Like Being in College, Except You Get Paid

Happy Friday! Don’t know about you but I am really ready for the weekend. I stayed up until 12:30 AM last night to finish a project for work. I felt like I was in college/grad school again, playing beat the clock against a mid-term deadline. Back in college, I used to think that all that work and pulling all-nighters wouldn’t be so bad if we got paid for it. Well, now that I AM getting paid for it, I wish I was getting paid MORE! 

Despite only getting about 6 hours of sleep, I had a great run this morning on the treadmill. It really is too cold to run outside here in Chicago – at least in my opinion. Although I complain about running on the treadmill day after day, I really am thankful that I have one.

Breakfast was a hearty bowl of oatmeal, with a tad of brown sugar and a few chopped walnuts…

I had to make a Target and Costco run for things for the party tomorrow, which consumed most of my morning. But I did cash in my Starbucks giftcard for a tall mocha frap. Instead of drinking it right away, I put it in the fridge to stay cold until after lunch…

Since I’m trying to stick to 1,600 calories a day for the next few days, I’ve been really watching my portions. As you can see, I had a 1/2 sandwich made with reduced-fat salami and a 1/2 slice of Swiss, plus a few carrots and chips to balance it out.

While the kids napped, I savored my mocha frap and spent the better part of 2 hours perusing the menus at Disney World. We have been very strategic about our restaurant choices, trying to balance quality food with a fun atmosphere for the kids. You’re probably thinking that every restaurant at Disney provides a fun atmosphere for kids – well, not really. Some do a better job than others. This balancing act also includes trying to split our meals between a la carte menus and buffets. Here’s the catch, most character meals are buffets and most of these get pretty low ratings for food. But, when you have small children, you want to go to character meals to make it more fun for the kids and not just like going out to eat back home.

As I checked out the menus online, which are very accurate by the way, I was contemplating some of the healthier choices for both me and the kids. On the dining plan, the kids have to order off the kid’s menu. And wouldn’t you know it, nearly all of the menus include hot dogs, pizza, chicken fingers, burgers, and mac and cheese. Come on – I know kids are picky but couldn’t you be more original than that? That’s not to say that my kids won’t eat those things because they absolutely will – but twice a day for seven days?? Even my kids would get bored with that. And what is even more strange is that the appetizer for the kids (the kid’s meal includes an appetizer) they can choose from a salad or carrots sticks. I know that those are healthy choices, but how many kids do you know (especially those 5 and under) who eat salads or carrot sticks for an appetizer? It seems like it should be switched, give them something a little more “fun” for an appetizer and give them a healthier choice for the entree.

Anyway, dinner ended up being homemade chicken noodle soup, which tasted really good on a cold day. Before soup, we actually started with a little white cheddar and crackers…

Again, because I’m watching my portions, I had one small cup of soup – about 10 ounces. But it looked really good in my fancy smancy cup…

I’m off to go finish up a few party things before bed. See you all tomorrow!

A Dessert Triple Play

Hello everyone!

I just came back from a fabulous dinner with my friend Prachi! Prachi is a Washington, DC, local so she is very in the know when it comes to restaurants. During our conversations, she had mentioned a local hotspot called Matchbox, so tonight, Matchbox it was! Matchbox is a DC favorite that is a mix between bistro and Italian cuisine. Naturally, dinner started with little bit of vino…

Then it was time for some appetizer action. Because I don’t eat beef or seafood, there was only one option left for an appetizer… fried mozzarella with tomato and basil – aka a fried caprese salad!

But I was not disappointed AT ALL with my choice. This was fantastic – but of course, it was fried, so how could it NOT be good, right?

For our actual dinner – we split the Q special pizza with grilled chicken, mozzarella, red peppers, and mushrooms…

Pretty good but I stopped at two pieces because it had a little too much cheese for me. Plus, I wanted to save room for this baby…

What could be better than one dessert? How about THREE desserts! I really didn’t want to get this huge monstrosity of a dessert, but Prachi made me ;-). Apparently, she does not eat enough dessert at home and wanted to make up for it tonight! He he! The trio included a banana chocolate chip bread pudding…

This was much lighter than bread puddings I’ve had in the past and had a great flavor. Next up, the molten chocolate cake…

At one point in time, I considered myself a molten chocolate cake expert – tasting expert that is. So, I had high hopes for this cake. I was disappointed – the best thing about this was the vanilla gelato on top. Nuff said. Finally, the cinnamon doughnuts…

As most of you know, I am not a huge doughnut fan, but these little pastries reminded me of beignets, complete with kahlua creme dipping sauce – lovely and calorie-free I’m sure. Just to ease your curious minds, we did NOT eat all of the desserts, we both took a few bites of each and then called it quits. And believe me, that took some willpower. 

OK, I have a date with the hotel treadmill in the AM, then it’s off to a 7 hour meeting for me! Have a great night everyone.

Saved By Gift Cards

Hey All,

Hope you all enjoyed your MLK day! I took advantage of the day off and slept in a little (until around 7 AM). It wasn’t until I got out of bed that I noticed something strange in the house – it was super COLD!!! Apparently, the heater went out sometime in the middle of the night. We were all walking around the house in hoodies and bathrobes until the heater guy came to fix the problem.

I did warm up a little in the interim with a 45 minute interval run on the treadmill, followed by a kick-ass ab workout! After waking up to the cold, I wanted something warm and fuzzy for breakfast…

So, a little Trader Joe’s apple bread hit the spot! I only had one small slice (watching portions ya know!) so a little later I munched on a 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt with a few walnuts…

A little Greek yogurt sure goes a LONG way, especially when you add MUFA-filled nuts. Tazo Awake tea was also on the cold morning menu…

Whenever I drink tea at home – which is quite a lot lately because I’m trying to drink more of it – my kids always ask for some. They are very young, so I only give them a little herbal tea to drink. They take a few sips then forget about it. This morning, I jokingly complained to Scott – why is it that whenever I make tea, no one drinks it? He responded with “that includes you” as he pointed to my mug full of cold tea. Touché!

I tried to get fancy for lunch by making my first ever butternut squash soup. Ok, honestly, it was Trader Joe’s butternut squash soup, but it was still my first time having it at home…

I hate to admit it, but at first taste, this soup was a little bland. But I added a few pieces of granny smith apple and some walnuts and it was much better. At just 90 calories a cup (without the garnish), this soup really is a great low-cal lunch.

I worked for a few hours this afternoon (it never ends, does it 😉 ) then we were off to IKEA to buy some shelves. Whenever I go to IKEA I am completely overwhelmed by the size and number of products in the store. We finally decided on some shelves after an hour, but when we finally located them in the “pick up” section, we realized the box would not fit in our car! OK, that was a wasted trip – blah!!!

But, not to despair, we ended up eating at Maggiano’s for dinner. For all of you wondering about our restaurant diet – we used our gift cards! Woo hoo – gotta love those gift cards. After eating what seemed like a whole loaf of bread, Scott and I split the house specialty – rigatoni D, with mushrooms, onions, chicken, and rigatoni all mixed in a marsala cream sauce.

When we lived in the city, we would go to Maggiano’s every other week, or so it seemed. And, we would most often order the Rigatoni D. But after a while, I just stopped liking the dish and stopped ordering it completely. After more than 5 years of being rigatoni D free, we decided to give it a try tonight. It was good, but then I realized why I really stopped eating it 5 years ago. Within an hour after eating, I felt sick, no doubt due to the cream sauce. No more rigatoni D for 5 more years – that’s it!

I’m actually still feeling sick right now, so I’m turning in early. Have a great night everyone!

7 Reservations in 7 Days

Evening everyone! Hope you’re Saturday was fun. My day was pretty lazy. I did not end up going to yoga this morning – blah!. After running 6 days this week, plus adding weights, lunges/squats, and an office yoga session, I was pretty tired this morning. But, I did have a fantastic breakfast…

This is my second day of oats in a bowl – although today it was in a ramekin = paired with Tazo Awake tea…

Check out my new tea/coffee cup from Anthropologie! It has my initial, of course, which I absolutely love, and it looks so French. Plus, it was only $6! I could have spelled out my whole name for that price, but I really did not need 8 more cups.

Lunch wound up being a sandwich again, although this time I actually slowed down enough to enjoy it…

Much of the day was spent lounging but also doing a little vacation planning. We’re heading out the Disney World in a few weeks and we’re anxiously planning/making all of our dining reservations ahead of time. I’ve actually been making reservations for the last 3 weeks, so today when I called the dining hotline, the customer service rep told me I had over 20 reservations made under my name. Yikes! I better cancel some of those. And so, I spent over an hour trying to reconcile the reservations, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give up. As of now, we have reservations at:

  1. Le Cellier (Epcot)
  2. Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge)
  3. 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian)
  4. Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom)
  5. Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary)
  6. Whispering Canyon (Wilderness Lodge)
  7. Wolfgang Puck Cafe (Downtown Disney)

I seriously can NOT believe we will be eating at all of these restaurants – 7 top restaurant reservations in 7 days! We will definitely be making up for our Restaurant Diet!

And, except for Boma, all of these restaurants will be NEW for me – and that’s saying a lot considering I used to work for Disney. If it isn’t obvious by the reservations, we are doing the Disney Dining plan – for the first time. I’m really not sure how much money we are saving by doing this, if we’re even saving any at all. But, since we go to Disney once a year, we thought we’d give it a try.

Anyway, dinner was a brand new creation – a recipe/serving suggestion taken from the February issue of Real Simple magazine…

The magazine featured 10 ways on how to doctor up plain cheese ravioli. ALL of the serving suggestions sounded delicious, which prompted me to try one tonight. I started with Trader Joe’s mini cheese ravioli..

Which I cooked according to the directions. Then I added a mixture of cream and Trader Joe’s pesto…

I mixed the sauce and noodles together then put that into a glass baking pan. It was topped off with parmesan cheese and baked for about 20 minutes, until browned on top.

This was a great dish to make on the fly, although I’m not sure how healthy it was. I’m eager to try more of the serving suggestions the article suggested.

OK, I’m starting to fall asleep. Take care everyone and chat with you all tomorrow.

Dinner for Two = $142

Last night, after my work-related event was finished, a colleague and I ventured off to downtown Scottsdale for a bite to eat. My colleague had been to Scottsdale several times before and had been raving about a restaurant there. Given that she is a foodie and somewhat of a wine snob, I was pretty sure the restaurant would be a good one – and I was NOT disappointed.

Cowboy Ciao Scottsdale

We ate at Cowboy Ciao, a very eclectic restaurant, with a mix of Southwest meets LA meets NY kind of menu. Plus, they had a HUGE wine menu, probably 3x the size of the food menu. It was easily the largest wine menu I’ve ever seen -and I’ve seen quite a few on business trips.

My colleague wasted no time devouring all of the listed wines and decided on a French white wine. I can’t tell you the name but I can tell you that it was an aged wine – 10 years old – and about $45 a bottle! Yikes – I was glad I was not buying.

1.9.10 Stetson Salad

We both ordered the restaurant’s signature salad – the Stetson Salad, which is a mix of all sorts of goodies. I can’t remember all of the ingredients, but I know there were corn nibbles, couscous, tomatoes, and chicken thrown in there. The mix of flavors was outstanding! And, because I opted for chicken instead of salmon, this salad could have easily been my meal.

But oh no, it didn’t stop there. Next, we ordered our entrees…

1.9.10 butternut squash and bacon quesadilla

By this time, I was feeling pretty full, so I wanted to keep my entree on the lighter side. I had the butternut squash and bacon quesadilla. OMG – bacon and butternut squash – come ON! Why didn’t I think of that sooner! This quesadilla was fantastic! I only wish that I wasn’t so full when I ordered this. I ended up eating two pieces and leaving the rest.

As I mentioned last night, a piece of red velvet birthday cake was the grand finale of the meal.

1.9.10 red velvet birthday cake

I know, I know, I’ve already said I was full. I should have thrown in my napkin after the entree. But, when our waiter said those magic words – Red Velvet – all reasoning went out the window.

If you are ever in Phoenix or Scottsdale, I highly recommend this restaurant. It really is a restaurant for foodies, wine lovers, and anyone looking for something fun and different. However, it is NOT cheap. Our bill came to $142 with tip – again, so glad someone else was buying!

I was so incredibly full after the meal that I had to walk around the hotel for 40 minutes when we got back. I’m so glad I did or else that food would have been laying in my stomach like a big lump all night.

Alright, I’m back in the office tomorrow so must head to bed.

Next trip – Wash, DC, in two weeks!

Chocolate Beginnings and Endings

I am officially on the first trip of 6 or seven trips that I have planned for the next 5 months. I have already eaten more food in two days than I normally do in about 4!! And yes, I am truthful when I say that my day began with chocolate and ended with chocolate. I really have to start pacing myself or I’m going to gain 10 pounds by May.

To give you an example of my less than ideal food selections, breakfast was a carb-loading buffet…

1.9.10 Scottsdale breakfast buffet

And so, my day started with a chocolate muffin pictured in the center. Yes, there was a fruit options, but the chocolate muffin seemed to be calling my name. 

My day ended with a piece of red velvet chocolate birthday cake…

1.9.10 red velvet birthday cake

And if you think that’s rich, you should see the rest of the food I had in between!! But you’ll have to wait for those details tomorrow. I’m tired and must leave for the airport at 5:45 Am.

Have a great night!

The Restaurant Diet

Hello All!

In July 2009, Scott and I went on a diet. Now, I typically don’t believe in dieting, but this was no ordinary diet. When Scott and I realized that we were averaging $475 a month on eating outside the home, we nearly passed out right on the floor! I seriously can’t believe we were going out to eat THAT much. But the numbers didn’t lie. We were going to eat that much and desperately needed to stop.

Restaurant check:

So, we put ourselves on a diet – a spending diet. We called it our Restaurant Diet

The Restaurant Diet – For one month, it was no spending any of our own money on Starbucks or any other restaurants, including take-out. Was it difficult?  You bet it was! I felt like every Starbucks was calling my name. I felt like everyone in the world was going out to eat but me. Although my family knew of our self-inflicted plight, my coworkers did not (I guess I was too embarrassed to tell them). By the end of the month, I think I just about ran out of excuses for why I couldn’t go out to eat (unless, of course, someone else was buying!). Our only reprieve was a gift certificate that we strategically used and the welcomed business trip that allowed for a Starbucks or two.

Although there were several great reasons why we did this little experiment, the main reason was to save money. And, believe it or not, after one month on the Restaurant Diet we shaved $500 off of our food bill! Wow, it felt so good to say that we saved that much money on food. And we did it by following these 8 Strategies for Dining At Home

Although our diet only lasted for one month, we said that we would try to cut down on eating outside the home. Yeah right, that lasted a few weeks, then, it was back to the old Jen and Scott – spending money freely.

However, after seeing our December food budget go through the roof (granted, the holidays were thrown in there), we decided that January was as good a time as any to start our diet again. We would have actually started this sooner, but our intentions were clouded by the excuses in our heads, including…

Excuses for Eating Out…

  1. We’re too busy, so we must rely on going out to eat as our Plan B – but plan B quickly turned into our plan A.
  2. We don’t want to clean up. We don’t mind the cooking park, it’s the cleaning that sucks.
  3. We’re tired of our “go-to” recipes and must use restaurant food to get us out of our slump.
  4. We have quite a bit of traveling coming up, so how can we avoid going out to eat when we’re out of town?
  5. We both agreed – food just tastes better when someone else makes it for you.

OK, no more excuses. Tomorrow, January 4, we will officially begin the second round of our Restaurant Diet, which will last through February 3. Although this diet is difficult, it really is simple in theory because it only has one rule:

Rule #1 – No spending our own money on food/drinks other than groceries*

*Gift cards, gift certificates, and spending other people’s money are all fair game!

Ready, set, go!

Food Hangover

Is it possible to have a hangover from food? If it is, I’m pretty sure I have one. I think I ate the most food at one meal last night than I have in a very long time! Without further ado, here’s the scoop…

Scott and I met his parents and his brother and sister-in-law at Francesca’s Famiglia, a fantastic, family-owned bistro in the Chicago suburbs (although the original Mia Francesca is in downtown Chicago). Our pre- New Year’s dinner started with a little vino and some bread/oil for dipping…

12.29 White Wine

Only one glass of Chardonnay for me! Next up were the appetizers – crunchy calamari and bruschette topped with mozzarella cheese, basil, plum tomatoes, and prosciutto…

12.29 Bruschette

The prosciutto was a little odd tasting to me but I took it off and ate the rest of it -hmm, hmm good!

The salad course was next. I was actually going to pass on the salad, but everyone else was getting a salad – so, when in Rome…

12.29 dinner salad

I had a simple dinner salad (giving half to Scott who decided to get the minestrone soup) which was mighy tasty with its super fresh ingredients -and HUGE carrots – plus balsamic dressing. 

Now for the main course…decisions, decisions…

12.29 Francesca Menu

I was really wrestling between the spaghetti with sausage and prosciutto or the fusilli. I decided to go on the lighter side, avoiding meat…

12.29 Pasta with capers olives

Talk about HUGE portions! The fusuilli came out in a large bowl and was topped with a light cherry tomato sauce, capers, black olives, and parmesan cheese. Simple, yes, but delicious! I decided to stop half way and save room for dessert. And luckily I did, because they had banana chocolate bread pudding on the menu…

12.29 Banana Bread Pudding

This actually was a smaller dessert than I expected, but it was just right for Scott and I to share. The banana chocolate bread pudding was topped with banana fudge gelato, drizzled with cream anglaise and caramel sauce. Oh my, I could have skipped dinner to eat this whole dessert and would have been content for the rest of night! Everyone at the table split a dessert, including tiramisu and protiferoles made with pistachio gelato…

12.29 Protiferoles

The profiteroles were so cute, I just had to have a taste! Finally, when I thought we had ended our meal, the waiter brought out a complimentary round of limoncellos for the table. Sorry, I took one sip of this very strong vodka drink and completely forgot to take a picture of it!

In true Italian/European fashion, the whole meal took about 3 hours from start to finish. For the most part, I think what I ate was very healthy, it’s just that I ate too much – or at least more than my body is used to.

Ok, now I must find a cure for this possible food hangover – WATER!

Fit Bloggin Bound

Hello to all my blog buddies out there! I just returned from an amazing Italian dinner with my in-laws. I’m so full and completely exhausted from the wine and food. I plan to share all the details with you tomorrow morning, but here’s a preview of how I ended the meal…

12.29 Protiferoles

I just have to say – OMG!!! These protiferoles (cream puffs) were huge! Again, check back tomorrow morning for more details.

Fit Bloggin, March 2010

Before signing off, I must tell you that I just registered for the Fit Bloggin conference in Baltimore! Woo hoo! I am so excited. If you are at all interested in the Social Media-Fitness/health combination, I highly suggest you check it out! If any of you are going, drop me a note. Maybe we can arrange an early morning run (for exercise or just to Starbucks ;-)) or a dinner. March can not come soon enough!

See you all in the AM.

His and Hers Wines With A Chocolate Mousse Ending

In a continuation from yesterday’s post, Scott and I literally shopped ALL afternoon yesterday and ended up dropping some semi-serious cash-ola on holiday gifts. Good thing this only comes once a year! For us, the key is to buy most of our gifts using our debit card so that we are not shocked when we see our credit card bill in January.

Toward the end of our shopping excursion, we had a totally fabulous dinner at a chic French bistro…

12.5 L'Eiffel Bistro

The restaurant, L’Eiffel Bistro & Creperie, is a little out of the way for us to drive, but it was well worth it. It was our first time at the bistro but we read great reviews online so I was super excited! We arrived for our dinner reservation at 7 PM and were promptly seated near the window. Then, it was time for le vin…

12.5 wine

His and Hers wine – Hers would be the chardonnay, naturally, and His the cabernet. A perfect toast to our Christmas shopping marathon!

Just curious, do you ever feel that a particular drink or food is more male or female? For instance, I usually associate white wine more with women and red with men; or chicken with women and steak with men. 

I was so hungry by this time in the evening that I didn’t hesitate to break into this tasty duo…

12.5 bread and tapenade

A little somethin’ somethin’ of crusty bread and sun-dried tomato tapenade. Oh my, I would definitely buy this tapenade if it was available in a bottle – so good!

By the way, all of these photos were taken in extremely low light, but my new, handy dandy, Canon S90 camera just so happens to take GREAT low light photos – how conveeeenient!

Next came the salad…

12.5 green salad

…a super fresh green salad with some awesome dijon vinaigrette. For my entree, I ordered a classic French dish – a warm and fluffy crepe…

12.5 Pancetta and Brie Crepe

I ordered the “country” crepe with pancetta, brie, spinach, and mushrooms. I honestly picked this crepe for two reasons: 1) brie cheese – love it, can’t get enough of it!, and 2) pancetta – close enough to bacon for me to crave it upon seeing the name in the ingredients. The crepe was good, but it had way too many mushrooms for my liking. 

And finally, what Scott had been waiting for all evening…the quintessential French dessert – none other than chocolate mousse…

12.5 Chocolate Mousse

This mousse was so thick and creamy, it reminded me of a very smooth frosting, only not as sweet. It was a fantastic way to end a meal.

One thing I must also add is that the service was amazing!! From the server right down to the gentlemen who cleared out dishes – they were all extremely polite and prompt. I think this restaurant is now my new favorite date-night spot 😉

Have to run for now. Must read over my new and more expensive insurance plan from my work -there goes $300 more a month from my paycheck – blah!

I may see you all again before the day is through 🙂