Chicago is...

February 23, 2011
Near. Cold. Just fill in the blank. I literally unpacked one suitcase just to pack another. Only there was a shitload of laundry done in between. We're all set, though. After work, we'll gather our bags, valet the car and grab a taxi to the airport. In 13 hours I'll be noshing on Double Jalapeno Cheeseburgers from White Castle.

I'm looking forward to eating, and seeing family and friends, of course. I am not looking forward to feeling real cold and snow. I've packed my warmest clothes. I'm torn on which jacket to bring, I want to wear my Vegas winter coat it is cute and light. However, I am pretty sure I need my Chicago winter coat. It's just that it is unbelievably heavy. It's weighs more than my luggage, I swear. It got me through a few Chicago winters so I'm sure it's the right choice, I'm just dreading lugging it through the airport.

Fortunately, I won't be spending much time outdoors. Just long enough to get to and fro. I did want to go downtown to see the sights, it's been more than a decade since I've been, but I'm afraid it'll be too cold. I'll save it for another trip. We do plan to visit Greektown. I'm looking forward to that. Most of all, I'm looking forward to Giordano's. It's been four years since I've had a slice of my favorite stuffed pizza. I'm due. I'm also dying for a real Chinese eggroll. I'm salivating already.

Sunshine, I love it!

February 22, 2011
Monday we were meeting Bill at Morley Disc Golf Course at 9am. We packed and checked out beforehand. The course was a zoo, it was hard to find parking, but we managed. They played, I enjoyed the fresh air, exercise and snapped photos here and there.





















After disc golf we grabbed an appetizer before lunch. I wanted crab cakes from Point Loma Seafoods, and Frank wanted to show Bill where the fishing charters depart. The crab cakes were delicious. We walked the pier and spotted a lazy sea lion.





Our last stop was for lunch. Any wild guesses where? Con Pane Bakery, you got it. I can never tire of the place. I wanted my Italian, but again, no salami. Boo. I had roast beef instead, which was really good. As was the turkey cobb Frank shared with me. Bill really enjoyed the roast beef. He was a fan of the cookies and cinnamon rolls, too. Soon he'll learn how good it ALL is. We ordered peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for the road. We said so long to Bill, and we were off.

We cruised home at a nice pace. It only took four hours, record time, I do believe. We had our pb&j dinner, and another great time in San Diego was had. Already, I can't wait to go back.

Let there be sun!

Sunday I was up at 7:00. After lounging around a bit, we headed out to La Jolla. We had brunch at Whisknladle. We started with roasted garlic and almond soup, then we shared rigatoni with lamb ragu and fish tacos. Fabulous as always! Brunch, lunch or dinner, it's all fantastic.







We left giddy as can be. I love when food has that affect on us. We walked around downtown La Jolla, Frank was in search of a cup of coffee. We came upon Cups, an organic cupcake and coffee lounge. Frank got a cup of Americana (so good!) and we each chose a cupcake: churro and chocolate for me, and not-so-red velvet for Frank. The cupcakes were really good. I was a little skeptical, but they were nice and moist on the inside. It was a delicious treat.



We walked over to the cove. It was sunny and beautiful. We've only seen it before cloaked in grey clouds. The sun completely changes the scenery. I could have spent all day watching the waves crash, sea lions sun bathe, and spotting dolphins.



















Dolphins!





Sea lions!







After our fun at La Jolla cove, we grabbed the car and drove up to Mt Soledad. I wanted to return on a clear day, and this was our chance.

Looking over La Jolla...



and San Diego







Memorial at Mt Soledad





One last look at the La Jolla coastline



After enjoying the views we headed to Con Pane Bakery. We were meeting a friend of Frank's, it was my first introduction, but we hit it off, and it was like we were old friends. We chatted about food and travels, while we enjoyed our tasty lunch. Sadly they were out of salami for the Italian so I settled on a cinnamon roll. It was delicious, so I can hardly call it settling, but I do love that Italian so I was just a wee bit bummed.

Next, we drove out to Oceanside. Bill and Laura invited us over, and Laura made us dinner. We had a great time visiting and playing with James. It'll be so great to see them every few months rather than every seven years or something.

Afterwards, we drove back to the hotel and headed out for the gaslamp quarter. We couldn't visit San Diego without a stop at La Puerta. Fortunately, they serve late night grub so we were able to squeeze it in. We had tacos, torta and carne asada fries. We stuffed ourselves silly, and the best part? They now have Pacifico on tap, too. Woot! You know we enjoyed a few of those. Bars were still hopping, odd for Sunday night, but I'm sure they were taking advantage of the holiday. It was tempting to stay out, but we were exhausted. We returned to the hotel and promptly crashed.

Hey kids!

I'm back and with recap. No waiting.

Saturday morning we were on the road by 7:00. We made good time until the mountain pass. It was snowy, and rainy on the otherside. Thankfully, we didn't get covered in snow like this truck.





About an hour outside of San Diego, it poured HARD. Traffic crawled. It was slow going for awhile. I was working to arrange a whale tour at 1:15, but when I finally got to chat with someone to reserve I was told the whale cruises were cancelled due to rough waters. Harbor cruises were still running so we opted to do that with our friends Bill and Laura, and their boy, James.

Once in San Diego we went straight to Con Pane Bakery. An Italian for me, and Roast Beef for Frank. "Yum!" Says it all. We checked into the hotel, we stayed at the Bristol this time. It is very nice and convenient to pretty much everything. I wouldn't hestitate to stay there again. We had view of the bay, it was neat to see the water from our hotel room.



We walked down to the bay to meet Bill and family. Bill has been a friend since we were kids, literally. He is a Marine, he's recently been relocated to Camp Pendleton from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He met his wife, Laura, while visiting us in Las Vegas in '03. She caught his attention while walking through Harrah's, she spent the whole weekend with us, and they've been together ever since. They welcomed their son 15 months ago. Last we saw Bill was at our wedding, he was a groomsman.

It was so great to see them again and to meet James. We spend so much time visiting we missed the first harbor cruise. It was no trouble, we just walked the bay and stopped for beers at Anthony's Fish Grotto. Their house Hefeweizen was pretty tasty. It poured right before we boarded "Lord Hornblower", but the storms cleared for our tour of the north bay which takes you by Shelter Island and Point Loma.





Shelter Island





Sea lions and submarines at Point Loma





It poured the second half of the habor cruise, we could still see the sights from indoors but I didn't bother taking photos. After the tour, we went to Old Town for dinner. We ate at Cafe Coyote. We discovered that it had Pacifico on draft last visit, so we thought we return for more and try their food. The chips and salsa were fine, but the guacamole was really good. I had carnitas, which was tender and juicy. Frank and Bill both had carne asada burritos and Laura ordered a burger since she isn't a fan of Mexican food. Hopefully, she'll come around after more time in San Diego. I mean it'd be a shame to miss out on the tastiest Mexican fare I've had outside of Mexico. We went into a few shops in Old Town, but the rain chased us away. We parted ways, they headed home and we took the trolley back to the hotel. We never made it out to the Gaslamp. We were beat, we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

It's Here!

February 18, 2011
It is Friday. At last. It has been a long week, but a productive one. I'm still about seven hours away from the start of my weekend, but I can see the light. Soon, we'll be eating and drinking. Meeting up with friends new and old. I wish I could say I was in for some warmth and sunshine, but rain is in the forecast every day. Looks like the notion of California sun is still a farce. I suppose damp air and overcast skies don't have the same ring to it.

Switching gears a bit, is anyone watching Episodes? It premiered on HBO in January. The season finale is this Sunday. I'm very sad. The show is HILARIOUS. It is smart and witty, and it totally pokes fun at Hollywood. It's the only show on TV right now that I really look forward to tuning into each week. It's a bummer that the season is so short.

I've whined before about how TV has been so disappointing. It has been, it's hard to believe it's been sweeps. I've had very little to watch, and what I have tuned into has been filler. That's it. Nielsen ratings asked us to be a Nielsen family and it couldn't have come at a better time. I'm happy to voice my opinion. Maybe, just maybe TV worth watching will return?

I've been reading like mad, just to fill time. I'm devouring books. The library has been helpful, but the Sahara West library has very few titles on my reading list. It seems Centennial should be my library of choice. Too bad it's a 20 mile drive one-way. Although, once I knock out the couple titles remaining at Sahara West it might be worth the field trip. I surely can't count on good TV anytime soon.

Thursday, I wish you were Friday too.

February 17, 2011
I'm happy to report we finally made our hotel reservations for New York City. Over the weekend we decided on staying on the Upper West Side. I was torn between two similarly priced hotels, but a deal on booking.com made the decision an easy one. I chose Hotel Belleclaire. We'll be a few blocks from the subway and central park. Zabar's is right around the corner, too. I think we'll be set. Now, that the hotel is squared away. I can focus on more important things... like food. Oh, and how we'll occupy the week. Whatever the plans are, it's good they'll include walking. We'll need the exercise to help burn all the extra calories we'll be gorging.

This weekend I'll get a preview. I will savor every bite in San Diego. Con Pane, La Puerta, Los Ponchos, Whisknladle... I've missed you so. We won't have much break between gorge fests in San Diego and Chicago, so I'm hopeful this weekend doesn't do too much damage. In Chicago, White Castles, Giordano's, Golden Palace Chinese and Greektown are calling. I'm ready to answer the call.

Our lighter meal creations, like vegitas, are good, but they simply don't compare. It's just means to an end -- A big fat tasty end, with all sorts of goodies, special treats that cannot be duplicated at home. Even if we weren't on the health kick.



Vegitas, great name, huh? Frank coined it. Veggies meet fajitas.

Sliced red and green bell peppers, hot house peppers, with jalapeno and sliced onion. Seasoned with taco seasoning and cooked down until tender. Toss it in a tortilla with your usual fixings. I actually prefer it plain. Frank likes his with sour cream and salsa.

Last night, to switch things up I made shrimp fajitas. I let sliced red and green bell pepper, jalapeno and onion cook down. Then removed the veggies from the pan, and added a little EVOO and minced garlic, tossed in the shrimp. Sprinkled them, with salt, pepper and chipotle pepper and added the juice of half a lime. I added the veggies back and let it all combine. Didn't snap a picture, but it came out well. It was a bit of a surprise. I haven't had much luck cooking shrimp in the past.

Wednesday, why aren't you Friday?

February 16, 2011
I'm so ready for the weekend. We're finally heading back to San Diego! Our last visit was in August with the in-laws, while we did have fun, it wasn't the same as trips that are just Frank and me. We haven't been anywhere since Mexico. This getaway is long overdo. We feel like we've been chained to the house since we've been slaves to calories. We don't have money to blow gambling, our favorite pastimes of eating and drinking don't play well with our strict healthy life-style (which is paying off -- 36 lbs gone, between us) and until it warms up, we don't know what to do with ourselves other than bowl.

We are stir-crazy.

This weekend we were dying to get out. Only Cosmic bowling was available, boo. We tried to find a place to play darts or shuffleboard, but we were turned away due to private parties and large crowds. Why did we think going out on Saturday night was a good idea? We ended up staying at the house and inviting Frank's cousin over. We played cards and drank margaritas. The margaritas and good company made it alright.

Sunday we did get out, we shopped the Premium Outlets downtown. I bought nada, but Frank gathered a slew of bags: two pair of athletic shoes, sandals, and golf shoes. Plus, a new pair of Oakley sunglasses. I teased Frank that his days off are expensive.

After the shopping-spree, we went over to our friends' house for a party. We were invited over to meet their new baby girl. She's precious. She barely made a peep the whole time were there. It gave us time to play games and have fun with mom, dad and the other guests. We had a good time.

The highlights of this week have been watching Watson on Jeopardy and Frank's successful surgery yesterday to remove a tumor. It is believed to be benign, but it'll be tested, just to be sure. It was a nightmare to get the diagnosis and procedure all sorted out. It's a big relief now that it is done. Surgery was smooth, Frank is feeling good and should be as good as new after his stitches come out next week.

Work has been slammed (which is a great thing). Hell practically broke loose from missing one day yesterday (not so great). I'm afraid of what I might come back to after 3 days off next week while we're in Chicago. I try not to think about and I'll just press on, working to get every little thing that might come up covered.

I Cheated...

February 11, 2011
And it was wonderful! Yesterday, to celebrate our one month without red meat, we went to Windy City Beefs N Dogs. I ate a beef sandwich with mozzarella and hot giardiniera. Goodness! It was DELICIOUS. Tender well seasoned beef nestled in a Gonella roll topped with gooey cheese and vinegary veggies. Um, yeah, yum! It was the first meal out just Frank and me. I enjoyed it, probably far more than I should've. I haven't been giggly over food in a month, and it was so nice to have that feeling back. Frank got two beef sandwiches, but his eyes were bigger than his new smaller appetite. We skipped the fries altogether. The beef was splurge enough. After eating my hands smelled like beef sandwich. It was like the world's best smelling perfume. I was reluctant to wash my hands. Probably sad to admit, but it was true.

That was third meal I ate this week that I didn't prepare. The breaks have been nice. I think the dishwasher is even appreciative. It's gotten such a workout this month. Sunday, friends grilled pollo and carne asada. I had myself a tasty chicken burrito. Then, on Monday, we had dinner with my uncle that was visiting from Chicago. We had dinner at Grand Lux. I had my favorite wedge salad. It was good, but not nearly as enjoyable as that beef sandwich. All the home cooking, calorie counting and healthy choice making has paid off. In one month, I've lost 9 lbs and Frank has lost 24. We've made great strides, and earned those beef sandwiches. Dammit.

And gosh! Reliving our Circo meal when writing this week's article was tough. I so badly wanted to pick up the phone and call in a reservation, but I resisted. Perfection is worth the wait. Vegas Values: Tuscan Treasures.

Chicken Tenders

February 9, 2011
Frank requested a healthy version of chicken tenders be added to the dinner menu. I searched for recipes online and didn't find any that were an exact match for what I was thinking so I winged it and came up with a pretty tasty result.



I cut two boneless skinless chicken breasts into smaller tender like pieces. Then, I put them in a bath of buttermilk and spices (salt, pepper, thyme, onion and garlic powder). I let it marinate for 30 minutes. I imagine longer would be good, too. Meanwhile, I crushed corn flakes. I removed the tenders from the buttermilk one by one letting the excess drip off and then dredged each one in the cornflake crumbles. I lined a cookied sheet with foil, and added a wire rack. I sprayed the rack with non-stick cooking spray. I placed the cornflaked coated tenders on the rack. I baked them for 25 minutes in a 400 degree preheated oven.

The come out crisp and juicy. The first time I made them, I served 'em with Bull's Eye BBQ sauce, it's was the only sauce I found without High Fructose Corn Syrup, sugar is actually used. I've been loyal to Sweet Baby Ray's so it was hard to get used to the new BBQ taste. On a recent visit to Fresh & Easy, Frank found their Hot & Spicy BBQ Sauce has sugar, as well. I gave that a try last night and it was good. It's my new preferred BBQ sauce. I served the tenders with broccolini sauteed with garlic. All in all, it's a tasty, easy to prepare healthy meal.

NYC

February 8, 2011
We were initially booked to leave for NYC today. We were frightened to visit in Winter. We were afraid of freezing temps, below zero wind chills and blizzards. So, when Southwest added April dates for the same fare, we jumped at the chance to change our flights and rebook for Spring. We made the right call, we'll have sun and highs between 60-70 all week, and NYC has a mix of sun and clouds in its forecast with highs in the 30's.

April ought to be pretty nice. Visiting, then, will also allow us to catch a baseball game. I'll get to cross another stadium off the list -- one day I hope to visit them all.

The trip is less than two months away. I figured it was time to start looking for accomodations. I began my search this morning. I had always heard hotel rooms in NYC were pricey, I figured they'd be slightly more than San Francisco. I figured about $200/night. My first few searches turned up $300+/night results. Scary. This was sticker shock to a girl who was spoiled by Las Vegas rates at a young age. I ran prices for apartments, while the price is right, their beds are limited to futons, full or queen size. Not gonna work. After searching hotels some more, I have a dozen options $250 or less. Five of those are strong contenders. They're priced between $200-$225, all with King-size beds (a must) and they're scattered about. I figure it's best I decide which area I'd prefer the Upper West Side, Midtown, SoHo, or Chelsea. That should help narrow down the choices, right?

This is our first time, but I don't have interest in the big touristy areas (Times Square and shopping isn't my style). We're looking to admire the skyscrapers and architecture, take in some culture, but mainly we'll build the trip around food. Which should come as no big surprise, given prior travels. We're planning on two high end meals, but the rest of the week we want to eat at delis, mom & pop shops and other gems. We want to experience Little Italy and Chinatown. Aside from that I'm not sure how else we'll spend our time. I imagine I need to get started researching that, as well.

Any neighborhood preference? Got a hotel recommendation? Let's have it.

Football is OVER

February 7, 2011
The outcome of the Super Bowl mattered none to us personally, but Frank and I didn't believe the Packers had it in them to win outright. We suspected that it was the Steeler's game to lose. We never got to the Hilton on Friday, we stayed home and did our taxes (we owe uncle Sam for the first time ever, bummer). Gotta maintain that rockstar lifestyle. Har. We thought we'd head over on Saturday but Frank worked an extremely long day preparing for the Big Game. When he was finally clear to head home, he opted to stop at the Orleans to place his bets. I had him place place a scrabble bet, which was a winner. He placed a slew of prop bets and he took the under and points on the Steelers. He hit a few, but the payouts didn't cover his bets. Just one more loss for a losing football season.

While he slaved away yesterday (largest crowds he's seen - out side of NYE, by the way) I partied it up at a friend's Super Bowl party. We had a nice spread of snacks, I contributed a healthy variety of veggies and onion dip. Plus, I made popper skins in attempts to create a low cal/carb alternative. I spread halved jalapenos on a cookie sheet and filled the peppers with cheese & bacon mixture and tossed it in a hot oven. They were a big hit. I'll have to whip up another batch for Frank to try, he seemed bummed he missed out. At half-time we enjoyed grilled pollo and carne asada. I so wanted to dig into the carne, but I stuck to chicken. I'm gonna hold out a full month until I eat red meat. Which will be this Thursday, Frank and I have a date with Windy City Beefs N Dogs. We are so digging into Italian beef sammiches.

So, that's another football season is in the books. I'm relieved. I've missed having a common day off with Frank. This Sunday, we are sleeping in!!

Dear Friday

February 4, 2011
I appreciate your punctual arrival. However, I do ask that you allow today's work day to fly by at a rapid pace. This week has left me exhausted. I've dealt with several annoyances, met deadlines, and suffered through cold. I just want to go home and curl up in a nice warm bed with a good book. Oh, yes, I am a rockstar. Why do you ask?

Sincerely,

One exhausted rockstar

If I don't immediately fall asleep when I get home. Maybe we'll head over to the Hilton to check out the prop bets for the Super Bowl? Frank suggested we should, but we haven't gotten around to it so far this week. We've been too busy freezing at home under covers obsessing over what we'd love to be eating, and drinking.

He has an insane weekend ahead. Mine will likely be extremely quiet. I might take a peek at the Sunday's game to see how my football squares fare. Maybe I'll also have some prop bets to root for? I only like the crazy ones. I've only seen those offered by Caesars Entertainment thus far, and those were pretty straight up, routine. Probably what the majority of bettors are interested in, unlike me, who'd prefer to bet on the color of gatorade dumped on the winning coach.

Have fun at the parties on Sunday, drink lots-o-beer and eat fattening snacks for me. Last week, I compiled a list of where to watch the grid iron action. Check it out, Vegas Values: Big Game Parties. And today I highlighted specials for Cupid's holiday, Vegas Values: Valentine's Day. Make those reservations sooner rather than later.

Happy Chinese New Year

February 3, 2011


Welcome, year of the rabbit! Las Vegas goes all out for the holiday. It always stirs up fond memories from my childhood in Chicago. Most years the family would head down to Chicago's Chinatown to enjoy the street parades. We'd watch the dragons dance while the smell of gun powder filled the air from the belts of firecrackers that were lit. We'd grab a bite and inevitably find some trinket shop to buy Chinese handcuffs, fans and rice candy.

One year, I recall my grandparents joining in the festivities. I was probably about 5, maybe 6? I was as gullible as the day was long. My grandpa got a bowl of wonton soup and told me the wonton was a dragon's eyeball. I believed him. It was an easy sell. I can recall quivering as he chomped on his big bite of dragon eyeball. Eww! But I also thought it was heroic in the same way as child would admire a dragon slayer. From that day on, I wouldn't touch Chinese soup for fear it'd be swimming with dragon eyeballs. I think I was in my teens before I had hot & sour soup, and it was even later before I could stomach wonton soup. Which I love now, by the way. I understand why my grandpa was so eager to eat that dragon eye.

Two years ago, this month, my grandpa passed away from ear cancer. I'm happy to have days like today that make me recall those special moments shared. I could really go for a big 'ole bowl of dragon eyeball wor wonton soup. And some almond cookies. Definitely, the almond cookies. Later this month, they will be mine.

Spinach Ziti

February 2, 2011
I've tried a dozen new recipes the past few weeks. Some were keepers, others went directly into the trash, and a few fell somewhere in between. Today, I'll share one of our favorites, Spinach Ziti, adapted from this recipe.



Low Fat Baked Ziti with Spinach 4 servings

1/2 lb high fiber ziti Ronzoni Smart Taste
Prego to taste, preferred consistency
5 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 tsp oregano
salt and fresh pepper to taste
4 oz skim ricotta
1 1/2 cups part skim mozzarella
Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a 8x8-inch baking pan with oil spray.

In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta according to instructions until al dente. Drain and return to pot.

Add chopped spinach and Prego. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Combine the ziti. Add half of the mozzarella and ricotta. Mix well then transfer to the baking pan.

Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Top with the remaining mozzarella.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and the edges are lightly browned.

Yum!

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