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California Central Coast Tour

Rte 1 CaliforniaLast week I trekked out to California for the annual BlogHer conference which was held in San Jose. I’ve never visited that part of California before, so I flew in a little early to get in some touring. Six and a half hours of flight time warrants staying a bit to see the sights.

Rte 1 CaliforniaI took the earliest flight out of Boston which got me into San Francisco early enough to have a full day of exploring that first day. Route 1 was the obvious road trip of choice because it’s so scenic. Something that I will certainly convince you of after you see the following pictures.

Route 1 winds all the way down the coast, straight through towns like Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel which are all bucket list towns to visit on my list. To see them all in one fell swoop was pretty awesome. Even if I did it at a breakneck pace.

Besides wonderful vistas of the ocean crashing on rocks beneath jagged cliffs, there were other special things to find on route 1. Let me show you…

Roadside Produce Stand Rte 1 CaliforniaI’ve always heard my California friends go on and on about their easy access to good produce. Once I started driving on route 1, I saw how lucky they are! Roadside stands of gorgeous produce were dotted up and down the coastal route. And in between the stands were miles of farmland.

Oh the meals I could make with the produce I saw. Just the peppers alone were enough to make me look at real estate while I was there. But when I saw how much real estate costs out there, I quickly realized I could buy the same size house out here and shop at Whole Foods for the rest of my life and still save money.

The real estate out there is rather spendy.

California Avocados Rte 1 Produce StandOne roadside produce sign had me begging my girlfriend to pull the car over. Seven avocados for a buck. That’s something to pull over for. Until I saw the size of the avocados. You’d have to buy at least four to equal one normal size avocado I buy here in Massachusetts. They were still adorable though!

California Artichokes Rte 1 Produce Stand CaliforniaBut the artichokes that were seven for a dollar? That is an incredible bargain. That was one thing that stuck out to me while we passed the farmland. The fields of artichokes were very interesting to see. You couldn’t help but recognize them because the artichokes stuck straight out into the sky like poles. Super fascinating to see!

Larvets SnackThe roadside stands had all kinds of fantastical offerings. Large bags of local almonds for only $5.99/lb. All kinds of dehydrated fruits and veggies. And snacks like larvets which I wasn’t brave enough to try. I am curious as to what they taste like but I’ll leave that to someone more adventurous to describe.

Boardwalk Santa Cruz CaliforniaThe first town on our agenda was Santa Cruz. And I have to tell you, I was rather smitten with it. The boardwalk is absolutely charming and full of rides I’d actually let my kids enjoy. I know that sounds odd, but I have to tell you that there are few boardwalks that I deem safe for my kids to ride the rides. I find most to be too carnival like. As in rickety.

That was not the case for the Santa Cruz boardwalk. All of the rides looked to be very well cared for and had a great mix of big kid and little kid rides. I could bring all of my kids here and there would be plenty for them to do. From the twenty year old (I can’t believe I just typed that) down to the ten year old, the Santa Cruz boardwalk would have captivated them all.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Boardwalk TreatsBesides an abundance of rides, the boardwalk offered up lots of delicious foods. All the fried things that you could possibly imagine and also an array of fresh fruits which was rather nice to see. And if carnival food isn’t your type of thing (what’s wrong with you?), there were tons of restaurants offering up local seafood that looked downright delectable. You won’t go hungry in Santa Cruz.

Another highlight of my stop in Santa Cruz was the sighting of a pod of Orcas. I have to tell you, my entire life I’ve waited to see this. And while they were off in the distance a bit, there was no mistaking the black whales with the white markings. To see them breaching and spouting water into the air is something I won’t soon forget.

And it’s also worth mentioning that the seals that hang out along all of the rocks that jut out along the California coast are quite the spectacle. I never realized how large or how loud they are. They are a mouthy bunch.

Monterey CaliforniaThe next stop on our coastal adventure was Monterey. Another charming coastal town with breathtaking views. Monterey is the kind of town that you need to dedicate a day towards visiting. There are so many specialty shops and restaurants to visit. I highly suggest having a glass of wine in one establishment, an appetizer at the next, some shopping in the middle and then rinse and repeat that schedule for your entire day. And bring a designated driver with you.

Besides eclectic shopping and indulgent eating, there are many activities for those who are interested in getting physical. Kayaks, bikes and paddle board rentals were available and there were also trails for walking. With the sunny skies and cool ocean breezes, this would be the perfect place to explore the natural wonders of California.

And if seeing whales and seals up close appeals to you, this is the place to rent a kayak. I saw so many people getting up close views of the whales and seals. I was kicking myself for not bringing along my bathing suit!

Candy Shop MontereyWhenever I travel, I buy a little something for my kids like most parents do. My girls especially loved the Taffy Town taffy I bought in Monterey. Salt water taffy is available just about everywhere you look up and down the coast, but Taffy Town is our favorite. Yummy.

The Sardine FactoryOne of my favorite meals while visiting Monterey was at the Sardine Factory. A not to be missed restaurant located in historic Cannery Row, the Sardine Factory is one of those restaurants that you visit for special occasions. While not the kind of place I’d bring all four of my kids because my bill would be equal to my car payment (entrees range in price from $26 to $58), it is well worth every penny for a special occasion like an anniversary or a birthday.

Calamari and The Sardine Factory

Calamari is one of my favorite appetizers and the Sardine Factory’s calamari did not disappoint. Local calamari fried up tender and crisp, it was arguably the best calamari I’ve ever had. And it was hard to settle on the calamari as my choice of appetizer because everything on the appetizer menu looked appealing. Local seafood is a highlight of this restaurant. Next time I go I will definitely try the crab filled oysters Rockefeller. I had a hard time deciding between those two!

The Sardine Factory MontereyFor my entree, I chose the salmon with lump meat crab and a beurre blanc sauce. A stellar choice that was. Once again, one of the best salmon dishes of my life. Well worth every calorie in the beurre blanc. I’m pretty sure the asparagus was just on the plate to make me feel a little better about the sauce and the calamari calorie carnage.

17 Mile DriveFrom Monterey my journey took me further south to Carmel By The Sea via 17 Mile Drive. Now, let me tell you something about 17 Mile Drive. You have to pay a $10 toll to explore it. If you happen to find yourself in the area, pay it. I know that a $10 toll sounds like a lot for 17 miles, but I promise you that you will NOT regret it.

I’ve taken some scenic drives in my lifetime, but really, this was like nothing I’ve seen before. A long and winding route, 17 Mile Drive has an unforgettable and unique view seemingly around every bend in the road. Dotted with mansions and to-die-for beaches, 17 Mile Drive is another experience that you could budget an entire day towards. Pack a picnic lunch, a beach blanket and your binoculars because there is just so much to see and experience during this drive.

Once again, the marine life is not to be missed. Seals, otters, birds and even whales can be seen from shore. Definitely budget some time here. And don’t forget the binoculars.

Check out the views…

17 Mile Drive Pebble Beach

17 mile drive pebble beach

Lone Cypress 17 Mile Drive

Alexander Smith VineyardMy last stop on my adventure was Carmel By The Sea. Certainly the most spendy town of the towns I toured, Carmel is full of enchanting high end shops that reminded me of what you’d find in Aspen or Vail. Art galleries, jewelers, handcraft merchants and countless fine restaurants lined the picturesque streets of Carmel.

Paraiso Winery Tasting Room Carmel

And while I didn’t do any shopping in this town, I did stop at the most precious wine tasting at the Paraiso Vineyards tasting room where I sampled and completely enjoyed a glass of Alexander-Smith Pinot Noir which was heavenly with notes of apple, black cherry and a hint of floral. I’m not sure if it was the Alice in Wonderlandesque setting or if it was purely the wine, regardless, it was unforgettable.

Dametra in Carmel CaliforniaWhile there are countless very pricey restaurants in Carmel, I did happen upon a relatively affordable gem. Dametra Cafe is a restaurant that I highly recommend. An exquisitely charming restaurant serving up Mediterranean cuisine, Dametra not only offers authentic Mediterranean dishes, it also delivers a complete experience with live music and dancing. While many places that offer this kind of combo come off as touristy tacky, Dametra’s spontaneous musical outbursts felt like a true celebration.

Dametra Carmel CaliforniaI was trying to keep it light when I placed my order of a roasted vegetable salad with grilled shrimp, but I never expected my salad to be so grand. A salad is usually sort of ho-hum, but not this time. If all salads looked like this, the world would be a better place.

Dametra has all kinds of enticing menu items. If I ever get back, I will not leave without trying the hummus or the lamb shank. I saw other patrons enjoying those dishes which made me want to skip the conference and come back the next day. Which I did not.

Sunset Monterey

And here is a view of the sun setting on the California coast. A natural way to end this post if there ever was one.

While this trip was incredible, it would’ve been so much better with my kids. Someday I plan to bring them to see the same sights. Certainly this kind of trip has all kinds of special experiences for adults, but at the same time there’s just so much that’s family friendly. From whale watching to kayaking and boardwalk rides to mountain hiking, with countless other activities in between, the California coast offers something for every member of the family!

Ronald McDonald House Charities

RMHCBeing an ambassador for Ronald McDonald House Charities makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The idea that I’m one of a group of women who are on a mission to bring awareness to the charity makes me feel like I’m contributing something good to the world. That even though I’m just one woman, I can make a difference. It’s such a good thing to feel. Effective.

In the coming weeks you will be hearing much more about what I’m doing with the charity at the local level. I have a tour coming up with the Boston RMHC house and I’m so excited to find out exactly what I can do to help them.

Looking at my skills set, there are two things that stand out…

I have a big mouth and it’s portable. However I can get their message out to the right people, I’ll do it. Never underestimate my persistence and passion. When I want something to get done, by God we’ll get-r-done.

RMHCAnd as you already know, I love to cook. While we toured the Chicago RMHC houses, we participated in some activities. One of them was cookie decorating with the kids. What a hoot that was. I had so much fun with the little boy I worked with. He was asking a lot of that cookie to hold all of the decorations, but he did a mighty fine job gobbling it up.

RMHCThose of us who were helping were asked to decorate a cookie and leave it behind for a guest that couldn’t make the cookie decorating event. My new little friend told me how to decorate mine and I followed his instructions. And then he told me to eat the cookie which was supposed to be saved for someone else. What do you say to a sick kid who tells you to eat the cookie? You eat the cookie.

It was such an amazing experience. Sad in some ways, but joyous in others. And that’s how I feel about working with RMHC. A little sad with lots of sprinkles of joy. I’m determined to be a canister of joy sprinkles for RMHC.

I’d like you to watch this video below. I saw this video while I was in Chicago. It damn near ripped my heart out. This kid. THIS KID! You can’t listen to him and NOT want to do something to help. Here’s my favorite quote:

“You should donate as much toys and money as you can. Because what if something breaks? What if a roof falls off by a tornado? Then what?”

Well heck Kyler, what if?? Then what? I agree buddy. Anything is possible. Anything. Bad stuff happens. And I promise you, I will do my best to donate whatever toys and money I can round up.

And Kyler, you mention in your video that all you need to check into RMHC is a key, your name and your driver’s license number. But sweetheart, you also need a life threatening illness. Something that is foreign to many of us while it’s your reality. And we often times take that for granted. I want you to know that your image is firmly planted in my heart. I will keep you in my mind and heart as I work as an RMHC ambassador and for the rest of my life as well.

RMHCOne of the great things about being an RMHC ambassador is the support I’m receiving from corporate McDonald’s. I admire that it’s important to them to spread the RMHC message. And I also love how they are harnessing the power of social media to get that message across. It’s a team effort and I’m really happy to be part of this team.

So, how can you make a difference? If you eat at McDonald’s, please bring along your change and toss it into their RMHC collection boxes. Rip off the couch cushions and scoop it all up and drop it off. It was already missing anyway. You don’t need it.

Or you can go to the website and make a bigger donation. Something that doesn’t jingle.

You can even contact your local house and see what you can do to volunteer your time. Maybe you are a cook like me and you can offer to make a dinner? Or maybe you can find out what supplies they need and host a drive? People are pretty giving this time of year. It’s a good time to get support.

And in the coming weeks I’ll be posting about other ways you can help. So stay tuned for that. I have a few ideas.

Thank you so much for letting me share this worthy cause with you. It’s so important to make a difference any way we can. Because we are so blessed to not need the services of this charity. Let’s support the ones who do.

Ireland, The Last Days

A Walk In The WoodsI am finally home. What a journey that was to get back. I had planned on posting last night, but after I hugged and kissed my family, I crawled into bed and crashed hard.

After twelves hours of sleep, I’m feeling much more human and ready to share the last of my images from Ireland with you. I’ll be posting some food pictures from Ireland over on A Beautiful Bite in the coming days, but these pictures make more sense over here on MITM.

To start, the image above and below show you how dark it was over in Ireland during my stay. The weather was quite vexing and it really started to get to me after awhile. Constant rain and shadows affected my mood which you can see in my self portrait below.

In total there was one day of partial sun and I found myself racing around like a lunatic trying to get some decent shots while there was enough light to do so. And I still don’t really feel that I caught the true beauty of Ireland this visit.

Melanie In The Shadows

Knowth IrelandMy favorite sights in Ireland were the churches, cemeteries and ruins. Everywhere I turned there was something ancient and fantastic to see. One of my favorite day trips was to Knowth and Newgrange, two burial passage sights which are 5,000 years old and in near original condition.

The following pictures are from that day trip…

Newgrange Ireland

Knowth Irealnd

Knowth, IrelandLooks like a Teletubby should pop up somewhere in the background. Don’t you think? The only thing missing from this photo is Tinky Winky and a bunny.

Cliffs of MoherAnother favorite day trip was to the Cliffs of Moher. I was really lucky this day because the sun came out just a bit during my visit and the rain held off just long enough for me to walk the cliffs and snap some photos. And just as I took one last picture, the clouds said enough of that and rained down again.
Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher Tower

Irish CastleThe following pictures are just some random shots that I thought were worth sharing…

Melanie At Castle

Thatched Irish Roof

Irish Cow

Irish Cows

Melanie Ireland

Cliffs of Moher SunsetAs I was standing on the Cliffs of Moher during sunset on my last day in Ireland, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite Sarah McLachlan songs, Possession.

There’s something about Sarah’s voice that speaks to the mood of Ireland. A haunting melody that resonated with me this visit. And there are some things that greatly affect my mood. Light and sound are two and this song really speaks to how I was feeling at that moment as I was standing on the cliffs as it started to rain and the winds picked up…

Listen as the wind blows, across the great divide
Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time
the night is my companion, and solitude my guide
Would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?

End of Summer Road Trip ~ Philadelphia Zoo & Omni Independence Park

Philadelphia ZooWith only a small window of time before summer poofs out of existence, I decided to take my kids on a last hurrah summer road trip. Three of my kids anyway. Aidan is getting ready for college and will be missing from blog posts for the next four years, I think. Sniff.

Not that it’s a crazy long distance road trip. Just a four day journey with stops in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore. You see, my friend Joey is hosting a Blogger Beach Bash which I’ll tell you more about tomorrow, but en route we decided to stay overnight in Philly so that we could visit one of my favorite zoos in the country. The Philadelphia Zoo.

Shan and the Polar BearNow, I wasn’t too bright before I left. I should’ve purchased my tickets online. That would’ve eliminated the very long wait at the ticket booth. In the sweltering sun. For what seemed like an eternity.

But it’s ok because we got to the counter before we became human raisins. And when it was finally our turn, I learned about their membership program which allows you to visit not only their zoo for a calendar year, but also many zoos across the country.

So, I could’ve spent $91 for admission and parking or I could’ve spent $99 and get admission for the year at not only the Philadelphia Zoo, but countless others including a bunch in New England. Oh, and the membership gives you free parking. Sold.

Philadelphia ZooUpon entering the park, my kids were completely entranced. Heck, I was completely entranced. I have been to this zoo many many times with my Mom and Dad, but when I was a kid it didn’t look anything like it does today.

The amount of expansion and development that has gone into this zoo is impressive. So many new exhibits and beautifications. There was something new to see around every bend.

One of the improvements that I liked best was the interactive exhibits where kids can use computers to learn about the animals and their habitats in realistic field settings. Lots of hands on stuff that immersed the kids in learning. They had so much fun without realizing that it was educational. I’m all for sneaky education.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo Red PandaAnd of course there were the animals. Each kid had their favorite. Michael loves red pandas. Leela is into cheetahs. And Shannon was smitten with the lemurs. My favorite was the primate exhibit. Apes have always fascinated me and I could spend hours watching them. Actually, my kids had to drag me out of the exhibit.

We spent four hours at the zoo, but I felt like we rushed through it and missed some of the exhibits. Of course this means that we will have to come back again. Especially to take advantage of our new membership status!

Omni Independence ParkAfter our fun at the zoo, we ventured over to the Omni Independence Park which overlooks Independence National Historic Park in the heart of Society Hill. A truly elegant hotel with very posh accommodations.

When we first checked in, the kids were thrilled to receive little backpacks to help them explore the city. A very nice touch for the wee tykes.

But mom was more impressed with the actual room. Super luxe with lots of space and gorgeous furnishings. Oh and the beds & linens. Don’t even get me started. I wanted to take the sheets home with me. So very comfy. Especially after a six hour drive and four hours at the zoo. Mom needed that comfy bed.

Omni Independence ParkAnd the view was killer too. The girls each grabbed a book and perched themselves on the sill to read while I took care of, well you know, EVERYTHING as us moms have a habit of doing.

Omni Independence ParkAbout ten minutes after we arrived, there was a knock on the door. It was for the kids. A tray of milk and cookies which the Omni delivers to every kid who stays at their hotel. Yeah, my kids were impressed.

After an afternoon snack of milk and cookies, I took the kids to the hotel pool for a dip. As far as pools go, this one is sort of spa like with relaxing music piped in which I enjoyed but I doubt the kids even noticed. My kids don’t relax until their head hits the pillow.

All in all, it was the perfect hotel stay and I would highly recommend staying at an Omni property if you get the chance to.

I wish we had more time to spend in Philly because there’s just so much to see in the city. I should know because I was born here and my entire family is from the area. If you haven’t been, you must. It’s a great city to visit not only for the obvious historical contributions, but also for the museums, restaurants and theater. Oh, and the cheesesteaks. It’s worth it to visit Philly for the cheesesteaks alone.

We left Philly this morning and are now on the Jersey Shore. We only have a few days to work with, so we are cramming in as much fun as we can before we go back home and back to school.

Much more tomorrow…

Disclosure:

I was an invited guest of the Omni Independence Park and stayed free of charge. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Hope

friendsSometimes I feel like my heart is beating outside of my chest and that there is no way to protect it. From the hail, from the driving rain. It’s just out there in the elements waiting to be assailed. And there have been only two times in my life when I’ve felt this way. When I’ve been in love and when I’ve given birth to children. It’s funny how those two situations are so closely tied together.

friendsBeing in love is an intensely vulnerable place to be, but being a parent splays you out bare for all the world to see. It leaves you raw and exposed to the elements.

I’m a mother of a child that’s a square peg in a round world. A child that laughs when she should be quiet. A girl who doesn’t get birthday party invitations but once a year. A girl who labors over what clothing to purchase with the hopes that she will fit in.

And as her mother, I can’t make it right.

Trust me. I’ve tried. I’ve invited kids over for elaborate parties. I’ve dressed my daughter up in the most fashionable clothing. I’ve tried to teach her everything I know about fitting in. But the one thing I can’t manipulate is the mind of another child. I can’t force other kids to accept her.

friendsBut here’s the thing about life. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out? Just when you think that people don’t care? That people have neglected you and let you down? Well, those people can take you by surprise. They can rinse off that verdigris of doubt that tarnishes your life with just a few simple words. “Yes, I’ll come.”

You see, my daughter, the one who is never invited to anything, invited another child over for a sleepover. Her first sleepover ever. And that daughter of mine braced herself for a “no”.  A no I can’t come. A no I don’t want to come. A no, you still don’t belong no matter how many times you ask.

But this time? This time the answer was yes! That child of mine was going to experience her first sleepover ever. And as excited as she was, my heart nearly split in half with joy along with hers. With joy and relief. Because it wasn’t just her acceptance that was at stake. It was mine as well. Why? Because mother and daughter hearts are tied together. They beat as one. And when one suffers the other does as well.

But not this day. No, this day both hearts were full to the point of bursting.

And the sleepover went as expected. There was incessant giggling. Very little sleep. Lots of sugar. And plenty of threats from me that they ought to settle down.

But even my stern words sounded weak. It’s hard to be stern when you are so incredibly thankful for the opportunity at hand. And as I half-heartedly reprimanded them for unruly tween behavior, I was secretly savoring every moment.

Imprinting every moment in my mind so that I could play back this day to my daughter when the dry months arrive. The months when there are no birthday party invitations. When the valentine cards don’t get stuffed in the red vellum covered boxes that the kids make in school.

No, today I forced myself to stay in the moment. The moment of acceptance, friendship and normalcy. And I have to tell you, it was a very sweet place to be. Even if only for a moment.

Our Day In Pictures

Mcdonald's #1 CarAs a blogger I get to meet lots of amazing people. I also have the opportunity to develop relationships with brands that have relevance to my daily life.

One of those brands is McDonald’s. It all started way back when this blog was in its infancy. I attended BlogHer and had the opportunity to sample the at the time new to the market hot oatmeal which I really enjoyed. Actually, I enjoyed it so much that I wrote about it on The Coupon Goddess which got the attention of the social media people at corporate McDonald’s.

We formed a nice friendship and kept in touch via Twitter and Facebook over the years. I’ve gotten to know the people behind the McDonald’s brand which has me lovin’ them all the more. Truly kind and compassionate people.

When I was hit by a car two years ago, they surprised my daughters by sending them the latest happy meal toys. A small gesture that was a tremendous diversion for my grief struck kids.

They also invited me to be part of their blogger think tank community where we talk about all sorts of things from menu ideas to parental concerns about nutrition. It’s a place where we can go and bounce ideas off each other.

I appreciate that they not only listen to us and value our input, but they also actually read our blogs to get to know us. It’s a time investment on their part that’s created a wonderful relationship between not only myself and McDonald’s but also with many other mom influencers in the blogosphere.

So, I guess you could say that I’m a super fan of the brand.

And after today, I’m a mega-crazy-diehard-fan of the brand because they invited myself and my son Michael to the New Hampshire 300 to watch the#1 car driven by Jamie McMurray which McDonald’s sponsors.

And did I mention that today is Michael’s 16th birthday? Yup. It sure is. So, this morning we packed up the car and drove up to New Hampshire to cheer on Jamie McMurray. I can’t even put into words what a wonderful birthday it was for my son. A day that neither of us will forget thanks to our friends at McDonald’s.

The following pictures are some of my favorites from today. After baking in the sun for seven hours, I don’t have the energy to explain each photo. I think you’ll get the idea. Oh, and the guy towards the bottom with the bulging muscles in the McDonald’s race gear? Yeah, that’s Jamie McMurray. You’re welcome.

Michael

New Hamsphire Motor Speedway

Michael on Track

Michael War Wagon

McDonald's #1 Car

Pit Crew McMurray

Jamie McMurray

Georgina and Melanie

Pit Crew Ready to Roll

This is not a sponsored post. I was an invited guest of McDonald’s to attend the New Hampshire 300. All thoughts and opinions are my own. A big thank you goes out to the McDonald’s team. I feel really blessed to know you all.

A Field Trip and a Discovery

cape cod canal visitor's centerWhen Shannon and I heard that her next field trip would be to the Cape Cod Canal, we were sort of disappointed. We’ve been up and down the canal umpteem thousand times by bike and by foot. And we really thought we’d seen it all. Not to mention, it’s just minutes away from where we live. Where’s the fun in that?

As usual, I was wrong. It was interesting. Very interesting.

Little did I know that we’ve had whales in our canal this past winter. Actually, there were times when the canal was shut down to ships while the whales made their way through. How cool is that? To think that I walk that canal so very often and that I missed the whales floating by. I need to pay better attention, apparently.

Also, it was fascinating to learn about the different types of ships that travel the canal and the cargo they carry. Did you know that a ship that carries vehicles can pack up to 5,000 cars on one ship? That’s a lot of cars.

And even though Shannon wasn’t as captivated as I was, it was a very interesting day. After the presentation was over, I made my way to my car which was parked at a neighboring fish market that I have never visited before.

dock cape cod canalConsidering that the Cape Cod Canal Visitor’s Center is located smack dab on the canal, it makes sense that there would be a fish monger close by. That’s the thing about being a local. We can miss stuff that’s right beneath our noses sometimes.

joe's lobster mart sandwich maJoe’s Lobster Mart is an unassuming little market perched right on the canal. Tucked between the local marina and the visitor’s center, it is a little easy to miss.

joes market sandwichBut I’m so glad I found it. They carry all sorts of good stuff like mussels, clams, fish fillets and even some prepared foods like stuffed clams and chowder.

salt cod and musselsI was especially happy to find salt cod which I need for an upcoming recipe on A Beautiful Bite. Have you ever cooked with salt cod? I bet if you are Portuguese you have.

mussels fra diavolo con cremaI was tempted by so many beautiful pieces of fish, but in the end I picked up a couple of pints of chowder, the salt cod, chopped clams and a bag of mussels which I whipped up into this when I got home.

A field trip that was not only educational but delicious too. Not a bad way to start the week!

How about you? Are you a seafood lover? What do you think of mussels and clams? Love them or hate them?

Beach Birthday

I Heart ArubaAs I mentioned the other day, I went away for this last weekend. My girlfriend Kim celebrated a milestone birthday and she invited three of her girlfriends down to her home in Aruba to celebrate.

20130303_171758And the timing just couldn’t have been any better as I’ve had just about enough of snow and freezing temps. A weekend on an island sounded pretty sweet to this freezing cold mom.

20130303_172631Myself, Rene and Desiree were greeted at the airport by the birthday girl. After fully hydrating us with her homemade sangria, she took us on a wonderful tour of her island.

Aruba BeachWe toured the beaches, ate the freshest fish you could imagine and soaked up the sun the entire weekend. Sun, sand and adult beverages. Just the medicine we all needed after such a rough winter. And a wonderful way to celebrate a birthday too!

Aruba LighthouseA weekend is not enough time to fully appreciate all that Aruba has to offer which means that a return trip is needed. Aruba really is a beautiful place and I’m so thankful for my time there with friends.

After a whirlwind weekend, I flew back home last night and what did I see when I got off of the plane? More snow. I swear this is the winter that will never end.

But I have to say that the weekend in Aruba has fortified me and I think I soaked up enough vitamin D to get me through until spring.

How about you? Have you been to Aruba? What’s your favorite sunny place to visit?

Good Morning Muffins Revisited

snow dayThis morning we woke up to the first snow of the season. And while it wasn’t a tremendous amount of snow, it was enough for the girls to wake me up at 8am to help them with their snowsuits.

photo-536While they were outside trying to get a few rides on the sled before the snow melts, I got busy whipping up breakfast. I figured they might be a little hungry and craving something hot after pelting each other with snow balls.

bisquick egg muffinsThe recipe I’m going to share with you today is one that I shared three years ago on The Coupon Goddess. At the time my photography was pretty much lacking in every way and I didn’t really do the muffins justice.

So, I thought I’d make them again and share the recipe with those of you who haven’t seen them before.

good morning muffinI love that this recipe is easy to make and utilizes leftovers in the fridge. It has a base of Bisquick and scrambled eggs, but then you get to add whatever odds and ends you have in your fridge.

Bacon, ham, peppers, salsa and all of those cheese bits that are hiding in the corners. Whatever you’ve got, toss it into the mix.

For these muffins I kept it pretty simple. Crumbled bacon and Swiss cheese mixed together with the Bisquick and scrambled eggs. A fast, hot breakfast that’s just perfect for kids riding sleds. Kids love portable food.

good morning muffinThese also freeze beautifully. Make a few dozen and thrown them into a freezer bag. After a quick trip in the microwave, you’ve got the perfect breakfast for those hectic weekday mornings!

Good Morning Muffins

3 cups Bisquick
8 eggs, scrambled (don’t over cook them because they will cook some more in the muffins)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp milk
4 oz cheese (whatever you have that’s looking like it will expire soon)
and any add ins like ham, bacon, veggies, etc.

Mix Bisquick and milk in a large bowl. Add eggs and add ins. Fold together just until eggs are coated with Bisquick mixture.

Scoop into muffin cups and bake at 350º until golden brown. About 20 minutes.

The Gooseberry Hunt

As I shared the other day, while visiting an antiques shop in Virginia, I fell in love with a set of vintage Pyrex. I’ve also shared in prior posts that other than cookbooks, I’m not a collector of anything.

I’m also not an antiques lover, or so I thought. But this Pyrex bug has bitten me pretty hard. I found a very nice set of vintage Amish Butterprint Pyrex mixing bowls on eBay the other day for $35. An early Christmas gift to myself, it almost made up for leaving the pink Gooseberry bowls behind in Virginia. But not quite.

I’m sure you can see where this is heading….

This morning I had to run a couple of errands. Along the way  there is a pretty big Salvation Army store. From what I’ve read on the vintage Pyrex site, Pyrex Love (don’t even give me crap that I’m aware of this site), it’s not uncommon to find vintage Pyrex at thrift shops and rummage sales. So, I stopped in to see if they by any chance had any pieces. You just never know.

I beelined right to the house wares section and lo’n behold there it was. A gleaming stack of Amish Butterprint just sitting there amongst the other junk. A big sticker on the top said Sold As Is $5.99.

Sweet mother of Betsy! $5.99? I grabbed it off the shelf and did my best to inspect it. It was all taped together with packing tape and I couldn’t see the bowls tucked inside. There were no visible chips or cracks, so off to the cashier I went. $5.99. Craziness.

Now, to be honest, I felt a little guilty about this purchase. I had already ordered the bowls in this very pattern off of eBay as I mentioned before. BUT when I took the tape off, I discovered that it wasn’t the bowls nesting inside. It was the matching casseroles. I danced in the parking lot.

Just look at this. I don’t even think they were ever used. I mean, they were produced in 1957! So lovely.

Ok, so that was pretty amazing and I should’ve stopped there and gone home. But as luck would have it, right across from the Salvation Army is an indoor weekend flea market. Why would I not just take a peek?

When I walked in I was a little creeped out. Ok, a lot creeped out. It was in a sketchy building that looked like it should be condemned and most of the stuff was piled up in jumbled heaps on the floor and on teetering tables.

The sellers were smoking cigs outside and I’m pretty sure they had flasks squirrled away somewhere close by that they’d probably tap into before noon. I guess you could call it a little rough looking.

But as you know, I’m an adventurer and I plunged ahead. This is the kind of place where you have to dig a bit to see what’s there. And I thought I was going to leave empty handed, but I saw a glimmer of red and white peek out of a very banged up cardboard box.

As I pushed the dusty junk off of the box, I discovered that it was a vintage 1950′s Pyrex nesting bowl set along with a set of ramekins. Lord Have Mercy.

The owner of the table was not around and he put his neighbor in charge of his table. The set had no tag, so I asked how much? $20 he said. I tried very hard not to let my jaw hit the floor. I didn’t haggle. I whipped out my payment and hustled back to my car. Smiling a big cheshire smile the entire way.

But it still wasn’t pink.

At that point I should’ve called it quits. Really, that was a lot to be content with. Beautiful vintage bowls that I will certainly not only treasure, but get tons of use out of in my baking and also as props for my food photography. And I paid a fraction of what they are worth. A very good morning indeed.

But that pink Gooseberry was still haunting me, so I made one last stop at a local antiques dealer. I really didn’t think that they would have the set and if they did, they’d surely know the value.

My area is known for antiques shopping. Antique shops line our roads and are as prevalent as Dunkin’ Donuts. But the problem is that they know the value of their stuff.

It’s not like other parts of the country where you can go find a sleepy little antiques shop and score something spectacular for $5 when it’s worth $5,000. The dealers here know their values.

I figured if they had the Pyrex Goosberry set, they’d charge accordingly. So, when I saw three pink Gooseberry bowls stacked up on a shelf I was shocked and I figured I couldn’t afford them.

But upon closer inspection, the bowls were very reasonably priced. They were tagged individually, but when I asked if they would lower the price if I bought the whole set, they tossed in a bowl for free.

$30 for all three. Certainly not as amazing as my $5.99 Salvation Army find, but $15 less than what the dealer in Virginia wanted.

It would appear that I’m now a collector. And while I won’t do the eBay thing to grow my collection, I’ll certainly keep my eye out for crazy thrift store finds in the future.

Some people collect LLadro. I collect Pyrex. At least it’s not an expensive thing to collect. But it sure is pretty! And it’s pink. Squee.

Now I just have to figure out where in Sam hill I’m going to put this stuff…