March 25, 2013


Yesterday (and I am including Saturday night in 'yesterday's' time frame) was busy!  In fact the weekend as a whole seemed go-go-go - but in a good way.  I will admit though that on this particular Monday morning I am feeling pretty tired and wishing for a three day weekend, oh well.  So anyway, Friday night we attended a high school production of Beauty and the Beast - for a HS production it was pretty decent.  Saturday morning was relaxing and followed by various errands to the bank, Target, LL Bean, Trader Joe's and ShopRite.  After a quick dinner we headed to The Egg in downtown Albany to see Sara Watkins!  Sara Watkins is 1/3 of the band Nickel Creek and is now touring solo.  The tickets were (very) reasonably priced for The Egg and while I have not listened to a ton of Nickel Creek I remember my best friend Dana being pretty obsessed with Nickel Creek growing up.  So it was off to The Egg, but not before a quick walk up the hill to Ben & Jerry's on Lark Street - I had a groupon that needed to be taken advantage of - perfect timing!

Sara Watkins was great - she performed with two others who played everything from the base guitar and piano to the banjo.  If you know nothing about Sara Watkins know that this girl is dynamite on the fiddle!  Her music is categorized as 'progressive bluegrass' and it pretty much sounded like the music I grew up with.  While Sara Watkins was awesome to me what made the show was the opening act - a group named Field Report - out of Milwaukee, WI.  They were touring with Sara Watkins for a couple of show and I was really happy that one of their shows happened to be in Albany.  I had never heard of the band or their music before Saturday night but they were great and I can without question that they are band I would see live over and over again.  During intermission I ended up buying their CD and got to meet the lead singer Chris Porterfield!  I said his music is awesome and I hope that they come perform in Albany again soon - he said they definitely would so let's hope they keep that promise!

Sara Watkins and company!
Sara Watkins and band + Field Report!
Field Report's CD
So after a late night at The Egg I was up bright and early the next morning to spin for 'Building Stronger Survivors - Pedaling Toward A Pink Cure'.  Every year all the VENT Fitnesses (formerly Gold's Gym) in the area bring their spin bikes into the gym at the College of St. Rose and hold a 5 hour spin-a-thon to raise money for breast cancer.  This is the second year I have participated in the event and each year my 5:45 AM spin class gets a team together to ride.  Afterwards we go out to breakfast and it is a ton of fun - this year was no exception.  We rode the 8 AM - 9 AM ride with our instructor John leading the group.  In total there were about 130 spin bikes in the gym and for our ride I bet 115 were filled!  It's a great event, tons of energy and of course raising money for a good cause.

Early shot of the gym before the 8 AM ride.

Later that afternoon I decided I wanted to make something healthy and delicious for dinner!  Saturday  morning I had watched Bobby Deen's show on the Cooking Channel 'Not My Momma's Meals' - not my favorite show but man he has some good recipes!  From the show I decided upon a twice baked sweet potato!  His original recipe called for shrimp and cheese but I amended it to exclude the cheese and used spicy andouille chicken sausage instead of shrimp.  The recipe takes a little bit of time because you have to bake the sweet potatoes twice but the in between the create the filling is super simple.  Here's the recipe.

Sweet & Spicy Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes
3 medium sweet potatoes (may vary depending on servings - 3 medium sweet potatoes for two people yielded leftovers for lunch)
2 links Spicy Andouille Chicken Sausage (I used Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup spinach
Pre-heat oven to 350 and place forked sweet potatoes on a raise baking sheet ~ bake for about 1 hour or until tender ~ once cooked allow the potatoes to cool then slice in half and scoop out the insides, placing the sweet potato in a medium mixing bowl and the potato shells back on the baking sheet ~ if not already mashed, mash the sweet potatoes ~ in the meantime slice the sausage into half inch pieces and allow to cook over medium heat until browned ~ just before the sausage is finished add the garlic, salt and spinach ~ allow the spinach to cook down ~ once complete transfer the spinach/sausage mixture into the mashed sweet potato bowl and add the sour cream ~ mix everything together ~ once mixed transfer the mixture back into the sweet potato shells ~ if desired top with cheese and bake at 350 for an addition 20 - 25 minutes.  Enjoy!

Honestly - these were awesome!  Probably one of the best things I have made in a while.  I served the potatoes with a big chef's salad and that was dinner!  The potatoes were simple, healthy, filling and the perfect mix of sweet and spicy.   I can't wait to eat the leftovers for lunch today!

March 23, 2013

Paula Deen's Lighter Chicken Divan

I have wanted to try Paula Deen's chicken divan recipe for a long time now but everytime I look at the ingredients I put the recipe right back in my binder; the dish is full of full fat mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese, delicious I'm sure, but not very healthy.  The other day I had a portion of the afternoon off from work and I was really craving a hearty chicken dish for dinner, so I searched the web for a lighter version of Paula's famed chicken divan and I found one!  Now this recipe is still not the healthist (there is 1/2 cup of light mayo in it) but I ended up omitting a couple of ingedients to make it even healthier and avoid cheese (I believe the originial recipe called for shredded cheese in the sauce).  Here is is ...
Lighter Chicken Divan
1 bag steamable frozen broccoli florets
3 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
2 garlic cloves, minced/1 TBS pre-minced garlic
1 (10 oz) can heart healthy cream of mushroom soup
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup light mayonnaise
½ cup nonfat plain greek yogurt or light sour cream
½ cup parmesean cheese (optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup bread crumbs
2 cups cooked rice
Grill the chicken then set aside to cool ~ in a large mixing bowl mix together the can of cream of mushroom soup, mayonnaise, greek yogurt (or sour cream), minced garlic and salt and pepper ~ once mixed, set aside ~ microwave the steamable frozen broccoli for half the time needed to cook the entire bag ~ while the broccoli is defrosting grease an 8x8 pan ~ place the half cooked broccoli in the bottom of the 8x8 greased pan ~ shred the chicken and add that to the pan, on top of the broccoli ~ once complete pour the sour/yogurt/mayo mixture on top of the chicken and broccoli ~ top with bread crumbs and bake at 400 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes or until bubbly.  Enjoy!
The dish turned out awesome!  I served it over rice which made it filling and flavorful!  The leftovers also reheated really well for lunch the next day.  This recipe got two thumbs WAY up from the crowd.  Give it a try - it's a great weeknight meal!

March 22, 2013

A Saturday In Saratoga

A couple of weekends ago Adam and I headed up to Saratoga Springs, NY for the day.  Saratoga is an awesome town only about 30/45 minutes from Albany; it is most famed for the horse racing that takes place there every August.  Adam when to college in Saratoga so it is always fun to go up there and walk around.  The purpose of the trip was to check out the Adirondack Sport & Fitness Expo and go to dinner at Hattie's with some friends (using a groupon that I had purchased) but in between those we ended up walking up and down Broadway, did some antiquing and had the best coffee at Saratoga Coffee Traders
The Adirondack Sport & Fitness Expo was a lot of fun, we walked around and checked out everything hiking, camping, biking and kayak!  If you were in the market for any equipment surrounding those sports it was the place to be!  After checking out the expo we walked around Broadway - there are a ton of great shops but one of my favorites had to be the Saratoga Olive Oil Company.  This place has every kind of olive oil and balsamic imaginable!  And the best part, they provide little pieced of bread and you can taste each one of them.  I ended up buying a butter olive oil - not only was it delicious but it is also vegan and can be used in place of butter - I figured it would go great on pasta and veggies in place of butter - I tried it out the other night and boy was I right, it was freaking delicious!
After purchasing the amazing olive oil we headed to an awesome little antique shop where I was on the hunt for Pyrex dishes (thank you mother for instilling this in me).  I have a bunch of Pyrex and the older stuff is becoming harder and harder to find.  I ended up finding various nesting bowls but never a complete set, I was just about to give up when I located a dark green mixing bowl!  I have the exact same bowl in a slightly larger size so clearly I had to purchase it's mate!

Following my Pyrex find we stopped into a couple of more stores and then headed back to Broadway through Congress Park.  It is a nice little park and gorgeous in the summer but on that day it was dingy and muddy from all the melting snow - luckily that didn't stop a TON of ducks and geese from gathering.  There were so many of them they were just walking in and around the crowds not caring that their were people in their way.
Hey ducks!
Last stop on the agenda before heading back to meet up with our friends was to get some coffee and I must say that by this point I needed a pick me up.  I was debating what to get until I heard the lady in front of me order a french toast latte - sold!  It was amazing - best latte I have ever had and with good reason I'm sure it was chalk full of calories, but I got a small and enjoyed every bit of it.  Saratoga Coffee Traders is a pretty awesome coffee shop located right on Broadway in downtown Saratoga; they have a ton of fair trade coffee and make really interesting lattes (hence the french toast latte).

Hello deliciousness - french toast latte!
Ha!  Probably one of my favorite pictures of Adam.

Later on that night we headed to Hattie's for dinner which is a great southern-style restaurant in Saratoga.  I ordered the chicken and dumplings while Adam got the fried chicken - our meals were delicious; Hattie's is one of my favorite places to eat whenever I'm in the area.  After that we headed back and watched Sinister - talk about a creepy movie!  Overall a pretty awesome way to spend a Saturday!

March 16, 2013

Lighter Shrimp & Grits

For Valentine's Day Adam gave me Bobby Deen's new cookbook 'From Mama's Table to Mine: Everybody's Favorite Comfort Foods at 350 Calories or Less'.  Bobby Deen also has a show on the Cooking Channel called 'No My Momma's Meals'; the show is so-so but I love his recipes.  Being from the south and loving Savannah, GA I by default love all things Paula Deen but of course her recipes are about as far from healthy as you can get so Bobby Deen's new cookbook is a great and healthy way to cook it like Paula but with half the calories.  There are so many recipes in that book I want to try!  First up was Bobby Deen's Lighter Shrimp & Grits.  Lately I have been trying to cook more with shrimp and since most shrimp dishes also tend to be cheese-less this has worked out well during lent.
Bobby Deen's Lighter Shrimp & Grits
1/4 cup Canadian bacon, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 lb large shrimp, peeled, de-veined and de-tailed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (10 oz) can petite-cut diced tomatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon hot sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fat-free half-and-half
3/4 cup uncooked grits (I used real South Carolina made grits)
Water to cook grits (see directions on package/bag)
Prep and/or begin cooking the grits according to directions.  Add canadian bacon to a nonstick skillet and saute over medium heat until crisp. While the bacon cooks dice the onion and green pepper.  Once the bacon is cooked transfer it to a plate and set aside. 
Add the oil to the skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender (about 8 minutes).  Add the uncooked shrimp and garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until the shrimp being to turn pink, about (4 - 5 minutes).  Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and set aside. 
Add the tomatoes, wine, hot sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until the flavors are blended and the sauce begins to thicken (about 6 – 8 minutes).  Return the bacon and shrimp to the skillet then stir in the half-and-half, allow the mixture to heat throughly.
 Shrimp, onions and peppers!

 After the shrimp is cooked - remove them and add the tomates, hot sauce, white wine and salt! 

Add the shrimp, canadian bacon and half and half - let everything heat through.

Voila - shrimp & grits!  I promise there are grits under there!
Now I know that some shrimp and grits recipes are tomato based and some are more cream based - this recipe is a combination of both, creamy and tomato based!  It turned out really well and was pretty simple to prep and throw together.  I ended up making it on a Saturday night but if you have everything ready to go I think it could easily be a weeknight meal.

March 15, 2013

Adventures In Iowa

The past three weeks have been crazy busy.  Two of those weeks were spent traveling for work and then this past week was spent playing catch up with everything from phone calls to writing reports and planning for the upcoming month's travel.  First up was a trip to Des Moines and Davenport, Iowa.  Iowa is one of my states and they are relatively new to SOAR; their program is somewhat active in Des Moines and the program is just getting off the ground in Davenport/Scott County/Eastern, Iowa; so my co-worker Kristin and I decided to head out there to hold a regionally planning meeting in Des Moines and a full blown forum in Davenport. 
New work travel bag!  It is from Thirty-One and is a great bag for work and frequent travel; it's big enough to hold my SOAR binder (not pictured), lunch, snacks, a book, iPad, various other electronics, my wallet and anything else I need for a trip.  The small zipper pouches (also from Thirty-One) are great help to keep it all organized - I use one for snack (it's insulated) and one for books/electronics!
Now I was warned about attempting to travel to the Midwest in winter and how the weather can be very unpredictable often causing delays, boy was everyone right!  My 2.5 hour layover in Chicago en route to Des Moines turned out to be about 15 minutes which left me nearly running to find and get to my gate on time.  Luckily I made it and arrived in Des Moines without a hitch. 
Snowy Des Moines - view from my hotel room looking forward the capital building!
Later that night we were treated to dinner in downtown Des Moines by our state team lead and given a tour of the city.  I must say that I was VERY impressed with Des Moines - it is pretty much a Midwestern gem!  The city was awesome - it had a great downtown feel, awesome architecture and (it appeared) a bunch of stuff to do.  I enjoyed the tour so much that I may have let it slip to Adam later that night that we should consider placing Des Moines on our list of 'potential places to live in the future' - he quickly dismissed the idea, but I'm convinced that if he were to ever visit he would understand my affection for the city.
The next day we held the planning meeting at the United Way in Des Moines; it was a great meeting, there were a ton of representatives from various community agencies, all who believe in SOAR and want it to see it expand through Des Moines.  After the meeting Kristin and I hopped in the car and began the 2.5 hour drive across the state to Davenport (actually we were headed to Moline, Illinois which is just across the Mississippi River from Davenport because we needed to drop off the rental car).  This was exciting for me because I was able to cross two more states off my travel list - Iowa and Illinois!  It was also the first time I had seen (and crossed) the Mississippi River!
We had a pretty interesting drive before arriving in Davenport for the night.  Iowa had experienced a snow storm earlier that week (Monday/Tuesday) and we drove across the state on a Thursday.  I am not even kidding when I said we saw approximately 15 eighteen wheel tractor trailers and probably 20 cars flipped over or in ditches due to the snow.  And those were the ones that were still there 2 - 3 days AFTER the snow storm, I can only imagine how many were there immediately after.

Tractor trailer in a ditch!
And another one about to be towed out.  We probably had to slow down four or five times to make room for eighteen wheeler tow trucks.

Before we left Des Moines the state team lead had mentioned that Iowa is home to the World's Largest Truck Stop and that we would be passing it on our way to Davenport - we decided immediately that we had to stop and check it out.  It turned out to be just that - a HUGE truck stop, lit up like the Vegas strip along Interstate 80!  It is also home to the National Trucking Museum.  We palled around in there for awhile and were able to find some souvenirs (stuffed corn anyone?).

World's Largest Truck Stop on Iowa Interstate 80!

 Kristin in front of a huge (and rotating) truck.

Along the way we ended up eating at The Machine Shed which was another recommendation from the state team lead.  It bills itself as 'A Tribute to the American Farmer'; the restaurant is all about good, down home Midwestern food - so of course I had to try the stuffed pork loin with mashed potatoes and gravy.  It was delicious!
Now doesn't that look like some good Midwestern grub?!
So after a stop at the World's Largest Truck Stop and dinner at The Machine Shed we hopped across the Mississippi River to drop off our rental car.  We then headed to our hotel in downtown Davenport.  I didn't get a chance to explore Davenport too much because it was late when we arrived and we had to be up bright and early the next morning to head to the forum, but luckily I will be back in Davenport in late April to observe the area's first training.  I am really excited because not only does Davenport seem like a fun town but it also sit right along the Mississippi River and I saw an excellent jogging path right along it that I fully intend to take advantage of!
The forum was a complete success - there were so many agencies and representatives at the table that I know SOAR will soar (haha - get it) in Eastern Iowa!  After the forum Kristin and I headed to the airport in Moline looking to get on an earlier flight to O'Hare - both of our original flights were tight and left only about a 30 minute layover in Chicago, which anyone who has flown through O'Hare before knows that that is not nearly enough time.  When we got there though we realized that our flight out of Moline was so delayed that we would miss our connecting flights back home.  We arrived to the airport at 3:35 PM and were able to get on the 3:57 PM flight to O'Hare - needless to say we sprinted through the airport, raced through security and just made the flight.  Kristin was able to hop an earlier flight back to Denver but I was less lucky - my flight to Albany ended up being delayed about 4 hours and our gate was changed four times!  Luckily I ran into my friend John who was on the same flight so we were able to chat and commiserate.  I finally arrived back in Albany around 1 AM, but overall it was a great trip both experience and work wise!
You know you're in Iowa when ... me and some corn!
Next up - a quick turn around and I was off to Orlando, Florida.  Stay tuned!