Black Friday In NYC

I am not typically a Black Friday shopper. I think it was all of those years working retail through high school and college that turned me off from the mall on crazy days like the Friday after Thanksgiving or the Monday after Christmas.  My mom and I have been known to hit up an Old Navy on Thanksgiving (What?  It’s right next to the Jewel when get our last minute groceries).  This year on Black Friday, I found myself in Washington Heights (the north tip of Manhattan) on another 60 degree and sunny day (we had beautiful parade weather too!).  My only requirement for this day was that I wanted to get moving.  When my cousin suggested a walk down to the lighthouse under the George Washington bridge, I thought it was a wonderful idea.  I laced my my sneakers and we all hit the road.

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We wandered through Washington Heights, enjoying the sunshine and views of this unique neighborhood.  My cousin and his wife have lived here a few years and are super knowledgeable about the area’s history.

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My mom mentioned something about being ‘green’ and my cousin immediately suggested that we check out the High Line.  I had no idea what they were talking about, but since none of us had ever seen it, we figured would be a fun thing to do and the perfect way to spend our afternoon.  We made our way to the subway and headed down south.

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I must admit, I’m not exactly sure which stop we got off at.  But it was a beautiful day and we continued to walk through the streets.  We walked past a gorgeous building with a sign out front.  My cousin’s wife immediately recognized it as an artisan market for up and coming designers.  The ladies headed straight in while the boys went in search of some food.

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Inside the market, we found the most wonderful clothes and I fell in love with this Japanese designer.  Her clothes were unique, adorable, and flattering.  Plus, they were totally affordable.  I could have bought everything, but settled on two fabulous tops.

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The market was full of clothing, jewelry, and accessories and probably the least crowded (and underrated) Black Friday shopping area.  If you live in NYC, check it out.  I know that I’ll be going back soon!

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We left the market bags in hand and headed towards the meatpacking district.  I hadn’t been down here in YEARS and couldn’t help but referencing the Sex In The City episode where Samantha gets into a fight with the drag queens outside her window in this up and coming neighborhood.

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We entered the High Line at Gansevoort Street with more than enough time to walk the trail, enjoy the view (don’t worry, I took tons of pictures), and soak in the afternoon sunshine.  I loved spending the day with my family and getting to catch up on life.  We walked all the way down to west 30th Street, and I was happy that I wore my gym shoes.

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It was one of my favorite days in NYC and a much better way to spend the nation’s most popular shopping day than fighting crowds at the mall!  Plus, I got to grab a street pretzel for the train ride back home…a yummy treat!

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Hitting the Books

Believe it or not, this title is actually more fitting for the BOY who has taken over our dining room table and surrounded himself with contracts and torts books since August.

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But I too have been doing some reading of my own.  I’m not sure exactly how or when I became so interested in nutrition.  I know that it was early on.  I recognized the connection between food and how I felt in high school as I struggled with IBS during cross country.  Throughout college, I always had a lot of nutritional information spinning around in my head although I didn’t always apply it during my weekly Papa John’s and Jimmy John runs.  It was probably after college that I began to think more about a healthy lifestyle and incorporating exercise into my weekly routine.  I became more conscious of calorie counting and invested in diet and sugar free foods.  Then, 4 years ago a health scare helped me prioritize healthy living in my already chaotic life.  I replaced the diet foods that I had relied on with REAL FOODS and sought out current health research.  Over the past year, I have replaced more and more of the processed foods that I’ve been eating with real foods containing fewer ingredients.  This past month, I was even able to quit my Crystal Light habit eliminating artificial sweeteners completely.  Each season, my fascination with food continues to grow.  I am learning how to cook new and healthy recipes using unique foods that add value to my body and promote health.  This is evident  in my desire to spend afternoons working away in the kitchen and my crazy idea to start this blog.  It also shows in my choice of reading materials. 

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Although I only made it half way through this one..

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I have been devouring all of this information along with magazines and blogs searching for ideas and inspiration.  What I have learned along the way has shaped my recent eating habits.  These changes have strengthened my immune system, cleared up my skin, and allowed me to finally get a handle on my tummy troubles.  Here are a few of the tidbits that I picked up along the way.

 

From Michael Pollan’s Food Rules,

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I love this one…it is so simple and true.  It reminds me how important it is to eat real food, shop along the perimeter of the grocery store, and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. 

 

From Tosca Reno’s Just the Rules,

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I have dabbled in flaxseed over the past few years, but haven’t been eating as much recently.  I knew about the benefits of Omega 3’s lowering cholesterol, but I had no idea that it helped in digestion.  Tosca suggests 2 Tbsp/day and I have been eating ~1 Tbsp almost every day.  After 1 week, I already noticed changes in elimination (I know…always an odd subject).  Ground flaxseed has a short shelf life, so I buy small quantities at a time from the bulk bin at Whole Foods.  I add the flax to cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, and baked goods.  It’s a little change that will make a big difference.

 

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Lean protein and complex carbohydrates at every meal and with every snack…need I say more? 

 

And my most recent favorite book, Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet,

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I think this is the BEST definition of ‘diet’ that I have ever seen.  It is from the mid 1600’s and as Alicia says, ‘It is so simple! So Sane!’  Alicia is a vegan and advocates for a meat free, dairy free lifestyle that is better for you, better for animals, and better for the planet.  When I bought the book, I never thought about becoming a vegetarian, especially not a vegan.  But I feel the book (from what I have read so far) is well written and chock full of useful information.  One of my favorite things is that Alicia doesn’t push her vegan lifestyle on you. She uses information and stories to educate the reader about her reasons for choosing this way of life.  She even breaks her recipes up into three sections.  The first is title ‘Flirting’.  As I have been eating more real food and exploring seasonal produce, I have found myself attracted to vegetarian recipes.  You could say, that I have been ‘flirting’ with vegetarianism.  Alicia says when you  are flirting, ‘the key is that you be open.’  This flirting plan is low pressure and really just suggestions to start eating a more plant-based diet.  The other two options are Becoming a Vegan and Becoming a Superhero (a vegan and macrobiotic lifestyle).  I was so inspired by the book that I stopped eating dairy for almost two weeks before traveling for Thanksgiving.  I knew that it wasn’t going to be possible to avoid dairy traveling through NY/NJ, and I took that time to enjoy some delicious cheese and tasty ice cream as a treat. 

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Since I am back in town, I have resumed my dairy-free eating and plan to give up meat (except fish) for the rest of the year. 

Now I am sure you are asking yourself, how did I get to this point?  I know my parents thought I was nuts when I announced to them on our car trip out east that I was going to become a vegetarian for the month of December.

A few things you should know…

I have been talking about going meat free for a month as a way to challenge myself to get more creative with my recipes and eat more plant-based sources of protein.  The idea to continue eating fish came from The Kind Diet book, which suggests alternating between a no-meat day and a day eating wild fish on the Flirting plan.  (a few other suggestions are to eat brown rice, make friends with vegetables, and enjoy the adventure, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun for you before you get the book for yourself).  I have a serious feeling that the lack of meat will be much harder for the BOY than it will be for me.

Over the past year, many different people and sources have mentioned the negative effects of dairy.  It was an odd topic that continued to pop up at random times in my life.  Apparently, humans are the only species who drink milk into adulthood.  The hormones in dairy have been linked to early puberty in children and possibly diabetes and cancer.  We don’t always get all of this information because the National Dairy Council is a powerful organization.  Also, it is suggested that dairy can make allergies worse and is linked with sinus infections.  As an allergy and sinus sufferer myself, I have been looking for holistic ways to avoid getting sick.

If you have been reading this blog, you are aware that I eat meat daily and have a strong love of ice cream!  So as of now, I am not planning on beginning a lifelong vegan quest.  But, I am interested to see if I eliminate some of the foods that I eat daily, if there will be changes in my energy levels, skin, health, IBS, etc.  Will getting rid of these foods help me feel like a better version of me?  Will it help me break through this weight plateau and lose those last stubborn pounds?  Can I go a few months without getting a sinus infection requiring antibiotics?  Or will I feel the same as I always do except maybe a little crankier without my post workout chocolate milk or DQ run?

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Only time will tell…

I expect that these changes will take some extra planning this month and be quite challenging for me, which is why it is my December blog goal.  I am planning to eat eggs and seafood and you know that I will still sneak some bites of my December cookies too (even though they won’t be made with vegan butter). Do not worry, I have plenty of fabulous holiday recipes to share with you this month.  I should warn you that you will most likely hear me quoting Alicia Silverstone and I am not talking about her Clueless days (‘Way Harsh Tye’) because I find her book to be so interesting and love to share the things that I learn.  I certainly don’t expect everyone to give up milk and meat with me, but do feel free to share your favorite Vegetarian/Vegan recipes with me.  Seriously…post them below…link away! 

 

Looking for inspiration, The Kind Life is a fantastic website.

Thankful

I hope that you are not tired of reading about Thanksgiving.  My post is a little late, but it doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving to share the ‘happies’ that we are grateful for each day.  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays!  It is a reason to gather friends and family together under one roof to enjoy the season’s best foods, catch up on life, and of course watch a little football. 

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We had the most wonderful holiday this year in New York. Enjoy some pictures from our Thanksgiving Day!

 

I am thankful for…

Safe Car Trips

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A Happy and Healthy Family

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A Beautiful and Thoughtful Thanksgiving Meal

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With Fresh Homemade Food

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Learning from Loved Ones

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Spending Quality Time with Family

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Children’s Laughter

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Long Walks with My Mom

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Getting Lost in a Good Book

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Sunsets that Take My Breath Away

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The Parade Must Go on

What an exciting adventure!  I absolutely LOVE NYC, especially around Thanksgiving!  And a Thanksgiving with 60 degree weather…that’s even better!  Thursday morning, we woke up in New Jersey at 4:15AM packing up snacks and games and dressing in layers before heading into the city for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  We even had an assembly line going for bagels with cream cheese and peanut butter sandwiches for the whole gang which included my parents, cousins, and their kids.

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As you just might know, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade holds a special place in my heart.  My parent’s met when they were both buyers for Macy’s in NYC.  My mom was in the parade for many years as a clown AND a clown captain.  My freshman year of high school, she wrote Macy’s a letter asking if she could be in the parade again, so we got to go to New York and dress up as clowns in the parade.  I haven’t seen the parade live since then and was super excited to be back this year.  We made it into the city quickly and I was amazed with how many people were there before our 6AM arrival.

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We were lucky enough to find a close spot near some friendly people.  We set up blankets and chairs and huddled together to stay warm. 

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My mom and I headed over to Starbucks for some warm drinks (I heart black tea lattes with SF vanilla on cold dark mornings).  I was a little turned off by the line and even more surprised to find out it was actually the bathroom line. 

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An hour later (yes we waited in the bathroom line and it was totally worth it), we exited Starbucks and the sun was rising.  We had another 2 hours before the parade started so we snuggled in, chatted, ate some snacks (PB, neutella, and banana sandwich for me), and watched the crowd fill in behind us.

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Just before the start, a few clowns came by for some pre-parade entertainment.

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By the time the parade started, the city was alive and packed with people.  We had fantastic seats right along the street and the thoughtful people in front of us, let the kids grab the ‘best seat in the house’.

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Finally, the fun began…

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As always, I took TONS of pictures.  For those of you who have never seen the parade up close and personal, I put them in an album for you.  Enjoy!

 

I was amazed at how quickly the crowd cleared out after the parade.  I think everyone was hungry and ready to use the bathroom.  My family headed north to Washington Heights for our delicious Thanksgiving meal!

Hitting The Road

‘Well my bags are packed and I’m ready to go…”

 

Man I love that song…reminds me of my camp years!  My bags ARE packed and I’m not going to show you a picture of all of my belongings because I know you’ll judge me.  And that’s just not fair!  The benefit of driving (the negative OBVIOUSLY being that we are driving) 15 hours is that I don’t have weight limits or 3 oz rules to deal with.  And since my brother won’t be joining us on this trip, I have some extra space to fill with my crap stuff (yes adorable brown boots, I am talking to you…we are off to NYC).  Don’t you worry, I have also packed plenty of snacks including these amazing cookie dough balls.

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And some of yesterday’s Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies.  Man, it is good to travel with me!!!  Our trips to New York and New Jersey are always exciting and filled with adventure.  We try to see as many of our friends and family as possible, which means we end up staying in a different place almost every night.  That being said, there may be some sporadic blogging, but you may not hear from me for awhile. 

 

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! 

Enjoy this time to slow down, relax, linger over your meal and catch up with family and friends!

 

What are your holiday plans?  Anyone else traveling?

Kitchen Raid and Chocolate Cherry Cookies

I am packing up for our trip out to New York.  My parents and I are leaving tomorrow night.  Take a look at who thinks she is hitching a ride!  Apparently she doesn’t know that we are driving (and not flying first class)!

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Since I am leaving tomorrow after work, I am working my way through the perishable food in our house.  I think I forgot about my travel plans when I was at TJ’s and WF’s this weekend and overbought on lettuce and squash.  It made for some creative and tasty meals today.  I made a batch of these bars to take with me on my trip.

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Lunch

I threw together a salad using lettuce, broccoli slaw, leftover quinoa (from bars above), sweet potato, peas, dried cranberries topped with Annie’s dressing.

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Dinner

I roasted delicata squash, butternut squash, parsnips, and a sweet onion along with some mushrooms.  I tossed them together over brown rice with grilled chicken that the BOY brought me home from our favorite Mediterranean place.  Dinner could not have tasted better if I had actually planned it!

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I was quite impressed with my impromptu meals.  For dessert, I made Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies.  I followed another one of Martha’s recipes for the cookies and added in dried cherries and mini chocolate chips instead of raisins.

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The cookies are sweet and delicious.  They are soft on the inside and crispy along the edges.  I think I will pack a few of these for my trip as well!

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It was a day of good food combinations…quinoa and sweet potato, squashes with mushrooms and brown rice, and of course chocolate and cherries!  Gotta luv a kitchen raid!!!

Planes, Trains, and Taxi’s

I came up with a few alternative titles for this post including…

I am an Idiot

My Taxi Tour of the City

I Luv the BOY

On an Adventure

Da’ Bears

 

The BOY and I were lucky to get tickets to tonight’s Chicago Bear’s game from a friend.  I have been looking forward to this day for a few reasons, like because Bear’s games are super fun and exciting…but mostly because the BOY and I were going to get to spend the day together at the super fun and exciting Bear’s game.  He has been working hard and hitting the books and with finals just around the corner, I know our weekend adventures will be limited. 

We got all dressed up in blue and orange and headed to the train station with all the other suburbanites to catch the 12:12 train, happy to be getting into the city early for lunch and a drink.

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I brought along a trashy magazine to fill the time and the BOY played on his new phone.  He was trying out the camera feature when he snapped this photo.

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When we made it to Union Station, we collected all of our belongings and the BOY looked at me and asked if I had the tickets.  My heart skipped a beat and I immediately said ‘No’ and the rest of our conversation went something like this…

BOY: with a smile ‘Ha ha…that’s a good one’. 

ME: ‘Do you have tickets?’

BOY: ‘No…don’t you?’

ME: ‘NO!!!’ (starting to panic)

BOY: ‘Are you just trying to fool me?’

ME: Tell me you have the tickets

BOY: Where are the tickets?

At which point, my eyes started to tear up and I think he believed me.  As we walked down the stairs and exited the train, we ran through our options… 

Call friend to pick up tickets on his way to the game?  Nope…he already left

Get back on the hour long train ride home?  Nope…the next train wasn’t until 2:30 and the game starts at 3:15

Borrow my brother’s car?  Nope…neither one of us can drive stick

Take an expensive taxi ride 37 miles home?  Guess that’s our only option!

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I must admit, I was pretty upset when we got into the taxi.  I spend a lot of time in the car on the highway commuting to and from work and traffic can be awful!  It certainly was not where I wanted to spend my afternoon with the BOY.  As we got into the cab, the BOY said ‘I guess now I believe you!’.  He grabbed my hand and smiled at me, making me feel better.  Better enough to snap a grumpy faced photo…

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Our cab driver was very nice and I felt like I was in How I Met Your Mother where they make friends with their cab driver in an early season and he continues to show up in their lives throughout the next 5 seasons.  The BOY and I laughed and joked as we headed for home and he told me I could not blame forgetting the tickets on Emmy (the cat) who had had a nasty hairball that morning which distracted me. 

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After making it home, we had to make another pit stop at the ATM (who carries that much cab fare in their wallet?) which happened to be across the parking lot from Starbucks (who was having a 2 for 1 on holiday favorites this afternoon).  Armed with my Bear’s tickets and a soy gingerbread latte and almost an hour to go before game time, I was finally able to fully relax and smile.

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We made it to Soldier field 5 minutes late (which all things considered is pretty incredible).  We were able to hear the National Anthem from our taxi and didn’t even miss much of the game as we elbowed our way through the crowds and sprinted to our seats.

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It was an action packed game with plenty of scoring, penalties (not in our favor), interceptions, and singing…

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Despite our ridiculous commute to the game (which I later titled planes, trains and automobiles taxi’s), we had a fabulous time getting in on the excitement and huddling together to stay warm!  Plus…the Bear’s won AGAIN!

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I am so grateful to the BOY for staying calm today and keeping a positive attitude when I was feeling so horrible about forgetting the tickets.  He really made this day a success.  He even made me laugh when he said on the way home ‘The good news is, in our next 40 years together, I bet we won’t ever forget tickets to anything again’. 

I bet he’s right!!!

How Are You Doing with Your Pushups?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the Pushup challenge!

And look who decided to join in?

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Actually, she just wanted to sit on the charts.  Perhaps she thought she’d get stronger by osmosis!  I am moving along with my pushups almost through Week 4.  This morning, I got up early to go to the Foundations Yoga class and was psyched to see the new studio.  Tribalance has moved into their new and improved space a few doors down in the same strip mall.  I didn’t know much about the new space and was so impressed when I got my tour this morning.  The colors are warm and inviting and their holistic medicine area is brand new.  The locker room is clean and spacious and they plan to increase their weekly class schedule…I might even be able to get in a morning session before work.  There are 4 different rooms, named Mind, Body, Sprit, and Soul with different purposes depending on the practice.  Construction is continuing through the new year, but you can already tell what a spiritual and special space this will be.  In the studio, the lighting was warm and calming and the extra space was appreciated, especially as we worked on half moon pose against the wall this morning.  We did a lot more stretching and hip openings today, so my arms were still fresh when I came home.  I went straight into pushup position for Day 2’s reps.

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I completed the first 4 sets on my hands and the last set of 28 on my knees.  I definitely needed more than a minute rest in between, but after only 2 weeks, I am obviously stronger based on the number of repetitions.  I must say, pushups are hard work.  They really get my heart pumping!

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Look at the fun new feature I found on my camera.  It’s a 10 second delay with 3 continuous pictures.  Not perfect for floor workouts, but still fun!

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I have been reading some interesting books on healthy eating and lifestyles lately (and hope to share some thoughts on the blog soon).  It motivated me to pick up some unique items at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods this weekend.

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And I found precut butternut squash at Trader Joe’s.  At $4.99 per bag, it is worth the convenience for easy weeknight meal prep.

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What new foods did you pick up on your weekly grocery store run?

Half Acre

I know a lot of bloggers are prepping themselves for Thanksgiving next week…sharing recipes and planning menus.  Since I will be traveling for the holidays, I won’t be cooking or baking.  Which means, instead of grocery shopping today, I got to spend my afternoon on a local brew tour.  Now I know when folks think of Chicago, breweries don’t come to mind.  But we happen to have a few local gems in the city and burbs.  I had never heard of Half Acre before last month, but within a week a few different people mentioned it to me.  So when friends of ours suggested the Half Acre tour for today, the BOY and I were in!

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Only 60 people are allowed in and no reservations taken…which means we needed to get downtown early to wait in line with all the other Chicagoans.  Initially, the sun was out, but it got a little Chicago-ish (windy and cold).

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We got to catch up with our friends in line and made some new friends.

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A little after 1:00, we found out that we made the cut.  I had no idea what to expect from a brewery tour, but I was thrilled to find out that we got three ‘samples’ in our new glasses.  We traded in bottle tops for beer and got to try all three flavors.

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The tour was given by the Half Acre founder who quit his job in advertising to start making beer.  The whole factory is low key and laid back with funky posters and music playing.  We learned about the start of the company (including the name and logo) as well as how to make beer, something I can’t say I ever really thought much about before today.

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And had some fun along the way!

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Jen 2

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After all that beer, we were starving and ready for some food.  We headed across the street to The Bad Apple for burgers (and a little more beer).

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The food was fantastic.  I had a veggie burger with orange marmalade AND my fries had truffle salt.  DELISH!  The whole tour was a super fun experience and well worth the wait…another great way to spend a Saturday in Chicago!