Feelin’ hot hot hot!

You’ll find that weekends in the summer are pretty empty in the city because most people escape to their little beach towns for the weekend.  I don’t blame them.  Summer weekends in the city are pretty brutal.  The oppressive heat in the subways makes it hard to breathe, steam rises from the asphalt, and the clunker of an A/C we have in our little apartment doesn’t do squat for cooling us down.  But for me, I enjoy the emptiness in the city.  I can sit anywhere on the subway, walk zig zag patterns on the sidewalk, and just enjoy all the space.  But it is friggin’ hot
Last weekend my friend A.Ho and I decided that we were too pale for mid-July and we needed to spend our Saturday rectifying this situation.  But because it was going to be so hot, we needed to tan somewhere with a pool.  And so we started researching our options:
  • Find a friend who lives in a building with a rooftop pool – we have no such friends.  Darn.
  • Swanky hotel pool – at some places we would have to pay a hefty fee to use the pool for the day, at others we could only use the pool if we were guests of the hotel (i.e., $400+ for a night at a hotel we didn’t need
  •  Swanky gym pool – pay a lesser, but still hefty fee to use the pool for the day
  • Public pool – free, but extremely crowded and must contend with cannon bombing children everywhere
A few weekends ago, I walked by a pool in an undisclosed location that looked pretty decent.  I looked it up when I got home and found out that it belonged to a rec center.  Membership to the rec center was $75 for 6 months.  Not a bad deal, especially since we could use the pool from now until the fall as many times as we wanted.  We decided we didn’t need anything swanky– just us, tanning oil, and a pool to plunge in.  I told A.Ho about it and she was sold. 
On Saturday morning we took a cab to the rec center.  At the doors, two “security guards” checked our bags for weapons and food.  We also needed to show we had a lock for the locker.  We passed the screening and headed inside the building.  Hmm…no front desk to sign us up for membership.  We kept walking in search of someone to pay and found the locker rooms, pool, and other amenities. 
“Wait, wait…we didn’t pay, we have to pay somewhere…let’s go back and ask that information desk guy.”
To info desk guy, who didn’t even ask for our membership card:  

“Hi, we want to use the pool –“
“Yeah, yeah just have the security guards check you out.”
“Um, yeah, we did, but uh, we need to pay membership?  We’re not members.”
“You don’t need to be a member to use the pool.”
“It’s free?!?”
“Yeah.”  (He might as well have said “Duh.”)

At that point, A.Ho and I looked at each other like we just won the lottery and scampered away giggling like little idiots, before the info desk man could wisen up and demand $75 from each of us.  Once in the locker room, we let our emotions go:

“FREE!!!!  FREE?!?!?  FREEEEEEE!!!!!!!”  

And then, like any good NYC-er, “We can’t tell anyone about this!”
Very few things in NYC are free — and of those very few free things, almost none of them are something you actually want.  The free things that people do want either get so popular they become no longer free or impossible to get.  For this reason, New Yorkers keep things like this a secret.  Sorry folks, but I’m not gonna ruin it for the rest of us.

The pool turned out to be ok (but since it was free, it was amazing).  There were lots of rules to comply with and there weren’t any chairs so we had to lay our towels down on the concrete.  It filled up by noon time with children and teenagers who cannon bombed to their heart’s content.  We actually didn’t mind the splashing since it was so hot.  All in all, it was totally worth the $0 we spent.  

Let’s pick up where we left off

Every good blogger out there knows that the key to blogging is frequency.  So, in order to keep the ball rolling and because I have nothing else interesting going on in my life, I will complete the “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” list that I started back in April.  Yeah, that Ode to Spam post last week – totally filler.  I haven’t had Spam in months.

Let’s see…where did we get to…oh yes!

12.  I have a tattoo. I got it 2 years ago, although I knew that I wanted a tattoo long before then.  It took me about 10 years to figure out what I wanted — turns out I wanted the sun and stars from the Filipino flag.  Placement was an issue since I have to be boring professional-looking at work.  So I chose the left side rib cage area which is only visible when wearing a bathing suit.  I would get more tattoos except I can’t think of another secret place to put them.  Just in case I have an epiphany, I save my tattoo ideas to Pinterest.

13.  My first job was at a hockey pro shop when I was a senior in high school.  I knew nothing about hockey, and I still don’t.  I was told that the pro shop would grow to include soccer accessories, but it never did. It grew to include swim accessories since we were located in the YMCA which had a pool.  Our best sellers were hockey tape and waterproof diapers.

14.  My favorite candy is Raisinets.  Not chocolate covered raisins — Raisinets.  And don’t try to fool me, I can always tell an impostor.

15.  My favorite color is metallic (i.e., gold, silver, bronze, copper, etc.)  Mr. S maintains that metallic is not a color.  Pshh, what does he know.

16.  If I had to participate in an “All You Can Eat” contest, I would have the greatest chance of winning with clementines.  Or maybe dill pickles.

17.  I am 4’11” and three-quarters.  I was going to throw myself a party when I reached 5′, but it never happened.  I looked into getting a handicap sticker for my car but found out that I had to be under 5′ and have a disproportionate build.  Darn…but wait!

18.  I have freakishly small hands.  I have not met another adult with hands smaller than mine.  I avoid having my hands in pictures because the camera makes them look smaller.

Ok , let’s stop there because I may need some blog fodder later this month…

Behind the Lens

This past Monday I bought myself my first big girl camera.  I had made the decision to upgrade before our trip to Portugal, but never actually pulled the trigger for 2 reasons:
  1. DSLR cameras are big and heavy.  I wasn’t keen on the idea of lugging around a brick of a camera while traveling.
  2. DSLR cameras are expensive.  I knew this would be an investment piece but the TJ Maxxinista inside of me resisted spending more than $400.  That’s a fairly lowball price for a high quality camera, but that was my budget and I was sticking to it.
I asked my photog friends to keep an eye out for any gently used (aka cheap) DSLR cameras, but no bites.  One day at work I struck up a convo with a colleague who is into photography and mentioned I was in the market for an upgrade from my point and shoot.  He introduced me to his little camera – The Fuji X100.  My first thought was, “How friggin’ cute!!”  (Form over function, always)  His camera is a mirrorless system, also known as the compact camera system.  It essentially functions like a DSLR (high quality pictures, interchangeable lens, completely customizable settings, and manual controls) but without the bulk, making it perfect for carrying along while traveling or just around the city.
Fuji X100
And with that, my focus was immediately shifted.  I don’t research, I obsess.  I obsess about anything and everything, especially big purchases I want to make.  I can process 4 different websites/articles at once — it’s quite impressive.  So after a few weeks of relentless reading of every review/blog/message board out there on the best mirrorless cameras for beginners, best mirrorless cameras for your buck, best retro looking mirrorless cameras, etc. I decided on the Olympus PEN E-P3.
Throughout my obsessive reading, first time serious camera buyers kept questioning veterans on what camera they should buy.  The responses on what make and model varied, but most people answered “The best camera to buy is the one you will use.”  Makes sense to me.  So #1 deciding factor: the retro design.  It almost reminds me of Papa Rice Ball’s old Nikon, the one with real film and manual crank (somewhere out there, a person between the ages of 16-21 doesn’t know what I’m talking about…ugh).  Holding something so nostalgic makes taking pictures that much more fun and therefore more likely that I will take it everywhere with me.  The #2 deciding factor: this baby was marked down 72%!!!  What?!?  I should have bought 3…
Olympus PEN E-P3
Granted my Oly (that’s what people in the biz call it) isn’t as precious looking as the Fuji X100, but it’s also a quarter of the price.  Bargains like this make me feel like such a champion.  If bargain shopping was a sport, I’d be in the Olympics.  And those crazy coupon cutting people can’t qualify for the Bargain Olympics because they are buying crap that nobody wants – who wants 300 deodorants even if they are 50 cents each?
My obsession usually leads to prompt purchasing action since once I know what I’m buying I won’t can’t rest until it is in my possession. Turns out the retailer that I was going to order from online was located here in NYC — instant gratification was only 28 blocks away!  After 1 hour and less than $400 later, I was the proud owner of a new big girl camera.  I’m currently obsessing on how to use it…

How ‘bout them apples

If you haven’t realized it by now, I am a planner.  Also, if you haven’t realized it by now, Mr. S is not a planner (go ahead and feel bad for him, but also feel bad for me).
It’s not that I don’t love a good surprise or I’m a control freak.  It’s just that there are so many things to do and see in life, that if I don’t designate a special date and time for them, we may never get around to it.  And then I will be on my deathbed saying, “I wish I had made it out to the Brooklyn Flea market just once…”  And that would be so sad.
So it was a rare thing this past Saturday when we had nothing to do.  I don’t know how it happened, I think I was so focused on Sunday’s plans that I neglected Saturday.

Me (frantic): What are we going to do today?!?
Mr. S: We can go look for the apples.

 Background story of the apples:  In honor of the MLB All-Star game, there are giant apples located around the city, each painted to represent a baseball team.
That sounded fun to me!   And that is how our innocent little game of finding the apples began.  Looking at the map of where the apples are, we decided to focus on midtown.  There are 36 apples in total and we knew we wouldn’t get to all of them in one day.  The first apple was at the Westin on 46th and 3rd Ave.  I don’t know what I was expecting, perhaps an apple that lights up or spins around, but I was a little disappointed in the apple we found.  It was just a big apple sitting outside a hotel.  But wait, what was that next to it?  A bar!  And a fancy looking one at that.  Mr. S saw it too and asked me if I’d like to get a drink.  Ooh like a date!  And so the game evolved…find an apple, get a drink.  Here’s how we did (the last column was my downfall):
Team
Apple location
Bar location
His drink
Her drink
Food (if applicable)
Houston Astros
Westin (46th and 3rd)
The LCL
The Green Dream
Serenity Now
N/A
San Francisco Giants
Tommy Bahama (45th and 5th)
The Marlin Bar
Sangria
Pineapple Martini
Edamame hummus and 3 chips
Seattle Mariners
Nintendo store (Rockefeller Plaza)
Johnny Utah’s
Bud Light
Vodka tonic
N/A
Brewers
Office of the Commissioner – 45th and Park
Lobby bar at The Hilton
Pineapple something something
Watermelon something something
The smallest Buffalo chicken wings I’ve ever seen
San Diego Padres
SONY store (Madison Ave)
N/A – we didn’t pass a bar between this apple and the next, so we went big at the next bar…
Pirates
Niketown (5th Ave)
The Champagne Bar at The Plaza Hotel
5th Avenue Star
The Gatsby
Gourmet chips and dip
Baltimore Orioles
Chelsea Market
 Mr. S doesn’t remember
White sangria
N/A – I did not make it to this apple…
Mr. S had a burger
According to Mr. S, the story goes that from the Plaza we planned to take the subway downtown to Chelsea Market for the next apple.  Friend A was meeting us down there also, and from there we would grab our reward drink at a bar on the Highline.  At some point on the train, I decided that I was sleepy and needed to go home.

Mr. S (after noticing I fell asleep on his shoulder): Are you ok?  You need to go home?
Me: Home…home…home…home…

 So when we exited the subway, Mr. S put me in a taxi home and went off to meet our friend and see the apple*.  I saw pictures of the O’s apple the next day and was so sad I missed it.  Although it ended somewhat tragically, our spontaneous scavenger hunt was so fun!!  Maybe there is something to this no-planning thing…  Yeah right, I’m already planning to see more apples next weekend.
* This is not as insensitive as it sounds.  Mr. S claims (and I believe him because I am sneaky), that as soon as we got out of the subway, I immediately hailed for a cab.  “Taxi…taxi…taxi…taxi…”  This caught Mr. S off-guard because we were supposed to find Friend A first, apologize and let him know we had to go home, and then take a cab home together.  Obviously I had other plans.  Mr. S panicked and shoved me in the taxi with instructions to text Friend A when I got home (Mr. S’s phone was dead – typical).  20 minutes later, Friend A got this text:

Bem-vindo a Portugal!

Ok, ok, so I have been lagging in the blogging department.  Mr. S teased me that I have probably lost my legions of followers by now since it has been so long since my last post.  I assured him that my legions of followers are comprised of my mother and her friends, and they are fiercely loyal. 
There have been a few exciting happenings so far this summer.  Top of the list is that la familia Rice Ball recently vacationed to Lisbon, Portugal!  Our 6 day trip gave us plenty of time to explore Lisbon and its surrounding sites (Sintra, Cascais, and Fatima).  My cousin visited last year and raved about it saying, “If Madrid is like Midtown, Lisbon is like Soho.”  She described it perfectly.  Here are a few highlights of Lisbon (in no particular order):

Graffiti – Graffiti is everywhere in Lisbon, some of it good, but most of it just random writing on the walls.  Even though in most places it’s unwelcome, the graffiti seemed to be right at home on the 18th century architecture, giving it a little edge and excitement. 
Graffiti on the bakery

Pasteis de Nata – My description won’t do it justice, but it’s a flaky pastry cup filled with egg yolky custard made with tender loving care by nuns of the Jeronimos monastery.  I imagine the nuns sprinkling magic dust on each one, saying a little prayer for it, and blowing it a kiss goodbye before sending it off to the bakery…I think that’s how they get them to taste so good.
Faux pasteis de nata, the real thing is in Belem

Cobblestone sidewalks– Running alongside all the charming architecture were these delightfully patterned cobblestone sidewalks.  I tried to get pictures of the more intricate ones since every side walk was done in cobblestone.  It might make for some treacherous walks on rainy days, but I’m all for beauty over function.
Rua Augusta, main shopping throughfare

Bacalhau – Seems to be that this is the national dish of Portugal, so I was aghast to find out that all the Bacalhau in Portugal is imported from Iceland!    Is nothing sacred?!  In any case, wherever it came from, we had bacalhau at every dinner – grilled, flaked and mixed with egg, smothered with béchamel sauce, minced and rolled into fried balls, etc – and it was all delicious.
Stacks of salted bacalhau for sale

Shhh – So we thought we might be ok with the Portuguese language since Papa Rice Ball is fluent in Spanish and Mama Rice Ball and I can at least order food and ask “where is the bathroom?” in Spanish.  You would think that since Portugal is so close to Spain, the languages would be similar.  And they are – in print.  In pronunciation, Portuguese is very different, with the obvious one being the pronunciation of the letter “S.”  Not “ess” like Spanish or English, but “shhh” like, “Be Quiet.”  After we figured out that our Spanish was getting us nowhere, we reverted back to good old English. 
Restauradores = Chreshturadoorsh

Tiles – From the influence of the Moors who occasionally occupied Portugal back in the day, older buildings in Lisbon are decorated with colorful tile work.  It’s very different from anything I’ve seen in Europe or otherwise, and we were instantly enamored with them.  Unfortunately, there seemed to be a continuing theme in Lisbon of not restoring/preserving these buildings.  Tiled buildings were usually abandoned and falling apart.  All I could think of was, “Transport one of these puppies to NYC and we’d be millionaires!”
Tiles on a building in Alfama

El Corte Ingles – So technically this is Spanish and not Portuguese, but it’s so amazing I don’t care.  El Corte Ingles is a department store + more (and by more I mean a super market and cafe).  It was the perfect place to do some air conditioned shopping and pick up some gifts* to take home.  In general, shopping when traveling is far superior to shopping domestically, mostly because the logic that sometimes prevails when shopping at home seems to be on vacation too. Do I really need that dress?  Is it worth the 50 euro?  It doesn’t matter, because:
  1. I’m in a foreign land that I may never visit again, so I have to buy it now. 
  2. I’m in a store we don’t have in America, so I have to buy it now.
  3. It’s so Euro and therefore cooler than anything I could buy in America, so I have to buy it now.
The only pic that isn’t personal, because really who takes pictures when there is shopping to do
So there you go, I think that’s a pretty good list — don’t want to give away all the juicy details.  I would highly recommend a trip to Lisbon.  In our 6 days there, we got to feel like we were exploring the city, not racing from landmark to landmark.  This was the first time I have traveled out of the country and felt that I really got a vacation (i.e. I wasn’t completely pooped when I arrived home in NYC).  
* Mr. S was not enthralled with the gifts that I brought back for him.  Since the vibe of Lisbon is so laid back and reminiscent of a beach town, I thought that a pair of shorts and a bathing suit would be perfect mementos for Mr. S.  Although grateful, he felt they were too scandalously revealing in comparison to the American shorts he is used to.  I have to admit, it was very odd seeing all of his kneecaps.  

Let the Hunger Games begin!

Juice cleanses have intrigued me for a while, mostly because celebrities do it and they are fabulous and I want to be fabulous too.  I have been hesitant to try one though because (a) they are expensive and I don’t want to plunk down big bucks for something I may vomit up later and (b) I have the willpower of a sloth.  Enter cousin KCool1.  KCool1 has done the BluePrint cleanse before and just bought 2 GiltCity vouchers for the 3 day cleanse.  She intended to use both of them herself but when she found out I was interested, she so graciously offered to sell one voucher to me.  This seemed like a great idea!  I would get the cleanse at a discount (score!) and I would have a juicing buddy to encourage me through the process. 

Juice for one day
The 3 day juice cleanse does not mean just 3 days of juice.  It entails 3 days of pre-cleanse and 3 days of post-cleanse, which basically means going vegan for these 6 days so as not to shock your system into and out of the juice.  I cheated a little since Chipotle’s salad dressing is a honey vinaigrette…but really it was only a small amount and come on, honey?!  What could ever be wrong with honey??
Day 1
9:36 Juice 1 – “Green Juice” Romaine, Celery, Cucumber, Apple, Spinach, Kale, Parsley, Lemon.  It is really green, but not as bad as I thought.  Smells worse than it tastes.  Tastes very clean, like a salad with fruit in it.  It actually is quite refreshing after spending 30 minutes in the sweaty, humid subway.  Everyone at work is eager to see me suffermy progress. 
11:27 Juice 2 – Pineapple, Apple, Mint.  THIS IS AWESOME!!  Throw some vodka in here and I could drink this everyday!  I am feeling hungry though and I don’t know if this juice is gonna do the trick.  Also everything is moving in semi-slow motion, like I just don’t have my normal spring in my step. 
1:02 Juice 3 – “Green Juice” Romaine, Celery, Cucumber, Apple, Spinach, Kale, Parsley, Lemon.  I am starving.  Couldn’t hold off until 1:30 when I planned to have Juice 3.  Not as refreshing now that I’m not a soggy, sweaty subway rat.  Just bearable now.  Still hungry after drinking all of it. 
3:37 Juice 4 – Spicy Lemonade.   More sweet, not at all spicy.  This is pretty delicious but not the flavor profile I was craving at the time.  I really wanted something salty and crunchy – Cheetos would have been perfect.  My stomach was rumbling pretty loudly before I had this juice, but 20oz of water managed to confuse it into thinking it was a little fuller.  I’m starting to notice the high level of acidity in all these juices…should I counteract with a proactive TUMS?  Is that allowed?  I just read that canker sores or cold sores can develop as that’s a sign of the toxins exiting your body.  So my juices might make me look like I have herpes…great.
6:14 Juice 5 – Apple, Celery, Beet, Lemon, Ginger.  I started Juice 5 only to stay on schedule, not because I was hungry.  Not my favorite one in the bunch, but way better than the Green Juice.  I drank half of it before my Zumba class, and half after.  I felt great during Zumba, my energy level was up and I didn’t get lightheaded or feel weak.
9:37 Juice 6 – Cashew Milk.  Now I know what everyone was raving about when they talked about this “juice.”  It tastes like watered down leftover milk from a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  I felt fullest and most satisfied after drinking this one.  
I was pretty tuckered out by 11:30 (my usual bedtime is more like 12:30) and fell asleep right when my head hit the pillow.  I woke up feeling super peppy at 8:00.  Usually I am dragging myself out of bed at 8:20, but on Day 2 I was ready to cartwheel across our studio to the bathroom.  Results of Day 1 — 3lbs lost!  Whhaaaattt?!?!?  Let’s get Day 2 started!!!
Epilogue
I won’t go into as much detail for Days 2 and 3.  I’ll just note that these days weren’t much easier like the reviews claim.  I started to grow an immunity to the Green Juice, but the hunger pangs and cravings for Cheetos never went away.  I would describe it as being in a constant state of un-satisfaction for 3 days.  I also really missed warm food.  I got into the habit of smelling hot foods, as if inhaling them was almost like really eating them.  I even made Mr. S let me smell his breath after he had some pizza for dinner.  He didn’t think it was that weird.  True love.
I didn’t make it through the 3 day post-cleanse since it only took 8 hours for me to succumb to a bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce made by Mama Rice Ball.  For those of you who have had her spaghetti before, you know I stood no chance of winning that one.  It wasn’t without consequence though because I woke up in the middle of the night with stomach pains.

Probably the hardest part about the cleanse was living a normal social life.  I had to decline 2 dinner invitations, pass on tickets to a Mets game, and force Mr. S to eat dinner before I got home – all just so I could avoid the temptation of solid food.  It helped to keep myself busy with non-food activities, so I actually enjoyed being at the gym because it meant being away from food.  Also, it helps to stay away from Instagram because food porn is tor-ture.

Would I do the juice cleanse again?  Most likely yes — hey, weight loss is weight loss and I got so many compliments on my glowing skin.  Next time around though I will definitely recruit more masochists participants and schedule it during the most boring, un-fun 3 days of the year.

** Poop Alert!  If you don’t like poop, stop reading now**
For those of you wondering about my #1s and #2s, there were definitely a lot more #1s than #2s.  Some people could debate that a few of those #2s should really be classified as 1.5s…

Art is…

This past weekend I spent a lazy Saturday at the MoMA with my cousin.  We hadn’t seen each other in a long time (I guess med school is an acceptable reason to live in the tundra that is upstate NY) and thus had much catching up to do.  Unlike movie theaters (where talking is unacceptable) or restaurants (where you inevitably get politely kicked out), museums are fantastic places for spending time with loved ones, just wandering around and filling each other in on all the recent happenings of life.  Not to mention catching a glimpse of some Van Gogh or Monet.

Of the larger museums in NYC, so far MoMA is my fave.  Mostly because it is a lot more fun to say than the others.  Try it.  MO…MA…MO…MA…MO…MA… MO.MO.MO.MA.MA.MA .  Fun, right?  Another reason I’m a fan of the MoMA is that there is always a piece of modern art in there that validates why I would have failed in pursuing a career in art.  I’m just not that weird deep.  Examples:
  • Giant paper mache hamburgers, cake slices, or sneakers
  • Chairs hanging from steel I-beams suspended from the ceiling
  • A collection of miniature knick-knacks housed in a dark room
  • A room full of industrial waste
Upon seeing bizarre installations like these, first I think, “Oh, nifty.”  Then I think, “How is this art??”  
Maybe I need to take an art appreciation class or something, but I just don’t get it.  As someone who enjoys making art, the ultimate goal of all my paintings is to make something pretty.  It’s never a commentary on the use of torture in the military or my perspective of environmental decline.  It’s more about sunsets and flowers.  Is that why these artists are in the MoMA and I paint in a senior citizen center?  I guess so.

Domesticated for one night only

I don’t cook.  At least not regularly.  To me, cooking dinner is an event that requires mental and physical preparation.   When people ask me, “Do you cook?” I respond, “Sort of.”  And it’s only “sort of” because my definition of cooking includes heating up things that were previously frozen, which I know is not real cooking.  But lucky for Mr. S and me, I am excellent at ordering!  Living in NYC, there are 5 major food groups: Pizza, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Mexican – all of them equally convenient.
So it must be a very special occasion when I do try to “whip up” something in the kitchen.  And by “whip up,” I mean research the dish I will make online, go to the grocery store to buy the required ingredients (because I have none of those so-called kitchen staples), precisely measure each ingredient using measuring cups and assorted spoons, and meticulously put together my dish using no less than 3 pots and pans.  Oh, and all the while, running back and forth from the kitchen to the laptop to make sure I am correctly following the recipe’s step-by-step directions.  See why I don’t cook often?  It’s exhausting.
But last night, I must have been feeling inspired by the 20 Costco chicken breasts staring at me from our freezer.  Why do we buy bulk chicken breasts if we don’t cook?  I have no idea.  All I can say is that we got a good deal on them.  I checked out the rest of my existing supplies in the refrigerator and cabinets: garlic in a jar, Dijon mustard, breadcrumbs, and dried herbs and spices.  The only reason I have these things on hand is that they are the non-perishable leftovers from those rare occasions when I was feeling particularly domestic.  I avoid looking at the stamped expiration date on things that come out of my refrigerator and have faith that my 5 senses alone will let me know if something has gone bad. 
I thought that all those ingredients would go well with chicken, but I did a quick Google search just to make sure.  Lo and behold! – my planned concoction did exist and it was called “Easy Breaded Dijon Chicken.”  Sounds delicious.  Any recipe I attempt is marked as either “quick” or “easy.”  I can’t imagine the damage my kitchen would endure with something called “advanced.”
And so, my normal cooking pattern began: sit at laptop, run to kitchen, measure 1 1/2 tablespoons of mustard, put in bowl, run to laptop, run to kitchen…and so on and so forth.  It’s a good thing we live in a small studio.
Here’s a list of my ingredients and supplies (I also made roasted asparagus and couscous):
  • 2 chicken breast halves, skinless & boneless
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon or basil
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (who actually makes fresh breadcrumbs?!)
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped fresh parsley  (I didn’t have this and it was only for garnish, so I omitted it)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 box 5-minute couscous
  • 3 large dishes – 1 for defrosting chicken, 1 for soaking chicken, 1 for breading chicken
  • 1 baking sheet
  • 1 other baking vessel (I don’t know the technical term for this thing)
  • 1 small pot
  • 1 small pot lid
  • tongs
  • measuring cup
  • 1 tablespoon
  • 1 teaspoon
  • 3 forks (used in the cooking process, not for eating)
  • 1 big knife
  • 1 small knife
  • 1 cutting board

I should mention at this point that our small studio comes equipped with a very small sink.  It quickly overfloweth. 
One thing I am pretty good at is orchestrating the various cooking times and the final reveal.  Voila!

It wasn’t as pretty as the online version, but still tasty.  When Mr. S got home from the gym I announced my good deed for the day:
Me: I made dinner!!! (cue trumpets and confetti)
Mr. S: I see.  It smells good.
Me: Hurry, hurry, try it, try it!!
Mr. S: I have to shower first.
Me: EAT IT NOWWWW!!!!!
Mr. S: Ok, ok.  Are there carbs in couscous?
Me: I don’t know.  You don’t have to eat the couscous.  (That only took 5 minutes of my time…I didn’t care about his opinion of instant couscous)
< Mr. S eats while I hover over his shoulder >
Me: So is it good?
Mr. S (mouth full):  Yup!  Good job!
Although I’m sure Mr. S knows better than to answer that question with anything but an enthusiastic affirmation of my cooking skills, I really do think my Easy Breaded Dijon Chicken was a success.  Another one for the history books!

The Duchess of DSW

This weekend I was home in NJ to celebrate Mother’s Day. No trip home to NJ is complete without a family visit to DSW. I love shoes, my mom loves shoes, and my dad loves shoes. And we all love a good bargain (who doesn’t?). Needless to say, we have a lot of shoes. It’s like all of us inherited the Imelda Marcos gene. Actually, shoe loving might be a cultural thing. I haven’t met a Filipino who doesn’t feel passionately about shoes.

But shoe shopping at DSW is better than any other store. Why?  Because we are DSW VIPs. Yes, we have bought so many shoes at DSW that they have basically knighted us and welcome us with roses when we enter. Actually, it’s more like this at the check-out counter:
DSW employee: Oh hello Mr. Rice Ball, nice to see you again!
Dad: Hi Jessica, how are you? Yes, nice to see you too. 
Jessica (now she has a name): Still one of our top customers!  We would like to invite you to our new store opening in Manhattan. You should be receiving the invitation in the mail shortly. 
I am not lying or exaggerating. We were really invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony at the 34th Street store opening. Unfortunately we couldn’t go since it was a weekday during work hours. Jessica also sends us hand-written Christmas cards. 
How did we get to this coveted VIP status?  If I tell you, then I’ll have to kill you. But here’s a hint: volume. Back to my mantra – the more you buy, the more you save.  The biggest perk of being a DSW VIP (besides the red carpet events) is the savings. Every time I go home, there is a DSW coupon waiting for me. This past weekend it was $50 off, and at DSW $50 goes a long way. 
I have plenty of friends who don’t understand my love affair with DSW. They say, “Oh, I never find anything there.”  Well then, you are doing it wrong. Since I won’t tell you our family secret to DSW royalty, I’ll share my DSW plan of attack.
1.  Wear sensible shoes. Ballet flats or flip flops are my preference. 
2.  Enter DSW. Give a friendly nod to the security guard who is showering you with rose petals.
3.  Head straight to the clearance racks. Do not stop in the main aisles. Do not bother to pick up a shopping bag, they will be in the back and/or a store employee will offer you one when they see you trying to balance 3 boxes of shoes in one hand. 
4.  Find your size in the clearance racks and put your eyes to work. I use a left to right, up to down grid method. I try not to let my eyes wander from the method to ensure complete processing of all clearance shoes in my size. 
5.  When you find a shoe that speaks to you, identify the color of its tag, which denotes how much % off from the marked price you will get. This is the best part. If you have a middle school aged child, the clearance racks at DSW are a great place to get them practicing on their math skills. I plan on doing this with my child, rapid fire style. 

“The tag is blue and it’s marked at $79.99 — how much will the final price be??”
“Um…um…”
“Too slow!  Try again!”

6.  If, by the grace of God, you find a shoe with a yellow tag, hold onto it!  It doesn’t even matter what they look like. There is a very good chance these shoes will only cost you $8. (Yellow tags are 80% off)
7.  If you find a pair of shoes that you are on the fence about, grab them and move on. You can make your final decision later. 
8.  Once you have exhausted all the clearance racks, then and only then, can you emerge into the normal aisles. Before you do, assess your clearance finds and do a second sweep if you feel compelled to. Once you leave the clearance racks, no deal in DSW will ever be as sweet 
9.  At the check-out counter, present Jessica with your coupon. If you don’t have one, give her your phone number so she can look up your membership number. This is important because this is how you get the points. Points lead to coupons. Coupons lead to shoes. Shoes lead to points. See how this works?
10.  Compare your receipt with family and friends and show off how much money you have saved. 
By the end of a successful trip, I usually leave DSW sweaty with excitement, 3 new pairs of shoes, and a receipt evidencing no less than $150 in savings. Cha-ching!