My friends and I’s New York City trip may have been over, but we still bounced into some pretty sweet adventures afterward.
We arrived midnight from NYC to Washington, D.C., and my dad picked us up on his way home from his Wednesday night service. While my friends slugged up to my room to clean up and rest, I stayed behind downstairs to chat with my parents for the last time.
I’m so grateful to my parents during this trip.
You sometimes take your parents’ kindness for granted. I think I speak for many college kids that when they pile back home after a long semester, they kick off their shoes, unload their baskets of laundry and then sit around in their beds catching up with friends through social media despite having spent the entire school year with them.
It’s not such a big deal for them when their mothers cook their favorite dishes, nor do they really notice that their parents had cleaned up the house for their arrival. Because it’s parents. You know, deep down, that your parents will always love you and do things for you because they love you. It isn’t even an assurance; it’s a taken-for-granted fact.
Not that all college kids are ungrateful slobs—it’s just that although you do appreciate your family’s caring gestures, they don’t hit you as much as they would have, had they come from your friend’s parents.
That’s why I saw my parents’ hospitality in a new light this spring trip. Having my friends there with me made me realize that there were so many minor details of their care that I had missed.
Like the little ziplock bag of snacks my mom packed for each of us so that we wouldn’t starve on the bus ride to NYC. Or the carpet floors that have been vacuumed thoroughly by my dad. Or even the fact that my brother stayed home the night I returned just so that we could all have dinner together.
My friends’ vocal appreciation for my family’s kindness made me re-think the things that they did for me, and it makes my heart feel like…little toes being warmed over a toasty fire on a chilly winter night.
My family weren’t the only ones who were kind to us. For some wonderful reason, we received random kindness from strangers everywhere we went.
On our last day in the East Coast, my friends and I woke up early so I could take them on a walk around my neighborhood. We took a trail that I used to walk often during my high school days.
It’s an obscure trail behind my townhouse; I only discovered it through my high school cross-country team.
The day was beautiful. It was warm but not stuffy nor humid; there was just the slightest breeze and buds of spring flowers and leaves were peeking out everywhere. And the sky was such a clear, crystal blue.
The trail takes us pass a little brook, through a deserted basketball court and meanders into a narrow street that hedges big high-roofed country-style houses.
After our mild walk, I had in mind two stores I wanted my friends to visit, just because they’re iconic establishments that beckon “HOME” to me in the fuzziest way. The first place we stopped by was Great Harvest Bakery:
My favorite bakery in the world! It seems to have reached a certain pop status because of a certain blogger, but allow me to whine that I’ve discovered this bakery a long, long time ago. The first thing I tried from this bakery, funny enough, is actually my least favorite item now: Challah. It’s not that Great Harvest’s Challah isn’t good, it just doesn’t really taste like “real” Challah to me.
My fondest memory of this place is going on “bread runs” with my high school track teammates. That’s because what Great Harvest is famous for (besides its AWESOME bread) is their generosity.
Do not skip the sample table. That’s where Great Harvest displays its array of breads and doles out big, fat slices of bread for you. And I don’t mean an anorexic sliver—I mean one-inch-thick hunks. They even provide you with fresh butter and honey and jam to slather on top of your carby vessel.
We tried everything on the table: Chocolate Guinness bread, Cheesy Cornbread, Whole Wheat Apple Scrapple, Honey Whole Wheat, and that brilliant green loaf is just a regular Country White bread dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (Yeah…this post is old).
Since it was St. Patrick’s Day, they were featuring a special Irish Soda bread. Unfortunately, they weren’t selling them that day; they only sold them on certain days of the week and that day, Thursday, wasn’t it.
Tracy was very disappointed, because she had been craving good Irish soda bread ever since she tried it during her trip to Ireland. And guess what? The lady behind the counter reached down and just gave Tracy her last remaining loaf of Irish soda bread! It was bread that was a day’s old, but it was still an incredibly sweet offer. Which meant we also ended up buying more baked goods from Great Harvest than we needed. Tit for tat!
After our bread-fast, we headed next door to Nielson’s Frozen Custard, another iconic establishment in my town of Vienna.
Wow, it’s been three years, I think, since I’ve last been to this place! It’s still the same as ever.
I didn’t take a good look at the interior the last time I was here, but this time I followed my friends in observing the nooks and crannies of this place.
I’d forgotten they hung pictures of old town Vienna from the 1800s. I’ve lived in the East Coast several years so I’d forgotten what a big deal it is for some people that a town is over 200 years old.
Since we arrived so early, Nielson’s was still churning out fresh frozen custard.
Which meant we didn’t have much options in terms of flavors, but boy was our frozen treat fresh and absolutely lick-alicious! The server let us try a spoonful of frozen custard each. He actually nipped the sample off from the churning machine itself.
Why would we need fancy flavors in a place like this? Don’t mess with the classics, we say. We got the good ol’ chocolate shake, but this was of course churned with chocolate frozen custard.
I solemnly believe I prefer Nielson’s to Shake Shack. Not even bacon peanut brittle can make me think otherwise.
We were so happy. The day could have ended here and it still would have been spectacular. But it didn’t. There was more surprise treats to come.
We turned round a corner, and hey! Here’s a shop I never knew existed!
It must be new! And Virginia’s first pasty bakery?! Oooh should we? We should, huh? Yes, we freaking must!
And so we did. The shop wasn’t really a sit-in eatery. It was more a pasty kitchen, with a closet-sized space for orders and a tiny nook to squeeze into if you insist on dining in.
There is no way you won’t knock and bump into people as you wade over to the front of the house, where a charming couple took orders and served you your savory pasties.
I’ve been to so many little shops like this that were Asian-themed. You know, nostalgic Koreans and Taiwanese and Vietnamese mom-and-pop houses that sell home-style dishes and products that you can’t find in the generic supermarkets. The kind of places that make patriotic statements tied into the package of delicious food.
Well, Pure Pasty Bakery was a hearty ol’ salute to Britain’s Queen, Cornwall and its traditions. We were all delighted to hear British accents from the owners.
I loved this place. It only just opened about two years ago, right after my last trip back to Vienna. I had only just missed its opening!
So, in case you don’t know what a pasty is…the only thing I knew about pasty before visiting this place was that it was a savory pie shaped like an empanada or overlarge dumpling. I knew it had to have some kind of meat and possibly potatoes and peas in there.
The pasty-making pros at the kitchen, however, filled us in. They were so nice! Even while nimbly crimping pastries and filling in dough after dough, they joked and laughed with us. Pasties aren’t just a British food; it’s a proud traditional food that many say originated from Cornwall, a region southwest of England. They’ve since dispersed overseas, most notably to Australia, now known as Aussie pies.
That’s just the short version of pasty history, of course. But come on, let’s concentrate on the beautiful, 2-pound beauty standing in front of us right now in all its plump and golden glory.
We got the non-traditional (sob) root vegetable pasty that was stuffed with sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, potatoes and Cheddar Cheese. The marking on top (the square thingy) lets people identify what kind of filling is in the pasty. Square means veggie in our case.
It was a miracle parcel. I don’t how such a tender, delicate crust can encase such a humongous load inside it. You can hold it, twirl it, swing it on its corners, and the fillings will not tumble out. The marking of a truly well-made pasty!
Want to make your own pasty? They shared the recipe on a tea towel:
After our buttery meal, we headed out, anxious to get back home because we knew my mom had prepared some lunch for us. But…we got distracted again, this time by yet another brand new bakery right next door to Pure Pasty.
It is called Sweet City Dessert. We walked in really just to browse around, but we ended up staying longer because their desserts looked so amazing.
Just check out that sushi cake!! Tracy and Marilyn immediately proclaimed that they wanted that for their wedding.
Then we got to chatting with the pastry chef, who is Filipino American and the proud mastermind of that sushi cake above.
Yet another kind soul along the road. He just gave us free desserts to try! The first dessert he passed out to us was the Samoa Cupcake:
Inspired, of course, by the famous Girl Scouts cookie. Chewy and sticky, it’s a coconut-crowned chocolate cupcake with an intense caramel center.
Since the pastry chef has Filipino origins, of course the desserts reflected that as well. Take this ube cupcake, for example:
I thought going in that this cupcake will be ube-flavored—nope. It was ube through and through. Just look at that gorgeous color! Itstead of a cakey flavor, it really had that sweet, roasted flavor of ube, which is a purplish sweet potato popular in Filipino dishes.
Ooh. And then! He insisted we also taste his multi-layered, hunky Vienna Crunch cake:
Freaking rich chocolate cake with some kind of crunchy cookie crust, a peanut butter mousse, milk chocolate mousse and a velvety smooth dark chocolate ganache. Better get your will ready, because you just may die of happiness eating this cake. Ooooh.
Vienna, Fairfax, Oakton, heck all of Northern Virginia residents…take note. Looks like Vienna is becoming a foodie paradise.
Before we rushed back home, I bought my brother an ube cupcake and a macadamia nut white chocolate cookie.
When we got home, of course, of course…my mom had the table decked out with food, even though I had warned her we would be stuffing our faces and thus, would not be hungry. She said, “Yes, dear, I’ll just whip something simple and light up” and look at the feast she prepared.
Pork ribs and leafy salad.
Unfortunately, we really were mighty full by then and we were getting late for our flight back to Los Angeles. We scarfed down some ribs and salad, and then packed my mother’s green onion pancakes to munch on the plane.
And then off we went. Both my parents went with us to the airport to send us off.
We had one of the most beautiful moments in the car. My dad asked if he could do a concluding prayer for us. We said yes. And then he prayed for all of us out loud as he was driving. After he finished his prayer, I guess something must have touched Tracy because she asked if she could add in her prayer, too.
And so we ended up all chiming in and taking turns to pray for each other in the car. I was so touched. Words cannot describe the warm swell of joy and gratefulness I had in my heart that moment.
And yet, the kindness of people continued on. Before we boarded the plane, Tracy and I bought two mini bottle of travel wine and bar of Toblerone. It had been such a long and wonderful trip that we just felt the need to pop a bottle and toast.
But it turned out that opening a bottle from outside the plane was not allowed! A flight attendant saw us and told us the plane policy was that we could only drink from bottles purchased on the plane.
And then a while later, she appeared again and handed a bottle of white wine to each of us. “That’s on me,” she said with a wink. It was an act of generosity so unexpected and nice that we were totally caught off guard for a minute, staring stupidly at her.
Suffice to say, we became chummy pretty soon. We even asked her to join us for a drink, but of course she couldn’t drink on the job. We learned that the flight attendant is British and that she was looking forward to having Indian for dinner that night. I love how you can meet these random strangers that touch you wherever you go.
So concludes, finally, this trip. As much as we enjoyed many good eats during our travels, I think the best thing we consumed is still the kindness of people, from my parents to the flight attendant who helped us to some legal booze.
(Picture by Marilyn.)
Question of the Day: What is the kindest thing a stranger has done for you?