Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

When I think about Thanksgiving, my mind conjures images of my aunt's house (and, in the last few years, Terry's aunt's house, too). I taste my mom's crab dip, which I would argue has been the most consistent food item at the holidays. Sounds of laughter, wine glasses clinking, and couples bickering fill my ears. I smell pine trees in the mountains when we cut down the family Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.

This year, my senses got their fill of all these memories, and we created some new ones too. Our first new memory--and what Terry and I hope will become a new tradition--was a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot! My brother's wife, Ashley, convinced us to do it, so we woke up a bit early to get to Solano Community College for a 5K. We went with Ashley's friend Mary and all ended up running separately.


I didn't bring headphones, so I soaked up the ambiance of the race--eavesdropping on random conversations, taking in the semi-rural scenery, focusing on my run. I haven't run much lately, so I was surprised to find myself motivated to run the whole way at around a 6 mph pace. Despite the chill in the air (hello, Northern California), it was a lovely morning to be outside, and the run felt fantastic.

It was flat, too. Who can complain about that?

Team Trot!

As my brother said, "You had one job!"

You've never seen people this excited.

Crossing the finish line!

After the race, we took Chris and Ashley's dogs out for a run at the park (they ran, we threw balls for them) and got ready for the big day. I baked pies, Ashley created seriously delicious appetizers (bacon-wrapped dates with goat cheese and Gruyeres, which are essentially homemade puff pastry with Gruyere cheese), and we all headed to my aunt's house around 3 pm.

As I described, our Thanksgivings combine tradition and new experiments. This year, we were all a bit concerned when my uncle (my dad's second-youngest brother) announced that he would not make both the deep-fried and the BBQ turkeys; instead, we had a whole BBQ turkey and an oven-baked turkey breast. As much as I love the deep-fried turkey, I have to admit that I really didn't miss it this year; both turkeys were delicious! Of course, the rest of our spread wasn't half bad, either!

On the table: green salad that Terry and I are already planning to make at home (pomegranate seeds, pears, pecans, magical dressing, bleu cheese), two types of mashed potatoes (my favorite!), stuffing, a sourdough turkey, green beans with bacon, gravy, two types of homemade cranberry sauce, approximately one dozen types of pie, and lots of wine. Plus the aforementioned appetizers, and I'm sure there's more I neglected to mention. It was a feast in every sense of the word.

Of course, the company couldn't be better. Dinner was hilarious and included conversations about family traditions and heirlooms, why my aunt really doesn't like cats (yes, Scout included), and the latest high school drama from my youngest cousin, a senior. I feel so blessed to be part of this crazy bunch. After some amazing news from a friend (I won't get specific until she announces officially), we  went to bed tired and full.

Today turned out to be a whirlwind. I woke up early with Chris and Ashley for a quick walk with the dogs. After breakfast (leftover blackberry crisp that I made yesterday and eggs a la Chris and Ashley), we all headed to Santa Cruz to pick out Chris and Ashley's Christmas tree! We didn't tailgate or picnic like usual, and my parents skipped the mountain tree because they're in an apartment this year, but it was still a successful adventure. Their tree is gigantic (12 feet tall), and it's going to be gorgeous once they've decorated it!

After a few errands and lots of driving, Terry and I finally said farewell to my brother and Ashley and ended up back at my parents' apartment for dinner, Love Actually, and leftover pie. We head back to LA tomorrow for what will hopefully be a wonderful UCLA-U$C game (we're just watching at home) and decorating our apartment for Christmas!

I hope you and your loved ones had a fantastic Thanksgiving, and wonderful Hanukkah, and I hope you have a spectacular rest of the weekend!

What was the highlight of your weekend so far? 

Do you brave the crowds for Black Friday? Terry and I made one purchase, and even that was out of the ordinary for us, but it turns out it wasn't a Black Friday-specific deal, so I'm not sure it counts. Oh, well. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Week Hodgepodge

Talk about some dead air, huh? No doubt you've found other ways to keep yourself busy this week, as I apparently have. (If you can call falling asleep on the couch every night keeping busy...)

Terry is home! He got here in the afternoon yesterday, but I was scheduled to work 12-8 before I knew he'd be arriving home (two days sooner than expected). So I suffered through what was mercifully a busy, quick work day and finally got to see him when he picked me up after my shift. It's SO good to have him home!

This week feels a little strange already. Terry's back home, which isn't strange, but he also doesn't have to go in for full work days because he worked so much overtime in Florida. We slept in this morning, had a big breakfast, and are spending the morning and early afternoon relaxing together. I have work today, but we also have the morning off together tomorrow. I'm so grateful to have this time with him, even if it'll occasionally be interrupted by work. At least the busy season is in full swing, so those hours will zoom by!

The other day, I made my very first pecan pie. My aunt and uncle are hosting Thanksgiving for us in the Bay Area tomorrow, and I get to contribute dessert. The pressure's on. Obviously, I'll make a pumpkin pie, but I want to also bring pecan and a fruit crumble--maybe blackberry, since Terry and my dad love that one. For the pecan pie, I made Lisa's recipe, Shortcut Chocolate Pecan Pie.

I was nervous about this one because a few friends have told me they struggle with getting pecan pie filling to set (using various recipes). Honestly, even gooey pecan pie is delicious, so you can't really go wrong, but I was delighted to find that by baking the pie about 4-5 minutes longer than Lisa suggested, the filling set perfectly. The pie tasted delicious, too, but I'm not completely convinced about the chocolate chunks--we'll see what I decide for the big day.

This morning, Terry and I drove up to the Bay Area. Luckily, the traffic was kind to us and we made it up in only about five and a half hours. We're staying with my brother and sister-in-law and have a few fun activities planned. We'll bake pies, we'll run in a Turkey Trot (5K), we'll get in the Thanksgiving spirit. Thursday we'll be with the rest of the family, and Friday is my ten-year high school reunion. Talk about weird, right? I'm sure it'll be fun to reminisce with high school friends, but I really can't even imagine what it will be like to see everyone.

We did get the good news that Terry will be home for two full weeks, and his next trip is only ten days. That's nothing! (Well, relatively.)

And finally, here's a fun, challenging strength workout I completed the other day, along with Julie's Feelin' Lazy Workout, which, by the way, did not make me feel lazy at all but rather quite accomplished. The strength workout focused on triceps, chest, hamstrings, and quads, and I'm all sorts of sore today!

  • 10 one-leg deadlifts (3 sets per leg)
  • 15 triceps pull downs + 10 incline bench press (3 sets each)
  • 10 stationary lunges (3 sets per leg)
  • 10 overhead tricep press + 10 cable chest press (3 sets each)
  • 10 Romanian deadlifts + 10 dumbbell squats (3 sets each)
I know I didn't keep up with everything I'm thankful for this month, but in the spirit of the holiday I'll say that I can't believe how blessed I am. There's so much good, and sometimes I can't believe I got this lucky. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving (and Hanukkah!). Enjoy the food, family, friends, football, and fun!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

WIAW and My New Job

Since Terry is out of town for most of November, December, and January, and I'm subbing this year (no grading, no lesson planning), I thought it might be fun to work part time during the holiday season. I happened to find several local retailers who needed part time associates for a few months, so I applied and got a position at a store in Santa Monica!

I've only been working for about two weeks, but so far I'm having a good time. The other employees are especially nice, and the store has to do with cooking and home goods, so I'm actually interested in the products we're selling. I do get a discount, but I'm trying to resist spending my entire paycheck on stuff I don't really need (although I'm known around our house for convincing myself and Terry that we definitely do need certain items he never would have thought about buying). My job includes helping customers, helping at the cash registers, and keeping the store organized.

While I'm definitely enjoying the work so far, I also have to figure out how to balance this new schedule. On some days, I'm subbing 7:30-2:30 and then working 4-8 or even later. It's a bit of a struggle determining when exactly I should eat my meals, work out, play with the cat, blog, and--most importantly--talk to Terry at the end of his day before he goes to bed on the East Coast. Yesterday, I ate lunch at 3 pm, worked from 4-8:45, and then scarfed down another meal around 9:15. Not exactly my usual routine.

Today, I didn't have a sub job, so I took the morning and early afternoon to catch up on a few neglected tasks that I missed over the weekend (<--our weekend in St. Augustine, Florida). I cleaned dishes, swept the back porch, played a lot with Scout, went grocery shopping, worked out, and made a spaghetti squash lasagna (same as the linked recipe, but I added ground beef to the marinara sauce).

The squash almost won, but I eventually conquered it.

Then I proceeded to eat said lasagna at 2:45 pm. My stomach is very confused.

Here's what the rest of my meals looked like today:

Breakfast: an egg sandwich with Havarti cheese and jam on wheat bread, plus an extra egg on the side, and tea

Midmorning snack (pre-grocery shopping): graham cracker with cream cheese and jam

"Lunch" (sort of): two bowls of Uncle Sam + TJ's Rice cereal, tossed with a dash of cinnamon

"Dinner," but sort of just a late lunch that would have to hold me over during work: spaghetti squash lasagna. Amaaaahhhzing!

 (Recycled photo)

I already can't wait to eat more of that deliciousness. And after work I came home at 9 pm to another bowl of cereal, a mug of hot chocolate, and a banana with peanut butter. I guess work gets my appetite going!

Hope you're having a wonderful day!

If you could work anywhere part time, where would you work? I'm pretty stoked about the job I have now, but I also would love working at a gym or writing part time for some sort of publication.

Monday, November 18, 2013

St. Augustine, Florida

This weekend I spent several days in St. Augustine, Florida, visiting Terry and sightseeing while—of course—exploring as many restaurants as possible.

Terry has had a rough work schedule since leaving LA in late October, and we weren’t totally sure that he would have much time off to spend with me. But we figured even a few hours per night would be better than nothing, so I flew out on Thursday and he picked me up from the Jacksonville Airport.

Our first meal was at A1A Ale Works, a spot Terry had visited with his coworkers a few times and recommended. We shared the crab and artichoke dip, which was delicious but filling for only two people. For dinner I ordered the Kobe Burger; unfortunately, my order was switched with someone else’s and the burger was too well done, but the waitress was kind enough to bring me a new one that was cooked perfectly. The burger itself wasn’t anything to write home about, though. Terry had the lobster pot pie, which we both liked better, and Terry said that overall the seafood he and his coworkers had tried was tasty, so I would go with a seafood item next time. We spent the rest of the evening walking around downtown and stopped at FudgeBuckets for Blue Bell ice cream. The ladies seemed so sweet and offered us samples, which sold me on a scoop of the coconut. Terry got the pumpkin pecan, which I believe had a swirl of caramel. Both tasted great, a perfect way to end the night.

On Friday, Terry had to work, so I took my time getting ready for the day and spent the morning hanging out, shopping a bit, and bringing lunch to Terry and his team. I picked up lunch from Panera, which was good but not great (to be fair, though, mine was pretty cold by the time I got around to eating it). When Terry finally got off work late that evening, we opted for The Mellow Mushroom, a pizza and sandwiches place, for dinner. We shared a pizza (half veggie and half “mighty meaty” I think) and some bruschetta, both of which hit the spot. The beer selection was decent, too, so we would recommend it as a fun, low-key lunch or dinner spot. We did order dessert, the cookie with ice cream, but when you’ve had a Pizookie at BJ’s pretty much nothing else similar can compare, so I’d skip it next time.

Saturday Terry headed to work again, but we actually woke up early for a quick workout, just 30 minutes running and walking on the treadmill. After two days off, it just felt good to sweat a little, and the hotel’s little gym did the trick since the rain prevented us from going outside. I drove Terry to work and spend the morning at Panera again, writing letters of rec for former students. I munched on the Asiago, egg, and bacon bagel, which was seriously delicious. What is it about breakfast sandwiches? They’re SO good! I spent the afternoon lounging around, relaxing, and reading this Finding Colin Firth book by Mia March. It was cute and an easy read, but one of the main characters bakes a ton of pies and it made me hungry every few pages. Ah, the hazards of reading.

Saturday night turned out to be really fun. Terry found a local bowling alley, and we played two games. Any bowling is fun in my book, so we had a great time, but I was shocked to learn that this place doesn’t allow adults to use “light” balls—meaning anything under 10 pounds. What?! I usually bowl with an 8-lb. ball, and I was so embarrassed to find that apparently those are reserved for twelve-year-olds. So much for all that strength training; I kept losing my grip and dropping the ball early. Needless to say, it wasn’t my best game, but we still had fun. For dinner, we headed back to downtown for Hooked on Harry’s, a seafood place. The outdoor patio has a really lovely ambiance with a canopy of palm trees that reminded me of our Turks & Caicosdinner at Coco Bistro, but we opted for the shorter wait to sit inside. I ordered the bourbon-glazed salmon with fries and vegetables (the sides left much to be desired, but the salmon was absolutely perfect), and Terry went with the Cajun-spiced tilapia, smashed potatoes, and collared greens, all of which he loved (I especially liked his smashed potatoes). Terry’s been to Harry’s a few times, so we give it an overall thumbs up.

On Sunday, Terry got word that he would have the whole day off! I practically cried at the news, and we really took advantage of the day. Despite the traffic from the St. Augustine Half-Marathon, we headed into downtown for breakfast at the Sandcastle Café, owned by the same group that owns Fudge Buckets, our little dessert place from the other night. The wait staff was unbelievably sweet, and we loved seeing runners come in, all exhausted from their race. I had the veggie omelet and Terry had the crab cake eggs benedict; we loved them both. The portions were perfect and the prices very fair.

We wandered around downtown some more, venturing around the outside of the local fort. St. Augustine has an interesting history because it was the first official city in America, colonized first by Spain and then by Great Britain. We even got to watch a canon fire! We skipped the paid tour inside the fort, but it was interesting just to check out the grounds and the bay. It turned out to be a hot morning, so we stopped for a popsicle at The Hyppo, which specializes in unique popsicles. We shared the blackberry cheesecake—oh, man, talk around refreshing and delicious! The flavors were incredible together, perfect for a warm morning.

Next up, since we weren’t sure until about this point that Terry would have the day off, I suggested we work up an appetite for our lunch with a workout. The truth is, even though he does a great job of trying to exercise while on these trips, Terry’s schedule is often so demanding that waking up early or working out after work is just too exhausting. So I figured squeezing in two workouts while I was there would benefit both of us, and we just completed Tina’s quick 30-minute 10sand 50s Bodyweight Workout, a fantastic option for travelers (instead of inverted rows, since we didn’t have the equipment, we did dips, which I realize work triceps instead of biceps, but oh well). It wasn’t too bad, and after a quick shower we were back on the road for lunch at Burrito Works, recommended by PeanutButter Fingers, who lives in Florida. This place was mighty tasty! We are pretty picky about our Mexican food, coming from Southern California, but Burrito Works did not disappoint. Terry got the UFO (essentially a burrito in a pocket and then grilled) and I went with the burrito bowl, both with carnitas. We loved it all! Terry said he can’t wait to go back with his coworkers.

Next up: a quick round of mini-golf at Fiesta Falls Mini Golf, which was so fun. I was impressed by the variety in the different holes (you get to putt on a little ship!), and I even got a hole in one. Dad, are you proud? 

We also checked out the St. Augustine Lighthouse, which was surprisingly fun and informative. We climbed all 219 steps to the top and loved following the self-guided tour. I recommend it!

Finally, we headed back to downtown one last time for an evening of window shopping, a beer at a local bar, and dinner, this time at The Floridian. Guys, we need to have a serious talk about this dinner. Honestly, if you live or travel within 60 minutes of St. Augustine, it would be well worth your time and gas money to find a way to get to this place for a meal. We absolutely loved everything about it, and we overheard our fellow diners raving about their meals, too. The menu is fairly limited, but they clearly execute all the meals very well, so you can’t go wrong. Terry ordered an amber beer, which perfectly complemented his BBQ pulled pork and waffles. Yes, my friends, that’s right: pork and waffles. I had heard of (and love) fried chicken with waffles, but the smoky flavor of the tender pork, baked apples, crunchy pecans, and buttermilk waffles all worked together wonderfully. He devoured the entire thing (I think I had to warn him to slow down at one point—mostly because I wanted another bite). For my meal, I chose the Seafood Zucchini Linguini, and I’m going to dream about that meal for years to come. It normally comes with shrimp and clams, but I’m not a clam girl, so they happily subbed in all shrimp. Perfectly cooked and delightfully flavorful local shrimp. And lots of it, too! I had leftovers, and there were at least ten shrimp still in there. Instead of pasta, they use zucchini “noodles”, finely julienned to absorb all the flavor from the broth of garlic, butter, white wine, and magic. The cherry tomatoes absorbed all that flavor, too, as did the two pieces of garlic toast on the side. I told Terry that each bite kept getting better and literally could not stop myself from eating more, even when I was full. No photos--it was too dark--but they wouldn't have done these meals justice anyway.

Have I convinced you to go to The Floridian, yet? No? Well, the lovely outdoor patio is also lovely, right beside a quiet street in downtown, very Southern and charming. And the wait staff could not have been more polite or accommodating. Ben was our server, and I felt like we should be friends (that could have been the effect of the delicious meal he served me, but who’s to say?). So you should go. And let me know what you try, because I wish I could have ordered everything on that menu.

We ended our night with another stop at The Hyppo for popsicles—dark chocolate sea salt for Terry and chocolate cheesecake for me—because apparently one isn’t enough for one day. This morning Terry dropped me off at the airport, and now I’m in Nashville awaiting my next flight. Here’s hoping the 30-minute delay doesn’t get worse!

We had a great time in St. Augustine. I suppose that’s the silver lining of Terry’s crazy long work trips—we get to see places we likely wouldn’t have traveled to on our own, like NiagaraFalls and Toronto. Of course, I’d rather have him home, but at least we  had a good time!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Atlanta Airport

I’m blogging today (well, yesterday--I am posting this the day after I wrote it) from Atlanta! My second flight on my way to Jacksonville leaves in a little over an hour.

As I’ve mentioned (and complained about ad nauseam), Terry is in St. Augustine, Florida, for an extended business trip. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to come home, and actually they have only had one day off since leaving LA on October 29. Since things are so hectic for him—late nights, working weekends, general stress—we considered that perhaps I shouldn’t even visit. But ultimately, even a little time together is better than none, and hopefully my presence can somehow reduce Terry’s stress a little.

Traveling today has been rather stressful for me, though. I had a super early flight at 6:40 am, which meant a 4 am wake up call. Even Scout tried to stay in bed when I called him for breakfast. Upon arriving at the airport, I dropped off my bag at our usual parking garage and then drove my car up to self-park. When I came back downstairs, my bag was gone! The attendant said he had put it on the shuttle—and the shuttle had left without me. I’m really not the type to complain (at least out loud) when things like this happen. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re doing their best. But at 5 am when I’m trying to make it to a flight on time and my bag is who knows where, I’m likely going to feel less than agreeable.

Thankfully, after about 15 minutes, the shuttle with my bag came back (and I’ll ignore the fact that instead of immediately whisking me off to the terminal with profuse apologies, they chose to wait for the ridiculously slow folks who arrived after I was already seated and the shuttle was moving), and I found an insane security line waiting for me. Two women promptly cut in front of me, and I nearly lost it. Instead, I just took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that karma would get them. (Later, when the security line branched into two, they chose the super slow line and I got in the speedy line, so I felt at least a little vindicated.)

I didn’t have time to buy a water or a book, as I had planned, which disappointed me, because the first leg of the flight was four hours. But I had lovely seatmates, great flight attendants, and no problems on board.

The Atlanta airport is quite nice, and I’m impressed with the food. I had a choice between Five Guys Burgers and Fries (yummmm—but not as good as In N Out) or a few deli/café places. Ultimately, knowing how much pizza I had eaten in the last 48 hours and that we’ll most likely be indulging more than a bit on this trip, I went with a chicken sandwich, which came with some simple greens. A nice, healthy option for traveling. I also finally bought my water and have been chugging it while sitting here. Travel makes me so thirsty! I also bought myself a book, and I hope it’s a good one. I’ll need some entertainment out here while Terry works 9, 10, 11 hour days.

I didn’t have time to work out today (no way was I going to get up at 3 am for that!), but I loved yesterday’s workout, and I did the strength portion in my apartment. Gotta love watching the ol’ DVR while exercising! I completed four rounds of the following:
  •  25 dumbbell walking lunges
  • 25 dumbbell plie squats
  • 25 calf raises
  • 15 hamstring ball roll ins
  • 25 inner thigh ball squeezes

You could easily omit the dumbbells for a bodyweight workout, and if you don’t have a stability ball you can just complete glute bridges instead of the hamstring ball roll ins and open-leg scissors instead of ball squeezes. I also added 30 minutes of incline walking on the treadmill.

Fun observations from my trip so far:
  • The super rude college guy playing some game on his phone at what must have been full volume. A) Don’t tell me you don’t have headphones, dude. B) Are you completely unaware of the dozens of people around you, several of whom are giving you dirty looks? C) You’re probably too old to be playing that game. It’s fine that you’re still choosing to play it, but maybe be more discreet.
  • I sneezed on the flight and a girl two rows up and two seats over was the one who said, “Bless you.” I sort of felt like it was out of her jurisdiction, but it was still very nice.
  • I think there are 12 Starbucks in just this concourse of the Atlanta airport. I guess you don’t want to have to walk more than a few steps before you get to the next one.

Even though it’s been a long day already (and it’s only 12:30 pm California time), I’m looking forward to whatever time I get to spend with Terry over the next few days. I brought along some snacks from home, too, including these pumpkin white chocolate chip cookies, my favorite trail mix, and some homemade granola bars, plus popcorn and hot chocolate mix. Since these working conditions are so rough, hopefully the comfort food will serve as a boost for Terry and his coworkers. If not, at least it’s a break from Subway, which has been on the menu at least eight times since they arrived.

Of possible interest:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

There Should Always Be Pizza Night

This post is inspired by a conversation I had this morning with my friend Jenn. I mentioned that I'm craving pizza, and she said the same. She and her boyfriend menu plan each week like we do, and Jenn requested a pizza night. She also said they had pizza night in her house almost every week as a kid. There should always be pizza night, don't you think?

When I was growing up, we didn't make homemade pizza. Sometimes we did Boboli (yikes), and I do remember how fun it was to add the sauce and toppings. I think pizza would be so fun to make with little kids. But really, if we had pizza, we usually ordered from Mission Pizza, our favorite spot in my hometown. It's just the best stuff.

We really only ate it on occasional Friday nights, when my parents' best friends would come over and all the kids would hang out. And now it's become part of special events, like the day after my wedding when we had our bridal party over and all shared pizza.

Mission Pizza is delicious, but I'm also biased because it holds a lot of memories, so maybe I think it's delicious because of those memories. (Although most people who taste it for the first time agree that it's awesome.) But here are some of my other favorite pizza experiences:

Vietri Sul Mare, Italy
Terry and I visited this tiny town on the Amalfi Coast in Italy during our honeymoon, and for our first meal we ventured down to the village to try some famous Italian pizza. It was only five euros, so we assumed it would be small, but we ordered two and received two full pizzas. And they tasted like nothing I've ever had before or since. Perfectly cooked crust, the tiniest bit of crunch with the perfect amount of chewiness. The sauce was so simple, and the cheese--not gobs of it, but just enough--melted in my mouth. This is how pizza was meant to taste!

Trastavere, Rome, Italy
You'd think the pizza in Italy would all be the same, but I guess it's a little like how we do things here: same dishes, totally different execution. Still, the pizza in Rome did not disappoint, and we tried more variety like the eggplant (melanzane) pizza. But I guess ambiance had a lot to do with how much we loved the food; there's something magical about having a romantic lunch with your new husband, sipping wine in a foreign country and munching on seriously phenomenal pizza.

Buffalo, New York
Guys, I'm not kidding when I say I actually really like Buffalo. It's a hidden gem for foodies! It's totally down home, and the food (at the right places) really just hits the spot. Last time I was there, Terry and I finally tried the famous white pizza, which the aforementioned Jenn (Buffalo native) had raved about and even made at home for years. We went to the unassuming Pizza Plant, ordered a white pizza on wheat crust, and just could not stop talking about how incredible the flavor was. My mouth waters thinking about it. I wish we had tried it earlier, because I can tell you we would have eaten there at least one more time.

Chicago, Illinois
I know, I know, you probably saw this one coming. For the longest time, "Pizzeria Uno Deep Dish Pizza" was my response when asked my all-time favorite meal. And it truly was incredible. I ate it my second time in Chicago, on my first trip with Terry and his family. We had flown out for the UCLA-Notre Dame game in 2006 (ouch--lost in the last minute of the game) and stopped for pizza right before heading to the airport. It was seven years ago, but I still remember the cornmeal crust, the two layers of dough, the ridiculously meaty toppings. It's a hearty pizza, but it's just SO good.

Back here in LA, we haven't found The Most Amazing Pizza in LA, but we like Fresh Brothers. It's possible that I ate Fresh Brothers for dinner tonight. Come on, I spent half the day talking about pizza; did you think there was a chance I would eat anything else for dinner? It was delicious.

Alrighty, off to bed! Have a great night!

What's your favorite pizza place? Any pizza-related memories? (Why do I have so many?)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Things I'm Loving Lately

Friday Favorites Posts
I love these kinds of posts--writing them and reading them. It's just sort of a fun hodgepodge on a Friday (or perhaps a Monday), nothing too intense about health or fitness but plenty of fun insight into what my favorite bloggers are up to. If you like them, too, here are a few of my favorite bloggers who tend to write these types of posts:
A Little Bit of Busy
Since I made the decision not to teach full time this year, I've often found myself with more time on my hands than I know what to do with. Like so many people I know, I'm a go, go, go girl (not to be confused with a go-go girl), and at times I've felt bored or restless. Especially with Terry gone, I sort of dread the weekends when I don't work and don't have anything planned. Luckily, this past week took a total turn and I was excited to have lots of plans, including a few visits to a friend to help out with her little girls, dinner with Jenn and Justin, lunch and dinner with two friends, and dinner at our neighbors' house. The busy-ness made the week move much faster, and now I only have a few more days until I get to visit Terry!


I've been all about snacking lately (what else is new?). My favorites have been:
  • Ak-Mak Crackers with cream cheese
  • Apple slices with or without peanut butter or cheese
  • Rice cakes with peanut butter and raisins or bananas
  • Tortillas slightly warmed and rolled up with cheese, hummus, cucumber, and spinach
  • Pita and hummus, of course
Snacks sometimes make my day. Which is why it's so important that the aforementioned friends continue to want me to hang out with them. 

Tomato Soup

It's not even remotely cold in LA, so I can't use the whole "it's fall and I need warm, comforting soup" excuse, but tomato soup makes me feel cozy and that's enough of an excuse to make it or order it repeatedly. Last week I brought some Soup Bar Tomato Basil Bisque over to my friend Melody's. Friday I went to Corner Bakery with a friend and sure enough--yep, tomato basil soup it was! When my parents were here two weeks ago we made Lisa's Tomato Bisque. My other favorite tomato soup recipe is Ina Garten's Pappa al Pomidoro (pictured above, with the croutons). 

Smitten Kitchen's Blog Posts

Guys, she makes a picture of sliced onion look interesting.

Every other Thursday, a delightful little gift arrives in my blog reader: Smitten Kitchen's newest post. I absolutely love her cookbook, a gift I received for Christmas last year (every recipe has turned out perfectly), but Deb, to me, is absolute perfection. Her photographs are stunning. Her food tastes incredible and is easy to make. And her blog posts are hilarious, thoughtful, and like a letter from your best friend. Deb has it all. Yesterday's post was all about chicken stock, and I was captivated. How can one be captivated by an essay on chicken stock, you ask? Just read it, my friends. Just read it. 

Simple Comforts

As I mentioned, it's not cold in LA yet, but our apartment gets fairly chilly at night, and we don't have a heater. Instead of drinking tea, I bought some hot cocoa mix, and it's the perfect dessert.

Hope your week is off to a great start!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Low Impact Cardio Options + WIAW

Thanks for the comments on yesterday's blog post about ellipticals! It seems like most of you are of the mindset that it's not your favorite piece of workout equipment but that it's certainly not going to do any harm and there are ways to use it effectively.

But the elliptical talk got me thinking about low impact cardio options. I think many choose the elliptical because it's a great way to avoid taking a heavy pounding on the knees. If you're in the market for some cardio options that won't be so unkind to your joints, consider some of these:
  • Rowing machine - a fantastic full-body workout and awesome for varying your usual routine
  • Incline walking - one of my favorite ways to work up a sweat! Try this workout or this one for a challenge!
  • Hiking - also great for cross-training for runners and a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors if your area isn't too cold yet
  • Zumba - I have taken some ridiculously sweaty Zumba classes in my time. Most moves keep the feet moving quickly and work all the big muscle groups, and you can always modify if your instructor suddenly starts jumping around (great chance for a booty shake--no one will judge you)
  • Biking - The most biking I've done in the last decade was on our recent trip to Europe, but I know it's crazy popular right now. Biking outdoors in West LA scares me too much to try it, but I like spin classes and would totally take them if I belonged to a gym.
(Do you like that I'm not even riding the bike? I swear I did, though!)
  • Swimming - I couldn't leave this one off! Swimming is exhausting! It's fantastic for recovering from an injury, toning every inch of your body, and significantly improving your overall health
  • Circuit training - As I mentioned yesterday, circuit training is my favorite type of exercise, and I create new circuits all the time to match whatever muscles I want to work. In the case of low-impact cardio, though, it seems circuit options can feel limited. Well, never fear! I have just the workout for you!

Some notes:

This workout is designed as a sustained cardio workout, low/moderate intensity for at least 20 minutes. Your aim should be for your heart rate to be around 65-85% (I usually aim for more like 70-80%) of max. It's not a HIIT workout, so ideally you wouldn't need much (or any) rest between workouts. A good gauge is to try to keep up a conversation while you work out. If you can't talk, you're working too hard!

To increase the difficulty of the exercises (say, if your heart rate isn't even getting to the 60% range), you should try to move faster (keeping good form) and add your arms where possible. See below for options on adding arms.

And for the exercises:

Modified Burpees: Start standing with feet hip width apart. Squat down to place your hands on the floor and step or jump your legs back to a push up position. Optional: Add a push up. Then walk or jump your feet between your hands and return to standing (low impact: no jump), ideally with your hands overhead to incorporate more muscle groups. Repeat. Try to move quickly but keep good form to get your heart rate to the cardio range.

Squat Punches: Stand with your feet wide and drop into a low squat. Hold the squat while punching with your right fist across your body (punch toward the left). Staying low, quickly switch and punch with your left fist across to to the right. Repeat quickly.

Modified High Knees: Regular high knees require jumping and switching, but to make this move low impact, bring your right knee as high as you can toward your chest (use your core!), then put it down and quickly repeat with your left knee. Repeat quickly without jumping. Pump your arms while switching to make the exercise more difficult. 

Low Step Ups: Just like a regular step up, but use a lower step (the first stair on a staircase is perfect). Quickly step up and down on the stair, alternating legs. Add your arms by raising them over your head during each step (or every other step).

Stepping Plié: Start with feet together or hip-width apart, arms by your side. Step your right leg very wide out to the side, plant it, and squat low while keeping your chest up and bringing your arms overhead (like you would for a jumping jack). Step your right leg back in to its starting position and bring your arms down. Repeat on the other side with the left leg. 

Hope you love it!

And here's my contribution to the WIAW party!

Honestly, today felt like a great eating day, until I got home, got bored and sad that Terry wasn't home, and started eating my way through those feelings. But I'll chalk it up to a tough day and do better tomorrow. 
Breakfast: two scrambled eggs with a splash of milk and some Havarti cheese, a little avocado, and a whole wheat tortilla
Snacks throughout the morning: Ak-Mak crackers (from TJ's) with a little cream cheese as well as an apple with peanut butter (the Ak-Mak-and-cream-cheese thing was seriously phenomenal and I can't wait to eat it again tomorrow)
Lunch: Leftover Greek salad with chicken from dinner with Jenn and Justin last night
Afternoon snack attack: 1/2 bag of M&Ms and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Lara Bar (the latter is unpictured)
Dinner: Quesadilla with my leftover ground turkey, spinach, pepper jack and regular jack cheese, and a whole wheat tortilla, plus avocado and yogurt on the side
Dessert: scoop of vanilla ice cream with chocolate and white chocolate chips
Yeah, I think tomorrow will require some more fruits and veggies. Luckily I have a smoothie in mind for breakfast, so hopefully that'll get me full of the good stuff!
Hope you had a wonderful Wednesday! 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cooking for One and the Elliptical

Well, we all survived Monday. I know it's already November, but part of me feels like the month is dragging a bit. I assume my husband's absence has something to do with that.

Speaking of which, here are some of the meals I've cooked for myself and how I've used the leftovers to avoid having the same meal eight days a week.

Base proteins:

Crock pot chicken: I threw two (very large) chicken breasts (seasoned with salt and pepper, but you could get fancier) in the crock pot with about 3/4 cup of chicken broth. Then I set the cooker on low for about 6 hours until the chicken was fully cooked. I used the chicken throughout the week to make:

  • a wrap with shredded chicken, Havarti cheese, spinach, and hummus on a whole wheat tortilla (also did this one stuffed into a pita and added avocado)
  • a grilled wrap with shredded chicken, pepper jack cheese, guacamole, and a whole wheat tortilla

    • chicken salad, made pretty much the same way I make my tuna salad, on whole wheat bread
    • chicken enchiladas or mini-enchilada casserole (I didn't make these, but they would be a great option)
    • chicken quesadillas (made these tonight to bring to work tomorrow)
    Ground turkey: I browned a pound of ground turkey on the stove and added half a chopped onion and a whole chopped bell pepper. I kept my seasonings to just salt and pepper for the base.

    • turkey chili (I briefly explained the recipe last week) on a baked sweet potato with avocado, plain Greek yogurt, and pepper jack cheese

    • a ground turkey burrito with Terry's spice mix, topped with spinach, jack cheese, Greek yogurt, guacamole
    • simple pasta with wilted spinach, some marinara sauce from a jar, ground turkey, and whole wheat noodles
    • a turkey omelet with ground turkey, extra bell pepper, two eggs, and shredded cheese
    I'm honestly pretty impressed with myself for being able to come up with a decent range of ways to use those proteins. And this way, I didn't have to cook from scratch every time I made a new meal; instead, I just added to the base and built around it. I can see a ton of benefits here:
    • Fewer dishes to wash. Once the meat is cooked at the beginning of the week, I pretty much only need one more pot or pan to create the rest of the meal and/or reheat the protein. 
    • Variety, but no boredom. I'm eating the same two bases each day, but in such varied forms that I don't really notice. 
    • Less brainpower to create meal ideas. Silly as it sounds, sometimes I just can't think of what to make for dinner. By knowing that I have to start with either chicken or ground turkey, I limit myself (but in a good way), and I narrowed down my options so that I can just create something from there.
    In other news, my workout today: 2 rounds of Courtney's Timed Stability Ball Circuit Workout plus 100 walking lunges (4 rounds of 25). It was quick and I was able to finish it inside--perfect for the time change.

    And finally, a loyal reader asked me today about the elliptical machine. As you know, I'm not a huge fan of the elliptical, because I find the motion awkward. But the truth is, it can be a great option for anyone looking for low impact cardio options at the gym. Specifically, my reader said he's been hearing that the elliptical might be "bad" in some way. After some research and reading a few articles that do suggest the elliptical is "bad," I have to say I disagree with that claim. Here's why:
    • Any exercise is better than none (with few exceptions). If you like the elliptical and it gets you to work out, do it.
    • While it's not the single most effective piece of workout equipment, I would argue that it does what a workout machine should do: gets your heart rate up (though perhaps not as high as a treadmill can), works large muscle groups, and offers options for increasing and decreasing intensity. 
    • Used correctly, an elliptical is an excellent option for low impact exercise, especially for anyone with lower body injuries.
    • An elliptical is a fine option for HIIT workouts or long, slow cardio days.
    And, because I feel it's worth repeating, I believe the ideal exercise routine combines a variety of workout methods, including:
    • long, slow cardio (a long walk, a long slow jog, a hike, long distance swim, long bike ride, etc.) where you can keep up a conversation and maintain a brisk pace for an extended period of time
    • high intensity intervals (30-60 seconds of high intensity, then recover for 30-60 seconds, repeat) for 15-30 minutes
    • resistance/strength training (using bodyweight, free weights, barbells, resistance machines, resistance bands, kettle bells, medicine balls, etc.)--studies are suggesting that this form of exercise may be the most important aspect of a workout routine to boost metabolism and encourage fat loss
    • flexibility (yoga, stretching, foam rolling)
    • REST (we have to let our muscles recover and heal!)
    What are your thoughts on the elliptical? Do you have a favorite form of exercise? I almost always prefer some sort of circuit training over a machine. I love the versatility of circuits; it's nearly impossible to get bored!

    Sunday, November 3, 2013

    A Surprising Weekend and the Start of Thanks

    I expected this weekend to be pretty mellow, since I'm on my own and had zero plans for Friday and Saturday (the school where I sub had an inservice, so it was a day off for me). But last night and today turned out to be plenty exciting!

    I'll back up to yesterday morning: I realized I've been taking it pretty light on my cardio lately, which is fine, but almost all of my "runs" have been jogging and walking. Thursday, for example, I did:

    • 2 minutes jogging
    • 1 minute walking
    • 3 minutes jogging
    • 1 minute walking
    Repeat four times. It was a decent workout, and I am certainly not above a good run-walk. But I haven't done much continuous running in awhile, and I guess I wanted to see what I can still do. So I set out to run three miles, no walking. It was harder than I expected (I haven't run three miles since we were in Europe!), but I did it! I followed a four-mile route, but I still stopped at three miles and just walked the rest of the way home. I also got to enjoy some lovely people-watching, which I always love. Here's my Facebook status: 

    I hit the people-watching jackpot on my run today, including a super burly guy in ultra-tight, bright blue Lycra running pants (they were so shiny!) and a couple breaking up outside of an apartment complex (awkward). 

    It was awesome. And also a gorgeous day:

    Last night I watched the UCLA game, during which one of my best friends from college was proposed to on national television! It was so exciting to see the moment, and I'm so happy for Jamie and Nick. I also got to see them tonight--more on that in a minute.

    Today I went to my friend Heidi's for a long walk together. Her neighborhood has plenty of hills, so I was panting the entire hour while we walked. It was so fun to catch up and hear more about her pregnancy, too! Then we grabbed lunch with her husband and our other friends Katie and Corey and their baby Ainsley. We all had a blast catching up and celebrating Heidi's birthday. Also, if you're out in the Newbury Park area, I highly recommend Stella's. My burger (complete with guac, grilled onions, and Swiss cheese) was phenomenal!

    Later in the evening, I headed to BJ's in Westwood for dinner with more friends. The aforementioned and newly engaged Jamie, my roommate from college, was in town visiting (she lives in Hawaii, her hometown, now), so a few of us got together. It was so fun to spend time with old friends and celebrate the engagement. I'm just so happy for Jamie, and I loved seeing her so happy!

    And now it's time to wind down for the evening to prepare for the week ahead. Since it's November, a bunch of bloggers are jumping on the 30 Days of Thanks (check out Amanda's post, for example) bandwagon--essentially acknowledging one thing you're thankful for each day through the month. Here are three for the first three days of the month:

    November 1: I'm thankful to live in an era where, if Terry and I have to be 3,000 miles apart for a month, at least we have various means of communication. We chat on the phone, video chat via Google Hangout, and e-mail throughout the day. It's still tough, and I miss him like crazy, but at least we can talk.

    November 2: I'm thankful for my little pet. Scout has become my constant companion, and I still find myself looking forward to seeing him every day when I come home from work. He's hilarious, adorable, and so sweet. I know he's "just a cat," but somehow I feel better when he's around, especially if Terry has to be away.

    November 3: I'm thankful for the amount of travel I've done in my life. I feel like it has opened my eyes to other cultures, customs, and cuisines, and I have learned so much from those experiences. Traveling with my family when I was young got me started; traveling with various dance groups made me more independent; traveling with Terry has in many ways defined our relationship. Now that I've found my lifelong travel buddy, I can't help but get excited about all the places we'll go together and all the sights we'll experience.

    What three things are you thankful for today?