Monday, October 20, 2014

I've been dating since I was 17. I'm exhausted. Where is he?

Did you get the SATC quote reference in the title? Oh Charlotte .... 

I've been online dating for 4 years. Some breaks here and there, but pretty much 4 years of online dating. I've been on many first dates. Of which maybe 10% have led to second dates. And only 1% of those have led to more. Of that, there has been 1 "relationship" that came out of online dating.

I've done Eharmony, Match and (most recently) OkCupid. Eharmony was way too expensive and involved of a process, and the men weren't that great in the end. Match and OkCupid are really quite similar except the later is free.

In the end, it's a lot of the same thing and it's hit or miss on any given day. Some good guys .... some weird guys ... and some plain old (and I do mean old) creepy guys.

The part that bothers me the most are those men who really don't pay attention to your profile and just email a generic "hi" or "what's up". Come on, really? I will pretty much respond to any guy who actually calls out something from my profile or doesn't do a copy/paste, but something with some actual personality. And those are more rare than would think.

As I get older, one thing that I think about is: should I become more picky or less picky? On one side, the pool of eligible men is shrinking and I need to be more open. On the other, I am getting older and am looking more and more for someone more serious and that means that I have a right to be more picky. So, I'm torn.

Then you wonder what you should really put "out there". Do you put everything out there to hopefully find someone who sparks to your true self? Or do you make it more generic and open just to attract a wider range? But then do you really stand a chance for something with those people if you aren't up-front about who you are?

I wish I could do my own A/B test on OkCupid and put up like 4 different versions of my profile. All "me", but different versions of me ... different amounts and types of information offered up. One that's like my current one - travel photos with info about my interests and passions, etc. Then a different one that didn't include travel really, but maybe more focused on local things and photos from my recent 10K, a day at the apple orchard, etc. Then maybe a different version that shows me out with my friends in all the photos (which I actually hate in guy's profiles) and has a limited profile. Then a final one with no photo (haha, I wouldn't get any hits).

On that note ... I simultaneously just schedule a first date for this weekend while writing this post. Maybe there is hope out there ....

Then again ... maybe not ...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Around the World in 14 Dishes

What do flan, french fries, brisket, and empanadas have in common? 

Well, to most people, probably nothing (and they probably sound gross all together). 

But, for my group at work, they have a lot in common! They represent our very unique and diverse team! 

While at work recently, we thought: "Hey, our team really has a lot of diverse people with different backgrounds, we should celebrate that! And by celebrate, I mean how about we plan a potluck and eat tons of food that we all love." 

That is how the Around the World Potluck was conceived.

And today, it was executed. About 15 people from out team came together over a lunch of delicious foods from all over the world to share recipes, stories, some laughs and an overall great time! The food was amazing and I was seriously impressed by people's cooking and baking skills! Some folks were all about grandma's receipes ... others just threw ingredients together and made it work (i.e. the girl who made flan ... FLAN ... seriously impressed by someone who can make flan without a recipe and without measuring things out!). 

Since I am 100% Romanian, I made the only Romanian thing I can do on my own - Salata de Vignette. Eggplant Salad. Super easy to make and it is really healthy, low cal, a great snack, easy to make in bulk, and refreshing. Particularly great in summer. And it is always a staple at the holiday table. (Recipe include at the bottom of this post)

Here was the menu. Now you can see why I was in a total food coma all afternoon ... and totally impressed by people!

Salata de Vignette (Eggplant Salad)
Greek Orzo, Tomato and Feta Salad
Jamaican Beef Patties
Jamaican Empanadas

BBQ Brisket
Italian Aioli pasta
Smoked knockwurst with sauerkraut

Colombian Arepas with Cheese
Nigerian Jollof Rice
Cuban Tostones
French Fries
Mac & Cheese

Coconut Flan
Graham Cracker Toffee
Sweet Potato Pie

Assorted Mexican drinks (soda, horchata, agua de jamaica, etc)

Brisket, mac & cheese, sausages, rice, fries, pasta .... oh my!
Yup, those are McDonald's fries ... FRENCH fries. Get it? The woman of our team who is of French descent (and has proclaimed herself a "non-cook" brought that in). Good idea!
This was mine - Salata de Vignete (Eggplant Salad). Super duper easy ... recipe at the bottom of this post. 
Sausages and sauerkraut from the best place in the city - Kramarczuk's.
That flan was AMAZING! And she made it with no recipe ... just "threw it together". Well done!
Totally indulged and had the classic Mecican Coke.

So, for the vignette. Super easy recipe and it's really refreshing and very light and diet friendly!

2-4 whole eggplants (really as many as you want)
Purple onion (tablespoon size quantity)
Mayo with olive oil
Tomatoes, bread and/or crackers to serve

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Bake whole eggplants on cookie sheet for 2 hours (like photo below)
  3. Prepare a cutting board on the edge of kitchen sink with towels rolled under one end so it is angled into the sink
  4. Slit eggplants open and use a spoon to scoop out the eggplant's insides - make sure you do not take any of the skin with you - it will create a bitter taste in the final dish!
  5. Spread insides onto cutting board and let water seep out and into sink
  6. Allow eggplant insides to dry overnight
  7. Using a food processor, mix eggplant insides, small amount of purple onion and mayo until well blended into smoothie-like consistency. Add additional mayo and purple onion as desired for taste.

You can serve this just in a bowl with crackers and/or bread ... or you can do what I did in my photo! Take small tomatoes (the ones at Costco are the perfect size) and cut off the top and scoop out interiors leaving hollow tomato bowl. Scoop vinette into hollow tomato cups. Ta-da ... instant (and deceptively easy) appetizer that everyone will love! It looks and tastes very unique ...

Spread them out on the cookie sheet. No other prep needed. Might want to cover them all with some aluminum foil just in case one bursts, to prevent the oven from getting dirty. 
Yummy! And pretty to serve. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall Adventure - Apple Picking (aka: Apple Pie Eating)

Apple picking is a quintessential fall activity. The leaves. The colors. The fashion. The photo opportunities. The crisp air. Sigh.

I say all that and you would assume apple picking has been a tradition in my family since I was little. That there are photos of me year after year on the tractor with the bales of hay.

You would assume wrong. First time I went was last year. Second time was this year. Does two times starting at age 28 a tradition make? Probably not. But I like it anyway!

An amazing blue sky for my fall adventure!
This past weekend was absolutely beautiful! Perfect weather that was, in fact, a bit too warm for my taste at 60 degrees. Sun was out. Gorgeous blue sky. I had just finished up a midterm exam and all the cramming that led up to it. So I ventured out to Stillwater on a mini road trip. And when I say “mini”, I mean Stillwater is 35 minutes away …

So here is my fall apple picking mini road trip adventure:

Road trips = bad for you (but oh so yummy) food!

  • Step 1: stop at Starbucks because crisp fall weather calls for a grande soy no water chai
  • Step 2: drive 30 minutes (with GPS, cause I rarely venture more than 10 miles from downtown)
  • Step 3: arrive at apple orchard and find parking amongst sea of mini vans and SUVs
  • Step 4: “pick apples” (more on the use of the quotation marks later)
  • Step 5: eat pie
  • Step 6: drive to Stillwater and stumble upon Harvest Festival
  • Step 7: wander Stillwater
  • Step 8: watch a 600 pound pumpkin get dropped from 100 feet in the air on top of ANOTHER giant pumpkin
  • Step 9: drive home … stop for takeout because clearly my day was sooo exhausting that there was no way I was gonna cook anything
The view from the above! Many many stairs later ...

All in all, the day was a success. However, I will say that the local meteorologist/news station was slightly deceiving when they said this last weekend would be best for fall colors on the river. I disagree. There was too much green yet. I think this this coming weekend will be better (hence the trip to Taylors Falls to see more fall colors planned for Saturday).

Now, a few random thoughts on apple picking:
  • “Apple picking” is really a lose term of what goes on at these apple orchards. I mean, really. There was no actual apple picking going on at all. Best you could do was get apples from the store. (BTW: hello expensive!) There were small apples on the trees and lots of them on the ground, but the only one I actually “picked” was for a photo … of me … picking said apple. 
  • #ItsAllAboutThePie. Meghan Trainor may think it’s all about the bass. I disagree. It’s all about the pie. That’s why one goes apple picking … to eat pie. And why would I make pie when I can just buy pie. SUPER proud of myself though. I had my delicious piece of apple pie a la mode right then and there, but I did NOT give in and pie the entire pie to take home. In full disclosure, that may have had more to do with the $11 price tag than my own willpower/goodness.  
Worth the extra time on the treadmill!
  • What is apple butter anyway? I don’t understand.
  • Dido the above re: apple sausage? Ewwww. 
  • Want to know what happens when you go to an apple orchard by yourself? Every cute little high school/college couple out on a date walking the orchard asks you to take their pictures. I should have charged … payment accepted in cash … or pie. 
  • The apples are really small. What’s that all about?
  • This particular orchard (Aamodt’s Apple Farm in Stillwater, MN) also had vineyard and winery. Good idea.
  • Unless you have kids to take lots of pictures of or take them on the hay covered tractor “adventure” or play in the hay maze, there isn’t that much to do once you wander the orchard and wander the store (and eat you pie).
Does it get more quintessentially fall then leaves and apples?
  • There are really two kinds of people that seem to go to Orchards: families with young kids and college students.
  • Good idea selling hot dogs and sausages … yum. Good way to prime the tummy for the soon-to-come pie and ice cream.
  • One bathroom? Really!?!?

As I mentioned, from the orchard I went to Stillwater. If you’re not familiar, it is a cute little town right on the river that boasts a quaint main street, many (many) antique shops, a river walk, lots of restaurants, and good views of the river valley and changing fall colors. And, these massively terrible and numerous stairs you can climb and get an amazing view from (once you catch your breath).

The harvest festival was neat to run into. Lots of people by the river, a beer garden, crafty goodies, and a giant pumpkin contest. I mean GIANT – the winner was 1832 pounds. Wow!

At 5pm, unbeknownst to me, the festival was coming to its big finale for the day. I gathered with everyone else to watch a giant pumpkin go 100 feet in the air and get dropped on another giant pumpkin. #OnlyInMN

Left: giant pumpkin being dropped from 100 feet in the air on top of another giant pumpkin.
Right: even more giant pumpkin ... the winner at 1832 pounds.
All in all, the day was lovely. And I plan on repeating parts of it all over again this weekend! But this time it will also include some great hiking at Taylor’s Falls.

We're going down, down, down ...

That's not just a Johnny Cash song. That's gonna be the number on the scale over the next 5 weeks. It MUST go down!!!

I've always struggled with my weight. Always. I can pull out journals from high school, college, or the last 6 years and the theme is always the same - I. Need. To. Lose. Weight. Broken record. But it's always true. I have a bad metabolism and don't like to cook and have a weakness for bad food. Last year I did lose 35 pounds and felt amazing band truly great for the first time in a long time. But then I gained some back. And now here I am. 

It's not that I don't work out. I do. I just ran a 10k for crying out loud. And if you average it out, I workout 5-6 days/week. But usually it's more like 20 days straight then fall off the wagon for 5 days. And I mean FALL. 

But, I leave for Europe soon and I gotta look good. So I've kicked it into overdrive. Very limited daily calories. No pop. No alcohol. Double workouts each day including Jillian Michaels "ripped in 30" DVDs and lots of cardio. 

Wish me luck. 

My Big Fat Greek ... Import Store

You thought I was going to say "wedding", didn't you?

Have you ever heard of Bill’s Imports? Lake and Lyndale. White building. Blue sign. Been there forever.

If you haven’t been, you’ve been missing out. That place is an institution! It’s a little grocery store with everything from 10 different kinds of feta cheeses to 15 types of olives. Not to mention frozen and refrigerated goodies and aisles full of goodies. And lots of sweets. And homemade desserts like baklava. Yummy! My family has been shopping there for as long as we have been living here (so, we are talking well on 23 years or so) and it hasn’t changed in that time! Seriously. The displays, the signs, the register, the matriarch behind the register … they are all exactly the same! Only thing that has changed (for the better) is that now they take credit card where-as in the past it was cash or check only. But the little old Greek lady that is always there and rings you up is awesome! She is totally the old-school Greek matriarch of the family. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, be it customer of family member working the feta counter. She’s amazing!

And the food … ummmmmmm. Besides the basics, some of my favorite staples include:

  • Ajvar – a veggie spread mix
  • Sour cherries – a sort-of jam 
  • Pita 
  • Taramosalata – white caviar, but it’s not the little balls, it’s whipped till it’s a spread
  • Sweets
  • Baklava
  • Cosonac – that’s the Romanian word for it, but basically fruit cake (full disclosure: at Christmas you can get this for a lot cheaper at Costco)
My favorite! The Sour Cherries. I keep these in the cupboard and just eat it with a spoon when I want something sweet. 
The Feta!
She rules this place! Always behind the counter!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What A Weekend | AKA: the one where I ran a 10K, got a tattoo, partied, saw Gone Girl and studied

This weekend is one for the record books. Well ... at least one for MY personal record books.

Here's how it went down ...

Friday started off pretty darn awesomely my heading out to see the highly anticipated Gone Girl. It. Was. Awesome! Seriously good. Love the book. Love the story. And now love the movie. Great acting and directing and a well done job all around bringing the novel to the big screen. Rosamund Pike's performance is so captivating ... the way she changes, shifts, switches gears. Wow.

Then, onto Saturday.

And Saturday started hella early. I hate mornings. I cannot wake up early. It's impossible. But I was up at 6AM on Saturday so I could run my first ever 10K - the TC 10K that's part of the Marathon weekend. Yup. I did it! I had done a handful of 5Ks over the last few years and I run pretty regularly (but mostly just for calorie burning cardio ... not because I enjoy it or anything), but I had never done a 10K. I had run that length just once about a month ago in training for this race ... just to make sure I could actually do it. And, to top it all off, I managed to convince my mom to do it with me. She has only done the 5K I dragged her to last year and now this one, but she did GREAT!

So we were up and out the door with my dad acting as chauffeur/official bag carrier. The race started at 7:30 and it was windy and cold (40 degrees) and gross. Yuck! And then ... we were off!!!! My mom and I didn't stick together as we have different paces. But we crossed the start line together and wished each other luck and went on our way.

The race was tough and I am definitely no expert at proper pacing and strategy, but I just tried to run as fast as I could for as long as I could without falling over. I used the Map My Run app to help me with pacing and felt pretty good the whole way through. That final mile as you approach the finish line right in front of the capital is a good bit downhill ... but it is also more exposed to the wind. So that was rough. I had this sudden burst of energy at the end and went so hard and so fast, but then right before the finish line my legs gave out and I was in so much pain. But I made it! I finish my first 10K. And not only that ... I made my goal! I wanted to get under 55 minutes ... and I got 54:47. Woohoo! And my mom did 1:01:42. So proud of both of us!! My dad even got my mom on video crossing the finish line ... though he apparently totally missed me.

After rushing home to shower and warm up, we headed out for a massive (and well deserved) family brunch at Hell's Kitchen. Yum!

Then, I went on to my second adventure of the day ... my first tattoo!

That's right. I. Got. A. Tattoo!

I almost cannot believe it myself. While I'm sitting here, I have a tattoo. It's there ... forever. Eeeeeek. I have been wanting one for awhile and knew the exact location I wanted and knew the general vein of theme I wanted to do (travel, art, my passions/interests). And then I finally decided to commit. I knew I wanted to do it before my 30th birthday next summer and I thought it would be nice to do it on a day that I had other good things going on.

So I walked into Uptown Tattoo and did it. Overall, here is what I would say about it:

  • I got it on my left rib cage and everyone I talked to said that is one of the most painful places. Maybe because I was preparing myself for it to be so bad, I didn't think it was actually that bad. 
  • Don't get be wrong, it hurt, but it was manageable.
  • I don't like pain - I hyperventilate when I get shots. But I would say that getting cavities filled is probably worse then when I got done.
  • I was expecting it to feel like pokes over and over into the my skin. But it didn't. It felt more like lines being drawn on me very very deep. Like what I would image it would feel like to take an exacto knife and drawn a shape into your skin.
  • It was also over a lot faster than I thought it would be. 15 minutes maybe for the actual tattoo.
  • And, it was a little anticlimactic. Done and done. Ok ... now what?
  • The after care isn't too bad. Because it was outlines only, bandage only stayed on for four hours. Skin is a little sensitive, but not too bad. Not too red. No blood. Just keeping it clean and lotioned. And I can even workout today. 

You may be wondering what I got. Well, I debated about whether or not to really share, but I don't mind and this is clearly important enough for me to permanently ink on my body, so why not share? Below are the icons I got down a row on my left rib cage. What do they mean to me? The represent all the things I am passionate about ... all the things that make me happy and make me feel alive. They are the things that I feel excited by. That make me want to get up in the morning. That motivate me to go on each day. They are the things that make me ... me.

  • Airplane - Travel. Adventure. Culture. Change. Exploration. I absolutely love to travel and experience new things. It is at the core of who I am. 
  • Camera - Taking photos goes hand in hand with travel of course. And it is part of who I am. I see the world more clearly from behind the lens. I love to capture the moment and look back on it. Whether it is one of my expensive cameras on a trip or my iPhone on a typical weekend, photos are a part of my life.
  • Art Frame - Art is another important part of my life. Ever since I was little I have enjoyed going to museums and exploring the quite and beautiful rooms. I have explored many of the worlds most famous museums ... cried in front of Monet's water lilies in Paris ... stood in awe in front of Picasso's Guernica in Madrid ... and felt at home in front of Renoir's Piaza San Marco at the MIA in Minneapolis. And I collect art myself, and have an Art History degree from undergrad. Art is something I love, appreciate and respect.
  • Pen - I love stories. In any form. The written word whether told in a book I'm reading or a play being performed on a stage or a movie being acted out on the big screen - they are all things I love. I can often be found curled up with a book. I read while I work out with my Kindle propped up on the treadmill! I see more movies than anyone you know. And I have season tickets to the theaters in town. Not to mention by own writing here on the blog and in my personal travel journals and other journals. I love words ... (which is probably why I tend to use too many of them when I write).

I'll probably get more tattoos in the future. I have other things in mind. I want to do something very small that would go under my watch band on my left inner wrist. I also want to do something on the bottom of my foot. And having done it once, I know I can take the pain. 

So by the time 2 o'clock had rolled around I had already run a 10K, had brunch with my parents and gotten a tattoo. Exhausting. But the day was not over yet! After a lovely nap it was time to get ready and go out to celebrate one of my best friend's 30th birthday! Woohoo!

It was a great evening filled with meeting lots of new great people, celebrating one of the best people I knew, checking out some fun new places, having some delicious new cocktails and even some dancing! My long (and exhausting day) didn't really catch up to me thanks to that nap and I was able to stick it out till 2AM no problem. But ... by about midnight my tattoo was starting to itch a bit and was a little sore ... felt like someone had punched me in the side. Nothing some advil when I got home couldn't cure.

And now it's Sunday and I am at home all day trying to study for an MBA financial management midterm on Wednesday. Clearly it is going well since I am writing this instead. Ha.

All in all, a very great weekend and a weekend filled with great people, great family, great food, new experiences, accomplishment of personal goals, and FUN!!!

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