Always Aubrey: April 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Volare

On yet another rainy night in Chicago, our team ventured out to Volare for an Italian feast.


Y'all know I love me some carbs... especially in the form of pasta.  Housemade pasta to boot.  We started right away with soe fantastic wine and a salumi platter.  Some of that meat had a kick to it!


You'll have to excuse the poor photo quality.  There was some real mood lighting going on, and I was trying to discreetly snap pics of food without my coworkers noticing.  Since I don't really talk to them about my blogging adventures.


I love vodka sauce.  So when they had housemade gnocchi alla vodka, my order was basically a no-brainer.  This stuff was sooooo good... and yet so dense and rich and delicious I didn't manage to clear my plate.

Well, maybe part of that is the glutton in my ordered some meatballs as a side.  I totally shared them.  But still, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  And this stuff was so good.  That's the challenge for me when I travel, I can't take the food home with me to repurpose as a lunch or something.

Volare was definitely YUM.  I'm not an expert in Italian, but this seemed pretty authentic for Americanized Italian for sure.  I'm salivating thinking of the bread and gnocchi right now... mmmm...



Volare on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Little Letters

Little Letters...


Dear Duke, you are so good for taking care of the apartment and Bear when I'm traveling like a madwoman for work.  I swear I'll pitch in now that I'm home for a minute!

Dear American Airlines, I avoid you at all costs.  You have had multiple chances.  You know what you did.  I'm sticking to Delta and Southwest.


Pre-order here!
Dear Lil Bub, not only are you the most adorable kitty (after my own), but you live in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.  Hoosier kitties rock!

Dear Preteen Girls from a Dance Group on my 6am Business Travel Flight, shrieking and playing every ringtone on your iPhone is not appropriate airplane behavior EVER.  I'm just trying to travel for my job, and I know you're excited, but I'd rather listen to a baby wail than the pick-a-little-talk-a-little-cheep-cheep-cheep you showered me with.

Dear Nashville Blogger friends (Kitty Cat Stevens, Old Red Boots, Lladybird, Librarian, & Janae), you made my day when you invited me to meet up.  Nay, you made my WEEK!  It's so hard to find and make friends in a new place, and finding lovely ladies who also love food, cats, and sewing felt like the best blind date ever. :)  Oh and OMG put some Kerfluffles in your mouth NOW!

Dear Sheryl Sandberg, I'm reading Lean In and loving it.  It's like you wrote it all just for me!  I know you didn't, but I'll pretend you did.

Dear Cally, I hope you're having a blast in kitty heaven... where there's no arthritis or pain, plenty of chicken and BBQ pulled pork to eat, and you have a comfy sofa in the sun to rest on while you wait for me to come get you! :)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cally, A Farewell to My Girl

On Thursday, I got home around lunchtime from a business trip.  Exhausted, I settled into bed for a nap and snuggled with my old girl, Cally.  We had a good purr and cuddle, but I noticed that she wasn't trying to steal the chicken from my Moe's burrito.  Coupled with an accident she had on Sunday, and vet visit on Monday, I was concerned.

Then, suddenly, my old girl was having trouble walking.  She limped to her "safe place", the bath tub, and refused to move.  I put towels in the tub, and tried to give her water with a plastic syringe.

As I tried to figure out what to do, Bear, who never goes into the tub, jumped in.  I was worried he would disturb Cally, but instead he sat almost like a guard dog over her.  Even he knew something was going on.

I decided to take my girl to the emergency vet.  In the end, there was nothing we could do.  I had to say goodbye to my friend of over 16 years, the first furry love of my life.  In her last moments, she gave no indication that she knew I was there.  I wanted so badly to connect to her.  As motionless as she was, I gave her a familiar scratch under her chin, and saw her arch her neck just slightly, like she was enjoying that.  I knew then she was still in there, and that she knew I was with her in the end.

My heart aches.  Even though I've been mentally preparing to lose Cally for years, in the end it all seemed to happen so fast.  It was so tough to go home without her, even though Bear was there to meet me at the door.

I think Cally waited for me to come home.  We had such a good last day together...  I lived more years of my life with Cally than without.  She was my everpresent buddy, and I was her person.  She was a good cat, and I can count on one hand the number of accidents she had.  My girl.

Even as the years progressed and the vet bills got higher, her diet more expensive and prescriptive, her breath and grooming falling by the wayside... I loved her.  She was a part of my heart.  And no matter how many cats come into my life, none of them can ever hold a candle to my girl.  Because this beautiful, green-eyed, talkative tortie was my match.

In older,  chubbier days...

She slept in the cutest positions.

She got in my face a lot to let me know her thoughts.

I loved my girl!

She was so beautiful.
This video reminds me of my love.  Rest in sweet peace, and I know you'll be with me all the time in my heart.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bandera

My team decided to go to dinner together on our first night in Chicago, and we were hoping to try The Girl & The Goat.  Well, those reservations, even on a Monday night were nearly impossible.  So then we tried The Purple Pig, which doesn't take reservations... but the estimated wait was nearly two hours.  Yes, on a Monday!  And a cold and rainy one at that.

In the cool rain, we looked out across the Magnificent Mile, where we spotted Bandera.  The place was packed to be sure, but we were able to get a table within about a half hour.  We spent the waiting time at the bar enjoying the jazz music and libations.  I really liked the ambiance!


I guess I'd describe the food as a kind of Southern remix.  We had some awesome appetizers of the dip duo and the skillet cornbread.  The cornbread had some peppers in it so there was a definite kick!


I opted for the ribs, because the waiter said they would fall off the bone... and he wasn't lying.  Who'd have thought after six years in the South, some of the best ribs I've ever had would be from CHICAGO!  It was seriously amazing.

Also, everything my coworkers ordered was top-notch as well.  Can't believe how lucky we were finding this shelter from the storm on a complete whim.



Bandera on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chicago

I had an amazing time spending a whole work week in Chicago for a conference.  While the weather was stormy (parts of Chicago actually flooded!) it was a great way to get to know my new boss and a ton of the people working for my larger parent company.



We stayed at the historic Drake Hotel just a step off the Magnificent Mile.  (My room had a "beach" view!")  The hotel is definitely circa 1920s in some respects, like decor and layout.  There are SO many random half-levels and steps all over the place.  I think one of my favorites was the powder room nearest to the lobby; it was totally set up for ladies to each have their own special bathroom stall and a lounge sort of setting.  I can only imagine the gossiping and primping that went on in there back in the day.

I also had a change to get some good eating in... It's Chicago, after all!  I'm going to write reviews of three of my favorites (Bandera, Volare, and Gino's) but there are definitely some quick honorable mentions...

I grabbed a matzo soup and sandwich at Goddess & Grocer, which I found via Urbanspoon.



I really liked the soup and grilled three cheese sandwich.  It wasn't too heavy, it hit the spot, and I would go back there in a heartbeat!  Perfect on the somewhat chilly day that I grabbed a bite at this place nearby my hotel.  They also had a TON of carryout salads and options.
Goddess & Grocer on Urbanspoon

I also stopped by Water Tower Place for a couple quick bites.  The food court there is AMAZING.  My friend and I chose MITY Nice for a quick drink and a bite, and I wished I was eating every meal there!


I got their fresh strawberry lemonade with some vodka, and we split their phenomenal flatbread pizza and macaroni & cheese.  The macaroni was so absolutely delicious.  I seriously liked this place so much, and there were SO many other options within the food court.
Mity Nice Grill on Urbanspoon

My friend also recommended that I taste the delicious Asian buns at Wow Bao while I was in the neighborhood.  I love dim sum, so this ground floor fast stop at Water Tower really hit the spot.  I had their housemade pomegranate ginger ale, as well as three different buns: spicy kung pao chicken, spicy mongolian beef, and BBQ pork.


I think the mongolian beef was my favorite of the three, with BBQ pork being my next favorite.  The bun were so soft, and perfectly sized.
Wow Bao on Urbanspoon

And of course being within a couple blocks of an H&M I did a little shopping damage.  Such good deals!  It's hit or miss for me in that store, and this trip was a hit.  I had to be creative in packing my suitcase to go home.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least... there was a Sprinkles cupcake ATM.  Yes, they do exist!  I bought a banana cupcake from the store and it was fresh and delicious.  But I had to snap a pic of the ATM.


Stay tuned for a few more Chicago restaurant reviews! :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tips for Business Travel

My work travel schedule this month is insane!  It's always overnight and out of state...  and May is filling up too.  It definitely isn't as glamorous as I'd once imagined, but I get to see more of the U.S., stay in nice hotels, and eat a LOT of good food at business meals.

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I'm learning tricks of the trade along the way.  Here are a few that I live by; let me know if you have some of your own!

While Packing...
  • Pick a color scheme.  I choose outfits that go with brown *or* black shoes, never a combination of both!  Most work trips, I pack a single pair of shoes, maybe with some backup flats in the same color if I'm going for power heels.
  • I pack one outfit per day, plus one extra "top" outfit that goes with something else in the bag.  Overpacking is a rookie mistake.
  • If you're packing a suit in your suitcase, lay that in first (the garment bag will hang over the sides) and fill the rest of your bag.  Then fold those overhanging flaps over.  It minimizes the folds in your clothes so the suit won't wrinkle as much!
  • Dresses in general are the easiest.  Ponte knits are awesome.  I often travel with ponte knit skirts and dresses because I know they won't wrinkle.  Plus, they're super comfy!  You can dress them up or down with a blazer, heels, flats, and accessories.
When Flying...
  • Try to stick to one or two airlines, if possible.  Enroll in those mileage programs, and you'll be more likely to be upgraded to a higher preferred customer level.  (I'm a Delta/Southwest girl.)  With Delta, I now always get free checked bags and boarding with Zone 1; this means I never have to worry about fighting the crowds to find space in the overhead bins.
  • Don't check a bag unless it's a long trip.  You don't want to end up giving a big presentation in your travel clothes!
  • Make sure your laptop is easy access for security lines.  I also stick my "liquids" baggie in with my laptop so I can pull them both out quickly.
At the Hotel...
  • Ask for a room above the 2nd floor.  That way if the hotel has a lounge/bar, you will be high enough not to hear the noise from down below.
  • Tell the front desk to put a "Do Not Disturb" on your phone.
  • As a woman traveling alone, be extra vigilant.  I always stay alert (not texting/on my phone!) when walking to and from my car and entering the hotel and elevator.  When I enter my hotel room, I look around 360-degrees to see who sees me enter the room.  I make eye contact with them, so they know I am aware of them.  Plus, I could pick out any would-be bad dudes in a lineup.
For Your Sanity & Health...
  • Pack snacks.  It'll keep you from turning to fast food joints, and help your energy.
  • Take your vitamins.  I get sick more often now that I travel for business.  I try to take extra Vitamin C when I feel something coming on.
  • Pack a "first aid" kit.  In my work bag, I keep motions sickness pills, Pepto Bismol, headache medicine, and even cold/flu meds... just in case.  Also, GUM!
  • Get some rest.  When you travel for work, it feels like you're never "off the clock", even after hours.  You spend your hotel nights working on presentations and catching up on e-mail.  At some point, cut yourself off at a decent hour and zone out with some brainless TV or a beach read.  Get some sleep and recuperate.
  • If you have some free time, look up interesting things to do in your area!  I love visiting area museums, shopping hubs, and local restaurants.
Do you have any travel tips for work?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thoughts on Boston


I don't always comment on current events here.  But in the wake of the explosions at the Boston Marathon, I felt particular pain and anguish over what I've seen on the news...

I am traveling for work, and I happened to turn on the television to watch some garbage on TMZ.  There was a breaking news alert, and suddenly all of the footage and news from the explosions began to air.

As a former competitive distance runner and military veteran, I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

One, because that finish stretch of a grueling race is the happiest moment you feel throughout that event.  You see the end in sight, and in your head you are celebrating the accomplishment, the miles of training, the joy of being an athlete.  The finish line is such a symbolic place for athletes...  to take that away from runners is the worst thing you could do.

Two, I've been to Iraq twice.  I know what big explosions sound like; I probably react differently from what the average citizen does to the sounds of cannons or gunfire.  It makes me feel so angry to see attacks in the U.S., because I went overseas believing it would help protect our people back home.  We were making sacrifices to prevent such terror.  But there is evil out there, evil that believes hurting others is how things should go.

This was evil.  This was devastating.  And I'm thinking about the people who were there, how scary that must have felt for them, knowing that feeling just won't go away anytime soon.  The only bit of hope that I had watching the footage was recognizing a Team RWB member removing his shirt to help perform first aid, as well as the National Guard.  Knowing there were veterans there who were able to step into the all-too-familiar fray and help out made me feel better, knowing their training would bring valuable assistance in such a difficult time.  I can only hope that in the same situation, I would be of service again too.

Americans become heroes in times like these.  Reluctant heroes.  But heroes nonetheless.  So I will give no more time to talking about the explosion itself, highlighting what the bad guys did.  Instead I think only of the heroes, the people who helped prevent an even worse outcome in the chaos.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Basil's Cafe

Once again, my travels brought me to Northwest Arkansas, where there is always SO much going on!  Seriously.  You have no idea how much cool stuff is here!  I plan to start including more restaurant reviews, because they are excellent.  (I've even found great Korean BBQ here.)

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A group of coworkers in town for the same meeting decided to head to Basil's Cafe for a nice team dinner.  Located in the World Trade Center area, it was on the ground floor of a nice office building.  The atmosphere was quiet and luxurious.  The chairs were very comfortable.  Seriously!

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We started off with appetizers of edamame hummus and house pimento cheese spread and shrimp eggrolls.  Yum!  I liked that most of the appetizers are made for two, so you could have a date night here and not spoil your appetite before your entree.

Out of the six of us, four people chose blackened sea scallops with  lemon spinach risotto and sweet corn jus.  They raved about it!  I chose another recommendation from the waiter, the Southern Style Kobe burger with pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, and bacon.  Delish!!!

Snapped this quickpic on the sly during dinner... didn't want my coworkers thinking I'm a weirdo blogger!

I think Basil's Cafe is quiet, chic, and perfect for a couple or group.  It was quiet enough our entire table could talk to one another, which you don't always find at busy restaurants.  They even serve lunch, so there are affordable options all around.


Basil's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Palm

After a full day of volunteering at Bridgestone Arena, our little group was given the ultimate treat...  a delicious dinner at Palm.

Located literally adjacent to the arena, this restaurant has a dark, old-school steakhouse feel with walls covered in celebrity caricatures.  I imagine the Nashville location has more country music stars than others; they are located all over the country.  But still classic charm.

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I had great and attentive service the entire time, with delicious drinks and foods.  Seriously, GREAT service.  We all shared side dishes, since they come in family-style plates... brussel sprouts, creamed spinach, potatoes au gratin.  I don't eat a ton of green veggies, but the creamed spinach is something I could come around to.

Love a sugar rim on a cocktail!

I chose the chicken parmigiana, not feeling in the mood for steak, but my group's meals all looked amazing.  I will say that I think I enjoyed this meal immensely knowing that the big price tag wouldn't be my responsibility.

I was already digging in when I snapped a cell phone pic.  LOL!

I think Palm is a fancy, great steakhouse downtown.  You won't have the best steak of your life, but the ambiance is perfect for special night out.  The food is all great, albeit on the expensive side.  Definitely worth trying at least once, if you're interested in a great first date, anniversary meal, or other special occasion.  Also heard it's a great power lunch for fancy executive types.

Palm on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Introducing Bear!

Duke and I were debating a new kitten after we lost little Barley.  But I really liked our cat rescue, Friends of Cheatham County, because they are able to save kitties from animal control.  They had a litter of tiny kittens that I went to visit, knowing they'd be ready in about a month or so.

But then I saw this little (okay, big) Maine Coon mix kitten and fell hard.  He latched on to me immediately!  My friend LC has a cat that looks like an adult version of this guy.  I know Maine Coons get to be very large, and they're very involved pets; kind of the dog of cats!  Duke loves Maine Coons.  So when this baby started loving on me and following me around, I just had to take him home!  I couldn't leave without him.


When I got home, I let Cally sniff him through the carrier.  No real reaction.  So I turned kitty loose!  They sniff each other and peacefully coexist.  Duke is ecstatic; he has a cat to roughhouse with.

We decided to name this big baby Bear.  He's rough and tumble, and we tried a zillion other names but they didn't stick.  (A few favorites: Elvis, Duke, Tobias, and Homer.)  I felt like he needed a big name, since he's only 4 months and going to get bigger and bigger!


His full name is WolfBear LionShark.  Because it's a badass name.  But I call him Bear, Baby Bear, Buddy Bear.  Duke is not pleased with these baby nicknames, but I like them!


Bear likes to play with toys a lot, and he is super affectionate.  He also plays fetch!  We had a toy ball Cally never used that he fetched over and over on the first night.  I want to teach him how to shake too.


We are very happy and excited about our new baby cat.

The only thing that I'm having trouble with is that he loves to use his claws on the carpet; I've spent a bunch on different scratchers, but one has yet to stick.  For now, I'm using some Febreze on the spots he scratches to keep him from coming back, and thus far it's working.  We shall see if I can find something good to occupy him!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Massage Without Borders... Help Needed!

For today's post, I wanted to share with you some information about an organization called "Massage Without Borders".  A good friend of mine, Kate Hudak, volunteers with MWB and I wanted to highlight their great work!  Thanks to Mallory Sly for providing this great info.




Who are we? Massage Without Borders (MWB) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide immediate or temporary relief to practitioners in the healing arts community during times of crisis. The organization is made up of President William Fee, VP's KJ Burley and Vicky Karr, Treasurer Naomi Baker, Secretary Kate Hudak, Executive Director Gloria Coppola, and the many volunteers that help MWB achieve their goals and spread awareness about the cause.

What do we do? Since the first S.O.S. received last October, we have raised over $18,000 in supplies, food, and funds, and distributed $4000 of that in cash. We have given tables, food baskets, and of course plenty of hugs to these bodyworkers in need. We also have the Adopt A Student campaign, raising money for scholarships for those who struggle to pay for the great education they deserve.

How do we do it? Awareness is spread through our Facebook page and blog, and we have multiple fundraising opportunities in the works...right now an Artistry E-Auction and our National Event will be happening this May and Volunteers are also putting together their own local fundraisers as well. For more information on events coming up, as well as forms for participation in the events visit our website at www.massagewithoutborders.org. You can also find the volunteer application there; check it out and think about becoming a part of this great organization of massage therapists helping massage therapists. Everyone has a skill we can use, so why not use it to help others?

If you have any questions or would like to know more about being a volunteer, you can also email at info@massagewithoutborders.org.

HELP NEEDED:

A massage therapist from Kansas, Julie Bunnel required immediate brain surgery. Julie is a loving being, volunteers at the animal shelter, takes in foster dogs and is only 27 years old. Julie is always helping support others including the arts.

Today, she was told she must have immediate surgery. As a self-employed massage therapist Julie does not have health insurance.

Massage Without Borders is working hard to help Julie cover the cost of this brain surgery...  FInd out how you can help here:  http://www.gofundme.com/2hf79k

Julie

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Asheville, Day 5: Sunny Point Cafe

Okay, so there really wasn't an "Asheville, Day 5"... because we knew we'd be checking out in the morning and hitting the road!

But before we left, we wanted to hit up one more Asheville breakfast spot.  My friend CB recommended we head to West Asheville to Sunny Point Cafe, since we'd already checked out Early Girl Eatery, Over Easy Cafe, and Tupelo Honey Cafe.  (Can you tell I love breakfast?)

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We were a bit intimidated by the packed parking lot and long line when we arrived, but as a party of two we were quickly seated.  I noticed signs that the place mostly ran on solar power, which I thought was appropriate given the name!


I decided on the MGB (Mighty Good Breakfast) and a tall glass of orange juice.  I think I got spoiled on all of the fresh-squeezed OJ in Asheville; how will I ever go back to grocery juice?  The meal was good too, with great portions, and the service was pretty spot-on.


Duke ordered the Organic Carrot Hot Cakes, and in retrospect should have ordered a short stack... the portions were HUGE!  Topped with cardamom cream cheese, even I couldn't resist veggie-filled pancakes.  I may have to attempt something similar at home.


If I were to come back, I think I might try the Huevos Rancheros, to do something a bit different; a few people near us ordered that, and I had total plate envy!

Oh, and did I mention they even have a breakfast salad?  And tons of vegetarian/vegan options?  Asheville loves breakfast!

Sunny Point Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Asheville, Day 4: Beer!

Our last full day in Asheville was all about beer.  Really!

While we kicked off our late start at the Tupelo Honey Cafe (review here), we spent just as much time in local store Bruisin' Ales, so we could take home some of the more rare brews that aren't dstributed in Tennessee.  At first Duke was hesitant to go; beer stores are kid-in-candy-store to him.  But in the end, he knew he'd regret not going!  So we picked up some great stuff... including the new Game of Thrones beer to drink during the show's upcoming season premiere.




We also hit up Wedge Brewing, at a friend's reco, a local brewery in a quirky, artistic setting.  It was eclectic and fun; there was cornhole set up outside, a mix of so many different people stopping in...  just a unique brewery with some great beer.


To wind down our day of beer, we sampled a ton of beer at Wicked Weed Brewing, as well as dinner.  It was perfection.  (Check out my review here.)




We now know why Asheville is a Beer City USA.  Everywhere we went, local brews were available, and there are a dozen other breweries we didn't get to see.  There's more for us to come back and experience for sure.
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