Weekends = Whiskey Island + Wine Festivals + Food + Sunshine

What a great weekend! Despite a few rain showers, it was another one of those weekends where I couldn’t help but say, multiple times, “There’s so much going on in Cleveland!”

The weekend started Friday afternoon at my office, where we ended the work day early for some Friday afternoon beers and Pictionary! Yes, that’s how we do it. And we take Pictionary VERY seriously in my office. Case in point – the smack talk that was going down even early on in the week: (photo courtesy of @sarah_lack)

After Pictionary, I met up with B and we headed to Whiskey Island for a work event he had – dinner, beach volleyball, and drinks on Wendy Park! It would’ve been a great event – if it hadn’t started POURING rain, blowing wind, and thundering and lightning the second we got there. Literally the second we got there, we had to hide under the food tent and wait nearly an hour for the rain to stop. Luckily I was able to create a makeshift rain coat, and the party continued through the night as the rain cleared up.

Rain gear?

Saturday morning, it was still raining so B and I got in a quick morning work out at the gym. Post-workout it started to clear up so we headed to the driving range to hit a few balls. I’ve only golfed twice before, but it was still nice to enjoy the sunshine and laugh at my still nonexistent skills. After golf, we of course enjoyed some soft serve (seriously, how can you not get ice cream after going to a driving range on a summer day?).

I kind of look like I know what I’m doing …?

Saturday afternoon, B and I met up with Dave and Anson for the Cleveland Wine Festival! Held at Voinovich Park, and sponsored by Giant Eagle, the festival features 200 international wines, food, music and 10 tastings. What a fun way to spend a beautiful evening! We sipped wine from so many great vendors (my favorite non-Ohio wines were Chateau St. Michelle and Francis Coppola) and enjoyed a fun live band. After closing down the wine festival we headed over to Map Room for some post-wine tasting beers and pizza.

Sunset over Lake Erie at Cleveland Wine Festival … shortly after this photo a guy jumped into the lake

Photo opp at Chateau Ste. Michelle's booth!

Photo opp at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s booth!

Sunday was pretty leisurely. I slept in while B played softball, and hit the gym for a workout while catching up on past episodes of Luther on the iPad. After working out, we headed to Edgewater Park to catch up on some reading and some rays for most of the afternoon. It was a great day and it seemed everyone was out at the park – swimming, boating flying kites, and having picnics.

Another day on Lake Erie

Sunday night we joined B’s family out for dinner at Washington Place, a great restaurant in Little Italy – formerly the Baricelli Inn. B’s grandmother was treating everyone to a dinner out – and the food was amazing! The bread (supposedly from Stone Oven) was SO good, and we ordered mussels, a cheese plate and pierogies for appetizers. I ordered the scallops with black rice (I subbed quinoa) for dinner – which was perfectly cooked – and B and  I split the Presti’s donut bread pudding for dessert (yes, I even convinced B to join me in dessert. There’s a first for everything – and usually that first involves donuts and bread pudding!). It was the perfect end to my last weekend in July …  are you ready for August?

Ireland Adventure Recap: Part Four – Doolin!

Part Four: Doolin

(continued from here)

Doolin: After doing some shopping in Galway, B got in our car to drive to Doolin, where we’d also be staying in a bed and breakfast. Our plan was to get to Doolin by 1, catch a ferry to the Aran Isles, check in at our bed and breakfast, and then enjoy dinner and some of what is known as Ireland’s best live music. Of course, the trip didn’t go as planned. Irish driving always seems to take longer than it should, and we pulled into Doolin at 1:15 p.m. – just too late for the ferry to the Aran Isles! So, instead we decided to see if we could check in early.

Our Doolin B&B

Luckily, our bed and breakfast was gorgeous – and the people who owned it were by far the friendliest Irish people we’d met (and we’d met a lot of friendly Irish people!). We were greeted not only by freshly cooked scones and freshly made coffee, with Bailey’s, but the host, Sarah, also gave us a ton of flyers, a recommended itinerary and plenty of suggestions on how to spend our day without seeing the Aran Isles.

B on the Burren in front of the Cliffs of Moher

On the Burren in front of the Cliffs of Moher

B and I got back on the road and decided to check out the Burren museum and drive through the beautiful Burren region. The hills of Burren are made of limestone rocks and bright green grass. Because of the way the area was formed, and the way the limestone just juts out of the grass, the area is home to some incredible flora and fauna, and is often studied by scientists and naturalists. After checking out the museum and beautiful scenery, B and I headed back to our B&B and decided to walk to the ferry station and catch a boat tour of the Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of Insanity!

The boat ride was beautiful! It was chilly, but not raining, and the cliffs were magnificent, jetting into the water and far above our heads. The water was rocky and I may have felt a little seasick at some points, but I definitely recommend taking a boat cruise to the Cliffs if you’re ever in Doolin. We could see the Cliffs from our B&B, but to be up close to them was truly incredible.

After our boat ride, B and I walked back to our B&B and got ready for dinner and some of the famous live Doolin music! We ordered dinner at a local pub and enjoyed some really cool, traditional Irish music. What a great evening!

Guess which breakfast was mine? (scones and breads not pictured)

The next morning, B and I had another amazing B&B breakfast – this time with homemade jam, freshly baked scones, brown bread and banana bread on the side. Then, we hit the road for our last adventure – one more day/night in Dublin!

Return to Dublin:

After our drive back to Dublin, B and I decided to hit one of the places we had missed our first time around – the Jameson Distillery! We enjoyed the guided tour, plus some Irish coffee (made with Jameson of course), Irish coffee chocolate, and a Jameson tasting at the end.

irish coffee at Jameson Distillery

the last pub

After the Distillery trip, we walked a little more around Dublin, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and got dinner at an Indian place. We got there before 7, meaning we were able to try their tasting menu and enjoyed an appetizer, main course, naan and a drink.  After dinner, we had plans to meet up with Katie one last time and enjoyed some more beverages, including my last Irish cider (<3 Bulmers!) and last live music session. It was the perfect way to spend the last night of our trip!

Part one of this post, our Dublin trip recap, can be found here.

Part two of this post, the London trip recap, can be found here.

Part three of this post, the Galway trip recap, can be found here.

Crock Pot Cheesy Chicken & Beans – For Two!

Even though it’s summer, I’ve been dying to use my crock pot. After all – what’s a better feeling than coming home from work and knowing that a healthy, easy dinner is already ready? That’s why I decided to find an easy recipe, with flavors good for summer, for two. That’s right – a crock pot recipe for TWO people (or one person – with a nice-sized lunch for the next day)!

 

So often whatever I make in my crock pot serves 6, or even more, and I’m eating leftovers for a week. After seeking a few recipes, I decided to just come up with my own – and here it is! Enjoy. If you are cooking for more than two, I have on doubt you could double, triple or quadruple this recipe to feed more hungry bellies.

 

slow cooker cheesy black beans and chicken
Crock Pot Cheesy Chicken & Beans for Two
Here’s what you need:
  • 4 chicken tenderloins or 1 whole chicken breast
  • 1 (15.5 oz) can of black beans, drained
  • 1/2 (15.5 oz) jar of salsa  (I used Tostitos Chunky Hot Salsa for a kick)
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbs chili powder
  • 1 tbs cumin
  • 1 tbs garlic powder
  • 1/2 c Mexican cheese blend
Here’s what you do:
  • Place the chicken on the bottom of your crock pot.
  • Mix the can of black beans, half jar of salsa, and spices (cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder) together. Pour on top of chicken.
  • Pour water on top.
  • Set your crock pot or slow cooker to low. Cook for 8 hours.
  • After 8 hours, mix chicken/bean mixture and serve in two bowls. Top with Mexican cheese.
  • Enjoy!

Note: I also made some Uncle Ben’s 90 second whole grain rice and topped with the chicken and beans. I also cut up some avocado, and B added hot sauce. For cilantro lovers, the recipe would also be delicious with some fresh herb sprinkled on top.

If you liked this recipe, or want more slow cooker recipes, check out the ones I’ve tried and shared, here.

Ireland Adventure Recap: Part Three – Galway!

Part Three: Galway

(continued from here)

Galway Day One: After flying back into Dublin, B and I rented a car and began our adventure. We were going to drive to Newgrange, visit the old tomb/monument, then continue onto Galway for our first night in our bed and breakfast.

B was incredible with driving on the windy roads that make up Ireland and driving on the other side of the road. With me as his co-pilot, what could go wrong?

Driving in Ireland*

*please ignore my commentary

We amazingly found our way to Newgrange without any issue (despite not having directions. Or a gps. Just a little ole map that wasn’t very detailed and simply listed Newgrange as somewhere in the vicinity of some other roads). When we walked into the visitor center, we learned that the only way to view the tomb is by guided tour, and the next tour that had openings would be two hours later. So we faced a decision – do we wait for two hours, take the guided tour, but not get into Galway until 8 p.m.? Or do we skip the tour and head to Galway immediately, getting in by dinnertime? We ultimate decided to forget Newgrange, and find our way to Galway. Slightly disappointed, we got back on the long, windy country roads and were a few kilometers away when I couldn’t help but see a large mound in the distance. Could it be? No .. it was! I couldn’t believe our luck – the tomb was far away but we could see it! We pulled over and took a few pictures, feeling satisfied that our trip wasn’t a complete detour.

Newgrange in Ireland

We caught a glimpse of Newgrange from the car!

We made it into Galway, checked into our bed and breakfast (and found homemade scones and jam waiting in our room!) and then walked into the town to check out some of the shops and restaurants. Most shops were closed, but we were able to enjoy dinner and drinks at a local pub and then some of the best live music of the trip at a nearby pub, An Pucan.

I had the Mini Breakfast

Galway Day Two: We woke up early, headed down to breakfast, and both B and I enjoyed a traditional Irish breakfast – cheese, scones, brown bread and of course eggs, different types of sausage, and ham. Then we got into the car with the goal in mind to hit two nearby landmarks – the Kylemore Abbey and Croagh Patrick.

B and me with Kylemore Abbey in the background

The view of Kylemore Abbey

After driving an hour or so through more windy roads, and nearly running over a few sheep, we were at Kylemore Abbey. I couldn’t help but catch my breath as we drove closer – it seemed like out of nowhere, this castle in the hillside, upon a lake appeared! Kylemore Abbey is an old castle, now an Abbey, with a really interesting and romantic history that I won’t share with you here (you can read about it instead on their website). In short, though, the guided tour of the castle and the gardens (they’re walled and beautiful – like the Secret Garden!) was great – and we even got to stop by the chapel that was built by the former owner in dedication to his wife after her death. I told you – it’s romantic!

looking happy early on our croagh patrick hike

After visiting the grounds and catching the beginning of a free concert by an American choir in the chapel, it was time to head to our next location – Croagh Patrick. I was a little nervous – Croagh Patrick is a large hill that people climb, some barefoot, to get a beautiful view of the Irish countryside. It was the same mountain that St. Patrick supposedly climbed before he chased all the snakes out of Ireland and therefore is the site for many religious pilgrimages. The climb isn’t easy, however, and the weather had turned cold and rainy – not my idea of ideal mountain climbing weather. When we got to the base of the mountain, it was still rainy and so foggy that we couldn’t see the top of the mountain. I kept my fingers crossed, bundled up (pants, sneakers, long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, windbreaker and gloves for July!), ignored the sign that warned us not to climb in “wet and foggy days,” bought a walking stick and began the ascent.

The first part of the climb wasn’t too bad. The grade wasn’t too steep, the rain had slowed down to a drizzle, and we passed many families and children also making the climb. Then, after climbing for an hour or s, the conditions worsened. It started raining, heavily (I swear it was wet snow), and the climb got much steeper. The walking sticks came in handy, as not only was I soaked, but so were the pathways so it was like climbing uphill through a rocky stream. Only a few people passed us, and the people on their way down didn’t even look happy. I remember reading online before the trip that the climb can get difficult, but it’s worth it when you see the people on their way down, hear their words of encouragement and ask them about the view. So of course, I asked a few people. While one couple did offer some nice advice, “Keep going! You’re almost there!” The answers I got were, “Ugh it’s not worth it,” and “Turn back now!” and “We got to the top and saw nothing. Just rain and fog.” Definitely not encouraging. B and hiked for at least another hour, soaked, until the incline became nearly vertical. The walking sticks did little to help as we climbed the wet rocks – two steps up, one step sliding down. Finally, realizing there was definitely no view to be seen in the rain/fog, and soaking wet, we decided to turn around and make the 2 hour descent. Do I wish we had made it to the top? Absolutely. But I wish it had been sunny, and there was nothing we could do about that. Exhausted, that night we enjoyed our last meal in Galway and returned to our bed and breakfast early, so we’d be ready to go for our next drive to Doolin.

The foggy mountain we climbed. Didn’t actually obey the sign – woops!

The next morning, B and I woke up early, enjoyed another great Irish breakfast with Irish cheese and pastries on the side, did some walking around Galway, and hit the road for Doolin! (to be continued …)

Galway!

Part one of this post, our Dublin trip recap, can be found here.

Part two of this post, the London trip recap, can be found here.

Ireland Adventure Recap: Part Two – London!

Part Two: London (Part One: Dublin, here)

London Day One: B and I enjoyed a short flight from Dublin to Heathrow, and arrived in London around dinnertime. We looked at a map and decided to just take the tube to our hotel in Chelsea. After getting off the tube, we were walking and walking until we came upon a huge soccer stadium and got excited – that has to be the Chelsea Football Club! But it wasn’t. In fact it was the soccer stadium that was we had passed two two tube stops previously. Woops! We had gotten lost on the way to our hotel and walked 40 minutes in the wrong direction! We finally made our way back to our original stop, and of course found our hotel just a few blocks in the other direction.

After checking in, we decided to walk around the area to find a spot for dinner. We ended up selecting a nearby Indian restaurant, which had great food! Despite the less-than-nice server (how dare he question B’s ability to eat lamb vindaloo, or me to eat spicy chicken without rice?!) the food was great.

A group at the London Pride Parade

Day Two: Our Walking Route (about 8 mi)

London Day Two: On our second day in London, it was time to explore! We took the tube downtown and got off at St. James’s Park and walked to visit Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square (where we ran into and got to enjoy the city’s Pride Parade!), the horse guard, Westminster Abbey, and more. Then we crossed the river and toured the other side – taking in the sights like the London Eye, The Globe Theater, the Jubilee Gardens, the London Bridge – before crossing the Tower Bridge to get a better look at the Tower of London and then find our way to dinner and drinks at the pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.  B had been to London twice before, and each time had wanted to go to this old pub (it’s been around since the 1500s! Or as one Brit pointed out when we were there, “Longer than your country has been around.” I did mention that America was around..just not our government) and we finally made it there! My food was kinda bland, but the old pub atmosphere, shared tables and drinks made for a fun night.

in front of the Tower Bridge – ready for the Olympics

B and me at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Less than stellar food at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (my “pie” is on the left)

In case you didn’t realize it, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is really old

London Day Three:B and I took the train again to St. James’s Park and decided to spend the day seeing some of the sights we hadn’t gotten to the day before. We first started at the Churchill War Rooms museum which was really cool. While B is a history buff, I hadn’t expected to enjoy the exhibits so much – I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something different, and indoors, to do in London. After spending a few hours in the museum, it was time to go shopping! We hit all the ones on my list (including Top Shop and Harrod’s) minus Boden, which apparently only has two stores and not downtown. Oh well. After a long day of touring and shopping, it was time to try a typical Sunday meal – a roast. We headed back to Chelsea for yet another meat and potato (chips this time) meal and of course a few pints. Being Sunday, not much was open too late, which wasn’t that bad, because we had to be up early for our return flight to Dublin. In Dublin we were going to rent a car and head west, beginning the second adventure of our trip. More to come on that …

(Part one of this post, our Dublin trip recap, can be found here)

Ireland Adventure Recap: Part One – Dublin

As you may have gleaned from the past few photo posts, B and I just came back from an amazing European vacation, where we traveled around Ireland and visited London. It was a GREAT trip, even better than I had expected.

Let me start by admitting that Ireland had never been on my list of places to visit. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to visit it – I love traveling and had heard many great things about the country – it was just that I’m not Irish and my list of places to visit have included Asia  (yes the whole continent), New Zealand, Belgium, Turkey, the Caribbean, Spain, and so on – but never Ireland. BUT I am SO glad we went. Ireland was beautiful, breathtaking, pastoral, etc. and the people were more than friendly. So what did we do? Here’s an outline of our itinerary, some of my favorites, and some photos for you to enjoy.

Part One: Dublin

Dublin Day One: B and I flew out of Cleveland late Tuesday and arrived in Dublin just in time for breakfast on America’s birthday- July 4! We somehow made it from the airport to our hotel and dropped off our bags. I felt pretty gross and tired from our 7ish hour plane ride and no shower, but the adrenaline and excitement of being in the new country kept me going! We walked around Dublin, starting at St. Stephen’s Green, a beautiful park area right next to our hotel. After that we happened to literally run right into Grafton Street, Dublin’s shopping and music hub – in front of the shops on the cobblestone walkway are tons of musicians putting on performances, trying to make money and get discovered. Have you seen the movie Once? It’s where the two main characters first meet… beautiful!

photoshoot at Trinity College

After some window shopping, we found Trinity College and took a tour of the campus and its library, which meant we got to see the famous Book of Kells and the Long Room. I did sit down at one point in the Long Room and found myself almost passing out – which meant it was time to go, so B and I headed to find his sister Katie, who was in Dublin working for an organization called Friends of the Elderly. We found her, dancing with some elderly people during their Fourth of July celebration, which was pretty amusing to see. Are you picturing this? A bunch of elderly Irish people, dancing with Katie, to some American-style marches, in a room decorated with red, white and blue, and of course, tea and scones.

After meeting up with Katie, we finally headed back to our hotel and were able to freshen up and take a quick power nap. For dinner, we met up with Katie at the Brazen Head – the oldest pub in Ireland! I enjoyed a lamb stew, while B got his fish and chips. After our food and drinks, we headed to Kearney’s for some live music, dancing (including to the song Galway Girl!) and whiskey tasting. Not a bad first day!

The three of us outside the Brazen Head

fish & chips (and B’s favorite – mushy peas!)

irish whiskey tasting

Dublin Day Two: B and I slept in and then enjoyed coffee and brunch right off Grafton Street. After brunch we decided to walk as much as we could before our feet fell off to check out some of the other places on our to do list, including: Dublin Castle, the free museum at the castle – the Chester Beatty Library (which I HIGHLY recommend – it was really cool and filled with tons of artifacts!), the Guinness factory, St. Audeon’s and the Kilmainham Gaol. We almost didn’t make it to the old jail – after walking around and around (and of course not asking for directions) we finally made it there JUST as the last tour was going on!

B, in Jail

Dublin Castle!

Enjoying a Guinness at the Guinness Factory Tour

After a long day of walking around and touring, we met up again with B’s sister for drinks and traditional live Irish music at the pub, Cobblestone. Not realizing the place didn’t exactly serve food, B and I grabbed some shawarma on the way back to hotel that evening. I love street food!

Dublin Day Three: B and I slept in again and then decided to take the bus to see UCD, the campus where his sister was living. Well, we actually were going to leave our bags with her while we were in London (Spoiler alert!) but realized then that we wouldn’t be able to get them upon our return to Dublin so our trip wasn’t really necessary. So we returned back to the city center and went shopping! I bought myself a pair of earrings, some post cards I never sent, and continued to peruse stores looking for souvenirs. We then braved the pouring rain and headed to Dawson Lounge, what’s “probably the smallest pub in the world” (as they claim) for a drink before catching our flight to London! (to be continued …)

Dawson Lounge – “probably the smallest pub in the world”

Who Says There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

One of my favorite things about living and working in Cleveland is the food scene. There are so many great restaurants, chefs, and even food trucks for me to sink my teeth into. In fact, Cleveland was recently mentioned in a Zagat article, Which U.S. City Has the Hottest Food-Truck Scene? (My vote is obvious – Cleveland!)

That’s why I was super excited when I heard about a cool thing that Progressive is doing during Walnut Wednesday this week – they’re giving away free lunch!

This Wednesday, Progressive and The Messenger are going to be doing one of their Random Acts of Savings at Walnut Wednesday. They’ll have a street team on the ground, and if you show one of them that you’ve tweeted or RT’d the following tweet, you’ll get a voucher for free lunch! What’s the tweet? .@progressive’s @themessenger is buying me lunch with his savings at #walnutwednesday! #saveitfwdCLE

While the offer is limited to the first 500 people that show the street team their tweet (you can tweet anytime before and during Walnut Wednesday), everyone that tweets will be entered to win an iPad! How cool is that?

AND you know what’s even cooler? Progressive is giving me five free lunches to give away! While two of them have already been claimed, I have three left to share — and I’m sharing them with you! Leave a comment, below, to enter. Be sure to leave your email so I can contact you if you win the free lunch!

Walnut Wednesday Amazingness

Walnut Wednesday Amazingness

Disclosure: Progressive provided me with a free meal voucher and will be providing me vouchers to share with my friends and readers. As always, thoughts and opinions are 100% all mine.

* Three (3) winners will be selected using Random.org Tuesday evening. Only one comment per entry, please. Winners must leave their email address so I can contact them about receiving their voucher.

Update: I used random.org to select three winners – they are Devin, Wendy and Debbie. I will be contacting you each to let you know how to receive your voucher. Thanks for participating! If you didn’t win – don’t forget, you can just tweet the above tweet and then show it to a member of the Progressive crew who will be Walnut Wednesday. Enjoy!