Cold Spring and No Dessert for Lent

Hello! Hope you all had a great week.

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Bailey says, “Hi!”

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I’m not sure what the weather is like where you are, but it’s been really cold around town lately. We had some 70 degree weather awhile back, but I guess that was just a tease. This week has been all in the 50′s, 40′s, and even 30′s! I’m ready for spring!

The only upside I found this past week was making a big slow cooker batch of my beef and 3 bean chili. Chili is such good cold weather food. We enjoyed ours with fresh-grated cheddar melted on top and Great Harvest jalapeño poppers on the side. Those poppers are almost as good with chili as the classic PIC – cornbread. The poppers are like white rolls stuffed with a jalapeño slice and cheddar cheese…yum! We warmed ours up in the oven for a few minutes for that fresh-baked taste.

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The weather seems to only be adding to my stress levels lately. I’d like to say I’m trying to balance that out by sleeping more, but I’m not good at going to be early. So, instead, I’ll continue to try to eat healthy and get plenty of water, fruits, and vegetables.

We had pizza for dinner tonight, but breakfast, lunch, and dinner were lacking in the veg category, so I decided to have a snack of edamame with coarse salt and zesty spices for a movie snack.

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And I gave up dessert for Lent, so no sweets for me for awhile. I’ve decided that smoothies are okay post-dinner because I get extra fruit (and often times vegetable) servings. So far, I’ve had a couple simple green monster smoothies after dinner, and though they aren’t a true dessert, I’ve enjoyed them quite a bit.

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I’ve felt pretty wiped out this week. I think things started out poorly when I spent most of Monday from 8am – 7pm in meetings at work., and I’ve been playing catch up since then. Bailey and I are hoping for some good R&R this weekend.

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Here’s something to think about for the weekend – Yogi Tea wisdom – “Let your heart guide you.”

Weekend Eats and Soup Preview

Hey everyone!

Hope you had a great weekend! Mine was full of delicious eats from some of my favorite restaurant spots.

1900 Mexican Grill

Hubby and I had a date night at 1900 Mexican Grill & Tequila Bar.

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I tried the margarita special (Orange Crush – with muddled pineapple and orange), but it still can’t beat my jam – the Tamarind Margarita. I haven’t seen margaritas like that anywhere else, so if you’re ever at 1900, try it!

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We went with cheese dip, a side of guacamole, and chicken fajitas. We’ve both started really enjoying guacamole in recent years, but we haven’t fully transitioned from the cheese dip just yet. Old habits die hard, right?

Root Beer at Brixx

On Saturday, I started the day with my friend Sarah’s Zumba class. A group of us enjoyed post-work-out eats at Brixx for lunch. They had a Blue Moon special, which sounded great, especially since the day was so spring-like. But, the draft root beer was calling my name.

Pear Arugula Salad at Brixx

Sarah and I split a pear and arugula salad…

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…and pizza. Hawaiian for Sarah and BBQ chicken for me. I love how Brixx lets you do half and half pizzas.

Persis Biryani Grill - Kashmir Cocktail

And the restaurant fun didn’t stop at lunch. My friend hosted a game night, so I found a new Indian restaurant to try on the way – Persis Biryani Indian Grill. I absolutely loved this place!

I kicked things off with the Kashmir – a drink made with fresh ginger and citrus. I’ve never had a cocktail quite like this, and it was really refreshing and tasty. I can see myself enjoying this even more in spring and summer when the weather is warmer.

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For the main event, I shared samosas, saag paneer, chicken tandoori, and garlic naan. The mixture of dishes was a great sampling, and I really enjoyed all of it. The food was prepared well, and the entire staff was so friendly. We must have had three different waiters stop by to check on us throughout the meal. I definitely want to come back here soon.

Kale Black Eyed Pea Soup Preview

But, I didn’t eat out all weekend. Here’s a preview of a soup I made for lunch, made with barley, black eyed peas, and kale. I’m hoping to blog the recipe soon, but I’m not sure how long it will be since I’ve had other recipes I’ve wanted to share recently that I haven’t posted about just yet.Meetings

{Meetings from 8am to almost 7pm! Happy Monday!}

The thing is that I’ve just been feeling really overwhelmed recently…like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things that I want to do. My current work project has been really demanding, and this blog has been suffering. I have better intentions than actions when it comes to TCL recently, and that drives me crazy because I’m a big believer in actions speaking louder than words. The posts that are in my head don’t matter when they stay there and never materialize into actual posts.

In addition to work-work, I’ve also been putting a lot of time in effort into Zumba – working on new choreo, planning things for my classes, visiting fellow instructors’ classes, and helping the company. I keep thinking about sharing some of the choreo with you guys, but YouTube is an intimidating thing. Maybe one day I’ll work up the courage…or honey badger-ness.

Anywho, while we’re talking Zumba, I’m currently planning a 9-week challenge for my classes for the months of April and May. If there are any fellow instructors out there who would like some information about this, let me know. I’m happy to share so you can host your own challenge in your classes!

Have a great week, guys!

Loving Lately: Baguette and Brie

Sometimes I just love to get a fresh-baked baguette and hunk of creamy brie for an afternoon snack…preferably with a glass of wine. My dad has always loved brie with bread, but I especially grew fond of this snack after doing an exchange to France in high school.

I went to France with 16 other classmates in the middle of winter, flying first to Paris and then taking the TGV (super fast train) to our exchange town – Besançon. After our group got a little lost between the airport and the TGV station, we arrived very late at night. Our exchange families picked each of us up, and we were living the French life from there for the next week and a half. The very first thing we did on the very first morning was walk to the local bakery to pick up a baguette. At the time, I couldn’t fully appreciate the wonderfulness of that simple trip. I was tired and jet-lagged and wondering why we’d be waking up early just to get a loaf of bread. But that baguette was one of the best I’ve ever had in my entire lifetime…as was every other baguette enjoyed in France. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but boy do I see that now! Is it that much better to have the real thing? In my opinion, yes.

And though I can’t as easily (or if you want to be literal…at all) get French baguettes here in the states, there are some local bakeries who do a pretty good job. And as for the cheese, you can find French brie all over. Plus, many creameries make a nice brie. It’s just when you try to replicate the French baguette, it seems to be missing a certain je ne said quoi.

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I recently picked up a baguette along with some North Carolina made brie, Carolina Moon, by Chapel Hill Creamery. I found both of these goodies at the 7th Street Market.

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They were delicious straight up, as well as with some spiced red lentil soup. Yum!

Hopefully, I’ll get to enjoy authentic French baguettes again one day. Till then, I’ll be hitting up my local bakeries for the next best thing.

A Hands-On Chinese New Year Party

Did you do anything fun for Chinese New Year? Hubby and I usually try to get dim sum every year, but this year, we did something even better.

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My friend Briana invited me over for a hands-on Chinese New Year party at her house. The plan – prepare her family’s recipes and learn how to fold dumplings and egg rolls and make other traditional dishes.

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When I arrived, Briana was frying up shrimp chips.

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The colorful discs are small and thin when they come out of the box, but they puff up to at least four times their original size as they fry in oil.

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The fruit platter was easy to put together – just add sliced oranges and stuff cherries into lychee fruit.

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With pineapple added to the center, the simple fruit platter was beautiful and colorful. The oranges are said to bring wealth and good luck.

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After some snacking and gathering, Briana kicked off the real hands-on fun with the party. The dining room table was set-up for dumpling and egg roll making and most of the guests found a seat there.

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I headed into the kitchen to learn about Tang Yuan. I’d never seen anything like it, so I was really curious to see what it was about.

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Glutinous rice is used to make a dough that is rolled into balls and then boiled till they float. Next, the dough balls are cooked in a sweet broth made with pandan leaves, ginger, and sugar.

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The soup is more like a dessert, but I didn’t mind eating it first. It’s always a good time for dessert!

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After finishing with the dessert soup, I checked out what the others were working on – folding egg rolls…

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…and steaming dumplings.

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Time for the big reveal…

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Oh yea!

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Hello, lovelies.

Nothing like freshly steamed dumplings. Briana said the dumplings are shaped like coins to symbolize wealth. I was curious about the coin shape reference since they don’t resemble the round shape of coins I’m familiar with, but this article mentioned that the shape is like ingot-shaped coins or yuanbao.

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These were served with a simple sauce of soy sauce, vinegar, fresh ginger, fresh garlic, and green onion.

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The dumplings and egg rolls were gobbled up almost as soon as they were cooked. They were both so great! Lucky for us, the group had prepared tons of food. And while batches and batches of Chinese New Year eats were prepared, cooked, and served, we got to enjoy good company from the fellow guests. Also not pictured, we had even more delicious eats that Briana prepared and other guests brought – fried taro root cakes, noodles, kimchi, Filipino sweet rice (that I brought), and Chinese BBQ chicken wings.

By the way, I learned from Steamy Kitchen that the egg rolls also have symbolism since they are shaped like gold bars and thus are said to bring wealth.

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After we’d stuffed ourselves on (mostly) savory eats, Briana got started on dessert #2 – Almond Cookies!

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Briana said she liked to make her cookies a little smaller than normal. They were pretty much bite-sized, and you couldn’t help but want to snack on them like chips.

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They were so yummy!

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And don’t forget about the tea!

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Thank you to Briana for opening up your home to us and sharing your family’s traditions! We had a blast!

Eat in Month 2014: Week 3 and 4 Check In and Closing Thoughts

Well, I missed my 3 week check-in for Eat in Month 2014. I’ll go ahead and blame Charlotte Start-Up Weekend. More on that in a minute. In the meantime, let’s jump in!

Week 3

January 15

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Right smack dab in the middle of the challenge, I went out with my Epic Eater friends to celebrate Dion getting a wonderful new job and moving to Tampa, FL. Her choice of outing – Chima! I’d never been before, so I was really looking forward to checking the place out. I started out with one of their signature mocktails – a refreshing lime and milk drink. To me, it was an unusual combination (citrus and dairy?), but the drink was quite good!

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Have you been to one of these Brazilian types of restaurants? Here’s how it works. At this restaurant, we were given a few minutes at the salad bar. Kseniya’s strategy was to get a nice plate of veggies and to slowly eat them over the course of the meal. It was a great idea, and I’m glad she shared her tip! Anywho, after getting your veggies, the next step involves a round card. One side indicates you’d like more meat and the other indicates you don’t. When you’re ready, you flip the card over to say you’re up for some meat, and the servers come around, each carrying a different kind of meat – lamb, flank steak, rib eye, pork, chicken, bacon-wrapped chicken, bacon-wrapped filet, Brazilian sausage, and more! The various meats are skewered on tall swords, and then they slice your serving(s) or carefully remove a portion for you. The flank steak, sausage, and bacon-wrapped filets were my favorite. I didn’t even need the sauces I’d picked up from the salad bar, though it was fun experimenting with them.

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Dion recommended the papaya cream, so I knew I had to try it. It was like a melty, fruity ice cream. And the papaya is said to help aid digestion…definitely recommended after a full meal like this one!

From beginning to end, Chima was a wonderful experience. I can’t wait to take my husband here! The food was delicious and unique and the service was more than excellent. I had a great time!

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We’re so happy for you, Dion, but we’re going to miss you terribly! Good luck in sunny Florida!

January 16

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January’s lunch theme was definitely toasted sandwiches. They were just so easy to put together on my busiest days, and I’m not a fan of re-heating leftovers. It never tastes quite as good, and I don’t like using the microwave. Thank goodness for toaster ovens!

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Here’s one of my favorite lunches – toasted sandwich (turkey and muenster), salad, sea salt and vinegar chips, and a mini toblerone.

January 19

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On one of the Saturdays, I happily enjoyed some leftover, homemade soup and freshly baked baguette from Local Loaf with some North Carolina made brie from Orrman’s Cheese Shop. Baguette and brie is one of my favorite snacks. In fact, as I write about this, I’m wondering if I should pick up some for later. Hmm…

January 21

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I stopped by the farmer’s market one day and picked up a head of napa cabbage that was almost as big as Bailey! Okay, not quite that big, but it was huge compared to most I’ve seen!

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The cabbage went into this delicious tofu noodle stir fry (click here for a similar recipe).

Week 4

January 24

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I attended my second Charlotte Startup Weekend in January. I’ll be blogging about it over on my tech blog, but you can read about my first startup weekend experience here. Basically, we tried launching a startup in 54 hours, so I was there almost the entire weekend! I thought about blogging while I was at the event, but I really wanted to focus on the team and our project.

January 27

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Though I gave myself a once-a-week Starbucks pass during the challenge, I found I didn’t need it as much as I thought I would. I didn’t even use it most weeks. Coffee at the house was enough.

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Unfortunately, I had to cheat on the challenge one day. I was running late for work and was relying on an emergency frozen meal I’d stored at the office, but the cleaning crew threw it away! Doh! I got this rice bowl with chicken and lots of veggies. It felt wrong to cheat on the challenge, but I wasn’t about to skip a meal!

January 29

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I got to work one day from home since it snowed. This meant I had all the hot tea I could consume…

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…and I even got to make this clean-eats hot chocolate. I used to use packets all the time, but have you looked at the ingredient lists on those things? There are so many weird, unpronounceable things in those things! This hot chocolate had 4 ingredients: unsweetened cocoa powder, rice milk, sugar, and vanilla extract. Click here for a similar recipe for coconut milk hot chocolate.

January 31

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And for the last dinner of the challenge…grilled burgers with steamed broccolini and french fries. It was so good and reminded me that I’m looking forward to even more grilled eats when the weather warms up. I feel like spring is right around the corner. Just a few weeks, right?

Closing Thoughts on the Eat in Month Challenge

I was thinking of documenting my lessons learned from the challenge, but the notes I made on my 2 Week Check-In sums it up nicely. The challenge was definitely difficult this time around. Prepping ahead was not easy for me, though some menu planning helped a lot. Also, taking inventory of what we had in the house (in the pantry, fridge, freezer) also helped me remember what ingredients we had as I’d be driving home from work or Zumba and wondering what I was going to eat. Having some semi-homemade options was also a big help. I generally like to make sure my meals and healthy and well-balanced, but perfect meals are stressful. Remembering to focus on doing my best (qualitarian!) really helped remove some of that stress and let me enjoy the challenge and my eating more.

Oh, and one more thing – I had a couple people join in late. Better late than never, right? I think whichever month for you is best is the best month for this challenge! You can check out their challenge updates on their blogs here and here. Can’t wait to see how they do!

How’d you do with the challenge?

Eat in Month 2014: Week 2 Check In and Ice Skating

Well, we’re half way done with the Eat in Month 2014 Challenge (though it’s not too late to join)! How are you holding up? I must admit, this year has been really tough. I’m not sure if it’s this hard every year, and I just forget, but it sure seems harder than normal. I’m really missing some of my favorite restaurants where I often get lunch or a quick post-Zumba dinner. The good news is that I’ve already noted some things to keep my habits in check for the rest of the year.

What I’ve learned/noted so far:

  • Spice up simple lunches with extra features – my go-to lunch is a turkey sandwich, but paired with a tasty snack (like those kettle salt and vinegar chips I can’t stop eating at the moment) or some locally made hot garlic, probiotic pickles by Pickleville, the whole meal is more enjoyable. Add in fun twists or a couple, small upgrades to treat yourself.
  • toasted turkey and cheese sandwich > turkey and cheese sandwich (find a toaster oven!)
  • Plan ahead – eating at a local restaurant is okay if you can afford it and you enjoy it, but you shouldn’t just do it as a crutch if you’re feeling lazy or don’t have anything to eat at home.
  • Eat your greens – cook extra vegetables throughout the week and portion into individual servings to grab and go with lunch.

What have you learned, noted, or thought about with this challenge?

***

January 8

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As I mentioned above lunch was much better with some of my favorite chips and locally made pickles. The only thing that would have made this better is maybe a piece of delicious chocolate. Finding a toaster oven at the office has been a big win, since I think they make the sandwiches taste so much better.

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I was feeling really tired from my 9-to-5 and teaching Zumba, so I took a bit of help from the freezer and made these Trader Joe’s vegetable pot stickers with an arugula salad with fresh sliced cucumber. While I was at Trader Joe’s this week, I got a bag of organic lemons, and I used one to make a quick lemon vinaigrette, which I really enjoyed. I even had an extra slice of lemon for my water.

January 9

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For some challenge years, I don’t eat anything that doesn’t come from my house. This year, I’ve decided that I can go to Starbucks once per week. I was having a particularly long morning on the 9th and got my new usual – the green tea latte with half classic syrup.

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For lunch, I tried a new frozen meal – Chana Saag by Saffron Road. I really like how the company pays a lot of attention to quality of ingredients and sourcing, which you can read about more on the Saffron Road web site. The lunch was really tasty, and I’ve already purchased a new one for a rainy day.

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The only downside to frozen meals is that they don’t seem to keep my hungry. So, I had some coconut peanut butter toast and green beans later in the day.

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For dinner, I made a big stir fry, making sure I had enough for leftovers.

January 10

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I normally don’t love leftovers. I find that chicken tastes weird when it’s reheated in a microwave. But, this meal re-heated fairly nicely. I actually really enjoyed it and would do it again in the future. I especially liked how, unlike when I eat out (with most restaurants), I can control the quality of my chicken.

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For dinner, we started with salads and then…

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…we made pizza! We got ingredients from Pasta & Provisions – they have the best dough, sauce, and cheese. The cheese is really key. It just melts so much better than the stuff at the grocery store. We enjoyed this whilst catching up on the end of Sherlock season 2! We’re so hooked. Didn’t season 3 just start?

January 11

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On Saturday, I spoke on a panel of local bloggers at Whole Foods for their health fair along with Lauren (who writes for Food Babe), Brittany, and Lori. We had a great discussion, and it was so nice catching up with my blog friends and meeting Shannon who organized the event. And since I was there, I stocked up on some groceries for #eatinmonth and picked up this…

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…delicious light lunch of toasted baguette slices with brie and olives.

January 12

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On Sunday, I did a boat load of cooking. One thing I made was a double batch of my Spiced Red Lentil, Tomato, and Kale soup so I’d have plenty to freeze for later.

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And I took a break in the middle of the day to go ice skating after watching the US Nationals ladies long programs the night before. Seeing all the beautiful skating made me miss all the skating I used to do and had me googling adult competitions at midnight. While I won’t be competing any time soon, I figured I could at least hit up a local rink and skate around a bit. I’m extremely rusty, but I had a great time. Boy, were my legs hurting the next day, though!

January 13

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One of the best things I made on Sunday was a new oil-free granola recipe. I can’t wait to share it with you, but I do have this granola recipe already blogged if you can’t wait. Anywho, that stuff was like crack! Healthy-crack, of course. I enjoyed the granola all week with coconut milk yogurt. I eat dairy, but I love the way coconut milk tastes, and the yogurt was really good. I did learn that I don’t like the Trader Joe’s one as much as the So Delicious, though, because the TJ’s one is kind of lumpy, while the latter is nice and smooth.

January 14

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And thanks to a trip to Great Harvest on Saturday, we had more whole grain bread so I could have my current favorite breakfast: buttered toast with a fried egg. Though, after eating that granola the rest of the week, there could be a nice favorite making it’s way to the top!

***

Is anyone else excited for the winter Olympics to start? I feel like I’ve fallen out of it ever since Michelle Kwan stopped competing, but the US Nationals has re-inspired me! I’m pulling for the two US underdogs – Polina and Jason Brown. Have you heard of them yet? Polina came in second at her first ever senior level competition, and she’s just adorable. Her programs were really beautiful, and I thought she really pulled you into her skating. I can’t wait to see how she does in the Olympics.

And you may have heard of Jason’s program already since it went a little viral:

FIrst of all, this program is so impressive. Although he doesn’t do any quadruples, it’s still full of challenging jumps and moves in addition to being highly entertaining. One of the things that really jumped out at me was the entrance to some of his jumps since some were pretty complex. And the best thing is watching at the end when he sees his scores and is so surprised. It’s just so cute.

Go Jason and Polina!

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