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31 May

I’m not sure if it was that we left the blinds open or the feather pillows, but I couldn’t sleep worth a damn on Friday night, and woke up bright and early Saturday morning. With E still fast asleep and breakfast not being available for another 3 hours, I headed down to the hotel gym for an early morning swim. I was shocked at how small the pool was! At most, it was 15×10, with the deep end being 5 ft. I swam a few laps, but after 20 minutes I was totally bored, and without being able to tread or do pull-ups, I headed back up to our room.

Post-“workout” snack” – 1/2 each of a Bartlett pear and a gala apple, plus some Barney Butter. E wanted to eat the pear without cutting it, so I had to wait for him to finishing munching on his half before he’d cut up mine – silly boy!

I got a couple of packets of Barney Butter right before we headed out of town, so this was the perfect time to give it a try!

-very smooth consistency
-made in a completely peanut-free factory
-low in sodium and sugar
-comes in both jars and single-serving packets
-roasted peanut flavor

-hard to find in brick-and-mortar stores
-unlike MaraNatha which contains only almonds, Barney Butter also contains evaporated cane juice, palm fruit oil and sea salt. While the additives are natural, I don’t know that they’re necessary.
-very similar consistency and mouth feel to peanut butter, which is evidenced by E, Mr. PB himself, liking Barney Butter when he’s never like any other nut butter before. Great if you love PB, not so much when you don’t.

I’d definitely buy the single-serve packets because they’re super-portable and great for traveling, but when it comes to jars, I’m sticking with my MaraNatha – sorry, Barney Butter!

Once we were finally ready, we headed out for breakfast at ZenCha. A little under a mile away from the hotel, we decided to walk it, and I’m glad we did. The Short North is one of our favorite neighborhoods, and it was really great to be able to stroll by on such a beautiful day. As we were walking, I couldn’t but think how less than 6 months ago, there were days when it was a struggle to walk half as far – we’ve come a long way!

Check out the greatest advertisement ever – given more time, we would’ve totally hit it up for kicks!

ZenCha is what tea heaven must be like – with 120 or so varieties from all over the world, and everything from Bubble Tea to French tea lattes, you just can’t go wrong! E picked a sampler of 3 – silver tip white tea, Earl Grey, and a Pu-erh which is an aged and fermented black tea. E loved them all, and got somewhere between 7 and 9 cups of tea out of the mix, which definitely jazzed him up.

I’m a simple gal, and had an iced Cinnamon Mint Chai. Creamy, refreshing and soothing, this was the perfect pick. I really loved that they added the ice cubes to the filter inside the pot, so not only was this constantly cool, but the tea wasn’t watered down a single bit.

With so many great dishes to choose from, we decided to share two, and thankfully we were on the same wavelength!

Our first pick was the Arabian Night, a delicately crisp yet fluffy cardamom-scented waffle. With dates baked right in and topped with sliced almonds, orange supremes, a little creme fraiche and served with an orange-cardamom syrup, these were some serious waffles! Not too sweet and definitely satisfying, these were spot-on.

Check out the cross-shot of waffle goodness!

For our second choice, we went savory with a Vegetable Okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake/omelet hybrid filled with veggies like shitake mushrooms and crispy napa cabbage, and topped with Kewpie mayo and a mysterious sauce similar to a hoisin. This was our time to try okonomiyaki, and it will definitely not be our last! I can just imagine how great the chicken and seafood varieties are.

We decided to take our time coming back, and checked out a few of the little shops lining the street. We also took a side trip to one of our favorite spots, North Market, where E convinced me to try some Morbier, a super-stinky cheese he’s been wanting for years. Surprisingly delicious, the Morbier turned out to be much milder than it smells, with a nice nuttiness. I shared in, and ate about 1 1/2 oz. of the cheese with a little more than half of a wholemeal roll.

We headed back to the convention for a few hours, and picked up a small lunch since we weren’t eating dinner for a while. I had another packet of salmon and avocado sushi.

I also had a few of these teeny hash browns, were were really fresh and crisp. Yum!

Later on, I’ll be posting our experience at dinner, and don’t forget to vote for me here. Also, Eating Bird Food is having a sparkling giveaway which you need to check it out, so head on over!



17 May

What a long day – really great, but really long!

I’m proud to say I reached my goals for the day, which means no cheddar biscuits for me! I also resisted taking nibbles off of anyone else, which is quite a feat between 2 restaurants and 11 people. I almost took a taste of E’s pasta tonight, but caught myself, and gave our server my cutlery instead. After all, no cutlery, no nibbles!

We ate lunch at Red Lobster, and it was pretty good. Wood-grilled Rainbow Trout, steamed unseasoned broccoli and a baked tater with pico de gallo. The potato came smothered in salt, so it took me a few minutes to brush it all off. There was at least 2 tablespoons poured on top of it, and for the life of me, I can’t understand who’d want to eat that. With unsweet tea, lunch came out to 456 calories.

We headed straight from lunch to the School of Nursing reception – tons of food and tons of people. Normally, I’d take the opportunity to do a ton of grazing, but I resisted. I had my eye on a giant piece of carrot cake – thankfully, the university provided an awesome tea bar, so I had a Bigelow Vanilla Chai with nondairy creamer instead. The nutmeg, cardamom and other spices totally filled the cap, and at 15 calories was such a better choice! I loved the disposable mugs they had – not environmentally-friendly, but super cute.

The proud graduate! Even though he’s not officially done until mid-August, we’re so proud of him.

The ceremony took forever, or at least felt that way. By the time we were seated at Outback for dinner, it’d been 6 or 7 hours since lunch, and I was starving. My original plan was to bring some carrots for during the commencement, but I completely forgot! After a sip of E’s Yuengling and my mother-in-law’s Pinot Grigio, I settled for the best drink of all, a giant bottle of San Pellegrino with lemon. I nursed this all night, and it hit the spot – having the wine glass was just part of the effect.

I had a teensy slice of bread (probably 1/20th of the loaf), and decided on my starter. I could’ve totally gone for a bite (or 5) of this:
But instead, I chose this!
House salad, no cheese, with Tangy Tomato dressing on the side. I ate everything other than one crouton that mysteriously ended up in E’s mouth, and 4 or 5 fork dips of the dressing. I feel like I always get the same thing whenever I go out to eat: chicken or fish, baked potato, steamed veg. It’s been getting kind of boring, so I decided to mix it up! Grilled chicken and shrimp with grilled veggies, grilled pineapple and a huge sweet potato with cinnamon. Other than half the potato, everything ended up in my belly! Really good and a nice change, the night out ended at 520 calories.

I had a carrot when we got back to our room, which brings the daily total to 1465 calories. I’m actually really excited and proud, because I dodged some major personal landmines. Red Lobster and Outback are both well-known to be calorie-busters, and buffet service and I are the best of friends. Today could’ve been a total nightmare, and it was completely within range! It was a great test, and has given me that much more confidence. I know I can do this!

recap – friday

12 May

I apologize for the last few days’ absence – somehow, my lungs, throat and sinuses teamed up and planned a siege against me. Yup, that’s right, once again I am Sickey McGee. I had to miss out on boot camp on Saturday, and I haven’t been able to work out since Thursday. Hopefully, the villagers and I will reach a truce very soon!

Looking back on Friday, I probably should’ve realized that I’d be sick very shortly; I couldn’t stop eating! Sure, it was very here and there, but it was still more than normally. We were up pretty early, since we had to head to Charleston for a 9 a.m. meeting with US Citizenship and Immigration Services for fingerprints and such as part of the process to get my permanent residency. Expecting to be stuck in horrendous traffic, we left the house at 7:30 with some Banana-Nut Baked Oatmeal in hand, and set off.

Traffic wasn’t too bad, and we made it with 20 minutes or so to spare – a very good thing, because we drove by the building, and almost missed it! Biometrics was over and done within 15 minutes, and was definitely the shortest step in the entire process. With nothing planned for the day, we headed in the mall to zone out and relax, we were both a little out of it. We saw an old friend, and couldn’t help but stop for a snapshot.

We said our goodbyes, and headed to Starbucks. I tried the Wild Sweet Orange tea with a little honey, and it definitely hit the spot, along with 1/4 of E’s croissant.

We also stopped by a candy shop, where I picked up a little something special.

I’m really glad I chose the smallest size (probably 1/3 of a cup’s worth), because I would’ve gone overboard with more room. I got a yogurt pretzel, a chocolate pretzel, a chocolate pecan, a few dark chocolate almonds, a nonpareil, some raspberry, blueberry and blackberry gummies and a chocolate raspberry jelly bar. We were getting pretty bored at the mall, so we decided to go grab lunch. On the way there, I had a little snack of a blueberry gummy and a chocolate pecan.

This is probably the point when I should’ve realized something was up – I never eat on the way to eating! We went to our all-time favourite, Bluegrass Kitchen, and were just happy that there wasn’t too long of a wait. My second clue that something was up should’ve been that E and I ordered a bunch of items and split them – everyone knows that I’m not good with sharing, even with my main man. We each started off with a soup – spicy vegan red bean for me and corn chowder for E, of which I had a couple of bites. I also had one of the whole grain crackers that came with my soup.

I also had a bite or three of the amazing mac and cheese that E ordered a cup of. Every time we’ve gone to BGK, we’ve tried to get this dish, and they’re always sold out. Needless to say, it was every bit as delicious as we thought. With farfalle, peas, cottage and monterey jack cheeses, I’ve got to try making this at home.

We shared our mains, and chose
the Bluegrass Veggie Burger house-made with special blend of organic grains and veggies, perched on a Charleston Bakery brioche roll and topped with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato and onion.
the Beefsteak Portobello Burger braised marinated mushroom with tomato, smoked gouda, pesto mayo and organic greens on a ciabatta roll.

Definitely two of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, veggie or not! I also ate the half dill pickle spear, and 3 or 4 of the chips with about a Tbsp. of salsa.

After lunch, . we headed to the YWCA Secondhand store to see if we could find any treasures. We didn’t buy anything, but we both fell in love with this little guy, who held bananas in a previous life.

We decided that we both needed to walk around and take in some fresh air, so we headed to Capitol Market, where they have absolutely everything.

fresh stevia!

every varietal of herb you could possibly want

salad burnet, a green that tastes just like cucumbers

some amazing pineapple mint, which is sweet and minty, perfect for fruit!

I ate a chocolate pretzel while browsing

The Wine & Cheese Shop’s wall o’ beers

a vanilla truffle bar that I shared with E

our favorite browsing stall, which only sells local products, from foodie gifts

to pottery

to flavoured honeys

and jams, jellies and butters

even pepperoni rolls!
nothing says West Virginia like one of these babies.

plus all things ramps, a local delicacy

We stopped and shared a seltzer water and picked up some hard red winter wheat so I can finally make wheatberries! I accidentally deleted the pictures of those, sorry! We decided to pick up some herbs and plants for our soon-to-be garden, and headed back outside. While we were browsing, we spotted these guys, which totally reminded me of space aliens and their tentacles.

loved the colors and the smell of these guys in the air!

Part of our bounty: sweet basil, spicy basil, compact basil, opal basil, pineapple mint, spearmint, mexican oregano, cilantro, curly leaf parsley, stevia, mortgage lifter tomatoes and black prince tomatoes. We also bought japanese long eggplant, crookneck squash, peter pan (patty pan) squash, yellow and red striped heirloom tomatoes, tumbling tom and sunsugar yellow tomatoes and black beauty bell peppers and gypsy bell peppers, all as plants.

We ended up at Outback for a E’s dad’s birthday celebration with the fam. I started off with a big glass of lemon water and a slice of bread (1/8 of the loaf) with a little butter.

For my main, I had Chicken on the Barbie with the bbq sauce on the side, a sweet potato with some cinnamon and some steamed veg and 2 more big glasses of lemon ice water. The sweet potato wasn’t planned, but it was delicious!

Despite the after-dinner rainstorm, E and I headed to our friend Bill’s wrestling match. It was my first time watching wrestling, and I was pretty excited! While waiting for the show to begin, I had a raspberry and a blackberry gummy and another dark chocolate almond.

Thankfully, that was the last thing I ate for the night – I don’t know if it was the weather or the way I was feeling, but I could’ve eaten all night that day! I’m glad I was able to just sit there and enjoy the ‘show’. Bill was awesome and definitely in his element – I’m really glad we were able to come out and support him.

my night ‘Dining Alone’

10 Oct

With E gone for a good part of last weekend, I was cooking for myself alone. I was looking to make something that I couldn’t make for E, so meat was obviously the big thing. However, I didn’t want to choose something that would be intensive to prepare, or that would have expensive or hard to find ingredients.

A couple of weeks ago, Dining Alone featured a dish that combined pork, sauerkraut, apples and potatoes. With Fall upon us, it seemed like the perfect dish to warm me up on a cold night. Plus, sauerkraut makes everything better!

I did adapt the recipe to suit what I had on hand – the original calls for smoked pork chops, but I used regular ones. Next time, I would use the smoked, because I can definitely see where that would add a super flavor. I also used caraway-free sauerkraut, fresh potatoes that I pre-boiled instead of the canned, and Dijon mustard instead of the whole grain.

I adore mustard, so I’ll definitely add more the next time. I don’t think I’d cook the potatoes with everything else next time, simply because I prefer roasted potatoes with a hearty dish like this. Also, if you don’t love sauerkraut, I would make a smalled portion of the mixture, and serve it on the side.

I served this with some steamed carrots seasoned with lemon pepper and Mural of Flavor.

Pork with Sauerkraut, Apples and Potatoes
adapted for a recipe featured on Dining Alone

  • 3 fresh pork chops, thick cut and boneless
  • 20 oz. sauerkraut, fresh (if you’re unable to find fresh, use bottled)
  • 4 small potatoes, boiled and sliced ( I used a combination of redskin and Idaho)
  • 2 small apples, cored and chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Arrange the potato slices in a baking dish.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chopped apples, the drained sauerkraut and the mustard.
  4. Stir everything together, and pour on top of the potato slices.
  5. Top with the pork, and pour the apple juice on top .
  6. Bake, covered, for 1 hour, or until everything is heated through and the pork is cooked.

I’m sending this over to Joelen for her Oktoberfest Round-Up – hope she enjoys it as much as I did!


18 Sep

This is just a random post recapping the last couple of weeks – not much has happened, but just wanted to mention a few things.

A couple of weeks ago, E and I headed down to Charleston to get him fitted for a tuxedo for his best friend’s wedding in a few weeks. While we were there, we decided to grab a bite at TGI Friday’s, since it had been years since either of us had been there.

I had the Roasted Red Pepper Sausage & Chicken Penne, off of the Right Portions, Right Price menu. At $6.99, it was a decently large serving. On the menu, it’s described as “Hot Italian sausage and chicken served over penne pasta and tossed with creamy roasted red pepper sauce and sautéed red onions. Finished with shavings of Parmesan cheese”.

It was okay – for the price, it was something I’d probably order again.
However, I didn’t really taste the onions or red peppers, and the sausage was not what I’d call hot, spicy or even zesty. Also, the chicken was overcooked, and chewy.

E had the Caprese Lasagna Salad, which was mostly due to it being the only vegetarian entree on the huge menu. Priced at $8.99, it’s described as “A fresh, chilled pasta salad of curly lasagna noodles tossed with tomatoes, Mozzarella, basil and a tangy Herbed vinaigrette served on a bed of warm, crispy breaded eggplant”.

This was a huge disappointment. It was under-seasoned, very little vinaigrette, and the entire plate only contained two tiny balls of mozzarella – 4 pinky nail-sized chunks. Also, the eggplant was extremely greasy, and barely room temperature. The biggest frustration, though, was that with this being the only vegetarian item, E would have no choice but to order this again.

We also had issues with the service. E decided to have a drink, and spent 15 minutes trying to get our server’s attention. When that didn’t work, having been unsuccessful getting anyone’s attention at all, he went to the bar to order it himself. It took him another 10-15 minutes to get someone to acknowledge him there, too. While he was at the bar, our server came over, and said, “you know, he could’ve just placed his order with me.” When I explained to her that he’d been waiting a while to get her attention, she gave me a dirty look, and said, “well, I was busy getting your food order.” As much as I’d like to understand her frustration, it doesn’t take over 20 minutes to pick up a food order from the kitchen, especially not one that was brought to the table cold.

After our experience, I doubt we’d go back.

Since I’ve been posting about cooking and the house, here are a couple of pictures of our kitchen! We love it – it’s pretty roomy, with a lot of cabinet space. The kitchen was added on to the house in the forties, and the cabinetry and Formica counter tops are from the forties/fifties as well.

In my kitchen, I have a fair amount of tools and gadgets that are both fun to use, and make the job a little easier. Today I wanted to show you one that’s small, inexpensive and definitely worth having. We use a fair amount of canned vegetables, fruit and beans, and this is fantastic. This is a simple plastic strainer that fits over a can. Just place on top of the can, and flip over to drain the liquid without losing whatever’s inside.

When you’re done, just remove the can. Easy peasy!

This is also great to rinse small items, and since it’s small, it takes up virtually no room in a drawer. I think I paid $2.99 for this, which is a steal!

I do like to make meals from scratch. However, sometimes you have to resort to packaged items to help it along. A few days ago, E and I were both feeling pretty rough, so I put together some Matzo Ball soup for a bowl of comfort! I used this mix from Manischewitz, which is my favourite. Depending on where you buy it, it’s usually priced between $3 to $5, and makes 4 servings. The soup mix is vegetarian as well, so no need to pre-make broth!

To make the matzo balls, just combine packet 1 with 2 eggs and a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil, and put in the fridge for 15 minutes.

To make the soup, bring 10 cups of water up to a boil, then stir in packet 2. Then, just take the matzo ball mix out of the fridge and roll into 1-inch balls, dropping them in to the boiling soup. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

For me, Matzo Ball soup isn’t Matzo Ball soup without veggies. When I brought the water up to boil, I threw in a couple of handfuls of baby carrots, and some celery leaves and sticks that I’d reserved from a potato salad I made for a birthday party. Finished with freshly ground pepper and AlsoSalt, this definitely hit the spot, and gave it that from-scratch taste!

Since E works so hard to provide for us, I make his lunch every day, usually the night before, to make things a little easier on him. I thought I’d show you how I make E’s lunches extra special with very little extra work.

E loves oatmeal. In fact, he eats it every day! To save a little money, we don’t buy the individually packed flavoured oatmeal. Instead, we buy the tubs of plain instant oatmeal, usually the store brand. When we bring it home, I repackage it in an airtight Lock & Lock container, which maintains its freshness and keep out any potential pests. One tub usually lasts us about 3 weeks.

Sometimes, I pack E’s oatmeal in a Ziplock, other times I pack it in a bowl-shaped container. To make his oatmeal extra yummy, I make E flavour packets. I use little favor bags left over from the wedding and mix in whatever strikes my fancy.

This packet is simple – it’s about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar Splenda blend, mixed with half a tablespoon of sliced almonds and a teaspoon of Pumpkin Pie spice. Then, I simply fold over the top of the bag, seal with a label, and place inside the bowl on top of the oatmeal. When E gets to work, he just takes out the packet, mixes in some hot water, microwaves, then adds in the packet. According to him, the result is a thick, delicious oatmeal, with the flavouring melting into a syrupy consistency.

Onto his main meal – this was a couple of days after we’d have Chinese food. Pictured below is some steamed rice, mushroom Egg Foo Young and vegetable Mai Fun. I sliced the Egg Foo Young into wedges to make it easier to eat with chopsticks, nestled in a packet each of soy sauce and Chinese mustard. By placing each dish side by side in the container, it becomes more appealing, and is easier to heat. I also nestled in a fortune cookie and a pair of chopsticks.

Since he spends so much time at his desk, I always pack E some snacks. He loves to drink tea, so he gets a packet or two. For this lunch, I also threw in a (vegetarian) pepperoni stick, and some dried mango.

And there you have it – a well-balanced lunch that’s simple to prepare, and easy to enjoy!

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a great recipe for Potato Salad that I got from Serious Eats. No pictures, unfortunately, but trust me on this one – it’s amazing! I’m not a big fan of creamy potato salad, but this converted me. I made this for our nephew Ayden’s 4th birthday party, and it was a hit! I’ve never made potato salad before, but this was easy and fairly quick, once you’ve cooked the potatoes and the eggs. One note – due to a friend’s allergy/dislike, I left out the onions, scallions and parsley. I made 16 cups, so I multiplied the recipe by 4, and also left out the bacon to make it vegetarian-friendly. If you can, chill this overnight to really marry all of the flavours, but it’s just fine to serve after 2-3 hours in the fridge.

My favorite Potato Salad

– makes 4 cups –


  • 4 medium all-purpose potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  • 1 small onion (2 to 3 ounces), cut into 1/4~inch dice
  • 1 large stalk celery, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (1/2 cup)
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sweet relish
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • Six slices of crumbled, smoked bacon (optional)

1. Pour 2 quarts cold water into a 4-quart pot and add 2 tablespoons of the salt. Peel the potatoes one by one, adding them to the pot as you work. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, 25 to 30 minutes, depending on their size.

2. Drain the potatoes in a colander, transfer them to a baking sheet, and let cool until they can be handled.

3. Cut the potatoes into irregular 1-inch cubes, and place in a large bowl. Add the eggs, onion, celery, scallions, pickle, parsley, mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, and mustard and mix well with a rubber spatula. Season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cover with plastic wrap placed flush against the potatoes and chill for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight. (The salad keeps for up to 3 days refrigerated.) Check the seasoning before serving, and add salt and pepper to taste if needed. If you’re going to add the bacon, now is the time to cook, drain, and crumble six slices. Just before serving, top the potato salad with the crumbled bacon.