Happy Friday!

And a great one it is! Today is my last day of work until next Friday, and I’m pumped to kick off the holiday season. This weekend will be spent mostly preparing for the holiday rush – deep cleaning and shopping and such – and I also hope to enjoy bit of relaxation before the craziness sets in.

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A couple friends & I went to Joe Biden’s book tour in Philly this week, and celebrated with cereal-flavored ice cream and cocktails.

I’ve also decided that instead of ditching the gym from Thanksgiving until Christmas like I usually do (which would be impossible, since I haven’t gone to the gym in months…oops), I’m going to make an attempt to head off the 15 pounds of cookies (and eggnog, and wine…) I’ll consume over the next 2 months by hitting the gym THROUGHOUT the holiday season. Maybe I’ll also try to get a few hikes/outdoor runs in before it gets too frigid. I figure this might set me up for success throughout the rest of the year, and maybe chase the seasonal depression monster away. Wish me luck (I’ll need it)!

Lentil Pasta (plus a recipe!)

Have you guys tried red lentil pasta? I was a bit skeptical at first, but after hearing several rave reviews, I snagged a box of this from Amazon (I was having a hell of a time finding anything other than chickpea pasta at the store – which I also snagged and have yet to try – but it turns out Trader Joe’s sells red lentil pasta for something like 2 bucks a bag, so Amazon proved to be unnecessary). Red lentil pasta is just that – pasta made from 100% red lentils. Nothing else. The calories are relatively similar to traditional pasta (about 200 calories per 2 oz serving), but the noodles are packed with protein and are gluten-free. I’m by no means a gluten hater, but let’s be real – traditional pasta isn’t exactly health food.

The texture of these noodles is pretty close, if not totally spot-on – they’re a tiny bit denser than your typical pasta, but if I didn’t know they were different prior to eating them, I’m not 100% sure I’d be able to tell. I also haven’t noticed any “off” flavors or aftertaste at all – it just tastes like pasta to me. If you’re a picky eater and you’re worried about flavor, I’d recommend using them in a more flavorful sauce or dish – since they’re pretty neutral, they don’t add much additional flavor to your recipe.

Speaking of flavorful recipes, I figured I’d use this opportunity to share one of my favorite, crazy simple weeknight dinners. It’s delicious, takes under half an hour to throw together, and it can be customized in infinite ways, depending on what you like/have in your fridge. Plus, it’s healthy to boot! Win-win-win (win).

Veggie-Packed Pasta Bake

I used the lentil pasta here, but you can also use traditional pasta (I love penne for this), spaghetti squash, or veggie noodles – you do you. I’m also not above using jarred sauce as a shortcut – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m obsessed with Rao’s (especially the arrabiata sauce), but your favorite sauce (or homemade, if you’re feeling ambitious) will work just as well. For veggies, I used onion, mushrooms, spinach and roasted broccoli this time, but whatever you have in your fridge is fine. If you can dream it, you can eat it.
Ingredients

8 oz pasta (of your choice – if using spiralized noodles, I’d say 3 or so medium sized zucchinis or equivalent would do, or 1 spaghetti squash, roasted and scraped)

1 jar pasta sauce

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

8 oz button or cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 head broccoli, chopped

1 bag baby spinach

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

Pre-heat oven to 425F. Place broccoli on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper; toss to coat. Roast in pre-heated oven for around 20 minutes, or until charred.

In the meantime, cook pasta including to package instructions. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high until hot, add onions and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes or until soft. Add mushrooms and season with salt & pepper; cook about 5 minutes or until mushrooms have started to release their moisture. Add spinach to pan and stir until wilted; add sauce and stir until heated through. Add broccoli and pasta; stir until combined.

If your pan is oven-safe, sprinkle pasta/sauce/veggie mixture with shredded mozzarella and grated parm (if your pan isn’t oven safe, transfer to an oven-safe dish before adding cheese). Bake for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and has started to brown.

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Puffer Picks

Last December, we were walking around Philly on a cold night during our annual overnight stay for my birthday, and I realized something…it’s time to invest in a good, insulated winter coat. I’d been making do with various pea coats, duffels, and other “dressier” wool coats, but they just weren’t cutting it – while wool coats can be very warm, they just don’t offer the protection an insulated coat would. I put it off until this year, but I finally dove in and made a purchase. Here are the top options I was considering:

The Cool Girl Pick

Uniqlo Seamless Down Long Coat – $149.90

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I came THIS CLOSE to buying this guy, and to be honest I’m not 100% sure why I decided against it…it’s stylish, gets great reviews, and the seamless design prevents cold air from seeping in. I did kind of want fur lining on the hood for no particular reason, so I guess that’s what edged this coat out.

The Sensible Pick

LL Bean Ultrawarm Coat, Long – $269

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I actually don’t remember coming across this coat while I was searching, which is really strange, because I searched LL Bean pretty exhaustively. This may have won out if I had seen it, although I didn’t really want to spend over $200…although I probably should have shelled out the extra cash for a warmer coat that’ll last me years (this is an ongoing struggle with me – I’m a crazy bargain hunter, to a fault.)

The Bargain Pick

Larry Levine Down & Feather Fill Jacket with Faux Fur Trim – $89 (on sale)

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This bargain-loving gal came very, very close to purchasing this coat – it’s super cute, right? What ended up stopping me was the lack of elastic in the wrists (I could see my arms freezing because of this) and the lack of reviews…plus, the price is so low it was almost suspect (to be fair, it was originally $198).

The Too Good To Be True Pick

Columbia Voodoo Puffer Coat – $180

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This seemed like a great price for an outdoor brand like Columbia, but upon reading reviews it sounds like it’s more of a fall coat and isn’t built for freezing weather (despite looking pretty darn warm). Next!

The Luxury Pick

Canada Goose Chelsea Fur-Trimmed Down Jacket – $755

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While this was never actually a consideration, this is most definitely the coat I’d choose if I had an unlimited budget – but alas, this is not currently the case. Maybe someday.

My Pick

Michael Kors Faux Fur Trim Down Puffer – $165 (on sale)8867784_fpx

And the winner is…this Michael Kors coat. Time will tell whether or not I regret buying a winter coat from a fashion brand, rather than an outdoor brand (my bet is YES, yes I will). Okay, you guys – so here is my (probably faulty) reasoning. First of all, it’s cute as hell. It’s nice and fitted so I won’t look like the Michelin Man, it’s just the right balance between matte and shiny, and I had told myself in the first place that I’d prefer gold hardware (which I didn’t end up actually caring about, but still). It got good reviews, the wrists are elasticized, there are plenty of pockets (I like that cute arm pocket, not that I’ll ever use it), and it’s the right length. AND…you guys, it was on crazy sale. Why am I like this? But seriously, it was marked down to $194.99 from what the website claims was originally $330 (although I’m skeptical of this, and I can’t seem to find this exact coat anywhere other than Macy’s…maybe it’s from last season? Which I’m fine with), PLUS I got an extra 25% off for signing up for text alerts so I only ended up paying a little over $150, PLUS I earned extra Macy’s cash that I can use towards my insanely expensive foundation, so that’s a win. But, I mean…it’s Michael Kors. What the hell does Michael Kors know about winter coats?

Welp…my decision has been made, and I’m anxiously awaiting its arrival (it is seriously FREAKING COLD here all of a sudden). Time will tell if I end up giving in and shelling out $250+ for a legit puffer from LL Bean or Patagonia or something next year…I’m hoping not, though! Wish me luck!

My Kitchen Countertops Are Ruining All My Pictures

Sigh.

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Gross

Why do you do this to me, ugly yellow granite? Or rather, why do you do this to me, previous homeowners who chose the ugly yellow granite? I realize that this was a popular material choice back in the early aughts, but if I’m to understand correctly, our kitchen was re-done shortly before we bought the house (which was in 2013). Could you not have chosen something a bit more neutral or modern? Don’t even get me started on the maroon wall (THAT WE’VE STILL YET TO PAINT).

Nothing looks good on this countertop. Nothing, I say! My white dishes clash with it. It makes pictures look dark and dingy, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to prevent that. Counterintuitively, any light in the area glares off of it, making pictures suck regardless of time of day or weather.

It’s also hindering my ability to re-do my kitchen (which is maybe why I keep putting it off? Sure, we’ll go with that.) Since we don’t plan to stay here forever, we don’t want to do a full gut job and have no intention of replacing these damn countertops. But it makes it difficult to do ANYTHING with the space, because everything I like decor-wise (white, gray, anything neutral) clashes with it. I suppose I could go black (like a tuxedo situation), but that would make the space even darker. Plus I don’t really want to paint the (ugly off-white) cabinets anyway.

Also! (And yes, I know I wrote basically the same thing 3 years ago on my old blog) These suckers are impossible to clean. I mean, they’re pretty easy to clean – they’re granite – but they camouflage everything, so I can never tell whether or not they’re ACTUALLY clean without breaking my back leaning from various angles. “That sounds like a benefit!” you say? To that I very respectfully say, kick rocks. It sucks.

So here I sit with ugly pictures. WOE IS ME. Could I have it worse? OH ABSOLUTELY ONE THOUSAND PERCENT. Am I still going to wine incessantly about it? Quite obviously yes. One day we will buy a house and I will gut the kitchen regardless of condition when we move in and I will have my dream kitchen (white people, amirite?) Until then, I’ll be over here dreaming of all the gorgeous Cambria Quartz. I’LL HAVE YOU ONE DAY, CAMBRIA QUARTZ!!

All the heart eyes.

Happy Friday!

Happiest of Fridays (kind of holiday Friday, no less)! While I do have to work today, a few co-workers and I decided to make the best of things and work from a gorgeous local cafe…check out my current view:

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It’s FREEZING here, which makes me a little excited and a little scared. I’m planning on firing up a batch of hot mulled cider tonight (which I may or may not spike with bourbon) to go along with our pizza, and we’re finally having a new dishwasher installed tomorrow (DESPERATELY needed…like, since we moved in – I don’t know why we always put these things off for so long). Have the coziest weekend!

What in god’s name is going on with my skin?

How does my skin know when summer’s over?

Why is my skin FLAWLESS all summer long, and then the second the leaves start to turn, I look like a pox has been thrust upon me by some type of evil witch?

At first, I figured it had something to do with the temperature – that was the only thing that made sense, but I always had a nagging doubt in the back of mind mind, because I actively moisturize all year round and my skin isn’t any drier or less dry in the winter than it is in the summer. BUT, this year the acne came back before the temperature changed AT ALL. What IS that? I always thought it was strictly hormonal (and it probably is, judging by the type/location of said acne), but then, like…why was my skin perfect all summer? Was I not a woman this summer? Did my hormones take a summer vacation?

Diet? I think not…my diet isn’t the best (nor is it the worst), but either way, it’s relatively consistent. No changes there.

When I say my skin was perfect this summer, I assure you that I am not exaggerating. Nary a blemish to be found. Acne scars disappeared as if by magic. I’m a lifelong faithful foundation wearer, and I considered many days going completely makeup-free (and some days I did just that)!! While my skin usually clears up incrementally during the summer months, this year it was better than it’s been since I was (miraculously) a totally fresh-faced teen. I experienced a brief glimmer of hope that this would be the year – that somehow, 32 and a half was the magical age at which acne would cease to kiss my face and from this moment on I’d have clear skin forevermore. But no. Practically the second October hit, my skin went back to normal. And normal sucks.

I know what you’re thinking – “Go to a dermatologist, ya turkey!” but you guys…I’m JUST NOW working up the courage to go to a normal doctor for the first time in my adult life (other than emergencies)…you’ll need to give me a moment to incorporate specialty medical professionals into my situation. So…I don’t know. I’d ask what miracle products everyone uses, but I’m skeptical regarding their effectiveness for my particular situation (as am I weary of being offered various MLM products) – I’ve tried most types of treatments, and nothing topical will cure this if it’s hormonal anyway. Birth control isn’t an option because of the whole possibly making a baby situation, so…I guess this is just my skin. Cool. Wish for a miracle for me? (Not really – don’t waste your miracle wishing on my dumb skin which is mostly fine save for some relatively mild annoying monthly acne. Use it for something cooler.) Okay bye.

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Two Easy Autumn Breakfasts

When the weather turns crisp, I start craving warm spices and hearty meals. Although breakfast is pretty much my favorite meal of the day, I rarely have any desire to cook in the morning – I’m lucky in that my office has a full hot breakfast bar, but when left to my own devices, I’ll choose convenience almost 100% of the time.

For this reason, I tend to lean on oatmeal and yogurt all year round for breakfast (with the occasional egg thrown in here and there), but I like to mix things up when seasons change. While I love to add berries to my breakfast of choice during the warmer months, once the leaves start to turn I’m all about apple and cinnamon. Here are a couple easy, delicious options to get you going in the morning:

Apple Pie Oatmeal

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Ingredients

1/2 Cup apple cider

1 medium apple, cored and roughly chopped

2 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 Cup rolled oats

1 1/2 Cups milk (I typically use 2%, but non-dairy will work just as well)

Pinch of salt

Handful of chopped glazed pecans (I like to use maple pecans, but walnuts would also be delish here)

Splash half & half, cream, or milk (optional)

Instructions

Combine the apple, cider, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the cider reduces by about half and apples are tender (about 5 minutes). Add the remaining ingredients (leaving half the nuts for garnish) and turn heat back up to medium-high. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or until desired thickness has been reached. I like to serve this with a splash of half & half and remaining nuts…if you wanna get really wild, I highly doubt a splash of maple syrup would ruin things here.

Apple-Cinnamon Yogurt Parfait

Ingredients

1/2 Cup vanilla yogurt (I love Noosa for this, but any vanilla yogurt will work – use your favorite)

1 Medium apple, cored and chopped

1/4 Cup granola (I like Nature Valley here – it’s cinnamon-y and extra crunchy)

1 Tbsp Craisins or dried cherries

1 Tbsp walnuts

Dash cinnamon

This one’s really simple, guys – spoon yogurt into a dish and top with remaining ingredients. If you want to get fancy you can layer it (hence the “parfait”), but who are you trying to impress here?

Stuff That Makes My Life Easier

Hey friends. Life is hard, yes? Therefore, I enjoy things that make said life easier. Let’s discuss, shall we?

  1. Wine Stoppers – I’ve been a hefty drinker of wine for many years, but for some reason I just started using a wine stopper like a month ago. Previously, I’d try to stuff the cork back in, which was a pain and didn’t work very well, and I’d often forget and then fruit flies would drink all of my precious wine. Well, no more! I can’t find the one I have since I bought it on clearance at Target, but here’s a cute monogram one, or a pretty set of agate ones.
  2. Garbage Can Bungee Thingies – Don’t you hate when your garbage bag slips inside of your garbage can and makes a huge mess? I do. These help.
  3. S’well Water Bottle – I know everyone has these already, but if you don’t, get one. They legit keep your water cold for unfathomable amounts of time. One time I left my water bottle in my car in 90 degree weather, and it was still cold when I came back 8 hours later. No joke.
  4. Duvet Clips – I don’t have these yet, but I’m getting some. My most recent duvet cover doesn’t have ties for reasons unbeknownst to me, and it’s basically a nightmare. These seem better than ties. Win.
  5. Apple TV – Honestly, I don’t remember life before Apple TV. Was it fine? Probably. Was it worse? Almost undoubtedly. If I’m being frank, we probably have too many streaming option type things (we have a smart TV, two TiVos – yes, actual TiVo, Apple TV, we still for some reason possess a DVR from our cable company which we pay for monthly and do not use, an Xbox 360 or whatever the most recent iteration is, plus we subscribe to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, I think all the premium channels and their streaming counterparts…it’s a lot, guys) um but anyway, it makes life easier.
  6. Hair Pins – Up until my wedding, I only used one type of hair pin (the flat kind), regardless of the type of hairstyle I was using them for. But then! The night of my wedding, I was taking out the 50 thousand hair pins holding my ‘do up, and I noticed that they were different – instead of being flat, they were open, and I realized that these are probably what you’re supposed to use for topknots and buns and such. Lo and behold, they work WAY better. You’re probably not stupid like me and already know this, but if not, you’re welcome.

Okay, this post was supposed to be helpful bordering on genius, but it got dumb really fast…my apologies, guys. Here’s a pic of my dog in a party hat to make up for it.

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Forgive me.

 

Sad Music For Happy People

I love all sorts of music, but there’s something SO GOOD about a heart-wrenching, goose-bump inducing tearjerker. That said, I’m not really one to listen to sad music when I’m bummed out – I typically prefer to listen to really sad music when I’m happy. Why is that? Maybe because when you’re generally happy, life feels a bit…dull, but in a great way? Kind of like something’s missing, but you definitely don’t want that something. But listening to a really sad, soul-crushing song can make you really feel alive for a minute, even if you don’t necessarily relate right in the moment – it’s kind of like, proof you can still feel pain like a tortured artist even if you’re a grinning goofball in reality.

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Here are some of my all-time favorite sad bastard songs:

  • Talking In Code ~ Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s (GOD this song is good – best breakup song of all time, in my book)
  • The Gold ~ Manchester Orchestra
  • Simple Math ~ Manchester Orchestra
  • Lightness ~ Death Cab For Cutie
  • Transatlanticism ~ Death Cab For Cutie 
  • I Don’t Want Love ~ The Antlers
  • A Lack of Color ~ Death Cab For Cutie (this song actually isn’t really sad, but it has that sad feeling – also, Death Cab is clutch for this type of music, clearly)
  • Should You Return ~ Copeland (if you want to get REAL sappy)
  • Colorblind ~ Counting Crows (also great for your, ahem, sexy time playlist…which, oddly enough, is the case with several of these songs – all that raw emotion, man.)
  • Black And Blue ~ Counting Crows
  • Dizzy ~ Jimmy Eat World
  • 23 ~ Jimmy Eat World (This was actually our wedding song, HA!)
  • The Big Fight ~ Stars
  • Not Your Lover ~ Blitzen Trapper
  • Discoloration ~ Dawn Golden
  • Cold Fame ~ Band Of Skulls
  • That Western Skyline ~ Dawes
  • Curs in the Weeds ~ Horse Feathers
  • Darlin’ ~ Houdmouth
  • My Baby Don’t Understand Me ~ Natalie Press
  • NYC ~ Interpol
  • Leif Erikson ~ Interpol
  • I Can’t Make You Love Me ~ Bonnie Raitt (The classic!)
  • The Background ~ Third Eye Blind (Your classic dead lover cancer song)
  • Casimir Pulaski Day ~ Sufjan Stevens (another cancer song for good measure)
  • Demons ~ Guster

Another option is to just listen to straight Radiohead – pretty much any Radiohead will do, but In Rainbows is a good album choice for the real soul-crushing stuff.

Happy weeping!