Myth-Busting: I Eat At Home!

Thank you to all who entered the giveaway for a case of Barres: The Real Food Bar. I have never had this much participation (197 entries!) in a giveaway before – woo hoo! I used a random number generator to pick the winner:

Congratulations to the winner Daphne!

Please email me with your address so I can forward it along to Julia at Barre – thank you again to all who entered! Now let’s get to today’s post!

Burnt (on purpose) Digiorno pizza slice, broc, black beans, and some turkey burger and grilled chicken with spicy mustard.

I get a lot of comments on both the blog and Instagram, as well as tweets, about how often I dine out. I am always excited to share my drinks and eats from restaurants, whether via restaurant reviews or photos shared on social media. I definitely tend to write about restaurant meals more often than I write about meals at home. For that reason, I think there’s a bit of a misconception that’s developed (and I can see why). I feel like many of my readers think I eat out all the time.

Leftover vegan Wildflour sweet potato & black bean flatbread, purchased during my last visit with Heather, eaten at home after class on Friday.

And while I do dine at restaurants an average of 3 or 4 times a week, I eat at home as well! The truth is, the more nights I eat out, the more stressed I feel. There’s a guilt aspect to that unfortunately. I think there is a stigma our media’s projected about eating at restaurants: that no matter what you order, it’s bad…that if you finish your plate, even if you have room for it, you’ve eaten too much…a lot of all-or-nothing thinking is associated with restaurant meals. I’ve struggled with that for the last couple of years, and it’s especially hard to get over when I love restaurants so much, but I’m working on it.

Leftover vegan Wildflour raw lasagna, purchased during that same visit. Eaten during class on Friday night.

However I also get more stressed the more I dine out because there is really nothing like a relaxing night at home with a home-cooked meal, my family, and the DVR. I’m lucky to be living with parents that are grill maestros (my dad) and healthy dish mavens (my mom). I feel the most satisfied and content on a weeknight after I kill it at the gym, shower, and settle in on the couch in my PJs with my dinner plate. Just thinking about it right now is calming to me. No matter what fabulous tasting I have planned or which unique restaurant I’m headed to, there is no night better than a night in.

Takeout from my fave Mex place in CT, Loco Perro, of East Hampton. Salsa, black beans over sauteed veggies, and shredded chicken quesadilla with light cheese. Enjoyed while watching latest ep of “Newsroom” on the DVR.

I don’t want any of my readers to think that I’m always out eating crazy food and drinking weird martinis every night because that’s not who I am. I don’t have that much energy! The truth is, I’m a homebody. I’m a grandma. I crave routine and I crave calm. I’ve been working on staying home MORE nights each week, for my own mental health. Whether I’m out on a weeknight eating a salad or a four-course wine dinner, I get stressed. It doesn’t matter what I order; it’s just the fact that I’m not home. I want the couch. I want my family. I want the distance from the place I ate dinner to my bed to be nothing more than one flight of stairs.

Pinto beans, cornbread, turkey sausage, squash & zucchini, and Ore Ida frozen fries with spicy mustard. Thanks, parents!

I also wanted to bring this up because I really, really want to get more into the daily life posts that I see very often in the blog world. I want to be relate-able to my readers and also be able to share more about my musings, workouts, and eats each day. I feel like sometimes I put pressure on myself to review every meal I eat out. While I love putting them together, restaurant reviews are time consuming, especially when I get so excited and passionate that I feel like I could write forever and ever. Most of the time I have to STOP myself from including every last detail in a review.

Dinner’s accompaniments 😉 quite a pair.

It’s nice to just open up a new post and write about what’s on my mind at that moment – like I did here. And this is MY blog! My restaurant and tasting reviews aren’t going anywhere, but I’m thinking with daily life posts I can project a more accurate image of who I really am! 

What do you guys think? Would you like to see more daily eats/workouts/fashion posts from me?

Which do you enjoy more – eating out or eating in? Which is more relaxing to you?

What’s your favorite meal to make at home?

What are you opinions on the way our media skews the consequences of dining at restaurants?

WIAW: Restaurant Photo Dump

The Barre: A Real Food Giveaway ends tonight at 11:59PM EST – don’t forget to enter!

I am blown away by your support on my post yesterday. I have to admit that when I woke up that morning, I felt so beyond low. I have never felt that level of hopelessness before. I had no idea how I was going to get through the day with my mind being SO damn mean to me. But making my #AmazingMe list helped, and the comments I got on the post truly made me teary-eyed. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my blog, commenting, and sharing with me your own feelings about negative thoughts and holding ourselves to ridiculously high standards. I already am seeing some lists pop up – and I am going to read every single one!

Becki is going to blog her list – can’t wait!

And talk about timing – Lindsay published an amazing post today in which she fights her brain’s negative body image thoughts with specific positive thoughts about each part of her. It’s clear that every part of Lindsay combines to make one AMAZING blogger who dreams up the best recipes and runs a huge, and growing, Foodie Pen Pals program!

So today I have both old and new restaurant food photos to share, so thought another WIAW Photo Dump was appropriate! I can’t really bear the thought that some of my restaurant photos, even the ones from months ago, will go unseen by my readers. Thanks to Jenn of Peas & Crayons for making sure this delicious party happens every week.

Like I’ve said before, I haven’t really been doing posts of what I ate each day, but I DO take a lot of photos at restaurants. Sometimes they pile up on me and there are too many to share after each time I go out to eat! So without further ado, here are photos I’ve accumulated from February to now that haven’t been seen on the blog yet. These are things I (and my friends) ate and drank, and I’m sharing them on a Wednesday, so it’s totally WIAW-worthy 🙂

Best miso soup I’ve ever had, from Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, CT. Made with seaweed foraged from the Long Island Sound!

Samples of Miya’s sake! Best ever. One was super salty (meant to taste like the ocean) and one was sweet.

Me and a full-size sake at Miya’s, back in March.

Array of Miya’s sushi – all automatically made with brown rice. One roll had brie, and one was wrapped in grapeleaves!

Some of the best fries I’ve ever had, with ketchup, mayo, pesto aioli, and mustard, at Rudy’s in New Haven, CT.

Pear vodka martini on Franklin Ave in Hartford.

Amazingly yummy bread sticks and EVOO/tomato-based dip at Carbone’s on Franklin Ave in Hartford.

Ahi tuna with balsamic vinegar at Carbone’s – so amazing!

Grilled veal scallopini from Carbone’s light menu, served over sliced tomatoes, lemon, baby arugula, and cilantro pesto. My first time having veal and it was a winner.

Jeff’s dinner at J. Gilbert’s this past Thursday – veggie platter of mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, corn on the cob, zucchini, and black beans/corn in a red pepper. CRAZY AMAZING I’M GETTING THIS NEXT TIME.

A red blend at J. Gilbert’s this past Thursday, and some of their amazing sourdough bread.

J. Gilbert’s special on Thursday – had to get it – grilled swordfish with red wine demi glace and chive butter on the side. Sides were grilled asparagus and a baked potato with mango salsa. I can’t get over it still!

BIG glass of Merlot at Matthew’s in Unionville, CT on Saturday. Eating a caper and salmon cake sent out complimentary by Matthew himself.

I think you can also tell that the last photos are more recent because I’ve gotten a little better with my camera! Wow, my inner arm in the above photo is also quite ghostly. Looks like I need to do some arm flipping next time I tan.

And now that I’ve dumped all my restaurant photos, maybe this will make room for more daily eats photos in addition to the restaurant photos as well! Is that something you guys would be interested in?

I also want to leave you today with one of my favorite quotes of all time that I remembered this morning:

“Sweet are the thoughts that savor content; The quiet mind is richer than a crown.” – Robert Greene

Which of the photos looks the most appetizing to you?

Do you enjoy my way of doing WIAW, aka photo dumps? Maybe I’ll do a traditional WIAW one of these days!

Have you made your #AmazingMe list yet? Don’t forget to share it with me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the comments…sky’s the limit!

I’m Amazing Because…

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a case of Barres: The Real Food Bar! You have until tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 11:59PM EST.

I had a different post planned for today, but this is my blog and it’s an outlet for me, and I’ve got a lot on my mind. A LOT.

So this is what I was doing last night:

Pre-dinner snacks: beer bread, sausage, cheese, peanuts, garlic knot.

Double fisting Chardonnay.

Jeff, Kelly, and I went to the latest Chops N Catch tasting dinner. I drank a LOT of wine. I ate delicious food, some the kind I usually eat…

Grilled romaine heart with Rose’s Berry Farm raspberries, almonds, sesame vinaigrette, and Beltane Farms goat cheese.

Steamers, cod, corn on the cob, potatoes!

…and some the kind that I don’t eat every day.

Ground short rib slider topped with lobster, gruyere, lobster bisque on a brioche bun.

Warm maple bread pudding and Royal vanilla ice cream.

You hear that, brain? I don’t eat it every day. I also don’t drink a glass of wine with each plate at every dinner. However, my mind hasn’t been doing a good job of letting me believe that. From the moment I got home last night til now, I have been feeling downright AWFUL about myself. I feel guilty for having desire to attend, going to, and enjoying last night’s tasting. It’s like if I had gone and had a bad time, I’d feel BETTER right now. How shitty is that? Because I enjoyed myself last night, I feel worse today. I have this ridiculous standard I’m holding myself to. Okay, I could make every bite I put into my mouth clean. I know that’s possible. But is it reasonable? Is that any way to live my life? Is that how I want to eat? No, it’s not. Yet because I’m aware that it’s possible, I feel guilty that I don’t do it.

I was feeling ridiculously low this morning and so I called my girl Jenny and we had a good chat. I let it all out and she and I both marveled at the mean things we find our minds saying to ourselves. “You’re not good enough. You should have done this. You were wrong to even want to go out to eat in the first place.” As I said to her – I would NEVER be this mean to anyone. No one deserves to have to follow a standard of perfection. So why do I have to?!

Jenny shared with me that she was going to strive today to be kind to herself. I love the sound of that. My mind is so often very mean to me. I want to get a handle on it and make it nice. I want it to give me some props! So I decided to make a list of why I’m amazing. And I literally titled it that way. #sorrynotsorry

You know what I realized as I was making it? I couldn’t stop writing! Positive thoughts kept popping into my head – a welcome relief. I have a LOT of reasons to believe I’m amazing. Some have to do with food and working out. Most of them don’t. And all of them are the truth.

That top page has a back!

So without further ado, here’s my list. Read it if you want, but what I REALLY hope you do is make your own list. Share it with me and others! And keep it in a place where you’ll have it often (I’m going to put mine in my purse) so that you can not only refer to it whenever you’re feeling down on yourself, but ADD to it as well! Because let’s face it, you’re not going to realize every reason why you’re amazing in one sitting. There are too many reasons for that to be possible 🙂

Caitlin Is Amazing Because:

  1. I have the best family in the world.
  2. I have a full-time job and had two on lockdown before I even graduated – in a crappy economy.
  3. I have wonderful, close friends and also many new friends I’ve met since 2011.
  4. I’m over my ex-boyfriend and have truly learned so much from that relationship.
  5. I adore healthy foods and eat them regularly because I enjoy it.
  6. I love certain workouts, move each day, and enjoy it.
  7. I have a blog that is only growing in readers, is seen as a marketing tool by brands and Fitfluential, and inspires others.
  8. I’m incredibly organized and enjoy being that way. It comes naturally to me!
  9. I’m look at by friends, readers, and my family as a role model in many areas.
  10. I dress well and have a good sense of style.
  11. I’m hygienic (I floss!)
  12. I get a good night’s sleep most nights.
  13. I have way more good habits than bad.
  14. I enjoy writing!
  15. I relieve stress in positive ways like coloring, exercise, NPR, doing laundry…
  16. I’ve never smoked or done drugs.
  17. I read!
  18. I go to school for part-time for free, though I could easily just have decided not to start my MBA yet.
  19. I listen to NPR and truly enjoy learning about the world through that tool.
  20. I keep my room, car, work area, and the bathroom clean.
  21. I ‘ve been more honest about my rocky relationship with food and exercise on the blog.
  22. I change out my contacts and their solution when it’s time to do so.
  23. I sought mental help for an ED on my own, without anyone forcing me to do so.
  24. I only drink one cup of coffee per day (and hence don’t struggle with caffeine headaches like I used to).
  25. I save 50% of each and every paycheck, without fail, and have been doing so for the last two years at every job. As a result, I have way more saved than most 23 year olds!
  26. I like living at home and do so while still trying to be as independent as possible. And I’m saving a bundle!
  27. I really, truly want to and care about getting closer to and bettering my relationship with my little brother. I could just as easily shrug off the distance between us.
  28. I have 0 credit card debt. Or any debt.
  29. I am thrifty when I can be (Coupon Caitlin).
  30. I’m adventurous with food and drinks.
  31. I stay in touch with friends even when they don’t live near me.
  32. I can run an 8 minute mile.
  33. I ran 8 miles without stopping once.
  34. I appreciate my grandparents
  35. I’m open-minded about movies, music, and books.
  36. I’m pretty.
  37. I have nice hair – a bit wavy and easy to style.
  38. I like how every part of my body looks (right now…worrying about the future is a work in progress).
  39. I don’t gamble more than $20 at the casino.
  40. I’m taking initiative and I wrote this list.
You’ll notice that anything about  my outward appearance truly didn’t pop into my head until #36. Yet I spend so much time worrying about how the choices I make will affect it. Do you see a disconnection there? Try making your own list – you’ll be amazed at these kinds of “revelations” that it will bring about.

How do you practice self love? What’s on your list of why you’re amazing? Comment and tell me or better yet – show me on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #AmazingMe!

Barre: A Real Food Giveaway

Don’t miss my guest post for Heather over at The Love of Kale today – I’m doing my restaurant review thang for her two favorite vegan hotspots – and mine as well!

You’ve probably seen Barre popping up on other Fitfluential Ambassador blogs lately – no, not the popular workouts (though I’ve always wanted to try a barre class). I’m talking about Barre the bar (you still with me?), a “real food bar” developed by two professional dancers, Aaron and Julia, with athletes specifically in mind. The ingredients in each Barre:

  • are whole, real food
  • contain no animal products (vegan!)
  • contain no common allergens like soy or wheat
Examples: dates, sea salt, ground flax seed, hemp & brown rice protein, agave nectar (are you impressed yet?)

A crumbled Barre mixed with plain Chobani made for a great evening snack last night!

The Barres also are lower in sugar and saturated fat than other bars, as well as high in fiber and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The nutrition stats are definitely not candy-bar status. Personally, I prefer a bar with less than 200 calories. However, the 200-210 calories in Barres come from the above REAL food which serves as REAL fuel for your body!

Protein is power!

And I should know, because I put each Barre to the test before a workout – and had FANTASTIC results! I felt like a rock star and dominated at the gym. Fuel from whole, clean foods really does make a huge difference in fitness performance.

Rock-star smile.

I love the names of each Barre! The original flavor is the Pirouette Cinnamon Pecan. This one definitely tasted the most decadent. At first bite, memories of Cinnabon in airports during family vacations back in the day danced in my head. It honestly was a bit too sweet for my snacky tastes. I prefer savory snacks in the mornings and afternoons. However, I can see myself going to TOWN on one of these after dinner and dipping it into plain Chobani for a #chobanipowered dessert. The taste really is exactly that of a cinnamon bun!

The next flavor to be released was called the Black Swan Chocolate Cherry, very appropriate to go with something dark and sweet like a cherry bar made with cocoa powder! I enjoyed the fact that this bar was full of contrasting flavors. I’d take a bite and get the dark cocoa, and then suddenly taste sweetness when my tongue hit a cherry. Still a bit more sweet than my usual snacks, but truly enjoyable.

Finally, the most recent, brand-new flavor is Spirulina Ballerina. I heard the name of this one and immediately wondered what the heck spirulina even was. Wikipedia revealed to me that it’s a microalga…what? BUT it’s also a common dietary supplement – a complete protein (meaning it contains all the essential amino acids, like soy), making it superior to many other plant proteins, which are incomplete. That makes it ideal for vegetarians and vegans! And you know what? This Barre flavor was my favorite, because it tasted the least sweet and the most hearty! I really felt like I was fueling my body with what it needed to perform at its best. Maybe part of that was psychological, but hey, it worked!

Thank you so very much to Julia for sending me each flavor of Barre to “test drive”. I certainly enjoyed eating them – and the results thereafter at the gym! As if she hasn’t already been generous enough, Julia has offered to give one reader a box of Barres, so that you can try them yourself.

What a sweetheart!

Want to enter? Here’s how! (US readers only please, and no Hawaii or Alaska entries, sorry!) Make sure you do a comment for each method of entry:

  1. Comment and tell me which of the three flavors you’d want to try most. *mandatory*
  2. Tweet “I entered to win @realfoodbarre from @CaitPlusAte!” and comment with the link to the tweet.
  3. Follow @CaitPlusAte on Twitter and comment with your Twitter name saying you did.
  4. Follow @RealFoodBarre on Twitter and comment with your Twitter name saying you did.
  5. Follow CaitPlusAte on Pinterest and comment saying you did.

That’s 5 chances to win! Entries close this Wednesday 7/9 at 11:59PM EST. And if you don’t win, you can always purchase Pirouette Cinnamon Pecan and/or Black Swan Chocolate Cherry Barres from their website!

Fashion Friday (That Feels Like Tuesday)

TGIF, right? Honestly, this whole week has felt weird to me what with the 4th falling on a Wednesday and all. But it’s actually been kinda awesome. Monday/Tuesday felt like Thursday/Friday, and this Thursday/Friday has felt like a Monday/Tuesday with a surprise break at the end! Too bad I will actually have summer class tonight and all day Saturday and Sunday, but I have good workouts and yummy dinners planned for after those classes, so that’ll push me through! Also, in the spirit of Meg‘s amazing weekly High Five Friday, I want to give myself a high five for getting an A- in the summer class I completed a couple weekends ago. Let’s hope this one goes just as well!

I’d like to quickly announce the winner of the giveaway for two lawn seats to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s outdoor summer concert series in Simsbury, CT, happing Friday July 6, 13, and 20. The winner is JulieAnn! Congratulations – thanks for entering and please email me with your mailing address!

It may feel like Tuesday to me, but don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Fashion Friday!

Cardigan: Urban Outfitters

Tank: H&M

Necklace, Ring: Forever 21

Watch: NYC flea market (it doesn’t even have a battery in it!)

Top: J. Crew

Bracelet, Ring: Forever 21

Watch: gift from my grandpa

Better watch closeup.

Top: Urban Outfitters

Bracelet: Forever 21

Watch: Fossil

Jeggings: American Eagle

Shoes: Toms

Top: ?? It’s my sister’s, haha.

Watch: NYC flea market (this one has a battery but is not set to the correct time)

Jeggings: American Eagle

Wedges: H&M

Better shot of the wedges.

Cardigan: Urban Outfitters

Tank: another sister-owned mystery

Jeggings: American Eagle

Boots: Payless

Accessories collection.

Bracelets, Necklace: Forever 21 (the left bracelet was 50 cents and the necklace was free, both on Black Friday!)

Watch: Fossil

And I’m sure you can spy my Oakley Women hair band!

There you have it – a Fashion Friday that feels like a Tuesday. Wish me luck as I fight through my summer class this weekend, and stay tuned for a product review and giveaway for something tasty and REAL on Monday! 😉

Do you wear watches for fashion, function, or both? I have no idea if ANY of mine are set on the right time, if they even function!

How do you feel about jeggings?

Does the 4th of July holiday have you all confused about this week too?

4th of July and Foodie Photos

You still have time to enter the giveaway for two lawn seats to Hartford Symphony Orchestra‘s outdoor summer concert series! Hurry hurry!

I hope you all had a fabulous 4th of July! I was so bummed when I woke up and heard rain pattering on my window, but a quick check of the weather reassured me that it would be movin’ on out soon. I hopped out of bed and hit the gym for 30 minutes of high-intensity speed intervals on the StepMill, followed by a good upper-body lifting session. I have really seen increases in my strength in all areas of my upper-body, which has been awesome and a great reward to receive after the more consistent lifting I have been doing! I’m having so much fun both during and after lifting weights because I feel like a rock-star the entire time. I have no shame in making some pretty ugly weight-lifting faces too as I struggle to complete that last curl or shoulder press. That means I’m challenging myself!

I then proceeded to spend 10am to 8pm at my usual summer hot-spot, Pinebrook. It was AMAZING. I drank Whole Foods iced coffee, spent girl time with Kim, read Elle (surprisingly great selection of articles that go beyond fashion, by the way), and took occasional dips to cool off. Around the late afternoon the Florida crew as well as my usual pals showed up and we had a fantastic evening of food and wine.

I was definitely struggling with feeling guilty both during and after the event, though. I doubled up on dessert (how could I not have both my mom’s famous banana pudding, a healthified recipe too, and red velvet cake?!) and did a lot of munching on various dips and chips/crackers. Sometimes it feels like all these “indulgent days” are piling up and happening ALL the time! To de-stress when I got home, I listened to my beloved NPR and colored with Sharpies in a coloring book that I like to keep on hand for these exact occasions. It really helps to relax me and quiet my mind! And I had an amazing time – that’s the bottom line.

I don’t really feel like writing much more, so I’m just going to leave you with a few photos from a wine dinner I attended awhile back at CW’s Chops n Catch. Their next event is this coming Monday, so let’s just call these anticipatory photos!

Deviled eggs served on their classic wooden Manchester map cutting board.

Estancia Chardonnay – a favorite brand of Jenny’s!

Parmesan-crusted local asparagus, Stonington sea scallops, shaved Cato Corner (of Colchester, CT) Vivace

Always-amazing garlic knot.

Roasted chicken pho, poached eggs, udon noodles, scallion, mint.

Pho garnishes.

With the main course – crispy sliced duck breast; apple, sweet potato, duck bacon hash; brown sugar mostrada.

Georgia peach cobbler! With Royal vanilla bean ice cream, streusel topping, and almond tuile. Served with Prosecco.

What’d you do for the 4th? Eat anything amazing? Any great workouts?

Which of the plates showcased above looks best to you?

How to Save a Weekend + CT GIVEAWAY!

If you have a moment, head on over to the fashion company Free Endearment’s blog, which today is listing out bikini-ready tips for summer. The last one is from yours truly! And while you’re at it, check out my darling friend Jenny’s new blog, Tofu Swag. The fabulous title clues you in to what you can expect – vegan food porn and sassy commentary. Need I say more?

My weekend started out kind of crappy. I was feeling really, really down ever since Wednesday, and despite the fact that I had plenty of fun planned for Friday through Sunday, I was not feeling good. Blame my usual issues. However, I managed to slowly salvage the weekend – and my mood – thanks to family, friends, and the power of positive thinking.

Jenny, me, and Heather – three blonde triplets!

So without further ado, I give you – how to save a weekend:

1. Wear a new shirt that makes you feel fabulous. Express surprise when your best blend wears a brightly colored shirt with an interesting back as well. Proceed to bring sexy back.

2. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Otherwise photographic gems like these wouldn’t exist.

Oh HEY cardboard fox!

3. Go with your gut. If your first instinct drink order is a cucumber martini and the ginormous Greek dip platter is calling your name…do it. If you’re dreaming of a Wildflour vegan scone…order it.

Greek dips and Effen Good cucumber martini at Bar Louie in Foxborough, MA.

Still dreaming of this mushroom and spinach scone.

4. Drink wine. Preferably with family friends, your parents, and your best friend by your side. And preferably local wine.

Lidia and I at the gorgeous Chamard Vineyards in Clinton, CT.


5. Don’t be afraid to ask your mom for a hug if you’re feeling down. Cry on her shoulder. It doesn’t help anyone to feel guilty for putting your worries on her or to hold your sadness inside. Just let it out so you can get to the smiling.

Height diff much?

6. Wear a flowy dress. Spin around. Jump. Channel your inner flower child.

7. Have the best dad in the world. Need I say more?

8. Drink tequila out of a wine glass at the vineyard. It looks like white wine – they’ll never know!

That is NOT Pinot Grigio.

Classy pairing.

9. Go to the beach. Yeah, that’s it. Just go.

I’ve fallen…and I can’t get up!

10. When selecting a restaurant for a Sunday dinner, look no further than the local spot where your sister is a waitress. She’ll pour you LOTS of red wine, give you slow service because she knows she can, and make sure you leave smiling (and not just due to the wine).

Sis and I at Giovanni’s, her place of work, in Glastonbury, CT.

This is NOT one glass.

I ended my weekend feeling WAY better than I had going in. I think I can give credit to every part of the ten steps above for how much better I felt, and am continuing to feel. Oh, and I don’t have work tomorrow. YAY.

And now it’s time for a giveaway for my Connecticut readers. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra is sponsoring an excellent outdoor summer concert series at the Performing Arts Center at Simsbury Meadows. This Friday, July 6, receive a free dance lesson at Dancing Under the Stars. Or next Friday, July 13, listen to Music of Elton John at Rocket Man. Finally, on Friday July 20, get your fill of Big Country. Lawn tickets are only $20 in advance, and table tickets are just $40 (both prices go up $5 if you purchase at the door). Child lawn tickets are always $5!

But you have the chance to go for free by entering a giveaway for two lawn tickets for one lucky winner! The tickets work for any of the 3 shows in July mentioned above. To enter, just comment telling me which show you’d most want to attend (mandatory). Entries close this Thursday 7/5 at 12PM EST!

For extra entries (leave a comment for each) you can:

  1. Follow me on Twitter
  2. Follow Hartford Symphony Orchestra on Twitter
  3. Follow me on Pinterest

Good luck to all who enter!

BBQ and Vino! – Barcelona, West Hartford

Some of you may have missed my June Foodie Pen Pal reveal post this past Saturday (I know I was barely tuned into the “blog world”, it was so lovely outside!), so make sure you check it out when you get a chance.

First thing’s first…let’s announce the winner of the Mohegan Sun Teresa Giudice cookbook giveawayThank you to all who entered. I received 40 entries and used a random number generator to choose…

Sarah of Adventures With My Boys!

I have to say I may agree with her there…

Thank you for entering, Sarah! I will contact you to find out which “version” of the prize you’d like!

I OF COURSE have a foodie/wino event to recap for you today (sorry Pavement Runner but prepare to get hungry and thirsty). This one was held last Wednesday evening on the patio of Barcelona Wine Bar in West Hartford. Their delicious food and drinks have made appearances on the blog before!

The wine dinner had a self-descriptive name – BBQ & Vino! Chef Jason Welch prepared the pig, and Barcelona’s Wine & Spirits Director, Gretchen, paired each course with some fantastic wines. I attended the event with Jeff, and we sat with four of my friends from high school.

Upon sitting, we were immediately poured a glass of pre-first-course wine. Yup, there would be NO shortage of vino, I was sure of that. We also requested some of Barcelona’s out-of-this-world crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic.

Action shot.

The wine, a 2007 Cava, Sumarroca, Gran Reserva, Brut Nature – Penedes, was surprisingly enjoyable to me. It wasn’t too bubbly or sweet and I liked it a lot with the bread. Definitely a relaxing pour to sip on before the main event began.

My only oyster experience up to this point had been at Max Fish’s Oysters and… event,  and I wasn’t the BIGGEST fan of the raw version. However, I was up to trying them again. Course One consisted of Raspberry Point oysters with cucumbers and micro-radish from Cotes Naturals Farm (of Bristol, CT!). The presentation was gorgeous – served on a bed of sea salt (very fitting for these ocean dwellers).

My first shooter was unsuccessful because I got a whole lot of oyster, but not a lot of anything else. My second was a much more complete taste of everything. While I do appreciate oysters and the great care that went into choosing their accompaniments on this dish, I still have to say that raw oysters just might not be for me! However, there’s no denying that the oysters themselves and their toppings were of the highest quality. There’s also no denying that I need oyster-shooting lessons.

Possibly the most inappropriate oyster-shooting technique ever.

I continued to be impressed with Gretchen’s wine picks. The 2011 Verdejo, Blanco Nieva – Rueda was crisp and refreshing – a perfect fit for the warm summer evening we’d been given.

The next course was paired with what was unfortunately my least favorite wine, but some of my favorite food (SEAFOOD). The 2011 Garnacha Rosado, Ochoa – Navarra, a rose, tasted like fruit juice to me. I am VERY picky with my roses – it’s hard for me to find one that I don’t think tastes like a mixer. I didn’t even like it much with the food. To me, the second course should have been paired with a white wine more similar to the first course’s. However, I can see Gretchen’s desire to showcase all different kinds of wines, roses included.

The food – coriander-dusted tuna with crispy artichokes and Maine crab salad – more than made up for the wine disappointment (Peekytoe is a variety of Atlantic rock crab). Though I now prefer my tuna to be much more rare, it was still a delicious cut of fish, and the freshness of the crab was evident in its flavor. Those crispy artichokes were a dynamite addition! I wanted this course to go on forever!

The third course, AKA the main event, was paired with TWO wines! And when I found out they were both red, I immediately forgot about the rose and got ready to have my taste buds rocked off. The 2007 Garnacha, Menguante, Seleccion – Carinena and the 2008 Prieto Picudo, Pardevalles, Gamonal – Castilla y Leon were both amazing.

Pouring the Menguante.

I particularly enjoyed the Pardevalles, a new-to-me red grape (I’m always excited when I find one of those). The wine had been aged in oak barrels for 8 months, and I could definitely tell. I adore a red with a good, oak-y finish.

Here comes the Pardevalles.

And let’s not forget the BBQ – the reason behind the naming of this wine dinner! Jason’s roasted suckling pig with frizzled mustard greens and baby carrots au jus (side note: this means “in juice”, something Wikipedia just told me) was out of this world. He did a WONDERFUL job. The crispy skin was groan-inducing and the greens had so much flavor. The pig practically melted in my mouth and I actually enjoyed the cooked carrots – that’s a rarity for me.

Everything about the dish paired great with both reds! I think the Garnacha pairing won, but only SLIGHTLY. The oak in the Pardevalles made it a more stand-alone wine for me, while the Garnacha worked well as an accompaniment to every component of this dish.

Getting a little silly.

Before I knew it, the fourth course aka DESSERT was being served! I was so very excited to sample the Amontillado Medium, Pedro Romero – Jerez, a sherry. I’ve tasted a few sherries at Sonoma before, and adore how unique they are. Any heavier dessert wine like port or sherry is right up my alley. This sherry didn’t disappoint…a delightful nutty flavor that paired beautifully with the dessert.

The sun goes down, the pictures get a bit worse.

The above chocolate bread pudding with caramel ice cream was the stuff dreams are made of. Paired with the sherry, it was what dreams can only hope to be. The nutty, chocolatey, caramely flavors created a combination that had Jeff and I ready to lick our plates clean. And thankfully for us, my friends didn’t want their sherry. We gladly finished it off.

Gretchen thanked us all for coming and was on-hand to answer any wine-related questions. Jason also came out to “take a bow”. The attendees applauded his job well done! One thing that always blows me away about Barcelona is the hospitality of its staff. The Executive Chef, Adam Greenberg, is an awesome down-to-earth guy who doesn’t let his clearly huge amount of culinary talent go to his head. He is a fellow social media lover and has been known to re-tweet my Instagram adventures whenever I dine at his restaurant.

Gretchen blogs for Barcelona on occasion here!

The GM Jason Boske is excellent at interacting with his guests and displaying his genuine concern that they do nothing but enjoy themselves at his restaurant. Every time I come in, he greets me with a smile and a handshake; I see him display this same courtesy with every customer. After this particular meal, Jason approached me to make sure my friends and I had a good time. He also was generous enough to send us some complimentary post-dinner tapas!

Cheese & meat plate (my true love).

HEAVENLY churros with chocolate sauce.

We also received a plate of the Crepas Salguero – dulce de leche, whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce. I was too busy eating it (and wishing I had more sherry) to take a photo.

Enjoying our extra tapas on the now-empty patio was extremely relaxing and a perfect way to wind down the evening before heading home. We couldn’t have asked for a better night.

The circular lamps over each table make this patio feel so magical.

Thanks to Barcelona and its staff for a fantastic night of wine and food. What more could I ask for in the summer?

Do you enjoy heavy dessert wines like port or sherry?

What’s the most impressed you’ve ever been with a restaurant’s hospitality?

Which dish would you have been most interested in?