Simple Swaps for Dinner, Drinks, Desserts!

Man, the gym has been a dream this week. Like literally a dream- we’ve been so exhausted and comfy cozy in bed I have only made it once plus my SoulCycle class. 5 AM is not normal to wake up!! I need to figure out a schedule that works for my body. My gym buddy hasn’t exactly been the most motivating either…

This weekend will definitely mean time in the gym and we’re laying relatively low anyways after our last weekend. I did get to enjoy time with my sorority alumnae group yesterday at a brewery- they also brew kombucha! So since I’m still in “I never want to see alcohol again” mode, that is what a took part in. It was delicious!

Now onto the simple swaps you can make whether you are eating out for dinner or cooking at home, as well as swaps for drinks and desserts that accompany your meal!

  • We know deep fried foods are bad right? Like you shouldn’t REALLY be eating anything fried- french fries, corn dogs, etc. Look for “pan-fried” on menus or cook food yourself in a skillet with a little health EVOO (that is extra virgin olive oil for you noobs).
  • This is something I need to work on, but if you have access to local produce via farmer’s markets you should take advantage! They have less preservatives and potentially more health benefits than veggies you get at the supermarket.
  • This is one of my favorite swaps because I always have Greek yogurt on hand! Instead of sour cream on your Mexican food (or anything that calls for it)- sub Greek yogurt. It has more protein and less fat, plus healthy bacteria for your gut. I swear, you will not be able to taste the difference.
  • Whole grain swaps are so easy- no more white rice or white pasta. It’s all brown rice and whole-wheat pasta from here on out! I try to not even order rice or pasta when out to eat because they normally don’t have these options. And when you are eating pasta? White sauce is a no go- there are so many extra calories that come with all that cream. Marinara sauce or another tomato based sauce is your best choice.
  • Eating out? You do not have to end up in a food coma! Get a doggy bag to go- this is something that I do struggle with and need to get better at. Reminding myself of how bad I feel after stuffing myself at a meal should help.
  • Asian food on the menu? Give the chopsticks a chance! They will slow you down way more than eating with a fork. It will help with that speed-eating habit.
  • Trying to cool down in the summer with popsicles for dessert? Try sticking grapes in the freezer- they really do come out tasting like mini popsicles. They’re very satisfying and have way less sugar and more health benefits!
  • Soda fiend? Well STOP IT. I gave up soda for Lent in high school once and have never looked back! If you must get that carbonation from somewhere, swap it for sparkling water or flavored sparkling water. But watch out- too much sparkling water can damage your teeth (so can soda for that matter), so keep it to under 1 or 2 servings a day. Also- if you are reaching for an energy drink- just stop. The chemicals and sugar in them are crazy. Take a power nap instead.
  • Alcohol on the agenda? Red wine or beer is a better choice than a sugary cocktail- especially a margarita. Honestly, since I only really enjoy vodka or tequila cocktails, they all end up tasting the same. I’d much rather have a really good glass of wine. They tend to be cheaper as well!

I shouldn’t have to say this but I will- now that we are wrapping up swaps for our three meals a day, please eat three meals a day! Plus snacks! If you skip meals and just snack throughout the day, you will end up feeling unfocused, tired, cranky, and no one wants to be around someone like that! Also, if you’re just grazing throughout the day instead of sitting down and focusing on a well-prepared meal or snack, you will consume more calories than you think.

Some other tips that I think help when it comes to food-

  • Never grocery shop on an empty stomach (it’s a recipe for disaster)
  • If you find yourself reaching for comfort food (for me, it’s ice cream) or emotionally eating, check in with yourself for just 5 minutes. Meditate a little- dim the lights, close your eyes, clear your mind, and ask yourself who or what is driving this urge for comfort. Maybe you just need to go for a walk, maybe you need to call a friend, maybe you need a nice long hot shower. But that check-in could be all you need to not slip down a 1,000 calorie path. If you can’t get on board with the whole “meditation” thing, try journaling. When you’re a couple cookies deep, pull out a notebook and write down what you’re thinking about. Not only is it distracting but you may realize the void you are trying to fill can be filled in other ways.
  • Skip the plastic silverware at home- even if you have take-out, use your fancy stuff and you may be more aware of what you’re eating and slow down because you’re not in a rush at a fast-food place.
  • Remember- everything in moderation. If I deprive myself, I binge. So giving myself the leeway to indulge on vacation, have dessert or alcohol every so often (but not all the time), keeps me trim. TREAT YO’ SELF!

Yesterday’s food journal

Breakfast- oatmeal with chia seeds, cinnamon, strawberries, and protein powder

Coffee at work

Snack- almonds

Lunch- salad

Green tea

Snack- Apple with 2 string cheese sticks

Snack- KIND bar

Dinner- leftover casserole and some pineapple. 2 Kombuchas at Lenny Boy Brewing. 

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Charlotte Weekend Getaway

The BF and I just got back from 3 days in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a really good weekend- and we got to explore a lot of the city (it’s pretty compact). We went with a big group of the BF’s coworkers and their plus one’s. One of my good friends from college, my sorority big, also lives there and it was her birthday weekend too! Can’t beat that timing.

We arrived super early Friday and explored the neighborhoods of NoDa and Plaza Midwood. NoDa is trying to be like SoHo- it’s Charlotte’s arts district with music venues and a few breweries. We got lunch at this unassuming bodega- but it had the most amazing sandwiches. We had heard about this London broil sandwich called the “G-Man G-Wich” which is only served on Fridays (lucky us!) and it did not disappoint.

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G-Man G-Wich with locally brewed kombucha (Lenny’s also brews beer!)

Then we walked around the neighborhood (which didn’t take very long) but it was kind of dead since most people were at work. We walked from the main drag down a little bit and stopped at the famous Amelie’s bakery for dessert- a pecan pie tartlet and salted caramel brownie. The cafe itself is pretty crazy- it’s a mash-up of vintage French and Parisian finds hung up all over the walls. Definitely a must-visit even if the line is too long to get anything.

Then we hopped over to the Plaza Midwood area and walked around for a bit- popping into some open places like Moxie Mercantile, Common Market, soon-to-open Legion Brewing, and Workman’s Friend, a new bar. It’s a little bit more established than the NoDa area. We finished up with a couple beers at Pint Central (which also apparently has awesome cocktails).

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A local watering hole

That evening our group headed to the South End neighborhood which is just a light rail ride away from Uptown (what they call their Downtown). We took a shuttle to the Sycamore Brewery, which was pretty cool- a bonfire, live music, and lots of dogs inside and out. Also, for 6:30 on a Friday it was crazy busy! Definitely a happening spot in that area. After some time there, we headed to dinner at The Liberty Restaurant. Despite my decent entree, the appetizers were less than appealing. I think we would only return to try their burger which apparently is one of the best in the city. Afterwards, we headed over to two cool bars in Plaza Midwood- Twenty-Two (which is an art gallery/wine bar combo and very chill) and Soul Gastrolounge (much more upbeat and trendy- and the food smelled divine). We will definitely be returning for dinner there in the future.

Saturday morning, we started the day with a bus tour around Charlotte and explored a lot of the upscale neighborhoods as well as all throughout Uptown. Later in the afternoon, we checked out a couple of the breweries in NoDa (Heist Brewery which was very energetic with lots of brunchers and sports fans and Free Range which was very chill).

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Aerial daytime view of Charlotte

That night we headed out for a fancy dinner at 5Church in Uptown. We didn’t get cocktails, which they’re known for, but we did have fantastic wine and a great meal- we snacked on black bean hummus with crisps and mini thin crust bacon pizzas with fromage blanc. My three course meal started with tomato soup topped with crispy fried goat cheese, then filet mignon with potatoes and a shallot jus, and ended with a s’mores trifle that had the most decadent chocolate brownie you can imagine. I couldn’t even finish my entree, let alone my dessert!

Despite being so full, we soldiered on to check out a couple other cocktail bars in the city. The first was The Punch Room on top of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, home of the #1 mixologist in Charlotte. As soon as you walk in the hotel, you’re stunned by the beauty and swankiness, then you head up to the 15th floor. The bar has only 37 seats and no standing is allowed. It reminds you of country club’s cigar room- all leather and modern shapes. They brought us cups of their gin-based “punch of the day” then we ordered cocktails- I got a Pisco Sour (I had dozens when I studied abroad in Chile) and it came out very well. I can’t say the BF was thrilled with his Old Fashioned but his old roommate who joined us enjoyed his boozy choice. I do have to say the costs of the drinks are prohibitively expensive- I lived in New York for over three years and I have been to maybe one bar there that was on par with these prices. It’s fun for the experience once, but I can’t say we will be returning again, mostly because of the cost.

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We headed over to the Hyatt for another rooftop cocktail bar- this one is called Fahrenheit. It was very crowded and due to a miscommunication between downstairs security and the bouncers upstairs, we waited for no reason down in the lobby for about 10 minutes. Once we finally got up there, it was a fight for the bartender’s attention. All three of us ordered cocktails, but he didn’t have all the ingredients to make the ones the guys had requested (strike 2). After we all had drinks in hand, we headed out to the terrace which gives a spectacular view of the skyline and also has a long gas fireplace strip to keep you warm.

We capped off the night meeting up with my old college friend who was having her birthday party at an Irish pub then headed over to Dandelion Market which apparently has good food, but eating was not on the agenda at that time. Avoid if you are averse to the college crowd and dancing like you’re back in high school, because that’s pretty much what that scene is. Even if you are out of your early 20s and composed, the bouncers and manager will still disrespect you like you are just another one of the rowdy post-grads.

Exhausted, we headed home. The next day we had time for brunch- a classic southern meal at The Asbury inside The Dunhill Hotel. We split homemade biscuits that came out in a little cast iron skillet and then I got the chicken and waffles and he got the chicken biscuit sandwich. We headed over to the other side of Uptown to check out his friend’s new apartment (which was awesome- the pool has private cabanas with TVs and refrigerators and overlooks the ballpark) then headed home!

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We capped off the weekend with one last splurge meal at Santorini Cafe in Austin. I’m always in the mood for Greek and their gyros are the best I’ve had. They have a ton of outdoor seating as well as a ping pong table, cornhole, and even plastic bikes and ride-along toys for kids. Definitely going to go back with a group and get some wine to relax and hang out.

All in all, I definitely recommend checking out Charlotte- and since it’s such a growing city it’ll only get better with time. It can be easily explored in a few days and if you have longer you can venture outside the city limits to the mountains or beach. It was also a great time of year because we liked experiencing the fall foliage- something we don’t really get down here in Austin 🙂 Did I miss anything that we have to check out the next time we’re there? Let me know!

The 1st visitor!

Another awesome thing about Austin is that now that it’s become such a tourist hot-spot all my friends are eager to visit. The only problem is scheduling them all! Over my time in Austin, I’m going to catalog what I do with each guest to give you all ideas of what to do and where to take out-of-towners!

Besides a brief visit from my friend Rachel who was in town for work (happy hour at Licha’s Cantina), one of my very best friends from home was the first to visit. Her name is Kristen and we have gone to school together from kindergarten through high school and still remain extremely close.

Kristen arrived late Thursday night and we hit Dirty 6th Street like college kids. We started however at Firehouse Lounge, a classy hidden (behind a bookshelf!) cocktail bar in the Firehouse Hostel. The bartenders there are awesome and the music was total throwback which was perfect for us because it brought back all kinds of middle and high school memories. Then we ended up at Nook to dance and drink.

On Friday, we explored the South Congress area. But first- breakfast tacos (and queso!) from Torchy’s. Then we fueled up with delicious coffee at Jo’s (home of the “I love you so much” wall). For a great weekend splurge, you have to try their Iced Turbo or Belgian Bomber coffee (but only if you like sweet)! We worked our way down South Congress hitting up all the good stores- even if it was just to browse. Maya and The Impeccable Pig are two of my favorite boutiques in the area but Uncommon Objects is a fun place to get lost in.

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Torchy’s breakfast tacos

After being fully exhausted from shopping, we stopped for a quick drink at South Congress Cafe and then got lunch and margs at Hopdoddy’s (one of the best burgers in the area). Then we relaxed for a little at home. Unfortunately the weather was a little iffy the entire weekend so it rained on and off, blunting some of our outdoor plans. It cleared up by Friday night, and I introduced Kristen to the East Side, starting at Whisler’s and barhopping west until we hit home. We ended at Violet Crown Social which meant we HAD to get Via313  (genuine Detroit style pizza out of a truck, which if you don’t know what Detroit style is- it’s like Chicago deep dish but with a thin, buttery, and flaky crust). The Cadillac is the way to go hands down. Hey, we hadn’t had a proper dinner!

Cocktails at Whisler's
Cocktails at Whisler’s

On Saturday, we fueled up with Mexican coffees (the best thing ever) at Tamale House East (also has very good breakfast!). But we had other things to consider than migas and breakfast tacos that day. We were tackling BBQ! The rain was back but that was not going to dissuade us- we stood in line for the famous La Barbecue (thankfully under tents). Brisket, pulled pork, potato salad, coleslaw- it was all so good. And the guy cutting our meat gave us a taste of the brisket RIGHT out of the smoker- simply melts in your mouth. We brought it all home and devoured the spread at home. I don’t even normally like sides (unless it’s mac and cheese) but the potato salad was more like smashed potatoes and the coleslaw was super spicy. I would give it an A rating.

The La Barbecue truck
The La Barbecue truck

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After that gluttonous display, we pretty much lazed on the couch and watched television all day. Nothing wrong with that! Got to have time to re-energize so you’re ready for the next activity. Which was more food-clearly the main focus of this weekend’s agenda. We finished the Texas food trifecta and got Tex-Mex (BBQ and breakfast tacos are the others in case you were wondering). Fajitas and flautas and margaritas at Polvos- filling, yummy, and fairly inexpensive. Then a night out on Rainey Street, which because of the rain was restricted to just Bungalow (probably my most visited bar here).

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Finally to cap off the weekend, we had brunch at Hightower. We originally wanted to go to Josephine House but because of the rain, their seating was cut by 2/3 so without a reservation we were SOL. If you don’t get the chicken and waffles at Hightower, you’re just doing life wrong.

Plus a side of Build Your Own Bloody Mary
Plus a side of Build Your Own Bloody Mary

And then off she went to the airport! It was bittersweet but I can’t wait to be home for Christmas to see all my friends. My next visitor is in a week so stay tuned to see what we do then. Now, I’m off to Charlotte for the weekend, so will come back with a full report. I love exploring new (to me) cities!

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VOX Table review

VOX Table is a new American small plates restaurant & cocktail bar on South Lamar. The inside is modern with high ceilings and the inventive menu has distinctive French and Spanish influence. This is where we decided to spend our 1st anniversary dinner.

Thanks to OpenTable & the “Notes” section, we were greeted with glasses of a very yummy rosè. Our waiter was the best- friendly, personable, interesting and very knowledgeable (Winston- request him before he whirls out of Austin!) and gave us great recommendations.

We started with the charred baby carrots and even though the BF doesn’t like carrots, this changed his tune. They were roasted with brown figs and a housemade ricotta, seasoned with lemon verbena and aged balsamic and topped with toasted pepitas. Then we got the most popular dish- the smoked hamachi pipette. The pipette holds a coconut soy vinaigrette and skewers the hamachi, tomato raisins, pickled cucumber and Thai chili. It was even more delicious than the hype made it to be.

Hamachi pipettes
Hamachi pipettes

Since I’m a big seafood person we also got the red crab with crispy Brussels sprouts, asparagus, radish, and egg crumble over a yuzu pudding smeared on the plate and brioche croutons. The crab was fresh and sweet- I could have buried my face into a whole bowl of it.

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Equally outstanding were the calamari noodles with roasted corn, smoked tomatoes, Spanish chorizo, chili oil and corn nuts. The calarmari is sliced into noodle-like strands. It was the most inventive presentation I’ve ever seen of calamari.

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Since the BF is a big meat fan we got both the braised oxtail dish and the shortrib dish. The oxtail wasn’t overly impressive for either of us- while incredibly tender (fall-off-the-bone tender), the flavor didn’t compare to the shortrib, which came with potato churros- a savory take on the normally sweet Mexican dessert. And they were phenomenal.

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Shortrib

After a meal like that, we couldn’t pass up dessert. We got the foie gras & strawberries- two crispy brioche crackers dolloped with foie gras butter, strawberry marmalade and tarragon cream. Wowza.

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Our drinks were lovely too- after the rosè, I got a hand on the pump cocktail- I couldn’t stop smelling my rosemary garnish.

The hostess was even nice enough to take a picture of us on our way out. It was a memorable experience and I thank VOX Table for it.

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Housewarming!

As another weekend starts, I am finally able to recap the last one. It’s a vicious cycle.

Last weekend was a good one. Friday night was spent watching Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (finally a movie I’ve seen that the BF hasn’t!) and then Saturday we got breakfast tacos at El Chilito before prepping for the event du jour- our housewarming party!

Our housewarming was basically an excuse to show off our new digs to all of the BF’s friends- and to cook even though I knew most people would be coming from dinner. I made watermelon cups with feta and mint (they were a little hard to scoop out without destroying the cube and tasted a little bit meh) and chocolate vodka soaked strawberries (which were a big hit).

Watermelon with feta and mint Chocolate vodka soaked strawberries

But the biggest hit (and something I would highly recommend making) was the Carolina peach sangria. It was polished off by the end of the night- and I doubled the recipe!

Sangria

The biggest bummer was that since our apartment’s management office hadn’t put us in the call-box yet (after 3 requests) the BF kept running up and down escorting guests into the building. But all in all, it was a great night and we ended up at Violet Crown Social Club with their $4 frozen creamsicle drinks (delicious).

Check the napkins (Charming Charlie’s)

Sunday, we got brunch at Arturo’s Bakery & Cafe- a hidden gem on UT’s campus that has delicious migas and eggs benedict (and I will be back to try their French toast!) Then we stumbled upon the BarkHappy Charity Doggy Ice Cream Social right next to our apartment! It was an event benefiting Austin Pets Alive! and Service Dogs Inc. For only $10 per person there was free craft beer (which made the BF happy), a dog ice cream eating contest (which Moxie did not participate in but she did enjoy the free dog ice cream from Amy’s Ice Cream), a K9 agility course, free dog treat buffet, free nail trimming, games, raffles, food trucks, a photo booth, temporary dog tattoos and more! Of course the amount of people and Moxie’s patience limited the amount of things we could do but all in all it was a cool event.

Happy about the grass

Since the humans didn’t get any ice cream, we stopped by Lick for the first time. I got a delicious two scooper of PB&J and Pecans n Cream. Both were to die for but a little icy. I’m eager to get back to try more flavors.

Not sure when I've been more Insta-basic
Not sure when I’ve been more Insta-basic

Posting tomorrow the review of VOX Table where we went for our anniversary. (Spoiler alert: it’s amazing!)