Monthly Archives: July 2011

Care Package

25 isn’t too old to still be receiving care packages from  your mom, right?

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Good, I didn’t think so. Because I really don’t want to tell her to stop sending me boxes when they’re filled with things like cookies, granola bars, a Starbucks gift card, my favorite bagels, Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, a brita filter, a food magazine, and a movie that I wasn’t planning on seeing.

What would you want to see in your care package?

Elizabeth Park

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One of the first places that I ventured out to explore after arriving in Connecticut was Elizabeth Park located in West Hartford. It’s a large park full of all sorts of nooks and crannies and reminds me of a smaller scale Central Park.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and Mister E, myself, and our close friend Kyle went with the intent to play tennis. However, since it isn’t easy to play tennis with three people, I ended up abandoning the game early on and took Prince on a walk to explore the rest of the park instead.

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The park is full of winding trails, and although I don’t how long they go on for, I saw several people jogging on them, so I imagine that they’re long enough to get a good workout in!

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By far, my favorite thing in the park was their gardens. They had a green house with a sprawling iris bed outside along with tons of other flowers that I won’t even try to attempt to identify.

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Isn’t it just beautiful? I can just picture myself sitting next to one of the flower bed with a good book, reading for hours. Or by this bridge.

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The park isn’t exactly close to home considering that it’s about a 20 minutes away, but I definitely think that it’s a nice enough park that it would be worth making the trip to on the weekends to take Prince on a walk just for a change in scenery.

Are you willing to travel to get exercise in? I’m definitely not a fan of having to drive somewhere just to exercise, however, I used to make a 40 minute drive just to go hiking in Washington, so I guess I’m willing to make the trip as long as the scenery is worth it!

My Favorite Green Monster (and Cheap Blender)

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In the past two years, I’ve had my fair share of the Green Monster smoothies and in almost every ingredient combination possible. I’ve added blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, oranges, peaches, mangos, pineapple, bananas, cherries. I’ve added ice cream, yogurt, milk, almond milk, and water. I’ve added pumpkin, chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, and caramel. And of course, I’ve added spinach.

But from all the combinations, there is one that I keep coming back to over and over again. And thankfully, it’s easy and only requires a few ingredients.

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Bananas, strawberries, oranges, spinach, milk. So here’s the thing, I will always use frozen bananas in my smoothies. Always. But, it depends on the season whether the rest of the fruit that goes into my smoothie will be fresh or frozen.

Since strawberries are in season right now and are so cheap, I’ve been using fresh. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t already have a large bag of frozen strawberries in my freezer for backup. If I choose to use fresh fruit instead of frozen, I’ll usually throw 4-5 ice cubes into the blender to help compensate.

Another ingredient that can vary a bit is the milk. Since I’m not a huge milk drinker, I usually keep just almond milk in my fridge since it has a longer shelf life. I don’t think that you would notice much, if any, of a difference if you choose to use a different type of milk (or water for that matter). The amount of milk I add depends on how much spinach goes into the blender, but a half cup typically does the trick. You just need enough to help with blending the spinach.

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I use a Hamilton Beach mini-sized blender that also can be used as a portable travel mug. At $18, it was the cheapest blender I could find (it’s currently selling for $12 at Wal-Mart and Amazon) and has been faithfully blending my smoothies for a year and a half. Say what you want about your fancy-schmancy Vitamix, but I think my money was well spent!

However, since my blender is so small and doesn’t have the most powerful motor, I’ve picked up on a few tricks that help ensure I get a well blended smoothie.

Firstly, I put my spinach on the bottom. The spinach is definitely what my poor blender struggles with the most, so I find that it helps to have it on the bottom so it blends first. I then layer my frozen ingredients (any frozen fruit and ice cubes) on and add my fresh fruit last.

Secondly, I find that pulsing my blender for a few seconds at a time yields faster results than continuously blending.

Thirdly, I’ll typically hold my blender at an angle while blending. This seems to help with making sure that everything makes it down towards the blades at the bottom to get blended. Otherwise, I can end up with fruit chunks hanging around the top. (I’ve also been known to bang my blender on the counter to help get all the ingredients to settle down to the bottom.)

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And lastly, I have determined that the only way to make a Green Monster smoothie appear appealing is to serve it in a cute glass along garnished with an orange slice (or any other sliced fruit).

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What’s your favorite smoothie combination?

Thoughts on Big Decisions

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This past Tuesday marked the three year anniversary of the day that I left Florida, my family, my friends, and the surroundings that I had known for most of my life to move to Seattle. I remember that it had been a tough decision to make, but one that was also filled with so much excitement that the fear was mostly overshadowed with anticipation. This move would mark the beginning of my adulthood and independence. This was the start of my first professional job, my first apartment with no roommates, my first time not having anyone that was just a phone call away to come to my rescue if I needed help. There would be over 3,000 miles between myself and my closest loved ones.

At the end of my college career, I found myself lucky enough to have two job offers in hand. One in Connecticut, where the majority of my extended family lived along with the all important Mister E. The other was in Seattle, Washington, where I knew no one. To some, it seemed like an obvious choice that I would choose the offer in Connecticut to be with Mister E and family. But to me, it wasn’t such an easy decision. At the time, the furthest West that I had been was Missouri, leaving the whole western part of the country as uncharted territory. There was a large question mark  on the map hovering over Seattle. What was it like? What kind of people live there? What do people do there for fun? Does it snow there?

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I made a long list of pros and cons for both job offers with neither coming out as a clear winner. I talked to my parents about it, soliciting their opinions. I talked to Mister E, going over scenarios of what the future might hold for us with each option. I talked to almost everyone who would listen, looking for any words of wisdom that might give me clarity. I spent two weeks in my own personal limbo, uncertain of what direction my life was about to go in. Part of the problem was that it was so easy for me to envision what my life would be like if I choose Connecticut – I could imagine everything, right down to the very details. But when I tried to imagine what my life would be like in Washington, I kept drawing a blank. How could I compare my two options when one was such a big unknown?

I wish I could say that I experienced some sort of divine intervention and was given a sign that made me confident in my final decision to choose Seattle, but there was none. Ultimately, it was the draw of Seattle’s blank canvas that blindly led me to my choice. As clearly as I could picture every other detail of what my life in Connecticut would be like, I could also see how I would always second guess my choice. I would always have a “what if” nagging at me in the back of my brain. What if I had chosen Seattle? How would things have been different for me? I decided that I didn’t want to move forward with my life always wondering how how life would have turned out had I made a different choice. So I choose Seattle, where I at least had the comfort of knowing  what it was exactly that I was giving up by not choosing Connecticut.

There was such an overwhelming sense of relief once my decision was made. And although the process of making the decision was scary, once I had made up my mind, I found that I wasn’t all that scared about making such a big move. After making such a major decision, I was filled with adrenaline that gave me courage that I didn’t know I had.

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I woke up at 4:30 a.m. the morning of July 26th, 2008 with a pit in my stomach. I checked and double checked all of my bags and my wallet for my id. I got dressed in my John Lennon t-shirt hoping that I would blend into the Seattle hipster scene. I ate the little bit of breakfast that I could manage to stomach. And then finally, I collected Kaylie and left for the airport with my parents and brother. I waited with my family next to the security gate as long as I could. It was a tough goodbye that wasn’t made any easier by trying to shove a pill down Kaylie’s throat that the vet had given her to help her remain calm for the flight. In that moment, I remember wishing that I had been prescribed something to help calm me down.

Within 15 minutes of walking off the the plane in Seattle, I called my mother collect from a payphone, already close to tears. I had managed to lose my cell phone during the flight and was now completely alone in a strange city with three large suitcases, one cranky cat, and no clue on how I was going to manage. My arrival seemed to set the tone for the next few days as one thing after another seemed to be going wrong. My laptop was on the fritz, I consistently got lost every day, and my old car that had been shipped all the way from Florida wouldn’t start.

As I was reminded again from my recent move to Connecticut, things are rough in the beginning. It takes time to figure things out and get settled in. It took me several weeks in Seattle to start getting comfortable with things and several months before I started to think that I would actually make it on my own there.

Now that I made the decision to leave Seattle for Connecticut nearly three years later, I’ve had friends and family ask me if I regret moving to Seattle instead of Connecticut in the first place. I can’t help but feel as if there’s hidden judgment behind their questions and comments. They make me feel as if I failed with my decision to move to Seattle. As if they’re saying, “Well, you gave it your best shot, but it just didn’t work out”.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Seattle worked out exactly as it was supposed to.

There are absolutely no regrets on my end. Yes, it was tough being on my own and there were lots of moments where I was lonely and missed everyone back in Florida and Connecticut. But with absolute confidence, I can say that Seattle was the right decision for me. It gave me the time and room to grow and explore adulthood without any barriers. I matured in ways that I don’t think would have been possible elsewhere.

And as far as my relationship goes with Mister E, the distance was most certainly a burden and pushed us to the breaking point more than once. However, I know that our love, trust, communication, and appreciation for each other is stronger today. For the rest of my life, Seattle will be remembered as the special place where I developed into the person that I am today.

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So my point in telling you all of this is:

don’t be afraid of the choice in life that may be difficult/scary/uncomfortable.

Take a leap of faith and know that you will come out on the other side a changed person for the better.

Regardless of whether it turns out to be the right decision or not, you will be stronger, you will love yourself more, and you will learn that you are smarter and more capable of a person than what you gave yourself credit for.

So go ahead. No more waiting around. Take a deep breath and take the next scary step in life.

Meals with the Mister, V. 1

Remember the camping cookbook Mister E bought me in between all of our miscommunications? He was obsessed with the hamburgers on the front cover and said that I had to make them for him if he bought me the book.

Not one to turn down a free cookbook, I agreed happily to make him the dang burger if that’s all that it took to make him happy.

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For the patties, the recipe was really simple and I only had to combine lean ground beef with chopped bell peppers and minced garlic. While the patties cooked, I toasted whole wheat hamburger buns on the grill at the same time.

This is where I departed from the recipe in the cookbook. Their version of the burger would have had me top my patty with basil and call it a day. That’s it! Where are the condiments? Where’s the rest of the flavor?

So, I did a little soul searching in my fridge and pulled out my new favorite love from Trader Joe’s, Black Bean Roasted Corn Salsa.

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Along with salsa, I topped my burger with cheddar cheese and avocado. And for the sides, I served up baked sweet potato fries and corn on the cob.

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I understand that the burger out of the cookbook was intended to be made while camping, so it might not be a fair comparison, but I think my burger kicked the camping burger’s butt!

Now that I’m cooking more meals with Mister E, I’ve found that the best part of cooking for two is that there’s usually just the right amount of leftovers to get at least another meal out of it.

A few days later, we had the burgers again, this time topped with salad greens, the corn mixture from this recipe, ketchup, and mayo. On the side, we had corn on the cob again and potato chips.

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Have any of you guys made burgers while camping? Would you go through the trouble of making a more “sophisticated” burger with red peppers and garlic in it while camping?

Snack Time

So, I’ve been bringing the Nutella out again recently.

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It’s been a long time, my friend.

This time I’m pairing it with cinnamon raison pretzel sticks.

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Now, I realize that this is Nutella that we’re talking about. You could probably dip anchovies into it and it would still taste good. But I’ll let you try that combo out.

All I know is that cinnamon raisin pretzel sticks taste pretty darn yummy when slathered with Nutella!

Sweet Corn Guacamole

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So lately, I’ve been all about dips and spreads. They’re yummy, they’re easy, and perfect for summer parties. And what sounds better for summer than fresh, chunky guacamole filled with sweet corn, black beans, peppers, and onions?

This was my first time giving guacamole a try and I was so pleased with the results. Just further proof that you should make this!

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Sweet Corn Guacamole

  • 2 avocados
  • 1/2 can black beans, drained
  • 1 earful of corn (approximately 1 cup)
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt, to taste

Directions:  In a medium-sized bowl, combine black beans, corn, red onion, jalapeno pepper, red bell pepper, garlic, cilantro, and salt. This corn mixture can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge up to a week. For the guacamole, slice and cube two avocados. In a large bowl, mash the avocados with a fork or the back of a spoon to desired consistency. Add lime juice and corn mixture and combine. Taste and adjust salt and lime amount as necessary. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips!

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I doubled the recipe since I was bringing it to a large family party. I also kept a few of my chopped veggies to sprinkle on top at the end – I wanted to make sure everyone could see what they were getting into before sticking their chip in.

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Now, I prefer my guacamole nice and chunky with tons of veggies in it. But depending on your preference, you could choose to put less veggies in and mix the avocado up really well so that your guacamole comes out nice and creamy like so:

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This is a small bowl that I made for myself a few days after the party using some leftover chopped veggies. It was good, but like I said, I prefer the chunky style. But however you choose to make it, I hope you enjoy it!

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