Friday, May 22, 2009

I have a Crush on Crush

MrRuckus and I believe very much in couple time.  We go on trips without our kids and aim for "date night" at least once a week.  Almost always, this involves a delicious meal out with some wine.  The other day, we had that PLUS a movie!  Not only that, we got to try out a really fun place during its "soft opening".  

Crush is a new wine bar that opened in The Woodlands along the Waterway, behind Hubbell and Hudson, my favorite grocery store/restaurant.  Walking in, you are transported from Suburbia to a cool, chic spot (c'mon, The Woodlands is getting better all the time, but it is most definitely Suburbia).  The bar on the main floor (the second floor of the building) is enormous, snakes the whole length of the room and glows.   On this floor, there are tables inside and outside. The outside tables overlook the fountains.  Upstairs is an even more lounge-like rooftop space.  There are cabanas with long settees, a sleek and modern fire pit, and plenty of comfy chairs and couches, as well as a few tables.  The look is very modern but the feel is inviting.  Staff members are friendly and, so far, really seem to want to please. 

This has been their "soft opening" so they still are working on some kinks.  However, things seem to be going in the right direction.  Wine list is extensive and varied, and there are many items available by the glass.  One strange thing is that the list was "backwards" with Cabs on the first page and sparkling wines on the last.  I have never seen this before. Also, there was little information given about the wines, so you have to put a lot of faith in the servers.  I would like to see flights offered as a way to taste many of the carefully chosen selections.  I had a very dry sparkler from New Mexico to start while MrRuckus started with a juicy Alsace Reisling (of course).  We then each had a light and fruity pinot from Monterey that our server recommended.  Perfect for that evening, a rare Texas night in May that required a "light sweater or jacket".

The food was quite good. We had a cheese plate with five different cheeses.  All of them were yummy (though I love cheese, all cheese, except Swiss), but no one except the chef knew what they were.  In fact, one server said that the chef sources all of them from a dairy "in The Woodlands".  When I called BS on that (dairy in The Woodlands???), I was told that their source is in The Woodlands and all of the cheese are from Texas.  Maybe . . .  The cheese comes with light and tasty homemade flatbread, some nuts and some fresh berries.  We also had beef carpaccio whose flavor was marred by the overuse of dijon mustard.  Then, we had their Kobe sliders with a gooey cheese sauce on top.  Great burgers, but no fries!  How can you serve sliders without fries?  I was told that they never intend to have a fryer.  At least some fancy chips?

All in all, a great place that I intend to frequent.  We then went down the street and saw "Angels and Demons".  Ugh.  As usual, "the book was so much better."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Yesterday I had to go run an errand in Houston and had a few extra minutes before I had to turn around and pick up my son at pre-school.  So, I decided to try the fro-yo at Berripop in Uptown Park.  I have never had the pleasure of trying Pinkberry in LA or New York, so was excited to try this cool, creamy treat here in Houston.  Berripop, like Pinkberry is made from real yogurt with probiotics.  Since I have lately been very into Fage Greek Yogurt and love the tart taste of it, the idea of having it in frozen form was very appealing.  Berripop did not disappoint.  I tried a few flavors but settled on mango with pineapples and strawberries on top.  It was delicious, sweet, tart and refreshing.

Last night MrRuckus and I were out for dinner and drinks at a new place on the waterway, here in The Woodlands and I said to him, "Berripop would do great here since there are no places to get simple 'treats' right here."  Then, I woke up this morning to find my daily Hungry Girl email was about fro-yo.  She was discussing the need to check nutritional information carefully and know the size you are getting.  So, I went onto the Berripop site out of curiosity and didn't find further nutritional information, but something even more exciting: they are coming to The Woodlands!  They have a location already on the waterway.  Yay!  Can't wait until they open.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weight Watching

I love food.  Reading about it, shopping for it, finding new places to eat, reading restaurant reviews, planning meals, cooking, baking, and especially eating.  I subscribe to and read all of the major food magazines and collect cookbooks.  I watch Food Network and love Top Chef. When I cook, I usually try to buy the best quality, most flavorful and freshest ingredients. I love trying new restaurants and enjoy nothing more than a tasting menu for sampling what the chef thinks are the best things to put out. I like to think of myself as a foodie. 

Recently, I have had to temper my inner foodie.  In the past few months, I have successfully lost all of my baby weight plus twenty five pounds, and I have never felt better.  I have not and will not give up my passion for food.  Mostly, I have trained myself to make better food choices, to have small portions of the things I love, and to splurge when something is really splurge worthy (hello, recent meals at Feast and Da Marco) or when on vacation (I'm looking at you Eric Ripert).  I have done all of this successfully by following the weight watchers plan.  Without going to a single meeting, I have access to all of the tools available.  

Basically, though, the keys to my "success" have been:
1.  Write down what I eat and don't cheat.  If I have three m&m's from my son's "potty prizes", I write it down.  I am accountable to myself and so I have learned that bites here and there add up.
2.  The more fiber the better.  Higher fiber content makes foods lower in points values and more filling.  So, I try to choose whole foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads and pastas.  Vegetables (for the most part) have no points, so I have learned to snack on them more than anything else.
3.  Steel cut oatmeal every morning.  Every day for breakfast I have a bowl of steel cut oatmeal and a large latte that I make on my beloved nespresso machine. This fills me up all morning.
4.  Save some points for a small treat every night.  I have a sweet tooth and must have dessert. (If I have baked something fabulous, like the Paula Deen's caramel cake that I made for MrRuckus's birthday, I will, of course choose a tiny sliver of this. )  Otherwise it is a skinny cow ice cream sandwich or a jell-o sugar free dulce de leche pudding.  If I am out of points, I drink cup after cup of naturally sweet Aveda Comforting Tea. MrRuckus thinks that this makes my breath smell like I have been partaking in some marijuana inhalation.  No wonder I like it so much!
5.  Sriracha, or thai hot sauce, is the greatest condiment ever.   I put this on everything that is not sweet and it adds so much flavor with no calories.
6.  Water water water.  I drink at least a gallon a day, two if I am going to go to Bikram.
7.  Pilates Reformer works.  I am so much stronger, leaner and faster thanks to my twice weekly training on the reformer.  
8.  Breastfeeding burns a lot of calories each day.  Thank goodness for, as my friend "K" puts it, my "little calorie sucker".  I guess the little ladybug will be nursing for a while.  

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Home Made Pizza (and Calzone)

Most of the time, when I shop at a really good grocery like Hubbell and Hudson, Whole Foods or the farmers' market, I buy what looks good to me that day and then take it home and figure out how to prepare it.  Sometimes this entails running out to my neighborhood Kroger to get a few missing ingredients, but I keep my kitchen pretty well stocked with tasty, flavorful essentials. Because of this shopping method, I have discovered some favorite foods that have become weekly staples, such as beets, fennel and leeks.  I buy these weekly and can't get enough of them.  

Having cooked most of my produce from last week by way of a beet and beet green risotto, chicken with leeks, pork with a beet/leek sauce, and meyer lemon braised fennel, I was left with broccolini.  This is a pretty new one for me and didn't go over all that well when I bought it last time and roasted it, so I wanted to try again.

I also had some Niman Ranch uncured applewood smoked bacon that I bought at H and H last week after reading an article in Bon Appetit about bacon being a health food.  "So that means that some could argue that bacon is about half as good for you as olive oil and about 100 times more delicious."   If regular bacon is 100 times more delicious than olive oil, then this bacon is another power of ten.  

So, what to do with broccolini and bacon?  How about pizza? I found a couple of pizza recipes, combined them, made some substitutions with what I had in the fridge and came out with some great results.

Here is a picture of the broccolini, caramelized onion and bacon pizza before it went into the oven. 

Recipe for Bacon, Caramelized Onion and Bacon Pizza:

Dough (adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Hertzber and Francois):

2 3/4 cups warm water
1 1/2 TBSP granulated yeast
1 1/2 TBSP salt
1 TBSP sugar
1/8 cup EVOO
6 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1.  Mix the yeast, salt, sugar and EVOO with water in a big bowl
2.  Using a wooden spoon, mix in the flour.  Use wet hands to incorporate the rest of the flour if necessary
3.  Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses, approx 2 hours
4.  The dough can be used immediately after the rise, but is easier to handle when cold.  Refrigerate in a covered (not airtight) container and use over the next 12 days.

(This recipe makes enough for four pizzas.  I halved the recipes and made two)

1 lb broccolini, chopped and steamed
3 thick slices of bacon
1 onion, cut in half and sliced thin 
3 sprigs thyme
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup ricotta (or do what I did and combine 1/4 cup cream cheese with 1/4 cup fat free greek yogurt)
1 tsp minced garlic
S and P

1.  cut bacon into 1/2 inch pieces and cook in skillet to render fat and brown bacon.
2.  remove with a slotted spoon and then dispose of all but 1 TBSP bacon fat (yum!)
3.  Caramelize onion in bacon fat by cooking over medium low heat.  Add sugar and salt in the beginning and then thyme once onions are nice and soft and starting to brown.  Stir frequently and cook until they are nice and brown, about 20 minutes
4.  Mix cheese, garlic, S and P in a bowl

Putting it together:
1.  Forty minutes before baking home, preheat oven with a baking stone to 550 (or 500 if that is your oven's max)
2.  Dust the surface of refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit size piece.  Dust with more flour and shape it into a ball.
3.  Flatten dough with your hands and roll on a floured wooden board until it is a thin round.  Dust with flour to keep from sticking.  
4.  Place the rolled out dough on a cornmeal covered pizza peel.
5.  Spread cheese mixture all over crust, leaving 1/2 inch around the edge
6.  Scatter the broccolini, onions and bacon all over
7.  Slide the pizza directly onto the stone.  Check for doneness at 8-10 minutes.  At this time turn pizza around in the oven if one side is browning faster than the other.  Might need a few more minutes.
8.  Use pizza peel, remove from oven, cut and enjoy.

(I had some technical difficulties in sliding the pizza off and ended up with a heart shaped pizza, but it was still delicious)

The broccolini added some bitterness and freshness to the sweet and savory flavors of the onions and bacon.  

I also made a simple sausage pizza by layering store bought tomato sauce, fresh buffala mozzarella and sliced sausage.  However, when I slid this off the peel, it folded over on itself and made a very messy calzone.

Not quite Dolce Vita, but there was no time to drive into Houston last night. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mom Me Time

MrRuckus is a physician and he works strange hours around the clock.  Sometimes I hate it, but sometimes it is really great.  Like tonight. 

My kids were in bed early and I have the whole night to myself.  Perfect for my mini vacation.  Fill up the tub, add my favorite bubble bath, turn on some music, grab one of my many magazines, pour a glass of wine, take two pieces of dark chocolate and bliss out for an hour.  I usually put a deep conditioning hair treatment on as well as a thick layer of moisturizer so that they really sink in with all that steam opening everything up.  When I come out, I feel like I have been on vacation, just lovely and peaceful.  I try to do this at least once a week.  

I Love Amazon Prime

I shop online all of the time.  It saves me tons of money and, just as importantly, saves me tons of stress.  With a little research, you can find better prices for almost anything online than in stores and there are so many ways to get free shipping.  I will blog all about my favorite sites and strategies some other time.  But, as I am sure that I will be talking about what I bought from amazon on a frequent basis, I might as well post about it here in the beginning.  For many years, I thought of amazon as the place to go to buy books.  They have almost everything in print and they have tons of reviews.  Maybe I bought a movie from them here or there.  They had that nifty and thrifty "super saver" shipping if you bought a couple of books.

Well, man was I missing out.  Amazon has single handedly made my life so much better, so much easier, so much more pleasant and stress free.  Why?  Because of Amazon Prime.  For years they offered me a "trial period" and I declined.  Finally, a few months ago, I decided to try it out and I discovered that it is the BEST thing ever.  Yes, it costs $80/year.  But, it is the best $80 I have ever spent.  If I am deciding on an item, there are tons of reviews to help me make my decision. When I need something specific, all I have to do is go onto amazon and put it in my shopping cart.  I do not use amazon for browsing.  I use it for BUYING.  Then, when I am ready to check out (usually I do this every other day), they ship it to me with FREE two day shipping.  If I want it the next day, it is only $3.99/item.  Not only is shipping free, but the prices are usually the same if not better than you would find at your big box stores (i.e. Sam's Club).  Plus, no tax.

Running low on diapers?  Amazon.  Need my son's organic chocolate milk?  Amazon arranges for shipment every month.  An enormous kids' picnic table for a party this weekend?  $3.99 and the 60 pound box is at my house in less than 24 hours.  Nursing bras, strollers, birthday presents, spices, new Kitchen Aid mixer, vitamins, laundry detergent, water filters.  These are all things I have gotten from amazon in the last month.  I am telling you, you name it, they have it and can get it to you in two days.  No need to go to Sam's Club. No need to go to Walgreen's, no need to go to Babies R Us.  No need for dragging cranky kids all over.  For less money than I would have spent hopping around from store to store, my stuff comes to me.  How can I go wrong?  (There is even an iPhone application so that I can shop on the go.)  

I still buy my books from them.  And I will be doing so even more easily when I get my Kindle.

VillaSport Athletic Club

Yesterday, our family decided to join the new gym in town, VillaSport Athletic Club.  We had been getting mailings from them for months and I thought about joining back when they were offering 50% off the enrollment fee, but it is hard to commit to a new gym without seeing it.  Before opening, the discount on the enrollment fee was only 20% off, so I thought that I should at least get that savings if I was going to do it.  I toured last week and was really impressed, but just wasn't ready to pull the trigger because I have been getting back into Bikram and have been doing a ton of Pilates in addition to cardio.  My three year old was all set to join; he loved everything about it, but back and forth I went, should I or shouldn't I?  So I brought MrRuckus with me yesterday to help me decide.  I didn't think that he was going to join with me because he has such limited free time and never comes to the gym.

Well, all it took was a tour for MrRuckus to decide that this is the place that will change his habits and make him "want to work out".   Today was the opening day so we were there!  This place really is fantastic.  It is like belonging to a great resort.  First of all, it is HUGE so there is plenty of space for everything.  The VillaKids area is really innovative.  They separate the kids by ages, so that there is a dedicated baby room complete with cribs, swings and toys. Then there is a toddler area, a pre-school area, a school age area, a computer lab, a "gym", an art studio, an enormous indoor play structure, an outdoor area, and a movie theater.  The kids switch around every half hour and get to do lots of different activities.  I didn't bring my son yet, but my daughter did great in the baby room playing with all of the toys.  The woman in there gave me a written report of what she did.  Impressive.

The gyms for volleyball and basketball are downstairs as well as all of the weight and resistance equipment.  Every kind of weight equipment you could want is there, and there is lots of room to move around.  Upstairs are all of the studios as well as dozens of every kind of cardio equipment you could want.  There is a dedicated Pilates studio with reformer/tower combinations as well as pilates chairs (yay! can't wait).  Next to that is a lovely yoga studio, a spin studio and another multipurpose studio, which I was in today for Body Pump.

Downstairs is a full service spa, which is really lovely.  Members receive discounted rates for spa services.  I can't wait to have a facial and a mani/pedi without having to arrange for childcare.  The locker rooms are like spa locker rooms.  There is a lounge area with tons of magazines and a large plasma TV as well as a beautiful sauna and a large steam room.  (The men's sauna has a plamsa in it.  How come the ladies don't get that?) You don't have to bring your towel or your products, as these are all stocked.  Each locker room has a huge saltwater jacuzzi and then leads out to the pool areas.

There are indoor and outdoor pool areas.  Inside, there is a zero entry kids' pool with two waterslides, a large jacuzzi, and a lap pool.  Outside is a huge waterpark pool with enormous waterslides and a kids' play structure and an adult area with a lap pool and enormous jacuzzi.  After our workouts, my husband and I sat in the jacuzzi and remarked that it was like belonging to a great resort.  Oh, there is a snack bar outside that has a good menu as well as smoothies and "real drinks".  There is another snack bar inside with all of that PLUS a Starbucks.  

I might go back later today just to take the kids in the pools.  Will definitely be back tomorrow.  Color me happy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Search, The Find

I love a great find.  Without my kids, I could browse stores all day, just looking, getting ideas, seeing what is out there.  But now I have two kids (a three year old son and an eight month old daughter), so the days of leisurely "window" shopping are gone.  Instead, I do most of my browsing in online windows and in magazines.  I am not always browsing for clothing and accessories (though I do plenty of that!) I am often looking at restaurants and travel destinations because eating and traveling are two of my passions.  My quest is to find the best products and places for the best prices.  I have no qualms for paying a lot for something that I deem to be a good value, but I will always try to get the best possible price.  

My First Post

Only one way to start and that is to begin typing.  Welcome to my blog!