The One Where I Finally Do The Instagram

http://instagram.com/livelykitchen

I’m Livelykitchen on Instagram now. I’d be honored if you’d follow me!

I’m going to hang out on Instagram this summer because it’s a wee bit easier to update and be consistent with while hanging out poolside. And by hanging out poolside I mean watching my kids swim while sweating profusely. Not lounging lazily by the pool with a frosty beverage and no kids to keep alive. {sigh}

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Things That Make My Life Better – Children’s Audio Books

This is the second post in my creatively named series, Things That Make My Life Better.  You can see th first post here.

So Texas is big.  It takes us 5 hours to get from our home in San Antonio to my parent’s home in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  It takes 8 hours to visit the husband’s grandfather in the Texas Panhandle.  Thus we spend a decent amount of time in the car when we go to visit family.  We have a stylish minivan (snort) that has a built-in DVD player, but I started thinking it’d be nice to listen to something that we all enjoy and might even be a wee bit educational, not just hearing 5+ hours of various kid DVDs.  (but if you want me to recite the entire script of The Incredibles or Toy Story, I can.  Just saying…)

Enter children’s audio books.

Little did I know that I’d LOVE listening to kid’s audio books.  And so would my husband. And, perhaps most importantly, so did the kids.  I’ve found it helps for them to have something for them to do with their hands while they are listening, so the girl (age 8) typically does her rainbow loom (anyone want a bracelet?  they are in abundance over here) or some finger weaving with yarn and the boy (age 5) typically colors, draws or fiddles with some action figures.

We have gotten all our audio books from the library, but in perusing amazon it appears you can buy most of them.  I’ve included a few Amazon Affiliate links below.  But, really, get them from the library.

Here are the books we’ve listened to so far:

 

Roald Dahl books

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I somehow made it through childhood without reading any Roald Dahl books. My loss.  I have loved each of his books we’ve listened to and am looking forward to listening to Matilda and The Witches this summer.

The BFG – We loved the version narrated by Natasha Richardson.  It was our first Roald Dahl book and a great introduction to his fanciful worlds, his unapologetic way with mean characters and his tenderness for the underdog.  The dialogue is hilarious.

James and the Giant PeachWe listened to this book this past November while driving to the Texas Panhandle.  When we got there the kids were delighted to find snow on the ground (it’s novel to South Texas kids) and my son almost immediately made a giant peach and hollowed out a spot for James and all his insect friends.  Bizarrely charming story.

The Twits – This is just an hour, so it’s more of a long story than a novel.  Really unusual and very entertaining.  My kids laughed out loud several times.  Dahl is not afraid to create mean, unredeemable characters which is somewhat rare in most of the kid’s books I’ve read with them so far.

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryLike any kid of the 80s, I saw the Gene Wilder movie version more than once yet I never considered reading the book.  Mistake!  It’s whimsical, observant, biting at times and so very compelling.  We listened to the most recently released version which is narrated by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame.  He sounded like he was having a blast for the entire 3.5 hour reading.  His enthusiasm was catching and we’ve listened to this book more than once.

 

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Kate DiCamilla Books

Kate DiCamilla writes fantastic books that seamlessly weave magical realism into  sweet stories.  They are a little complicated for my 5 year old – he gets the overall plot but misses a lot of the nuanced dialogue and symbolism.  They make for great books for adults to listen to (or read) as the stories have a surprising depth and poignancy.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane -Both of my kids loved this one.  It’s a story of a toy rabbit (Edward Tulane) and his very long journey after being thrown into the ocean and separated from his devoted child owner.  The story spans many years, characters and social classes and I loved that his coming of age (if you will) takes decades.  There are some sad parts but it’s a sweet story of redemption.

The Magician’s Elephant - A fanciful, imaginative story with a lot of heart.  It bored my 5 year old and my 8 year old wasn’t as captured with it as she was with Edward Tulane, but my husband and I really liked it.  I’ll probably have them listen to it again in a few years.

 

Harry Potter

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If you read any of the 4 posts I wrote in 2013 (not really four, but I wasn’t exactly prolific) you probably noticed that I mentioned my kids loving the Harry Potter books in all of them.  We’ve read the first and second books (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) aloud to them.  And by ‘we’ I mean my husband.  I usually sat on the bed and listened or did the dishes downstairs.  The kids were immediately taken by the world of Harry Potter.   I decided to try the audio books after we’d read the books and it was instantly obvious why the reader, Jim Dale,  got an Grammy for his performance.  It’s captivating and perfect.  The first two books are 7.5- 8 hours long on CD.  My boy listened to the books at home for weeks on repeat while coloring and doing puzzles.

Beverly Cleary  books

Ramona The Pest – The audio book is narrated by Stockard Channing which is a treat for this ‘was once obsessed with Grease’ gal. The Ramona stories are timeless and haven’t we all felt like a Ramona at some point in our lives?

The Mouse and the Motorcycle – The kids loved this one.  I found the narration to be a bit whiney, but the kids didn’t seem to notice.

Other books we’ve listened to:

Stuart Little by EB White – A strange story.  It was the first time I read this book and I had no idea it was so straightforwardly odd.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum- We listened to the version read by Brooke Shields.  Keeping with the theme of ‘all the books I missed out on when I was a kid,’ it was my first time to read this book.  It’s very different from the movie and I was surprised all the deeper undertones and themes in the book.  This is another one I’ll want the kids to listen to when they are older.  They enjoyed the book but trying to explain it to them when they had just seen Oz The Great and Powerful was a bit challenging.

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American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osbourne – Fantastic and very energetic narration.  The kids got really into it and have been talking about some of the characters for the last few weeks.   John Henry was their favorite.

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Peter Pan by J.M Barrie (narrated by Jim Dale) – We are apparently Jim Dale audio book groupies (he read the Harry Potter books too).  We are on the final CD of this book now (it’s about 5 hours); the boy and I listen to it when we are in the car together.  It’s my first time with the non-Disney version of Peter Pan and the story is much more intricate and detailed than I expected.  Also quite British.  Actually, looking over my list, we apparently quite fancy books set in England.  All the Roald Dahl books, Harry Potter, The Magician’s Elephant and Peter Pan all take place across the pond.  So very cultured we are.  {snort}.  Much of this books goes over my boy’s head, but I am enjoying it.  I’m thinking it’s probably most appreciated by 3-7 graders who can pick up the nuances of the story.

Your turn – any audio book fans out there?  Any recommendations?

Things That Make My Life Better – My Favorite Teas

My commitment to both blogging and reading blogs has changed quite a bit in the last year. When I started blogging I was a new stay-home mom, my kids were 2 and 4, and we spent a lot of time at home. We were also new to San Antonio and didn’t know too many people. Blogging provided me an outlet to share, connect and learn. It gave me a hobby and provided a nice break from stacking blocks, doing laundry and potty training.

Now, about 4 years later, life has {obviously} changed. My kids only get more active and we aren’t home too much. With kindergarten on the horizon for my youngest, I’m pondering going back to work or maybe going back to school (eek!). We have a great group of friends here and I cherish face-to-face friendships, play dates, meals and connections.

I also got jaded with several of the blogs I once enjoyed reading. While I’m all for optimism (even if I’m not the most optimistic person around), I’m not for sugar coating, bragging and misrepresentation. Thus I cut my blog reading way down (and hid several folks on Facebook) and voila, I felt better. The whole line about ‘comparing your behind the scenes reel with someone’s highlight reel’ was very true for me and I needed to step away and focus on my {really pretty nice}  life that’s happening right in front of me. And not share every minute of it. I still take a lot of pictures but they go to the family photo books, not facebook or the blog. It feels good. I capture my #blessed/lovemylife/sohappy moments in my head or say them out loud to my kids/husband. They are the ones who need to know when I appreciate, cherish or extra adore them – not the world wide web.

With all that said…..

One thing I do appreciate about blogs is the peak into other’s lives and the sharing of what works (and what doesn’t) in that blogger’s life.  {ps – I’ve updated my Links page with the blogs that I still frequent} I get a lot of ideas and inspiration from blogs and I have added many tricks to my parenting repertoire, many recipes to my binders and sweated through a few blogger workouts.

I thought that I’d share some of the things that I love and am starting a new series called Things That Make My Life Better. I’ve already written a few posts and they aren’t all food. I’d LOVE if those 3 of you that are still reading (hi!) would add your favorites in the comments section.

I’m kicking off the series with my favorite {bagged} teas.

I drink a lot of hot tea. All the time. I pretty much always have a cup going. I use each tea bag twice and drink out of a 16oz cup, so I’m drinking pretty watered down tea which would certainly horrify any proper tea expert.

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My Favorite Bagged Teas

  1. Yogi Egyptian Licorice Mint – If you go to an Aveda salon or store, this tea tastes just like the tea they serve.  It’s minty, almost sweet and has an awesome licorice flavor.
  2. Numi Chinese Breakfast – My go-to black tea.  Slightly aromatic and more complex that an regular black tea.
  3. Good Earth Super Green Tea – Great orange notes and really good hot or iced.
  4. Allegro Thirst Tamer – My kid’s favorite tea.  Caffeine free and a dreamsicle like flavor.  They like it with a little honey.
  5. Guayaki Yerba Matte – My favorite Matte brand.
  6. Central Market Organics Green Jasmine - This.  This is my daily tea – each and every morning I start my day with this tea. It’s light, doesn’t upset my empty stomach and I just really love jasmine.
  7. Numi Chocolate Pu-erh – A new discovery and it’s a great afternoon pick-me up.  Very subtle chocolate flavor and good with a little almond milk stirred into the hot tea.
  8. Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat – It’s a little like the licorice mint tea in flavor and it works wonders on a sore throat.
  9. Pukka Three Ginger - If you like ginger, this tea delivers in a big way.  Spicy and healing.

Your turn – What’s your favorite tea??

Photo Friday – Our Bailey Girl

This is Bailey.
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She joined our family in December.  She’s turned our life upside down. But, oh my heart. I didn’t know I could love a dog so much.

Exhibit A:

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She has me wearing a fanny pack of dog treats.

Exhibit B:

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20140320-220848.jpgShe has me making mashed sweet potatoes (with cinnamon, tumeric and ginger of course), salmon (or salmon oil) and goats milk (or goats milk yogurt) concoctions for her lunch. Her finicky tummy has also forced me to learn quite a bit about dog nutrition.  As in I read dog food message boards.  Yep.

Exhibit C:

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I take selfies with her.

Daily Eats 3.17.14

It’s been awhile since I’ve been a consistent blogger posted my daily eats.  I love the accountability that posting your meals for the whole world wide web brings, so I took pictures of my food on Monday which just happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.

Daily Eats – 3.17.2014

Tea (green jasmine) while juicing:
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(if you look close you can spot me in the juicer reflection – like a Where’s Waldo except the cup is striped, not my shirt)

LOTS OF JUICE!!

juice bonanza.jpgI made juices for a couple of days (kale, cucumber, apple, ginger, tumeric, lemon and cilantro), some green apple juice to make Key Lime Smoothies and spinach juice for the Green Doughnuts I had planned for later in the day.

Second Tea for the Road

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Snack (not pictured) – Granola Bar + Almonds

Lunch

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Carrots, black berries, crackers, Kerrygold Dubliner cheese (seemed appropriate) and celery + peanut butter. Berry + Hemp Powder + Almond Milk smoothie.

Doughnuts!  

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Naturally Green Baked Vanilla Doughnuts

Dinner

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St. Patrick’s Day dinner: rainbow fruit tray and fettucini alfredo with broccoli. And an unpictured glass of wine (made from green grapes so, festive, right?)

Bread Machine Dinner Rolls

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These rolls are much loved in our house.  They are lightly sweet, heavenly when buttered and all around fantastic.  They almost always accompany Oven Baked Lentils and Rice on the table.  Lately I’ve been using them as slider buns.  Slider night is my son’s favorite night of the week and when the beef is local and pastured and the buns are homemade, I’m okay with it.  Sometimes I even serve sliders with french fries (I like the Alexa Organic Frozen Fries) and then I get to be his absolute hero, on par with his beloved Batman, Ben 10 and Ninjas (but even sliders and fries won’t put me on par with Harry Potter).

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I love my very old bread machine. Click here for my favorite loaf recipe.  The bread machine works great with this recipe, although I imagine you could make the dough by hand if you were so inclined.  I like to give the rolls ample time to rise after shaping – 3 hours at least.

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Bread Machine Dinner Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp sugar or honey
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • (optional: 1 beaten egg for glazing before baking)

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients in bread machine and start dough cycle.
  2. Once dough cycle is complete, remove dough and shape into 9-10 equal sized balls.  The dough is thick.  Place dough balls in either a greased 9in cake pan or a greased 9in square pan.  Cover and let rise for 2-4 hours in a warm place.
  3. When ready to bake, uncover rolls and place in a pre-heated 350 oven.  Bake 12-18 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.  (optional: can brush risen rolls with a beaten egg glaze before baking to give a shiny top).

Chocolate Cherry Protein Smoothie

This is my new favorite smoothie.  As in I have it twice a week (at least).  Sometimes  I make a double batch and freeze one.  Then I grab it out of the freezer on the way to the gym and, after a workout and shower, it’s just thawed enough to stir and drink.  Which is pretty much having your cake smoothie and eating drinking it too.  Or something like that.

It’s going to be a bummer when our Costco stops carrying frozen organic cherries, as they make this smoothie possible.  Cherries make the smoothie seems indulgent and give a nice, rich flavor.

Chocolate Cherry Protein Smoothie

Chocolate Cherry Protein Smoothie

  • 1 cup frozen cherries
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (I like Sun Warrior Vanilla Rice Protein)
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • few ice cubes

Directions:

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.  Add more non-dairy milk (or water) as needed to get the desired consistency.

Options:

  • freeze leftover coffee into ice cubes and use in place of water ice cubes to give a slight coffee flavor
  • freeze chocolate coconut water (I used the Zico brand) and use in place of water ice cubes
  • use chocolate almond milk for even more chocolate flavor

My Thanksgiving Meal Contributions

For the third year in a row, I’ll be bringing Quinoa with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Toasted Almonds and a Holiday Salad with Cranberry Apple Orange Vinaigrette (from Oh She Glows). Why mess with a good thing? They travel well and I enjoy having something a little lighter among the buffet line. Here’s a picture from last year:thanksgiving dishes 2012

Last year was the first time these cute little turkey fruit and veggie trays graced the table and you can bet they are returning this year. Thank you Pinterest. These made a great project for my girl and her cousin to assemble.
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Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!

NYC Trip Recap – Part 2

You can read about the first half of our trip here (NYC Trip Recap – Part 1).

My husband and I took a long weekend trip to NYC in October. It was the first time either of us had been to New York City. There are so, so many things to do in the city and we decided to mostly plan our trip once we got there and got a feel for the city. We also took the approach that there were some things we plan to do when we eventually come back to NYC with our kids (in 5 years or so), so we’d take advantage of our kid-free status on this trip and just enjoy the luxury of letting the days unfold spontaneously. We lucked out with fantastic weather and, because the weather pretty much demanded we stay outside, we ended up forgoing the (world class) museums in lieu of exploring neighborhoods, people watching and just walking around the city.

Day 2 (Saturday)

We started the day with feet and legs still slightly sore from our full day of walking the day before.  We walked over to Paris Baguette in Times Square, just a couple of blocks from our hotel, and did some carb loading and planning for the day.

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We walked over to the TKTS booth in Times Square and joined the massive line for day-of show tickets.  We were hoping to see Matilda, but there were no discount tickets available for the Saturday matinee.  Our next two choices were First Date and Big Fish and, based on ticket availability once we made our way to the counter, we went with First Date.  We got tickets for the 3pm matinee and then made a mad dash out of Times Square.

We decided to check out the Upper West Side and, after consulting our most favorite app for the trip, Embark, we figured out our subway route and headed that direction.  Once off the subway we stopped in at a Juice Generation store and picked up the second breakfast of the day.

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We took our drinks and walked down towards the Hudson River Greenway.  It was so picture-esque – the trees, the pigeons, the water, the runners and bikers, the crunchy leaves underfoot.  I loved seeing the community tended flower gardens and the little playgrounds tucked away in the trees.  Being a beautiful Saturday morning, there were lots of families out with dogs, bikes, training wheels and little scooters.  We walked around for about an hour.

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From there we walked down Broadway for awhile, stopping in to check out a few of the shops.  I was particularly taken with Zabars.  It was bustling – full of people, chatter, fantastic smells.  If I wasn’t so full with 2 breakfasts and a bit overwhelmed by just exactly how to order, I’d have had a bagel with smoked salmon.  Which I’m now craving as I type this…

We made our way to Central Park and walked around.  Central Park was even bigger than I realized and we only covered about 1/4th of it.  It was full of activity and, once again, world class people watching.

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From Central Park we headed over towards the Plaza where we had planned to eat  a late lunch at the Todd English Food Hall in the Plaza.  There was a longer wait than we had anticipated and we had apparently spent more time strolling the city than we planned, so we had to postpone our meal there in order to make our 3pm Broadway show.  We walked up to the Times Square area and lined up outside our theater.  The husband grabbed a hotdog from a street vendor as we waited.

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We loved the play!  It was funny and entertaining and Zachary Levi is pretty wonderful (and tall!) to look at for an hour and a half.  The theater was smaller than I expected so we felt extra close to the performance.

After the show we stopped by the hotel to change and then jumped on the subway to head to the Grammercy area for dinner.  Ever since reading Raw Food, Real World a couple of years ago I have wanted to eat at Pure Food and Wine.  (Let it be known that we see the irony in eating both a street vendor hot dog and a raw, vegan meal in the same day)

It was a bit surreal to walk into the restaurant that I’ve seen so many pictures of in both Raw Food, Real World and Living Raw Food.  We had 6:30 reservations and we able to eat outside.  The patio was beautiful and intimate.  We started with cocktails; I had the White Light Tini and the husband went with the Purple Haze.  They were both fantastic.  If they hadn’t been $15 a piece, we’d have gone for a second round. For dinner I chose the Cauliflower and Sweet Corn Polenta with Bourbon Maple Peaches and Radicchio and the husband went with the Hen of the Woods Taco al Pastor (see menu here). My dish was pretty good but we both loved the Tacos.  Loved them.  For desert we tried the Chocolate and Jungle Butter Cheesecake which was scrumptious.  While the patio was beautiful, it made for poor food photography as it got dark.

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After dinner we had a drink with a college friend who now lives in Brooklyn and it was wonderful to catch up.  I also loved being able to ask so many questions about the logistics of living in the city – like do you have to haul detergent and toilet paper home from the store on the subway?

Day 3 (Sunday)

We woke up to a breathtaking blue sky and crisp fall air.  We caught the subway to Brooklyn and walked around the Brooklyn Bridge Park and surrounding streets for a bit.  It was a charming area and seemed a bit more mellow than Manhattan.  We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge which gave some pretty amazing views.  It was pretty crowded, being about 10am on a beautiful Sunday morning, so there was some people-dodging involved.  If I went again, I’d want to go earlier in the morning so it’s a little less crowded.  Still, it’s an impressive bridge and I’m glad we got to experience it first hand.

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Once on the Manhattan side of the bridge we grabbed a belgium waffle from a food cart and ate it at a nearby table.  We then caught the subway to the NYU area and walked around those neighborhoods for a bit. We stopped in Think Coffee and had some tea and coffee and relaxed on a couch with the NY Times.  After resting our feet a bit, we got back on the pavement and headed towards the Chelsea area.  We stopped at a little brunch spot that was tiny and fun – I didn’t catch the name.  We sat within touching distance of the three cooks who were cooking in an area half the size of my small kitchen.

With full bellies we headed on down Broadway and made our way to the High Line.  The Chelsea area was abuzz with ritzy Sunday brunchers and some seriously high fashion.  It was very upscale and full of beautiful people.  We turned down one picturesque street of brownstones and I remarked to the husband that we should buy one of the ‘for sale’ brownstones we passed.  He looked it up and it was a bargain at $19 million.  Of course we made a cash offer on the spot….  19 Million???  I don’t know who all the people are that live in that area but I do know that we will never been one of them.

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(that’s me on the steps of a house worth way more than I’ll ever know)

We walked a bit on the High Line until my full bladder (thanks to the 16 oz juice I drank just before getting on) demanded we seek a bathroom.  We stopped in yet another coffee shop and people watched for a bit.

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From Chelsea we took the subway to Grand Central Terminal.  It was absolutely stunning.  More beautiful than I expected. It almost feels cathredal-like.

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We walked up Madison avenue with the throngs of people out that day.  We did the tourist thing and stopped in Midtown Comics, FAO Shwarz and the American Girl Store to pick up a few things for the kids.  The toy store was pretty impressive, even sans kids.  I’ll admit it was nice to walk around a toy store without hearing ‘mom, can I get this?’ every two feet.

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For dinner we were successful in our attempts to eat at the Todd English Food Hall at the Plaza (unlike Day 2).  It was fantastic and had a great atmosphere.  I highly recommend eating here – it has so many different types of food in one spot.  We went with flatbread and pasta (which was wonderful), but every dish we saw come out, from sliders, to potstickers, to sushi and salads, looked wonderful.

We walked back towards our hotel in Times Square stopping off again at Magnolia Bakery.  I had one cupcake to eat that night and one that I managed to get home to San Antonio(in a paper travel coffee cup from the hotel) to share with the kids. Seriously fantastic cupcakes.  We got back to our hotel around 7 and, once we had a glass of wine in the hotel bar, we decided we were done for the day.  Our feet were spent and we didn’t have the energy to head back out for some nightlife.  What can I say?  We are getting old.  :)  And I’m just fine with that.

Some of the Day 3 eats:

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tea & coffee, brunch, flatbread and pasta 

It was a memorable, relaxing (yet tiring), very fun getaway and I’m so glad I’ve finally been to New York City.  I adored having so much time with my husband and figuring out the city with him – it’s nice to be reminded of what a good team we are together.  I look forward to going back.

Random NYC Travel Tips (now that I’m an expert and all):

  • Apps we liked: Embark (must have) for Subway routes and TKTS for same day show tickets
  • I found the Fodors Travel Guide really helpful.  I may be old school, but I like paper copies of travel guides.
  • We used a paper map a lot too – the phone maps are too small when trying to gauge walking distance or proximity.
  • If you want to look like a local, wear ear-buds everywhere you go.  And a lot of dark colors.
  • Wear comfy shoes!!

NYC Trip Recap – Part 1

I started to make the NYC trip recap one post, but there were just too many photos and I couldn’t pare down. The city begs to be photographed, especially on the beautiful weather days we were lucky enough to experience. Thus a 2 part blog recap. Part 1 will recap our Thursday evening arrival into Manhattan and our Friday in the city.

My husband and I took a kids-free weekend trip to New York City in mid October. Neither of us have ever been and we were both excited and nervous to visit the city. Thanks to my (honestly) wonderful in-laws who took very, very good care of our kids, we got to spend 4 nights and 3 full days (Thursday pm-Monday am) with nothing on our agenda but experiencing as much of NYC as we could.

We arrived around 8pm on a Thursday evening and took a cab ride from the airport to our hotel. The cab ride was a bit intense – our first peek into the traffic and roads of the city. The first of about 1345 times I thought “I could never drive in this city.”

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the first photo I took on the trip – looking out the cab window, way, way up and with my mouth wide open

We stayed at The Distrikt Hotel after reading good reviews on Trip Advisor. While we won’t stay in Times Square again, we were very impressed with the hotel. If you are looking to stay near Times Square, I’d highly recommend the hotel. They even had a little birthday dessert in our room upon check-in (this trip was a birthday gift from the husband).

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I was a little shell-shocked after the cab ride and wanting to curl up in the fetal position on the bed, but the husband insisted we head out into the city. We walked to Times Square which was insane as you’d expect it to be. People EVERYWHERE. Lights EVERYWHERE. Total sensory overload.20131109-201920.jpg

After about 5 minutes we were ready to move on. We consulted Yelp for a restaurant that wasn’t too touristy – most of Times Square is gimmicky chains – and decided on John’s Pizzeria. It’s in an old church, which makes for unique decor. I had two glasses of wine to calm my nerves from both the cab ride and the Time Square sensory assault and we enjoyed a Margherita pizza. The prices were surprisingly reasonable and the pizza was pretty good – thin crust, fresh mozarella and lots of fresh basil.

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It was dark – sorry for the haunted house pizza picture.

Day 1 (Friday)

We started the day by braving the subway. On a Friday morning at 8:30. At a very busy metro station. I was a wee bit overwhelmed by all the hustle. New Yorkers aren’t messing around with their Friday morning commute. We figured out which train we were waiting for, leapt on and held on for dear life. First stop: Zucker’s Bagels in Lower Manhattan. We had heard they had phenomenal bagels.  They did.  I had a bagel with smoked pastrami salmon, cream cheese, onions, capers and tomatoes that probably weighed a pound.  Besides scraping off a bit of the cream cheese, I ate the entire thing.  I wish we could have gone back on day 2 or 3, but we weren’t in the area again.

With full bagel bellies, we walked over to Ground Zero. We first toured St. Peters Church which became a haven for rescue workers after the 9/11 attack.

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We then got passes for the 9/11 memorial at the visitor center and toured the memorial.  The museum isn’t open yet, but the two inverted waterfalls are stunning and sobering.

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From the memorial we walked down to the Battery Park area to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. I snagged a green juice on the way there:

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This was as close as we got to the Statue of Liberty.  Before we got to NYC we decided that we’d save some activities and attractions for the eventual trip we’ll take to NYC with the kids (in 5 years or so) and taking the boat out to the Statue of Liberty was one of the ‘we’ll do this next time’ items.  nyc 5

From Battery Park we walked up to the Financial District, seeing the famous Bull Statue and the NYSE.

20131109-201955.jpgWe caught a subway to Chinatown.  That subway ride was considerably less stressful than our first one.  We walked around for a bit and then located Joe’s Shanghai for lunch.  It came highly recommended from a couple of different friends, so we were excited to try it out.  The restaurant was packed and they sat tables with more than one party.  We shared a table with two tiny college-aged gals who ordered 4 huge plates of food.  With their four dishes and our three dishes, it made for a crowded table.  It felt like a pretty authentic Chinatown experience and the soup dumplings were pretty tasty.  The fried rice was probably the best I’ve ever had.  We walked around for a bit more after lunch.  The seafood and veggie markets were quite the sight.  The food scientist in me was nervous about all the raw seafood sitting out in the open air, but the veggie lover in me wanted to buy all the unique greens.  I settled for just looking.

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We hoped on the subway again and headed to the NYU area. We walked around a bit and then headed to Washington Square Park.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day so we staked out a park bench and spent about 30 minutes just people watching.  The park is beautiful and the people watching was world class.  I was particularly impressed with a 4 year old who could work a skateboard like a pro.  His nanny kept having to chase him down.  We walked around some of the streets surrounding the park and they looked like the tree and brownstone lined NYC streets you see in movies like You’ve Got Mail.  We kept watching for Brinkley.

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We stopped for some gelato and then walked up to the Union Square Greenmarket.  It was a foodie’s dream.  Rows and rows of vendors with all kinds of products.  Because we were just tourists and had no way to store or prepare food, I only bought a few apples.   I hungrily eyed all the other vendors.

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We bought a hard apple cider (they were doing an apple themed event that day) grabbed a table and called the kids.  They were happily playing with their grandparents and we hung up and happily enjoyed a cider.  Ah, vacation….

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We walked all the way back to our hotel in Times Square, stopping to gawk at the Flatiron Building.

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Once we got back to our hotel, we realized that we had done some horrible time management and we actually needed to be at Rockefeller Center for our Top of the Rock reservations in 30 minutes.  We hustled through the Times Square craziness and made it there in time. We had purposely booked a time at dusk and it was, put simply, magical.  Watching the sun set over the city and seeing the buildings  (so many buildings!) light up as darkness fell was breathtaking.  Even though the observation deck was packed, it was still an emotional and moving sight.  These pictures don’t do it justice, but it gives an idea of the view.

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We stayed on the observation deck for about an hour, in no hurry to leave the view.  I highly, highly recommend Top of the Rock and especially recommend booking a time just before sunset.

We had dinner at a wine bar overlooking the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink.  It was a bit surreal to be sitting just across the street from the iconic ice rink.  We started the walk back to our hotel and came upon Magnolia Bakery (the famed cupcake bakery).  There was no line, so of course we had to go in and get a cupcake.  It was easily the best cupcake I’ve ever had.  I’m usually very underwhelmed with gourmet cupcakes but this one was the real deal.  I understand the hype.   We made our way through Times Square, especially crazy on a Friday night, and got to our hotel.  After all the walking and sight seeing we were exhausted.  True to our hard partying selves, we were fast asleep by 10.

20131109-181635.jpgSome of the day’s eats: Soup Dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai, Bagel at Zuckers, Gelato and Magnolia cupcakes.