Tuesday, July 31, 2012

East Coast Bound, part one.

Vacation. Was. Awesome.

We don't go on holiday all that often.  By our last count, it's been about four years since our last week-long trip ... including our honeymoon.  Needless to say, a trip like this was a long time coming, and it far exceeded expectations.

We left bright and early from St Louis.  We were excited.  And incredibly over-packed.  

We had a plan.  We'd land in Newark, drop our two checked bags to be held at the airport, and scuttle off through mass transit to Brooklyn to meet up with Kenny's cousin Alison. Only it didn't go even half that well. First, we found out (while standing in the middle of the airport with our ginormous, over-packed bags) that they can't hold bags if you don't pick them up on the day of departure.  Onto plan B.  We made it from Newark to Penn Station without a hitch.  And then all hell broke loose.

In case you've never been to Penn Station, which neither of us had, it is huge.  I knew it would be large, to say the least, but I had no idea what we were getting into really.  I had directions, including a couple of iphone apps and Google maps, but I was completely overwhelmed.  

We stopped to get our bearings just in front of the Long Island Rail Road stops.  This was the worst possible place to do so.  Shortly after our pause, four trains were called simultaneously.  Kenny and I stood there like baby deer in a herd of wolves as the crowds surged around us.  Insane.  From there we finally found the subway platform we needed, but it was there I faltered again.  One set of directions said one train, another said something different.  Have you ever had a whisper fight with a significant other?  You know the type.  You're frustrated, you're upset, you're in public.  Yep, that was us.  At that point I just decided to commit to the next train that arrived and go with it.  And that's how we got to Brooklyn.

I loved Brooklyn.  Kenny's cousin, Alison, and her husband Greg live in the Ft Greene area.  We took a little tour, grabbed some lunch, and got ready to go to dinner. I think what I love most about a city like New York is all of the history around every corner.  If there is any place I can appreciate, it is one with a past.  There's something to be said for being able to experience it with someone like Alison, a New Yorker by heart if not by birth.  She is one of those people (and her husband too) who love their city completely and thoroughly, and they love to share it with people who aren't from there.

 Washington Square

When we first planned this trip, I knew that it was a chance to meet a couple of very special people I've had the opportunity to get to know only online the last few years.  We had a phenomenal dinner at Otto, along with one of the funniest conversations I have ever had.  Love these girls!

GG love with Melody, Alana, and the next GG baby.

Saturday morning meant another meet-up.  We headed uptown (or was it downtown? ) Either way, by now we were feeling pretty confident with the subway and ended up in Union Square - exactly where we needed to be.  We found our way to Murray's Bagels, which pretty much ruined us for all other bagels ever from that point forward.  What do they do to bagels on the east coast? It's like magic.

And then off to Max Brenner's Chocolate Bar!

I've made a lot of internet friends over the years, but I've only recently started to meet them in person and establish that face-to-face connection.  What never ceases to amaze me is the seamless transition to laughing, chatting, and joking just like we'd been doing in written form in years.  I feel lucky to know such cool people.  And their significant others too, considering the boys played quite well together while their wifies drug them all over the city with internet strangers.

It doesn't hurt that we hit the drink portion of the menu pretty hard in the beginning, I suppose.

Jamie, moi, Bebe, Adie, Kate, and Di ... EPIC.

As if our first 24 hours of vacation weren't great enough already (and it really was a great day, whisper fights and all), we still had a few more things to cross off the list before we headed to the shore.

As a thanks for letting us stay with them, Kenny and I wanted to treat Alison and Greg to dinner and drinks.  They picked a great little bistro in Ft Greene.  I am a terrible blogger and took no pictures of the meal. I just sat back and enjoyed the food and the company.  Shame on me!

The next morning, in pursuit of an authentic New York brunch experience, we headed to Chinatown for dim sum.  I had no idea what we were getting into, being that my entire dim sum experience is from one episode of Top Chef.  I will be the first to admit that I am not the most adventurous of eaters, though I am willing to try new things.  I will also admit that I was intimidated as hell by the time we got to to restaurant - what with the little fish markets and the Peking ducks all over the place.  And honestly, I did really well.  Greg was great to watch, grabbing plates left and right.  Yes, we want that.  No, take that away.  I still am not completely sure what we ate, but I know there was a lot of pork.  It was great.

Until the chicken feet.

When the other group seated at our table tore into the barbecued chicken feet, that's when I decided my dim sum experience had been just about authentic enough.

Time to head to the shore!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Five for Friday, vol 58

1. You pulled apart all the crabs for me when I was really weirded out by it, but still wanted to experience it.

2. "Can you hand me my phone?"
"No, it's empty."

3. Even on vacation, you find a reason to go to Costco.

4. Spendy Kenny came to play.

5. "Nice pull."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Guest Post: From Couch to Half Marathon

While we’re off on vacay this week, I’ve invited some of my favorite bloggers to share a post while we’re off fist-pumping, throwing tables, GTLing, not pumping our own gas, and getting otherwise Jerseyfied.  Today’s post is from Monica at C'est Law Vie, who I originally met through Weddingbee when we got married within a few weeks of each other.  Mon and I also started Couch to 5k around the same time. Here's the story of how she took it and ran with it.  Literally. Enjoy!
I ran 10 miles on Sunday.  If you don’t know me, this may not seem like a big deal.  But if you do know me, you’ll know that this is huge, because prior to 8 months ago, I couldn’t run for 5 minutes straight - let alone an entire mile.  As the title of this post suggests, I quite literally went from Couch to 5K, then 10K, and now to training for my first half marathon.  It’s been quite a journey, and I’m thankful to Meagan for asking me to share it with you. My experience has convinced me that if I can become a runner, anyone can - it just takes a bit of commitment (and a great pair of running shoes!).

Like many others, I started and stopped the Couch to 5K program several times before sticking with it.  I finally stuck to it once I realized that those 15 pounds I’d been trying to lose for years were not going to lose themselves, and running seemed like the most efficient (and cheapest) way to lose them.  Over the past seven months, I’ve not only lost most of that weight, but have also learned to love running in the process.

For my 5K training, I used the Run 5K App by Felt Tip, and I was pretty happy with it.  There are multiple Couch to 5K type apps out there, and they all require you to run about 3 times per week. What ended up being key for me to stick with the program was to set designated running days in my calendar. I committed to running every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, no matter what. I am not a morning person by any means, but I realized the only way I would actually stick to it was to run in the mornings, between 6 and 7 am, when I wouldn’t have any meetings or commitments and life was less likely to get in the way. This was a challenge at first - especially because I had not consistently worked out since…ever - but I found that treating that 6-7 AM window as a sacred time that I wouldn’t miss for anything really helped.

Another thing that helped for me was to always lay out my running clothes/gear ahead of time. This way, I could roll out of bed and straight into my running clothes, and I wouldn’t lose precious time fumbling around looking for my stuff.  Speaking of stuff, I found that investing in some great running shoes and cute workout clothes made exercise a lot more enjoyable.

Tracking my progress visually was another great motivator. I circled the days that I ran on my calendar at work, and pretty soon it started to look like this:
Seeing all the hard work I’d already put in motivated me to keep going.  Additionally, I rewarded myself - for each full month of running 3+ times per week, I allowed myself one item of Lululemon (or other exercise) gear.  I’ve been working out since January, and am amassing quite the collection.

Perhaps the most important thing I did to stick with my running program, however, was to make myself publicly accountable.  My blog served as one form of accountability:  Each month, I write a report sharing how I did on this and other resolutions. Signing up for real races was another key to accountability for me.  There is no substitute for having something concrete to train towards. 

I ran my first 5K on April 15, but I didn’t want to stop running after that, so I signed up for a 10K six weeks later.  I used Bluefin Software's Bridgeto 10K app to train for that.  Then on June 2, I ran my first 10K, obtaining a PR time of 51:13.

 I am now training for my first half marathon, which is a little less than 3 weeks away. Though I still hate waking up early in the morning, I have grown to love running and wonder how I ever lived without it. Not bad for a former couch potato.

What are your tips and tricks for sticking to an exercise routine?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Guest post: EmilyBites Oatmeal Singles

While we’re off on vacay this week, I’ve invited some of my favorite bloggers to share a post while we’re off fist-pumping, throwing tables, GTLing, not pumping our own gas, and getting otherwise Jerseyfied.  Today’s post is from EmilyBites, the amazing food blogger who specializes in yummy comfort food, lightened. Enjoy!
Banana Chocolate Chip Baked Oatmeal Singles
Hello all! My name is Emily and I'm guest posting for Meagan on behalf of my blog, Emily Bites. We figured as long as Meagan has her feet in the sand and a cocktail in hand, you all should get a sweet treat as well! My cooking blog features lightened up recipes that never compromise on flavor. My goal is for you to be able to incorporate all your favorite dishes into your healthy lifestyle and to remain excited about the foods you eat while you lose or maintain your weight. I also include Weight Watchers Points Plus values and nutrition information for my recipes.

If you've never had baked oatmeal before, you're in for a treat! It's hearty and filling and the possibilities for flavor combinations are endless. One of the things I'm known for on my blog is using muffin tins to make portion-controlled versions of my favorite meals, and baked oatmeal was no exception. These muffin-sized oatmeal singles pack a ton of tasty banana and chocolate flavor into every bite and they're remarkably filling. Plus, they're easy to eat on-the-go. If you wake up every day wishing that you could eat chocolate as part of a healthy breakfast, then this recipe is for you!

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites
1 egg
1 ¼ cups skim milk
¾ c mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ c semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.    Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly mist 18 cups in a muffin tin with cooking spray.
2.    Combine the oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed.
3.    In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg whites, egg, mashed banana, milk and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until blended together. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4.    Spoon the oatmeal mixture evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Bake uncovered for 18-22 minutes or until oatmeal is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Yields 18 oatmeal singles. Weight Watchers Points Plus:  3 per single (P+ calculated using the recipe builder on
Nutrition Information per single from 127 calories, 22g carbs, 4 g fat, 3 g protein, 2 g fiber

Friday, July 20, 2012

Five for Friday, vol 57

1. Our family crest involves fire and a tiger and the motto "BOOM. That just happened."

2. I made one roux and you think I am basically an Iron Chef of cheese sauces.

3. "throw caution to the wind. Just see what happens."

4. You try really hard to be spontaneous and ask me to lunch, but my schedule never seems to allow it.

5. You have two kinds of shorts: "play" and "fancy."

I love you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reading season.

The year is already more than halfway over, as hard as that is to believe.  With that, I am more than halfway through my reading challenge for the year - I'm actually really close to completing the challenge!  So far, I've finished 35 books in 2012.  Lately all I have wanted to do when I get home is unplug and get lost in a book.  While enjoyable, this is not helping to get the laundry done (much to Kenny's dismay).

I won't be winning any domestic awards anytime soon, but here's what I've been reading.

Lately ...

The Alphabet mystery series by Sue Grafton. I've read the first few volumes several times, but now I am getting into the middle of the series.  I love how the character Kinsey Millhone has evolved over the series so far, and I am really looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.  The stories themselves are really interesting, with great plot twists and whodunnits.  The books are set in the mid-80s, so I also get a kick out of seeing how a detective would get information in the pre-internet age.

The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.  I've also been watching True Blood but the books are so. much. better.  I wish I had read them years ago!  I wasn't sure about Sookie at first, but by halfway through the first in the series, I was hooked.  Thanks to Anne Rice and Joss Whedon, I've always had a thing for the whole vampire genre.  These books are more Buffy than Lestat - light and easy reads with equal parts funny, sexy, and scary moments. 

The Redwall series by Brian Jacques.  These are really light reads, but they were some of my favorite books when I was younger.  I've enjoyed re-reading them now as an adult. The series is on the younger side of YA, and they are a little predictable, considering the intended audience.  There are upwards of twenty books in the series, but I've enjoyed falling back into the history of Mossflower Wood and Redwall Abbey.  I can totally see myself sharing these with my kids someday.

The Mayfair Witches trilogy by Anne Rice.  The first book, The Witching Hour, is my favorite book, and the other two in the series do not disappoint either.  It's been years since the last time I picked them up, and I have loved getting into them again. The characters, especially Michael Curry and Mona Mayfair, completely suck you in.  Rice is incredible at creating the vivid world of New Orleans and the inner workings of the Mayfair family, and that's just one reason she's one of my favorite authors.  You'd think you were there.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  When a friend of mine clued me into the lending feature for Kindle, I rejoiced.  I already share a library with my family, but being able to tap into others' book collections was akin to divine intervention for me - especially when you're friends with English teachers and other bibliophiles like myself.  I had seen the movie version of Water for Elephants recently and I did not love it, so I had no real intention to read the book.  My friend lent it to me to test out the whole Kindle borrowing thing, and I am very glad that she did.  It was romantic and emotional and riveting, what more could you want? Lesson learned - don't judge a book by its movie.

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oliver Wilde.  I'm on a classics kick, and I have bought several of the gorgeous Penguin cloth-bound hardcovers recently - one of which being the short-by-comparison Dorian Grey.  It was an odd book to me.  It was scandalous in its time, but we're far enough removed from that time that I am not completely sure why.  I liked the story at its core, but I read it so quickly that I know I missed some of the deeper meaning I'm sure Wilde intended.  The more I think about it, the more I like it.  It's a book I will likely revisit and take much more away from it the second time around.  Books like this are the reason I read things multiple times.  You just don't catch everything the first time.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  I mean really. Does it ever get old?  This has to be one of the greatest love stories ever written.  Mr. Darcy will forever be Colin Firth in my mind, and this is far from the last time I will read this one.  If you haven't read this book, consider your Girl Card suspended until you do.

The Lord Jord Grey series by Diana Gabaldon.  I really love her Outlander series, and these have held me over while I'm waiting for the next installment to be released.  It's not a stand alone series - very much a spinoff and you have to know Outlander to get it, I think.  It took me awhile to read them.  I wasn't sure that I liked the character of John Grey enough to read four books completely revolving around his comings and goings.  They have been a pleasant surprise - page-turning stories, Gabaldon's usual flair for description, and an interesting perspective on a somewhat peripheral character from some of my favorite reads.  Much of the subplot of the series focuses on homosexuality in the 18th century, which I also found to be really interesting.  And yes, she manages to throw in her most favorite phrase at least once per book - "their face went comically blank."

Currently ...

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin.  WHY HAVE I WAITED SO LONG TO READ THIS?! Why didn't you all tell me?  Are we not all friends here?  You've been holding out on me.  I am a little more than halfway through Book One of the A Song of Fire and Ice series, but I knew by the end of the second chapter why these books have been such a hit.  I thought it would be tricky to keep track of all of the characters and smattering of archaic English, but so far the story of intrigue and politics has been more than enough to keep me coming back whenever I have a few minutes to spare. 

Soon ... 

I'm packing for a beach vacation, y'all.  This means combining two of my great loves: getting tan and reading books.  I don't plan to do much besides be in proximity of an ocean and knock out some of my ever-growing to-read shelf.  We're checking at least one bag.  I can bring as many books as I want.  Just kidding ...  I can bring 50 pounds.

Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility
Sue Grafton - K is for Killer, The Alphabet Mysteries #11
Anne Rice - Taltos, the Mayfair Witches #3
Brian Jacques - Salamandastron, Redwall #5
Charlaine Harris - All Together Dead, Sookie Stackhouse #7

That should do it.  Bearing in mind that most of these are actually on my Kindle, it's not as crazy as it first appears.  It's a ten-day vacay - I wonder how far I'll get into my list?

What are you reading this summer?  What are your favorite series and authors?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce

 You know me, I love pasta.  Carbs are my BFF.  Penne alla vodka is one of my restaurant favorites, but I don't always have a lot of success making it at home.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this was and how well it turned out.  It's rich and comforting, but not terribly heavy on the calories, surprisingly. Not a bad way to drink your dinner.

 Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce
1 pound whole wheat penne pasta
1 T olive oil
1/2 C finely chopped onion
1 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 T minced garlic
1/2 C vodka
1/2 C fat free chicken broth
2 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 C half and half

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.  Drain and keep warm.  Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion to pan; saute four minutes or until tender.  Add half the salt, broth, pepper, and garlic, cook another minute.  Add vodka and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer eight minutes.  Process with an immersion blender until very smooth (or transfer to a blender to puree).  Stir in half and half.  Cook two minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, stir in cooked pasta and remaining salt.  Serve immediately.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Us vs the rabbits.

We have a big backyard.

This sort of extreme slope is pretty typical for the 'burb we live in. It's a pain for Kenny to mow it, and someday I foresee children rolling down despite the threat of bodily harm, but for the most part it's nice. Right now it's like our very own dog park. We can throw tennis balls at various angles and Penny will exhaust herself. Tucker can sniff and mark the perimeter to his heart's content. And the best part? A literal crapton of rabbit poop in which to roll. The dogs love it.

Oh, the rabbits. We have an abundance of wildlife that wanders in and out of the fence line - deer, possums, turtles, squirrels - but none in such quantities as the bunnies. For the most part, this isn't a bad thing. Tucker is basically on a talking-animal-Disney-movie basis with them. One of these days they will burst into song together, should someone write Tucker a monotone, Eeyore-esque ballad about sunshine and Beggin Strips. Penny, on the other hand, views rabbits as a challenge. They are threat level orange, she is Seal Team Six, and one of these days she will GET THEM.

But the rabbits keep coming back. She runs them off and they troop back in.  Why? Because we have an all-you-can-eat salad bar from one end to the other. Flowers, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, herbs, and a lifetime supply of clover. If I was a rabbit, our yard would be like Taco Bell and blue box macaroni all day long. I can't say I blame them for risking a run in with Penny Smash.

Last year, we planted over a hundred gladiola bulbs along our back fence. I absolutely love having flowers in the yard, and we already have irises, day lilies, and daffodils.  Gladiolas remind me of my mom and they should have fared well in the full sun we get all day in that part of the yard.  We had optimistic visions of bright blooms year after year - a dream which would be mercilessly crushed.  By rabbits.

Out of a bag of 100 bulbs, there is one single survivor.

You win this round, rabbits. You fluffy-tailed bastards.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Five for Friday, vol 56

1. We've known each other for ten years and you've just now told me that you have a tried and true recipe for Baked Alaska. You've been holding out on me, sir.

2. You think the Planter's commercial where Mr Peanut blows up an asteroid is the funniest thing, and we usually have to watch it more than once.

3. Our grass will not die If you have anything to say about it, water bills be damned.

4. You make funny faces on FaceTime.

5. You get super excited to buy and subsequently present new toys to the dogs, especially Penny.

I love you.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Five for Friday, vol 55

1. You found out what push presents are and now you want one someday ... in the form of an outdoor pizza oven, because you'll be "pushing out pizza" for kids all the time someday.  I don't think you completely get the concept.

2. You love the Cooking Channel lately, especially shows about super spicy food and pot pie. If someone made the spiciest pot pie in America, you'd die of happiness.

3. You wake up from a dead sleep while I'm still up reading to tell me that I'm pretty, and then you pass out again before I can even say thank you.

4. You don't think I spend enough time at the pool.

5.  We don't really have the time or luxery of many long vacations, but you come up with the best ideas for exciting weekend adventures.

I love you.