Monday, October 31, 2011

American Horror Story

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I am a lover of all things scary:
  • music
  • movies
  • haunted houses
  • stories
  • books
In fact, when I was little I was hooked on the Goosebumps series which made way for RL Stine's Fear Street series.

So when my friend Sarah told me about a new tv show called American Horror Story on FX - I knew I had to watch. I downloaded the first three episodes and watched the first one with Kandi and Brandon the night before Halloween.

W.T.H?


I'm not quite sure where to start! Some scenes were funny, some were disturbing, and most were creepy. There seemed to be every element of a scary movie packed into one episode -- which was almost too much stimulation rolled into one hour: twins, jars of baby parts, down syndrome neighbor girl (who seems to be the only character with a clue!) and her mean mother, the old housekeeper (who the husband - and only the husband - sees as a hot, french maid), a creepy burnt faced man, the shiny S&M outfit found in the attic, and pyscho patients of the psychiatrist dad! To be fair, it IS called American Horror Story and I think that perhaps the intention was to incorporate all of the popular elements of American horror stories and put them together. However, I don't really like or relate with any of the characters which makes it hard to invest in the show.



If you don't like scary movies - don't bother with this show. If you do...you might enjoy the weirdness creepiness. Brandon and I both talked about our disturbing dreams from last night (I did not sleep well, and in fact, was too scared to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night). I'm actually surprised by my reaction since I've seen scarier and not been affected at all. The truth is, I'm rooting for this show because there's never been a horror story tv series! I'm curious to see how it develops over the course of this season...although I'll probably watch it during the day.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Pie

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I've been on the hunt for an easy, yummy pumpkin pie recipe. I don't think there's a pie that I love more than pumpkin. There are so many recipes out there, that it was hard to choose but I finally settled on one when I saw how much Cool Whip was involved (what's better than Cool Whip?) I also decided that I wanted to make my own Graham Cracker crust (so easy!)

Ingredients: 
1 small can (15oz) pumpkin pie filling
1 pkg soft (8oz) Philly cream cheese
1 large tub Cool Whip
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 deep 9" graham cracker pie crusts (or 2 pie pans if you're going to make your own crust)
cinnamon (to sprinkle on top)
Ready Whip (for serving)
Box of Graham Crackers
Butter
Sugar


Step 1.
*This is to make one pie crust (I repeated this a second time for the second crust)* 
About 9 crushed graham crackers (or 18 halves) will equal 1 and 1/4 cups of cracker crumbs. I placed 18 halves in a Ziploc baggy and began crushing. With my hands at first, and then rolling the can of pumpkin filling over it.

Step 2. 
Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in the microwave (takes about a minute)

Step 3.
Add graham cracker crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar to the melted butter.


Step 4. 
Mix together. It will still look pretty crumbly.

Step 5. 
I poured the crumb mixture into the pie pan and pressed and packed it with my fingers.


Step 6. 
I decided to bake my crust for about 6 minutes in the oven on 350. I think it gives it a better taste. I then put them in the fridge to cool.

Step 7.
Filling time! In a mixing bowl add pumpkin pie filling, cream cheese and pumpkin spice


Step 8.
Mix well with mixer.

Step 9. 
Time to add the Cool Whip (my favorite part). Slowly fold in the Cool Whip so it stays fluffy. The recipe calls for a large tub (not the regular sized one) but I didn't end up using all of it, probably 3/4 of it. I just thought the whole tub would have been too much.


Step 10. 
Spoon into the chilled pie crusts. I filled them pretty full.


Step 11.
I put them in the fridge until ready to serve. Then just top with a little bit of whipped cream and sprinkled cinnamon and voila!


Brandon and I were pretty excited with how it turned out. To me, it tasted like pumpkin pie -- just a fluffier, not-as-heavy version. And let's face it, it tasted like whipped cream which I love!!! The crust was Brandon's favorite part :-)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Easy "go-to" Dinners

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Calling all of my healthy eater friends:

Would anyone like to share quick, simple recipes that are relatively healthy and won't take hours of preparation after work? Here are some of my favorites:

Taco Salad (or mexi-wonder bowls as Brandon so adoringly calls them)

What I love about this meal is how easy it is to make (you are essentially just throwing things in a bowl) but also that it's not a particularly heavy meal and it's completely customizable. If I want to eat healthier I leave out the sourcream and rice. If I'm not in the mood for meat, I leave out the ground beef.

-Lettuce
-Spanish Rice (I use the packets that take 10 minutes to make)
-black beans
-shredded cheddar cheese
-black olives
-tomatoes
-avocado slices
-sourcream
-green onions
-ground beef cooked with taco sauce (optional)


Orzo Salad

What I love about this "salad" is that it can be a meal or a side. I stole this recipe from Brandon's sister Amber after she made it for us one evening.

-1/2 box of Orzo
-1/2 bag of spinach
-feta
-pine nuts
-1/4 red onion chopped in small pieces
-grilled chicken (if this will be a meal and not a side)
-balsamic dressing

Simply put, you cook the orzo, drain it, and then wait for it to cool (I put mine in the fridge to speed up the process). I take my bag of spinach and I tear off the stems and rip the leaves in half. In a bowl you add the spinach to the orzo, sprinkle with feta, pine nuts, onion and balsamic dressing. Mix well. I make this recipe by taste, so you can experiment with what you like best. I like fewer pine nuts, more onion.


Grilled Chicken & Veggie Skewers

An easy, healthier meal we eat fairly often is grilled chicken (Brandon just seasons it with garlic salt and pepper) and veggies on skewers put on the BBQ. I usually use bell peppers, onion and squash. I just cut them in bite size pieces, put them on skewers, brush with olive oil and a little bit of garlic salt. Voila.

-Chicken
-Squash
-Onion
-Bell Pepper
-Garlic Salt
-Olive Oil

Rotisserie Bowls

One of my favorite places to eat during the week is a place called Chick's. I get their rice bowl which would be pretty easy to duplicate at home:

-brown or white rice
-steamed broccoli
-steamed carrots
-shredded rotisserie chicken (I just buy the hot, rotisserie chickens from the grocery store and make 
 Brandon shred it)
-teriyaki/soy sauce

If you have a wonderful (simple) recipe, why don't you be a pal and leave it in a comment :-)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Birthdays!

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I spent this weekend celebrating the birthdays of two very special people. Saturday I made my way to Temecula for my grandma's 70th birthday celebration (ladies only). I met my mom, aunt, grandma and my grandma's best friend Joan at P.F. Chang's for lunch. This was followed by pedicures and a late afternoon movie, The Ides of March {Ryan Gosling? yes please, ha.}
They've been best friends for so many years (grandma in blue, Joan next to her)
While I was growing up, my grandma was never the sew-you-a-quilt-and-bake-you-cookies type of grandma. She was a single woman who provided for herself, traveled the world, loved photography and remodeling her home, and would sit with my mom for hours discussing books. She was the "cool" grandma. AND she had a pool. Scorching Murrieta summers were spent swimming in that pool until our fingers and toes were pruned. The best part of those days were sneaking into her house to get an ice cold Coca Cola (which were always stocked in her fridge) because we never had them at home. Twenty years later, I've had the opportunity to go to England, Belgium, Italy and Holland with her and I'd say she's still the "cool" grandma.

On Sunday, Brandon and I watched the morning Chargers game (sadly they lost to the Jets) before making our way to Coronado for one of my best friend Kelly's 28th birthday BBQ. We had such a great time snacking, talking and laughing. We got to meet Meghann's little one and talk to Brandi about her little one that will be arriving soon. The night was complete with birthday pumpkin pie and presents :-)

The birthday girl in stripes
Happy Birthday Kelly and Grandma!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.

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Like any human being, I can sometimes get caught up in the things that I wish I had.

I wish I had a brand new car.
I wish I owned my own beautiful home and could furnish it with all new furniture.
I wish I had a closet like the one Big built for Carrie.
I wish I didn't have to work.
I wish I had a maid.
I wish we didn't have to pay back student loans.
I wish someone would invent a cure for cellulite.

And then other times, I feel so overwhelmed with how lucky I am that I could cry.

I have the faithful love of an incredible man.
The closest friends a girl could ask for.
I have an amazing family and both parents who are still happily married and are a continual example of the kind of marriage to strive for.
A job with a great company in an economy that has left too many people unemployed.
My health. When I think about the amount of diseases that are out there: cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, you name it -- I think it's a miracle that I'm healthy. I can walk and breathe and I'm not hungry. I think too often we take these simple things for granted.

I tell Brandon sometimes that I'm worried God or the universe will notice that I haven't been stricken with some tragedy - and that I'm luckier than so many people - and will throw something bad my way. Take away a parent, or my best friend. Leave me without a job. He tells me with a smile that he doesn't think it works that way and I feel better temporarily. Until the next time that I have that overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my life and those in it and wonder how I'll manage under the radar unscathed. I decided when I feel this way it's time to do something for other people.

I'm reminded of being 15 years old and sitting in Kandi's bedroom. We plotted for hours about our plan to feed the hungry. We decided that a couple of hundred dollars of top ramen (nutritious right?) would do it. We'd open a soup kitchen in some remote part of Africa and feed the hungry Top Ramen. We talked about taking a couple hundred dollars and leaving it on the door-step of a home in a bad area. We never did either.

"I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet."

To me, this is a reminder to always be thankful for what you have because there is always someone out there less fortunate. There is always, always something to be thankful for.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Magen's Bay

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One place that we knew we had to visit was Magen's Bay. National Geographic Magazine called it one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world!! On the island tour we took on the first day we saw Magen's Bay from one of the lookouts and it was stunning (see earlier blog posts). So we couldn't wait to actually get down there and get in the water. It did not disappoint.




One of the first things I noticed in the clear blue (almost green) water were big dark spots along the shore. From farther away it almost looked like a bunch of seaweed however it was actually a massive school of tiny fish! It was absolutely incredible to walk through the school of fish and watch them part immediately and all together in one move. We couldn't have touched one if we wanted to.

Notice how the boys are standing in white spots because the fish move
I'm not sure how clear this video will be but I thought it might give you a better idea.
video


At one point we saw what we thought were sharks swimming through the school of fish but it turns out they were just huge Tarpon fish.

video

Monday, October 17, 2011

Island Hopping

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Hands down our favorite day in the Virgin Islands was the day that Brandon's parents chartered a private boat (with a captain) to take us island hopping. This wasn't just any old boat either. It had a downstairs with a bathroom, bedroom, and kitchenette. This picture doesn't really do it any justice but it's really the only one I have of the boat itself.

Our captain, Francois, took us to several destinations throughout the day.



1st Stop: Pointing out mansions that we'll never be able to afford:

The "house" behind us rents for $5k a night and was the one the RHNY rented for their vacation! Remember?
2nd Stop: Snorkeling at Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. *Fun Fact: the book Treasure Island was inspired by the caves at Norman Island*

Gorgeous right?

We saw an octopus, sting ray and SHARKS!! Yes, one shark swam right beneath Brandon's mom, Penny! Later we saw a mama shark lying on the bottom of the ocean floor with her baby shark. It was kinda cute but to be honest I kept waiting for her to bolt up and get me.

3rd Stop: Lunch at Willie T's (an old abandoned pirate ship turned restaurant and bar).

Now let me just tell those of you that don't already know. Brandon's mom knows how to have a good time, I mean she can party with the best of 'em and makes me feel like an old lady! Within 30 minutes of stepping onto the ship she had downed two rum drinks and was jumping off the back of the ship with some other naked party animals (although she herself was not naked).

Brandon's turn
Lunch with our captain, Francois
Francois recommended that we get an order of Conch (pronounced Conk) Fritters which were honestly to die for. I wish I had taken a picture, but it was breaded with spices and actually contains some pieces of conch. Unfortunately for me, I googled recipes later and found out conch is a sea snail and wanted to throw up. I'd still recommend them to anyone though!

Our last (and maybe best) stop: The Soggy Dollar! This is a bar on the island of Jost Van Dyke, BVI. It got its name because you have to swim ashore from your boat. Once inside the bar, you can hang your money on a line to dry. The ocean was once again amazing and we ordered a round of 'Nilla Killas which is a different version of the Pain Killer drink we'd been having everywhere we went. The only difference is that the rum in the Nilla Killa is Vanilla flavored instead of dark rum. Basically this drink from heaven consists of:

Cream of Coconut
Orange Juice
Pineapple Juice
Vanilla Rum 

and then it's topped with grated nutmeg. 

Stan & Penny outside of the Soggy Dollar on Jost Van Dyke Island
We enjoyed our drinks in the ocean and then reluctantly climbed back in the boat about an hour later.

Once we pulled into the dock, we spotted a local fisherman who sold us fresh mahi mahi straight from the ocean. I'm not a huge fish eater, but we BBQ'ed it later that night and it was delicious!
Poor Mahi Mahi
 I think if there was a day that I would want to repeat again and again - this would be it.

Island Interview

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A couple of months after we booked our trip to St.Thomas, Brandon discovered that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands (whew, mouthful!) was looking for a clerk for 2012. He decided to apply and received a letter back stating that although the judge wasn't planning on doing any interviews until December - he'd make an exception for Brandon since we were going to be there in October.

Knowing that he was going to be interviewing made me look at the island in a different way. If there's a possibility we could be living there for a year, I wanted to observe things I normally wouldn't take notice of (grocery stores, roads etc.).

Cons:

On the downside, the roads here are terrible! Pot holes, speed bumps (that are more like curbs), steep hills, narrow roads, and did I mention that they drive on the left hand side? While researching about St.Thomas I'd read that you shouldn't bother bringing a nice car to the island because after six months you'll have so many dings, your suspension will be shot and you'll need to replace your brakes. Okay, that's not so bad. Maybe I'd kinda like to drive a big clunker and run into things whenever I want. We rented a jeep for the week and Brandon had no problem driving on the left (so hopefully I'd be able to get the hang of it as well).

The grocery store was an interesting experience also. We were able to find almost everything that they have in the states it's just much more expensive (because everything has to be imported). I also found it odd that once you unload your cart of food on the conveyor belt you have to bring the cart back to the front of the store (you can't bring it with you through the line - probably so people don't steal them). So you return your cart, head back to the line, bag your own groceries and then you have to carry all of the bags out because you don't have a cart to put them in!

Pros:

The weather. Honestly, I've never experienced weather I enjoyed more than this. Anyone that knows me well, knows that I just don't do well in the cold. I find Encinitas to be cold most of the time (yes, 70 degrees is cold). I've been to Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Hawaii and they all have tropical weather -- but it isn't quite like St.Thomas. The water is warm enough to go wading in without cringing, and refreshing enough to keep you cool in the warm sun. The island breeze was constant and before it could ever get too hot, a cloud would cover the sun for a few minutes and provide relief. My skin loved the slight humidity also (although my hair hated it).

The people. Everyone we came in contact with seemed so happy (how could you not be in a paradise like this?) I could also get used to running on "island time." Everyone is so laid back, there doesn't ever seem to be a frantic rush. That would be good for me, since I always seem to stress about being everywhere on time.

The experience. I've never lived outside of Southern California!! It would be a great experience to live somewhere for a year before we decided we want to settle down and have a family.

But I digress...back to Brandon's interview. It went really well! It was about two hours long, and he also got a chance to meet with the judge's current clerks to pick their brains about living on the island and working for the court. We won't hear for a couple of months, but I'll be sure to keep everyone posted!

Right before leaving to his interview

St.Thomas - Our One Year Anniversary

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We were lucky enough to be able to spend our first anniversary in St. Thomas. I keep asking Brandon how in the world we'll top this for our 2nd anniversary ;-) After seven hours in the sun and ocean, we got ready and headed to The Banana Tree for our 6:30 reservation. The Banana Tree was an amazing restaurant overlooking the city lights and the ocean. Our three-course meal was absolutely divine!

Course 1: Garlic bread topped with steak, bruchetta, mozzarella and balsamic
Course 2: Creamy Artichoke Pasta
Course 3: Flank steak, garlic mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini

I don't know what we'll be doing on our anniversary next year but I know this is one I'll remember for the rest of our lives.

St.Thomas, Virgin Islands - The first few days

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Three red eye flights and fourteen hours later...we arrived in St. Thomas! We booked an island tour on our very first day to help us get acquainted with the Island. Our guide, Ali, picked us up at 9:00 am and drove us to some of the most beautiful and famous sites in St.Thomas.
View from Drake's Seat (the famous lookout that Sir Francis Drake used to watch for pirate ships)
See...Drake's Seat

View of Magen's Bay (voted one of the top ten beaches in the world)

The Gray Family

We stopped at a farm overlooking the ocean and tried different Caribbean fruit
 After the tour, we spent the afternoon at the beach and pool at our resort, Frenchman's Cove. The water was so unbelievably warm - we only got out to eat and sleep


I could easily get used to this Island lifestyle...

Monday, October 10, 2011

One Year Anniversary

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Happy Anniversary to my perfect match. I couldn't imagine a person that I'd rather have by my side through all of life's adventures. The best decision I ever made was to walk down the aisle and become your wife. 
October 9, 2010
You are everything I ever dreamed of as a little girl and sometimes I don't know how I got so lucky. Thank you for making me smile everyday. One year down, a lifetime to go!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Trattoria Ponte Vecchio

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I think it's safe to say that Brandon and I are creatures of habit -- at least in the way of food. Monday - Friday we frequent the same handful of restaurants and rarely venture outside of our tasty bubble. We're a little more adventurous on the weekends ;-)

Quite a ways back I bought a couple of gift certificates on restaurant.com (which, by the way, has AMAZING deals). They were running an 80% off special - so I got $25 gift certificates for TWO DOLLARS. I bought two for Gregorio's in Carlsbad because I love that place, and then I got a third gift certificate to a restaurant in Del Mar that I had never even heard of, Trattoria Ponte Vecchio. Side note: the way it works is that your bill has to be a minimum of $35 to get the $25 off - so you could only end up spending $10 plus drinks.

So Brandon and I decided that we should have a Wednesday night date and that Trattoria Ponte Vecchio would be the place. What an amazing restaurant. I was going to Yelp my review (and I still might) but I figured I should share with my closest friends too. You must try it. It's a small restaurant (probably ten tables inside, 5 tables outside) and the ambiance was especially cozy for us because it was pouring rain outside. Our tables were lit by a single candle and we got to watch the rain run down the windows.

I ordered the RIGATONI SALSICCIA which is described as "large tubes of pasta stuffed with sausages in a zesty marinara sauce." Mmmm, my mouth is watering all over again just thinking about it. It was so similar to the pasta that I had every night while we were in Venice, Italy. The sauce isn't as thick as American Italian food, and it is saltier (in a good way). The sausages were prepared so that it looked just like a meat sauce and they were perfectly spiced. The portion was enormous but somehow I was able to finish it (with a little help from Brandon at the end).

Brandon chose the RAVIOLI D'ARAGOSTA which is "ravioli stuffed with lobster meat in brandy pink sauce and topped with shrimp." Since I'm not really a seafood eater, I didn't try it, but took his word for it that it was delicious. He commented that it tasted like legitimate Italian food as well.

My one and only very tiny complaint would be that they had canned soda. Which surprised me for such a nice restaurant. So they brought out my cold can of diet coke, opened it for me and poured it over ice. But what that means to me is that there are no refills. I had to savor each sip and conserve throughout the meal. I'm
sure most people order wine when they have Italian, so this wouldn't even be a consideration, but I was bummed. Not to mention my can of soda was $3 dollars haha.

For dessert we ordered the cannolis and devoured them! They came on a plate of three, drizzled in chocolate with sliced strawberries. See for yourself...
mmmm, right?
When we got in the car we couldn't stop talking about how much we enjoyed dinner, and how we couldn't wait to return. I guess good things can happen when you step outside of your bubble.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy Camper?

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I married a man who loves the outdoors, in particular, camping. I, on the other hand, am more of an indoorsy kinda gal. In fact, my favorite mug proudly boasts this picture and slogan:


However, because it's something that Brandon enjoys, from time to time I'll go with him. The last time we went "Desert Camping" which included shooting guns in the hot sun, sleeping in a tent, going to the bathroom in a bucket luggable-loo, and waking up every 30 minutes when the border patrol truck drove by and shined its bright lights in our tent.

This time Brandon chose "Beach Camping" for our weekend adventure. He booked the spot 6 months ago, and I've known this weekend was approaching. Here are some highlights from the weekend:


Burgers for dinner, breakfast burritos in the morning and beach sunsets
Kandi came to visit and we played a game of Smash-ball



<3

Kandi does not mess around with her S'mores!

Sitting by the campfire is my favorite part of camping
Another great surprise was finding out that our camp neighbors were my old college friend Danielle and her husband! We spent the second night sitting around the fire with them and catching up on everything that has happened since we graduated from college 4 years ago.

Although it was a great weekend, there is NOTHING like coming home and taking a steaming hot shower, scrubbing all of the dirt and campfire smoke out of your hair, and falling into your soft, clean bed. I don't think I'll be getting rid of my mug anytime soon...I still love not camping.
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