Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Cantina Bowl…

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It was my mom’s birthday today!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Unfortunately, I had to send her birthday wishes from afar since she lives a state away. But that didn’t stop me from celebrating in my own way… So how did I celebrate?

I ran 3.5 miles.

~

Why?

Because I have legs.

I have legs that work.

I don’t want to take them for granted.

Thank you, Mom, for giving me healthy legs!

I ran on the treadmill {thanks to Stacy} while watching an episode of Psych {thanks to Jen} in our basement room that houses a TV, DVD player and our workout equipment {thanks to my husband}.

Afterward, I didn’t cook. I wouldn’t make my mom cook on her birthday! Instead, I asked Rob to cook pick up some dinner. Truth be told, I haven’t eaten fast food very often in the past year. But recently, something has caught my eye. So I asked Rob to pick it up for me:

Taco Bell Cantina Bowl {Photo Source}

Yes, I asked my husband to pick me up some Taco Bell. It’s almost as if when they were putting together the commercial for this new product, that they had me in mind. They knewhow to market it just for me.

Fresh ingredients.

Fresh flavors.

Created by Celebrity Chef Lorena Garcia.

Yeah. The Marketing and Advertising Departments at Taco Bell know exactly what they are doing. They baited the hook and reeled me in. I first learned of Chef Lorena Garcia when I watched America’s Next Great Restaurant, a reality-style show where contestants competed to persuade judges to invest in their concept to open up the next great fast-casual restaurant. Chef Garcia judged the competition alongside Chef Bobby Flay and Chipotle Mexican Grill founder Steve Ells. Most recently, however, I’ve seen Garcia compete on the latest season of Top Chef Masters.

Here is the description of this menu item from the Taco Bell website:

“Experience our new citrus-herb marinated chicken, flavorful black beans, guacamole made from real Hass avocados, pico de gallo prepared fresh daily, roasted corn & pepper salsa and a creamy cilantro dressing, all served on a bed of cilantro rice.”

The flavors definitely sound like ones that I would enjoy. And If you’ve ever eaten at Chipotle, you’ll find that the description sounds oddly familiar, too.  I wonder how Steve Ells feels about this? Still, the “Next Great Restaurant” in which the trio invested failed within months, so Garcia and Ells are no longer partners.

Without even looking at the calorie/nutrition content, I asked Rob to pick up the Cantina Bowl.

And I enjoyed every bit of it.

Yes, this is definitely a step up from what you’d expect from Taco Bell. Actually, think Chipotle or Qdoba, but with a more manageable size. Of course, I’m not stupid. This is a mass produced item. The ingredients are not as fresh and natural as we’d love to believe. But you know what? It’s as good as it’s gonna get out there for fast food. And I’m glad I gave it a try.

But here’s a great sidebar:

My favorite kind…

And just in case you were wondering, the nutrition facts of the Cantina Bowl can be found at Fat Secret or on the Taco Bell website. It’s not too bad. Sure, I ate all of the calories that I just burned running. But it was tasty. And worth it.

But I have something else to look forward to:

My CSA box tomorrow is supposed to include both tomatillos and hot peppers! How can I not take advantage of this to find something wonderful to cook from The Homesick Texan? I have a feeling that these ingredients will be even better.

Have you cooked with tomatillos?

If so, what’s your favorite thing to make?

Cheers,

Carrie

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Pizza Lucé – Richfield

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Pizza Lucé in Richfield opens today!

We were invited to try out the new Pizza Lucé opening in Richfield on Saturday by our friend Shondra. It was a pre-opening event for Friends and Family. Pizza Lucé is a Minnesota-based specialty pizza and pasta place established in 1993. Richfield will be it’s seventh location!

The other six Pizza Lucé locations

The Richfield Pizza Lucé is housed in the old Bridgeman’s Ice Cream building. I seriously thought the building was torn down and rebuilt. However, I’m told that it was only renovated. Nice job, Pizza Lucé! The roomy inside interior looks new, as does the outdoor patio.

I’d been to Pizza Lucé only a few times before and the reason is solely due to location. The downtown location was where I experienced my first visit. We dined there pre-Fine Line concert. Another time was when the St. Paul location opened across the street from a friend’s apartment. And the most recent visit was a few months ago when a friend and I were in Uptown around lunch time. Driving by Pizza Lucé, it was an easy choice. However, this new location is only a 13-minute drive from our house.

One of the draws of Pizza Lucé is that they cater to vegans and gluten-free patrons. Many items are vegan (V), vegan upon request (VR) or gluten-free upon request (GFR). This gives those with a gluten-sensitivity an opportunity to actually go out and dine with friends. I’m told that the restaurant takes this very seriously when gluten sensitivity is a health condition. The order must be followed from start to finish. That’s dedication! In addition, it has recently become a trend for many people to choose a gluten-free or vegan lifestyle. While I don’t follow either, I think it’s great that there are options for people who do.

Our Order:

I was craving some veggies, so I ordered a small salad before our pizza arrived. I think I had split the Spinach Salad with my friend Jen on my my visit to the Uptown location, but it sounded good again. I ordered a small, so I could still try some pizza and scarfed it down before I could take a picture. But our friend Shondra ordered the large one and asked to add bacon and for dressing on the side:

Spinach Salad {w/bacon added } | VR, GFR
Loads of fresh spinach, radicchio, candied pecans, red onions, dried cranberries and blue cheese tossed in homemade white balsamic vinaigrette. {Vegans, substitute lemon pepper tofu for the cheese at no additional charge.}

Oh, how I love this salad! {Sans bacon for me, though.}

The pizza we chose:

Ruby Rae Pizza {Medium} | GFR
Upside down pizza pie with red sauce on top. Spinach, bruschetta tomatoes, Italian sausage, and extra mozzarella cheese. Sprinkled with parmesan cheese and spicy crushed red pepper.

We loved the spice of this pizza! It’s a little hotter than Minnesota spicy, so please keep that in mind when ordering. You could probably ask them to hold the crushed red pepper, if you are concerned. However, the crust seemed a little bland to us. {Maybe it could be brushed with some garlic-flavored olive oil?} But the toppings were full-flavored and exactly what we were looking for in a pizza.

They weren’t serving anything from the bar that day, but I did peruse their cocktail list:

Martini List

With my love of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, this list had me at the Pear Tree! Also, I love my bubbly cocktails and had tried the Kinky Liqueur before, so I am pretty sure that I would like the Pink Fusion as well.

There are over 20 beers on tap, many of them craft or micro brews, perfect for a beer snob like me. Rumor has it that Tuesday is $3 Tap Beer Day, all day!

In addition, the bottles of wine were reasonably priced. {That’s tough to find these days.} And the selection is pretty decent for those prices. I hear that Mondays are Half-Price Wine Nights!

We didn’t try dessert, but when I jumped on their website to aid me in writing this post, I read that they are now delivering pints of Izzy’s ice cream. Oh how we love that!

Now that the Richfield location of Pizza Lucé is open, be sure to stop in and give it a try. Let them know that we sent you. And be sure to say “hello” to our friend Shondra, too!

Cheers~
Carrie

El Meson – Minneapolis {Closed}

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I had been here once before years back with my friends Jen and Kari. I think it was before Kari’s kids were even born yet. {Let’s just say that they aren’t toddlers anymore.} I remember loving the ambiance, the booths that felt like private cubby holes and the Spanish-style décor.

I also remember loving the sangria.

Sometimes I find that the reason we dine somewhere that isn’t in a 5-mile radius from our house is that we have a Groupon. And it is for that reason that I was able to get Rob to dine here on beautiful afternoon in May. 😉

We went early. The Groupon required a reservation and since we had planned to be in the area for something else, I made it really early – 4pm. We often eat early, but not this early!  Of course, without anyone else there at 4pm, the restaurant didn’t have quite the same liveliness as I had first experienced.

Our Groupon included two glasses of wine or beer and two entrees.

However, we decided to start with an app from their tapas menu:

Cantapalitos
Grilled mini Chorizo sausages served with sautéed artichoke hearts & sweet onions in a warm vinaigrette. 7.95

With it, they served some bread:

buttered bread

This pre-buttered bread was way too easy to eat. I try to limit myself to one piece if I do eat any bread while out, but I did have at least one more. I think this bread basket went away from our table empty. Whoops.

But I did think that ordering a lower calorie dish like scallops could make up for it:

Conchas – Pan Seared Curry Dusted Sea Scallops served with coconut, mango, spinach risotto, in a lemon butter sauce, topped with a pineapple salsa. 19.95

This was a great dish and I loved the risotto. I’m sure the sauces made up for the low-calorie scallops, though. Would I get it again? It wasn’t one of those scallop dishes I have to have again. There are just too many other things on the menu that I’d like to try!

Rob ordered:

Carne a la Brava – Piementon crusted beef medallions served with a Valencia saffron rice, braised fingerling potatoes, sauteed artichokes hearts and chorizo, in a tempranillo demi glaze, topped with a Serrano crisp. 18.95

The server did not ask how he’d like it done. And in a place like this, I just assume that means they only serve it one way because that is the way it was supposed  to be cooked. And it was cooked to perfection – medium rare. The only thing was that it needed more seasoning. Season it already!  Still, I was curious about the Serrano crisp sticking out of the saffron rice. So I snapped off a piece before Rob could slap my hand away. It tasted like really crunchy bacon. It was very cool-looking garnish – like a whale tail was sticking out the rice.

And the Sangria?

El Meson Sangria

Delicious! While the Sangria at Burger Jones still tops my list, this one is still lovely. I can’t say that I’ve ever had bad Sangria though…

Overall, El Meson is a great little neighborhood restaurant that we’d probably frequent if we lived in the area to check out more of their menu. Oh, and they call themselves a Spanish-Caribbean Bistro. Have you been to one of those lately?

What’s the most interesting garnish you’ve had served on a plate or in a cocktail?

Cheers~
Carrie

100th Post – Gratitude

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I can’t believe that this is my 100th blog post! I’ve been mulling it over the past few days and have been trying to come up with something to do and write about for this momentous occasion.

I thought it had to be something epic.

And since it’s to be posted on Wine Wednesday, then it should be about wine, right?

But I changed my mind.

It’s my blog and there really are no rules!

I finally decided that for my hundredth post I would write a list of 100 things for which I’m grateful. So I did. I spent some time getting a rough list together, but realized the post itself need a lot of work. I wanted to include pictures and links and such so that I wouldn’t lose you. I wanted you to gain something from reading the post as well. But giving it that kind of attention would mean you probably wouldn’t see another post from me for another couple of weeks. Truly.

Still, I don’t regret making my list. In fact, it’s a little trick that I use whenever I’ve had a bad day or I’m feeling down. I’ll attempt to write or type this list of gratitude until I get to 100 or until I’m interrupted. If I’m in the car, I’ll say the list out loud, numbering them as I go. I’ve even listed them in my head when waiting in lines or during a run!

It may sound silly, but focusing on all the wonderful things in your life can get your mind off any negative thoughts off your mind. Even if they are the simplest things – like the cold side of your pillow. 😉 So that’s just a little tip from me to you, for whenever you need some cheering up!

But I’m not posting that list for you today. Instead, I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a few weeks.

You see, a bag and flyer were put at our front door this week for a Food Drive to support single moms and children in the community. I’ve decided to participate.

In fact, I’m donating 32 lbs of food for the 32 lbs I’ve lost in the past year.

32 pounds of nonperishable goods for my 32 pounds lost this year {not pictured are some additional boxed meals and pasta}

This is something I knew that I wanted to do since I lost my first pound over a year ago. Here is my chance. Just looking at that picture above gives me a sense of what I accomplished for myself. However, when I lifted the box to put it on the front porch for pick-up, I thought about how long I had carried that extra weight every day. How did I do it?

In any case, I’m happy that I can contribute to a worthy cause. I’m grateful that I don’t have to go hungry, so it’s time to give back.

Name one thing you are grateful for today.

Cheers~

Carrie

Beaverton Tavern – Beaverton, MI

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Who would have guessed that when traveling in Michigan, you can get some of the best-tasting Mexican food in a little tavern in a small town?

I’m using the term “Mexican food” loosely because frankly, in the Midwest, you don’t often find authentic Mexican food, even in many restaurants owned and operated by Mexicans. And I don’t think Tex-Mex is quite accurate as a label either. I’m reading a cookbook titled The Homesick Texan thanks to Kat. By what I’m learning, I don’t think we can truly call all Mexican-American food Tex-Mex. The flavors and cooking techniques in Tex-Mex cuisine are a specialty all their own.

In general, Midwesterners make their Mexican food a little more simply. And while I do like spicy food {hey, this blog isn’t called Season It Already! for nothing}, “Minnesota Spicy” is something quite different. It’s used to refer to mildly spicy food that Minnesotas tend to think are SPICY. Now, I didn’t grow up in this state, but over the years, I’ve come to learn that if spice is on a 5-point scale where 1 = mild, 3 = medium and 5 = hot; Minnesota spicy would probably be equal to a 1.5. 😉 Minnesotans, do I have that one right?

I digress.

This post isn’t about spice or Minnesota.

It’s about nachos… in Michigan.

Nachos have become an American staple in any bar-and-grill-type restaurant in the United States. Wouldn’t you agree? They have evolved into a type of food that has become almost as classically American as a hot dog. {Don’t you see nachos on the menu at every baseball game?}

In any case, every time we go to back to Michigan to visit friends and family, we have to go the The Beaverton Tavern.  We affectionately call it “The BT”. {I have no idea if locals call it this, but we do!}. And we nearly always order the same thing:

Shredded Beef Nachos

Oh how I wish that my pictures turned out better here… But it’s a little dark inside. {Have you ever been in a brightly lit tavern? I didn’t think so.} And apparently I didn’t have my flash on, nor was I paying attention. I was probably too anxious to eat the dang things. You’ll just have to take my word on this one:

These nachos are perfect.

I am not sure that I have ever had better!  No wonder they were voted Mid-Michigan’s Best Nachos & Burritos by WNEM TV 5 Viewers.

The topping-to-tortilla chip ratio is unmatched. I even think nacho guru Kristin of Iowa Girl Eats would approve.

They use real cheese. When it comes to nachos, Rob and I disagree on this one: real cheese vs. cheese sauce. I’m a Wisconsin girl, so I want the real, melty thing. Plus, it’s just better quality! And while Rob argues that the cheese sauce is better and makes true nachos, somehow he can overlook this at The BT. Otherwise, he’d order something else, right? And usually, he won’t share these nachoswith me. But I talked him into it this time around.

Here’s how:

On my very first visit to The BT back in 2004, not knowing about the nacho perfection, I ordered this:

Puerco Flautas: Shredded pork & cheese in flour tortillas, deep fried, covered with a sour cream sauce and served with picante rice & refried beans

Um yeah. There really is nothing healthy going on here, but oh-so-good. That’s why, on this visit, I convinced Rob to split it with me. {Or actually, I ended up having only a couple of bites and he stole the rest… At least he shared the nachos!} It was at the end of that meal that we agreed that all future annual visits will require the splitting of the puerco flautas and the shredded beef nachos at The BT. You know, big life-altering plans and such. I still wonder how they make and keep their shredded pork and beef so juicy! {Maybe I don’t want to know. Naiveté does have its virtues.}

Here’s just another note on Mexican food in Michigan restaurants. You can laugh at me all you want, but I had never heard of the term “Wet Burrito” until I came to Michigan. But they are a common menu item at restaurants I’ve visited throughout the state!

While I assumed that a wet burrito is one that is smothered with a sauce like an enchilada, it wasn’t until I started writing this post that I actually looked it up to be sure. 😉

And one last, completely unrelated sidebar about The BT: They have excellent croutons. My father-in-law likes to ask for an extra side dish of these highly seasoned, saturated pieces of crunchy goodness.

Where have you found the best nachos?

What’s your preference on nachos – real cheese or cheese sauce?

Cheers~
Carrie

Where would you dine in Chicago?

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This fall, my husband, his parents and I are going on a little family adventure to Ireland.

It’ll be a first for Rob and his dad. However, you will hear more about the beautiful Emerald Isle later this fall upon our return. Instead, today I’m going to ask you a little bit about Chicago.

Why? Well, our package to Ireland includes a flight from Chicago to Dublin. And since Rob has never been to Chicago, I thought it might be cool to get there a day or two early so he can check it out.

Chicago Skyline – Source

We’ll be there for a couple of days right around my birthday. And since we have a little birthday dining tradition, I’m looking for suggestions on where I should choose to dine out! I’m looking for a place with high quality, flavorful food {duh! Season It Already! } and ambiance. I want it to be nice for our dinner out, but not stuffy.

I know I’ve heard of restaurants in Chicago that have intrigued me over the past few years, but I’ve never kept track of them. I plan to do a little research online with my trusty friends Trip Advisor {some of our favorite places on our honeymoon to Italy were recommended there} and The Google. Oh! And I’ll check out The Food Network’s archives on The Best Thing I Ever Ate! But I’d love to hear first hand from my readers.

We’ll also need a place to stay. Do you have any hotel recommendations? We aren’t into spending a ton of money just for a place to sleep, but we’d like to be in a safe neighborhood with easy access to public transportation since we won’t have a car. We like small boutique hotels; but again, would also like it to be inexpensive, so we’re okay with a chain, if need be, too.

I’m compiling a list of things we’ll want to do in the less-than-two-full-days we’ll have. And while I know we won’t be able to do them all, they will give us some options from which to choose. Here’s a start:

So my questions for you today are actually requests for recommendations. Whether you’ve been to Chicago, you’ve heard of something incredible to do there, or have to-do items on your Chicago wish list, please give your input! It’s been a while since I’ve been there…

What restaurants would you recommend for a nice dinner out in Chicago?

What other eateries would you recommend for lunch?

Where would you recommend staying mid-week?

What are your not-too-miss attractions or favorite things to do?

Thank you!

Cheers~

Carrie

You can still get an A without all the correct answers…

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Lately, I’ve been reading about the frustrations of people who are in the process of losing weight or of those who have lost weight and are struggling with maintenance. The theme I’m noticing is feelings of guilt for having gotten off track or not having “figured it out” like they thought they had. We’ve all been there. And I know that deep down, these people know that we have good days and bad days, and that they will eventually pick up and move on. Sometimes it just feels good to get it out and confirm that we aren’t the only one experiencing it. Because we aren’t.

We all have days of clarity when we feel triumphant, where everything just clicks. Then we have days of utter confusion. You know those times when you say to yourself, “Why can’t I get this right?!” Jen, a priorfatgirl even called it a “roller coaster of healthiness“.

So I’m writing this on day of clarity, when I feel great and things just make sense. That way, I can come back on a day when I feel confused, defeated or like I’ve failed.

One day not too long ago, when I was out running, this thought popped into my head:

You can still get an A without all the correct answers.

Let me explain.

I was a pretty good student in school. I got A’s in my classes most of the time. {And yes, the plural of the that letter grade does have an apostrophe so as not to be confused with the word as.} 😉

But you know what? I didn’t get every answer on every assignment and test correct. But I still got good grades. I still learned. My teachers did not fail me for not getting every question right.

So why is it that when we decide to lose weight or improve our health we feel like we must carry out every detail of our plan perfectly? Why is it that if we make one mistake or go off our plan we suddenly feel like we’ve failed. Why can’t we just learn from our mistakes and evolve on this trek, like we do with everything else in our lives? We do we feel like we have to start over?

This is one of the problems with “diets”, in my opinion. So many people {myself included} have started and “failed” because we think it’s an all-or-nothing process. We have an optimistic mindset at first, but when we make that first mistake, we consider it “failure”. Instead, we should focus on progress. When it comes to weight loss, it is the downward trend that matters most. It’s changes you make and habits you form for a lifetime that matter, not eating one cupcake after seven days of not doing so. That’s why I’m not on a diet. Instead, I’m learning to make small changes and evolve on this path toward my well-being.

You can still get an A without all the correct answers.

Think about it. If we get one thing wrong in class, we don’t fail. We still learn. And in life, isn’t learning from mistakes the best way to do so? So let me ask you…

When you make a mistake in life, do you start over from scratch again? If you fall down {literally}, do you have to start all over and learn how to walk again, as if you are a baby? No. You already know how to do it. So you just get back up and carry on. This may come back to you from a previous post:


Yes, I am about to hit you with a bunch of inspiring, positive, motivational quotes. But just remember that:

When I was setting goals to earn trips with The Traveling Vineyard, I taught a class on how to do it. I used this analogy: If you are going on a roadtrip across the country and you encounter a roadblock, you don’t just turn around and go home. You’ve come too far! So what do you do? You find another way!

“When you encounter a roadblock, find a dozen ways to get around it and take action.” ~ Unknown

Sure, that may sound great for a long-term goal. However, what if you make that one mistake and it’s just eating you up. Consider this:

“If you miss your exit on the highway, you don’t pull over and just quit. You make a U-turn and come back.” ~ Unknown

Don’t be so quick to fail yourself. Instead, learn from your mistakes, find new ways, adapt and evolve.

Today, I want to know:

In what area of your health would you give yourself an A?

What inspirational and motivational quotes do you love?

Cheers~
Carrie