Friday, January 27, 2012

Make a Date

I am always looking for ways to break away from the dinner and movie kind of night. And with Valentines Day right around the corner, I thought I'd share! Here are some of the date ideas I have come up with (with prices in parenthesis).

1. A trip to a local winery ($5-10 for tasting, $15-20+ for bottle of wine)

If you live in Virginia you are most likely less than an hour away from a winery at any given time. That being said, wineries make wonderful dates! Afterwards, buy a bottle of wine and sit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Some options around Richmond? James River Cellars, New Kent Winery, and a many, many more options as you head towards Charlottesvile.

New Kent Winery

2. Visit the local zoo/aquarium (depends on location)

Everyone is still a bit of a child at heart (even if it is buried very,very deep down) and what better way to revisit that than a trip to your local zoo or aquarium?? Especially, if you live in Richmond! You must visit the Richmond metro zoo and feed the giraffes!!

 3. A day, or weekend, in the nearest big city (depends on itinerary)

Spend a day in the city, eat lunch at a place you've never heard of, visit a museum, grab a glass of wine at the hip new bar. The nice thing about big cities is that they offer multiple food and attraction options so, even if you've been there before, you can always find something new to experience with your date! If you live in Richmond (or nearby), you only have a quick trip standing between you and DC!

My DC suggestions?

  • Whole Foods (inexpensive): Whole Foods are found all over DC, with multiple options for everyone. Sushi, sandwiches, pizza, seafood and more? They've got it! You just have to get over the fact that you are heading to a grocery store to eat.  
  • King Street in Alexandria: If you walk down the streets of Old Town Alexandria, you are guaranteed to pass at least 10 delicious restaurants. Just check out the menus and pick the one that you happen to be craving!  
King Street in Alexandria
  • Point of View at the W Hotel: (slightly expensive, go before 9PM!) Absolutely one of my favorite spots in DC. This bar is a stones throw away from the White House and Washington Monument, and offers incredible views of the entire surrounding area. It is a little on the expensive side, but the breathtaking views help you forget about the money spent.  
  • PX in Alexandria: I am absolutely dying to visit this modern day speak-easy in Alexandria after finding it on Garden and Gun's Top 50 Southern Bars list. I am assuming the drinks are expensive, but what better way to celebrate a special occasion than a (now not so) secret bar?
  • Sequoia in Georgetown: (moderate) If it is a nice day in DC, you must head to this bar. It boasts beautiful views of the Washington Harbor and Kennedy Center, with plenty of outdoor seating for all.
  • Mr. Smith's in Georgetown: (relatively inexpensive) I have talked about it 100 times but it is my favorite piano bar, ever.
  • The Newseum: This is one of the few museums in DC that you have to pay to enter, but it is well worth the fee! Not only do they have a piece of the World Trade Center and the Berlin Wall, but each exhibit is well thought out and displayed. This is one of those rare museums you will never get bored in which is why it is by far my favorite museum in the city.  
  • The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria: (Free) Any art lover should head here immediately.
  • The National Zoo: (Free) What can I say? I am a child, I love animals, and I especially like the idea of chimps walking on free standing lines above my head. Throw in a few baby animals? amazing.
  • National Air and Space Museum: (Free) Guys tend to really like this one, and there is a lot of interesting things to look at...especially big planes. They also have a full room full of flight simulators for the brave pilots out there. Friendly warning though: Jon flew us upside down in a flight simulator there for about 15 minutes and I could stand straight for a good 10 minutes after, so make sure you trust your pilot. :)
4. Putt-Putt ($5-15 dollars per person)

This is an underrated one! Where else can you beat your golf loving boyfriend at his own game? Plus, you can always make it a little more interesting and add a little wager on the game. Loser buys dinner perhaps?

5. Find a Ropes Course (usually about $50+ a person)

Conquer fears and get a work out at the same time! I once visited one right outside of DC, called Go Ape!, and it was so much fun! Plus every relationship needs a little team building right? haha. If there is one near you, I highly recommend it.

6. Seasonal Activities

Go tubing down the river, see a summer concert, tailgate at the local sports game, go ice skating at the city's outdoor skating ring, take a tacky light tour, and so much more.

What is coming up in Richmond?
Of course this is just a small assortment of things do to, so if you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments below!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So Many Celebrations!

So much has been happening in the past few days and I have been too busy celebrating to share!

This weekend we celebrated Jon's roommate, Mike's, birthday on Friday with lots of food (yep, two more delicious skinnytaste dips from me!), drinks, and dancing. But that Friday also happened to be another very big birthday in my life: my moms!

To celebrate her turning one year older younger and wiser, we had lots of activities planned.

On Thursday night we headed to Ironfish with Marsha and Shelby for our very own girls night. Ironfish, owned by the same people as Pescados, offers a delicious assortment of seafood (as well as other meat options) and is the perfect place to have a special night out. Two glasses of champagne, four delicious meals (try the scallops!), lots of laughter, too many stories and one dessert (with a candle) later, we were all on our way home from a wonderful night.

Since Friday was my Mom's actual birthday, and she was still in Richmond, Jon and I got to see her and officially ring in her very new age with a quick lunch together. It was one of the first times since my pre-college days I have seen her on the actual day, so it was great to tell her in person instead of over the phone.

A picture of Mom and me from New York

As mom headed home I headed to my new favorite spot: the kitchen! For Mike's birthday party I decided to make two special (skinnytaste....again!) dips, Spinach and Buffalo Chicken. I must have been late to the buffalo chicken dip craze because I'd seriously never had a single bite of it before this party. BUT multiple tailgate parties and lots of word of mouth finally made me jump on the buffalo band wagon. Spicy, addicting, and in this case skinny! What more could you ask for in a dip?

It was the perfect night with friends, followed by a day of extreme (and much needed) laziness. That is until 3 o'clock came around and I had to get ready for a final celebratory birthday dinner with Mom, Dad and Jon. The birthday girl selected a new restaurant in Williamsburg called Waypoint Grill.  Apparently Waypoint is known as the next up and coming restaurant in Williamburg, giving some new competition to restaurants like Fat Canary and Le Yuca, and I can see why! It is certainly a must visit for those on the peninsula, or any visitors heading that way.

The rest of the weekend was filled with super secret projects and a little relaxing in order to prepare for the big event that happened yesterday: Jon and I's one year anniversary (insert collective aww...atleast in my head)!! To celebrate we had made a reservation at The Boathouse and absolutely loved our dinner. I now know why I keep hearing about this restaurant at Rockett's Landing. It is affordable, beautiful, and extremely delicious. Though the foggy weather made our view virtually non-existent, I was so happy we had saved this restaurant for such a special occasion. I absolutely cannot wait to visit again soon!

A picture of Jon and me from Nashville

ps: You must, must try the fried oysters at The Boathouse. Really, must!

So, to Mom: Happy belated birthday!! I love you so much and cannot thank you enough for all you do for me (even when I sometimes complain about it). You are a wonderful role model, great travel companion, and always try to make the impossible, possible for Katie and I.

And Jon, I love you lots. You have been there through the good and the bad, and tolerated (almost all of) my crazy ways :) . I can't wait for another year full of wondeful adventures together!  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Making a Resolution

As much as I enjoy writing about my recent trips, mishaps adventures into the culinary world, and other random tibits of life, I do have to admit that there are plenty of days were being a twenty three year old is a lot harder than my 16 year old, "can't wait to get out of high school", self would have thought. So many life decisions, lots of focus on finances, and an immense amount of pressure to be "that person" everyone sees you becoming both personally and professionally.

The thing about being in your twenties is that you seem to be frequently navigating through unchartered territiories. But you figure it out, eventually, and handle it in the way you think is best for you.

The hardest part of doing that, in my experience, seems to be handling things the way you think is best. Not the way your mom, dad, friend, or second cousin twice removed would want you to do it, but the way you beleive in. You have to make your own mistakes, find your own path, and become your own person.

You especially have to brave enough to take your own advice sometimes, despite what others may say. I, admittedly, am not so good at that. I truly want everyone to be happy (a factor I blame on far to many Disney movies as a child). Of course that isn't always a fault, but sometimes it is.

With that being said, and 2012 being 19 days in with definite resolution in sight, I am going to make it my goal to be better at taking my own advice and taking risks I beleive may be worthwhile (while, of course, still a little getting outside advice when needed). 

After all, there is always plenty of time to change who you want to be when you grow up. And thats a very good thing or my 4ish year old self would have permenantly set me on the path to be Barney's backup dancer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Oops, I Did It Again

Y'all I think I might have accidentally learned how to cook! Now you might not be watching me on Chopped any time soon, but there's plenty more time to take over a five star restaurant and become a James Beard winner learn how to successfully follow a recipe.

That's right! With a little help from my new favorite food blog, Skinnytaste, I have made 2 meals in the past 4 days! From scratch! With no peel away plastic and microwave times!! If this was a movie, this is where the Hallelujah chorus would play full blast. Are you imagining it? Ok, good.

On Saturday I made homemade crab cakes (without the red pepper), some sauteed zucchini and a sweet potato. It was delicious! With that being said, I will now save this recipe for special occasions because it is a bit expensive to buy all the ingredients. This poor twenty something lifestyle does not fit in well with expensive crab meat, but I would absolutely recommend it otherwise!

Bad iPhone photo, delicious meal

Last night I was bit by the culinary bug again and decided to surprise Jon with one of his favorites: Hamburger/Salisbury Steak and homemade mashed potatoes. This was a little larger of an undertaking than I am used to, especially since I am one of those girls who can barely tolerate looking at the meat section in a grocery store, but it was, again, well worth it!

For this recipe you mix beef and turkey meat (to make it a little more healthy), and I must say I really liked the combination. I did not have any of the bread crumbs that the recipe mentioned so, instead, I used the crushed ritz I had bought for the crab cakes. There were quite a few steps to the meat and sauce preparation, especially for a one step microwaver like me, but all in all the meal was finished in about an hour and 15 minutes. (And eaten in about 10, isn't it crazy how that happens?!)

I obviously need to work on my presentation / food photography skills

As for the potatoes, I can thank my Nama and Papa for that lesson. I just boiled some chopped up potatoes for about 20 min, drained the water, added butter, skim milk, pepper and salt, and we were good to go.  Oh yea, and off course did a little mashing dance. To Zee Avi's Concrete Wall (check it out, its so catchy!), that's normal right?

Maybe one day I will build up the culinary confidence to have a dinner party and show off my Bobby Flay like skills, but until then I'll just blog about it and imagine y'all are applauding me while staring at your computer screens.

Monday, January 16, 2012

J Crew Warehouse Sale

After hearing about these sales for months, seeing pictures of all of the beautiful clothes available and learning the incredible deals that can be found, I knew it was time to visit my first J Crew warehouse sale.

About ten seconds into the madness sale I realized that Concetta is the true pro at these events, me? not so much. Really, I sucked. So much so that I left empty handed from my first visit, declared I needed a glass of wine, and was sure it was worth paying full price just to avoid the chaos. 

Scene from the Sale

Little did I know, three hours of thinking about all of those clothes at stellar prices would lead me right back to where I started: walking back into the temporary warehouse. Since I knew what to expect the second time around, I was ready to fight the fashion war and become a master bargain shopper. And man did I shop! 

In the past week I have visited the sale three times, and am now a full J Crew warehouse believer. Sure, you have to want to dig through multiple unorganized boxes, fend off other women for the best pieces, and stand in a few lines. Come to think of it, it is strangely similar to that jungle scene out of Mean Girls. But, it is certainly worth it. 

Don't believe me? Just check out some my finds:

And that is not even all of it! Over these three visits (including the one where I left empty handed) I have come out of the warehouse with:
  • 4 dresses
  • 4 Shirts
  • 8 pairs of pants
  • 1 men's sweater
  • 1 pajama top
  • 1 piece of jewelry
  • 1 pair of shoes 
Now guess how much those 20 items were. 

Really, take a guess.....

Those 20 items were $309!!!!!! 20 things!! 309 dollars

Now if that doesn't make you a believer, I don't know what does. The sale will be in Richmond until the 22nd, and I am hoping to make a least one more trip before this savvy shopper's heaven disappears.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Years in Nashville, Day 2

 On Saturday we woke up bright and early, ready to send 2011 out with a bang.

We started off our day by heading to an area in Nashville known as Germantown. Not only is it a beautiful up and coming neighborhood, but it is right next to downtown! After a wonderful brunch at Germantown Cafe, we took a walk around the neighborhood to scout out the new developments, and capped off our meal with a visit to The Cocoa Tree.

Standing in Germantown, with Downtown Nashville in the background
By the way, if you ever make a visit the Cocoa Tree, you must try their hot chocolate! I tried some of Concetta's and it was divine, just like to their truffles, chocolate covered pretzels, and just about everything else in that store. (Can you tell we ate well on this trip?)

Once again our full bellies led us to a some touring, shopping, a few competitive LIFE games, and an afternoon nap before our NYE festivities!

In order to properly ring in 2012, Will had snagged us a reservation at an incredible bar called The Patterson House. The bar, modeled after a speakeasy, is one of the most unique bars I have ever visited. The sign on the door is so unassuming of a trendy bar, and the room itself is hidden behind two velvet curtains to keep the patrons privacy intact. The drinks were delicious (especially with the hand crafted ice cubes), crowds were non existent, and the atmosphere was incredible. It was the perfect place to celebrate!
Jon and I enjoying The Patterson House!
Sphere Ice Cubes at The Patterson House (they take 5 minutes to make)

In order to skip the cab frenzy that ensues after 12:00AM, we headed back to Will's just before midnight. We made it back with about 10 minutes to spare, took our final picture of 2011 and headed inside to watch the countdown (one hour after our fellow east coasters). 

Last Picture of 2011

And first of 2012....Happy New Year!
Immediatly after we screamed "Happy New Year!" we had a celebratory round of cheers and kisses, before starting our very own dance party in Will's living room.

It was, for sure, a very happy new year!

New Years in Nashville, Day 1

To ring in 2012, Jon and I boarded a plane to Nashville, TN. We were so excited to arrive to gorgeous weather, many beautiful sites and, of course, Concetta and Will.

Luckily we left Norfolk before sunrise on Friday morning, and arrived in Nashville in time for lunch. We immediatly (I, of course, was starving) headed to Bread & Company to start off our NYE weekend. Concetta had eaten here once and knew I would like it.  In her words, "It's such a Ca place!" Man was she right! One very full stomach later we were off to tour.

Note to self: When in big cities with Concetta, do not mention, suggest, or say the name of anyone famous and/or any neighborhoods you have heard of that are nice. Holy house tour. I think I saw every house.... twice. But yes Concetta, I did love every second of it. Even the ones you were yelling at me for looking at my phone. :)

Two hundred A few houses later we were off to check out Green Hills, do a little shopping, and rest before dinner at the delicious, quaint Cafe Nonna.

After Cafe Nonna, we drove downtown to experience the more touristy side of Nashville. As we got out of the car and got our first glimpse of downtown Nashville, I thought Will had mistakenly taken us to Las Vegas. Lights, lights, and more lights. Followed by bars, bars, and more bars.

Jon and I with downtown Nashville mildly visible in the background

After wandering down the street and listening to a variety of music from the sidewalk, we decided to visit two of these places hidden behind their neon glowing signs: The Stage and The Big Bang Piano Bar. We danced and sang the night away until our no-longer-in-college bed times. As we headed back to Will's house I was positive this trip to Nashville was going to be a good one!

Chet and I at The Stage

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hey Good Lookin'

Y'all, I had something cookin'!

Last night I reconnected with one of my loves, Pinterest, and found a delicious looking recipe for Stuffed Shells. Still obviously in a very lazy Sunday daze, I decided that I was going to attempt this mouth watering recipe for dinner!

Being the nice girlfriend that I am, I also decided to include Jon and his roommates on my maiden stuffed shells voyage. The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: "Jon! I am going to make stuffed shells tonight for you and your roommates!"
Jon: "Ok"
Me: "Really! I am going to!"

After a quick trip to the grocery store, I appeared at their house with all my supplies. Jon comes downstairs to check it all out:

Jon: "Jess, did you know the shells you got aren't stuffed?"
Me: "I know! I am making them from scratch!!"
Jon and his roommate, Casey in unison: "We can order pizza if you want"

Determined to become a culinary stuffed shells hero, I continued on with my prep and cooking. An hour and a half later we had this:

My Homemade Stuffed Shells!!

And man, It. was. delicious. Let's just say the boys went back for seconds, and maybe even thirds. Who knows, maybe I am budding Paula Deen after all? Minus the butter and plus the love of microwaves....

The wonderful recipe can be found here. I left out the turkey and made the sauce a tomato and mushroom mix. That's right, I even figured out how to slightly change the recipe and still successfully cook. Food Network Executives, are you reading this? I'm available!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Great Gift Ideas (Under $100)

Happy New Year!!!

Ok, I know what you are thinking. Christmas is (so very sadly) gone and there are probably very few gift giving opportunities around the corner. However, I am someone who always scours the internet for special gift ideas, so I wanted to share some of my favorite finds from Christmas! There's always Valentines day and birthdays, right?

  1. Erin McDermott Jewelry
This Christmas I received three pieces from Erin McDermott's jewelry line. With those new pieces, I have only fallen even more in love with her work. Erin is an alumni of my high school and UVA graduate, who decided to pursue her passion in jewelry making. Not only is the quality of her work flawless, but each piece is truly a work of art. Just try wearing one of these pieces without receiving a compliment, so far I have found it nearly impossible.

My next must have: Venice Beach Earrings VIA

Which pieces did I receive? The Dylan Earrings, Pearl Version of the Lombard Street Necklace and matching pearl earrings.

Perfect for any City Girl on the go or College Student making their way home from a night out in sky-high heels, the Yosi Samra flats are the first stylish pair of foldable flats I have found. I picked up a gold pair for my sister for Christmas, and cannot wait to buy some for myself as well! They come in just about every color, fabric, and style imaginable, and fit right into your purse. Goodbye blisters, hello yosi!

One of the many styles Yosi offers. VIA

3. Echo Touch Gloves

Ever been walking in the freezing cold, received a text or phone call, and dreaded taking off your gloves to answer it? Well, Echo has come up with a fashionable solution! These gloves, made for both men and women, allow you to use your touch screen phone while wearing them. I was a little sceptical at first but, after buying two pairs as Christmas gifts, I was blown away at how well they work! If only I had known about these as I was trekking across the drillfield in Blacksburg.

A few of the styles they offer. Via

4. Magazine Subscriptions

I find magazine subscriptions to be one of the most affordable gifts available these days. Between groupon, living social, and offers directly from the company, you can often find a year subscription for only $5-$15. Just find out what magazine your guy or girl has been reading during those long waits at the airport or doctor's office, and have it delivered right to their door! Want to give them something to open? Just buy one copy and wrap it up! You can attach a card explaining the subscription or simply tell them when they have unwrapped their gift. Who doesn't love a gift that keeps on giving?

As for me, I finally got that subscription of Garden & Gun I've been wanting! I cannot wait to receive the first copy and dive into all of that southern goodness.

5. Crafts from Etsy

Guys, listen up. I cannot begin to explain to you how many wonderful things you can find on etsy for affordable prices. Virginia Tech Prints, jewelry, painted wine glasses, you name it - they've got it.

I have mentioned some of my favorites before, including BlackburgArt, but while I was browsing I stumbled upon a new print they had: the Sig Ep house! I know a number of people who would love to have this hanging in their house but, if that is not your thing, they offer many other Blacksburg landmarks. Tots, Sharkeys, Lane Stadium? Got it. I have four of them hanging in my bedroom and love reminiscing on the times spent in my favorite town.

  Did you all find any great gifts under $100? Feel free to share below!