A Life Update

Okay, it’s been approximately 3 or so weeks since I panicked about school and I haven’t written since.  I hope you are still out there listening to me ramble in my now dust-covered corner of the Internet.

So it’s time to tidy up a bit.

In the past three weeks, I’ve calmed down and gotten through my first few projects for my grad classes.  I survived.  And did pretty well.  Maybe I overreacted a bit at the beginning.  Maybe.

A lot has been going on here at Chocolate & Wine.  Here are some highlights:

2 weekends ago, I attended 2 weddings: my cousin George married his beautiful fiancé (of 4 years!) Julie, and my friend Raechel married the love of her life, Steve.  Both weddings were gorgeous and I cried a lot. Of course I did.  I realized how much I can’t wait to plan a wedding of my own!

George & Julie's Wedding with the family

And wedding #2..

Raechel and Steve

This past weekend, I spent Friday in the North End with Stephen and we FINALLY got to go out for his birthday surprise.  I took him to Riccardo’s Ristorante where they put on a “Mystery Cafe” show every Friday night and serve a three-course meal.  The show was hilarious, if not a bit cheesy, and the food was as genuinely Italian as you’d expect from the North End.  Highly recommended for good food and a good time.

We capped our night with beers at a bar called The Point and goodies from my favorite North End bakery.

Heart You.

Saturday was party marathon day.  Together, my two best friends and I tackled a “I’m Pretty Good at Drinking Beer” party (where we consumed no beer or any beverage other than iced coffee), taco night hosted by Alyse (which were de-lish!), a Halloween party and finally, my sister’s 21st birthday celebration at Tequila Rain in Boston.

Swy, Jeff, Alyse... That's nice.

Did you know Halloween is one of my favorite holidays? 

So freaky, so cool, so legit. Cat costumes are the way to go.

And it wouldn’t be a 21st birthday without a 16-ounce beer in each hand.

Happy 21st! Here's 2 Coors Lights.

Sunday brought another 3 events: the Boston Bruncher’s 1st Birthday Brunch at the Island Creek Oyster Bar on Comm Ave. in Boston, my good friend Miriah’s daughter’s Christening (that little baby is nothing short of an angel) and a 4-hour dance rehearsal with DanceWorks Boston (always a fun time!)

A sneak peak into Birthday Brunch!

Then on to the Christening…

You can't tell me she isn't the cutest baby in the world..

I made favors… Oreo ball truffles with a piped pink A on each one, individually wrapped with a pink ribbon and a tag.

Not bad considering I usually stink at piping.

They came out pretty freakin’ cute.

Everybody loved them. Makes me happy when people like what I make!

Along with my jam-packed weekends and filming/editing-laden school schedule, I managed to get in a couple of quick training runs for my 3rd 5K coming up this weekend!  I, along with my friend Kim, will run the Witch City 5K in Salem, maybe even dressed up a bit.

This upcoming weekend also brings pumpkin carving with my BU friends and a huge DanceWorks Boston Halloween costume party on Saturday night.  I will, unfortunately, have to keep my drinking to a minimum because of the race on Sunday morning, but that won’t stop me from wearing those cat eyes!

I promise not to wait another 3 weeks to post.  I have finally pulled myself out of a slight rut I had fallen into, but I’m back and excited.

And I had delicious Bon Me truck food for dinner the other night: a brown rice bowl with tofu, shitaki mushrooms, cilantro, pickled veggies, bean sprouts and mesclun greens.  YUM.

Healthy and filling.

I wanna know: What’s new in your life?  What would your dream wedding consist of?  And what are you being for Halloween this year?

Lil Vinny’s Ristorante

Last week, I got an e-mail from Boston Bruncher creator, Renee, with an exciting event: Dinner at Lil Vinny’s Ristorante in Somerville, MA.  She opened it up to the first 8 bloggers who registered.  Luckily, I check my e-mail approximately 126 times a day (rough estimate) and jumped on the chance to have a delicious dinner with fellow foodies.

After a not-so-wonderful 2-mile run per my 10K Training Plan (I skipped that day’s strength since I did it the day before plus with 2 hours of dance), I headed out to Somerville.  Note to self: Run outside more. You suck at it.

What should have been a short 28-minute drive turned into a 1(+) hour nightmare.  With no GPS, I ended up in every city around Somerville except Somerville.  I was aggitated to say the least.

When I finally found the restaurant, I walked in to a dimly-lit atmosphere, immediately greeted by the comforting aroma of Italian food.  A few steps in and I recognized my fellow bloggers enjoying each other company.  I instantly felt much better.

I was especially excited to go tonight to meet some of these bloggers in person.  It’s one thing to follow a blog and converse on Twitter but there is something even more meaningful to me when I connect with someone through actual human interaction.  I spent the majority of the dinner conversing with: KatyRachelAudreyKathy and Amanda.

Dinner itself was served family-style but no one could’ve guessed how much food Lil Vin’s would provide for us.  Six courses. SIX.  Seven if you include the bread basket and herb olive oil before the meal.  And the food was as scrumptious as it was beautiful.

I should’ve worn stretchy pants.

Delicious Caesar Salad

The salad course was a larger portion of caesar salad complete with homemade anchovy dressing and crisp croutons.  I didn’t even know the anchovy was present until one of the servers told us.  It gave a nice salty bite to the dish.

Don't those look incredible?

Next up, a little seafood for my palate.  Served family style, we were given perfectly steamed mussels in a spicy, yet delicate sauce.  Then they brought out extra bread so none of the broth was wasted.  They already knew us so well… a mere 2 courses in.

At this point, I was starting to get full...

Our first pasta dish (yes, I did say first) consisted of tortellinis in a yummy pesto sauce.  They were perfectly al dente and I could’ve eaten the cheese filling alone.  With a spoon.  Out of a large bowl.  What?  I like cheese.

A very large helping of eggplant parm.

See that little beauty right there?  It actually wasn’t so little.  In fact, it was a huge slab of eggplant parm.  Lightly breaded and fried, it was covered in cheese and not the least bit oily.  I must admit, I’m partial to Boyfriend’s mom’s baked eggplant parm but this is the best restaurant version I’ve ever eaten.

You had me at "Homemade Pasta"

My family makes homemade pasta.  It’s incredible.  Lil Vin’s also makes homemade pasta – fusilli with bolognese sauce – it is also quite incredible.  At this point, I couldn’t eat more than a few bites so I asked for it to be wrapped up.  Unfortunately, because of jumbling circumstances , it never made it home.  Sad.

The dessert gods must've been smiling down on me.

Finally, after much debate on whether or not I could take another bite of food, this plate arrived in front of me.  If you’ve been reading C&W for more than a day, you know that I can’t say no to sweet stuff.  Vanilla bean panna cotta with candied lemon peel and homemade caramel was the cherry on top of a very large, multi-course, Italian cake.

And I ate every bite.

A big thanks to Lil’ Vinny’s for hosting us and providing us amazing food and wonderful service (and lights for our photos!)  It is the perfect place to go for a romantic date night out or to simply catch up with a good group of friends, like the Boston Brunchers, and enjoy an Italian meal with a tasty twist.  Highly recommended would be an understatement.

Sign of a good dinner, I think...

NOTE: This dinner was provided to me free of charge by Lil Vinny’s Ristorante.  All of the opinions expressed here are mine.  Neither Lil Vinny’s or the Boston Brunchers asked me to write a review of my experience there.

Seneca, Kansas: The Tip of the NDA Iceberg

Hi Friends!

I’m sorry I’ve been a bit MIA this past week.   As you could see from my July schedule, I spent my Independence Day traveling to Seneca, Kansas.  I had never been to Kansas before and I assumed it would be lots of fields and rolling plains and corn.

I was right.

Mmm... corn

But you know what they have in Kansas that they don’t have in Massachusetts (besides corn pickers, weird watering devices and horrifying highways where the only way you can pass is by driving in the opposite lane…) ?

ORANGE LEAF.

Yes, my friends, frozen yogurt at it’s finest.  The fro-yo phenomenon is just barely reaching Boston, which is unfortunate.  While Pinkberry is pretty awesome, there are other chains that allow you to pour your own fro-yo into a cup (and there are a ton more flavors), load on whatever toppings you want and pay for it by the ounce.  It’s spectacular.  Such chains popping up around the country include 16 Handles, Red Mango and of course, Orange Leaf.

So after my fellow NDA staffer and Idaho native, Kira, and I drove an hour from Seneca to Manhattan (also known as “The Little Apple”), found Orange Leaf and indulged in the frozen treat.  Oh yeah – did I mention it was 100 degrees the entire time we were there and the high school gym we were dancing in wasn’t air-conditioned? So, yeah, frozen yogurt was a must at that point.

I settled for a low-fat swirl of brownie batter and chocolate chip cookie flavors topped with a ton of fresh strawberries and a few cookie dough bits.  I was in heaven.

C'mon Boston.. work with me here.

Kira and I also got to try out a cute little restaurant close to our motel on the last night of our stay.  I had the Champagne Chicken Salad which included mixed greens, grilled chicken, strawberries, dates and spiced pecans with a champagne vinagrette that I got on the side.  It was delicious and definitely filled me up.  If you ever visit Seneca, Kansas, I highly recommend “The Willows”.

The Willows in Seneca, KS. Go here.
I love salad.

The camp itself was great and the perfect way to kick off my NDA summer.  The team was fun, enthusiastic and they picked up the 5 routines we gave them really well.  I was even a little sad to leave after spending three days with them.

Kira, me and the Centralia High School Dance Team

 Coming home wasn’t as fun.  It involved a 3-hour detoured car ride back to the airport, a long delayed layover in Chicago and a 3am bed time, but eventually I got home, hit my bed hard and slept for the majority of the next day.

So what’s next?  According to my schedule, I have normal work today, a gym date with boyfriend and some packing to do before I hit the road to Long Island, NY tomorrow.  Five hours to Smithtown, a sleepover with one of my best NDA friends and an additional 5 hour drive to Towson, Maryland on Wednesday for 5 days of Resident camp fun (and maybe a late night showing of Harry Potter? I think so.)

Although I didn’t get much have any service while in Kansas, I believe I will have more connection in Maryland.  Hopefully I can update the blog as I go but there is a good chance I will be so entralled with Level 3 Kick, I might not have much time on my hands.

What’s going on in your life this week?  Any big plans?  Do you travel a lot during the summer or do you prefer to relax at home?

My First Race: The Essentials

Here we are, kids.  The eve of my first 5K.  I’m sorry if you are sick of hearing about it.  I’m not sick of talking about it.  (I promise I’ll start cooking again for real next week though. I’ve missed it!)

So I’m nervous.  Like really nervous.  That’s normal right?  I hope so.  When I dance in big competitions like nationals, I have a habit of… well, losing it (if you know what I mean) beforehand (and maybe after.) Sometimes I cry too.  Just being honest here.

I’ve been researching for quite some time now about what to wear, eat, listen to before, during and after running a race.  Christine is a big help.  Aron is too.  But come on now, I’m no marathon runner just yet.  No crazy carbo loads, no 5 mile easy runs (haha, can’t do those yet, but I did get in some nice cardio yesterday) and no Garmin on my wrist.  However,  I will have a (basic, but cute) running outfit, a rockin’ playlist, a good dinner tonight (a signature pasta creation), a light breakfast tomorrow morning, lots of water and my favorite people there to cheer me on (and take tons of pictures!)

This picture was my night in a nutshell…

So my essentials.  I’ve comprised a (short) but sturdy list of things I’ll do/wear/eat today in preparation for tomorrow.  First, I have been  RESTING.  My legs were a bit sore still today (I dance 3 days a week so yeah) so tonight I watched tv, cut up some watermelon, read, hung out with Tracie for a bit and watched Disney movies.

The Outfit

Okay, so I don’t really have a running wardrobe yet.  I do have great running capris from target that I’ve been training in and LOVE.  A regular t-shirt will suffice for this race with a light zip-up over it.  I’ll decide when I get to the race if I need the jacket or not.  I doubt it since it’s supposed to be nice out and I sweat … a lot.  Sneakers? I have a confession… I never got new ones.  I know.. SO BAD.  But I’m going to suck it up for this first race and if I enjoy it as much as I hope I will and decide to sign up for more races (and longer distances), I will go to a specialized running store, get fitted and invest in good sneaks.  For now, my Champs will have to do.

The Carbo Load

Just kidding.  But there will be a little pasta.  And veggies (duh, don’t you know how much I love em?)  So here’s what I’m chowin’ on…

Breakfast (Today): Cup of fruit salad, small sliver quiche, small iced coffee with skim milk/2 sweet n low, water.

Lunch: Garden salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, a few croutons and fat free ranch, 1 orange, water.

Dinner: Whole grain pasta (angel hair is my favorite), throw in some of Stephen’s “quick sauce” (fam recipe sped up for convenience but still delicious).  Then I’ll saute zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and mushrooms in a skillet and added it to the pasta.  Yeah.. the perfect dish for some pre-race energy.  Matched with a large glass of water, it’s a tremendous, digestible and san-heavy dinner.

Breakfast tomorrow: Slice of wheat toast with 1 TB low fat peanut butter, small banana (3 hours pre-race), water

The Playlist

I’ve done lots of mixing and matching to get the perfect approximately 40 minute playlist so every second will be accounted for… hopefully I won’t even need the whole thing.  I’m not a big song jumper – I pick the winners ahead of time and play the whole thing.  Here’s what I’ve got.. yes, a song or 2 are repeated but only because they pump me up so much.

1. King of Anything (3:27)- Sara Barielles.  Upbeat for the warm-up few minutes.

2. The New Workout Plan (5:22)- Kanye West.  If you want the best push-yourself song there is, download this.  It’s so funny and makes you want to run… or do sit-ups, whatever.

3.  Best Love Song (3:17) – Chris Brown.  Got this one from Christine.  It’s a great pacer song.  I find my stride easily.

4. Can’t Be Tamed (2:28) – Miley Cyrus.  I can’t be tamed, what about it?  Plus, it’s short and a nice break up in between the long songs.

5.  Born This Way (4:20) – Gaga.  “I was born to survive.” Enough said.

6. On the Floor (3:50) – J.Lo & Pitbull.  I could dance to this, run to this, anything.  It’s just awesome.

7. Who’s That Chick  (2:47) – Rhianna.  Another one I can dance to.  For some reason, when I think of dance routines while I run, it makes me enjoy it so much more.

8. The New Workout Plan.  Repeat.  I know it’s 5:22 so when its over, it’s a big chunk of time I got through.

9. Mean (3:57) – Taylor Swift.  I play this at the end but I’m hoping I don’t need it.  It’s one of those “you think I’m nothing but look what I’m doing now” sort of songs and it makes me want to prove to myself that I CAN DO IT.

The People

Obviously I’ve never run a race before but I completely believe all you runners out there that the crowd pumps you up and keeps you going.  I’ve got a terrific group coming to cheer me on including my mom, my sister, my cousin Ali, my aunt, my work peeps.  I plan on getting as much energy and motivation as I can from them and HAMMING it up in front of the cameras.  And I’m giving Tracie a set of poms to shake around.  Yeah, we’re legit.

If you just happen to be on the North Shore tomorrow morning, say around 9ish and you want to come watch a 5K, head to Marblehead (Beach St./Ocean Ave.)  Find me and say hi.  I’ll love you for it!

What are your Running Essentials?  Were you nervous for your first race and if so, what did you do to de-stress yourself? (Seriously peeps, I need all the advice I can get on this one!)

Warm Scallop Salad & Comfort Food for Wisdom Teeth

For those of you who have never had your wisdom teeth out, consider yourselves VERY lucky.  I had mine out a week before I turned 18.  I ate way too many McDonald’s chocolate milkshakes and looked like a chipmunk for about a week.  Then proceeded to go on a roadtrip with 3 friends to New Jersey to go to 6 Flags for my birthday – still puffy.  Not the most attractive week of my life.

                                          Me and Melissa in Barcelona, Spain

My sister had hers out a week ago and her surgery didn’t go as well as mine.  Poor kid – she hardly ate all week so when she needed “substance” the other night, I made mac and cheese from scratch for the first time in my life.  I had to overcook the pasta a bit so she could chew it but you don’t have to.  I’m happy to say that she liked it and is now (almost) fully recovered from her not-so-great experience with her wisdom teeth.

Easy Homemade Mac & Cheesy (ew, how cheesy is that title? Leaving it.)

Ingredients:
2 cups whole wheat macaroni (I used spirals)
1/4 cup Brummel & Brown margarine spread
3 TB flour
2 cups milk (I used 1%)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
2 cups grated cheese (I used mild cheddar but it’s up to you)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp paprika

Cook macaroni according to the box directions, drain and set aside.

In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  When melted, add the flour and seasonings and stir consistently to form a roux.  Cook an additional 3 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste – you will notice the mixture begin to thicken.  Add wine then gradually add the milk. 

Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly until sauce is thickened and smooth.  Add cheese and continue stirring until it has fully melted and the sauce tastes like cheesy heaven.

Combine the macaroni and the sauce and pour into a generously greased 2-quart casserole dish.  Sprinkle top with extra cheese and bake in a 350 for approximately 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve while hot.
Serves 4-6.

I will say, I wanted to eat it SO badly.  I resisted.  Instead, I bypassed the carbs (and the meat since it was Friday) and had a craving for scallops instead.  While at the grocery store, the strawberries looks particularly good and I knew I already had walnuts at home.  I grabbed a few cans of mandarin oranges, some fresh baby spinach and a red onion.  A summer salad complimented by warm, seared scallops.

Light, delicious, perfect.

Warm Scallop Salad

Ingredients: (Makes 1 salad)
Fresh bay scallops (the BIG ones!), about 5-6 per person
Fresh baby spinach (approximately 2 cups)
1 14-ounce can of mandarin oranges (in Sugar-Free juice), drained
Fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped
2 TB red onion, finely chopped
2 TB chopped walnuts
Dressing: Total optional.  I have a feeling that citrus-y dressings would be divine on this salad, but I dressed it with about a tablespoon of plain Balsamic vinegar.  Plain would also be great.

Bring a non-stick skillet generously sprayed with cooking spray to medium-high heat.  Sear scallops 3-4 minutes per side until cooked through.

Place a large handful of spinach leaves into a salad bowl.  Top with strawberries, orange pieces, walnuts, red onion and dressing if you like. 

Place warm scallops on top and enjoy your nutritious, delicious, carb-free, meat-free salad!