The Secret Motivation to Spring Cleaning

Spring better be here…because yesterday I got really sick of looking at my winter coats and boots and brought every single one of them up to our storage unit. Our storage unit is only one floor above us but I really do not want to go up there to drag those babies out again. It’s time for leaving the house jacket-free and flip flops, don’t you think?
I usually spend my only day off cleaning the condo, grocery shopping and doing laundry. This Monday I knew that I had to do some spring cleaning, but when you only have one day off a week, who really wants to spend the day cleaning the floor of your pantry, behind the couch and your cabinets? I know that was the last thing that I wanted to do. Somehow I found the motivation and gave myself a little incentive for completing the job.
I promised myself a little shopping trip afterwards.
Now, technically the actual shopping trip I made was to KMart to pick up a new trash can. That’s not exactly what I call a fun afternoon of shopping, but that will come. I told myself that if I cleaned out my closet to a nearly bare state, I could go buy myself a few pieces of clothing to replace the old ones. That’s a fair trade right? I ended up donating three bags worth of clothes. I will admit that it kind of sucked to “throw out”, or rather give away, some perfectly good clothes, but the fact is, I didn’t wear them. And I gave away a few winter jackets so I can buy a new one next year…
So if you are ever feeling like cleaning is the absolute last thing that you want to do, promise yourself a shopping trip. It works.
Alternatively, I did not promise myself any more cookbooks if I cleaned out my cookbook cabinet. This is out of control…and this isn’t even all of them. I do use them, which is a good thing, but I thing I need a break from purchasing any new ones in the near future.
Reddick wasn’t too pleased with my cleaning day. He laid around giving me this look all day. Eventually we were done and headed off to the dog park…not before doing my first Insanity workout though. I’ll share more on that later!

Cherry Blossoms and Dress Hunting

It’s been a great week. My sister was in town for the past seven days and even though we both had to work our butts off all week we still managed to sneak in some fun. Friday night I picked her up from the metro and we headed over to White Flint Mall to begin our bridesmaid dress hunt. We needed some fuel so we stopped at the Cheesecake Factory for some drinks and food. Sorry, I haven’t taken pictures while eating out in awhile, and don’t really plan to again any time soon…but we’ve all been to the Cheesecake Factory. The food looked awesome and tasted awesome. Now that I work in a restaurant, I honestly don’t know how they manage to work a menu that large. It’s still baffling me.
Anyways, after dinner and sweet-talking the waiter (he was African and I was totally looking for travel tips for our potential honeymoon) we headed out to the ghost mall that we call White Flint. There were maybe five people walking around and two of them were reading books by the elevator. I do love DC, but the shopping is sort of awful around here. We headed to Lord and Taylor, Ann Taylor and William Sonoma. William Sonoma does not have bridesmaid dresses, but they do have a sharpening stone that I desperately need. We didn’t find anything that we liked and left empty handed. No progress, but we weren’t that discouraged.
On Saturday we decided to take Reddick down to the Tidal Basin to walk around and look at the Cherry Blossoms. (Should they be capitalized?! I vote yes. They are cool and important.) Of course, I knew the city would be a mess with the marathon and spring break crowds, but we drove down and managed to find a parking spot in about fifteen minutes. It was such a beautiful day and everyone was out to enjoy it.
After that we headed to a St. Patty’s Day BBQ but headed home early because I had to work at 7am. Luckily I was able to get out early and enjoy brunch at Founding Farmers with my sister and a friend. Then we headed to a much better mall, Montgomery Mall. At least we knew we would have some luck with Nordstrom…and we did! We found four dresses are are right along the lines of the colors that I want. We are definitely making progress and I hope to get some dresses ordered soon to send out to my bridesmaids.
Did everyone have a good St. Patrick’s Day? I hope so! I know my mom did…it was her birthday! Happy Belated Birthday to my mom from all of us in DC!

The Recipe I’ve Been Waiting For

Earlier this week, Katie posted a recipe for German Chocolate Fudge Bites. No sugar, no flour and no butter? I was immediately intrigued, considering I’m eating only plant-based foods this week. I headed over to Whole Foods and picked up the ingredients to make the bites. Within about twelve hours they were all gone. They were delicious. At first I thought that they might taste like a Larabar (which I love, but wanted something richer) but they were definitely rich and full of cocoa. Nice work Katie!
Once I had a few I got to thinking about what they tasted like and finally it came to me – these bites have the same fudge taste as my all-time-favorite Chocolate Raspberry Luna Bar. I have been dying to figure out how to make these Luna Bars at home for awhile. With Katie’s recipe inspiration, I got to work and came up with a recipe that tastes pretty darn close to my beloved Luna Bars.
Chocolate Berry Squares
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
2 T unsweetened shredded coconut
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 t vanilla
3/4 cup berries (if frozen, thaw first) – I used a frozen assortment of raspberries, blueberries and strawberries
1/4 c pecans or walnuts
Mix all ingredients together in a Magic Bullet or food processor. I recommend a food processor because my Bullet just couldn’t handle all the hard chomping. Give everything a good mix once your done processing it. At this point, I shaped them into little squares, but you could do balls or bars, too.

Detox Smoothies

On Monday I started the Whole Living Action Plan. I’m posting more about it next week on DC Ladies, but I wanted to let you guys know a little bit about it, too. I wanted to do something to get myself back into shape and back into healthy eating habits. I was slowly making my way out of the hole over the past few weeks, but I knew it was time to commit myself to something that would promise results.
I’m on Day Three and I will be honest with you, it hasn’t been butterflies and sunshine. Monday was great. I was at work and I have an ample supply of the allowed snacks at my fingertips to help me get through the day (dates, avacados, nuts, etc.). I had yesterday, today and I have tomorrow off, and I knew that days at home might be a little more challenging. Luckily, I set myself up pretty well and stocked my fridge and pantry with food that I am allowed to eat. It hasn’t been too difficult eating and hunger-wise, but I feel a little awful. I’ve had a pounding headache for two days and am so tempted to grab a cup of coffee to whisk it away. But I won’t.
To learn about what foods are restricted, click here. To read more about my experience so far, be sure to check out my post next week on the DC Ladies website.
I will share with you some of the smoothies that have been my breakfast treat. I have always been a fan of smoothies but I also find it pretty difficult to gulp one down in the middle of winter. Luckily, the past three days haven’t been that bad. I think the key thing is giving myself time to drink it. I’m not rushing the meal like I normally rush breakfast.
So far I’ve made the:
Berry Grapefruit Smoothie
my own recipe
 
1/2 grapefruit, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces
2 cups frozen berries
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup carrot juice
The Antioxidant Smoothie was very tart, of course, but it was still pretty good. The Green Smoothie was chunky and tasted a lot like parsley but it was refreshing. It made my stomach a little upset, but you could tell in a good way. The smoothies are made with fresh, whole fruit and they are supposed to be making my digestive system work less and clean out all of those toxins. The smoothie I made this morning was really great. I love adding the carrot juice because it brings the sweetness and tartness level down.
Any smoothie recipes out there for me? I’d love to hear them!

Puppy Puberty

You laugh, but I think it’s a real thing.
Reddick is approaching his second birthday and I think something has gotten into him. In the past few weeks he’s managed to destroy four remote controls and chew up all of my patience. He barks when he’s bored, angry, lonely, irritated or just when he’s sitting. He always wants to be chased and even after a two hour run at the dog park, still yearns for more. I love him, but we’ve hit a bump in the road.
Right now though, as I’m writing this post, he looks like a little angel.
We love Reddick more than anything and we like to think that we did a good job in raising him, but clearly some things have failed. Here is a list of things that I think we did right and wrong when raising our little guy.
What we did wrong:
  • We should have done more brain exercising than physical exercising. We are very dedicated to making sure that Reddick gets enough exercise to keep him healthy and lean but to also release his bundled up energy. We should have spent an equal amount of time working his brain. Dogs get really worn out doing mental exercises, just like they do with physical exercise. I want to take 15-20 minutes a few times a week to work with Reddick on learning new commands and working that brain of his.
  • We should have taught him “heal” right off the bat. Here is a blonde-moment, I never understood what it even meant until a few months ago. Too many times did we go out and let Reddick take us for a walk than the other way around. Now he’s gotten used to walking side by side with us, but for awhile he was dragging us along for most of our walks. He loves walking and running and now it’s a little more comfortable for both of us.
  • We should have designated a place for him on the couch. (Although, I’m almost positive this would never work.) We all love to snuggle, but it’s a little frustrating to have company over and Reddick immediately wants to sit on their lap.
  • We should have done more barking training. His barking is really his biggest flaw. He mostly only does it when it is just me and him and he’s bored. He hates when I just sit on the couch to work on my computer or watch tv. As soon as I do, he stands right in front of me and barks until I get up. What I need to do is ignore him and let him forget about how much it annoys him, but living in a condo and having neighbors all around me make it a little hard. I’ve thought about a barking collar again (a spray one) or breaking out the spray bottle again. He grew out of it before, so let’s hope that this is part of his maturing and he also grows out of this stage.
What we did right:
  • Teaching him to play fetch. He loves tennis balls and will do almost anything to get a hold of one. If there is ever a day that we don’t want to go running or go to the dog park, all we have to do is take him out back and play fetch with him. It is such a great way for him to exercise for a few minutes or even a few hours. Some of his proudest moments are when he’s playing fetch with me or a complete stranger.
  • We kept his crate. He is crate trained and hasn’t spent that much time in his crate, but it’s a great thing to have around. I think he thinks of it as his bedroom. Sometimes he just goes and sits in there for hours, like it’s his little corner of our condo. If something comes up (like him chewing remotes) we have the crate to put him in if we need to step out for a few hours. Slowly, he’ll gain the right to be out on his own again when we are gone.
  • We keep a lot of toys on hand. Dogs need a variety of toys. Sometimes we put some away so he forgets about them and when it comes back out, it’s like a new toy again. His favorites are his bones and the Kong. Having a toy that hides treats is the best thing ever. It keeps him busy for a long time.
  • We taught him to run with us. For the days that we do want to get out and run, it’s a great thing to have a dog that will run alongside you. Reddick is fast and when he gets going, he doesn’t like to stop, so it’s great for the both of us.
  • We socialized him very early. We try to take Reddick to the dog park at least three times a week. He is one of the most friendly dogs you will ever meet. It was important to socialize him with dogs of all sizes. He prefers dogs that are smaller than him but is still really good around bigger dogs, too. The important thing is to let the dogs do their thing. They are going to jump on each other and growl, but that is their way of playing. They need to get it out of their system.
  • We keep human food out of his reach. He’s curious when we are eating, but doesn’t really “beg”. It’s not perfect, but its better than having a dog bark and whine while we eat. We do give him some human food, but it’s not an every day thing and it’s not like we are feeding him Big Macs. He loves carrots and apples. He’s even eaten some of my leftover salad.
  • We drove around with him. Reddick was going to work with me until I went to school, so that means that he was commuting with me to work everyday, too. Now he is pretty stress-free in the car and sleeps most of the time.
I’m sure I could go on forever on the do’s and don’ts of raising a puppy, but given the recent craziness at our house, these are a few that seem to stick out. On top of the fact that he’s almost two, there have been a lot of changes in our house recently that I’m sure has gotten him worked up. MJW has been traveling a lot, my hours are wacky and Reddick is used to a certain schedule. Regardless, Reddick is still our responsibility and we owe it to him to make sure that he is raised correctly. We are all going to work really hard to overcome his flaws and make sure he lives the most perfect puppy life ever.

Phase Two Memories: Market Basket

One thing that is hard to work on in culinary school is creativity. We are there to learn classic techniques and recipes and not really how to expand with our own culinary creations. Once we got into Phase Two there was a little room to work with our creativity, but with kind guidelines and restrictions, of course.
Every Friday we participated in Market Basket. Our teams would be given three ingredients, one for each course, and one day to create three dishes. Some of the ingredients included pears, salmon, monkfish, chocolate and mushrooms. The ingredients were usually something that we had worked with during the week so that we were somewhat familiar with it. While we were free to do whatever we wanted, we were highly encouraged to only attempt things that we have done before. The most successful dishes were often the ones that took a new spin on a classic French technique.
Thursday afternoons we were given the ingredients and free reign of the commissary. We had time to brainstorm with our team and order any items that we might need. As soon as it turned 8am on Friday morning we could get to work. We would have four hours to see if the recipes work, attempt plating and get ready for service.
Once the time came for service we would go back into the classroom where our judges were waiting: Chef Francois, Chef Patrice and a guest “celebrity” judge. This was the most nerve-wracking and exciting part. We had some really great judges come in for this exercise including L’Academie Alums and a chef from the White House. The teams were selected to go in random order. The first and second courses were served first and then we took a break before dessert. While each judge tasted the dishes we would wait patiently (and usually with sweaty palms and fast beating heart) for the judges reactions. Sometimes they were good…sometimes they were not so good. The most memorable reactions had to have been when food was spit out, food couldn’t even get on to the fork and food couldn’t be eaten because it was too hot. The last one actually was a very good thing.
This was a really great exercise to prepare us for the honesty that is the kitchen. It also let someone else (professionals) taste our food and get a sense of where our seasoning levels were at. In school, seasoning is everything. We’re taught to heavily season our food. This was something I’m still not adjusted to, but have gotten much better at. It’s amazing to see one dish and have three different reactions: perfectly seasoned, not enough and too much.
Here are some pictures from the first Market Basket using our secret ingredients chocolate…
There was never really a “winner” but the judges were invited to tell us their favorite dishes. I kind of like hearing brutal honesty, even if it sucks sometimes, so this helped me develop a thicker skin when it comes to someone criticizing my food. I remember in Phase One thinking that I was going to be a nervous wreck over Market Baskets, but at the end, I think it’s one of the things I am going to miss the most from Phase Two.

Tervis Tumbler Love

A few weeks ago Foodbuzz and Tervis Tumbler sent me one of their famous double-walled cups to try out and write about. I’ve always been a huge fan of the tumblers but have not stocked my shelves with them (yet) because they are a little on the pricey side. While they are more expensive than a regular coffee tumbler or cup, it’s well worth the extra few dollars. Why?
  • They are made in America
  • For hot and cold beverages (and they actually keep drinks hot or cold and don’t turn to lukewarm awfulness)
  • Microwave-Freezer-Dishwasher safe
  • Reduces condensation (a life saver…you won’t understand until you get one)
These are just a few of the reasons to prove that they are well worth the purchase. As soon as I got mine, my fiancee picked it right up and had a glass of milk. I washed the cup and then decided I was going to take it to school with me because it would be a great place to show it off. Well, that night I came home and MJW was a little furious, “where is that cup!?” I told him I took it to school to show it off and tell my classmates about Foodbuzz and Tervis Tumblers and he insisted that I bring it home. In fact, his exact response was “I’ll talk to you about Foodbuzz everday, bring it home.”
The cup is still at school and it looks like I know what one of MJW’s stocking stuffers is going to be. I love having it at school because it doesn’t have any condensation. The cups we use at school get water droplets almost immediately and it runs on to my notes and also on to the table that I’m trying to cook on. I put coffee in it in the morning and it stays hot all through lecture. By the time we are on our way into the kitchen, I’ve cleaned it out and filled it with water. It goes with me everywhere.
I honestly think this item would make a great holiday gift. There are so many different themes and designs to choose from and I know the person receiving it will love it. Just make sure to get three, one for them, their spouse and you!
I recieved the Tumbler for being a member of the Foodbuzz Tastemasters Program. I did not receive any compensation for writing this post, just the free cup that they sent me.

Taste of DC

Better late than never, right?
Taste of DC was a few weeks ago and I went down with a few of my friends from culinary school. The day was beautiful, the drinks were refreshing, the company was amazing and the food was pretty decent. I say this because I went focused on the food but nothing really stood out for me. I think I went in thinking that I might find some potential externship sites, but there were really no restaurants of that caliber. (And that is totally fine!) The food that was presented was pretty good, but I also think the event was a little expensive. However, considering that DC is a tourist city and it was on Columbus Day, it made sense. You can’t blame them there because we were all suckered into the $30 tickets.
My favorite food was the Vegan Nachos from Bread and Brew. I will tell you that these were the best nachos I’ve ever had in my life. They were served on a little eco-friendly frisbee and I devoured every last bit. I’ll leave you with some pictures from the event. Did anyone else go? What did you think?

How I Made Him Eat Squash

MJW is a fairly picky eater. He would never say he’s a picky eater but he makes a point to avoid: cooked onions, cooked tomatoes, any cooked vegetable for that matter, chocolate, sweets, pumpkin, couscous and of course, anything “vegan”…among other things. I make up for the confused pallet, that’s for sure.
I had an extra squash laying around today and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to eat the whole thing. Acorn squash, yes. Yellow squash, not so much. I also got my hands on some flaky dough so I was trying to piece together a game time appetizer using both items.
We might be taking baby steps, but I looked to the one ingredient no man in his right mind would ever turn down – bacon. I had some leftover. It’s not like I went out and bought it just for this recipe. This was all about getting rid of some leftovers. Two things would be accomplished – trick MJW and clean the fridge.
Within about 20 minutes the house smelled like bacon and both MJW and Reddick were wondering what was going on. With that, Squash Bacon Rolls were created!
Ingredients:
 
Flaky dough (I found a recipe here, or you could use frozen puff pastry, pie crust or even Pilsbury’s Croissants)
1 yellow squash
4 strips of bacon
Olive oil
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper
Methods:
 
1. Cut the squash into strips lengthwise. It’s easier to work with if you cut the squash in half first and then slice into 2-3 inch strips. (the point is to make it resemble the shape of the bacon)
2. Season the squash and saute in olive oil until soft.
3. Roll the dough into a rectangle. The dough should be fairly thin and you want the longer side of the triangle to be at least 12 inches. The shorter side is going to determine how many slices you get. Chill the dough for 5 minutes.
4. Lay the squash flat on the dough and cover the surface.
5. Lay the bacon diagonally across the squash from the top left corner to the bottom right.
6. Sprinkle with cheese.
7. From the bottom, start to roll (like you are making cinnamon rolls).
8. Once you have your roll, slice into 1/2 inch pieces/discs.
9. Lay flat on a baking sheet.
10. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. If you are using flaky dough, it will not really brown. As soon as it bakes and is no longer doughy, it’s done.
11. Serve while they are hot or they are even good after they have been sitting out for a bit.
They are almost gone. I think we have a vegetable sneak-in success!