November

It’s officially the middle of November.. when the hell did that happen?

I only have 3 full weeks left in my first semester of grad school.  That is an amazing sentence.  I could do a cartwheel with that sentence.

The beginning of November included lots of filming, lots of editing, some friend-filled parties, more editing, a trip up the the Tonry Tree Farm in New Hampshire, applying for the London Summer program at BU, dancing, running, and some freaking out.  There is always a little bit of freaking out.  Here’s the first half of my month picture-style:

My best friends from undergrad and I have pulled Secret Santa names and determined a theme (let’s just say it centers around sports).  This is going to be an interesting gift swap!  I already bought my gift and it’s AWESOME.

Best Friends at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grille

This is RD Sahl.  You may know him.  He was an anchor on NECN forever.  He’s now one of my teachers. 

We're his favorites.

This is what we call a Live Shot.  It took a few tries but we got there.

I want to be on TV when I grow up.

And when my DanceWorks friends get together, well, wine and dancing are always the most populat combination.

Is that white wine in my glass? All the red must've been gone.

And we learn dances sometimes.

Check out that pose.

And this is Fred.

He’s a great snuggle buddy.

That’s been my month up til now.  Running has been more of a priority this month and dance has been the top priority in my workout world.  The DanceWorks Boston show is less than a month away (only 2 rehearsals left!) and I’m so excited. 

So what’s coming up?

This weekend:

I’ll be driving up to Hampton Falls, NH again this weekend but this time, it’s to film for my final project for my Visual Media class.  The Tonry Tree Farm (where we get our tree) has agreed to let me capture their beautiful farm and their history on camera.  I think it’s going to be the perfect Christmas ending to my semester.

Family dinner to follow that night… my parents, Stephen’s parents.  They’re best friends, it’s all very cute.  I’ll be going to bed on the early side because I have my fourth 5K race, the Lynnfield Turkey Trot, on Sunday morning.  I’m gunning for that PR and my goal is to run it around 32:00 but anything under 32:30 works for me!

Next week is a 3 day week school/work week!  2 days of class + 1 day of work + 1 amazing holiday + Black Friday = Happy Marie.

Next Thursday is obviously Thanksgiving and I will be creating some healthier versions of my favorite holiday foods.  Example: Hungry Girl’s stuffing with apples and cranberries.  I’ll also be sticking to lots of veggies and some white meat turkey.  And probably a small slice of Boyfriend’s apple pie because it’s just that good.

Black Friday is not a typical shopping day for my family.  I don’t enjoy the 5am rush to the mall.  I don’t enjoy being pushed and shoved for “on sale” items that are still over-priced.  I do enjoy listening to Christmas music and driving an hour to New Hampshire.  We spend the day shopping for something very special: our Christmas Tree!  Together, Stephen’s family and my family go up to the Tonry Tree Farm, find our (very large) trees, make Stephen cut them down, strap them to the hoods of our cars, make a pitstop at Market Basket for some tax-free beverages and then head home to put the trees up  and decorate all. night. long.

Well, I’m certainly not going to do that…

Next Saturday means homemade raviolis and my 5-year high school reunion.  Strange.  5 years.. seriously?  I’m kind of excited though.  I get to see people I haven’t seen in a really long time and I think it’ll be fun.  And Sunday is my friend Sandy’s 24th birthday which we will be celebrating the following Tuesday night.  The rest of the month leaves a couple of paper deadlines, lots of filming and editing and getting ready for the end of the semester/my dance show/Christmas!!

 
I wanna know… what are you looking forward to most this month?  What is your favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving?  Is it too early for you to listen to Christmas music?  (I don’t think it is….)

Halloween in full swing

Like I said in my last life update, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  I got my first real kiss on Halloween (I was 15), I’ve dressed up as everything from a cowgirl to a pirate, the pink Power Ranger to a Hocus Pocus witch (Mary Sanderson complete with a floor length black and red cape), and living in the town next to Salem, Massachusetts definitely has its perks in October.  Besides Christmas, Halloween is the best day of the year.

On Friday night, a few of my BU friends ventured to Lynn to the first time to eat, drink and carve pumpkins.

Yes, it is okay to be a full time graduate student, drink yummy beverages and cut faces in pumpkins.

No judging.

My pumpkin... and why yes, it does look like a 5-year-old carved this. Thanks for noticing.

I made nachos with homemade guacamole, pizza and Hungry Girl pumpkin cupcakes with my own buttercream and a candy corn garnish.  It was the casual, college kid version of a Torto dinner party.

Notice my friend Matt wearing my Harrod's apron...

My friend, Sandy’s pumpkin:

She went to art school. Doesn't count.

Saturday brought one of the laziest days I have had in while.  I relaxed most of the day with a brand new 21-year-old and watched Halloween movies (Double Double Toil & Trouble is one of the ultimate classics.)

On Saturday night, DanceWorks Boston hosted a huge Halloween party at Au Tua Nua in Boston.  My good friend and fellow DWB-er, Devlyn, and I headed to our friend Dana’s to have some wine and get ready for the party.  For my cat costume, I wore a black, high collared lace-covered dress, black heels, white lace hand gloves, a jingle heart necklace (in place of a bell), cat ears and of course, my bright yellow contacts.  I coated my eyes with liquid eyeliner and smoky black make-up.  It was pretty cool.  Almost everyone noticed, most people freaked a little.  Loved it.

Cat. 'Nuff said.

I kept my beverage intake to a minimum knowing I would have to wake up somewhat early and do my best on my third 5K: the Witch City 5K in Salem (race report on another day!)

Sunday morning’s alarm came WAY too quickly.  And as usual, I woke up to the alarm and said “WHY DID I SIGN UP FOR THIS RACE?”  I told you I’m not super positive in the morning.  I got up, got dressed, stretched, had my pre-race toast with peanut butter, slugged some water and woke up BF who picked me up from the party on Saturday night and crashed on the couch at my house.

And sometimes he brings me pretty flowers for no reason.... I'll keep him.

The race, overall, went just okay.  Running with a friend is definitely better but my stomach was not feeling it.  It was also the coldest race I’ve done to date.  But the scenery was lovely and I finished it.  A little slower than normal, but ya “win” some, ya lose some.

Salem. Done.

Sunday also brought about some fun research.  Enough said for now.

On the baking front, I made pumpkin snickerdoodles yesterday.  I brought them to work today and everyone loves them.  They taste like pumpkin pie filling and I could’ve eaten all of the batter myself.  And I think if I neglect to post the recipe, I’ll be beaten with something.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin 'Doodles

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
Adapted from pagespak.com

1/2 cup softened Brummel ‘n Brown margarine spread
3/4 cup Splenda/Brown Sugar mix (trust me on this one..)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground giner
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 2 baking sheets liberally with nonstick spray.

2) In the bowl of a stand mixer (this can also be done with a hand mixer), cream together margarine and brown sugar until smooth.  Beat in egg and vanilla and then the pumpkin.

3) In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger and pumpkin pie spice. 

4) In batches, add the dry ingredients to the wet until fully incorporated.

5) Drop tablespoons of batter onto prepared baking sheets.  Bake 18 minutes until set, slightly puffed but not browned.

Happy Fall!

Run for Ryan’s Cup 5K Race Recap

Second 5K – Boom. Done.

DONE.

Tough? Yes.  Worth it? Hell yes.

This past weekend was amazing overall.  It included lots of time with Boyfriend, apple picking, the best pre-race dinner ever and a great race ending in a PR!  But more on that a little later.

When I woke up Sunday morning (Race Day), my first thought was “I don’t want to go.”  I’m not very optimistic in the morning.  But after dragging myself out of bed, pulling on my new Refuel with Chocolate Milk tech t-shirt courtesy of a giveaway I won a few months back, and lacing up my new Asics, I felt much better.

My new favorite shirt!

When Boyfriend and I got to the race, I was already pre-registered like a good little nerd.  I got my number, a swag bag complete with free water bottles, a t-shirt and two tickets for free beer post-race.  Free beer for running? Sweet.

I meandered around, used the portapotty (which had no line and was the cleanest portable restroom I’ve ever seen), stretched and took a warm-up jog around the parking lot.  I felt good, I looked legit and I was ready for the race to start.

Soon enough, I was moving with the masses to the starting line.  There were no designated corrals because of the small size of the race so I picked a spot towards the middle-back, chatted with some first time 5K-ers and set my music to blare some Nikki Minaj.  When the gun went off, I clicked the timer on my watch to have an idea of how I was doing.  A makeshift Garmin, if you will.

So, how did I do?

Place        Name        No. Div/Tot Div   Age S   City    St    Time    Pace
108    Marie Torto   26   2/4       F2029  23  F Lynn  MA  32:46  10:33

My official time clocked in at 32:46 with a 10:33 min/mile pace.  I was thrilled!  Going into the race, I had a goal to run it under 33 minutes, taking time off of my first 5K time, 33:38.  Originally, I believed that my first time was 34:something, taking a full 2 minutes off but I’ll take the 58 second PR, thank you very much!  Plus, my pace improved from 10:50 to 10:33.  Woo!

The Highs:

The weather: It was nice and chilly when Stephen and I got to the race which is how I kept from getting (too) overheated during the run.

Water stops: There were a bunch along the course.  Friendly people holding out full cups of water so I only had to slow down a tad to grab one.  I then proceeded to take a sip and dump the rest over my head. Felt good.

The event: Everything was so organized and I got lots of fun things for pre-registering.  A free t-shirt, multiple water bottles (I can’t say no to free stuff) and a variety of granola bars, apples and a chocolate chip cookie!

My legs: I gotta say, having a dance background definitely helps the running process.  My legs, large and in-charge, are stocked with keep-going muscles that don’t tire easily.  Not one time during the race did my legs hurt.  Love it.

Mmm... free Bud Light

 The Lows:

My stomach: Once again nausea took over.  Right around that 1.5 mile mark, my insides did a flip flop, threatening gruesome consequences.  I powered through thinking of everything from crossing the finish line, hugging my boyfriend,  showering… anything to keep my mind off of the circus show that was going on in my abdomen.

The inclines: Yes, I said inclines, not hills.  There were a couple of bigger ones in there, reminding me once again that I need to train outside and on more difficult terrain more.  Because “flat” does not always mean flat.. and that’s okay.

Post Race:

The second I crossed that finish line, there was a small child holding a water bottle out for me.  I’m sure I looked like a crazy person, bright red, tears in my eyes from sheer pride.  Oh well, I was happy.  Small child will live.

I shared my 2 beer tickets with Boyfriend because I’m so nice.  (Honestly, I got down half of one before I remembered that 2 pieces of toast + alcohol does not a sober Marie make.)  We got Qdoba for lunch and I proceeded to be 100% lazy the rest of the day.

So what now?

I had a goal during the summer to run a race every month until the end of the year so here’s what I’m looking forward to:

Witch City 5K, 10/23/11, Salem, MA (already registered)

9th Annual Marcia Lemkin Foundation Race to Conquer Lung Cancer, 11/20/11, Lowell, MA (not yet registered)

YMCA Reindeer Run, 12/3/11, Beverly, MA (not yet registered)

I want to know: How do you feel as you cross that finish line?  Elated? Sick? Emotional? Happy to be DONE?  Ready to run another? What’s your favorite part of any race?

Boston Brunchers Dine at Local 149

A mere three days after stuffing myself at Lil’ Vin’s and getting a bit jumbled, I headed into South Boston (lovingly known as “Southie”) to meet up with the Boston Brunchers yet again.  This time, brunch was held at the eclectic Local 149 restaurant located on P Street.

I immediately ran into Kathy and Renee , snapped a picture of the place and headed inside where the manager greeted us with open arms.  The indoor decor was welcoming and fun; even an old school Gulf sign hung on the bar, welcoming each and every patron.

Local 149

But it wasn’t just the decor that made me excited to be there; it was the promise of multiple courses, each more glamourous than the next.  And the company wasn’t half bad either.

Look at that awesome Gulf sign

The first course was a lovely spread of toasted bread, blue and monchego cheeses, two different types of ham and a type of homemade duck sausage.  It was served with bowl of fresh fruit.  We cleaned each platter.

I could've eaten an entire block of that Manchego cheese

Next up, a remade classic that I had for the first time at the Biltmore: Chicken and Waffles.  But these were not ordinary chicken and waffles.  Blueberry waffles with a blueberry compote and lightly breaded chicken made for a sweet and savory Southern dish that I couldn’t stop eating.  If you haven’t tried this combo, you’re missing out.

Mmm.. blueberry

Next up…breakfast pizza, complete with teenie tiny quail eggs on the top.  I have never had a thinner crust in my whole life.  I had to refrain from each multiple pieces.

I'll have one large quail egg pizza to go please...

And no brunch would be complete with a version of French Toast.  This is, by far, one of the best french toast dishes I have ever had.  Brioche bread soaked in an expresso martini, covered in Life cereal, garnished with a chocolate cigarette, Grand Marnier whipped cream, a single M&M and a sliced strawberry.  At this point, I was unable to eat more than a few bites but this is what I’m ordering when I go back there.

French Toast...who wouldn't want that?

Thankfully, the next two dishes that came out were served family-style.  First, a plate featuring Yorkshire Pudding with 2 perfectly poached eggs, cinnamon-raisin toast, spiced hash and a popover.  I don’t particularly love Yorkshire Pudding but the popover was divine.

Yorkshire Pudding plate

The other dish held the fanciest Egg McMuffin I’ve ever seen: Lobster in a large, puffed egg cylinder with potatoes on the side.  Unreal.

This thing was as large as my face..

Finally, when it seemed like my stomach could hold no more, dessert arrived.  A small glass full of a malted chocolate shake with a garnish of coconut and a chocolate cigarette.  I can’t think of anything better to end an incredible meal.

Malt-y deliciousness

Oh – did I mention they also gave us free drinks?  Four of them. FOUR.  And not the tiny sample sized ones either.  A house bloody mary (which I gave to Katy), a delicious mimosa, a coconut rum concoction served in a fresh coconut and my favorite – peach sangria.  I didn’t drive home, no worries.

Why yes, I will have a beverage with brunch, thank you.

I would also like a pretty glass, please.

Mmm.. sangria

Overall, I had a wonderful experience at Local 149 and would highly recommend it for a brunch.  Go for something a little different and definitely order a signature drink with your meal!

NOTE:  Brunch was provided to me free of charge by the restaurant but all of these opinions are my own.  Neither the restaurant or the Boston Brunchers asked me to write a review.  This does not portray a typical dining experience.

PS – There is still time to enter my 1st Blogiversary Giveaway!  The contest closes Monday night, 9/12/11, at 11:59pm EST.  Get your entries in ASAP!

Cruise Vacation Part One: What We Did and Where We Went

So we finally got the pictures from our cruise uploaded into Stephen’s computer and I’ve spent quite a while organizing them.  This post will be the first in a 2-part installment of my cruise to Florida/The Bahamas.  Today, you get all the pretty pictures and details about what we did.  Next post, you get all the food (!!!)

I wanted to give a recap of my trip (with lots of photos) without boring you all to tears so I’ll keep it as brief as I can and let you revel in my photography skills.. or lack there of.

2 Saturdays ago, the 13th, Stephen and I boarded a bus at 7:30 am to make the 4 and 1/2 hour trek to NYC.  When we got there, we walked 12 or so blocks to the Norwegian port (stopping to look at the Intrepid military boat per Stephen), dropped our checked bags off and headed to the security line. 

Hi Intrepid!

Our stateroom, though a bit small, was beautiful with a large window and an obstructed view of the ocean.  It was raining in New York that day or else my bathing suit would have been the first thing out of my suitcase  Instead, knowing there was a massive crowd still boarding, we relaxed in the room until we heard the cruise director, Dan The Man, announce that we would have a “security drill” and it was mandatory.  Fun times, people, fun times.

After the drill, we got strong fruity drinks and watched the boat disembark New York City.  We saw the Statue of Liberty too and even though I’ve seen her before, Stephen was pretty excited to witness it for the first time.

Stateroom 8056
A little blurry but you get the idea...

 After dinner, we went into the Stardust Theater to watch the “Welcome Aboard” show.  It gave us a sense of what types of entertainment would be provided during the week and I was more eager than ever to get started.  Setting the alarm for an early morning workout, we headed to bed around 11, exhausted from our travel day.

The Stardust Theater

We spent Sunday in the sun, cruising down the coast.  After a sweat session in the gym, I was determined to get a tan.  The weather was warm and sunny.  New bathing suit on, tanning lotion ready and book in hand (Harry Potter 7… had to reread it before the last movie…), I relaxed outside like a cat curled up in the warm sun.  Nothing could deter me from a peaceful few hours outside.

Many chapters and a slightly deeper skin tone later, I pulled Stephen from the outside deck to some indoor activities.  First, we went to an art auction where we saw original pieces from some of the most famous artists in history.  Oh, and there was a Picasso that went for $78,000. NBD.  The auctioneer even gave away $99 spa treatments and you knew I would be all over that.  I got a hot stone back massage, foot massage and mini facial later on that afternoon and was in spa heaven.  It’s nice to be pampered on vacation.

I also dragged Stephen kicking and screaming convinced Stephen to go to the Fyzz Lounge to take a Merengue dance class with me.  Yes friends, I got my boyfriend to move his hips and sway to the music.  It wasn’t necessarily a performance worthy of Dancing With the Stars but he tried it to make me happy.

Merengue Dance Class
Monday morning, we were up early again to hit the gym before the ship docked in Port Canaveral in Orlando, Florida and venturing to Universal Islands of Adventure.  I had been to Universal Studios on many occasions in the past but could never convince my parents to take it a step further into the park with the giant rollercoasters (my parents aren’t as fun as me.)  I was most excited about one section in particular.  Can you guess what?
Hogwarts Castle.. NBD

When we entered the park, I practically ran to the entrance of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and was immediately overwhelmed.  Sweating slightly, we went right to the main attraction: Hogwarts Castle for the ride, Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey.  Sure, it was approximately 100 degrees out and the line was an hour long but I was determined to do it first.  The line wound outside for a while (in the greenhouses) before entering the castle.  Inside, you walk down the corridor to Dumbledore’s office where the golden eagle statue waits for the password.  Winding still, you enter Dumbledore’s office where the pensieve, destroyed horcruxes and Dumbledore himself can be found speaking with those in line.  Further still, Harry, Hermione and Ron talk about the adventure you are about to take before with them.  You step onto the ride platform, get strapped into your “broom” and take off for the most exciting 2 minutes I’ve ever had on a ride.  I may have screamed when we came face to face with a fire-breathing dragon and we got a little too close for comfort to the spider, Aragog, but I loved the ride and could’ve ridden it again and again all day long.

Following the ride, Stephen and I indulged in a little butterbeer and a little wand buying.  Yes, I bought a wand.  And yes, butterbeer is frothy, sweet and the “foam” they put on top was the finishing touch.  I even got a cute souvenir mug to take home.  I don’t hate it.

2 very happy people with that butterbeer...
Souvenir Mug
You know you want one.

We continued through the park, getting drenched on the Jurassic Park River Cruise.  If you go to this park and they tell you it’s like the Jungle Cruise at Disney World, they are lying.  It’s more like Splash Moutain with dinosaurs and more water.  Fun stuff.  And we only waited 10 minutes in line for the Hulk ride which is practically unheard of in a crazy-busy theme park like Universal.  It was awesome.

The Hulk

 After about 7 hours of sweaty fun, we headed back to the ship.  I was exhausted, hungry and eager to watch Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Bruins and the Canucks.  I ran walked briskly to the Fyzz Lounge where the game was being broadcast on a flat screen TV.  Lots of Bruins fans and even some Canuck fans took over the lounge.  In the end, if you didn’t watch the Stanley Cup Finals, the B’s won game 6 to force the series into game 7.  Stephen and I even met a nice couple from Pennsylvania who were Bruins supporters.  It’s nice to see temporary converts when their team doesn’t make the finals.

Tuesday and Wednesday were dedicated to the Bahamas themselves.  Tuesday, the ship pulled up to a gorgeous island, Great Stirrup Cay, where Stephen and I spent the day snorkeling, enjoying the white sandy beach and crystal clear water.  Okay, okay, I snorkeled all of 30 minutes before getting freaked out and opting to stay in the shallow part of the water and getting my tan on most of the day.  At least I tried the snorkeling part.  There were mere wisps of clouds that day and the sun was beating down hard.  Despite my efforts with applying and reapplying sunscreen, I found myself with a terrible burn later on.  Fail.

Great Stirrup Cay

On Wednesday, I was an attractive shade of boiled lobster.  Our ship docked in Nassau, Bahamas and in the distance, we could see the Atlantis Resort, one of the most expensive and glamourous resorts in the entire Caribbean.  I immediately thought of the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie “Island in the Sun”.  Don’t judge.

Atlantis Resort

It was another hot day, lots of sun and minimal cloud cover.  Additional burning may have occurred.  We spent lots of time on the river rapids getting tossed around in inflated tubes and I even swam in the large pools.  I know, right… me, swimming?  I must’ve been wrapped up in the moment or something.  Stephen and I also attempted those large water slides the Atlantis water park is so famous for but in the blazing heat and unshaded long lines, we had to abandon our vertical drop adventures for a colder attraction.  Plus, I saw how steep and high the “Leap of Faith” slide was and totally chickened out.  No faith.

The Lagoon
The Royal Towers

Our passes also allowed us access to the resort’s aquarium, “The Dig.”

Aquarium
RIP Steve Urwin..

I was exhausted by the time we got back on the Jewel but there was no time for sleeping.  Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals was on and the Fyzz Lounge was packed. 

You know how things end…

BRUINS WON!

On that happy note, I had a glass of red wine and went to bed, excited to sleep in the next morning.

Thursday included such things as: a workout, lots of aloe-vera, reading, minimal sun and maximum entertainment.  We saw Duo ArtMotion in the Stardust Theater and were absolutely blown away.  A couple from the Ukraine, they perform complicated and dangerous aerial acts including tissue silks, a hollow box and rings.  They were both so incredibly flexible, effortless and flawless.  I was awestruck by the end. 

Other shows we saw on the ship included “Band on the Run” which was a 70’s inspired dance and singing show, a comedy variety show and Le Cirque Bijou, a mixture of dance, gymnastics and aerial acts performed by the Jewel Production Cast and Duo ArtMotion.

Amazing.

When Thursday rolled around, I was still burnt but not yet ready for my vacation to end.  A whole day at sea, we again took advantage of lots of down time, some room service, a complimentary cooking class, dinner with the great couple we met while watching the Bruins games and a comedy-magic show of the famous Jean Pierre.

Now, let me tell you… this guy was good.  Better than good.  At first, he draws you in with silly tricks, messing them up to make you think he doesn’t know what he is doing and then pulls the rug out from under you when he does something incredible.  Like making a playing card appear IN an orange that matched the one a kid pulled out the deck earlier in the show.  I can’t even explain it.  He was hysterical and I loved seeing him, not once, not twice but four times throughout the cruise.  And when JP tours in Boston, you know Stephen and I will be there.

Jean Pierre in his close-up show

Thursday night was dedicated to one thing: ASTI.  For those of you who don’t know, Asti Spumonti is an Italian sparkling white wine, very similiar to champagne and Stephen and I LOVE it.  We brought a huge bottle on board (yes, it was legal) and planned on drinking it all on Thursday night.  Which we did… and promptly fell asleep afterwards.

Asti = Happy Couple

Our last day at sea, Friday, was cooler as our ship tugged back up the east coast but there was still plenty of fun left.  We bought more souvenirs including an 8-year aged bottle of rum that was made in the Bahamas.  Stephen and I spent a little more time in the sun, I finished my book and started another and for dinner, we made reservations at one of the specialty restaurants on board: Sushi.  It was incredible but more about that in my next post!

To finish the night, the adult lounge on the top deck hosted the game “The Quest: What Happens on the Jewel, Stays on the Jewel.”  It was hilarious.  They even got a bunch of the men in the audience to strip down to their underwear, put on bras, lipstick and women’s shoes and show off their dance moves.  The guys on our team wouldn’t do it but hey, I wouldn’t have done it either!

So pretty!

Saturday morning eventually had to come and by 8am, we were docked NYC and back to reality.  Tan (burnt), relaxed and happy, we made the bus trip back to Boston in time to see the end of the Bruins parade trickle out.  It was an amazing vacation… we can’t wait to take another!

Aww

I’m Back!

…and burnt.  Very burnt.  But I had the most incredible time on my cruise with the boyfriend.  So many pictures to come, plus an entire post dedicated to the delicious food I ate.  (Which surprisingly was not as much as I thought I would eat!)

For now, here’s some butterbeer to cool down your Monday.  (PS – it’s non-alcoholic, sweet and the perfect beverage on a 100 degree day!)

Happy Monday to everyone.  Sad to be back to reality but glad to be back to the blog!

Friday Night at The Rustic Kitchen

The last weekend of April is always a blur.  The weather is all over the place (sunshine here, rain there, 40 degrees, 80 degrees), it’s the first in 5 years that I haven’t celebrated Pup Cup (which is a typical “Spring Weekend” at my college, complete with nonstop partying and endless amounts of alcohol) and everyone is looking forward to getting April over with and moving into May.

Normally, I am one of those people but this year, I slowed down the last weekend of April and it was truly something special.  This post is dedicated to an amazing Friday night.

After work on Friday, I raced home to get a quick Jillian Michael’s Shred Workout in with anxious anticipation of the night’s events.  My Aunt Debbie treated me to a one-of-a-kind experience.  She surprised me with tickets to “The Cooking Show” at The Rustic Kitchen in Boston.  The Rustic Kitchen is an eclectic restaurant, simple and sophisticated from the outside, warm and inviting on the inside.  The wine list was extensive and the food, embedded tradition in newly renovated classics.When we arrived, our party (myself, Aunt Deb, my Uncle Gene and friend Janine) settled ourselves at the bar for pre-dinner drinks and apps.  Knowing we would be eating graciously in a short while, we decided on a batch of lightly battered calamari (with a spicy kick) and prosciutto with housemade mozzarella.  I had a glass of red wine, of course, but not my usual Cabernet.  This was 2006 Malbec from Catena, Argentina.  It was deep and bold and I think I might be trying Malbecs more often.  Aunt Deb got a delicious white, Caymus Conundrum via California 2008, and it reminded me of a spicy Asti Spumonti.  Already slightly buzzed and tummy no  longer growling, we moved onto The Cooking Show set.

I found my place setting and bellied up to the table.  In between me and Deb sat a multi-topping pizza as a pre-show snack.  As you read in my other post, I usually don’t eat pizza but in the moment, I had to try the mushroom.  The slices were small but oh so satisfying.  Not greasy, just crispy enough with the perfect amount of cheese.  A glass of the night’s selected wine, Crabalis Vermentino, begged to be tasted.  Despite my general disinterest in white wine, I loved it.

When the taping began, I felt as though I had been transported to an episode of Emeril Live.  The lights flashed, music blared and an announcer welcomed our host, Liz Bramwell, a 26-year old Culinary Institute of America graduate.  A petite woman, you would more likely mistaken Liz as a college student rather than a successful chef, but she would shock you with an extensive resume including head pastry and chef experiences in famed restaurants on Cape Cod and in Vegas.  Liz started the show off by introducing her assistant, Pepe, and offering a toast (I was pleased to see her raise her own wineglass to her intimate audience.)

First, Liz prepared a cold vegetable terrine with roasted vegetables.  Eggplant slices, zucchini, summer squash and asparagus drizzled in olive oil, then baked until soft while she blanched Boston bib lettuce and lined a loaf pan with them.  She placed the roasted veggies in delicately, including a middle layer of herbed goat cheese.  Once assembled, she pressed it down, sealed it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to set up for “at least 8 hours” but more like 24.

Served with a slice of the loaf was a sundried tomato coulis and a thick balsamic glaze.  After chilling for 24 hours, the flavors of the roasted vegetables deeply complimented each other and the goat cheese provided a salty bite to the overall dish.  It was simple, but decadent and elegant as well.

Next, after several more questions and toasts (and many wine refills thanks to Pepe), Liz moved on to the main course, Seafood en Parchment.  First, she made an herb butter, combining softened unsalted butter with bright basil, thyme, parsley and garlic.  She then cut a large piece of parchment paper into a heart shape and brushed it with melted butter.  She layered chiffoned zucchini, summer squash, leeks, carrots and red baby potatoes on the bottom before stacking 2 jumbo shrimp, a thick 4-ounce seabass fillet and 2 large scallops on top.  2 thick slices of herb butter followed before Liz folded and secured the parchment and popped it into the oven.

When it arrived in front of me, I cut open the top of the parchment to release the steam and was greeted by the delightful scent of perfectly cooked seafood.  The scallops were tender and creamy, the shrimp delicately pink and the sea bass, well, let’s just say I’ll be cooking that more often.  The overall dish was light and flavorful.

After a final toast, Liz closed the show, leaving her audience full of wonderful food and maybe a bit buzzed from bottomless wine.  We realized before the show started that we had been seated next to Liz’s parents, Paula and Whitey.  They were a fun couple, taking the brunt of many jokes when Liz poked fun at them during the show.  You could see instantly that they were a close and loving family. 

Shortly after the taping ended, we continue to chat with Paula and Whitey.  Of course, my blogger cards were out the whole time and after about 10 minutes, Liz came back to the set to chat with her guests.  I think I monopolized her a bit.  My aunt snapped about a million pictures of me behind the set and if I do say so myself, I look good back there.  And the best part of it was that Liz, although incredibly successful for someone so young (she’s even got restaurant openings in the works!), was completely down-to-earth and fun-loving, someone I would hang out with, someone my friends would love.

After thanking her and saying good-bye to her parents, we left Boston around 9:30.  Not ready to end the night just yet, Aunt Deb, Uncle Gene and I head to the Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott for an after-dinner drink (more wine, please!)  Once home, I fell promptly fell asleep on the couch til about 3AM when Giada diLaurentis’ voice woke me up.  I slept like a rock the rest of the night.

Action shot!

I highly recommend The Rustic Kitchen for a special occasion or just to sample their wine list.  Or splurge and go see The Cooking Show.  Either way, don’t forget to make a reservation before hand.  This place is sure to get super popular very fast.  Oh and Food Network, give Liz her own show, ya hear?

Me & Aunt Deb at the end of the night