Sunday, December 30, 2012

Double Date Nights

After 3 days with the stomach bug and eating bits of Saltine crackers washed down with ginger ale, my appetite sure has come back with a vengeance. Before I came down with the flu or whatever that was, Matt and I had been planning to have a date during vacation, so I was really glad I was finally feeling well enough to go on Friday. I spent the morning cleaning up the house from the holiday and our whirlwind of guests, and then we dropped Riker off at daycare and went out for a lunch date. Hey, sometimes moms & dads need a day. :)

We've been wanting to try a new nook of an Italian restaurant down the road called Brooklyn Bistro, so figured now was as good a time as any. It's a family owned restaurant and everything is homemade, and we were definitely impressed. I was still feeling a little queasy so stuck with pasta; their house family recipe included tomatoes, raisins, pine nuts and breadcrumbs, so I was intrigued. I barely ate half, but it was delish!

After lunch we headed to part two of the date: the movies! I've had a Fandango gift card in my wallet for over a year - no joke - which is seriously sad, so it's about time I used the thing. Django Unchained was the ticket of choice.

It was a great theme and definitely in typical Tarantino style, but a little too violent for my liking. I spent half the movie with my eyes squeezed shut and my fingers in my ears. If you plan to watch it, you've been warned.


Yesterday I woke up with the dawn to get a head start on being productive for the day. I wanted to run a bunch of errands and use some gift cards we got for Christmas, but first we had a house project to finish...

Putting together new office furniture! Matt gave me a seriously awesome gift this week - the gift of a new home office. I really disliked my office before and hated being shut in there all day every day. I've been wanting to renovate, but we never seem to have the time. So this week, Matt surprised me with a new desk, chair and book case, and painted the whole room for me as well. Can't wait til it's complete!

Then it was errand time, and of course we left the house before eating, so had to stop for a quick bite halfway through our list or else Matt might've eaten my arm off. We made a pit stop at Qdoba for tacos.

I got veggie tacos with rice and pinto beans. They were good, but I called it quits after eating one and a half.

And thennnn it was time for date #2. This time a quadruple date with some of our best friends.

We left Riker with a real life babysitter for the first time last night, and Matt and I were definitely both a little on edge when we pulled away from the house. It was kind of scary leaving him with a stranger for the night, even though she came highly recommended from Matt's coworker. Of course everything was fine and she did a great job, so hurray for not having to ask the parents for a favor every time we need a sitter!

Our little troop had dinner plans at a local cozy seafood spot, Harpoon Willy's. It's right on the water and is so cozy and warm in the wintertime, with a fire, twinkling white lights, a rustic wooden bar and live music.

We ordered a bunch of appetizers (buffalo shrimp being the table favorite - so good!) so I really wasn't very hungry for my meal, but I took down a few bites anyway.

All us girls ordered the crab cakes, and they were really good. They're the size of my face!

For my sides I ordered garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. Looks like I have both lunch and dinner for today too.

And now, after 2 weeks worth of eating out and holiday dining, it's time to get back on the healthy eating wagon. I'm heading out with my little fam now for some exercise in the park. Enjoy your Sunday!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sicky Christmas Break

Our house has been full of family, friends and festivities this week. We've had various guests staying with us for the last 5 days, and I always love playing hostess.

My sister and her boyfriend came from Philly for a few days, as well as a few of Matt's cousins from PA and south Jersey. Matt's cousin Chris came down from Boston as well, whom we don't get to see very often, so it was a treat. Love that bow tie of his. ;-)

This year I unfortunately was not the charming hostess I'd hoped to be since I came down with a nasty stomach virus on Monday. It came on slowly throughout the day, but by late Monday night it was here with a vengeance. I spent most of Christmas day and the last few days in bed or laying on the couch rather than being merry with the rest of the clan, which was a bummer since this is my favorite week of the year. :/ Ah well, it'll be here again next year. At least I got to enjoy most of Christmas Eve before I crashed!

Matt and I host Christmas Eve each year, and I love spending the day cooking and entertaining. We usually only have immediate family on that night, which means we have a small enough group for a sit-down dinner. Love getting to break out my china. :)

We start with cocktails and apps in the bar, which I kept simple this year - a nice variety of nibbles, but very little cooking: Greek olives, sharp cheeses with crackers, shrimp cocktail, mozzarella/tomato/basil skewers, salami wrapped breadsticks, and cheese fondue. We also had rice balls and marinara (made by the Italian deli, not me - those things take 18 years to make, spoken from experience one Christmas Eve when my sister embarked on the rice ball journey - never again, let the pros handle them!).

Dinner started with a mesclun green salad with cranberries and candied pecans. Everyone's fave. For our entree, this year Matt tried making Beef Wellington (Salmon Wellington for me) for the first time. It was quite a hit! We used my favorite standby cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, which never lets me down. The recipes come out perfect every time.

I didn't taste the beef of course, but everyone said it was delicious.

As were the cookie plates and frozen chocolate amaretto bananas my sister's boyfriend brought from Philly. Yum.

Wonderful night indeed!

I got to do presents with my sweet pea and the family on Christmas morning before crawling back into bed, and did make it to the annual big family party at Matt's mom's house later that day, but I spent most of the time snoozing on the couch or his parents' room. Lame.

I'm fiiiiinally feeling back to my old self today, thank goodness. Time to start enjoying the rest of this vaca! Starting with dinner & a movie with Matt - think we're going to see Django Unchained. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little scared of what Tarantino has in store, but I'll take my chances. Hope you're having a wonderful holiday week!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Craft Beer Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve!

Friends, family, and good food and drinks have abounded around here the last few days. I'm officially on vacation for 11 days, and it feels so great to enjoy time with loved ones, eat guilty food and indulge in spontaneous cocktails, and not have to think about going back to work on Monday.

Yesterday Matt and I were invited to a Christmas craft beer tasting at our friend Forrest's house. Each guest brought 2 craft beers for the group to try, and we all voted on each of the beers - with the winner becoming the owner of a bourbon gift set. So many fun ones to try!

I brought a Black Moon IPA and Founder's Better Half, which is really rare and I happened to snag in Vermont a few months ago. It was really good; it was dark and sweet and tasted of maple syrup and coffee. A little much for drinking a whole glass, but perfect for a snifter while sitting by the fire.

Forrest had the event catered by Maureen, whose cooking classes I love, and while most of the gang were meat eaters she made a few special vegetarian dishes for me. How sweet! My favorite was the broccoli and cheese puff pastry "muffin." Portable, flaky and delicious!

Matt and I couldn't stay til the end of the tasting since I had family coming in, but we made it through the first batch of beers and it was a good time while it lasted. We booked it home around 6:30 when my sister and her new boyfriend Justyn got into town, and I had a very traditional Christmas Eve-Eve dinner planned - Nana's tomato & mushroom mac & cheese. Mmmm.

Can't go through the holidays without a pan of this goodness. After eating dinner we spent the evening sipping on Dogfish Head Bitches Brew (also amazing) and playing board games and watching Trapped in Paradise...quite possibly the funniest holiday movie ever. After Christmas Vacation of course.

Matt and I are hosting a big family dinner tonight, so now it's time to throw on the old apron and get to work in the kitchen. Have a wonderful holiday!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Riker Turns 1

This post is a week overdue, but I can't let this month go by without acknowledging the anniversary of one of the greatest days of my life. Last week, our sweet little boy turned one year old. It's hard to believe that an entire year has passed. It seems like just a few months ago that we were bringing him home from the hospital and trying to figure out what parenting was all about.

Now Riker is like a little person, complete with his own likes & dislikes, an insatiable curiosity, a joyful spirit and the ability to make everyone around him smile. This last year has been an amazing ride, and it's been so much fun to watch Riker grow and change a little bit more with every passing week.

Last Friday Matt and I took off work to spend the day with Riker, doing things he loves. I took all kinds of great pictures with my camera...but then I dropped my camera, and it broke, and I lost them all. Thankfully Matt took some pics of the day on his phone, so I finally nabbed his photos today. So one week later, I can finally say happy birthday to my little man on the blog!

Riker loves animals, so we took him to the Philadelphia Zoo for the day. I like that zoo because it focuses on conservation and what's best for the animals (they even recently gave up their elephants because they felt the elephants weren't happy there). We saw all kinds of big cats, bears, giraffes and other cool animals, but the otters were definitely Riker's favorite. They were actually playing with him from inside the tank!

After covering nearly every square inch of the zoo, we headed down to Philly's Love Park where the city had set up a festive Christmas Village. I love all things Christmas, so I loved all the lights, music, decorations and festive snacks they had there.

We were starving by the time we arrived but didn't feel like sitting down at a restaurant, so we stopped at one of the gourmet food trucks for food we could walk with.

I ordered a spinach, broccoli rabe and sundried tomato grilled cheese with sharp provolone on whole wheat. Food truck, what?! It was amazing! I offered to share mine with Riker, but he was much more interested in Matt's chicken cutlet sandwich. Ah, well. Guess he won't follow in his mom's vegetarian footsteps.

It was impossible to avoid all the sweet goodies being sold, so we also bought a small bag of chocolate covered pretzels. They didn't make it very far. :)

After a full day in Philly, we packed up and made the 1.5 hour drive home. Matt and I had a 30th birthday dinner to go that night, so we had to postpone Riker's birthday dinner until Saturday. We didn't  want to throw a big party right before the holidays, so we decided to do a low key dinner at our house with immediate family. Riker's favorite food hands-down is lasagna, so that's what we made the birthday boy.

Followed by presents and birthday cake, of course.

He had a lot of fun opening the presents and crawling around in all the wrapping paper. 

Ice cream cake for birthday is a tradition in our house, but honestly, what says first birthday better than funfetti?? It may not be the prettiest looking cake on the block, but it was devoured in about 2 minutes.

Cake everywhere!

I've been pretty strict with Riker's diet, so this was the first time he really had sweets. It's safe to say he liked it. :)

Happy birthday buddy, we love you!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Cheer

Over the last few days it's finally really started to feel like the holidays around here. We always decorate the house right after Thanksgiving, but it doesn't ever really feel like Christmas to me until the cookie jar is full, Christmas cards are hanging around the doorway and presents are prettily wrapped and sitting under the tree. And of course, when big dinners start to become the norm day after day. Work finally calmed down this week and it all started to come together.  It's been the 5 days of holiday cheer!

Day 1: It's all about Riker.

Matt and I spent the whole day doting on Riker for his first birthday. We took him to the Philly zoo and to the Christmas Village, gave him all kinds of treats while we drank Starbucks peppermint mochas and walked through the city. It was such a great day. We followed it up with a Christmas/30th birthday dinner for our friend Vanessa at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. Nothing like spending an entire day with family and good friends to get you in the holiday spirit!

Day 2: Cookies!

I filled our Christmas cookie jar with classic holiday cookies from MomMom's recipe box, and tried a few new recipes as well. Nutella bites are my new fave! We definitely have eaten a fair amount ourselves, but I always bring a batch to work and give tins to our neighbors, so that cookie jar damage looks worse than it really is. ;-)

Day 3: Giving back.

I always spend a day volunteering with my friend Lindsay at Christmastime, but this year I felt compelled do help out some more children in need, with all that's happened here and around the country the past few weeks. Matt and I adopted two children who were victims of Hurricane Sandy and lost all their toys and belongings, and whose parents have more than enough on their plates without wondering how to give their kids a Christmas. Look at all those gifts for our town kids! And that was only at 9 am. It's so nice to see a community come together like that.

Day 4: Hello, office party.

Wednesday night I had my company holiday party, which always makes it feel like the end of the year has finally come. We did a gift exchange before meeting up with our significant others and heading over to Carmine's for a huge feast. Carmine's was decorated so beautifully, with garland and lights everywhere. Loved it! And the food, well that was no joke either.

I didn't snap pictures of the appetizer and pasta courses, but they were top notch, especially the fried zucchini with lemon. Ooooh my god, so good.

I filled up on salad, zucchini, garlic mussels and penne vodka before the main course even came, so I was stuffed by the time these platters came out. I did have to try a bit of the shrimp scampi, escarole and eggplant parm, though. Amazing! Carmine's serves family style, so these portions were ginormous.

The dessert platter was pretty wow-ing as well. I had some of the chocolate flourless brownie, which went perfectly with my red wine.

Matt and I didn't get home until after midnight, but it was well worth it. Such a great evening with coworkers!

Day 5: Friend fun.

Last night I had dinner plans again, but this time with some of my closest girlfriends, Lindsay and Dana. We've had plans on the books for weeks, so I couldn't wait to see them. We went to Bonefish Grill, which was where my baby shower and MomMom's 90th birthday party were held. 

I'm not a chain restaurant kind of gal, but I do have to say I love Bonefish. The food is very fresh and they have some unique flavors. We always get the Bang Bang Shrimp, which is spicy, crunchy and creamy all at the same time. For my entree, I got a half portion of the salmon with spinach, gorgonzola, spaghetti squash and mashed potatoes.

Even the small portion was too big, and quite rich, so I took half home for lunch today. Can't wait to dig into it in a few hours. :)

And now, it's my last 8 hours of work before my 11-day vacation officially begins. Gotta get cracking!