Little Italy During Christmastime

welcome to little italy

Distance from Monmouth County, NJ: 1 hour, 10 minutes

There is absolutely nothing like New York City during the Christmas season. Between the glowing shop windows at Lord & Taylor on 5th, the Christmas Tree and ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and horse-drawn carriage rides through Central Park, the city is magical.

For many people living in New Jersey, visiting New York City during the Christmas season is pretty much a requirement. And although Midtown is certainly fun and worth seeing, my favorite hangout is Downtown in Little Italy. The shops are great, the food is phenomenal, and the atmosphere is beautiful.

Taking the train is always easy, but this time we drove into the city. The drive is not bad, but there is the hassle of finding parking. Once we found parking, we headed to Lombardi’s at 32 Spring St.

lombardis, welcome

Not only is the food amazing, but it’s technically America’s first pizzeria. One of my favorite things about Lombardi’s is the ambiance. It’s not fancy. The hostess seats you at a table covered with a red-checkered table cloth, and immediately throws down paper plates, napkins, and silverware. The server comes by, asks you what you’d like, brings you a pitcher of Coke or a cocktail, and then delivers your pizza to the table.

The menu is small. But that’s OK because it can be. It’s that good.

Before the pizza, do your self, and your soul, a favor and order the wedge salad with blue  cheese.

wedge salad

After our salads, we ordered plain and white-ricotta pies.

Once lunch was finished, we walked to Caffe Roma at 176 Mulberry St. Definitely walk there. It’s really exciting to see Little Italy in all of its red-and-green glory decorated for Christmas. There are wreaths in every window and lights on every pole.

caffe romas

I ordered a double espresso and a few pignoli cookies, Danny ordered a hot chocolate and a slice of cheese cake, my sister ordered a cannoli pastry, my mother ordered tea and pignoli cookies, and my father ordered a baba.

After lunch and dessert, we went on home.

I love New York City, especially during Christmastime. I definitely think everyone should see the grand Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and the beautiful shop windows. However, I also think everyone should visit Downtown. Although this post was primarily dedicated to my love of food, I urge everyone visiting to stop into the shops. There are dress shops, cigar shops, specialty shaving shops, leather shops… there’s even a store that just sells lampshades. It’s a seasonal delight everyone should experience.

As always, feel free to contact me at antoinette@yoururbansuburban.com with questions, recommendations, etc. Ciao!

5 Things to Do in DC (That Aren’t Monument Hopping)

Distance from Monmouth County NJ: 4 hours

DC is a great city to escape to for a quick weekend destination. It’s not too far, the monuments are free, and most of the museums are free. Below I listed a few things I enjoy doing in DC that I think would make your experience in the city even more memorable.

See a play at Ford’s Theatre

fords theater.png

Not only is the theater, itself, absolutely beautiful, but the shows are great. Last year we got tickets to see A Christmas Carol and it was honestly one of the best nights out in DC we’ve had. Further, it’s home to one of the most important events in American History. Enjoy a show in the historic theater while sitting across from Lincoln’s booth. It’s an experience you will not forget.

Visit downtown Georgetown 

steps

Georgetown is one of my favorite areas to visit in DC because there is so much to do. The restaurants are fabulous, the shopping is phenomenal, and it is a pop culture heaven. Martin’s Tavern is a great place to eat, and definitely one to visit if you want to see where JFK proposed to Jackie. Ladurée is also amazing, especially if you’re a Francophile. Who doesn’t love visiting Kate Spade, or Lilly Pulitzer? Oh, and if you love horror movies, make sure to visit the end of M Street and see the famous Exorcist steps from the 1973 film.

Visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception 

basilica.png

I’m a graduate of CUA, so the Basilica holds a special place in my heart. However, it’s an amazing and beautiful display of architecture that even non-Catholics would enjoy visiting. It’s the largest Catholic church in the United States, one of the top ten largest churches in the world, and has hosted three popes. It’s very beautiful, and definitely worth a visit if you’re in DC.

Take a wine tasting class

wine tasting

While I was a student at CUA, I had the fortune of watching Brookland’s Monroe Street flourish into a pretty cool little area. Chic apartment buildings were built, lined by small urban boutiques. Wardman Wines was a new shop on the block, and it was one of my favorites. Not only is their selection impressive, but the staff is helpful and friendly. The shop also hosts wine tasting classes for about $20. They’re really informative, fun, and you definitely get your money’s worth.

Have a Walrus Platter at the Old Ebbitt Grill

walrus platter.png

The Old Ebbitt Grill is a DC classic, and definitely a restaurant you want to try if you’re in the city. The Walrus Platter is their raw bar selection, and it is phenomenal. Be sure to hit it up during happy hour, for it’s half price. Nothing is better than enjoying oysters on the half shell accompanied by a Hendrick’s gin martini. Stay for dinner while you’re there. I recommend the crab cakes because they are the best you’ll ever have. Pro tip: get the peach or apple cobbler for dessert. OMG.

Bonus tourist tip: stay at the Hotel Lombardy

The Hotel Lombardy is beautiful, elegant, not too expensive, and right in the heart of DC. Make sure to stay for the breakfast, too. The breakfast may be a little expensive, but it’s definitely worth it. I recommend the spinach and egg-white omelette, and a fresh squeezed orange juice.

 

My Homemade Hot Cocoa Recipe

hot cocoa

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I make a mean homemade hot cocoa. I developed the recipe during college for a project on French cuisine. After changing around some recipes I found online to my liking, I perfected a hot cocoa that I think is quite delightful. Plus, it’s super easy to make. If you enjoy chocolat chaud, try my recipe!

Ingredients for hot cocoa:

  • 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of water

Ingredients for whipped cream:

  • 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar

Directions:

Bring the milk and water to a low boil. Be sure not to keep the flame too high, because milk burns very easily and develops a bitter taste. Once boiling, whisk in the cocoa. I highly recommend sifting the cocoa before adding it to the milk. It does not have to be sifted, but it dissolves easier and will not clump. Once the cocoa is dissolved, continue whisking and add the sugar. Bring the hot chocolate to a low boil. That’s it. 

For the whipped cream, I use a whisk. Of course one can use a Kitchen Aid or hand mixer, but frankly sometimes I’m too lazy to pull them out of the cabinet. Anyway, pour the heavy whipping cream into a large round bowl and whisk away! Just keep going. Once the cream becomes thick and peaks form, add the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix thoroughly.

Pour the hot cocoa into your favorite mug, top it off with some whipped cream, and enjoy! Sometimes I like to sprinkle a little unsweetened cocoa or chocolate shaves on top of the cream for garnish.

As always, email me any questions or suggestions at antoinette@yoururbansuburban.com.

Ciao!

Christmas with the Koziars: Koziar’s Christmas Village

kozairs hill scene

Distance from Monmouth County, NJ: 2 hours, 15 minutes + wait traffic

This past Saturday we decided to take a mini trip out to Bernville, PA, and visit Koziar’s Christmas Village for some holiday fun.

danny and i

There is only one word to describe Koziar’s Christmas Village: impressive.

William M. Koziar began decorating his farm for his family in 1948. Now, 70 years later, the Christmas Village is a booming success and rated the top Christmas display in the world by Display World magazine.

The farm is quite large, sitting adjacent to an equally sized lake. Probably the most wondrous moment while visiting was before we even entered the gates. The surrounding area is a very quite rural community, and the winding country roads were very dark. Then, out of nowhere after rising to a hilltop, the valley below was as bright as day, glowing with electric lights for acres. It was truly stunning.

After parking, which was free, we entered the gates for $10 each. Arrows line the winding Christmas trails throughout the farm so patrons are sure not to miss any attractions. To the right of the entrance are rows of gift shops, snack stands, and characters for kids to take pictures with. I highly recommend picking up a hot cocoa to sip and keep your hands warm during your tour!

We started our way through the trails which began in front of the lake (also decorated, of course). Throughout, there were walking tales of classic Christmas stories such as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Nutcracker,” a Nativity scene, and old farm buildings each decorated as mini houses. My favorite attractions at the farm were the multiple decorated shop windows that peaked into different Christmas scenes. There must have been 50 window scenes, all very ornate, bright, and colorful. A few, for instance, were a bakery with children baking cookies, an Americana-themed post office, and St. Nicholas leaving gifts in a child’s bedroom.

cookies

The only downside to the trip was the traffic entering the Christmas Village. Yes, it only took two hours to get to the farm. However, one must include an additional 1.5-2 hours to the drive because the traffic just two miles from the farm is practically standstill.

However, it’s all traffic entering the farm. Kozair’s Christmas Village may take a while to get to, but once there, if you love Christmas, you will not be disappointed. The Christmas Village is now a world-renowned Christmas tradition that is visited by thousands of guests every year. My advice would be to plan accordingly, dress warmly, and once again, get the hot cocoa.

joy

 

 

 

Spontaneous Friday Night Fun in Red Bank, New Jersey

yummy

Hey, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I am glad to be back. With the madness of Thanksgiving finally winding down, it’s time to begin preparing for the Christmas season.

What better way to begin than with wine and cheese sampling followed by French pastry? We couldn’t think of another way, either, so we headed into Red Bank, New Jersey, (Black) Friday evening and began our date night with The Cheese Cave’s $5 Friday.

cheese cave

It was a very cool experience. It was fun, romantic, spontaneous, and the food was phenomenal. For $5 each we enjoyed five different cheeses accompanied by freshly baked artisan bread and gourmet jams. We decided to spend an extra $15 and ordered the charcuterie platter, which included three different meats, marinated olives, toasted almonds and bread, and grapes. The Cheese Cave is BYOB, so we brought a bottle of Hess Cabernet Sauvignon that someone gifted to us.

The atmosphere is comfortable, cozy, and very intimate. Upon entering, we were greeted at the door by the friendly staff who opened our bottle of wine for us and explained all of the cheese selections.

We didn’t need a reservation, the place was packed yet comfortable, and for $25 we enjoyed great food over a bottle of wine and the soft sound of Dusty Springfield’s voice. It was a really exciting and relatively inexpensive date night in a festive little town. I would highly recommend attending The Cheese Cave’s $5 Friday if you’re looking for something new to do.

After we left, we walked a few doors down to Antoinette Boulangerie where we picked up a mini crème brûlée and oatmeal cookie sandwich to split. Antoinette Boulangerie has been a favorite of mine for a few years now. Whenever I would come home from college for a weekend I would make sure to stop in for the croissants. If you have not visited the boulangerie, you must ASAP. Not only are the pastries absolutely delectable, but they are beautiful.

more food

*Fresh croissant + black coffee = heaven*

We were not planning on doing anything this Friday evening, and instead had a great night out that I highly recommend to everyone!

As always, feel free to contact me at antoinette@yoururbansuburban.com.