Monthly Archives: January 2013
I not-so-recently broke it off with a long time bow, and while usually my grandpa gives me grief about not being married in my old age of 26. Assuring me that all the good men are taken by my age and I’m going to grow old as an old maid. For whatever reason he had a change of heart while I was visiting last weekend. On my last night in Iowa, my grandpa calls me into the back room where he’s listening to his right-wing radio program and playing solitaire. He tells me he has news for me. As we sat there talking, he told me he had a vision of me working my second job, waitressing, and this guy comes in “he’ll be 33 or 34 with dark hair, with some prematurely gray poking through. He has a thin mustache. You are going to see each other and…boom (makes a shooting arrow jester) that little guy will poke you both with the arrow at the same time”.
As I said goodbye the next morning he gave me a hug and kiss and ended his goodbye by saying “he might not have a mustache, I haven’t decided yet.” Hmm…I’m not sure how accurately that story will pan out, but I will tell you one thing, it makes me more excited to go to work tonight! Who knows, maybe the old man is right, and my next trip to Iowa won’t be alone 😉
One thing that is very important to me is family. A couple things to know about my family. 1. My family isn’t very big compared to most; 2. That doesn’t make it any easier to see and keep in touch with everyone. My immediate family lives in CT, but my extended family ranges from Ohio, to New York, to Texas and Iowa. I try to see, talk to, and write letters to my family as much as possible because if you dont make the effort to get to know your family while they are around, when will you ever get to know them?! (Slid logic, right?) I was able to make it out to Iowa this past weekend for a long weekend to visit with my grandpa, grandma and uncles, and it was awesome because I also got to celebrate my grandpa’s 83rd Birthday!! My grandpa kept saying he was glad I was there to celebrate his last birthday, but he’s been saying that for about 10 years now. So at this point he’s really not foolin anyone.
When I arrived on his birthday-eve we celebrated with his first cake. Yes, there were multiple cakes. I ate more care this weekend than I have in the past couple years…huh? What diet!? Then,the next morning, on his birthday we got up and left for breakfast at Sunshine. Sunshine is his Cheers…but better. He walks in and everyone knows his name. No, not just his name, also his order, down to the the nitty details of his strict diet and the fact that he drinks cola, not coffee, even at 9AM. We met up with a couple of his friends for breakfast, but even had we gone alone, we wouldn’t be lonely. Just about every table in the joint got up and came over to say hello at some point during the meal. Seriously, the man is a small-town celeb!
After breakfast we came home, watched some old-timey black and white movies and later in the afternoon my uncles braved the ice storm happening outside to come over for a birthday pizza party and, you guessed it, more cake. Having everyone together is a riot. My grandpa brings up for the millionth time “ok just tell me, who stole my car”. He’s talking about something that happened about 45 years ago, FYI,…then cracks himself up while quoting Hillary “after all this time, what difference does it make??” It really is quite entertaining!
One of the items on my 2013 Bucket List was to visit Iowa, and not for nothing either! My mom grew up in Dubuque, Iowa and my grandparents and uncles are still out here, so I try to make it out once a year to visit with the Fam. I flew out of Hartford on Saturday morning and flew into Chicago, which is about 3 hrs from Dubuque and rented a car to finish off the trip. (Dubuque does have their own airport, however it has about 2 terminals and it takes about 3 layovers and 10 extra hours to get there…so obviously, flying direct to Chicago and driving in is a MUCH better option!!) Along my ride I decided to stop off for lunch in Rockford, IL. My options were KFC, Denny’s, McDonalds, or Taco Bell…but since I don’t eat fast food and have a fascination with hole in the wall townie type places, I decided to make an adventure out of it. I was only about 1/2 a mile off the highway when a small brown building with nothing more than one sign saying “OPSAHL’S Home of the Big Kahuna” It caught my eye and immediately I was sold.
I pulled into the parking lot and started walking towards the building, but noticed there was no “open” or “enter” sign…in fact, the doors and the building were actually the same color, so I decided to just try one and hope for the best, while at the same time wondering if I was walking into a speakeasy or some other under the radar establishment. I walked in, and immediately felt out of place. It was about 2:30PM and the place was almost packed with middle aged hillbilly-looking folks, who I instantly pegged for “the regulars”. Everyone: the patrons, the cooks, and the bar tenders all seemed to know each other. When I walked up to the bar, the tender just stood there and after about 10 seconds of awkward silence I asked for a menu. I could see the shock in her face. I could tell, without her saying the words, that she thought I was lost and looking for directions.
I sat at the bar, ordered an Old Milwaukee and a Bacon Cheese Burger and some Onion Rings…hey I am on vacation after all! I made small talk with many of the regulars, as they we all vey interested as to how a young girl from Connecticut landed at a dive like Opsah’s in the middle of no where. Though everyone was MUCH different from the people i normally associate with, everyone was super nice and by the end of my lunch i had seen dozens of pictures of peoples wives, children and pets. I finished off my burger, beer, and rings and was on my merry way. This is one reason why traveling alone is fun…even by myself I’m never really alone because its all too easy to make new friends!!
Stay tuned for more Iowan adventures!
It has been cold here in CT this week. No, cold isn’t the word. It has been freezing. Temps have been in the single digits and teens all week dropping below zero at night. OK, it’s no Minnesota or Alaskan Frontier winter, but still, its freaking cold, and let me tell you a quick story about that: I’m not cut out for it. So Since it was 6 degrees when I left for my first job in the morning, about 12 degrees when I was commuting between jobs, and 9 degrees when I left job two to go home for the night “looking forward to my heat” is an understatement. No really, when I left my apartment around 6:30AM there wasn’t even frost on my windshield. I’m just gonna go ahead and say that if it’s too cold for Jack Frost, it’s too cold for erinHasThoughts. It was so cold in the evening, that the contact solution in my contact case, which I left in the car for 3 hours was completely frozen when I opened it after work.
So I finally get home around 10 and my apartment is chilly. It was about 60 degrees, which trust me, is tropical compared to the outdoors, but still pretty chilly, so I cranked up the heat and popped on the TV. I was still freezing so about 25 minutes later I went to check the thermostat again…58 degrees. Wait, how is it possible that I turned my heat UP, yet it’s getting colder in here. I decided maybe, just maybe, the heat needed a little extra help since it was so frigid outside to I bumped up the temp one more time. I checked again about a half hour later…57 degrees. OK this is NOT cool. Of course this would happen to me. Come on! Let my air conditioner break in the middle of August I’ll be fine, but please, PLEASE don’t take away my heat! What, are you trying to kill me or something!?
Now don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky I am to have a home and shelter, but this ain’t no warming station, this is an apartment that I pay a lot of money to reside in…and on the coldest day of the whole year having heat is pretty essential.So I did what any other half-ice cube/half-woman would do and I called the “emergency maintenance line” to report this obvious emergency. At this point it was already about 11:30PM so I had come to the terms that I was going to have to “rough it” for the night, but HOPEFULLY by the time I get home tonight this will be fixed and I can freeze this memory right out of my head! Wish me luck!!
I live in Connecticut, where historically between November and April we receive multiple snow falls where plows, shovels, salt and sand are essential. This year we have received 2 snowfalls worth mentioning. Yes, we’ve had a dusting here and there, and a handful of days under 40 degrees, even a few days where I need to scrape the frost off my car before heading off to work, but for the most part it’s been a pretty mild winter (thank god). Anyways, like I said, We’ve only had about 2 snow-falls and the first one melted completely before the second one happened, so it’s not like it’s a big stressful thing where there is no where to put the snow like a couple years ago. A couple years ago the month of January was the worst in Connecticut’s history piling over 4 feet of snow on our state in about 3 weeks. It was insane, and also extremely bad luck for me because I was living with my parents at the time and had to help shovel every time…since I’ve moved out, I don’t think there has been one shovel-worthy snowfall, of course!
Anyways…I keep getting distracted today! So the point of this post is to illustrate how smart you need to be to man a plow truck. At my apartment complex there is a huge row of mail boxes. They have been there as long as all the apartments have been there and are pretty large, standing about 4 feet tall. Lets not forget that our last snowfall was only about 6 inches, so there is no way that they were so covered in snow that they couldn’t be seen. Now, can someone please explain to me how it’s possible that a plow truck took out not one, not two, but THREE of these massive mail holders which is located in very clear view in the front entrance of my complex? I mean seriously, this man* must have been texting or something because I can’t think of any other reason that he would just barrel through multiple mail boxes cemented into the ground
*Though veering off the road and hitting a very large, stationary, inanimate object seems like something a woman would do, I assume the gender of the plower was a male, mostly because I’ve never seen a female plower.
So one of my best friends came over for dinner last night, which I was pretty pumped about, but was also stressing a little bit because (as usual) I had too many things to do and not enough time to do them in. So I opted for a crock pot meal. I had some steaks in my freezer so I figured I’d grab some veggies and and make beef stew…and of course what goes better with a homemade soup/stew than a bread bowl. Come on, you know you love bread bowls, everyone loves bread bowls! (Some people just have enough constraint not to actually eat them. Luckily for the purposes of this recipe, I am not “some people”). I tried out a new recipe, so I wasn’t all the way sure it was going to work, but it’s always fun to try out something new.
Here’s what you need:
- A bunch of beef. I used strip steaks because that’s what I had in my freezer. I used somewhere between 1.5 – 2lbs.
- You also need beef bouillon cubes
- A bag of frozen mixed vegetables
- 2 potatoes
- 1 onion
- A can of diced tomatoes with onions in it
- 2 cups of water.
- about a teaspoon of salt, pepper, dried basil, and one bay leaf.
And that’s it! Then there’s the best part of crock-pot-cooking: you just literally throw everything in there and leave. In my case, I went to work, then ran some errands, and was home right in time for dinner. Walking up the stairwell to my apartment and smelling the delicious aroma of a homecooked dinner was amazing, especially when I realized that it was coming from MY apartment, for once!!
First add the beef to your crock pot. Make sure you cut it into bite-sized chunks.
Add in 2 cups of water.
Add diced tomatoes.
Add the diced onions, potatoes, and seasonings (including the salt, pepper, basil, and bouillon cubes).
Let it sit on the low in the crock pot for 8 – 10 hours, or until you get your desired thickness
Enjoy it with your favorite red wine! Liz brought over Root:1, a Cabernet Sauvignon, which I never had before, but is very tasty!
This makes 6 hearty portions, which roll in at about 420 calories each containing approximately 25 grams of protein. This nutrition information is obviously not including the wine or bread bowls, which would tack on about 1,000 calories…whoops! This is a filling “meat & potatoes” meal! We each had a helping and then I portioned off the rest and froze them for future dinners! I live alone and cooking for one can be annoying, so any time I can make a meal that is easily freezable in single serving portions I’m all over! The company, the wine, and the food made for a great night, and the best part about crock-pot-cooking is the easy clean up! Only one cooking dish to clean and our plates! Sweet!
To top off an amazing weekend, I went on a nice hike with my oldest friend! We went to Gillette Castle, located in East Haddam, CT and walked around for a while. Unfortunately all the trails we hiked were loops that were about 5 minutes long, and we didn’t realized that there was also a bunch of other trails on the other side of the parking lot, which may or may not have been longer and more “hike-like”. It doesn’t really matter though, because we had a fantastic time! Sometimes its more about the catch-time and socialization than it really is about the hiking and exercising. We saw the castle, which overlooks the Connecticut River, and although it’s “off season” so we couldn’t go inside, the outside was amazing and we took a ton of pics.
According the The DEP, Gillette Castle sits on the most southerly hill on the Seven Sisters. The land was purchased by actor William Hooker Gillette, most famous for his portrayal of “Sherlock Holmes”, and most of the castle and grounds were designed by him personally. The castle itself is built of local fieldstone, and supported by a steel frame, and took 5 years and 20 men to build. Gillette created a system of walking trails, which are still available for people like us to walk on today. He also had an underground vegetable cellar (like the one on Alaska: The Last Frontier, for you Discovery Channel watchers), a railroad station, and a goldfish pond. The fact that the castle is still a tourist attraction and upkept for visitors would have been the wish of Gillette, who gave specific instructions to see that the property did not fall into the hands “of some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.”
On our way home we stopped at The Town Tavern, in East Haddam. It was quite the interesting establishment. It was super fancy when we walked in, with long maroon curtains with gold silk overlays. The funny part was, it was not a fancy place. It was just a regular bar with regular bar food. It was basically like the Holiday Inn trying to be the Ritz-Carlton. It wasn’t a bad place though! The food was delicious! I had a BLT, which you can’t really mess up, unless you get it at Hanifan’s in Glastonbury, CT. I got one there once and in addition to it not being a B (Bacon) L (Lettuce) T (Tomato), was just horrible all the way around. But I digress, like I said, the Town Tavern, while a very nice place to eat, seemed a little too fancy for it’s own britches. This was especially evident by the time we left, if by nothing else, by the clientele. When we arrived, we were the only ones there, but by the time we left the bar area was crowded with multiple mechanics, landscapers, and even what looked like a set of grandparents with their teenage grandson…in pajama pants. haha.
This weekend has been absolutely GORGEOUS! This is unusual for me to say in the middle of January, since it’s cold and I’m a huge wimp when it comes to anything under 50 degrees, but I was definitely able to see the bright side this weekend as I did lots of walks, hikes, and wine tastes! Yesterday was an all-out adventure day for me and Taz and we had a fabulous time! We decided to knock of some Bucket List tasks, and I thought I could use some alone time. With the holidays, traveling and working a ton I don’t get too much of it. Trust me, I’m not complaining in the least – I LOVE being around people, but sometimes it’s nice to have a day for yourself!
We started out at Mount Tom, in New Preston, CT. This is, obviously, one of the hikes in my “50 Hikes in Connecticut” book, and I haven’t been there yet mainly because it’s about an hour and a half from where I live. I got there, and was shocked that I was the only one there (come on people! get off your couch and enjoy the wilderness!)! The trails were covered in snow and there wasn’t great markings on the trees, so after taking one trail to a dead ends, I decided to roll the dice and follow the path that had footsteps on it in the snow, hoping that it would lead to the famous tower at the top of the mountain. Though this hike was very short (just over a mile long) I thought it was great because of the 35 ft tower at the top that is open for people to climb and see amazing views of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York! As can you can (kind of ) see from my picture below, the wooden steps inside the tower are narrow and extremely steep. Taz, who was not on a leash hung out at the bottom while I climbed to the top to snap a few pics, but got impatient quickly and climbed his way to the top as well…big mistake. Once he got to the top, he was terrified to try to go back down, and I can’t really say I blame him. I’m afraid of heights and wasn’t crazy about the idea myself. The top 4 steps are exposed and in addition to being very steep, they were also covered with about an inch of packed down snow and ice. After about 15 minutes of a pep talk, he finally agreed to carefully make his way down the steps. He was very brave. In addition to the actual hike, there is also a pond on the premise, Mt Tom Pond, where there was an ice fishing derby going on! I’m not an avid ice fisher or anything, but I have been ice fishing a couple times with my bestie Stef and her crew in VT and I got excited seeing this derby because I know just how fun ice fishing can be!
From Mount Tom, our next stop was Hopkins Vineyard Winery. This was a predetermined stop because both this winery and Mount Tom are close to each other, but not near anything else…literally. I figured, while I’m out in the boonies I mineaswell kill two birds with one stone, right?
Address: 25 Hopkins Road Warren, CT 06777 (860) 868-7954
Cost for a tasting: $7.50 for a regular tasting of 7 wines (6 are already chosen, and you get to choose you’re 7th), then for an additional $2.50, you can sample their “ice wine”. (this also includes their signature glass).
Ranking: 8 (in addition to the tasting room, there is also outdoor seating and an “wine bar” upstairs from the vineyard! Awesome!
I really enjoyed this vineyard. The inside is very nice, and the staff was extremely nice and knowledgable. Most of their wines are “Estate Bottled” which means that the grapes are grown on the premise and the entire wine making process happens there! The one wine that I loved was “Peach Wine”. The wine itself was made from fermented peaches, whereas most wines are made from grapes. I thought this was really interesting…and even more delicious! And, at $13.50, I thought it was only right to buy a bottle for a later date! As far as my tasting, of course I had upgraded to the “ice wine”. I’ve never had it before, and since this specific ice wine has won multiple international medals, including the “Finger Lakes International Wine Competition” (the Finger Lakes area has a HUGE wine country, so this is a big deal), I thought I better cover my bases and try it. My wine connoisseur also had me try a sip of their “Night Owl Dessert Wine”. It was probably because he was bored because no one else was there, but hey, I’ll take it. While we were talking, he mentioned to me the Litchfield Hills Winter Wine Trail. Its similar to the Wine Passport Program, but there is only 6 vineyards on it and it has to be completed between December 1 – April 1. Cool, I’m sold on the idea! After the tasting, Taz and I took a nice long walk around the vineyard. It was a gorgeous day, and the vineyard was beautiful, so we walked around their 38 acres for about and hour and took in the fresh air and magnificent views.
After Hopkins, we were on our way home, when I saw a blue “CT Wine Trail” sign. I thought to myself…I would be stupid NOT to stop. Afterall, it was only about 3:30PM and I had no immediate plans to tend to! So I followed the sign, not knowing where it would take me, and before I knew it I landed at Haight-Brown Vineyard.
Address: 29 Chestnut Hill Rd Litchfield, CT 06759 (860) 567-4045
Cost for a tasting: $9, which includes 9 wines and a signature glass.
Ranking: 6.5 (this vineyard was overly crowded and does not allow outside food to come in.)
I walked into the vineyard and was initally turned off. To be honest, I almost walked right back out. It was very pretty insides, but it was so packed you couldn’t even more. In fact, I had to put my name on the waiting list!! Since I was alone, they were able to squeeze me in at the counter pretty quickly, but sheesh! Once the tasting started, my wine connoisseur was telling me about the wines and about the vineyard itself. Haight-Brown, founded in 1976 is actually the first vineyard/winery in Connecticut, and the ONLY one that has stools to sit on while you do the tasting. The reason for this is that they got grandfathered in with the stools. Other wineries cannot have them because it changes the winery from a “wine tasting” to a “bar”…details, details. As I started observing my surroundings, I noticed something that caught my eye, the “Honey Nut Apple” wine. Over the summer one of my best friends went to the vineyard and brought this bottle home and we drank it together as a regular white wine, where it really should be drank in small quantities as a dessert wine…whoops! haha. I enjoyed the wine here, but more than that I enjoyed the people I met! Carol and David, who found this winery the same way I did, were from New York and were probably in their late 50’s. They were super nice and we chatted for about an hour, until I was ready to go. Again after this vineyard, Taz and I took a walk around their beautiful property (which included plenty of outdoor seating for the warmer wether, and enjoyed the last bit of daylight before our trek home.
I guess all in all you can say it was a successful day! Not only did I cross THREE items off my bucket list, but I also spent a beautiful day outside enjoying the nice weather, with my dog, and got to try some amazing wine while I was at it! I’m pretty sure Taz had a great time too, minus the heart attack at the top of the Mount Tom Tower, because when I was ready to leave my parent’s house last night, he was sitting outside in the dark cold next to my car hoping I’d bring him home with me! 🙂
Last Austin post…so sad! So while in Austin, while we weren’t eating, we made our way around town and made the most of my short trip! With all the things I did and saw I feel like I was in Austin for much longer than 3 days, which is awesome, but it also makes me wish I was able to stay for much longer because everything was so amazing! Here’s all the cool stuff we were able to cram in!
Central Park: Right when I got to Austin, Carrie took me on a nice walk through Central Park which is about a block from where they live. The park had a very nice walking/running trail, which Carrie runs on frequently, and also a playscape and empty grass areas where trainers run outdoor boot camps! Awesome! I love bootcamp classes and thinking of doing one out in a park like they do in Bridesmaids sounds awesome!! We passed by this HUGE oak, which apparently was Austin’s Tree of the Year, 2008! While in Central Park, we grabbed lunch at Central Market, and it was delicious!
The one thing that is very odd, yet kind of spectacular, about Central Park is the bird…there are these black birds (HEB Birds) that reside there that look like miniature crows, but also have “spider-like” qualities. Apparently at night, there is one that sits in the middle of the pond on a rock and all the others swarm around it and eventually land in the nearby trees…creepy! I wasn’t there at dusk to see it, however, I think Carrie’s description is enough for me! Below is a quick video that I found on YouTube…Carrie is right! Their sound does kind of make you feel like you’re in a bad horror flick!
Hops and Grain: Also on my first day, Doug and Carrie brought me to Hops and Grain where we met up with Carrie’s brother, Dan, and their friend, Austin! Hops and Grain is a World Beer Cup Gold Medal winning craft brewery and they do brewery tours and tastings! You go in and you get get either an oversized shot glass for $5, or a “beer-can-shaped” glass for $10, and you can keep the glass. With the glass, you actually also get more beer in each sample…so if you like beer, and I do, the glass is the way to go! They had a lot of interesting brews! I tried one called the “Funky” something…I can’t remember the actual name, and I can’t find it online, but it tasted like a sour apple and beer mixed together. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but then again it was beer, not tea, so I drank it anyways! Don’t get me wrong, though, there was a ton of other beers that were amazing! The brewery itself had a great feel. The tasting room was pretty small…maybe 13×15, but then there was a large concrete corridor where people, and their dogs, were able to hang out and stand/sit and chat! It was a great way to spend the afternoon!
West Austin Park: We headed down to to West Austin Park mainly because they had a fenced in dog park and we wanted to bring Lupe to get some exercise and socialization time with “his kind”. Let me tell you. He was a STUD. There wasn’t a dog in the park that wasn’t intrigued by his sweet alligator elegance! Being a new experience for him, the 2 times we brought him there he faded after about 15 – 20 minutes, but he seemed to really enjoy himself! I guess it’s easy to have a great time when you’re the most popular guy around!!
Barton Springs: Barton Springs Pool is a spring-fed swimming hole in Zilker Park which was voted the “Best Swimming Hole in Texas”. I could easily see why. There was two different parts to the springs: the “free part”, which is cool because you can bring your dog and have them swim with you, and the “pay part”, which is pet free, and apparently pretty difficult to get into. No surprise there! Seeing how Austin thermometers frequently top the charts over 100 degrees, people without pools would certainly be looking for clean cool-off spot! It wasn’t exactly warm enough for me to jump in, unfortunately, but if it was, I would have been in the water in a heartbeat!
Shopping: Carrie and I were able to sneak away for a little while and do our “Girl Thanngg” for a while getting down and dirty with the shops around her apartment! We started out with the Buffalo Exchange, which I was SUPER EXCITED for! One of my blogger friends, Erika Tapia Schrieber of The Fab and Frugal, blogged about the Buffalo Exchange months ago, and ever since I have been dying to check it out! The Buffalo Exchange has all vintage and used clothing, and essentially is a well maintained, upscale thrift store! Honestly, I could have spent about 6 hours in there, but really, who has the time for that?! So I picked out a cute on-trend aztec patterned sweater for $14 and called it a day! She also showed me to this cute boutique, Strut, where I was able to get an awesome statement necklace for half off!
On our second day of shopping we went to an Austin staple, Tyler’s, where you can find all the awesome and loud Austin gear you can handle! This is where I learned the importance of “Keep Austin Weird!” We also hit up Urban Outfitters, where we surprisingly found some awesome deals, and finally Francesca’s! We have a Francesca’s here in CT, however, since I’ve never been there before it was a first time for me! Amahhhzing! I will definitely become a regular at out Francesca’s asap!
The past three posts are only the tip of the iceburg as far as Austin goes! There is SO much more to see and to do, however in the short 3 days I was there, that was all I was able to fit in! I’m happy with it, though! It was a healthy mix of spending money, trying new things, and sight seeing!
I hope you enjoyed my TX posts as much as I enjoyed being there! xo