Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eating Our Way Through New York City

This past weekend we ventured up to New York City for a little family "babymoon" before Baby Cush #2 arrives. We have done very few trips (i.e. none) as just the three of us as a family since Austin was born, and I really wanted to do one.

We took the train up to New York, leaving at 8:00 on Friday morning. We took the Acela up, and I wish we would have sprung for the extra bucks to take it back as well. It cuts 45 minutes off the trip compared the regional train, and with a toddler, it's worth it. Also, the service you receive from Amtrak employees, is much better on the Acela, which comes in handy when you have a child.

Austin was fascinated by the train for the first 30 or so minutes of the ride, then he wanted to run and explore. The great part about the train, compared to a plane, is that he can to an extent! Ben took him to the dining car twice and let him just walk around, and it was great for curbing some of his energy. He also had some of his snacks, which helped, and we read to him.

Very important that Monkey can see out the train window
When we arrived in New York, we headed straight for the hotel to drop off our bag. Managing to fit all of our items is one suitcase (albeit, a big one) was a huge victory for this trip. Despite his lack of desire to sleep on the train, all it took was the chaos of Times Square to lull Austin to sleep in his stroller. He was knocked out, and stayed that way through most of our lunch at Carnegie Deli.

Ben had never been to Carnegie Deli, and I had been there a few times during previous trips to New York years ago and told him he he HAD to go. Ben is a sandwich and meat lover, so I knew this would be his heaven. They are known for their huge sandwiches, and amazing cheesecake, and when I saw they had gluten free cheesecake on the menu now, I knew it was a must.

The Woody Allen Sandwich, Pastrami and Corned Beef
The food did not dissappoint. Ben enjoyed his out of this world sandwich (he finished half!), while I had a three cheese omelet and baked potato, followed by a slice of gluten free cheesecake that was so delicious. Ben tried a few bites and loved it as well.

AMAZING Gluten Free Cheesecake
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around. We stopped at Macys to get me some gloves and I ended up buying a headband to go over my ears as well because it was turning out to be a windy weekend. We also went to the top of the Empire State Building, where the wind really showed us who's boss.

That night we went to a delicious little restaurant called Market Cafe near our hotel in Hells Kitchen Neighborhood. They had a ton of gluten free options, and after some gluten free bread with olive oil, I enjoyed the most delicious steak tacos with seasoned fries (I kept calling it "Fancy Del Taco" since it was tacos with fries). I wish I could go back for these tacos today; I keep thinking about them! The mango salsa, cilantro, cabbage, steak and chipotle mayo mixture was perfect.

Austin was obsessed with Market Cafe's flat bread pepperoni pizza, and he inhaled the bread basket as well. This kid loves carbs, and I can't say I blame him.

Mmmmm, pizza
Saturday we did a lot more exploring, including down to Battery Park, where the wind created plenty of white caps on the water as we looked out on the Statue of Liberty.

We then walked over to see One World Trade Center and the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial. It had been so long since I'd been to New York City, the last time I was there, I was inside the World Trade Center towers. It was sad and sobering to see the memorial, and all the names of so many innocent people. I'm glad we took the time to go see it. It was a pain taking the stroller on the Subway to get there, as most of their elevators did not work, or didn't have any, but worth the trip.

I made sure we got a picture of the Ed Sullivan theater while in town as well since David Letterman announced his retirement last week. May be the last time we see his name on the kiosk!

Saturday night we met up with our friends Lauren and Ryan who live in Brooklyn (you may remember they visited us last summer) for dinner in the East Village at the delicious Mediterranean Cafe Mogador. I had the grilled chicken plate, which was very good, and Austin enjoyed some of my rice, along with hummus and pita. He was thrilled to get to eat his favorite snack for dinner as a vacation treat.

We also had dessert at the delicious Big Gay Ice Cream--yum! They do specialty soft serve cones and dishes and I had the Salty Pimp, chocolate dipped soft serve with sea salt, mmmm. Salty and sweet is a combination I never turn down. They also had gluten free ice cream cones- made my whole night! The cone was delicious, and I would have never known it was gluten free. Ben had the rocky road dipped cone and liked it as well. I was so happy Lauren recommended we go here.

Overall we had a wonderful time in New York City. It was a great weekend away, and as always good to be home as well. I can't wait to take our children there as they grow older and will appreciate all the city has to offer, and tell them how lucky we are to live a short train ride away from so many amazing places!

Heading Home
We are planning one more little adventure as the weather gets nicer--a day trip to Charlottesville! I have a few things on my list to check out there, including the Farmers Market, Pasture and Sweethaus Cupcakes, but please let me know if you have any recommendations for that beautiful little city.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Meal Planning and Shopping on a Budget Part Two

Here's part two of my series on meal planning and shopping on a budget, you can find part one of the series on grocery shopping here, and check out the post below on meal planning.

Our meal planning (and schedule planning) is all based around this board.

In our old place, we had a smaller marker board on the fridge because this one was too massive to put anywhere. Now, this hangs at the entrance of our kitchen.

At the end of each work week I sit down and look through recipes I've favorited, or through my cookbooks, and compare them to what we already have in our pantry to see if I can use up things we already have for recipes and not spend as much that week. I do this on Thursday or Friday so we can hit up any stores we need to on Saturday or Sunday. Also, in true dork fashion, sometimes we make Friday a go out to eat, and then hit up Target family "adventure" night.

When it comes to picking our meals, I keep all of our tastes in mind (Ben does not like seafood, and beyond a few random items, generally neither do I), and my celiac with having to eat gluten free, and my distaste for a few items as well. Ben is not the worlds most adventurous eater either, so there are certain meals I plan for when he is not going to be home (like anything with squash or eggplant).

I feed Austin exactly what we eat every night. Some nights he loves it, some nights he refuses most of his plate (even if he's eaten that same thing a week earlier and loved it!) and has a mainly milk dinner. Austin would love it if we ate macaroni and cheese, black beans, or french fries on rotation every few nights.

Picky eating is something I don't have much tolerance for, but I'm also not going to serve Austin something I know he hates and have a fight, still he is served pretty much exactly what we eat. Also, I keep in mind he can't have particularly spicy items, or things hard for him to chew. Plus, I think it's great for him to try new things all the time. If he's unsure about something we usually say, "touch it to your tongue and see if you like it, and if you don't, you don't have to eat it."

"You want me to eat what?!"

Since Austin cannot express his tastes right now beyond refusal (which is sometimes more graceful than other times), I try to make him a well balanced plate each meal and let him chose what he wants to eat off of it, and my weekly meal planning is done with this in mind. We often throw away a lot of fruits and vegetables uneaten from his plate, but then certain times he surprises us and digs into them, and I know it was worth all the food we had to toss. I'm thankful that his daycare offers him a diverse lunch each day as well with a meat, starch, fruit and vegetable.

Most weeks we make dinner at home four out of the five weeknights, and eat out at an easy place like Chipotle, Pei Wei, Noodles, Jason's Deli, etc. one of the other meals, mainly for sanity reasons to give ourselves a night off.

I also try to do as many crockpot meals as I can so that dinner can be ready earlier, and with less clean up. This does require setting my alarm about ten minutes earlier in the morning though to get the recipe going.

Ben usually cooks one night of the week, doing something on the grill with sides. I love those nights because then I can come home and dedicate all my time to playing with Austin before he goes to bed.

On weekends, we don't plan as rigorously, and usually end up going out for one of our meals. I also make bigger breakfasts (eggs, waffles, pancakes, something like that) on weekend mornings.

To round out this post, I wanted to share with you some of the recipes that are staples right now in our weeknight meal planning, including:
I'd love to hear about your meal planning, and any go to weeknight recipes you have right now! I'm always looking for ways to have smooth meal planning, and a lower grocery bill! Please comment and let me know!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meal Planning and Shopping on a Budget: Part One

A lot of bloggers recently have done posts on how they meal plan, and grocery shop for that plan, and I decided to join in. About three years ago I started to be much more strict about our meal planning. When Ben and I first moved in together and were engaged, our grocery shopping consisted of, "that looks good, let's get that," or "that reminds me of a recipe I like, let's make that this week." There was little sitting down to plan, beyond when I would randomly find a recipe I liked on a blog or website, and then put those ingredients into my grocery list that weekend.

All that has changed now, and especially changed now that Austin eats dinner with us each night. We don't have a choice but to have a dinner plan, because Austin needs a good, filling meal, and can't just have a bowl of cereal if we don't feel like cooking like Ben and I can do.

During this two part series, I'll touch on our grocery shopping habits, and then in the next post, how we meal plan. I'll start with where we shop and what we go there for.

There are certain staples for our groceries we get at Costco. We go about once a month for certain items, and then buy other items there as we need them.
 Costco Staples:
  • Ground Beef
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Low Sodium Chicken Stock
  • Apple Sauce
  • Quinoa
  • Milk
  • Chips
We do have to buy milk more often than our trips to Costco, but try to stock up as much as we can there, since it's such a good deal. Austin has started to get really excited when we walk into Costco because he knows he will get to try a few samples (there have been a couple days where he had so many he didn't need lunch after).

For other staple grocery items, we go to Super Target or Target. A recent news story done in our area on grocery price comparisons shows that Target and Wal-Mart (where I hate going and refuse to) are the most affordable for staple grocery items.
Target Staples:
  • 99% Lean Ground Turkey
  • Cereal
  • Canned Goods
  • Frozen Fruits and Veggies
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice Cream
  • Frozen Meals
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter/Hummus/Condiments
  • Snack Bars for lunches
  • Fruit and Veggie Pouches
  • Other Random Grocery items
  • Toiletries
I prefer to use ground turkey when I can over ground beef, so I buy this at Target, as I haven't been able to find 99% lean at Costco. For saving at Target, it also helps that we use the Target Red Card for an extra 5% off, bring our own bags and I clip coupons for items we normally use to help us out. We usually get other items we need at Target outside of groceries like toiletries (we order diapers through Amazon prime).

For fresh produce and gluten free items, I usually go to Wegmans. I absolutely love this store, it has good prices for the level of service it has, and the store is beautiful and clean with bountiful produce options, delicious cheeses and bakery items. They also have a lot of fresh cut produce ready to use in recipes. I try to avoid these items to save money, but if I know I'll need them for a crazy week, I pick them up here.

Enjoying a Snickerdoodle while Shopping at Wegmans

If you're not familiar with this East Coast grocery chain, and read this in Minnesota, let's just say it's like Byerlys on steroids and not as expensive. Their hot line food bar is also restaurant quality for grabbing a quick meal. I'm digressing, but I love Wegmans. If I ask them to look into a certain gluten free item that I can't find on their shelves, they will try and special order it for me, and call me when it comes in to pick up at their service counter. Their customer service is simply wonderful.
Wegmans Staples:
  • Deli Cheese
  • Specialty Cheeses
  • Gluten Free Bread
  • Gluten Free Convenience Foods like frozen meals, crackers, etc.
  • All Produce
I also like Trader Joes and will randomly go there for certain items, like the ones I wrote about in this post, but like I said then, their produce does go bad quickly, but I like certain convenience items there.

Basically, there are certain items I like from certain stores, and sometimes based on time, I have to bite the bullet and just do all my shopping that week at a certain store (that usually ends up being Wegmans), but meal planning helps us not have to run back to the store during the week for random items.

Next post, I'll talk about specific meal planning and how to do that with food allergies, and toddler and different food preferences on a budget each week.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Here We Go Again...

As I let the social media world know late last week, we have some news in our house...

We're having a baby! 

Baby number two is due to arrive around the first week in August and I couldn't be more excited and petrified about it. Having two under two for a bit will be a tad crazy, but I think a lot of fun in the long run, and I'm so glad my children will be able to grow up together.

When I told you all I have pregnant with Austin I put a few things out there in this post and I still feel the same on many of those topics. So just like with my last pregnancy, there will be no bump pics, no ultrasound pictures, no details of my bodily functions, etc. But, I will be honest and forthright about what's going on as we prepare to become a family of four (Cooper piped in to say--family of five!).

People ask you the most random (and not so random) questions when you are pregnant, so I will try to answer some of them below.

How are you feeling?
I am feeling good. VERY tired still as I get into the second trimester, which I'm not sure if it's a combination of a full time job along with parenting a walking and running toddler, and trying to stay active, but it's the perfect storm to have me very fatigued by the end of the day. I have had some nausea with this pregnancy, but nothing like my previous pregnancy where I was throwing up often, and only had a few foods I could consume. In fact, this pregnancy has brought on crazy cravings, where my mind is constantly on food. Some of the them good for me, some of them terrible. All of them tasting delicious when they're fulfilled!

How far along are you?
I am fifteen weeks right now, due August 8.

Will you find out the gender ahead of time?
No, we are going to wait until the birth to find out the gender. I know how crazy this may seem, but I love the surprise!

Do you have names picked out?
Yes and no, we have many possibilities, and have decided to not share any of our name selections, or contenders with anyone until the baby is born, and named.

Will you you have a planned C-Section since your last delivery was a C-Section?
No, my birth plan is to VBAC if my body allows that to be possible. If I reach one week overdue, I will have a C-Section at that point. I would really like to avoid another C-Section, but most importantly would like to bring home a healthy child, so I'm not going to obsess over this. I'm not a fan of scheduled C-Sections just because, and am glad my doctors support this decision.

Will you have more than two children?
I think this is always really personal when people ask this, but I know people are curious when others have their second child since it seems to be the norm to have two children. Our plan was always to have at least three children, and I have always (and still do) think two kid families are so boring in the long run (but trust me, it's not boring while you're raising them, I know how crazy it can be, and I pass no judgement on people who only want one or two children, I get it). I like the idea of having multiple siblings to grow up with and come home to as an adult. That said, these first two kids are going to be fairly close in age, so unless something unplanned happens there will be a bit of time before we have more children, and luckily since I'm young enough, age is not an issue to push us to have them sooner. Ben and I agreed before we were married that we wanted to be done having children before I turned 35, and I'm hoping that works out.

Are you running?
No, I am not running. Running and pregnancy just does not work for me, it leaves me feeling way too out of breath, like my heart will beat out of my chest and light headed. I have been taking a spin class once a week, and swimming once a week as well while Austin and Ben do swimming lessons. I also try to make it to the gym at work at least once a week for some sort of cardio (either elliptical or walking) and strength training. I plan to start prenatal yoga in the next few weeks, as I did with Austin. It's right smack in the middle of the day on the weekends, so it may be difficult, but I'd like to go as often as I can.

So there you have it, my pregnancy 411 for Baby Cush Part Two. This blog will remain the same, as it did through Austin's arrival, but I look forward to bringing you all along for the journey. If you have any other questions for me, feel free to ask!

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fantastic New Gluten Free Food Finds

Lately I've stumbled on some really great Gluten Free finds without even looking. Things just jumping out at me when I'm out grocery shopping. So many, that it's warranting it's own blog post!

First, at Trader Joes I recently found these cupcakes and quick make macaroni and cheese.

The cupcakes were delicious! Perfectly moist and the butter cream frosting was amazing. You must eat them within the first two days of opening them though, or they go down hill fast. So, unless you want to ruin your healthy eating, I'd get them when you can share the pack with some friends, because they won't last for several days. They are no where near being good for you, but a nice treat.

The macaroni and cheese was okay. I would eat it again in a pinch, but can't say I loved it. It was a huge portion, so hard to take for lunch at work, as it needs to split in two, and had a bit of a gritty taste to it. I enjoyed it while eating it, but after couldn't stop thinking about the grit. I would recommend you try it for yourself and see if it fits your flavor.

In the snack bar realm, there are a couple new varieties out on shelves, Van's PB&J bars and Annie's granola bars.

I loved the Van's PB&J bars, especially the strawberry. I also prefer strawberry jelly on my PB&J sandwiches, so that's probably the flavor preference there. I haven't been able to find these in stores, and Van's was not very helpful when I tweeted them (they told me to use their product locator on their website, which only tells you which stores carry Van's products in general, not specific ones), so I'm stumped on where to find these. A friend of mine received them in a sample pack with a few other products and gave me them, so I guess I'll just have to keep watching grocery store shelves.

The Annie's Double Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Cookie Chewy Granola Bars were found at Super Target. I really love the Double Chocolate Chip and think the Oatmeal Cookie ones are only okay. The Double Chocolate Chip ones taste great, are 120 calories and a good little snack. The Oatmeal Cookie ones have a sickening cinnamon flavor that's over powering, and take away from the bar. I will not buy that flavor again, but have since purchases more Double Chocolate Chip flavor.

And a final delicious gluten free find, Dole Strawberry Dippers!

Dole assured me these are gluten free when I tweeted them, and they are delicious! They are on limited release right now, and I could only find them at Wal-Mart in Virginia. They are really good though, with four chocolate covered strawberries per pack, and 60 calories a pack. They already have a banana variety of these, but I'm really happy they came out with a strawberry variety, because as most of you know, I am not a banana fan.

Hope you've enjoyed these gluten free finds! Most of them are delicious whether you are gluten free or not.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Soup Lady

Hello from 2014! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. Austin and I spent most of ours sick with awful colds that turned out to be a sinus infection for me, and double ear infection for him. We also had quite an adventure traveling to Idaho before Christmas. We were in four airports in one day, and up for over 20+ hours, but we made it to our destination in one day in one piece!

On Our Last Flight of the Day, about 15 hours into traveling
The silver lining in our journey, was that during our layover in Minneapolis, we got to see Ben's cousin and her family, and enjoy some delicious Pizza Luce. Next to District of Pi, Pizza Luce is the best gluten free pizza (and other gluten free dishes as well) I've ever had.

We had a great time visiting Idaho, and Austin got to spend some quality time with his cousins, which is always fun! I loved having so many adults around, so I was able to go to the gym a few times, and Ben and I were able to go to a movie (American Hustle, it was good, but a little too long).

Since we've returned from vacation, I've been craving, and making a lot of, soup! Soup and chili I should say. Maybe it's the colder weather here (it is supposed to be Minnesota style cold here this week, I thought I had escaped this!).

These are the recipes I've been loving lately. They're great for making huge pots that warrant a bunch of leftovers for easy work lunches that week, or to freeze to mix it up in the future.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

It's The Holiday Season...

Most years, I put a pretty nice Christmas list up on here, but this year, I've been having trouble coming up with things I'd like for Christmas. Most things I'd like aren't very exciting, like Starbucks or Target gift cards, new yoga pants, or more Smart Wool socks (please tell me you've worn them, please, they are heaven on your feet).

The few ideas I've had our:

These would be great for organizing items in my pantry like pasta, nuts, baking items, etc. and I would never buy them for myself.

I know I'm one book behind on her cook books, but I finally picked his up when I was browsing at Barnes and Noble a couple weeks ago, and it has some really great recipes that I would love to try. I really love her picture by picture recipe directions.

Rugby Striped Sweatshirt From Gap

I am always in need of more casual clothes to wear on weekends that aren't either pajamas or work out clothes (my wardrobe basically consists of work clothes, and comfort clothes, very little in between) and am truly obsessed with this sweatshirt and don't whether I should bite the bullet and buy it, or wait until after Christmas. I think I'm going to wait, I just hope it's not sold out by then.

I still have quite a bit of Christmas shopping left to do. I've handled all the kids in our life, my friend Ashley who I exchange with each year, and my parents, but I still need to do Austin's daycare teachers, stocking stuffers for Austin and Ben, and Ben's siblings who's names were given to us. Wish me luck!

I went all out with our Christmas decorations this year and put out all that I had (besides breakable ornaments) since the last two years they have been sparse. When we were in our apartment there wasn't a lot of room for them, and last year I only put up so much because of having a newborn.

This year we have a minimally decorated tree (only unbreakfable ornaments) and a back corner so it doesn't attract little hands to grab at it.

The Department 56 News Station that I bought myself in 2005 when I worked in news. The call letters have lost some of their paint, but I still love it. I'm very glad I bought it before it was retired. I would really like to start collecting more Department 56 villages to have a whole set up.

And new this year is this ornament tree from Target (they only had the red version online) I had to have. It was 25% off last week, so I snatched it up.

It goes alongside the Pottery Barn deer received from Ben's sister a few years ago, and the most pinteresty project I've ever done, a cookie jar full of red ornaments with a strand of lights wooven between them. That's as crafty as I get.

Even though Austin still doesn't "get" Christmas, it will be even more special this year because he loves opening gifts and having new toys to play with. He loves throwing tissue paper in the air and looking in boxes when packages in the arrive in the mail, so it should be a lot of fun.

What is on your Christmas list??

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