember the exactly place I had roasted Brussel sprouts as an adult but I remember being blown away and thinking “THIS is what they’re supposed to taste like?!? Brussel sprouts and lima beans seem to be the punching bag of the vegetable world. Thankfully, the former appear to be sprouting (hi oh!) in popularity and popping up on menus near and far. Rumor has it that Brussels sprouts hail from the land of Belgium – not surprising given it’s namesake. Food historians believe that the Brussel sprout as we know it were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome and considered to be part of the same species as cabbage. French settlers brought them over to Louisiana in the 18th century and they’ve been the chagrin of many United States children ever since.

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Occasionally, our Trader Joe’s will sell Brussel sprouts on the stalk, which is my favorite way to purchase them. However, I picked up this microwavable bag of whole sprouts at Aldi’s the other day. Do NOT microwave them – your kitchen will smell worse than a middle school hallway in June and then you’ll be subjected to eating steamed Brussel sprouts, which is about as much fun as eating boiled cabbage.

Coffee: A Love Affair

This part of the country experienced record-breaking wind last Friday that resulted in massive power outages across the national capital region over the weekend. Clay was home for the weekend (woohoo) so we were able to ride out the storm together and introduce the children to Monopoly and flashlight tag. Our stove and hot water heater are gas so we were fine – just a little cold because this house doesn’t have a fire place (womp womp). I instagrammed a picture of Clay grinding coffee using a power converter in our 4Runner for our French press on Saturday morning because the absence of electricity wasn’t going to come between us and our coffee.

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{enjoying an Americano on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland}

I admit that I am intrigued by people who don’t drink coffee. It is such an integral part of my morning and afternoon (and occasional evening) routine that I honestly have trouble imaging my life without it. Not only is it my number one source of antioxidants, research shows that multiple cups of coffee a day does far more good than harm. Ensuring that I reap the benefits, I am a simple girl when it comes to my coffee – either black or with a splash of cream and the occasional sprinkle of stevia. No flavored coffee. No artificial creamers or sweeteners (blech…) and I limit my lattes to special treat status. Those who know me know my love affair with coffee and my penchant to lean into my coffee snob reputation. I can’t help it – I love coffee. I love the taste. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the stories behind each region and roast of bean. I love the cultural impact coffee has around the world. And I love how it doesn’t matter what language is spoken or skin color is represented – we can always sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee together. Coffee is a universal language.

The Wharf – A Mix of New and Old

There are times when Clay and I stroll through Washington DC, weaving in and out of the monuments before hopping on the metro to Eastern Market to grab a bit to eat,  wondering what it would have been like if we were stationed here right out of college. The night he had to rank his top stationing choices during his senior year, I remember sitting next to him on my bed with my laptop, plugging in the possibilities into Map Quest (t’was before Google Maps entered the scene) to see how far they were from Clemson University. Because he’s a whopping 11 months older than me, we planned to do the long-distance dance while I finished my senior year. We’d have a summer wedding, honeymoon in Costa Rica, and then I’d join him at Fort Meade, Maryland – the installation at the top of our list, where I would then put my Political Science and Economics degree to good use in our nation’s capital.

In reality – we ended up scrambling to have a December wedding during the winter break of my senior year, we honeymooned in New York City for three-days because that is the only amount time for which his unit would release him, and I joined him at Fort Drum, New York six months later, after I graduated. It would then take me another six months to find a full-time job quasi-related to my career-field. It was our first experience with, as my friend Sheena so lovingly put in my previous post, the Army showing us that ultimately she’s the boss.

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I realize now that this is quite the long introduction for a post about the District Wharf. Basically – it’s nice to experience the things that we long ago dreamed of doing as newlyweds stationed in this area. Granted, I have yet to work in the district using my undergraduate degree and having two kids means that we don’t attend nearly as many cocktail parties as we did our original scenario, but we get to do things we enjoy and spend our free time exploring a world class city. We’ve been wanting to check out the District Wharf since the grand re-opening in October 2017. The gray and drizzling sky on a Sunday afternoon provided the perfect backdrop to walk around where DC meets the water.

Victory Brewing Company

In 1996, childhood friends Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski founded Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, Pennsylvania in an old Pepperidge Farm factory. Over the years, Victory has grown into an award-winning brewery with distribution in 34 states and 9 countries. With three locations – Downingtown (the flagship brewery), Parkesburg (capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day), and Kennett Square (produces unique beers that are available only in the on-site brewpub) – Victory Brewing Company is showing no signs of slowing down.

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When I was up in Pennsylvania with the kids last weekend, my sister and I decided that a trip to Parkesburg was in order because it was en route to Old Windmill Farm. Clay and I have been to the original Downingtown location many times during out visits to the area over the years but this was my first visit to the Parkesburg location (opened late 2015). I have yet to go to the Kennett Square location, which is a tad ironic because that is where I went to high school. Next visit – I’ll be sure to hit it up, hopefully with Clay in tow.

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While some may grumble at the changing culture of craft-breweries, I am #allin at bring children along to the increasingly family-friendly environments. Germans don’t bat an eye at families in biergartens and a lot even have playgrounds (I must live in Germany at some point in my life) so it is nice to see a shift over on this side of the pond as well. We ate lunch and then took the self-guided tour upstairs.

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We were very impressed with the self-guided tour. While not very long, it held the interest of the kids and adults alike. While we obviously don’t allow our children to drink beer, we don’t hide the fact that we enjoy it. We appreciate the history and craft – how water sources can affect flavor, how different grains impact balance, and the science of brewing. Our hope is that as our children age they don’t view alcohol as simply a vehicle to get drunk, but rather develop respect for beer, wine, and spirits and enjoy the nuances that consuming such beverages provide.

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All of the kids enjoyed the hopsniff.

It was like getting pelted in the face with the essence of an IPA.

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We were there on a Saturday so we weren’t able to see the production in action but it was still very interesting so have somewhat of a bird’s eye view on how the beer is made.

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According to the Victory Brewing Company website, the Parkesburg location “features a German-built ROLEC brewhouse with a production capacity of ten 200-barrel brews per day or a total daily capacity of 2,000 barrels (6,200 gallons). In one year we can brew 500,000+ barrels. Best-in-class brewing systems and installations allow for efficient use of energy and maximal hygiene throughout the process.

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Oh how I wish the bottling area was up and running. I started to sing the Laverne and Shirley theme song and my children, nephew, and niece proved that their side-eye game was strong that day.

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The Victory Brewing Company’s Parkesburg Taproom is located at 3127 Lower Valley Road, Parkesburg, PA 19365. If you ever find yourself in southeastern Pennsylvania, check it out. Bring the kids! Eat, drink, and take a self-guided tour. And don’t forget – Go Eagles!

29th Parallel Coffee

Yesterday morning, I texted my dear friend, Jackie, to see if she was interested in grabbing a cup of coffee with me after our children were at school. I figure that since I am currently not working outside of the home, I might as well lean into the stay-at-home-mom-of-school-aged-kids persona. We agreed to meet at 29th Parallel Coffee in Fairfax Station and after throwing my hair up into a top-knot and putting on my best leggings (because stay-at-home-mom), I safely delivered the kids to school and drove to the unassuming shopping center where 29th Parallel Coffee resides.

I’ve heard people rave about this place and it is one of the highest-rated coffee shops in the Washington DC Metro area on Yelp so I was a bit taken aback by the outside appearance. I was expecting Brooklyn hipster vibes – not strip mall chic with abandoned dental offices. But guys? Once we got inside, 29th Parallel Coffee did not disappoint. At all.

My coffee snob tendencies were home. These were my people. Jackie and I chatted with the owner, Amir, and he expertly informed us all about the available coffee. Where the coffee was sourced, the chemistry behind the extraction process, and how the soluble flavors from the coffee are dissolved in the water. Jackie ordered a mocha that was made with fresh ground and tapped espresso on a machine that reminded me of the one I used while working at Harrington’s Coffee Company in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Like I said, I felt like I was at home. To this day, the hissing of an espresso machine remains one of my favorite sounds.

I opted for pour-over coffee. Also known as hand-drip coffee (as opposed to automatic-drip), pour-over coffee involves a kettle with a narrow spout, a special carafe, fresh ground beans, and patience.

I selected the REKO from Ethiopia. According to Amir, the beans had tasting notes of citrus, lemongrass, molasses, and ginger. As soon as he began grinding the beans, I knew I made the right choice and forced myself to be patient as he started the pour-over process.

My patience was rewarded with what may have been the best cup of coffee I’ve had in recent memory. Can you believe that I actually forgot to take a picture of the final product? I feel like I need to be beat with a blogging stick or something…bad blogger – bad!

I enjoyed my pour-over coffee with a splash of fresh cream. It was smooth, lush, and had absolutely no bitter aftertaste that is often present in even the most well-prepared cups of coffee. Jackie and I also each had a spinach and cheese quiche (which I also forgot to photograph but you can see a corner of it in the picture above of her mocha). 29th Parallel Coffee has a daily grind (pour-over), a daily drip (automatic-drip) during peak hours, espresso drinks, nitrobrew (cold strong coffee infused with nitrogen), assorted pastries, and seasonal items. Please stop it for yourself. Bring a friend. Have a chat with Amir. I promise you won’t be disappointed. We certainly weren’t.

29th Parallel Coffee

5616 Ox Rd
5616 Ox Rd, Fairfax Station, VA 22039