What Valentine’s Day Means to Me


For some, Valentine’s Day is a day to express your love to that special person in your life. This can be with romantic gestures, thoughtful gifts or over a nice meal.

For others, it is an even bigger, annoying reminder of their singlehood.

Some consider it just a Hallmark holiday that has been fabricated; so there is no reason to celebrate at all.

Some parents love to shower their kids with heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast or candy as a treat.

But often it’s just the pressure to find the right gift.

I’ve experienced Valentine’s Day in all of these ways.

My feelings about this holiday have run the gamut, despite the fact that I’ve had some perfectly loving, giddy, Hallmark-style ones.

When I started dating my husband Rob, I told him that we didn’t need to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I was at a point in my life where I felt that it was a holiday for men {yes, specifically men; how sexist of me!} who never did anything for their significant others throughout the year. He was surprised. He told his friends. They said I was lying, that I’d still expect something. But I meant it. And he respected my wishes.

That was 13 years ago.

Over the years, we tried to find ways to get around Valentine’s Day because we like to dine out and and Valentine’s Day is one of the the worsts days to do that. It’s such a bad value and the menus are often limited. Everything is overpriced!

Within the last couple of years though, I’ve almost started to regret my snubbing of cupid’s holiday. I thought a little romantic gesture would be nice. I didn’t want a grand ordeal, just something unexpected and special.

But none of that matters; because last year, things changed.

We were in a terrible rollover accident last February 14th that left us shaken and grateful to be alive. I still have flashbacks of the event and some anxiety driving and even riding along.

Today is our day that we thankful to be alive. To be grateful that we have each other. Instead of poo-pooing Valentine’s Day this year, do something nice for yourself or a loved one. Schedule a massage. Call a parent. Do one little thing for your spouse. Send flowers to a friend. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a today. Pick any day… any day that means something to you. Or better yet, any day when you are really feeling ALIVE and are grateful to be so.

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?

And guess what? Rob and I are going to indulge in one of the cheesy Valentine’s Day dinners tonight! In fact, last year, we were en route from IKEA to Burger Jones for lunch; but didn’t make it. We will get there this year for some burgers and a bottle of Dom.




I’ve been a soup kick lately, if only because my husband is!

To be quite honest, I was just looking for a way to use up all my leftover ingredients from an Egg Roll Bowl recipe, I made out of the Skinnytaste Fast and Slow cookbook. I had a lot of bok choy and Napa cabbage to use! I found this Asian Chicken Soup recipe, but substituted my leftover pork from the Egg Roll Bowls. It was a winner in my book when it comes to using up leftover ingredients that I don’t want to waste!


Asian Chicken Ground Pork Soup

And for the last of the cabbage I attempted to make this Healthy Chicken Ramen Bowl.


Healthy Chicken Ramen Bowl

Okay, so that’s not a pretty picture. The egg didn’t come out soft-boiled like I’d expected; but I like hard-boiled eggs, so I didn’t mind! My chicken came out tough. But the broth was oh-so-flavorful!

Then more recently, after I broke one of my favorite beautiful bowls (WAH!) that you see in the photos above, I made this Swamp Soup.


Swamp Soup

A more traditional Swamp Soup is made with andouille and collard greens; but Beth from Budget Bytes says she called it this because it just looks swampy with the spinach floating around in it. When Rob kept raving over this soup, it was a WIN for me. This means we’ve got a soup chock full of all the veggies we normally don’t get enough of and we can also control the sodium.

We used sharp cheddar instead of the Swiss and it was wonderful. This one is going into our recipe arsenal. I scaled the servings down to six instead of the suggested eight, but that may make too big of a bowl! I think I’d do the 8 servings next time and just freeze a bunch. It comes together really quickly, especially if you just chop all the veg the night before.

Since we’ve been making more soups lately, I liked Beth’s suggestion to freeze any leftover carrots or celery for future soups. I always end up with so many leftover carrots and celery stalks when I actually buy them for a specific dish. This sounds like such a simple and obvious solution; but to me, it’s genius.

Here are some other soups we are hoping to try in the coming weeks:

What is your favorite soup recipe? We’d love suggestions!


5 Books I’ve Been Reading


Yeah, one day I’ll get off the books on Fridays. It just seems this is where they fall… Here are the five latest books I’ve finished.

The Couple Next Door 
by Shari Lapena
 (fiction) – toss up


I listened to the audio version of this book. I found the narrator’s voice a bit annoying; but really, it probably worked for the genre. It was entertaining, but not something I’d say is a must read that you need to go and check out immediately. I liked it enough to finish it, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Maybe reading over listening to this one would have been different for me.


Love Poems
by Nikki Giovanni
 (poetry) – worth a read if you like poetry


As usual, unless it is a personal friend who has recommended a book, I can’t figure out where I got the idea to it. To be honest, I don’t always “get” poetry. Many of these poems seemed very personal to the author, too. So it almost felt like I was the odd one out. But, there were a few I really enjoyed. And sometimes, I imagined them being put to music and that made those seem a bit more enjoyable, too. Because isn’t that what songs are – poems set to music?


by Tina Fey
 (non-fiction) – worth a read/listen


I love listening to comedians’ books on audio; so this was no different! It passed the time nicely on commute, Fey forcing me to laugh out loud more than once. I especially liked her section on photoshopping. She compares it to make-up, that we all want to see the best version of ourselves. And that magazines aren’t fooling anyone, so what’s the harm? The only one fooled is your 80-year-old grandma who thinks that really is Sarah Palin posing with a machine gun in an American flag bikini. Fey also predicts that we’ll one day be touching up all of our own photos of ourselves. This book was published in 2011. Um, yes, you were right, Tina. You were definitely right.


They May Not Mean To, But They Do
by Cathleen Schine
 (fiction) – worth a read


This book is a work of art; but I had a hard time reading it – not because of style of writing or a lack of plot – but because of the content. I didn’t want to pick it up again and endure the lives of the characters. I didn’t want to feel what it’s like to age and or for your kids to mean well, but not really come through the way you might have hoped.

I read this book described somewhere as a “different kind of coming-of-age story”. Coming-of-old-age, that is. Although it is inevitable for us all, I don’t want to think what this will be like when my own parents and in-laws get to those stages, nor do I like thinking about what it will be like for me. Schine features both perspectives here. I was a bit overrun with emotions reading this.


The Dead
by James Joyce
 (fiction) –Hmmm…



I don’t always do well with the classics or what feels like overly-flowery language to me. However, I think watching Downton Abbey helped set me up for something written in such times past. I’ve never read Joyce before and I’ve learned that this is actually the last short story in the book Dubliners. Although it was a fine story illustrating what may have been life during these times in Dublin, I wasn’t sure where it was going… and per the usual, I didn’t really think much of the ending. But an ending I love is quite rare.


Is there a book that was difficult for you to read, but you still enjoyed and appreciated it?


Modist Brewing


Happy Thirsty Thursday!

It’s been a while, but we finally hit a new {to us} brewery!


We were unsure how to pronounce Modist Brewing, but we were schooled as we walked in the door.


On this lovely weekend afternoon, we were able to pull up two stools to the bar. I knew very little about this brewery, except that I’d been hearing about it a lot as of late. I was surprised by the unique offerings!


Now you know I like something unique and a little special when I visit a brewery. On these occasions, I’m not one for an everyday IPA, porter or stout that I can get anywhere. I want something with character. But these combinations just seemed a bit off to me:

  • Oatmeal Pale Ale
  • Salted Caramel Lager
  • Juicy Hoppy Wheat Ale
  • Cold Press Coffee Lager
  • Oatmeal Wheat Stout

What the what?!modist-note

Okay, so this is what they do. Because I was really unsure of what direction to follow {I love salted caramel and coffee, but hate lagers; I like traditional wheats, but in a stout?!}, I had to ask for some recommendations.


Left to Right: Deviation 003 Oatmeal Wheat Stout, Wasteland Dark Rye “IPA”, Smoove Salted Caramel Lager, Wasteland Dark Rye “IPA”

In the end, I sampled the Deviation 003 Oatmeal Wheat Stout and the Wasteland Dark Rye “IPA” {why the IPA is in quotes, I have no idea}. Rob ordered the Smoove Salted Caramel Lager without tasting it. {I was surprised! He doesn’t like lagers either; but nothing salted caramel has ever sucked, has it?!} He thought he liked my sample of the Dark Rye “IPA”, so he ordered that instead and gave me the SC Lager because I couldn’t make up my mind. We weren’t in love. We weren’t even in like. We left the place with our glasses half-empty – maybe literally and figuratively.

I know it’s ingenious, even ballsy to want to try something different from the norm. But for us, these beers just didn’t sound good, nor did the ones we tasted really work.

Modist Brewing is in the North Loop area of Minneapolis. They are also proud of their teal floor {in the brewing area}.

Well, friends, we did the research for you. So we know we’ll be sticking to our usual-ish tour when our next out-of-town guests visit!

Have you had any strange beers lately?


5 Incredible Experiences in the Twin Cities


Not too long ago my wonderful Wineaux friend Katie, started a blog called Zen Life and Travel. Like me, she’s passionate about travel. She blogs about how to do so more often by accumulating points and miles and by living through experiences instead of things. She has lots of great tips that got me back to accumulating more miles so that we can go back to Australia next year!

I recently wrote a guest post for her blog on 5 Incredible Experiences in the Twin Cities.

Check it out. While there, be sure to sign up for Katie’s weekly newsletter for more tips and tricks!

Name one thing you recommend out-of-town guests to do when they visit.



Some of the Best Food I’ve Had in a Long Time…


I haven’t been writing much on the blog about the restaurants we’ve been visiting. There are several reasons for this, but rather than bore you with them, I’d just like to jump back on that wagon… because last weekend I had some of the best food that I’ve had in long time!

Wise Acre Eatery

This south Minneapolis restaurant has been on my wishlist for quite some time. I know that farm-to-table is kind of an over-used phrase these days; but the intention behind this one is real. They have their own farm in Minnesota that sources nearly all the ingredients on the menu.

It came up because my husband and I wanted a weekend breakfast, but I know he’s not a huge fan of brunch (typically when it’s a buffet). I did a few searches and when I found Wise Acre Eatery with a burger on the menu, I knew it was a win!

We arrived just after opening and were quickly seated to a table. We normally sit at the bar, but it just didn’t feel right on this occasion. But they do have one! I had a nice view of the kitchen from my seat. We really loved the ambiance.


Per my usual, I had a difficult time deciding. We read that WAE is known for their bacon. But by the looks of the menu, it didn’t seem like there’d be a bad choice!


I was completely intrigued by the Chili Platter! It’s nothing I’d normally associate with brunch. I considered ordering it, but was also feeling eggs… So in the end, I went with the special of the day risotto special of the day.


For the record, Rob ordered the ^^Apple Lemon Verbena Soda on that specials board and loved it!

Lilac Risotto - with crispy ham hock

Lilac Risotto with crispy ham hock, parmesan cheese, butter blanched peas and a poached egg. Served with a grilled baguette topped with honey lilac butter – $16

You Guys. This was the best risotto of my life. It was perfect. Creamy, cheesy, buttery with the nice crisp of the hearty greens, a drippy runny egg to stir in, peas that pop in your mouth. Oh and that baguette! I wanted another, perfectly grilled with a smear of lilac butter. I wish it were always on their menu. But alas, that changes… for good reason. Remember? They source their own ingredients and are therefore seasonal, silly.

Rob did {surprise! surprise!} go with the burger. He did seriously consider the risotto and the some of the other items on the menu, though!


Royal Brie and Bacon Burger – 1/3 lb Scottish Highland beef, farm fries and WAE housemade ketchup

Gorgeous, no? Overall, Rob thought the burger was okay. {Though he was jealous of my risotto after one bite!} He didn’t think it was seasoned very well. My bite didn’t have any brie, although it was a small portion that was beautifully whipped! I also found the bun, although nicely toasted, to be a bit bread-y, over-taking the flavor of the burger. That bacon though – insane. I’d say it’s more like pork belly. It probably is, I just don’t know about these things.

Those fries though! Rob said some of the most underrated fries in the Twin Cities. {If we’d ever update his best fries list, I imagine they’d make it!} The homemade ketchup had a flavor that I couldn’t put my finger on; but I wasn’t fond of it. No matter. The fries didn’t need them and we rarely eat ketchup anyway.

I boxed up the rest of my risotto because I was quite full. But Rob insisted on the dessert menu. Since I didn’t take a photo of that menu, here is the back of the regular menu that lists the desserts as well:


Rob was ogling over the Shake Diane; but the dessert menu had dessert beverages on it as well. That was when Rob ordered himself a glass of white port, but only after I ordered this, making me feel really guilty!


Chocolate Cupcake with housemade ganache

This cupcake was a chocolate-lover’s dream. It was moist and decadent. I guess I was just hoping it wasn’t a dried out cupcake sitting around in their display case! It most certainly wasn’t. We went home with full bellies and a desire to return… sooner than later!

What’s the best Special of the Day that you’ve ever had?

{Maybe one you wish they’d bring back!}


5 for Friday: What I’m *Not* Reading Right Now


One of the ways I got back into my love of reading, was by finally telling myself that I didn’t have to finish a book I wasn’t enjoying. I know that seems obvious, but somehow I just felt like I had to finish everything I picked up. Which meant that I was probably holding on to one book for several months without moving on to anything else. Now, if I open a book that was recommended and find out that it’s not for me, I promptly return it to the library. I have so much more wonderful reading in my queue!

There are several reasons I might abandon a book:

  • It’s not keeping my attention.
  • It’s not my style.
  • The timing is off. (I may pick it up sometime later.)

There are several books I’ve not finished (or even started, once they were in my hands):

Here is a list of the books that I most recently abandoned and why:

Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind
by Dan Charnas
 (non-fiction) – DNF


Oh boy, do I love the concept of this book! In cooking, mise-en-place, French for put in place or, in the cooking world, everything in it’s place, is rule #1. It means to gather all of your ingredients and equipment and get everything ready and prepped before beginning. I think I could figure out how to put this to use in real life. However, just opening this book overwhelmed me! All of the theory behind it and charts in this 300-page book with small print. No, thank you.


Bad Dogs Have More Fun: Selected Writings on Family, Animals, and Life from The Philadelphia Inquirer
by John Grogan
 (non-fiction) – DNF


The title of this book Bad Dogs Have More Fun is misleading, as is the cover. I thought it was a book on dogs written by John Grogan, the author of Marley and Me. However, I missed the little subtitle: Selected Writing on Family Animals, and Life from the Philadelphia Inquirer. These are the reprinting of Grogan’s articles from the publication. Only about 1/3 of them are about dogs. The other articles aren’t connected to “bad dogs” in anyway. Still, some of those stories are still heart-warming. But, in the end, I just abandoned it.


Swell: A Girl’s Guide to the Good Life
by Cynthia Rowley, Ilene Rosenzweig
 (non-fiction) – DNF


Who the hell recommended this for me?! I don’t know why I ordered this from PaperbackSwap.com. The cover may look from 1955, but it was written in 1999. Still, this book is not for me. I was just turned off by it! Maybe I’ll return to it in the future, but reading how to take a frozen dish and dress it up to make it look like homemade for a dinner party… Those kinds of things just bugged me. It might be a right place, right time sort of thing and maybe I’ll get some other sort of tip out of something later in the book. But for now, blech! I have an extra copy if anyone wants it! 🙂


Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living
by Shauna Niequist
 (non-fiction) – DNF


I had this book on my library hold list for a long time. I couldn’t wait to read it. But I got stuck along the way. Yes, I could relate to Niequist’s impossible search for the end of the never-ending to-do list as well as many of her other challenges; although I will always state that it’s much harder as a parent, which I am not. This book is more a memoir than a how-to book. If you are in a place where you are frantic and caught up in the busy-ness of life and want to find a way to slow down, make peace and live life rather than just do it, this book might be fore you. I think I abandoned it about 1/3 of the way through because I understood her point and I’ve been working on it my own way. I’m still looking forward to Niequist’s book Bread and Wine, which another blogger once listed as her favorite book of the year.


Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck
by Thug Kitchen
 (cookbook) – DNF


I love this no-nonsense potty-mouth way of getting down to the nitty-gritty. Stop eating crap and start living healthfully. It’s not rocket science. I found this book because I followed a link to the blog one day. I read the book’s entire introduction and loved the concept… up until I realized this was a vegan cookbook. I have no problem with the vegan lifestyle. It’s just not for me. I’m sure I could have found a recipe or two that I’d like. I often take recipes from the paleo cookbooks and I’m not paleo either. But instead, I abandoned the cookbook completely, returning it so I could pick up some guidebooks for my next trip.


Lesson learned… Slow down! When finding recommended books on websites, read the synopses and decide if you really want it on your “to-read” list. You may be able to weed out more duds. However, there will always be those you’ll just abandon because it’s not the right time, you’re not in the right mood or it’s not keeping your attention.

And that’s okay.

What book(s) have you abandoned and why?