5.24.2015

Eating our Way Through Las Vegas (and This Weeks Eats 5.24.15)

It's pretty amazing how so many great restaurants and chefs from around the country (the world?) have an outpost in Las Vegas.  Our favorite of all the options, though, is Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico.  The way they do service, atmosphere, and food is exactly what we love for a special occasion meal.  It's fancy, but not pretentious.  

Yes, we are steakhouse people.  Our favorite meal consists of a salad with blue cheese, preferably a wedge:
We also tried the truffle potato chips, even though we were having potatoes with our dinner - they were DIVINE.
Big juicy steaks and huge potatoes:

All washed down with a big bottle of delicious red, preferably a Neuf du Pape:

For our second night out, we knew it'd be a late dinner after our show at Cirque du Soleil got out.  So we went for some tasty Tex Mex at the Border Grill in the Forum Shops at Caesars.  I forgot to snap a pic, but I had the most succulent shrimp stuffed chile rellenos.  

I have always wanted to eat at Rao's in New York City.  I used to buy their jar sauce before I started making my own, and could seriously eat it with a spoon.  My mom had the privilege of eating there and raved about it.  And lo, they opened a Vegas outpost.  The atmosphere was to die for - all white Italian lights and year round Christmas decor.  

We had a cozy booth tucked in the back with a view of all the tables and the lovely fireplace.  We shared a Caesar salad, followed by a simple angel hair with pomodoro, eggplant Parmesan and their famous meatballs.  

Yes, definitely the best meatball I've ever had.  So glad we got to experience Rao's.

I did get in some nutritious eats at lunchtime.  The Canyon Ranch Spa and Cafe was poolside and they had a build your own grain bowl, which was awesome.  My favorite was farro topped with wilted greens, egg and herb dressing.

So, now it's back to slaving over our own meals.  We kinda missed it!
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!

5.22.2015

Vegas Over a Decade Later

First I want to explain the reasoning behind the silly hashtag (#Seandreannivegasry) I came up for the pictures I took on vacation. Some of our friends took to calling my husband and I 'Seandrea' in our youth (I'll let you figure out his name), and we HAD planned to go to Vegas every year on our anniversary - plus, it's a Friends reference, if you didn't catch that.  The idea of Annivegasries was successful on our first and third anniversary, not so much for the other 10 years.  Really, I hardly count the trip on our third anniversary because I was newly pregnant and paranoid with our first child at the time.  So, this getaway was sort of a do over/early celebration of our 13th anniversary.  Again, I'm indebted to the great folks at RAM Racing for honoring this trip I earned, even though the Las Vegas Hot Chocolate race was postponed.  Thanks especially to Josiah! 
convinced him to take a mirror selfie, for posterity
It was pretty darn awesome to be alone with my husband for more than a day, let alone three!  We've both been away from the kids for at least that long, but not together.  (Thankfully, my sister in law's youngest JUST got his driver's license and she had the capacity to take off from her life to fly in from Chicago and stay with our kiddos while hers fended for themselves.)  I never got to missing the kids THAT much (just being real, here) and as soon as we fell into vacation mode, it felt like just yesterday that we were sitting poolside with books and cocktails.  This was the bulk of our trip by choice.  Our priorities were: pool sitting, reading, napping, drinking good cocktails, eating great food and seeing a new Cirque du Soleil show. 


It's a good thing that our priorities have shifted to less emphasis on gambling, sightseeing and, sadly, clubbing.  

the ONE bit of gambling I did - $5 on this hilariously fun Titanic themed slot.
We have certainly changed over the last ten years, but Vegas has also changed like WHOA.  Strolling along the strip and taking in the sights, at least on the weekend, has become like attending the Taste of Chicago - constant crowd navigating.  I was holding on to my husband's hand for dear life quite often.  Though I'm glad we were able to walk everywhere and never needed a cab, staying at the Venetian.  I've stayed at SO many hotels in Vegas and this one is my new favorite, up there with The Bellagio.  All the rooms are suites:


It's also huge, but I found it easy to navigate.  And it was easy to get chairs at the pool, a treadmill at the gym (yes, I put in a mile every day), and a Coffee Bean treat to start the day.  We did some strolling the first day, checking out the newer hotels and then spent the rest of the afternoons reading by the pool.

Fantastic new (to me) architecture seen on our stroll

For the evening hours, I did buy tickets to see Tiesto at Hakkasan for Saturday night.  But we thought we'd play it by ear, because we're many years removed from our days of seeing live DJs.  Another thing that's changed in Vegas is the emergence of these massive clubs with big name residencies like Tiesto and Calvin Harris that can, and do, pack in thousands of people.  I remember maybe waiting in a line for a half an hour, tops, if you already had line passes for the well known clubs back in the day.  Now?  Oh MAN, even if you bought tickets ahead of time, the line was the length of a football field.  Thankfully we figured this out as we were leaving our dinner at Ceasar's and passed the people waiting to get into Omnia (a sister club to Hakkasan) and realized what an absolute cluster the whole process was - even if you had paid already.  

also seen at Ceasars!
Then, because there are so many more damn people in Vegas nowadays, the lines for cabs were just ridiculous.  We decided to ditch the tickets and go to some of the establishments in our hotel for drinking, people watching and reminiscing on the days we could just hand over a ticket and enjoy good music without hassle.

But first, a must whenever in Vegas
There's definitely even more emphasis to get your drank on in Vegas nowadays. In addition to the the traditional bright plastic yard of margaritas, there are all sorts of shapes and sizes for your drink on the go: guitars, replica Eiffel Towers, ducks!?  And there are so many bars peppered into every single nook and cranny of the strip.  What used to be a quaint little gift shop outside Paris is now the Paris Liquor Store.  I did imbibe a frozen concoction while on the strip, sitting at a table at O'Shea's - because I HAD to try a frozen Baileys!  Mostly, we did our part to contribute to the all Spring Break, all the time mentality at the aforementioned excellent establishments at our hotel.  I highly recommend Yardbird, Public House and the cocktail lounge at Delmonico.   
So many yummy concoctions
If you're a fan of Brew Dogs, they have the 5a.m. Saint at Public House
Even though our potential club outing was a bust, Cirque du Soleil is ALWAYS a sure bet (as is dining out, but I'll recap that separately).  I've seen most of the Cirque shows in Vegas, O at The Bellagio being my all time favorite.  But, Love at The Mirage opened just after our last trip back in 2006.  I knew it would be the show I'd book tickets for as soon as we went back.  It was just fantastic, and indescribable, as all their shows are.  You just have to go see it.  Here's a youtube trailer, to give you an idea.

And after the show, my husband reminded me that he has never seen Mystere - the original Vegas Cirque production.  Even though I've seen it at least three times, I'm thinking we have to back so that he can see it!  Even though we've both changed a lot over the years (let's take a moment to look at this 20 year old pic again) 

I've spent more time in Las Vegas than any other city, apart from Seattle and Chicago.  I still love it dearly and know that we'll be reunited again one day...  








      

5.14.2015

Birthday and Mother's Day Great Wolf Lodge Shenanigans

Nope, no menu planning this week - or next week!  It's just too crazy, y'all.  We got back from this year's birthday/Mother's Day trip to the Great Wolf Lodge and are turning around to go to Vegas!  But I had to make some time to recap our little getaway for posterity, complete with photo dump and a couple of new lessons learned at the Lodge.



For a while there, I wasn't sure if I was going to make it along for the festivities - after hot yoga last Wednesday, I couldn't seem to cool down and felt really drained.  I ended up with a massively sore throat on Thursday and a fever that kept ratcheting up to about 102 until it finally broke on Saturday morning.  Ugh!  I was able to rest and rally by the time we left the next day.  But now I am SUPER PARANOID that my husband is going to fall ill on our first vacay together in eight years.  Send healthy thoughts, please and thank you.

This year, our room wasn't ready at check in and we begrudgingly used the locker rooms.  We were very pleasantly surprised!  The lockers were super easy to use.  The changing rooms were clean and it was nice to get the kids showered in there when we were done, so that we could take our time in the room to shower while the kids played around in the bunk beds.  

Also new this year, not only did baby girl sleep in her bed like a champ - she was tall enough to go on all the slides except the Howlin' Tornado which I really don't like anyway!  It was so, so fun to all get into a raft together and go down the River Canyon ride as a family.  I also went as many times as possible in the two person rafts on the smaller tube slides with baby girl.  But, like our last visit, both kids are just drawn to the wave pool.  I remembered to bring our goggles this time, so this was less annoying for me - trying not to get smacked in the face and lose my contacts.  Plus, my oldest is a much more skilled swimmer, so it was also less stressful.  Again, for the littles - no need to bring a life vest, they have PLENTY there for them to use.

As for food, we were excited have another nice dinner at the on site restaurant.  However they changed it up (it's now The Wood Fired Grill) and the steak my husband ordered wasn't as good as last year, and my sandwich was just ok.  The kids enjoyed their dinners and scored free birthday cupcakes.  



I think next visit, we'll drive to McMenamins for dinner and just catch the 9pm clock tower show.  One of the reasons I was hesitant to do so this time was because we might miss the 8pm story hour.  Honestly, my kids only pay attention to the clock tower show and don't care to muscle their way to the front in order to hear the reading that comes after.  Plus, the later show is much less crowded.  
  

Another good food tip I was given for this trip: buy a breakfast buffet voucher when booking your stay and you save at least $10-15.  It's $40 for a breakfast voucher for two adults and two kids.  Lastly, I ordered a venti icewater at the Starbucks (yes, thankfully, there's one on site), and they charged me .71 cents.  Normally, WHAT?  But, refills were free.  This was a WAY cheaper and faster way to refill my water bottle than the $2.50 Dasani bottles for sale.

One fun thing we learned while letting the kids play with their Kindles while waiting for story hour to start, was that it automatically connected them to the internet (no big deal, we have the Free Time app on them) and they could play Minecraft with other kids at the resort.  My boy struck up a conversation with a kid nearby and within minutes they were playing in each other's worlds.  

Speaking of electronic gaming, we decided to drop the cash on wands and a MagiQuest game for the 8 year old.  In the end, I'm glad we did.  But just know, that getting every 'rune' in the first level will take you at least THREE HOURS.  YES.  Which is okay I guess, because we love the water park, but cannot face it on day two.  Day two is for a leisurely breakfast, magic wands and driving home.  I just expected to be on the road a LOT sooner.  



Thankfully, we got to accomplish the Dragon adventure!  I really wish I had turned on my Garmin to see how many miles I got in running up and down all those stairs.  Alas, I still did my mile run after we got home.

Overall, we always have SUCH a fun time together and I have no problem celebrating Mother's Day at the lodge.  We are even contemplating an extra trip sometime in the fall as a surprise for the kids...




5.07.2015

My Favorite Overdrive and Library Tips (and Books I Read in April 2015)

Before I jump into the books I read in April, I have to give my local library system a shout out.  I touched on how awesome it is when I posted about how to find new books to read.  I could go on and on about how fantastic the King County Library System is (it's like Redbox for books!), but I'll refrain and just urge my local yokels to USE THE LIBRARY.  NEVER BUY BOOKS AGAIN!  I have not spent money on a book (for myself, anyway) in years.  Here are a couple tips that have helped me out over the years to get the books I want, when I want them.  
The beautiful Seattle Public Library visit during The Blathering last month.
First, if I learn of a book I really want to read that's yet to be published, I immediately start a search on the library's website.  As soon as the library orders copies of a book, you can put a hold on one.  With highly anticipated ones, they usually order many copies.  So, if I get in the queue early, I'll most likely get the book within a few days of it's release.

Another tip for locals: the 'choice reads' section is a goldmine.  There are usually popular titles on these shelves readily available.  No waiting on a hold because they aren't filed in the system by the author/title, but rather by a unique choice reads of the month code.  This is also very handy if you find something that you want to read, but have a huge stack to get through at home.  You can go ahead and pick it up since holds can't be placed on choice reads.  Therefore, you can renew away!  Well, for three months like any other book.

I snatched up Queen of the Tearling from this shelf, as it's been in my to-read list for awhile.  

My best tip is handy for both hard copy AND ebooks on Overdrive.  (If you have not started borrowing ebooks from your library, OMG WHY!??  Here's a very handy tutorial from Janssen at Everyday Reading on how to get started.)  Put as many books as you can on hold and then SUSPEND the hold.  Even if you suspend your holds, you still move up in the queue!  Then when you're ready for some new books, take off the suspension and voila - you're book should be ready for you within a few days.  I did this with a number of ebooks over the last few months and just took a few off suspend in order to have a nice stack of e-reading for our Vegas trip next week!

On to the books I read last month:

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How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

The main character Johanna (alter ego Dolly Wilde), while perhaps being a bit hyper realistic, is absolutely unforgettable.  Big hearted, crazy, hilarious and insecure, she reminds me a bit of a teenage Bridget Jones if she were to be the young reporter in Almost Famous.  It's a supremely witty and heartfelt coming of age story, full of so many quotes that resonated.  I think it's the first time I ever took a picture of the text in a book.  Loved it.


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Atlantia by Ally Condie

I enjoyed Condie's Matched trilogy, so I thought I'd give this a go.  It started out really cool.  It parallels one of my all time favorite YA books: The City of Ember.  Full of wonderful imagery, I could very clearly picture this underwater society.  I was sucked into the intrigue of the story until the last quarter of the book.  Then it got a bit 'woo-woo', with too much unexplained magic.  I'm down with magic and fantasy (obviously, or I wouldn't have picked up the book).  But the way it's employed just seemed to quickly wrap things up to a slapdash conclusion.

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Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach

Yeah, so this came across to me like a mash up of Running With Scissors and The Great Gatsby.  Weird and emotionally unavailable characters - to each other as well as the reader.  Even though I enjoyed the aforementioned books, I just really didn't care about anyone in this novel.  The beginning is promising, with what seems will be a murder-mystery plot.  However, that doesn't really get addressed until the last tenth of the book in a convoluted way.  At several points I thought, eff this book - I'm gonna stop reading.  But it was short enough to muddle through.  I know lots of people found this to be a triumph, but I think they are the same people that love Donna Tartt.  So, if that's you - read Life Among Giants!

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I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Much like If I Stay (which I LOVED along with it's sequel - Where She Went), this novel really delves into the subject of life and death.  Definitely a heavy read, as the main character Cody is mourning the loss of her friend who committed suicide.  The pace was quick, as it read like a mystery while Cody learned that she didn't know everything about her best friend.  But, as much as I love Gayle Forman's books (see also the Just One Day books) it felt a bit flat. 

5.03.2015

Kitchen Sink Breakfast Cookies (and This Weeks Eats 5.3.15)

Since February, I've been methodically going through different breakfast cookie recipes.  Most of them are either too blah and banana-y or really good, but should be saved for dessert.  I tried my best to come up with something that balanced both: I want to enjoy it like a cookie, but know that it's packed with good stuff.  I ended up using a LOT of ingredients to achieve this perfect breakfast cookie, hence the name.
Also worth noting, I used a chocolate peanut butter in this batch, so they're a bit darker brown.
The recipe yields 16 good sized cookies.  They can get a bit damp and sponge-y in the fridge or on the counter, even if you keep them in an airtight container.  So after they've cooled, I just freeze them in a big Ziploc bag and pop one in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Added bonus, who doesn't love a warm cookie?  
about to go in the oven

Kitchen Sink Breakfast Cookies
(makes about 12-16 cookies)

1 large egg
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 medium ripe bananas
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons nut butter of your choice
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix-ins should equal a cup or so.  Here's the combination I use, but you can change it up however you like with different dried fruit, nuts, etc.

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup shredded coconut
2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix flour, almond meal, oats, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and flaxseed together.  Set aside.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, whisk egg and sugar together until smooth. Add in vanilla and bananas - I just throw them in whole and let them get mashed in the mixer.  Add the melted and cooled butter, honey and nut butter.  Mix until combined.

Gradually add in dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Lastly, put in your 'mix-ins' like the chocolate chips, dried cranberries, walnuts, coconut and sesame seeds.  drop dollops (about 1/4 cup each) of batter onto a nonstick baking sheet or silpat mat, placing them about an inch apart. Bake for 12 minutes, or until set and lightly golden around the edges.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

This weeks eats:
As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!

5.01.2015

May Goals and April Recap

April Recap

Start birthday prep for the kiddos
The trip to the Great Wolf Lodge has been booked, the birthday dinner at Red Robin will go down this weekend, presents have been procured and I've got one birthday playdate done, one to set up.  I'm feeling on top of it!  Whew.

Get Easter Baskets
I went with a summer toy theme and their baskets were actually big sand pails with shovels, bubbles, chalk, sunglasses, and CANDY.  And some candy for me, natch.

Fill up our spring break
Man, it already feels like a million years ago, but we managed.  Lots of time at the Y, the park, a few nature hikes. 
(spotting Trillium on the Trillium trail)
and an outing to Elevated Sportz!
video

Enjoy The Blathering!
NAILED IT.

Keep up with my running schedule
Running didn't go quite according to plan, as I woke up with a wonky feeling in my back and leg after a killer bootcamp class a few weeks ago.  Maybe it was my first attempt at one-armed burpees?  Oof.  Whatever it was, I decided to take it easy for a bit and saw my chiro a few times.  I feel perfectly fine and just got back to a long run of 7 miles last week, 7.5 today, so I'm getting back to the routine.  But, I'm not really doing full-on speed workouts.  Just the long run and tempo for a little while longer.

May Goals

Get stuff for Teacher Appreciation Week
Our school makes it easy and gives an option for appreciating the teachers each day.  One day the kids can write a note or bring a flower, on another they can wear his/her favorite color or bring a school supply, etc.  

Execute birthday fun!
Organize, pack, get the dog ready and off to boarding, etc. before the Great Wolf trip.

Prepare and pack for VEGAS OMG
I must make a packing list before packing!  (I didn't do this before my mere one night downtown for The Blathering and totally forgot a USB plug adapter.  Thankfully I did have the cord for my iPhone and a nice man at the front desk gave me an extra adapter.)  Also schedule and do all those things one does before going on a toes, skin and bikini baring trip.  And I have to write down everything my sister-in-law will need to know, from getting the kids to school to what setting the toaster should be at for waffles ('cuz if that's wrong, woe!).  Lastly - get Kindle loaded up, awwww yeah!  

Complete a year long Run Streak!
I think running while in Vegas will be harder than it was to run while being really ill, but Memorial Day will be a whole year - the day after, 365 days, hopefully to be celebrated with running peeps!

Recover from Vegas and run the Brooks Trailhead 15K
Oh man.  I had toyed with the idea of trying to come close to my 15K PR on this same course.  But, after ramping things down last month and the Vegas trip, I think I'm just going to utilize it as a (super awesome) long run. 

Take the car in for scheduled maintenance
If only to turn off the little notification that greets me every time I start my car.

4.28.2015

The Blathering

I had a hard time explaining The Blathering to my friends that don't really read blogs, or aren't on Twitter - yes, those people exist!  'So, it's a blogging conference?' Well, no.  Here's the gist, from the website:

The Blathering was born in 2009, when a group of friends wanted a blogging conference without the sessions and networking. We simply think every blogger needs a little face-to-face time with her best blogging friends in a no pressure environment.
Each year the Blathering picks a new and fun location and organizes a casual itinerary that mainly revolves around a lot of great conversation and good food. Most importantly, everyone is welcome to the Blathering — seasoned blogger or internet newcomer. If you think that doesn’t mean you, it does. Join us!

I've followed a number of these gals for YEARS. (I mean, not terribly long after meeting Jen Lancaster and following her blog over ten years ago.)  Much, much later, when I started this blog, I thought about maybe going to and finally meeting some of them.  And lo, Seattle was the city chosen last year and I JUMPED on the opportunity to join in the fun.

I'm so thankful that I was able to connect with so many different people and expand my circle of internet buddies.  Everyone was very inclusive, contrary to the bad rap that women are catty bitches.  (And certainly, I've met one or two since blogging - but they are just few and far between.)  As with Bird Camp, my 'pocket friends' inevitably end up being awesome people in 'real life.'  And the organizers are so welcoming, almost to a fault.  I mean, if I were planning a yearly get together with MY best friends, I don't know if I'd open it up for dozens of others to join in!  But that's just what these amazing ladies do every single year, organizing one hella entertaining weekend for old and new friends to enjoy.  Thank you Jennie, Elizabeth, Maggie and Emily, from the bottom of my heart!
me and Jennie
Okay, so here's the minutiae of my weekend for posterity (and some good ideas for your next visit to Seattle).  I thought I'd save some cash (and a few brain cells) by abstaining from draaanks and driving to events the first day.  For lunch I had my first meal at Etta's and finally tried Tom Douglas' signature coconut cream pie.  It was lovely, but I hold firm that his fresh donuts at Dahlia Lounge are the best dessert in town.  After going home to relieve my husband of sick kid duty for a few hours, because OF COURSE, I headed on over to Maggie's house for our catered dinner and gift exchange!  So much fun and I was so glad to finally try her bakery's treats.

On day two I packed my bag, kissed the kids' slightly less feverish heads goodbye and headed straight for our first activity of the day: eating dim sum like it was my JOB.  Afterwards, we headed over to the Seattle Public Library, which I have walked by a bunch of times and taken pictures of when I was a visiting tourist.  However, I've never set foot inside.  I know.



So gorgeous.  I also perused the books, because I could certainly check out a book.  The King County Library System is awesome that way - kinda like Redbox, I can hold or return books to/from any library in the system.  Alas, I figured it would be a pain to carry a book around all day.  Then we moseyed over to the Columbia Center and the Sky View Observatory.  Again, a destination I had not yet visited in Seattle.  Oh, and I have failed to mention, this whole time, this whole weekend, the city decided to show off and give us a clear, sunny and warm summer-like weekend.  The views were awesome and all the mountains were out.



I then enjoyed a nice stroll around the market and went to go check into my hotel.  By the time I made a decision on what night to stay downtown, the room rate for our group was sold out at the Waterfront Marriott.  But, I was glad to get a lovely room at The Moore Hotel - a really affordable (like $100 for the night) boutique hotel attached to the Moore Theater.



After a quick shower, I enjoyed the silence and chillaxed like a BOSS:
(A Caffe D'arte across the street from the hotel was CLUTCH, and yes I put on my pjs in the afternoon for lounging.)

At the dinner hour, I headed over to meet everyone at the Steelhead Diner.  Very tasty food and YUMMY cocktails.



I also tried a Moscow Mule at Rachel's Ginger Beer before finishing up the night at Kells Irish Pub and eventually the lobby of the Marriott, which was HOPPIN' on a Saturday night at nearly 1 o'clock in the AM.  Seriously!



And there was, of course, much laughter, hi jinks and bonding with really, really awesome people.  They announced that next year will be in VEGAS, of all places!  Even though I'm going next month, I might just try and finagle it...