G. Love & my Special (Baked Ziti) Sauce

23 Oct

My baby’s got sauce.


No really – he does, I made it for him last Sunday….while dancing around the kitchen to G. Love’s version, obviously. (It may or may not have been on repeat. What..it gave me inspiration!)

See, last Friday we took our maiden voyage down to the beloved 9:30 Club, located in the U Street neighborhood of DC. A few weeks prior, I was surfing through its website for work and saw that one of our absolute favorites, G. Love & Special Sauce, were coming! I bought tickets right then and there, without even asking Matt. Psh, we’re married…I don’t have to consult him on anything anymore, right?

Right. (He was very happy with my decision. Good wife points!)

I’ve heard so many raves about the 9:30 Club from my coworkers – a small performance venue (stocked with five bars, nonetheless) that features all sorts of big names, small names and everything in between. I heard there wasn’t a bad seat in the house, and once you experience a show in the intimate yet electric setting, you’ll never want to experience a live performance any other way.

Long story short – the venue instantly lived up to the expectations.

(HOWEVER…no food or drink allowed in a the door. So you can imagine my horror when the bouncer reached in my purse and snatched up my grandma-stash of granola bars. This is actually quite hard to talk about but…he threw them in the trash. I stood in disbelief for a few moments, until Matt pushed me forward, laughing as he said, “You’ll be okay. We can afford to buy more, I promise.” I’m still not over it.)

Matt and I claimed our spot at the bar on the main floor and watched as the space filled with people. The opening band, Apache Relay, was really good – by their last song, I felt like I had been a fan for awhile. (Matt also enjoyed the head-banging ways of the bearded guitar player…I don’t know how he walked straight after shaking our head around for four songs straight!)

Our spot at the bar was perfect for a while, but when G. Love himself stepped on the stage, I knew I had to get closer! Matt happily obliged to watch over my drink and my purse at the bar while I bumped, scooted and squeezed my way to the front of the crowd. (I’d like to note this was the first time I’d ever been successful at doing this without spilling someones drink, getting knocked over or giving up after hitting a wall of drunk mean girls.) I must have been extra determined from the beer I had before I decided to dash off into the masses.

Another long story short (I could write about five paragraphs on the concert, but I’m assuming you’re here for the food.), G. Love was ridiculous. With his smooth & cool blend of blues, hip-hop, soul and bluegrass, there wasn’t a still body in the house. (I for one know I was grooving like a hippie fool…when I came back to the bar to enjoy the show with Matt, he was highly amused at my super cool dance skills.) We had the best time, and our (G) love for G. Love all the more elevated to the next level…I have to admit that my new iPhone has been playing a pretty steady set of his albums since then. (Oh! Another note…I got the new iPhone 4s earlier that day. That was big news, but the bigger news is that I didn’t drop, lose it or even come close to scratching it at the concert! Seriously…that was huge win for AM vs. the world.)

Okay, so back to MY sauce.

On Sunday, I was all set to make a big ol’ pot of pasta fagioli. The weather is getting nice and crisp, so for me, that means endless pots of soup for the next few months. For Matt, that means endless pots of soup for the next few months…something that somehow doesn’t intrigue him. So, like a good wife (are we catching a trend here?) I decided that alongside my pasta fagioli, I would break out another pot (thank you wedding registry and loved ones…we have multiple pots & pans now! Woot woooot) and cook up some of my “special sauce.” But rather than just have pasta & sauce, I wanted to make a hearty-yet-healthy casserole that would keep Matt full for the rest of the week, while I enjoyed my minor soup addiction. Alas, I present to you:

AM.Love & Special (Baked Ziti) Sauce

  • pound of lean ground beef
  • splash of red wine
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • one medium onion, sliced thin
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced (tried to use a garlic press for this and somehow failed miserably. How is that possible?)
  • large can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 box of whole wheat penne
  • 1 cup fat free or light ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 chub of fresh mozzarella (about 1/2 cup?), chopped into small pieces
  • parsley…to make it all look gourmet :)

Add the following to taste…you know we I-talians don’t measure these things:

  • salt & pepper
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • basil
  • crushed red pepper
  • sugar
  • parmigiano reggiano
  • crushed red pepper
Prepare a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.
In a sauté pan, add a swirl of EVOO over medium heat. Add ground beef and break up into pieces with a wooden spoon. Once it is browned a bit, add a splash of red wine. (When I was in Sicily with my family, my great aunt did this. Attempting to be a great Italian lady like her, I followed suit. However…I used $6 wine from Trader Joe’s. Pretty sure she used a higher quality wine, but on our budget, if it is under $10 but over $5, it’s quality!) Cook through and then set aside.
Bring a pot of water to a boil; add whole wheat penne. Cook until al dente; drain and set aside. (I personally don’t like to cook the pasta until the sauce is almost done, as dried out pasta that sticks together is the bain of all Minnuto women’s’ existance. Growing up, my Ma would immediately add sauce to the drained pasta to make sure it wouldn’t dry out. Therefore, I need to have some sauce ready..even if it isn’t seasoned to perfection…to have on hand.)
In a medium pot, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add onion. Saute for about two-three minutes, then and garlic. Cook down (or “sweat out,” as Mama Ro says), stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper. Once the onions & garlic are soft (about five-10 minutes…just keep watching/stirring to make sure they don’t burn), add can of crushed tomatoes. Here comes …add a few shakes of onion powder, garlic powder, basil, crushed red pepper (depending if you want to give it a lil’ kick), sugar and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese to taste. Keep tasting, keep adding, depending on how you sauc-ay sauc-ay you want your sauce.
Add beef to the sauce; stir well. Cook on low for ten minutes, stirring, tasting and adding more spices if needed.
Pour cooked penne into sauce. Add ricotta, stir well. Hold back all temptation to devour now and pour into the 9 x 13 pan. Spread evenly, then sprinkle frress mozzarella, more parmesan cheese and small dots of ricotta. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, until heated through and cheese on top is nice and ooey-gooey.
Serve with a sprinkle of parsley, a side of crusty Italian bread and “cold beveragessss.”

Dig.

Honeymoon in St. Lucia!

26 Sep IMG_1371

Ciao everyone!

It is hard to believe the wedding and honeymoon have come and gone! They were both absolutely amazing – we couldn’t have asked for anything more! To re-live our experience as well as to show you all the fun we had, here are a few pictures and details from each day of our St. Lucian honeymoon (written by both of us!). Try not to get too jealous. :)

Welcome to Miami: The Honeymoon before the Honeymoon

Starting the trip off right with our layover at JFK, Huevos Rancheros and Mimosas ($13 dollars a piece, NY, NY for ya!)

Stephen hooked us up with an awesome room at the W hotel in Miami.  They let us check in early and and then upgraded us to a suit on the 18th floor with an amazing view of South Beach!  It was the perfect way to start off our trip  – “kicking it” at an awesome to hotel to after some long flights and crazy few days.

Matt’s favorite part of the hotel.  “The 3 spout shower, gets all the good spots!”

Some cool artwork and a shot of our suite.

Saint Lucia Day 1:  Arriving  

Is that a piton??

After we got off the plane in sunny St. Lucia, waited in line with 100 other newlyweds (a few who were wearing “bride” and “groom” t-shirts, hats, veils, hoodies….seriously, we get it, you just got married. I kept telling Matt what a good wife I was, simply because I didn’t make him wear something like that!)  Once we went outside, a man named Bernard was holding up a “Mr & Mrs. Izzo” sign – really cool to see that for the first time! He took us on a nice, slowwwww ride to the Jalousie Plantation, telling us all about St. Lucia and pulling over every time there was a good view point. When we finally pulled up to the Jalousie Plantation, our soon-to-be-butler, Jenny, met us at the bottom of the hill that led to our villa – no reception or check in! Jenny was waiting for us with two great big Rum Runners and lavender towels – woo too honeymoon!  She gave us our drinks through the window of the cab, then hopped in the front and directed Bernard to our villa.

And it only got better – our villa was ridiculous! We got upgraded (newlywed luck) to a villa that could hold a family of four. We had an awesome infinity pool with an amazing view of the water and Pitons. Plus, they gave us champagne, a bottle of the local rum and some banana chips with some sort of spicy, delicious dip to snack on as we ran around the villa like little kids!

A view from our room as the sun goes down.

Our bedroom.  They made a cool “Congratulations”  sign for us made out of flowers and stems.  Every morning we were there, they left new batches of fresh flowers around the room. 

Day 2: Exploring the Jalousie and the Rainforest Spa 

The next day we woke up to beautiful sunshine and sounds of the rainforest! After we realized we weren’t dreaming anymore, we called Jenny and she sent us a shuttle to the Bayside, the restaurant on the beach, for breakfast. Above is our  view from our breakfast table! Breakfast was by far our favorite meal of the day.  We would get amazing omelettes with anything we felt like, split some sort of pancakes (by the end we had banana, blueberry, and chocolate chip) and drink delicious smoothies, iced coffees (honestly the best cuppa iced coffee we have ever tasted) and cocoa tea, made with fresh cocoa from the island. Needless to say, we are still burning off these calories!

Checking out the beach and the local Piton beer – Matt’s favorite during our visit (not too hoppy, not too bitter, smooth finish).

The Jalousie is all about relaxation and not really doing anything for yourself (Matt says, “kinda like Stephen around the house”).  When we arrived we were given a “Firefly” two-way caller.  It directly connects with your butler so you can call anywhere on the island –  Whatever you need, 24hrs a day, someone will answer.  However – we really only used this for calling shuttles (it was crazy hilly there  – you literally could not walk up to your room, only down…trust me, we tried).  They also would put red flags out by each beach chair so you did not have to get up to get your own drink/food.  Just raise the flag and the little Saint Lucian man would come arunning….


Fireflies and red flags…a girl could get used to this kind of service!

Ahhh…bliss!

After a few drinks we hit the Rainforest Spa!. Matt had never had a massage before, and I only had one before, so we were really excited.  This place was ridiculous!  The entryway alone was enough to make us feel relaxed…it was a long hut-like pathway, lined with bamboo baskets with candles. Once we got to the spa, they led us to separate rooms to put on our robes.  Since we had just come from the beach, we got to use the outdoor showers – Matt’s dream.  From there, we walked through the rainforest to another hut, which was the massage room. After we entered the room, the massuses opened two big doors to the private, natural hot tub!  It had a waterfall that you could hear trickiling through the whole massage.  By the end we both felt more relaxed then we ever had our whole life!

After our hour-long massage, we got to hop in the hot tub and hang out in the middle of the rainforest. It was such a unique, beautiful experience! 

Once we left the spa, we walked around the resort and then headed back to the room to hang out, swim in our pool and get ready for dinner. For dinner, we went to the Great Room, which overlooked the entire resort. And also had the BEST gnocchi on the planet! One bite of that and I threw out any sort of calorie restrictions for the week…that’s what honeymoons are all about, right?

Day 3:  Rainforest Walk, Snorkeling with Ron, and Soufriere (Su-fray) Tour

(by Matthew)

The Jalousie had a little Rainforest walk right on the resort, near the Rainforest Spa.  It was a pretty cool 15 minute walk, with bridges and stairs up and down and through the rainforest area.

When we got back from the walk, we headed down to the beach.  There were 3 or 4 water taxi guys down there at all times looking to take you places. It was a much cheaper to go on a trip with them rather than booking it through the hotel.  Here are a few shots from our snorkeling excursion that our boy Ron took us on, he also took some good couples pictures for us.  Anne Marie had a minor panic attack (her brothers made her watch “Jaws” when she was little) but once she got in and saw the fish her face lit up like a kid at Disney world.

Soufriere was just around the corner from us and was the closest local town.  When we arrived we were scheduled for a 1 on 1 unwanted tour with our friend Paul – an ugly looking man with cotton balls in his ears and yellow eyes, needless to say we didn’t get to ask too many questions. (He was very nice though, and liked to call me “MATT-EE!”) The town was very poor and most of the stuff was wrecked from the hurricane they had in 2008.  To be honest there were times we felt down right unsafe and thought we be stabbed, but we pushed through.  Paul had us smell lemon, lime, orange, mango, and grapefruit leaves and try to guess what they were. In the end it was definitely cool to get a tour and see how “Y’all Saint Lucians live”.  We ended the tour at an awesome little restaurant with our favorite beers and some good food.

Paul the tour guide.

“Smell the leaves Matty! What is it Matty? What is it!?”

Cool restaurant on the water and we got to watch the school kids walk home from school.

Our first dinner at the Great Room restaurant, 1 of 2 places to choose to eat dinner at.  The food was aaaaamazing. Sunset wasn’t bad either. :)

Day 4:  Rain, Rain, Rain and a good time to relax

(by AM)

So after 2 days of perfect we woke up to an all day on and off island rain.  We were not upset at all and figured it would be a good time to enjoy our Villa and catch up with some email and news from the good ol’ states.  We were also not upset because the bar on the beach was still open! I got a strawberry daiquiri (or two) in ode to my Mama Ro!

Friday night at The Jalousie is cookout night, so although it was raining, they still put out a nice little feast for us. They also had a cool band, with a lead singer that may or may not have been trying to catch his big break from a rich guest at the resort! Matt surprised me after dinner by grabbing my hand and pulling me out on the “dance floor!” (The rainy-day Pitons may have helped motivate him.) After the three plates of ribs, jerk chicken wings and cheesy cauliflower casserole, we tore up that Bayside cookout, IZZO STYLE. :)

Day 5: Botanical Gardens, Sulfur Seduction and beers in the rainforest

We woke up Saturday morning to slivers of sunshine trickling through heavy clouds. We got our hopes up for a sunny day – however once we got out of the gym in the morning (we tried to balance out the endless chocolate chip pancakes), the sun was nowhere to one found. However, not to be discouraged, we still put out suits on and headed to the beach.

While we were hanging out and drinking a couple of Pitons, we overheard these English couples next to us arranging a trip to the drive-in volcano and botanical gardens of Soufriere with one of the many water-taxi hustlers combing the beach. We decided that it was the perfect day for such an adventure, so we tagged along with the ‘blokes and had a bloody (er, muddy) good time!

We took a water taxi w/Solomon, our tour guide, to Soufriere, then hopped out and took a big van to the drive-in volcano.

We could sense we were getting close to the mouth of the volcano because of the rotten egg smell! Because of all of the sulfur in the water, the air absolutely reeks. Makes for a very romantic honeymoon experience. :)

After walked around the perimeter of the steaming, bubbling volcano (don’t worry Ma, it was safe. Our tour guide said that you can tell if a volcano is going to erupt if all of the animals leave the area, the smell would be even more unbearable and all tour guides would start running.) it was time to head to the sulfur springs bath!

We had to soak in the warm, muddy water for a bit before we smeared volcano mud all over ourselves! (Note our British friends in the back.)

AFter we soaked, it was mud time:

Te whole gang! As you can see, the mud wasn’t the only thing that was entertaining. :)

After the mud dries on your skin (about 10 minutes) you go back into the spring water to wash off. The wah-lah! Your skin is smooth as a baby’s bottom, and you instantly look ten years younger.

See, don’t we look like we’re 15 again?

After our sulfur seduction experience, we hopped back in the van (after using an outdoor shower…our skin was smooth but boy did it smell like a stink bomb!) and went to the rainforest botanical gardens.

The flowers and plants were unbelievable, and they had just about every type of tropical fruit (mango, avocado, calabash, banana, plantains, pineapple, dragon fruit) spices (who knew nutmeg came from a tree?) nuts (cashews, almonds) plus lots and lots of cocoa beans! We both were getting pretty hungry the further we walked).

Therefore, you can imagine our happiness when the pleasant surprise of rain (in a rainforest…who knew?) allowed us to sneak into a snack bar (also in the middle of the rainforest…kinda weird) ad grab some mixed nuts and a couple of Pitons!

After we refueled, we walked to the “Botanical Waterfall” in the middle of the gardens/rainforest. It was gorgeous! However, unlike the volcano water, tourists could not help themselves to a little dip. We were a bit disappointed…if we had a few more Pitons in us, I am sure we would have ran for it!

We waked around the gardens a bit more, then hopped back in the van with Solomon and headed back to the Jalousie.

All cleaned up and ready for dinner! We hung out at the Cane Bar for awhile ad watched the sunset, which was absolutely breathtaking!

Day 5: The Beach, the Pool and the Soloman’s Midnight Express Adventure

Okay so the first two things in this sequence are a given…especially because the sun decided to come out, full-time on Sunday! Since we spent two days without it, we were so happy to get down to the beach and say hello to our old friend.

While on the beach, we were also met by another man….the toothless jelly coconut man. “Helllooooo white people, have a jelly co-co-nut, everyyyyybody like jelly co-co-nut!” This is what we heard every day…and after he was done promoting the jelly co-co-nuts, he would start on the mangos. “Tropical man-go, everybody like real good man-go!”

So on the fifth day of watching this little man pimp out tropical fruit, Matt gave in and gave the man the $5 for a jelly co-co-nut. And with the $5 came a picture with this man…who not only yields a ten-inch sword but also makes you look like a ten-foot giant!

Once we tried the jelly coconut, we realized why the little man had to be so pushy…they were awful! However, they did bode well for photos.

After we soaked up some sun, we decided we were up for another sea adventure (must have been something in that jelly coconut). So, we embarked on an adventure up north to Rodney Bay with our fellow honeymoon friends, Joe and Gillian,and our veteran water taxi driver Solomon & his boat,  the “JUSTICE”

Little did we know what we were getting into…

For starters, what was supposed to be a 30-minute boat ride ended up being an hour and a half! Which was fine on the way up there…sun was shining, water was calm, Justice was running well and we had a fresh six-pack of Pitons! (Which were opened by Solomon’s friend….via his teeth! Check out our honeymoon video on YouTube for proof.)

On the way to Rodney Bay, we ended up stopping in the harbors of Marigot and Castries (the capital of St. Lucia). It was cool to see the city-life of St. Lucia in Castries, since our lives at the Jalousie were a bit sheltered in between the Pitons.


A view of Castries and the passionate message on the U.S.S. JUSTICE. Solomon also had a “Uzi” tattoo on his right arm. Totally trustworthy.

Once we got to Rodney Bay, all of us were absolutely starving. So, we headed to a local restaurant in the harbor. But with one look at the menu, the food wasn’t the main star of the show – the drinks (and there subsequent names) were! I could not help myself…I had to get the “Sex in the Bush” drink!

I am glad I ordered such an amusing drink, because my turkey sandwich was not one for the record books.

After we ate/drank, we hopped in a taxi for a ride to an outdoor market/shopping center to grab some souvenirs.

However….once we got to the center, we were notified that it closed early bc it was Sunday! We still walked around and window-shopped a bit. THEN, the stars aligned and we found….

GELATO!

I could have stayed outside that little shop the rest of the evening…the gelato was actually pretty authentic!

We also found another one of my favorite things…a giant grocery store. We don’t have any pictures of this because we were sternly warned by the security guard that this was not allowed! I assure you that the experience was fabulous…complete with king-sized bags of Teddy Grahams, cocoa sticks, champagne and Barry Manilow. (His “Greatest Hits” album was the store’s soundtrack. I was elated!)

After our adventure-filled day, it was time to re-board the Justice for our personalized Sunset Cruise.

We popped the bubbly and watched the massive bright ball in the sky disappear into the Caribbean Sea! The scene was truly magical…until we realized that once the sun went down, we were alone in the middle of the sea in a rickety Rastafari boat with a guy who opened beers with his teeth. And this was before the massive waves started rolling in!

Instead of recalling the hour-long National Geographic adventure, we’ll sum it up in a few words:

It was pitch dark.

Our boat light consisted of the human bottle opener clenching an opened cell phone in his teeth.

“When the sun goes down the sea gets really rough, almost impossible to drive in.” -Solomon.

AM may or may not have said at least 4 whole Rosaries.

We don’t have pictures to show you of this epic struggle on the Justice, bc neither one of us dared to shirt the boat in fear of going overboard. It is best that this experience stays buried beneath the 72 Piton beers we had once we got back to our Jalousie homeland. Hey, we had to celebrate still being alive! Cheers to never going on the Justice ever again!

Day 6: In ode to the beach, the pool and free sorbet!

On our last full day, we decided to play it safe and slip back into total relaxation. And we were rewarded for it with “complimentary” strawberry and mango sorbet! We were just laying on the beach when a Jalousie server walked up to us with a tray of icy goodness. (In really cool cups. Those went into my backpack before the lady was halfway down the beach!)

We alternated the beach and the pool…


Then we actually decided to eat lunch! (After surviving on lunches of granola bars, Chex Mix and animal crackers…we preferred to spend our non-meal plan dollars on drinks!)

Which was a really good decision.

After we ate, we went snorkeling again, but this time in the waters around the Jalousie. We didn’t have an underwater camera, so we can’t show you any pictures of this adventure either, but there were some pretty cool looking fish down there! Our favorite were the yellow and black striped ones.

We worked up quite an appetite, so we went back to our villa, swam some more in our Infinity Pool, then changed and went down to the Bayside. We had some drinks on the beach and then headed to dinner.

Since it was our last dinner, we each ordered appetizers, entrees AND a big side of rigatoni! Needless to say, it was the only night we didn’t order dessert. In fact, we ended up being so unbelievably full that we couldn’t even walk the beach after dinner…we wound up going back to the room, laying in bed and discussing how we have to get a four-poster bed so we could re-create the Jalousie design. Marriage is so exciting!

Day 7: Saying goodbye to the Jalousie

On Tuesday, we had until noon before we had to be on our way to the airport. So we ordered just about everything on the breakfast menu (really taking advantage of the fact that we didn’t have to fit into a wedding dress/tux anymore!) and went back to the beach and pool. Then we toured the resort one last time, taking advantage of the few last photo ops.

This is the Great Room restaurant and Cane Bar. We spent many a nights up there, eating amazing food and drinking Pitons!
Outside of the main lobby. I loved these tree lanterns!
Goodbye Jalousie! :(
We called Bernard, the same taxi driver who dropped us off just a few days prior, to come and pick us up. He blasted the reggae while we drank our last Pitons in the back seat!
Two plane rides and a short stop in Miami later, we were back in our apartment in Alexandria – greeted by a great surprising sign!
We laughed, dropped our bags and headed straight to bed. Although we could’t stop talking about what an AMAZING wedding  & honeymoon we had. In fact, we STILL cannot stop talking about them. We want to thank our family & friends a million times over for making this the most special time of our lives! We love you all so much, and hope you enjoyed the wedding and our honeymoon (via pictures and stories) as much as we did. :)
Now, where is that Firefly? I need to call for a shuttle to BED.

Ripe for the Pickin’

25 Jun

Last Saturday, Matt and I did what we’ve been talking about doing for weeks now. Okay, I lie…Matt and I did what I’VE been talking about, thinking about and dreaming about for weeks now…going berry picking!

Some of my absolute favorite childhood memories are the times my mom and I – and occasionally my brother Dave – spent on a farm (particularly Becker Farms, of course!), picking apples, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches – you name it. I remember how excited I used to be the morning of a “U-Pick” session – putting on my favorite pair of overalls, grabbing our cartons and bags and taking that long country drive to the farmlands. I remember scoring the trees and bushes for the best fruit – and eating more than half of what ended up in the basket. My mom used to always tell me, “Anne Marie, they are going to have to weigh you when we go in and weigh you on our way out!” The day usually always ended with dirty jeans, an “I-ate-too-much” belly ache and enough fruit to last us for months. Looking back, these were such special moments for me and my mom. We shared so many laughs (and so many apples) during those sunny afternoons. And after all, since she taught me everything I know about food, cooking and freezer jam, being with her in a maze of fruit trees are the times I cherish the most.

And they are also the times I miss the most. Being away from home is a lot harder than I ever imagined it to be! Especially when you’re stressed about work and  a wedding! While Matt and I have been doing our best to manage the time that keeps flying by, I knew we needed a break from our so-called “norm.” I especially needed to get back to something I have been neglecting for awhile – my old farmer soul!

And so after researching farms in the DC/VA/MD region, I came across a gem called Larriland Farms. While no farm is probably ever going to live up to my beloved Becker’s, I was willing to drive an hour to see what Larriland Farms had in store. (Yes, Matt drove me an hour to pick fruit. I love him.) The drive up there was gorgeous –  we put the windows down, the sunroof back and the radio high. I could feel myself getting closer to that little girl in the passenger seat of her Mom’s van by the minute.

On the way to the farm, we came across another, unexpected gem. Just as Matt was saying “I’m going to need to eat soon,” we whizzed passed this little place called “Sister Sandwiches and Such.” We both did a quick look, and without even a word Matt did a U-Turn and pulled into the parking lot. “I think we’ve found our spot!!!”

It was literally the cutest thing in the world. It is a country house-turned restaurant, with all the homemade fixings. There were shelves of adorable knick-knacks, hand-stiched kitchen towels and colorfully painted salt & pepper shakers, which Matt had to literally pry out of my hands. The menu was painted on the wall, and while the line was long, the ambiance was comfy.

Of course I couldn’t decide on one thing, so I picked the soup & salad combo: 1/2 of the “Vinny Salad,” which was romaine lettuce w/ granny smith apples, muenster cheese and candied pecans (basically my dream team) and white vegetable chicken chili. (Another favorite.) Matt chose “The Smasher” sandwich – roasted turkey on multigrain bread, loaded with barbecue chips and sauce. We took a seat front he front porch and took in the beauty of the countryside and food made with total love.

After we fueled up (the salad and soup were DELISH…and so was Matt’s sandwich, as I obviously took a few bites!) we were back on the road to do some pickin’.

We finally arrived at Larriland about twenty minutes later – and wow, this place was huge! There were rows and rows of farm as far as you could see. I literally almost jumped out of the car while it was moving, I was so darn excited.

There were no more strawberries available to pick, so we decided we would pick a few black raspberries, then move to blueberries and cherries, which were located across the street. The black raspberries were slim pickins…we really had to search for ripe ones! Just as I was about to say that the farm shouldn’t have this patch open yet a lady walked by with a HUGE carton full of the ripest black raspberries! Matt and I both looked at each other and started laughing – she must have taken every last one! We ended up only buying about a cup of black raspberries before moving on to the blueberries.

But my oh my, the blueberries made up for the lack of black raspberries! There were bunches of ripe blueberries on every bush, and I am pretty sure I was running laps up and down the rows, loading up our bag. There was the cutest little kid in the field, who must have been eating too many blueberries bc his grandma kept saying “You better watch out for the blueberry police!” When he saw me on the other side of the blueberry bush, he said, “I think I see the blueberry police!” We all laughed really hard, and I told him that I was worried he was the blueberry police. We decided we would both eat the blueberries and not tell anyone. :)

After overflowing our 4-pound bag, the clouds started looming over us and we decided we need to get over to the cherry field, ASAP! But first, we had to stop in the barn to check out all of the goodies they had inside.

Ah, I could have stayed in that barn forever! They had all kinds of spices, jams, sauces and canning supplies. THey also had root beer in glass bottles, which Matt was all about! After Matt dragged me away from the stacks of mason jars, we grabbed a root beer and a big bag of trail mix and headed to the cherry trees.

As much as I love blueberries, I LOVE cherries. They are one of Matt’s favorite fruits too, so we were both prepared to climb trees to get the best ones. Luck for us, they had ladders!

Picking cherries brought back even more memories of my childhood, as I remember actually climbing the trees with my brother and my mom saying, “You two are like monkeys! The farmers are going to come and pull you outta there!” As we went from tree to tree (Matt was an excellent wingman, pulling the best branches down to my level), our bag got heavier, as well as our stomachs! I didn’t care if these cherries were $5 a pound, the experience alone was worth my entire paycheck.

I really could have stayed there forever, becoming a professional fruit-picker and feel 100 percent satisfied with my life!

I remember as we left Larriland and headed back home, Matt laughed because I could not stop looking at the backseat floor, where the fruits of our labor sat perfectly in a cardboard crate. We cranked up the country music, rolled the windows back down and grabbed a handful of cherries, since we still were not sick of eating them! I could not think of a more way to spend the day.

As I reflect on that day, I realize that it was right there, smack dab in the middle of a cherry tree that I found that little girl I had become too busy to be. And although I can’t go to Larriland every weekend (well, I guess I can but I don’t know if Matt would be too thrilled) I know that it is imperative that throughout the wedding details, work events and never-ending to-do lists, I get back to my own roots to make my life as fruitful and innocent as it used to be.

You’re invited…

9 Jun


To jump for joy around your living room with me, in celebration that the invitations have arrived! Yes, to reference my last post, I went through multiple rounds of stress, edits and refreshing of the USPS tracking site to get to this joyous moment in wedding planning history. And now here they sit, stacked so pretty in ribbons that I actually couldn’t bring myself to unwrap them for a half hour.

Now….do I really have to send them away?

Revisiting happier times: Save the Dates!

9 May

As I begin to take in the calm reality of “THE WEDDING IS FOUR MONTHS AWAY!?!?!!??!” I wanted to take a moment to revisit the (now what seems like) simple days of “the wedding is SIX months away!!!” At the time, our Save-the-Dates were the biggest deal in the world for me, because, like always, I was overwhelmed with thoughts/designs/inspirations of what I wanted the first glimpse of our wedding to be. But now, as I am faced with the actual invitation decision, our Save-the-Date days and of course, the final outcome, makes me smile. And then stress, obviously….how can possibly I top this?

Confessions of a M.I.A. Blogger…

19 Apr

I know, I know. It’s been months. Five months, to be exact. For those seven to ten dedicated readers, (may be stretching it there) I do apologize. I didn’t mean to abandon you – in fact, you were on my mind all the time. I planned to write, thought up blog posts in my head, created some really great food to share and even had a few witty headlines ready to go. But somehow, the days passed and the world turned and I inevitably put my blog on an indefinite hold.

But I am happy to announce that today folks, today marks my return back to the blog-iverse! However, instead of just picking up where I left off like nothing has happened, I’d like to revisit all the things I’ve been doing while not blogging. (I swear I haven’t just been sitting here the entire five months.) So here is a short list of distractions. Drumroll please….

1) Working!

Leaving for my 1st day of work!

As many of you know, I got a job with my long-lusted after company, Destination DC. I drooled over their website and job listings months before I moved down, so you can imagine my excitement when they offered me a job! The company is wonderful, the city is amazing and I have found that I laugh really hard at work every single day (which seriously, I don’t know how I get s lucky – two jobs in a row filled with awesome people! Shout out to SBU Admissions Team!) However, even though I love my newfound DDC family, the job proved quite crazy at times, and for the better half of the six months I have been there I have come home utterly exhausted and/or bat crazy. Luckily, I finally feel like I have both feet on the ground in my position, leaving me eager and energized to take on whatever awaits me.

Which is really great, because I don’t know, I’m kinda also sortaaaa -

2) PLANNING A WEDDING!

No, the ring is not on my right finger....this is a mirror shot! Haha although I wouldnt put it past me...

Holy crap, that reminds me….5 1/2 months to go! We have a church, reception, DJ, photographer, videographer (pending), florist and a Frank Sinatra-like singer (one of my favorite details) and hopefully many other details that are escaping me at the moment. Oh, and I found my dress! For FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS (originally $1,700. What whattt)! Now I just need to find bridesmaids and flower girl dresses (Anyone who has spare time and wants to research navy blue cocktail-length dresses, please step forward. I will pay you in granola) and hammer put a bunch of little details. My showers are planned, food tasting is set and our honeymoon is thisclose to being finalized. More details on that as they come along, I promise!

Throughout the better part of the planning, I have discovered an outlet for all the stress and anxiety:

3) RUNNING.

To relieve all the work/wedding stress as well as being my mind as well as my body to a place of health and fitness, I signed up for the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler with Matt. I tagged along to the Army Ten Miler with Matt & Mr. Izzo in October, and seeing all of those people together, being a part of something bigger than themselves and both mentally and physically fit to take on that challenge was very inspiring. As much as I was thrilled about the tents of free healthy snacks that I would have all to myself for a good hour or two, when that race began, I knew I should have been out there. I actually wanted be out there, facing every single one of those miles.

So needless to say, after that race Matt became my running guru, training me for the Cherry Blossom run. Every weekend I surprised myself, and Matt – from running two miles, absolutely breathless, to running 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 miles with more and more energy and passion. I couldn’t believe the athlete that was hidden inside of me! While I have always loved to walk, eat healthy and work out moderately, running was something that I was always too scared/lazy to throw myself into. I knew I had it in my, yet I never thought it was worth the discomfort. Therefore, with each mile we ran, I learned a lot about myself, my mental toughness and how much I actually enjoyed running. (I also learned many times I can complain to Matt before he gets mad!) When the race day came, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I should be, because I knew I was ready.  Plus I had this really great headband…

We had trained hard, and that no matter what, I had proven to myself that I could do this already. Plus, I was excited to do it! I was seriously like a little kid the night before, running around the apartment like I was getting ready for my first day of school. (Yes, I even laid my running outfit out.) We got down to the National Mall early enough to witness a gorgeous sunrise over the Capitol! It was freezing cold, so the race couldn’t have started any sooner.

Once we crossed the start line, I felt unstoppable! Plus, I make these “marathon chunks” that I adapted from (neverhome)maker, which I have continuously credited for my ridiculous energy. The miles passed faster than I dreamed possible, and Matt ran with me the whole time, which not only made the run easier but a whole lot more fun! (However, HE actually had a bit of complaints! When he said something hurt, I just put my head down and pointed to my headband. SHUT UP AND RUN, BABY!) I finished the race w/ a net time of 1:30:53, average pace of 9:06 minute miles. I placed 806 out of 2694 women in my age group. Not too shabby!

The only thing disappointing about the run was the free snacks after. I was prepared to leave with nothing less than 10 miles under my belt and about 15-20 free Kashi bars. Instead, I had to succumb to just bananas and muffins. Which I still managed to take a fair amount. (Matt wanted to kill me…I kept dropping bananas throughout the Metro.)

So now that I’ve semi-conquered work, the wedding and running, I want to re-tackle this blog. I also want to re-focus it as well, since I obviously have a lot of things to share besides recipes! I’m working on a new blog title, to try to encompass all facets of my life, however nothing genius has popped into my head yet. So let me know any thoughts.

Maybe “SHUT UP AND BLOG?”  :)

Fruit and Nuts and Flax Seed, oh my!

20 Nov

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have just started working at my dream company, Destination DC, about a month ago. Actually, today is my one-month anniversary! Wooooo –  pop them bottles! Or, better yet,  just make me some hot chocolate. And give me a blanket, my Happy Feet slippers and a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. That’s MY kinda party these days!

I was so happy to start work, not only because I was itching to re-join the real world and excited to get my career going in the DC world, but also just to get in a normal, daily routine again. Don’t get me wrong, being unemployed had its serious perks. I never counted my hours of sleep, always got to watch the entire Today Show, including Hoda & Kathie Lee (ahhh, how I miss those two!) and obviously cooked, ate and cooked and ate when I pleased. However, this also meant that I was a bit out-of-whack. I’d wake up, hang out (watch Hoda & Kathie Lee…) drink some coffee and decided if I was going to go for a walk, go to the gym or go to the grocery store. Guess which choice was my favorite! I figured if I went to the grocery store, I would be walking, which in turn would turn into a workout. And it was a workout, for my legs AND for my credit card! Which, again, did not support my unemployment. But it did make for some full, versatile cupboards!

Needless to say, work has not only satisfied my professional mojo, but got my meal & snack schedule back on-track. Oh, and wait – did I mention I’ve become a bit of a runner?

(Insert all three of my brothers saying, “Yea, riiiiight Anne Marie. Running to the mall?”)

After seeing Matt run the Army 10-Miler, and seeing all the glory and personal gratification that comes from such an accomplishment, I decided that I, too, wanted to run. Even if it was just a mile or two, I wanted – I needed – to experience that feeling.

And about one month later, I’m up to four miles! And I absolutely (wait for it….) LOVE it! Instead of dreading my workout, I actually am excited to get up, get outside and run my little legs out.

So, mix working and running and you get a very hungry little chick! I eat a big breakfast in the morning (compliments of Matthew) and by the time I get to work, I’m already starving. So, when I saw these fruit & nut bars on one of my very favorite blogs, Oh She Glows, I knew that they would be the perfect power snack for before lunch, before dinner or before a long run!

I was so pleasantly surprised with the “flax egg,” as I had ye tot try this concoction. It really did thicken up after ten minutes, and worked magically in the recipe, just as an egg would. Now I’m obsessed with turning every egg in my baking recipes into a flax egg! Even my own “healthy = tasteless” Mama Ro would never know the difference :)

Fruit & Nut Squares

(adapted from Oh She Glows)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour (or all-purpose)
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup  light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cups toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 cup toasted, pecans chopped
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup chopped dates (or figs…I actually didn’t have either so I had to omit this!)
  • 1 cup dried apricots, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax + 3 tbsp water)
  • 1 tbsp almond milk (I used the unsweetened vanilla kind)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper across both sides for easy lifting.

In a small bowl, mix together the flax egg and set aside. In about 10 minutes, it will thicken up!

Chop walnuts, almonds and pecans and spread onto a baking sheet. Toast for for 8-9 minutes, then remove and let cool for a bit. I have always skipped this step in the past, but Angela recommended to not skip this step, so I listened. And she was right – much better flavor!

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the toasted nuts and chopped dried fruit. Stir well, making sure that every bit is coated in the flour mixture.

Mix the vanilla into the flax egg, after it has thickened up (about 10 minutes).

Add the flax egg mixture and the 1 tbsp almond milk to the fruit and nut mixture. Mix well, making sure that everything is coated. Spread into the pan, pressing down to make sure it is even. ( I put another sheet wax paper over the pan and pressed down with the palms of my hands to insure an even terrain!)

Bake for about 33-35 minutes at 325 or until golden. Remove from pan and allow to cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. then, transfer back into the pan and place in freezer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove from freezer, remove from pan once again and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Slice with a sharp knife and get your power snacking on! This gave me about 16 squares, but you can cut as big or small as you’d like.

Ok, time to run! (Literally :))

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