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My Grand Birthday Adventure

January 21, 2011

My birthday was last week, and Jeff totally outdid himself this year. He spoiled me big time. I felt completely pampered and loved on. What did he do that was so special? He took me on a 5-day world tour… without ever leaving Ohio.

Jeff told me to keep my schedule clear starting on the Friday before the big day. On Wednesday morning I came downstairs to find this at my place on the dining room table:

Yep, he made me airline tickets! With no detail unattended to. Jeff drives a Grand Am (see the airline?). We usually left from our garage (see the gate?), but one “flight” left from church so it was a different gate. What you can’t see in the picture above is that the flight to Stockholm left from London, not Paris. I was told we’d be taking a train from Paris to London.

First stop: Addis Ababa, Ethtiopia

Friday night we made the journey from Cincinnati to Ethiopia. Surprisingly, it took us about five minutes to get there and was snowing when we arrived!

I had been wanting to try Emanu for quite awhile, and had it in mind when I wrote #56 on The List: Try a new type of ethnic food. We were joined by our good friends Ryan and Kyna and their daughter Ivy because, you see, Ethiopian food is best enjoyed family style. The more the merrier to share from the common plate, which, according to Ethiopian culture, signifies the bonds of loyalty and friendship.

The flat bread is called “injera” and has a very sponge-like texture with a hint of something akin to vinegar. The taste is difficult to describe and unlike any other flat breads I’ve tried.

Here Jeff is showing off how you eat off the common plate with a small piece of injera. No silverware necessary!

We ordered three dishes for the four of us:

  • a beef dish called Zignie (at 11 o’clock above) simmered with onion, peppers, garlic, ginger root, and other spices
  • a chicken dish called Tesbhi Derho or Doro-Watt (12 o’clock) sauteed in lemon and stewed in a red pepper sauce with onions, garlic, ginger root, a pinch of cardamom, and nutmeg
  • a vegetable medley called Hiwswas or Beyaynetu (continuing clockwise) including onions and peppers, lightly spiced cabbage, collard greens, yellow lentils, and split lentils stewed in a mild red sauce

The lentils and beef were my favorite, but I liked it all except for the peppers (which is odd since I normally like peppers, especially red bell peppers). Everyone enjoyed the meal, and we all agreed we’d love to come back.

We all four shared a piece of delicious, unique cheesecake for dessert. Unfortunately, we all devoured it so quickly I completely forgot to take a picture. It was slightly sweet and fluffy, made with goat cheese, mascarpone, and honey. Ethiopians don’t typically eat dessert, but the owner and chef, Emanu, created this delectable cheesecake from her own recipe.

Not only was the food delicious, but the restaurant had a lovely atmosphere. It was quite full for a night when the roads were snowy and the weather not conducive for going out. There was even a group of book club ladies meeting in the back corner.

Second stop: Paris, France

Saturday promised a full day of travel with Paris and London on the schedule. After I got home from a morning baby shower, we headed out for our first destination: It’s Just Crepes. I have to say that first class is the way to travel as the “flight” included a lovely collection of French music for our journey.

It’s Just Crepes is a favorite of mine. I’ve been to their downtown Court Street location many times, but we opted to check out their newer 4th Street downtown location on this occasion. This particular site used to house one of our favorite downtown cafes (La Tea Room) until it suddenly and unexpected closed up about a year and a half ago. It was fun to see what It’s Just Crepes has done with the space.

Just looking at this picture makes me want to go back right now! I got the Pesto Turkey crepe with smoked gouda, sliced turkey, and pesto sauce. Mmmmm…. Jeff got the Buffalo crepe with cheddar, diced chicken, and buffalo sauce. We shared a Cinnamon Apple crepe (green apple slices, vanilla cream, cinnamon) for dessert. Seriously, these people do not make any bad food! I cannot sing their praises enough. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I stopped working downtown before they opened their second location closer to my building.

Third stop: London, England

After our delightful time in Paris, it was time to catch the “train” to London.

Okay, so technically, we left Ohio at this point for a short foray into Kentucky (aka London). I fudged a little in my opening paragraph. But really, the Newport and Covington riverfront is practically part of Cincinnati.

Also, that rail ticket template is actually a UK National Rail pass, not the Eurostar pass you’d really need. Jeff said this ticket was easier to emulate, plus much more reminiscent of our summer England trip. We have for real tickets like this in our memory box.

Moving right along… our London destination was the Newport Theatre to see this magnificent film:

The reviews for this film (critics and everyday people alike) have been phenomenal — with good reason. I LOVED it. Colin Firth (of Pride and Prejudice fame) knocked this one out of the park. Last week he won the Golden Globe, and, if he somehow doesn’t win the Oscar for his performance, it will be highway robbery. All the acting was superb, from the leads down to each character actor. In fact, it was fun to see many, many “old friends,” as I call them, from years of watching BBC films (including more P&P friends).

The story is nothing surprising, but feel-good British period drama at its best. (And let me tell you, I have a big weak spot for anything that fits in that category!) It showcases human frailty, strength, friendship, and emotion. I found it incredibly moving, and caught myself holding my breath several times. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its lighter moments. It’s full of them, mostly delivered by Geoffrey Rush’s character.

Bottom line: go see it. I will probably have to buy a copy of this one, it’s that good. Jeff really enjoyed it as well.

Oh, and one word of caution if you’re sensitive to bad language: there is one scene that’s probably a good 30-60 seconds of a string of swear words (hence the R rating). It makes sense in the film, is even necessary I’d say, so it didn’t really bother me. After that a few more get thrown in a couple times, but again, it makes sense in context.

Fourth stop: Stockholm, Sweden

Sunday we departed from church (um, I mean London) for Stockholm, aka IKEA.

There’s only ever one thing I get to eat at the IKEA restaurant: Swedish meatballs, of course!

Meatballs… cream sauce… lingonberries… mashed potatoes… These things make me love being Swedish! I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of many of the traditional Swedish foods, but meatballs? Yes, please!

At lunch, I got my first non-experiential birthday gift. Well, sort of. Jeff got me a gift certificate for a hot stone pedicure and foot massage from a local pregnancy spa! I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. And, to make my little frugal heart even happier, he managed to nab it at 70% off. I mean, seriously, how great is that?

We wandered around IKEA—I mean Stockholm—for awhile and snagged an awesome new lamp to help complete our new living room arrangement.

Fifth stop: Frankfurt, Germany

Monday night we “flew” down to Frankfurt and Mecklenburg Gardens in Corryville near the University.

Cincinnati is well-known for her strong German heritage and Mecklenburg Gardens is right in the heart of it. Granted, it’s hard to appreciate the lovely Bier Garten in the middle of January, but the indoor ambience is very German as well.

Jeff got the chicken strudel (puff pastry filled with chicken, spinach, and feta cheese with a dill cream sauce) with roasted red pepper risotto, while I ordered the maple brined pork loin with caramelized apples and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. We both ordered a potato pancake on the side because what’s a German restaurant without potato pancakes? Jeff also tried one of their lighter beers on tap, but I don’t remember what it was called. I think it might have been Belgian though.

Let me tell you, we were stuffed to bursting after that meal. And yes, we did eat it all in one sitting. I didn’t think I’d ever be hungry again! Everything, except the risotto, was finger-lickin’ good.

Here I got another present: The Sound of Music, digitally remastered on Bluray. A fitting gift for the location, yes? I tell you, this husband of mine thinks of everything.

Sixth stop: New York, New York

Tuesday was my actual birthday with snow coming down most of the day. Cincinnatians do not handle snow very well so we opted to move our evening plans up to lunch time to avoid any traffic snarls (another benefit of working from home).

It was time to try some true New York-style pizza — a new experience for both of us — at Roc-A-Fellas in Sharonville.

Every time I think the name of this restaurant, I hear it in my head like the sign off for the old a capella group Rockapella. Did anybody else religiously watch the Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? game show on PBS in the early ’90s? Then you know what I’m talking about. But back to the pizza…

Jeff had a certificate from one of those online deal sites so we got a lot of bang for our buck. That pizza is half pepperoni, green pepper, and ricotta (Jeff) and half chicken, spinach, and green olives (me).

We also got these massive breadsticks!

We both tried folding our pieces in half to eat them since foldability seemed like as good of a test of authenticity as any. I have to admit to being a little skeptical about liking folded pizza, but it’s actually really good that way! We ate our fill, and still had lots leftover to take home.

Not only was the pizza totally awesome, but we found out the business is a non-profit. All their profits go to fund mission projects overseas in places like Nigeria and Mexico. Double awesome!

Here at the end of our journey, Jeff gave me one final gift: a 3D/4D ultrasound package! I was astounded! The same spa where I’ll be going for my pedicure/massage also does ultrasounds. Jeff admitted to really wanting to see the baby early since I will get to feel the baby move. And he got the same deal on the ultrasound as the spa gift.

If you’ve made it all the way through this, then it should be obvious that I am one lucky and loved girl. Thanks, babe, for making my last pre-kid birthday such a special, memorable one!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2011 5:40 pm


  2. January 21, 2011 5:55 pm

    If you die, can I be married to Jeff?

  3. Tanya permalink
    January 21, 2011 7:39 pm

    wow sarah! your pregnant belly must have been REALLY happy that week! YUMMY!!! Oh and wow Jeff is so detailed with the tickets, lol…I would have written them with construction paper and crayon heheheheheh

  4. Gigi permalink
    January 21, 2011 7:52 pm

    What a wonderful idea and such a fun memory! Makes me want to be a little more creative in my life!

  5. Angela permalink
    January 21, 2011 8:57 pm

    What an amazing birthday! Jeff is beyond thoughtful! Glad you had such a great time :)

  6. Neil permalink
    January 21, 2011 10:12 pm

    The King’s Speech is a fantastic movie!

  7. January 22, 2011 9:56 am

    That is so cool and just a beautiful picture of time and love. I must say that I learned a few things as well. There is definitely no IKEA in Kansas and I never knew that they served food at that place as well??? So cool makes me want to visit it now. I also really wish there was some ethiopian food in KS. Looks absolutely fabulous. I actually would like to try creating injera sometime. Non-profit pizza place- just fabulous. Thanks for the world tour!

    • January 22, 2011 12:50 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it! :) IKEA is quite the experience. I recommend it if you get the chance to go to one!

  8. January 22, 2011 12:05 pm

    Seriously, this is the best birthday present ever. How awesome!! :D I really want to see The King’s Speech! Hopefully I will.

    You did a good job trying to describe the bread for Ethiopian food. It’s very — different! I loved the food — still unsure how much I actually liked the bread though.

    Happy birthday a bit late!

    • January 22, 2011 12:54 pm

      I agree about the injera. It wasn’t bad, but definitely different. The food makes it worth it though! I much prefer Indian naan, which I can eat all by itself.

      I think you’ll really like The King’s Speech. I heard someone say it’s the perfect movie for the literature and anglophile crowd. :)

  9. January 22, 2011 12:19 pm

    BTW, I had Ethiopian food while in Seattle last year. I wasn’t a fan, but I was glad to have tried it. It was too mushy. I like snap.

    • January 22, 2011 12:55 pm

      I didn’t think about it being mushy–just tasty–but you’re right. Everything was a little limp.

  10. Lisa permalink
    January 22, 2011 1:26 pm

    Mad props to Jeff! How awesome!

  11. Alice permalink
    January 22, 2011 8:32 pm


  12. Rae permalink
    January 28, 2011 2:44 pm

    This is so sweet and creative! Way to go, Jeff!

  13. February 2, 2011 9:36 am

    What an amazing whirlwind birthday celebration you’ve had! This is one of the all-time best blog posts I have ever read from anybody!

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