May 27, 2014

"Piggy" Cake

I've got to be completely honest with you, and say… I have no idea why this cake is called "Piggy Cake". All I do know is that it's delicious, and I am forced to hide it from the Hubs or I won't get any.

True story. 

Normally I'm not a fan of using too many processed ingredients. But I've been eating this cake since I was a kid (mostly at various potluck dinners), and old habits die hard. Someday I may restructure this recipe to use more natural ingredients, but for now I'm sticking with what works. Since this is only a once in a while treat, I don't feel too guilty.  

Piggy Cake
I love this recipe in the summertime because it's light and refreshing without being too sweet. It's also excellent for a crowd, and can be made in advance (in fact, it's better when made the day before!). Are you ready to make your own? I thought so. 

The ingredients

Now that we're living in Germany, I've had a hard time finding some of my preferred brands. I had to make a few substitutions, but it worked out ok. 

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine 1 box of yellow cake mix (I prefer Pillsbury, but Betty Crocker did ok), 1 stick of softened butter, 4 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and ½ cup mandarin orange juice (reserved from a 14 oz. can of mandarin oranges). Beat on medium speed for 4 minutes, until well combined. Then, add in the mandarin oranges and beat until the pieces are broken up and small. 

Mixing the batter

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9x13 pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and set. Cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. 

While the cake is cooling, make the icing. Drain the juice from a 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple. Blend the juice together with 1 package (4 ounces) of instant vanilla pudding mix. To that, add ½ cup powdered sugar and blend. Fold in 6 ounces of Cool Whip, then stir in the crushed pineapple. 

Folding in the whipped topping

Once your cake is completely cool, remove it from the pan and spread the icing over the top, allowing it to drip down the edges of the cake. Refrigerate for at least several hours. When I'm making this cake, I prefer to make it the night before. The icing sets up better after an evening in the fridge. 

When you're ready to serve, use some extra mandarin oranges to garnish each slice of cake. Be prepared to accept compliments! 

Pay no attention to the missing piece of cake from that top picture!! The Hubs did it, I swear. Ahem


I hope you enjoy this cake. I like eating the leftovers, if there are any, for breakfast. Hey, it's got fruit in it! As always, the standard recipe is below. Until next peeps, happy cooking…  

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form:

Piggy Cake


For the cake:
1 box yellow cake mix (I prefer Pillsbury)
1 stick butter, softened
1 can (14 oz) mandarin oranges, drained with the juice reserved
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:
1 package (4 oz) vanilla instant pudding mix
1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple, drained with juice reserved
½ cups powdered sugar
6 ounces frozen whipped topping, softened in the fridge
Extra mandarin oranges, for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, butter, ½ cup of the reserved mandarin orange juice, eggs, and vanilla. Beat 4 minutes on medium-high speed, then add the drained oranges and beat again, until the pieces are broken up and small. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9x13 pan.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and set. Remove cake from the oven and cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack. Turn the cake onto a serving plate before icing.

Once the cake is cool, blend the juice from the drained pineapples with the vanilla pudding mix. Add the powdered sugar and blend, then fold in the whipped cream topping. Stir in the drained pineapple. Spread this mix onto the cooled cake and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Once ready to serve, garnish each piece with a mandarin orange slice. Store leftovers in the fridge.

May 25, 2014

An American in London, Part 4

I can't believe this is my last London post… until I go back, of course! Right now, I've plans to go back again at least once this year. That's how much I loved it there (plus, I have lots of company coming that wants to visit as well). If you want to catch up on this adventure, check out Part 1, Part 1.5, Part 2, and Part 3

For the rest of you folks, here's to the last day of our adventure! A visit to Stonehenge was in the offing… and a trip to Bath. And an evening in Stratford Upon Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare! I was a little excited, can you tell?

There are lots of tour companies that provide day trips outside the city of London.  But if you want to travel a wee bit cheaper, check out Groupon deals before your visit. Our whole day was half price, thanks to a well-timed Groupon purchase, and yours could be too. 

I have to be perfectly honest here… I didn't find Stonehenge as exciting as I thought it would. I'm happy I went once, just to have seen it, but I don't feel the urge to ever go back again. There were a ton of people there, naturally. And you can't get close to the stones, of course. Our tour was rushed as we were seeing so many things in one day. I think we had about an hour or so get to the stones, walk round, and get back to the bus. 

Don't let me discourage you from going though! I did enjoy it, just not the way I expected. I think if I was to return, I'd prefer a private tour where you can actually walk into the stones. That would be awesome. 

From Stonehenge, our tour continued on to Bath, home of the famous Sally Lunn Buns. My pal Bobbi and I (the Magic Sunglasses lady) were determined to try a bun in the hour we had to wander Bath. And I am soooooo glad we did, they were fantastic!

 "Legend has long been certain that a young Huguenot refugee – Solange Luyon – came to Bath in 1680 after escaping persecution in France. She found work in the kitchen of the bakery in the street known in those days as Lilliput Alley, and originally sold the baker’s wares from a basket in the lanes around Bath Abbey. But Solange – who, due to her colleagues unfamiliarity with French pronunciation, became known as Sally Lunn – had arrived in England with a unique skill to share. She began baking a rich, generous brioche bun similar to the French festival breads that she would have been so familiar with before she fled France. The bun – designed to be enjoyed with either sweet or savoury accompaniments – quickly became a very popular delicacy in Georgian England, and it seems that customers were soon visiting the Lilliput Alley bakery specifically requesting the Sally Lunn bun.

Today, Sally’s original creation has earned legendary status around the world." - excerpt from Sally Lunn's website.

Because it was lunchtime, Bobbi and I tried the savory preparations. They were fabulous! In fact, the buns are so good, Bobbi took a whole box home with her (I wish I had too!).

We had a few minutes to wander town after lunch, before the bus arrived to take us to Stratford Upon Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare. Bath is a beautiful area, I can see why this is a popular vacation destination. On my next trip to England, I hope to spend more time here.

 Our last stop was the home of William Shakespeare! After many semesters studying his work in college, it was pretty cool to visit Stratford Upon Avon. First we had a champagne and scones reception, and then we were free to wander the house and grounds. And, of course, shop in the gift store.

Champagne and Scone reception

Birthplace of William Shakespeare 

Because our visit was on a Sunday, most of the town was closing down as we arrived. So be careful booking your own tour here, ok? Check the hours of local businesses.

After a full weekend of touring merry old London (and the outskirts), I have to say it's one of my favorite places so far. And I can't wait to go back, hopefully one day soon!

Until next time my friends, happy travels! 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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May 23, 2014

Pinterest Tested: Veggie and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

You know how I love a good guest blog post, don't you? Well this week, my pal Sunshine has sent in a recipe she tested out for us. I've been told that this dish was a huge hit in her house. So if you like Mexican flavors, you should try this for yourself. I know I'm going to!

Photo credit:

Here is the original recipe link: Cheesy Veggie and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

And here is the recipe (with changes) that Sunshine tested and found delicious…


2 yellow squash, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/3 cup onion, diced
1 Tbsp EVOO
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Black pepper, to taste
1 medium tomato, diced
1 green chili, diced
1 cup crushed tortilla chips
1 large can black beans, drained
1 cup grated cheddar

1 cup cooked, seasoned for tacos ground beef (optional)


Preheat oven to 400*

In a bowl, combine the squash, garlic, onion, EVOO, vinegar, and pepper. Set aside. Spray a 2 quart  baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside ½ cup of the black beans. In your baking dish, combine black beans, tortilla chips, and optional beef. Top with ⅓ of the cheese. Layer the tomatoes and the green chili. Layer with another ⅓ of the cheese. Top with your squash mixture. Top with remaining cheese and the reserved black beans. Bake covered at 400* for about 35 minutes or until heated through.

Thank you Sunshine for this great recipe, I can't wait to try it.

Until next time my friends, happy cooking!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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May 21, 2014

PCS Tips: Preparing for Your Movers

For anyone, moving would be a big deal. For those of us married to the military, those moves sometimes come far too often. But no matter how many times we do it, the process never seems to get easier.

There are endless lists and stressors in the weeks leading up to the move. Where are we going, what do we need to take, what should I get rid of? (If you're also prepping for an unaccompanied baggage shipment, check out my tips for that here). Luckily, we have the option of using contracted movers the military provides. Some people choose to pack themselves, but I always opt for the movers.

Why, you wonder? The answer is simple: Because if they do it, then I don't have to.

However, even if you opt for the movers, you still have a job to do. Prepping for the day your movers come is an important component of a smooth move. So because I love y'all, here's a helpful list to get you pointed in the right direction:

1. Ask Questions - This begins from your first meeting with transportation. Ask questions every step of the way. Not all moving companies are created equally, and military rules change often. Policies will vary with every move. What are your weight limits? What are your restricted items? What paperwork is required? Ask, ask, and ask some more. Better to know now than be surprised later, am I right?

2.  Empty Your Cabinets and Fridge - I start this task from the minute we have orders. It could take weeks, maybe even months, for me to get rid of everything in my fridge. All my meals in the week prior to the move are based on what is left in my pantry. Most of these items cannot be taken with you, so use them now. Save the money you would normally spend on groceries for the other side of your move. That first grocery bill in a new place is always a hefty one! Whatever I can't use before we leave, I usually give to my movers or my neighbors.

3. Photograph Your Belongings - This takes so much longer than you expect to. Document it all, my friends. Take pictures of everything, prior damages included. When photographing your electronics, make sure you take a picture with the item on and working (with the date on the photo somewhere). Write down any applicable serial numbers as well. Store these images on an external hard drive, or a computer you are hand carrying with you. Don't let the movers pack your documentation!

4. Clean Out Your Closets - It's never too early to start this process. Use your move as an opportunity to get rid of things you no longer use. Sort through closets, donate old clothing to charity. Sell items if possible. For our last move, I sold about $500 worth of items we no longer needed. This is great seed money for your move.

The excellent crew of guys from our last PCS move

5. Make Arrangements for Children & Pets - Though it's possible to have your kids and pets around  on moving day, why do it if you don't have to? The process is long and especially boring, even upsetting. Make arrangements in advance for your child to spend the day at a friend's house. Put your dog in puppy daycare or kennel them. This is one less thing you'll have to worry about on moving day. The less distractions on that day, the better. You need all your brain power to keep track of your movers.

6. Sleeping Arrangements - Where are you sleeping after your movers take your beds? Will you camp  with an air mattress, stay in a hotel, crash with friends? Plan in advance to relive the stress of last minute preparations.

7. Schedule Move Out Inspections - Once you have a date for your movers, schedule your move out inspections. If you wait until the last minute, your landlord may not be free when you'd like them to be. This could cause delays and extra costs. Be prepared!

8. Remove Wall Decorations - Start taking down your wall decorations. Many moving companies say you don't have to do this, but I always do. I like all my pictures to be packed together. Plus, when the moving inspector comes it is easy for him to see how many special boxes I will need for these items. Stack all these decorations together in one place, out of the way. Take down your curtains, wash them, then pack in ziploc bags. Put their hardware with them (labeled) so you'll be ready to hang them at your new location. I even take down our shower curtains and leave only a basic plastic liner hanging until moving day (you can get these at the dollar store!).

9. Sentimental Items - I always place my special, sentimental items to the side for my movers. They may be easily breakable or not. But when the movers arrive, I show them my stash and explain these things are very important to me. I ask that they be packed especially carefully. How does your packer know what is important to you unless you tell him? I've yet to lose or have a single item broken yet from my sentimental stuff. If possible, I take these items with me in our vehicle. But we can't always do that, especially with an OCONUS move. Communication is key.

10. Separate Your Pro Gear - Your professional gear doesn't count against your household weight, so be sure to separate this out. We try to group ours in the basement, and I place a sign on it for the packers that simply says 'Professional Gear'.

11. Be Honest - When the moving inspector arrives, be honest! He is there to preview your home, determine how many packers and boxes you will need. He is advance planning for your moving day. Show him all your spaces including garages, storage, attic, basement, stuff you have under the bed even! I'm super organized, so we always have more than meets the eye. The moving inspector needs to know those things. So tell him. Some of these spaces may need to be emptied by you prior to the packers arrival. I know we've had to bring all items down from our attic in the past, so don't be surprised if this happens to you. Remember, ask questions!

12.  Clean Your House - This may be obvious to some, but I've heard horror stories from our movers. Clean up your mess, peeps!! First of all, it's really gross to expect your movers to pack dirty crap. Second of all, aren't you embarrassed by that?! Lastly, you don't want to pack dirty, nasty things. Trust me, it's not going to look any prettier on the other side. In fact, it will be worse. One dirty item can contaminate a whole box. It's gross. So don't do it. Clean your space, for reals. Or you'll be the horror story the movers are talking about for years to come. Plus, if your home is clean and well taken care of, then your packers are more likely to take good care of your stuff. After all, if you don't care, why should they?

13. Call Your Insurance Company - The Hubs and I have an insurance policy that covers our items, even if they are in transit. Call and double check your coverage. You don't have to change your policy, or anything drastic. But be aware and make informed decisions. Keep your insurance company up-to-date with your move as well. Often, changing locations will change your rates. This can be for the better or for the worse, but it's got to be done.

14. Personal Items - If you've got any, ahempersonal items you don't want the movers to see, I suggest you pack them yourself before they come, and seal that box up tight! It's a quirk, but I always pack my own underwear and lingerie. I don't want strangers in there, ya know? Keep in mind though, that items packed by you may not be covered if anything happens to the contents.

15. Pack Your Suitcases - Start packing what will go with you on the move. Don't wait until the last minute! If these items are already set aside you'll feel better, I promise. Don't forget to include all your important paperwork (like your Everything Book), plus whatever electronic device you're storing photos on (documentation for your move!).

16. "Don't Pack It" Room - Everybody needs one of these, trust me. If it's not locked and separated, your movers are gonna pack it! If possible, clean out a closet or small room that can hold everything you don't want packed. Lock the door if you can. Put a sign on the door that says "Nothing in here gets packed!". Special Tip: Make sure your purse is in that room too. I know at least one person who had their purse packed because it wasn't where it should be. Instead of a room, you can use your car for this as well. Just remember to lock up, and keep those car keys in your pocket! If they're on a counter, guess  what will happen? They'll be packed.

17. Empty All Appliances and Your Trash - If you don't empty your trashcan before the movers arrive, guess what will happen? It will be packed! Gross, right? So don't do it. Also remember to empty your dishwasher, washing machine, and oven. Do you keep those extra cookie sheets in the oven? Take 'em out, peeps! Really great movers will check here, but not all movers are created equal. You just never know what they will/will not do, so be prepared.

18. Don't Leave Valuables Lying Around - I've never had a problem with any of our movers taking things, but you just never know. If you have expensive jewelry or cash lying around, put it away! Carry these items with you or lock them in a safe.

19. Small, Loose Items - This is mostly in reference to desk drawers, or crafter rooms. All the those paperclips that are so organized in your desk organizer? Yep, that's all just going to get dumped in a box. You know how your craft room is so neat, with everything in it's own little container? That's all getting dumped in a box too. If you don't want these items scattered three sheets to the wind, then I suggest taping lids on things, or separating small items into ziploc bags. If you don't, fully expect to have a box of jumbled junk. It's not your mover's job to keep your items organized, it's their job to pack it. Do some prep work, and you won't be disappointed.

20. Meal Plan - I pretty much plan to eat takeout for my last few days at a duty station. But that still means I need plastic forks and knives, paper plates, maybe some tupperware and plastic cups. Keep snacks around that won't go bad, like granola bars. Whatever you don't finish, take with you in the car. Nobody wants to be 'hangry' (hungry and angry) during moving day.

21. Feed Your Movers - I know a lot of people may not agree with me, but I always provide food and drinks for my movers. People who appreciate you take better care of your stuff. They work hard, ya know? It's a simple kindness to provide sustenance. I'm going to eat anyway, so why not share? You aren't required to do this, and it's completely your choice either way, this is just my opinion. If you decide to provide food and drink, I have a handy list of suggestions at the bottom of this page. After all, if everyone bought pizza for you every, single day, you might appreciate it but wouldn't you get sick of it? Try some variety.

22. Be Watchful - Be with your movers while they are packing. Stay out of their way (these guys have a system, so don't mess it up), but don't be afraid to ask questions. And be prepared to answer questions if your packers have any themselves. One thing I always make sure to ask is, "Where is all my hardware going, and is it labeled?" If I haven't done this myself prior to packing day, I want to know where my hardware is. For example, the movers take apart your TV stand… where are the screws? Are they labeled? Will I know how to find them on the other end of my move? If I don't ask, these things wind up in very strange places. Be aware of what is happening with your belongings.

23. Stay Out of the Way - If possible, don't interrupt the flow of your packers and movers. Interrupting them too often will only cause delays in your packing. These guys (or ladies) are an efficient team. This is their job. They do it everyday. This means they know what they are doing. Sure, be aware. Yes, speak up if you need to. But be polite and respectful. I can't stress this enough… movers are people too, so treat them the way you would expect to be treated.

24. Keep A List - During packing day, I take notes when I can. I know you're wondering what I'm writing down, huh? Maybe it seems like too much effort for some, but I keep track of a few box numbers. Like, which box are my sheets and towels in? I write that down. Or my dishes? I write that down too. By the end of a move, there are so many dang boxes. If I know a few key box numbers in advance, I can set those aside as they come off the ruck on the other end of my move. Then I unpack those boxes first, and we have our basic necessities right away. Now you think I'm smart, dontcha? I also keep note of where all my hardware is. Trust me, after a while you forget these things. It's nice to have a list that say "The bed frame screws are in Box X".

25. Inspect Your Paperwork - At the end of moving day, you are expected to sign an inventory. Be vigilant! I find it best to review each sheet as it is completed throughout the day, rather than trying to sort it all at once. Each box should have a detailed description. Damages should be noted. If you dispute any pre-move assessment of your things, speak up. But do so politely, seriously. Being a pain-in-the-you-know-what won't get you anywhere. Make sure the serial numbers for electronics, etc. are included on the inventory sheet.

26. SMILE and SAY THANK YOU - This costs you absolutely nothing, and can definitely go a long way. Please don't treat your movers disrespectfully. I've never had an issue with any of our movers, and our stuff always arrives in great condition. We've had a few small items broken (like a glass here and there), but never anything major. Remember the golden rule, peeps!!! Treat others as you expect to be treated. I think you'll be pleased with the results. This is honestly the best tip I can give you.

All that's left after our movers finish! 

So, those are my top 26 tips for preparing for your movers! I also want to pass along some sage words of wisdom. Your stuff is just that… stuff. When all is said and done, don't stress about this too much. If an item is super important to you, take it with you. If that's not possible (like on an OCONUS move) leave the item with someone you trust, or ask your movers to be extra careful with that piece. 

Because I think y'all are awesome people, I'm also going to include some suggestions for moving day lunches (and breakfast too, in case it's an early move day). Remember, you aren't required to feed your movers, but it's a nice gesture. AND, there is also a list of commonly prohibited items for you as well. I want you to be as prepared as you can be!

Moving Day Lunch Options: (remember to have paper plates, napkins, and plastic silverware available) 

Portable Snacks - think granola bars, apples, bananas, crackers, cheese sticks, chips, muffins, donuts. Anything grab and go is a great snack. Movers often don't like to stop when they have a rhythm, so these are great.

Sandwiches & Salad - We've taken orders and picked up Subway for our packers, but we've also purchased ingredients so everyone can make their own. Lunchmeat, cheese, bread, and a few condiments are great. Plus, this is a good way to use up those open jars of mayonnaise and mustard that are hanging out in your fridge. If you're on a budget, go with PB&J, that's always a crowd pleaser. We sometimes lay out salad fixings as well, another great way to get rid of leftover dressing in the fridge. You don't need to be fancy, just cut up some lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and viola!. It's salad.

Vegetable/Fruit Tray - I can't explain how much our movers appreciate a tray of fresh fruits and vegetables. For the people who actually offer lunch, they often choose quick, fast food options. I buy a pre-made veggie tray for every move, and it's always the first thing to go. Your commissary is a great resource for these. We try to keep some apples, bananas, and grapes available too. Whatever the movers don't eat, we take on our car ride or to the hotel.

Beverages - We always, always have plenty of bottled water and Gatorade on hand for our movers. It's hot, sweaty work they are doing, so I want my guys to be hydrated. If it's an early morning start, we also keep coffee on hand, even if it's instant. For overseas moves, it's fun to have American soda available (like Dr. Pepper) that aren't as readily available in your location.

Takeout - You can always order delivery (or pick up) if you don't want to bother with the items listed above. Common options are pizza, subs, burgers and fries, Chinese, BBQ, and fried chicken (a bucket goes a long way!). It's a good idea to have a menu on hand, so everyone can order off of it. Or I pull the menu up online from my laptop.

Common Prohibited Items: (some of the items on this list will vary based on location and where you are moving to, also the moving company you are using. Remember, ask questions!)

Liquids of any kind, aerosols, candles, flammables, weapons and ammunition, batteries, chemicals, household cleaners, gas, charcoal, lighter fluid, fireworks, fertilizer, alcohol, fire extinguishers, paint, paint thinners, varnish, refrigerated or frozen foods, partially used food items, plants, produce,

That's all for now, my friends! If for some reason your move goes horribly wrong, I am sorry. Check out this FB page for the Military Movers Wall of Shame. It might help you find missing boxes, or provide an outlet for your frustration. If you've got tips to add to this list, please add them to the comments! I'll be back soon with more tips and tricks to help you on your way.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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May 19, 2014

Creamy Lemon Parmesan Dressing

With spring turning to summer, I've been searching out recipes that don't require the use of my oven. So far, this means a lot of salads and sandwiches, and crockpot meals. Since I'm also on a quest to make things from scratch, I decided to try my hand at salad dressing. Aaaaaannnnnnnnnd, I had some fresh lemons going bad.

Hence how this lemon parmesan dressing came to be. 

Here's the thing about homemade salad dressings: they're best served fresh, and they don't keep very long in the fridge. Without all the chemicals and preservatives in them, it's not safe to store these in your fridge for more than a day, maybe two. That's why I kept this recipe small. After mixing, this will dress  4-6 salads, depending on size. If you need less, simply halve the recipe. 

The ingredients

I almost always have these ingredients on hand. I like acidic, fresh dressing on my salad. I'm definitely not a ranch dressing person (unlike the Hubs). BUT, even the Hubs liked this, so I figured that made the recipe ready to share with you. 

 Are you ready for how simple this is? Ok. 

Whisk together ½ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, ½ teaspoon lemon zest, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, 1 clove finely minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. 

Are you good so far? Ok. 

To that mixture, slowly pour in 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, whisking the entire time. Once combined, stir in ⅓ cup finely grated parmesan cheese. 

That's it. Seriously. 

Serve over your favorite salad fixings. Ta da! 

Even the Hubs can make this. I especially like this over a salad of fresh greens with sweet corn, avocado, tomato, green pepper, and chicken. Nom nom nom… 

I'll be back again soon with more summer friendly recipes. Until then, happy cooking! 

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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May 15, 2014

An American in London, Part 3

Soooo, where did we leave off? Ah yes, we'd completed the walking tour. Boo-Dah-Washy and I were wandering the streets of London, not quite aimlessly but close (if you want to catch up on this trip, Check out Part 1, Part 1.5, and Part 2).

We tried for a bit to meet up with a friend of mine, but you know what I've learned? My pre-paid cell phone doesn't truly get service once I leave Germany.


This is not conducive for good communication. Since we couldn't consistently keep to wifi hotspots, signals were crossed and the meet up never happened. I did learn something else interesting though. THIS is not the "London Bridge":

The bridge I stood on to take that picture (above) is actually the London Bridge. The bridge in the picture is called "Tower Bridge".

You learn something new every day!

Whatever it's name, the bridge is super pretty and photogenic. I convinced Boo-Dah-Washy to visit it with me in both daylight and darkness. Despite our long day and achy feet, she went back with me at the close of the night. She rocks!

After our confusion over the bridges, we made our way to Notting Hill, mostly because we've both seen the movie of the same name. You know, the one with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts? We were hoping to make the Portobello Market before closing time. Despite a slight detour, we did find it. Sorry about the photo quality, but we were shopping, man!

Portobello Market
The vendors began to close as we arrived, but we wandered the street for a bit. The energy was great. I'll definitely check this market out earlier in the day on my next London visit.

After a brief stop for dinner and then a shopping spree at Harrods, we ventured toward Piccadilly Circus. That's where the party is at, peeps!


Piccadilly Circus reminds me of Times Square, New York. It's all lights, and people, and movement.

The Circus also boasts London's M&M World. Rumor has it that this is the largest candy store in the world. Boo-Dah-Washy was in M&M heaven…

We shopped and shopped (until ready to drop, seriously), but eventually we made our way back to the hotel room. The next day was our Stonehenge and Bath tour, and I couldn't wait!

I'll be back soon with the final installment of our London adventure. Until then, happy travels!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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May 13, 2014

Hard Rock Chicken Salad

Several years ago, I ate at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square with my pal, Becky. That's right, people… I said years. When it comes to food, I always remember the good stuff.

While there, I chowed down on what I assumed would be a basic chicken salad. Instead, I received a sandwich that has stayed in my memory for so long, I now have to recreate it. Luckily, I was smart enough to take a picture of the menu description, whew! So I had a basic idea of what was needed for this beauty.

The menu description stated, "Poached chicken with celery and green onions, in a light citrus mayo with dijon and dill. Served on a toasted hoagie with spring mix, cranberries, and goat cheese".

I totally got this!

I started with the citrus mayo. Easy peasy, people.

Citrus mayo ingrediente 

Naturally, I forgot one ingredient in the picture above. Pretend there's salt in there, ok?

To make the citrus mayo, mix together ¾ cup mayonnaise with 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice, ½ teaspoon orange zest, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. You could throw in a little lemon zest too, if you wanted. I just like the orange flavor a bit more. Sometimes I zest a little of both.

And that's it! See how simple that was? Now on to the chicken itself.

Start with 3 cups of cooked, diced chicken breast. I poached my chicken in the crockpot, because it is way too hot to turn on my oven right now. You can cook yours any way you like, but I love how moist and juicy poached chicken is.

How to poach chicken in a crockpot

 To your diced chicken, we're going to mix in a few things...

To the chicken, add the citrus mayo, 2 stalks of diced celery, 2 tablespoons minced green onions (just the green part), ¼ cup dried cranberries, and ¼ cup of chopped, honey roasted pecans. Your chicken salad should look a little bit like this:

At this point, chill the salad until you're ready to serve it. When you're ready to make sandwiches, we'll add a few more things.

I really want a sandwich now. Seriously might need to raid my fridge.


Slice your bread roll in half. I prefer a crustier bread roll, definitely not plain sandwich bread. Look for kaiser or onion rolls, or maybe ciabatta bread. Yum. 

Add a little mayo to the top piece of bread. You can also add dijon to the bottom piece, but I found this to be overwhelming. If you want my advice, don't do it. But if you really want to… well, it's your sandwich.

Pile some of the chicken salad on the bottom half of your bread (this should make 4 sandwiches). Sprinkle about 1 ounce of crumbled goat cheese on top, and then about ½ teaspoon of fresh dill. Top with a bit of spring mix and the other side of the bun, and viola! Hard Rock Chicken Salad Sandwich.

Basic, simple, tasty, and perfect for that summer heat. Serve with some fresh fruit or a green salad. Later this week, I'll show you an easy recipe for creamy lemon salad dressing… it would go great with on a side salad for this sandwich!

What are your favorite recipes to beat the heat? Comment below with your favorites, or send me your pins. I love testing out new things.

Until next time, happy cooking!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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The Standard Form:

Hard Rock Chicken Salad

3 cups poached chicken, diced
Citrus mayo (recipe below)
2 stalks celery, diced small
2 tablespoons green onion, minced
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup honey roasted pecans, chopped 
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons fresh dill (about 2 sprigs)
Spring mix, for garnish
4 rolls, such as Ciabatta or Kaiser


Combine the poached chicken with the citrus mayo, celery, green onion, cranberries, and pecans. Stir until well combined. Chill 1 hour before serving.

To serve, slice the bread rolls in half. Spread one side with a thin layer of additional mayo, or Dijon if desired. Mound chicken salad on the bottom half of the bread. Top the salad with 1 oz. crumbled goat cheese, ½  teaspoon of fresh dill, and spring mix. Add top piece of bread. Serve with a green salad.

For the citrus mayo: Combine ¾ cup mayonnaise with 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice, ½ teaspoon orange zest, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.  

May 12, 2014

Calamari Vary, a.k.a. Karlovy Vary

After our Girls Night In, complete with fondue and movie night, the ladies and I were ready for our trip to Calamari Vary!

I mean, Karlovy Vary.

Some peeps aren't so good with the pronunciation, so this became our inside joke. It's probably not that funny to you, huh? I guess you just had to be there.

As you can see, there was way too much fun to be had!

The idea to visit this town came from the movie, Last Holiday, since it was filmed there. Much of the movie took place at the GrandHotel Pupp, and I was dying to see it! From Hohenfels, the trip is a little over two hours long, easily doable in a day. Here are the things you should know:

1. You MUST purchase a vignette for this trip (at least from the direction we drove in from). This covers the toll tax on certain roads. Many European countries require these, so always check before your trip if it's necessary.


The smallest vignette we could purchase was for 10 days. Of course, we didn't need the whole ten days, but that's the way it works. The price was 11,50 Euro. The directions for use are on the back of the vignette, they tell you what information to write on it and where to place the sticker on your car.

2. When you stop for the vignette, I highly suggest using the ATM at the gas station. We stopped at the first gas station right over the border. These nearly always carry the vignettes you need, so it's best to purchase right away rather than search for one later.

Czech koruna

The reason I tell you to use the ATM there is this: we could only find one ATM in Karlovy Vary, and it was nearly a 2km walk! There were lots of places to exchange your money if you had euros on you, but the rates would not have been as good. Many of the places we stopped would only accept the Czech koruna, and they would not take credit cards.

3. Pick your parking deck before you go, and plug that into your GPS. I'm happy we did this, the town can be confusing to drive in. My GPS took us straight to the parking deck. I chose one on Libusina Street, with security cameras and a free WC. The whole day only cost about 11 US dollars. Worth it!

Ok, enough of the practical stuff. Let's get to the fun!

View of the GrandHotel Pupp

The main street in Karlovy Vary

We turned right out of the parking garage and headed down the hill into town. One of the first things we saw was the GrandHotel Pupp! If you've seen the movie, then I'm sure you recognize this. After a mad search for the ATM (don't be like us, people!), we made our way to the Diana Observation tower. There are several of the towers around town, accessible from a funicular (cost was 80 Czech koruna for the roundtrip). Our plan was to see the view and grab lunch at the top.

Diana Observation Tower

The restaurant was good, and not too crowded. You can take an elevator to the top of the tower (free), and there is even a petting zoo behind the restaurant. If you want, you can hike back to town instead of taking the funicular.

Top of Diana Observation Tower

We saved room for dessert after our meal, because we were headed back down the mountain to Cafe Pupp! Mmmmm….. chocolate and cake and yummy goodness…

Dessert at Cafe Pupp

I have to be honest here. We were those crazy tourists taking pictures of everything! We even managed a selfie (taken by our Selfie Queen, Deborah):

I don't care (much) that people stared. The hotel was gorgeous, and the cake was so dang good. We were a little rotten, but who isn't every once in a while?

We did everything I wanted with our day, we even tasted the extra-special, supposedly healthy, funny tasting spring water:

Drinking the mineral water… we have very different reactions, ha! 

You buy special cups (the handle is a straw!), so the minerals don't all settle on the bottom of your glass. The cups are sold from street vendors everywhere, and they weren't expensive. I think the prices converted to about 5 US dollars. You can also just bring an empty bottle of your own if you want.

The drinking fountains are all over town. If you're thirsty, just walk up and grab a sip. Fair warning though… the water is hot from the natural spring, it definitely tastes "different", and because of its so-called healing properties I would consider it a cleanse. As in, don't drink much unless you want to spend your day in the bathroom. Capisce?

We also sampled the local wafer cookies, and totally fell in love.

Someone ate theirs before I got a pic. That someone was not me. Well, not me alone anyway.

The cookies are sold everywhere on the street, individually like above or in boxes. Care to guess how many boxes I came home with?!

To round out our day, we finished with a horse and buggy ride around town. It was a great opportunity to get off our feet for a bit, relax and enjoy.

As seems to be the usual, we were blessed with great weather (thanks to our Magic Sunglasses lady). I'm so lucky to have such great neighbors to hang out with, and I can't wait for our next adventure.

Until next time my friends, happy travels!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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