Sunday, October 31, 2010

Butternut Squash & Pumpkin Soup

I am so stressed out right now. I have a midterm in my Research Methods class on Tuesday and I want so badly to do well. I've been studying, going to/having review sessions, and doing my best to prepare. But today, I hit a wall and had to do something to release the tension I'm feeling right now. When my study group comes over, we all contribute something and have a very nice meal in the middle of our studying. So I think I used today's break to do some stress relieving via cooking. I made a quiche, a salad, and soup. Nothing too crazy and involved, but in complete silence, I just spent 2 hours in my kitchen cooking, cleaning, and generally being as calm as possible.

I had some leftover squash and needed to make something with it so created a soup recipe based off of one in my Barefoot Contessa cookbook that Nick got me for Christmas last year. It is Butternut Squash and Pumpkin and it came out much better than I thought.

- half of a Butternut Squash
- 1 sugar pumpkin
- 1 half of an onion
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1/2 cup of cream
- 2 1/2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon (or more depending on taste)
- 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut your squash and pumpkin in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds. Place directly on oven rack and roast for 45-60 minutes. You'll know it's done because the insides will be soft when you poke it with a fork.
2. When you have about 10 minutes left for the squash to cook, melt butter and olive oil together in a medium-large pot (you don't need a soup pot for this). When the butter is melted add your sliced up onion and cook.
3. Once the squash and pumpkin are done cooking, remove from the oven and scoop out the edible insides (ie. you don't need the skin).
4. First put the butternut squash in a blender and add the cooked onions (leave the butter and oil in the pot). Add one cup of stock and blend until liquified. Once this is done, dump it back in your pot. Next take the pumpkin and repeat the same process with one more cup of stock.
5. When everything is back in the pot (and the heat turned on low), add the last 1/2 cup of stock and the 1/2 cup of cream. Then add your seasonings. (I didn't add salt because the stock itself was very salty.)
6. Taste test and see if you need to add any more seasonings. Nick and I thought it needed a bit more cinnamon, so we did another sprinkling, but not everyone likes their squash soup with that much.

We cut up some sourdough bread and dipped it and it tasted so good. I'm not a big fan of broth soups, and I made chicken soup last week, so I'm really happy to have something else in the house. The fall and winter are obvious great times for soup eating, and what better soup to celebrate Halloween with than with the seasonal vegetables of pumpkin and squash? I guess my stress was good for something!

Hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Designer Online Outlets

I'm sure by now many people have seen the ads for websites like Ideeli or HauteLook. Essentially, they are like online outlet malls for designers. You sign up for access to each day's sales that typically last 1-4 days (depending on the designer), and you get last season's stuff at a greatly discounted rate. - One website that your don't need a membership for. Their items for sale are not time sensitive and they have a much broader range of selection, but unless they are clearance their prices aren't as good as the others.

HauteLook - HauteLook has new sales every day and features a bigger variety of types of products than some of the other websites. They have clothes for men, women, children, and babies but also accessories, home products, and food. Items go FAST so if you are looking at a top designer, these sales are essentially sample sales meaning there are only a very limited number of items. If you don't sign in when the sale begins, you may not get your item. Also, if you join and get your friends to join you can get credits towards your purchases.

Beyond the Rack - (this merged with The Top Secret) mainly features fashion. Many different designers, but also many I had never heard of before. Good or bad thing? I guess it depends on how label conscious you are and your style.

ideeli - I think ideeli is probably the best/my favorite of these websites as far as discounts and designers goes. I have only seen fashion on here and most of the designers are all big name ones with some MAJOR discounts. The one downside is, they offer a paid membership on top of the free one. You get access to sales an hour earlier. For a website like HauteLook, this makes a major difference (although they don't have this option), I'm not sure if it makes a huge difference here. I guess it depends on the designer and item since they typically have more inventory. This website (like the other two) also feature the friend incentive program.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday = Sales - Last Day to get 80% off orders with the code: PUMPKIN
Bloomingdales - Click here to have access to a top secret sale through 10/27 at noon. 50-65% off select items. There is also a sale going on 25-40% off select items. And through 10/31 for ever $250 you spent, you can get gift certificates for $25 in honor of breast cancer.
Neiman Marcus - 30% off clearance through tomorrow.
Lord and Taylor - Is having a Friends and Family sale, 25% off.
Sephora - Is also having a Friends and Family sale, 20% off with the code: FF2010 (I am running low on some stuff, so I will definitely be heading over there for this one!)
Avenue - $30 off your order of $100 or more with the code: AV101210
Macy's - $10 off $50, $20 off $100, $30 off $150 and $50 off $200on Macy' You can also get free shipping with the code: HOLIDAY
Sak's - Through tomorrow at noon, get 40% off Alice + Olivia, 7 for all Mankind, and others.
JCrew - Online only, 20% off women's sweaters. Also ONE TIME USE ONLY CODE: NORD5YENB Get 20% off your whole purchase.
Banana Republic - Through tomorrow get 30% off all outerwear. - 15% off with the coupon code CTFS2
Bath and Body Works - Besides all the usual sales, get 50% off Fall fragrances. Enter the code GETGORGEOUS to get a $100 gift bag for $25 with any purchase of $30 while supplies last.
H&M - 30% off select jackets - Some vendors have extended the sale for $50 off treatments

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It's Fall, Shouldn't I be able to Pick my Own Apples?

In the North East, the moment September hits so does fall. The leaves start to change, you break our your scarves, and of course you start thinking about fall foods. New York is famous for its Apples (among other things), so as a friend from college and I planned out a mid October visit for this weekend, we decided that since we both miss New York we had to go apple picking. I immediately went to the website Pick Your and found an orchard about 45 minutes away from us and we were set. However, this morning when we went to look up directions we discovered that they ended their apple picking season early so we were out of luck. After doing further research on the website, we couldn't find anywhere within an hour that still had apple picking open (which was really disappointing as Nick and I go apple picking every year and I planned a ton of apple themed food for tonight and tomorrow). We ended up at Webb Ranch's pumpkin patch where we picked our own pumpkin and then bought some produce (including apples) from their farm stand, but it still wasn't as good as picking it ourselves.

The website is really great, though. It's a nation wide directory of many different farms that offer pick your own fruits and vegetables. It's organized by state and county. You can search through to see what's offered in your area, and then there is also a listing of local farmer's markets and stands. I think a section has also been recently added for farms in other countries.

Why should you pick your own? Besides the fact that it's a fun activity that the entire family can enjoy, the produce is often better quality because you're picking something when it's in season and it's not traveling thousands of miles to get to your plate. It's also fresher, cheaper, and most importantly you're supporting a local business. Nick and I do our best to participate in pick your own all year round. One year we did raspberries, I've done currants and strawberries too, and every year we do apples. Just call us The Appleseeds...

From two years ago at our favorite orchard near where I went to college in upstate New York:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Your Top 5

I just got off the phone with a dear friend of mine who was feeling a little down and needed to chat. We talked for an hour about life and growing up and how it takes effort to be happy, but once you are, it's so much easier than you ever thought possible. Having spent a good chunk of my life depressed, I often equate depression to a comforting warm blanket. It's always there, ready at a moment's notice to snuggle with as you lay in bed and do nothing with your life. Now that I have spent the past few years being happy I can now say that happiness (and those know how much I do not like the heat will find this ironic) is like the sunshine. It is effortlessly warm and awakens energy you didn't know you had. But usually you're so busy lying in bed to open the door and go outside to let it into your life.

When I got off the phone I couldn't help but smile. Nick is away on a business trip this week and I guess when I'm so busy working, doing homework, and generally running around like a crazy person, sometimes I forget how lonely it is to be home alone with just the cats. I needed to talk to her a lot more than I think either of us realized.

Hot off my puppies and rainbows, I browsed through some wedding pictures (the only time we have all ever been in one place together) to see if I could find one with just me and my three best friends in it and it made me start thinking of how lucky I am to have such good friends. It made me think of my earlier conversation on the phone, and the process of learning to love one's self and an exercise my grandmother's therapist made her do every day when she was grieving the eventual loss of her husband to cancer. At the end of every day, write down 5 things you're thankful for. I'm pretty sure Oprah came up with that, it seems like something she'd do. But I think in terms of loving oneself, which is something that most if not all people struggle with at some point in their lives, it's a good practice.

Loving oneself does not happen over night. It takes years. You have to force yourself to look at the good, forget about the bad, accept love from those around you, and it takes a lot of effort. Sometimes you are lucky enough to do it on your own, and sometimes it takes the help of other good and amazing people in your life. The cognitive behavioral psychologist in me was thinking it would be a really good practice to write down five different things you love about yourself every night. In doing so, it'll force you to look at the good in you and the great things you have in your life. Maybe, eventually, you'll realize how many there things there are that are wonderful and that you deserve every one of them.

For today, here are my five:

1. I love to laugh and make others laugh. Nothing makes me happier than causing a smile on other people's faces.

2. I am a firecracker. Once you get me started there's no stopping me. Jokes, curses, loyalty, cooking. It doesn't matter. I love to be riled up, run around and be crazy, and have fun.

3. I am a great hugger. When you are down in the dumps, I am the person to come to for a hug. I won't let you go until you're better. And I'm so incredibly lucky that I have a man who I love, who loves hugs (and to hug me) just as much as I do.

4. Even if I do not get straight A's, I am smart and not a failure. As a friend once said to me, "I know that when you set your mind to doing something. It will get done, no matter how small, or how big." I might complain, be stressed out, and cry along the way. But I know, with my intelligence, skill, and drive if I want something bad enough, I will make it happen. As another old friend once said, "I know you, no matter what your mind may think at any given point, you've never let anything stand in your way. You may actually be one of the most determined people I know and it is one of the things I admire you most for." It took me a really long time to realize that and I still struggle with it. I have high expectations of myself that I do not always meet. I just need to remember the end goal, and that nothing stands in the way of it and me. I guess I just needed to remind myself this.

5. Considering I've been really lucky to talk to all three of my best friends in some fashion over the last two days I am really happy right now. We live in four different places, in three different time zones, and all have insane schedules. I'm lucky if I can do more than a quick email with any of them every other week. I envy women who can emulate the Sex and the City ladies, having brunch with three girlfriends every Sunday. But I wouldn't trade my best friends for anything. These women make me a better person. When I need to be selfish and vent, they listen even when they think I'm annoying. They know how to tell me the truth and they know how to take it as well. Best of all, they're all the kinds of friends who truly know and accept me, flaws and all. And I couldn't love these girls anymore if I tried.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Something tells me after this entry, you'll think Nick and I are 80 years old...

...but we're not. I swear. We are not 80. That would defeat the whole purpose of the "young" part of this blog title. My friend Sarah often reads my blog and tells me I already sound like an old woman, so I'm sure after this I'll really be in for it.

One thing Nick and I like to do is walk. I have to admit, when it comes to paying attention to conversations, I am more the man in that respect and when we take walks it helps to focus me so I can actually pay attention to what Nick is saying. Plus being outside and exploring the neighborhood is always fun. So the last time we were in downtown Palo Alto, we took a long walk from end to end of the main road and on some of the side streets too (it also serves the purpose of checking out restaurant menus for ideas about where to go next time, or what kind of specialty shops we may want to visit one day). While we were looking in the storefronts I noticed one had posters of movies from Classic Hollywood in it and realized that it was a theater that only plays those kinds of movies.

Nick and I love movies regardless, but there's something about the idea of seeing an older movie in the theater that's kind of exciting. I don't know if I'm the only one who does this, but I wonder about the kinds of people who would have seen the movie first hand back when it was first around. Social lives, political climate, clothes, the whole works. I know there's pictures and books you can read that would tell you those answers, but it's a lot more fun to day dream and wonder.

We made up our minds that once the schedule came out we would try to see movies there. I guess that makes us lame, because we're more interested in sticking to that movie schedule than the one at the local AMC theater, but 1. it's cheaper and 2. we have Netflix. If we really want to see a new movie in the theater we will (I am already frothing at the mouth for the new Harry Potter), but just for the effect of going to the movies after dinner? I'd rather have the experience of going to Stanford Movie Theater (for less money). Plus there's a lot better restaurant options in Palo Alto than there are near the major movie theaters and the mall.

The theater was renovated, in the late 1980s, to look like it did back when it first opened. So there is ornate decoration inside, an old style ticket box office (that only takes cash), old posters and newspaper advertisements in the gallery, and a wurlitzer organ that plays in between movies, during intermissions, and along with silent movies. I assume film reels are either originals or preserved versions as the version of Notorious (directed by Alfred Hitchcock) that was saw was full of scratches and jumped in a few places. I have to admit, considering it was part of the experience, I didn't even mind that the picture quality wasn't HD perfect or in color.

Now that we have a copy of the schedule on the fridge we're planning on going again to see a Charlie Chan movie. Ok, so this definitely makes Nick and I a couple of losers, but as long as we're having fun I don't really mind.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Top 5s of Partying and Entertaining: Part 3 - Music!

Growing up in a musical household, it's hard to say much else rivals how important a good album is. And when it comes to a party, forget about it. Nick will tell you, I will spend more time making my music mix than I will cooking or cleaning, possibly both combined. A good mix sets the kind of mood you want your party to have. If you want people to dance, be somber (although I don't know why you'd want that), or anywhere in between. So in keeping with the theme of "Top 5," I have some lists of my favorite songs for different kinds of parties.

Top 5 songs to put on a dinner party mix
You have your friends or family over for a nice dinner you slaved all day to make and you want to set the mood for some good laughs with your roast pork and a glass of wine. What kind of music do you play? How about some of these...

1. Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Tears for Fears
2. Oscar Wild - Company of Thieves
3. Keep the Car Running - Arcade Fire
4. The Seed - The Roots
5. Hurricane Drunk - Florence and the Machine

Top 5 songs to put on a summer party mix
You're in the backyard, BBQ is going, Sam Adams in hand. And people need to be pumped up to play some pool volleyball. Why not play some of these?

1. Watch that Man - David Bowie
2. Time to Pretend (the single version - MGMT
3. Sweet Child of Mine - Guns N Roses
4. When You Were Young - The Killers
5. Invisible Touch - Phil Collins

Top 5 songs to put on a mix if "adults" are coming over
In laws! Grandparents! Oh my! Not the same kind of group you can play some Lady Gaga for. These are my go-to songs when I need to play something that won't make my mother say, "it just sounds like they're screaming. I have a headache. Enough already."

1. Something's Gotta Give - Ella Fitzgerald
2. Fairy Tale Song (Cade) - Milton Nascimento
3. Kodachrome - Paul Simon
4. Don't Ask Me Why - Billy Joel
5. Day Tripper - The Beatles

Top 5 songs to put on a girls only mix
Self explanatory, but no Cindy Lauper allowed here.

1. Poker Face - Lady Gaga
2. He's Not a Boy - The Like
3. Mercy - Duffy
4. Silver Lining - Rilo Kiley
5. Tears Dry on their Own - Amy Winehouse

Top 5 songs to put on a party hardy mix
What does party hardy mean? It's my way of saying I couldn't figure out a catchy way to say when your friends come over on a Saturday night and you're all getting wasted and playing beer pong trying to relieve your college glory days.

1. She's Not There - Zombies
2. Where It's At - Beck
3. Song for the Dumped - Ben Folds Five
4. Follow You Down - Gin Blossoms
5. Starlight - Muse

Top 5 songs to put on a dance party mix
Every party is a dance party to me. These always go on there somewhere around hour 3 or 4 when we're wasted and most likely to start randomly dancing to anything. Better to some Michael Jackson, though, than Neil Young.

1. Canned Heat - Jamiroquai
2. Groove is in the Heart - Dee-Lite
3. Murder - The Virgins
4. I Want You Back - Jackson 5
5. I Don't Feel Like Dancing - Scissor Sisters

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Restaurant Review: Calafia

To finish off our whirlwind celebrations, I invited a couple of our friends to go out to eat to celebrate Nick's birthday at a restaurant in Palo Alto called Calafia.

Run by Google's old Chef, Calafia reflects his vision on simple yet amazingly good wholesome food. Much (if not all) of the food reflects sustainable living practices and the menu changes seasonally. We happened to stumble upon the restaurant our first night in California (I had a goat cheese and beet salad pizza and Nick had a spicy noodle bowl). For all the places we have tried out since then, I think Calafia is our favorite so far.

Thursday night we headed to the restaurant (which was pretty busy considering it was around 6:30 during the week) in a group of 5. We sat in the middle, so we had a really great view of their open kitchen. The first time Nick and I went we sat at the "bar" which was really more like the "kitchen" and got to watch everything be cooked. I had actually never done that before and both times really enjoyed watching as they prepared the food. The decor itself while plain looking from this picture from the website:

is actually warm and inviting. During the day time it seems like the perfect place for lunch, but in the evening it feels romantic and cozy. And the staff who work there add to the fun of the place.

The menu is split into two sides (meat eaters and vegetarian). Even though the vegetarian food is heavy on the Asian themed dishes (you know how I feel about a veg menu consisting of just things with soy sauce or curry), it is balanced with other options as well. I think, in reality, the food is "California" which I think means that there are Asian and Spanish hints to it. The overall theme of the menu seems to be rich and savory. So no matter what you order, you're going to get something delicious and good quality. I was really happy with my choice, but once the next table's food came the man sitting next to me had the most amazing looking beef dish (I've since looked at the menu and think it was the brisket). I smelled the beef and potatoes half the night, and my mouth watered. And since Calafia gets their food from local farms, I'm pretty sure I'm getting that next time.

For dinner this past week, I felt like our group ordered half the items on the menu! We had the BBQ chicken pizza (which was super spicy), pizza with duck and goat cheese, a burger (mouthwatering), mac and cheese (not the kiddie version), butternut squash soup (rich and creamy), and one of the noodle bowls. Everything was rich and flavorful and let's just put it this way, none of us had any leftovers and forced ourselves to eat a mountain-full of desserts as well (Pavlova (one word=amazing), whoopie pie (so rich and delicious, I wish I had ordered this), strawberry shortcake (it was ok, but I am also not a fan of this in general), banana split (compared to the rest of the food I was surprised how this was so "typical"), and apple cobbler (I didn't try it, but it smelled really good)).

Now for a couple pictures of the food from their website:

Ok, I think I'm ready to go back now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Contest Winner!

The day is finally here when I announce the winner of last week's birthday contest!

As stated in last week's entry, the winner gets a $50 gift certificate to Jennifer Morais Photography to use on any photoshoot they'd like. And as an added bonus if they liked her page on Facebook the winner would also get a free 8x10 print.

To remain fair and impartial I copied all the comments you left me last week and took names out and anything else that might let Nick know who it was and then sent him the comments to pick from. He chose the following comment left by Gina:

"if i was lucky enough to win this i would use it for b pics..i never saw them 'til i joined liw (Long Island Weddings) and after seeing all the girls no matter what they look like every single one was sexy and gorgeous. i really want to do this because i am a hockey loving sweatpants wearing ponytailed tomboy and i would love for dh (Dear Husband) to see a sexier side of me. i may not be a size 0 or a supermodel but i will try to make them as "boneriffic" as yours were!!!..i also have a friend who is getting married and i would def take her with me cause she is interested in doing them too."

Nick picked this entry because he liked how Gina wanted to take a risk and step outside of her comfort zone to do something different to surprise her husband.

Congrats to Gina! An email has been sent to you and Jennifer so you can link up and start planning. Can't wait to see your transformation and the results!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nick's post birthday breakfast: Rosemary Eggs and Smoked Gouda Hashbrowns

Can you tell by now that 1. Smoked Gouda cheese is probably my favorite thing ever? and 2. It's a miracle Nick and I do not weight 400 pounds a piece?

Nick wakes up at 5am every day, and considering I'm usually up until sometime between 11pm and 1am every night doing homework, there's no way I was about to wake up at 5am to make him breakfast on a day that I had a work conference call in the morning (I work from home doing some consulting/research work). I'm sure Nick didn't really notice or care, but I really wanted to make the whole day special so as a way to make up not making him breakfast, I continued our birthday festivities onto Saturday morning.

Breakfasts in our house (when we sit down to cook and make it nice) are huge. Growing up, my dad would play classical music and we'd wake up to the smells of pancakes and bacon every Saturday morning. So it's no surprise that my brother and I learned to cook breakfast before we learned to cook anything else. This is a tradition that I have carried on to my home with Nick and we love it when people sleep over just so we can make a huge breakfast for them. The night of our going away party, one of my best friends, Jen, and her boyfriend slept over. The only way I managed to convince them to do this was because I told them what I'd make for breakfast (vanilla french toast, rosemary eggs, smoked gouda hashbrowns, and bacon). Needless to say they were not disappointed.

So for Nick's birthday breakfast, I let him his favorites (from our limited supply of food) and he chose rosemary eggs with toast and hashbrowns. I popped in a cd of Handel and got to work.

First order of business was the hashbrowns. I don't really make traditional hashbrowns, but my own method that I completely made up because I had leftover potatoes from one cornbeef and cabbage meal and had to figure out what to do with them.

For hashbrowns:

- 1-1 1/2 potatoes per person
- smoked gouda
- 2-4 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
- salt

1. First we boil the potatoes just like we did the night before for mashed potatoes. Since you'll have about 30-45 minutes, this is a good time to make bacon (if you're going to do that, make your hasbrowns in the same pan bacon fat. Soooo good), set the table, make the coffee, whatever.

2. Once those are done, take out the potatoes, but them into the pan you're going to cook them in, and coarsely mash them (with the skins on). You don't want them mashed like normal mashed potatoes, you want them chunky. And also, you may want someone to stabelize the pan for you since you might start slipping and sliding everywhere.

3. Next add your butter or olive oil to the pan with some salt and cook the potatoes on the highest setting you have for 5 minutes stirring frequently. (This is a good time to crack open your eggs, see step 1. of that part of the recipe.)

4. When the potatoes look like they are starting to get some crispyness to them (this may not happen with a gas stove), start grating in and adding the cheese. Again, you can do this to taste. I usually do at least 1/2 a cup, and normally more because we like cheese. (If you're also making toast, like we did, now is a good time to put it in the toaster.) Stir frequently and watch the potatoes. You want the cheese to help the potatoes get a crispy edge to them, but you don't want anything to burn, and cheese burns quickly.

5. By the time you're done with this, you can put those on a serving plate, turn the heat off, and break out your eggs.

For eggs:
- eggs (haha, yes for eggs I need eggs...this obviously depends on how many people want)
- 2 tbsp butter
- rosemary
- gouda, gruyere, or american cheese

1. The key to soft fluffy eggs is adding air. So when you crack open your eggs, you want to use either a whisk or an egg and really beat them to hell (as my dad would say). Once you have done that, add the rosemary. I'd say 1/2 tbsp for every 2-3 eggs. With dried rosemary, a little goes a long way.

2. I'm a big fan of reusing pans to cook. I like to keep the flavors going (and since I don't really like to cook with salt, this helps with that). So, if you made the hashbrowns in a non-stick pan, your pan will actually be pretty clean minus a few bits of goodness left in there. Turn the heat off on the pan (but don't remove the pan from the same burner), and add your butter as soon as you empty the pan. When you're done whisking, the butter should be melted and then add your eggs to that.

3. This step must happen fast! Add the cheese. YOU DO NOT NEED TO OVERWHELM YOUR EGGS WITH CHEESE. Jeez, who'd-a-thunk cheese's number one fan would say that? But really, you want your eggs to be eggs, not cheese and eggs. So if you are using American cheese, for every 2 eggs, one slice is fine. And if you're grating cheese, 1/4-1/3 cup for every 2 eggs is also fine.

4. Now that the cheese is in there, turn the heat on medium-low, and break out your spatula to turn the eggs. Constantly stirring the eggs (like you're scraping them off the pan) will add more air to them and they'll be fluffy and you can keep an eye on them so you don't make them dry either.

5. Once you're done, take the eggs out of the pan (don't leave any leftovers in there or they'll dry out) and serve!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Movie Review: Date Night

In keeping with our Nick's birthday themed posts, tonight's entry is about the movie we rented that night.

I am a planner, everyone in the whole who has ever met me knows this. So for Nick's birthday, since it was just the two of us, I wanted to make sure everything was really perfect. It's hard to have your birthday be at a time when you don't know too many people and you're away from your family and friends, so I didn't want him to be thinking about that at all. A couple weeks ahead of time I skimmed through our Netflix cue to see what we had on there. Should I pick something action packed that any guy would be into? Should I pick something schmaltzy and romantic because Nick is a softie at heart, and the whole night was kinda like a big romantic evening? I eventually decided that something lighthearted would be good and opted for a romantic comedy with emphasis on the comedy. Date Night starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell seemed like the obvious choice, especially because with two comedians at the top of their game, I was expecting it to be intelligent and not just stupid.

Well I'm not going to lie, I was not disappointed. Fey and Carell star as The Fosters, a couple who is a little burnt out from raising the kids and working. They have weekly date nights, but there's little spice to their marriage. Prompted by a close couple's divorce, Carell's character decides they need to do something different to "save" their marriage when in reality it was never that broken to begin with. They head to NYC to try to get into a restaurant that's impossible to get a reservation at, and when they steal another couple's reservation they are struck with a case of mistaken identity and hilarity ensues as they try to survive the night.

Fey and Carell play their characters perfectly with the flair that you might expect from the two of them. Perfect comedic timing, great chemistry, with a bit of honesty thrown in. When you watch them fight, or goof around, you walk away feeling like "wow, that could be me and my significant other." (We laughed hysterically and both said this as they did a "stripper robot dance.")

That being said, this movie is not without it's star supporting characters either. Mark Wahlberg plays a shirtless security expert, Will.I.Am makes a cameo as himself which leads to a hilarious scene, and Mila Kunis and James Franco star in a scene as the couple The Fosters stole the identity of for a night.

Overall, I'd give the movie 5 stars because it has everything you'd want in a date night movie. You laugh, you love your partner a little bit more after it, and you have a good time watching it. I think this is one DVD we may end up adding to our collection.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nick's Birthday Dinner - Red Wine soaked Buffalo Steak with Caramelized Onions and Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes

So in continuing with the theme of Nick's birthday I thought I would share our activities for the evening in a series of entries. First up, what I made for dinner!

As you probably know by now, Nick and I don't really eat meat. For all intents and purposes we are vegetarians, but when the meat is raised/treated ethically and there's no hormones, etc. pumped into it, then we will eat it. And since one of Nick's favorite things in the world is steak, I decided to make him a steak dinner (with meat carefully selected from Whole Foods of course).

For the steak:

-Red wine
-Olive Oil
-Minced Garlic

For the potatoes:

-depending on size of potatoes, about 1 to 1 1/2 potatoes per person. I like Yukon Gold the best for just about every potato recipe ever.
-smoked gouda cheese

For the caramelized onions:

-For two steaks, half of an onion
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 2 TBSP vinegar
- 3 TBPS sugar

1. First I combined some good quality red wine (as Rachel Ray always says, if you don't want to drink it, then you don't want to cook with it), a few fresh cloves of garlic that I chopped up, some fresh rosemary from our herb garden, and a little bit of olive oil in a bowl. I let the steaks soak for about an hour on each side. NOT IN THE FRIDGE (cooking your meat when it's cold messes up the time it takes to cook and the texture). I have meat loving cats, so I usually stick it in the microwave for safe keeping.

2. Next I boiled the peeled potatoes in salted water. Depending on size of potatoes this could take up to 45 minutes. The key to non chunky potatoes is cooking them longer. So I like to make sure the potatoes are so soft when you try to lift them out of the pot (with a fork or tongs, they are already breaking apart).

3. While the potatoes were boiling I got to work on my caramelized onions. Slice up the onion real thin, then put in your pan with the other ingredients. Cook on medium-high for a few minutes until the onions start to look a little cooked/opaque (stir often), then put the heat down to medium-low until the onions look like they are cooked, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting and forget about them. They'll need to cook for about 30-45 minutes to get that nice dark brown color you see at the restaurants.

4. Since all of these things take a while to cook, I spent some time setting the table, making my cupcakes etc. You can keep close to the onions if you want, but once you set them on low and forget about them, you probably have a good 30 minutes to yourself before you have to pay attention to anything again.

5. By now just about everything should be done cooking. You can turn off the potatoes and put them into your pot/mashing bowl/whatever. But the longer you cook those onions the better (just remember to keep them on the lowest setting so they don't crunch up), so don't worry about turning those off. Turn on your grill pan that you're going to use for the steak. Next mash with your masher, a lot (I don't use a ricer because again, the longer you cook your potatoes, the less you have to worry about chunks). Add your milk and butter (I did half a stick of butter and a 1/3 of a cup of milk for 3 1/2 potatoes) and a generous amount of salt. Give a good stir, you can add more to taste.

6. By now your grill pan should be super hot and you can put the steaks on there. I usually dump a little bit of the soak on the pan before putting the steaks on there. Then dump the rest on top. Cook for 5 minutes on each side for medium.

7. While the steaks are cooking grate your smoked gouda cheese. You need at least half of a cup, but you can add more if you want to bring out the smokey flavor more (I usually do more and flavor to taste). Because your potatoes are still very hot, the cheese should melt find. But if you want you can always stir everything in and either put your pot over heat again (or nuke if it's in a bowl) then stir some more.

8. Once your steaks are done you can transfer them to the plate. Put some caramelized onions on top and blue cheese if you want (I chose one that smelled a little bit sweet and it tasted awesome). And of course potatoes to the side.

You can serve the same red wine as you made the meal in if you want. And for all your non-red wine drinkers (like myself), don't be afraid to cook with it. It just enhances the flavor, doesn't overpower it. So you can still enjoy the steak too!

I set the table with lots of candles, played some jazz in the background, and it was almost like we were at our own little romantic bistro. (Who says men don't like to be wined and dined too.)

And just to let you know, you can enter into the contest until Thursday and I'll announce the winner on Friday night.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Columbus Day Coupon Codes

I can't believe it's already Columbus day! Because of the short quarter system my school is on we get no days off for holidays and unless I checked my email for sales I would had no idea that this shopping holiday was upon us. Considering just about every story will have a sale of some kind, this week's sale entry is limited exclusively to coupon codes. - 80% off with the coupon code: ENJOY. This ends Tuesday.
Saks 5th Ave - Free shipping for orders over $150 with the code: OCTSFA. Free gift/sample bag with a $100 beauty purchse: COLOR2
Barnes and Noble - (This may be a 1 time code, not sure). Use H7V7C9T to get 10% off one item. Or Click here for a printable coupon. You can also click here for a series of 30% off coupons for this week.
Banana Republic - 30% off your order with the code TENTEN30. Free shipping with a $50 purchase with the code BRFREE50
Ralph Lauren - 25% off your order with the code: RLGIVE2010
New York and Company - $40 off your order of $100 with the code: 1301
J Crew - Ok, this one isn't a code, but on rare occasions they have a factory outlet on their website. This weekend they do, until midnight tonight.
The Limited - With the coupon code: 195 you get $50 off $150, $30 off $100 or $15 off any $30 purchase. - 25% off with the code: 25SALE
Shop Bop - 20% off with the code: INTHEFAMILY20
Victoria's Secret - 20% off all boots online with the code: 20VSBOOT
Neiman Marcus - Free shipping with the code: FALLNM
Express - 60% off with the code: 9982
BCBG - 30% off Leather and Outerware with the code: COLUMBUS10
Bath and Body Works - Free tote with with any $25 purchase: LOVETOTE
Ann Taylor - 40% off with the code: EXTRA40
Urban Outfitters - 20% off your order of $100 or more: TEENVOGUE
Lord and Taylor - 15% off your order with the code: CDAY
Merkin Concert Hall (NYC) - Call the number, 212 501 3330, and mention the "Tuesday Matinees Guest Pass" offer to get a free ticket to any Tuesday matinee concert
The Children's Place: 20% off your order with the code: M3C2010
Macy's - Free shipping when you buy a pair of shoes and spend $99 with the code: GREATSHOES
Bebe - $50 off $250 with the code: 50OFF250
Talbots - 20% off your order and $5 flat shipping rate with the code: 900024343

PS. really saved my butt with this one!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday Sales - Use the coupon code HUNGRY to get 70% off. This is good through tomorrow.
Pier 1 - Is having a creature's comfort sale. Up to 25% off selected items that I'm guessing are comfortable in someway?
Bath and Body Works - Free tote with any $25 purchase, use the code: LOVETOTE, while supplies last (online only). There's also free shipping on orders of $50 or more and 3 wick candles are 2 for $20. Pocket hand sanitizers are 5 for $5.
Banana Republic - Today is the last day to save 30% with the code SAVEBIG at Banana Republic, Gap, or Old Navy. And you get free shipping with $100 or more. The cool thing about their site is that you can shop at all three at once, and pay one shipping price. So I'm guessing you can shop at all three stores to get to $100 and get free shipping faster that way. You also get 10% off every Tuesday if you have one of their store cards with the code TUESDAYS.
J Crew - Free shipping on orders of $100 or more with the code AUTUMN.
Macy's - Has too many sales right now to even list. Just click here.
Sak's 5th Avenue - Use the code COLOR2 to get a free gift tote with any beauty purchase of $100. For free shipping at $200 use the code SFASHIP.
H&M - is celebrating 10 years of being in the US. There's a huge sale in store where many items are $10 off.
The Children's Place - Save 20% with the coupon code OCTOBER10A
Express - Is having their Fall sale right now plus BOGO Jeans and you get an extra 50 points on your card if you buy a sweater.
Nordstrom's - Use the coupon code SHOES to get free shipping with any shoe purchase.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Loss 10 pounds in 5 weeks? Don't mind if I do!

Sorry for the lack of updates this past weekend. We're in heavy duty school mode right now, midterms, papers, quizzes, etc. so I'd expect the next 2 weeks to be a little bit slow on the entries. Real life comes first!

I am not really a believer in diets. I believe in eating healthy and exercising. I always joke with my friends that I exercise purely so I can eat as much junk food as I want. It's probably partially true, since I do have a sweet tooth. But a huge chunk of it is also wanting to keep in shape for soccer, keep my heart healthy, and keep my joints strong (soccer does a real number on you, even at 25 I've got way too many sports related injuries/aches/pains for my own good). That being said, I also don't think I need to loose any weight (I know Nick will kill me for this one because I constantly complain about my thighs and how I wish I could fit into my old jeans from right after a bad breakup. Obviously I was depressed and considering I don't think I'll ever be that depressed again, I'm not expecting to fit into any of those pants ever again, but I keep them's a lot of money to waste!).

But all joking aside, most women probably don't need to lose weight and are what I call mind-fat. You're not fat, you just think you are. Women constantly think they need to loose 5-15 pounds. "If I could only drop that last 5, I'd be so much happier." And so they go through drastic steps to do so. Body cleansing, juice diets, and actual starvation. None of those things are healthy. And you do need carbs and fats (the healthy ones--not McDonald's and donuts). It's extremely unhealthy to cut out an entire food group like that. Just Google it for the many reasons why.

I would never endorse a diet, but I think this health plan that MSN has come up with is as close to I'll ever get to that. It's a way to loose a small amount of weight gradually so that you're not going through any drastic changes or pushing yourself too hard. They tell you to re-evaluate your food and activity level in baby steps, doing things week by week until you've made a lifestyle change that you can hopefully keep up with in the long term. I think of it more like 5 weeks to a healthier lifestyle, than 5 weeks to 10 pounds lighter. And I like how it makes you think about things, rather than just saying "cut out all of this or that." Do I use this "diet"? No, but when I start to look around at what I've been eating and how much I've not been moving around, sometimes I do use the steps so that I can get back to being healthy again.

Again, the key is a healthy lifestyle, not a number on a scale.

Friday, October 1, 2010

This is why...

I have been thinking about this for a few days now, but Ellen's emotional video concerning the topic has really made an impression on me.

I am so upset over Tyler Clementi's death and the recent teen suicides this month. I do not want to talk politics on this blog, I do not want to get into constant arguments with people over things. That is not the focus. But I honestly believe that as an 18-year-old, you have enough to worry about and should not have to deal with people tormenting you because of who you are as a person. You should be loved and supported and allowed to discover yourself and not shunned for that, no matter what you may become. When people ask me why I want to be a therapist, this is why. So that every kid has someone they can talk to, someone who can empathize and care about them unconditionally, and we can prevent things like this from happening.

I have already been thinking about an entry for the month of December talking about charity and how it's important to give back (really at any time of year) but especially around the Holidays when we should be thankful for what we have, and help those who do not. But I think it's important to bring up Hopeline and 1-800-SUICIDE's work not only championing for Mental Health awareness in Congress but also around the country. They want to take away the stigma of mental illness and help people just like you and me survive in the face of that and many other adversities. About 26% of Americans will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life. At one point in my life, I was one of them. If you can, when you are thinking about the next charity you want to donate to, consider Hopeline. Very few people do the work they do, trying to get rights for the mentally ill. The next person they save could be someone you love.

Tyler Clementi's story is not just a story about a young man who was gay and killed himself because of it. It's a story about a young man, who had parents who loved him and was bullied in high school and in college and couldn't take it anymore. We have all been bullied at some point in our lives, and it's a shame that for him, he never saw it ending. And it's a shame that two parents, and countless family members and friends had to say goodbye to someone they cared so much about, so early in his life. I hope that something like this does not happen to any of us, and I hope that one day stories like this stop happening.
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