Book List 2014

It has recently become painfully obvious that, in any given week, there are just simply not enough hours to accommodate all of the various “lounging” activities that I want to accomplish. I’m definitely not one of those people who always likes to have a “project.” No, I’m generally happiest when I have plenty of time in my schedule to do basically anything that can be done laying down sitting up like a respectable human with a glass of wine in hand. I mean, between watching Netflix, keeping up with new fall television on Hulu, perusing the internet, cooking, and reading books, blogs and magazines, there is really plenty to keep me occupied in the relaxation department. (It’s this mentality that has me convinced that I will be the best and happiest retiree ever…)

Recently, however, I’ve realized that I’ve let the balance shift a bit too far in favor of Netflix and Hulu at the expense of other equally important endeavors like reading actual books. I am adding books to my reading list far faster than I’m crossing them off and it’s time to do something about it!

I’m challenging myself to finish four of the books on the list below (in no particular order) between now and December 31.

  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith - I’m currently about halfway through this book. Zadie Smith has been on my list for quite some, but she recently got bumped up to the top of my list when I found out she is speaking at the Wexner Center in November. So far, I’m loving her writing style. Based on how acclaimed she is, I was surprised by how humorous and accessible this book is.
  • On Beauty, Zadie Smith - very excited to start this one next!
  • The Secret History, Donna Tartt – I read The Goldfinch, but didn’t think it lived up to the hype. I’ve heard that some people prefer this book by the same author, so I’ll be interested to see how it compares.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou - this is the inaugural book of the law school friends book club. It’s about time I read this classic.
  • The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls – a good friend of mine recommended this to me and since then, I feel like I’ve been hearing about it everywhere. This is a pretty short book, so it may be a good choice for my four-books-before-2015 challenge.
  • The One and Only, Emily Giffin – hey, man. Everyone needs a silly book every once in a while. I liked Something Blue but didn’t really get into any of the other books in that series. I’m willing to give this one a shot, though!
  • The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty - I’ve heard a lot about this one from a lot of different people. Based on its apparent far-reaching popularity, I’m sure that I will really enjoy it once I read it, but I have to say that the concept and author don’t really draw me in and excite me.
  • Thirty Girls, Susan Minot - I read a review of this book in Vanity Fair, and the premise sounded really intriguing. It deals with girls captured by Kony’s army, but in a personal and human way. We’ll see!
  • The Nixon Defense, John Dean - I like reading nonfiction but I almost never do. It feels so daunting to dive in to something so heavy. I’m sure that I will continue to move this book to the bottom of my list, but it’s on there and hopefully someday I’ll get to it!

There are more books on the actual list of books to read that I keep on my phone, but I’ll leave it at that for this post. I’ll plan to report back with my progress and thoughts on the books that make it into the next four!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

Almost as soon as I mentioned in this post how much I hate baking, I got this weird craving to bake something! I can’t tell you how unprecedented that is for me. I decided to run with it, though, and have actually made TWO different baked items so far this fall!

The first one was pumpkin bread which I believe turned out pretty well. I gave it away to my friend, Meghan, and her husband, who was sick. The thing about making bread for someone is that, because it would be fairly awkward to deliver someone a loaf of bread with a slice or two missing, you don’t get to sample the bread to make sure that it’s edible before you deliver it to your unwitting lucky friends…So like I said, I believe the pumpkin bread turned out well, but I really can’t say for sure.

With that in mind, I decided that for my second baking endeavor, a “welcome back to Columbus!” treat for my friend, Jessica, I should to stick with something that I could actually taste before giving to her. I had found these pumpkin cream cheese muffins on Pinterest a while back, and I just knew that I needed to use my rare baking ambition on them.

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I immediately read through the list of ingredients and made a list of the things I needed to buy. My plan was to make the muffins on a Sunday night so that I could deliver them to Jessica when I saw her on Monday. Once I got home with the ingredients, I put everything away and planned to begin baking a few hours later. What I had neglected to do at this point, was to read through the entire recipe.

Listen, there is very little that I remember from sixth grade science. I honestly don’t even know one substantive thing we learned that year and I only think that my teacher was named Ms. Hutchins. Needless to say, I was not destined to be a scientist. BUT. The one thing I do remember from that class is one particular lesson that I think about (and disregard) often.

We were handed a piece of paper with instructions for whatever experiment we were supposedly conducting that day. I, like most students, read instruction number one, completed it, moved on to the next, and so on and so forth until I got to the last item on the list. The final instruction said, “Tear up this paper and do not perform this experiment” or something to that effect. The lesson was that you should always read through ALL of the instructions before beginning a project. A really, really great little tidbit that can save you a lot of time if you ever remember to do it. Or, if you’re me, this sixth grade science lesson can just frustrate the hell out of you every. single. time. you don’t do it and it comes back to bite you in the butt.

So, if it wasn’t obvious by now (which I’m not saying it should be, as I’m relatively notorious for going on these long tangents that serve no obvious purpose), reading the instructions in advance on this recipe would have been helpful and prevented me from being awake until midnight finishing the muffins.

The first step of making these muffins is to prepare the cream cheese filling (which is DANGEROUSLY easy to do and I’m somewhat upset that I know that now) and then let it chill in the freezer for at least two hours so that it’s easier to work with.

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THEN, two hours later, you start baking in earnest. And luckily for me, the muffins were pretty easy to make.

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Aaaaand luckily for me, they turned out great!

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I ate a couple and then gave the rest away. A few to Jessica, a few to my dog walker and more than a few to my parents, figuring that my brother and “someone else” (my dad) would eat them.

One final tangent: baking is usually a lot easier when you don’t have to straddle a giant dog while doing it…

Sasha'sspot

Run Like A Girl 10K

A departure today.

This past weekend, I ran in a race here in Columbus. Shock and awe on the part of some readers, no doubt! Over the past couple of years, I have slowly (in every respect that the word “slowly” can be applied to me as a runner, go ahead and apply it) taken up running. No one (except maybe my mom…thanks for the support, FAMILY) is as surprised by this as I am.

I have basically spent my entire life hating running. Even in elementary school, I would DREAD the day in gym class where we had to run the mile. Actually, who am I kidding, I basically hated every day in gym class because I’m bad at sports, uncompetitive, have anxiety about team activities and I had to wear shorts or pants, which I hated like CRAZY. But the days when we had to run the mile really stand out in my mind as being especially bad because, although I hated all the other stuff we had to do, I wasn’t physically incapable of doing any of it. With the mile though, it was a different story. I just could not do it.

(Pretty sure the fact that I did things like this is why my mom had to have a talk with me about why I had to wear shorts in gym class...)

(Pretty sure the fact that I did things like this is why my mom had to have a talk with me about why I had to wear shorts in gym class…)

Now it’s not like I have always been in terrible shape or anything. Growing up, I was pretty active in things like dance, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, etc. But I didn’t really play any sports for which running was a major requirement. Again, the anxiety about team sports. And then in college and law school, I worked out pretty regularly but I never would just go out and go for a run. So I can honestly say that it wasn’t until embarrassingly recently that I actually conquered my first one-mile run. Oh and did I mention that it was about three weeks before I was supposed to run an entire half-marathon? Ha.

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After college and law school, as I was settling into life as an attorney, I came to two realizations. One, I realized that I had gotten ridiculously out of shape. And two, I realized that I hadn’t done anything in recent memory that made me feel nothing but happiness and pride. Yes I had graduated from college and law school, passed the bar exam and begun working, but all of those things felt like more of a relief than anything else. It’s kind of expected when you go to college that you’ll graduate. Same with law school. So even though it was great and I felt good about it, I never had an overwhelming sense of happiness about those things. So I set out to find something I could do that would challenge me in a new way and make me feel a sense of accomplishment and joy.

And that’s about the time my friends, Jamie and Sara, suggested that I run a half marathon with them.

My friend, Sara, is a pretty serious runner. She planned to come to Cincinnati to visit another friend of hers and to run the Flying Pig Half Marathon, and she somehow convinced Jamie to run it too. They texted me about six months before the race and basically said, “You live so close and you have six months to train so there are no excuses and we’ll hate you forever if you don’t run this race with us.” Well long story short, I signed up for the half marathon. And I could barely run a quarter of a mile at a time. That is not an exaggeration (i.e., “One, I realized that I had gotten ridiculously out of shape”).

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I did actually complete that Cincinnati half marathon. But it was not fun. In fact, it hurt. A lot. First, there’s the fact that it’s 13.1 miles. Secondly, Cincinnati is hilly. Third, I SUCK AT RUNNING. And fourth, six months is not enough time to go from being an out of shape person who can barely run a quarter of a mile to being a person who can comfortably run 13.1 miles of hills.

Yet for some completely insane reason, after The Flying Pig (like, pretty long after…once I had kind of forgotten how much I hated every single second of it), I wanted to do another half marathon. I thought, if I could finish The Flying Pig under some pretty terrible circumstances, imagine how much better I could do if I ran another one. I also felt that toward the end of my “training,” I had made somewhat of a breakthrough with my ability to run, and I didn’t want to let all the hard work it had taken to get to that point slip away. And by breakthrough, I mean that I actually ran for two straight miles on the treadmill once.

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So here we are today and I have run three half marathons. I am still incredibly slow. But each one has been less painful than the one before it.

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And this weekend, I ran a 10K. For the first time in my life, running 6 miles didn’t suck and didn’t make me want to die. It actually felt good? As I was running, I was aware of what a strange turn of events this is in my life. At some point during the past year and a half, I have become a person who can just go out without really having trained, run 6.2 miles and not hate it. Weird.

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Fodor’s 2014 Hotel List

Have I mentioned here before how much I love hotels? Well, even if I have, it bears repeating. I love hotels. Even mediocre hotels. Honestly, eating room service in a Hampton Inn could possibly make me the happiest person alive. (I also love room service. I think this contributes to my love for hotels, but even without room service, there’s just something about staying in a hotel that makes me very happy).

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Sometimes, when I’m bored and feeling especially masochistic, I get online and look at luxury hotels and apartments. Jetsetter.com is a favorite online destination of mine. It’s basically Groupon for luxury vacations. They have deals on gorgeous hotels around the world and I like to look at all the beautiful pictures and read about the amazing amenities the hotels offer. I would say that compulsively looking at pictures of amazing places I’ll never go is among my more depressing online pastimes. Not my most depressing online pastime, mind you, but it’s up there.

(For the record, the internet habit that I would consider to be the most depressing thing I do online is constantly checking and looking at pictures of all of the adoptable puppies at various shelters around town. Why I do these things to myself, I’ll never understand.)

So uh yeah, back to hotels. I came across Fodor’s 2014 Hotel List earlier this week, and I was intrigued. It is a list of all the best hotels around the world broken down into different categories.

My favorite categories were Country Retreat and Trip of a Lifetime, BUT there was one hotel in the “Boutique Chic” category that stuck out in my mind – The Cavas Wine Lodge. The Cavas Wine Lodge in Mendoza, Argentina sounds so up my alley. First of all, as the name implies, it’s a wine lodge. So there’s that. The description also notes that it has a wonderful spa where you can partake in relaxing activities such as aromatherapy and vinotherapy. VINOTHERAPY.

Listen, I have absolutely no idea what vinotherapy entails. I actually don’t think it’s a real thing that people do or know about (and if it is, I clearly am hanging in the wrong circles). But in my mind’s eye, vinotherapy involves sitting in a whirling hot tub at this amazing luxury hotel in Argentina, drinking wine and gossiping. Because that is alllll the therapy – aroma, vino or otherwise – that I would ever need if I could go on a vacation like that.

Anyway, if you’re bored and feeling like you need to hate your life choices a little bit more, check out the list! Or, if you’re the kind of person who is going to use this list for the purpose of planning your future vacations, adopt me!

Law School Friends Cook

This post is a unique one – a bit of cooking, a bit of sappiness and a bit of abject failure. As everyone who reads this blog knows, I currently live in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio; however, I went to college in Nashville and law school in St. Louis. During the seven years I was in school, I made some of the absolute best friends in the world. No joke. College and law school were where I met my people. This was such a huge blessing, and I am so lucky that at every stage of my life, I have been lucky enough to meet some truly amazing, interesting and intelligent people who I love and who know and (seem to) like me for me. It’s a double edged sword that now none of us live in the same city. On the one hand, it’s amazing to know people in just about every city you can imagine. On the other hand, it’s hard to have most of your good friends living far away from you.

A couple weeks ago, I ventured back to St. Louis to hang out with some of my friends from law school. It was a really fun trip despite the fact that we only did the dorkiest activities like hanging out in a classroom at the law school and discussing all the ethereal and difficult legal doctrines we didn’t quite learn in school and starting a book club the premise of which is to read only the least fun literature and drink no wine while we discuss the books in a scholarly manner.

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Quick side note – the building we’re standing in front of in this photo is our law school. You’ll notice that the building is called Anheuser-Busch Hall. I swear I went to a legitimate and accredited law school. Everything in St. Louis is just connected to AB in some way!

My friend, MK (the one on the left in the above photo), used to occasionally write an extremely funny blog where she documented her usually unsuccessful attempts to learn how to cook. Over the course of the weekend, Meg (the one in the middle) and I begged her to revive her blog because it was so enjoyable to read – partially because it makes me happy to hear that other people are bad at things and partially because it makes me happy to hear about MK being bad at things. HA! I kid, I kid.

MK came up with a modified concept for her blog wherein she will have various friends send her recipes to try and after making them, she will write about her experience. I volunteered to be the first recipe contributor. I picked out this Skinnytaste recipe for Chicken Francese. When selecting a recipe, I was looking for something that would be relatively straightforward but not completely foolproof. I mean where’s the fun in foolproof? Well guess what. This came back to bite me. MK’s final product turned out to be edible and mine well…did not. Let’s dive right in.

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Now, the actual recipe is pretty straightforward and this post is getting extremely long, so I’m not going to go into all the details of what I did and what went wrong. The short version is that I had the heat on my pan way too high and it’s really difficult to sear something in a pan without using actual oil. What ended up happening was that the outside of the chicken got burned, yet the interior remained raw.

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I texted Meg and MK to inform them that my own recipe had backfired on me. Meg suggested putting the chicken in the oven and cooking it for 15 minutes so that it would at least be edible. Meg’s suggestion ended up salvaging this recipe for me and preventing me from having to throw away two pounds of chicken. Yes, that’s right. I had cooked TWO POUNDS of chicken for myself. I mean seriously, what kind of lunatic does that?

MK on the other hand, I can only assume, made a normal amount of chicken for individual consumption. However, what she lacked in chicken, she more than made up for in parsley. When we were in St. Louis, MK had mentioned wanting to purchase an entire herb garden and grow fresh herbs on the balcony of her apartment. I didn’t purposefully choose a recipe that called for a small amount of fresh herbs, but in retrospect, the fact that the recipe suggested using parsley ended up being my favorite part of this entire experience.

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I, for one, used these dried parsley flakes…like a normal person. MK, on the other hand, decided that this was the perfect reason to buy the herb garden she’d been wanting. She literally bought an entire potted plant of parsley from which she harvested the three tablespoons of parsley she needed for this recipe. Realizing that her balcony did not get enough direct sunlight to keep her parsley alive, she began searching for alternative solutions. Many people would come up with “sun lamp” or “don’t buy an herb garden.” MK, on the other hand, came up with this idea:

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Yes. That’s right. My friend MK is literally transporting a plant to and from her office so that it can sit in her car and get sun while she works. It is receiving text messages like this that remind me that I really have the best and most amazing friends in the world.

In conclusion, the chicken francese was not the best tasting thing I’ve ever made, but I can honestly say that if this the price I have to pay to coerce MK into blogging again, then I will gladly pay it! MK – GAME ON.

Family Vacation: Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island is a place that I’ve always heard a lot about (seriously, everyone from Ohio goes there for some reason), but had never given a lot of thought to. If you would have asked me prior to the trip what I expected it to be like, I would have told you that I really didn’t have any expectations for it. However, when I arrived in Hilton Head, I realized that at some level, I must have had some assumptions about what it would be like because at every turn, I kept finding myself thinking ‘huh. that’s not what I expected this to be like…’

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Let me begin by saying that I had a GREAT time in Hilton Head with my family. It was literally the perfect beach vacation – super, super quiet and relaxing. We also lucked out and had great weather for the vast majority of the time we were there. I was trying to remember the last time I took a vacation like this; a vacation for the sole purpose of lazing around, not worrying about seeing sites and having an itinerary. I couldn’t remember!

It was completely amazing and perfect and relaxing. I read three books (two of which were on the socially acceptable side of trashy beach reads), I got a tan, I played catch with my brothers and dad in the ocean and I SLEPT. It was awesome!

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In addition to those relaxing non-activity activities, we also rented bikes and went on an eight-mile ride.

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Hilton Head has a ton of bike paths and it seems that biking is really prevalent there. It was not expensive to rent these bikes for a day, so we got four and went on a family ride. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure that all four of us felt the same way. Let me just say that riding a bike is apparently not like riding a bike. As in, you don’t just automatically know how to do it once you’ve learned. But regardless, there were no real mishaps and it was a fun thing to do…at least for most of us.

The other cool thing we did was that we hung out with a couple friends. My friend, Sara, happened to be in Hilton Head, so she and I met up to go for a sunrise run along with Sara’s friend, Wellsley, and my brother’s girlfriend, Anne. I am a SUPER slow and terrible runner, but it was good to see Sara and Wellsley. Even though they insisted upon torturing me and making me run with them at 7 am. I’d say the view alone made it at least somewhat worthwhile.

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We met up with a couple of my parents’ friends, as well. My dad’s friend, Chris, has lived in Hilton Head for the past thirty years, making me wonder why everyone doesn’t do that. Isn’t it weird that it has never occurred to me that you could just move to the beach before retirement and get a regular job and live where most people vacation? Why doesn’t everyone do this? It was nice to meet Chris and he and his wife took us out to dinner at a place called Charlie Etoile Verte or “Charlie Five Stars.” I’m really confused by the name of the restaurant because Etoile Verte translates to “green star” not five star. But whatever. Charlie Five Stars was a fun spot and it was cool to meet Chris and his wife.

We also went out to Daufuskie Island to see one of my mom’s friends, Becky, who has a house there. Daufuskie Island was a really interesting place. It’s a tiny island off of Hilton Head Island. You have to take a boat to get there, so there are really no cars on the Island. It’s also so small that there really aren’t stores or restaurants or anything like that. What it does have is a very nice golf course and a lot of very nice houses. Everyone gets around on golf carts.

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Daufuskie Island is extremely pretty and all the houses we saw were huge, beautiful and would have had incredible views of the ocean. Becky took us to the bar at the golf club, which is one of the very few restaurants on Daufuskie Island. The club (and the entire part of the island that we saw) was extremely nice. It was like straight out of Restoration Hardware (aka my dream). Everything was very quiet and charming, so it was a really lovely place to go see.

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We had a couple drinks and some bar snacks, but we didn’t stay for dinner. I really liked seeing the island, but it was hard to really make plans to eat there because you have to schedule a water taxi ride back to Hilton Head – there’s not really a way to just come and go at your leisure.

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After we got back from Daufuskie, we went out for pizza and spent the rest of the evening debating the pros and cons of living on a really isolated island like that. It would be an adventure, that’s for sure!

Overall, I thought Hilton Head was a fun place. As I alluded to before, there were some aspects of it that surprised me. I hadn’t realized how decentralized everything on Hilton Head is. There are a bunch of “plantations,” as they’re called, and each plantation has its own beach, shops, restaurants, hotels, houses, etc. Of course you can go to other plantations, but I was surprised that there is no real central Hilton Head area. I was also surprised that there weren’t all that many great restaurants in Hilton Head. We went to a couple places that I thought were good, but they were nothing special. My favorite place we ate was Red Fish, and it was truly a good restaurant. Overall, though, I wouldn’t say we had any standout meals. In that respect, Hilton Head seemed to be more of a quiet beach town than I had expected it to be.

Would I go back to Hilton Head? Of course! I had a great time and it was a really nice vacation spot, especially if what you’re wanting to do is RELAX. Like I said, I had a great vacation and even though I’ve only been back at work for two weeks, I’m already dreaming of the next one.

Savannah Day Two

Day two in Savannah! It was a bit more active than Day One in the sense that we partook in more activities than just laying on the beach and eating. Not that I have anything against laying on the beach and eating. In fact, I really enjoy both of those activities! But there is a lot to see in Savannah, so we wanted to make sure we had time to see some of the city.

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We started out with brunch. I can’t remember a notable Sunday in recent history that has not begun with brunch. Initially, when we outlined our plans for the trip, we had planned to go to Paula Deen’s restaurant, Lady and Sons, for brunch on Sunday. Luckily, though, we realized before getting there that Lady and Sons doesn’t actually serve brunch – just lunch. We debated still going, but ultimately decided against it. I have to say, I think this was the right decision. The main draw in going to Lady and Sons is obviously the Paula Deen factor. But if you take Paula Deen out of the equation, there is just no way that any of us would still want to eat there. Heavy southern comfort food is just not really my cup of tea and I think Allison and Andrea feel the same way. Combine that with the fact that we all love brunch, and it was kind of a no-brainer to change our plans.

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We ended up doing a little online research about good brunch spots in Savannah but I couldn’t help but notice that brunch does not appear to be as prevalent in Savannah as it is in other cities I’ve been to. A high percentage of restaurants that we looked into did not have a brunch menu. We ended up walking around for a while to see what the options were and decided on a place we had seen online called Papillote. I think they more specialize in grab-n-go orders, but they did have some seating in the restaurant. The food was good, but the overall atmosphere of the restaurant was only okay. But, like I said, it was delicious food, and it felt great to sit down and get out of the heat. Papillote is also in a great, central location, so it was a great jumping-off point for the rest of our plans for the afternoon – shopping on Broughton Street!

Savannah has a ton of cute little shops and boutiques, so we set aside Sunday afternoon to walk around the shops in the downtown area. There were a ton of cute stores including the Salt Table, the Savannah Bee Company, which specializes in different varieties of honey, and then some cute clothing and home goods stores like Villa, Copper Penny and Paris Market.

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We all especially liked the Paris Market, which was an adorable french-themed home goods and gift shop.

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I had not planned to buy anything on this trip…no wait, I had actually planned to NOT buy anything on this trip…but some of the stores had some really great stuff, so I didn’t quite stick with my initial plan. After exhausting our budgets, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our extremely exciting plans for the night – a HAUNTED PUB CRAWL!

Yes, that’s right. A pub crawl to some of the haunted bars in Savannah. Apparently, Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in the country, so there are a lot of ghost tours to choose from. Even if you don’t believe in that type of thing, it’s still kind of a fun thing to do. Plus, you actually end up learning some history of the city in the process. We chose the pub crawl ghost tour because it sounded like it would be pretty lighthearted and silly rather than spooky and serious.

The tour was set to kick off from a bar that was right by our hotel, Moon River Brewing Company. We were supposed to meet our group there at 8, so we went over at 6:30 to get some food before the tour. Moon River Brewing Company has two sections – the outside beer garden and the inside, which is more of a regular pub. We sat outside because it was an absolutely gorgeous night!

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The food was nothing special, really, but it wasn’t bad. We had burgers and brats that were served on paper plates. Andrea noted that it really wouldn’t be a good Labor Day weekend if we didn’t eat burgers and brats on paper plates at some point, so really we were just celebrating appropriately :)  It actually was a really fun place to hang out, though, because there was live music and the beer was pretty good.

Another cool thing about Savannah is that there are no open container laws. When you want to leave a bar, you can pour whatever is left of your drink into a plastic cup and take it with you. After we finished eating, we ordered to-go beers and headed out front to meet up with our tour group to begin the pub crawl!

None of us really knew what to expect from this pub crawl, but I think we were hoping it would be light-hearted and fun. We were told that we would have no trouble finding our tour guides because they would be carrying lanterns and wearing colonial attire, so right away I was thinking that this might actually be kind of weird. Thankfully, I was wrong!

Right away, our tour guide, Jamie, instructed those members of the group who did not already have drinks to go get some beer from inside Moon River Brewing Company and meet us back outside. Once everyone had drinks, Jamie led us back into Moon River and down into the basement where he gave us a brief history of the building and recounted some of the ghost stories that have come from there.

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It turns out, that while we were blissfully eating our burgers and brats upstairs, we had actually been hanging out in one of the most haunted places in the country! I don’t know how much I really believe in ghost stories or hauntings (…but it’s a lot), but Jamie’s stories had me convinced that something weird was going on in this building.

Essentially, the building that is now Moon River Brewing Company used to be a hotel in the 1800’s. There were several famous acts of violence associated with the hotel, including a murder and a fist fight that made the front page of the New York Times. Eventually, the hotel closed and the building sat empty for years and years.

Then, in 1996, someone decided to revive and repurpose the building. The plan was to have a brewing company on the first floor and turn the upper floors into something else. The first floor was successfully converted and has been running as Moon River Brewing Company ever since. But the contractor could never get anyone to finish the second and third floors.

Apparently, the contractor went through three different construction companies, but each refused to finish the job. They couldn’t get the workers to stay on site as they kept reporting having weird experiences. Apparently, the workers reported hearing people whisper their names right in their ears only to turn around and find that they were along, feeling people brush up against them and things disappearing. The nail in the coffin (appropriate figure of speech…) was when one of the workers wives came to the building to meet him for lunch. As she was walking down the stairs to leave, she felt an “icy presence” just behind her. She turned to look, but no one was there. As she continued down the stairs, she felt it again. When she looked behind her, again seeing no one, she reported feeling a cold “hand” on her back that forcefully pushed her down the stairs.

That was when construction was abandoned. I know this all sounds like a crock. But we actually got to see the second floor of the building and based on what we saw, I have a hard time believing that reviving that space would have been given up lightly. It is an absolutely gorgeous space – high ceilings, original doors that Jamie said would be worth around $24,000 each, and original finishes. Plus, the building is right in the heart of downtown Savannah. The space would be absolutely amazing, were it finished. So for that reason, I actually do believe that, whether it’s legitimately “haunted” or not, something weird is going on there. So on the first stop of the tour, I was pretty hooked.

We continued on and ended up going to see four or five places. Some we went in to get drinks, some we just walked past, but for each, Jamie had a great story. As we walked, Allison, Andrea and I were chatting with Jamie at the front of the group and he was telling us some “unofficial” stories and anecdotes. We were highly intrigued.

Our tour ended at one of the haunted bars we had been in. We had consumed several beers and shots and we decided to stay for a while. We also decided to invite Jamie to hang out with us, too…ya know, just three girls and a 40-something-year-old man in colonial garb. Normal Sunday night.

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As weird as this all sounds, we ended up having a GREAT time with Jamie. He talked about living in Savannah, his own personal experiences with ghosts and spirits and told us more stories. We literally stayed until the haunted bar closed and then went to another! This may or may not be one of my top ten most random and potentially creepy things I’ve done in my life, but it ended up being a ton of fun.

So, our last night in Savannah was a successful one. When we woke up the next day, we were so sad to have to leave! At least I was headed up to Hilton Head for a week at the beach, so that helped ease the pain quite a bit. All in all, our girls weekend was a HUGE success! On our way to the airport, we were already plotting for the next one so hopefully this will become a tradition!

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Stay tuned for a recap of Hilton Head Island and try not to be too jealous of our new bestie (Jamie).

Farro with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Sausage

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Ah you guys. Two quick promises: 1) I will get back to posting the rest of my Savannah and Hilton Head posts ASAP, and 2) I will NOT post any more tomato-based recipes any time soon. If you can’t tell, I’m kind of having a moment with fresh tomatoes right now so just bear with me. It’s not even like I’m generally obsessed with tomatoes. My philosophy toward tomatoes is basically that good tomatoes are GREAT and mediocre tomatoes are terrible. Since tomato season is so short, I’m really “leaning in” to tomatoes this year and trying to make sure I don’t take this time for granted. (Uh…I didn’t read Lean In…did I use that term appropriately?) 

I actually planned to make this Smitten Kitchen recipe (with a few material modifications) for dinner last night and let it go undocumented on this blog due to the fact that my most loyal reader is an avid and lifelong tomato hater and my last recipe was heavily tomato-oriented. But the final product was honestly way too good not to share. 

The only notable change that I made to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe was that I added sausage and mushrooms to it. Doing this, in my opinion, upped the delicious-ness quotient quite a bit, but it also negated the “one-pottedness” appeal of her version. Taken on balance, I definitely think the benefit of adding sausage and using another pan outweighed the cost of additional cleaning. 

To me, this recipe was the PERFECT summer/fall transition dinner. It had a lot of freshness from the tomatoes (how many times do you guys think I can say “tomatoes” in this post?), but it also felt really hearty and cozy thanks to the farro and sausage. 

Here’s what I did: 

In a medium sauce pan (not yet on the heat) soak one cup farro in two cups water. You need to let the farro soak for just a few minutes, so you can just do this while you prepare the other ingredients. 

While the farro soaks, thinly slice half of a large onion into quarter moon slivers. Toss the onion in the pot with the farro. 

Slice two cloves of garlic and throw the garlic into the pot as well. 

Halve or quarter around 9 oz of cherry tomatoes and toss them in the pot. 

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Then, to the pot, add salt and red pepper flakes to taste and one tablespoon of olive oil. Stir everything together, turn on the heat and set a timer for 30 minutes. 

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You’ll bring this concoction to a boil and then reduce it to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Once your timer goes off, you will have a finished product on your hands! Now, that is the entire Smitten Kitchen recipe. How easy is that? 

My additions were really just as simple. While the farro was simmering away, I browned 3/4 pound of mild italian sausage. Once browned, I transferred the sausage to a plate and used the same pan (with the sausage “renderings” remaining) to saute 8 oz of baby bella mushrooms. If I make this recipe again, I’ll probably reduce that to 6 oz of mushrooms – just due to my personal preference. I sauteed the mushrooms until they softened quite a bit.  

Around the same time that the mushrooms were getting nice and soft and delicious, my thirty minute timer went off. I ended up letting the farro simmer for thirty TWO minutes just to let a tiny bit more water get soaked up, but honestly, thirty minutes was very close to being the exact right amount of time.

Before adding in the sausage and mushrooms, I took a bite of the farro. I wanted to make sure I tasted the unadulterated Smitten Kitchen version so that I would know whose fault it was if the final product didn’t turn out well…haha I love to blame others for my failures.

Well fortunately for Smitten Kitchen, the farro tasted amazing! The red pepper flakes added a surprising element that I liked a lot. I can actually say I would have been extremely happy to eat just that as a meal. 

But why would you do that when there’s sausage in the world? 

I simply transferred the sausage and mushrooms to the pot with the farro, gave everything a big stir and magic! 

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I sprinkled a bit of parmesan cheese (and basil but I don’t recommend using basil if you use sausage) on top and enjoyed about three times the amount you see in the above photo ;) 

Okay and there ends my tomato-related blog posts. I’ll be back soon with the rest of my vacation recap! 

Savannah Girls Weekend

We are taking a tour down memory lane this week and revisiting this blog’s roots of being a travel blog! I just got back from a week-long vacation, which I wanted to document here. So without further ado: Summer Vacay Two K Fourteen (hashtag). Awwww yeah.

The timing for this trip happened to work out surprisingly well. A couple of months ago, my mom started talking about planning a family trip to Hilton Head Island. Around the same time, I started planning a girls weekend trip over Labor Day weekend with two friends of mine, Allison and Andrea. My mom kept picking weeks to rent a house in Hilton Head, then changing her mind, though, so it eventually started to seem like that trip might not happen this summer.

Meanwhile, and I’m not entirely sure how, but Allison and Andrea and I settled on Savannah as the destination for our Labor Day trip. We had everything planned out and we were committed to going when my mom sent a family e-mail asking about everyone’s availability to go to Hilton Head for the entire week starting Labor Day weekend.

At first, I was kind of annoyed because the Hilton Head trip conflicted with my Savannah trip. Eventually, though, I realized that the timing actually worked out perfectly! Savannah and Hilton Head are less than an hour drive from each other, so it was possible for me to do both of the trips. I spent Friday night through Monday morning in Savannah with Allison and Andrea. On Monday, I dropped off Allison and Andrea at the airport so they could catch a flight back to Columbus and then I drove up to Hilton Head, where I stayed until the following Saturday.

I’m going to dedicate a couple posts to this trip – one or two for the Savannah portion and another couple for the Hilton Head portion. Both parts of the trip were really, really fun and I’m extremely depressed about being back in the real world now.

Savannah Day One:

I can’t really remember now how we got the idea to do this girls trip, but I’m glad that we did and that we actually followed through with it. Remember a couple of weeks ago in my #TBT post, I said I had been going through old photos for a specific purpose, but it ended up not working out the way I had hoped? I was going through our old family photos looking for some good ones of Allison, Andrea and me from back in the day.

Our families have been friends for literally our entire lives. Growing up, Allison and Andrea’s parents were “Uncle Andy” and “Uncle Linda” to my brothers and me. To clarify, Uncle Linda is a woman, I was just a moron as a child and apparently had trouble grasping the difference between Aunts and Uncles. All of the kids grew up calling each other “cousins,” and actually we still do call each other cousins. Some people might think it’s weird, but I think if you’ve known someone for this long, you can call them whatever you want.

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So anywho, Allison, Andrea and I had the genius idea to take a girls trip somewhere and we settled on Savannah. We left after work on Friday and had just two quick flights on two tiny planes. We arrived in Savannah on time and without incident.

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I’m going to skip over Friday night in Savannah because our flight didn’t arrive until around midnight. Combine that with a…snafu…at the rental car counter and it’s just better for everyone if we move past this portion of the trip. We arrived at our hotel, the Andaz Savannah, at around 2 am, and we were so exhausted. We commented that our hotel seemed to be in a great, central location and that it was very nice, and then we passed out.

On Saturday, we slept in until around 10:00, which is something I haven’t done in FOREVER (thanks, Sasha…). It felt amazing! The rate for our hotel room included breakfast, so after we woke up, we went downstairs to check out the breakfast buffet. We discovered that “free hotel breakfast buffet” is a really unjust way to describe what the Andaz actually serves. That term conjures images of continental breakfasts and cold scrambled eggs at the Hampton Inn, which, while not without merit, is so inferior to the “free breakfast buffet” served at the Andaz that it really isn’t fair that the same words are applicable to both experiences.

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After fueling up for the day, we headed to Tybee Island. It’s a really neat beach area about twenty minutes away from Savannah. We spent the afternoon just hanging out on the beach. It was so incredibly relaxing! Between sleeping in until 10:30 and laying around in the sun all afternoon, I can’t remember a time I’ve been more relaxed.

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IMG_5236Between bouts of reading magazines, wading in the ocean and chatting, we also snuck up to a snack bar to have a couple beers and a light lunch. We had reservations for a somewhat late dinner, so we felt like it was important to eat something mid-afternoon. I actually forget what this place was called, but it was right on the beach and it was pretty good.

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After our pleasantly uneventful afternoon, we packed up and headed back to Savannah to get ready for dinner. We planned to eat at the Olde Pink House, which is one of Savannah’s most historic and well-known restaurants. It is, quite literally, in a very large old pink (haunted< – will get into that more in my second Savannah post!) house so the atmosphere is really different than most modern restaurants. The Olde Pink House serves a lot of what I would consider “elevated southern food.” It’s not Paula Deen style comfort food – it’s lighter and fresher, but still notably southern.

By the way, I’m so thankful I have friends who love to eat as much as I do because we ended up ordering four courses – each of which were really, really good. Sometimes, when you go to the “famous and historic” restaurant in a city, you find that it’s become a tourist trap that doesn’t end up living up to the hype. Fortunately, I didn’t find that to be true of the Olde Pink House at all.

We started with an order of blackened oysters on the half shell per our waitress’s recommendation. I don’t know that I’ve had blackened oysters before (actually I know that I haven’t), so I don’t have any basis for comparison, but this dish was absolutely phenomenal. Before the oysters came to our table, the waiter walked past us carrying them and we all three commented on how great whatever that waiter was carrying smelled. When he turned around and brought them to us, we were so excited! An order comes with six oysters so we each had two. Even before we had eaten the first order, I honestly considered suggesting that we put in another order. It was a really nice way to start out the meal because it was just a light appetizer of a couple bites, but it took the edge off our hunger.

Then, I had a salad. To be exact, I had the fried green tomato BLT salad, which was apparently featured on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” show. I definitely wouldn’t consider it to be the best thing I ever ate – in fact, it already wasn’t even the best thing I had eaten at this meal – but it was still good!

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Next, I had the pecan crusted tilapia. It came with grits and vegetables. I feel like a broken record right now, but this dish was another winner. Like I said, every single thing we ate there was delicious! It’s kind of funny, though, because between tilapia, grits and vegetables, the part of the dinner that stands out most in my mind was the vegetables – to be exact – the green beans. At one point, I even said, “I am weirdly obsessed with…” and Andrea chimed in and said, “these GREEN BEANS!” How weird. I have no idea what made them so good – I suspect they were just incredibly fresh or something, but they were outstanding!

And then of course came dessert. We ordered key lime pie and chocolate mousse to share. I had a bite of each, but I was honestly uncomfortably full at that point that I wasn’t able to eat much. But again, just to reiterate and bore you all to death…the desserts were both REALLY GOOD TOO. Nothing was bad.

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Sorry – I just realized that I dedicated four paragraphs of this post to describing food I ate two weeks ago. #Priorities. Hopefully you’re not all bored stiff at this point!

After dinner, we went out to a bar on the roof of The Bohemian hotel. It was a cool bar and they were playing some epic old school dance music (WHATUP NELLY!). The only downside – and this is actually applicable to Savannah as a city, not just to this particular bar – is that there were a TON of bachelorette parties there. Now I don’t have anything against bachelorette parties in general. We all know I have been to my fair share of them this year! But the thing about bachelorette parties is that…they are super obnoxious to anyone who isn’t a part of them. I’d say there were probably between 8-10 bachelorette parties at the Bohemian that night, so that was less than ideal. We still had fun though, so it obviously didn’t ruin our night!

And here’s where I’ll leave you, my loyal and intrepid readers. But before I go: a cautionary tale about hanging out with people who are significantly younger than you. When the DJ started playing Nelly, Andrea (who is 23) got super excited and said, “Aw this is sooo elementary school!!” And I died a little bit inside.

More of Savannah to come! Hopefully my next post will be considerably less rambling, but I make no promises…

Tomato Tart

Getting a bag of fresh produce every week has really opened my eyes to just how amazing it can be to cook with seasonal, local and fresh produce. Having such great ingredients makes it easy to cook really simple foods that still taste great.

Not surprisingly, in the month of August, I got a LOT of tomatoes in my market bags and I’ve loved experimenting with different ways to prepare them. I haven’t cooked with tomatoes very much before, but getting so many each week has made it kind of a necessity. Coincidentally, right before I received a bunch of cherry tomatoes one week, the Pioneer Woman had posted this recipe for a tomato tart, which I thought looked really yummy.

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My one hesitation in making the tart, though, was the fact that it requires making (or using a frozen <– clearly the option I chose) pie crust. I’m not sure how much I’ve talked about this here, but I absolutely HATE baking. And I’m not good at it. And yes, I fully recognize that in no way, shape or form could thawing and reconfiguring a frozen pie crust be considered baking, but it is close enough that I was very wary of trying to make a tart.

Like I said, though, I had a bunch of cherry tomatoes that I didn’t really know what else to do with, so I decided to seize the day and attempt the tart! I followed the Pioneer Woman’s instructions exactly.

I started out by chopping up and caramelizing onions. 

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I received a bunch of these little tiny sweet onions in that week’s market bag, so rather than use two large onions, I used a lot (I didn’t count) of these instead. So okay, based on this, I lied before when I said I followed the Pioneer Woman’s instructions word for word. This was the one deviation, though! 

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While the onions were caramelizing (because it takes quite a while for this to happen), I began working on the pie crust. Dun Dun Dun. 

As directed, I bought two pre-made pie crusts and planned to attempt to meld them together into one giant, paper thin crust. Seems pretty easy, right? Ugh. Right away when I took the pie crusts out of the package, I could tell this wasn’t going to end well. I had a brief moment of clarity where I considered leaving the pie crusts in the tins they came in and just making two smaller tarts, thereby eliminating the need for me to really do any baking-related activities whatsoever.

But my intention in ordering the market bag was to force myself outside of my culinary comfort zone, so I persevered. As I was taking the crusts out of their tins, I was again filled with a sense of dread. They were already very, very thin and I was having a hard time getting them out of the tins in one piece.

OH and let me interrupt you here to tell you that because I hate baking, I don’t necessarily have a lot of baking-related supplies on hand (i.e., a rolling pin). This is where my handy-dandy wine addiction saved the day! 

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Now for all of you bakers out there, you are probably looking at the above photo and shaking your head for a few different reasons. Number 1: No flour on the baking surface. Number 2: the “baking surface” is aluminum foil. And Number 3: the (also flourless) wine bottle rolling pin. Yes. This method ended disastrously. 

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In my defense, though, I kind of knew it wouldn’t end well when I began. Wait, does the fact that I knew this probably wouldn’t work but just did it anyway make me seem more capable or less? Let’s not focus on that too much…

The reason I originally attempted to roll out the pie crust like this is because a big part of my issue with baking is that it is so messy!! I don’t like cleaning flour off of everything after I’m finished. I don’t want to wash the bajillion bowls and utensils it takes to mix all the various components together. So, in my attempt to alleviate that issue, I mangled my first attempt at rolling out the crust. 

After peeling the crust off of the foil and begrudgingly dusting flour all over my hands, countertop and rolling pin (wine bottle), I tried again. I didn’t take any pictures because…flour. But let’s just say this. While this attempt worked far better than the first, I wouldn’t say it was without its flaws (pretty dramatic understatement). 

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Yeah. Not exactly pretty. ALSO. This amount of pie crust was intended to cover an entire large baking sheet. I have no idea how anyone could stretch this amount of pie crust that far. But then again, clearly, not my forte. 

Since I couldn’t roll the crust out thin enough to cover a large baking sheet, I improvised by just using my pie pan.  I figured that the taste would still be the same, if not just a little more crusty than the original recipe would have been. But honestly, who has ever complained about having too much pie crust in their food? No one I want to know, that’s who. 

Anywho, this mess being more or less handled and the onions being caramelized and smelling great, all that was left to do was assemble the tart! You begin by putting down a layer of cheese. I used, per the Pioneer Woman’s recommendation, gruyere, parmesan and fontina. And then I ate like…a lot of just the cheese. Yay for stress eating! 

IMG_5183Next, you pile on the onions (which I forgot to take a picture of…). Then, you just throw the tomatoes on top like this:

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The final step is to brush a mixture of egg and milk onto the crust so that it gets a really nice golden brown color while baking. Wellll. That sort of seems like the kind of thing that you need a pastry brush to do. Right? I actually thought about this fact while I was shopping for the ingredients for this recipe. Did I buy a pastry brush, though? Nope. And the reason why I didn’t buy a pastry brush is because in my mind, I was pretty sure that I had bought one a couple months prior to making this tart. 

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But in my mind, I was wrong. What I had actually bought was the above brush, which is more for cleaning vegetables like mushrooms and potatoes. I tried to use it anyway, but it didn’t really work all that well (DUH). But at this point I was basically like “WHATEVER I AM COOKING THIS STUPID TART IF IT KILLS ME.” So I put the tart in the oven and hoped for the best. 

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Though it doesn’t look pretty, the end result was actually decent. The issue with the pie dish, though, was that it was too deep. The crust ended up cooking way faster than the tomatoes. I would have liked to let this cook for about 5-10 minutes longer so that the tomatoes could have gotten cooked a bit more, but if I had, the crust would have been inedible. And this is where I realized that had I just left the pie crusts in the tins they came in, my end result would have been more or less perfect. The store bought tins are much more shallow than my pie dish and the crust wouldn’t have been all deformed and inconsistent in thickness, which would have helped a lot. Like I said, though, this, though ugly, still tasted good! I will definitely make this recipe again – maybe even for other people (obviously, I would want to perfect my technique a bit first). It was very yummy and it felt so summery and fresh.

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My takeaway from this experience is that I should listen to my gut a bit more when cooking. My first mistake was ignoring my initial inclination to leaving the pie crust in the tins it came in. Why am I so determined to make things harder than they need to be?? I ignored my gut instinct to buy a pastry brush and I ignored my gut instinct that told me I was going to have to suck it up and get flour all over everything to make this dish work.

However, it’s also important to know when to ignore your gut instinct. If I had listened to my initial instinct telling me that I couldn’t make this dish because of the pie crust, I would have never stretched myself to try this in the first place (even though that initial instinct was pretty clearly proved right). Oh well. Live and learn!