NYC Traditions

I’m currently blogging from the Tampa Bay International Airport, waiting for my connecting flight to take my siblings and I back to CT. Not pleased about going back, but I am pleased that I can continue to relive this wonderful holiday season through all my recap blog posts – enjoy this latest one, about our trip to NYC 12/23-12/24!

Every year, my dad takes my sister and I to NYC on the 23rd. We shop, go out to eat, and stay overnight. Then on the morning of the 24th, we wake up and go to the Today Show to get on TV! We are successful each year, and after we get on TV, we have breakfast, shop if we still need to make some stops, and then go home. It is really one of our most beloved family traditions, and I look forward to our NYC excursion each and every holiday season.

The coldest year we ever went, in 2009.

Last year's trip in 2010! Sis is behind the camera.

This year was wonderful, as usual.

Traditional photo prior to departure.

We stayed at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, which was very ritzy and super convenient.

Loved the glass elevators!

Elevators were supposedly super efficient (and were…at times). You typed in the number of your desired floor on a keypad, and the screen displayed which elevator you were supposed to go to.

We were all the way up on the 38th floor! What a view, and a nice room too.

Hannah and I prepared for our shopping with a Starbucks pit-stop for nonfat mistos.

She and I had some fun with the Forever 21 billboard in Times Square that shows its audience with a new character every couple of minutes. Can you spot us? Probably not, I barely can. If you could I actually might be a little freaked out.

Halfway through shopping I got a hankering for a unique NYC snack. I found it at Nuchas, a little stand in the heart of Times Square that sold empanadas. I chose a grilled chicken variety that was delicious. I didn’t take a photo because it did look quite plain, but trust me, this was better than a street vendor hot dog.

I had some success shopping! I found a sweatshirt and new jeggings at American Eagle, and a ton of jewelry and a shirt at Forever 21.

And then came our traditional trip to Rockefeller Center to see the tree at night!

Then it was time to go back to the hotel to get ready for what turned out to be a wonderful dinner – still to come!

What’s your most treasured holiday family tradition?

A Long Overdue Reunion

I’m still enjoying my Florida vacation, but unfortunately today is our last day here! I’ll eventually be sharing my Florida food adventures with you guys, but for now I still need to share my holiday adventures too! This is definitely a good problem to have 🙂 too many good times!

Back when us “kids” were younger, my family and two other families we are close with, the Andersons and the Gerbers (they hosted us for Thanksgiving), used to get together for what we called Gerber-Anderson-Croswell parties.

Clearly a good time (see my mom at left).

After we started going off to college, these gatherings became sparse. The Andersons decided to take advantage of everyone being home for the holidays and host a long overdue reunion. Good times, food, and wine were aplenty!

The oldest Croswell, Anderson, and Gerber girls.

I honestly have no idea what kind of wine I was drinking. It was red and it was delicious! I had one glass before I got hungry.

My favorite wine partner, the mom.

 My family jokingly calls Mrs. Anderson “Monica Stewart” (her first name is Monica) because no one can keep a home, cook, and host a party like she can! Even as I was walking up the driveway (this shindig also conveniently took place down the street from me), I was greeted by quaint holiday pine, holly, and pine cones arranged in the flower box.

The inside of the house was no less well-decorated.

Molly actually is responsible for this arrangement (props, Molly).

I used to be notorious for going over to the Andersons’ and eating them out of house and home in middle/high school. But really, how could I not when they are always providing so much wonderful food?

Not exactly sure what that dip was, but it was so good. Went to town on those cucumbers.

Swedish meatballs, these were fantastic.

I pretty much died when I saw this cheese spread! And check out the dried fruit!

Amazing sweet and savory flatbread.

We didn’t make Mrs. Anderson do all the cooking, don’t worry! My mom contributed a delicious layered Mexican dip of fat-free refried black beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo, paired with Stop n Shop’s blue corn tortilla chips.

Managed to take this shot before people dug in!

Megan gives us an action shot.

Mrs. Gerber brought what I can only say is the best buffalo chicken dip I’ve ever had. There was so much chunky, fresh pulled chicken in this dip and the sauce was not overwhelming at all. A dip that doesn’t skip on the meat is my kind of dip. I would eat this with a spoon, all day.

We chatted, caught up, and joked as if no time at all had passed.  I love nights like this!

The boys were a little less chatty.

No one could wait very long to dive into dessert. Everyone contributed to an amazing spread.

Hershey Kiss PB cookies, chocolate chip cookie squares, and ginger snaps.

I had one of each of the first two cookies, and then half of a ginger snap. Mrs. Anderson’s cookie squares are a classic. I have been known to eat up to ten at family fiestas back in the day. This time I was able to reel it back a bit, but they were just as good as usual. The Hershey Kiss PB cookies are also one of my favorite cookies of all time!

For the sweet n' salty lovers!

Sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles.

Peppermint bark!

The chocolate covered saltines pictured on top of the photo above were OUT OF THIS WORLD. I nearly died after the first bite –  so so good for a salty n’ sweet junkie like me. I’m honestly not sure what those candies are at the bottom of the photo!

What a fantastic night. I had a great time! I had to pack for my various trips (recaps to come, I swear…) and go to work the next morning, so I headed home around 10 (past my bed time!) But I had a great time and loved reuniting with my old friends. It all felt so cozy and familiar!

Which of the featured foods in this post would you most want to try?

Vinifera Imports: Italian Wine Tasting

My go-to spot for fantastic wine, Sonoma Wines & Spirits of Glastonbury, held three tastings the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Christmas. Joe and I attended the grand finale on Saturday (Christmas Eve) with Jeff of Vinifera Imports, a provider of wonderful Italian wines. I enjoyed each wine that I tried, but there was a favorite white and a favorite red, as there usually is.

Both whites were poured chilled, which of course really added to their flavors. The Pra Soave was my favorite white. It was nice and light, and so very refreshing. A fun fact – this wine was in “Romeo and Juliet”! I did like the second white, the Sant’ Elena Sauvignon, as well. It’s actually a Sauvignon Blanc, but due to labeling restrictions, cannot be called what it is! It had a fuller body, making it not quite as refreshing as the Pra Soave.

The next wine was the Pelissero Dolcetto d’Alba, a tasty, lighter-bodied red from last year.

I really liked it, and could tell it was a real Italian red, but the next wine completely overshadowed it with its…well…wonder. And at $40/bottle, I would say it should!

The Sapaio Volpolo was an experience in itself. The scent alone gave off the strong aroma of fine oak barrels. The taste was a whole other story – never before have I been able to see the process that a wine goes through, from vine to bottle, just from its flavor. That’s probably the reason why the only word I can think of to describe this pour is “sensational”.

The label is very fitting – this wine was crowned king of the tasting by me, and I’m sure by many others who participated. I’m not sure if the cheapskate in me could ever spend $40 on a bottle of wine, but I do understand that there is definitely a long, extensive process that goes into making those bottles. You may not be able to see it, but you can certainly taste it.

Have you ever spent money on an expensive bottle of wine? Was it worth it?

Last Friday Night

So excited – my FitFluential Ambassador profile page is up on! Check it out! 😀

OK, so this post is about a Friday night that occurred before what was actually last Friday night, but I could not resist the chance to use the title of the Katy Perry song (which I adored until it hit the radio) since I am writing a post here that is completely about, well, a Friday night. A Friday night that happened several weeks ago, but still.


I decided after a brief happy hour at a bowling alley with co-workers, in which I had a plastic cup of the grossest Cabernet I’ve ever tasted, to continue my fun evening and skip the gym. I am not one to skip the gym on a day that I have time to go. I know this isn’t typical, but I am still patting myself on the back for making that choice. Too often I feel the need to stick to my workout schedule and never cut myself a break. I completely don’t regret my decision and had a great night – livin’ life!

Avalon Cabernet at J. Gilbert's

No gym meant that for once, I was free to hit up happy hour at my favorite place in CT, J. Gilbert’s, for a glass of wine and some apps. I ended up running into my friends’ mom (who I also consider a friend!) and she was kind enough to buy my wine and let me in on her  Smoked Chicken Quesadilla (pineapple mango salsa, pico de gallo, cilantro lime & roasted red pepper, and sour creams), my favorite app on the happy hour menu. Now this Cabernet was WAY better than any bowling alley Cab – but at the same price, which made it even better.

Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet and a Manhattan.

My next stop was Rooftop 120, by far the classiest place in town (and maybe even the county or state – I haven’t seen it topped yet) to use my Living Social deal. OK, so maybe that part wasn’t as classy, but I made up for that by sticking to the red wine. My third glass of the evening!

Certainly an ample-sized wine glass. Took this photo to show that it’s almost as big as  my head!

My dining partner, Matt, ordered a Rooftop Manhattan. I had a sip, and they definitely were heavy-handed with the alcohol!

The wine really had me craving some bread and cheese, so that’s what we ordered – the Artisanal Cheese Platter complete with crusty bread, truffle honey, raspberries, and local cheeses! Well, the brie was from France, but the Blackledge Bleu (Colchester), Smoked Mozz (New Haven), and Herb Chevre (Lebanon) were all local – awesome!

This was so, so wonderful, but could’ve used more bread. Luckily I’m not shy at restaurants – we asked for more, and got a huge bowl brushed with olive oil in return, hot out of the oven! Not a single scrap of food was left standing. Everything was simply amazing, especially the truffle honey. I loved combining it with the different types of cheeses. It was SO interesting with the mozz because the smoked flavor was very strong in the cheese.

We needed to spend $40 to get full use out of the Living Social deal, meaning it was time for dessert – Mini Indulgences, to be specific! From left to right: chocolate mouse, espresso & Bailey’s mousse, PB mousse, and maple mousse. I honestly can’t pick a favorite. OK, maybe I can – the espresso & Bailey’s. My coffee love just struck me at this moment and inspired me to pick a favorite. But seriously, this was scrumptious.

What a fun Friday! No gym, wine, cheese, and dessert – these are things I don’t often do, and I’m proud of myself for letting some indulgences in and enjoying.

What are your feelings about indulging? Do you feel proud when you break away from your norm, or guilty? Or maybe some combination?

Greetings from Florida!

Oh my goodness. I am so excited to be in Florida right now for my first paid-week off from work! I am currently devouring Publix birthday cake, AKA the best grocery store birthday cake ever, and feeling a bit stressed over the pile of recaps I need to do for the blog. But my dad has declared 2012 “the year of chill” AKA “chill twenty-twelve“, and I am trying to take a cue from his book, and worry less. Already with his new chill attitude, I’ve noticed less stress on this vacation – it’s contagious!

A meal from what seems like eons ago, AKA dinner on the 21st.

Baked potato w/Sweetfire Salsa courtesy of Tara, turkey sausage and turkey burger w/spicy yellow mustard, and coleslaw.

I’m still sharing things from a week ago – and that’s a bad sign, since every single day has been absolutely packed with good times, good food, and good workouts! OK, maybe not so much the good workouts.

The fitness center at the hotel where my parents are staying (my siblings and I prefer to shack up at our grandparents’ apartment, which is way cozier to me than any hotel) is quite sub-par and has been forcing me to use the treadmill for my cardio. Still better than running outside in this FL weather I’m no longer used to! I did manage to score a free pass to an LA Fitness, but it was good for only today. I took a Bootcamp class, which was pretty hard, though not as challenging as I’d like. Still, I thought I’d post the routine for you guys since it would be pretty easy to replicate at home!

Bootcamp Workout (created by Janina of LA Fitness in Palm Beach Gardens, FL):

Super easy, right? No equipment necessary (except a mat or a soft surface in general). Remember I did not create this workout and I am not a personal trainer so proceed to use it at your own risk!

The beloved belated Publix birthday cake for my mom.

I have been sticking to my early sleep schedule and just finished my cake, so it’s time to go read and then hit the hay. Gotta be up early to hit the hotel gym again – treadmill, blahhh.

Do you work out while on vacation? What is your attitude towards doing so?

December’s Birchbox

Did you win the Shabby Apple necklace giveaway? The winner has yet to come forward!

I received my December Birchbox, albeit a bit late, but the company did take the time to email me and offer me a $10 discount (in the form of 100 rewards points) on purchases as an apology. I won’t be using it unless I can find something that’s exactly $10 with shipping (I use Birchbox purely to sample, not buy), but it was still considerate of them to notice my December shipment was late, acknowledge that fact, and offer compensation.

The box came with a festive card that detailed each item in the box, and its purpose and benefits.

  • Oscar Blandi Dry Shampoo: I gave this to my mom because she was practically drooling over it as soon as she saw the bottle, and I have never really needed or wanted dry shampoo. I think my mom wants to use it for occasions when she has to work out and go straight out to run errands, which I do all the time – only difference is, I don’t mind doing it with gross hair.
  • Atelier Cologne Ambre Nue: Ateli-what? AKA a small sample vial of a perfume that my mom and I couldn’t figure out if we liked or not.
  • Jouer Lip Gloss: The color, a bright “Barbie” pink, is appropriately titled “Birchbox Pink”. Haven’t tried it yet, but put it in my beauty storage drawer for next time I need a new tube of gloss!
  • Nuxe Dry Oil Shimmer: Totally intrigued by this, but not sure when I’m going to use it – or how! This multi-use oil is supposed to be applied to the face or body “to give skin a silken feel and subtle glow”. It can even be worked into hair! I’m a little wary of how subtle a shimmery oil could exactly be, or how well it would blend into my hair (and what it could do to it), but when I’m feeling adventurous I’ll try it out.
  • ShowStoppers Fashion Tape: I definitely can see this coming in handy! We’ll see if it actually sticks.
  • EBoost Orange Natural Energy Booster: I’m honestly not a big fan of “energy boosters” loaded with Vitamin B12. I like to stick to my dependable caffeine, so I ditched this sample.

Which of the items in my box would you most want to try?

Merry Christmas – Shabby Apple Winner!

Merry Christmas! I’m in Florida at my grandparents’ apartment, waiting for traditional Jewish deli take-out for Christmas dinner and blogging from my phone because as of now, an Internet connection is MIA.

Just popping by quickly to announce the winner of the Shabby Apple necklace giveaway – thanks so much to all who entered. Using a random number generator, I determined that the winner is Catherine! Please email with your shipping info!

I am sitting on a zillion pictures from the last few days of holiday festivities and the amount will only grow on this vacation. This is a good blogger problem to have, but if I don’t find an Internet connection soon I won’t be able to share any of it til after I get home on New Year’s Eve! We’ll see!

Edit: I found Internet! So hopefully will be able to blog occasionally on my trip – in between having fun 😉

What was your best Christmas gift that you GAVE?

Planned and Spontaneous Wine Tastings

Quick reminder – don’t forget to enter the Shabby Apple necklace giveaway! Ends tomorrow at 11:59PM EST!

I’ve blogged plenty about my favorite local package store, Sonoma Wines & Spirits. But they keep giving me reasons to love them, so I’m gonna continue writing about their fabulous wine selection – no apologies here.

In fact, they are offering tastings both today and tomorrow on location in Glastonbury, so if you are a local reader, be sure to stop by for free wine samples + education!

I attended a free Saturday evening tasting recently, in which I tried the first sparkling wine that I can honestly say I enjoyed! It had already sold out by the time I arrived, but was a nice preview for a possible future purchase. This wine, made by J Vineyards, located in the Russian River Valley in Cali, would be wonderful at a Christmas or New Year’s Eve party.

The next two wines for tasting consisted of a Chardonnay and Cabernet by Norton Ridge, a “winemaker’s project”. Each wine is given the personality of the wine maker, because he or she is the one that chooses the fruit sources that go into it. The Chardonnay was quite good – definitely something I can see myself having a glass or two of. The Cabernet was quite tasty, as usual, but was not stand-out to me like the sparkling wine.

My favorite of the four was also the grand finale – Chionetti Dolcetto di Dogliani Briccolero 2007. I had never had a red like this before, and was beyond impressed. I could really taste the high-quality of this Italian red and really wanted to buy a bottle – but it was a bit out of my price range, at $21.96. Luckily, Elliott the expert recommended something comparable at $15. I can’t wait to crack it open soon!

As if that wasn’t enough wine (wait, you can never have enough wine, so forget that I said that), I stopped into Sonoma the other day to pick up something for a friend and was greeted with a half-glass of Chianti – a spontaneous tasting, thanks to a salesman who had stopped by earlier that day to deliver a complimentary bottle!

The bottle pictured is a 2008, but the wine I sampled was actually from 2007 – double score! This is a nice wine at $35/bottle!

Thanks to Sonoma for continuing to feed my wine fascination!

Shabby Apple – Giveaway!

First of all, fellow FitFluential Ambassador Bonnie Pfiester has published an awesome post that gives a “round-up” of what fellow Ambassadors like to use for go-to 100 calorie snacks. These are the snacks “real” people eat, as opposed to some of the 100-calorie snacks suggested by fitness magazines that are just a little unrealistic (sure, I will eat exactly two pieces of chocolate, thanks). Check it out, and see if you can spot my snack idea!

Thanks to my header designing friend Mai, I have another giveaway for you guys today! This one is courtesy of  Shabby Apple, an online boutique specializing in dresses, accessories, and even arts and crafts. You may have seen giveaways from this brand on other blogs – I know I myself have (unsuccessfully) entered a few.

Image courtesy of Shabby Apple.

I have to admit their prices are a bit up there, but there are ways to save if you see an item you really wouldn’t mind splurging on, in the form of a sale section, referral program, email list sign-up, and shipping deals (this month it’s free).

Image courtesy of Shabby Apple.

There’s even a fitness section with prices that are definitely lower than the famous Lululemon!

Image courtesy of Shabby Apple.

The above skirt is from the sale section – it’s nice to see a site where everything on that page isn’t completely undesirable!

Image courtesy of Shabby Apple.

For my readers, Shabby Apple has offered to giveaway a Skeleton Key Necklace (pictured above) to one lucky winner (sorry, US entries only). Entering is easy – just like Shabby Apple on Facebook and comment on this post saying you did so. Also include in your comment a link to your favorite item from their website – I’m curious to see what you guys think!

For additional entries (please leave a comment for each):

  • Follow Shabby Apple on Twitter
  • Follow Cait Plus Ate on Twitter
  • Like Cait Plus Ate on Facebook
  • Tweet “I just entered to win a @shabbyapple necklace from @CaitPlusAte!”

Good luck guys – you have until Saturday, 12/24, 11:59PM EST to enter!

Chili’s Gets a Menu Upgrade

Chili’s is one of my favorite chains, because they really do have more options than you may think. When one is feeling indulgent, there are plenty of delicious fried bites. My go-to move back in the day was to order the appetizer trio and pick the most heavy options…spinach and artichoke dip, BBQ wings, and fried eggrolls. Nowadays I try to stick to meals that’ll leave me feeling good, and Chili’s has those choices too! I always used to order the shrimp tacos with grilled shrimp instead of fried, but now they’ve taken a page out of my book (or some marketing/product development employee’s book…) and officially added those grilled shrimp tacos, along with other fresh Tex-Mex fare, to their menu!

Check out that avocado – the actual meals did indeed contain those generous amounts of it!

I hit up our closest Chili’s location with my parents on a Saturday night. It was pretty crazy as usual, but we found a booth in the bar and sat down right away. My mom brought a coupon from the Facebook page for free chips and salsa – nice!

I love the chips at Chili’s, but do wish they offered a chunkier variety of salsa. Runny salsa no es bueno.

Grilled shrimp tacos, black beans, and corn on the cob.

My meal was so good and I finished every last bite. I poured some of the beans into each taco, and as I was eating them, let any “fillings” that came out drip back into the bowl of leftover beans. Then, when it was time to finish them off, I had a cup of beans with pico and other goodies in there! The unbuttered corn on the cob was so, so good. My mom and I asked the waitress if it was roasted, but she said no, it’s just cooked on the stove top. Baffling! Why does it taste so much better than corn from home?!

Grilled veggie tacos.

My mom and I traded our last tacos to each other so that she could try the shrimp and I could try a grilled veggie taco, which is one of the new menu items that I’ve never ordered before. SO GOOD! I was impressed with the variety and amount of veggies in each taco. Quite satisfying!

My dad's chicken club tacos with rice and beans.

My dad went the more traditional route and stuck to the Chili’s standard rice and beans as the accompaniments to his chicken club tacos. He said the chicken was cooked very well, and he’s a big bacon lover, so it was a nice combo of indulgent and healthy!

We had a wonderful meal and I give Chili’s props for adding healthier options to their menu that don’t sacrifice taste at all.

Have you tried any of the new Chili’s menu items? What’s your favorite taco?