Tuesday, August 27, 2013

If You Give a Girl a Cupcake...

When I walked into work last Monday morning, my eyes landed on one thing: a box of Nothing Bundt Cake cupcakes. I groaned, slumped my shoulders, and gave up all hopes on eating healthy that day then and there.

I mean, come on! (Photo cred to Nothing Bundt Cakes website)

I love Nothing Bundt Cakes. I have no defense in their presence. And, that morning, I didn't have breakfast--my banana supply had run out the day before. With a sideways glace, I passed the cupcakes and thought to myself, just wait...maybe you won't want them in a little bit. Ha. That just made me want them more.

I of course made my way back to the lounge about 10 minutes later and snapped up a cupcake for breakfast. I tried to eat it slowly, taking breaks and walking away between bites. Nonetheless, it was gone in under 5 minutes.

That isn't the worst of it, though. The worst of it is that I continued to eat a second cupcake for breakfast. I rationalized eating the second one because it was the third to last red velvet cupcake in the box--and I just couldn't pass up red velvet. That red velvet secured the fate of my unhealthy eating for not only the rest of the day, but the rest of the week too.

And so my week was doomed.

Just how doomed, you ask? Let me tell you.

My week was filled with cupcakes, bagels, croissants. Goldfish crackers, potato chips and trail mix. Pasta, cheeseburgers, French fries, and burritos.

After a dinner of half a burrito and plate of French fries one night, I turned to Garrett with both eyebrows raised in the car.

"Think I'll make a cute pregnant lady?" I asked, stomach protruding.

"Drive," is all he said, "just drive."

That, folks, is what I mean by doomed. My stomach started and hasn't ceased protruding since that morning with the cupcakes. And no, I'm not pregnant with a baby--only pregnant with no self-control.

I am an indulgent person, through and through. In my eyes, life is too short to pass up the things we want most. I do like to elicit self-control, though. And for the most part, I'm pretty good at it. Just don't put anything from Nothing Bundt Cakes in front of me.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Yellowstone National Park: Northeast Entrance to Bridge Bay

Despite a night of poor sleep, Garrett and I woke up early Friday morning to continue on to Yellowstone National Park. The town of Cooke City was quiet as we started moving about. We decided to grab breakfast at The Bistro, a small restaurant facing our motel. The food and service were pleasant enough and prepared us well for the day ahead.

After filling our bellies, gas tank and backpacks, Garrett and I said goodbye to Cooke City. We drove a couple of minutes to the Northeast Entrance, also known as the Silver Gate Entrance, of Yellowstone. At 8:00 in the morning, we were the only car driving through (the park employee at the gate said that this was the quietest entrance of the park--the line of cars never gets beyond 10).

I had reserved a campsite at Bridge Bay Campground about a month before. I chose Bridge Bay primarily because of its location, which is the dead center of the park. It is also facing Yellowstone Lake, and as the unfortunate desert rats we are, Garrett and I always jump at the chance to be near water. The drive from the NE entrance to Bridge Bay took us about 2 - 2 1/2 hours.

Two hours may seem like a lot, especially because there were closer campsites, but it really wasn't. The drive was awesome. To get from the entrance to Bridge Bay, we first drove to Tower-Roosevelt (29 miles), then on to Canyon Village (19 miles), to Fishing Bridge (16 miles), to Bridge Bay (about another 5 miles). The change of landscape along the drive and the amount of wildlife that we saw was, in a word, insane.

I often feel as though I am conditioned to be disappointed when it comes to seeing wildlife--I rarely, if ever, see something cool. So when we saw a bison just minutes within entering the park, I literally did not believe my eyes. I saw it in the distance, thought it looked like a bison, and then decided it had to be a rock. I only realized that it was in fact a bison and not a rock when we drove by.

"Wait a second," I said in disbelief to Garrett, "that was a bison! Ah! I hope we see more!"

Little did I know, we would see hundreds (if not thousands) of bison in our short time in Yellowstone.

We saw bison: grazing in the distance, nursing their young, lying by a pond, standing in the river (such a beautiful sight), crossing the street, causing traffic jams, running up hills, hanging out near the hot springs...you name it, we saw it. It was incredible.

What I couldn't believe, though, was how ignorant people were in terms of getting close to the bison. There are two things that I think need to be followed regarding wild animals: the first is safety, and the second is respect. It was amazing how easily people threw those two rules away just so they could snap a great picture. (Our close-up shots only came from the bison running by our car as they crossed the street and caused traffic jams.)

Other than spotting a gazillion bison on our drive into the park (and everywhere else for that matter), our drive was amazing for all of the different terrain it took us through. We entered the park in a forested area, drove through some prairie lands and through some mountains on the way to Tower-Roosevelt.


The area between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village is undergoing road works, so this was the part of our drive that took the longest (you had to wait for a head car to guide you through the pass). A lot of the drive between the two points was along a dirt road nestled up to cliffs.

Between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge, the landscape changes a ton. You drive through woods, along cliff sides, through a prairie, next to the river, and (my favorite) through sulfur-infused hot springs. The Yellowstone River snakes its way in and out of sight through this pass, too. It baffled me how much the terrain changed, and how drastically, in so little time.

It was awe-inspiring, then, to have Yellowstone Lake come into view as we approached Bridge Bay Campground. The lake is huge, flanked by both flatlands and mountains, and was sitting like a table of glass below a layer of smoke when we drove up on it.

If you're up for a scenic drive heading to the park and through the park, I recommend taking Beartooth Pass (in the daylight!) to Cooke City and the Northeast Entrance, and from there go on to Bridge Bay. The entire park is amazing, I'm sure, but what we saw on our way in will stick with me as some of the most breathtaking sights I've ever seen for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trek to Cooke City

On our recent trip to Montana for the wedding of good friends, Garrett and I decided to spend some time in Yellowstone National Park. We didn't have very much time--we landed in Billings, MT on Thursday evening and had to return for a Saturday evening wedding--but we were determined to make the most of it.

Neither of us quite knew how much driving the trip would entail. Google Maps told us that it'd take about 2.5 hours to get to the Northeast park entrance, but gave us no time estimate beyond that point.

Blissfully naïve, we rented a car and headed out to Cooke City (the border town of the NE entrance) that night. It was our original plan to do the full drive to our Yellowstone campsite, but we decided upon arrival to Montana that we wanted to see the park by day. Had we known better, we would have also wanted to do the drive to Cooke City by day, too. We had no clue that we would be driving through the Beartooth Pass, supposedly one of the most scenic routes in the U.S., and climbing 10,300 feet of elevation.

Beartooth Pass by day. (Obviously not my picture--thanks, Wikipedia!)

As we gained elevation, the switchbacks became more plentiful and intense. Though heralded to be beautiful, I'm not sure if I would have rather done the drive in the daylight opposed to in the dark--was it better to not quite know what we were driving on top of? Was it better to not be able to see over the cliff that we were so carefully navigating?

Luckily, the steep incline and sharp turns didn't bother Garrett. He took both in stride, gracefully and expertly, as I shut my eyes, gripped the door handle, and prayed on repeat.

After about an hour of "please don't let us die, please don't let us fall over the cliff, please don't let us die," we arrived in Cooke City around 10:00pm. Cooke City is no city, mind you, but a stretch of buildings along a main road. In the late hour of our arrival, the town was dead.

Garrett and I trekked from hotel to motel, searching for a room to stay the night. Because our original plan had been to pitch a tent and camp, we hadn't booked anything in advance. All hopes of camping took flight, though, as we saw sign upon sign claiming "DANGER! BEARS!". So there we were, all alone in a quiet town, poking our heads in windows and walking into empty lit-up lobbies. We joked that had I been pregnant, our night would have resembled Joseph and Mary's.

As we gave up hopes of a bed and decided to sleep in our car, I spotted a few men walking into a bar across the street. The bar just so happened to be next to a motel that, though closed, had a vacancy sign.

I looked at Garrett.

"Maybe the bartender owns the motel?" I said with a shrug of my shoulders.

"Good idea," he agreed, "and if he doesn't, at least I'll get a beer."

Much to our luck, the bartender did own the motel. Yipee! We totally got ripped off (paid the same price for that dingy motel as the Plaza in Billings), but were beyond the point of caring. In no great rush to retire to our humble accommodations, Garrett and I grabbed stools at the counter and ordered the only thing they had on tap...good old PBR.

After a couple of beers, the bartender Rick warmed to us. He inquired what we were doing in Cooke City and after learning that we were departing to Yellowstone in the morning, pulled out a flashlight and a yellowed old map of the park. He showed us good fishing spots, certain drives we had to take, where we would be stopped for road work, etc. etc. And then he bought us shots. It was pretty awesome.

This was a piano in the bar...pretty sweet, eh?

I retired to bed shortly after, but Garrett decided to stay out and drink with Rick. When Rick spotted Garrett re-entering the bar after he walked me to our room, he yelled, "Hell yeah! Droppin' off the wife and comin' back to party!" And then he proceeded to buy Garrett more shots.

After downing more drinks courtesy of Rick, Garrett got to meet some of the locals. His favorite (and mine too after hearing the story) was a man named Kale.

Kale, with eyes red from drink or something else, sat down heavily on the barstool next to Garrett. He introduced himself by saying, 

"Hi. I'm Kale. Like the salad. What's your name?"

In the 30 minutes or so that Garrett spent with Kale, he reintroduced himself, complete with the salad definition, three times. He also asked Garrett to repeat his name on each occasion. Their time together ended with Kale slurring to Garrett,

"What's your name?"

"Garrett, what's yours? Kip?" Garrett teased.

"Hi Kip, I'm Kale," he leaned in real close and said quietly, "like the salad."

And that's where Garrett called it a night.

Lying in our motel room, Garrett and I recalled that hours before, we were just two out-of-staters that had been lost in the night, searching for a bed and hot shower. Now, slightly restless on a stiff mattress, we felt comforted by the roof above our heads, the "charm" of the locals, and the warmth in our bellies from the bestowments of bartender Rick.

Cooke City, you showed us a good time. Maybe, just maybe, we'll meet again.

Lemon Marinated Chicken Over Garlic Pasta

I've got a thing for pasta. I wish I didn't, but it's true. Garlic, too. I just can't get enough of each. This recipe is quite satisfying for those needs.

You will need: 1lb chicken breast, 5 tablespoons EVOO, 1 lemon, black pepper, kosher salt, dried thyme, rosemary, and parsley, 1/4 cup butter, 4 large garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, 1.5 cups of chicken stock, fresh basil, 1/2 lb pasta (I prefer Angel Hair), 1 cup cherry tomatoes, and parmesan cheese.

Ingredients for the chicken marinade:
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1" chunks
2 tablespoons EVOO
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
Mix chicken and all marinade ingredients into a bowl, coating chicken completely. Cover bowl and set in fridge for a minimum of 25 minutes (the longer you let it sit, the better).
While the chicken marinades, prepare the sauce.
Ingredients for garlic sauce:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons EVOO
4 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1) Add butter and EVOO to a skillet and warm over medium heat.
2) Add garlic and cook until soft on med-low heat, for a couple of minutes
3) Add flour and mix in until thick
4) Add chicken stock, basil, salt and pepper
5) Bring sauce to a boil and reduce to a simmer
In the meantime, cook 1/2 pound of Angel Hair pasta according to the instructions on the bag (boil for about 6 minutes, until al dente).
When chicken is done marinating, cook in a separate skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook until no longer pink in the middle and juices run clear, about 6 minutes.
Add cooked pasta and chicken to the sauce and heat through. Mix in 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes and cook over low for a few minutes. Serve and garnish dish with parmesan cheese and parsley.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Night of the Pizza Dough

If you know me, you know that I love my dog probably a little too much. And if there's anything you need to know about my dog, it's that she. loves. food.

Mollie is a yellow Lab approaching 10. If there is anyone in this world that likes food more than I do, it's her. Labs are known to be food oriented, but for Mollie, the orientation is more of an infatuation, an obsession. It doesn't matter where she is in the house--as soon as you open the fridge, cabinet, or bag of chips, Mollie comes running. As soon as she sees food, her eyes light up. If you say the words "breakfast" or "dinner" she'll sprint home from a walk and push the door open with her nose (she's face planted quite a few times). To Mollie, food is happiness. Food is life.

Like many a young dog, Mollie had to be trained out of her habit of jumping. She loved jumping on people, jumping on other dogs, and, as you might have guessed, jumping on counter tops. The counter top jumping was the hardest one to break--there were often rewards on these counter tops, you see. Mollie never stopped to think that pork roast or those chocolate chip cookies were not, in fact, for her. All in all, we had to better her behavior by bettering ours and not leaving things within reach on the counter. With that practice, Mollie grew out of it.

Mollie was pretty well-trained for a while. We did obedience classes with her as a puppy and put our learnings to use at home. We exercised her plenty, too--a tired dog is a much better behaved dog. But then something happened. Mollie started getting older and, well, started not caring. She knows how to sit but now decides if it's worth it to her or not when we ask. She knows the command "leave it" but decides to take a chance at grabbing something when we turn our backs. Basically, she knows better, but has decided that "better" is in fact in our benefit and not hers.

This decision making came into play the evening that I have dubbed "The Night of the Pizza Dough". I had set a pound of dough out on the counter to rise before dropping Garrett at trivia night, about two miles down the road. As Mollie was seven at that time and still in her relatively behaved phase, I thought nothing of leaving the dough on the counter. Big mistake.

I returned not 15 minutes later to find the dough had disappeared. I took one look at Mollie and she shrunk away into another room, knowing she had done wrong. I sighed, yelled "MOLLIE!", and pouted about my loss of pizza for that night's dinner. This was all around 7:30 p.m.

At 11:00 p.m., I shot up in bed.

"Pizza dough rises," I said to Garrett. He looked at me like I was crazy. "Pizza dough rises. Mollie ate a pound of raw pizza dough. It has to be rising inside of her. Oh, God," I pictured the dough, perfectly intact, filling her stomach.

I got out of bed and paced the living room floor for about 5 minutes, deciding what to do. Mollie was sound asleep and acting fine, but I felt in my gut that something was wrong. I opted to call a fellow co-worker, a technician, feeling guilty in the possibility that I was waking him up.

"Well," he said calmly, "pizza dough does rise. And when it rises, it, uh, produces ethanol. Which is bad. I would call Dr. Council, if I were you."

My stomach dropped as I dialed Dr. Council--it was late, she was off duty, and to top it off, pregnant. I felt like a horrible person. Still, I called.

Dr. Council sleepily answered her phone and advised two things: call Poison Control or take Mollie to the Emergency Animal Clinic.

"Poison Control has a $65 consult fee," she warned, "and they'll probably tell you to take her into the EAC anyway." So, now nearing 11:30 p.m., we packed Mollie into the car and headed to the closest emergency clinic.

Garrett thought that Mollie would be fine, and she was, actually, fine. At least she was acting fine--and a little pissed off that we had so rudely disrupted her slumber.

We luckily were able to get into a room at the VCA Animal Referral and Emergency Center of Arizona (ARECA) reasonably fast. Once we were in the room, Mollie started to act...drunk. She got a little gassy, couldn't hold her head up, and was walking crookedly. We were worried, but, I must admit, a little amused. Mollie seemed to be feeling not just fine but great now. Plus, we were in the right place if anything worsened.

My gut and my advisors were right: the pizza dough was rising in her stomach, and it was emitting ethanol as it rose. The ethanol, toxic to Mollie, was making her feel and act drunk.

They took her into the back for what seemed forever (isn't that always the case when waiting in the fluorescent-lit rooms of a hospital?). They had assured us she would be fine, but as we were way past the midnight hour, we started to grow wary of the possible implications--physically for Mollie and financially for us.

The last thing that we wanted to be doing was sitting in that room at 1:00 in the morning, especially since we had to wake up five hours later for work. The very last thing that we wanted to spend hundreds of dollars on was paying for someone else to make our dog vomit up raw pizza dough. Alas, we love our dog, so we had to do what we had to do.

Physically, emotionally and financially drained, the three of us left ARECA around 2:30 a.m. As she had done on the way in, Mollie slept soundly in the back of the car, unperturbed by the night's activities.

When we got home, Mollie ran straight to her water bowl. She was thirsty from the induced vomiting, so I let her drink. They hadn't warned me about holding off on water, though they did say to keep her in a confined, non-carpeted area in case she decided to spew more charcoal (which was given to help absorb the remaining ethanol). And, I should have known better. But Audrey at 3:00 in the morning doesn't think the same as Audrey at 3:00 in the afternoon, so I let Mollie drink, drink, and drink some more. I tried containing her to the kitchen, but she cried over the separation. I moved her into the bedroom and went to bed, only to be woken 10 minutes later by a projectile charcoal-and-water-vomiting Mollie. Yup. Now my beige carpet was flooded with black, watery vomit. Mollie looked up at me with pitiful eyes and I decided then and there to give up on any thought of sleep.

At the time, none of this was funny. First off, I didn't get to eat my pizza. Then, I was distraught with worry. After that, we were overcome with exhaustion. And then our pockets were emptied. If all of that wasn't bad enough, my carpet got ruined, too. It was a rough night.

Now, a couple of years later, I can laugh about it. A pound of raw pizza dough, really, Mollie? Was it really worth it?

I know for certain, even though Mollie got in trouble, missed a night of sleep, was poked with needles, and made to vomit, it was all worth it. And you better believe that she would do it all again.


For other Mollie tales, see The Night of the Tail and My Dog the Breedist.


(PS - It took me almost a year before I made that pizza again...which is a shame, because it's really good pizza. Want the recipe? Go here. Just proceed with caution, if you have a dog.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Phoenix Food Friday: Vincent Market Bistro

Vincent Market Bistro
3930 E Camelback Rd #204  Phoenix, AZ 85018
(602) 224-3727
(Taken from the Vincent Market Bistro website)

Garrett and I love, love, LOVE Vincent Market Bistro. We discovered this quaint little place after attending the Camelback Farmers Market, which is held in the Vincent parking lot. There are two sides to the restaurant: Vincent's, the upscale dining room and Vincent Market Bistro, the informal, less-expensive, cute bistro. Both parts of the restaurant share the same kitchen, same chef, and same cook line.

Vincent's carries mostly French fare. On the Market Bistro menu, you'll find a Three Cheese Tartine, Coq au Vin, Crispy Duck Confit, and Boeuf Bourguignon among other options. The menu is small--about 4-5 starters, 8 or so entrées, and a handful of desserts--but everything is perfectly delicious. I've had almost everything (even the duck!) and ate every last bite. Entrée prices range from about $10-$16.

On top of a beautiful menu and fantastic atmosphere, the staff is always wonderful. They're all friendly, make good recommendations, and move quickly. Chef Vincent himself has also made an appearance once or twice while we were there and slipped us an extra dessert.

Put this on your "must eat" list for Phoenix!

(Taken from AZcentral)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why I Recommend Marriage Prep to Everyone: Part I

Though I've always been a romantic and started dreaming about my wedding when I was 12, I never planned on getting married at 23. Love has always been the most important thing to me, so yes, I did hope to one day secure a happy and loving marriage. I wasn't, however, in a rush.

While growing up, one doesn't have very much control over what kind of love, relationships, and marriages they bear witness to. And, as we are shaped by the environment we are in and the people we are surrounded by, we can't help but develop patterns in loving relevant to what we experience.

Luckily, my childhood and formative years were granted with a positive love environment. My parents loved each other, they loved me, they loved my siblings. I heard the phrase "I love you" at least once a day. At times, though, it seemed there was so much love that it almost outweighed other important things.

When you enter the stages of your own serious relationship with somebody, you either A) incorporate the behaviors and practices that you are familiar with from your parents' or other mature relationships, B) steer clear of bringing any of those behaviors and practices into your own relationship, or C) do a little bit of both.

Garrett and I chose option C. We valued bringing the positive aspects of our parents' relationships into our own, but deeply believed in creating something unique to just the two of us.

When we began our marriage preparation classes, which were required by the Catholic Church, Garrett and I had been together for 5 years. Our relationship was good. We had gone through college together, grown up together, moved cross-country together. We knew each other, and ourselves, well. To us, the Pre-Cana (Catholic marriage prep) seemed unnecessary and burdensome.

What we came to discover, though, was that the Pre-Cana classes were helpful, even enjoyable. If anything, they made us become more mindful of our relationship and of ourselves, individually and together. From that mindfulness, we built a stronger foundation for our marriage.

All in all, we walked away from marriage prep understanding ourselves and each other a little bit better. That little bit has helped make all the difference in the world.

Stay tuned to learn what I mean.