Category Archives: Food

I’m not cut out for Vegas (aka a travel guide for someone who hates gambling)

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. It was my first visit back to the Strip since I was freshly 21 – so nearly 9 years ago. Let’s just say, it will probably be at least another 9 years for me to forget yet again why I am not cut out for Vegas and decide to make a return trip. That’s the schedule me and Sin City have. We reconnect every 6-9 years, realize it isn’t going to work out, and go our separate ways.

My first trip was when I was about 15. Our family was on a cross-country trek in an RV that was going to last most of the summer. I think it was around 2002 or 2003, and my main concern was making my parents as aware as possible that I was extremely upset they were forcing me on a tour of the US when all I wanted was to spend the summer with my boyfriend. Ah, the stupidity of youth. What I wouldn’t give to go on that trip now that I actually realize how awesome it was to see the Grand Canyon, the California sequoias, Yellowstone, and numerous other national treasures.  One stop on our tour was Vegas, and our first date was a good one. I wandered the Strip, taking in the amazing decadence of each casino and spending my parent’s money at the shops at Caesar’s. We visited Circus Circus and rode the indoor rides. Between the lights, the shopping and the coasters, I was enamored. I couldn’t wait to go back when I was old enough to drink and gamble. It was a typical first date. We were both on our best behavior.

My second date with Vegas was a few months after my 21st birthday. My mom and my three aunts and I decided to take a girls’ weekend. We had high hopes of winning big and living large. My mom won a few hundred bucks on a slot machine. Me – I lost my modest budget of $300. I’d never seen money vanish so fast. And that’s when I learned that I hate gambling. That, and that you really shouldn’t gamble if you aren’t emotionally stable enough to lose. As a poor college student working two jobs, I worked too darn hard for my money. There is nothing worse for my competitive and logic-based brain, and my anxiety-laden psyche, then trying to figure out how to find some semblance of skill and strategy in games of pure and random chance. I did, however, enjoy the shows. We saw Bette Midler and she was absolutely fabulous. We all took a trip up the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, Bette & faux Paris weren’t enough for me to continue a love affair with Vegas. When our flight was cancelled and we were forced to spend an unplanned night in a crappy motel room off the Strip, I was cursing Vegas and vowed never to return.

Nine years had passed, and now that I was a fairly successful adult with disposable income and a wonderful husband as a travelling companion, the faults I found with Vegas in the past seemed just a matter of circumstance. I thought that this time I’d be able to set a budget and be okay if I lost the money set aside for gambling. I was wrong. By the time I’d saw my final chip lost to the roulette table, I was near tears. Why, for the love of all that is good, could I not win once?! Slots – lost. Roulette- lost. Blackjack – lost $300 in a blink. I mean, come on! I was losing my money so fast I wasn’t even able to have any fun with it. Finally, after our third date, I learned that Vegas and I just aren’t compatible. I am not one of those types who likes the thrill of trying to win big. I’d rather just keep my money. Should Vegas and I attempt to reconnect again, I’ll stick to dining, shopping and shows. The casinos and I just aren’t meant to be.

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It wasn’t all bad. I scored a cute pair of black booties at a steal. I ate the most delicious Spanish tapas in the gorgeous Aria. We laughed (and cringed a bit) during a variety vaudeville and Burlesque act called Absinthe. We got a dose of political satire and incredible slight-of-hand from Penn & Teller. When the soul-sucking casino games drew our final dollar from us, we retreated to our room and paid way too much for a pay-per-view movie, but there is nothing better than curling up with my honey. After all, $20 for nearly two hours of entertainment is quite the bargain in Vegas. Alone and away from it all, Brian and I got a chance to really connect and have a few deep conversations – one while we gazed over a panoramic view of the Strip while dining on Alaskan king crab legs and filet. Oh, and we saw Britney, bitch.

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Maybe I’ll give that crafty vixen one more try after all…

If you are looking for a non-gambling centered visit to Vegas, full of food and entertainment, here are my recommendations:

Day 1

  • If you are travelling from the East Coast, reminder that Las Vegas is on virtually the opposite side of the country. It is waaay closer to California than I remembered. We still managed to tough it out and fit in a great dinner and show. To get you in the Vegas mood, and help motivate you through the three hour time difference, do yourself a favor and check out Julian Serrano at Aria for Spanish tapas. The rioja was delicious (I only was able to have a sip because I’m preggers, but it was amazing!), the braised oxtail was the best thing on the menu, the pan con manchego was scrumptious, and there were a number of other dishes I wish I could have fit in. We made reservations, but it wasn’t too crowded on a Friday in January.
  • Next, keep yourself entertained with the fast-pace and raunchy humor of Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace. Be prepared for graphic descriptions you wish you could be unheard, but some of the most incredible acrobatics you will ever see. Not suitable for children.

Day 2

  • Do yourself a favor and contact The Massage Couple for a wonderful in-room massage. They offer a 90-minute massage and take the stress out of reading through a million spa reviews. Prices are much more reasonable than the hotel spas (most of which aren’t that well-rated). If you prefer a spa environment, and price isn’t a concern, then there are a number of great places to check out. Either way – take some time to relax.
  • After a relaxation session, head to Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris casino for a terrific French brunch. The ambiance is really great, and the food was amazing. We recommend the baked goat cheese and mussels. The fresh French baguettes are addicting, and the chocolate mousse is superb. Reservations are a must!
  • For the evening, pick one of the many concerts. We saw Britney, but there are a ton of others to choose from. A Vegas concert is more intimate than you’ll find other places. The Axis at Planet Hollywood, for example, only seats 4,600. Because they are shows with long runs, the stage and props are always spectacular.

Day 3

  • For breakfast, pick a buffet. They are all fairly comparable. We hit up the Spice Market at Planet Hollywood because that’s where we were staying. It was pretty decent and had a range of cuisines. (We don’t recommend the PH as a place to stay, however. Rooms were nicely sized, but our floor reeked of cigarettes, housekeeping was lousy, and they were stingy with towels. There are much nicer places to stay.)
  • Instead of gambling, shop the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood. There are tons of sales, and your $500 will go much farther! Just be sure you have room to take all your loot home.
  • For your last evening, catch a magic show. We saw Penn & Teller at the Rio. Be prepared for some political comedy and impressive slight-of-hand. If you are more into vanishing airplanes or gimmicks, then there are several other magicians to choose from. If you do wind up at The Rio, which is a little off the strip, then The Voodoo Steakhouse offers a good meal (although a little pricey). The view is pretty impressive and gives you a panoramic of the Strip. We split the Land & Sea so Brian could have his steak and I could have some delicious crab legs. There are certainly better meals- and at better value –  so don’t make the trip unless it’s convenient.

 

 

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On communication

The transition from considering that you may want to spend the rest of your life with someone to deciding you are actually going to do it is an interesting one. Disagreements suddenly bear more weight, but at the same time there is an eagerness to resolve them – and quickly – as each occurrence proves a chance to show you’ve got this whole marriage thing in the bag. Granted my perspective is still as one who is embarking on marriage, and not quite there yet. I’m interested in seeing how it will change in 8 months and 18 days (not that anyone’s counting.)

Yesterday evening we experienced one of those occurrences. It was date night. Brian and I both have a tendency to get a bit hangry, and it was probably ill advised for us to venture out into the world without a plan for where we would be consuming our next meal. We thought we’d wing it. While driving along we saw a new addition to our neighborhood was ‘bumping’. Bakersfield, a new take on gourmet Mexican which overtook the short-lived Longboards, gave off a vibe of trendy popularity. With the warm lighting, windows open to the inviting fall air, and thrum of conversation – we wanted in. After circling the area for several minutes trying to find parking and being met with signs saying quite clearly ‘NO PARKING FOR BAKERSFIELD’ we found our enthusiasm dimming and our hangriness increasing exponentially. We luckily nabbed a street spot – some of our excitement restored – and ventured in. 45 minutes. Nope, no way were our stomachs going to endure. There were several other dining options in close proximity, so we ventured. I didn’t want bar food. Brian wasn’t that into the fancy dining scene.

Hunger and tension were mounting as we couldn’t agree on where to eat. What we didn’t know was that the type of cuisine wasn’t the issue at all. We were both feeling the financial pressures of saving for a wedding while still wanting to get out and live a little. Yes, we wanted date night, but no we didn’t really want to spend $150 on it. We were both feeling the exact same way, but we just weren’t communicating. Brian didn’t want to appear cheap. I didn’t want to bring up the dreaded ‘M’ word as I’d felt I’d been focusing on it way too much lately. I’d been analyzing spending trends, encouraging us to cut back on some of the things we loved and were dearly missing – can anyone say monthly massage? No way I wanted to be the one to suggest we needed to forego eating out. It is perhaps our single favorite activity.

In short we learned two valuable lessons. The first being that refraining from saying what’s on our minds gets us nowhere. I knew Brian well enough to know it wasn’t that he ‘just wasn’t that hungry,’ and he knew me well enough to know I didn’t really want to pitch a fit and leave. We stuck it out, talked it out, and ended up at Pio Pio where we enjoyed a cheap and delicious Peruvian rotisserie chicken dinner. As we’ve found is helpful with most things, we are turning date night into a competition. Now we’ll be trying to beat each other at coming up with fun (and cheap) dates each week. The second lesson was simpler, but just as valuable. We now know to always have a plan for where we are eating before we reach unbearable levels of hangry.

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On planning a wedding – Foodie bliss

After a two month hiatus from any sort of wedding planning, this weekend Brian and I jumped back into the game tackling flowers, decorations, entertainment, menu and wedding cake all in one Sunday outing. We are by no means done, but we’ve made pretty considerable progress and the fuzzy mental imaginings of my wedding day are starting to gain clarity. Let me start by absolutely raving over the staff at our venue. For anyone looking for a stress-free, warm, welcoming wedding planning experience, please look up Hidden River Events in Asheville, North Carolina. We absolutely love these people and their big, beautiful, friendly hearts. 

The highlight of our trip was of course the food. I can’t think of one single life activity Brian and I enjoy more than eating. Sometimes this shared love gets us in trouble (oh for the love of ice cream!) but more often than not we find limitless joy in trying a new restaurant or dish. Add in our appreciation for wine and craft beer, and well, let’s just say we wouldn’t be content with a pasta buffet line at our wedding. 

We were able to meet with two caterers on Sunday. For our first tasting we were treated to crab cakes, tomato and basil crostini and a Parmesan artichoke spread. For our second we devoured mini bacon and cheddar beef sliders on a delish pretzel roll, black bean and sweet potato sliders with avocado, mini BLTs, and crunchy tea-brined chicken.

After a first tasting, a BBQ lunch because we were still hungry, a pit stop for ice cream, and a second and markedly more robust tasting, we moved on to cake. I must say I was a bit disappointed I’d gotten so full up to this point, as this is what I’d most been looking forward to from the moment I said ‘Yes.’ I LOVE sweets. I have a second stomach dedicated to dessert. I don’t care if I can’t take one more bite of my delectable filet or my succulent salmon – I’m housing a whole chocolate brownie sundae or slice of key lime pie. When Anne set before us a tray full of cupcakes for tasting, I almost cried with joy. We sampled lemon, strawberry, almond, carrot, chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, red velvet, salted caramel, cream cheese with marshmallow fluff — it was ten kinds of heaven. I know everyone says their cake is going to be amazing, but then it ends up tasting like cardboard dust wrapped in a beautiful icing with has the texture of frozen Crisco and about the same flavor. In our case;however, our cake is going to be AWESOME. Really and truly.

And, because you know my tendency to completely change direction, we almost totally revamped our menu selections in preparation for our next tasting. So don’t worry, no spoilers here. Nothing about our wedding is traditional, and you can be sure the food most certainly won’t be either. 

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On cleansing – Day #4 and post-cleanse

For lunch this afternoon I incorporated meat, cheese, and pasta back into my diet all in one go. I’m anxiously (and a bit nervously) waiting to see how my body responds. It has been about half an hour, and so far so good. 

So how’d the cleanse go? Well, I lost 7 lbs all said and done. I thought I’d plateaued at day 3, but the morning after day 4 I was down another 2 lbs. Most juice cleanses are recommended at three days, but I’d certainly recommend four days. I probably could have gone the full seven, but this was a nice introduction to the process. Most undoubtedly the majority of weight lost was water weight, but I haven’t felt this good about my body since high school. I know I’ll have to make smarter decisions to keep it this way. I’m excited about the prospect of a healthier diet combined with my normal exercise regimen. This process has made me more confident in the knowledge that I really can have the body I want – as long as I exercise discipline, consistency, and smart decision making. 

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First day post-cleanse I stuck to the plan and ate a mostly plant-based diet. Breakfast was an Activia yogurt, mid-morning snack was a small apple, lunch was a field greens salad hold the cheese and dressing. I used a ‘dipping’ technique to use very little dressing, but I did need a bit for flavor. I mean, let’s be real, chewing on lettuce just doesn’t taste good. The heirloom tomatoes in my salad had an amazing burst of flavor. I suspect my taste buds are a little more sensitive to natural flavors now. Had the salad had more tomatoes and cucumbers, the dressing may not have been necessary at all. Throughout the evening I snacked on sliced fruit and threw in a handful of nuts for some fat and protein. I felt good, but a little hungry. It is amazing how having a juice (or, I suspect this would work with a small meal/snack) every 90 minutes to 2 hours really kept hunger at bay. 

So here I am post-cleanse, and I’m tentatively back in the realm of deciding what to eat. It is a bit scary out here, and given I’m at the start of a week of business trainings (full time job and Mary Kay) where food is provided for me, I’m limited in my options — hence the whole meat, cheese and pasta experience. When all you have available is deli sandwiches and tri-colored tortellini pasta salad, that’s what you eat. Or, you become the weird girl who only ate cucumbers at lunch. Or, alternatively, the snob/health freak who went across the street to the juice bar. And so, sandwiches it is. I am proud to say I avoided the Doritos and Oreos. Small victories. For breakfast I ate a small plate of fruit and a blueberry pastry. Man, what a sugar rush! I felt completely buzzed for all of an hour, and then felt a noticeable crash. It is amazing how little you notice the impact of foods high in sugar when you eat them all the time. Suddenly my constant fatigue, mid-afternoon crash, and inability to leave my couch after an ice cream binge all make much more sense. Tonight I’ll be choosing salad for dinner to help bring back the balance to my diet and give my body the nutrients it’s come to love these last five days.

If you have any burning questions I didn’t touch in this overview, please post and I’ll answer in the comments section. I hope my personal experience may encourage others to give it a try for themselves. 

To your health, and happy cleansing! 

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On cleansing – Day 2 and 3 recap

I’ll lead with the answer to the burning question this time – I’m down about a total of 5 lbs, and I don’t expect to lose much more. After my initial three pound drop, day 2 saw another 1.4 pounds down and day 3 only about .5. I’ve been told that if you follow the recommendations and eat a mostly plant-based diet following the cleanse you can continue to lose weight. Given I’ll be travelling, that may be a challenge, but I am certainly going to try my best.

Day 2 was much easier than the first day, although I had mountains of temptation thrown my way. I’ve heard you’re supposed to excuse yourself from social situations to avoid being tempted, but I had plans I couldn’t cancel. I have to reiterate that I’m amazed I’ve never actually been ‘hungry’ through this whole process. Those who know me well (or have been faithful readers) know by now that I am the originator of the term ‘hangry.’ A hungry or tired Brittany is not one you’d like to keep company with. Aside from some minor irritability the morning of day 2, I’ve been fairly even keeled. Here are the pluses so far:

  1. I wake up more easily, and often before the alarm. Typically I hit snooze 2-3 times before I get out of bed, but I’m finding I don’t need to. They say increased energy is a possible side effect, but I was skeptical. Glad I was wrong on this point. I’ve gained more time in the morning and even made it to work early two days in a row. 
  2. I have more energy throughout the day, and find I stay alert. Pre-cleanse I would drink a cup of English breakfast tea first thing when I arrived to work, and possibly an Earl Grey or Chai tea about 2-3pm. Then I’d have a lighter green tea around 4. I needed to punctuate my day with caffeine because I constantly felt tired. That has not been the case these last three days. 
  3. I feel skinny. If I look at a salty snack I bloat. No matter how much I workout, if I enjoy some cheese or a salted caramel brownie, my body starts holding water like I’ve been stranded in the desert for days on end and my very life depends on it. Yes, maybe my diet these days tastes a little bland, but man I. feel. skinny! No more bloat. My face feels and looks thinner, and I know it’s not just in my head because my rings are little loose too. 

I’m working through the final day of my four day cleanse, and I can’t lie I’m a little excited to wrap this up because I simply miss the act of chewing. I did eat a few veggies Sunday and Monday just because I was in social situations where it was awkward not to, but this is allowed in the cleanse guide. I stuck to raw fruits and veggies with no dips or dressings. More updates to come! 

On cleansing – Day #1

Yesterday I started The Renewal Cleanse from Viva-Raw, a local Charlotte, NC-based juice company. I’d been toying with the idea of a cleanse for some time. I knew I couldn’t handle cayenne pepper, maple syrup and lemon for days on end — and I really couldn’t wrap my head around it being nutritionally sound — but four days of cold pressed juices prepared fresh just for me? That I could get on board with. I checked into a few options around the area, and Viva-Raw had a nice price point along with a lot of information on their site. What I did find lacking was personal testimonials. I found one article written by a Charlotte publication, but no other results. And so, I decided to document my experience in case others were as curious as I.

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So at this point you may be asking “why on Earth would you want to drink juice for four days?” I’m hopeful the claims are true and a juice cleanse can break me of my addiction to processed foods high in salt, sugar, and potentially harmful chemicals. That’s not to say I’ll never eat another Dorito or double fudge brownie sundae after this, but, if I can learn to actually enjoy a healthy and clean eating regimen, that would be fabulous. A juice cleanse is intended to give your body a break from the foods which are harder to break down and process, i.e. processed foods such as breads, pastas, dairy and sweets. Given this break, the body is supposed to work overtime eliminating harmful toxins and generally flushing out your system. In the process, since you’re consuming only juices from fresh fruits and vegetables (more heavy on the veggie as there’s less sugar) you are also breaking the cycle of addiction to salt and sugar laden foods. As a side bonus, you also tend to lose weight.

Now you’d probably like to know how it’s going? Right?

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Pre-cleanse

I should preface by saying I didn’t follow the instructions to the ‘T’ in the pre-cleanse phase. Although I did focus on my diet consisting of 1/2 fruits and veggies, I didn’t entirely give up bread and dairy. I had PB&J on wheat or a salad for lunch. Dinner was chicken and veggies. The night before I did cave and have a peanut butter brownie. I also didn’t avoid alcohol entirely and had a glass or two of white wine in the evening one or twice the week before. Ideally, the week before I would have 100% cut out dairy, grains, caffeine and alcohol. This helps your body ease into the detox.

Day 1

It is recommended to start with a 10 oz. glass of water each morning, so I did. I started my first juice at around 9 am and it is the Clean Green. This is your primary juice and you drink it four times a day. I don’t mind it, even enjoy it, although I’ll admit by the fourth I was a bit weary of it. It is mainly leafy greens, cucumber, celery, apple and lemon. I HATE celery, but I can’t really taste it here. I had some Mary Kay work to do that morning, I packed juices 2 and 3 into a small lunchbox with ice and brought them along. You’re supposed to have a juice every 90-120 minutes. If you are going the 120 minute route like me, I’d recommend starting your first juice at 7 or 8 am. Starting at 9 am I was drinking my last around 9:30 pm, and it was a bit late.

Today food was really tempting. My MK event that morning was a spa brunch and the blueberry bagels smelled tantalizing. I did cheat and had two watermelon cubes, but I figure they were mostly juice any way. I don’t think I was actually hungry, it’s more just the habit of snacking. I’m used to reaching for food all day long, so this was a training in impulse control. I caved once again late afternoon with six apple slices but again – there’s juice in them! On my way home I called my fiancée who was also heading home and picking up lunch. I begged him to eat it wherever he was ordering from and not to bring it home. He reluctantly obliged. I’m not sure I could have resisted the smell of my favorite pasta dish from Noodle Co, so I was grateful.

While with two fantastic ladies for a pampering session at 4 pm, somebody brought pizza into the studio building. It smelled so. damn. good. Strangely, when Brian heated up his leftovers for dinner later though, it really didn’t phase me. I think I’m over the hump.

In regards to the other juices, the beet and carrot-based juices are really good. A nice break from the green. They are a little sweeter given the veggies are more naturally sweet. By the time I got to the protein drink – almond butter base – it was like a milkshake. There is cinnamon and cacao and it is delicious.

I didn’t feel hungry when I went to bed. It is 8 am on the next day, and I didn’t wake up hungry either. I’ve had my first juice of the day and I thought I’d have to force another green down, but actually it went down easily.

What you’re really curious about is if I lost any weight. Yep, down 2 pounds. What you may reluctantly be curious about is if I’m “backed up,” or much the opposite. Simply put — nope. All systems are operating normally. 3 more days to go.

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Friday Before Last I Turned 26

I wrote this last week, but was too lazy to post…

On Friday I turned 26. Apparently 26 is the year where I give up starving myself for three weeks to squeeze into a skin-tight black dress and hit up a club so I can give myself the gift of an ego boost via appreciative ogling. Or at least, what I think is ogling but could be everyone else developing the same tendency to squint and overactively blink when their contacts dry out due to dehydration caused by a mix of blasting AC  and too many vodka sodas. Or at least I assume everyone develops the squints. I do.

Instead of the aforementioned excitement, I’ve spent the last week stuffing my face full of delicious food and tossing down scrumptious cocktails which will leave me bloated and in need of some double-duty yoga sessions for oh… the-rest-of-my-life. It’s been awesome.

I may finally give up and admit that I love food too much to ever return to my high school weight. I’m getting used to my pot belly. I believe a gorgeous French girl once mentioned while lying in bed next to Bruce Willis in one of my favorite movies ever (if you don’t know the movie you should stop reading my blog now and never return) that she wanted a ‘pot.’ Well bitch, I got one. Be jealous.

As a matter of fact, all yall should be jealous. You know what goes into making a pot? A whole lot of time and money. I mean, you can’t sample one of everything on a menu without it – and that’s what I’ve basically been doing.

On my birthday proper we went to my favorite summer spot for patio dining. I also worked there during the space “in-between” college and real life – so I’m a bit biased. Sitting outside under the loving shade of an umbrella, sampling savory tapas and sipping red wine sangria made for pretty much the best birthday ever (except for last year when I spent it with my favorite Mexicans who showered me with chocolate, and cupcakes, and actual cakes.) It’s a tie.

Saturday was spent in Asheville. It was less a food day (which is strange because Asheville may be my favorite place in NC to eat) but I still managed to find several tasty brews to fill my belly.

And then there was Sunday. And Boston. And three marathon days of eating. I’ll leave that for my next post. 

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