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food for thought: staying healthy on the road

8 Apr

I’ve been in Chicago this week for my day job. This trip was super fun because I got to meet up with fellow blogger, Liz from DC. Liz and I met last summer at the Healthy Living Summit in Chicago. It was so great to see her again and get caught up in person about our similar passions – healthy living and fitness. She’s a rad runner and she was also in need of oatmeal sans dairy so we were a perfect pair. We met at Cosi where they have steel-cut oats made with water and you get to choose your toppings. I love toppings. I opted for granola and strawberries.

Hello squinty eyes!

Between my work travels and my personal travels, I feel I’ve created some pretty solid strategies for staying healthy while on the road.

I want to share with you what works best for me to stick to a healthy plan. Plan is the key word here. If you do not plan correctly, you are setting yourself up to fail. There is no way around that. You can’t expect that being healthy on the road is just magically going to happen. Most of the tips below are geared toward work travel. I am not nearly as diligent when I’m truly on vacation.

  • If you are traveling to a conference, let them know if you have any specific food needs. I actually did not do this this time (fail!), so no one new I was vegan. Thankfully, I work with awesome people and the hotel I stayed at was extremely accommodating. I find that if you let people know, they really do want to help. However, if you don’t ask and are rude about it, don’t expect them to bend over backwards for you.
  • Pack snacks. I always bring a pile of snacks with me on every trip. Typically this includes larabars, mini bags of almonds and dried fruit, apples (they travel well), baby carrots and other cut up veggies (mainly for the plane ride) and sample packs of protein powder or super food. These come in handy for your actual travel time and if you are attending a conference where the food does not fit your dietary needs.
  • Stay hydrated. I find that if I’m at a conference, it is difficult to get enough water in as the rooms I’m in are usually freezing. When I’m freezing, water does not sound good. However, I try to take advantage of hot water when it’s available and force myself to down water throughout the day. Staying hydrated will help you not attack the lunch buffet and will just make you feel better.
  • Many hotel rooms have fridges that you can store things in (call ahead and ask). Many times I will find a grocery store as soon as I arrive and pick up things like fruit, yogurt, etc. to ensure healthy options.
  • You will not work out unless you bring workout clothes. Pack them. To me it’s worth having to bring all the extra gear and check a bag if I need to.
  • Use the workout gear you have. Just having it in your suitcase doesn’t count.  Almost every hotel has a fitness center. It may not be as nice as what you’re used to in all cases, but hey, you have to take what you can get. I find that staying on my regular workout schedule makes me feel better during my travels.
  • If you are traveling to a nice climate, ask the hotel if there is a safe place to run or walk outdoors. You want to make sure you’re in safe area. Please carry a phone and ID with you.
  • Yoga podcasts are awesome. I’ve downloaded a few Dave Farmar podcasts (they’re free!) and done yoga right in my hotel room.
  • Explore on foot. The best way to get to know a city (most of them anyway) is on foot.  Throw on the sneakers and get some fresh air!
  • Most conferences I go to have big meals plus treats during the breaks. I fill up as much as possible on fruits and veggies when they are available. I do my best to skip the desserts. I mean, I don’t eat dessert for every meal when I’m at home, so why would I at a conference? I’ll cave if it’s something that looks fabulous and that I can’t live without. More often than not, the desserts served in hotels or at conferences are not that great.
  • Limit the alcohol.  For me, this is key. Having more than one drink messes with my sleep and it makes me want to eat more. Plus, it makes it harder to get up and workout in the morning. If  I am feeling the pressure (why is there so much pressure?), I typically sweet talk the bartender to make a club soda and lime look like a fancier drink. Or I make one glass of wine last a looooong time. Sometimes, I may not even finish it.
  • If you have free time to eat out, research great restaurants in the area. Don’t settle for a chain or even worse, fast food, if you don’t have to. This past trip, I totally took advantage of the salad and hot bar at a nearby Whole Foods. That was dinner for me two nights in a row as I was working in my hotel room. I know…I lead a super exciting life.

Traveling during vegan lent was interesting. The hotel I was at had great food and almost always had something I could eat at meals. The one plated meal was the only difficult one. I picked the cheese off my salad so that was easy enough. The main course was either chicken or the vegetarian option which was cheese ravioli. I asked very nicely if they would be able to steam some vegetables for me (seemed like something that wouldn’t be do difficult so maybe they’d be willing) and I was presented with steamed asparagus and carrots – score! That coupled with some bread held me until the next break where I grabbed my packed snack of almonds and dried cherries.

Breakfast was more difficult. I tried the nearby Corner Bakery and they down right refused to make oatmeal with water. Seems to me a funny thing to have such a firm stance on but whatevs. From then on I stuck with my standby, Starbucks. Starbucks make their oatmeal with water and it comes with nuts and fruit and they always have bananas. Thank you Starbucks. Vegans appreciate you.

I was lucky to be in a big city. Traveling to more rural areas as a vegan, or even a vegetarian would be much more difficult. I would to have to pack an extra bag just for snacks.

Do you have any tips on staying healthy while on the road? I’d love to hear them!

a brief guide to making friends as a vegan in a country of cheese

16 Mar

The following is a guest post from fellow vegan lent participant and my dear friend, Jon.

If you’re the kind of person who’s inclined to revel in the ridiculous, you likely have friends who are equally entertained by absurd undertakings. That’s why you and your friends are fun. You’ve also undoubtedly been so disposed for long enough to have a family who accepts your idiosyncrasies as essential to your character. You are you, and you are awesome. These are the things I tell myself to justify my role on this part of planet and it works pretty well. I’m generally content with myself, and provided I attempt to keep life choices on the better side of the balance, most people are content with me too. There are specific times, however, when family and friends are not quite my own and downward-inflected “Ohs” are a sure sign an observer does not share my propensity for good-natured, old-fashioned impulsiveness. Such rare occurrences typically transpire something like this:

JON: “I work from home.”

CRITIC: “That must be nice.”

JON: “Yeah, it’s a rare day when I wear pants to work.”

CRITIC: “Oh.” Dropping off to chirping crickets.

Self-imposed veganese could have gone either way, especially since an impromptu trip to the Netherlands put me on my Lenten diet in a land that was built on cheese and sausage. To their credit, dinner hosts and restaurant-venturing companions alike understood of my discretionary limitations. This is probably a result of a Dutch tradition of compromise. It’s been explained as a necessity when your country is no bigger than a postage stamp with almost no resources of your own. You hone negotiating skills for trade, which necessitates a degree of tolerance unknown on this side of the ocean. Anyway, many thanks to .NL residents for helping me through my first animal-less days. I don’t recall any “Ohs” … at least not resulting from my menu choices.

So what does a vegan eat in a country that prides itself on a heritage of dairy supremacy? Especially when menus are in a language that only a handful of people speak.

In this regard my eating habits have helped tremendously. I’m a nibbler throughout the day and typically sustain myself on a few handfuls of nuts and fruit. The trouble comes with the evening meal, when I fill myself to the gills. I therefore only needed to be overly concerned for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday. (Although my last minute travel plans neglected to include an airline meal request verification. Thankfully I was able to trade a mushy lump of lasagna for some sparse greens and a pasty cracker.)

It appears American cuisine is unique in its longevity. Where citizens of other countries typically enjoy fresh food, Americans are more inclined to consume food that’s chemically embalmed. There’s a certain pride in our resourcefulness … that we can outsmart nature with food that will never decompose. Have you ever gone into your cupboard and noticed a dusty box of indestructible sustenance and smiled when you realized – even though you can’t recall the day the box entered the darkness of your cupboard – the best-if-used-by-date is still several decades away. Well, people in other countries are not of that disposition and trying to describe it might render a few well-targeted “Ohs.” And it was nice to enjoy some simple dishes comprised mostly of vegetables and grains.

Wednesday dinner was at H’s very old friend’s home on the other side of the rivers … where people celebrate Carnival and dress like Smurfs and “Sexy Midgets.” Dinner was a delicious green coconut curry with rice and tofu. Rather than dusting off a box of Hamburger Helper, the Dutch have ingenious spice packets that measure the spices for favorite flavors. I believe it in my head to be a remnant of the spice trade, one thing the Dutch might have excelled at … what with their negotiation skills and all. The packages require cutting and mixing, but it’s remarkably easy to produce some very nutritious meals. And while it takes 30 seconds longer than instant mashed potatoes, the result is far superior. They also take no space in a suitcase … and you don’t need to be an expert at trade to get them through customs.

Thursday I made dinner with my future mother-in-law. It was protein deficient, but none the less tasty. Bulgur boiled in vegetable stock under stir-fried kale and onion under pan-roasted pine nuts.

Friday we were guests at a dinner party with some of Amsterdam’s most warm, inviting and genuinely beautiful-to-the-core people. I had a carrot soup that was ornately layered with flavor from potato to orange to ginger to cayenne. It was the best thing I’ve eaten as a vegan … the best thing I’ve eaten in weeks. The only things that would have made it better were the bacon bits and soft cheese that everyone but me raved about.

Saturday was our last night in .NL and we were able to spend a quiet dinner for three at a Moroccan deli. Aside from hints of saffron, which is too expensive for me to buy for home use, the only memorable item was a grilled artichoke that reminded me barbecue season is starting and I can’t eat meat (INSERT EXPLATIVE). At least I can try to replicate the artichoke. To the best my uneducated palate can discern, it was brushed with some sort of nut oil and fired until the insides turned to mush. It was extra nutty and really smoky … 33 days to perfect it.

Thanks again to everyone in the Netherlands for helping me though the first couple days. But more importantly, thank you for being you and being awesome.

on the road: las vegas

30 Jan

First of all, thank you for all the comments and feedback on my last post. I must admit, I was really nervous about putting it out there. Especially since right after I posted, I skipped town!

It’s nice to know I am not alone in my thoughts and I appreciate all of the ideas and suggestions when it comes to finding balance. I’m sure the reader that asked also appreciates it. Speaking of reader questions, please don’t hesitate to email me with questions or topic ideas. I love them!

So, back to skipping town. I was required to go to Las Vegas for a work conference. Because Brette and I are not going on a warm winter vacation this year (because we get to go to an awesome wedding in a far off place later this year), he decided to come with me. Las Vegas is definitely warmer than it is here in Minnesota. 60’s and sunny? I’ll take it.  Brette has been to Vegas a few times and I have been once before, also for work. My impression wasn’t all that great, but then again, I never really left the hotel. I wanted to give it a second shot.

I thought I’d share with you some highlights of the trip.

1. A nice hotel.

We decided to go a day early and stay in a nicer place for one night.

Ever since seeing Ocean’s Eleven (about 20 times), I’ve always wanted to stay at the Bellagio and a definitely wanted to watch the fountains. We stayed in a room with an awesome view.

Even though the Bellagio is beginning to show it’s age, I loved it! From our room, we could watch the fountain show (with piped in music from the TV) and we did about 10 times. There are a number of different shows and I know we saw each one.

Both Brette and I were mesmerized. So much so, that we decided not to leave for dinner and get room service instead. I NEVER order room service so this seemed like such a luxury. I think I could get used to that….

2. Mini Family Reunion.

My cousin, Scott, lives in Vegas. I hadn’t seen him in at least 10 years. So, we made it a point to connect while we were out there. It was so great to see him. We met him for coffee before he started work. He works at a Peter Max Art Gallery. It was pretty amazing to see original work (at a price tag of $25K – yowzers). You can see some of the work in the background below.  It was also great to get caught up on what’s been going on in the past 10 years. Thank heavens for Facebook so that we could reconnect. Yay – social media!

3. A romantic Anniversary Dinner.

This was the final celebration of our 8 year wedding anniversary. I had chosen Bouchon, based on multiple recommendations. Bouchon is a Thomas Keller restaurant and it located in the lovely Venetian.  We had a stellar time. What we swooned over the most was the butter. They have their butter specially made from a local source and it has salt and caramel in it. Amazing! Seriously. The amount of bread and butter we ate was pretty phenomenal. The rest of our meal was great too. Brette had a lamb dish with a cassoulet of beans and pickled lamb’s tongue mixed in. You read that right. It was a bit of mental leap for him, but he manned up and just went for it. I was so proud. I had the pork chop and my eyes about popped out of my head when it arrived. It reminded me of the Flinstones. It was about the size of my head and a good 3 inches thick. I made it through half (Brette ate the other half) along with all the brussels sprouts and sautéed pears that came with it. I may have sopped up the juice with more bread and butter. :) Brette ended his meal with the crème brulee, which was excellent. I opted for the chocolate bouchons; three small chocolate brownies topped with rocky road ice cream, chocolate sauce and homemade marshmallows. Oh yeah. Happy Anniversary to me.

4. Dinner at Mon Ami Gabi

Tuesday evening, we dined with two of my co-workers and one of their sister’s. Mon Ami Gabi is at the Paris hotel. It has an outdoor seating area, an atrium and a main dining room. We ate in the atrium where we could see across the street to the Bellagio fountains. It was beautiful.

The food was also delicious. Brette and I both had the frisee salad with bacon and a poached egg. A yummy salad with a runny egg? Heaven. I opted for the sweet potato soup with vanilla merengue on top. It reminded me of the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. I loved it. Brette had the french onion soup and was extremely happy. The bread was good too….but we were both missing the butter from Bouchon. Our fellow diners were extremely pleased with their food as well. The atmosphere at Mon Ami Gabi was cozy, yet bustling. I imagine it is exactly what a French Bistro is supposed to be like.

5. Walking outside without a coat on.

Unless you are from the frozen tundra, I’m not sure you can comprehend what it is like having winter last 5-6 months. It’s insane. When we left, the temperatures had been consistently in the single digits. Having a break from huge puffy jackets, mittens, hats and scarves is divine. My last hour in Vegas, I spent outside in the sun, sipping a margarita and watching the action go by. It was just what I needed.

Overall, I think Vegas can be fun. The people watching is pretty incredible, there is a lot of shopping available and more entertainment than one can absorb. Sometimes, it’s a little over stimulating for my taste. Walking places became hazardous as every two steps someone was trying to offer Brette a pass to a strip club. It got a bit much at times. I’m not a gambler, so that part of Vegas is not appealing to me. I just cannot get myself to part with money that I won’t likely get back. It’s not fun for me. Brette did some gambling and was very entertained. He came out about even. However, he’ll be ahead if the Packers win the Super Bowl!

on the road: seattle part 2

16 Sep

Time for part 2 of our trip to Seattle. If you need to catch up on part 1, please go here.

Before we left for Seattle, everyone we talked to that had been there said we HAD to go to the market. That would be the famous Pike’s Place Market.

Now, I love markets. As you know I have a routine about the local markets here in Minneapolis.

This is one of those markets that is open every single day. I was most excited about visiting Pike’s Place. In fact, I made Brette promise me a whole day there. In the back of my mind, however, I wondered if I was going to be disappointed. It had been built up sooo much. It’s like being the last one to go see what everyone says is the ‘best movie ever made’ and thinking it was just okay. Brette was even more worried of this phenomenon than I was. He was expecting a number of vendors would be selling “crap” that they didn’t even make.

Thankfully, we were not disappointed. Just the opposite. We were ecstatic and loved everything about the market (except maybe the crowds) and went there not just one day, but every single day we were there. Sometimes more than once!

I learned from a vendor that you must prove that you make/grow/produce the product you sell. There are five vendors who have been grandfathered in but other than that, you have to prove yourself. I love that.

They have everything at this market from the famous fish guys, produce, jewelry, restaurants, flowers, honey, nuts, wood products and a zillion other things.

The famous fish guys

OMG Peaches! That’s how the guy described them to me and he was right, the first word’s out of my mouth were “Oh my God!”.

Brette’s favorite street performer.

Yes, we had two cameras along.

It was near the market that we found many of the more casual restaurants to enjoy. The food in this part of town is nothing short of amazing. I don’t think you could go wrong with any of the options around. Just follow your nose to whatever smells the best. Here are a few places our noses took us to.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese:

Brette picked this one for lunch. The menu had a number of sandwiches featuring cheese that they make right there on site – and you can even watch them make it! I started up a conversation with the gentleman behind me who turned out to be a local who worked near by. He goes to Beecher’s a couple times per week. He made me try a sample of their mac and cheese (well, made is strong word. It didn’t take much convincing) and he helped me decide on sandwich.  All of their sandwiches are of the grilled cheese variety. Mine featured their flagship cheese along with tomatoes and basil. Brette went with one that also had the flagship cheese along with soft shell crab. They were the perfect food to eat while standing against a wall and watching the hustle and bustle of the market. We were very satisfied. On a side note: the Seward Co-op is now selling Beecher’s Flagship Cheese!

Pike Place Chowder:

This is also right in the middle of the market craziness but absolutely worth seeking out.

They have a variety of chowders including a classic clam chowder, a manhattan version and even a vegan version!

We both opted for the special which was a crab and oyster chowder. Brette got his in a bread bowl and I opted for a regular bowl along with a market salad which was chock full of fresh veggies from the market. We didn’t speak much while we were eating. It was that good. It was piping hot with lots of crab and oyster chunks and the creamy broth was soul-warming and it didn’t come across as super heavy. This would be on my “must go back to” list for the next time I’m there.

Piroshki on 3rd

We first saw Piroshki at the market and then on the way back to the hotel we noticed they had another location right next door. I loved the name and I loved the smell coming from the door, so we stopped in for breakfast one day. The woman working who I assume was one of the owners was adorable. Brette could have listened to her russian accent all day long. She was great at helping us pick our piroshki.

So what are piroshki? According to the Piroshki web site, they are small baked or fried turnovers or dumplings with savory meat, vegetable or fruit filling. They use recipes from Russia where they were originated. We ordered a sweet and a savory plus coffee which she insisted came with cookies. Who was I to argue?

When I asked what her favorite savory was, she answered quickly that it was whatever one just came out of the oven. So, we went with that – the spinach, egg and cheese. Our sweet was a rhubarb filling in a butter flake crust.

a blurry view of the spinach, egg and cheese

I thought they were both super tasty and if I lived next door to this place, I would likely try whatever was fresh from the oven on any given day. I think Brette would too as long as he could listen to her talk.

Cafe Campagne

This cute french cafe was on many people’s list as a place to go. I like cute french cafes so it didn’t take much convincing. We ended up eating there twice. Once for breakfast and once for brunch. The service was not super fast, but I really enjoyed the food there. Our first meal wasn’t anything crazy spectacular but I loved that they had plain yogurt and house made granola. It was perfect for me that day. So was the chocolate croissant.

The day we were there for brunch was after our 8 mile run along the scenic waterfront. We were hungry and ready to eat.

I ordered: OMELETTE AU BASILIC French rolled omelette filled with basil, topped with fresh tomato compote, served with chicken and pork sausage. It was hands down the best omelet I ever ate. Perfectly cooked so it just melted in my mouth. The make their own sausage and after not having meat for so long, it was a great way to get reacquainted.

Brette ordered: BURGER D’AGNEAU* Lamb burger with grilled balsamic onions, roasted red peppers, aïoli and pommes frites.

He pretty much went into a food coma afterward. To say he enjoyed himself would be a massive understatement. He didn’t make it all the way through the mound of pomme frites but it was a very solid effort.

I would go back to Cafe Campagne (am I sounding like a broken record yet?). I loved the atmosphere and I half expected to be able to speak french just from being there.

Now for Safeco field.  We’re pretty big Twins fan and we love being able to go to games at different stadiums. We really liked Safeco, but it’s not as nice as our brand new Target Field here in Minneapolis. I know, I know. They are 10 years apart in age and the new one is always going to be nicer. I get it. Still, have you been to Target Field? It’s so awesome!

It was a nice cool night for a game and of course while we were there we had to try the stadium food specialties.

I heard a rumor they had sushi. I was expecting the pre packaged sushi you find at the grocery store, but was surprised to see the gals at Rice n’ Roll, rolling sushi to order. Sure, it took forever, but it was darn tasty. How many times can you eat sushi and watch a live baseball game?

Brette followed his nose to the field specialty – the garlic fries! Good gads, the garlic on these suckers was crazy! There was easily a whole head of garlic on these fries. We did not make-out like teenagers that night.

Instead we watched the Twins BEAT the Mariners and had a leisurly stroll back to our hotel.

Why yes, we are wearing the same sweatshirt. No, we did not communicate clearly what we were packing for the trip.

One last food find I must mention for Anne’s sake. I missed her on this trip as she and Pat are great travel buddies. One thing about Anne is that she can sniff out ice cream shops better than anyone. Being on my own, I had to make her proud.

I found one! It was even Gelato! It was pretty fantastic too. I tried a dish of the chocolate along with the marscapone. Anne – it was great. I was only sad you weren’t there to enjoy it with me!

This was such a wonderful weekend getaway. We really liked Seattle despite the hills we were not expecting. I had no idea Seattle was hilly. Why didn’t anyone warn me?  I could spend a whole post just on the hills and the giant one Brette forced me to climb.

If you have a chance to visit Seattle, I would highly recommend it. How can you not love views like this?

on the road: seattle part 1

14 Sep

I love Minneapolis. It’s the best city to live in. Period.

If you are disagreeing with me, you clearly haven’t lived here in September when the weather is perfect and beautiful, so I will forgive you.

However, there are some periods during the summer months where the heat and humidity are absolutely stifling and horrid. I especially love those days where I choke on air. Lovely.

It’s during this time of year that a trip out west is the perfect getaway. Seattle has been on our list of cities to visit for quite some time. As we (and when I say we, I clearly mean Brette) checked out the MN Twins schedule for the year, we realized they were playing in Seattle over a weekend in August. Perfect. We now had a bigger reason to visit. We do love checking out other stadiums and I love to cheer on my boyfriend Joe Mauer.

So a few weeks back, we headed west to Seattle and to no surprise, we loved it. The weather was amazing. It was in the 60’s with a slight breeze pretty much every day. Perfect for jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoody. My favorite uniform.

We stayed at the DoubleTree Artic Club Hotel. It was about 30 feet from where the light rail dropped us off and a walkable distance to everything we wanted to get to. The building is super old and incredibly charming. Although our room was small, it had all the ammenities we needed.

We would recommend this hotel to others and we would happily stay there again. The mini french press is what sold us. :)

We didn’t have much of an agenda while we were there – we were looking for some relaxation, not an “on the go non-stop ” trip. There were  a few things we knew we wanted to do: spend some quality time at Pike’s Place Market, cheer on the Twins and check out SafeCo field, and of course, enjoy great Seattle food.

We succeeded.

I, of course, asked for restaurant recommendations from anyone that would listen to me. We limited ourselves a little because we didn’t rent a car. We went everywhere by foot. This was not only economical and environmentally friendly, but it also let us enjoy the food even more. We were walking it off, right?

We hit up both super casual places and a few nicer places. I think we got a good mix of what Seattle had to offer. We typically get to know a city through it’s food. I feel like I got to know Seattle very well and I like it a lot.

I’m going to share some of the nicer restaurants we went to in this post and in my next post I’ll share the more casual places and let you in on some of our other Seattle observations.

By nicer restaurants, I don’t necessarily mean fancy. They are just more the sit-down dinner types of places.

I’m listing them in order of when we ate there because that’s just how my brain works.

Matt’s in the Market

This place was recommended by a few different people and for good reason. It’s right on the corner of Pike and Pine in an old building on the top floor. It’s kind of hidden really. We had to ask a few people where to find it. We were there on a Wednesday night at about 7:30-8:00 and managed to get the last 2 seats at the bar.  The atmosphere was really nice with great view of the market. The wait staff was very friendly and the food was a big win.

I had the Heirloom Tomato Salad with Watermelon and Ricotta Salata followed by their Gazpacho with Crab and Olive Oil Toast. I really enjoyed both dishes. I typically like my gazpacho chunky and this one was completely smooth. I wasn’t sure I’d like that, but the olive oil toast on top for dipping sealed the deal.

Brette was making all sorts of noise about his meal – he couldn’t stop talking about it. He had the arugula salad with crab, citrus, avocado and pine nuts, which just might be the perfect combination. He followed that up with the Black Cod served over potatoes and a grilled corn relish. It was a major win – he was so happy with his meal.

We would both go back to Matt’s and recommend it to anyone. Although casual dress was completely appropriate, the food was a big fancier than we expected. It’s not super cheap, but not crazy either.

Serious Pie

So, in Seattle, Tom Douglas is the man. The man at awesome restaurants that is. He has quite a few in Seattle and we had the pleasure of dining at two of them. It turns out he knows what he’s doing.

The first one we hunted down was Serious Pie…pizza pie that is. This place is a definite hot spot. We got there at about 8:30 on a Thursday night waited nearly an hour to for a seat. (they do not take reservations) It was a lovely night, so we hung outside and enjoyed the glorious pizza fumes coming from inside.

The service was great and on top of it. Our waiter did a great job of checking in with us the perfect amount of times and kept us informed of when our pizzas would be ready.

My pizza had chanterelle mushrooms and truffle cheese. This happens to be Tyler Florence’s favorite pizza ever. I must say, Tyler knew what he was talking about – it was awesome! I did not let one bit go to waste (though I did give Brette a piece). The crust was my favorite part – it was soft and chewy but not soggy at all. The mushrooms were fantastic and the cheese was creamy and perfect.

Brette opted for the sweet fennel sausage and peppers version. He was also in pizza heaven. Brette loves the fennel sausage and this one did not disappoint.

We were fat and happy when we left. We were also grateful for the mile walk back to our hotel.

Wild Ginger

We read about this Asian hot spot on a few blogs and had heard good things. I love asian food so was excited to try it one afternoon for lunch.

Brette thought the atmosphere felt kind of like a hotel. I kind of dug it. Very kitschy and asian-y.

Our waiter was nice, but I swear he was 12 years old. He did a fine job on the service no matter what his age.

I had the Monk’s Curry – a vegetarian curry featuring eggplant, hard spiced tofu, sweet potato, peanuts and other fresh vegetables in a spicy exotic Thai curry sauce.

It sounded perfect and I LOVE eggplant so I was super amped. The taste was pretty good,but I have had much better curry dishes in Minneapolis.  The biggest flaw to this dish was that it was cold. Not super cold, but not quite room temperature either. That majorly bummed me out. I mean, how hard is that to serve hot?  On the up side, I had the option of brown rice instead of white which was a nice touch. I wish more asian restraunts would offer that.

Brette had the Seafood Thai Noodles – Fresh wide rice noodles that are wok-fried with scallops, prawns, squid and mussels in a light soy sauce with hints of basil and chili.

At Asian restaurants, Brette will always order a noodle dish. He loves all things noodle. He enjoyed these noodles, but didn’t necessarily think they were anything spectacular.

While our food was not necessarily bad, we would not rush back to this place and if we’re in Seattle again, it will not be on our list.

Dahlia Lounge

This is another one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants and was specifically recommended by a number of people. I made reservations well in advance for our last night in Seattle. It was the perfect way to end the trip.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I found it romantic and comfortable with a little bit of modern mixed in. It was packed, but we weren’t on top of the table next to us and we could have a conversation without having to talk with outside voices. (I’m not a fan of restaurants where my voice is scratchy by the end)

Our server was very nice and let us take our time. I never felt like I was being rushed (another pet peeve). He gave some tips on the menu and kept our glasses full.

The food was fantastic.

We split the Tuscan grilled bread salad with pesto, olives, mozzarella, and spicy coppacola. I loved that they offered to split it – so it came on two separate plates. Perfect. It was delicious. The grilled bread gave such great texture and it soaked up all the juices of the dressing so it had great flavor. We were both loved this dish.

For the entree, we did something we rarely do. We ordered the same entree. Gasp! We typically shy away from that but we both really wanted salmon. We’re in Seattle for pete’s sake! So we both got the Washington king salmon with sweet corn~potato chowder, mustard greens, and bing cherries. Mine was perfectly cooked and the potato chowder was my favorite part. Brette thought his might have been a tad overcooked, but still really liked it and gobbled it down.

Dessert might have been my favorite part.I had the Triple Coconut cream pie with white chocolate and toasted coconut. Oh my heavens was this delightful. It got very quiet at the table. All of my attention was focused on this pie.  I reluctantly let Brette have a bite so he could experience how lucious and amazing it was. He was a believer.

Brette indulged in the Chocolate Budino Tart. He was sold on the soft gooey center. It was very good, but I think my pie stole the show.:)

This photo is from the Dahlia Bakery web site. Mine didn’t last long enough to take a photo!

I think this pie is a good place to end for now. Please drool as appropriate.

I’ll be back later this week with more photos, restaurant reviews and adventures from our trip to Seattle.

In the meantime, have you been to any of these places? What’s your verdict?  (I realize I have about 1 Seattle reader – (Hi Kate!), but maybe some of you have visited?)

a weekend with bloggers

19 Aug

Okay, finally a recap of the Health Living Summit I attended this last weekend in Chicago.

The summit was put together by a group of bloggers whose blogs focus on healthy living – both food and fitness.  I loved the idea of this as I geek out over any type of seminar on healthy cooking, fitness, etc.  I was hoping to learn current trends, kitchen tips, and of course, blogging tips. My goal was to come back with some inspiration for this blog and my life in general.  You can read about my reflections on my life in general here.

So, back to the Summit. I think I’ll break this into a couple different categories: Food (of course!), Content, People and Take-aways.

Food (this had to be first of course)

It was by far, the best conference food I’ve ever had.

The Saturday morning breakfast was sponsored by Quaker. You may know that I have a mad crush on oatmeal so when I saw the oatmeal bar, I was giddy with glee. Huge trays of berries, plain greek yogurt and loads of other oatmeal toppings made me soooo happy.

Lunch was just as fantastic. It was sponsored by Arnold’s and it was a complete sandwich bar. However, I opted against the sandwich bar and went towards this gorgeous platter of roasted vegetables.

Along with the veggies, they had marinated tofu, a scrumptious quinoa salad, chickpea salad, and fruit. There may have also been a brownie involved for dessert.

The afternoon break was sponsored by Athenos. There were all different types of snacks that included hummus and feta and of course pita chips (which I have not learned portion control for). I wasn’t too hungry after lunch, so I only had a few pita chips, and these cute little cucumber cups filled with curried hummus. Yum. I see some variations coming to my classic hummus recipe. I loved the curry flavor. They were topped with a raisin and sliced almonds. Sorry, I failed on a photo.

Dinner that night was on your own. I went out with these lovely ladies.

Heather, Rebecca, Dorry and Me.

We ended up at Elephant & Castle – a pub in downtown Chicago. It was quiet and not crazy busy which is exactly what we were looking for. The food was tasty and the service was very nice. The company was stellar.

Sunday morning’s breakfast was sponsored by Thomas Bagel Thins. The best part of this was the make your own cream cheese blend. They had a huge array of mix-ins – both sweet and savory. Of course, I had to do one of each. Hey, I had just run 6 miles…I needed fuel! I did one with sun-dried tomatoes, cucumber, capers and tomatoes and another with blueberries, almonds, honey and cinnamon. Both were delish. This would be super easy to do at home. In fact, what a fun entertaining idea!  I see a brunch get together in my future.  The bagel thins were good. It’s not something I would eat every day, but if you’re looking for a bagel that’s not quite so ‘heavy’, this is a decent alternative.


My favorite sessions I attended were Fueling for Fitness: Perform Well and Recover Quickly from Your Workouts and Stepping up Your Blog Photography.

The Fueling for Fitness was led by two rock star dietitians, Heather Calcote and Rebecca Scritchfield, who are also very strong athletes. Not to mention, they were great dining partners Saturday night. :) They did a real in depth look (though I wish it could have gone on another hour) at what you need to do nutritionally for various types of workouts. I love this topic and it provided some great information. I’m hoping to do a post just on this topic with suggestions on what types of food you should be eating. It deserves a post of it’s own.

Stepping up Your Blog Photography was led by a fellow blogger and professional photographer, Nicole Carpenter. She did a great job of giving tips for both fancy SLR Cameras and Point and Shoots. We have a SLR (well, Brette does) that I’ve gotten more comfortable using, but so many times  I just don’t want to lug it out. I got a new point and shoot last month and have enjoyed how easy it is. I learned a few things of how I can change the settings on it to get awesome photos that look just as good as a SLR photo. I’ve already been experimenting.  I don’t think I’ll be taking wedding photos anytime soon, but I would like to have more fun with photos on the blog.


I went into this Summit not knowing a single soul. Good thing bloggers are nice people. I met all sorts of interesting and great people and many I can see myself keeping in touch with. The interesting thing for me was that I was one of the oldest people there. I’ve never really experienced that. Not that 33 is old, but by far most of the attendees were in their 20’s and many still in college or freshly graduated. If I attend the summit again, it’d be nice to have a track for us “old” bloggers.  :)

Marta, Jen and Jessie

These two were awesome – and from Chicago.


The biggest things I took away from the summit were:

  • Great connections with fellow bloggers and healthy livers.
  • Tip: Keep the flash off when taking pictures of food.
  • It’s my blog – I can write about what I want to. :) Funny, but there is a big difference between writing about what gets me excited versus writing about what I ‘think’ people want to read.
  • Carbs are king when it comes to working out. They are not the enemy. Music to my ears!
  • Seek healthy, not skinny. I loved this phrase. I feel so many people are striving to be skinny (I know I have), when we should be striving to be healthy.  Striving to be skinny can cause disordered eating and some bad habits. Healthy looks different on everyone.  I can’t wait to write about this.
  • Swag. That’s right, I came home with the best swag bag ever. Look at this stuff!

I’m not a huge processed food fan, but some of these things are awesome.

Here’s what I’m most excited about:

  • Attune probiotic bars. Essentially a great piece of chocolate with the probiotics of yogurt mixed in. LOVE them.  Apparently you can find them at the Whole Foods in St. Paul – they’re in the yogurt section. I haven’t looked for them yet, but I will be. Annelies from Attune even got me on video talking about them.
  • Vega Protein Shake – I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m super excited to give it a whirl. This is a product created by vegan triathlete, Brendan Brazier. I have his book, Thrive and love it. I’ve always wanted to try his stuff, but it’s super expensive. This was a major score!
  • I do love having stuff like this (snacks, etc.) on hand for pre-workout snacks or to have in my purse for those “must eat” moments. I’m not a big chip person, however, so those will likely be eaten by Brette. I doubt he will complain.

Okay, I think that’s it for my recap. Overall, I’m glad I went and it definitely gave me some things to think about for the blog and where I want it to go. Anne and I have a blog date this weekend to discuss – exciting! You’re on the edge of your seat, right?

keeping up with the times

12 Aug

I’m writing my first ever blog post from my phone. How did I not know there was an app for this?

I wanted to do a quick post to let you know what I’m up to this weekend. I’m in Chicago attending the Healthy Living Summit. It’s an event put on by some healthy living bloggers that I’m super excited about. I’ll get to meet all sorts of people like me and Anne that love food and are interested in healthy living. I’m hoping to come home with new ideas and inspirations for the blog and my own life too. Plus, I’m sure I’ll meet some cool people along the way.

Guess what else?

I now tweet. Yep, I joined twitter. I can’t say I have all the lingo down yet, but I’m slowly figuring it out. Any advice or tips are welcome.

And yes, maybe it’s because I didn’t want to be the only blogger here without a twitter account. :)

So, if your interested, I’ll be tweeting from the summit over the weekend. You can follow me: @jensaidso.

The only thing I’m bummed about is that Anne isn’t here with me…I know she would dig it.

Anne-I wish you were here!

pizza on the farm

20 May

Have you ever had one of those experiences where you feel like you are in movie? Like a scene from a romantic comedy or a “chick flick”?

That is exactly how I felt on Tuesday when the Gourmet Dinner Club trekked to Stockholm, WI to have pizza on a farm. This is not just any farm. It’s a very busy one. It’s called the A to Z Produce Farm. They have pigs, cows, wheat and lots of vegetables on this farm.

Once a week, on Tuesdays, they open up the farm to the public and create amazing pizzas in their 2 brick ovens. They use mainly ingredients they source on the farm like pork from their “happy pigs”, wheat they’ve milled, cheese from their cows and various vegetables. Cool, right?

It gets better. The farm itself is gorgeous! The buildings are old, but have been kept up beautifully. The grounds are lush and the views are breathtaking.

Here are a few photos:

Lots of lilacs. These were conveniently next to the bathroom.

I love the color of this building.

There is a catch to the farm. The only thing they provide is the pizza. You need to bring things like: something to sit on, plates, silverware, napkins, beverages, side dishes (if you so desire) and then you need to take everything home with you.

We made a complete picnic experience. Let me break it down for you.

First, the drive. It took about 1 hour and 40  minutes to get there from South Minneapolis. I know – it’s kind of a haul. However, the drive was breathtaking. We drove to Hastings, crossed over into WI, and took the very scenic 35 South to Stockholm.  Next time, I’d like to stop in some of the cute towns along the way.

The farm itself is in the middle of nowhere really. All of a sudden it appears and you can see the cars lined up, kind of like Field of Dreams. We got there at about 6 p.m. It wasn’t overly crowded, but definitely full.

Ready for pizza!

Once you find a picnic spot, you need to go order the pizza. Here’s the menu:

The pizzas are a little more expensive than your average pie. However, your average pie was not made out of ingredients from this farm. When you broke it out per person, it was just fine – in my opinion.

We had about a 30 minute wait, so we decided some appetizers were in order.

Edamame crackers, white cheddar and hummus.

Next, I wanted to check out the ovens!

This woman was crazy busy bustling back and forth between the two ovens. When I asked if I could take a picture, she smiled and said, “As long as I don’t have to stop moving!”.  Each pizza only takes 1 minute in the oven. That is some crazy heat.

Now that I got that out of the way, we could have a toast.

Lee had the fancy cup. Though, I felt we were very green. No plastic or paper at our picnic; only the reusable goods, thanks to Natalie.

Speaking of Natalie, she became our very own pizza delivery gal!

We were very happy to see her.

Pizza #1: Canadian Bacon (from happy pigs) and onion confit:

Pizza #2: Herb pesto with macadamia nuts, roasted sweet peppers, roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella:

I brought a salad because I always like a little salad with my pizza.

It's like a rainbow!

Am I the only one that likes salad with my pizza? I’m not sure where I picked that up.

Here’s my first plate….

There may have been a second one just like it later. I cannot confirm or deny that.

We rounded out the meal with a little dessert. Lee made some kick-butt chocolate ginger brownies.

Lee, I’m going to need that recipe, okay?

Amanda brought some watermelon which was a great way to counteract the brownie(s) I ate.

It was such a perfect meal!

In case you’re wondering (we were after the long drive), they do provide bathrooms. They have one conventional bathroom and then they have this guy:

This is not your typical outhouse. It’s a Bran Can!

I did not have the pleasure of using the Bran Can, but apparently it was not at all smelly and one of the cleanest outhouses around. They use the byproduct of the flour produced on the farm to cover the waste and then it is composted for a year and used on non-food crops.  Cool, huh?

Okay, enough about bran can.

The verdict on the pizza?

The pizza was very good. We all really liked it and were very happy eaters. My favorite was the herb pesto version. I’m a sucker for roasted tomatoes.

Now, with that said, it wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had. However, it was really good pizza and put that together with the experience, atmosphere, and company it made for an amazing evening.

I would highly recommend heading out to the farm. It’s worth the time, the drive and the price. In fact, I’ve already suggested to Brette that this would be a great trip for my birthday later this summer.  It would be great for a family, a group of friends, a girls night out, or a romantic date.

A to Z Produce

Pizza Hours: 4:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Tuesdays

N2956 Anker Lane
Stockholm, WI 54769

(715) 448-4802

bread pudding pancakes

2 May

Yes, you read that right and no, I’m not kidding.

When we were in San Fransisco last summer,we ate an awesome restaurant called Zazie. We actually ate there twice – it was that good.   On our first visit, we were very lucky as their special of the day was bread pudding pancakes. Brette did not hesitate and ordered them immediately. Boy am I glad he did, as I have benefited from his obsession with those pancakes.

Brette was on a mission to make his own version of these pancakes and I have been a very willing taste tester. He found a recipe on good ole’ Epicurious, but made some changes that turned out to be the key to the success of these pancakes. First, the recipe called for plain white bread, not a staple in our house. We happened to have a loaf of cinnamon bread (homemade by my wonderful mother) and it added such a nice flavor. We’ve stuck with it ever since. The last time, we used this bread:

The other change we made was the milk. The recipe called for whole milk but because buttermilk is used quite often in pancakes and baked goods, we thought that would be a nice addition. And it was! I think it adds a really nice tang. However, if you don’t have buttermilk, regular milk will work just fine.

Not a great photo, but you can get the general idea of what they look like.

So, right out of the gate on his first try, Brette made amazing bread pudding pancakes.  He’s made them a few times since and it has become a family favorite. They are amazing and perfect for a lazy weekend morning with a big pot of coffee. If you are so inclined, fruit and bacon are a wonderful accompaniment.

Brette’s Bread Pudding Pancakes

adapted from bon appetit


  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7slices cinnamon bread, crusts trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) butter
  • Maple syrup
Place bread in large bowl and add milk. Let stand until bread is very soft and beginning to fall apart, stirring mixture occasionally, about 15 minutes. If you use cinnamon bread, you might have to break it down a bit with your spoon or whisk since it is a denser bread.
During this time, you can offer the crusts of the bread as an amuse bouche to your guests.  I found them delicious.
Add flour mixture to bread mixture and blend. Mix in eggs and 3 tablespoons melted butter. Let batter stand 15 minutes.

a return surprise

12 Feb

When I wrote this, I had no idea that it would result in this. Let’s hear a big blog shout-out to my partner-in-blogging, Jen, for surprising me with a MEAL and a BREAKFAST and CUPCAKES the night we returned home from Mexico!!

It had been a long day of traveling, and while it was only about 7:30pm when we walked in the door, I was pretty wiped out (and kinda out of it). I was getting something out of the fridge for Ryan and wondered why on earth there was a bowl of polenta in the refridgerator (this was Brette’s famous waffle batter!). Then, I had no IDEA why there was a foreign waffle maker on my counter. Finally Pat said READ THE NOTE YOU DORK, IT’S FROM JEN. And then it all made sense!!!

The best thing about this surprise food delivery is that we’ve been able to eat off the delicious chicken chili for the past two days. So, I’ve not had to cook, NOR have I had to go to the grocery store yet! I’ll get to go tomorrow, sans child. How wonderful!!

Thanks so much Jen. This was one of the most thoughtful birthday gifts ever!!


Here are a couple food pics…breakfast in Mexico. (Taken for the sole purpose of showing an all-inclusive doubter exactly what can be eaten at an all-inclusive buffet.)