CT Wine and Food Festival

The following post has been a long time coming, but finally I’ve had a chance to write up the recap and share with you all!

A couple Saturday nights ago I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous event at a discounted price! The Arthritis Foundation put on the first ever CT Wine & Food Festival at The Hartford Club. Attendees could choose to attend Grand Tasting Session I in the afternoon, or Session II in the evening (that’s the one my fellow foodie friend Jeff and I went with). The venue itself was very classy, complete with a coat check and grand wooden staircases.

I’ve always wanted to go to an event like this and was so pleasantly surprised to find one in my own backyard – at an affordable price! The Arthritis Foundation did a great job in their first year holding the Festival and I can only hope it becomes an annual tradition.

While waiting for Jeff to meet me, I perused the brochure provided to each guest describing the vendors that were present for the evening and the schedule of chef demos. I started feeling very excited and overwhelmed as I turned page after page and realized I was still reading the list of vendors. I was also excited to see some familiar names!


Jeff and I didn’t want to be chaotic in our approach, so we decided to make a circle around each room so we wouldn’t miss anything. I also was hoping to do drinks first, and then food, since I rarely ever want to drink while I’m eating or after the fact. The first stop was at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, a New York winery making sangria out of their sweet Red Cat wines. The recipe was simple: Red Cat wine over ice, with a lime wedge. So delicious and easy!

I also tried a fun little science experiment at their booth. Try putting a few Godiva dark chocolate chips in your mouth, letting them chill there for about 5 seconds, and taking a sip of Hazlitt’s Bramble Berry wine. As the guy at the booth put it, I experienced a “flavor explosion”. Dark chocolate + wine = heaven! The Bramble Berry is the third bottle from the left in the photo below.

The sangria was made with the wine on the right!

I had several other specialty cocktails throughout the evening. Onyx Spirits made a drink of real CT moonshine, apple cider, nutmeg, cinnamon, and whipped cream! It was fall-fabulous. I sipped on it slowly while Jeff tried some beers, and it stayed tasty til the end thanks to the whipped cream dissolving into the beverage. Yum!

Upstairs, Hotel California Tequila made a tequila cocktail that included Godiva chocolate liquer. It was delicious, but I also couldn’t taste any tequila whatsoever. It would have been nice to know what their liquor actually tasted like!

I sipped on the best gin I’ve ever had, Bluecoat American Dry Gin on the rocks. It was unbelievably smooth with no burn whatsoever. Instead of smelling like grass, like most gins I’ve tried straight, it smelled and tasted like citrus! I loved the bottles too.

Believe it or not, I actually found a beer that I can say I liked! I can’t see myself being able to stomach a glass of it, but it was an Olde Burnside Brewing Company ale called Stone of Destiny that was nice to sip on! Low carbonation + chocolate and coffee flavors were the selling points that got me to try it – and enjoy!

I’m not a Stella drinker (my parents are), but I took a shot of this very large bottle of it because I have never seen one before – and I used to promote it at liquor stores!

There were so many wines at this event that I didn’t have room/the tolerance to try them all, but I did sip on my fair share!

I tried the Quixote red wine at this particular booth and really liked it, but there were so many wines that they all seemed the same toward the end. I can also partially attribute that sentiment to my buzz, but I do think this was a situation in which I over-tasted on wine!

Buzzed and blurry?

And what goes best with wine (aside from the dark chocolate I already mentioned)? Cheese! That’s right, bring on the…


Caseus of New Haven was sampling two delectable cheeses that Jeff and I paired with red wine from another booth. The bottom cheese of the photo was chopped too finely for my taste (I could barely pick it up with the toothpick) but it was still delicious. I really liked the top cheese in the photo the most though.

We also tried the cheese in combination with some chewy sourdough bread. And speaking of bread, more was munched on in combination with olive oils and balsamic vinegar from O’Live a Little of Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. I’ve heard so much about their store but haven’t had a chance to check it out, so doing so at this event was very convenient.

Jeff and I were given several shots – of the olive oil and balsamic variety! I was done with the alcohol shots at that point. The center balsamic vinegar in the above photo is a fig balsamic, and the one on the right was filled with flavorful herbs and was our favorite. Like I said before, there was also bread for dipping. O’Live a Little was also selling quaint gift baskets and jarred olive varieties!

Hard to tell, but that’s lasagna!

DaCapo Ristorante Italiano of Avon/Litchfield gave me a HUGE piece of lasagna – the best I’ve ever had! It was so authentic. I love my mom’s whole wheat ground turkey ricotta-less lasagna, don’t get me wrong, but this was the real stuff and it was so good. I can’t believe I drive by this place a couple of times a week whenever I go to the gym near my office, and have never noticed it!

Peppercorn’s Grill of Hartford, which Rachel and I have been meaning to attend for happy hour for a couple of weeks now, provided the above bite-sized gourmet treats. I love little tastes like this! The table provided a nice preview of what I can expect whenever I get to their happy hour. The prosciutto “sushi” was topped with sweet balsamic vinegar, and the lobster tart shells were light, flaky, and had a pleasant crunch. The lobster also tasted beyond fresh, straight out of the ocean. Honestly, it was the freshest lobster I’ve ever tasted!

What, you may wonder, is Matt Damon doing in this post? Well, nothing except not being bid on during the Festival’s silent auction. Jeff and I just thought that this autographed photo was too hilarious and random. It didn’t fit in with the gift baskets and vacation packages being auctioned off at all. Poor, lonely Matt!

Look familiar?

I ran into my buddy Phyllis Haynes and her delicious product, Mariah’s Chow Chow Relish. I was so glad to see her, because last time we met she gave me a jar of her Hot & Spicy flavor, so I had a chance to tell her how much I have been enjoying having it on my baked potato skins! I also tried the next flavor up, Hot Hot Hot, and am happy to report that I have officially graduated to that flavor. The relish’s sweetness balances the hotness out perfectly, so that even someone like me who is sensitive to spicy foods can enjoy! Since Phyllis partners with Food Should Taste Good chips when she samples her relishes, I also finally was able to try their Sweet Potato flavor. However, the relish overpowered the chip and I didn’t get a good sense of how the it tasted. No issues with that – the relish is the star after all – but I hope to try the sweet potato chips again soon on their own!

How to-die-for does this dessert look? The Hartford Club Executive Chef Chris Kube‘s sweet, fall-inspired creations were my favorite part of the entire Wine & Food Fest! Jeff and I enjoyed chatting with Chris about his experiences exploring the restaurants of different cities he’s lived in (DC and NYC), and we pretty much lavished him with compliments as we moaned (in a good way) over his desserts.

The above item was my very, very favorite: pumpkin soup with cranberry and goat cheese biscotti. Pure pumpkin, sweet but subtle cranberries, crunchy biscotti, and savory goat cheese were an absolute match made in heaven. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten!


Throughout the evening, demos called Grand Tastings were scheduled in which various celebrity chefs whipped up some of their specialties, and then shared the results with some eager taste testers (AKA us). Jeff and I only caught a couple of these demos, but I enjoyed how they ran throughout the night so that whenever we stopped by the Grand Tasting area, there was almost always something happening or about to happen!

Chef Adam Greenberg of Barcelona – West Hartford!

The angled mirror above the demo cooking area provided every guest with a great view. Adam Greenberg of Barcelona in West Hartford whipped up some tasty scallops for us!

And for (another) dessert, Mike Elder (you may know him from TLC’s “Ultimate Cake-Off – he’s won three times!) demo-ed his cake decorating skills by showing us how he created some mice to put on top of his cheese-wedge cake!

Check out the barrel in the above photo – that’s a cake! The detail was so impressive. It’s hard to see, but in the photo, Mike is “spray-painting” one of the little mice he made to put on the other cake (pictured below).

It wouldn’t be a proper post without a photo of me awkwardly posing with food.

Check out the little mice! The cake itself, beyond the decor, was a “Wal-Mart cake” (Mike’s words, not mine). He jokingly kept telling us not to judge the taste of the cake itself for that reason! I am happy to report that Wal-Mart makes a good cake, and however sad it was to see the creation divvied up, I thoroughly enjoyed my slice.

I saved the most blog-related portion of this post for last, because it features something I’ve seen all over the place in the blog world: the Vita-Mix!

A rep in a headset whipped up several recipes for us, and I was definitely impressed by the Vitamix’s power! It’s way out of my price range, and I don’t really blend anything anyway, but I still enjoyed experiencing first-hand some food made in the blender that’s so loved by so many of my favorite bloggers!

Freshly-made peanut butter, with bananas and celery for dipping!

The PB pictured above was fab. I only got one bit of banana though, because I dropped the rest of my portion on the ground – dammit, wine! Celery was a subpar replacement for dipping, but the PB was wonderful enough that it wouldn’t matter what I was dipping into it. We also tried sorbet, a fruit smoothie, and tortilla soup! Out of everything though, my heart lay with the PB – it always wins in the end!

So there you have it: my trip to the first CT Wine & Food Festival was a great success, and I can only hope that it becomes an annual event. It looks like the Arthritis Foundation had a great turnout and raised money for their cause!

Have you ever been to a wine and food tasting? Which item that I wrote about would you most want to try?

Foodie Pen Pals: November!

Do you ever have a workout that is just beyond awesome: one that is fun, challenging, and leaves you feeling great after? That’s what I had yesterday. I managed to leave work in time to attend my favorite Step class, and despite the fact that the routine was completely new, I was hitting almost every move and keeping up very well. At the same time, my heart was pumping thanks to the drills the instructor dispersed throughout the combos she taught us.

I was so hungry all day yesterday, and had to buy a Kashi bar from the gym vending machine (the cheapo in me hates doing that) to fuel up before the class began, but I know that I owe my great experience to the fact that I had a balanced snack beforehand. I’ve struggled through too many group fitness classes because I didn’t eat enough beforehand, and it felt great to know that thanks to my smart choice to snack beforehand, I had one of the best workouts I’ve had in awhile. Have you ever had a great workout that you attribute to proper fueling beforehand?

The main purpose of today’s post is to talk about Foodie Pen Pals! Lindsay and Allie have done a great job starting this program and organizing it each month. Here’s some more details, courtesy of a email I recently received from Lindsay:

  • “On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
  • You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
  • The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!
  • You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
  • Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month. *US Residents only please at this time- hopefully we can expand soon!*

If you’re interested in participating for December, please send an email to Lindsay at theleangreenbean@gmail.com and include the following information:

  • Your full name
  • Your email address
  • Your blog name/address
  • Your twitter handle (if applicable)

[She] will need to hear from you by December 4th as pairings will be emailed on December 5th!”

I received a November Foodie Pen Pal package from the fantastic Tara of A Daily Dose of Fit. She’s a certified personal trainer and in my eyes, a certified fine-taste foodie as well, based on the contents of the cute package she sent me!

Tara took the time to write me a sweet card, in my favorite color of pen, explaining each item she sent me.

As I pulled item after item out of the box, I could hardly believe my luck. Tara sent me so much great stuff!

  • Garden of Eatin’ (LOVE the name) Sesame Blues All-Natural Tortilla Chips
  • Sweet Fire Salsa (made with PICKLES!)
  • PB&Co Smooth Operator travel packs
  • Raw instant breakfast cereal travel packs
  • Buckwheat
  • Nature’s Path Organic Bar (Mmmaple Pecan flavor)
  • Dark chocolate covered mix of almonds, milk balls, peanuts, and espresso beans

Thank you so very much Tara for the wonderful food! I am love anything interesting made with pickles, and blue tortilla chips are the best! The bar is going to come in handy for a pre-workout snack sometime soon, and the PB will travel well when I head to Florida this Christmas for the week! The most exciting part of the package for me is the buckwheat, because I plan to incorporate it into the recipe I’m using for the Great Blogger Cookie Swap!

I encourage anyone who is interested to participate in the Foodie Pen Pals program! I’m going to be skipping out in December because of my commitment to the Cookie Swap (my wallet can only handle so many shipping charges!) but I will be back and ready to go in January!

Have you ever had any kind of pen pal? In 2nd grade our class had pen pals in Alaska, and my pen pal’s name was Caitlin too. Pretty sure that’s why they paired us together! We bonded over our love of the Spice Girls.

Black Friday 2011

First thing’s first: I recommend that you head over to a fellow FitFluential Ambassador Christine’s blog, Oatmeal in my Bowl, to check out her Oatmeal Toppings feature! It’s a great link round-up of topics like fitness, food/cooking, outdoors, and challenges. A great way to find new blogs, recipes, and routines. And I may be a bit biased, because she featured my Hotel Room Workout!

Image courtesy of oatmealinmybowl.com

Also, please head over to the lovely Katie’s blog to check out her recap of the Sunday Cafes do Brasil Week Press Brunch at Bistro Cassis! My brunch was on a Saturday at Casa Restaurant, so Katie’s recap will show you a new Brazilian coffee experience in NYC. Cafes do Brasil Week may be over, but that’s no reason you can’t learn more about the coffee and try it for yourself!

Now, let’s get to it. Happy Cyber Monday! Anyone out there doing some heavy-duty online shopping today? I would, but I had enough fun and spent enough money on Black Friday to account for several shopping trips, so I’m going to try to hold back on checking websites for deals. Try.

Does anyone else LOVE Black Friday? For me, it signals the official beginning of the holiday season. As I browsed racks of clothes and displays of accessories this past Friday, the Christmas music in every store really got me into the spirit. So did picking out gifts for friends and family! Well, a friend and a family member. I can’t lie, my Black Friday shopping is usually more about getting great deals on stuff for me than gifts for others. It’s not that I’m selfish – it’s just that most of the gifts I plan to get people don’t end up being part of the Black Friday deals!

Thanksgiving morning tradition

After finishing up a spin class on Thanksgiving morning, I grabbed a nonfat cafe au lait at Whole Foods and headed home to spend time doing an activity that I probably enjoy more than the Thanksgiving meal itself: browsing circulars and making a plan of attack while watching the Macy’s parade. I had my eyes set on a new camera, and luckily the very one I wanted was on sale at about 8 different places, and all for the exact same price! The pressure was off for my big purchase, leaving Hannah and I plenty of time to devote to shopping for fun stuff like clothes, accessories, and shoes. We decided to hit Kohl’s first, then the mall.

Hannah with her 2nd cup of Dunkin after we left Kohl's.

Usually my Nana Connie joins us for Thanksgiving and Black Friday. In fact, for as long as I can remember she has been up at the crack of dawn, before Hannah and I, ready to get going on finding those deals. When my Granddad was alive, he used to come with us too. There has been only one Black Friday other than this one that Nana C didn’t join us, and Hannah and I really missed her this year. She had to work, but I know she was with us in spirit as we hunted down those bargains. We owe our Black Friday addiction to her!

Nonfat cafe au lait with cinnamon.

I selected the Nordstrom’s cafe for my cup of coffee, but held off awhile before having it. I was still feeling pretty nauseous from the evening before. We hunted down some fabulous deals! Hannah didn’t really think they were that great, but I was very satisfied with my day’s purchases.

This year's loot.

Last year’s pile looked way more impressive, but it was also a combination of not just my stuff, but Hannah’s and Nana Connie’s.

You probably saw the Trader Joe’s bag creepin in this year’s photo. Of course – I was right nearby, how could I NOT make a stop? I went in to stock up on my favorite veggie chips, but ended up leaving with a bunch of goodies!

Lentil chips, veggie chips, and everything pretzel slims.

All of the above three carbalicious snacks have crazy large serving sizes, something which I am all about.

Roasted peppers for salads, horseradish hummus, dill pickles, and egg white salad.

I’ve seen the egg white salad on Monica’s blog before, but couldn’t remember whether or not she liked it. I guess I’ll find out if I do! I’ve already been devouring the pickles and peppers in my salads.

I’ve been dying to show you my favorite purchase of the entire day:

Wait…I didn't buy this. That's a joke.

KIDDING. No, that prize has to go to my new camera from Best Buy. I was correct to not be worried about finding it later on in the day. I didn’t arrive until about 1, and there were still plenty left. For $20 more, I also got a bundle with a case, memory card, and cute mini tripod!

Forever 21 wasn’t having any sales, but their prices are usually fine by me anyway, especially their cheap accessories.

Ann Taylor Loft had 50% off of every single item in the store, so I got two shirts, and the Icing‘s buy one, get one 50% off earring promo and my tendency to think of multi-packs as a good value led to me being fairly stocked on earrings for about the next ten years.

Kohl’s completely surprised and impressed me with the Lauren Conrad collection. So much cute stuff! And I’m clearly obsessed with pleats. I love how everything this season is so delicate-looking.

My old high-school standby Hollister was selling everything at 40% off, even sale stuff! So I naturally headed straight for the clearance rack, but I did spring for a full-price (before the 40%) pair of corduroy jeggings as well.

Because I really need more yoga pants, or a skirt in the winter.

Another part of my family’s Black Friday tradition is the lunch we have each year with my dad. He doesn’t shop, just meets us for the food! This year we went somewhere I haven’t been in too long, Ruby Tuesday’s. I love it there, and I was also really craving their salad bar and veggie sides after my indulgent evening.

Garlic cheddar cheese biscuits!

I devoured a biscuit when they were placed in front of us, because at that point my nauseousness had subsided and I was starved.

Good thing I didn’t have to wait long to put in my order for the salad bar and help myself! I always ask for a side of pickles and a side of salsa to dump on my salads at Ruby’s as well. Does  anyone else think their croutons are the best thing in the world? I’ve never been able to find better ones!

Grilled asparagus, grilled zucchini, and roasted spaghetti squash.

I got the Veggie Trio combo deal and chose the above items as my three sides to go with the salad bar. Ruby’s has so many sides options. I absolutely love it! How many restaurants offer spaghetti squash?! I’ve only seen it at Ruby’s and Bonefish.

My gym session later that day was less than stellar (easy elliptical), but it still made me feel better because I sweated out some of that wine, went home, showered, and got cozy.

Oh, and before heading home, I treated myself to one last Black Friday tradition: a manicure! More specifically, a polish change. As you can see, I was in desperate need.

OPI "I Brake for Manicures"

What was your best Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday purchase ever?

Thanksgiving 2011: A Hot Mess

Good morning! I hope everyone is enjoying their long weekends. I know I am. I have been so confused about the days, and nothing is better than that because that means I’m not at work the usual Monday-Friday. I can’t believe the holiday season is now truly upon us – or that it’s going to be 67 degrees today. SO GLAD that winter is holding off (for now).

I feel like I have so much to share. I have a couple events I attended over the last couple of weeks to recap, but first order of business is of course to tell everyone about Thanksgiving. And Black Friday…but that’ll come later.

Caitlin + Cabernet = Hot Pics

I’ve started referring to this Thanksgiving as Black Thursday for the reason that I went a little overboard on wine before…during…and after dinner. Cabernet is DANGEROUSLY addicting! I’ll get the negative out of the way here and admit that I was super hard on myself about having too much wine, acting stupid, and being fuzzy on later parts of the evening. I lost track of my tolerance and felt so embarrassed, and also felt concerned over the alcohol. In these situations I often irrationally worry about how “bad” alcohol is said to be for you, how you “shouldn’t” have more than one drink per day, how “easily” things can become a habit, etc. All of those thoughts are messages that I think invade the minds of many women each day, thanks to how pervasive those topics are in the media, especially this time of year. I love fitness and health magazines, blogs, etc as much as the next girl (here I am writing my own), but I also wish there was more media literacy education out there to help people realize that indulgence isn’t the end of the world, and those articles they may read about all the bad parts of drinking never mention the other side of it – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself every now and then. No one is perfect and I tend to beat myself up when situations like this make me see that I am not. I am not blaming the media for this, but I do know that plenty of little blurbs I’ve read in “Shape” and “Women’s Health” were popping up in my head Thursday night as I periodically woke up to chug water.

I certainly didn’t mean for this entry to start with me talking about media literacy and guilt over alcohol, but I find that kind of writing therapeutic. Anyone else have any thoughts they want to share? Now, let’s get to the good stuff, because I did have a great time throughout the evening at our family friends, the Gerbers’s, house.

May have lost my footing, but had a good time doing it.

Another family of friends, the Aubuchons, joined us at the Gerber house. All three of our families moved from Florida to CT thanks to the “men of the house” and their positions at Pratt & Whitney, and we have known each other since all of us kids were babies. It’s great that we have all moved together and can gather at special occasions throughout the years and grow up with each other.

Mr. Aubuchon carves his deep fried turkey!

Greg and Joe also came with my family, and I loved spending the evening hanging out with them. I hadn’t seen Greg in a few months, since I went to visit him in Boston (he goes to BU’s School of Law), and it’s always fun to see Joe.

Joe, focus!

The guys and I were all SO ready for dinner when we arrived, and the suspense before the meal was killing us. Joe even resorted to affectionately petting the fried turkey upon its arrival, and Greg pre-gamed dinner with one of the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that Megan made – turns out she’s a fan of How Sweet It Is too!

Unhand that turkey!

How could you go wrong with one of Jessica’s creations?

Don’t worry, there’s no way that was spoiling dinner.

Cookie model?

Some appetizers were set out for people to enjoy with drinks, including the famous Gerber buffalo chicken dip.

So cheesy. So tasty.

Before dinner, the family gathered around all of the food and said a prayer of thanks. Then we dove into everything buffet style – filled up plates in the kitchen, then brought them to the table.

Mrs. Gerber’s famous stuffing SO GOOD.

Potatoes au gratin

Sweet potatoes topped with candied nuts and crumbs – LIKE DESSERT.

My mom’s zesty horseradish carrots.

My plate! I love tasting plates 🙂

Dinner was sooo good. I had: mashed potatoes, squash, turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish, green beans, sweet potato, and carrots. I didn’t really care for the cranberry relish, so I didn’t end up having more than a couple bites of that. Everything else was gone though. Joe, Greg, and I ended up being the only kids who invaded the “adult table” but we had fun!

Love you Dad!

After dinner, us “kids” went down to the basement, where shenanigans ensued.

Ain’t we lovely?

After getting beat by the bro in the first round of a ping pong tourney.

Pic crazy!

And dessert was had, of course.

Pumpkin pies!

Apple pie and pecan pie!

My dessert plate

I may have had seconds of dessert. To be honest, I am not sure. I am sure that I was asleep by about 8pm though.

Cheesy staircase pose

Thanks to everyone who wished me a Happy Thanksgiving, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the blog world ate on this special day!

Have you ever beat yourself up over an indulgence? What was your favorite thing you ate on Thanksgiving (or that Thursday if you don’t celebrate)?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Probably stealing a title from a zillion other bloggers today, but just wanted to pop in and say Happy Thanksgiving! I actually woke up super early and skipped the Manchester Road Race in favor of an hour-long sweaty spin session. I just wanted to get going bright and early! Now I have no desire to do anything else except sit on my butt all day and drink my coffee, and I think I just might do that. Oh, and eat. Everyone have a fabulous day, whether it’s Thanksgiving for you or not! And GOOD LUCK to all Black Friday deal-seekers tomorrow!

J. Gilbert’s: The New Menu

Thanks for sharing your Birchbox finds on yesterday’s post! Please feel free to keep sharing each month – I love comparing box contents!

I cannot BELIEVE it is Thanksgiving tomorrow! I am so very excited, but not really because of the food. Thanksgiving dinner is tasty, but never really consists of any of my very favorite dishes. I’m more so excited to spend time with my immediate family, as well as close friends that I haven’t seen in awhile. I’m also not travelling (well, I do have to drive 5 minutes…) which I’m pretty ecstatic about. My dad, sister, and I will also be getting our run on in the morning at CT’s biggest race (15,000 registered runners this year, and plenty more don’t register), the Manchester Road Race, a 4.5 mile run that ALSO takes place only 5 minutes from my house! It’s one of those courses filled with runners in crazy costumes and bands playing along the side of the road. Even back when I never exercised, I did this race each year!

To get you hyped for the feasts coming your way tomorrow, I want to do a post on a delicious meal I had recently. J. Gilbert’s Wood-fired Steaks & Seafood just might be my favorite restaurant (I do know it’s the home of my favorite dessert, a chocolate velvet cake with banana liquer, as well as my favorite happy hour, which I have often mentioned). They also will be open on Thanksgiving and their special prix fixe menu for that evening (the regular menu will also be available) consists of both traditional and non-traditional foods!

The famous dessert!

Our family has celebrated many a special occasion there.

Enjoying Avalon Cabernet, one of my favorite wines, with my mom at a birthday dinner. Nice one, Mom!

I used to get the same thing every single time: a 60z filet with asparagus and a baked potato. J. Gilbert’s has the best baked potatoes I’ve ever had because the skins come rubbed with plenty of sea salt. Their steaks are always cooked to perfection.

Awkwardly posing (as usual) my typical meal.

I have “revealed” the wonder of J. Gilbert’s to a lot of my friends, including several couples who have held dates there after I suggested it. That includes Jeff and Kim, some of my regular dining partners! I even have an “in” since I know the head hostess and her younger sister, who buses and is also a hostess. Yes, I’m a little smug right now. Sorry I’m not sorry!

Jeff hangin' with the same meal, but he opted for lobster mac n'cheese for his starch.

However, since I started expanding my food horizons, I have taken to trying to order something different each time! I’m now at a foodie stage in which I love trying new things, so I was so happy to learn that J. Gilbert’s updated their menu last Wednesday – and that just so happened to be a day that Jeff, Kim, and another foodie friend, Evan, had a trip planned to use a coupon!

The new menu in all its glory! Sorry for the glare!

It took awhile for me to decide what to get. I knew I had to get a new item, but I also couldn’t deny the craving I was having for my usual filet/asparagus/baked potato. Easy solution: go with a surf n’ turf combo!

My "surf" combo choices.

I’ve had the shrimp before, but it was of the BBQ variety. Now the shrimp on the menu is bourbon maple, which definitely called to me with a fall-feeling. Done and done!

Bad weather led to backed-up reservations and some slow service from the kitchen, but our server Sergio was extremely polite and apologetic, and we had some sourdough bread to hold us over. I opted out this time though, because I wasn’t that hungry yet.

Jeff and Evan also decided to start with an older menu item, but one that was new to them, the Chicken Tortilla Soup. What a fun presentation!

Yes, that is a bowl of broth-less soup fillings.

The food runner set each bowl down, and THEN poured the broth over its contents. Genius!

Sorry for the blur! Trying to quickly catch it.

 Evan doesn’t like guac (I know, what?) so he wasn’t a fan of that part of the soup, but other than that both boys seemed to really enjoy it. I’m sure adding the broth last-minute means the ingredients are less soggy and taste more fresh!

When the main portions of food finally made it out, I was ready to chow down.

I also ordered a side of mango salsa for my steak and a side of pico de gallo for my potato skin – free of charge!

How awesome does that baked potato skin look? I always save that for last. I asked for the filet medium rare, and it came back medium, which is rare for J. Gilb (as I so affectionately call it).  However, I usually have filet medium, and went for medium rare today on a whim, so I still loved it as much as usual. But when I do get to have it medium rare, I think I’ll enjoy it more!

The maple bourbon shrimp was just as I’d imagine it’d be. The maple flavor was so pronounced and enhanced the shrimp SO much. 10/10!

Seared Georges Bank Sea Scallops

Jeff went for the scallops with lobster risotto and champagne beurre blanc. He and I have had scallops from J. Gilbert’s before and were blown away, and he said nothing changed this time. Still blown away, still awesome. This was an old menu item, but it never gets old.

Mesquite Plank Salmon

Kim ordered the salmon with yukon smashed potatoes and green beans with pecans (new side items). The older menu had salmon on it of course, but like the shrimp, it was a BBQ flavor. This salmon came on an actual plank of wood! She finished it all up and said the smashed potatoes were just as good as her usual go-to side, the cheddar mashed potatoes.

Mishima Ranch Wagyu Burger

Last but not least, Evan ordered the wagyu (another word for kobe beef) burger with sweet potato fries. This selection is completely new to the menu and looked quite delicious, but Evan said the pretzel bun was too much for the beef and too overpowering. He’s also not the biggest sweet potato fry fan (I KNOW, first no guac, now no sweet potatoes, who is this guy?!) but Kim, Jeff, and I polished them off for him no problem.

After reading this post, or just looking at its photos, I’m sure you’re more than ready for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow night (if you celebrate). Or just any dinner! If any CT residents out there try J. Gilbert’s, please let me know what you think – and I highly recommend a reservation!

Which dish in this post would you most want to order?

Birchbox Love

Have you guys ever heard of Birchbox? I found out about it through a fellow blogger, and I am bummed to realize that I cannot even remember who it was – UGH! If it was you, I apologize.

Image from birchbox.com

Basically, you go onto Birchbox.com and sign up to receive your monthly Birchbox, or a box that contains several beauty samples (based on questions you are asked at sign-up), for $10/month. I think this is a good deal considering I love to try new beauty products, but do not love buying them at full-size at the drug store and watching them stockpile in my bathroom as I rarely use them. With Birchbox, my urge to try new products is satisfied monthly, and there’s also the fun element of surprise because I don’t know what I’ll be getting each month!

I also receive periodic emails throughout the month with beauty tips and deals that correspond to what I received in that month’s box. These emails are not too bothersome, pushy, or frequent. I believe you can customize which you receive, or unsubscribe completely, if you wish! I haven’t felt the need to though.

To give you an example, below is my October Birchbox and its contents:

  • Pandea Organics Facial Scrub
  • Redken Shine Flash 02 Glistening Mist
  • Blinc Mascara
  • BeFine Lip Serum
  • Tea Forte Mints (not pictured)
To give you an example of how I typically use the contents of a Birchbox: I stored the facial scrub for use in travel and for when my current scrub runs out. Same deal with the lip serum and mints. However, I have been using the hair mist and LOVE IT. It smells so awesome – honestly the best smelling hairspray I’ve ever used. And I’ve also been using the mascara daily. It supposedly encases your eyelashes in “tubes” of mascara, and it works. I can tell because when I remove my makeup, it comes off very easily in little tube form! So cool, and so much lessy of a removal.
Out of all the products in the above Birchbox, I’d say the one I recommend you actually purchase is the Blinc Mascara. I have really never used a mascara that wonderful!

And November’s Birchbox…

I haven’t really had a chance to try any of these products yet, but check out the chocolate – it’s chipotle dark chocolate! I can’t wait to sample that. In fact, I’m not sure why I haven’t yet. I also received a funky green nail polish that would be perfect for St. Patty’s Day. And I’m curious as to how the whitening toothpaste will work – I’m opening it when my current tube runs out!
I totally think the sample of beauty supplies, plus the experience of getting the Birchbox, is worth the $10/month. They didn’t give me any reason to do this post – I just wanted to share a cool find with you all!
What do you think of Birchbox? Anyone else do it? Let me know if you sign up and what goodies you get – everyone gets different samples each month based on their preferences!

Mondo Monday!

You really have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to use that title. Basically since before I even visited Mondo in Middletown, CT a week ago today (last Monday) for some tasty Groupon-funded pizza! Colin of Taste of New Haven and I hit up that particular spot because he is an avid pizza lover (New Haven, pizza, obvious connection), and nothing is more fun than dining with a fellow foodie! Middletown was also a nice central location between the Hartford and New Haven areas.

View from our seats (we sat by the bar). Image courtesy of mondomiddletown.com.

We started with a small tapas-style Misto Plate, which I forgot to take a photo of (d’oh), but it did contain some tasty things. So, you can’t blame me when I was so excited that I dove right in and forgot my blogging duties. I love sampler plates, and this one contained a perfectly-portioned mix of dressed greens, polenta croutons, prosciutto, fresh cheese, marinated red peppers, and olives. I had a little of everything, but I have to say the polenta croutons were my favorite items on the plate. So crispy and satisfying!

For our pizza, we went with something I’ve been dying to try for so long: Oozy Egg Pizza!

Mozz and romano cheeses, egg, truffle oil, and half prosciutto (my half).

This pizza was beyond beyond incredible. The crust was at the perfect crispness: a satisfying crunch, and strong enough to eat one-handed (you know what I mean…nothing is more annoying than a weak crust that leaves toppings falling off a slice, no matter how delicious). The lack of sauce didn’t take away from the pizza at all – in fact, it added to it. White pizza was the only way to go on this one. The prosciutto and egg on my half combined to give me the taste of a breakfast sandwich on a pizza – but I’m not talking about an Egg McMuffin here. It tasted completely gourmet!

No bite was left standing – obviously. Mondo has so many other pies that I want to try and I hope to get back for another visit sometime. It’s a bit far from my house but I really think my mom would enjoy their veggie pie – and they even offer wheat and gluten-free crust options!

I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is in just a few days…this year has absolutely flown by. I’m hoping winter flies by just as fast so I can get to spring already!

Have you ever tried runny egg on a pizza? Do you like prosciutto on any other types of pizza?

Sakimura Sushi on a Saturday Morning

Yay, it’s the weekend! Last night I got out of work early and hit up Group Power. While it was great to finally get some strength training in (I’ve been slacking on it recently), I didn’t have the best class because I skipped my pre-workout snack. I was working out an hour earlier than usual so thought I wouldn’t need it – wrong! The class would have been so much better if I’d been well-fueled. Lesson learned, folks.

So this morning I was sure to have a banana with PB&Co Mighty Maple before my 7:15am trip to the gym. Last night my mom and I went to Bertucci’s (and ordered a meal that was an exact replay of last time) to use another $5 off $25 coupon, and when I got home I read my book and passed out before 10. PARTY.

So I woke up quite naturally this morning at 6:30am, before the gym even opened. There aren’t any group fitness classes that start that early on Saturdays so I did my own thing once I arrived. I hadn’t done any cardio since Wednesday so I went with 30 minutes of HIIT on the Stair Master, 20 minutes on the elliptical, and some quick abs and stretching. Great sweat session! The Stair Master kills me every single time. SO nice to be done so early too! I’m at Daybreak now, blogging while I take a break between chapters of reading I’m doing for school. Today’s coffee of choice is Amaretti di Sicilia – YUM.

I’ve also got a restaurant report to share with you all!

I love using daily deals from sites like SaveNowCT to visit new restaurants and broaden my foodie-horizons. Case in point: I recently forgo-ed my daily packed salad beast for a lunch out with my co-worker at Sakimura, a sushi and hibachi place right near our office that I had a soon-to-expire deal to. Unfortunately I goofed and bought the dinner deal, but the restaurant still let us use it as long as we ordered off the dinner menu. So no awesome lunchbox special deals – but we still had a tasty meal! Daily deal crisis, averted.

Steamed edamame with sea salt.

Believe it or not, I’d never had edamame out of its pod before! I’ve been spoiled by the Whole Foods and Ruby Tuesday’s salad bars. This made for a very embarrassing situation. First, I ate two pods themselves before realizing that you’re not supposed to eat those – no wonder they were so hard to chew. Side note, I also made this mistake with shrimp tails the first time I ate shrimp. I was wondering why they were so crunchy!

When I finally caught on to the fact that you dispose of the pods, I kept popping the edamame out instead of sucking it right out of the pod. This resulted in edamame pieces flying all over the table.  Steve had plenty of laughs over that one – glad I could provide some klutzy lunchtime entertainment.

Nice hand pose, Steve!

We decided to split the Sushi Dinner, so we also received a salad and miso soup to share. Not the biggest fan of miso so I gave that one to Steve, but I did have some of the salad. The salads and soup at Japanese restaurants have always been so meh to me, but I know that a lot of people really like miso. Maybe I just haven’t had a really flavorful variety?

Tuna, striped bass, salmon, shrimp, and a couple of others I don't remember.

This was my first round of what I’d call your “fishy”, typical sushi. I usually go safer routes like California, veggie, or cooked seafood rolls. I’m pleased to report that I LOVED every single component of this plate! Except the wasabi…I don’t touch that stuff. I am officially an all-things-sushi lover!

Not sure if I’ll be back to Sakimura simply because I tend to only eat dinner out, not lunch, and it’s a bit far from my house since I’m only in that area during my workday, but if it were closer to me I’d definitely be coming back. For now, there are lots of Japanese places in Glastonbury that can fulfill any sushi cravings I may get. Still, the service was polite and the food was tasty!

I’m off to do more reading…after I check out Facebook and Twitter of course. And I’m off to the CT Food and Wine Fest tonight thanks to another SaveNowCT deal – can’t wait to take tons of photos so I can share the experience with you all!

Are you a sushi person? If you like “fishy” sushi, have you always liked it or did you have to slowly acclimate like me?

Get Your Weekend On

Happy Friday! I’m so glad it’s the weekend, but when am I not? This week has been the busiest I’ve ever had at work but has also flown by the fastest. I’m excited to relax and stick around CT this weekend. Plus, my sister is coming home for the week on Sunday!

In terms of workouts this week has been pretty good because I got to attend two of my favorite classes at the gym, Step and Interval Training, which also happen to be some of the hardest classes there. It worked out well though because due to class this week, I ended up with a rest day both Tuesday and yesterday. As usual it was a little bit tricky to get through rest days without getting rest-less, but I did enjoy getting out of class last night at 7:30 and knowing I could go home to a tasty dinner.

Mom's homemade chicken and chickpea chili, topped with broccoli and pico, whole grain taco shells on the side.

I ate out a couple of days this week, which I plan to recap soon, but on Tuesday night I was also at home for another mom-meal.

Sundried tomato shrimp, caramelized onions, and roasted Brussels sprouts!

I SO loved having these Brussels left over to put in my salad lunches this week.

Also just hung up some more cubicle decor, this time coffee related! So many people have maps hanging in their cubes, and this is my kind of map…

Awesome right? I received this poster at the Cafes do Brasil brunch (still a couple days left to celebrate by the way)! So cool to see where all the coffee comes from, and how cute is that little engagement ring box graphic with a coffee bean inside (in the lower right corner). That’s the real way to my heart!

Hoping to get out of work on time for Group Step and then a dinner out with my mom and brother – a repeat of last Friday. Sorry for another short post, but it’s time to get my weekend on.

What was the best dinner you had this week? Any good Friday plans?