Monday, December 31, 2007

Venice Day 1 - New Year's Eve!



Ah, overnight trains there is nothing like that experience! We had the two top bunks in a 4 bunk room with two Italian men. I have to say that I slept pretty good, not having to get up at all. I was a little freaked we'd miss our stop in Bologna where we had to switch trains, but luckily the conductor knocked on our door to let us know we were arriving. So at 6:00 AM we switched trains at Bologna and were finally on our way to Venice.

Ah, Venice....I mean can you really find another city more beautiful? (OK, well I'm sure everyone has there most beautiful city, but for me it's definitely Venice!) We checked into our hostel, found our room in an apartment a couple of blocks and bridges away, discovered we had a private bathroom even though we paid for a shared bathroom room (woot!) and then headed out for lunch.

We knew that if we wanted to do anything particular in Venice we had to do it today because with it being New Year's Eve and New Year's the two days we were in Venice we weren't sure what was going to be open. So we went to Frari Church first and then walked over to St. Mark's Square and visited the Basilica. After that we went to the Florian Cafe, the most famous Venetian Cafe, a place where Casanova, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens and Woody Allen have all grabbed drinks. We got a seat right in the window overlooking St. Mark's square and each had a glass of red wine. It was divine!

We took a little catnap because we knew we'd be out late and then headed out to dinner, a dinner in a very touristy but good restaurant. Then with our champagne and red wine in my purse we made our way to St. Mark's Square for the New Year's Eve festivities! It was so great - we got there around 9PM and found a spot on the stairs on the one side of the square. The concert started around 10PM and funny enough they played all american music - go figure. We listened, talked, drank our champagne and just enjoyed the show and watching everyone in the square. The place was PACKED - to the point that as it got closer to midnight - there really was nowhere to move around at all. But we counted down at midnight, shared a kiss (2008 according to the Venetians is the Year of Love after all!) Then watched the fireworks over the square. We had such a great night - usually we back away from these kind of New Year's celebrations but we really just embraced it.

Of course when we tried to leave it was another story - think about it - all these people emptying out into the tiny alleys of Venice. I thought I was going to get crushed a bunch of times! But we made it out and back to our hostel. All in all it was a great day in Venice!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rome Day 4 - Vatican Museum

OK, so even though I'm back in the US - I'm going to finish blogging about our time in Italy just to get it all down. I hope you will all humor me!

Our 4th day in Rome and our final day in Rome before heading off to Venice we woke up early and headed back to Vatican City. As you remember we hadn't been able to get to the Vatican Museum before it closed at 1:45 (???? does this seem early to anyone else!) We got in line about 1 hour and 15 minutes before it opened and of course this was the coldest of all the mornings in Italy! We entertained ourselves playing Guess Who and watching all the people walking up to the line shocked by how long it was:) We ended up getting into the museum around 9:30ish about 30 minutes after it opened.

It is an overwhelming museum - it's so large! Thankfully it's a very easy lay out, start at the beginning and just follow the rooms until they empty out into the Sistine Chapel. The only thing about that is that you really have to be in the mood to see "everything" because you're going to whether you want to our not. We started at the beginning with the Eygyptians and Etruscans and worked our way slowly through history.

We saw Raphael's rooms (which were beautiful), the Map Room (possibly Jon's favorite place in Italy!), among other amazing art! Then we emptied into the room that we were there to see - The Sistine Chapel. You know what I found most amazing - the amount of visitors that just blantantly ignore the guards that are there. They are continually repeating - No Pictures and No Talking and people just act as if they're completely deaf!!! The Sistine Chapel is something - we spent a good 20 minutes in there just staring up and all around us. It's sad when you leave a place like that - I kept sneaking one more look back, because I mean who knows if we'll ever really be back, how do you preserve that memory in your head forever.

We spent about 2 1/2 - 3 hours in the Vatican Museum, which is about our limit before we become museumed out. We went back to the hostel and had lunch around there, before grabbing our luggage and stowing it at Termini Station.

Then we headed back towards our hostel to visit the Basilica of San Giovanni. We had walked past it so many times, Jon really wanted to go back and see the inside. After that we took my sister's advice and visited the Church of San Clemente. It was pretty neat, we paid and went in, it's three churches built on top of each other essentially and you can go down one level and see the 4th Century Church and then below that a church from like 64AD! It was a neat way to end our day of sightseeing - climbing those layers. It must be amazing to be an archeologist in Rome finding everything hidden underneath its streets.

After that we walked over to Campo de Fiori (passing the place where Ceasar was assisinated ont he way!) Campo de Fiori is a very popular place to eat and grab a drink, seeing as it was one of the few neighborhoods we hadn't visited on our trip, we decided to have dinner here. We had a nice meal sitting out on the square (yes, in December! We were near a heater, but seriously I don't think that the Italians mind sitting outside in the cold because the whole time we were in Italy everywhere we went, people would just be having dinner outside regardless of the temperature. It became a running joke between Jon and I!) After dinner we headed over to the Pantheon neighborhood to our favorite little wine bar! We got a table inside and had a few glasses of wine and hung out before our train to Venice left. It was such a great way to end our time in Rome, but of course it made us not want to leave! On our way to Termini we got gelato and cappachino and then walked by the Trevi Fountain. Good-bye Rome we'll be back for one more night!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rome Day 3 - Vatican City

Boy oh Boy did day 3 start out a little stressful - think of that scene in home alone where the parents yell "we overslept", cue the music! Well that's what happened with us, the one day we actually had to get up to go somewhere at a specific time, we set the alarm wrong. We had a 9:30AM tour for the excavations under the Vatican and woke up at 8:52AM - YIKES! Needless to say we were out the door and on a metro in 10 minutes (looking a little worse for wear). We got to the Vatican stop with 10 mintues to go, sprinted about half a mile to St. Peter's Square (keep in mind that I was wearing my huge blue puffy jacket!) and then across the square past two swiss guards and a cabineiri. We got to the ticket office with about 10 seconds to spare - yes, we were those people - the whole tour was waiting for us - oops!) I will say though, that today was the first day I felt completely rested:)


The Scavi Tour was a tour underneath St. Peter's Basillica, of the area where St. Peter was originally buried. It was a really interesting tour. We started out in this room where our tour guide explained what we were going to see. It doesn't really prepare you though for the feeling you get when you go under St. Peter's. It's like a city of the dead (except the dead aren't really there anymore).

What happened was that the area that we were visiting was originally the Circus Maximus in Rome. St. Peter was cruxified upside down in the Circus Maximus and then they buried him there. All of these people wanted to be buried by St. Peter so families started building Mausoleums around the area and burying their dead. However, when Constantine was emperor of Rome (the First Christian Emperor), he decided he wanted to build a church for St. Peter on the site. So he raised the roofs off the mausoleums and filled them in with dirt until the ground level was higher and flat, and then he built the first St. Peter's Church there, which has now been replaced by St. Peter's Basilica.

When you go underground, it's kind of crazy, it's literally like your walking through a city, because you're walking among the walls that made up the Mausoleums. They are in great condition, you can still see frescoes as well as objects (like urns) that were found inside. Then you walk to this one part where they have the place where they found St. Peter's burial plot and it is lit up so you can see it. It's wild because at one point you're underneath the Vatican and there is a grate where you can see into St. Peter's Basilica and we could hear the choir practicing. We really enjoyed the tour and were happy that we took the time to do it, it was certainly unique.

After that we went in to St. Peter's and visited there for awhile, saw Michelangelo's Pieta and Donatello's bronze altar. It is a beautiful church and it is HUGE! After touring inside we got in line to climb to the top of the Dome, while in line we realized that the Vatican Museum closed at 1:45 so we were going to have to return to do that another day. The line to the top of the Dome was the largest line we had waited on so far this trip, but we spent the time talking so it went by pretty fast. We had the option to take the elevator and then climb 332 steps or climb the whole 500+. We decided to take the elevator because 500+ seemed like a lot, but after we got to the top we had wished we had just climbed them all (and saved the euros!) Although, I'm sure our legs were glad for a little break. It was a little frightening being at the top of the Dome because the metal railing isn't that high, but the views really are stunning! They do however let too many people up top at one time, and it made me very nervous!

One the way down we bought stamps and an ornament in the gift shop and then headed to a late lunch (really late especially considering we hadn't eaten any breakfast!) After lunch we decided to walk to Castelo San Angelo and walk through there. The inside isn't much but again we went out to the top and the views of St. Peter's and Vatican City from there were beautiful. We spent sometime outside just enjoying the views and then we headed out across the Bridge of Angels back into Rome.

We wandered the streets, just loving the feel of Rome. Some parts of it are really just so quaint and quiet when you wander down the back roads in and out of piazzas! It's so beautiful! We walking to the Capucin Crypt right near the metro stop we wanted to take back to our hostel. The Capuchin Crypt is beneath Santa Maria della Concezione. It is donation requested and no photos (click on the link above to see some pics). There are 5 chapels and you walk through them, each chapel is decorated with bones from the Capuchin monks of years ago. At first you are like this is kind of cool, but towards the end it starts to seem creepy. In the last chapel there is a stone engraved with "What you are now we were, what we are you will be". Even the chandeliers are made of bones! It was pretty wild.

After a quick rest & refresh we headed out on the bus to Trastevere a very young, Roman, artsy kind of neighborhood. I loved loved loved it! It was so cute, you can sense that it's very medieval, tons of windy streets (you WILL get lost!), with people spilling out from restaurants and bars. First we visited the Church in the main square. Mass was going on so we couldn't really roam freely, but the mosaics above the altar were incredible! We lit a candle and then headed out to find a restaurant. We found a little restaurant and had a great dinner before heading back over the river to the rest of Rome. It was a neighborhood we only visited once, but when we go back to live there I know we'll get to know this neighborhood intimately!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Rome Day 2 - "Old Rome"

So I am trying to blog now when we take breaks because the hostel we are staying at has 24 hour free internet - woot!

Today was all about "Old Rome". We woke up early and after a deliciously light breakfast at our hostel we walked over to the Coloseum. I love the Coloseum, it is so beautiful and awe-inspiring when you see it in person. We bypassed the line with our great Roma Pass tickets and got an audio guide to give us some insight on the Coloseum. I have to say the audioguide was definitely worth it, learning about the history of the Coloseum while standing in it was pretty remarkable. It was one of my favorite parts of the day.

After the Coloseum we walked over to The Forum. Our Rick Steves book (sorry I cannot figure out the apostrophe key on this computer so bare with me!) gave a great overview of the Forum and brief histories on many of the ruins. Again, awe-inspiring is the word to describe. To just imagine the Forum at its height - well I cannot even imagine. Jon and I were talking today about Rome and our initial thoughts and he said if he could use one word to describe Rome he would say "magnificent". I did not remember how truly LARGE many of the structures are and they are not even fully intact most of them. After a couple of hours wondering the Forum, we found a cute little place for lunch (Panini sandwiches - my fave).

After lunch we ventured over to the Palatine Hill. This is where all of the emperors lived when Rome ruled the world. The views from up top the hill are pretty spectacular and it's just a neat place to wander (just accidentally found the apostrophe button - yay!) We agreed that if we had it to do over we would have gotten lunch to go and picnicked up there - many people were doing just that. It definitely gives you a feel for the "granduer" of Rome.

Then we headed over to the Mamertime Prison, which is where St. Peter was held prisoner before his execution. They actually still have the column he was chained to there in the prison. It was a pretty depressing place.

After that we climbed the steps to the Capitoline Museum, saw the famour foot, hand and head of the Constatine statue and other incredible pieces of sculpture. It's a beautiful museum, although museums at the end of a long day do not agree with me, I got tired pretty quick. However, from the Capitoline Museum is one of the best views of the Forum. We hit it right as the sun was setting, so we took some time and stood on the balcony and watched the sun set over The Forum, one of those "WOW" moments. It was so peaceful, as The Forum was closed so there wasn't a soul walking through it. Ahhhh.....

After that long (but amazing!) day we headed back to the hostel for a nap before heading out (I know so unlike us, but we had both run ourselves ragged prior to arriving here and new that if we didn't rest up for a little bit we wouldn't enjoy the whole trip.

For dinner we walked over to the Piazza Navona, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome. There was a Christmas fair going on so we walked around before finding the perfect restaurant for dinner (thanks Rick Steve's). It was located right outside the Piazza Navona and we had a delightful meal there, great wine, amazing bruchetta (I'm telling you it gets better each day!), and I had gnocchi (melt in your mouth kind of gnocchi and Jon had parpadelle with Wild Boar sauce (spicy but delish!)

After dinner we headed back towards the Pantheon to go to this wine bar we had seen the night before - it is too cool to describe. Old barrels for tables, wine bottles lining the walls, really Italian (we were the only Americans in there!) We sipped our wine slowly and vowed to return before our trip was over - I can't wait!

Last but not least before the night was over - Jon stopped for a Cappuchino and I had gelato at the BEST gelato place - Giotti's! (Amy I'm not sure if you remember it from the time we were here 8 years ago?) So good...then we walked to the bus stop to catch our bus back to the hostel as the metro stops running here at 9PM (bizzare!) We learned all this last night so tonight it was smooth sailing.

Well, I'm a day behind blogging so I'll write about our adventure to the Vatican tomorrow (and boy was it an adventure!) But it's time to shower before heading out to Trastvere for dinner.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Italia!!!!

Hello All and Greetings from Italia! I apologize for any typos but the Italian keyboard is a little different from the American one (it took me about a minute to find the @ sign!)

So we arrived safely in Rome on Thursday, December 27th and have been having a really wonderful time. When we first arrived the hostel we are staying at was not ready for us to check in so we decided to check out some sites. We first visited the Trevi Fountain, which personally is my fave place in the world, but it was being cleaned so it looked less than stellar. We then strolled over to the Pantheon and took our time exploring. I am sorry but I do not remember the Pantheon ever looking so beautiful (especially at night!) Rick Steves recommended some churches in the neighborhood so we went and visited two of them. One had a Michaelangelo statue and the other had a beautiful Carravaggio altar. We then stopped for some lunch (pizza and a coke light - love those!) Afterwards we headed back over to the Trevi Fountain and it was looking much better but still nothing like what it can look like at night.

We came back and checked in to our hostel and took a little nap (I was exhausted from not sleeping at all on the flight, the stories of that plane ride are for another post!) Our hostel is amazing - it is like a bed and breakfast in Rome. The guy Maxissimo, who runs it is so sweet.

After our nap we went and walked around the Coloseum and the Forum and then went to see St. Peter in Chains Church. I have to say while the church was not really that much to look at and it took us awhile to get there (we went "the long way") there is this statue of Moses that is incredibly powerful. And the chains that held St. Peter while he was in prison are in a case above the altar.

We decided to head over to the Spanish steps and people watch for a little bit. They look much more beautiful in spring with the flowers but decorated for Christmas they were not that bad either. From there we walked back towards the Pantheon for dinner. We went to this wine bar (I am not remembering the name right now) and had a half bottle with some bruchetta mixta which was delicious (and get this I ate things I did not know what they were!) Then we went to this mom and pop type Italian restaurant near the Pantheon for dinner. While not out of this world, it was hearty and good, which was all we were expecting.

After dinner we walked past the Trevi Fountain again:) This time all lit up at night it was in its glory and we sat and appreciated it for awhile before heading back to the hostel.

Today we had the BEST day exploring the Coloseum, Forum, Capitaline Hill, Palatine Hill etc but I will write about it later as it is late and I should head to bed to get ready for tomorrow!

Hope everyone had a very Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway



Last night was the night! I finally got to see Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway. I bought these tickets months ago, and then with the strike, was unsure whether or not we'd really get to go. Jon had to bail at the last minute because of work, so my mom came in from NJ and we had dinner with my brother before the show.

I had been lucky enough to score REALLY affordable seats so unfortunately my mother had to adjust herself to sitting way up in the boonies. But hey, I was getting to see my girl J. Garner on Broadway. I couldn't believe I got tickets, especially considering it was only a 10-week engagement!



I knew nothing about the play at all. I've never read the book or seen the movie for that matter. It had gotten rave reviews in the New York Times, so I knew it was going to be good.

I loved it! Usually I don't like dramas too much. I'm much prefer musicals when it comes to plays, but I really loved this play. I loved the lyricism of it, the way it rhymed, it was incredibly funny (which I was not expecting at all!), and even though it was long (2 hours and 45 minutes) it captured my attention the whole time.



I have to say that I went there purely to see Jennifer Garner and she was great, but Kevin Kline BLEW ME AWAY. It was a pure treat to be able to see him on the stage. He was a natural: comfortable, commanding, funny and I have to say kudos to him because he really is the whole play. It must be exhausting for him night after night. It is a very demanding role.

I'm thrilled that I got to see it and I can't wait to read the book now! It is a play that captured my heart.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Siddartha - 4 Stars

Now, I know you must be wondering about my reading hiatus. I have to say that I moved offices for work in November and now that we're located in midtown and I walk to work, I have found that I have to make time for reading! It's been tough given the time of year, but have no fear I am reading. Just a very long book that you'll hear about soon.

In the meantime I took a break from that book to read....

Siddartha, Herman Hesse

This was our December book group and I have to say I was very excited to read it because I had never read Herman Hesse before, and I love trying new authors and new books!

Siddartha is really considered an Indic Poem. It is short, only 118 pages and it follows the life of the main character, Siddartha.

When the book/poem begins Siddartha is a boy and is being brought up in a very religious family. He is seeking the "path of the paths" as he refers to it, so he leaves home to go live in the forest with monks/priests. After three years he decides to find and follow the "exalted one" and after meeting him realizes that he has to follow his gut and experience life for himself as opposed to learning about it through others teachings. Thus, he heads out on his own and has many different experiences, all the while looking for the "path of the paths".

It is one of those books that discusses the meaning of ones life, the way in which one lives ones life and the true purpose of it all.

The book group felt lukewarm about it. I personally found it to be a very peaceful read that gave me perspective during this time of year. It did however provide a good discussion, which when it comes to book group is just as imporant as perhaps enjoying the book itself. The impression I've gotten from the reader reviews is that it is something you read at different points in your life, because depending on where you are you might take different lessons from it. However, if these kind of books aren't your thing I would probably just pass on it!

I'll probably read it again some years down the road. I'd also like to pick up other books by Herman Hesse just to compare.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Away From Her - 4 Stars

I have been neglecting my Netflix subscription this month, I'm sorry but there is just too much to do. Before I left for the Holidays though I wanted to watch and return at least one of the two movies I had been harboring in my apartment for a month. So I finally watched Away From Her.

Away from Her is the story of Grant and Fiona, a couple that has been married for 44 years and has been through life's ups and downs. One day Fiona goes out cross country skiing and gets lost forcing the couple to face the reality that she has Alzheimer's Disease. They ultimately decide that Fiona must enter a facility. The facility has a no-visitor for 30 days policy and thus Grant is left to fill his days and wait until he can see Fiona again. When he first visits Fiona he finds that not only does she not know who he is but she has a "boyfriend."

I know, I know, this sounds incredibly depressing and you're wondering why I even rented it in the first place. I have a soft spot in my heart for movies about married couples that have to face difficulties. They give you a different perspective and appreciation of marriage, relationships and the life that you have now and make you realize that they may not always be so. I saw a preview for this during another movie and decided on the spot I had to see it. Plus, it stars Julie Christie!

Yes, this movie was sad, and I cried through a good portion of it, imagining myself having to face the facts they were facing or making the decisions they were making, it was heart-wrenching at times. But it was also a sweet portrayl of love and how no relationship is picture perfect, but non-perfect love is truly something special. I thought the whole movie well done, and while many people my age probably won't be running out to rent this movie anytime soon, maybe someday they will.

4 Stars!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Atonement - 4 Stars

I go through spurts - lots of movie reviews and periods of long droughts! This week Jon and I were not on the same schedule. The nights that he was home early and in for the night, I was out late and vice versa. Thus we scheduled a date night for Friday night so we could spend some time together. We worked out, had dinner and then went to go see Atonement.

Atonement is based on the book of the same title by Ian McEwan. It is the story of Cecilia, a wealthy young girl and Robbie, the housekeepers son. They grew up together as close friends and are just discovering that they love each other. Cecilia's sister, Briony, however harbors a girlhood crush on Robbie and at one point in the movie makes a crucial misjudgement altering the course of all their lives forever.

I was skeptical about this movie because I had heard mixed reviews about the book, and having read McEwan I could understand why. However, being nominated for so many Golden Globes, I thought maybe it'll be good. I have to say I was very impressed. It's not a movie that's going to blow you away, its a nice slow and steady romantic drama. It is shot in such a way that it reminded me of an old romantic classic. I thought that the acting was very good, the way the the movie was shot (with the attention to detail and music) was superb, and the story was actually interesting. Overall we both walked out of the theater pleasantly surprised and I have to say I may be rooting for this movie to win at least one of it's many Golden Globe categories.

4 Stars

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rockwood Music Hall

Last night I met up with my friend Jen for a fun night of music. One of my favorite things to do is go listen to new music and/or music I already know and love, but most importantly just being around music. When I lived in Boston, Jon and I would go see shows a lot - in Boston, Providence, Northhampton, you name it!

Jen brought me to one of her favorite venues, The Rockwood Music Hall and we had so much fun! It is this tiny, tiny little place. The decor is very elegant, classy, comfortable. We drank red wine and listened to music for 4 hours! It was such a fun night. I'm definitely going to go back.

The music was acoustic rock, country/folk, a little bit of everything. We went specifically to see Mieka Pauley, who hails from Cambridge. Jen had seen her before. She was great - she played a 30 minute set (time flies when you're having fun!) Then we stayed in the main room and watched Amy Speace. I really enjoyed her music as well, especially because she was a little country. At one point she was singing a new song and you could tell that it was something that she personally had gone through and she couldn't sing the last couple of lines because she started crying, and this man, who obviously is a big fan of hers, sang the words for her. It was so precious! When you see stuff like that, especially in New York City, it reminds you about how good people can be or are and that people do care about other people. I might have shed a tear - OK, I definitely did!

The music was good, the wine was delicious, and the conversation was great! I can't wait to go again...Thank you Jen for introducing me to such a cool place!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Enchanted - 5 stars

I love Disney movies and Enchanted is no exception. My girlfriends and I went last week for a fun girls night out and it was such a pick me up! I was looking forward to seeing it, although wary that all the funny parts had already been given away in the previews, but I was not disappointed at all.

Enchanted, is about Giselle, a princess looking for her prince. When she meets Edward, they know that they are meant to share "true love's kiss". On their wedding day Edward's wicked stepmother shoves Giselle to none other than New York City. Stranded, without a friend or an understanding of the place she has landed she begins her search for Andalasia (her homeland). Patrick Dempsey's character befriends her, unexpetedly and thus the story unfolds. Edward, his steward, his mother and Giselle's chipmunk friend Pip come to NYC and try to find her, as Patrick Dempsey's character tries to make sure she gets by while she's here.

It is such a heart warming, laugh out loud, funny movie that will have you believing anything is possible when the credits start rolling! A movie I definitely hope to own once it comes out on DVD, you can't help but smile! There's not a little girl out there who won't love it! (*Warning: Excessive Cheesiness does take place during the movie, in true disney fashion, but c'mon people lighten up a little!)

Overall: Highly Recommended!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Band of Brothers - Absolutely 5 Stars!



The other night Jon and I finished watching Band of Brothers, an HBO mini series. Jon had already watched it back in January when he first moved to NYC and really wanted me to watch it. I was hesitant for all typical female reasons - "goryness"! War movies can be tough and I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge. Jon, knowing how much I love history and character pieces, in the end convinced me I should watch it with him. The mini series is made up of 10 one-hour episodes, more or less, with a one-hour documentary piece at the end.
I have to say that not only am I SO incredibly glad that I watched this mini-series, but I also strongly recommend it to everyone!
Band of Brothers is the story of Easy Company, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, U.S. 101st Airborne Division. It follows this group of men from the beginning of their training for the war and follows them until the end. Showcasing the hardship that they went through, the lives lost, the courage of the men that lived, and all the things they saw and experienced in between. It's based on the real Easy Company and the documentary at the end has interviews with the real men of Easy Company (those still alive) talking about different battles, different jumps, different experiences show cased in the mini-series.
I believe this is an incredibly imporant piece of work that all should watch. Especially, being someone a couple of generations removed from those that fought in WWII, it provides you an insight into what they went through and what they survived. Incredibly moving, these are characters (although really "real" men) that you will be rooting for and willing to live through the war.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

2 Movie Reviews: American Pastime and Shut Up & Sin

American Pastime (2 stars)

I picked this movie off our netflix que next in the spirit of baseball season ending. I thought it would be fun to watch a movie that centered around baseball. We had seen a preview for this movie before Letter to Iwo Jima and intrigued had added it to our queue.

The premise of the movie, is that World War II has started and Pearl Harbor has just been attacked. Japanese families on the west coast are forced to leave their houses, their business, their lives with just a suitcase of their belongings. Americans forced the Japanese into internment camps in the Southwest. This movie follows a specific family with two boys, one who is making the most of the situation and the other, who is bitter at having to give up his baseball scholarship.

The men in the camp decide to start a baseball league and the movie culminates with the town, who treat the people in the internment camp very poorly, playing the team from the camp.

While I thought that the premise could be good, as not many movies have been made (at least to the best of my knowledge) about this particular time in American History, unfortunately it didn't live up to my hopes. It was poorly done, the cinematography was not very good, and the story and the acting was incredibly cheezy. Overall we rated this two stars, and we definitely wouldn't recommend it.

Shut Up & Sing (4 stars)

Shut Up & Sing had been recommended to me by my friend Jessica in Boston, when it first came out. It is a documentary that follows the Dixie Chix after they made the comment about President Bush at one of their concerts in England. It goes back and forth between events that unfolded directly right after the comment was made to the recording studio in 2006, 3 years later, when they're writing and singing about that time.

We both enjoyed this documentary immenseley. I thought it was well done, incredibly interesting and I loved seeing the process of making music and just hearing a lot of their music because they are really good and I like their music. I'm really glad we saw this - it made me want to listen to their music more.

2 Book Reviews: Water for Elephants and Death at La Fenice

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen (2 1/1 - 3 stars)

Jacob Jankowski is 93 years old and living in a nursing home. When the circus comes to town it brings back memories of his younger years, memories of a time he never has talked about, until now. When Jacob was 22 both his parents were killed in a car accident, leaving him with nothing. Completely lost and unsure of what the future holds he hops a train to get away and ends up on a circus train. He's a vet, so they take a liking to him and hire him as the circus vet.

There he meets a cast of characters: Kinko, the dwarf, and his roommate, August, the animal trainer and schizophrenic, Marlena, who is married to August and is so beautiful that Jacob is immediately in love, and Rosie the elephant and star performer.

The book follows this circus and these characters as they cross the country and deal with the ups and downs of the depression era times. I thought that the author took the reader seemlessly from 93 year old Jacob's real time situation to Jacob's memories. And while there were many endearing characters, I felt that the author skimmed the surface with this book. The storyline that she decided to tell I found weak and predictable and when I got to the end I just wasn't satisfied. There were so many interesting components and side stories to this book that I wish she had chosen to elaborate on as opposed to the ones that she did.

All in all I would say that the book was just OK and definitely overhyped.

Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon (4 stars)

In Donna Leon's first Commissario Brunetti series, Death at La Fenice, the famous conductor Helmut Wellauer is found dead in his dressing room. The cause: cyanide poisoning. Commissario Brunetti is called to action and before long the list of growing suspects is daunting. Realizing that he needs to learn more about the man before he can learn who had killed him and why, Brunetti sets out to learn as much about Wellauer's past as he can...thus, unlocking the key to the mystery.

I read this book, because as you know by now I'm trying to read books that take place in Italy, just to keep me in that place as our trip looms nearer and nearer each day! This was my 3rd Commissario Brunetti book and I have to say that this one was the most enjoyable. I felt that Leon actually developed a well thought out mystery that had me guessing until the end. While not as fast paced and thrilling as other mysteries there is something likable about Commissario Brunetti. I'll probably read more of this series in the future.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

St. Louis - We Went We Saw We Conquered!

Well, I'm back and I survived despite many warnings of the need to be safe in the most dangerous city in the country (who knew, St. Louis, really?)
I arrived on Friday night after a one hour delay, just before 11PM. I waited in the airport for Awesome Al to arrive from Newark, 2 hours delayed, and then Kirsten and Meghan (the host) picked us up from the airport where we quickly all proceeded to bed to get ready for some Saturday fun.

Saturday morning, despite a late night, I got up at 7PM and went for about a 6 mile run in Forest Park. For those of you that don't know (and I was one of them until this weekend) Forest Park is St. Louis' Central Park. It is larger than Central Park but had the same architect. So I figured I would check it out. I stuck to the edges, afraid to get lost, I had to get back in time to go pick up Okie Amy afterall. I will say that Forest Park is more laid back then Central Park, running wise, but not quite as lush. I thoroughly enjoyed my run, it's one of my favorite ways to familiarize myself with a place.

After picking up Okie Amy from the airport and having breakfast, we headed to our first desitnation, The Gateway Arch! We took the Metro there, then walked along the Mississippi River to the steps leading up the park where the Arch is. I have to say it is really something in person, graceful, simple, elegant - I loved it!


View from the Metro Stop (it's the only picture where I fit the whole Arch in one frame!)

We bought our tickets for the "Ride to the Top" and spent the next two hours exploring the museum exhibit they have there on the expansion Westward in the United States after the Louisiana Purchase, the gift store and this old west food store that had a game of Checkers waiting to be played (Meghan and I decided to take on the challenge!)

Now for the "Ride to the Top", they don't really warn you about what it is going to be like so we were under the impression it would be a disney world like tram. Boy were we wrong. Each "tram" car holds 5 people - perfect, as we were 5. The tram however can be better described as a pod or capsule (think the Jetsons!) We all climb in, unsure of the 4 minute ride to the top. It starts off great and we're all laughing at how ridiculous we must look, and then it starts swaying back and forth. Let me tell you - it was pretty terrifying! 4 minutes later we were at the top and smiling for pics under the "You're at 630 feet sign!

Here we are at 630 Feet (from left to right: Amy, Beth, Meghan, Alison (in front) and Kirsten).

We enjoyed the view for awhile then braced ourselves for the 3 minute ride back down in our "capsule". Much less frightening.

When then headed to the Budweiser Factory for the one hour tour followed by "Free Beer!" The tour was pretty interesting, we got to see the Clydesdales, where they make the beer, where the bottle, label and package the beer etc. Then at the end you go back and you get two free glasses of beer. I had...what else...but Budlight! Yum!

Here we all are at the Budweiser Factory (from left to right: Kirsten, Beth, Alison, Meghan and Amy).

After the Budweiser factory we headed out to dinner, a piano bar and of course dancing. It was a fun night in St. Louis with my girls!!!!

Sunday, Kirsten left us (boo!) to head back home to Philadelphia. So after a nice breakfast, where we got to meet Meghan's friend Sarah, we headed out to Forest Park to do a walking tour that Amy had discovered online. At the visitor center they give you iPod shuffles with the walking tour on it and a map so you can follow along. We toured the Grand Basin, which was beatiful and the tour was very informative. It ended at the Boathouse so we dutifully went out on paddleboats for about and hour then sat by the water and enjoyed a drink. It was a beautiful day in St. Louis and I'm so glad that we were able to spend it outdoors enjoying the Park. It was the perfect way to spend the day.

Sunday night was nice and lowkey, we ordered in take out and enjoyed the Amazing Race (we may have converted Amy over to fan status of the show!) and just chatted. Then Monday was a travel day in which we all headed home.

I'm glad we make time to get together each year, even if it is only for a weekend - it's important to do. And I'm so looking forward to whatever adventure awaits us in 2008!




Friday, November 9, 2007

St. Louis Here We Come...!!!

I leave tonight for St. Louis, Missouri!!! I state I've never been to (so I can check it off in my quest to visit all 50 states!)

Two years ago my college girlsfriends and I decided we should go away for a "girls weekend" once a year. So, two years ago we went to New Orleans for 4 days and had a blast, last year we went back to Holy Cross for our 5 year reunion, and this year we're going to St. Louis!!!

I'm so excited to see everyone, visit a new place and just get away for a little bit. So expect some fun posts to follow about my trip and our adventures because it's never a dull moment when we all get together!

Happy Weekend!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The US Men's Marathon Olympic Trials


The 3 of us waiting for the runners to come by one last time!

Jon and Kate sprinting to the west side of the park with everyone!

This is my last marathon related post from our crazy week of 3 marathons (cheering, not running!) Last Saturday New York City hosted the US Men's Marathon Olympic Trials in Central Park.

Now, I have been talking about going to see these pretty much since we moved here. Rain nor wind, nor chilly temperatures were going to stop me.

Saturday morning, Jon and I got up nice and early (6:50AM) and ran the 2.3 miles up to 72nd Street and Central Park West where we were meeting my sister (equally excited as I was, stop, picture it - poor Jon). We're jibberjabbering away for like 5 minutes before Jon gives me my first "You're getting over excited and it hasn't even started yet" looks. I try to calm down, but I can't - I mean 1) I love love love the Olympics! 2) I love running, racing and marathons. and 3) I'm actually there to watch an Olympic trials race, in the marathon no less.



We head up to the spot around West 81st Street inside the park. We hear the runners are coming so we quickly get to whatever spot is available and we end up meeting this man who is there to cheer on his son. His son qualified in a 10K and this race was going to be his first marathon ever (how crazy is that?) We chat with him for a bit, the runners come by in a huge pack so you couldn't really see anything, except for Wardian who went out fast in the first loop. Afterwards we headed up to where we wanted to be stationed and ended up running into my cousin's ex-girlfriend. I swear for as big as NYC is you can still have small world occurences take place.

The runners come by on lap 2 and they're more separated into groups. We wait to cheer on all of them and then along with 75% of the crowd start sprinting to the east side of the park to catch the runners as they loop around. We get there in time, find a spot, see the runners again, turn around and sprint back to the west side of the park to see them as they loop around again. We continued this till the end.



It was so fun, everyone was dressed in their running gear and as the race was coming down to the wire you would have thought all of us running back and forth were in a race the way people were running, it was crazy (fun in a good way). The best part though was definitely the end. We're on the west side of the park waiting for them to get going on the 2nd to last loop and Brian Sell was creeping up (and let me tell you he made up A LOT of ground) on the lead pack big time. So everyone was like is he going to be able to do it. We see them run by sprint to the east side of the park and wait.



All of a sudden Ryan Hall comes running by so fast and we're all waiting for the rest of the lead pack. No one - 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 45 seconds...then Ritz comes by. Everyone was going crazy, screaming like crazy, couldn't believe the way the lead pack was spreading out. Now people are seriously sprinting back to the west side! We get there - Ryan Hall comes back again - 45 seconds, 1 minute, 1 minute and 10 seconds and Ritz comes by again, then Dan Browne and then Sell right on his tail going up the hill. No Meb, no Abdi...now people were crazy. The sprint to the east side of the park was out of a movie. We get there wait a little bit Ryan Hall come by - 1 minute 10 seconds, 1 minute 20 seconds, 1 minute 30 seconds...finally Ritz comes by and then...Sell, he did it, managed to get himself into 3rd place position! People are going crazy.



We knew we didn't have time to get to the finish. We also knew that the 3 leaders were going to win because they just had that much of a lead and not that far to go. So we decided to stay and cheer on the other runners who had fallen off pace. By the way - that guy from the beginning - his son, finished 9th, 13 seconds behind Meb, in his first marathon ever!!!!! That is crazy - but definitely be looking for Josh Rohatinsky in 4 years, he's got some serious promise. (Could I say crazy one more time!!!)







All in all it was the best way ever to start a day and I just hope that one day I get to see the real thing, the Olympics in person. It's on my list....

Friday, November 2, 2007

Meeting Catherine Ndereba - WOW!


Thus continues my marathon crazy week! The foundation that I work for had 32 runners running in this year's ING New York City Marathon Sunday, November 4th. On Thursday evening our foundation and our runners were invited to Gracie Mansion for a cocktail reception and the chance to get our picture taken with Mayor Bloomberg.
We arrived right on time at 5:30PM and I have to say the house is gorgeous. You forget what regular houses look like when you're surrounded by towering concrete buildings all day! It's this beautiful old house right on the Hudson River. Right after we arrive this woman offers to take us on a tour of the first floor, explaining the history of the house, the rooms, the significance of the furniture present and the art. I love touring houses so this was right up my alley. And as we head off the front porch and in to the parlor she points out on the mantle a cannon ball that was actually shot from a British War Ship in the Revolutionary War of 1776 at this house. (Are you kidding me? How cool is that!!!!)
After the tour I had the opportunity to meet a lot of our runners, to meet our contact at the New York Road Runners, to meet one of the guys running in the US Men's Marathon Olympic Trials on Saturday and then to meet Catherine Ndereba! Not only has she won 4 Boston Marathons but she also won this year's World Championships. I talked with her about her running leading up to the marathon, and how she was feeling, if she was going to watch the US Men run on Saturday and little stuff like that. She was incredibly friendly and very nice and I was glad that I had the gumption to cross the room and introduce myself and not let an opportunity like that pass me by.
She finished 5th on Sunday in the New York City Marathon, while certainly not her best run, Wami and Radcliffe had a commanding lead when we saw them at Mile 11 and I knew then that they were going to be pretty hard to catch.
All of our runners that we saw at Mile 11 looked good and like they were having fun. It definitely made me miss running, or rather since I do run 3-4 times a week, racing! Not that I'm fast but I just love the thrill of competing! I have an inkling that another marathon may be in the not so distant future for me...if not in 2008, then definitely in 2009!

Pygmalion

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of seeing Pygmalion, starring Claire Danes, on Broadway!!! We had a theater benefit for work and all the staff got to see the show too. One of the things I was most excited about being in New York for was to see Broadway shows so needless to say I was excited to see Pygmalion and even cooler that it was starring Claire Danes.

Now, I'm not usually a big fan of dramas, I much prefer the big fanfare of the musical on Broadway, so that combined with the mixed reviews made me a little less enthusiastic about this outing. However, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised!!!

My seat was in the mezzanine, but I have to say, at The American Airlines Theater, which houses the Roundabout, there really isn't a bad seat in the house as it's such a small theater (only 700+ seats). The very first scene I didn't understand anything they were saying, because of the Cockney accent. People were laughing at jokes and I was sitting there thinking, "boy, it's going to be a long night if I can't understand this whole play." However, after the first scene the accents died down and it was actually a really entertaining show with just the right amount of humor. Claire Danes was great, but was totally overshadowed by the performance of Jefferson Mayes, he was fantastic!!!!

Now, I'm going to definitely have to see My Fair Lady (I know - gasp - I haven't ever seen it as a play or a movie!)

Ahhhh...I love going to the theater. Only a little over a month before I get to go again, to see Jennifer Garner and Kevin Kline in Cyrano de Bergerac! I can't wait....

Congratulations to Matt & Karen!!!

Sunday, October 28th began what would be for Jon and I the first marathon of three that we were cheering for in a week! We went down to Washington, DC on Saturday, October 27th in order to cheer for Matt & Karen on Sunday as they ran in the Washington, DC Marine Corp Marathon, their second this year.

We got up early on Sunday in order to be out at Mile 1 in time for the 8AM start. Our plan was to see them at Mile 1, Mile 12, Mile 14, Mile 19 and possibly the finish. The Marine Corps Marathon is a great marathon for a spectator - it loops so many times that it's easy to see runners in multiple locations.

We ended up seeing them at Mile 1 and Mile 4 and then seeing Matt at Mile 12, 14 and 19. Getting to the finish proved just too difficult.

So a big CONGRATULATIONS to Matt and Karen on finishing the DC Marathon with fantastic times!

My Still Newish Job

Aside from the Red Sox post season the other reason that I was MIA on my blog is because of my newish job! I started at The Bachmann Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation back in September and it has been non-stop since I started. In the two months that I've been there we've had 6 events!!!! Which has been great because it's kept me busy and I'm just kind of learning by fire.

In the past two weeks though the hours were long because we had a two-day scientific conference. Now normally, I wouldn't blog about work, but the conference really struck me and I wanted to just say a few words about it.

The conference brought together scientists from all over the world to discuss the research they have been doing on mostly dystonia. Dystonia is a neuro-muscular disease that affects an estimated 500,000 Americans each year. 1/3 of all dystonia patients are children. Dystonia is a disease that is difficult to diagnosis and often times goes years before being diagnosed properly. At the conference I met a couple whose son was just diagnosed after 4 years. To sit in the room and listen to all these scientists talking about their research and what it means for treatments for dystonia was pretty inspiring. I may not have understood everything that was being said (because I am not a scientist) but I did understand the passion and the enthusiasm that was buzzing around the room and to be on that side of the door and see people actually trying to do something about solving a disease was pretty amazing.

It makes going to work have that much more of a purpose. I'm planning events to raise money to give grants to scientists such as the ones that I met who are actively working year round to try and find treatments and ultimately hopefully a cure for a disease.

On top of that, after the two-day conference we had a reunion of dystonia patients who had been treated by DBS (deep brain stimulation surgery). Meeting the people, adults and children, who were suffering and are still suffering from this disease and see the improvement in them from when they were originally diagnosed because of the treatments now available was truly amazing! I could go on and on about these people and the adversities they've overcome...but that would make this blog way too long!

All I know is that between those three events - if that doesn't motivate me to get up and go to work then I don't know what possibly could! I'm so lucky to have found a good fit for me in NYC!

Congratulations to the 2007 World Series Champs - the Boston Red Sox!!!!

One of the reasons that I didn't post much over the past couple of weeks was because I was wrapped up in baseball post-season madness! It was very exhausting but so worth every second!

Even though we're in NYC, we wear our Red Sox hats, visors, shirts, sweatshirts with pride and it was nice to have them win our first year here!

What can you say about this team - other than it truly was a team effort - everyone pitched in and helped bring that title back to Boston and that was my favorite part of the whole thing.

So we're not moving Wally all off-season in the hope that the position he was in when they won while continue the streak when they come back in April!!!! Now all concentration is on the Patriots....

52 Weeks of Cooking: Easy Bacon, Onion and Cheese Stuffed Burgers


Ah...the infamous lunch I mentioned in my previous post. I wanted to make stuffed burgers for my family gathering because I had never made them before and I thought it would be a fun thing to make.

I wanted to pick a relatively simple recipe (for a stuffed burger that is) and I found this particular recipe on http://www.allrecipes.com/. If you would like to review the actual recipe click here!

I got everything ready so that when they arrived all I had to do was the assembly. The burgers didn't stay totally stuffed, some of the stuffing came out the side while Jon was cooking them.

I served them with just a light salad because I had a feeling that they might be a little heavy. And I was right. Everyone "said" they really liked them, and I liked the flavoring and the taste, but I just thought it was too much food. I only ate half my burger and was glad I didn't try to finish it off.

I would definitely try a stuffed burger again, and I would even try this stuffed burger again. Next time I would either make the burgers smaller and put less filling in, so that the burger isn't too large or I wouldn't serve it on a roll, but rather over a bed of lettuce, with onion, tomato and pickles.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

52 Weeks of Cooking; Awesome Baked Sea Scallops

Again, I bet you thought I had abandoned you! No, even though I was perhaps too busy to write, I did stick to my 52 weeks of cooking:) Saturday, October 20th Jon and I woke up early enough to go to the Farmer's Market at Union Square, one of our favorite New York things to do. It's just such a great way to start your day (and this coming from a girl who hates crowds, ah, how I've grown).

My parents, brother and my brother's girlfriend were coming over for lunch the following day and I wanted to make something with very fresh ingredients. While we were there we picked up some scallops for our Saturday night dinner and I made this dish - Awesome Baked Sea Scallops.

You can find this recipe on www.allrecipes.com or by clicking here! The cool thing about allrecipes.com is that when you find a recipe you can adjust the ingredients for as many people as you want by just putting in how many people you are cooking for.

This recipe was good - a little heavy, more filling than I generally like my fish to be - but in all fairness to the recipe I forgot to adjust it for just 2 people in all aspects but the scallops! Oops - that's what happens when you rush around. It looks really beautiful and is really quite flavorful. I definitely plan on giving this recipe another go around and will make sure that I adjust the recipe appropriately next time!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Catching Up on Movie Reviews - Seriously!

I apologize for being neglectful to my blog. I've had a couple of crazy weeks at work, which is a good thing, and between 6 events in 2 weeks and the insane amount of baseball watching I've been participating in blogging just didn't get done. Today is my first non-hectic day in awhile so I'm going to take advantage and post a ton of stuff that I've been wanting to post that way I can get caught up. Get ready to read:)

In Her Shoes - 4 stars
This was a movie that I had at my house from netflix for a month. Finally I decided to put it in just for the sheer purpose of being able to return it and found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. The premise is that Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is the partying, non-responsible sister, whose behavior no one in the family wants to tolerate, including her perfectly successful, perfectly together sister Rose (Toni Collete). One day, Maggie discovers that they have a grandmother they never knew. With nowhere left to go and no one left to turn to, Maggie heads to Florida to find out what the story is. It is there that she finds herself and discovers what is truly important to her.

It is a very heart warming movie about how every person has good in them, some just get lost along the path of discovery. It's cute and funny and if you're looking for a light hearted movie I would recommend it.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age - 2 Stars
I was really excited to see this movie because I so enjoyed the first one that came out in 1998. I also enjoy historical fiction, specifically from this time in history, so I thought this one would be right up my ally. Jon and I went on a Saturday afternoon (pre-baseball game, priorties people!) and were unfortunately incredibly disappointed. While the cinematography (not that I really now much about that) and the costuming were incredible there just wasn't much to the story at all. It felt like they made the movie to make a sequel off of something that was successful the first time, hoping they could capitalize on it again. All in all it was just OK but not at all worth seeing in the movies, IMHO.

Gone Baby Gone - 4 1/2 stars
Gone Baby Gone is based on the novel written by Dennis Lehane. Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are detectives who find missing people, so when a little girl, Amanda, goes missing the little girls Aunt hires them to find her. Set in Dorchester, MA Kenzie and Gennaro begin to unravel the mystery around Amanda's disappearnace and find that it's more than meets the eye.

If you enjoyed The Departed and Mystic River then you will enjoy Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck's directorial debut. Jon and I talked about the movie the whole way home, just unraveling it in our heads and talking about what we would have done. I think this one is worth seeing.

Gone With the Wind - A Classic! (5 Stars)

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Why oh why did I wait so long to read this book? I really don't have an answer to that. Gone with the Wind is my friend Katie's absolute favorite book and for years she's been telling me that I really should pick it up. So when my friend Shion was willing to loan it to me I decided there is no time like the present.

I must admit that I started this book once before, made it 100 pages and then put it down and returned it to the library. 1,024 pages is intimidating even for an avid reader such as myself. Especially when the pages are so small and the print so tiny, but alas, I picked it up again.

Again I struggled in the beginning, not that it wasn't good but I just didn't feel that I was making progress when I was reading. In all fairness to the author, Margaret Mitchell, it takes awhile to set up everything in a book that is over 1,000 pages.

OnceI got to about page 300 I really hit my stride and couldn't put the book down. I was blown away by her character descriptions, truly blown away. I felt as if I was Scarlett O'Hara's neighbor, and I knew all of these people and knew all of my surroundings, her description was that good. On top of that it was an amazing story with great dialogue. I soon realized why this book is an American Masterpiece. When I turned the last page I was sad, sad that I was leaving this world and sad to be leaving the characters.

This is a classic that everyone (woman or man) should read (at least once)! It is not to be missed!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

52 Weeks of Cooking: Pork and Vegetable Stir Fry




Goodness I feel that this is turning into a cooking blog - eek! I'm going to have to get out this weekend and do some interesting things so I can get back to blogging about NYC experiences! Our weekend was a ton of fun - it was a lot of hanging out with friends, cooking, drinking, watching sports - you know, THAT kind of weekend! We had a great time and got to spend lots of time with friends and family.

Sunday night we decided to relax and cook in. I do have to say that this 52 weeks of cooking project definitely has upped my cooking, and it's really reminded me of how much I love to cook. I'm not very crafty so cooking is one way for me to express myself in a way creatively - it allows me to take different ingredients and turn them into a meal. I didn't realize how much I've missed that until I took up this project. So yay for it working :)

Pork and Vegetable Stir Fry (this is a South Beach Diet Cookbook recipe)

Cook Time: 30 Minutes

Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar-free apricot reserves
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds pork cutlets, cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound broccoli, cut into florets
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
4 ounces snow peas, strings removed

Whisk preserves and soy sauce together in a bowl until smooth.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat. Add pork and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining oil and garlic to the same skillet; cook over medium-hight heat for 30 seconds. Add broccoli, pepper, scallions, and snow peass and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in portk and preserves mixture; cook 1 minute more. Serve hot.

This recipe was more prep time then anything else, since I had a lot of veggies to chop up. It was a really easy recipe and it was uber-flavorful! Most importantly it heats up well the next day for lunch or dinner leftovers.

Happy Cooking!

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Corn Maize...Maze!













Friday night we had the HC gang over and Angelique and Mike invited anybody who was free to join them on Saturday at a corn maze! Well, I was free - so I headed over to their place early Saturday AM to begin the journey.

We were heading to Stony Hill Farm in Chester, New Jersey. It was a pretty uneventful ride there. We pull up and after talking with Angelique's friend who was waiting for us at he maze, we realized we were at the wrong farm. So we got back in the car and drove down the road a little further to the next farm (Stony Hill Garden) - yep, you guessed it wrong farm again! (I didn't even know there were this many farms in NJ.) The nice woman there gave us directions to the correct farm and finally we arrived.

I was so excited - a corn maze! I had never done any kind of maze before. It was pretty neat. We entered and were all excited to get lost and have to find our way out - too bad it took us 3 times to figure out how to get deep enough into the maze so as to not keep passing the enterance:) But on the 3rd try we made it deep enough into the maze. The stalks were probably 10 feet tall and the lanes we were walking down were not nearly as wide as I was expecting them to be - don't ask me why. There were puzzles to solve throughout the maze, and pictures and words to collect (we didn't participate to heavily in this portion of the maze). Finally when we decided it was time to find our way out - we kept walking past this one bridge like 3 times unable to figure out how to get around it to this one particular lane we thought we wanted to be in. Eventually we figured it out (without the help of the maze employees sitting on the bridge, waiting to assist lost guests - thank you very much!) All in all it took us an hour - which we were pretty proud of. We checked out their little market and enjoyed some apple cider donuts (see above - yum!) and then headed back to the city.

While, there I bought some apples and made this delicious apple crisp (see picture above!)Thank you yumsugar. Ah...now if it would only start feeling like fall temperature wise in this city then we'd be all set. I mean afterall it's October, it's apple season, it's baseball playoff time (yeah Red Sox!) and while I'm not rushing to the winter it felt way too much like summer this past weekend in the city. And I'm ready to enjoy fall activities...like maybe a fall foliage cruise this upcoming weekend...TBD!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

52 Weeks of Cooking: Margarita Pizza

I have to thank my friend Shion for this fabulous recipe. We had a girls dinner night on Thursday and she cooked this fabulous pizza, gave me the recipe and I made it this weekend. It is so simple, fresh and delicious!

Ingredients
1 clove of garlic
2 tomatoes
Fresh mozzerella
basil
Olive oil
Pillsbury Dough Pizza Dough

Preheat the oven at 400 degrees.
Pop open the can of Pizza dough (isn't that the best part!) and roll it out on a baking sheet that is already covered with cooking spray. Bake it for 8 minutes. Meanwhile sautee the clove of garlic (which has been sliced up) with olive oil in a pan.

Take the pizza out of the oven and brush the garlic and olive oil mixture onto the pizza dough. Line sliced tomatoes on the pizza and then place the sliced mozzerella on top of the tomatoes. Final touch place the basil on top of the pizza. Bake it for another 16 minutes. And your done.

Enjoy!

Friday, October 5, 2007

My Favorite Things: Web Boggle

The world wide web has everything for everyone doesn't it!

One thing I discovered in the past 8 months was Web Boggle. Now, I love boggle (I know I'm a big dork!) and we own it (and believe me it was difficult to get - they don't sell boggle in the stores anymore you have to order it online.) Well, one day my friend Emily and I were talking about it and she goggled it and found out that you can play online against people all over the country. It's the greatest thing.

You know sometimes when you're inbetween projects at work and you want to take 5 minutes and browse the web or just do something fun - web boggle! Just create your player name - decide if you want to play 4 across (3 letter words or more) or 5 across (4 letter words or more) and get started. Each game only lasts 2 minutes the perfect amount of time to take a quick break.

Enjoy! Happy boggling:)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Kingdom - 4 Stars, Maybe 4 1/2 stars

Tuesday night was movie night - yay! I love movie night. When Jon and I first started dating we would go to the movies every weekend almost - it was our thing. Now however, Jon doesn't have as much free time to go to the movies so we go when we can and I go with my girls on other nights. I don't know what it is about a night out at the movies - but I love them!

I met up with my friends Emily and Shion at the Times Square theater (because it's pretty central for all of us). We had originally wanted to see December Boys, the Daniel Radcliffe movie, to see if he's going to be able to have success beyond Harry Potter but unfortunately after only 2 weeks in the theaters here it was already gone. Which reminds me, I should add it to my netflix que.

In it's place we decided to go see the new action packed movie, The Kingdom. Now, I was very excited to see this movie because it's got my girl J. Garner in it - love her!

The plot of the movie is that there is a bombing at a Western housing compound in Saudi Arabia, so the FBI sends over an elite team to track down the terrorists. When they arrive however they discover that they are limited to what they are allowed to do, where they are allowed to go, and what they are allowed to touch. The story unfolds and as they say in the previews "the last 20 minutes will leave you glued in your seat!" It was very true - the last 20 minutes are intense and action packed.

I have to say I really enjoyed this movie (now I'm a little biased because of my girl J. Garner, I'll admit it) but I thought it was a really interesting movie about things that are really happening in our world now (granted maybe presented in a little bit of a "Hollywood" kind of way). I was most surprised by how funny it was - Jason Bateman's character provides a lot of comic relief during the movie which lightened up what was a heavy movie.

I give it two thumbs up (or 4-4 1/2 stars!)

52 Weeks of Cooking: Chicken Stuffed with Spinach and Goat Cheese


I'm already a little behind in my 52 weeks of cooking blog entries - eek! Last week we had an event for work (my first with my new job) and it really consumed all my energy and time! Thankfully it was a successful event. However, grocery shopping did not get done which is why a new recipe wasn't tried - sorry folks! So this week I'm going to cook 2 things so as to "catch up."

Last night I cooked - Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Spinach and Goat Cheese. I've never cooked with goat cheese before, but I've loved it when I've eaten it, so I was excited to use it in this recipe. Unfortunately for me my stuffed chicken turned out to be more of a "roll" which was fine. I just hadn't bought the right thickness of chicken.

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Spinach and Goat Cheese (this is a South Beach Diet recipe - hey, I said I would be trying all different kinds of things).

Time: 30 minutes

4 teaspons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (1/2 pound) bunch spinach, tough stems removed
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 ounces low-fat goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Special equipment: Wooden toothpicks

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until spinach is wilted and liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper and transfer to a late. Wipe skillet dry with paper towels.
Beginning at the thickest end of 1 chicken breast, carefully insert a sharp knife into the center and cut a pocket as evenly as possible, leaving a 1-inch border on three sides. Repeat with remaining breasts. Open each pocket, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill evenly with goat cheese and spinach. Seal each with two toothpicks and season outside with salt and pepper.

Heat remaining oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning once, until well browned on both sides, about 3 minutes perside. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until juices run clear, about 8 minutes. Serve hot.

*(For my variation, I just flattened the chicken breats, spread the spinach and goat cheese on top. I then rolled the chicken and secured with the toothpicks. Follow the rest of the instructions, minus baking it in the oven. It was just as delicious!)

I really loved this meal - I thought it was incredibly flavorful and the goat cheese was so yummy! I'm definitely going to look for more recipes that call for it. Bon Appetite!


Pat McGee Band...Again!

Can you tell they're one of my favorite things!!! Jon and I headed up to Boston this weekend to see the Pat McGee Band play at the Paradise on Commonwealth Avenue. The Paradise is definitely one of our favorite venues of all time - we've seen some great concerts there over the years. The energy is always amazing and it's so small you just feel like you're part of the show.

We met up with Jon's brother and his fiance and friend at T's Pub for a drink beforehand and ran into a few Holy Cross friends. Pat McGee Band concerts are usually also HC reunions - don't ask me why. We headed over in time to catch Josh Kelly's show, as he was on before PMB. At the Paradise we ran into even more Holy Cross peeps! I once again enjoyed Josh Kelly's show - he's kind of funky & jazzy but has a great energy and a great voice when he's not messing around. He has this really funny song Scrumptious which is such fun live!!!

PMB came on around 11PM and I'm tell you they rocked the house! They played until 1 in the morning and we were all hoarse and tired from all the energy we exuded dancing and singing at the top of our lungs. It was one of their best concerts in a while and the crowd was sooo into it - and really high energy! You could tell PMB were having fun! I'm so glad we drove up to Boston to see it. I can't wait for them to come play around here again:)

If you want to check them out go to www.patmcgeeband.com. They have 4 of their cd's online that you can listen to. The only cd not on there is the new one, which is currently my favorite!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Into the Wild (5 Stars)

The other night my friend Jen and I decided to go to the movies and she picked this movie to see. Once again, I got to check out another Indie theater in NYC! I didn't have any background information on this movie so I was looking at it from a blank slate with zero expectations. And I have to say I was blown away. It was an incredibly powerful movie that left Jen and I emailing back and forth about it a day and two days later.

Into the Wild, is the true story of Chris McCandless, who upon graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in the early 1990's decided to give away his life savings of $24,000 and hit the road without contacting anyone and telling them where he was going or what he was doing. He wanted to shed "society" because he felt it was holding him back (think Thoreau!) He took off cross country and spent 2 years wandering the US, mostly out west, working here and there to make some money to scrape by, but mostly getting by on the generosity of strangers giving him rides and meals. He settled every now and again for a couple of months but mostly he wandered and explored, pondering the mysteries of life. His ultimate goal was to make it to the Alaskan Wilderness, the ultimate test, and live off the land for a couple of months. I'm going to stop the synapses there because I don't want to give away the story - although many of you may already know it, as the movie was based on Jon Krakauer's 1996 book.

The cast was in my opinion great: Catherine Keener, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Vince Vaughan, and others you'll recognize. Emilie Hirsch played Chris and reminded me of a young Leonardo DiCaprio.

It's not an action packed movie that has a fast pace, but a slower, thought-provoking journey. One that I enjoyed going on and left me emotional drained and tired afterwards. I would recommend checking it out - if this sort of thing interests you or even if it doesn't.

Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Piccoult (4 Stars)

Nineteen minutes was our October book group book picked by Shion! Nineteen Minutes takes place in New Hampshire and and tells the story of Peter Houghton, who after being picked on for 12 years shows up to school one day with multiple guns and in nineteen minutes kills and injures more than 15 of his classmates.

Piccoult uses flashbacks, starting 17 years prior to the event and continuing up until the morning off the event, intermingled with the present to get the reader to a full understanding of what happen and what were the causes.

While, Piccoult's writing style does not blow me away in the least, she once again presents the reader with an interesting subject matter and encourages you to look at a situation from every angle.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This Is Bound to Make You Smile!

Sunday night I saw this commercial that just made me crack up and smile. I've decided to share it because I think it's a commercial that'll make everyone smile!!!

So relax, smile and enjoy lifes little pleasures!

Click here for the funniest one:)

Click here for the next one...

Click here for the last one...

They're about the cutest things ever! What a great ad campaign!!!

Weekend Fun in NYC: Mario Batali restaurant, a Patriots Bar and San Gennaro!

What a fun weekend we had in NYC! Friday night we scored free tickets to the Rangers vs. Devils pre-season game at Madison Square Garden (MSG) just 2 avenues away from our house (thanks Mike!!!) Neither one of us know that much about hockey but we thought it would be cool to check out. Our seats were just 7 rows behind the Rangers "bench" and I have to say watching hockey up close and personal is a pretty good time. Rangers fans are CRAZY - which also made the game that much more fun. Hockey may be a sport we have to pay more attention to this winter:)

Saturday we got our run in in the morning and then for dinner that night we headed over to Casa Mono, Mario Batali's Spanish tapas restaurant in NYC. The restaurant only seats 25 people at a time, so it is a nice, intimate atmosphere while you're dining. We enjoyed 6 tapas and a nice bottle of wine and I have to say everything was delicious. We tried razor clams for the first time and wow - they are so meaty and flavorful I would definitely try them again. It was a restaurant that I would definitely recommend.

On Sunday we headed over to the Hairy Monk, a well known Boston bar in NYC! They were showing both the Pats game and the Red Sox game - boo-yah! It's small but was filled with Boston fans and was definitely a good time. I have a feeling we'll be spending a lot of time there this fall;)

We topped the weekend off with the oldest and largest Italian festival in Littly Italy - San Gennaro! I've always heard my siblings talking about going to this - so I was excited to finally check it out. It's this crazy street fair with tons of games that you would find on the boardwalk, booths selling shirts and all Italian paraphenalia, Italian sausages, zepoles, and more! The festival attracts more than 3 million people a year and it was a lot of fun to walk around and just people watch. We went with our friends Gary and Tiffany and sipped wine, ate Italian sausages with onions and peppers, and enjoyed zepoles to finish it off - yum!!! (I have pics that I'll try to post later!)

I may not have made it to the grocery store and I didn't finish the laundry - but hey I had a great weekend!!!!

Friday, September 21, 2007

My Favorite Things: Pat McGee Band

Back to my favorite things! Thursday Jon and I went to see the Pat McGee Band play at the Bowery Ballroom. We hadn't seen them in over 2 years. This is definitely our favorite band. Jon's friend introduced him to them Freshman year in college and then he introduced me to them Sophmore year and I'm embarrassed to say how many times we've seen them in concert. My dad is under the distinct impression that we must be personal friends with them by now (I hate to burst your bubble dad, but they have no idea who we are and I can say with confidence I know people who see them way more than we do!)

The Bowery Ballroom is a pretty cool venue. The stage area is on the 2nd floor so you can sit on the first floor on plush couches and enjoy a drink or two before you go up to the concert. This was definitely a good thing as we got there at 8PM and they didn't go on stage until 10:30PM! Josh Kelly is co-headlining with them (you may know him as Katherine Heigl's fiance!) and we went up and watched most of his concert and I have to say that it was really fun. Pat McGee was of course awesome - they sounded great and their harmonies were amazing! Unfortunately for them the crowd was lame-o!

We're heading up to Boston this weekend to see them perform again at the Paradise Club on Commonwealth Avenue this Saturday! Woot! Hopefully the crowd will be a little more into the show - they always put on a good show at the Paradise.

If you want to check out some of their music click here and then press play - most of their CDs are on their website for you to listen to, unfortunately for you their latest and greatest is not....:( Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!!!

52 Weeks of Cooking: Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad


I am an avid reader of the website popsugar.com! Within popsugar there are a bunch of different sections and one of the sections is yumsugar and is all about food and recipes. The writer on yumsugar has been doing this 52 weeks of baking and every week she posts about what she baked, how easy it was to make, was it good, etc. I really enjoying reading those posts and was thinking of copying the idea of doing 52 weeks of baking. Then I realized that Jon probably wouldn't eat anything I baked because he doesn't like sweets (I know - gasp!) and I don't really need to be eating baked goods all week every week so that idea went out the window.


Cooking however I want to do more off. When we lived in Boston I cooked all the time. Moving to NYC, I've found it really is true - people eat ALL the time! Given that most nights I'm getting dinner ready for 1 I'm not uber motivated to cook up elaborate meals. However, I miss cooking tremendously! I've been meaning to start cooking more and I thought that blogging about cooking might help me stick to that goal. Thus, I'm going to do 52 weeks of Cooking and blog about the recipes that I cook.


Wednesday night I had my brother and his girlfriend over for dinner and so I decided this would be the inaugural meal of 52 weeks of Cooking. The point of 52 weeks of Cooking is not only that I cook up a new recipe but that I cook up something that isn't necessarily safe and easy I have to try things that are out of the box for me (mind you they may not seem out of the box for you!) So here it goes....


Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad (this recipe is from the Cooking Light Annual 2007 recipes cook book)


Total time: 35 minutes


Dressing:

2/3 cup light sour cream

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

4 teaspoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon minced chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce (I didn't use this because I am adverse to HEAT in my food!)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt


Salad:

4 cups shredded romaine lettuce

2 cups chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breast (about 2 breast halves)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup diced peeled avocado

1/3 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (8 3/4 - ounce) can no-salt added wholekernel corn, rinsed and drained


1. To prepare dressing, combine first 7 ingredients, stirring well

2. To prepare salad, combine lettuce and remaining 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad, toss gently to coat. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings (serving size 2 1/2 cups)


We had tostitos gold tortilla chips on the side to scoop up the bits and pieces of the salad. And we had tinto de veranos (or as my brother calls them, "the poor man's sangria"): 1/2 glass cheap red wine, 1/2 glass orange soda, stir!


I have to say the salad was very good - I even liked the beans and tomatoes! Jon, my brother and his girlfriend all enjoyed the meal! I'd say the first week of 52 weeks of Cooking went well!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

2 More Book Reviews - 4 Stars Each!

The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant

I picked this up because I'm trying to read books that take place in Italy before our big trip there in December! I had heard great things about this book and it was on loan from the Mommy McD library (which is what I call my mother's overflowing book shelves!). The Birth of Venus it the story of the Cecchi family, a well to do family living in Florence in the 15th Century. The father brings a painter to the house to paint the family chapel as a sign of their wealth. The oldest daughter Alexandra, also a painter, approaches the painter hoping he'll help her with her craft. Things start to fall apart in Florence, the power of the Medici family falls, the French are entering Florence and Savoranola is preaching against wealth and opulence.

I know it's not a very good description, but there is power, lust, intrigue, and all that jazz in the book as well. The story is too complicated to explain consicely without giving too much away. This book was very very similar to I, Mona Lisa and if I had realized that I probably would have tried to space them out a little. While, both books were good, this book was written better, in a more natural style. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Reading both books has made me excited for the 3 days that we'll be spending in Florence during our trip.

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, Ann Patchett

Most of you know Patchett from her highly acclaimed, Bel Canto. This is the 3rd book by Patchett that I have read, and her only work of non-fiction. Truth & Beauty is a memoir to Patchett's best friend Lucy Grealy, a fellow writer. They went to Sarah Lawrence together, but their friendship truly developed when they were at grad school in Iowa. Lucy had cancer when she was younger and it had left her face deformed. During the book, Patchett details the many many surgeries that Lucy would undergo in order to try and "fix" her face, she talks about their writing: the process, what inspired them, where they wrote; their love lives, their jobs, their successes but most importantly is the strong friendship that bound them together through the good, the bad, and the very bad.

This isn't a light-hearted, heart warming story, however it is a beautifully written tale of the power of friendship and how your friends can be your lifelines. Once again, Patchett has wowed me with her writing and I look forward to reading her other 2 books that I haven't gotten around to yet...