Hotty Toddy Getaway

Many of you may have seen my photos on social media and picked up on the fact that I was in the south for a few days last week! I returned back to my old stomping grounds in Oxford, MS to visit one of my best friends and her husband for a much-needed-extended-long-weekend getaway.

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Allison and Max!

In case some of you do not know, my dad was a professor of engineering (ME) at Ole Miss and we had the privilege of living in the bubble that is Oxford. I say bubble because Oxford is nothing like the rest of the state of MS. It’s actually pretty liberal, has a diverse demographic on campus, a big Indian community (surprisingly) and it’s turning into this little hipster-chic city. I couldn’t believe how much it has changed over the years. I’ve been back to visit a few times since moving back up to the north, but it always blows me away when I see what changes its gone through, and this past trip was no different.

I’ve talked about my friend Allison on the blog before (both here and here) and it was so much fun to spend 5 days with both her and Max! So let’s get to the good stuff.

DISCLAIMER: It’s going to seem like all we did was eat for 5 days…but I assure you, we did a lot more other things. I just happen to chronicle the food the most…

The day I landed, they picked me up from MEM and we headed to the Indian grocery store to stock up on some spices and produce. We had already agreed earlier in the week that she and I would cook an Indian feast one day during the weekend, so we stocked up. We also did this to kill time before the pizza place we were going to eat dinner at, was open. Dinner that night was at Tribeca Alley Cafe in Sardis, MS just a little past the border into MS.

They’re known for their wood-fire pizza so that’s exactly what I ordered. I also indulged and ordered some sweet tea, because that only exists south of the Mason-Dixon.

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This pizza was out of this world. I got the Margherita but everything on their menu sounded really good. After we were stuffed from pizza, we drove the rest of the way into Oxford (The Oxpatch!) and ended the evening with some hot chocolate and a tribute to Bowie by watching Life Aquatic.

The next morning after getting ready, feeding the many animals that live on the property they share with Max’s family, Max and Allison prepared barista-quality coffee for me (complete with latte art!) from their coffee machine. After that, we chilled for a bit and then headed downtown to the legendary Oxford Square. It’s a very cute and charming area of Oxford filled with boutiques, restaurants, and the beautiful courthouse. I immediately felt like I was back home upon stepping onto the square. We had lunch downtown at South Depot Taco Shop where I ordered a burrito bowl with marinated tofu and black beans and we split some dips and chips for the table. TONS. OF. FOOD.

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After inhaling our food, we decided a walk around the Square was in order to help burn off some of those calories. One thing that’s great about the Square? It has hills! Odd, but true. Our stops included: Southside Gallery where I saw some of Allan’s work (Allan is Allison’s twin brother and an amazing artist/painter. He’s actually quite big in the south and I’m proud to own some of his original pieces!)

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We also made a pit stop at the clothing store so I could buy some Rebel gear for my sister and nephew, and also walked by the random London phone booth that resides in the Square.

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After walking around the Square, we headed back to the compound and started watching Man in the High Castle – which I am addicted to now! We watched a few episodes and then headed back out to have dinner at Ravine. You guys, I was looking forward to this meal for weeks. That is no lie. Ravine is located in the outskirts of Oxford and is contemporary southern food that is totally embracing the farm-to-table mentality. Basically: A hipster-nonsense-hotspot!

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I can’t say enough nice things about Ravine. The service was exceptional, the staff so polite and the food was some of the best I’ve had. We all got drinks (I got an old fashioned. Because obviously), shared an appetizer of homemade falafel (delicious and light!), and I ordered their butternut goat cheese ravioli with veggies. It was insanely good! They actually had another vegetarian offering (which is at market price for them) but this dish sounded better to me. Dessert was a no brainer: southern pecan pie.

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I was reunited with southern pecan pie and it was the most glorious pie ever. Because me and pie. And the south. And pecans grown in the south. And pie.

All in all – that dining experience will be a memorable one for me for a long time! I think for Allison and Max too! After we rolled ourselves to the cars and then back to their place, we watched more High Castle and I literally passed out from either a food coma, the drinks, or both. Who knows.

But I didn’t get to rest for too long because we had to be up early to beat the church rush for BBB – Big Bad Breakfast. One of the things I miss most about living in the south is having grits and biscuits for breakfast. And grits made the right way: full of milk, butter and coarse in texture. Allison and Max were gracious enough to let me try some of the grits they ordered, because I opted to get the biscuit with my meal.

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What I did order was delicious though: much-needed coffee, egg white omelet, that buttery biscuit and some sweet potato hash. All were delicious and not too heavy! I also bought some homemade strawberry jam to bring home with me because I probably ate like 1/4 cup of it with breakfast.

After breakfast, we decided we needed a legit walk and not just walking around town like we had been doing. We decided to head out to Holly Springs National Forest and hike for a bit, and hike we did!! I think we spent about 2+ hours hiking around the woods, which at times was kind of scary because we found out the land is pretty heavily inhabited by wild hogs. And you do not want to come across a wild hog. We saw some fresh wild hog poo all over the place, and evidence of where they burrowed through the leaves and ground.

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The forest, however, was beautiful. I forgot how the backwoods of MS could really be beautiful and very quiet. ….At times a little too quiet, but still nice! As the sun was setting, we decided to be smart and head on out before we got stuck in the dark with some peccaries!

After a much-needed nap, we realized it was well past dinner time and we were ready to cook our Indian feast! I made some mango pickle for the two of them (which should be ready to eat soon!) and we made: dal, channa and aloo mattar complete with mango lassis, rice and naan. While the food continued to cook, Allison and I snuck away to watch the weekly episode of Downton.

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My last full day in Oxford included visiting the Ole Miss campus, which instantly felt like home. I can’t tell you the amount of times I wandered through the halls of Carrier Hall (where my dad’s office was and where he taught) and just remembering my way through it again! Or walking through the famous Grove or Circle and walking by the Lyceum. Ole Miss really is a beautiful campus.

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Me with the Lyceum!

Allison and Max both work for the university – she’s a geologist and he’s an EE who works on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV’s) on the gulf. They both showed me their offices and some of the work they do, which always fascinates me. I always tell her she needs to come explore the UP and see all the geological splendors up here – hint hint ;)

After walking around Ole Miss we met up with a mutual friend I haven’t seen in 20 years, Emilie.

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We met the internet-famous hedgehog Olive :)

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Me. Emilie and Allison

It was like no time had passed with us, which is one of my favorite things about having friends who live far away. It never really feels like they are far away! Thanks for making time for us, Emilie! It was so, so good to see you and meet the animals. Let’s not wait another 20 years before we see each other!

After a quick sushi dinner at Toyo where we also met up with some other friends, we headed back to Allison and Max’s and I helped them make some mead from honey they harvested from their bees! We even to try some of the mead they had bottled from three years ago. They also sent me home with a bottle of honey they harvested this year, which is delicious. It’s amazing how knowledgable they are about beekeeping and all that comes with it. The mead making process was so interesting and actually quite simple — honey, water, some yeast and food for the yeast, ferment for a month, then bottle and let it age!

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The next morning we kind of lounged around, I packed up and we headed to Memphis so I could fly home.

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I know I haven’t seen Allison and Max since my wedding in 2011, but it didn’t feel like it’d been that long. I can’t thank them enough for taking time off work to drive me around, drive me to and from Memphis, treating me to some delicious meals and just welcoming me into their home. They definitely have the southern hospitality thing going and I’m so grateful that even after all these years, we’ve remained as close friends as we are. Here’s to the next adventure the three of us might have!

What fun trips are you looking forward to this year?

 

 

Aparna in Wonderland

This past weekend I was able to indulge in a treat fit for a queen! …Of hearts, that is. REB and I went to Mad Hatter Bistro/Bar/Tea Room in Birmingham, MI (about 60 miles northeast of Ann Arbor in metro Detroit). 

Before we go any further, I need to preface that anyone who knows me well knows how much I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and generally, all things Alice in Wonderland. It’s one of my favorite books/stories of all time and I love both the original story by Lewis Carroll, but also the Disney version. My sister and best friends even threw me a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for my bridal shower before I got married! My office has several copies of the book that I’ve been collecting versions over the years. If I ever see a copy with new illustrations, or cover art, or in a different language, I get it. It’s probably silly or nonsense, but…”if I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense!”

So anyway, when I had heard last year (or maybe it was even the year before) there was a tea room, bar and restaurant opening near Detroit that would be Alice in Wonderland-themed, I have been dying to go. I finally decided to make it happen over the weekend. REB was gracious enough to accompany me – major points to him!

The ambiance of this place was very whimsical. It was not a formal tea place, like what REB and I experienced when we went for high tea in Copenhagen last year. That place was a typical place for high tea, where they brewed their own tea blends, had fine china and only open for a few hours a day strictly for tea.

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This place was definitely more like a hipster bar and had a whimsical charm. Dimly lit upstairs, the walls had an array of Alice in Wonderland memorabilia complete with playing cards, clocks, checkered paint details, tea pots, etc.

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I was actually a little concerned that we would be having tea in such a darkly lit place. But then we were taken downstairs where it was a complete 180! They had a cute little tea room downstairs where the walls were covered with fake grass/turf, little water fountains were displayed, the ceiling had silk roses (in red and white!) hanging from it, mismatched tea cups and saucers sat on each table and each table donned a different style and shape of arm chair.

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One thing people need to know about this place is that you have to make a reservation for a tea party. I think if you were to go in for brunch, drinks or dinner you wouldn’t need one, but they do state on their web site that for a tea party, you have to make a reservation. Their weekends fill up pretty quickly, I guess! I also took a look at their tea menu since it’s a fixed price but you receive the following: Three-tiered stand filled with finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream (or marscapone here), jam/curd, and small local pastries and fruit, and of course, bottomless tea! The finger sandwiches included a salmon one, so when I called to make the reservation I had mentioned we were vegetarian which they took note and said we would just get their vegetarian option.

REB and I first tried different teas and then shared the second pot. The first one I had was a Paris blend of vanilla and caramel and he went simple with English breakfast black tea. The second time around, we got a pot of their Mad House Blend which had strong hints of cardamom — it was delicious!

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Next up: the food! Like I stated earlier with the tea party you receive a three-tiered stand with the bottom layer having cucumber and mint finger sandwiches, canapes of artichoke and spinach; and red pepper and hummus. The second tier had four scones – two chocolate chip, two lemon poppy seed and they came with lemon curd and marscapone cheese (no clotted cream on this side of the pond :( ). The final tier had mini desserts of lemon cheesecake, a chocolate chip cake cookie, fudge brownie and nutella and cream parfaits.

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Overall the food was pretty good. My biggest disappointment was that I noticed other tables that had the meat/salmon option for the finger sandwiches had those plus the things we had. I had hoped and kind of wished that because we said we were vegetarians, they would have just given us more of the cucumber and mint sandwiches, but they didn’t. Kind of a bummer and rip off, but what we did have we liked.

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Lemon poppyseed scone with marscapone and lemon curd

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As stated before, the tea party was a fixed price, which is a touch on the spendy side. It costs $24/person and tip is not included. You’re definitely paying for the ambiance, experience and location (Birmingham is a pretty affluent city).

I thought back to what we spent in CPH and if we had done a similar tea menu there like we did here, it was roughly 225KR which is $32.50, so I guess it’s at least cheaper than Europe! Of course, we didn’t do that in CPH so it was cheaper, but still. Good to know!

I don’t know that we will go here again, at least not for a tea party. Their main menu and brunch menu sound really delicious and have fun names for all the items, though! So that might be worth a try. Having said that, price aside, I could see this being a cute place to have a party for a little girl or something, though it would likely cost quite a bit.

I am glad we went. It was cute, fun and I appreciate the detail they put into making it feel like you were in the hedge garden and having tea with the Mad Hatter and March Hare. And like the Mad Hatter always says….

What about you? Have you ever “splurged” on something silly like a dining experience?

Yeah I’m Alive

Well well well. Lookie who it is.

I have no excuse for my blog absence except that I was just out doing my thing in life and most of you probably follow me on Instagram and have seen what I’ve been up to the past few…years. Yikes. Has it seriously been like two years? Whoops. I want to try to make a conscious effort to keeping this place updated because, well, I pay for it. And if anyone out there really does come here to see about updates, you will now hopefully have them!

All I can say is that 2015 totally kicked 2014′s butt. The year before last was a pretty hard one for both REB and myself. We had some pretty heavy family stuff going on, my job got ridiculously stressful (his too) and we had some other things happening. So I was glad that this past year was a nice change and for the better.

Here’s a quick recap of 2015!

• I traveled to Chicago a lot to see my nephew and spending time with him is the absolute best!  He’s growing up so, so fast!
• REB and I traveled to Europe in May for two weeks. We went to Amsterdam, Brussels/Ghent/Brugge and Copenhagen (even spent a day in Sweden!) It was unforgettable! I still need to go through the big round of photos I took.
• My photography business is still thriving and kept me busy for a big chunk of the year. I have my friend to thank for that since I assisted her again for may of the weddings in 2015. I also booked and commissioned my first wedding entirely on my own for one of my best friends.
• I traveled to San Francisco over the summer while REB had a training for work there. It was a “long weekend” type trip but was sufficient. We saw some really great sites, hiked/ran up and down those ridiculous hills, saw some friends and ate a lot of really great food! That city is a lot of fun. If it wasn’t so horribly expensive there, I could see myself living in northern Cali.
• I gave myself another pat on the back for my progression in my fitness. This past year marked some new records for me and I’m stronger than I have been in years! I also found a yoga studio I really love where one of my favorite instructors teaches and have been enjoying adding that to weekly routine.
• We attended a few weddings this year; One of course being my friend’s wedding I was the photographer for; one being one of REB’s best friend/college roommates in upstate NY; and another was one of our high school friends here in Ann Arbor. All were fun, beautiful and we’re so happy for the newlyweds!

All in all, it was a pretty superb year and has me optimistic that this year is going to be another good one, too. I’m looking forward to making some fun times happen which includes:

More travel! I’m visiting one of my best friends in the south, going to Vermont in April, trips to Chicago to see the nephew, sister and BIL, and possible trip to WY this spring. REB and I are also already planning our UK trip for 2017.
More photos! I’m happy to already have some sessions set up with families this year, plus hopefully helping my friend with weddings again
• More Canada! I hope to go to Toronto with my friend Amber again for TIFF in September
• More fitness! While I don’t have any set-in-stone fitness goals for myself, I do want to focus on improving my strength training and yoga progressions
• More events! This will be a year of events starting with some Spartan basketball games, Carly Rae Jepsen and Ellie Goulding concert and also seeing Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Stoked!
• More reading! I set another reading goal for myself. Follow me on Goodreads or follow along on my Instagram (#aebreads2016) to see what I’m reading and see if I can surpass my goal to read 40 books!
More blogging! I’d like to keep this place updated for all of you with general going-ons in my life, what I’m reading, product reviews of what I’m using, what I’m eating and where I’m going.
So, as much as it sucked to be away, I’m so glad to be back! I hope the rest of you are also back and here to stay and see what this year holds :)

Currently

…reading

…keeping fit with Running + Yoga + Bootcamp = Beast Mode 4-5 days a week.

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Photo courtesy of Amber

…running to
I’ve been on the treadmill in our basement (which has been working out beautifully!) and it faces the TV we have down there. Except the TV is not hooked up to cable; REB is using it as a gigantic monitor for his computer (Did I mention we have like 6 different laptops or computing devices in our house already? I married a compunerd!). While I run, I stream my Vevo playlist which has become my go-to running playlist! I’ve become accustomed to knowing when a certain song starts, I should be speeding up, slowing down, sprinting, etc. It’s been great!

  • Nelly Furtado – Promiscuous
  • Deadmau5 – Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff
  • Duke Durmont – Need U 100%
  • Big Sean feat. Nicky Minaj – Dance (Ass) Remix
  • Disclosure – Voices
  • Britney Spears – Work B***h
  • Disclosure – F For You
  • Britney Spears – Womanizer
  • Afrojack feat. Spree Wilson – The Spark
  • Britney Spears – Toxic

…feeling motivated!
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11 down, 9 more to go! I’ve been at the “10 pounds left” spot twice before and never accomplished it. I am determined more than ever to try to get there this time. Third time’s a charm, right?

…planning a mini vacay with REB out west this summer!
It took us a while to figure out where to go. We tackled with going back to Vermont, visiting Arches Nat’l Park (but doing that in October), San Fransisco (on my list, not so much his) or doing our big Seattle/Vancouver trip. But I think we just want a quick getaway and we’ve decided on Portland, OR! I’m pretty stoked.

…realizing I’ve had a total of four drinks since Jan 1. Whoa.

…in home improvement mode and happy because our master bedroom is almost finished!

…loving March Madness! Who’s with me? Go Green!

…obsessed with my new loose leaf tea travel mug

…still going strong with the 100 Happy Days project.

…loving my new haircut courtesy of my awesome stylist

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…proud of myself to finally be able to run continuously for 30 minutes and taking 30 seconds off my pace. 

…gearing up and putting ideas together for upcoming photo sessions with new and returning clients. I seriously can’t wait!

…more than halfway done with my reading goal for the year.

…looking forward to a weekend of fun and family.

What’s going on in your world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews Part 4

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I have to apologize a million times for my lack of blogging in the past few weeks. I had made a goal to try to blog at least once a month and I’m not exactly living up to that very well. I’ve made so many recipes and had so much to say and yet, simply did not have time to just share it with everyone. But, for those of you who follow me on social media, you’re in the know of what’s been up in my world!

The more important thing to task right now, though, is the next installment of book reviews! As of today I have read 16/30 books and it’s not even the summer yet! At this rate, I could wait until June to read the next book and still make my reading goal. I had thought about increasing my goal to 50, but I feel like I’d just be kicking myself in the ass if I do that, so we’ll leave it at 30 for now. On to the reviews!

  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Three words: OH. MY. GOD. I have been wanting to share my thoughts and review on this book for about a month now. This book was recommended to me by my bookworm friend Amber and I’m so glad she did. I could not put this book down. It’s in the thriller/mystery/suspense genre and you know me: I like trying to solve the case! This book follows journalist Scott McGrath as he tries to uncover the mystery behind the death of Ashley Cordova. She’s the daughter of the legendary, reclusive horror movie director Stanislas Cordova. No one knows what Cordova looks like, where he lives or anything about his overly private life. What we do know is that he has a huge fan base and people anxiously await the next film he makes. So when his daughter is found dead, we’re on the case! We encounter some very interesting characters the protagonist McGrath finds along the way who help him on his case, and we follow their journey as they try to find out what happened to her.

This story is absolutely fantastic and so creatively written and put together. It’s also very descriptive and haunting. There are actual newspaper clippings, interviews, photos, etc. to make it seem like you’re looking through case files like this incident actually happened and you’re right there with McGrath as he’s trying to figure out what happened to this girl. I have nothing bad to say about this book except that I wish we could have maybe read it from Ashley’s perspective too. Like, what was going through her head before her death. But maybe that would give away too much. Either way definitely pick this one up. You won’t regret it.

  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Soooo…yeah. Red Rising. Remember how I was, like, obsessed with reading this book because it was the first book in my and Amber’s book club? It was reviewed as being similar to Game of Thrones or The Hunger Games Series. Uh yeah, please scrap everything great you heard me say about it. Such a bummer. This book is the first in the Red Rising trilogy and follows the story of Darrow, a guy who works the mines (helldrivers, they’re called) on Mars. Except it’s Mars in the future! He’s a Red, which is a type of caste or class in the entire society they’ve built there. He and his wife Eo are so in love, but when they leave the boundaries of their village, they are caught and convicted of going against their class and being “curious”. So naturally they’re sentenced to death. Then the revolution begins.

This book had so much promise. It really did. It was deemed in our library’s (and other book websites) hot list for best books of February. It’s already a New York Times Bestseller (but I never pay attention to that because some truly awful books make that list). Within a week of his book releasing, the author, Pierce Brown, announced a movie was already in the works. This book isn’t similar to The Hunger Games ….IT IS THE HUNGER GAMES. I totally get that people will take inspiration from other SciFi/Fantasy books, but you have to wait more than the three years a really successful series has been out to do this. The writing is barely tolerable. Because. He writes really. Really. Short sentences. To be dramatic maybe. I don’t know. Annoying. It’s not all that descriptive because he repeats the same things over and over again and we’re introduced to characters out of the blue and with no background or context. Some parts make absolute no sense because he will talk about a certain event that seems interesting, and then it’s never mentioned again. It’s just sort of all over the place. He takes way too much “inspiration” from Game of Thrones plot lines and settings, that it’s surprising he’s not being sued for plagiarism. This book got two stars from me on Goodreads. I also don’t think I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. I just don’t see how it can get any more exciting because this first one fell short.

  • The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

This book was another “meh” book for me. I had added it to my “to read” list because it was another book based on an Indian family and I like to show my people major love. It follows the story of Hassan Haji as he recounts his life growing up in Mumbai when a tragedy forces he and his family to move to France. They start a small restaurant in the mountainside there and quickly it becomes successful as many French people there had never eaten Indian food before. However, across the street is a very fancy French restaurant and the woman who owns that restaurant is not happy when Indians inhabit the small village where she lives. She’s also not overly thrilled to have them as competition in the restaurant world because they are becoming so successful. But to her horror, she finds out that Hassan, a then-skinny-awkward teenager, can cook like a pro. It’s a cute story, a very easy read, but it didn’t keep me interested and excited. It was kind of linear. No real “oh my god” moments or gotcha’s or anything like that. It’s a sweet read about a guy looking back on his life and how he got to where he is. It makes me want to go back to France, but other than that, meh. It’s not a bad read, but only three stars from me.

  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This is another one of those typical YA books where two kids in high school who have nothing in common somehow become friends and something more. Eleanor is the heavier-set, uncontrollable-curly-haired more-impoverished girl who gets teased a lot in school for her lack of high-end clothing and minimal social circle. Park is the skinny, stereotypical smart half-Korean kid who likes to read comic books, has a lot of friends, listens to 80s British rock bands and comes from a pretty typical middle class family. He and Eleanor ride the same bus to school and one day, she has to sit down next to him and their friendship forms…in a strange, but cute way. The story takes a weird, unexpected turn in the middle-to-end, but it was a quick, easy read about two “star-crossed lovers” who are in the midst of young love, but experience challenges. It’s not the most revolutionary book I’ve read, but if you want a quick read to finish in 1 or 2 days, or if you like books like Spectacular Now, then pick this up!

  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

I love, love love Jhumpa Lahiri. One of my favorite books of all time is The Namesake, which was written by her. It was a book I could relate to about coming to America and not feeling like you’re part of your Indian heritage anymore, but you don’t quite fit into American life either. So given my response to that book and given I loved her book of short stories/essays, I was super excited to read her newest book The Lowland. However, I was a little disappointed, I have to say! I hate saying that, but in comparison to her other writings, this didn’t surpass them. This story is about two brothers who are 15 months apart, Udayan and Subhash. They are caught in the Naxalite, a communist guerilla event that took place in India in the 1950s/60s. Subhash ends up leaving India and heads to America, while Udayan stays to be part of the revolution. When Subhash hears some tragic news, he returns to India and that’s where the story truly unfolds. It’s a very haunting book with some dark turns and moments. It’s emotional, but again, it didn’t wow me. Compared to something like The Namesake, this sort of fell short for me. However, I love Jhumpa so much; she’s one of my favorite authors. She is a beautiful writer that’s for sure. Fans of hers should definitely read this book!

So there we have it! I have to be honest: there were two books I got from the library that I ended up returning and nixed off my list (for now). There were other books I received that I felt would be better to read now over the others. The ones that were nixed, will make it back to my list eventually this year, I’m sure! So what I’m currently reading now is This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathon Tropper. I believe this book is being made into a movie, which will star the ever wonderful Jason Bateman. Anyway, following that I will be reading Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining from Stephen King. Then after that, I hope to start Cujo, also by Stephen Knig, which will be the next book in my and Amber’s reading club.

Happy reading!

What books are you currently reading?

Book Reviews Part 3

Here’s the next installment of book reviews! According to Goodreads, I’m 9 books ahead of my 2014 goal, which is 37% done. I have a feeling I’ll exceed the 30-book challenge, which is A-OK with me. That just means I’ll need to up my game and increase my reading goal next year. So since the last book reviews post I have read 4 more books, and currently reading one as well. So let’s do this!

  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon

This book was recommended to me by Amber. She had said it was one of her favorite books of all time, and since I was in a lull waiting for books at the library to become available, I decided to read this in the interim. My friend Jackie’s husband was also reading it at the time! The book takes place in 1945 Barcelona and follows the story of Daniel, who, after the recent death of his mother, finds a book with the same title tucked away in a bookstore. He finds out that this book is a bit “controversial” because he finds out there is a man who goes around burning every copy of the book, which has Daniel wondering why. So he goes on an epic journey around Barcelona to find out about the author of the book, and what the mystery is behind the man wanting to burn each copy. It wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t get more than 3/5 stars from me on Goodreads. It just didn’t have me reeled in until some where in the middle. It was a bit slow moving, but the descriptions of the city of Barcelona are absolutely fantastic. I felt like I was there, with Daniel, on this epic exploration of the city. The back of the book also had a map tracing where Daniel went in Barcelona, which I guess fans of the book do! Note to self: When I go to Barcelona, walk Daniel’s steps!

  • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

I wanted to read this book ever since I saw her as a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and she made him speechless with her words. At only 16 years old, she is the youngest person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, too. When she was 15 years old, she was shot by the Taliban because she did a lot of speeches in her home country of Pakistan encouraging people to support a girls’ right to an education, which of course did not sit well with some folks who believed a woman’s place was not in school. This book was captivating and honest. I know many countries still oppress their women (India is still a country that does this in some parts), but to read the way young girls were viewed at the height of the Taliban and post-9/11 made me so angry. I would seriously shout at the book while reading. The book has a co-author, Christina Lamb, who I think helped translate the book if Malala dictated parts to her. I felt some of that got lost in translation so at times, the book was kind of dull. With such a title like standing up for education and getting shot, I expected her inspiring talks about peace and a women’s right to education to be immediate in the story line, but there was a lot of back story — some of which I felt was unnecessary. However, I know why there is back story, of course. Regardless, give this book a read. For being twice her age, all I kept thinking was, “Why couldn’t I be this wise and smart at 16?”

  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

I have many friends, myself included, who are huge fans of the show, so I knew this was on my must-read book. I probably should have read this before watching the show though. The show almost makes a mockery of what happened and is completely campy in comparison to the novel. I guess they can’t have the show be like the book, because it wouldn’t be that interesting. My brother-in-law was skeptical that this woman actually got tried for her crime in money laundering or drug money trafficking, but it’s actually true. She did get indicted and then had to go to court 5 years later, and then was sentenced almost 10 years after the crime happened. It was interesting to read about her time in prison, and how the prison system works, but again, I shouldn’t have watched the show before reading. In comparison it was kind of boring to read. Like OK, she was in prison for 15 months and the prison she went to was actually pretty nice in comparison to other women’s facilities in the country and hardly anyone is mean to her, so…ta-da…? But I will say this: it’s still worth a read because it does give you an inside look at what goes on, which was the interesting part to read. And to read how she got into her situation. It’s a quick read (under 300 pages), but unfortunately, I didn’t give it 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads.

  • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This was another interim book while waiting for a book at the library. I had heard about this book from many folks. It’s the story of a girl living in Paris, Sarah, during WWII and one night in 1942 she and her parents are taken away by the French police in an event called Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Basically Jewish family’s were rounded up by French police, brought together, and then sent off to concentration camps. Before leaving, she makes her little brother hide in their apartment and promises to come back for him. Meanwhile in the present (well, 2002) Julia, an American journalist living in Paris is writing about this horrible event. She starts uncovering the mystery of the girl, the story behind what happened and how she is connected to this girl. It was a very easy book to read and I loved the different perspectives, reading about what Sarah was going through in 1942 and what Julia is going through in the present. It was very sad to read and made me once again question why this horrible, tragic event ever happened in the world. It’s heartbreaking really. Definitely pick it up.

And that brings us to what I’m currently reading which is Red Rising by Pierce Brown. It’s on the February hot-list of must-read books and is the first in the Red Rising Trilogy. I haven’t read anything by this author, but both Amber and I are reading this together, like a mini book club. Since we’re both into Sci-Fi and it’s been said to be like Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, it has me intrigued. Check back in a few weeks for that review and I’m sure more!

Marvelous Monday

Monday once again. Why is it, that Mondays come around so quickly but it takes forever to get to Friday? Something to think about. Report back to me once you all have figured it out. And while that’s happening, let’s talk all things marvelous!

Marvelous is having one of my coworkers, who is back to work after a six-week vacation in India, tell me it looks like I’ve lost weight!

Marvelous is having a workout routine scheduled for non-running days! This morning I did Pilates for the first time in years. I had forgotten how good it can feel and oh my goodness…what a perfect way to stretch, work out and wake up!

Marvelous is spending a weekend surrounded by loved ones and friends! We celebrated my friend’s 3-year-old son’s birthday at the Hands-On Children’s Museum here in Ann Arbor. I played photog for the day and took pictures of the kiddos and parents having a good time and learning! I gotta say, I think there were certain things that REB and I found more fun than the kids.

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Sneak peek pic from the back of my cam

Sneak peek pic from the back of my cam

On Sunday I attended the bridal shower of one REB’s cousins. Her wedding is just over a month away, and it was so good to see the family-in-law for some fun and celebrating love!

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Me and the beautiful bride-to-be!

Marvelous is having photo sessions lined up for the year and assisting my friend Rachel in weddings again for the 2014 wedding season! I seriously can’t wait to work with new and returning clients. Along the same lines as photography, marvelous is also looking forward to new photo equipment and props coming in the mail soon. I’m slowly, but surely getting that studio room in my house put together. I’m still in search for the perfect desk, and my uber pickiness isn’t helping to get it done any faster.

And finally, marvelous is looking forward to the weekend already! REB and I are going to hang out with our good friends and I will be doing a family portrait session in their house. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my friend Valerie (Um, I think my birthday party in October - not OK!) and REB and I still haven’t even met her newest daughter, who was born back in June! So it will definitely be good to get some adult conversation in and spend a day with three incredibly cute kiddos!

I hope you all have a wonderful week! What marvelous things are happening for you today and this week?

“Chicken” Noodle Soup

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Polar Vortex 2.0 is in full force! Again. It’s rather annoying and inconvenient if you ask me. People who start giving me the “Well, you live in Michigan, Aparna. What do you expect?” crap will get my death stare. I realize where I live, thank you, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it any more or less. However, I do realize that complaining about it doesn’t change the fact that we probably haven’t seen the worst of winter yet in Michigan. Please, don’t throw things at me for saying that.

So in and effort to ensure we are warmed to the soul and don’t end up looking like this…:

…we’ve been eating a lot of soup. Now, this can get challenging and tricky when you’re like me and want to make sure everything you’re currently cooking – soup included – fits into the whole “let’s be friggan’ healthy” lifestyle.

Let’s not forget that I live with someone who, like any normal person would, gets bored with certain recipes when they go on repeat each week, so I need to keep things interesting. While I don’t mind having a hot bowl of chili or minestrone or Pho every night, REB isn’t as inclined or excited by it. I don’t think. I’m sure he’s starting to get to his limit of “Seriously? No carbs or cheese again tonight?”, but he’s being a good sport and he’s also being highly supportive. Then again I do most, if not all, of the cooking so is he really in a position to complain? I keed, I keed! I appreciate his feedback and input probably the most out of everyone since he has to eat whatever I end up making. Or at least try to. I’m getting off point.

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He made a very good point to me earlier in the week though. He told me to quit trying to be all food-bloggy-fancy-schmancy and just make something simple but flavorful and filling. I said to myself, “Hey I can’t do that!” and that’s how this soup came to be. Yes, it was yet another soup recipe I made during the week, but it was simple, full of flavor and actually pretty OK for you in terms of fiber, protein, fat, etc.The biggest factor: it was filling and good enough that if you went back for seconds or thirds, you wouldn’t feel so guilty doing so. Plus it’s a classic! Whenever I think of chicken noodle soup I think of the Campbell’s soup commercial with the kid who turns into a snowman from playing outside but a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup from his mom warms him right up!

I listened to him and kept this soup and its ingredients pretty simple but it was perfect. And while we are no where near the end of winter here in Michigan, we at least have some options to help keep us warm and satiated. With that in mind, my complaints about the cold will get toned down a bit.

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But don’t worry. I’ll probably complain a whole bunch about the heat once we get into the dead of July. I’m sorry I’m not sorry.

“Chicken” Noodle Soup
 
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Beat the cold winter blues with a hot bowl of this classic soup fit for vegetarians and vegans alike!
Author:
Recipe type: soup, vegetarian, vegan
Serves: 5
Ingredients
  • 2 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ small white onion, diced
  • 3 whole carrots, peeled and cut into discs
  • 2 celery stalks, wiped clean, halved length-wise and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon (about 4-5 sprigs) thyme, finely chopped
  • 4 cups (32-oz. carton) low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1½ cups unsalted vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 oz. whole wheat wide egg noodles
  • 1½ cups (about 24 strips) frozen meatless chicken strips (Simple Truth brand or similar), thawed and cut into bite size pieces
  • Chopped parsley for garnish
Instructions
  1. tart by heating olive oil in a stock pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic and thyme and stir well
  3. Cook until softened but not browned
  4. Next add vegetable broth, stock and water and stir
  5. Bring soup to a boil, will take about 10-12 minutes to bring to boil
  6. While soup is coming to boil, take the frozen meatless griller strips, place in microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds-to-1 minute or until thawed. Cut strips into bite size pieces
  7. Once soup is boiling, add the meatless chicken and noodles and cook until noodles are al dente, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Ladle 1 or 1½ cups into bowls, garnish with chopped parsley and enjoy!

 

Bibimbap

There are only a handful of recipes that I can say without a doubt I’m proud of making and I’ve achieved a gold star in my kitchen for making.

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That is true for this bibimbap I made last week. I had originally planned on making quinoa “fried rice” for dinner complete with egg on top and loaded with vegetables and spicy ingredients, and then I thought to myself: what if I put it in a bowl and labeled it as a bibimbap instead? Ta-da!

The first thing I had to do was look through my fridge and pantry and make sure I had at least four main ingredients: sesame oil, soy sauce, sriracha or chili sauce and ginger. Everything else I could compromise on not having in the dish (though that would have been a disappointment).

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I definitely want to experiment with different ingredients next time, and maybe even different marinades and spices. You could also make this carnivorous with some pork, Korean-style grilled beef or chicken!

I always take it as a good sign when the husband requests a dish be made at least once a week or once every two weeks as one of our meals for the week. And I can’t argue with him there on that one.

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Bibimbap
 
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Simple bibimbap loaded with quinoa, shiitake mushroom, marinated tofu and vegetables.
Author:
Cuisine: Korean
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 7 oz. (1/2 block) extra firm tofu, pressed (to drain out liquid) and cut into cubes
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 teaspoons lite soy sauce
  • ½ cup seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoon Mirin or rice vinegar of choice
  • ¼ teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • ¼ teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
  • ½ cup carrot, cut into thin strips
  • Non-stick spray
  • ½ cup (about 3-4 oz.) shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, de-stemmed and sliced
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 eggs, cooked either over easy or sunny side up (or made the way you like)
  • 1 or 2 teaspoons Sriracha or chili garlic sauce to top
Instructions
  1. Combine cut tofu, soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a large zip-close bag or container and toss lightly to coat well. Be careful not to break up the tofu.
  2. Let marinade and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Toast sesame seeds in a small dry pan over low heat, until fragrant
  4. In a small bowl, combine thinly sliced cucumber, sesame oil, Mirin (rice vinegar) and toasted sesame seeds.
  5. Toss well, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  6. Heat a large, dry deep skillet over medium or medium-high heat
  7. Add tofu and cook until browned on all sides, about 5-8 minutes.
  8. When tofu is browned, remove from skillet and set aside.
  9. Next add non-stick spray to pan and cook mushroom until browned, about 5-8 minutes
  10. Begin arranging your bowl:
  11. In two large bowls, split quinoa in each (1/2 cup each). Divide mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots and tofu in half and arrange around outer edge of each bowl.
  12. In the same pan you toasted the sesame seeds, cook one egg for each bowl. We chose to cook our over easy, but you could do sunny side up, poached, whatever your preference.
  13. Top each bowl with cooked egg and sauce of choice

 

 

New Treadmill and Playlist

On a completely different note from recipes and what I’m currently reading, I thought I’d share what I’m currently doing for #operationgetfit. REB and I decided that as the “big” gift to one another for Christmas, we would get a treadmill for our basement gym. It would add to what we already have (weight bench, heavy bags, yoga mats, TV/workout DVDs, free weights, trainer for bike), thus completing the gym.

First I should begin with: This was the hardest thing to purchase. And not because it was timely to research, but because we had to deal with what seemed like endless drama with Sears and Sears Outlet. We had three or four failed attempts at getting this thing delivered because they kept messing up, they don’t communicate to each other even though they’re all the same system and bah. It was just a nightmare.

But in the end, we found a great NordicTrack treadmill.There were several factors in getting a treadmill. Like most big purchases we’ve made, we had our list of wants and needs.

Needs:

  • At least 2.25 CHP motor. While we aren’t marathon runners, we know that power is important, so we wanted a decent motor.
  • At least 55″ long belt. My hubby is a tall guy and while I don’t need to take long strides to run, he does, so we needed a longer belt.
  • Weight capacity of at least 300 pounds
  • Incline up to 10 or 12% grade and same with speed

Wants:

  • Built-in fan
  • Built-in speakers/iPod-compatible
  • Track calories, distance, etc.

Budget was a big factor too. I wasn’t ready to or about to throw down $1500+ on a treadmill. We also didn’t pay attention to the big treadmill review web sites because they claimed that if you spent less than $3000 on a treadmill, you were buying a piece of garbage. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’m happy to report that the one we received had both our wants and needs. We got the NordicTrack C900i which has a 3.0CHP motor, 60″ long belt, iFit compatible, built-in fan, speakers, iPod/iPhone-compatible, shock absorbers to mimic running on concrete or indoors at a gym, incline and speed up to 12% and 12 mph respectively and training programs! It’s been working out fantastically! I’ve gotten used to (it’s only been a week now) getting up before 5 a.m. in order to get a good run in before showering and getting ready for work. I signed up for a race this summer, so I need to get back into it!

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To help with that, here’s my current running playlist. While I tried to set it up from warm up, to running, to cool down, I mostly just put it on shuffle and let the good times roll. All these songs are available on Spotify.

  • Capital Cities – Safe and Sound
  • Afrojack – The Spark
  • Afrojack & Steve Aioki – No Beef
  • Azaelia Banks – 212
  • Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis – Can’t Hold Us
  • Britney Spears – Work Bitch
  • Calvin Harris – I Need Your Love
  • Gwen Stefani – What You Waiting For?
  • Scissor Sisters – Let’s Have A Kiki (remix)
  • Lana Del Rey – Summertime Sadness (remix)
  • Kaskade – Don’t Stop Dancing
  • Selena Gomez – Slow Down
  • Breach – Jack

I don’t get through the whole playlist, but there are some definite good ones in there to keep me going and keep the beat up! I’ll update again after I’ve used the treadmill a bit more so stay tuned!

Do you have a treadmill? What factors went into your purchase?
Are there other songs you think I need on my playlist? What keeps you running?