Thursday, July 28, 2011

Album Review: Frank by Amy Winehouse

I know lately the whole world has been about Amy Winehouse's untimely passing. And I also know that no one was really surprised. As a long time drug user who dangled on the edge of an abyss for years, it was just a matter of time. More of a when, than an if. But for some of us, even though who were expecting this, it was still a blow. I've been a huge fan of Amy's since her last album came out. So much of a fan that I bought her first album as well. And when I heard that she had a short tour in Europe this summer, I hoped that it meant that she was going to start promoting a new album. I needed new Amy. But obviously none of that was meant to be. Maybe by Christmas (considering how fame-hungry her dad seems to be), we'll get a compilation or unfinished songs. But who knows. In the meantime, if you're hungry for more and you haven't checked out Frank I highly recommend it.

Already knowing the direction Amy went in with her follow up record, Frank seems like a more than adequate predecessor. Lots of raw talent, not overproduced, but Amy still clearly knew what she wanted and the direction she wanted to go in. It has the retro feel to it like Back to Black. A little bit of R&B, a little bit of pop, a little bit of jazz. The first few songs are more uptempo, even a bit angry, but as the disc progresses it mellows out and feels a little bit like a lounge record. At first that drove me nuts because I wanted more funky stuff like the first few tracks, but over time it grew on me. Lately I've been alternating this disc with Lauren Hill's Miseducation and it's a great companion.

Standout Tracks: Stronger than Me, Know You Now, & (There Is) No Greater Love

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Recipe: Chicken and Hummus

Ok, so I think some people may read the title of this and say Chicken and Hummus, together, in the same bite? You are freaking crazy lady! But I kid you not, it is delicious. A couple of weeks ago Nick and I went over to some friend's house for dinner. One of the items on the menu was chicken kabobs off the grill and then they put hummus out. I have no idea if that's what they intended it for, but I saw two Mediterranean items and assumed they went together. Holy moly it was good. And I don't even like chicken. So this week, while Nick was away, I decided I would do some experiments in the kitchen one of which was to try to recreate this taste without the grill. I know I can cook, but I have to say, sometimes I even impress myself. I just might get the fixins to make this for dinner on Sunday so Nick's first night back is a nice one. Here's what I came up with:

You need:
-1 large onion
-2 chicken breasts
-regular hummus (or garlic)
-1-2 tablespoons of butter (depends on the size of the onion)
-olive oil
-soy sauce
-A good quality smokey finishing sauce (like this one)

1. Mix equal parts of soy sauce and finishing sauce into a bowl. When picking a sauce, I suggest smelling it first just to make sure the soy sauce will taste good when blended together.
2. Pound down chicken breasts with a tenderizer until thinned out. Cut into cutlet sized pieces. Dredge and let sit in the sauce until you are ready to cook.
3. Heat up a large skillet with butter. While waiting for it to heat up, slice up onion thinly. Then add onion and cook for a few minutes.
4. Next add some olive oil. Give a good turn and let it cook for another minute, then add chicken and the leftover sauce mixture.
5. Cook the chicken for a few minutes on each side (do not get it brown yet). Then remove chicken onto a plate and let the onions continue to cook until brown and tender and the liquid has just about completely evaporated.
6. Push the onions and left over liquid off to one side of the skillet and add the chicken in batches. Now cook the chicken until browned on each side. Dump whatever juices was leftover onto the plate onto the onions to keep them from drying out.
7. When done, serve chicken with onions on the side and spread a generous helping of hummus on top of the chicken.

If you are die hard about having a balanced meal, this would be really great with some small roasted potatoes or pitas or naan to get up those extra juices and hummus with. I'm really into Trader Joe's whole wheat naan at the moment.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Living without Him

Nick is away on a business trip this week. I always have mixed feelings about when he goes away. I miss him terribly, and as the Police song says, "The bed's too big without you." But I'm a bed hog, so considering I sleep diagonally and use up all the pillows when he's not there, I think subconsciously part of me likes that too.

And the house is so quiet. It's lonely without him. And yeah, when he's gone I get to watch stupid girly chic flicks, not cook and just eat whatever I feel like it, but my only conversation barks and meows at me. When we were living in New Jersey and he went away, I literally worked had sparse conversations when people were not busy testing participants, and came home and did nothing. One time Nick was gone for two weeks and I thought I would go crazy by the end of the trip if I didn't talk to someone other than Batman. I wonder how stay at home mom's do it.

I'm not going to lie, it's nice to have quiet time and to be on my own schedule. This week I had a midterm and a writing assignment due and I was able to get it done without having that pull to hang out with Nick instead. Another plus was being able to stay up as late as I wanted without bothering anyone. And it was nice to be done with my midterm and come home and sit in silence so my brain could recuperate. Sometimes when you live with person you start to feel like you see them all the time and need some space. I'm pretty codependent, but even I need to have alone time and retreat into my little bubble once in awhile.

...But then I come out of that bubble and I expect Nick to be around so we can watch movies and laugh about dumb stuff and have dinner together. When he's gone, it reminds me how much of a social person I am, and I miss him terribly. I guess it's like that old saying, "men, can't live with them, can't live without them." Right now, the emphasis is definitely on the can't live without them part.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Did I wear today?

Posting these outfits has made me realize just how much I wear this yellow cardigan. It's definitely my favorite because it fits so well and I like the bit of color added to my normally dreary and neutral NY wardrobe, but I think I need to be more creative and spice things up a bit.

Dress: Anthropologie (birthday present from my mom last year)
Boots: Michael Khors circa 2009
Belt: Urban Outfitters
Pin: Got at a crafts fair

Monday, July 18, 2011

Homemade Pizza

I know the last thing you really want to do during the summer and bake anything, or even be in the kitchen at all, but I've got a really great fun dinner that I think you should all hear about.

Being from New York, we are really spoiled in the food department. There are so many great restaurants with cuisine from all over the world. Not to mention the bagels and the pizza. I really do think there is something about that dirty city water, because out here, bagels and pizza just don't cut it. I've found a couple of pizza places that are *ok* but nothing like home. And because sometimes a New York girl just really needs her pizza, I've started to make it at home. The recipe is so easy (mainly because I cheat and buy premixed dough) and you can customize it however you want. Kind of worth it to turn the oven on for that.


-Some kind of sauce
-Some kind of cheese
-Pre-made pizza dough from your local super market (you can usually find it in the dairy section around the cheese)
-Any extra toppings you might want

1. Leave the dough out of the fridge and let it get to room temperature (it's much easier to spread out and work with if you do).
2. Preheat the oven to the temp directed on the dough bag.
3. If you plan to add vegetables on top. Now is the time to pre-saute (not precooking will leave the veggies dried out after you bake them).
4. Spread some flour on the counter and coat the dough in it and you spread it out.
5. Place the dough on your baking sheet or pizza stone (this should also have a thin coat of flour on it to prevent sticking). Top with desired flavors. Bake!
6. Let it cool a bit before you cut it up or try to eat it. Certain cheeses (especially ones with more oil in it like mozzarella) will be very hot.

Besides the normal pepperoni, some pizza topping options might include:

-Vodka sauce, goat cheese, and yellow and red peppers
-Pesto, mozzarella, and crumbled up meatballs (or veggie meatballs)
-Fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil
-Caramelized onions and blue cheese
-Chicken, monterey jack cheese, a dash of BBQ sauce, a dash of soy sauce, onions
-Brie, apples, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese

Or you can make one of our personal favorites:

Mozzarella & Smoked gouda cheeses, Butternut squash sauce, onions, and mushrooms

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Movie Review: Nice Guy Johnny

I think the whole world right now is completely caught up in Pottermania. As a fan of the movies (I haven't read the books because I can't read a book then see a movie and enjoy it, but I plan to start reading soon), I would be lying if I said I wasn't extremely sad about the ending of the franchise. For 10 years I've had movies to look forward to and have grown up right alongside all the kids. And as I watched the final frames of the movie, thinking about the characters' journeys and their eventual end into a normal happy life, it's hard to imagine it all being over and what to do with your time afterwards. It's almost like when LOST ended, there's a void left. What fun fantasy movie will I look forward to now? I have been watching clips that Apple has been putting up on the trailers portion of their website. Don't watch the one entitled "It All Ends" unless you WANT to cry like a baby.

"Harry Potter is about doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend." - Stephen King

But you know what, this entry is not about my undying love for three British wizards. It's about the latest Ed Burns (the king of the NY independent movie) flick, Nice Guy Johnny.

I really like Edward Burns. He's probably one of my favorite writer-directors. As an actor, I think he's a little limited and I feel like most of the movies I've seen him in he's played the characters the same way. But as a storyteller, he is adept at telling the tale of how a young man grows up (and 99.9% of the time because of a girl). Nice Guy Johnny isn't any different, although this time Burns does not play the lead but the smarmy uncle. Johnny, played by Matt Bush, has a career he loves, a fiance he'd do anything for, and a choice to make. Keep his job in San Francisco even though it doesn't pay much or accept a cushy job set up by soon to be father-in-law back home in New York to make his fiance happy.

The film centers on the job "interview" weekend as Johnny spends time with his uncle in the Hamptons (the hot summer beach spot on Long Island) and tries to decide whether or not to take the job. But after he meets a free spirited tennis instructor, Johnny starts to question more than just the job. He's spent so much time making everyone else happy that he's forgotten to focus on himself. And the decision ends up really being about his life, the direction he's going in, and trying to figure out what he wants and what will make him happy.

Well acted and well shot, you feel like you have been transported to this other world, something very different from your own and from Johnny's. He's essentially in limbo, trying to figure out whether to go on to paradise or to a life that would be quite the opposite. For anyone who's ever had to make that choice, and knows how hard it is (which is probably just about all of us), I highly recommend this movie.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grilled Cheese Restaurant

My friend Brandi and I planned a recent shopping trip in San Francisco the day after another friend's party. I personally made sure not to drink that much (2 beers, normally no where near enough beer to get me even slightly buzzed...something about beer just doesn't do it for me), Brandi on the other hand planned to drink but was not expecting the intense hangover that followed. Then again, neither was I. So at 11am the two of us hopped in my car, huge headaches, fatigue, and all and made the drive into the city.

When we arrived at our first store, the two of us looked at each other and said that if we didn't eat, we'd die. And considering it was chilly (low 60s, think Fall weather (SF is COLD during the summer)) and we were hung over we wanted the greasiest comfort food we could find. For me, that's things with cheese and by a stroke of luck a block away from our car we found The American, a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant. We squealed with delight ran instead and ordered up two delicious and hearty sandwiches.

The menu was short, and of course consisted mainly of grilled cheese. I got the Mushroom Gruyère which had fontina and gruyère cheese, roasted mushrooms, potatoes, leeks, caramelized onions, thyme butter. Only one word can describe it. Amazing. Brandi got the Mousetrap which is loaded with three different kinds of cheese (Tillamook sharp cheddar, creamy havarti, and monterey jack) and added bacon. The restaurant itself was tiny and cafeteria style (order at the counter, wait to be served). Luckily we managed to get some seats inside at a both (normally I wouldn't have minded sitting outside, but I was not feeling up to it). And when our food arrived a few minutes later we devoured every last bite. Hangover problem not solved, but at least our hunger was.

And now, some pictures from their Facebook:

I think I know what I'm going to make myself for dinner (a yummy grilled cheese sandwich).

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Did I wear today?

Another work outfit. This is what I wore on my first "official" day as a student therapist. Granted I had been working at the clinic for a week and a half by then, but this was the day I got to see my first client...4 to be exact. Definitely still feel like I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm having fun doing it and trying to learn. At least so far I definitely feel like I made the right choice about where my life is going.

Wow my face is horrible in this one. Nick was working from home that day and I was talking to him at the same time. Totally takes away from how great this outfit is (I was very proud of it). Note to self: do not talk while taking pictures.

Shirt: H&M - circa 2006
Skirt: BCBG - circa 2009
Belt: Forever 21 - This year
Leggings: H&M
Cardigan: Express - circa 2007
Shoes: Michael Khors - circa 2009
Bracelet: Vintage, was my mom's.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Beach Time Survival Guide

In keeping with yesterday's entry about summer time tips, this one is all about the beach!

Top 5 Things to Remember When you go to the Beach

1. Will there be a cost to park or enter - A few of us recently went to a really beautiful beach just south of Santa Cruz, but because it was a State Park there was a cost to park. A few years back, my mother, aunt, and I went to a beach in NJ where we had to pay $15 each to go in. While I don't mind paying to park at a State Beach (because it usually means it's clean and quiet), $15 per person at a crappy boardwalk beach is ridiculous. People will be all over the board with this one, so just make sure you know whether you have to bring money or not, and make sure all the other people in your party know too so you can avoid any surprises when you get there.
2. Is the dog allowed? - When we went to the beach a few weeks ago, the beach we initially picked out allowed dogs. We did that on purpose so we could bring Charlie and my friend Mike could bring his dog (they're best buds). But half way through the day we decided to beach hop up to Santa Cruz and found out the dogs were not allowed. Major bummer.
3. Is alcohol allowed? - I'm not a fan of beach time drinking, but I know some people are. So just make sure you check those rules ahead of time because a lot of places aren't allowing it these days. And that goes double for glass containers.
4. Explain to kids the rules of the beach - What we think, as adults, is common sense (like don't swim too far out), kids don't always realize. Make sure they know how to be safe at the beach and that they need to listen to the lifeguard. Most beaches have rules posted near entrances. It's a good idea to review them together when you first get there. Also, my friend Roni found a very good article about how to recognize drownings that you should all be clued in on. Click me.
5. Don't worry about how you look, just have fun - Nick does this one way too often. We lived here for a full year before he would even go to the pool because he was too self conscious about how his stomach looked. And when we went on our honeymoon he had a horrible allergic reaction to the chemicals used to clean his tux shirt and he got hives all over. He wouldn't take his shirt off or go in the water. At the end of the day, think about how many near naked bodies are near by, and remember two simple rules. 1. There will always be people who look better AND look worse than you. 2. Everyone is having too much fun to pay attention to you. So let it go and have fun!

Top 5 Things to Make sure you bring with you to the beach

1. Sunscreen - No skin cancer. Even if you put a low SPF like 15 on, you can still get a tan but prevent damage. Be safe. Melanoma can strike and kill at any age.
2. Towels + Blankets - You can never have too many towels, and I suggest leaving a couple extra in the car just so you have a few sand free ones.
3. Snacks + Drinks - It's cheaper to bring them with you than to buy once you're there. And if you're at a beach with no board walk do you really want to leave early if you're having fun?
4. Umbrella - If you're some place where the sun is relentless bring that umbrella. Not only will you protect your skin (and those of young kids who are extra vulnerable), but you'll protect things that can be damaged by the excess heat like spray on suntan lotion, anything with a battery, and food.
5. Toys - It's a lot easier to built a sandcastle when you have a shovel. And there's lots of other beach toys for the older kids too.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Money saving tips for the summer

Now that it's summer and heat is sweltering it's time to start blasting the AC and think about escaping to the beach. Before you do that, though, I've scoured the internet for a few money saving tips you may want to consider.

From WiseBread:
- Book in Advance: Nick and I are pretty familiar with this one because he often has to go on business trips at the very last minute and I'm always completely amazed at the prices his plane tickets cost (we're talking $900+ for a 3 hour flight). We've also been smart and bought plane tickets waaaaay in advance and essentially gotten them at around 50% off what they could have cost. Hotels can be the same way, especially if you are going to stay at boutique places or a very popular destination. I know some people prefer to wait and see if they can get those last minute deals, but if you have something really specific in mind it doesn't always pan out. So play it safe and book in advance.
- Stay with Friends and Relatives: If you are lucky enough to have people to you like, have the space, and can tolerate you while you visit somewhere, stay with them. We have two couches and a queen size blow up mattress so we let friends stay with us all the time. It's a great excuse to force them to spend time with us too (we miss people and like to catch up). Hotels are so expensive and depending on where you go, could be the bulk of your trip cost. So if possible, be cheap and stay with someone! But make sure you bring them a gift to say thank you. Otherwise it may be the last time you get to take advantage of that.
- Tune Up Your Car: Gas prices usually go up at the beginning of the summer (although is it just me, or did they go down this year?!), and with all the driving to the beach or road trips planned, you should make sure you get a tune up. Your car will run better, and you could prevent any unforseen issues that might happen when you're in the middle of Wyomming and the next rest stop is 80 miles away.

- Cook Outside: Turning the oven on means more heat in the house which means you use energy/gas to cook, and then more of that to get the AC going again. If you can, fire up that grill and keep the heat where it belongs, outside.
- Watch the Weather (for the AC): Unless you're me, and thinks that when it turns 78 degrees it's too hot and the AC should be on all the time, you should really keep an eye out to see what the weather is. In the SF Bay at night it drops down to well below what the day temps were and simply opening the windows for some cross ventalation is the best AC in the world. So make sure you check both day time and night time temperatures to make sure you really need to keep the AC or if you can let mother nature do her job.
- AC Filters: Think of this like the filter in the dryer. If it's dirty and clogged, it takes twice as long to dry your clothes. If the AC filter is dirty it takes twice as much energy to cool off your house. Plus think about all that nasty stuff it might be blowing around.

From Energy Right:
- Be aware of the electronics that are on when the AC is: Certain things like lights in rooms that no one is sitting in and computers that are not being used create heat and use up money (both because they're using energy themselves and because they're making the AC work harder). Nick's computer room is the hottest in our apartment because he's always got 3+ machines going at once. Unfortunately for us that's how he built our firewall and internet connection, so even though he's at work right now I couldn't be online safely typing away if they weren't on.
- Check window frames/caulk, etc.: This is a good one for the winter too. Make sure your window frames are sealed so no heat gets in or any good stuff gets out.
- Use your curtains and blinds: This is a personal favorite of mine. It's counter intuitive to keep your windows closed all day while you're out at work, but if you do that and close the blinds/curtains, you not only keep the hot air out, but you block the sun from using the windows to create more heat. If you aren't using AC (or even if you are), this is a great way to naturally keep the place cool. We do this and our downstairs (which isn't even a basement, it's completely above ground), feels like it has had the AC blowing all day. Then at night we open up all the windows and let the cool air in. During the winter this works just as well, except open the curtains and blinds and let the sun in to create a little bit of extra heat.

From the The San Francisco Gate:
I'm just copying and pasting the whole thing because every tip they have is a great one:

1. Washing Your Own Car - In the winter, we can get away with driving a dirty car (in the Bay). It rains all the time, and the weather's pretty cold (it also doesn't snow), so it's rare that you'll even find an open carwash. Come summer; however, your car gets dirtier, and local carwashes will welcome you with open arms. If you can, resist! Instead of dropping $10+ at every carwash visit, do-it-yourself. You'll get some good exercise, time outside, and over time, you'll save money. Plus, you'll be helping upkeep the value of your car, and you'll be able to afford a carwash more often.
2. Gardening and Landscaping - If you're planning a new landscaping project, do it yourself instead of hiring a landscaper. Get the family involved for some healthy time outside. If you're brainstorming projects, consider revamping your garden with landscaping that requires minimal water. Finally get rid of that dead lawn, and replace your flowers with blooming cacti. Why use water when you can have a garden that looks beautiful without it?
3. Painting Your Own Home - If those chips and cracks are finally getting to you, invest in a new paint job to invest in the value of your home. If you can, do as much as you can yourself. You'll get a good workout, spend time outside, and save money. If you need guidance, you can even work with a professional to help guide you.
4. Growing Your Own Food - Grocery store produce is so expensive! Plus, your kids will think that the vegetables taste better if they have a hand in growing your garden. Gardening is relaxing, fun, and cost-saving when done right. This kind of project will also provide your kids with an excellent learning experience.
(Side note: start up costs can be pricey for this, but it's well worth the investment in the end. Just make sure you choose vegetables you actually like and cook with on a regular basis so nothing is wasted.)
5. Washing Your Pets at Home - Pet grooming expenses can really add up, even if you're only going in once or twice a month. Yes, washing your pets can be unpleasant, but during the summer, the weather's nice enough to hang out outside with a bucket. If your pet is averse to cold water, bring a bucket of warm water outside. After all, it's most important that your pets stay comfortable and healthy.
6. Biking or Walking to Run Errands - Next time you pick up the keys to run an errand around the corner, stop yourself. Over time, these little trips add up. Instead of trapping yourself inside of a car and wasting money, walk. After all, the days last longer, and you spend way too much time at your desk. If you're planning to buy something, bring a backpack or bag. Your body will thank you for the workout and time outside.

Now a couple tips from me!

- Plan ahead: My friend Mike will be the first person to tell you I am a planner. I always have an itinerary ready of where I want to go and what I want to do. Granted, I'm not one of those people who wakes up at 7am on my days off to cram in everything ever, but it's very time and money effective to at least know the direction you want your day to head in. When possible, buy tickets for events ahead of time (you can usually save a few $ compared to buying them at the door). When going places like the beach, parks, or even long car rides bring refreshments and snacks with you. It's a lot cheaper than buying stuff there where costs are jacked up by a lot. And if you are driving someplace, make sure you have accurate directions. You can save on the wasted gas of being lost, and a lot of frustration too.
- Check your rewards Credit Card to see if they have special deals. I know with mine if I sign up, I can get 5% cash back on certain summer time themed purchases. But I had to sign up to get that deal. Sometimes they also offer discounts and/or extra points on purchases if I buy through their website.
- And lastly, when driving out of your neighborhood (whether in a rented car or on a road trip) refer to websites like Gas Buddy or phone apps to find the best prices of gas near by.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Did I wear today?

From a work time outfit to a lounge around, remember what it's like to be in high school outfit (that's mainly because of the Converse. I haven't owned a pair of Chucks since high school...or early college?).

Dress: Forever 21
Cardigan: The Limited
Shoes: Converse
Leggings: H&M

Friday, July 1, 2011

What Did I wear today?

Happy July everyone! I hope you're all as excited for this month as I am. BBQs, pool parties, visitors. Lots of good times!

I've started working in the clinic which means I get to break out all of my old work clothes and start dressing like an adult again. Part of me is excited because it means I get to play dress up in a whole new way, plus I've missed my fancy shoes. But then part of me remembers how nice it was to be a "kid" for the past year with only school to worry about. Now I have to switch modes and go back to being a professional, watch what I say, follow the rules, etc. In reality, I think it's the rule following that I have the biggest issue with. What can I say, I like to color outside the lines.

Blouse: BCBG Outlet
Pants: Banana Republic
Shoes: Ann Taylor
Bracelet: Lia Sophia
Necklace: H&M
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