Dining Out After Quarantine

Sauvage in Brooklyn, New York

I used to eat at restaurants at least twice a week before the Pandemic. Partly for my job as a reviewer and partly for the enjoyment. I loved gathering with my people around a shared food experience. During the week, I would try a new restaurant, and then create a blog post about the service, the ambiance, and the meal. 

Croque Monsieur from a blog post about Cargot, Restaurant.

On the weekends, my husband and I would go out for dinner either on a date or with friends. I would take photos of my cocktails or food, and later, write about the beautiful creations from the bar or kitchen. When traveling, I would seek out the unique spots that offered top-notch local dining. It is my job, a favorite pastime, and I miss it.

KO Modern Korean Cuisine. One of my favorite spots in Newtown, PA.

The Pandemic has changed all of our lives in so many ways. Traveling is diminished or discouraged for the foreseeable future, and eating out is fraught with risks, especially if the appropriate protocols aren’t in place. While many of my friends have ordered take-out to support local venues, they are not rushing to get back to a restaurant.

As some states are getting the go-ahead to re-open, I was scared to go back out there, but I felt the urge to try. I read up on what was opening nearby and decided the time was right to dine alfresco. I made sure to be mindful of the directives from the state and health professionals, and slowly returned to outdoor dining. I visited a few restaurants recently, and I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences.

Outdoor Dining at Lambertville Station, Lambertville, New Jersey

Last month I made a choice to support my local haunts in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I wanted to feel somewhat normal again. I hate the term new normal, but as much as I looked forward to it, it has become an experience that feels strange and somewhat disconcerting. It all depends on your comfort level, and I respect everyone’s decision to do what’s best for them. 

While new policies are in place, some of the protocols work better than others. I appreciate scanning the menu on my phone instead of handling one, even if it is wiped down. I am not comfortable handling a menu, even a paper menu, offered at one restaurant. I felt like it was a waste and I wondered if it had been used before. My daughter is a server this summer. At the gastropub where she works, they announce a limited menu and airdrop the cocktail list if you have a smartphone.

Properly spaced tables and waitstaff wearing masks.

Trying to wear my mask whenever the server appears is difficult, especially if I am sipping a drink or taking a bite. I read that it’s just polite to mask up when waitstaff visits the table.

I asked my daughter what she thinks about this. She accepts that many don’t wear a mask when she approaches the table but feels that if you can wear your mask (if you are not eating or drinking), she appreciates the gesture. It makes her feel safer.

Indoor dining is out of my comfort zone, and I am not willing to eat inside yet. But, if you feel ready, many states are offering inside seating. I reserved and requested a table outside recently and was offered one inside with plenty of space between the tables. I didn’t hesitate to say I preferred to eat on the porch, even though the air conditioning inside felt terrific. If proper spacing and safety protocols are in place (servers wearing masks, and touchpoints wiped down between patrons) outdoor dining can be pleasant but it’s certainly different.

Round Trip to Paris – a crafted cocktail from the Salt House, New Hope, PA.

There is no indoor dining at my daughter’s restaurant, where I ate last week. The building is a charming historic house, but the space inside is tight. Instead, diners are seated in their own cabana outdoors, because the patio is too small for ample spacing between tables. It’s a perfect solution to help patrons feel relaxed and in their own bubble. Tables outdoors should have accommodations similar to this. I have seen partitions when space is limited. It feels safer than having too many people packed in a small area outside with no type of barrier.

To ensure that you have a table, you need to reserve one at a specific time. Gone are the days when you can show up to see if you can squeeze in. Thank goodness we don’t have to wait in the crowded foyer or grab a drink while we remain at the bar these days. Your table is waiting because reservations are required. More importantly, to make sure there is time to wipe the table and chairs down before it is reset. 

Outdoor dining on a beautiful day at Lambertville Station Restaurant.

Unfortunately, if you are dining outdoors, the weather is a factor now. We canceled a reservation because of tropical storm Fay. I feel bad for the establishment. They hire waitstaff and order food in the hopes of making money during this time but cannot seat you if the weather turns. They suggest you order take-out instead. If you choose an expensive spot, especially for a special occasion, you may not want to pay the same price to bring the food home. Make sure you know the cancellation policy ahead of time. Some restaurants ask for a credit card to hold your table and charge a fee if you cancel without proper notice or don’t show. 

Tipping is extra essential now, so be generous if the service is attentive. I tip well because I used to work in restaurants during college, and always appreciated generous tips because I needed the money. I try to pay that forward. If you feel the service or the food is not up to par, tip accordingly. Being a server now is challenging, and these folks are willing to wear a mask to serve you. Take care of them because they are working harder in harsher conditions. Eating out was always a luxury, but if it is more expensive now, I understand, and I am willing to pay a bit more for the opportunity.

Is it worth it to take the risk to eat out now? That is up to the individual, and their choices should not be judged. I feel ready, but I also want to feel secure when I am dining out. I appreciate all the extra attention that many places are putting forth to help us have a respite during these difficult times. I wish we could go back to life as we knew it, but we can’t. We can just adjust, adapt, and move forward.

A Love Letter to Travel Food

Mulled Wine Booth at the Christmas Markets in Munich, Germany

They say travel is food for the soul, but what about the food that you discover while traveling? You know, that meal that stays with you long after the trip is over. The tantalizing pictures collected on your phone of those incredible bites while touring. I know about those; I have several foodie photos on my phone. When I want to go back to a particular trip, I review the shots, and I am there. I was in Munich a few “days” ago reviewing the mouth-watering snaps of my family and I nibbling our way through the stalls at the Christmas market, tasting some of the incredible specialties from gingerbread to sausages.

My work as a writer requires me to eat out a lot. Those restaurant experiences are woven into articles. I write about where to dine and where to explore and stay in a particular location. I recommend spots travelers should visit to enjoy a fantastic meal. Whenever I travel, I make sure to dive into the street foods or seek out local haunts that really showcase the flavor of a place. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been possible lately. When the pandemic shut down borders and businesses, I became paralyzed watching our world go through the unthinkable.

The Lambertville House Review from The Yums

I needed to find a way to change my mindset. With all the restaurants closed, I returned to my love of creating food at home. I scoured websites looking for recipes and made a list of ingredients to whip up favorites from my travels. Cooking and baking became a way for me to manage my anxiety and lose myself in a favorite hobby. I focused on making everything from scratch. With the quarantine, I had plenty of time to attempt more complicated, multi-step recipes.

Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN

I was scrolling through photos this week and stopped to look at a few from October on my trip to Memphis, Tennessee. I traveled for a food and wine festival, and I remembered the tasty barbeque ribs seasoned perfectly with a dry rub from Blues City Café. After learning that May is National BBQ month, I decided to make my own. I checked the freezer and discovered I had boneless ribs. After a quick recipe search, the pork was prepped to be roasted and later covered with a spicy homemade barbeque sauce. Thank goodness for those grocery runs because I had a stocked pantry with all the ingredients.

Spicy homemade barbecue sauce
My own version of Pad Thai

I had initially planned to make Pad Thai. I ate the delicious dish at Jay’s on Third last summer, and I wanted to try to copy it. Jay’s, an Asian Fusion restaurant in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, serves an authentic version. Chef Jason Hippen recreates his mother’s recipe for the famous street food. The flavors are incredible; a squeeze of bright lime juice over tender rice noodles, mixed with a salty-sweet sauce and perfectly prepared shrimp. It’s an homage to Thailand from his kitchen. If I can’t travel there, at least I can visit through his food. I couldn’t choose between the ribs or Pad Thai, so I made them both.

Two loaves of homemade sourdough bread

Later this week, I began dreaming up a new challenge. I am more of a cook than a baker, but I decided to jump on the sourdough bandwagon and attempt bread. Amongst the pandemic preparation, I bought a coveted bag of flour and scored some yeast. After reviewing a bunch of recipes, I found an easy “starter” and began the journey. I found a bread recipe that received five stars, so I figured that it was the one to try. The method had 25 different steps (talk about time-consuming). At one point, you have to work the dough every 30 minutes for two and a half hours. Between the resting and the prepping, I was at it all day. But when my loaves emerged from the oven, they were gorgeous. Once cooled, the flavor brought me back to San Francisco, where I tasted an incredible sourdough at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market at the Embarcadero.

I am a foodie to the core. I miss travel so much; I am willing to make anything that will bring me back to my favorite meals from my travels. As I write this, I think it might be time to use the rest of my flour for fresh pasta. I can’t forget that unforgettable plate I tried in Tuscany.

Social Distance and Silver Linings

I looked back at my calendar the other day and realized I had hit my sixth week of social distancing since the Corona Virus changed our daily lives. During this time, I have experienced every emotion from worry, to hope, about the state of our entire world.

There are days when I just want to wake up from this collective nightmare and go out without thinking about the danger and continually washing everything down with Clorox wipes. I miss the simple things, like visits with friends for coffee, trying a new restaurant, or heading out to a movie. At times I hit a low, and then I remember to count my blessings.

My family members are safe in various cities, both near and far. I am quarantining with my husband, who is employed and working from home. And, while I am not technically able to work like I used to, my days are filled with opportunities and silver linings. With an abundance of time, I have found ways to sharpen my skills or just stay in sweatpants and binge an entertaining show on TV. With a lot of time, I can decide how to spend it.

Cooking on Instagram Live With Christina Tosi

I love movies. Thanks to Focus Features, I streamed the first-run production of Emma at home. In a unique offering, a recipe was posted on Instagram for a Victorian Sponge. I always loved baking, but it isn’t something I do often. I found it therapeutic to challenge myself, and the results were delicious. It gave me the courage to follow celebrity Pastry Chef Christina Tosi on Instagram and join her baking club. She shows up every day at 2:00 pm to teach anyone who shows up. I look forward to baking with her as often as I can.

I take daily long walks with my dog, and one day, I was treated to the first beginnings of spring as the colors exploded in my neighborhood. It’s impressive when you can look around and take in the beauty of your surroundings. I breathed deeply and paused to experience the splendor.

I have the time and the energy it takes to cook again. I prepare dinner every night and have rediscovered my passion for cooking with and without recipes. It feels nourishing to eat healthy meals and enjoy them with my husband. We set the table, open wine, and savor the experience of being together at the end of the day.

I tried to level – up and learn new skills. I found webinars and Zoom calls to learn about the travel industry so that when this ends, I will have a bank of knowledge to work from. I also connected with friends and family via those apps and felt a sense of connection in having the face to face sessions. It helped to lessen the loneliness.

Instagram Training With Carla Biesinger

I found free opportunities to tour museums, places around the world and even ride the FROZEN ride at Epcot virtually. I am a travel addict, and with the help of these opportunities, I was allowed to travel again.

No one knows what the world will look like in a few months, but I am thankful for the silver linings. I am eternally grateful for the healthcare workers (including my friends) on the front line. I am also thankful for the selfless people who soldier on while the rest of us wait for the pandemic to end. I pray for those who lost loved ones and who are suffering from illness or loneliness, and I am keeping the faith that we will see this end soon. Stay safe and healthy and stay home.

A Celebration Amidst Social Distancing


I love the energy and excitement of crowds and the camaraderie that we experience when America shares a celebration. Being an Italian American, I never thought it was weird when my mom made corned beef and cabbage every March 17th or thought I didn’t belong when a group of my friends skipped school on St. Patrick’s Day when we were in high school. We walked across the George Washington Bridge senior year and hopped on the downtown subway to watch the famous New York City parade make its way down 5th Avenue. I marveled at the pageantry and the bagpipers. I completely subscribe to the saying, that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

When March approaches, I start to get excited about the prospect of spring but also about St. Patrick’s Day events. Thanks to several friends of Irish heritage, I fell in love with the traditions. I enjoy the music and the rhythm of step dancing. I adore a meal of corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage, and I cherish raising glasses of cheer with my friends, clinking glasses and saying, Slainte!

On March 17th, I always wear a traditional Aran Island knit sweater that a friend gave me years ago from her vacation in Ireland. My husband and I plan a trip there this August to experience the kind people and the beauty of the Emerald Isle.  And, to fulfill our bucket list items of hitting the links and seeing the Cliffs of Moher.

Unfortunately, this year, a virus took the world by storm.  We were asked to observe social distancing. Parades around the United States were canceled, and Americans were asked to gather in groups of no more than ten. Bars and restaurants closed for the time being while we all try to stop the spread of the insidious Corona Virus plaguing the world. Travel to and from the United States has halted and advisories went out to have at least two-weeks of provisions at home.


My friend Mela and I were commiserating on the phone about the state of things when she shared with me that her family of six would all be under the same roof on March 18th. She would make sure that “Lucky” would arrive a day late. You see, “Lucky”  appears magically on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day to turn everything in her home green. For breakfast, the milk and OJ are green, and most of the food items are green. Of course, they serve green Lucky Charms too. “Lucky” turns the water in the toilet bowls green and hides a pot of gold somewhere in the house filled with chocolate coins and occasionally gold dollars. Sometimes he leaves trinkets too, like a shamrock charm for a bracelet or shamrock socks. It all depends on what he can bring each year.


Of all the St. Patrick’s Day traditions, I love this one most of all. Mela goes all out, and her girls (the youngest a junior in high school) have grown up with “Lucky” their whole lives. “Lucky” is akin to Santa, as everyone believes he is real (wink wink), but if you don’t believe, you don’t receive. As a family of six, Mela waited until they were all under one roof, and then he magically appeared to spread joy for St. Patrick’s Day, one day late.

In this tense time, while people are scared and life as we know it grinds to a halt, I am thrilled that “Lucky” visited the Montgomery family to bring on the green this year. Two daughters saw their semesters and their sports seasons cut short, another, a freshman, had just joined a sorority, was making friends, and had to leave her new school abruptly. The youngest, a junior in high school, had her prom, and her SAT canceled.

You don’t have to travel anywhere to experience culture. You can enjoy it at home with the people you love and the traditions you hold dear.  Who knows, maybe “Lucky” will grant me a wish to see my country heal from this scourge and open up world – travel soon so we can see his beautiful land in person.



Hungry in Budapest? Sample the Street Food

One of the best parts of discovering a new country is trying the cuisine. As much as I like to plan out my days to see all the most significant tourist spots in each city, I also love to discover a place from the lens of their local street foods.

I recently returned from Budapest, Hungary and while I made sure to try traditional favorites such as Hungarian Goulash and Chicken Paprikash, I also ventured to the street to get a taste of some of the popular fare. The best part? These stalls don’t require reservations.

Karavan Food Truck Garden

While touring the Jewish Quarter, I came across a food truck garden named KARAVAN. Luckily, I happened to stroll by right around lunchtime, and I decided to check out a fried bread, cheese-topped, dish called Langos. Langos starts with a dough (flour, yeast, salt, and water). After the dough rises, the mixture is shaped into balls. When you place an order, the balls are flattened into a disk and then fried in sunflower oil. Once the bread is golden brown, it is slathered with garlic butter, topped with sour cream and a decent amount of a mild grated cheese. I was amazed at how good this simple grub tasted. It is really filling and is big enough to share with friends, especially if you want to save room for more street food. It is prevalent all over the city, and while it is consistent in preparation, every vendor puts their own twist on it. At this food truck, you could get a burger between two pieces of Langos. No matter how you choose to eat it, it is something you have to try.

Langos Food TruckThis food truck will also make a burger out of two enormous disks, but I decided to try the original and save room for a sandwich from an innovative street food place called Bors.

BorsBors Gastro Bar is all about the pressed panini served on hollowed out baguette. The choices change weekly and each version offers a unique twist on the usual sandwich. The line can stretch down the block at this tiny, quirky, establishment. There are no tables, but there is a flatbed truck where patrons sit just beyond the door on the sidewalk. If you can grab a seat, you can relax and dig into your selection. They specialize in International, European street food and innovative soups. At Bors, you can also find vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.  I shared a green curry chicken sandwich that was slightly spicy, warm and toasty. It was delicious. If you find yourself in the Jewish Quarter, head to Kazinczy street and get one of their signature creations.

If you are ready for something sweet, you have to try a Sekler Cake aka chimney cake. A traditional wedding pastry that hails from Romania, it is popular around Central Europe. There are stalls all around Budapest so you won’t have too much trouble finding a spot to get some of this warm, cone-like cake that is rolled over hot coals until it turns golden brown. Once the cake comes off the grill, it is sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. After it cools, you can choose how to fill it. Typical fillings include ice-creams, sauces, and toppings to put inside the cake. The dough is slightly sweet and remains chewy even though it is roasted over coals. It is similar to an ice-cream cone, but the cone is soft. Once you scoop out all the delicious filling, you tear pieces of the cake apart and eat that too. Absolute heaven.

Whenever I travel, I always check out the food scene to get the full picture of the culture and the traditions of each place. I find it so interesting to discover what the locals like to eat and I have had memorable food experiences every place I have visited. If you get to Budapest or if you have been there, drop a comment and let me know some of your favorite Hungarian dishes.

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