Alabama

Road Trip!

You know, when I see the words “road trip” my instinct is to immediately revert back to my college days, shotgun a beer, hang my bare butt out the car window, and drive wherever the road leads.  

That never happened to me.  Ever.  But the notion is quaint and I think there are lots of movies about it that all end the same way (self-discovery, best friends for life, terminated pregnancies… I digress).  

So for those of you who know me in real life, you know I crossed the finish line of grad school in December.  My birthday also happened to fall conveniently during Spring Break (which, because I work at an awesome place that never wants me to grow up… ha, I still get to participate in every year).  So I decided I wanted to take an awesome vacation as a graduation/birthday present to myself this year.

But wait.  How does a single, 30-something, cat-loving, post-grad woman whose friends are either: married, have children, broke, or way too annoying to spend more than 24 hours with (don’t worry, the ones who fall into that category don’t know I have a blog.  I hope.) scrounge up a travel buddy for something other than a weekend trip to the beach?  I’m talking a legit, celebratory vacay.  One that could cost some real cheddar.  (I have no idea what the kids call “lots of money” these days.)  Of course!  There is but one answer: the brother.  

[It should be known that my sister from another mister, Sarah, was going to accompany me on this trip – originally planned for Alaska – but she’s currently in nursing school and because the gods of higher education holiday planning apparently hate us, our spring breaks did not line up.]

So after some chats about where to go [and permission from his wife, of course.  They do have a newborn, after all.] we decided that a trip to Moab, Utah was exactly what the doctor (or master of arts, in this case) ordered.  Justin had actually been there before, but only for a couple of days, and knew he wanted to go back for a longer stay.  I love the West and the weather in late March would be perfect for extended hikes through Arches National Park, riverboat excursions, and even renting a Jeep to explore the desert trails.  

Well that would have been amazing had we not waited until the last minute to book our flights.  The tickets were outrageous.  On principle alone, I could not pay that much money to fly to Utah.  So we looked for flights to Oregon.  Then Maryland.  Sonofabiscuiteatinghobo.  So we decided we would do a road trip.  I had recently purchased a new car, I love to drive, and there were a few places that were relatively local that both Justin and I had wanted to see for a while.

The first place we hit was Bankhead National Forest for a hike along the Sipsey River.  We both did some research about the best trail(s) to hike to fit our schedule (we would be driving to Nashville later the same day) and our skill level (aka lack of athleticism).  We chose the Borden Trail.  I won’t lie, given my asthma (and lack of athleticism) the idea of hiking makes me both anxious and extremely excited (I love the outdoors when the weather is right).  This trail was amazing.  It had every bit of “adventure” we could have asked for: waterfalls, crossing creeks, views of the “raging” Sipsey, and even a small [very small.  very narrow.  very damp.  very dark.  spiders.  I kept it together.  on the outside.] cave that you have to pass through.  The round trip hike was six miles and my heart rate monitor told me I burned thousands of calories.  My knees told me I’m an old woman and never to go hiking again.  The scenery is really too beautiful to capture on camera but I tried:  

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After the hike, we drove to Nashville, TN to stay with our cousin JJ for the night.  He and his wife, Rachel (who, sadly, was out of town for our visit) have a lovely home there.  Justin and I were pretty exhausted and JJ had to work the next day, so we made plans to walk to a nearby restaurant, watch a movie, and hit the hay.  As we’re walking to the restaurant, JJ says “I hope y’all like Mexican.  This place serves these little fluffy donut thingies after the meal, too.”  My ears perked up.  He couldn’t possibly mean sopapillas, could he?  We get closer and I see the sign. I don’t read the words.  I just see the Zia symbols on either side.  IT’S A NEW MEXICAN RESTAURANT!  #jesuslovesme (Zia symbols are symbols representative of the sun used by the Zia tribe indigenous to a pueblo in New Mexico.  There is one on the New Mexico state flag and you see them all over the state.  If you see one, you can be almost certain whatever you’re looking at is New Mexican. #historylesson #yourewelcome)  The restaurant was called Sopapilla’s!  Needless to say, I almost kissed the hostess, the waiter, the table, the menu, and I inhaled my stacked enchiladas smothered in green chile and an egg.  I still don’t think JJ grasped just how much that dinner meant to me.  Maybe I should have released the tears I was holding back… really.  (It had been a long day.  My knees hurt.  Green chile.  Shut up.)  So we watched Skyfall (which I hadn’t seen before and would actually watch again) and went to sleep!

The next day was my birthday.  My family isn’t big on celebrating anything.  Seriously.  We do well to remember someone’s birthday; we’re not buying you a present for it.  (Blame my mother for this one; that’s what I do in therapy.  Or I would, if I went to therapy.)  Anyway, my brother got a text from my mom saying “remember to tell Jess happy birthday!” (which he did) but then she forgot to wish me happy birthday. This is how we roll.  (Does anyone have the phone number for a good therapist?)  But I did get a bazillion texts from friends and coworkers – which always amazes me because I’m not on facebook for them to get the obligatory birthday reminder. Thanks guys, I feel loved!  (My birthday is March 24th, put it in your calendars now.)  We left JJ’s bright and early and headed to the gorgeous state of Kentucky!  We had two guided tours scheduled for Mammoth Caves National Park!!  

So, y’all know I’m a nerd. When I was in the 4th grade, Paige Barnes (now Dorsey) and I went on an archaeological dig/camp together.  Caves are my jam.  Stairs, however, are not.  Especially when I’m pretty sure I tore/injured something really important related to my knee on the hike the previous day.  The first tour guide mentioned something about “hundreds of stairs” and I got nauseous.  However, even though I don’t have pictures to prove it (hello, you try taking pictures in a cave) it was amazing and worth the pain!  The next tour was more of the same (with regard to the stairs) but the scenery in the cave was completely different than the first; it’s crazy how different, in fact.  Mammoth Caves is the largest cave system in the world, guys.  Worth a trip.

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(Obligatory sign picture. #yourewelcome)

After the caves, we headed to the National Corvette Museum, right down the road from the caves, in Bowling Green.  My brother and I are both automobile enthusiasts so this was something we knew we wanted to see. As expected, it was filled with classic ‘Vettes that were pretty awesome and, most exciting for us, the brand new model that had just been released.  Now, going back to the caves for a second.  Let’s think about this: if the largest cave system in the world is right next to the museum, you might also be thinking that the ground the in area is conducive to natural caves and (you guessed it) sinkholes.  You’d be correct.  The museum had, very unfortunately, recently been affected by one of said sinkholes.  A huge one as a matter of fact. It had “eaten” eight of their classic cars that were donated to the museum and done millions of dollars of damage.  Luckily, the damage occurred early in the morning before patrons or employees had arrived.  The cool part was, though, that they had actually pulled the vehicles out of the hole and left them on display for us to see.  In addition, they had built a wall of windows where patrons could actually watch the workers as they attempt to repair the hole.  (See below).  I must admit, walking through the museum and seeing all the marks on the floor where surveyors had come through to make sure nothing else was going to collapse, was a little unnerving.  If you like cars, or even if you don’t, this museum is worth a stop!

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So it was the last night of our trip, also my birthday, and Justin had booked our hotel in Bowling Green (literally right next to the Corvette Museum).  He kept saying how it was brand new, maybe a little “unique”, but it had gotten rave reviews online, wasn’t expensive, and was located exactly where we needed it.  He was right!  It’s called The Hotel Sync and it was so awesome!  Our “room” was literally like an apartment.  The bedroom had a TV, the den had a TV, the full kitchen even had dishes and mixing bowls!  We came to the conclusion that the hotel was likely built for employees/families of those who are visiting the GM plant that was also right next door.  It could easily be an “extended stay” type of place.  There’s a pool table in the lobby and the owners will brew up a fresh cup of french press coffee while you wait.  Amazing.

Moving on.  We googled good places to eat in Bowling Green.  We landed on a place called The Bistro.  We put the address in my car’s GPS (which we had named Hilda/Helga.  When she behaved, she was Hilda.  When she took us somewhere incorrectly or locked my doors randomly, etc. she’s Helga.  We think Helga drinks a lot when we’re not in the car.) and headed that way.  I, of course, missed the turnoff into the parking lot of the restaurant, it was a one-way street, so we had to wrap back around.  As we climbed a very steep hill, we saw a huge, stately, government-looking building ahead.  Turns out we had made our way onto the Western Kentucky University campus.  So that’s why they’re called the Hilltoppers.  Anyway, the food at the Bistro was delicious.  Our waitress was really sweet.  Justin finished most of my food because I couldn’t.  Then he paid for my meal because it was my birthday.  When the waitress asked if we wanted to box up the leftovers I offered “no, we’re in a hotel, we don’t have anywhere to keep it.”  Her response was an almost knowing glance.  It was at that point Justin and I realized that with his wedding ring, and my absence of one, the sharing of food, and our rendezvous back at the hotel; the waitress was convinced that we were having an affair.  Justin thought this was hilarious so we never explained otherwise.  We more or less just kept watching to see if she pointed us out to the other wait staff.

The next day, we headed back home.  We were oh so tired.  It had been a jam-packed trip of hiking, caving, eating, laughing, and good times.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better birthday or spring break.  When I got home, I had the second half of the week to accomplish some home improvement.  I’ll tell you all about it in another post! 

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Pina Colada Smoothie

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I spent two years living in Albuquerque, NM. They were two of the hardest and best years of my life! I learned so much about being independent: finding a job, making new friends (from scratch!), going to a new school, and all of this done in a place where almost no one has eaten a biscuit or cares about football. New Mexican food is truly unique in that it utilizes lots of local peppers, namely the green chile (which can range in heat from mild to ridiculously slap your mother hot), and spices to make it taste like no other Mexican or Tex-Mex you’ve ever had. At first, those of us who are used to fast food joints like Taco Casa or “Mexican” restaurants in Alabama may not appreciate the flavors of New Mexican cuisine. However, it doesn’t take long for it to get in your blood and trust me, it never leaves! It has been eight years (holy crap!) since I have lived in that colorful city and I still crave the food!

Now that I have your mouth-watering for chiles and Mexican food, let’s talk about smoothies!! One habit I picked up in New Mexico was replacing meals with smoothies. I’m not sure if this is more common out West or if they just make better smoothies out there but I have yet to find a good smoothie joint in Alabama. My favorite place in Albuquerque was called Keva Juice and my favorite drink was a Keva Kolada. I remember on those hot desert days, there was really nothing more satisfying!

When I moved back to Alabama, I was set on duplicating the recipe (since I couldn’t find one online). It took a ridiculous amount of trial and error. I even made a friend of mine in Albuquerque go to Keva Juice and stalk one of the workers while he/she made a Keva Kolada!! I think my ingredients are slightly different from the original, but the taste is deliciously similar!

All of this being said, the recipe I’m posting below is purely for taste. I’ve recently started running [more on that later; I’d like to know if I can write a definitive success or fail verdict before I go into great detail about it] and I’m sure there’s a way to make this thing more healthy! Protein powder (or Greek yogurt, but I think the stuff may as well be sour cream – so more power to you Greegurt lovers but I’m not one!) would be the easy way, but I know some people swear that you can “hide” spinach and kale and all sorts of things in smoothies. What do you think?

[Or you could always go the complete opposite direction and add rum… drunk running could be a sport. No judgment.]

Also, I highly recommend the Cuisinart Immersion Blender for this little project. It’s brilliant for smoothies, soups, (say it with me) hhhkkkummmus, and milkshakes. It comes apart for storage and the DISHWASHER (sold!!). And oh my gosh so many pretty colors. The instructions don’t tell you about the obligatory first time user mess, so just be aware, stop pushing the button before you pull it out of whatever you’re mixing. Every time. Trust me. Do it. Every. Time.

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I was going to pour the smoothie into a pretty glass for the picture but come on, I was starving and I know y’all really didn’t want me to dirty up another dish! Plus this way you get to see the cool measuring/mixing cup that comes with the Cuisinart blender. Yes, I drank the smoothie straight out of it and it was delicious.

For a 12 – 16oz drink:

4 – 6oz pineapple juice
One small banana, chopped
3 heaping spoonfuls non-fat vanilla yogurt (not the frozen kind)
4 or 5 heaping spoonfuls pineapple sherbet
One spoon sweetened coconut flakes (a little goes a long way)

I don’t add ice to this drink. If it’s too thin, add more sherbet a spoonful at a time.

Let’s try fashion…

Don’t laugh… I have zero sense of style but I also love, love, LOVE fashion. I follow lots of fashion blogs (The Sweetest Thing, Extra Petite, and The Northeast Girl are a few of my faves) and hope that I will magically be able to pull off their looks (or afford their clothes) but for some reason I feel silly when I try to be fashionable!

So, here’s my first attempt at a post about fashion. Here’s the catch: I haven’t yet taken any #OOTD (outfit of the day) pics specifically for the blog so I’ve collected some relatively recent pictures of outfits to discuss. In future fashion posts I hope to be able to link to all pieces and take better pictures! My apologies for the blurries and lack of info on some of the clothes, but let’s give this a shot! Also, don’t make fun of my funny faces… I didn’t tell myself that I’d be publishing these in a blog one day.

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Picture 1: this is a look I nabbed straight from the Northeast girl’s blog! The boots are Frye Tall Paige Riding Boots that I’ve had for about three years – a staple of my Fall wardrobe! The sweater is Loft, sold out, but similar here. The plaid shirt is a very old Old Navy find, but plaid is my new obsession so I’m thinking about getting this one on sale!. The jeans are also old, but Gap still makes them: Always Skinny. They’re great quality jeans but I don’t consider them truly skinny – the ankle opening is pretty substantial. However, I wear them all the time and think they’re flattering!

Picture 2: Same Frye boots and Gap jeans as above, this time with a top I got at the Banana Republic Factory store and a scarf I honestly can’t remember where I purchased! Navy/nautical stripes are really hot right now so a similar top should be easy to find, but here’s a really cute b&w peplum style from J.Crew. I think my look would be cute with a mustard colored scarf or jacket!

Picture 3: Target special! Neither of these pieces are available at Target any longer, so I hesitated to even post this one. However, because I think Chambray should be a staple in every girl’s wardrobe I decided to go ahead with it! I found this skirt literally hanging all by her lonesome on a clearance rack in Target (when, of course, all I had gone in for was a few groceries and a birthday card – I can’t help it that clothes are between those two things!). I bought it without knowing what I would pair with it or even if I could get away with wearing it to work. When I got home I tried it with a few cardigans but finally settled on my trusty Chambray (also on clearance from Target a few weeks fine, days, earlier).

Stay tuned for outfits 4-6… we have another snow day tomorrow! Be safe out there!

Snow Day & Enchiladas!

Snow Day & Enchiladas!

Okay, so if you haven’t heard about all of the snow down South, you live under a rock. I also want to know where this rock is so I can come visit to get away from my mother in law. You know, when I get a MIL. Although, I’m sure my MIL will be *splendid*. Moving on…

We got to leave work at 11:30 yesterday because the forecast went from “light dusting” to “EVERYBODY PANIC!” It took everyone I know anywhere from two hours to never-made-it-past-the-hill-let’s-turn-this-party-bus-around to get home. Thankfully, I chose some very random back roads to weave my way home and, by the grace of God, I made it without incident. If the conditions hadn’t been so dangerous, it actually would have been a beautiful scene. I love how quiet everything is when there’s a layer of snow on it!

Eventually, work announced that there would be no work today and I immediately did my happy SNOW DAY dance! Of course, it was tempered by my “and also Lord, I pray for those who are currently stranded on the interstate” dance. Because whoa, there were lots of people stranded in lots of places. My brother and sis-in-law were stuck at their respective places of employment overnight while many others were peeing in bottles in their cars (because yes, that’s what I think of… where will they pee?!) until traffic cleared up.

Anyway, with an impending mid-week snow day, I decided it would be the perfect time to attempt a new recipe a friend had passed along. Baked enchiladas filled with cheese and salsa and chicken! My friend’s exact recipe is in this post below, but here is how it went down for me:

First, don’t forget to grease the pan. I’m not confirming or denying that this happened to me, but should it happen to you, it might suck. Grease the pan.

Second, the recipe calls for 6-inch tortillas. Those are wee baby tortillas. I couldn’t find that size in the flour variety (and let’s be real, flour tortillas > corn tortillas). So I ended up with four pretty big enchiladas rather than 6-8 that the recipe predicts. All was good in the hood; the chicken filling is pre-cooked so the size of your enchiladas is moot, irrelevant, innocuous.. I could go on, but I won’t.

You know I didn’t use onions because, let’s say it together, onions are evil. But do whatever you want, I won’t judge.

I used a rotisserie chicken from Publix and it was delish. I recommend.

Verdict: semi-success. These were a little bland. I might try this recipe one more time with a few tweaks (my fingers wanted to type “twerks” there, why?). For one, better salsa from a local Mexican restaurant. Also, I might look harder for smaller tortillas. I think having more enchiladas in the [greased] pan, pushed against one another while baking, covered in better salsa would actually make these turn out more like enchiladas than just hot soft tacos. I ended up sprinkling Tony Chachere’s on it to kick up the salt and the spice, because hey, I put it on everything anyway. The best news is: this is a super easy recipe to customize your way!

Here’s the recipe:

1 Medium onion / chopped
2 Tbs margarine
1-2 cups shredded chicken (about 2 cooked breasts or buy pre-cooked)
1 12-16oz jar of salsa
3oz cream cheese
1 tsp cumin
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
8 6inch flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cook onion in margarine until tender. Stir in chicken, 1/4 cup of salsa, cream cheese, and cumin. Cook until thoroughly heated. Stir in one cup of cheddar cheese.
Spoon 1/3 cup of mixture in center of tortilla, roll up, and place seam down into greased 12×7 dish. Top with remaining salsa and shredded cheese
Bake for 15 minutes

Serving suggestion: serve with iceberg lettuce salad with tomato and cucumber.