A Sweet Year

15 Sep

Last week I celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I was fortunate that I was able to spend the holiday with my family in Texas. After you have grown up and moved out on your own, it’s always nice to come home to your family – especially at holiday time. For those of you who don’t know, we observe Rosh Hashanah by attending services at synagogue and as with most holidays, there is a big meal to follow. Growing up, we always had our Rosh Hashanah meal as a late lunch (think Thanksgiving day) and we have continued the tradition throughout the years. As I’ve been to other friends’ homes over the years, I have come to understand that our late lunch is unique and many people do dinner instead.

It is customary to eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah because it symbolizes our wish for a ‘sweet’ New Year.

We also eat challah, while it is typically shaped like a loaf, during Rosh Hashanah it is in a round shape.

Other than these Jewish traditions, the food of the holiday is as you wish. As I’ve mentioned before, my family is very considerate of my vegetarianism and you will see that reflected in the spread we had. Appetizers included a variety (about 5 or 6 types) of cheese and crackers, as well as hummus and pita chips.

Let’s just state the facts up front – there was no shortage of salads, nor was there a shortage of food! We had a Caprese salad, which is one of my newer favorite dishes. The mozzarella we used was the smaller shaped balls and the tomatoes were yellow and grape tomatoes, which we cut in half – so everything was bite sized, no knives were necessary! We had a chopped salad with a variety of delicious toppings such as olives, hearts of palm and peppers with sherry vinaigrette dressing. We served grilled tuna and blue cheese crumbles on the side for those that wanted extra protein in their salad. A fresh spinach salad also made an appearance, which included dried cranberries and kalamata olives. Chicken and egg salad also made cameos at Rosh Hashanah lunch, although I didn’t eat either – I heard they were both excellent.

There was also a great amount of vegetables – grilled veggies consisting of squash, zucchini, asparagus, eggplant and roasted red peppers and two types of green beans – all of which made its way on my plate(s)!

As you can imagine, I was extremely full after this hearty lunch. There was quite the array of desserts, but unfortunately on that day -I couldn’t possibly eat any more!

It’s always so wonderful to be back at home, spending quality time with family during holidays. I am hoping that the new year is filled with happy and healthy things for my family and friends.

What are your traditions at holiday time with your family? If so, which ones do you most enjoy?

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Long Overdue!

13 Sep

Yes, this post is extremely long overdue. If blog posts were like library books, I have a feeling I would have racked up some serious fees, given the length of time it’s been since I last wrote a post. At least I have a few good excuses keeping me away from the blogosphere…

Last weekend, my cousin got married!

My sister and I are very close with my cousins, so it was wonderful to spend time with them, other members of our family and friends that I don’t get to see that often. The weekend was filled great events, meals and good times.

Cousins and Aunts Picture!

Between the wedding day brunch, authentic-themed Mexican lunch, Shabbat dinner, Rehearsal Dinner and a bridesmaid lunch, we still had time (although not much room left in our pants) for the hospitality room at the hotel. Over time, I’ve come to understand that the hospitality room is not a known concept amongst many of my peers and friends that live outside of Texas; so I thought I’d take some time to explain it. A hospitality room is a gathering area during celebratory weekends, like bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings, for everyone to convene, eat and relax in between weekend events. Typically, the hospitality room is located at the hotel where the guests are staying for the weekend; it can be in a conference room or a part of a suite at the hotel. In a given hospitality room, you will find drinks, baked goods and snacks…and, because we were in Texas, there was plenty of bbq for sandwich making. Did the non-meat eater starve? Ha, never! My plate(s) consisted of cheeses and crackers, hummus and my all-time-favorite snack – puppy chow (a special thanks to my sister who made this for the hospitality room).

Are you familiar with this concoction? If not, don’t get scared, it’s not really dog food (although it does look like it!) It’s Chex cereal made with melted peanut butter, chocolate chips and topped with powdered sugar. As I mentioned, this is my all-time favorite snack and it’s absolutely addicting.

Overall, the weekend was great fun and it was such a beautiful wedding. My cousin was a gorgeous bride and she and her husband were just so happy throughout the whole weekend, they were glowing! I was glad to be a part of their special day.

Happy couple enjoying the groom's cake!

I promise to update the blog on a more regular basis, keep looking out for new posts soon!

Do you have a ‘go-to’ favorite snack? What is it? If not, it’s time you make puppy chow!

Working out – while away!

23 Aug

It’s important to me to stay physically active when on vacation, especially since I tend to indulge on the local restaurants. I enjoy getting up in the morning and working out so that I feel energized and ready to take on the day’s activities. How did I do this on my most recent vacation to Santa Fe?

Fortunately, my family is very fitness-focused and they also enjoy getting their exercise in on a regular basis, 7 times a week! I inherited my passion for working out from them.

Parents Post-Workout

My sister, on the right and me, on the left, wearing matching shirts during our walk!

Typically, when on vacation, we look for hotels in areas that are walker-friendly and near sights that we might want to see. Santa Fe was a beautiful backdrop to our morning walks.

We were able to relish in the natural beauty of the mountains and the gorgeous homes.

We even saw animals on the walks!

As I’ve mentioned before, Miami is flat and uphill climbs on both foot and bike are now tough for me, because I am used to flat roads. In Santa Fe, most of our walks were uphill and I utilized my heart rate monitor to understand my heart rate during these walks. While my heart rate is typically in the mid 120s during a walk in Miami, my heart rate was in the mid 160s during the walks in Santa Fe!

Family hiking uphill!

On the last night, we stayed in Albuquerque and the area that the hotel was in was not walker-friendly (we were located right near the highway) and the hotel didn’t have a fitness center! Luckily for us, the hotel had reciprocity with the neighboring gym. We headed to the Midtown Sports and Wellness early in the morning (my flight was at 9:30 am). I found the gym to be extremely impressive – pools, racquetball courts, two floors of cardio and weights equipment and classrooms for group activities. My parents and sister decided to make use of the cardio equipment and spent their time on the elliptical and treadmill. I decided to go to the 6am spinning class. I am always up for trying classes at other gyms! The class was full of experienced and dedicated cyclists. The bike had a device attached to it, which I really enjoyed; it measured the RPMs, distance and it connected with my heart rate monitor to give me my accurate heart rate during the hour long spinning class. I found this to be fascinating, especially after my workout was done and I could what I had accomplished in an hour!

Device on Spinning Bike at gym (I had stopped pedaling at this point), but look - I did close to 19 miles in a 1 hour spinning class!

Do you like working out on vacation? Or do you like taking a break from your normal workout schedule?

PS – Happy birthday to the most fitness-focused person I know, my mom!!

A Mouth-Watering Vacation…

21 Aug

What a whirlwind the past week has been! Sorry for not posting earlier, but I haven’t stopped moving since I got back from the vacation. After many hours in the car, we arrived in Santa Fe on Monday evening. We stayed in a 2 bedroom, 2.5-bath condo, which was located less than a 10-minute walk from the heart of Santa Fe.

We explored the city through its history, art and food. New Mexican cuisine is unique, because many of the dishes are based with red and green chiles. There is a distinct flavor difference between Tex-Mex and New Mexican. If you grew up eating Tex-Mex, you may understand where I am coming from! I really love spicy food (yet, my stomach doesn’t appreciate as much), so I made sure to try many of the chile-based dishes at the restaurants we went to. Overall, Santa Fe was extremely vegetarian-friendly. Many of the places even specified the vegetarian dishes on the menu! Just a quick snapshot of some of the dishes we tried…

The Shed

Blue Corn Burritos, this is two blue corn tortillas filled with pinto beans, cheddar cheese, onion and covered with green chile and baked

Café Pasqual’s

Grilled Polenta with roasted corn kernels, red chile sauce served with two scrambled eggs

Huevos Rancheros with scrambled egg whites and red chile sauce at Bagel Mania

Okay, so now you’re thinking….even at the place with the word bagel in the name, I ordered New Mexican style food; did we eat anywhere that wasn’t the local cuisine?! We had a wonderful meal our last night in Santa Fe at La Boca, a Spanish tapas restaurant. Tapas style food has grown increasingly popular over the past few years, because you can order so many dishes for the table and everyone can try each dish, by having a bite or two. We ordered around 7 different tapas, here a few of the items we ordered…

I am excited to go back to Santa Fe and continue exploring the city. It’s so gorgeous and there’s plenty to do. I will post more about the trip in the upcoming blog posts.

In the meantime, do you like spicy food? Do the chile-based dishes make your mouth water?

First stop…Marfa!

16 Aug

At the end of yesterday’s post, I promised that I would let you all in where we were going on our family vacation. We left Austin (in a car) on Sunday morning for Santa Fe. Yes, we’re road-tripping it to New Mexico.

Yesterday, we drove about seven hours to Marfa, Texas and spent the night there. Marfa is a quaint town in West Texas, with a population of about 2,100 people. The terrain is mountainous and it is fairly cool at night, because it is in the dessert. Marfa is best known for the mysterious Marfa lights, the filming of the movie Giant (made in 1956) and minimalist art.

Marfa has many artists that reside locally and many that come from New York because of the large art gallery scene. Just to give you an idea, outside of Marfa, we drove by a permanent land art exhibit, modeled after a Prada boutique. The structure includes luxury goods from Prada’s 2005 collection. The sculpture will never function as a place of commerce and the artists had to receive permission from Prada to use the name. This was particularly fascinating because there was nothing else around for many miles and art based on Prada, is what you would least expect in the middle of nowhere Texas!

A family friend has a second home in Marfa, so we were able to spend some time with him. He is a caterer and an unbelievable cook. Thanks to him, we had a wonderful home-cooked dinner last night. He made a Caprese salad, which is one of my favorite dishes. The tomatoes were grown in Fredericksburg, Texas and perfectly ripe and the basil was grown in Marfa.

Dinner was vegetable paella, a classic Spanish dish, which consisted of rice, squash, peas, yellow and red peppers. The paella was light and enjoyable. In college, I studied in Spain and the program was set up so that we lived with families for the semester. Since Spain is so meat-centric in many of their dishes, the woman I lived with cooked paella for me at least three times a week. It’s a dish that can often be overcooked because of the way the rice is cooked and sautéed. However, last night’s was great.

He made a peach cobbler for dessert. I must admit, I’m not the biggest fan of peaches because of their texture. These peaches were grown locally in Marfa by one of his neighbors and in the cobbler, I was surprised by how unbelievably juicy and delicious the dessert was.

Locally grown ingredients make a huge difference in the overall quality of the food. Do you find that when you cook with locally grown fruits and vegetables you can taste a difference?

We just arrived to our condo in Santa Fe. We are heading out to explore the city, I will update soon!

The Graduate

15 Aug

Yesterday, my sister graduated from college. The road to her graduation has been somewhat windy and long, but she made it and I am so happy for her. I know there are wonderful opportunities in store for her because she is extremely dedicated and hard-working.

After the ceremony, the school hosted a reception for the graduates and their families. We stayed just long enough to toast to her success….

A champagne toast!

We had about 25 friends and family that were there to celebrate with us for her special day. With my family, any celebration = lots of food, so let’s discuss yesterday’s spread…

Everything was served buffet style in our dining room. We had LOTS of appetizers – vegetable platters, hummus, pita chips, cheeses and an assortment of olives and artichoke hearts. The three cheeses were great; we had blueberry cinnamon goat cheese, Manchego (a wonderful Spanish cheese) and Brie. The appetizers are always my favorite part of a party meal because I love being able to try multiple things.

There were two types of salad. One contained dried cranberries, grapes, walnuts and Gorgonzola; the other salad was a classic Greek salad with cucumbers, olives, feta and banana peppers (a great touch to a classic!) We served both dressings and some chicken on the side so that people could finish off their salads to their liking. It’s great that my parents respect and understand my vegetarianism; it was their idea to serve the chicken the side!

We also had three types of sandwiches: egg salad, pimento cheese and chicken salad. The sandwiches were served in these cute pita pockets and it seemed like the pimento cheese was a crowd favorite. Accompanying the sandwiches were Cape Cod chips and fruit salad and watermelon. On a side note, did you know that Cape Cod is coming out with two new flavors of their Reduced Fat chips? Their newest flavors will be Sea Salt and Vinegar and Mesquite BBQ. Currently, their only reduced fat flavor is their original kettle chips, which, if you’ve never tried them – they are amazing and don’t taste reduced fat at all.

What celebration is done these days without cupcakes? We had 8 different flavors, 60 of them in total!

Now, we are off to take a family vacation…where to? I will update you soon!

Do you have any celebrations coming up? If so, what will you be serving at your party?

Spice it up

12 Aug

Many cities around the United States have restaurant week. Miami’s version of “restaurant week” is called Miami Spice and lasts two months, August 1st- September 30th. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, restaurants around the city offer a multi-course menu for a fixed price ($22/person for lunch, $35/person for dinner).

Last night, I took advantage of Miami Spice and went to Hakkasan with a group of great friends. We were getting together because one of my best friends and her fiance are moving to New York City tomorrow. On a side note, I am very sad that they are leaving Miami. She is the person I moved to Miami with over four years ago! I wish them the best in their next endeavor and I can’t wait to visit them in NYC soon!

Back to the Miami Spice…As a vegetarian, it’s difficult to truly enjoy Miami Spice because most of the restaurant fixed price meals feature dishes that contain fish or meat. For non-vegetarians, Miami Spice is a great opportunity to try dishes (i.e. – steak) at a fraction of the normal cost at the more expensive restaurants around the city. Also, I find that as a vegetarian it’s difficult to justify spending $35 on a fixed-price meal of vegetables…

Hakkasan, which is known for its contemporary Chinese fare, caters to the vegetarian in their Miami Spice menu. As an appetizer, I chose the Vegetarian Dim Sum Platter. This consisted of three steamed dumplings, pumpkin, carrot and assorted vegetable. Steamed dumplings are a great and healthy option at a chinese restaurant, but unfortunately, I found these particular dumplings to be somewhat bland.

For the next course, I had the vegetarian Hot and Sour soup, a dish I’ve never tried before. I enjoyed the flavors of the soup, it had a thicker texture to it and I liked that it was somewhat sweet, yet it also had a kick to it.

I chose Stir-Fry Lotus Root, Asparagus and Lily Bulb in Black Pepper as my main course, essentially a plate of sauteed vegetables. The flavors were good, but I think that if given the the same vegetables, I could cook this dish fairly similarly in my own kitchen. As a table, we were able to choose a rice and noodle dish to be served family style. We went with the vegetable fried rice and the wild mushroom handpulled noodles. I like the sauce and the diced mushrooms with the noodles…

but I’ve seen handpulled noodles in Chinatown in Washington DC (Chinatown Express, anyone?) and these definitely did not live up to those noodles, mmm….

Chinatown Express Handpulled Noodles

There was only one option for dessert – Jasmine and Exotic Fruit Soup Lemon Verbena Sorbet and a Financier. I opted out altogether, as a fancy fruit cocktail doesn’t properly hit my sweet tooth. To tell you the truth, I was plotting where else we could get dessert from as everyone else enjoyed their dessert course.

Overall, the food was marginal at best. Since Hakkasan is Michelin-star rated in London, I had high expectations for this meal. The portions were small and the food lacked the true pizazz and bold flavors that I was seeking in Hakkasan. However, the greatest part about Miami Spice is that I was able to try a top restaurant in Miami and I only walked away spending $35 in food.

Does the city you live in have restaurant week? Have you enjoyed the restaurants that you’ve tried during the week?