Road-Trip Playlists

It’s officially summer. The perfect time for a road-trip. And what is a road-trip without music?

Not something I’d enjoy, that’s for sure. A good road-trip playlist is even more important than snacks — and this might be the only time I say ANYTHING is more important than snacks.

I will say, Spotify has a decent “Road Trip Sing-Along” playlist that was well-received by all four members of my most recent road-trip. We listened to it on shuffle so it was kind of all over the place between classic rock and throwback pop and more current hits, but pretty much every song was great.

Usually, I prefer to make my own playlists. For our upcoming two- to three-day drive to St. Louis from the D.C. area, I’ve already started on two different lists, and may now make a third.

When you first leave, everyone is usually super pumped to be on the road and looking forward to the adventures that await — both on the journey and at the destination. You’re amped and you want your music to reflect that energizing optimism. My first playlist is full of pump-up music like “Forgot About Dre” (because none of my road-trips — however long or short — is complete without it) and “Danza Kuduro”  and “Shake it Off”. It floods the car with aggressive beats to get you going.

But then the excitement wears off (especially if you’ve left early in the morning) and the pump-up playlist is too loud. So my follow-up playlist is mellow and calm. It’s got songs like “Cactus in the Valley” and “Swing Life Away” and pretty much anything by Fort Atlantic. It’s great to calm down the adrenaline from the previous playlist and encourage some naps from the passengers.

After the success of the pre-made Spotify road-trip playlist, though, I’m thinking I should put together a third playlist full of songs that are classic enough to spur some sing-alongs but also familiar enough to mindlessly hum or ignore altogether if a particularly good daydream comes along.

I can’t imagine life without music, and driving is nearly impossible for me if I don’t have some sort of tunes pumping through the speakers. If you haven’t already heard of the songs mentioned above, I’d highly recommend checking them out, and if you have any suggestions, send them my way. I’d love to hear what your “must-have” road-trip songs are!

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios

I forgot that used to be a thing, until someone showed me a joke:

her: “I’m breaking up with you.”

him: “Is it because I keep saying ‘uh oh, spaghettios’?”

her: “Actually, yes.”

him: “Uh oh, spaghettios…”

Now it keeps popping into my head. Which leads me to think about — what else? — spaghettios. I love spaghettios almost as much as Kraft mac n cheese or hot dogs. It’s so easy to pop open a can and have that cheesy-tomato goodness in my belly in a matter of minutes. But I am an adult now, and therefore I must limit my lazy junk food splurges to desperate times (like when I’m really needing quick comfort food, or at the beach with my garbage friends). The good news is there are plenty of “adult” (read: homemade) versions of the comfort food I so enjoy. I’m still searching for the *perfect* macaroni and cheese recipe, but I’ve found enough good ones that I can whip up a decent pot when the craving strikes. I save the hot dogs for the ballpark (or a particularly fantastic grilling day). That leaves spaghettios as my only semi-justifiable lazy-splurge.


Until recently.

I stumbled across the original recipe on Pinterest (I am obsessed with Pinterest recipes), but you can find it here. I can never thank Nikki Gladd enough for the post that gave me permission to eat spaghettios like an adult. I’ve made my own tweaks and adjustments, which to me give the dish even more of an authentic taste, still while maintaining an air of healthiness.

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The recipe says use a saucepan, but as you can see, any pan will do in a pinch!

The most important item: spaghetti rings. I found them at Wegmans (which is hands down the best grocery store.)

I skip the garlic. I’m a big fan of garlic, but I’ve found eliminating it from this particular dish actually makes it better (which is rarely the case). The other major trick I found is cooking the noodles directly in the sauce, rather than separately and combining with the sauce at the end. The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce and the tomatoey-taste fattens the pasta.

Check out the full recipe if you’re feeling like reconnecting with the kid inside you (or if, like me, you feel a little guilty for all the canned junk you eat).

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Homemade Spaghettios:

  • Olive Oil for pan (~1 tbs)
  • 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 scoop Tomato Paste (~1 tbs. The time I made this the best, I used a regular spoon and eyeballed it)
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 oz spaghetti rings (or other round pasta)
  • Generous pinch of granulated sugar
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2-4 tbs butter (you can cut down to make it even ‘healthier’)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • ~1 cup shredded cheese (I used pre-shredded Mexican cheese. I also just dropped two handfuls in rather than measuring an actual cup)
  1. In medium saucepan, saute the red pepper flakes in olive oil over Medium heat for about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, paste, water, pasta, sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to low boil, stirring frequently to keep pasta from sticking to bottom of pan.
  4. Add butter. Stir until melted.
  5. Stir in milk.
  6. Simmer over Medium-Low for about 10 minutes or until pasta is cooked.
  7. (If sauce seems too runny, add a second scoop of tomato paste to thicken. Stir until fully distributed, then turn off heat) Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring between to melt fully.
  8. Enjoy!

This recipe makes about 4 servings.

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Experiencing the Pacific Coast Highway

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One of my husband’s dreams is to drive the Pacific Coast Highway in a Miata with the top down. Last year, we had a rental Kia instead, but the drive to Big Sur wasn’t any less gorgeous.

I’ve always been in love with rocky coastlines. My parents grew up in Rhode Island, and every time we visit, as far back as I can remember, we take a trip to Beavertail to climb on the rocks and bask in the sun.

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Beavertail, RI

Naturally, I fell in love with the Pacific coast pretty much immediately. Our first trip to California, my husband and I drove down to Laguna from Long Beach, and I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the more rugged beaches.

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Laguna Beach, CA

But nothing I’ve seen compares to the breathtaking views I experienced on the drive from San Fransisco to Big Sur.

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The water was so blue, the sky bright and the landscape vivid. I made my husband stop at pretty much every pull-off so I could get out and soak in the beauty (and snap a ridiculous amount of pictures).

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One thing photos don’t quite capture is the peace and the joy. A sense of familiarity, home in the purest sense of the word. It’s the same feeling I get as I’m pulling into the parking area in Beavertail. Sheer joy and excitement shoots my veins full of adrenaline, while an overwhelming peace calms every nerve in my body. It’s the most beautiful oxymoron in spiritual form.

It’s life, pure and simple.

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Man’s Best Friend

My family experienced a terrible loss last summer: a vanquished king. My husband’s first (thus far only) dog–yes, El Rey Louis Dandy–passed away. A constant loving, grounding presence in most of my husband’s life, gone.

I started to write this not long after Rey passed, but it was too difficult.

The thing about dogs is their loss is always unexpected. No matter how you prepare, no matter how old and frail and sick, no matter the decisions a family makes out of love and sacrifice. Nothing prepares you for the shock of the loss. A dog spends such a short time on this earth — completely insignificant amount of time, in the grand scheme of things. If our lives equal a blink of an eye, a dog is the muscle twitch preceding the blink. Most of our life is consumed by everything and nothing; rarely do we give huge chunks of it to our pets. For them, though, we are everything. Every second of their short life is focused on their owner. Where is he? Does she want to play? Will she rub my belly? Can I get him to share his food?

If you’ve ever been around a dog, you know what love looks like. A dog is content to sit and stare at you. I imagine they think things like “look at him, he’s so beautiful.” or “She’s mine and I just love her so much.” You’ve seen their tail start to thump the ground if their owner casts them a brief glance, their ears twitch at the sound of his voice.

They don’t seem to register rejection, or annoyance, or anger. They’ll skulk away for a moment, sure, but then they realize they aren’t with the love of their stupidly-short life and come trotting back to let you shoo them away again. They stare out the window or at the solid front door, always waiting, yearning, hoping for you to return.

I’ve known a dog to smile — teeth bared, breath snorting, tail furiously wagging — when anyone she loves walks into the room. I’ve known one to leave his treat beside my pillow, a Valentine’s Day gift. I’ve known one to follow you around and drop a ball at your feet and stare, waiting as long as it took for you to toss it for him. And he’d follow you still, with his big, brown, love-filled eyes, even when you never threw the ball. When I was small, our German Shepherd would lay perfectly still so I could use her as a pillow or a seat.

Dogs are selfless and glorious and perfect. And as much as it hurts to lose them, it would be sadder still to never love one.

Have you ever watched YouTube videos of food on mute because you’re hungry and the day is dragging?

That’s pretty much how my week has been. I just discovered Binging with Babish and I cannot. stop. watching. food.

And now all I want is a burger, like immediately.

Yes, this post is mostly just a video of some dude cooking the Pulp Fiction burger, which is unfortunate for my first post of 2017, but it’s been a long few days back at work, and I’m exhausted.

Plus, one of my resolutions is to quit apologizing for being who I am. So even though I’m a little lazy, I am who I am and I’m not going to apologize.

This is me, 2017! It’s the year of loving my flawed self.

Did you make any resolutions this year? I’d love to hear them!

 

The Rock

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That is not Alcatraz, just the view from the ferry TO Alcatraz

So my husband and I were in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, and there was no way I was going to be just outside of San Francisco and not visit Alcatraz. I’ve always been a big fan of historical tours, fascinated by criminals like Al Capone, and hated ferry rides. That last one doesn’t really fit, but the sentence needed a third thing and it’s the truth. Damn you, Block Island Ferry!

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I also have a weird obsession with touching history. Those home tours with the ropes and signs that are all “Do Not Touch” are the literal worst (and I do what I want and touch stuff anyway). Before anyone freaks out too much, I mostly just touch parts of doors/walls/window frames that probably haven’t been touched by anyone since the historical figure who once resided in said home.

At Alcatraz, you can go inside cells and rooms and run your fingers over everything. Actual conversation between my husband and me afterwards:

Me: “I just love going in historical places that let you touch everything!”
Him: “I know. You should wash your hands.”
Me: “I might have picked up Al Capone’s syphilis and you don’t just WASH THAT TYPE OF HISTORY AWAY!”

He was not impressed.

He gets impressed by things like great views, which luckily, Alcatraz has. This place has everything: history, views, possibly syphilis…you know, fun for the whole family.

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It seriously has the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge

We learned that while there were three break-outs, no one ever successfully fully escaped from Alcatraz. They ended up immediately re-imprisoned or dead (though I suppose one might argue death is the ultimate escape… #philosophy).

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One of the cells tunneled out of using broken spoons.

Alcatraz Island was also a home for the Indians of All Tribes — a group of Native Americans who occupied the rock during the early 70s in an attempt to claim it as their own land. Fun fact: all federal lands that are retired/abandoned/out-of-use are supposed to be returned to the Native Americans it was taken from. The Occupation of Alcatraz didn’t end well, but it did positively affect federal Indian policy so it’s considered a win in the longterm.

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There are really spectacular grounds, too, which are open to the public in the winter – when it’s less wet, I guess. I wasn’t really paying attention to the why it was open for us…

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And those views. If nothing else, a trip to Alcatraz is worth it for the views. I’m sure it was a glorious sort of torture for the inmates who had cells with window-views of the city. The prisoners could even hear laughter from parties in San Francisco.

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Alcatraz is the most popular tourist destination in the United States, seventh most visited in the entire world. This might turn some people off to a visit. I get it. I hate crowds, being stereotypically “touristy”, and ferries.

This. Is. Worth it. I promise. Once you’re off the crowded ferry (you can huddle outside to see the views while avoiding the worst crush of people — it’s really windy and pretty frigid so bundle up if you so choose), the island is pretty large and you can kind of wander at your leisure. The audio tour means people lump around the halls, but if you don’t like crowds, come on, you know how to navigate around the oblivious masses. You’ll be fine.

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The kitchen, where they fed prisoners better than I feed myself (because you’re not trying to revolt en masse during 20 minutes of culinary bliss)

Or skip the tour (but if you like touching history, don’t skip it) and just go look at San Francisco from a unique vantage point. It’s seriously all winning. Even the ferry ride is only 15 non-horrific minutes.

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Our wee little Chrismukkah corner…pending a *real* tree

And by that I mean baking season. Fireplaces curling smoke from chimneys. A hint of snow seasoning the air. Christmas trees glowing from living room windows. Festive music in every store, pumping up shoppers while slowly destroying the poor workers’ souls.

It’s CHRISTMAS TIME!

My husband said the most awful thing I’ve ever heard yesterday: “You know Christmas is just one day, right?”

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After demanding he get out of my life, I told him in no uncertain terms do I get to have a Christmas SEASON (and really, it’s limited to the confines of post-Thanksgiving to 12/25 so it’s not even technically a full season, so there), and I mean he gets 8 whole freaking days for Hanukkah, so he can just shut his mouth and let me do my Christmas thing.

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We just spent a week-plus in California with my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and I had many adventures I’ll be sure to write about in the coming weeks, but right now, I want to talk about cookies. My sister-in-law and I discussed a baking cookies before, during, and after Thanksgiving, but the timing wasn’t right (there were SO MANY DESSERTS already). When we got home, amidst setting up the tree and singing Christmas songs off-key, it felt like a cookie kind of day. The sky was that snowy-gray, the apartment was toasty-warm, and my fantasy football team was holding steady against a team I was sure I’d lose to.

All that was missing was a flurry of Earl Grey Lavender Cookies.

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The original recipe I used is here. I went a little wild and halved the recipe, making a small batch of my standard Earl Grey Lavender Cookies (using Adagio teas Earl Grey Lavender loose leaf tea — seriously my favorite tea ever) and experimented with the other half to create a Cocoa-Coffee Shortbread.

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*This is the result of three chopped kisses…wayyy too much

Because this recipe yields like two dozen cookies, I wasn’t trying to risk all that goodness on an experiment. Plus it’s super easy to halve, especially if you just got an amazing set of measuring spoons that range from 1/8 tsp to 2 tbs from Crate & Barrel for your birthday (husband win). For the Cocoa-Coffee batch, I subbed just under a tablespoon of Peet’s coffee and one finely chopped dark chocolate Hershey’s kiss (man am I product-placing like a champ right now or what?) in place of the tablespoon of tea leaves. These cookies came out a shade overcooked — they’d probably be best coming out of the oven right at 12 minutes. The tea cookies I had to leave for another 3 minutes or so.

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In case you need a little extra calories (wink), a swipe of Nutella across the top of the still-warm coffee cookies is heavenly. Come on, it’s the holidays. Calories don’t count at Christmas! And as we’ve already established, Christmas is all month long!

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Base Recipe – Tea Shortbread Cookies

  • 2 cups Flour
  • 2 tbs Tea Leaves
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 cup Confectioners Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Butter
  1. Sift/whisk together the flour, tea leaves, and salt, until the leaves are spotted throughout.
  2. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream flour mixture with confectioners sugar, vanilla, and butter.
  3. Put dough on a piece of plastic wrap and roll into a log, twisting both ends to seal closed. Place in fridge for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  5. Cut dough in 1/4-inch sections and arrange on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet ~2 inches apart (they do spread a little).
  6. Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are just turning golden.
  7. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Experiment with the add-ins! My best so far has been the Earl Grey Lavender, but I’ve tried other herbs, too. The coffee is pretty tasty. Thyme was…less enthusiastically received.

I’d love to hear what you try!