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This & That: Links I’m Loving This Week

By at the office, blogs, fashion statements, food, hair care, lifestyle, links, lists, recipes, shopping, summer, this & that, weather, you might learn something 2 Comments

This & That Links 1

1. Is the warm weather finally here to stay? I hope so because Samantha’s glamorous resort-inspired look on her blog Could I Have That? is making me crave summer more than ever.

2. J.Crew’s new tropical print popover means people might think twice before poking fun at my Hawaiian shirt collection this year. (Also, these board shorts are almost identical the pair I wore the day I moved into my dorm room freshman year of college…shoulda saved those, too.)

3. One of my new year’s resolutions was to find ways to connect with other bloggers, so when I discovered the Virginia Bloggers community the other day, becoming a member was a no brainer. Looking forward to finding ways to network with this group.

4. I used one of these strawberry stem removers at my parents’ house last week. Brilliant. About to order one for myself as soon as I publish this post.

5. After being out of the office for a full nine days, I was relying on my noise-cancelling headphones to help me hunker down and get caught up at work this week. Unfortunately, they’re getting on in years and starting to fail me. Time for a new pair?

6. Emily’s new beachy waves tutorial was the first thing I saw when I woke up Tuesday morning, so I had to give it a try. I polished mine off with a little Bumble & bumble Surf Spray, and my wavy ‘do saw me all the way through to Wednesday night.

7. This collection of photos about an inseparable pair of twins who lead an identical life made me smile.

8. I’m the type of person who is always wondering, “What’s next? What’s next?” I often have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy where I’m at right now, so I’m in total agreement with these sentiments from Cara of The Champagne Diet: “You are exactly where you need to be.” (Image by Rui Molar.)

9. Looks like more rain for the next 24-48 hours as Tropical Storm Andrea makes her way northeast up the coast.

10. Getting a little bored with my gluten-free diet (yes, I’m still at it), so I’m looking forward to giving this recipe a try over the weekend.

Just a few links from around the web that caught my eye this week. How about you? Find anything interesting online recently? Share a cool link in the comments!

Pensacola Flashback

By boat drinks, catch a wave, florida, food, life's a beach, lifestyle, memories, navy, pensacola, pineapples and palm trees, ruling at life, summer, take me away, the places you'll go, travel 2 Comments

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What with Friday being National Margarita Day and all, I couldn’t help but take some time to finally go through my photos from last summer’s stay with my family at the Margaritaville Beach Hotel. I treated myself to first class seats on the two flights down (totally worth it), and set myself up for the most relaxing weekend I remember having all year. The real reason for our little reunion in Pensacola was to see my brother graduate A-School at Corry Station, but I’m not gonna lie — the salty, sandy days that followed were the highlight of our trip.

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Stephen’s graduation ceremony was early enough in the morning that we were able to spend a few hours exploring the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Pensacola Lighthouse before heading down to Pensacola Beach for a weekend of fun in the sun.

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Pensacola Beach is situated on the barrier island of Santa Rosa. It’s bordered to the south by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by the Santa Rosa Sound and Pensacola Bay, and to the east and west by Gulf Islands National Seashore.

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge Jimmy Buffett fan, so there was no question about where we were going to stay. The Margaritaville Beach Hotel is gorgeous — stately, even. The decor is inspired by a combination of Jimmy’s music and the ocean, and the overall effect is unquestionably elegant.

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The rooms were decorated in hues of blues, teals and greens, and the bed was the most comfortable one I’ve ever slept on. Our balcony offered us a view of the turquoise Gulf and the softest, whitest sand I have ever seen.

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Once we unpacked, we immediately headed down to the beach for relaxing, relaxing, and more relaxing.

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I lost track of time in a hammock strung between two palm trees on the sand, which was, quite possibly, the best place I have ever spaced out.

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I collected seashells at the water’s edge — something I haven’t done in years.

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I spent an afternoon soaking up the shade on a teak lounger under an umbrella, reading my favorite magazines and catching up with my brother.

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And then I indulged in an oh-so-refreshing shower and these lovely Tocca products, compliments of the resort.

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There was also drinking, drinking, and more drinking. Margaritas by the pool…

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Mimosas at breakfast…

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Landshark in the water…

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Mudslides on the beach…

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Champagne with dinner…

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Boat drinks with my dad…

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A little water to recover…

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And, cheers. =) I think you get the point.

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Then there were the Gulf shrimp. So delicious. I think I ate shrimp with every meal I had in Pensacola.

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Colossal Shrimp Cocktail (above) and Wild American Shrimp & Grits (below) @ The Grand Marlin. The shrimp cocktail is self-explanatory, but the Wild American Shrimp & Grits consisted of chipotle seared shrimp and local boursin cheese grits surrounded by an andouille sausage tomato stew. Amazing with a bit of a kick to it.

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Lava Lava Shrimp @ Frank & Lola Love Pensacola Café. Shrimp breaded and fried then tossed with an Asian aioli sauce. So good.

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World Famous Grits À Ya Ya @ The Fish House. Spiced Gulf jumbo shrimp top a sauté of spinach, portobello mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon, garlic, shallots,and cream over a heaping bed of smoked Gouda cheese grits. Incredible.

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Our balcony was the perfect place to watch a storm roll in…

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…and roll out. (After a quick nap.)

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We spent a drizzly evening walking along the Portofino Boardwalk. It was a bit deserted because of the weather, but seemed like it would have been bustling on a nicer night.

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After we checked out Sunday morning, we drove east (or maybe that was west?) through the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

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Despite the clouds and kicked-up breeze, it was actually a beautiful, warm day.

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We spent about an hour walking along an empty expanse of soft, white sand with hardly anyone else in sight.

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We snapped a bunch of photos here as our weekend on the Gulf drew to a close.

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These three particular shots (below) are a reminder that these pictures don’t even do it justice. =)

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There wasn’t anyone around to take a photo of the four of us, so I Photoshopped my brother and I into a photo of my parents (below) to give to my mom for Christmas. =)

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And that’s about it. Perfect long weekend.

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Hey, Dad…can we go back? Like tomorrow? =)


By food, gluten free, hazards to my well-being 6 Comments


Confession #1: I’m completely addicted to carbohydrates, and I find it extremely difficult to eat a balanced diet because I almost always choose carbs over fruits and vegetables. My favorite foods include bagels, pasta, Cheez-Its, French bread, and pastries.

Confession #2: I’ve suffered from headaches and migraines since, well…since so long ago I can’t even remember when. I hardly ever take Advil or medication for them. I’m just used to them.

Confession #3: I hate fad diets. The only diet I’ve ever tried and stuck to was Weight Watchers. (And even on Weight Watchers, I was a major carb addict.)

Confession #4: Lately, I’ve been tired all the time.

Confession #5: I am not a nutritionist, so take this entire post with a grain of salt.

All that being said, I’m ridiculously surprised to report to you that for the last six days, I’ve been experimenting with a gluten-free diet. That means no wheat, and no other grains that contain gluten. It wasn’t something I planned to do, but after having a headache for a solid three weeks (Christmas and New Year’s included), I finally caved and started Googling headaches. Just as I suspected, headaches and migraines in women are often linked to three things: hormones, food, and/or stress. I also did some research on food and hormones (a potential cause of my anxiety?), and I read some articles on food and sinus congestion (another potential cause of my headaches).

As a result of all this research, I’ve decided to try an elimination diet, and the first food I’m experimenting with is gluten. I’m going to try to go 30 to 60 days without gluten, document my symptoms, and then see what happens when I gradually reintroduce it back into my diet. I’ve also cut out coffee, soda, and artificial sweeteners for the time being (just because three coffees a day probably isn’t that good for me either). I figure if I cut all these things out for a short time, I might be able to pinpoint what (if anything) is triggering my headaches. It could be gluten, wheat, caffeine, Splenda…or it could be none of those things, and I might be totally wasting my energy with this. Either way, I’m going to give it a shot.

Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

1. Going without gluten forces me to eat a lot more fresh foods, fruits, and vegetables by default. Without wheat, there just isn’t as much to choose from. Cutting out gluten inadvertently means cutting out a lot of processed foods, which is kind of an added benefit to this experiment.

2. I’ve been eating rice, corn tortillas, potatoes and popcorn in place of my favorite carbs. These foods aren’t quite as addicting to me as pastas and breads — I seem to be much more able to eat them in moderation. I eat until I’m full, and that’s it.

3. I’ve been noticeably less congested for the last two days. I woke up this morning (even with a cat near my face), and I thought, “Whoa! I can breathe!”

4. I forgot how empowering it feels to exercise some self-control over my diet. I went to a birthday party Saturday night, and I was so proud of myself for avoiding bread, crackers, and especially birthday cake.

5. Eating this way as an experiment for my headaches is a lot easier than doing it to lose weight. I think it’s because I can’t say, “Oh, I’ll just eat this and then go to the gym later…” It doesn’t work that way. =)

6. Hot water with lemon is my new favorite drink. And it’s a lot cheaper than Starbucks.

7. I haven’t had a headache since the day I started this experiment. That’s six days with no headache. Six days. That makes me happy.

Hopefully, I can follow through with this experiment. I’m posting this here because it’ll keep me accountable for what I’m trying to do. I’ve got an upcoming girls’ trip to Nashville that might be kind of difficult (no beer!), but I’m going to do my best. Perhaps I’ll post an update next week.

Got any advice for me? Have you ever tried an elimination diet? Do you get a lot of headaches? Got any other suggestions? Would love to hear whatever you’ve got.

P.S. Just because I’ve made it this long without a bagel doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t catch me dipping a corn chip in a tub of cream cheese sometime soon. It’s the cream cheese I’m really addicted to… =)

P.P.S Did you vote in my poll? Please go take a look if you didn’t! =)

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and edited with Alex Beadon‘s Like a Painting Photoshop action.

Holiday Spritz Cookies

By food, holiday fun, recipes No Comments


The one (and only) thing on my agenda today is baking spritz cookies with my mom. These have been my favorite Christmas cookies for as long as I can remember. The recipe comes from this old school Betty Crocker Cooky Book, which is full of lots of other delicious baking ideas, too.

A few years ago, I finally got my own Wilton cookie press to make my own, but it’s still just a little more fun to make them up here at my parents’ house. (Mostly because my dad cleans all the pans after we make a huge mess.) Also, since I’m technically on vacation up here, I won’t feel guilty when I consume about 20 of them during the baking process…



The Best Macaroni & Cheese on the Planet

By at the office, food, recipes 6 Comments


At some point last year, the Contracts department started a tradition of a monthly pot luck “Brunch Bonanza.” Each month, we bring in a breakfast or lunch dish to share with the group. There’s fourteen of us, so we’ve always got plenty of new things to munch on. In the past, I’ve contributed things like coffee, quiche, lasagna, soup, taco dip and bagels. This month, I fed my co-workers this amazing macaroni and cheese. It’s not something I make very often (because it’s a pain in the ass), but it’s literally the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had.

This recipe below is based on this one from Martha Stewart, but I’ve cut it in half and altered it just a tad, so it’s meant to serve six portions. It is very rich, so I normally serve it as a side dish. In this case, I was feeding a big group, so I doubled it back up to the original measurements in Martha’s recipe. =)

The Perfect Macaroni & Cheese
With Extra Sharp White Cheddar & Gruyere Cheese

3 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups (about 9 ounces) grated extra sharp white cheddar
1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyere
1/2 pound elbow macaroni

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish; set aside.

2. Shred the cheese. (Keep the cheddar and the Gruyere separate — some will go into the cheese sauce, and some will get sprinkled on top).

2. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. Melt 1 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

3. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

4. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

5. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 3/4 cups cheddar, and 3/4 cup Gruyere. Set cheese sauce aside.

6. Fill a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. (Make sure to rinse thoroughly with cold water – this removes excess starch from the pasta to keep your macaroni and cheese from being grainy.) Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

7. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup Gruyere over the top; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes; serve.

A few things to keep in mind:

1. Cheese is expensive, but I promise you — the higher quality cheese you use in this dish, the better it will taste. If you’re going to go through all the effort to make this, use some decent cheese.

2. No need to waste any food. It is perfectly acceptable to dip the cast-aside bread crusts in any cheese remaining in the pot while you’re waiting for the macaroni and cheese to bake.

3. It is also perfectly acceptable to fantasize about using said cheese as a hot dog topping in the future.

4. The only way I can think of to possibly make this any better is to add lobster. If you try that, please let me know how it turns out. =)