Thursday, May 31

Visiting Lisbon, Portugal



If I leave you with only one piece of advice it is that: You HAVE to see a fado show. There are dozens of over priced options in the tourist areas but I found a hidden gem called Sr. Fados located in Alfama district.  It only seats 25 or so people and is open Wed-Sun night.  It's a price fix without any choices, but the food couldn't be more local or fresh.  The owner has a farm outside the city where he grows his own wine, olives and vegetables and his wifes family has a fish stand where they get the fresh catch daily.  Even the cheese is made right outside of the city at his elderly neighbors house!   You have to make reservations (the hotel can do it for you - even though the place is small it has a really good reputation) and the owner and his wife will serve all the food before the show begins.  It feels like you're visiting close friends and they're playing music for you in their living room, but the atmosphere couldn't be more traditional and his wife has a very beautiful voice. 



While all of Lisbon is dotted with adorable restaurants, the Barrio Alto and city center are extremely over priced and touristy.  For the real good finds head to Alfama.  The salt cod is a must (bacalhau) and of course the pastry shops.  You'll have to try port wine and the local whites while you're there -- but beware, the ports are so strong and very pungent! 

Truthfully, even with a week in Lisbon, I felt like the city was unconquerable because of the expansive size and wealth of tourist attractions.    I am generally all for saving money and utilizing the public transportation ..but a hop on hop off tour was the best investment I ever made.  There are more unique museums, monuments, castles, and neighborhoods then you can imagine and with the hop on hop off you can more easily navigate through the city and chose the few things you'd really like to spend your time on. 

Tourist stops worth mentioning: St. Georges Castle, Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, the museum that hosts the world's largest collection of royal carriages, design and fashion museum, world's 2nd largest aquarium, Parque Eduardo, 

We did one day in Cascais, a small beach town about an hour north and if you can get there I 100% recommend it.   We just added the trip to our hop on hop off 3 day pass, but there is a train that will take you right from Lisbon to the city center of Cascais in 45 minutes.  From the drive along the cliffs to the pristine beaches and adorable boutiques ...I truthfully would take up permanent residence here if I could fish, cook, or really anything else useful for employment.  Cascais bonus: If you go by bus you'll pass Estoril - which is home to Europe's largest casinos. 

Wednesday, May 30

Gardening tips 2... from one novice to another.

1. perennials mean it comes back every year.. supposedly.

2. While your screaming bloody murder because a toad had the misfortune of scaring the shit out of you by popping out of the weeds you neglected out of laziness, don't get bit by horse flies... I swear they live for this.

3. Horse flies are simply reincarnation of the devil himself.

4. Confide in the guy at the gardening center. No really, treat him like your therapist.. or even get as personal as your hairdresser.  Let him know that if you don't have any blooming flowers in the next 2 weeks you will consider suicide and that this is all driven out of your last boyfriend telling you that you couldn't spell domestic.  (or whatever works.. clearly i just hypothesized that..).  He or she is your lifeline, your new best friend.  Bake him cookies, shower him with compliment - whatever will work to get out the tips we need.

5. People grown with green thumbs come out of the womb with binoculars too.  So don't say, omgosh look at that cute cardinal.. because they will call you out for not knowing that that is actually a robin, and you are a moron.

6. So you're in a planting frenzy and decided to plant your apple core in the middle of your yard with more tender love and care than you show children?  Completely acceptable in my book ...but don't tell anyone else.  I used the excuse, "can you believe my dog is such a devil he dug up the middle of my yard?!"  By the way, this core will not grow into an apple tree.  but that doesn't stop me from dreaming.

7. Did I mention how horrific horse fly bites are?  Remember that foul pink cream our parent would cover us in for mosquito bites?  Yepp. It made a comeback tonight.

8. curse at the weeds as you rip them up, I swear (pun alert! heh heh) it works. Ok, maybe it doesn't work but i told one weed that my flower was going to eat it for breakfast and turn it into fertilizer for its friends.. and i actually sang move bitch get out the way to another group of pesky weeds, and you know what? I felt a whole better.

10. Planting brightly colored (I did orange and yellow) plants around your garden acts as deer repellant.

11. Assess your space. And till it all for god sakes, theres nothing worse than tilling only a spot, planting, then realizing you need more room and stepping on your freshly planted seed while you till the rest.

12. Organic fertilizer just means chicken shit.. and your garden doesn't like it.   Spring for some Dr Earth

I think that'll do for today.. but I sure learned a lot! :)

Easy Tabouli!

Tabouli brings your backyard barbeque from bland to sophisticated - and its foolishly easy to make.  Not to mention its the perfect accompaniment when your meal is yearning for a (HEALTHY!) starch.


1. In a large bowl mix 5 ounces uncooked bulgar wheat, 1/2 cup fresh parsley, 1 tsp pepper, 1 tsp cumin, 2 tsp garlic, 2 tsp fresh basil, 1 tsp onion salt

2. Pour 1 cup of boiling water on top and mix and cover with a lid.  Leave out to cool for 30 minutes

3. After cooled, add 1 tsp olive oil, half of a squeezed lemon (or 2 tsp lemon juice), chopped garlic, onion, tomato (or sundried tomato is better!), sweet peppers in any color or variation (i like to hit the olive bar and grab some really sweet red ones!), and black olives

4. Too easy right? I must have skipped a step?  Nope! enjoy :)



Tuesday, May 29

Gardening

I grew up on a half acre of corn, every vegetable imaginable, a strawberry patch and a slew of egg layin' chicks; gardening should come easy right?

Well, I suppose gardening did come easy, it was "farming" that posed quite the obstacle.

I began my green thumb adventures with a small flower garden off the front stoop.  Bought the plants, dug the holes, patted down the dirt, a little water - and instant success.

But planting a full blown garden is a task much more encompassing ..and downright overwhelming.. than patting down a few perennials.

LESSONS LEARNED thus far (bear with me, hopefully the posts will become more comprehensible as I go):

1. Gardening is much more like baking than cooking - you have to read the directions and actually pay attention.  If the radishes need to be 6 inches apart and get 4 hours of sunlight, then thats that, no room for objections.

2. The ground needs to be weeded and tilled ..daily.

3. Fertilizer doesn't work if you just sprinkle it atop your little sprouts (go figure).  Buy a 10-10-10, which is 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphate and 10 percent potash.  I don't know the significance of this ratio, or even what potash is.. but the sales clerk swore it would help my tomatoes thrive so I'm giving it a shot.   You sprinkle it evenly over your plants then use a hoe to break up the dirt around each plant (careful!) then mist with a good dose of water.

4. Sweet potatoes don't grow in New England, and if they do then there is a giant sweet potato conspiracy sweeping the northeast.

5. Lettuce from the garden tastes like dirt, no matter how much you wash it.

6. slugs are evil and should be murdered.  Earth worms are good.  Don't light any fires on your garden patch (not sure why you would- but i'm just relaying the 'valuable' information I have acquired today) because it will deter our worm buddies from chillin in the soil.

7. Grow an herb garden - they are effortless and the results are instantaneous in comparison to the months I have to wait for the damn pumpkins only for some ratty kid to come stomp em.

8. weeding is incredibly strenuous.  Consider this when planning out how much garden space you'd like to fill.

9. Grow rhubarb, then read my blog for how to make ruhbarb pie.  For some reason old people get super nostalgic at the mention of this odd fruit (is it really a fruit?) - bring some to the nursing home and relish in the celebrity status it will elevate you to.

The best cold Broccoli salad EVER - and its so healthy!

Ok, I know I can idolize my recipes and build myself up in my blog as a super chef, but this cold broccoli salad really is absolutely delicious.

I don't think I'll ever go to a barbeque without bringing this refreshing and HEALTHY salad. It's to die for delicious and appealing to the eye.  double score.  Plus I make it so easy for everyone to skip the trip to the store with all of the substitutions I offer!

enoughs enough.  Here is my recipe for:

Chelsea infamous healthy cold broccoli salad

1. Spray pan with pam then add a few tsp of water and a few of apple cider vinegar (if no apple cider sub oil or vinegar with a dash of brown sugar)

2. On medium heat add a handful of fresh cranberries (if you only have craisins, raisins or another dried fruit, it's totally ok, just hold off on this step.. we'll add them later!) 

3. add 1/4 of a chopped onion and splash with lemon juice (juice from 1/2 lemon if you have a real lemon!), 1 tsp of ginger, cinnamon, basil, garlic and cracked pepper. Lastly sprinkle with 3 tsp of coconut

4. Let cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are slightly browned.  Some of your cranberries should have popped, leave the ones that didn't

5.  transfer contents to a bowl and refrigerate until cooled

6. Before serving add 1/2 of a firm red apple, cubed with skin on, 1/4 cup of vanilla flavored yogurt (i like to use low fat greek, but it really doesn't matter! If you only have plain then use that and either add a tsp of vanilla extract)  

7.  Serve and wait for the praise!! :)



Possible additions/substitutions: 
-salted sunflower seeds would be perfect in here, but any nut you have can be thrown in.  Pistachios would be divine too! 

-radishes in place of or in addition to apples 

-chopped dates, prunes, dried apricots, craisins or raisins in place of the fresh cranberries.  I would have used dates if I had 'em

-If you are using plain yogurt instead of 1 tsp vanilla extract you could substitute 1 tsp of honey or use honey flavored yogurt.  If you want to try with a mixed berry yogurt I'm sure that would be fine too, but make sure it's not the fruit on the bottom ones! 

-well cooked pancetta or bacon pieces, if you do this make sure to use plain yogurt instead of vanilla.  If you do bacon it might be nice to sub a tsp of maple syrup for the lemon juice too! Or you could do 3-4 tsp of balsamic dressing with the plain yogurt 






Monday, May 28

Trip to Lourdes, France - Getting there!

One would think that when visiting a place that gets trampled by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims annually there would be an easy way to get there.

Well, you couldn't be more wrong! but thankfully for you, you have stumbled across my blog and now will be all set for your journey from terminal to grotto. 

1. When you depart Toulouse airport, purchase a bus ticket (5 euro) from the bus window and hop on the one that reads "Navette Aeroport".  The bus runs every 20 minutes.  The ticket window attendant will probably speak english.  Say bonjour, parle englais?  If you don't get a yes then say "deux" which just means 2 then give 10 euros. 



2. The ticket needs to be inserted into the yellow machine, arrow facing down, when you step on the bus.  If you didn't purchase tickets at the window, you can purchase on the bus.

3. Take the bus 4 stops to "Matabiau Gare SNCF" The ride will be 20-40 minutes depending on traffic. (if you miss the stop you can get off at the last stop "Garre Routiere" it is also the bus station, just further down)
4. Cross the street and enter the station.  You can purchase tickets to Lourdes from the yellow ticket machines or from the ticket window.  Trains run every 1.5-2 hours starting at 6am.   Ticket for the regular train cost 27 euro the journey is roughly 2-2.5 hours, for the faster train, you will pay a few euro extra and shave off a half hour.

5. When you are ready to go to your train tracks you will have to have your ticket punched at the small yellow machines.  Simply slide in the ticket facing up, head down the stairs and follow signs to your train track.  You can also purchase tickets on the train - and most take credit cards.  I do not know if they charge an additional fee.

6. When you arrive at the Lourdes stop, you will be rather far (over a mile) from the Grotto and tourist hub.  It is definitely walkable if you are traveling lightly, but if not I suggest asking the ticket window to call a taxi or taking the city bus, which has a stop right out front of the station.  If you're encountering difficulty, there is a best western across the street with English speaking help who are more than happy to assist you on your travels!


A day in Toulouse, France

Toulouse is magical.

Quintessential France, with the splendor of Paris - but not overrun with fanny pack touting tourists.

If you only have one day to explore Toulouse, as I did, then your main objective should be to simply embrace this french wonderland.  Go right to the historic center, fuel up with a buttery, flakey croissant and strong french press espresso and spend your day strolling the cobble stone streets.

We stumbled upon Place Wilson and I squealed with delight at the chic cafes pouring onto the square.  Hop from square to square, enjoying the aroma of the differing shops, the fresh flowers blooming out of one and macaroons lining the walls of another.  Every turn will lead to a new discovery - a row of designer fashion stores sprinkled with pastry and coffee shops.  It is so easy to let the magic of Toulouse overtake you, but make sure you eventually make it over to the river for a snapshot.

 I left my heart in Toulouse- Have a croque madam for me, and finish it off with a nutella and banana crepe.




Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, Attractions and what to do!

With a little research and planning, the quaint town of Lourdes is completely conquerable in one weekend.


Here is the list of things to see and do, ranked by importance.  If you can hit the first 5, you will undoubtedly feel satisfied with your pilgrimage, but the additional attractions are just in case you are feeling ambitious!



1.  The Baths.  Everyone goes to Lourdes with the intent of submerging in the healing baths, but as I have previously posted, whether you will be able to dip in or not is a bit of a gamble.  Alas, I would still stake out in line for a few hours with a snack (nutella and banana crepe perhaps?) and a book to read (how about the bible?) as you will definitely incur a wait.
  • From April to October: Week-days: 09.00 am - 11.00 am / 2.30 pm - 4.00 pm / Sundays and Holidays: 2.00 pm - 4.00
  • From November to March: 10.00 am - 11.00 am/ 3.00 pm - 4.00 pm  / Sundays and Holidays: 2.30 pm - 4.00 pm
2. The Grotto.  The Grotto is open all year long, and can be accessed at night by avenue Mgr Theas.  It is important to remember that you must refrain from speaking while in the area immediately outside of the Grotto.  There is a line to walk through that moves at a steady pace, discouraging you from praying or reflecting inside the cave. It will take a few minutes to an hour to pass through but you can let your hand graze over the contours of the cave walls as you wait, which is rather inspiring.  When you emerge from the Grotto, you will see rows of metal pews to pray and listen to the rosary. 

3. The Candlelight Procession.  Nightly at 9pm - buy your candle ahead of time or bring a euro to donate for a candle at the esplanade. The procession will start right on time by the Grotto and while you follow the candle behind you and sing along with the Ava Maria, you'll be led around the esplanade to the sanctuary entrance.

4. The holy water faucets -- Fill up canisters or just lean your hands right down to the spout and savor a little sip.  The faucets are attached to the right side of the church before you reach the grotto.  Make sure to stalk up on little bottles to take back for loved ones. 

5. St Basilica Pius X - Boasting the title of worlds largest underground church, the modern concrete building can house 25,000 worshipers at one time. 

6. Daily Mass in English at 9:00 AM in the Chapel of Sts Cosmas and Damian.  It's located in the same building as the confessions to the right of the sanctuary, along the water.  The mass is located on the 2nd floor, which is actually the third because Europeans count the ground floor as zero, not one.  This open auditorium is nothing special, and I was disappointed by the lack of decorations (superficial maybe, but we're in Lourdes for Pete's sake, you'd figure the windows would at least have a little stained glass)- but are you really going to make the trip all the way to Lourdes and not go to one mass you can actually understand? There wasn't anything for us to kneel on during mass, so we had to put our knees right onto the cold linoleum.  The mass, however, was beautiful and I loved the sense of community I felt being surrounded by 100 english speaking catholics, with a sea of Catholics from every corner of the world just below the windows. 
7.  Confessions in English.  Located in the reconciliation chapel, to the right of the esplanade.  The confessions are held daily 10-11:15 and 2:30-6:00.  Don't worry if you haven't been to confession and are unsure of the process, the priest will give you a small pamphlet to help you follow along.

8. Blessed Sacrament Procession.  Daily at 5pm. This starts at the Esplanade, where the underground church entrance is and goes through to St Pius x basilica.  Aunt Hilda, this fabulous soul who volunteered every year for 40 years at Lourdes, swears that there are more healings during this procession than from a dip in the baths. 

9. Way of the Cross High Stations.  Located above the upper basilica entrance this loop is extremely steep and not for the physically unfit.  I jogged the path one morning before breakfast and was absolutely exhausted before I even reached the top.  This loop is not wheelchair accessible and will be very tiring, but the beautiful imagery and sense of peace that will wash over you at each station is worth the push.  There is also a way of the cross low station across the river, behind the meeting tent.  This much more condensed (and flat!) variation is a better option for those who aren't feeling up for the steep incline. 

10. Tourist Shopping.  You will find hundreds upon hundreds of the same store selling the same exact tourist knicknacks, but at different prices.  Poke around and see which is offering the best deal before pulling out your wallet.  Every store is sure to have rosary beads, crosses, holy water vases, and candles.

11. Chateau-Fort & Musee Pyreneen.  Visiting the castle will provide you with a panoramic view of the city and sanctuary.  There is also a museum included in the ticket price. The fort is completely accessible by foot, with an entrance just off of Rue la Grotte.

12. Musee de Cire - Wax Museum located on the Av Peyramale.

13. La Nativite - A museum dedicated to nativity on Qua Saint-Jean.

14. Musee de lourdes - A museum of Lourdes history, located on Rue des Pyrenes

15. Bernadettes home - Visit the house Bernadette was born in and lived the first 10 years of her life. Located on Rue Bernadette Soubrious, you can tour the small living space.  Tours are available Spring through Fall from 9:00-12:15 and 2:15-7:00pm. 

16. Le Petit Lourdes - a museum that depicts the story of Lourdes in a mini display. Place Mgr Lawrence


Lourdes, France - Hotels and Lodging

  WHERE TO STAY IN LOURDES:


With 100s of hotels dotting each avenue, finding the perfect sanctuary for your pilgrimage can be overwhelming.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Moderne and I couldn't have been happier.
      The sophisticated winding banisters lead guests from a dark but elegant dining room to 5 floors of rooms, most of which have walk on balconies.  The bathrooms were luxurious and modern with a private room just for the toilet off of the front hallway.  Large comfortable beds and great water pressure made our stay very enjoyable.

    Many of the hotels offer a special package where breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the room rate.  While under normal circumstances I would never even consider taking advantage of a deal like this (i can get mediocre food catered to American tourists anywhere), Lourdes is seriously lacking in fine dining options and the hotels offer an easy fix for exhausted travelers.

  The food at Grand Hotel Moderne was no more than alright.  A wonderful breakfast spread with fresh baked croissants, fruit, eggs and ham made the food bearable, but lunch and dinner were a complete disappointment, especially considering how delectable french cuisine can be.  Bland soups followed by overcooked beef and potatoes.  Desserts ranged from ice cream to flan to tirimasu, all of which were of a poor quality.  I will say that the endless flow of local wines was a very nice touch - the sweet white is incredibly refreshing and pairs well with the local cheese and fruits.



  The staff was pleasant and spoke fluent English.  The room was charming and comfortable and the location unbeatable - we literally were steps from the Grotto!  My only complaint (aside from the food) is that the balconies are connected to the rooms next door so you are unable to leave the door open.  Also the business center was closed the entire stay and the internet connection for wifi was not reliable.


There were a few other hotels right in the area of Grand Hotel Moderne which seemed equally nice.  Other hotels nearby: Hotel Royal, Hotel de Paris, Sainte Rose, and Hotel Rossiey.





The average cost/night for the Grand Hotel Moderne is $170 USD, but that seems on par with the other 4 star hotel rates in the area.




Sunday, May 27

Trip to Lourdes, France, all you need to know for your pilgrimage!

A pilgrimage to Lourdes can be fulfilling, memorable and of course healing, but only if you go armed with some very important traveling information.  For the next few posts I'll give you the necessary tools to make your visit a success.


It is important to fully prepare yourself for your trip to Lourdes, as you will be in an environment unlike no other.

What to expect: 

1. Be prepared to see many near death devotees.  You'll see more crippled, mentally handicapped, and terminally ill than you would ever see in any given hospital.  It is not uncommon to watch a stretcher wheel by with what you are sure is a skeleton or a never ending row of wheel chairs moving faster on their private wheel chair lane than the pedestrians are on the sidewalk.   it is ok to stare,but please do not gawk.  These fellow Catholics have traveled very far for a dip in the healing pools, treat them like heros not like lepers.  Lourdes might be the only place in the world where the sick and crippled are transformed from outcasts to first class citizens, or even royalty.  Embrace this and offer to push a cart, lend a smile or offer kind words of encouragement and hope.  This is truly what the experience is all about. 

2. The tourists are inescapable, arguably more than you saw on your last trip to Disney. And while they are all bible abiding, Jesus loving Catholics, they still are extremely pushy and even rude.  Hold your own.  You deserve the holy water or to visit the cave just as much as the next pilgrim, and remember that.  If you let one person cut in the line to the baths, you may have just unwittingly let an entire busload cut in front of you. 

3.  This is the most disappointing expectations, but a complete reality.  DO NOT EXPECT TO GET INTO THE BATHS.  I know, I know, you traveled all this way with the sole purpose of being healed in the baths.  Well, you and the 90,000 other tourists who visit every year. The baths are open from 9-11 and 2-4 in the summer months.  If you are set on dunking under, then I would advise waiting in line at 7:30 AM as the very first activity you do in Lourdes.  Be prepared to get cut by people who are very sick or crippled, as they get top priority.  *Also make sure you check the Catholic holiday schedule, the baths will be closed on these days... and there are quite a lot holidays. 

4. If you are traveling alone, or without a bus group, then I would strongly advise mapping out your route to Lourdes and your hotel stay once there.  Despite the thousands of pilgrims heading to Lourdes, finding the bus, taking it to the train station and getting on the right train to Lourdes.. only to be dropped off a few miles from the tourist hub, can be daunting.  Not everyone speaks English, so come manned with a few basic travel phrases and a pocket dictionary. 

5.  You will not be "seeing France" or experiencing any of the wondrous French delicatessans or fabulous shopping.  Lourdes is a very small village of sorts that only caters to tourists.  The food is mediocre, the non-religious shopping non-existent.  There are other fun tourist activities, like museums and a trip to the castle, but you will not satisfy your desire to see and embrace French culture in Lourdes. 

Friday, May 25

Cold Fiddlehead salad - Perfect for jazzing up a barbeque!

Cold fiddlehead Salad

I love fiddleheads, they make the perfect accompaniment because of their unique shape and quick cooking time, but their season is fleeting and there are only so many summer meals that you actually want hot vegetables.

So, i made up a recipe for a cold fiddlehead salad, and it came out scrumptious! This recipe is healthy, satisfying and is sure to impress at your barbeque.  Serve alongside grilled chicken, shrimp or steaks.


Saute half of an onion (cut into 1 inch slivers) on med heat in olive oil with garlic and basil until slightly browned

Add washed fiddleheads (1 full bag of fresh fiddleheads should do) and 2 tsp of balsamic vinegar and one more tsp of olive oil

Sprinkle rosemary, basil, cracked sea salt, garlic, ground black pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper

After 5 minutes on medium heat, transfer to serving dish

Cut up red and yellow peppers into small cubes and toss in (cut up cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes would be great too!)

Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and toss all ingredients together

Refrigerate until cooled -a half hour is fine

Sprinkle with parmesan before serving, and enjoy!!

Monday, May 21

My new Health & Diet OBSESSION: Skinny Bits!

You know how I posted that skinny girls drink protein shakes?
Well, I still believe this is true, but SUPER skinny girls eat algae.
Like algae, the junk I feed my fish?  You've got it.  and here is why. 

*1 calorie/tab
*100% organic, natural, plant protein
*15 vitamins, 12 minerals, 18 amino acid profiles, 
*62% protein
*can be used as a meal replacement (really it's like having a handful of nuts! and they're so filling!)
*reduces blood sugar
*NO side effects.  really.  none!!!


This is what NASA swears by, why we gave to the Japanese to help them recoup after Hiroshima, 5x the density of wheat grass, Spirulina algae is literally a miracle if you are looking for more energy and less fat! 

www.skinnybits.com
www.energybits.com

type "healthy" into promo code at check out for 10% off!!


Friday, May 11

Los Angeles: Cupcake Reviews and Tips

   With lines so long at Sprinkles that they actually installed a cupcake dispensing machine outdoors (which STILL has a line 15-20 deep, even at 11pm on a Friday!), it is apparent that the designer cupcake craze is here to stay. 

  To justify the absurd amount of money I have wasted getting chunky off cupcakes, I have decided to post about the LA top spots and what you must try at each one. 


Sprinkles - Beverly Hills: 
1. Hit up sprinkles in the morning, before the little devils get out of school (and before the Beverly Hills housewives have ventured out for their manicures).  The staff will be pleasant no matter when you go...and it is rare that they would ever run out of a featured flavor, but the AM is the best time to avoid the never ending lines that snake down Little Santa Monica and block me from getting my daily Menchies frozen yogurt fix. 

2. Wait in the line, don't go for the dispenser machine.  Yes they are just as fresh, and taste delectable out of the vending machine, but I don't feel as satisfied with my purchase unless I see them delicately place my selections in the famous brown boxes.  

Silly right? The infamous cupcake dispenser... circa 3 AM
3. Check the flavor calendar before you go.  My favorite cupcake is the lemon blueberry, but it is only available in July!  Some of my other favorites, like chocolate peanut butter cup and carrot cake are only available certain days a week.  Don't worry, I have the schedule bookmarked for your convenience: http://www.sprinkles.com/gourmet-cupcake-flavors/menu/

4. Get the red velvet cupcake, its the best seller and so scrumptious. 

5. Get a doggy cupcake for your furry friend.  

6. Give the doggy cupcake to your pup asap, or you may forget that the meticulously decorated morsel is for your pooch.  (Truthfully, it probably still tastes delicious)

7. Get a little carton of milk with your cupcake order, you'll need it.

8. Wait until you get home.. or to a park.. or anywhere other than scoffing them into your mouth in the car, parked right next to the 30 person line waiting for their taste of heaven. 


Heavenly Couture Cupcakes - Manhattan Beach:


1. Yes, there are a lot of flavors.  No you don't need to try all of them.  

2. Admire the absolutely gorgeous cakes on display and the behind the scenes glimpse you can catch of their creation.
3. Get a latte to help slow the scoffing of the cupcakes. 

4. The white cake is dry, don't bother with it. 

5. Must get: Dulce de leche, strawberry cheesecake, mini reeces peanut butter cup 

6.  Check their website for the rotating cupcake schedule as well 

7. Be prepared to drop some serious cash on these cupcakes.  These are not as tasty as Sprinkles, but you are still paying for the designer name - and their recent success on Cupcake Wars. 

8. If its a nice day, take your cupcakes outside to the beach or pier.  If not, eat 'em right in the shop - its too cute! 





Crumbs Cupcakes - Beverly Hills: 

1.  Be wary of how filling these treats are.  Think of it as going to an ice cream window planning on ordering a twist in a waffle cone and walking away with a 7 scoop banana split sundae. 

2. There are too many flavors - but thankfully they all coincide with actual candies or treats that we are familiar with.  Take a look at their website to prepare yourself for sensory overload before you walk into their cramped space. 

3. My favorites: Caramel Apple and Margarita 

4. Dont waste anytime ordering a staple like red velvet, they are no comparison to the quality of Sprinkles. 

5. Please dont buy into the gimmick of the colossal cupcake.  Turning a 1000 calorie cupcake into a 6.5 inch high monstrosity is just obnoxious.  Moreover, you are at Crumbs for the frosting and unique flavors, not for their less than impressive cake. 


Diddy Riese - Westwood:  

1. Okay I get it, they're not actually cupcakes.. but they are ingenious, and absolutely delicious.  You choose two cookies and an ice cream and wah-lah ice cream sandwich heaven. 

2. Expect a line similar to sprinkles.  It's worth it.

3. Go hungry.  You're going to panic and end up getting two -- and well it's ice cream so you have to eat it right away!

4. Step out of the box and shake it up a little.  Get a different cookie on the top than the bottom! 



Wednesday, May 9

Who knew? Don't boil corn!

this is a life changing lesson.  Really. Life changing.

Corn isn't meant to be boiled.  Boil the water and a minute or so before you're going to eat, shut off the water and throw in the corn.  Takes 1 minute - IF that.

Wah-lah, sweetest pop-in your mouth corn.


..Ok one more thing.  The way I cook corn is med heat with olive oil.  Plop corn in and sprinkle pepper, a little onion salt, garlic and squirt lime juice.  Rotate once browned, rotate again. and again.  Once each side is a little brown, pour a cup of cool water on top of corn and QUICKLY cover with the lid and leave (still on med-high heat) for 5 minutes.

Serve with a lime slice for the zesty one in your party!

Monday, May 7

Miss America Pageant Interview Questions

Well.  I thought i would never ever be posting about Miss America after my misfortune with the pageant (I was all set to compete and a few weeks before competition the director told me I actually had aged out - I'm only 24!) :(.


Alas, I was asked to be a mock judge for 5 girls competing within the Miss America organization, so here we are.

I've decided to post the questions I plan on asking because I remember having heart palpitations scouring the internet in the middle of the night looking for interview sample questions and coming up empty handed.

Enjoy!


QUESTIONS FOR MOCK INTERVIEWS June 2012

ICE BREAKERS:
  • What are you passionate about?
  • If you could only tell us one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • You’ve already achieved so much in your life, which accomplishment are you most proud of?


NEWS:
  • Do you think that public news broadcasts like Fox should be allowed to push their political opinions so heavily on viewers?
  • How do you feel the media has portrayed our president? Do you agree?
  • How do you feel about David McCullough Jr (the Wellesley English teacher” telling graduates that they are nothing special or exceptional?
  • Where do you fall on the gestation crate debate?
  • Do you believe that the recent national security leaks could have been politically motivated?
  • Do you agree with the 60% of American voters who believe that Obama’s healthcare mandate (forcing everyone to purchase health insurance) violates Individual rights?
  • How do you feel about same sex marriage?
  • Do you think the sentence of 4.5 years jail time for manslaughter by texting while driving was fair?
  • Governor Scott Walker ran a $50 million dollar race in Wisconsin.  What is your opinion on the opinion that he “bought his win” and what implications does this have on US democracy?
  • Should the US end the war in Afghanastan?
  • How should the US handle the genocide in Sudan?
  • Should the government legalize stem cell research?
  • Should the government require health insurance to offer free birth control?
  • Should children of illegal immigrants be granted citizenship?
  • Should we be addressing more attention to Global Warming?
  • Is the cost of higher education in the United States too high? 

MASSACHUSETTS:
  • Can you tell a personal story or relate an incident that reflects the character of Massachusetts?
  • How would you describe MA to someone visiting for the first time?
  • Do you think that MA should ban escort sites like backpage.com?
  • Should Middleboro enact a 20-dollar fine on profanity in public?

COMPETITION:
  • What is your least favorite part of competition and why.
  • Why do you deserve the title over the other girls competing?

GENERAL:
  • What do you think are “American values” and what makes them distinctly “American?” How do you see your career goals deriving from or supporting those values?
  • Adele has been under recent heat for admitting to wearing 4 pairs of spanx under a Grammy dress.  Do you think Spanx are oppressive to women? 
  • What do you think about Miss Ohio USA relinquishing her crown because she believed the pageant was fixed?
  • If you were given the opportunity to make a 1 minute video that would reach every single American, what message would you give?
  • You have achieved so much, do you have any failures, and if so what have you learned from them?
  • What are your plans if you do not win the pageant?
  • What will you do if you do not win the pageant?
  • Do you believe you deserve the title more than the other girls competing?


Contestant 1 - 
  • Why would you like to pursue a career as a professor of Psychology?
  • Which branch of psychology would you most like to focus on?
  • How has an associate degree in dance contributed to your liberal arts education?
  • What were the results of the psychological research you did on the brain’s multi-tasking?
  • How did your research on the brain’s multi-tasking contribute to the field of psychology?
  • You raised an impressive amount of money towards your goal so far, is there room to raise more or have you exasperated your sources?
  • Where do you fall on the current US immigration laws?
  • You mentioned that obesity is a major social issue affecting our youth.  Do you believe that Mayor Bloomberg is addressing the root of the problem by attempting to ban soda sales over 16 oz in restaurants and sports venues?
  • What impact have your travels had on you?
  • What has working with children with special needs taught you?
  • How would you cope if you lost your ability to dance?
  • If you could interview a great theorist of psychology, who would it be and why?
  • What is your opinion on Jerry Sandusky’s lawyers using his alleged personality disorder in his defense?


Contestant 2 - 
  • Why photography? 
  • Can your education in photography be applied to other aspects of your life?
  • Why did you choose to study in Greece? How has travel shaped you?
  • Explain your role as a support group speaker?
  • What type of photography do you most enjoy?
  • Explain what it means to be recognized by the France Tourism Bureau for photography?
  • What was the Lewis and Clark expedition?
  • If you could photograph one celebrity who would it be?
  • What can our generation do to help one another find hope in today’s economy?
  • What have your life struggles with cancer taught you?
  • What would you tell a child who has just been diagnosed with cancer?
  • If you could interview a great artist, who would it be and why?

Contestant 3 - 
  • What drew you to study Psychology, which branch most interests you?
  • Do you think that prescription drugs are over-prescribed by psychiatrists? 
  • Why elementary and special ed?
  • What did you receive the Exemplary Citizen Award for?
  • How have you impacted your class as the freshmen president?
  • Who did you take the rv trip with? 
  • What were the difficulties you encountered on the road tirp?
  • Explain how seeing the US shaped you.
  • If you could interview an early theorist of psychology who would it be and why?
  • What could be done to lower college debt?
  • Do you think lowering the college debt would diminish the quality of the US higher education?
  • What is your opinion on Jerry Sandusky’s lawyers using his alleged personality disorder in his defense?


Contestant 4 - 
  • What in particular would you like to do in the entertainment industry?
  • What draws you to wish to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
  • What did you learn from your internships?  If you want to be in the entertainment industry, what drove you to pursue internships with the House of reps and the dept of homeland security?
  • What was your opinion of the Miss MA teen USA competition?
  • Do you think that girls as young as 13 should be judged in bathing suits?
  • What did you enjoy most from your trip to Italy?
  • How has participating in pageants shaped your personality?
  • Who is a celebrity in the public eye you admire and why?

Contestant 5 - 
  • Epilepsy Awareness.  What will this entail? What are the specific tangible goals?
  • Do you think that the news anchors push their political opinions too heavily on viewers?
  • Should reporters stop at nothing to report the news?  Should they leak bloodied photos and stories that could threaten national security just to stay competitive?
  • Tell me about volunteering for the Special Olympics.
  • If you could interview any actor, who would it be and what would you want to find out.
  • Who is a political leader past/present whom you admire most and why?
  • How can you promote voting enthusiasm?
  • Are elections bought? What did you learn from your internships for the senator and the state house?
  • What would you do if you were working for Rupert Murdoch and being asked to hack into private phone conversations to get the best stories?

Saturday, May 5

Cali Road Trip - Day 5!


 I cannot believe that the trip is over and I'm now sitting at my boyfriends apartment in Los Angeles.  How did it fly by so fast?  And how did we cram so many giggles, adventures, and memories into 5 short days?!

 This morning I was really craving one final stop before the last leg of our journey.  And really, what could be more perfect than an emu and ostrich farm?  With their big prehistoric feet and beady little eyes, I might be the only one who found the oversized feather dusters adorable, but I know Jenny had fun feeding them too.  Two pans of food later and we were back in the Corolla with the gps set to tinsel town.

 The trip was perfect.  We conquered California and explored how multi-faceted the Golden state really is.  From the cityscapes of San Francisco and Los Angeles to the rolling vineyards of Napa to the beaches and fresh produce, I feel confident that our trip embodied all that CA has to offer.

  Moreover, the trip couldn't have come at a better time for the two of us.  Jenny has just moved to Hollywood and will be starting her new job on Wednesday.  When we applied for the show, Jenny was a small town girl from Nebraska with only a faint glimmer of West Coast dreams.  And here we are, cruising to her new Los Angeles home.. together!

   And then there's me. I spent two years getting acquainted with Los Angeles while working as a casting associate before accepting a job offer back home.  I was reluctant to leave, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to work as an agent for a franchised acting and modeling agency.  In LA I would have been a casting associate for eons before a promotion, and here I was offered a director position AND an assistant.   An exact year later and I'm taken back to California, but this time in front of the camera (my true passion).  I gave my boss a four weeks notice, finished up a fashion show I was putting together and packed my bags to "hit the road" with Jenny.   After this, I'll be researching a book I'm co-authoring with my Mom in Portugal and France before relocating to LA permanently.  Where my career will go from here is still murky, but I am confident that I'll find my niche in the entertainment industry upon my return. (positive thinking!)

   I am so very thankful for the opportunity to share the adventure of a lifetime with my best friend.  Along the way, I saw breathtaking sights, overcame a fear or two, and learned some valuable life lessons.  Jenny and I will always be pen pals.  Whether we're next door neighbors or I'm off back packing through Southeast Asia (what? it's on the bucket list!), our pen pal-ship will continue on as normal.  Only this time, our bond is strengthened by the tangible memories "Hit the Road" has afforded us.  

  To the casting director, producer and cameramen, I can never thank you enough for this opportunity, but I can promise to add you to my Christmas card list.  Really though, thanks for putting up with us, for enlightening me on all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, and for giving me the travel itch - your stories of adventure have expanded my bucket list ten fold.  It's not everyday that you run into people who can profoundly change your life in one week (just by being their awesome selves!), and for that I am forever grateful. 

   To Jenny, you're the most honest and down to earth person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  To travel with you was something I will hold near and dear to my heart throughout my entire life.  I can never fully explain what our pen pal-ship has meant to me, but having you in my life makes me feel funny saying I'm an only child.  Thanks for writing back even when my letter is three pages of whining; for letting me poke fun at your lack of taste buds and your disregard for fashion trends; for remembering my birthday even though I send your present two months late every year.  To my personal counselor, my best friend, the audience of my new joke material, the keeper of my silliest fears, most embarrassing moments and wildest dreams; to the closest I have ever had to a sister: thank you for embarking on this journey with me - I look forward to sharing all that our bright futures have in store for us.  

Paz and Amor,

Chelsea






Cali Road Trip - Day 4!


  Capturing the sunrise was such a fail.  Not only was it overcast and freezing, but halfway through my jog it started drizzling. To top it all off, Jenny confessed (between coughs and sneezes) that she really had no desire to go dune buggying at all.  I coaxed her into the car, but I truthfully was less than excited myself.  Even with three jackets on I still shivered against the biting wind.

    To my dismay, we actually followed the rental guy onto the beach and drove right on the sand ...mere feet away from the breaking waves ...in our front wheel drive Corolla.  I kept looking around waiting for the police to roll up, or for us to get stuck, or swept out to sea while we crossed rushing rapids (hm, ok maybe they were just trickling streams, but still). We made it to the rental spot glitch free, suited up and I jammed my head into a helmet so tight that I couldn't even smile (well if I had wanted to smile I couldn't - I was in full only-child whine mode at this point).

  All it took was one rev of the engine before I abandoned all regard for safety and ripped off towards the dunes.  Laughing like a mad scientist, I whipped up and over the dunes, burying us with sand.  Sun Buggy Rentals (ironic name huh) are absurdly fun and such an adrenaline rush.  SO you can imagine how very disappointed I was when Jenny said she didn't want to drive.

  Ok let me back up.  So our entire pen pal-ship, we have always recounted our adventures.  Jens hiked volcanos in Guatemala before - active ones!  We've bounced off travel ideas and adventures and it always seemed like the sky was the limit... that like me, there is nothing Jenny wouldn't try at least once.  And here we are halfway through our cross country extravaganza and I've had to beg and plead for her to try new foods, convince her surfing would be fun, drag her out at night.  And now this!  We knew about dune buggying, she should have mentally prepared herself for taking the wheel.  So here I am, basically yelling (ok, I was actually yelling) at Jenny to pull herself together and take the buggy for a spin.  Blame it to only child syndrome again, but I was so sure that she would enjoy it as much as I did if she would just try!

   Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.  Jenny hated driving.  Lesson learned Chels.

   After apologizing for acting like a tyrant, we rinsed all the sand out of our mouth, dusted it out of our eyes (I don't get how Jen couldn't like it, lol) and drove the Corolla off the beach before we actually put ourselves in danger of being swept away by the rising tide.

  Switching gears, we headed to a strawberry farm where we gorged ourselves on the freshest and juiciest fruit I have ever eaten.  When I think about California, I envision fresh farmers markets over flowing with avocados and strawberries.  Well, all I can say is that this strawberry farm surpassed my farmers market expectations ten fold.  




TODAYS BUCKETLIST CHECK OFF:

Capturing sunrise - fail
Dune buggying - check
Being understanding that Jenny isn't obligated to like everything I do - fail
Picking fresher than fresh strawberries right off the vine - check
Driving along the 1 highway with our shades on and hands out the window despite the freezing temps - check

Alright we're going to explore the quaint dutch inspired town of Solvang and get our fill of dutch pastries. Lekker! (it means delicious in Dutch, duh)

Paz and amor!

Chelsea

Cali Road Trip - Day 3


  I take full responsibility for suggesting surfing to the producers.  In my defense, I pictured our lessons in Sunny California to be a perfect 85 degrees with a light breeze creating manageable crystal blue waves.  Perhaps I'm a dreamer, but what's more synonymous with California than surfing at the beach?

  The reality of this morning's 8am surfing lesson was 60s and rainy, dark clouded waters and whipping winds.  Our enthusiasm was at an all time low as we squeezed into the wet suits and little booties.  We did find solace in our surf instructor Dylan, who couldn't have embodied "California surfer" more perfectly.  On the sand, he walked us through the steps of surfing in a way similar to a yoga instructor.   Focusing on breathing and core strength was something feasible to me, and I started to feel (just a little) more excited than nervous to jump into the water.  The adrenaline pumping coupled with the warmth of the wet suit kept me from focusing on the chilly waters as I dove under and began paddling behind Jenny and Dylan.  

  As I struggled to glide over the breaking waves, I worried about the sea creatures lurking just beneath my board.  When we finally rested beyond the breaking point, Dylan passed on some wisdom that will forever stay with me.  He explained that you need to focus on breathing; on calming and steadying your own body and mind.  Without a clear head devoid of stress and worry, you will never be able to surf.  One deep breath later and I was paddling out to catch my first wave.  My wipeout to getting up ratio was heavily skewed to falling, but I DID stand up and ride (very ungracefully) a wave or two.  I felt the same pride and sense of accomplishment for my own achievements as I did watching Jenny catch her first wave.  We did it, and we did it together.

  A few caught waves and a sea lion spotting later and our surf lesson came to an end.  After replenishing with lunch we headed to the boardwalk, another California staple.   The Santa Cruz boardwalk is home to the Giant Dipper, one of the worlds first wooden roller coasters.   All I can say is I was very wrong to assume that the coaster would be an easy ride since it was built in 1924.  After screeching over the steep drops and sharp turns, I felt like we successfully accomplished Santa Cruz.  

  But of course I can never let a good thing come to an end (only child syndrome symptom I suppose) and I convinced Jenny to play a ball toss game.  Six tries later and I didn't pop one single balloon.  Not one.  And some little show off 6 year old next to me hit three right in a row no problem. Embarrassed beyond repair, I grabbed my stuffed squirrel consolation prize and dragged Jenny (who did actually break a balloon - just to show me up I'm sure) and headed South for Pismo Beach.




TODAY'S BUCKET LIST CHECK OFF

Standing up on a surf board - boo yeah! Check!
Erasing boo yeah from my vocab - fail
Visiting a California boardwalk - check
Big Dipper - check
Winning a big prize on a boardwalk game - giant fail

Alright well Jenny is basically comatose and sleeping sitting straight up (it's way creepier than you can imagine) so  I suppose I should shut off the light and let her recoup.  I convinced her she wasn't getting out of surfing.. but she could still try the sick card for dune buggys tomorrow morning.  I'm going to wake up and jog along Pismo Beach and try to capture the sunrise tomorrow.  Sooo California of me. :)

Paz and amor,

Chelsea

Cali Road Trip - Day 2!


 I'm an early riser, but 5:00 AM came a lot faster than I expected.  With our hats on (I insisted we wear hats so our hair didn't burn up in flames. In hindsight a completely unfounded and ridiculous fear) we clumsily threw on layer after layer and headed out for our hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley.

  The take off field was littered with brightly colored nylon balloons draped over the rolling green hills. I was struck by the size of the wicker baskets, able to hold 25 passengers including the pilot (or as we affectionately renamed him, the balloon-atier), and absolutely mesmerized by the process of getting the balloons upright and ready for flight.  The open flame straightened the balloon and basket, leaving us just enough time to clumsily scramble inside.   I didn't even have a free moment to process my fear of heights as we glided peacefully off the ground.

  A calmness washed over me as we rose above the clouds and our shadow grew smaller and smaller.  The balloon-atier pointed out the contrasting crops below while Jenny and I relished in the moment.  We had already spent some time marveling at the beauty of Napa's countryside, but to see the same landscape from a birds eye view was absolutely breathtaking. 

  We felt a little nervous to land, especially since our balloon-atier seemed rather nonchalant about how and where we would touch down.  This was one of those rare instances where our worries were not unfounded.  Without warning, we violently crashed into alfalfa fields then skidded over to a field of baby tomatoes before the basket nearly tipped completely.  I'm doing a poor job describing how frightening this experience really was - but picture Jenny and I squatting in the basket clutching on to the side for dear life while the balloon threw us vertical.  I'm still shuttering a little thinking about it.

  With our feet firmly planted on the ground, we enjoyed a lazy brunch (well I enjoyed it because I'm not afraid to try foods - Jenny got scrambled eggs) then drove through the vineyards, stopping along the way to snap photos and pick grapes.   Around sunset we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, threw in the 90s mix cd and headed South for Santa Cruz.

  It was fun to have the down time to really catch up with Jenny face to face.  We're both at such a pivotal point in our lives and things are happening so fast that often by the time she replies to my letter I'm worrying or stressing about the next thing.  Belting out the best of the 90s... the songs we grew up sharing with one another, was almost surreal.  Not to mention sharing the experience of the balloon ride together, now really ...how cool is that!!





TODAY'S BUCKET LIST CHECK OFF:

Balloon ride over Napa Valley - check
Not falling out of the basket - check
Taking car dancing and singing to the next level - check
Rolling vineyards and hills of Napa - check

Ok off to explore downtown Santa Cruz.  Yesterday we lied and said we were doing a special on crocodile migrations and thats why we were being followed by camera crews.. lets see what kind of absurdities come to us tonight..

 Oh I almost forgot - Jenny keeps "faking" sick (ok.. she is wicked sick -- and I do feel quite guilty that I keep dragging her around and expending her fleeting energy reserve).  I'm extremely nervous she's going to pull the sick card when we wake up for surf lessons tomorrow morning.  Not only are we both afraid of the ocean and miserably uncoordinated, but it's going to be a crisp 60 degrees and raining.  Worse, we've been talking such a big game that we will stand up and ride a wave no problem on our first try.  All I can picture is the show cutting to us both crying.. covered in sand.. and shivering.  All the more reason to celebrate tonight I suppose.


Paz and amor,

Chelsea

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