April Foodie Pen Pals!

I can’t BELIEVE it’s already the last day of April. AKA Foodie Pen Pal reveal day!!!

Lindsay‘s Foodie Pen Pals program is a great way to meet fellow bloggers and try new foodie treats, whether they are local or just something your grocery store doesn’t happen to carry. This month I ended up being assigned to send a package to someone I already knew, the wonderful Diana of Veggie Next Door. I’ve never gotten a pen pal match-up before who is already a friend, and it was really fun because I felt more motivated to share certain “treasures” with her like locally made CT food and coffee from my favorite cafe ever. Check out what I got Diana!

Previous Foodie Pen Pals posts:

I was sent a package by the gorgeous Annica Russo! I’m so glad to have found her blog, AnnicaNicole, about the healthy livings musings of a fellow Fitfluential AmbassadorShe and I have a lot in common – social media addiction, communications education, advertising and PR career goals…I could go on forever! Probably explains why I enjoyed what she sent so much.

I was in love from the moment I laid eyes on this fabulous zebra tissue paper (fun fact: my bathroom my junior year of college was zebra themed).

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

Well that was a tangent. Do you like the row of tampon boxes in the above photo? Classic college dorm bathroom belonging to four girls.

Let’s get back to the goods, shall we?

I was even more impressed by the ADORABLE initialed card Annica used, especially since one of my favorite cards to use during any sort of blogger exchange ALSO has my first name initial on it!

From a package I sent Lynn for Christmas (source).

The similarities only continued to pile on as I got past the tissue paper and card and got to the FOOD!

  • Fresh Finds rice cracker mix: This snacky, healthier take on Chex Mix is low in calories (which to me translates into I’LL EAT MORE :-D) and I would love to mix it into plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese as a snack!
  • Fresh Finds banana chips: Ditto with these guys on the mix-in possibilities!
  • Antico Pastificio Umbro garlic & basil linguine: I never really eat pasta at home, or order it out, because it’s not interesting enough for me. So THIS pasta is right up my alley! I love garlic, I love basil, and it’s made with whole wheat flour. Score!
  • Tropical Foods yogurt pretzels: Oooh danger danger! I know that once I open this bag my mom and I will go through it VERY quickly, probably why we’ve delayed opening, but I can’t wait to dive in…

  • Balance Bar Cafe chocolate almond biscotti bar: I’m not a big bar person but do enjoy using them sometimes as yet another cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt mix-in. I’m excited to try this one because based off the nutrition stats and ingredients list, it looks promising!
  • Moser Roth chili dark European chocolate: Chili chocolate, how unique!!! I ended up bringing this to a jewelry making party so that everyone could try it paired with red wine!

Thank you so much Annica for taking the time to put together a great box for me. Keep an eye out on my Twitter because whenever I snack, I’m usually tweeting it! That’s how you’ll all get the latest updates on how I like my goodies!

Don’t forget to go here to find out how you can join this amazing program. It’s completely worth the ~$25/month (food + shipping) that it costs to participate!

Do you do foodie pen pals? If so, how was your box this month?!

Taste of Wethersfield

A couple of weekends I attended yet another glorious tasting event – a local, reasonably priced tasting from the Wethersfield Historical Society called Taste of WethersfieldAnyone who’s been reading my blog for awhile can surely tell that I love going to these things. I’m all about trying small samples of as much as I can. There is so much out there to taste! Other events I’ve gone to include:

Since a lot of people seemed to enjoy my last Fashion Friday post, I’ve been trying to remember to take more outfit pictures before heading out to events or meals. Is this something you guys are actually interested in seeing?

Top: Forever 21

Necklace: J. Crew outlet

Watch: Fossil

Pants: Urban Outfitters

Heels: Steve Madden

 My good friend Kim is a Wethersfield native, and she agreed to join me on this lovely Saturday evening. She was definitely familiar with a lot of the places in attendance!

Awkward posing with the event mascot.

We were greeted right away with a selection of beers: Shock Top Raspberry Wheat, Wheat IPA, and Lemon, as well as good old Sam Adams Summer. As a beer experimenter I went with the beer I thought it was most likely I’d like, the Lemon. It tasted like…Shock Top tasted the last time I tried it. Donde esta la lemon?

Let’s move onto the wine – now that’s more like it! At the below table I sampled Edna Valley Vineyard Merlot, described as complete with “aromas of cocoa powder, black cherry, & plum balanced with fine tannins and acidity”. I don’t know about the cocoa, but it was certainly well balanced and tasty.

The below Amarula Cream Liqueur was one of the most delicious liqueurs I’ve ever tried! It was like an amaretto coffee. It’d pair so well with a dessert pastry. Or poured over a huge piece of tiramisu. Someone try it and get back to me!

Wethersfield’s Starbucks was there too – not exactly local/slow food, but still yummy. They were serving coffee, including their new Blonde Roast (which is too light for this blonde) and pastries! I’ve had the below chocolate chip walnut banana bread in the past at my previous favorite study location from my days at UConn, the Starbucks on campus.

I’ve also seen the below double chocolate brownies and lemon loafs in the display case of many a Starbucks location.

I elected to sample their newest petite pastry offerings (I’ve never even seen these in stores before since I started passing up Starbucks for local cafes), the brown sugar walnut (left) and chocolate hazelnut (right) tarts. To my surprise, I preferred the brown sugar walnut. Perhaps that’s because the chocolate hazelnut tart had no hazelnut taste to it whatsoever – it just tasted like a Milano cookie.

Let’s get to some area restaurants! City Steam is a really cool brewery/cafe/restaurant in Hartford with daily bar specials, comedy shows, a diverse menu, and its own brand of beers. I’ve eaten there once before and it was a pretty good meal! Not amazing, but not bad by any means. There is definitely something for everyone on the menu.

The Naughty Nurse Amber Ale, the original beer from City Steam, is available in bottles in liquor stores. During my Integrated Marketing Communications class last spring, one of the owners of City Steam even brought a six-pack in (to pass around, not drink…) and spoke with us about marketing. I wasn’t as interested in marketing and branding in the food and drinks world then – wish I could go back in time now and listen all over!

Naughty Nurse is the variety of beer I opted to try, since the newer option, Blonde on Blonde, is a “very hoppy pale ale” (seriously, the label even says that word-for-word) which is almost sure to equal me disliking it. Kim and I both liked the Naughty Nurse (ha) a lot! We detected a chocolate/caramel taste, and the employee working the booth did confirm our suspicions about the caramel.

My eye wandered immediately to the right, toward the next booth over, Carmela’s Pasta Shop of Wethersfield. I hadn’t heard of it, but Kim confirmed for me that they are thought of by many as the best source of homemade pasta in Hartford! Thankfully the staff was serving up freshly made ravioli. Their sauce was to die for and the ravioli were perfect! Some of the best I’ve ever had. I’d love to try a squash or pumpkin ravioli from Carmela’s…I wonder if they make any in the fall? I hope to get to Carmela’s sometime this summer to bust open a bottle of wine and enjoy some good old-fashioned Italian cooking!

I was happy to have the chance to sample another specialty cocktail from Onyx Moonshine, after having tried their delicious cider-based cocktail last fall. This grassroots liquor company has a factory right near me in Manchester, CT! Onyx is being served at more and more bars and restaurants not only in its home state, but in RI and MA as well. The cards at the bottom of the below photo detail a different Onyx Moonshine cocktail for each season!

 The pitcher below was filled with a refreshing concoction indeed – the summer cocktail Shinin’ Tea: one part Onyx, two parts sweet iced tea, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I didn’t detect a hint of the moonshine, but not because there wasn’t any in there – it sneaks up on you! Danger! The founders, Adam and Peter, also informed me that their moonshine is a great component in many recipes, like steak tips. That sounds amazing!

 I really expanded my beer horizons during this event and sampled my first Hooker Brewery beer (made right nearby in Bloomfield, CT), the Watermelon Ale. I’d heard less than favorable opinions of it and was fairly surprised to find that I enjoyed it! So refreshing and as Kim said, “it tastes like I just sucked on a Jolly Rancher and chased it with beer”. Yup, that’s about right, but it wasn’t a bad thing.

Tschudin Chocolate & Confections of the wonderful Middletown, CT had some impressive sculptures in the making! I don’t exactly know what the one below is because clearly it was in-process when I got the photo, but check out that construction hardware!

I can’t believe the bamboo in the photo below (on the right) is ALL CHOCOLATE! How cute is the googly-eyed iPhone? Kim and I each took a nibble of some dark chocolate discs from this booth. Mmm, it paired SO well with red wine from the next table over!

That table was run by some lovely ladies of Cork & Brew in Southington, CT, the only place in the state where you can make your own beer and wine! They even have free classes Saturdays 10am or 1pm by appointment! I’m not sure what kind of wine the red was that I tried, but it was VERY fruity. The white was a Green Apple Riesling – SO SWEET. Way too sweet for me, but yummy for a couple of sips from the small cup.

Cork & Brew seems to be the PERFECT destination for a girl’s night, bachelorette party, 21st birthday, and more! I love the idea. Guys can even get into the whole beer thing! You can also buy the supplies from them, take them home, and make your beer and wine all the time!

How amazing and cute are those cork holders?! They have them available in the store (not online yet unfortunately) and have Mother’s Day Gift written all over them!

Kim and I had successfully hit up almost all the downstairs booths, so we went upstairs and were greeted with a much livelier atmosphere! An excellent live band was playing and plenty of patrons were dancing; it was so cute!

There was also a silent auction happening upstairs. I actually didn’t see this in my event program until the next day, but look at this auction item – such a cool idea!

We tackled the upstairs drinks first – plenty to choose from at the below table. I sampled Lunae Moscato, the first Moscato ever to be infused with natural fruit “essence”, whatever that means! It was way too sweet for me and didn’t taste that natural, to be honest. And then we had Chopin Vodka, which I didn’t have a chance to try at Taste of the Nation: New Haven (their booth was shoved into a random corner that I didn’t notice at first), so I was excited to have the chance to sample it here. Each variety of Chopin is made with different “grains”, which in turn determine how much it tastes like…well…vodka. I went for the most potent, the potato vodka. I LOVE potatoes after all, so how appropriate! Yup, this definitely tasted like vodka. Not something I’d order straight up but I’m sure it’d make a smooth cocktail! Kim thought I was crazy for even trying a sample of it straight.

Next I tried Finca La Linda Carte Reservado, a Syrah and Malbec blend from Mendoza, Argentina. There was also some Merlot in there. I love blends so much – you don’t really know what to expect until the first sip. And I especially love all the wines used in the blend, so it was no surprise when this wine put a BIG smile on my face, and I don’t mean because it got me a-buzzin’.

Another noteable red I sampled was the below El Coto Rioja. Rioja is a grape that I am relatively new to knowing about, but it was love at first sip since I first sampled some at Esca. This wine also seemed very CT-appropriate with its The-Hartford-like logo!

Reps from one of the newest spirits to hit the market, American Harvest, were giving out cocktails made of OJ, Sprite, and their organic vodka. I wish I could tell you whether or not this vodka was any good, but the cocktail completely masked its taste and was mostly juice and soda. Boo!

The good red wines kept on comin’…my last sip of alcohol for the evening, and it was a good last one, came from the bottle on the left in the below photo. It was Dreaming Tree Crush, a smoky red that really impressed me – and I felt that way before I was told by the booth’s operator that Dreaming Tree is the wine company owned by Dave Matthews! Dave sure can make good music AND good wine.

OK, I am not a drunkard, let’s get back to the food shall we? And what makes a girl crave pizza more than red wine? Answer: nothing. Good thing Village Pizza was posted up next to the booth with the Dreaming Tree!

It may not look the prettiest but the above pie with spinach and sausage, though not in possession of as thin a crust as I normally like, was so delicious. So was the below pie, fresh out of the oven (literally – Village Pizza is right across the street from the event venue, talk about local!) and complete with beefy, juicy tomatoes and perfect seasonings.

Next Kim and I found an unexpected booth – one run by grocery chain ShopRite. I honestly have always associated that grocery store with heavily discounted, low-quality items. However, I was pleasantly surprised by their offerings! The cheesecakes below were fantastic…it’d been way too long since I had a bite of cheesecake. That used to be my “reward” to myself after each calc exam I suffered through at UConn!

The melba toasts with fresh olive oil and balsamic vinegar made me feel quite classy!

So did the olive tapenade spread on these melba toasts – even though it may look a bit gross (I won’t say what it looks like…), trust me, it was delicious.

MELBA MANIA! The below toasts were spread with a spinach and artichoke hummus. YUM. However, I didn’t really taste the spinach or the artichoke. I just tasted salty hummus. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

My favorite combo, of course, was the cheese and fig jam pairing. I could eat sweet and savory things piled on top of bread ALL DAY.

Krause Catering passed out some delectable looking mini strawberry shortcakes. Instead of pound cake, they were made with BISCUITS! Biggest regret of the night: not deciding I wanted one until they had run out. And the event wasn’t even over yet! The picture below is Kim’s – she was a smart lady and grabbed one of these early.

Carbone’s, a Hartford landmark on “Little Italy” AKA Franklin Avenue, had some amazing meatballs. They didn’t look too pretty so I didn’t take a picture, nor did I get a picture of the prosciutto-wrapped melon we tried because the few pieces left on the tray looked lonely. However I did get a shot of this unique appetizer, cucumber slices topped with a salmon and tzatziki-like spread. So yummy! I had actually eaten dinner at Carbone’s the night before (hoping to have time to share THAT experience at some point…) and was glad the booth was passing out things I hadn’t already tried.

Next up, a place that I have been dying to try (I have a Living Social deal, but have been saving it for when the weather is warm enough to dine al fresco)…Puerto Vallarta! This Mexican mini-chain had a nice long table set up. Some of the offerings included this delectable app. It reminded me of a spring roll, except filled with shredded pork. YUM.

This sauteed chicken, pepper, and onion medley for fajitas was really good. I skipped the tortillas to avoid filling up on bland-ness (I already know what they taste like after all).

Costa del Sol of Hartford served up Mexican that was more my style – SEAFOOD-heavy stuff! On the left we have a gazpacho and on the right a cold ceviche with huge beans. I believe the ceviche was sitting in the gazpacho. The herbs on top had a strong flavor that wasn’t too overpowering. Two thumbs up to each sample!

One of my favorite places in Wethersfield is Lucky Lou’s Bar & Grill on Old Main Street. They have an amazing happy hour, fabulous seafood, and a gorgeous outdoor patio with live music that doesn’t piss me off with excessive volume. All these things are great, but what really puts the cherry on top is their ability to make a good sangria that doesn’t taste like a wine cooler. I had already tried their red last summer, so I sampled the pineapple coconut sangria on the left. I usually scoff at a white sangria, but WOW, I just wanted to take the pitcher down to Florida with me (because it was cold outside in CT) and drink it.

Like I said, they have fab food too. Didn’t fill up on any of that pasta, but I did have one of those balsamic-drizzled bruschettas. My mom and I ordered a full-size bruschetta last time we went, and it was to die for, so I had to have it again.

Ginza, a sushi and hibachi restaurant that I’ve dined at before, was JUST running out of sushi samples when Kim and I arrived at their table. Lots of places were out of stuff by this point! I tried a spicy tuna roll, and Kim had a California roll. Two thumbs up from both of us, though not the most creative or exciting thing ever (and white rice is blahhh). Their hibachi is very good though, I know this from past experience!

I drive by Aroma Bistro on Old Main Street all the time (it’s across the street from Lucky Lou’s) but have never been in. After trying their sandwiches, I think that will have to change ASAP. Check out the Grateful Pilgrim: turkey, caramelized onion, avocado, Dutch Fontina cheese, cranberry mayo. This goes above and beyond your classic “Gobbler” style sandwich with the addition of the avocado and a dynamite cheese. AND wheat bread!

The Garden Treasure was also awesome. I love a veggie panini that doesn’t skimp on the veggies. Sooo much veggie goodness, and basil pesto was a grand finale.

And finally, the Texas Roadhouse, which was MADE by the horseradish mayo and the perfectly crispy bacon.

LAST STOP! Did you think this night would never end? My stomach certainly hoped for just that. Alas, we got to the last table (that still had food left…), Comerio of Hartford. More pork! It was so amazing, slow-roasted to perfection.

And I honestly don’t remember what the dish below was. Something unique! But it was so good. Check out their menu – lots of interesting foodie finds like boiled bananas, gizzards, and stewed pig ears!

I have almost NO complaints about this event. It was great, and for only $35, so worth it! However, I would hope that next year the restaurants are more prepared with enough food. I know that they donate their time and resources and that’s very kind in the first place, but the event was advertised to last until 9:30PM, and even by 8:30PM some booths were out! Of course, it’s very possible that the turnout this year was WAY more than last year! It’s really not a big deal – overall, it was a great event that raised a lot of money for a good cause. The Wethersfield Historical Society should be proud – thanks for bringing an affordable tasting event to the Hartford area!

Which of these tasty treats and drinks would you have liked to try?!

Ever had strawberry shortcake made with a biscuit? How cool is that?!

#RBKFITBLOG and Guest Post!

Some of you may remember that I announced that I am attending an event at Fitness Magazine HQ in NYC with other FitFluential Ambassadors on May 9. Well, the good news just keeps rolling in. I’m proud to share that in the same week, on May 11 (thank goodness I have vacation time left!), I will be heading to Boston with my road trip buddy Heather to join other FFAs at Reebok World Headquarters!!

Pinch me. Will I really be THERE?! Source.

In the days leading up to the event I will have the chance to test out and review Reebok apparel and sneakers, and at the event itself I’ll be meeting Reebok executives, trying out new workouts and products, and fangirling over bonding with bloggers I have been following for years. PINCH ME.

After the event, I’ll be heading back to Heather’s and staying there so that we can spend Saturday together. I’m hoping for the chance to have her kick my butt in one of her Mind, Body, Barre classes. Visiting her favorite local spots, Wildflour and Garden Grille, is a given.

I feel so grateful for the success I’m seeing so early in my “blog career”. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and who keeps reading!!! I’m proud to be a part of the FitFluential community and the overall blog community in general. I can’t say it enough, so I’m going to stop now 😉

Note the Chobani creepin’ in the corner…

I’m out for today (when it comes to posting that is), but please take a second to head over to Katie’s blog, Healthy Heddleston, and check out the guest post I did for her on SMART goals! I actually put something I learned this semester to use in “real life” 😀

What is the biggest opportunity that blogging has brought you? If you don’t blog, what’s the most recent big opportunity you’ve received?

FitFluential Hits Mohegan!

Blogging just continues to bring me new friends! Saturday night I had a long-awaited meetup with two fellow FitFluential Ambassadors, Samantha of Running and Cupcakes and Jennifer of Savor the Thyme. They’re both from RI and after we realized we were all a reasonable distance from Mohegan Sun Casino, we planned a get-together at a couple of the restaurants I interact with regularly on Twitter, Michael Jordan’s Steak House and Michael Jordan’s 23 Sport Cafe (I also like chatting with SolToro, where I ate on St. Patty’s day).

Before I hit the road!

Sweater: Urban Outfitters

Halter: Ann Taylor Loft

Jeggings: American Eagle

Boots: Payless

Watch: Fossil

I arrived first at Michael Jordan’s Steak House, a very good thing because I had an amazing drink menu to peruse! I finally decided on the French Mojito: Bacardi, mint, lime, prosecco, and St. Germain elderflower. 

It was so delicious, especially with the addition of the prosecco, but I was a little bummed out by the presentation! I was hoping for a sleeker glass at such a fancy place, with such pricey drinks. Taste is most important though, and they nailed that one.

Samantha and Jennifer arrived and the three of us hit it off immediately. We found so much that we all had in common – no surprise, right? Jennifer even used to be a manager at one of my favorite places I used to go to as a UConn student, Willimantic Brewery. Samantha and I share a skill too – a skill we like to call, how to go to the beach the right way. It was hilarious to bond over the fact that we both shake our heads at the people who show up at the beach in the summer at 11AM and are shocked that they can’t find a parking spot. Helloooo, we are there by 9AM! I could tell we were both raised near the beach (she in RI, me in FL).

Samantha and her drink!

Samantha’s drink’s presentation definitely trumped mine! She got the Caramel Apple Martini: Van Gogh Dutch caramel vodka, apple pucker, and caramel drizzle. As you can see, it came with a bonus cherry! She said it was really delicious.

Of course we had to tweet the above picture to our favorite lady Kelly Olexa! Our Twitter feeds were blowing up with #fitfluential love!

After several unsuccessful attempts to make reservations at already-booked restaurants, 23 Sport Cafe was kind enough to make an exception to their “no reservations” policy for us and set aside a table for three for our dinner. The gracious staff even put up with us being about 10 minutes late for said reservation. I can’t say enough good things about everyone we encountered at that restaurant – our waitress was really nice about taking pictures of the three of us!

Jennifer, me, and Samantha at our reserved table!

23 Sport Cafe also boasts a cool cocktail menu, but none of them were my thing AKA they all seemed too sweet.

Never fear – there is always wine! I of course had to choose one I’d never tried, Razor’s Edge Shiraz. It was wonderful!

Samantha recommended the Garlic “Go-Go” Bread with bleu cheese fondue (she’s dined at 23 Sport Cafe before). I wasn’t sure if I wanted any for fear of spoiling my dinner, but as soon as this tower of tastiness arrived, I was sold and had to have a couple pieces.

Oh YUM. Is there anything better than crispy bread? Why yes, there is – crispy bread in bleu cheese sauce. Jennifer the recipe expert tasted some of the sauce and she detected mostly cheddar, but I was sure to select two pieces of bread with the most bleu cheese crumbles! More bleu for my buck.

The appetizer steals the show in this photo. And Samantha’s 23oz Blue Moon!

Unfortunately Jennifer’s stomach was not feeling too good that evening, so she had to opt out of any adult beverages or heavier foods. Talk about bad timing! She played it safe for dinner and ordered the house salad with a side of mashed potatoes. When your stomach is off, something there is NOTHING better than potato!

No, that is not ice cream!

I was quite impressed by this house salad. At most restaurants it comes as a plate of dinky iceberg lettuce with one or two cucumber slices. But look at those greens and those tomatoes!

I immediately honed in on the Spinach Steak Salad listed above. Samantha and I wondered what tobacco onions were, but my question was answered as soon as I caught a glimpse of the plate.

Crispy onion straws! I didn’t finish all of them but the ones I had sure were excellent. So was the entire salad. The filet was cooked medium just as I asked for – nice and pink. I loved the red and yellow tomatoes. They tasted extremely fresh. It’s hard for me to be intrigued enough by a restaurant salad to actually order it, because I am spoiled by the ones I make at home, but this was a winner.

Samantha ordered a sandwich called the Tall Guy: open-faced prime rib steak on ciabatta with garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, swiss cheese, and those tobacco onions. She opted for a side of sweet potato fries. Her meal looked so good and she confirmed – it was! Samantha doesn’t eat red meat often but she said she was glad she opted to with this dish. No regrets!

Jennifer gives her meal a photoshoot.

The three of us loved that we were able to take photos and tweet to our heart’s content without seeming like total weirdos! Dining with other bloggers felt like dining with “my own kind”, ha.

Come on salad, work it!

Overall it was an amazing evening. I loved meeting Samantha and Jennifer, even though it didn’t seem like we were meeting, just meeting up to hang out like girls who are already friends! Again, thank you to 23 Sport Cafe for being so accommodating and helping us out with getting a table!

Make sure to check out Jennifer’s recap of the evening on her blog too!

What did you do on Saturday night?

Do your dining companions ever call you out on doing “blogging activities” like tweeting or taking photos during meals?

Fortuitous Feasting at Firebox

Hello, Monday. Hope everyone had a good weekend! Let’s hope everyone’s week flies by as quickly as mind did last week. I’m gonna jump right into things.

This past Friday evening, something happened to me that I thought only happened in movies! You probably know what it is already if you follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter. For those who don’t, to punish you for not doing so (I kid), I’ll make you wait til the end of this post to find out what it was.

One of my favorite dining partners, Kelly, was in need of a relaxing evening out as she prepared for her upcoming finals at UConn. I was happy to oblige in choosing a place to go for dinner and drinks! Originally we had planned to go to Firebox in Hartford for a drink, and then Black Eyed Sally’s to have dinner since I had an about-to-expire free birthday entree coupon that I’d never used. However once we sat down and looked at both the tavern and dinner menus at Firebox, we were completely sold and immediately decided to stay there for dinner too.

Firebox’s philosophy is that “the best food travels the shortest distance from farm to table”. Their menu combines local foods with “classic technique and innovative thinking”. Sign me up!

The fresh, unique drink menu is what drew me to Firebox in the first place. I ordered the Broad St. Manhatten and Kelly got the Sangria Roja.

My drink was strong but smooth – so smooth that it went down too quickly! I was quite bummed when it was gone, but that meant the two bourbon-soaked cherries at the bottom were ready for me to consume 😀 Once I finished this, I ordered a glass of tempranillo to have with our meal.

Kelly adored her sangria and I have to say, I loved it too. I am VERY picky when it comes to sangria. It has to actually taste like red wine for me to like it. I didn’t blame her for ordering a second one! The recipe was not too muddled with ingredients that would have hidden the taste of the red wine.

We were so glad when our waitress brought over the above basket of freshly baked bread. Kelly and I both had to stop and take a deep inhale of it – we probably looked a bit strange sniffing our bread, but one whiff told us that it had without a doubt been baked that very day. The interior was soft as a cloud while the crust gave a satisfying crunch. The butter it came with was perfectly salted and slightly warm for easy spreading. Pet peeve: freezing butter for super soft bread. How is anyone supposed to spread that?! Firebox knows how to do bread and butter the right way. Did I really just write that much about a bread basket?!

Kelly and I decided to share two dishes. I love sharing! With an amazing dinner menu like the one we were working with that evening, it’s impossible to choose one dish.

Pictured above is the Roasted Beet Carpaccio with shaved asparagus, pea tendrils, sieved egg, pistachio, and locally forged pickled ramps. The menu didn’t say so, but I also detected some feta cheese? Beets are one of those foods I never eat at home but will order when I am out on occasion, if a dish really catches my eye. This one jumped right out at me. It was beyond amazing. So fresh, so perfect

And typical Caitlin, I picked out a sampler platter called the Charcuterie as our second dish. Must. Try. As. Much. As. Possible. Have you gotten that by now? In the center we had some nice dressed greens with carrots and spinach, accompanied by your typical olives. Then things got interesting – citrus and corriander cured salmon (top), smoked beef pastrami (bottom), and chicken liver mousse topped with peanuts (left). I had never tried the latter and it was amazing. SO rich, and the peanuts on top were a nice touch. The little pile to the right of the mousse is an incredibly fresh whole grain mustard. We had all this with the bread from our bread basket, and some crispier bread slices that were brought with the meal (you can see them peeking out of a napkin in the above photo).

The meal was beyond words delicious. EVERYTHING blew us away. I already am dying to go back. There were a few of those silent, we-are-too-busy-enjoying-the-food-to-talk moments. There was also live music going on right near our table – Becky Kessler, a local singer and songwriter. Sometimes I am bothered by live music at restaurants because it’s way too loud, but this was set up at a nice volume and Becky did a good job.

OK, here comes the exciting part. Our waitress brought over our check, and Kelly and I were trying to work out splitting it. Then she came back over and informed us that someone anonymous had taken care of everything and that she couldn’t say any more than that. Um, WHAT?! Kelly and I were freaking out. I still am – I WANT TO KNOW WHO IT WAS! We are both SO grateful to whoever decided to pick up our tab that night (thank you if you are reading).

Was it the restaurant? Was it the older couple we were sharing a table with? Was it just a random act of kindness? I will probably never know, and that kinda kills me. But one thing I do know is that I will be back to Firebox for sure to dine again. There are way too many good looking drinks and dishes I haven’t tried yet!

Has anything like this ever happened to you? Any other movie moments?

Are there any “farm to table” style restaurants near you? Do you notice a difference in the quality of food?

Busy Blogger

Busy blogger = bad blogger = another blogger cop-out post. Seriously, I have so much fun stuff from this past weekend to share with you guys, as in three post’s worth, and no time to do it. #bloggerproblems!

TK Grand Smash at Trumbull Kitchen last night – Grand Marnier, muddled mint, and lemon. Wonderful!

Hey, I’m busy living life and having fun! Yeah there’s work and class, but there’s also the good times that keep coming, which give me tons of material to blog about – and then proceed to delay said blogging. What can ya do?!

Trumbull Kitchen’s special stone pie of the night – with duck!

So please to enjoy (as the lovely Carla Binberg says) the above random photos from last night, and check out the following:

How do you handle blogging when life gets too busy?

Daybreak Coffee Roasters

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday! It was a busy day – I had work (punctuated by a gorgeous lunch break outside, oh this weather makes me so happy), a trip to the gym (Group Power and the elliptical), and q-time with my parents to watch the most recent ep of “Mad Men” and eat a taaasty meal. Thanks Mom!

Rocking my new Vera placemat – specifically for blog photos 😉

I felt a bit sore when I woke up this morning, and the stretching during P90X Yoga (my usual Tuesday morning thang) felt good, but all the leg-burning action also probably didn’t help my soreness. I kinda sorta definitely LOVE being sore though, so bring it on!

Half moon gives me the HARDEST time in this workout – anyone else? Source.

Let’s get to the goods. I am always tweeting about Daybreak Coffee Roasters and mentioning them on my blog, because they are a part of my weekend routine. In fact, I was recommending them to the Gossip Girls of West Hartford this morning!

But I thought you all may want to learn more about my favorite local coffee shop (which Heather has already fallen in love with).

Each Saturday and Sunday morning I work out, and then head to Daybreak with my laptop and homework in tow to get MBA/blog-related work done and sip on delicious coffee in the form of a nonfat blanc made with whatever flavored coffee they have “on tap”. I don’t usually like flavored coffees, but Daybreak roasts their own and the flavors taste so fresh, natural, and perfect. If I don’t like what’s already brewed, they will event let me choose any flavor bean I want to be French pressed! It doesn’t get much fresher than that, friends.

Nonfat amaretti blanc, with a side of homework, at Daybreak Coffee.

My favorite flavors, to name a few, are amaretti di sicilia, chocolate banana, toasted butternut, and pecan pie. The vibe of the cafe is fantastic, with cute local foodie gifts lining the walls.

The staff is so kind and helpful! They know me at this point, and my order. They put up with me when I stay there for hours at my favorite sunny table and only order one drink. It’s so comforting to listen to their friendly rapport with the shop regulars – it really creates a sense of community. I have friends I’ve met at Daybreak, and friends I’ve grown closer with because we kept seeing each other there. The owner, Carmelo, even offers patrons with dogs sitting at outside tables a bowl of water for their pups. Amazing!

Carmelo by the coffee roaster. How cute is that sign above?!

Though I’ve never had any, Daybreak also specializes in freshly-baked pastries. Judging by the number of people who order them I can only begin to guess how good they are.

They are most famous for their scones (pictured below at right).

In case you weren’t already impressed, Daybreak also houses an extensive collection of loose-leaf teas.

And those items in the glass case next to the teas are gourmet chocolates! Is there anything you can’t find here? They even sell Chobani, Odwalla bars, and Sports Beans to cater to the many athletes who stop in before, during, and after their outdoor workouts in the center of town. And if you’re gluten-free, that’s no problem – a few packaged gluten-free treats are available!

Daybreak Coffee is such a great part of my weekend routine that I wouldn’t give up in a second – any morning that I can’t make it is so disappointing. If only they were on my way to work so I could go on weekdays too!

What’s your favorite local cafe to get coffee and/or tea?

Fashion Friday

Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for a Friday to come along in which I happened to have time to write a post about FASHION? Just so I could use that alliteration in the title? Awesome alliteration, that is 😉

Sorry if I’m alienating my male readers, but I have a slew of fashion photos I’ve been accumulating. And now it’s Friday the 13th, but it also happens to be your LUCKY day (I’m such a cheeseball today), because I’m sharing some outfits and the sources of their components. I hope you enjoy!

Top: Ann Taylor Outlet

Pants: Urban Outfitters

Shoes: PacSun Outlet

Ring: Forever 21

Watch: NYC flea market

Blazer: Forever 21

Top: Ann Taylor Outlet

Watch: Fossil

Cardigan: Ann Taylor Outlet

Necklace: BJ’s Wholesale Club (seriously)

Jeans: American Eagle

Shoes: Wal-Mart (again, seriously)

Top: Ann Taylor Outlet

Jeggings/Belt: American Eagle

Shoes: Toms

Bracelet: Forever 21 (2 for $1 on Black Friday!)

Blazer, Top, Necklace: Forever 21

Jeggings: American Eagle

Shoes: Steve Madden

Watch: Michael Kors

This post got long quickly, so I’ll cap it at five outfits. Yes I have more to share. Who knows when the next Fashion Friday will be, but I sure hope it comes before  the next Friday the 13th – in July.

I hope everyone has a fun weekend planned! I know I do. #brag #sorrynotsorry

  • Launch of the latest release of GROUP STEP after work!
  • Drinks & dinner tonight on Hartford’s Franklin Ave, famous for its Italian eats, with a new friend!
  • A sweaty cardio workout tomorrow morning followed by HW time at Daybreak Coffee Roasters
  • Attending Taste of Wethersfield tomorrow night – very affordable event, only $30 ($35 at the door)
  • Possible Bikram date with my friend Alexis on Sunday morning, followed by a coffee date (Daybreak again, of course)
  • Tea party with Kim on Sunday afternoon – we’re making tea-infused scones and tea-infused bellinis from the Alice’s Tea Cup cookbook!
  • Sob session with Rachel on Sunday evening AKA seeing Titanic in 3D

Wow, making that list got me even MORE excited. Is it 4:30 yet?! It will be soon!!!

What’s your favorite place to get affordable, cheap fashion?

What’s your favorite place to splurge?

Tell me something fun on your agenda this weekend!

Beer Tasting – Yes, This is Still Caitlin

I’m having a great day so far! I woke up at 5:30am for no reason, feeling ready to go, so I had time to hit the gym for a workout, something I often don’t get a chance to do on Thursdays since I have class after work (and refuse to get up at 5:30am to work out unless it happens on its own). Did not bother to put in my contacts, though.

Rocking my ALA Stair Climb shirt for a stair-climbing workout of course!

I did 20 minutes of HIIT on the StepMill and the following bicep and tricep workout from Heather. Ended with some oblique #PlankADay, of course!

Heather continued to make my day by notifying me that I won her Naturebox giveaway! They send out a monthly box of new snacks – it’s like Birchbox for food! I don’t know how I didn’t know about it. I can’t wait to get my box of snacks and share my thoughts with you all 🙂

I also enjoyed about 15 minutes of sun time before clouds rolled in during my lunch break (I’ll take what I can get) with a new book that is super-weird, but also super-interesting. Has anyone read it?

The coffee is a new flavor from a local cafe, Almond Joy! Another day-brightener.

Let’s move on to the surprising part of this post – I hosted a beer tasting at my house during our Easter party. Yes, me, as in I, as in Caitlin. Just had to clarify that. I’m not shy about the fact that I’m not a big fan of beer. I know many of my readers, particularly the runners, feel differently. I find that so many runners I meet just love their beer! My mom is no exception. But I’m also an adventurarian, so I went to the best possible source for beer advice and suggestions, Elliot of Sonoma Wines & Spirits.

He helped me pick out the above selection of seven different beers (at Sonoma, if you buy six you get 10% off!) – the Sierra Nevada holder (is there a proper name for those?) is just what they had on hand. I was “sitting on them” for about a month, and decided the Easter party was the perfect time to do a tasting because plenty of people could join in! I wanted to try them all at once but needed enough other people around to help me finish them.

The beer tasters (well, not all of these youngsters had beer).

We all tried different beers at different times, I didn’t bother trying to keep any “order” to it. My sister was kind enough to pick up a bunch of cups at the store the day of the party.

I’d already heard of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but since I’m so carbonation-averse, I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it. It was better than I thought it’d be though. I can see myself getting used to it. My friend Stacy’s dad LOVES this beer – he wasn’t even gonna participate in the tasting until he saw this was involved. Then his eyes got very wide and he asked for a cup!

This Smuttynose Robust Porter was more my style for sure! Less carbonated, though not TOO heavy. Think of it as a lighter Guinness. I was one of the few who enjoyed it, probably because I’m one of the few who doesn’t care for carbonation – or most beers in the first place.

The Konig Ludwig Weissbier was a crowd favorite! Seriously, no one disliked it. I think everyone was doubly impressed as well because no one had ever heard of it before. I’d call it a nice middle-ground beer. Just a medium body, not too hoppy, not too heavy either.

Elliot referred to the New England Brewing Co. Elm City Lager as a much-classier “college beer”. What those New England preppy frat boys drink, ya know? Too light and hoppy and Bud Light-like for me – and many who tasted it. Though it was thought of as a good beer for a boat ride on a hot day. Of course, I don’t know when my next boat ride on a hot day will be. I wish I did! Anyone know?

A lot of those who sampled the Boddington’s Pub Ale had already heard of and/or tried it, so it was not received as warmly as some of the other selections. More of a “meh, this is fine”.

The Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA was definitely the hoppiest – and rarest – of the beers in this tasting. However, I think I can definitely appreciate its high quality because despite the fact that it was very hoppy and, as Andrea called it, “intense”, I enjoyed it more than the other pale ale I tried from Sierra Nevada. You’d think I’d go for less bubbles, but this beer was just quite cool! Who knows, maybe its “rare-ness” went to my head, but I don’t think so!

I saved the one I was most excited to try, and knew I’d like the most, for last in this discussion. The first beer I asked Elliot to recommend to me was the best chocolate beer he knew of, and this was the one he mentioned without a second’s hesitation – Southern Tier Imperial Chocklat Stout (FYI I next wanna do a tasting with ALL the beers on that page – YUM). It was so good!!! I even had half a cup with my chocolate cake for dessert. I was one of the few who liked this beer. All the other tasters were fairly regular to very seasoned beer drinkers and since this tasted least like beer, they liked it the least. More for me?! What’s also cool is that you don’t have to worry about finishing this guy in one sitting (it’s a bigger bottle) because it actually keeps pretty well in the fridge for a few days after opening if you stop it up with a wine cork!

Nice, Mollie.

Thanks to my beer tasting companions – and observers – for joining me on my quest to become more adventurous with my alcohol! Because that’s SUCH a necessity, right? 😉

Are you a beer drinker? Have you ever tried any of these beers, and/or attended a beer tasting?

Easter 2012: Party at Mi Casa!

We have a great group of family friends that get together for every major holiday (every major excuse we can find to get together, more like it) to eat, drink, chat, laugh, play, and just enjoy each other. We all moved up to CT from Florida, so we have that common bond, even if all the parents don’t still work at the same company like they used to.

Oh that moment before a photo is taken…

You may have read recaps of past shindigs:

There we go! Can you find me?

My family decided to host the Easter get-together (because we knew there’d be one) at our house. Perhaps that’s what inspired me to become a chef for a day and contribute a dish!

Mr. Pereda contributed the above (delicious) Chilean Merlot.

I also enjoyed several small glasses of different wines, and even a sampled a few beers (more on that to come…)

Hanging out on the deck with my wine! Isn’t the little glass cute?

I also got to hang out with my friend Andrea, who I hadn’t seen in forever. We’ve known each other since our sophomore year of high school, when we were seatmates in AP Bio (shudder…I was so bad at that class). Her boyfriend’s aunt lives in my neighborhood (I used to babysit for the family, small world right?) and the two of them were there for his family’s Easter party, so I asked them to stop by.

Andrea and her boyfriend enjoying a dessert at the end of the party!

My mom had some tasty apps set out and ready for our guests’ arrivals!

I know I have a lot of guac-lovin’ readers!

The sweets were present from the beginning!

Our friends brought some good apps too!

Essential veggie/hummus plate – don’t you just LOVE the colors?!

Mrs. Aubuchon’s famous deviled eggs – I had one and it was all I could do to not fill up on them before dinner. AMAZING!

Time flew as I caught up with old friends and before I knew it, dinner was served.

My sister (right) leads a prayer.

Mashed potatoes and a cheesy corn casserole.

A mini-salad-bar on a plate of sorts, and a whole grain side salad!

Everyone dug in and was certainly hungry. We did not have that many leftovers, when you consider how much food we had!

Can you spy my mom overseeing it all?

We had many meats – grilled chicken and pork tenderloin! My mom accidentally bought 8 tenderloins instead of 6, so she froze 2 for our family to use later. Turns out she should’ve had my dad cook them all up…we ran out of meat completely!

My apologies to all non-meat-eating readers 😉

My mom used the rub I got in my last foodie pen pals box when prepping the meats – so thank you so much, Loy! It was delicious!

My FAVORITE dish of the party, prepared by my madre, was the amazing cold salmon platter above with dill, capers, asparagus, red onions, and tzatziki on the size. Meg, I know you’d have died over this. I did too. It was the only thing I had seconds of because it was the only thing I wanted seconds of, I just loved it so much!

First plate!

Damn sun ruined this shot, but I went for everything except the mashed potatoes and corn casserole (those make me too sleeeeepy).

People brought a seemingly endless supply of cupcakes! Cupcakes are cool but I can take them or leave them. I was more interested in one of the things pictured below…

Above left is some kind of berry crisp, but above right is Mrs. Aubuchon’s famous chocolate Coca-Cola cake. Yes, Coca-Cola is an ingredient! This is the only time you will find me consuming soda 😛 I had one of those nice corner pieces (corners are the best!)

Great job, mama!

What a fun party – everyone had a blast and we only just finished the leftovers last night! Or shall I say, I only just finished them last night 😀 oh, I also passed out after this thing at about 8:30PM. THANKS WINE.

Cupcakes – take them or leave them?

Pieces of cake – aren’t corners the best?!

What’s the best thing you ate on Easter Sunday? Even if you weren’t celebrating Easter!